Monday, August 10, 2009


I realize this is really out of order, especially since this story requires that I talk about people whom I have not yet mentioned, so I'll try to fill you in on the backstory first.

Two Thursdays ago, the first full day that I was in Sweden, was when we had to register for the Intensive Basic Swedish course. While waiting in the extremely long line, we met Noemie (from France) and Mark (from California). We all hit it off pretty well, and we all live in Flogsta, so we've been going to class, eating, and running errands together nearly every day.

As I mentioned in my last post, there is an ICA very close--perhaps five minutes if you walk--to Flogsta. It has nearly everything in the way of groceries that you could possibly need, but as is always the case with convenience, it's more expensive. There are tons of grocery stores around town (most of them also ICAs), but we never really saw a price difference significant enough to warrant going anywhere aside from our local ICA.

That is, until we discovered Willy:s.

If you go to the north end of town, past the town square and the train station, you will eventually come across a large street that consists almost completely of car dealerships, office complexes still under construction, Uppsala's own IKEA (I've yet to go), and Willy:s. Don't ask me why there's a colon in the name; it looks like it's mostly a trend for informal proper nouns (like store names) and abbreviating things (like on bus marquees). Anyway, think of Willy:s as something along the lines of Wal-Mart, where everything's in bulk and the store brand is dirt cheap. (I've been too afraid to ask about their moral practices with regard to where and how they procure their products.) Willy:s is quite a long walk from Flogsta, especially if you're carrying groceries back to your dorm and it's raining (it was a bit of a rough first impression), but because we all own bicycles now, we figured that the trek would be fairly painless.

Getting there was easy. We left Flogsta around 3:30 PM and got to Willy:s approximately fifteen minutes later. We spent at least half an hour shopping, stocking up on all sorts of fun stuff and gawking at the amazingly low prices: I managed to get three apples, a loaf of bread, some OJ, some bath soap, laundry detergent, a 30-pack of hot dogs (we split it), a bottle of ketchup, some cheese, and a big thing of cookies for 187 SEK (that's roughly $25).

And then there was the part where we had to ride back home. Google Earth tells me that our route was about five and a half kilometers (a little over 3.4 miles) long, which shouldn't be too painful, but when you have groceries hanging on your wrists, adding inertia, and cutting off circulation to your hands, the ride was a lot harder. I can't honestly recall how many times we stopped because one of us had stalled out on a hill (getting started again was a real pain), or how many locals stared and tried not to laugh as we rode past with our bags and bags of goodies, but it felt like the whole thing took forever. By the time we got back to our dorm, Mark and I were the only ones still riding; Hanis and Noemie had both resorted to walking their bikes because the extra weight and the impaired balance just weren't worth the trip. I, on the other hand, had quite the endorphin rush from our rigorous workout, so the rest of the day was just awesome for its own sake.

This is Hanis. You can't really tell, but there are three bags of groceries behind her, not counting the one you can see and her purse.

Mark didn't have nearly as much stuff with him, but he still refused to stop his bike for fear that he wouldn't actually get started again.

Noemie probably had it the worst, as she bought by far the most stuff, but as you can see she was still in high spirits.

So there you have it. I'd say that was pretty quick, considering that this corner of the Internet has been near-lifeless for the majority of its existence. I'm not promising daily/weekly/annual updates (until winter comes and I get really bored), because a) I'm not bored yet, b) I should be sleeping, and c) rapid, frequent posts are what Twitter is for. Anyway, now it's time to finish my homework, go to sleep, and wake up in six hours to start the daily routine all over again. :D

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Jag är i Sverige!

Well would you look at that; I'm actually posting in this thing! I know I'm way overdue for a post considering that I sent out the link to this thing the night before I left, but better late than never, right? I know that my contact with the American world has been fairly sparse, but just to clarify, I am alive, and I do have Internet. My lack of web-presence can be better attributed to the fact that I've been running around, working on getting settled in, and hanging out with lots of awesome people. (Of course, almost none of them are Swedish, because pretty much only the international students are in Uppsala right now.) I've been attending an Intensive Basic Swedish course for the past week now, and while I certainly can't hold a conversation yet, I can form basic sentences to some degree, and I can more or less count. It's true that nearly everyone here has good English, so communication has been only a tiny issue, and for the most part, people here are extremely friendly and helpful, provided that you make the first move.

I still don't really have this whole blogging thing down yet--as the more experienced among you can probably tell from my prose--but at least I have some idea of what you want to hear about my adventures here. I had received a request to describe what food I would receive on the plane ride from Philly to Arlanda, so without further ado...

Ah, delicious airplane food. A chicken and rice dinner with a small salad + dressing, a roll, and a brownie for dessert.For airplane food, it was relatively good. I wasn't too hungry, so I didn't manage to eat much of it, but it was okay. I did manage to get a bit farther into the brownie before deciding to attempt to sleep:
(For the record, it was about at this point in the post that I discovered I can just copy and paste images as opposed to dragging them down through this tiny post window.)

I'm sure I managed to sleep somewhat, but how much I honestly couldn't say. I found myself welcoming breakfast more than I would have expected, though:

It was less disgusting than the picture makes it look. It was basically a toaster strudel with some kind of red berry filling. They had even heated them before distributing them to the passengers.

So, I could tell you all about what happened after I landed, but instead I'm gonna cheat and copy/paste the (very late) email I sent to my mom about my first day instead. :P

Our plane landed in Arlanda about a half hour ahead of schedule, and all of my luggage was waiting for me, intact. As I worked my way through the airport to the train station, I tried to absorb as much Swedish as I could; the only two words that really stuck were elevator ('hiss') and exit ('utgång'). I finally found my way to the train station (it was inside Arlanda) and also had my first semi-failed attempt at using Swedish! When I got to the front of the line, the conversation between the woman behind the counter and me went something like this:

Her: "Hej!" ("Hi!")
Me: "Hej, um... talar du engelska?" ("Hi, um... do you speak English?")
Her: (flawless American accent): "Yeah, sure, what can I help you with?"

So that was both surprising and relieving. I knew that Swedes had impeccable English and all, but it was still a nice shock. I bought a ticket and took the train to Uppsalacentralstation (which is exactly what it looks like it means) and texted Abraham (my buddy, who had arranged to pick me up) on the way to let him know that I had arrived early and would be at the train station an hour sooner than I expected. After the train arrived, I spent a few minutes wandering around aimlessly and fearing that I had gotten off too early or something, but in fact I was right where I should have been; twenty or so minutes later, I saw a guy approaching me and smiling, and as he walked over he said, "You must be Jacob!" I suppose the luggage, exhaustion, and tourist-like gazing gave me away. Abraham then introduced himself and offered to take one of my bags, and off we went. We sat down at a nearby bench to meet up with Abraham's other newbie, Hanis, who had arrived here yesterday from Singapore. We first went to the bus station so that I could buy a bus pass, and then we stopped by the International Office so that I could check in and get my keys. After we did some more exploring, we took the bus down to Flogsta, where I'm staying. On the bus, we sat next to a guy whom Abraham asked if he was from Spain (Abraham studied abroad in Barcelona). He said yes, introduced himself as Reche, and tagged along with us because he was living at Flogsta too. (If you're starting to think this feels like Wizard of Oz, you're not the only one.)

Once we got to my building, we discovered that my card key didn't work! We tried it several times, from both entrances, but the reader simply wouldn't accept it. After we dropped my bags off at Hanis's place, we set off for the housing building, where they promptly took care of the issue. They said they didn't know what was wrong, but my physical key looked significantly different from their spare, and my card key was probably just demagnetized. After that, everything worked fine. Abraham took us fairly far into campus (he didn't know the way and had to ask for directions, despite having been here on and off for three years) for sushi, where I wasn't able to eat anything but did manage drink my own weight in water. Abraham then showed us around the city, taking us through parks and telling us about history and culture--we stopped for ice cream along the way--and very happily pronouncing nearly every Swedish word that Hanis and I saw. (Reche is still with us, but he didn't talk very much aside from when Abraham spoke to him in Spanish). Abraham took us downtown so that I could look into opening a bank account, but sadly all of the banks (which are conveniently set up next to each other) were closed for the day. I did manage to withdraw some money from an ATM, probably incurring massive fees in the process, but at least I was not without cash. We then went to the other side of the central plaza where the banks were located to a phone store so that Reche and I could look into buying cell phones. I decided I would hold off for a while until I knew a bit more about what I would want/need, and the phone Reche wanted had actually just sold out, so we left empty-handed.

We decided it was time to head back to Flogsta so that we could sleep (by now it had been two days since I last really slept, and not to mention bathed), but on the way back we saw a fenced-off grassy area that Hanis really wanted to lie down in. We asked Abraham if it would be culturally strange for us to hop the fence, and when he shrugged and said no, the four of us climbed over it without hesitation. Reche and I jumped the fence without issue, but Hanis, being fairly short, had some trouble. Abraham offered to assist her, but she politely declined and insisted on getting over on her own. In the end, she only just made it, and she ended up tearing part of her dress in the process. It was nothing significant, though now we always have to tease her about it whenever we pass said fence. We sat in the grass for at least a half hour, just enjoying the sun and ignoring the mosquitoes, until finally we decided it was time to go home. Abraham set us in the right direction for Flogsta and then headed off to his dorm for the night. Hanis, Reche, and I stopped at a nearby ICA (some general grocery store, pronounced "eekaa" because Swedes like to pronounce abbreviations), where I bought cereal, milk, and some other basic things, and then we went our separate ways for the evening. Once I got back to my room, I took the shower I'd been very much craving for the past day and a half; after I finished and turned off the water, I sat down in the corner and actually fell asleep for an hour or so. If not for the fact that I had one of those light dreams that cause you to jerk your leg, I may have stayed there all night. Once I woke up, I dried myself off, climbed into bed, and slept for the next ten hours. Thanks to that, I managed to avoid the jet-lag almost entirely.

Even though it's only been a week and a half since I got here, it feels as though I've been here forever; my friends here have all only known each other for, well, as long as we've been here, but we already hang out like it's a natural, everyday thing. I've met so many people, swum in both a lake and the ocean, attended, I think, four large parties, and tried to get enough sleep to stay awake in the Intensive Basic Swedish class, so you'll have to forgive me for not being online so much. Anyway, I'll get to all of that later, and if you've made it this far without falling asleep, kudos to you! Your reward is a promise from me to make an effort to post more regularly (more opportunities for you to practice staying awake through my long ramblings!) and a chance to tell me what I should be posting about in general. I tend to get bored with myself whenever I write for too long, so seriously, requests and recommendations are more than welcome. Also, I know that I am an absolute master of the art of name-giving, but I sense that some people may be put off by a title like "TEMPORARY BLOG NAME," so if you have any suggestions as to what I should call it, those would be welcome too. Later!