It’s officially the end of the first semester and it’s time to send out see-you-again’s and good-bye messages. This, without a doubt, is the most emotional part of study abroad experience. But in the many farewell dinners I’ve attended these past few days, I was able to reflect along with others on the things we’ve learned this semester. I didn’t realize how much happened until we all sat down together and talked about it. At one particular get-together, I was reunited with three of the students who came from my home university in Hawai’i. We talked about our bizarre encounters in Sweden and reminisced about life back home. There were several points brought up during our conversation that I thought was interesting and insightful.
Point 1: Views on Relationship
A few of the students from my home university were able to build relationship with a Swede during their studies. However, there is a risk in building an intimate relationship with someone during a short exchange, and that is the eventual parting. Like many long-distance relationship, some can work out and some can’t, but that was not the main point of discussion. The main point of our conversation on the topic was about how differently Swedes seem to view dating and relationships.
Back in America, or more specifically in Hawai’i, when two individuals go out on dates, they’re assumed to (or beginning to) be in an intimate relationship. However, for the Swedes dating does not mean you’re committed to one person. A Swede may go on dates but they’re not necessarily tied down to dating one person only. It’s as if they’re exploring their options before jumping in to build a more serious relationship. Although this may sound appalling at first, especially coming from Hawai’i perspective, this is a mutual understanding between both individuals involved in this “dating” relationship. They understand they’re not completely boyfriend-girlfriend, but also not just friends. When these relationships come to an end, both individuals don’t often remain friends, in fact it’s almost certain they’ll avoid each other. That being said it’s not correct to assume Swedes don’t want to build serious relationships. One of the students from Hawai’i is currently in a long-distance relationship with a Swede, and they’re both doing their best to make things work. Before committing themselves to each other, they both understood that it was going to be a tough road to go on. But despite that they still chose one another and are holding a good and growing relationship together since last year.
Point 2: Treating People
This topic came up briefly and sporadically throughout the night. To summarize this point, we came to a conclusion that Swedes usually treat people without regards to their gender. A friend brought up an example of the time she was trying to move a heavy box. Usually, in America, a male would often offer to help when they see a lady picking up heavy objects. However, Swedes would often let the person try their hands on the job first (regardless of gender) and if the person is in need of help, they will step in. I think this somehow seeps into the way Swedes deal with payment on dinner dates. Both parties in the date will pay for their own bills, regardless of if they’re female or male. If the two people on a dinner date are male and female, the male is not assumed to take the bill for the female. There may be other reasons as to why this is the way Swedes do things, so take it with a grain of salt.
Point 3: Personal Space
Privacy and personal space is a big factor to consider when Swedes interact with one another. They don’t intrude on other people’s personal space, unless they’re in a close relationship. Similarly Swedes expect others to respect their personal space and privacy. My Swedish classmates pointed out that it’s an apparent phenomenon we can see everyday, specifically at bus stops. A typical Swedish bus line would have have about 2-5 feet between each person standing at the bus stop.
This can be a difficult hurdle to overcome when meeting a Swede for the first time, they’re often reserved people but, again, not all Swedes are like this. Personally, I’ve met a Swede that is very sociable and talkative right on the first day I’ve met them. There was a casual crash-course presentation on Sweden and the Swedes that I’ve attended couple weeks ago. One of the Swedish presenter points out that Swedes like to interact with people, especially internationals, however the beginning part can be difficult. Another interesting thing the presenter mentioned was that Swedes are often anxious to start a conversation with someone new because they don’t know how to end it. So a tip for anyone heading to Sweden, don’t be afraid to end a conversation when it’s obviously dying down. The Swedes will appreciate it very much…or so I’ve been told.
I can’t possibly list each and every little lessons I’ve learned in Sweden but these are some of the biggest and most obvious things I’ve learned. It’s definitely unexpected, at least for me, that I was able to learn and adapt to so much that was not considered the norm in America. Although the way some things were done felt “weird” during the first few months, I quickly became accustomed and didn’t realize it was something strange until I talked about it with other students. Saying good-bye to the cold and dark Sweden was difficult for me. It’s an eventual and inevitable end to a semester abroad, but it’s definitely not forgettable. This was an experience that I will recount and continually come back on even after ages forward. Again, thank you FEA for helping in opening this door of opportunity for me and many students to be abroad.