Yes, I do acknowledge that it is strange for me to address this letter to an entire nation. But I think it’s a good kind of strange. Over the last few months you have allowed me the opportunity to do things I would have never dreamed of seeing myself doing. If someone were to go back in time to two years ago and tell my college freshman self that I’d be in Sweden in the future doing all the things I’ve done – I’d first ask them for lottery numbers and stock picks. Then I’d tell them they were crazy and that I don’t believe them. There’s nothing in Sweden for me anyway.
This letter is my way of telling that time traveler I’m sorry, and that I was wrong. Sweden, studying abroad with you has endowed me with wisdom and lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my life. These lessons have allowed me to grow as a student, a traveler, and ultimately as a person. Since I know that you are very busy being a country and all, I’ve taken the liberty of detailing 3 key lessons you’ve taught me and the stories behind them.
Star Wars Unites the World and even Swedish Host Moms Can be Sith Lords
A long time ago (about 2 weeks) in a country far, far away I learned that Star Wars can bring people from all over the world together. I learned this after having dinner with my Swedish Visiting Host parents Lena and Joakim one night. After telling her of my love for Star Wars, Lena showed me the Star Wars toys she bought her sons years ago. These included a Darth Vader helmet with breathing noises, some lego building kits, and a couple breathtaking lightsabers that matched the movies almost perfectly. Unfortunately I had no choice but to pick up a blue lightsaber to duel Lena when I saw her wielding the red one: my Swedish visiting host mom was a Sith Lord.
Thankfully we took things the Swedish way and avoided too much bloodshed as we worked out our differences diplomatically.
It’s OK to ask How to Eat Something
My second lesson follows shortly after my lightsaber duel with Darth Lena. That night I had a traditional Swedish dinner with lots of seafood. Though I’ve had plenty of seafood before in my life, there were several firsts for me at this table. We had Crab, Lobster, crayfish, shrimp, and oysters. None of these I had ever eaten before and what really surprised me was that they looked like they had just been caught out of the sea and brought straight to the table. I’m accustomed to food that has been cooked and prepared and when I saw what we were having I wasn’t sure if the food was even done yet.
There were still eyes, claws, legs, and shells attached to it and I became hesitant of how to eat any of it. Thankfully Lena came to my rescue when I asked and showed me how to eat every item on our table. She showed me how to break claws off and use the table utensils to get the meat out just right. Joakim helped out too by showing me what parts of the crab to avoid. Now I could have just sat there the whole dinner and pretended to know what I was doing, but that would have gotten me nowhere. But reaching out to the locals and asking how to eat with them allowed me to truly share in their culture the right way.
Don’t Ever Gamble when Surströmming is on the Line
I am not a gambling man. After witnessing what happens when someone makes a bet with Surströmming – I will never be a gambling man. The story behind this final lesson is perhaps the most vivid experience I had abroad, and it comes from me witnessing fellow DIS students Ryan and Erik eat Surströmming. As part of a game he lost to Erik, Ryan had to eat a Surströmming sandwich.
Surströmming is pickled herring. Basically it’s prepared by placing pieces of herring or other fish into a can along with salt water. The cans are then left to ferment for six months which causes gasses to build up pressure inside. This is where it gets fun because these cans need to be open underwater or with great care because they will explode.
So to properly open Surströmming Erik, Ryan, and I went to an open space nearby the Residential Community at Högalidsgatan and opened the can. It exploded a little, but that wasn’t the worst part. If there’s one memory I’m going to take back with me when I leave, it’s the smell of Suströmming: it is HORRIBLE. I have never smelled something so awful. Even with the stiff wind outside the three of us were gagging as we tried to survive the stench.
Once we made it back inside to the RC common room with the Surströmming, Erik helped Ryan prepare for his challenge. He prepared for him a sandwich with lots of mayo, onion, and a piece of the Surströmming. I had to step out of the room several times to breathe just because the stench was so strong and was all over the top floor.
We all marveled at Ryan as he took the first bite. Thankfully he made it through the first couple bites fine before nearly spitting up the horrible sandwich on a particularly unfavorable bite. After thinking he suffered enough, Erik prepared his own sandwich and joined Ryan. Together they both conquered the beast.
When I asked Ryan how it, was he characteristically commented, “It literally tasted like garbage.” With that, I learned that if someone wagers Surströmming in a bet, I know to walk away – they obviously have nothing to lose.
Sweden, these 3 lessons were your way of conveying one message to me: there is more than one way. There’s more than one way to enjoy science fiction movies like Star Wars; there’s more than one way to have a seafood dinner with friends and family; there’s more than one way to lose a horrible bet. Growing up in America I thought there was only one way to do things, but going abroad to you has changed all that. You taught me there’s more than one way to everything, but especially, there’s more than one way to be human.