Finding Home in Sweden

Arriving in a new country can be intimidating, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Having just wrapped up my time in Stockholm, I want to share this list of ideas that saved me a lot of money, time, and worrying – allowing me to interact with my Swedish neighbors to better understand the cultural vibrancy and sensibility of Sweden.

Go to grocery stores, shop for what’s in season, and eat Swedish food!

If you’re a DIS summer student, keep your eyes open for the numerous strawberry stands (look for bright strawberry-shaped Jordgubbar “huts” that pop up near the Östermalms saluhall down the street from DIS as well as within neighborhoods!) and white asparagus. Both play a central role in Swedish summer cuisine, but are easy enough to prepare and incorporate into meals. There are special elements of seasonality and sustainability in the food here. Don’t fear visiting supermarkets or market halls, where the best and most cost effective eating is done!

…. But save room for fika and Lördagsgodis

Cafes show off mesmerizing displays of cakes that are perfect for sharing or keeping to yourself. Most of the grocery stores have endless candy-by-weight walls, where the real fun is indulging in Lördagsgodis, the “Saturday sweets” tradition originating in the 1950s, another example of healthy balance maintained in the Swedish diet. Fika is best enjoyed with coffee and typically marks a short break during the work day.

I read more about the treat I bought from Vaxholms Hembygdsgårds Café on Vaxholm, learning that in the 1990s the Swedish Fruit Council Fruktrådet hosted a competition for national pastry during which the nationaldagsbakelsen was born. It is a wonderful combination of almond paste, whipped cream, a patriotic flag, and the fresh strawberries that are so loved during the summer. (source:

I’ll admit that fika is something that really brought warmth to my weekdays. Whether it was sharing it in class while on a short break or stepping into a new bakery, it was a simple treat that I could reliably look forward to.

You can take the train or bus virtually anywhere in Sweden, even to national parks, using just your SL card!

Public transportation is reliable and ubiquitous throughout Sweden, allowing you to reach places that may look far away on a map with relative ease. With your DIS-provided SL card, the train will take you north to the collegiate town of Uppsala, as far south as the Baltic Sea, or even out to a number of national parks and scenic locations around the archipelago! And, bus services can shuttle you to remote hiking trails, with stops conveniently at the trailheads.

On a Saturday, I used my SL card provided by DIS to visit the lush Tyresta National Park about 20 km south of Stockholm. Here you’ll find that a charter style bus drops you off directly at the entrance of the park, where you can then start on a number of trails including the popular Lake Circuit trail which I opted for.

If you find yourself needing a break from the city or simply some exercise, consider browsing Google Maps or a number of hiking trail websites to plan out a retreat into nature. My day trip to Tyresta connected me to a verdant Swedish landscape of vast untouched forest. Hiking is an activity that I enjoy at home in Michigan, so this place felt grounding and extra special.

Get out on the water! Ferry, sail, or dive into Swedish bathing culture while you’re here

These are essential to the experience of visiting Sweden as an outsider, as well as integral parts of Swedish life! A handful of parks around Stockholm have saunas available for use that are perfect after jumping in a cold lake during the summer (or winter, if you’re bold, kind of fearless, and really want to do it the Swedish way).

Both Stromma and Waxholmsbolaget ferry services can take you on a variety of expeditions around the greater Stockholm archipelago: Waxholm, Fjäderholmarna, and beyond. Some boats have full-service restaurants on board and make for a perfect afternoon en route to a new destination!

Embrace the Scandinavian classroom model by coming prepared to work collaboratively

My DIS professors and the professionals we’ve visited on Field Studies at Karolinska Instituet and KTH Royal Institute of Technology have confirmed that students work collaboratively toward their academic and research goals much of the time in Scandinavian countries. This may be unusual coming from North American classrooms, where most assignments and projects are completed independently and there is not much emphasis on interaction.

While it may be daunting at first, this is an excellent opportunity to reflect on your strengths and sharpen your weaker skills (for me, programming!). For our final statistics project in my Session 1 course, my group was able to apply the tools learned in class to analyze human behavior and wellness in each of our neighborhoods. Each of us had a “leadership” role within the group based on our skills; from concept development to social, analytical, and design, we each took ownership of the project in different ways and finished the course with a project highlighting our interests in Swedish culture.

It’s also worth noting: take some time to get to know the people in your classes! This is the fastest way to make friends to enjoy the city with. I’ve made some friends here that have shared their own favorite locales and helped widen my social circle here. Talk to your instructors too, as they oftentimes are willing to connect you with the right people to grow your network and help plan possible return opportunities for the future, should you end up falling in love with Stockholm and dreaming of your return to DIS like I have.

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