I wrote the entirety of this post on my plane back home.
In the Batman comic The Killing Joke, the Joker sets out to prove that the ordinary man is only one day away from reaching insanity. In high school had one day that felt particularly like that. I cannot remember the kind of beating I was inflicting upon myself due to my own dissatisfaction with my performance but by the time I was in Chemistry class, I was in tears and asking my professor if there was something inherently wrong with me. She spoke to me some but she also gave me something which she claimed would provide me with good luck. I was only to find out six months ago on my exchange to Sweden that what she had given me was actually a Dala horse.
If holding a Dala horse for years without knowing what it was doesn’t already betray this fact, I really knew absolutely nothing about Sweden prior to looking it up for exchange change purposes. And after checking out what courses I should enrol into, I did not make any further inquiries beyond researching my university itself. I could say with absolute honestly that I had never felt a compulsion to visit the Nordic region let alone spend half a year in one of the countries.
I mean the very idea of going to Sweden is not unlike Chandler from Friends buying a plane ticket to Yemen to avoid Janice. Exchange at the time felt like it served no higher purpose than to escape the life I was currently leading, which is what led to a lot of my initial apprehension about leaving. But as I sit on this plane taking me back to Malaysia, my heart is filled with so much emotion. One of elation, joy and awe that I was blessed with this opportunity to have spent time in such a magical country. The other of heaviness and wistful feelings, like a lover torn away from a whirlwind romance.
Moving to Sweden at times felt so seamless because it is a country that makes it easy to love. This is despite arriving at the frostiest time of the year while also having an allergic predisposition to the cold because everything was made for me to be easy as possible. I was enrolled into Stockholm Universitet a university that like most has a penchant for slow and tedious bureaucratic processes. Yet I don’t forget that it found me accommodation quickly and efficiently, also giving me my first choice to live at Lappkärrsberget which was fundamental to my good experience in Sweden. As previously mentioned, there is a lot of good food on campus and its proximity to a T-bana and by extension to the centre of Stockholm made it feel like a home away from home for a city girl like me. A stone’s throw away from SU is also the Ekoparken, a National Urban Park.
In winter, you’d be surprised at how beautiful snow caught on branches looks like when captured in the right light. In summer, I have had transcendental experiences running through the majestic forest till I am out of breath, listening to my Kubla Khan playlist.
Even throughout all of my European travels, no matter how good or bad they were, Jordan and Shaun can both vouch that I was never happier than when we were making our way back to Stockholm. There were several universities I could have chosen, some of them even being in other parts of Sweden, but I never regretted making SU my Swedish university of choice.
For a land that is cold enough for hell to freeze over, it is also where some of the warmest hearts are. I think about the cashier at Pressbyran who patiently listens to the fumbling of my SL card purchases, that one time homesick Jae and I looked for Texan food and two absolute strangers helped with both recommendations and directions, the way the homeless man winks and smiles warmly at me when I dump all of my change in his hat on my last day. The people are one of the friendliest I have ever met, and believe me I have done my fair share of travelling. I will also never grow tired of mentioning how good their English is and it inspires me to think that it is their second language too.
I also think about the friends I have made along the way. The European exchange experience brings us non-EU students into the exclusive club of the Erasmus program that sees European university students from absolutely everywhere be on their own exchanges.
I’m not sure what exchange would have been like in an Asian or North American country. But my first law course, had people from Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Iceland, Ireland, Australia, France, Greece and Cyprus, a list that sounds like an extremely long bar joke. Lappkärrberget and the other student communities too are a huge melting pot of cultures, I don’t know anywhere else in the world that I have been that has been able to make this possible.
If there’s a lesson to be learnt here its one of open mindedness and tolerance. Because if its possible to simply throw a bunch of people from all over the world together in one room and see how much we all get along, why can’t we (all) be friends?
By virtue of it being exchange, I was spoiled for free time. If there were ever such a thing as taking a sabbatical from studying, exchange would be it. Naturally like any part of life there were some bad times. But because of this I always had time to pause and reflect on it, learn from what had happened and move on. I feel like I have benefitted greatly especially in understanding where I want to go in the future, there was always time to think and time to take it slow. Also this period in Sweden was probably the longest time period I’ve persisted in eating healthy and exercising moderately often
ignoring the number of Ben & Jerry’s tubs I’d consumed obviously. Having an abundance of ‘me’ time is something I will greatly miss about exchange.
Stockholm was a decision made from many options. But what I think sets my experience apart, made it unforgettable and a part of me I could never go without is the people. Just one alternative that could have been is that if had I accepted my first round of exchange offers I would have been in Rotterdam, The Netherlands last year. One would argue that if I had gone, there would have been an equally friendly and helpful Canadian like Jordan waiting for me, an alternate reality Mario Party or the Dutch version of the most amazing corridor that ever was and ever will be, Forskarbacken 5. But if I think about the way Constantinos says ‘It’s okay’, Andrea’s situation, the best hugs ever from Nikki, Armin’s laughter, my ever encouraging fitness partner Eva and the way Mario’s eyes light up when he schools me on hip-hop, I can’t imagine making an informed decision to miss out on any of that. I could name drop all day but really, I dare any alternate reality to be better than the people I have met here. I have written posts about how I don’t believe in fate but in the power of choice to determine the direction of our lives. But the emergence of the Dala horse five years before I was to go on exchange coupled with how phenomenal my experience was, has made me truly wonder if everything really does happen for a reason.
In my final week in Stockholm, my sleep was plagued with vivid dreams of people I knew coming and going. From this one particular dream I remember nothing but the question burning in my mind until I woke up – Are you ready to go? Going on exchange to Sweden has really changed my life, if any of you are reading this please understand what a fundamental role you have played. Even if it might be a long time before we see each other again, thank you from the bottom of my heart. As I type what I think are the final words to this blog post, I can feel my heart quell just ever so slightly. I think I’m ready now.
Now Playing: The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony