The Conclusion

My experience in Sweden came to an abrupt and unexpected end on March 30th, when I received news that my grandparents had been in a car accident the day prior and my grandfather had died.

I want everyone to know that I wouldn’t have been able to come if it hadn’t been for him, and for a lot of reasons.  He piqued my interest in travel kind of passively when I was young.  I remember being at my grandparents’ house in Indianapolis and sifting through this jar he kept of coins.  All the coins were different currencies, and served as a sort of souvenir from his many trips abroad for business.  I was so interested in the coins and their countries of origin — I remember one in particular had a hole in the middle and when I asked about it, Grandpa told me a about Denmark.

He would have loved hearing about my trip when I got back, but for now I’m trying to be grateful that I was able to keep the blog, post my photos and communicate with him (and a lot of other people) through email and Skype.  It was really important to me that he knew how much I enjoyed being in Sweden, in part because it was a very significant interest we shared.  He knew and understood my interest in seeing and experiencing new things and supported me when, back in August, I decided on a whim to study abroad.

All I can say now is thank you.



Dress Code, Discipline and Knees, OH MY!

I know, it’s been over a week since I last updated.  But in my defense, things have been kind of boring around here!  (Well, boring to read about probably, not boring for me.)  There are a few things I keep reminding myself to write about but I haven’t yet, so this is the post for it!  Like others, this will be one of those titled-in-bold, section-by-section posts because that’s the only way my tired mind can think right now.  Transitions are for the ambitious!

School Dress Code / In-School Discipline

Or…lack thereof.  There isn’t a dress code here.  For students or teachers.  This is kind of neat for me, because I get to wear my jeans whenever I want to and it’s nice to know I could go to school in a t-shirt if I felt so inclined (I have yet to feel so inclined … knowing I can might be enough).  However, what this means is that “school clothes” run the gamut from leather leggings and lace shirts to backless shirts to tunics that barely pass the hips to tracksuits.  And that’s just on teachers.  It’s definitely interesting.  I did my practicum at a school where male teachers were usually in dress pants, button-downs and ties and the women were typically in nice (pencil) skirts and fancy schmancy blouses or sweaters so it’s just a tad different.  For example, I interacted with a teacher the other day who was wearing red leather leggings, a sheer lace blouse and stiletto booties.  Those images are the closest approximations I could find to her outfit.  Definitely different than what I’m used to.  All I could think when I was talking to her was how uncomfortable those shoes must have been.  Can you imagine standing most of the day on heels like that?!  Nope, never even gonna try.  What’s that To Kill a Mockingbird quote?  You’re licked before you start or something?

I looked it up: “Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”  Ok then, Atticus, I’m choosing to not be courageous when it comes to stilettos while teaching.

Now, there’s definitely no dress code for teachers but there isn’t one for students either.  This means that they wear some of the same styles as the teachers, but even less conservative in most cases.  I had one girl come into class with sheer tights on under a leotard.  This was worn with Chucks, of course, because Chucks have to be the most popular footwear over here.  Nearly everyone wears them and has several pairs in all different colors.  This baffles me for a few reasons.  #1: It’s Sweden, these shoes are NOT warm.  They must be wearing some thick socks under them!  #2: They are not comfortable!  With all the walking people do over here, you’d think they’d want comfy shoes (I know I do) so what’s with the unsupported, thin-soled Chucks?!  They’re so popular (and apparently expensive) that Ida asked if it’s possible for me to buy some and ship them to her when I get back.  In case you were wondering, she wants pink.

Ok, so this whole lack-of-a-dress code thing (at least for me) is weird and kind of disquieting.  Having no dress code means that you can’t send a girl to get a spare shirt from the office when she shows up with a v-neck down to her belly button and no back, but you can’t send them to the office for anything here.  There’s no in-school discipline.  While it’s doing a lot for my classroom management and discipline, developmentally speaking, it kind of sucks.  Students miss class after class after class (ditching to go get lunch in the city, going to a movie, going to Stockholm, you name it) and you can’t really do anything within the school.  The only disciplinary measure for students is that their government stipend for going to school gets taken away after a certain number of absences (20) or a certain number of class failures (more than 75% failure rate for individual students).  So students have to try really hard to get their money taken away, so there’s no real external incentive to go to school and most of these kids don’t really internally motivate yet.  It’s a little frustrating, but it’s apparently a pretty new system.  The Swedish school systems underwent an overhaul very recently, and that’s when these policies were enacted.  Lotta’s opinion seems to be that the Swedish schools used to be too strict, but have gone too far the opposite way with these reforms.  I get the impression she’d be happy with a middle-of-the-road approach.

School in General

Ok, all that being said, I want you to know that I LOVE my students.  They’re awesome.  I don’t know how to describe it without talking about specific students, but since they’re under 18, I can’t do that.  So…I’ll just leave you hanging on that one.

But really, I love my students.  They’re the bomb dot com.

As much as (or perhaps because) I love them so much, I am always exhausted at the end of the day.  My days are fun, but I’m learning that teaching is definitely an endurance sport.  It is no easy task to stand in front of a room full of people all day, every day and ask them to be excited about the material.  I’ve found that the students usually respond to my sometimes comical (but always earnest) enthusiasm, so I spend all day every day being really excited about most things.  Excitement is exhausting.  I wonder if it’ll wear off and I’ll slowly become one of those teachers who you can tell is interested in the subject but doesn’t care to teach it anymore.  I sincerely hope not.

My Knee

I have a stupid bum knee right now.  My IT band is being a lame-o so my runs have either been really short (like, 1-2 miles) or just haven’t been happening.  I’m still registered for the marathon but as of right now, I’m only a hopeful participant (not a definite participant).  I’ve been doing all this research and all these crazy stretches and strength exercises, I’m just hoping they help enough that I can go on a slow, long run this weekend.  Also, Lotta said one of the hockey trainers at Ungstedtska owed her a favor, so she called it in for me.  He looked at my knee and gave me a loaner brace (I read mixed reviews about braces re: IT band problems, so I didn’t get one) and some more exercises and IT band massages to do, so we’ll see how this goes.  I’ve also been rolling my band on a makeshift roller (I hijacked one of the rolling pins).  It’s a lot of effort and I’m hoping and praying that it’ll pay off.  Four months is a lot of time to invest in a training  regimen to not be able to put it to use!

Plus, Dad offered a monetary reward if I cross the finish in a truly dramatic way. (his idea is to do the worm. We’ll see.)  I think he just wants to be entertained.

Only 27 Days Left! EEK!

Yesterday was the 10-week marker!  That is a long time to have been here.  I have less than 4 weeks left (only 1 day less, but still) and only two of those weeks are at school.  I can’t believe the end of my time here is closing in on me.

For reference’s sake, when the numbers were flipped (27 days here, 71 left), I was in the middle of my last week at Tornhagsskolan with Ann-Sofi.  That feels like yesterday, but it was a while ago.

Maybe we’ll all get lucky and things will liven up for a more exciting blog post next time!

A Catch-Up Post

MAN ALIVE am I tired this week.  I think Rome, Dr. Fawson’s visit and Jill’s trip are finally catching up with me.  I’ve been in bed around 8:30 and up around 6:30 every day this week and I just can’t seem to get with it!  I hope that this weekend will help — I have no plans.  It’s the first weekend since before Copenhagen in late February during which I will do absolutely nothing.  It will be glorious.

Well, not absolutely nothing.  I will clean.  I figure this is a sign that I’m turning into a grown up — I can’t wait for the weekend because then I will have time to clean my room and catch up on laundry!  I’m really excited about this … I guess it’s the little things, eh?

I have nothing planned for this weekend for a few reasons.  Number one: I’m exhausted.  Number two: I am poor.  I’m poor for a very exciting reason though!  I’m going to Amsterdam!  I bought my plane and bus tickets to and from Amsterdam and it worked out REALLY well.  I will be in Finland before that; I fly to Helsinki on April 7th, and fly out on April 10th.  I will land back in Stockholm around 8:40am, and I got a plane going from Stockholm to Amsterdam for later that day (4:30, I think.)  So I will just hang out in Arlanda’s “Sky City” for a while before I fly back out.  I will have two full days in Amsterdam.  I land around 7 on the 10th, have all day on the 11th and 12th and I fly out at 7:20 and land at Arlanda around 9:30.  I have big plans for my time in Amsterdam.  The 11th is reserved for Keukenhof and the 12th is reserved for a 3-hour walking tour and the Anne Frank Museum (open until 10).  I did one of these walking tours in Berlin when I went in 2009 and it was FANTASTIC.  One of the coolest ways I’ve ever seen a city.  Plus, while 2 full days will be a luxury after some 36-hour weekend trips, it really is no time at all to spend in a city like Amsterdam.  I figure a walking tour will be a great way to see what I want to see / should see.

I mentioned in my last post how I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make this trip happen because of the cost.  Well, my parents are “paying waaaaay up front” for landscaping work over the summer so … I get to go to Amsterdam and to see the tulips.  When I was talking about it with them, my mom said, “We can spot you the money, you should go while you’re over there.”  Just another affirmation that my parents are pretty neat.  Or, as us kids say, they’re ballin.  (Pssst … Mom and Dad: will you let me eat brownies for dinner when I get back for this shout-out?  I miss brownies.  They’re different here.)

Speaking of when-I-get-back, today marks exactly 9 weeks here. CRAZY.  That is crazy business.  It is FLYING, especially now that I’m teaching every day.  Only 5 weeks left, and only 3 (and a half) of those are at school!

Ok, lots of awkward segues here.  Speaking of school, I LOVE IT.  I love love love my students.  I see Lotta’s English A class and Birgitta’s English B class most often, so I think they’re the ones I have the best rapport with.  I see them 3 times a week and haven’t missed any classes due to teacher work days, and the other classes have each been cancelled at least twice AND I only have them twice a week.  Anywho, I love my students.  We just started using a NING so that my students could communicate with my fellow student teacher Kari’s students.  Every student (American and Swedish) is given the same prompt and required to write a brief blog response.  Then, they all read each others’ work and comment on it.  The entire site is monitored by Kari and me, and only those we invite are permitted to enter.  It’s a pretty neat thing and the students are doing really well on it so far.  Bonus, it meets like 4 Kentucky Teacher Standards in one fell swoop!

And this brings me to my next uncomfortable segue: I am serving as more of a social studies teacher here than I thought I would be.  I’m not just teaching literature, I have to teach quite a bit more of the social and historical background of what we’re reading than I would have anticipated.  It’s nice though; the students have a clearer image of the time period and can understand why a book or poem is written.  I know that this is hugely necessary in American classrooms as well, but I doubt I would have learned to integrate history — particularly social history — into my lessons as quickly back home.  There, the students understand what the 1960s were for the US and know who MLK, Jr. is.   Here, they don’t.

It also means that there are some things these students don’t know are offensive when they do them.  For instance, two of my students posted pictures of themselves in blackface on the NING.  In the US, I wouldn’t have to explain why it was inappropriate or offensive, but here — because they don’t have the same socio-historical background — I had to explain it and ask them to take down their pictures.  In this way, there are clear advantages and challenges to not teaching in an American classroom but I truly think it’s making me more aware of problems that might arise in an American classroom and making me more adept at responding to them quickly and effectively.

Jill noticed the same thing when she came to school with me: “You have to explain a lot of things I wouldn’t have expected.”  Totally true.  Jill came to school with me last Thursday and my students loved her.  She chatted with each class a little and they all enjoyed talking to her.  That’s another weird thing about being here: because the culture is so Americanized, everyone wants to meet me just because I’m an American.  Once they hear me talk, they want to chat about what they know about the US and ask me a zillion questions.  It’s odd.  I’m not sure I’d like being a celebrity … it’s a lot of attention.  So my kids had a ton of questions for her and she answered them really well and you could tell they really liked her.  She only came to school with me on the one day though, the rest of the time she was here we walked around Linköping and went to Norrköping.  I couldn’t do much with her, though, because I was swamped with work and classes to teach.  She got on just fine without me, and even went to Stockholm for a day by herself!  Here we are in Norrköping:


We walked around a lot in Norrköping and I was thrilled my knee didn’t act up!  I’ve been having problems with my left knee, which I have diagnosed as Illiotibial Band Syndrome (yes, I’ve gotten my medical degree since I arrived in Sweden.)  Basically, I did too many things that required, you know, my legs.  ITBS can be caused by long distance running (check!) and cycling (check!).  It can also be caused by running on hills (check!), “toeing-in” while cycling (check!), and weak hip muscles (check! check!).  So … based on this and the description of my discomfort, I have decided I have ITBS.  I tried to run on Sunday and I did fine until about 2 miles in (around the first big hill) and my knee was like “aw HECK no!” so I called it quits and limped back to my bike before leisurely riding home.  Since then, I haven’t biked or run.  I’m taking a week off of everything (which is LAME) and I’m going to run on flatter surfaces when I begin to ease my way back into running.  I hope this works out!  I’m not keen on dropping out of the marathon, but I’m even less keen on persistent knee problems.

And finally, this brings us to the second installment of Emily’s Embarrassing Moments.  I have two today.

  1. Jill and I decided to walk to school last Thursday.  I decided to wear a dress and a backpack.  On the way to school, my backpack made my dress ride aaaaaaall the way up, so I was walking around with my skirt around my waist for who knows how long.  It seems I just cannot pull off dresses and skirts over here.
  2. I have two students with the same first name in one of my classes.  When I asked them their last names so I could differentiate between them, I misunderstood one of the students.  I referred to him as “[First name] Ass” all class.  He approached me after class and said, “uh, Emily? My last name isn’t ‘ass’. It’s ‘az-uh’.”  Whoopsie.

Everyone Told Me Not to Fall in Love with Sweden …

… But no one said anything about Rome!  Rachel and I went to Rome to take our Praxii (is that the plural of Praxis?) and man, was it AWESOME.  Travelling there was not so awesome though.  I had to get my sorry behind out of bed at 2:30am to get ready and bike the ~35 minutes to the train station for my 4:30am train.  Then, I had about an hour and  a half before my 3 hour flight departed for Rome. By the time I got to Rome, I felt disgusting (despite having showered before I left) and still had to walk about 10 minutes to find our hotel.  My travelling was finally done around 2:00pm.  It was totally worth it though.  This weekend was the most exhausting weekend I’ve experienced but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  The school where we took the Praxis was beautiful and the people who ran the hotel were great.

Anywho, I got there and checked into our hotel and went and scouted the school out.  St. Stephen’s was right across the street (I planned surprisingly well!) and GORGEOUS.

The indoor, open-air courtyard at St. Stephen’s.

After I scouted it out, I went back to the hotel to await Rachel’s arrival.  She arrived around 4pm, and we went out to explore for a while before calling it an early night.  It was a perfect evening to walk around the city — it was about 60 degrees (much warmer than Sweden) and it was a clear night.  We stayed pretty near to our hotel, but made it to Piazza Venezia and the Trevi Fountain before looping around and coming back for dinner and bed.  Here are some pictures from the first night:

Monument in Piazza Venezia

 Trevi Fountain

 Making a wish!

 The crowd was huge.

So we slowly meandered back to Viale Aventino, where our hotel was, and ate dinner and got gelato on the way.  After showers and lots of 7th-grade girl, sleepover-chat, we finally went to bed.

The next morning was also an early morning because we were taking the Praxis!  Rachel took the PLT (Principles of Learning and Teaching) and Social Studies essays and I took the English Language, Literature and Composition essays.  I feel pretty confident about how I did — I knew the material and felt ready to articulate what they were asking me to articulate.  The essays have been making me pretty anxious for the last few months because everyone I’ve talked to who has gotten an English Certification in Kentucky has said basically the same thing: the essays were the hardest Praxis test.  I knew that we had 2 hours to write 4 essays, and reviewed some high-scoring essay responses that ETS offers on their website, and went in knowing I had to be mindful of my time.  I allotted exactly 30 minutes for each essay and finished comfortably, but without much time to spare.  I’ll find out how I did on it when scores come back in mid-April!

So I got out of the test around 10, but Rachel still had one to take, so I got some coffee and went back to the room to read and hang out.  I was given specific instructions not to go see anything fun without her.  You know me, I always follow directions!

Rachel got out of her second test around 12:30 pm, and after a 15 minute power nap, we headed out.  We were fully prepared for a full day, but we were gone for 12 hours.  We covered basically every major site there was to see in Rome in those 12 hours.  Our game plan was to go see the Colosseum and the Sistene Chapel first, because those required admission and would close.  We walked around for a good 40 minutes trying to find a tourist bureau to get information on the best way to go about this and find out which one closed earlier, but we couldn’t find one ANYWHERE.  We even asked like 3 police men!  We settled on going to the Colosseum first, and when we walked in we were both taken aback by the magnificence and grandiosity of it.  That thing is HUGE.  Because we were strapped for time, Rachel and I decided to do an audio-guided tour of the Colosseum.  It cost like 6 euros more, but it allowed us to skip the huge line for regular tickets.

While we were inside the Colosseum, we came across a sign that said “Tourist Information” so we went in to ask what we should do in order to get to the Sistene Chapel before its closing time at 6pm.  The woman told us that we could take a bus, but there was no admittance to the museum after 4pm.  It was 3:45 at the time.  Even if we had taken a taxi over, we likely wouldn’t have arrived in time.  The woman in the office was kind enough to call the Vatican Museum and ask if we could still come if we were just there for the chapel, but the answer was a resounding “no”.  Rachel and I were pretty upset that it didn’t work out, and since we had completed our tour of the Colosseum, we decided to cheer ourselves up with some gelato.  Rachel dropped a scoop of hers on the ground and was accordingly displeased.

After gelato, we decided to make our way north to the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps.  We ventured that a-way and eventually stumbled upon the Pantheon.  There were so many people there!  We couldn’t go inside because there was some service going on in the basilica, so we did what anyone would do: staged a fake America’s Next Top Model photo shoot on the side-steps of the building.  Probably not super mature, but posing for pictures in a polite, smiley way isn’t as fun.  We each only took a few ANTM shots, and here are the best ones:

The competition for that CoverGirl contract just got amped up.

After that, we took some regular, age- and situation-appropriate photos in and around the Pantheon and fountain.  Fun fact: After I uploaded some pictures, I found a man in a Skyline shirt in one of them!  There was also a tenor singing some opera in the square.  He sang Con Te Partiro and my heart melted.  I love that song.  See the man in the Skyline shirt?

See that bag in my hand?  Those are my souvenirs.  I got myself some watercolors from a street artist!  He was working on some as he was talking to us, and I bought two of them.  They were too beautiful to pass up.  I also took a picture of some of his other work because I couldn’t believe it.

After we finished our business at the Pantheon, we traipsed around a little and made our way to the Spanish Steps.  We didn’t stay there for long — long enough to rest for a few minutes and for Rachel to put some new bandaids on her torn-up feet.  We watched the sunset from the steps and it was gorgeous.  I don’t think I would ever get tired of being in Rome.  After the Spanish Steps, we walked aaaaaaaaall the way across the river to the Vatican.  We decided to go even though we couldn’t see the Sistene Chapel.  On our way, we stumbled — completely by chance — upon the restaurant my family and I went to a few times when we were in Rome in 2004!  Even though we were a little early (it was about 7pm) they let us in and gave us some bread while they finished getting read for open.  We ordered pizza and limoncello and sat, loving every minute of our dinner.  We also noticed that the restaurant was FULL of Italians.  I guess we picked a good place!

 Sunset from the Spanish Steps

 Crossing the river to go to the Vatican

The restaurant where my family and I ate in 2004 and Rachel and I ate in 2012!

The pizza didn’t come pre-sliced. What was I supposed to do?!

 After our break for dinner, we made our way to the Vatican.  It was so nice to see it when it was all lit up, and being in three countries in one weekend is pretty neat.  I don’t have many good pictures from the Vatican though, because my camera ran out of battery (drats!).  It was then around 10pm, so we decided to head back to Viale Aventino and the Aventino Guest House.  We were both exhausted after testing in the morning and trekking ourselves all over Rome all day.  As I said before: totally worth it.  I’d go back in a heartbeat.  The only thing was that Rome was super expensive — in part because we wanted to stay somewhere where we could rest well — so I’m on a pretty tight budget for the rest of my time here, and I’m trying to see if I can still find a way to go to the Netherlands to see the tulips.  I hope it all works out, but we’ll see!

Obviously, my weekend was really busy, but I certainly didn’t get a chance to relax once I got back to Linköping!  On Monday, Dr. Fawson came to observe me teach my English A class.  The class went well and the task was challenging, but they got it by the end of the class.  The only problem was that because it took longer than I anticipated, I didn’t make it through my entire lesson plan.  The last part was to help the students connect how this poem and the book it was in related to them; to help them make it applicable to their lives.  We got through what the poem meant (which took the bulk of the class time) and how it related to the book, but didn’t quite get to how they could find significance in the poem as well.  Dr. Fawson noted this but wasn’t critical about it.  His only points on which I could improve were letting the students know what I wanted them to learn at the beginning of class and keeping a running vocab list so their language acquisition goes up.  Not too shabby I guess!

 And finally, guess who arrived today!  JILL!  She flew in from Columbus and arrived in Linköping around 12:30 today.  I thought she’d want to crash right when she arrived, but she walked around with me.  I took her to campus and to the grocery store (I was running low) and then we came back and had dinner.  At about 6:30, she laid down with the declaration that she was not going to sleep yet.  She was wrong.  She conked out almost immediately.  Our plans for this week are:

Wednesday: She explores while I teach

Thursday: She’ll come to school with me

Friday: She explores while I teach, and then we’ll catch the noon bus to Vadstena

Saturday: We’ll go to Norrköping with Ida and Jaclyn.

I’m so thrilled she’s here!  When Rachel and I were in Rome, she said something to me that made so much sense I couldn’t believe I hadn’t considered it yet.  She called it being “friend-starved”.  Now, we have people in our respective cities that we get along with and hang out with and are reasonably close with (as close as one can be after a few weeks, I guess) but when we got to hang out together in Rome, it was a whole, new, refreshing level of friendship!  Rachel and I are close, trust each other and know each other really well and it makes such a difference to be around someone like that.  Again, it’s not that I don’t have friends in Linköping — it’s that I haven’t been here long enough to reach a really nourishing level of friendship.  That’s how it felt in Rome and that’s how it feels now that Jill’s here.  Being around these people I’ve known for some time and know very well is just such a relief.  I love it!

Whew!  This was a long’un.  I had a lot to say!

If you want to peruse them, here are some more pictures from Rome!


So today, we have a huge milestone.  I am halfway through my time here!  49 days down, 49 to go.  I can’t believe it, and as of right now, I wish I wasn’t going back to the States so soon.  I had the funniest feeling when I was coming back from Copenhagen — like I was going home.  I feel less restless and more like I belong here now and — needless to say — I’m thrilled about it.  I think it might have to do with 3 specific things.

  1. I have a bike now.  This makes getting anywhere SO. MUCH. EASIER.  Had I known the difference having a bike would make in my overall happiness here, I wouldn’t have waited so long to get one!
  2. I have a regular school routine now.  I kind of had one before, but we were only at Tornhagsskolan 3 days a week for 2 classes a day.  And it was always just a little weird because we were team teaching.  I enjoyed teaching with Jaclyn, but it’s even harder to feel like you’re in your own classroom when you are learning to teach with another teacher.  Now I’m at Ljungstedtska (yoong-stets-kah), teaching 5 classes full-time.  I LOVE it.
  3. I know my way around.  I wouldn’t be able to give anyone directions using street names, but I have (mostly) learned my way through and around the city, and I definitely know my way around Ryd.

We have also been welcomed by those with whom we aren’t working.  For instance, Ida’s parents invited Jaclyn and me to dinner at their home in Kimstad. (Heem-stah — the “K” in Kimstad is pronounced like a Hebrew “Ch”. Like at the beginning of “Chanukah.”)  The dinner was delicious and Ida’s family was absolutely delightful.  Between dinner (chicken and hassle-back potatoes) and dessert (berry cobbler), Ida’s mom and sister (Louisa) took us to the Kimstad castle and walked with us around the grounds.  When students from Kimstadskolan graduate from secondary school, they march around and through the grounds here.  We walked the path of the graduates.  It was such a beautiful day and the sun was beginning to set when we got back to Ida’s house.

Me, Ida and Jaclyn on the castle grounds

I thought it might be fun to test the thickness of this ice. Louisa did NOT agree.

Sunset over Ida’s backyard

Along with the invitation extended by Ida’s family, we have also been invited to coffee or tea at our Linköping coordinator’s home near Ryd.  When I was staying with Mette in Copenhagen, she talked about how grateful she was for her daughter’s homestay family in Louisville when she studied there — I can tell my parents and anyone else who was worried that yes, we are being very well taken care of here.

Also, people are visiting me!  My friend Jill (we met first year at OU, and she transferred to OSU) is flying in on Tuesday the 13th and staying through her Spring break!  I have some big plans for us, including but not limited to going back to Vadstena (I’ll check out your lace, Aunt Kim) and going to Norrköping with Ida and Jaclyn.  She’s also going to come to Ljungstedtska with me!  She’s studying to be a teacher so she’s pretty interested to see what’s up over here.

Next week will be a big week for visitors at Ljungstedtska — the Associate Dean of International Engagement and the Chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Parker Fawson, is coming to observe me teach.  I’ll be teaching my English A class The Outsiders when he comes.  I’m a little nervous but I know that he isn’t expecting me to have the expertise of a seasoned teacher.  All I can do is my best and hope that he sees the effort I’m putting into my classes.  The only problem with him coming to see this class is that they are my least talkative class.  They are terrified to speak in front of me because they think I’m expecting their English to be perfect.  I’ve structured the class so there will be a short lecture at the beginning, and then some work in pairs before we come back as a whole class.  This way, they’ll get to kind of rehearse what they want to say with a peer before they say it in front of the whole class.  Cross your fingers for me on Monday!  Or, as the Swedes say, “Hold your thumbs!”

Now to make an abrupt transition: one of the most common questions I’ve gotten from anyone here (students, parents, teachers, friends) is “Are all Americans really that fat?”  And inevitably, people cite the show the Biggest Loser as the source of their curiosity.  Apparently, along with all of the neat things the US exports, we also export this show.  Don’t get me wrong, I kind of love it in a can’t-look-away way but I really wish that show wasn’t so popular here!  If a student asks I usually respond with something like, “Are all Swedes blonde-haired and blue-eyed?”  If someone further from my own age asks, I generally say “No, it’s a small subset of the population and it’s just as sensational to watch for most Americans as it is for them to watch.”   I think it’s fair to say that this is my least favorite question to get.

Another popular question I get is “What does Sweden have that you wish the US had?” and after buying my bike, I finally have an answer: I wish the US was more bike-friendly.  I really, really do.  I LOVE riding my bike to and from school every day and knowing it’s safe.  Here’s my route straight through the city from Ryd.  Those grey circles with numbers in them are mile markers.  It’d be a long haul if I was hoofin’ it to and from school.

I kind of feel like it’s a little ridiculous that I live three miles from campus at UK and I can’t get there unless I drive or take a bus.  It wouldn’t take as long on a bike!  Now that I’m biking so much (~70 minutes / day), I’m becoming addicted.  It’s exhausting and yesterday I felt like I might not be able to make it home, but I always feel so good when I’m done that the whole ride is worth it.

That’s how I feel about running too.  I’m training for a marathon right now and the long runs take so. long. that I usually feel like quitting about 90 minutes in.  Marathon training has actually gotten a little disrupted lately.  First, the weather was bad overnight and the trails were covered in a sheet of ice for 2 or 3 days.  I tried to run on them but had to go so slowly and slipped so often that I called it quits about 4 miles in.  Then, I went to Copenhagen and didn’t run while I was there.  Immediately after I got back from Copenhagen I started at Ljungstedtska and for a few days I thought I could run when I got back from school but quickly learned that that was not going to work out.  Now, finally, I’ve worked it out so that I can get my runs in when I need them and I’m going to Rome this weekend!  I had to restructure this week’s runs.  The good news is that the training website I follow says that sticking exactly to the routine isn’t necessary; if I have to miss a few runs it’s fine but I shouldn’t miss any of the long runs.  My long run last weekend was 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) and I ran it in 2 hours, 10 minutes.  This is awesome for 2 reasons.  First, because I haven’t run that much since the half marathon last April, and second because my pace was less than 10.30 / mile which gives me about a 20 minute lead on my half marathon time.  Yay!

So things are going well right now!  Bonus: ROME this weekend!


New Week, New School!

I’ve mentioned before how Jaclyn and I were team teaching at Tornhagsskolan for 3 weeks before we moved on to our respective Gymnasiums for the last 8 weeks here.  Well, the time to switch came; this week was our first week at our Gymnasiums!  I’m at Anders Ljungstedts Gymnasium (pronounced “Andish Yoong-stets-uh Yim-nahs-ee-um) and so far it’s been going really well!  The school is nicknamed Ungan (at least, I assume that’s how it’s spelled — I’ve only ever heard it spoken) and thank goodness for that because it is a mouthful to pronounce.  It’s a vocational school, so the students who attend pick a “specialty” whether it be restauranteering, hair styling, woodwork or business administration.  Ungan used to be the biggest Gymnasium in all of Sweden, but it has fallen to number 2 now with a population of ~1200.  That’s about the size of the average high school in the US, but Gymnasiums only have 3 levels, not 4.  At Ungan, I teach with two cooperating teachers, Lizelotte Karlborg (Lotta) and Birgitta Melin-Trinks.  With Lotta, I teach all three levels of English offered at the Gymnasium level — A, B and C — and with Birgitta I teach English B.  The class sizes are pretty small, the largest group I have here is 23.

The school system here is different from in the US in many ways, not the least of which is the class size.  Here, compulsory schooling ends at grade 9 (our grade 10) and after that you can continue your education at a Gymnasium after going through an application process.  There are two ends of the Gymnasium spectrum — schools, like Katedralskolan (where Jaclyn teaches) that are meant to prepare students for university and schools like Ungan that are meant to prepare students for careers.  Basically, there are prep schools and vocational schools.  The curricula are different depending on where you go, but students are required to take English and Swedish at every Gymnasium.  When it comes to English, the students are divided up based on ability level.  Those who take English A are the least advanced and they’re typically the youngest of the Gymnasium crowd; English C is the most advanced.

As far as what material I’m teaching, it’s quite the mixture.  The English A class with Lotta I have most often — a total of 20 times over these 8 weeks.  In that class, we’re reading The Outsiders.  Because their level is somewhat low, we’re moving at a pace that’s comfortable with them.  It’ll take all 20 classes to finish the book and complete the assessment.  With the English B class, I’m doing a survey of British Literature (Brit Lit).  We’ve done conventions of Renaissance literature and read one Shakespearean sonnet so far (#130) and (thank GOODNESS) the students thought it was pretty funny.  I LOVE Renaissance lit; I was a little worried at the beginning that I threw the students off with my unabashed enthusiasm for it, but they really enjoyed breaking the sonnet down and when they understood it I think they understood why I was so excited about it.  When we’re done with Renaissance lit, we’ll move into Romanticism and read excerpts from Austen novels.  Then we’re doing Impressionism, Victorianism, Modernism and Post-Modernism.  It should be an interesting course.  I have these students 18 times.  Finally, with English C, I’ll teach Death of a Salesman which I’m really excited about because here, more than in the other classes, I can use my background in American history to my advantage!  I’ll only have this class 10 times though, so we’ll have to move pretty quickly.

In other, very exciting news, Rome this weekend!  I’ll be taking my final Praxis test on March 10th and spend the rest of the weekend gallivanting around with Rachel!

Good luck to my MIC friends also taking the Praxis this Saturday!

Winter Break!

Hey there, Hi there, Ho there!

This week was Winter break for the schools in and around Linköping, so Jaclyn and I had a free week.  Well, free from school.  Because we haven’t really done much since we got here (6 weeks ago!), we took the time off to experience some things both familiar and unfamiliar.  We went skiing, to a medieval town, and I went to Copenhagen!

Romme Alpin

We started the week by going skiing at Romme Alpin on Tuesday.  The central station in Linköping has a terminal called Fjärrbussterminalen, where you can catch buses that go longer distances.  Every Saturday (and Tuesday of this week because it was break), a bus goes directly from Fjäarrbussterminalen to Romme Alpin, leaving at 6am.  The whole “leaving at 6am” thing was a huge bummer since the station is about a 35 minute bike ride from Ryd and we had to be there 15 minutes early.  That meant being packed up for the day — breakfasted and coffee-wielding — no later than 5:10am.  Which meant getting up around 4:30am.  Oy.  Thankfully (because we paid in advance) we were both able to get up and out by then, and make it to the bus with time to spare.  And even better, the bus ride was about 3.5-4 hours, so there was plenty of time to rest up before we got to Romme.

We arrived around 10am and got our skis, boots, poles and helmets and went looking for a place to store our stuff before we headed to the slopes.  One (very noticeable) difference was that the storage spaces were all open-air shelves!

You just plop your stuff in an empty space on the shelves and go on your merry way!  This was a little weird for me.  I wanted some lockers!  With LOCKS!  But alas, they were nowhere to be found.  We left our stuff here all day and it was undisturbed when we got back.  I can’t decide how I feel about this.  It seems that Sweden is a country that’s more comfortable operating on the honor system than the US, but it also seems so risky!  Maybe that’s because I’m foreign — if my driver’s license and credit and debit cards get taken it is a lot more of a hit and hassle than it might be for a Swede, who would be able to do something about it from within the country.

Despite the anxiety about our stuff, Jaclyn and I had a great time skiing.  Jaclyn had never been skiing before!  EVER!  Pretty neat that her first time was in central Sweden, no?  We stayed on the bunny hill with all the 3 year-olds for a few runs and then moved on to more advanced hills.  We were exhausted by the end of the day, and thankful for the 3.5-4 hour ride home.  Afterwards, though, we did have to ride our bikes all the way back to Ryd which was not ideal.  We accidentally took a little detour, though, so we got more exercise than we intended to.

Me, on the bunny hill.  I can’t tell if my eyes are shut or not, but you get the idea.

Top of the second easiest hill.



After Romme Alpin on Tuesday, Jaclyn and I went to a medieval town called Vadstena with Ann-Sofi and her daughter Amanda on Thursday.  Ann-Sofi picked us up at 9:30 on this delightfully windy day, and we headed out on the 30-minute ride to Vadstena.  It was a beautiful day, and we got to walk around shopping, chatting and generally enjoying the day.  Vadstena is on the 2nd-biggest lake in Sweden, Lake Vättern, and has a castle, an abbey and a huge cathedral to its name.  We first toured the cathedral and, as we always are, Jaclyn and I were breathless at the size and beauty of it.

I think I might as well call this trip the Cathedral Tour of Northern Europe.

After the Cathedral (Domkyrkan Vadstena), we wandered around the town while Ann-Sofi gave us a little history, stopping every now and then to go into a shop.

Street in Vadstena

Vadstena is host to many little antique shops, and when we went in one, we saw this:

Apparently Vadstena is known for its lace-work, and the keeper of this shop makes lace when it’s not to busy.  It is obviously incredibly intricate work.

Left to Right: Me, Ann-Sofi, Amanda, Jaclyn.  Vättern is in the background.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Jaclyn and I could not have been more lucky with our cooperating teacher than we were with Ann-Sofi.  We both love her to death and were very sad to leave Tornhagsskolan.  She insists we visit, so I’m already working out a day when I could pop in.  We sincerely loved working with here, even if it was for such a short time.

Roskilde / Copenhagen

I mentioned in my last post that I had been thinking about going to Copenhagen (København) for the weekend.  What I didn’t say was that I’ve wanted to go to Copenhagen ever since I read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry in 3rd grade.  If you haven’t read or heard of the novel, it centers around a young girl during the Nazi occupation of Copenhagen.  Her best friend is Jewish and after she tells her parents about the Gestapo stopping her and her best friend on the streets of Copenhagen, her parents try to figure out a way to get their daughter’s best friend’s family out of Copenhagen and into neutral Sweden.  The plot is more intricate and gripping than the crude summary I just gave, but it is a fantastic book and it still remains one of my favorites.

Back to the point: I have wanted to go to Copenhagen for a very long time, and after I posted about it last week, one of my best friends’ moms emailed me to say that she had family in a town (Roskilde)  just outside Copenhagen, and that her cousin said I was welcome to stay with them.  (For future reference, if you’re travelling to Scandinavia it helps to have a best friend of Scandinavian [Finnish] descent with an incredibly generous and welcoming family.)  I emailed Mette back a forth a few times, and she offered to pick me up at the airport and allow me to stay with them, so I took her up on it.  Mette and her 7 year-old son, Samuel, were fantastic hosts — I felt so welcome and at ease in their home.  After I arrived, Mette took me to see the Roskilde Domkyrka, where all the former Danish kings and queens are entombed.  (Cathedral Tour of Northern Europe!) I honestly can’t believe I hadn’t heard about it before.  It was breathtaking.  The walls and ceilings are hand-painted and the tombs are incredible ornate.

Then, Mette showed me around Roskilde a little — we saw the Viking Museum and shopped around a little bit.  Roskilde is a small town kind of like Linköping, so it wasn’t a terribly exhausting sight-seeing trip.

The following day, I headed into Copenhagen by train and promptly signed up for a hop-on hop-off sightseeing tour.  Because I only had one day in the city, I felt like this was the best way to see all the things I would likely be interested in seeing.  Also, my grandma recommended it.  And man, was it worth it!  The hop-on hop-off buses travel in a loop around Copenhagen and you can hop off at any site, spend as much time there as you see fit, and hop on another bus that comes in a loop later on.  It’s so neat!  The sites I saw (and hopped-off at) were Rosenborg Castle, the National Gallery, the Little Mermaid statue, The Amalienborg Palace, the Resistance Museum, the Gefion Fountain and Nyhavn.  It was unbelievable and to write about it would not to the experience justice.  There is a link to photos from Copenhagen at the end of the post.

The next day, I was all ready to fly home but when I got to the airport, I found out that my flight had been delayed by about 2 hours.  This was a huge bummer since I had a) unintentionally doubled my waiting time at the airport and b) a train to catch in Stockholm and now only had a 17 minute cushion to get from Stockholm Bromma airport to Stockholm Central Station and on my train.  Speaking of Stockholm Bromma, here it is in all its glory:

Lucky me, I made it just in time for the train ride home!  All-in-all, it was a fantastic week and one I’m sure I won’t soon forget.

Since people keep asking to see more photos, here are the links to my photos from

Linköping and Romme Alpin


Roskilde and Copenhagen