Culture Shock – or Culture Soothe?

Hej alla! I’m now halfway through my study abroad semester and I’m so excited to share some of my most important takeaways from this new experience!

To begin, one of my biggest takeaways is to find moments to truly be in the present and appreciate where you are. I distinctly remember one of these moments, because it was the first time that it truly hit me that I was living abroad. A couple weeks into my semester, I had just finished class for the day and was on my way to meet up with a friend for dinner. I took a longer walk on my way home because it was a nice evening, and I was listening to Swedish music (Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, and Zara Larsson!) and looking at the beautiful architecture of Stockholm, when all of a sudden it hit me that I felt like a part of the city and no longer a “visitor”. I was navigating my way home by heart, appreciating the outdoors even in the cold, respecting the Swedish way of life (which I’ll talk about next), and listening to music that bridges the gap between the US and Sweden. Without even noticing the transition, I realized that I now felt at home in Stockholm. So, I highly encourage immersing yourself in the culture around you and finding moments to feel fully in the present – maybe you’ll notice that your feelings of home, comfort, adventure, or any other aspect of life have changed!

A big moment of culture shock I experienced, and one that continues to hit me in public spaces, is the quietness and reserved nature of Swedes. This isn’t to say that Swedes are rude or unhelpful – in fact, they are some of the nicest people I’ve met! They are always glad to speak in English when I don’t understand something and are quick to say “hej” (hello) when entering shops and “tack” (thank you) when ordering food. However, they are respectful of other’s space, especially on public transit, and they value peace and quietude in public spaces. I’ve found that even the children and dogs follow this way of life! This seems to reflect the Swedish concepts of “the law of jante”, meaning to remain humble, as well as “lagom”, meaning not too much and not too little. These are two tenets of Swedish society that I’ve learned about in my Swedish Language and Culture class, and I’ve found them present in so many areas of life here. Adapting to this culture was a shock at first, coming from the loud and crowded US, but it turned out to be a great thing. I can now relax on my commute to class, concentrate on work in cafés, and speak to friends at a comfortable volume even in crowded places.

My last takeaway relates to another aspect of Swedish culture. In Sweden, many amenities and services are organized by the government, and there is a sense of trust and collectivism whereby Swedes don’t mind taxes that go toward these public services. Libraries are kept in good condition and well stocked, the public transit is clean and timely, and even prisons are more so rehabilitation facilities that maintain safety and dignity than punishment centers. This mindset of trust and respect for collective support differs from that of the US, and it has made my transition to life here very smooth.

Overall, I’ve found that adapting to life abroad comes smoothly as long as you appreciate the new culture around you!

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