Wednesday, July 04, 2007

“Keep on truckin’”
Culture shock is something that I have experienced before. I've done a lot of traveling and Malawi, Mexico, and Thailand all have people, food, languages and customs that are overwhelmingly different from those I am used to in America.

When I chose to study in Sweden, I honestly didn’t expect it to be that much of a change from living at home. Usually when I travel my appearance gives away my foreign status. But here in Sweden, where red-haired Caucasians are not a rarity, the differences are a little more subtle. I can actually blend in most of the time (unless I open my mouth).

Now, I’m not kidding myself here. I know that the clothes I wear (flip-flops, boot cut jeans, sunglasses on overcast days) can be a dead giveaway that I am not a Swede. But for some reason, I did not rush to label my recent insecurities and struggles as culture shock.

But that’s what it is. My mom literally sent me a list of the “symptoms”: sadness, loneliness; feeling vulnerable or powerless; unwillingness to interact with others; trying too hard to absorb everything in the new culture or country; lack of confidence; feelings of being lost or overlooked…

Sounds about right. I hate to be a downer, but this is truly one of the most difficult experiences I’ve EVER endured. Every day is physically and mentally draining. The miserable and embarrassing moments in my day often outweigh the fun ones. I have to make new friends, try new foods, get settled in my dorm, and go to classes every day. As my friend put it, “it's like you're doing freshman year [of college] all over again, only in a different language and country.”

I’m lucky that three of my very good friends recently returned home from study abroad trips. I desperately wrote them last night, saying something along the lines of, “Help! This isn’t fun anymore!! I want to come home!” and they replied with some great nuggets of wisdom like the one above. Here are some more pieces of advice for surviving the transition (hope you girls don’t mind if I share these… ):

“Try not to give yourself time to sit around and think about all the things you miss about home or shun off the Swedish world for the comfort of the internet.”

“Keep working on the things that you need to do to feel settled and connected bit by bit, keep doing the things you need to for school, and make some time for yourself to reflect and do happy things, and eventually without you're even noticing it will feel like home to you.”

“It might help you to know that a) it’s REALLY REALLY hard at the beginning, b) I went through it too, and c) you don't have to feel horrible if this isn't the most amazing experience of your life. If you aren't absolutely in love with everything you do all the time there, don't beat yourself up about it.”

“Read Harry Potter, drink tea, listen to happy music.”

“Also I'm thinking there is tons of chocolate... I would eat that.”

I have some really brilliant friends. I wish they were here.

P.S. Happy 4th!!


Sally said...

How very wonderful to have good and wise friends!

Loring said...

I wish I could give you words of wisdom about how I overcame loneliness, depression, etc. when I was on my exchange year in Germany, but for some reason, 30 years later, all I can remember are the good times! (and probably not all of those :-)

I guess I can just quote Gram: "This too shall pass!" We're thinking about you and sending our love.

bbElf (a.k.a. panda) said...

The one about the internet would be hard for me...that's just good advice for life :).

Are you riding at all yet? That might help make Lund feel a little more like your current home...

Carla said...

You know, when I was in Jordan, I remember vague feelings of lonliness/homesickness, but what I remember most now are the good times. Hang in there; you'll be missing it when you come home!

Bri H. said...

Hey Linnea,

I found this really good quote while I was studying abroad that kind of rang true for me. . .

You'll have bad times, but that'll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren't paying attention to.
- Good Will Hunting

And looking back, it was really, really hard, but what made it so great for me were the close friendships that I made while abroad. So the biggest suggestion I have for you (and that I wish I did more often) is try to be really open and make friends with some of the locals.

Hang in there; it will only get better.


Sally said...

I thought of your picture of the Smarties this morning. See the #1 emailed article from

(The British Smartie, which resembles an M & M but has a thicker shell...) Great photo caption:
Smarties are not M & M clones."