Our first Swedish impressions – international students in Karlstad

Foto: Linh Nguyen
The international writers in Karlstads studenttidning share their first impressions from two months in Karlstad.

Hej. Salut. Xin chào. Hallo.

Almost 100 students arrived to Sweden and Karlstad at the beginning of this year to start this decade with something special: a semester abroad.

Not only are they awaited by a new curriculum, but a new environment and a new culture.

Might it be prejudices that are overturned, the first fika that took place or first impressions that are building the fundamentals of the stay in Karlstad. Whilst a lot of us exchange students are planning trips through all over Sweden or even Europe, a few of us decided to also share our experiences within this newspaper. So enjoy hearing of the first meetings with Swedes, fikas and the first impressions of the international students.

Mathilde Costes from France

Whether Sweden was our first choice as exchange students or not, all of us had some expectations about the country and our future experience here.
The first one, pretty obvious, at least for those coming from the South, is snow. I agree, daydreaming about Instagram pictures of the Swedish Lapland might have contributed to it. So cliché you will tell me, but still, we are all hoping for the sun when we go to Spain, right?

The second expectation is based on a huge stereotype about Swedes. One can expect a lot -or all- of Swedish women to be blonde and tall. Teasing, the first Swedish woman I met was not that tall and brunette. Stereotypes 0 – Diversity 1. Then, when it comes to food, some of us were expecting to try fermented herring – Surströmming -, you know, with the strange smell and strange look, sometimes comparable to that French stinky cheese. Will we survive that highly gastronomic experience? To be continued…

Finally, in a more serious tone, Sweden, as other Northern countries in Europe are well known for their environmental and eco-friendly vibes. And there is nothing better to please our young and optimistic climate change spirits.

Now, let’s focus on a more local point of view. First, we can all agree that Karlstad is not the most famous city in Sweden. So, I assume that we all googled it to know the location, some facts about the history of the city and the climate (very important to decide how many swimsuits we are going to put in our luggage). The funny part of that modest investigation is a random but very important sentence on the Karlstad’s Wikipedia page which is: “Karlstad is reputed to be one of the sunniest towns in Sweden”. THIS. LITERALLY. BLEW. MY. MIND.

I think we can all agree that it’s so much better to travel, hum sorry, to study with sunny weather. Another particularly interesting thing about Karlstad is a figure: every tenth person in Karlstad is a university student! And all the facilities provided by the University and the City tend to prove it. Whether it’s sports, transportation, arts and culture every student can find what he’s looking for. Let the exploration begin! 

Linh Nguyen from Vietnam and Judith from Germany

Fika as a cultural experience

One of the first Swedish words we learned, just right after “hej” is “fika”. We learned that this is a word not really translatable to other languages. But as newcomers, we adapted to this very Swedish practice fast enough that within the first week, we all got at least one fika with new friends. We are Linh and Judith and will tell you about our special experiences.

Linh from Vietnam: My first “official” fika was with a new friend who came from Canada. We went to Espresso House because we are both new to Karlstad and it is one of the recommended cafés. We spent the afternoon talking about a lot of things and got to know each other on a deeper level – which means further than the small talks we made when we first met. I still remember someone told us that Swedes are never too busy for fika and I can see why. I have only been in Sweden for a month but I already really enjoy this activity so much that I definitely will bring this along wherever I go later in life. 

Fika somehow reminds me of the tea rituals in Vietnam, my home country. The similarity lies in the purpose behind these two rituals: to slow down and live in the present. However, while the tea ritual in Vietnam is more focused on the process of brewing and serving tea, fika is way more casual as there is no strict rule about what to eat and drink during fika. Because it is seen as a delicate and formal practice, it brings up another difference: the tea ritual is not very common among young people while fika is a part of Swedes daily life. Furthermore, fika is meant for socializing and you cannot fika alone while it is absolutely fine to have the tea ritual by yourself.

Judith from Germany: My first fika was an organized fika in university during the introduction week. My feeling was like ‘ah, yeah, just a normal coffee break’ but the day after – and lots of days after that – I understood that the Swedes do not have just a coffee break. They have a ‘coffee-eating-socializing-break’, this is my try to describe it as closest. After one or two organized fika we implemented that word and meaning to our minds and use and do it every week (even if am not sure if we use it really in the correct way).

At first, I was thinking it is similar to Germany. But it is not really. When you are at work you grab a coffee on your own, sometimes talking to a colleague in front of the coffee machine who also wants to have a coffee at the same time, I would say coffee break to that, but not more. With friends, we meet sometimes “for a coffee” in the afternoon on the weekend. That could be close to fika, have a coffee, cake and talking. Sometimes people invite friends to their houses to have coffee and cake and talking, but in common it is not that often from the younger persons. In comparison to Germany, I would say fika has such a bigger meaning than that what we use to do.

In conclusion, we are both sure that we will miss fika when we are back home again and will adapt the word even the cultural part to our friends, family and maybe colleagues.

 Eike Plhak from Germany

After we have focused on cultural aspects, I would like to devote this last part of the article to Karlstad.

Karlstad is for almost all of the internationals the first swedish city they actually live in. “So much beauty is packed in this small city”, Megan from Canada says. “It may be small, but it has a lot to offer. I love it”, she goes on.

Moving abroad can be scary and the changes that we are facing are manyfold. “I was pretty nervous at first but I thought people were so welcoming”, Taylor from the USA adds.

Especially the community of exchange students is very welcoming and are helping each other out.

For many of us, this semester is an opportunity to learn, to travel, to meet new friends for life and to have experiences that are unique.

If you, local Swedish student, want to know more about us internationals, don’t be afraid. Approach us in Bunkern, at the university or maybe even on the dancefloor at Nöjes. Most of us do not bite and really like to engage with the locals, to share experiences and maybe get some special tips for things to see on our stay here.

We, the international writers of Karlstads studenttidning will be back soon, with another article about our experiences as internationals at KAU  and impressions of this beautiful city and country.

This is a news article. Read more about the journalistic work in Karlstads studenttidning here.