Wednesday, December 24, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > God Jul (Merry Christmas)

Cody hangs with the real celebrities. God Jul from Sweden.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > Food, Family, and Friends

Throughout the world, we brand our countries with food. Cultures are known by what they eat. Americans are famous for hamburgers and fries; Italians are known for pasta and the French excel at making pastries. The list goes on. Our food options include Chinese fried rice, Indian paneer, and Thai curry. My favorite is black beans and rice, Cuban style.

International Food
None of these dishes are exactly the same when prepared outside of the country of origin, but we experiment, enjoy, and come closer to our neighbors through food. How does the world view Sweden? With meatballs, cinnamon buns, and lingonberries, of course! The country is also known for herring and often times people want to know about the extreme version of that fish, surströmming.

Hi Cody, what can you tell us about surströmming?

Cody Hangs with Celebrities
Cody: Surströmming is a special type of fish. From what I've heard, you put herring in a can, wait for it to go bad, wait a month after that for it to turn to liquid, and then wait just a little longer before you eat it. We went to Ulvön when I first came here. Ulvön is famous for surströmming and we met the "King of Surströmming" (pictured left) who showed us around and told how everything was made.

Leslie: That sounds like fun! I read an article online that Ruben Madsen was called in to disarm a 24-year old tin of herring last February. There was some concern that it might explode but all went well and the only result was a bad odor. The fish had completely dissolved and was impossible to eat.

Cody: Yeah, surströmming is something like Brussels sprouts. Most people don't like it. Magnus says he doesn't hate eating it but it's not something he would choose to eat. Maybe some people just eat it to show off that they can.

Leslie: I saw Magnus put a call out on Facebook for moose meat. Have you eaten any moose meat?

Cody: No moose meat yet, but I hear that many people do eat it here, along with reindeer jerky.

Real Food
Exotic foods are interesting but when time is limited, or tastes are more subdued, our diets on a daily basis are quite different from what we eat when out and about.

Leslie: What kinds of food have you been eating?

Cody: We've been eating "tonnes" of sausage at school and home, and we have fish once a week at school. With sausage we usually have noodles similar to the ones we use when eating macaroni. We also have Swedish pancakes quite frequently. I actually just had them today! They are very thin pancakes that you put jam on and roll into a sort of cylindrical shape. That's the best I can explain it.

Leslie: Are there any foods that remind you of America?

Cody: I've had tacos a few times, maybe three times in school and three times outside of school. They are very similar to American tacos, but they can also put them together with chips like we do nachos.

Traditional Food
Leslie: Thanks, Cody, let's take our conversation back a few generations and interview your grandfather Bob who lived in Sweden during the late 1940s and your dad Eric who was there in the early 1970s.

Hi Bob, what kind of food did you eat when you lived in Sweden?

Bob: When I lived in Sweden, breakfast on the farm consisted of hard black bread spread with salted lard (butter was expensive), small amounts of cheese, herring, sausage, hard-boiled eggand jams prepared from the family garden plot. It was said that some city folks actually ate corn flakes for breakfast, but corn, an import from the US, was at that time still considered animal fodder. A coffee break with sweet rolls, both morning and afternoon, was obligatory and we still adhered to the old traditional menus of pea soup, potato soup, and brown beans on specific days.

Leslie: Do you remember which days you ate which foods?

Bob: I seem to recall that the boarding house where I ate in Osby served mashed potatoes with milk and a very small piece of pork for Tuesday dinner, Wednesday was brown beans with again a small piece of pork, and on Thursday it was pea soup with a small amount of ham for flavoring. Friday we had pytt i panna which consisted of potatoes chopped in small cubes and anything left over during the week - then fried with onions. Black rye bread was served with all meals but without butter or even lard. This was the cheapest boarding house in town for good reason. But I'm not sure the memory of a kid in his mid teens is completely reliable.

Leslie: Thanks, Bob. Cody tells me he doesn't eat specific foods on specific days, either in school or at home, but I've read that yellow pea soup served with pork, mustard, and pancakes on the side continues to be a common meal in restaurants and households on Thursdays.

Hi Eric, what kind of food did you eat when you visited Sweden?

Esther as
a young woman
Eric: In 1973 my grandmother Esther lived in a typical red cottage on a small plot of land near her childhood home in Marklunde. She grew an assortment of vegetables in her modest garden. My favorite of all of her veggie dishes was rhubarb pudding. She had some chickens running around and each morning I would search in hopes of finding some eggs for breakfast. My favorite breakfast was a thick gob of butter slathered on bread, cold fish, and cheese, with a glass of milk. Yum! It's still my favorite.

I foraged for berries in the countryside and would bring home a pail or two. It was the first time I'd ever seen a gooseberry. Grandma had a pot with coils that went from one pot to another which she used to distill the crushed berries down to a highly concentrated juice. She canned them in jars and stored them in the root cellar next to her other preserved foods. Instead of Coke, or other store-bought drinks, we would just pour a little concentrated juice into a cup, add water, and voila! a delicious nutritious soft drink!

Leslie: Do you have any food memories with your grandmother?

Eric: Yes, I was invited to have a meal at a relative's house. I'm sure there were a variety of foods but I can only remember there being fish, cheese, butter, and bread. What I remember quite vividly, however, was my grandmother handing me a plate containing one lonely piece of bread with some food piled on it. I thought she had forgotten to put the second piece of bread on top, so I requested another piece. She explained that it was an open-faced sandwich and that this is how it was done in Sweden. Second slice denied.

Well, one piece of bread just didn't seem right to me and how was one supposed to eat this open-faced sandwich without getting their fingers all over the food anyway? I figured that no one must have shown them the right way to make a sandwich, so I made plans to do so. Alas, my request for a second piece of bread was met with quick withering glances from the relatives, some guttural throat noises, and a quiet … no. It's been forty years since then and I still think two pieces of bread are better than one.

Leslie: Thanks, Eric. I hope all of your sandwiches come complete with two slices of bread. Now back to the modern day.

Foreign Food
One of the benefits of becoming or hosting a YFU student is that the experience is a cultural exchange. So, in the spirit of sharing, Cody and his host family invited 19 people to a traditional American Thanksgiving Dinner last weekend.

The menu was extensive. Teresia, with the help of her friends and family, prepared two big turkeys, mashed potatoes and gravy, a green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, potatoes au gratin, macaroni and cheese, glazed carrotsasparagus, corn pudding, corn bread, cranberry bread, cranberry sauce, spinach/artichoke dip, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, ambrosia salad, and ice cream (plus whipping cream for all of the deserts).

Leslie: How did you preface the Thanksgiving Dinner to your guests?

Cody: I told everyone that Thanksgiving was originally a feast that the native Americans had and they invited the European Colonists to eat with them. But then they stopped inviting the Colonists (for some reason) and Thanksgiving stopped until Abraham Lincoln brought it back to unify the country during the Civil War. I also told them that Thanksgiving is now mainly about giving thanks for the things that we have and being able to see relatives we don't usually see every day.

Teresia: I thanked Cody for being with us.

Leslie: I hear you downloaded a football game?

Cody: Yes, we did, the Bears vs. the Lions. I can't remember the score because, much like a real Thanksgiving football game, we used it as background noise.

Leslie: What did everyone have to say about the celebration?

Cody: My friends, Mert, Olivia, and Leo, said there was so much food they didn't know what to do!

Teresia: Everything tasted soooo good. The most unusual food I think was the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. We have never tasted anything like it.

Magnus: It was a very good party! A lot of new tastes for all of us Swedes. I think everybody was satisfied.

Cody: Yep, it was a perfectly accurate Thanksgiving Dinner.

Food, Football, Family, and Friends, American Style, in Sweden.
Mert, Cody, Olivia, and Leo
With Special Thanks to Teresia for putting so much heart into such a wonderful party. This blog series and Cody's YFU experience would not be possible without her love and willingness to share.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > The Great Darkness

Gimme me some sun!
Be careful and watch out. Today, in Örnsköldsvik, the sun rose at 8:47 and set at 14:19. That was only about five and a half hours of daylight. In December, when our northern hemisphere is at its most extreme tilt, the daylight hours will reduce even more so that by Christmas there will only be about four and a half hours of natural light per day.

This increasing lack of sunlight and rise in melatonin is known to cause depression and lethargy. While most people talk about how cold Nordic winters are, I am told the greatest difficulty is in learning how to overcome the great darkness. Let's see how Cody is adapting.

Hey Cody, how's it going now that the weather is colder and the days are shorter?  

Cody: I have been sleeping way too much during the past three months. -- It was officially three months last Tuesday since I arrived in Sweden. -- I don't know if I have been sleeping so much because of the lack of sun, doing exhausting things all day, or just being a teenager, but it has been extremely difficult to get up now. I've started setting multiple alarms in order to get up.

Leslie: You've experienced a lot of new things recently and that's bound to make you tired. Do people use sun lamps to combat SAD (seasonal affective disorder) or take vitamin D supplements? 

Cody: I haven't heard of anyone using sun lamps or taking vitamin D pills, but maybe up in the far north they do.

Leslie: I read an article that describes how they added special UV bulbs at bus stops in Umeå to simulate sunlight. They call it light therapy. Are there any special efforts being made to account for the increased darkness in Örnsköldsvik?

Cody: Right now the city has put up Christmas lights on nearly every street so that helps keep it light out.

Leslie: What would you say is the most difficult thing about the darkness?

Cody: I think the thing most affected by the darkness is my hanging out with friends. Before it wouldn't be uncommon to hang out with my friends after school, but now it's so dark at 16:00 that you can't see your hand in front of your face without street lights.

Leslie: Wow. I did not realize it gets that dark. Is that degree of darkness a safety issue for pedestrians?

Cody: Everybody seems to wear reflectors here. Even I have started to wear them now. I have two. One goes around my arm. The other goes on my backpack. It's supposed to start getting light longer on the 21st of December. Everything is longer after that.

Leslie: Yes, the winter solstice is less than one month away. Thanks, Cody. I hear November is the toughest month to endure.

Here are some tips I have found online that are said to help make the darker months easier to get through.

Keep active. The most often cited tip for enduring dark and cold winters is to keep active. Cody has joined a gym and works out three times a week with some of his friends from school.

Create Light
Everywhere, in all kinds of ways, using candles, lamps, and fire. Maia, an American woman living in Sweden, published an interesting and in-depth article here about how light is created in Stockholm. She, like Cody, mentions Christmas decorations as being a good source of light.

Enjoy the Snow
The snow is said to reflect the street lights and make everything brighter. Rather than looking at the snow as something difficult to endure, a lot of people look forward to snow and see it as something positive.

And, when all else fails …

Plan a Vacation
Stay tuned to the "Cody in Sweden" series to find out just what he has planned for late February 2015. It might look a little something like this …

Photo from Lonely Planet. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > MODO Hockey

When Cody first arrived, it was still late summer in Sweden. There were plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy: fishing, hiking, boating, and grilling. But now as the weather gets colder and people are forced indoors more often, one of the activities of choice is ice hockey.

MODO Hockey (SHL)
Örnsköldsvik is a hockey-friendly town with six indoor skating rinks, including the Fjällräven Center where MODO plays. Cody tells me kids under 18 can attend games for free!

Founded in 1921, the ice hockey club MODO (Mo och Domsjö) is well known for players like Peter Forsberg (inducted into the Hall of Fame this past week) and Marcus Näslund. Other notable players born in Örnsköldsvik include Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Anders Hedberg, Niklas Sundström, and Andreas Salomonsson.

MODO took home the Le Mat trophy in 1979 and 2007. Currently, MODO has two Americans on their team: Klye Flanagan from New York and Travis Roche from Alberta.

Washington Capitals (NHL)
Back in the day, I made a decision to like hockey. It's not like I was raised up with the sport. No one introduced me to hockey. I looked around at all of my local teams and decided which one to follow. For superficial reasons, I went with hockey instead of football, basketball, or baseball. The players were good looking and not too tall. I like the speed of the game. I know how to skate. Plus, there were months and months of games. The season runs from October until June (if you include the Stanley Cup finals) and, best of all, hockey is a sport kind to age. With tennis, players are gone at age 30, but, hockey will keep a man in the game well into his 40s. Michael Nylander (AIK IF) and Jaromír Jágr (NJ Devils), both one-time Caps players, are still skating pro at age 42. 

Helmet Rules
My first few games were back in the day when Rod Langway was grandfathered in and did not have to wear a helmet on the ice. The rule book changed in the 1980s and while I agree it's essential for all players to cover their heads, there was something exhilarating about watching Langway skate without a helmet.

Fighting on the Ice
Yes, hockey's becoming gentrified. It's a fast-paced sport. It's loud. Sticks clash. Bodies slam against the walls. Players fight. That's been the game of hockey for years but there's an ongoing debate in the NHL about the elimination of fighting. Many people feel that the skill of the game should be the focus of the sport and brawlers should be removed. An October 2014 article in the Boston Globe compares hockey without fighting to coffee without caffeine. Where's the kick, they ask?

Let's see what Cody's host dad thinks. He's a former left wing who knows the game well. In fact, he's played many times against Salomonsson, mentioned above.

Hey Magnus,
What's your opinion about fighting in professional hockey? Do you think there's room for it or do you think it should be eliminated?

Magnus: I wouldn't want the old times back when a player can stay in the NHL with no other talent than fighting; however, my belief is you should be very wary with changes in the rules. I think big tackles and even some fighting belongs in the game.

Leslie: And there you have it. We all need a little caffeine in our game. What about Skröder? Some of the forums I have read say that Per-Åge Skröder (age 36 BTW) is a fighter. Do you think Skröder is a fighter, or is he simply a player who can take care of himself?

Magnus: Skröder isn't a fighter, just a great power forward with a nice ability to score goals. His last year was disappointing but he looks to be back in good shape.

Leslie: Thanks, Magnus. I hope Cody learns to enjoy ice hockey as much as we do. And I hope MODO does well this year.

Cody and Magnus on their way to a MODO hockey match.

Friday, November 14, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > Norrtälje (and Fika)

Cody and Katarina in a Cafe
After Cody's big adventure in Stockholm, he met his host mom (Teresia), sisters (Lovisa and Emilia), and aunt (Katarina) in Norrtälje for a few days. Sweden is known to be one of the world's greatest consumers of coffee. When Cody left America, he was not a coffee drinker, but now after twelve weeks in Sweden, here's proof that Cody has adopted one of his host country's most-loved social activities, fika.

According to my research, fika is a social institution in Sweden; it means "having a break, most often a coffee break, with one's colleagues, friends, date, or family." If you google "fika," most sources will tell you fika is much more than a break; it's an social obligation that Swedes honor on a daily basis.

In the US, we drink coffee, probably just as much as they do in Sweden, but we do it on the run. I buy my coffee at Starbucks as I head for the Metro and then drink it quietly in solitude on the bus and train. Americans meet up for coffee but it's not a daily ritual and sometimes it's not even coffee. Sometimes, it's a euphemism for a casual date or a promised reunion. You know, let's have coffee. Not dinner. Not lunch. Not for any length of time. Not even for coffee. Maybe not at all. In Sweden, fika is a "tradition observed frequently," a time set aside for relationships and relaxation. Let's chat with Cody about coffee and fika.

Leslie: Hi Cody, are you drinking coffee now?

Cody: I have been trying to get used to coffee since so many people drink it here. I will drink maybe three cups of coffee a week.

Leslie: How do you define fika?

Cody and Teresia
in Norrtälje
Cody: Fika is like a snack break or a dessert break. The same way Americans take smoke breaks, Swedes take fika. Well, maybe less frequently, but it's about the same. For fika, you can have anything you want, anything from chocolate cake and cookies to just a sandwich. The weirdest thing about fika, though, is you don't plan it; it just happens. You will be walking through the city and all of the sudden you are in a cafe having fika.

Leslie: That's how it was for me when I lived in Adams Morgan. I would frequently meet friends on a whim. I loved it. When you meet friends for fika, do you have coffee?

Cody: I don't think most teenagers drink coffee. Most of my friends will get a soda or some water when we go out for fika.

Leslie: At what age do Swedes start drinking coffee?

Cody: I would guess somewhere around age 20 people start drinking coffee.

Leslie: Do you like your coffee black, with or without sugar, with or without milk?

Cody: I drink my coffee black about 75% of the time and use milk only about 25% of the time. During my entire time in Sweden, I haven't seen a single person put sugar in their coffee. Some people will put milk, but not many.

Leslie: Thanks, Cody. Norrtälje looks like a lovely visit and fika seems like a nice tradition.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > Stockholm

Sweden's capital Stockholm has a lot of history. By 1000 AD Vikings were in the area. In 1252 it was founded as a city. Stockholm is spread across fourteen islands and includes a large number of parks and green space. It's said to be one of the sunniest cities in northern Europe and has won multiple awards for also being one of the cleanest. Stockholm is similar to Washington, DC in many ways. Both cities are highly walkable, well maintained, and brightly lit. Both have distinct seasons. The leaves on deciduous trees change color in the fall and shed in the winter.

Cody's been to Stockholm three times now. He tells me it's a beautiful city. The first time Cody was in Stockholm it was a brief visit when he passed through on his way from the airport to the train that took him north to Örnsköldsvik. The next time was for his YFU orientation in September, and, more recently, Cody was in Stockholm for three days as part of a YFU camp.

Hi Cody,
Tell us about your trip to Stockholm last week.

Cody: On the second day in Stockholm, we went to the Vasa Museum together as a group. After about an hour and a half there we had a lot of free time to do whatever we wanted. A couple of friends and I went into the city to meet up with another exchange student who lives in Stockholm. She's from the USA so of course we had to go to McDonald's.

The Vasa Capsizing (taken from
Leslie: Of course! It makes sense that expats visit places that remind them of home! Tell us about the Vasa Museum. In 1628, a Swedish warship, the Vasa, sank on her maiden voyage. How did that come about?

Cody: The way it was explained to me, the Vasa was designed to be the prize ship of the Swedish Navy. The king at the time (King Gustav II Adolf) told the ship builders that he wanted it bigger and better, so they built another unexpected row of cannons higher on the ship. This made it top heavy and a gust of wind came by and knocked it over.

Leslie: Better to sink in port and not out to sea, I guess. In 1961, the Vasa was salvaged and put on display in the Vasa Shipyard and the current museum opened in 1988. I have read that the wreckage provides a lot of information to historians about shipbuilding techniques and everyday life at the time. The museum is said to be one of the most highly-visited non-art museums in Scandinavia. Do you recommend people visit the Vasa Museum when they are in Stockholm?

Cody: Definitely! It was a beautiful ship with almost all original parts and you can tell they had worked so hard on it.

Leslie: So, let's come back to the 21st century for a minute. When you went to McDonald's, did they have a specifically Swedish item on the menu?

Cody: Not that I noticed. I asked what types of McFlurrys they have and they said chocolate fudge, strawberry fudge, and smarties. My friends from Germany pointed out that smarties are what we call M&Ms.

Leslie: I see online that they also have cinnamon buns and double chocolate muffins! Thanks, Cody. Next week, we can talk about your visit to Norrtälje.

Photo taken from the YFU Sweden Facebook page.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > Why Sweden? Why Now?

Sweden has an official typeface! And it's a good looking one, too. Commissioned by the Swedish government to provide brand identity for international promotions and communications, Sweden Sans was created by Stefan Hattenbach in collaboration with the design agency Söderhavet. Inspiration is said to have come from old signs. Take a look to your left to see the typeface in print, and, for all of you type geeks out there, Sweden Sans is mono spaced, meaning that all of the letters are the same width.

But to answer the question, Why Study in Sweden, let's go now to Cody's dad, Eric.

Hi Eric,
Tell us about your decision to send Cody to Sweden.

Eric: Much of my childhood was spent in Germany being raised by multilingual parents. Our home was filled with folk music from foreign countries and decorated with exotic curios from around the globe. A holiday meal just wouldn't be the same without Dad's fascinating stories about his travels around the world and his teen years spent in Sweden. Conversations about foreign languages and cultures were standard fare. My father instilled in me a thirst for adventure and a fascination with the world beyond my front door. My decision to send Cody to Sweden was in large part a desire to pass this priceless gift on to my son. And, of course, I couldn't ignore the "awe factor." A year abroad is waaay too cool an experience to pass up.

Leslie: Why a full year? Why not a summer abroad or a gap year?

Eric: For high school students, YFU offers either a summer or a junior year abroad, or a gap year between high school and college. Cody's junior year was fast approaching and the cost for both high school programs were exactly the same so it was an easy decision for me. Convincing Cody took about three and a half minutes. Convincing his mom was another story altogether.

Cody's high school guidance counselor argued against a junior year abroad claiming that his graduation would be delayed if his Swedish credits did not transfer. My (mostly intuitive) understanding of the benefits of travel and foreign language acquisition led me to conclude that a year in Sweden would more than compensate for any delay in his graduation or entry into college.

A year living with a host family in a foreign country as a 16-year old would be a far more transformative experience than the same year spent as a 19- or 20-year old gap year student. Language acquisition is quicker and easier when younger and relationships formed as a teen are more likely to be strong and lasting. Here are just some of the benefits of becoming an exchange student. The student:
  • discovers new strengths and abilities
  • increases his or her self reliance and confidence
  • becomes adept at creative problem solving
  • develops a deeper passion for learning in general
  • improves inter-cultural communication skills
  • learns a foreign language
  • expands career options
A YFU year abroad is a qualitatively superior experience to just visiting a country as a tourist. Cody's immersion into Swedish culture will most certainly expand his world view and give him a more mature and objective perception of the USA. More importantly, it will make him a really interesting first date. :-)

Leslie: So, why Sweden, especially since you spent your early years in Germany?

Eric: YFU offers exchange opportunities in a number of countries, but in my mind there was really only one option. My father's parents were both Swedish. My father spent his teen years in Sweden and still maintains contact with his relatives. As a 12-year old, I spent a summer in Sweden living with my grandmother and meeting relatives. In the US, most of us come from somewhere else and many of us take great pleasure in identifying with our countries of origin. I am no exception … and I expect Cody will forever-after feel a kinship with Sweden.

Leslie: Thanks, Eric. It gives me great pleasure to chronicle Cody's year in Sweden.