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.