Viking Hats, Estonian Fish, Israeli Snaps and everything else.
I wish everyone could have done what I did and see what I saw the last few days.
For much of the school year I've been working on a committee of 11 students to plan Lund International Week, which took place last week. Many other partner universities around Europe and Asia participate, and their students can apply to attend any of the them. 21 students came to Lund this year. They came from Japan, Finland, Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Israel, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, China, France, Ukraine, Denmark and Hungary. 21 Swedish students hosted them in their apartments. We did so many amazing things and had an unforgettable time, and here is a glimpse into what the week looked like...
Our red vans crept slowly through the forest until we came to a small clearing where the moose we had been looking for stood about, calmly surveying their leafy surroundings. They came right up to the windows, and we couldn't believe it. One ate an apple out of my friend's hand. Cameras clicked and my new Polish friend and I got deeper into conversation about where we come from, in between admiring the scenery around us.
All of the girls sat in the sauna, looking through the windows out to the sea and over to Denmark. Then we ran across the pier and down the stairs into the cold cold water, shrieking from the icy sensation. But as we climbed out, we actually felt quite good, and stood there in our bathing suits without even a shiver in the chilled air of an early Swedish spring. We posed for pictures against a background of the calm water and the golden light of the sunny afternoon...Swedish, Israeli, Japanese, Ukrainian, American... with wet hair and wide proud smiles.
Dozens of us were packed into a cottage by the coast, an old rambling place meant only for students, with mazes of rooms and surprise staircases and old libraries and a wild garden. We ate an amazing traditional Swedish meal, and the Swedes went around filling the glasses with snaps, and led everyone in drinking songs. The Danish girl, Finnish boy and I discussed the similarities and differences across Scandinavian countries, as well as the tricky aspects of Finnish grammar.
We heard rumors that the tiny Japanese girl, one of the youngest in the bunch, was handling her snaps like a champion. We danced, played games, and some of us finished the late night by climbing into a big couch together in the library and sang songs at the top of our lungs, in English, Swedish, Danish, Spanish and more. At night once we went to bed you could hear outside our hallway the sounds of kissing and whispers of moonlit walks.
Through the trees and over the fields we pedaled as fast as we could. We were riding trolley bikes, set on old railroad tracks, across the countryside. A small herd of some sort of Swedish deer raced over the tracks right in front of one of the trolleys, and shouts of delight rang up.
Discussions of Swedish culture abounded. Attempts at the Swedish language were plenty. During one company visit, the guy from Israel brought up the non-hierarchical and consensus decision-making elements of Swedish business culture that he'd heard about, and genuinely sought to understand how that worked, since what he knows is so different. Some of us sat in a top floor corporate lounge and shared and explained what we know about our own and the Swedish model of business relationships.
We had a traditional Lund Sittning... with a Viking theme. The Swedes sang and cheered and stood on chairs and everyone drank and the international students saw a true picture of the student life so many had heard about. Some said it was the craziest party (technically it's dinner but there's not much eating) they'd ever seen.
For one of the last nights, everyone prepared some food and brought a drink from their country of origin. Before we got to eating, our Israeli guy led everyone in a Jewish prayer, which is a tradition in his family before eating their meal together every Friday. Then we got to trying Estonian fish on toast, a potatoes and egg dish from Switzerland, sausage and sauerkraut from the Netherlands, and so much more piled high onto every plate...
The night went on and turned into an international dance off. People danced around each other in circles, Chinese, French, Ukrainian and Swedish grabbed each other and swung about riotously, the Spanish girl and I stood on chairs and swung our hips like Spaniards do. We continued this into a student club, and you wouldn't have known there were hundreds of other students there since everyone from our group was having so much fun with each other.
We finished the week with another sittning, this one dressed formally and every person's plate with an envelope next to it containing fun and affirming notes from other people involved in the week. As we continued on to talk and dance into the night, and all the international students had flights to catch the next day, goodbyes, hugs, and scattered kisses sifted through the crowd. And by the next night when those of us who live in Sweden knew that our new friends were no longer in the country, the city felt quite a bit emptier to us. But in fact, the world actually felt much, much smaller.
"Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes."
~Henry David Thoreau