I can honestly say without a doubt that coming to Sweden was one of the best decisions I have ever made. In just four months, I fell completely in love with my new country (so much so that I’ve already booked a ticket to visit for two weeks in August). While I could go on forever about why I love Sweden, I’ve decided to limit myself to my favorite three aspects of Swedish culture.
First, there’s fika. On the surface, it’s a genius social institution that allows you to partake in drinking coffee and eating pastries on a daily basis. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that fika is an amazing way to spark new friendships and strengthen existing relationships. While living in Stockholm, I managed to fika in nearly every way possible. Fika with new American friends. Fika with new Swedish friends. Fika with a professor. Fika with a distant family friend. Fika with my host mom. Fika with my host sister. Fika in a cafe. Fika at home. Fika in the sunshine. You get the idea. In fact, there were days when I found myself having multiple fika’s. One can have a Stockholms fika as well, which is just coffee. Taking this cultural practice seriously allowed me to slow down for a little and to really focus on building the relationships that helped to define my study abroad experience.
While I am of the opinion that you can never fika too much, many of my Swedish friends and family would disagree. This introduces the highly Swedish concept of lagom. Not too little and not too much, lagom is just enough. A somewhat abstract notion, I found lagom best illustrated in the Swedish respect for work-life balance. Though there are certainly exceptions, it was my observation that the Swedes in my life made home a place to relax, not a place to work. As an American college student, the line between work-space and home-space is blurred far too often. That lifestyle often results in working way too much and relaxing way too little. Living in Sweden taught me to work hard but to do my best not to work too much. While a perfectly balanced life isn’t exactly attainable, the exercise of striving for a little lagom in your life is rewarding in itself.
A crucial part of creating that lagom lifestyle is mys. As a noun, mys translates to “coziness” in English. It was my observation that mys is a vital piece of Swedish culture. Something can be mysigt, and people can mysa. One of my favorite pastimes in Sweden was enjoying fredagsmys (Cozy Friday) with my host family. A typical fredagsmys consists of tacos (still confused by this), junk food (think gummies, chocolate, potato chips, and cheese puffs), and wine (soda or juice for the younger crowd, of course). The junk food and beverage is typically enjoyed in front of the television with lots of candles lit. Candles are an integral part of creating mys, and something that I came to appreciate a great deal during my time in Sweden. Even though I’m not allowed to have candles in my dorm room, I purchased LED candles to help make my plain dorm a little more mysigt.
Fika, lagom, and mys were all key concepts I engaged with during my time abroad, and they are only the tip of the iceberg. From learning how to build a fire to flipping a pancake without a spatula, to baking kanelbullar, decorating a smörgastårta, seeing the Northern Lights, and falling in love, my time in Sweden gave me skills and memories that I will cherish forever.