A Memorable December in Stockholm

From discovering the glorious Swedish custom that is fika and learning how to use public transportation, to meeting incredible people and exploring a new city, my Stockholm study abroad experience is one that I will not soon forget.  I received an education from a great school, and got to live with a wonderful Swedish family who welcomed me as one of them.  I was able to see rock stars portrayed as goofy, relatable humans in an exhibit of Anton Corbijn’s work at Fotografiska, gingerbread house masterpieces by Stockholm’s own residents in a Christmas event at ArkDes, learn a new language, experience a new culture, travel around Europe and take part in things that exceeded the bounds of my wildest imagination.

One of those things was the Stockholm Santa Run.  When I committed to The Swedish Program for my study abroad experience, I did not anticipate running around Gamla Stan with 1,500 of my closest Swedish friends all dressed as Santa to raise money for cancer research.  But it happened, and it was awesome.  However, the Santa Run was just the cherry on top of a particularly incredible week of December.  What could be better than dressing up as the world’s favorite elf and raising money for cancer research, you ask?  Three words: Nobel Prize Banquet.

Think gold, glamour and glitter galore.  Think classy, creative and captivating characters.  Think inspiring intellectuals and iconic individuals.   A fellow Swedish Program member, Cormac Close, won the lottery at Handelshögskolan for two tickets to the banquet, and I had the opportunity to accompany him.

After being dropped off at Stockholms Stadhus by my host father, I was escorted to my seat in Blå Hallen by a student dressed to the nines, marked with a sash and studentmössa atop his head.  My place was set identical to the other 1,299 in the hall, with gold silverware, delicate beverage glasses and a fancy place card identifying the seat as mine.  The royal family descended the staircase to their seats in the center of the room, dressed in breathtaking ball gowns and distinguished tails.  The Queen’s dress sparkled so much; it appeared she was giving off her own light.  Nobel laureates were honored and gave speeches, some lighthearted and others more serious in nature.  Bob Dylan himself did not attend the banquet, but his well written thank you speech was read by the United States Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji , and certainly made a lasting impression on me, as did the speech of one of the Nobel laureates in Economics, Oliver Hart.

After the speeches came a three-course meal that would have had my taste buds singing, if taste buds could sing.  The meal included treats like charcoal baked langoustine and scallop, quail with Jerusalem artichoke, and cloudberry sorbet.   There were just enough forks that I had to think for a moment before eating, to ensure that I was using the correct one with each course.  The presentation of the food was out of a fairytale, with waiters practically dancing to the tables, balancing up to nine plates at a time.  Dessert came with lit sparklers, adding even more sparkle to an already glittering room.

In between courses, Martin Fröst and Magnus Lindgren with The Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Adolf Fredrick Girls Choir treated us to musical performances that depicted the evolution of music over time.  Each musical number was skillfully executed and left my tablemates and me with chills.

I was seated with seven other students and young adults ranging in age from 17 to 35.  Some of my tablemates were also lucky lottery winners, while others had family involved in the Nobel ceremonies.  The course of the dinner was spent sharing university stories, and experiences that we had had in each other’s home countries.  Lighthearted discussion continued after the 4-hour dinner, as we followed the crowds up the regal staircase to the Golden Hall where a live band played dance music.

The golden room was filled with TV personalities, Swedish politicians, academics and other remarkable individuals.  After an hour of dancing, party-goers began to trickle out, finding their way to buses headed to the after party hosted by KTH.

The Nobel Banquet was an experience that I could never have had without the support and generosity (and dress shopping advice) of The Swedish Program.  I feel incredibly blessed to have such an opportunity and will not soon forget the fairytale night of the Nobel Prize Banquet.

Ria Hanson
Williams College
Fall 2016