A Toast to the Swedish Program

By John K. McGonigle (Hamilton College ’17, The Swedish Program ’15)

In the final days of The Swedish Program, the program’s participants as well as the program’s faculty are invited to attend a “Farewell Banquet”. In the Fall of 2015 this banquet was held in the atrium of Handelshögskolan, known affectionately to us as “SSE”. As many individuals often do – though we might not always admit it – I thought of a few words that I might like say if given the chance. On account of my own timidity, however, this toast was unfortunately never given. Still, the words of this salutation hold true, most adequately sum up my experience, and deserve to be shared. Below is a transcript of this farewell toast; a panegyric that applies to current, to past, and to prospective program participants; it applies to the rest of the world and to anyone who may come across them:

On the last day of orientation, I can remember sitting here [in the atrium of SSE] with a few of my newly-made acquaintances. I made a comment to the group about ‘how great it was that the program was so small, so tight knit, and how we spent so much time together’. Someone – I cannot remember who – turned to me and said “don’t get used to it…” After a short pause they continued, commenting “next week we will go off on our separate ways: we’ll be living our own lives and doing different things. We may never be back together in the same capacity ever again”. The words, while totally reasonable, still startled me – they were the pin that popped my idealist balloon. Rattled, I still got the message: ‘cherish your time with these people, in these places’.

It would be wrong for me to pick a single moment to highlight. There are far too many, and I would do none of them the justice they deserve. It did not take long for me to realize that I had made the right choice. I could tell you a few dozen stories, and that might only get me through the first few weeks. So, for the sake of your time and my energy here is what I’ll say: I will miss every single person in this room, for a hundred reasons and for one; I am not sure that I will ever find a group of 50 people that I enjoy hanging out with as much as I do with you all.

So, if it’s true that all good things must come to an end, and that time flies when you are having fun, then let those be the reasons that I am so grateful that the last four months have been a blur. Each of you has played a considerable role in the gratitude, excitement, and longing that I feel when I begin to reflect back on my experience Stockholm.

With that, I propose a toast: to Carina, to Madison, to Eva, and to the rest of the Swedish Program. But, most importantly I propose this toast to ourselves. Whether you and I have spent 17 weeks or 17 minutes together, smile and know that you are making it hard for me to leave both Stockholm and this program behind.

If you will, do me a favor and raise your glass in what is likely to be the last Fall 2015 Swedish Program “skål!”. In a few days the words of that faceless individual from orientation will fatefully become true: “next week we will go off on our separate ways: we will be living our own lives and doing different things. We will never be back together in the same capacity ever again”

So please: SKÅL!

In the process of writing this post, I remembered an old adage that struck me as being too relevant to exclude: ‘Good friends know all your best stories; great friends made them with you.’ As should be obvious by now, there are plenty of stories that I could tell about my friends. But, that is not the point. Rather, while the semester did not last as long as I would have liked, the friendships that I made during it certainly have. When recounting my experience to those who asked, I find myself time and again citing “the people”, “my friends”, or “the tight community” as reasons that I look so favorably upon my 4 months with The Swedish Program. To be sure, “the beautiful city”, “excellent school”, and “total freedom” follow in close tow, however it is the people who made all the difference. Philip Musey – a friend, program participant and (newly discovered) neighbor in Atlanta, Georgia – sums this sentiment up best when he writes in an earlier Swedish Program blog post,

“Yes, it’s very difficult for me to accept that these things—these wonderful, spontaneous, unforgettable things—and the friends that made them happen will have to exist in my memory until we see each other again”

A few sentences earlier Phil comments, “[I] would do it all over again a million times[,] if I could”, a wish I certainly share as well. In the end it was not the amazing Swedish welfare state, the course material, or the beauty of the country that made me so happy to be on the program; it was the people.

In Ovningsboken, “The Practice Book” which we used in our Swedish I language class, there is a passage which we (the students) were instructed to translate. It is about a man named John who moves from the US to Sweden. ‘John’ very much enjoys his time, but finds himself thinking of his family and friends back home. The sentence – in Swedish – goes something like this: “John trivs ganska bra i Sverige, men han längtar efter honoms foräldrar och vänner i USA.” It translates to: “John thrives well in Sweden, but he longs after his family and friends in the USA.” At the time it was very applicable to me; however, this is not the case anymore. No longer do I miss my friends and family in the US. Rather, it is my friends and “family” from Sweden that I find myself longing after the most while back in the US.

To those people with whom I was lucky to share my time:

Hej då, mina fina vänner. Jag saknar ni.