By Grace Cen, Harvard University, ’23
I am huddled on the Eriksson family’s sofa, watching the first episode of hit Swedish crime series, Quicksand, and warming my feet under the same blanket as Julia (Eriksson). I take a mental snapshot. I don’t want to forget this: this warmth, this fullness of a Scandinavian family, despite being halfway across the world from mine.
To my left, Linnea (Eriksson) has brought out old merch with the male lead’s face on it. In the kitchen, Tove, Julia and Linnea’s mom, strolls over to hand me a large bowl of assorted candies: fruity cores covered in salted licorice, minty chocolates, and peanut M&Ms. The salted licorice one are Tove and Linnea’s favorite, but I can’t seem to keep it on my tongue for longer than twenty seconds.
It is one of those rare super sunny Stockholm days, and 30 minutes away from the city, I can see the light cast its soft glow over the water and grassy field outside. A peek out the window and you’ll see the girls’ dad hard at work on a koi pond for the house.
Being part of a contact family has truly been one of the highlights of my semester abroad. My connection with them is strikingly natural, so easy to slip into the soft rhythm of their family. From doing so, I have inadvertently learned so much, both about the Swedish way of life and special elements of their family that I want to co-opt into my own:
1. A Small, Close Social Circle:
Swedes tend to keep a small, tight knit group of friends, and while sometimes hard to get close to them, once you are in said inner circle, you are a friend for life. My contact family is quite social, hosting intimate dinner parties with family friends for Melodifestivalen (Sweden’s out-of-this-world music competition) and Valborg (Walpurgis Bonfire Night).
It’s so nice to see how genuinely close the Eriksons are to their friends and hear how long they have known each other for. Even the friends Julia and Linnea have introduced to me are ones they have known since their elementary/middle school equivalent. In short, get-togethers are often and they each have an arsenal of funny stories about one other to keep me amply entertained.
2. Ice Bathing:
One of my chillier memories with the Erikssons comes during the tail end of winter. The lakes had frozen over and I was introduced to a Scandinavian favorite: ice bathing!
We climbed down a ladder into the frozen lake, submerging ourselves to our necks in frigid ice water. I distinctly remember prying my anxious eyes open to see the family cheer me on from above.
“You did well!” Tove said, wrapping my tingling body in a towel and her pink puffer.
I was shocked by how much I enjoyed the ice bath, my limbs thawing in their hot tub afterwards. It’s not the initial dip but rather the aftermath: a warmth that emerges in your core and fans itself outward, and then the “did I just do that” glance that everyone gets to exchange!
3. Emphasis on Keeping Active:
Julia tells me that it’s more uncommon to find a student in gymnasium who doesn’t play a sport than one who does, and their friends reaffirm it. Both girls spend their weeknights at team rehearsals for competitive cheerleading, and are good coaches. One session on a backyard trampoline with them and I could do an infantile cartwheel!
It is this attitude of constantly keeping active that I want to take with me. I want to realize when I’ve been too sedentary, either working for too long or not fighting hard enough against the urge to stay confined in my studio apartment. I want to take more walks, to find my sport. Sweden has truly opened my eyes to the appeal of sports culture, European football especially. It is during games that people meet friends, bond over team preferences, and sing loud team chants at the top of their lungs.
4. Mindset of Introducing Others to your Culture:
Being in Sweden around predominantly European food made me covet Asian staples in Stockholm like I had never before. One dinner, I inadvertently name dropped a few of them, then audibly gasped after my contact family revealed that they had never tried bubble tea, never tasted matcha before. It was a situation to be rectified! The next time I was over, I put together a matcha latte, the boba a chewy surprise. They received it so well, and I was infinitely grateful for the opportunity to reciprocate in introducing small bits of my culture to them.
It didn’t stop there. The generosity and warmth the Eriksson’s have shown me was such a wonderful surprise, one that I had to pay back by getting Julia her very first hot chicken fire ramen noodles.
The Erikssons are now people I will try my hardest to always keep in my life and one of the many reasons for me to visit Stockholm again. As I speed away on the back of Julia’s moped, I watch as the Swedish pines whizz past me. A whirlwind of a semester abroad, anchored by a family here that has kept me from blowing away in the northern wind. She is sending me home, but I know we will keep in touch.
Tove sends me off with a message later: “We are now forever your Swedish family. Ok?”