Something about Sweden

Janna and friends from The Swedish Program. / All photos courtesy of the author.

Something about Sweden

By Janna Jiang

School: Brown University, Class of ’20
Major or concentration: Computer Science and Economics
Semester abroad: Spring ’19

“Frequency bias” is used to describe the feeling of having recently learned about something – a new word, a new song – and subsequently seeing or hearing it pop up everywhere. That’s what happened to me after I came home from the Swedish Program in Spring of 2019. I couldn’t stay away from Sweden (not that I even wanted to try) – every new song seemed to be from a Swedish-born artist, re-viewings of old TV shows revealed references to Swedish words. Clearly, the universe wanted me to keep my tie to Sweden, so I followed along.

Janna and an SSE Buddy celebrating Valborg, a Swedish holiday.

To my Swedish teacher Camilla’s delight, I continued learning Swedish at Brown – och kan nu prata bättre än jag trodde var möjligt (and can now speak better than I previously thought possible)! I immersed myself in the Swedish pop music scene and began to translate Veronica Maggio (a huge Stockholm-based pop star) songs in my free time to improve my language skills. I tried my hand at baking kanelbullar (unsuccessful) and the easier kladdkaka (successful). I even visited Stockholm 3 more times after my time abroad, experiencing lovely Swedish summer nights, All Saint’s Day at Skogskyrkogården, and more. And while this was significantly aided along by the fact that I began dating my current Swedish boyfriend before leaving The Swedish Program, I’d like to think my tie to Sweden wouldn’t have broken anyways.

To some Swedes, it may seem odd that Americans would become so interested and entranced by Swedish culture. When I met up with a few of my old SSE friends on a trip back to Stockholm, they were talking about how fascinated they were of New York City, where I had spent my summer, and how jealous they were of my adventures. In my head, I thought about how deeply and consistently I had missed my time abroad, and said ‘but I’m the one jealous of you!’

Dogsledding during the Program’s optional trip to the Arctic Circle.

There’s something about the gentle intimacy of Swedish culture – the way that during meals with friends, rarely any small talk is spared, but discussions of life and values are abound. The way mental health is not something companies are just now beginning to discover, but something that is ingrained in work culture and law. The way that gap years before college are not only tolerated but encouraged, meant to take a pause and intentionally figure out what you want to do with your life. The endless summer days and the lonely winter nights. The sweet silence of morning commutes on the tunnelbana.

There’s something about Sweden for people – and particularly those of us that have stayed for many months – that sticks with us.

I will be moving to New York City to work for a management consulting firm after graduation, but who knows what the future holds? For now, I just advise anyone who’s considering a semester abroad with the Swedish Program in Stockholm – do it. Who knows? You might even create a bond – not to a person or a place, but to a whole culture – that lasts a lifetime.