Choosing to study in Sweden for a semester is one of the bold steps I have ever taken in my life. Being a pioneer meant that I had to be very proactive in sorting out the immigration documents since there was no student to refer to how they went about the process in the past. Gratefully, I had people who were very supportive all the way. Kajsa, Bengt, Susanne, and the Office of Diversity and International Programs (ODIP) helped me with settling in information, Dr. Amanquah with course matching and my host father, David Asumadu-Boateng, with the reassurance that greatness is achieved when one is not in their comfort zone. When I had to get a visa to go to Nigeria to get a visa to Sweden, Araba Botchway was my rock together with her network which I continue to appreciate even up to date. Not forgetting the prayers of my Kingdom Christian Fellowship (KCF) beloveds and my friends and family.
Despite all the hurdles, I managed to travel to Sweden on the planned date. On the 19th of January 2019, I landed on Swedish grounds. Bengt, a lecturer at Mälardalen University and Priscilla, a Zimbabwean who lives in Sweden, patiently awaited my arrival at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm, each with a shopping bag of warm clothing. One may be wondering why they brought me clothes yet I had mine. Sweden is extremely cold. The clothes I had brought from Ghana, which happens to be the extreme opposite of Sweden, were not warm enough. Even if I had brought my Zimbabwean winter clothes, I still had to add a coat on top of a usual winter jacket, a hat, and a scarf to survive the excruciating cold. Many staff and faculty who had been to Sweden before cautioned me about the cold weather, but I thought having experienced winter for the past twenty-one years of my life in Zimbabwe, the Swedish cold would not be any different.
As I walked to the car, the cold crept into my bone marrow even though I had worn warm clothes. I suppose it was a ‘welcome to Sweden’ feeling, the weather proving a point. After five minutes in the car, everything became alright. I began seeing the other aspect of the weather I had ignored because of the cold. Snow!
Snow is beautiful. It takes over the earth and whatever is on it. Covering ugliness and humbling the proudest of creation, bringing out evenness. To those who understand color symbolism, snow-white connotes cleanliness, innocence, goodness, purity, and virginity. That is what I see every morning when I wake up and look outside through the window of my apartment.
The Swedish people believe that there is no bad weather, there are only bad clothes for the weather. Therefore, they go out to ski and do many activities like any other warm day. I have seen children biking or sliding in the snow, something my mother would never allow. My mother’s beliefs about the weather, if not most Southern African mothers’ beliefs, are opposed to Swedes’. I remember growing up, my mother would lock me and my siblings up in the house after school during winter with the fear that we would catch a cold outside. We had good clothes for the weather, but any sneaking out would result in spanking, if not a beating. Mothers on the same apartment we lived in actually cooperated in making sure all children were locked up. Whenever a child tried to sneak out, the lady next door was quick to alert the mother of the child who happened to be doing outdoor activities. It was as if the mothers were full-time security officers in the way they coordinated. Even the mother who was doing outside chores would see and ‘snitch’ on those children who managed to pass through the door security probably because the mother next door left the window or verandah to get something in the house.
I suppose the fact that I grew up not experiencing the beauty of cold weather made me non-hesitantly walk for four hours to a frozen lake and around town a day after I arrived in Sweden. Myself being curious, adventurous and not under the supervision of my mother, agreed to tour the city with Barrett, an American friend who studies in Sweden. It was sunny, but the sun was just there for decoration. The cold was still there, but this time I was well clad to keep it from creeping in my body. Unfortunately, I could not wear a mask to cover my cheeks, which became a cold target.
The lake was frozen, something I have never seen in my entire life. Snow came with cold to humble the mighty and untouchable lake. Boats got stuck at the shore and hundreds of people were skiing and treading on the lake. That was the most exciting activity I have ever partaken in. Not because I have never walked, but because on that day I walked on a lake, which tends to cooperate with gravity during the other seasons just as our mothers cooperated in keeping us indoors during winter when I was young. The frozen lake was beautiful and welcoming. Every face out at the lake was gleaming because only the daring came to witness the beauty and fairness of nature.
Barrett showed me around town after the frozen lake explore. First near the lake is an old castle which she referred to as ‘the ugly castle’, but honestly, to me, it was just okay. In town, there were some decorations which seemed like Christmas lights. In my heart, I asked why they still had not removed them since the festive season was over. In no time Barrett answered my silent question as if she read my mind. She told me that during winter it gets dark so the decoration lights help with extra illumination. Honestly, the Swedish climate stuns me. The sun rises at 8 am and sets at 4:30 pm. This makes me feel like I sleep late and wake up early, but I am adjusting with time. I even hear that there is a period when the sun does not set at all, which is quite interesting. My prayer is that the season comes when I am still in Sweden.
As Barrett was telling me about the Swedish climate while walking around town, I noticed something about Swedish public transport. It is organized, reliable, and efficient. The bus or train arrives at the station at a scheduled time so there is no need for anyone to be announcing/shouting that the bus is going somewhere. This is the complete opposite of what happens in Zimbabwe and Ghana. In Zimbabwe, public transport is usually small vans which we call combis. Each combi has a conductor always shouting the name of the final destination until the van is full. The funny trait about these conductors is that they always shout “two vasara” meaning two people left in Shona language, even though the combi has no passenger. Factually, they are right because the driver and the conductor are two people and when two passengers are left to fill the combi, the statement still holds. But the passengers prefer it when it is two people left to fill up the vacant seats because they don’t want to be delayed while the driver waits to get people to fill up the car. One thing which annoys the passengers but mainly the conductor is people who ‘dress to kill’ but not going anywhere. Drivers tend to stop and wait for such people to board only to realize that they are approaching the road to cross over to the other side of the road. In Ghana, the small vans are called trotros and their conductors are called mates. The mates behave in the same manner as the Zimbabwean conductors, but not as patient for ‘dressed to kill’ pedestrians.
Fortunately, Västerås is a small city so there is no need to take a shuttle to and from town, something that I do in Zimbabwe and Ghana. Therefore, Barrett and I walked to our respective houses after the city tour. We needed to be somewhere warm after such a long time exposed to the cold.
For me, my house is not just an escape abode for warmth, but somewhere congenial. Every day I walk into the affable characters of Benjamin, Vlasiov, Mia, and Harris, to the beaming smile of Asier and the flash of Adarsh. Yannik has the personality of a peacemaker. Carsten, a gentleman of a forbearing persona. He helped me with the pronunciation of the Swedish name of our resident street whenever anyone asked where my apartment was located during my first week in Sweden. I would ask, “Carsten where do we stay?” and he would politely respond, “Hülphersgatan Theresa!”
In every apartment of college students, there is mostly an (n+1)th housemate as mathematicians would say, n being the number of original housemates. Our house has (n+2) housemates rather, if not very welcome visitors. One of them is Gemma, a cute and lovable girl from Cuba. Her smile is contagious and her sweet voice wakes me from sleep to go and greet her with a big hug. I will be surprised to know that anyone is displeased by her presence. Elton is our second main visitor. He is always ready for games and fun. I am still yet to know more about him.
There is a rich diversity in my house and so as Mälardalen University’s international community. I have met people from countries I never knew existed and countries I have never been to. Each with something new I can learn about life and human interaction. My Swedish for Foreign Students professor can attests to the fact that there is a lot to learn from the diverse group as he spent the whole role call class learning to pronounce every student’s name correctly and their origins. There is a surfeit of diversity in the world’s population, and this is what makes life so beautiful.
Life has been beautiful to me since I arrived. I am making new friends and now can move around the city on my own. However, my main challenge is making jokes in English. My brain is wired to make some in my mother’s language. The moment I just say it in English, it ceases to be a joke, but some flat sentences. If I made some, I honestly did not intend to. Making jokes in English just blows my brain fuse.
As I now go into my third week of school, I am fastening my seat belt to start embarking on the learning journey in a different setting. Building on what my able lecturers imparted me at Ashesi University.