A Frozen February
Whoever told me that the snow wouldn't last long must have taken great satisfaction at having lied to me so viciously. As you can infer from the title, Karlstad is experiencing a face-stinging chill right now.
I began my first full month in Sweden fairly work-orientated. That is to say that whilst I was attending social events and making friends, my primary objective has always been to learn as much as I can both on my courses and through independent study. With this in mind I’ve been attending every possible course session, lecture and out of hours screening, as well as lurking around the library sniffing out the photo-theory books that aren’t present back in Coventry. With just one Theory and one Practice session per week, I have plenty of time to myself and so remain working on my own practice and thinking ahead to my dissertation next year. Life here though is far far less lonely than the picture I’ve painted here. I promise. Outside of work, uni life here is pretty similar to that back home, although I’ve found there is a greater emphasis on communal leisure, particularly when it comes to eating. I’ve so far always spent my breaks with my new friends from the course, either in the main food hall or the restaurant downstairs. In either location, there is a wall of microwaves present for those bringing lunch from home, and in these food spaces everyone can spend time together regardless of where they’ve bought food. I take full advantage of this. A rookie error, I forgot to pack a lunch once and tried the restaurant food to the tune of about £7.50 for a few potatoes and some chicken. I’ve been rocking my tupperware ever since. I have two options when travelling to and from university. Because of the snow and underlying ice I can only walk the otherwise short distance in about 20 minutes. On those occasions where I am tight for time or it’s minus-13 outside (as it is today) that 5 minute bus journey is a real self-indulgence. The buses here run on a payment system similar to the Oyster card back in London, but also offer an app that day-tickets can be bought. Ever-desperate to get my money’s worth, I sometimes splurge on a three-day pass so that my travel to lectures and group sessions are covered but I can also go to any sports in the evening or into town for cheaper groceries. Speaking of sports, I signed up to the student union at the beginning of the month and was thus able to get a decent discount on my training fees for the year. Given that the student-gym here is ludicrously expensive, I’ve chosen to train at the kempo (see last blog post) classes as well as ‘KauFit’ (an unlicensed CrossFit variant) ran by the university for a great price (less for six months than the gym charges for one!). Not sure how much the kempo will benefit my fighting but to be honest I’ll take any opportunity I can to stay fit in this time out from competition. With regards to building a social-life, there are on-campus kitchen parties at least three nights a week here so little by little everyone’s getting to know each other through the magic of dining-table beer-pong. I’ve discovered this month that Karlstad has just two “proper” clubs for going out-out. The main one is undoubtedly Nöjesfabriken, Sweden’s second-largest nightclub. The dancefloor felt more like an indoor arena than anything else and the whole place erupted at an edm-remix of ABBA’s ‘Voulez-Vous’. Magical moment. The second, Koriander (terrible name), is set on the High Street and is essentially a set of converted upstairs-flats. Free entry before 10pm is decent, wish I could say the same for drink prices. I asked “what’s the cheapest drink you have”, “student wine?” The barman asked. “Perfect, that please” and I paid £5 for a quarter glass of white wine. A quarter glass of white wine. Anyway, it’s a pretty small place so at least half of the people in there are from the campus village, pretty great atmosphere.
On the subject of parties, an important note on living in Sweden is the alcohol situation. It’s not ideal. The government here essentially has a monopoly on the sale of alcohol. Of course, most shops and newsagents stock low-strength beers but for anything above 3.5% one would need to find the nearest Systembolaget. These are pretty much entire supermarkets dedicated to alcohol and whilst they provide a very impressive selection of drinks, the prices suuuuuuuck. In some cases bottles are double the cost of the same drink back home. So as you can imagine, feeling ripped off with every sip I haven’t really been drinking in any excessive capacity whilst here. What’s cool, however, is that for those “big party” occasions students living on campus will buy in bulk and split the cost; our wee community grows tighter even when facing the perils of expensive spirits. I’m only really now understanding the real life implications of taking this time away from life back home. In the six months that I’m away I’m going to miss both of my parents’ respective 50th birthdays, my wee brother’s 8th my own 21st, the former three occurring in the time since my last blog post. Gutting. I’ve lost count of how many times Finn (said brother) has said “I wish I could hug you through the screen”. There is only so much I can catch up on via FaceTime and if I’m being completely candid I feel a bit selfish in living out here. It’s an entirely self-indulgent experience after all. Knowing that I can’t do anything to help at home from over here pushes me to really make the most of my time. To learn and to experience as much as I can. With that in mind, whilst staying focussed on my editing course the opportunities for travel have this month presented themselves. There are scheduled trips to Lapland, Russia and Latvia for example, and although all of these look great on paper, I’m still pretty hesitant. I’m not sure why exactly but I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger right now. Cost maybe? Inflicting on my studies? I don’t know, I still have time to decide so we’ll see. There is still the opportunity for independent exploration of course, away from the company-ran trips. I’m at the point now where I’ve made close-enough friends to travel and have a good time with. Geographically, Karlstad is nestled between the “big three” of Oslo (Norway), Gothenburg and Stockholm. All are just one two-and-a-half-hour train away and this constant is comforting; before I return to England I’m going to visit them all. My friends Isabelle (Belgian), Andrea (Canadian) and Mel (Australian) invited me to Stockholm this month, actually. I’m writing this about a week following my return and I’m still exhausted. We were there for three days going-on three weeks. Whilst I was looking for coffee and cake, those girls were determined to go to every major attraction and tour the whole city and of course I was dragged along. Alas, I had an awesome time; I recorded plenty of video for my vlog series (see episode three below) and was able to make loads of images. I think I mentioned in a previous post about setting up a new Instagram to frame the work I produce during my time here and I’ve started posting such to @milolethorn so please go go go and give me the validation I crave. See you in a month x