Two important issues: Meeting People and Getting Around
One of the best things about an exchange is that you meet a huge number of people all at once. And because we are all in the same boat, it isn’t hard to make friends!
It’s a great experience because everyone has a different way of viewing life. Every nationality has a different tint on the glasses through which they view the world, it even extends to different regions within each country.
At the moment, I am doing my intensive course in Swedish. On this course, there seems to be a large number of Germans. Since my entire experience of Germany has been a cumulative 60 minutes of transfer time at Dusseldorf airport I’m finding the exposure to German nationals extremely instructive!
This so called ‘cultural exchange’ is engaging and interesting. Not only do we learn about each other’s countries, we have fresh light cast on our own. We were told at the orientation talk last Friday something along the lines of: “Each of you will go home a little bit Swedish.” I would go further and say that, by the end of my time here, I will go home a little bit Swedish, German, Austrian, French, Belgian, Swiss, Russian, Lithuanian, Finnish, American, Spanish… the list goes on (sorry to anyone I’ve missed). All to varying degrees, but nonetheless true.
All this is very exhausting! I think that the downside of meeting so many people is that you have so many names to remember… this is a small inconvenience, I will get better over time as I always do.
Another interesting thing is, being a native English speaker, hearing your home language being used in a new way. Every country has a different way of expressing themselves in English, and I love the richness of description that everyone uses. It’s certainly making me think more carefully about how I use English in this blog!
In Britain, there is a certain stigma associated with using bicycles and/or public transport to get around. As someone who cycles for sport, I sometimes see the worst side of that stigma. Seeing how the Swedes deal with both cycling and public transport has really opened my eyes to the extent of Britain’s total ineptitude on the subject.
It isn’t even as if Sweden has done anything revolutionary. There are just a few cultural differences, namely:
If a bus says it’s going to arrive at 1610, it arrives at 1610 or at least within a minute either side. In the UK, 1610 could mean the bus arrives at 1600, or 1700 or not at all. Buses in Britain don’t have a timetable, they have more of a bus ‘guide’: a suggestion that a bus might arrive at around a certain time. Every scheduled stop on a British bus schedule should have an asterisk: *.
Here, buses are well used. It’s not just OAPs and young people who use them but everyone who needs to get around. The obvious local attitude “Let’s take the bus” is of stark difference to the British “I suppose we have to take the bus.”
There are CYCLE PATHS! That doesn’t mean cycle lanes on busy roads, it means tarmacked paths separate to major roads. And if you have to cycle on the roads, drivers give you plenty of room and allow you to cycle comfortably and safely. In the center of Linköping, for example, there aren’t always cycle paths, so using the road is necessary Nobody gets all bent out of shape, they just get on with it, calmly and safely.
In Britain, cycle lanes are usually poorly placed and it is often more dangerous to use them than not. Where there are cycle paths, they are often poorly maintained and sometimes completely pointless, going only a couple of meters along the side of a road.
Here, bikes are cheap, and not only that, you are actively encouraged to use the infrastructure. To get from A to B in Linköping, it’s X minutes cycle, rather than in Britain where it would be X minutes drive.
Also, if you’re asked the question “Do you have a bike?”, and you answer “No.” the immediate follow up is “Why not?” In Britain, not having a bike is a viable choice in life, here, it is just silly to go without (Unless, of course, you have a valid reason like: ‘I was hit by a car back home in Germany, and never rode a bike again.’… for example.)
Attitude towards the environment:
The fact is that Swedes understand that cycling and catching the train or bus is better for mother Earth. And making the choice to use a system that is there already is not seen as being a weakness or failing; it’s seen as a morally superior choice.
I love it! I hope Britain starts to shape up. Things are changing back home, but not fast enough!