The first year I came to Sweden I felt like I was in a fantasy world. Everything seemed absolutely perfect, and anything that wasn’t perfect didn’t matter. People who had been here longer than me were telling me about the troubles they face and I thought they were ungrateful and exaggerating. Soon the annoying things began to trickle into my life and the fantasy of Sweden was turning slowly into place that I wanted to leave. I wasn’t sure if it was other people’s negativity dragging down my normally optimistic attitude, or if I was simply realizing that I was not living in a Utopia.
A friend recently brought to my attention that this is a normal response of having culture shock. When I would think of culture shock before, I thought it was something that would only last a couple of weeks, like the homesickness I felt my first few weeks in Germany. But I think I have experienced an extended culture shock.
Now that I have become aware of this, I want to see if I can get myself out of it. I don’t want to be negative about where I am, and I want to reinvigorate my positive attitude, no matter what people around me are saying. Whatever negative thing I think about Sweden, I will actively try to turn it into something positive. I have started by responding with something positive when someone asks me what I think about Sweden, whereas this past year I have been complaining. Also, yesterday I tried a new approach. I used to complain about something that happens to me very often: The fact that it is difficult to integrate with the Swedish people because whenever I am around them, they ignore me and speak in Swedish (although most of them are able to speak English near fluently). I have tried to tell myself that its normal, we are in Sweden, I should learn Swedish, etc. Yet this doesn’t stop me from being annoyed and feeling alone in those almost daily situations. Yesterday I finally decided to try something different. Instead of getting angry, or secluding myself like usual, when my colleagues began speaking Swedish, I would remain in the conversation and seem interested and really try to listen. When I hear a word I don’t understand, I ask, so they know I am still there and still listening. This actually worked, because I changed my perspective, have been able to learn some more Swedish (which I honestly believe I should be doing), and they saw I was still there and even changed back to English.
Furthermore, because I imagine I showed my interest in integrating with the Swedish, it opened up communication as to why there is such a divide at our university between the Swedish and the international students. All the time I have only known “our” side and how we simply blamed the Swedish and their culture for not being interested in getting to know us, but I learned from one girl yesterday (without even asking) that she believed the international students were only in Sweden to party and didn’t take their studies seriously, which is a stereotype that is not completely untrue. I hope that showing her that I am dedicated to integrate that she felt comfortable to reveal to me her feelings about “my” people, and additionally I was reminded that there are two sides to every story.
I am sure my negative attitude toward the Swedish culture was evident and turned people off from wanting to speak to me, which was a snowball effect. I am hoping I continue along this path, make some Swedish friends, learn the language, and enjoy my time here.