I went to Gothenburg, Sweden for a year in university, a lively coastal city. Sweden was way too cold for me, as someone from the countryside of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I was bewildered to see people wearing a tank top and jeans on an 18-degree summer day. In Vietnam, people would be taking their hoodies out and complaining about the cold.
Sweden was a jaw-dropping experience for me, in a good way. I had never experienced something like that before in my life. The long dark winter that everyone hated was my paradise. That was the first time I saw snow and I loved it.
A millionaire and the snow
It was cold, it was REALLY cold. And Gothenburg wasn’t even that cold compared to the North. I was shivering my way to class everyday. My classmates were seemingly fine with the cold. I will never understand how the Swedes manage to stay fashionable in the minus weather. I learnt it the hard way that, no matter how cold you are, always take off your jacket indoors. Otherwise, you will freeze up more when you go back out.
I was not used to the cold nor was I good at dealing with it. I just loved it because it’s so different than back home. Me and my family joked all the time that, whichever one of us gets to see snow first, is destined to be a millionaire. Because only the rich get to travel. Don’t get me wrong, you’d be surprised that you can find snow in Vietnam. But we like to say only the rich do because we didn’t travel much.
The first term was great. I made friends with students from around the world. The getting-to-know-each-other part came with a lot of culture shocks. I heard stories that I didn’t know were real! It was eye-opening to hear other people’s stories.
A lonely Christmas
Along came Christmas, most of the students I had met were exchange students so they had already gone home. I missed my family a lot too. It was the first time I was away from them for so long. When I was with friends and having fun, it was fine. But then I was alone in my room with no neighbour to talk to.
A sense of loneliness was creeping up on me during the festive Christmas. I cried several times. Because I was loving the snow and the beautiful winter so much, but I had no one to share this beauty with.
At the end, I learnt to be alone. There was no magic prince or a loving family who invited me into their home to spend an unforgettable Christmas. It was just me and the not even authentic bowl of takeaway pho on Christmas Eve.
But it’s okay.
Not every time you wish someone was there, someone would. I used to joke to my parents that if I could see snow, I’d forget about them so fast and have fun with the snow all through winter. No, it’s not true. I missed them dearly.
Finally, new students’ laughter filled the hallways. Days were getting longer. The sun wasn’t setting at 3pm anymore. I was happy with that.
Maybe there really isn’t such a thing as perfection. I love winter and snow, but most of the time they come hand in hand with long dark winter nights. It’s depressing to wake up to a dark room and head to school. By the time I was done with school, it’s pitch-black out again and I was barely in class for 4 hours. I probably got more Vitamin D in Vietnam in one day than I got the whole month of December.
A taste I can’t get behind
Slowly but surely, spring was here. Bright-coloured flowers were blossoming after a tiring winter that ravaged the woods. People came out of their hibernation. There’s a barbecue going on everyday by the lake where I lived.
Another term flew by with a lot of parties and trips around the country. It was fun but I was also ready to go home. As a Vietnamese, every time I travel far from home, I miss my mum’s homemade pho so much. I loved everything about Sweden, but the one thing I don’t get is their food.
Whenever people ask me what’s a typical Swedish dish, I really don’t know, potatoes? They like to dip meat in jam though. Yeah, I know it sounds rather yucky when I put it like that. It’s actually meatballs with lingonberry jam and it’s pretty good, surprisingly. Mum laughed so hard when I told her people in Sweden eat meat with jam.
A year of a lifetime
A full year in Sweden was rewarding. I learnt a lot of things different from back home. I made a lot of lifelong friends that I still talk to regularly. Everything was different than back home. The only thing in common is my love for both countries.
Every time I look back, I think I made the right decision to go and experience a different life before I started working. Now I’m living the corporate Vietnamese life, which I love. But every now and then, I would think of the nights in Sweden, staring into space. The place that made me stronger and more resilient.