Student life. Moving to a new country is exciting and fun, but it can also at times be a challenging transition. Getting to know a new culture and society takes time and before you start to feel at home you will most likely have felt the effects of culture shock.
For some tips on how to ease your way into your new home, GD had a chat with Abhishake Rachumallu, phadder manager at CIRC – Chalmers International Reception Committee.
”The first few months can be very challenging, everything is strange and weird. But you get used to it,” says Abhishake, who each semester meets hundreds of new international students.
Abhishake explains that almost all students experience some kind of cultural shock when they first arrive. Many feel frustrated, lonely and insecure and express confusion over all things Swedish. Why is everyone on the bus so quiet? Why don’t people say hello in the street? What’s up with queuing, you take a number? And is showing up 30 minutes late really such a big deal?
In the beginning, it can feel as if the social codes and unspoken rules form a seemingly impenetrable wall to society. And as a result you feel homesick, but you can also experience more diffuse symptoms such as an obsession with cleanliness, insomnia, or even allergies.
To many, making new friends is one of the biggest challenges. No wonder, as this entails putting yourself out of your comfort zone, something that can be hard enough when you’re in your hometown, let alone a foreign country.
”Swedes don’t talk a lot”, Abhishake says, which can make them seem disinterested and distant, but ”this is a cultural thing, and nothing personal.”
To his knowledge, most Swedes show a genuine interest in other cultures and people, but what some would describe as shyness and restraint makes it up to you to initiate conversation.
”Just keep talking to people, ask questions about Swedish things and culture, most people are happy to answer your questions, and most Swedes are interested in talking about this kind of stuff.”
In Sweden work and leisure is clearly divided, which makes certain times better to make friends than others.
”Swedes are organised people, Abhishake explains, ”they work Monday to Friday, and on the weekends they relax. If you ask someone to go party on a Monday, they will look at you strangely.”
Instead Abhishake suggests going out for ‘after work’ drinks on Friday evenings.
”You can meet a lot of people on Friday evenings, and food and drinks are cheap.”
And if you don’t drink alcohol? That’s ok, just make sure you have some kind of drink in your hand, it’ll keep your hands busy and make socialising a little easier.
Another way to meet people is to join one of the many local sport teams, but if sweating isn’t your thing, there are pub quizzes, book circles, and an endless list of classes and courses you could try.
And whatever you sign up for, be punctual Abhishake encourages. And no, 15 minutes late does not pass for ”on time”.
Another piece of advice Abhishake gives students is to learn Swedish, as language provides an important link to understanding a culture. Many libraries organise what is called språkcafé, a great way to practice your Swedish and to meet new people, and it’s free.
Most of all, try to be active. The more you immerse yourself into Swedish culture, the sooner you’ll learn its ways. And the good thing is, culture shock passes. Before you know it, you’ll be obsessing over the weather, taking your shoes off at the door, planning social events weeks in advance, and who knows, you might even start to think that the word lagom makes sense.
This article was created in collaboration with Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg.