Fika: Not Your Average Coffee Break

Looking at cultural differences between Sweden and the US, there are not many noticeable differences in everyday life. Going for a coffee break, especially with friends, is something people do in every culture. In the US, going to Starbucks or a cozy cafe in the afternoon for a little break is not uncommon. However, doing it every day, or even twice a day, is definitely uncommon in the US. This is not the case in Sweden though! Fika, which translates into a coffee and cake break, includes so much more than just food. It is a break during the day to socialize with friends or coworkers. In fact, just having a coffee and pastry by yourself does not count as Fika, because companionship is what makes Fika a real Fika.

Fika is not Fika without friends!

It’s a Ritual

Fika can happen twice a day! Once in the late morning and later again in the middle of the afternoon. The practice of pausing your day to socialize is basically mandatory, and big companies in Sweden, such as Volvo, stop working for Fika! Fika can also happen by candlelight, which I have not experienced yet, but would love to! Drinking coffee and eating pastries with a group of friends around some candle sounds like a great bonding experience!

A Cinnamon Bun, But Better

While Fika includes all types of pastries, croissants, pies, and cakes, the most common Fika pastries are cinnamon or cardamom buns. Called kanelbulle in Swedish, these buns are on a whole different level than American cinnamon buns. It is twisted into a fun shape, and baked to perfect mix of crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, with sugar chunks sprinkled on top! The cardamom buns are very similar, but since it’s made from a spice, it is more savory in comparison to the sweetness of cinnamon buns. I don’t think I can go back to American cinnamon buns after eating the Swedish buns!

Cinnamon buns (left) and cardamom buns (right) freshly made at a bakery!

Baking: It’s Art

Cafes and bakeries can be found all over Stockholm, and it is very hard to resist the colorful displays filled with goodies! After passing by so many in the city, I have learned to appreciate the skill and cleverness that goes into baking. In the US, we still have amazing pastries, yet the ingenuity of Swedish pastries is something that I really appreciate!

Bread shaped as a crawfish, how do they do this?!
Freshly made red velvet croissants in a bakery, something I have never seen before!

A Way to Make Friends

One of the first things my core class did together was get Fika. Also, when meeting my visiting host family for the first time, we went to a floating cafe on the river to get Fika. In Sweden, Fika is the first step when meeting someone new. Even in everyday life, Fika plays a big role in continuing close friendships and social connections. I think it is so interesting that an entire country observes this practice religiously, because it shows the importance the Swedish people put on companionship. I love the idea of taking time out of your day to focus on connecting with others, especially over amazing desserts and coffee. In the US, getting coffee with friends to catch up is usually an every-once-in-a-while kind of activity. I think having a practice like Fika in the US would be a great way to make people slow down their work or school day and feel refreshed to finish their day strong.

These colorful displays never fail to catch my eye!

Fun Fact: Sweden is ranked country #6 in the list of biggest coffee consumers!

My First Week in Stockholm!

A street view in Sodermalm (my area), I love how colorful all the buildings are!

First Impressions

My first day in Stockholm was filled with beautiful sites and sleep deprivation. I arrived at the airport at 7:00 in the morning and was met by DIS in arrivals where they led us to a cafe with plenty of croissants and drinks for all the students. After waiting about an hour for more students to arrive, we were bussed to our housing. We were given the rest of the day to unpack and settle into our apartments, meaning it was a fight to stay awake for the rest of the day. The first thing I was told about my housing was that we were lucky to live there. Known as the hipster area, Sodermalm is filled with restaurants, parks, and beautiful water views. I was amazed at how pretty everything around me was!

I was a little hesitant about moving to a city, especially in a different country. I was worried about public transportation, being surrounded by another language, and living in a crowded area. I was happy to find out on my first day that the train station and many stores and restaurants were within walking distance! And there were many different options! The train lines were super easy to navigate, and I found myself exploring other stations whenever I could. On my first day, I was definitely not prepared to see the lack of written English. For some reason, I had thought English would be written on public signs or at stores and restaurants. It was hard to order food when you couldn’t read what it was! I felt intimidated by all the Swedish speaking people around me, but I quickly learned that almost everyone in Sweden speaks fluent English and are willing to help out if you ask!

My building: Hogalidsgatan! (It’s a mouthful that none of us can accurately pronounce)
The view from my window! I love sunsets.

Learning New Things

The only things I had heard about Sweden were basic: Ikea, ABBA, meatballs, and cold weather. I quickly learned how little I knew about the country I was going to live in for the next four months. First of all, the Ikeas in Sweden are not like the Ikeas in the US, but there are specialized stores, so you have to make sure you are going to the right one! I also learned that the food in Sweden is very multicultural–I spent my first few days eating falafels and pad Thai, and there are restaurants of every type all within walking distance. I quickly learned to not assume the weather in Stockholm would be cold–the temperature reached up to 80 degrees, and each person I met told me it will not get very cold until February!

The one thing I was super excited to be right about was ABBA. Not only is there a museum in Stockholm, but during my first day of orientation, we had an ABBA singalong! After singing Dancing Queen with 100 other people, I finally felt excited to take on city life in Stockholm!

Me with a few classmates and ABBA enthusiasts in front of our school building!

One thing Swedes take very seriously is afternoon coffee, which they call fika. After only a few days, I learned to appreciate it a lot! Fika is a time for people to get together and take a break from their day, while eating amazing pastries and coffee. The most popular fika pastry is cinnamon buns, topped with grains of sugar.

One of my first fikas in the city. The pecan pie was delicious!

Island Views: My Favorite

Stockholm is made up of many small islands, connected by bridges. This means there is water everywhere! One of the first things I wanted to do was explore the parks and trails along the water. There are always boats, kayaks, and people enjoying the outdoors! During an evening walk with some friends, we found some rocks that gave us an amazing view of the island across from us! Sitting on the rocks and watching the sun set over the city was one of my favorite things I have done so far.

I love walking on the trails by the water!
A sunset view of the next island. One of my new favorite things!

Pre-Departure!

Hi there! My name is Sam and welcome to my page where I’ll be documenting my study abroad journey! The city I will be living in is Stockholm, Sweden.

Why I Decided to go Abroad

Traveling is not a stranger to me, in fact, my family and I travel a lot over the summers for fun! However, choosing to live abroad for a few months is a different experience. For me, the biggest deciding factor to spend a semester abroad was the opportunity. College is a time for exploring new things and it is the perfect time to learn how to live on my own. Another deciding factor was the program I decided to pursue. Since Wofford does not have any classes similar to the Forensic Psychology course I will be taking, I decided that pursuing education outside of Wofford was a good opportunity for me as well.

Like many others, I was concerned about being in a different country for an extended amount of time. I think my “epiphany moment” occurred during Interim this past year when I went abroad to Morocco. As part of the cultural experience, my class was paired off to live with host families in the Medina of Rabat. My host family included a mother and grandma who could not speak English. Communicating was challenging at times, and after the struggle I decided that if I could survive in a country where I cannot communicate, then I can definitely survive in a country that speaks English!

Me and my friend Jordan with our host grandma in Morocco!

Why Sweden?

Choosing where to study abroad is a hard decision, but thankfully, there are people at Wofford who are there to help with that! The first time I went to meet with someone from International Programs, I walked out with about eight catalogs of possible programs and cities all over the world! Because I am a very indecisive person, having so many options overwhelmed me for a while.

In the end, I picked Sweden because of what I wanted for my education. As a Psychology and Anthropology/Sociology major, the DIS Stockholm program gave me the opportunity to take many classes in both of my majors. Also the Forensic Psychology course I will be taking is something I am interested in, but would not have the opportunity to explore if I stayed at Wofford. Language also influenced my decision to live in Stockholm. Other programs that appealed to me came with required language classes, which was something I did not want to take.

One thing about DIS that made me a little apprehensive was how little people at Wofford go through the program. I am the only student from Wofford going to Stockholm, and only two other students are going to the Denmark location of the DIS program. After seeing how many people were going to the same programs or same cities, I was a little worried about going to Stockholm alone. Having a familiar face would be comforting, but I think it would be a good opportunity to meet new people.

Brochure for my program!

Thoughts, Concerns, and Goals

Going to a new school is very nerve-wracking, especially when it’s in a different country! I am nervous about taking unfamiliar classes, learning a big, new city with a large transportation system, and meeting new people. One thing that is very comforting is that all the other students in my program will be experiencing the same concerns so I know I am not alone!

My biggest concern just days before leaving for Stockholm is packing. How cold will it be in Stockholm? Is my winter clothes warm enough? D How many shoes do I need to bring? What can I survive without for four month? And most importantly, how will everything fit into my luggage?! Hopefully I don’t forget anything.

Through my experience abroad, I hope to explore new classes that will hopefully help my decisions for a future career. I also hope to get a taste of city life and master public transportation, since you don’t find much of that in Spartanburg! I also want to be more outgoing and explore as much as possible, whether it be around Stockholm, or other countries nearby!