Coming home…

(Before my family and friends back home have a “freak out”, no, I have not jumped on a plane back to Aus. ;))

“Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there any more.”  ~Robin Hobb

A couple of days ago, I booked my tickets to come back home. Sure, it is not until July, but already I am excited. That doesn’t mean I am not having fun here, but there is something special about those people (friends and family) who have known you for a very long time. I think this becomes even more important the older you get, as these people understand you and your history in a way that new friends are usually not able to do. So I am looking forward to family dinners, and beers at the local, and riding my bike, and sitting with friends and not having to say a word without anyone thinking I am being rude or unsociable. I am looking forward to walking into a shop and not having to use all my concentration to understand what people are saying to me. I am looking forward to Melbourne’s kooky weather, and going to watch the footy, and meat pies with sauce. And as I have been thinking a lot about my Australian home this week, and the concept of home in general, it seems fitting that I tell you guys a little bit about my Swedish home.

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Home is a place where you feel comfortable – a place where you belong – a place you feel safe. Home has been described as the place where we live, the place where we came from, or it can be something less tangible – a feeling or sensation you carry with you throughout life, no matter where you are. Home can be immovable or portable, places or people, a way of life or a path you have chosen to follow. But however you choose to define it, your home is your centre, and it is from here that everything else in your world is referenced against.

“Where thou art – that – is Home.”  ~Emily Dickinson

I arrived in Sweden for the last week of summer, and was greeted with blue skies and sunshine. And, even better I was greeted at the train station by a group of students from Örebro University. These students were “fadders” and as far as I know there is no direct english translation for this word, but basically they are senior students at the university assigned to help new students integrate into the university community. This includes socially, academically and physically. I guess “student mentor” is the closest I could get, but I am not sure even that fully explains what a fadder is. But after being awake for over 30hrs, with a long overnight transit in Copenhagen, it was the physical integration that was top of my list.

So all equipped with bus cards, we jumped on the number 3 bus and headed in to the arrival camp at the University. This was where we would get important information about our stay in Sweden, but more importantly, it was where we would find out where we would be living while we were here. I had chosen, like the vast majority of students, to take the University allocated accommodation, which is either corridor-style living or apartment style living. You do not get to chose which sort of accommodation you receive, and the University (despite many pleas on our facebook page) would not tell us where we were assigned until our arrival in Örebro. Each type of accommodation has its own advantages and disadvantages – in corridor style you have your own bathroom, but (usually) less space, and you have to share a kitchen with up to eight people – in the apartments you have more space, only share a kitchen with one or two other people, but you also have to share a bathroom.

As I am happier about sharing a kitchen than a bathroom, I was happy to find I had been allocated to corridor living in an area called Tybblegatan. (gatan is Swedish for street, so it is quite literally Tybble Street) Tybblegatan is across the road from the university (it takes me about 5 mins to walk to the main entrance to the university) and is one of the three main areas of student accommodation. The other two areas are called Studentgatan (Student Street :)) and Brickebacken. Studentgatan, as its name implies, is all students and is on the University grounds. Because of this, and the fact it is closest to all the Uni bars, it is renowned as the “party” area of the accommodation complexes. Brickebacken is about a 15-20 min walk from the Uni, and is where all the apartments are. It is furthest form the Uni and from the centre of town, so its big drawcard is it is a bit quieter and, of course, the advantage of being in an apartment rather than a corridor.

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A view across the park to my apartment block in Tybblegatan – mine is the one on the corner behind the little tree.

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A close up of my window – being right on the corner at the back I get a view over the parkland. At the moment it is beautiful white snow.

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It is not just students who live in this area – these pretty apartments (with balconies) are where the rich people live.

My area is surrounded my sports grounds and is midway between the craziness of Studentgatan and the quietness of Brickebacken and that suits me just fine. :) I have been lucky enough to get a really quiet corridor, but my neighbouring corridor have at least one big party a week – usually two – and if they are feeling really good, three to four! But normally they wind things up by around 11pm, and head out to whichever bar is on the list that night. For those of you that don’t know, drinking 0ut is fairly expensive in Sweden, so pre-parties are a way of life for the student crowd – noone really goes out anywhere until after 11pm, and the bulk of drinking is done before this time.

Living permanently in student accommodation as a mature age distance Ed student has taken a bit of adjustment, but overall it is a very good place to live. I am lucky with my housemates – they are all nice people, with probably the only fault being they are a little lax in cleaning up after themselves in the kitchen. Dishes get washed, but there seems to be a severe aversion to wiping down benches and taking out rubbish. (I can hear my mother laughing while reading this all the way from Australia – I am not known to be the best when it comes to cleaning up either!) But, having had the opportunity of seeing some of the other corridors, I think I am pretty well off. 😀 And it is sort of nice to have so much stuff going on all the time – especially seeing I have a quiet corner I can escape to when needed. :p

My living space is not big, but it is big enough for me. But instead of trying to describe it, how about I show you…but be warned, my video skills are not the best!

And I have also included a couple of photos which show my room in a most unnatural state of cleanliness. 😉

Where I sleep.

Where I sleep.

Where I study.

Where I study.

Where I sit and read.

Where I sit and read.

“Your true home is in the here and the now.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

As part of our orientation here in Örebro we had a guest speaker from Spain come and speak to us about acclimatising to a new culture, and she told us there were four distinct phases that you go through when you move somewhere new. First there is a “honeymoon phase”, where everything is new and wonderful and different. Then you go through a period of frustration. This is where you start to notice the things you miss about where you you came from – and the differences are now not so wonderful. After making it through this you go through a period of adjustment, where you begin to integrate into your new culture. And finally, if you stay somewhere long enough, you adapt. I will talk a bit more about this concept in later posts, but for now I just want to say that I have reached the adjustment phase. This place is not the same as my “forever home”, Australia, but I am happy here now in my little corner of Sweden and I am glad to be able to call it “home” also. A big part of this has been due to a homecoming of a very different kind.

Tybblegatan in the snow.

Tybblegatan in the snow.

Looking into our kitchen.

Looking into our kitchen.

The road I walk down to get to Uni.

The road I walk down to get to Uni.

“I had come to a place where I was meant to be. I don’t mean anything so prosaic as a sense of coming home. This was different, very different. It was like arriving at a place much safer than home.”  ~Pat Conroy

When I started studying at CSU I didn’t know what to expect. I had decided to enrol to do a degree via distance Ed to give me something to keep my mind ticking over during the night shifts at work, and maybe give me an option of something else to do down the track after I had exceeded my tolerance for shift work. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, and I am extremely proud of the work I have done there in the past, and will hopefully continue to do when I get home. But the work is also tiring, emotionally and physically, and as management is not really my thing I thought it was about time to consider a plan B.

Going back to study as a mature age student can be extremely daunting. It had been a long time since I had attempted any kind of academic work, and my first two attempts were not exactly raving successes. I think I had more fails and withdrawals on my previous transcripts than passing grades! So it came as a bit of a surprise to me how much I enjoyed it, and how much I specifically loved the course I had chosen (Medical Science/Forensic Biotechnology). By halfway through the first semester I was totally and completely in love with it – so much so that one of my closest friends calls it my first real committed relationship. She reckons it is the only thing I have ever completely given 100% to – and if I am completely honest she is probably right. This commitment I have to my study is close to bordering on an obsession, and can be consuming at times. And when anything reaches that level of importance in your life, it can also be accompanied by fear. Fear of not being good enough, fear that I might not feel the same about it years down the track, and fear that maybe I had left my run too late.

Here in Sweden, I have been given a unique opportunity to get a sneak preview what my life would be like after graduation, and I like what I have seen. And this opportunity has helped to allay some of the fears I have had. I now know without a doubt that this is something I want to continue with in the future. And it is more than just the work itself – it is a sense of belonging to a community. This is something I will be able to carry with me wherever I end up living in the future, and it has ensured that Örebro University will always hold a special place in my heart. But that, I think, is a story for another time. 😉

“Home is not where you live but where they understand you.”  ~Christian Morgenstern

The approach to Uni - obviously some time ago!

The approach to Uni – obviously some time ago!

About carryingstraw
I am an Australian who is currently spending ten months living and studying in Örebro, Sweden. Back home, I am a mature aged student who studies via distance, so living and studying at an actual university should be an experience in itself, let alone living in another country! My handle, carryingstraw, comes from a Swedish proverb - dra ditt strå till stacken - which loosely translates to "carry your straw to the hill". It is in reference to a common type of ant in Sweden that build their anthills out of straw, and my favourite interpretation is "do your part in the creation of something magnificent". For me, this is a reminder of a couple of things: that big things are achieved one step at a time, that to achieve something you have to play your part as well, and that for truly great things to be done there are always many people involved. So join me in carrying straw. :)

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