Let’s Talk About Sex… To Middle Schoolers

After teaching in Nashville, Tennessee for five years, then moving to Stockholm to continue my career, I am often asked, “What is the main difference in teaching between these two countries?” Though there are several differences, to me the most profound and rewarding difference is the opportunity to talk about sex to my students as their science teacher.

In the States, many people feel that these conversations should be left to parents or churches. However, this simply doesn’t work for everyone. Many students do not feel comfortable talking to their parents openly and honestly about sex. Many parents may avoid or put off these uncomfortable talks until it’s too late. When kids start to have questions, they may turn to the internet or misleading sources for information. I have seen the negative impact that avoiding this topic has compared to having a frank conversation.

Let’s not kid ourselves. We know that sex is on the mind of almost every teenager on a daily basis. They hear things from their friends, see things on the internet, struggle with their feelings, and even begin to experiment. In American culture, talking about these things (especially in the classroom) is extremely taboo. In my five years of teaching 6th grade science there, the topic of sex education was completely ignored.

I can imagine what people who know me are thinking: “Kevin Buckley talking about sex to middle schoolers? You’ve got to be kidding me!” However, it is something that I take extremely seriously. I try very hard to make students comfortable, then give honest, open, and scientifically sound information. To prepare, I spend time researching, seeking advice from other science teachers, and have even attended a workshop about how and what to say in these lessons.

The lessons typically begin with an overview of puberty as well as male and female reproductive organs (with realistic pictures). We then talk about what sex is and how pregnancies can occur. I find it important to spend a good portion of time talking about consent and how no one should ever feel pressured or pressure others into doing things that they are not 100% comfortable with. Students then spend time researching various types of STDs and learn the importance of safe sex. Also, for anyone who has known me in the past few years and gotten my “porn talk,” I even tackle this topic with students and warn them of some of the dangers associated with going too deep down this rabbit hole. (For more info, visit Yourbrainonporn.com)

My favorite lesson is on menstruation. Together, boys and girls talk in depth about what periods are, why they occur, and the discomfort they can cause girls. We also discuss why periods are considered taboo in certain cultures. I feel that these conversations help immensely to diminish the ickiness and discomfort that men often have toward periods. We even do a lab to test the absorbency of pads and tampons with red water; the boys are always amazed!

I end the unit by giving small pieces of paper to each student. They are encouraged to write down any questions at all they have about sex, menstruation,  puberty, masturbation, urges, you name it. After taking these questions home and preparing my answers, I read each question out to the class and go over my answers. Since the questions are anonymous, students feel free to ask anything. They also get the benefit of hearing their peers’ questions answered, and knowing that their concerns may be the same as others’. When I read these questions, I am always reminded how important it is to teach sexual education in schools; many students have unclear ideas about many, many things.

Helping students navigate this intense topic has become the most rewarding part of my school year. With that being said, feel free to submit your anonymous sex question to Dr. Buckley in the comments!

Buying a Home in Sweden

One of the best decisions JoEllen and I made was renting a house in the center of Stockholm. Living in the heart of the city helped us to connect and fall in love with our new country. We absolutely loved being surrounded by shops, restaurants, bars, parks, public transit stops, and iconic landmarks. Though our rent was higher that we could have found elsewhere, we have cherished our two years on Kungsholmsgatan.

However, after two years in Sweden, we were ready to begin investing in our future here. So as our lease was ending, we began looking into buying a permanent home with a little more space. After calling House Hunters International and finding out it is completely staged (boo!), JoEllen and I got to work on the enormous task of buying a home in a foreign country.

First a little information on the housing market in Stockholm: It is booming! Stockholm is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe and has one of the fastest growing economies. A guy I worked with recently sold a home that he bought a few years ago in Sweden. For each year that he owned the home, the value increased in an amount equal to his entire yearly salary. Needless to say, the current market is highly competitive.

Step One: Lånelöfte

In order to begin looking at potential homes to purchase, you must first receive a lånelofte (loan commitment) from your bank. This is an official document which states that the bank is willing to grant a housing loan to an individual up to a certain amount of money. To be granted a lånelofte, a few important requirements must be met. You will need to give the bank a complete overview of your financial situation so that they can determine if you can afford the loan. Typically the bank will require you to have a permanent job contract in Sweden so they can be more sure of your stability. Most importantly, the bank will need assurance that you will be able to immediately put down 15% of the home’s value upon purchasing the home. That is correct, for the bank to sponsor you for a home loan, you must be able to put down 15% of the total loan amount! So plan accordingly for this: save up, borrow money from a loved one, or adjust your expectations.

Step Two: Hemnet.se

Your one stop shop for house hunting in Sweden is Hemnet.se. This website lists all homes that are on the market, provides pictures, and breaks down all of the information that you need. Spend a lot of time on this website and get a solid idea of what you are looking for. When it comes to the listed price, keep in mind that it is only a starting bid and will almost certainly go up, and by quite a bit. JoEllen and I allotted for around a 20% increase from the listed price to the final sale.

Typically each home will have two viewings, usually on Sunday and Monday, that last around 30 minutes – that’s it! You get a 30 minute window to look around the house (alongside all of your competitors) to decide if this is a place that you would like to permanently move into. Each showing will have a realtor to answer any questions, take your contact information, and hand out a booklet of details about the property. JoEllen and I went to over 20 of these showings so that we could narrow down our idea what we wanted in a home and in a neighborhood.

Step Three: Bidding

If you attend a house showing and decide that you like a particular home, it may be time to put in a bid. The morning after the showing, the bidding begins. Once a bid is placed, all potential buyers are sent a simple text saying that the first bidder has placed a bid along with the amount. If you would like to place a bid, you simply reply to the text with your offer. This continues for a few days until a certain bidder has won.

JoEllen and I only bid on two houses. The first had 11 bidders fighting it out for the property and quickly went out of our price range. For the second property there was one other bidder. After 24 hours of back-and-forth, slowly increasing the price, we decided we would put in one final offer to try to seal the deal. Minutes later, the realtor called to congratulate us on our new home!

Step Four: Paperwork and Rates

After winning the bid on a home, it is time to contact the bank who issued your lånelöfte and give them all the details of the purchase. The most important thing to begin considering here is your interest rate. In Sweden you can lock in a rate for different time periods; the shorter the time period the lower the rate. Check out the averages from particular banks here. You can also divide your loan among different time periods to spread out the risk.

Once you have worked out the specifics from your loan and signed off on it from the bank, you will sit down with the realtor and the previous homeowners. Several documents will be signed and a move in date will be set. The realtor will also get in touch with your bank, so that you can say goodbye to the 15% down payment.

The happy couple moments after signing the contract!

On the date of the move in, you will meet briefly one final time with the realtor and previous owners to collect the keys. The realtor will call the banks to make sure that funds are properly transferred. It’s also a good idea to arrange with the previous owners to have a walk-through of the space and get a quick tour of the building’s facilities, such as laundry, storage, trash and recycling. Don’t forget to ask for the door code, too!

Buying a home in Sweden is a fast-paced, expensive and exciting endeavor. It can be unnerving to realize that you need to make a life changing decision based on the 30 minutes you spend in a single house viewing. Our advice: set a budget and go with your gut!

Now, checkout some photos of our new home!

And you can’t have a new home without a housewarming party!

Reading and Travel: The Perfect Pair

For anyone that knows me, you know that I am an avid reader. I read novels, blogs, nonfiction, history, thrillers, and everything in between. I never leave home without my Kindle – public transit gives me lots of opportunities to sneak a few pages on the go. Maybe I read too much, even. Last year I read 50 books, and that’s not counting the many travel guides I scoured or a few books I gave up on.

Some of my most favorite travel moments were taken to the next level, thanks to books. I remember wandering the streets of Venice just after finishing a chapter during Carnival in People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. Knowing the stories behind beloved English bookstore Shakespeare and Co. in Paris from books like Time Was Soft There made me feel like I was in on the secret when I visited, like I had found a piece of something familiar. And I’m so glad I saved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series until we moved to Stockholm. It was so much fun to recognize street names and literally follow the story by the map.

Reading book outside clouds lake staycation

Reading can ignite wanderlust in big ways. Whether it’s flipping through 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, extreme adventures like in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, exploring undiscovered islands like in The Beach, or “finding yourself” like in Eat, Pray, Love, books can inspire us to get out there and see the world for ourselves.

Travel can also inspire a search for deeper understanding of history. A trip to Berlin this fall inspired me to dig deep into the dark history of communism in Eastern Europe, a subject that I knew very little about. So I went all in, with a 600+ pager on the life behind the Iron Curtain. The knowledge I gained provided context into some of my past travels, such as Krakow and Berlin, but also set me up to have a more meaningful trip to Budapest.

Reading rick steves travel Budapest

Kevin reading Rick Steves’ snarky commentary about the communist statues at Memento Park in Budapest.

And I can’t leave out travel guides! We love Rick Steves, and Kevin and I take him with us wherever we go. His books are simultaneously cheesy and snarky, his self-guided tours are hugely valuable (if hard to follow, directionally), and we share his deep appreciation for off-the-beaten-path locales. Plus, he gives the lowdown on important details like public transportation, phrases to know, and history of the area.

Other valuable resources I use for ideas as we’re planning a trip include:

  • My favorite travel bloggers for neighborhood guides and a photographic tease.
  • City guides from sources like Rough Guides, Lonely Planet, etc.
  • Atlas Obscura and Amusing Planet to discover the weird and wonderful
  • Spotted by Locals for local bars, restaurants and art spots to visit

Books can take us to worlds – read and imagined – that we never knew existed. So get out there and read!

Share in the comments of your favorite moments of travel and reading. Also, I’m always open for something new to add to my reading list – recommend your favorite books, blogs and guides.

The Prins Visit Stockholm

We loved having our friends Kyle and Brittany in Stockholm! We miss them so much, and it was great showing them our new home. Take a look at Stockholm through their eyes!

Moving to Sweden: Life Hacks

Moving to a new country comes with countless stresses and learning curves. Learning the language, navigating the city, managing your money, staying on top of the news, and converting Fahrenheit to Celsius can all lead to major headaches. Here you can read about several life savers that I recommend to anyone moving to Sweden. They have certainly made my life easier.

Money

TransferWise. Need to securely send currency from one country to another with minimal fees? This is the best service around. Banks often add a markup to their exchange rate while advertising low fees. TransferWise transparently displays its fairly priced fee upfront and deducts it before conversion. They even give you one transfer free of charge.

Taxes for Expats. If you think US taxes are a nightmare, try moving to a new country. Since we had income in two different currencies and owned property in the States, it was a logistical mess. It cost $250 to have Taxes for Expats do our taxes, but I found it was worth it for the peace of mind that someone with expertise was in charge of the process for us. They were always helpful, transparent, and quick to respond to my several questions.

Culture

DuoLingo. Learning Swedish has been a fun new challenge for me in the past year and a half. I am proud of the progress I have made and love the feeling when I can successfully communicate with a Swede without using English. Without a doubt, Duolingo has been the most helpful tool in learning the language. By spending a few minutes per day in the app, my vocabulary has consistently expanded. If you are wanting to learn a new language or just brush up on your Spanish from high school, check it out. Lately I have also enjoyed practicing Swedish on the LingQ app.

TheLocal.se. This website is extremely valuable to anyone moving to Sweden because it provides the news for Sweden… in English! Stay on top of politics, read silly news stories from across the country, delve into Swedish culture, and even search for English speaking jobs, all in one place.

To keep up with American news, I prefer The Daily Skim.

Converter App. Kroner to dollars? Cups to deciliters? Fahrenheit to Celsius??? Ahh! Everyone moving from the States to Europe needs a good converter app.

Travel

AirBNB. Finding a place to live in a new country before you move is impractical. When making this big decision, it’s good to get a feel of neighborhoods in the city first and see a potential home in person. While searching for a permanent place to live, consider renting an AirBNB for a short amount of time. AirBNB is also an excellent service to use any time you travel.

Momondo. I was amazed when my friend told me about this flight finding website. Some of the flights I found here cost nearly half of those from other websites! I have especially seen a huge differences on the prices between USA to Europe. If you are planning to fly to Sweden in the near future, run the dates through Momondo and see if you can find a good deal.

Hopper. Know that you will be going on a trip sometime in the future? This app monitors prices for you and lets you know the cheapest dates to fly and the best time to buy.

Transit apps. I now have an entire folder on my phone with transit apps to use in Stockholm. Google Maps is always best for navigating streets and finding best routes. However, Res i Sthlm will tell you when the next bus or train will be departing from a particular stop. This can help with timing so you are not standing unnecessarily long outside in Sweden’s lovely weather. You can also use the SL app to purchase transit tickets if you are stuck in a bind.

Leisure

Free books! Set up an overdrive account from your local US library. Since moving with your entire home bookshelf is rarely an option, every traveling book lover needs a trusty e-reader. However, did you know that you can borrow library books from America and have them sent to your Kindle anywhere in the world? Before you move, check out your local library branch’s webpage and see how you can sign up for this free service! While traveling, JoEllen and I always make a point to check out a Rick Steves‘ guide to the country we are visiting. We love you, Rick!

TV projector. A few days before we left Nashville, JoEllen’s parents gave us an incredible gift: a small TV projector that easily fit into our suitcase. With this, we can simply hook up our phone or iPad to project movies or TV shows onto our wall as if we had a real TV! This way you can keep up with all your favorite American TV shows through Netflix, Amazon Video, and – most importantly – keep up with who Chris Jericho has been putting on “The List of Jericho” on the WWE Network

What life hacks have you found help you get the most out of your travel experiences? Share your advice in the comments below!

How to Become a Swedish Resident

Moving to a new country is not as easy as packing your bags and taking a flight. You must first receive permission from that country’s government by obtaining a visa. In Sweden, there are several situations that may allow a person to become a resident such as marrying a Swede, studying in Sweden, or seeking asylum. However, in order for me to live in Europe, I knew that what I needed was a work visa.

Cover of Sweden’s newspaper during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. I was very proud of my adopted country.

Several people have asked me how to obtain a work visa and live in Sweden, and I must admit that it is not easy. Generally, a Swedish company works on your behalf to help you acquire this visa. So, basically, your task is to convince a company that you are the best candidate for a certain position and hope that they will hire you over any applicants that may already live in Sweden. You can either do this as I did through online applications and Skype interviews or in person during the 90 day maximum visit that you are allowed in Sweden. Once you have been offered a job and that company decides to help you apply for a work visa, a long process of paperwork and bureaucracy follows.

However, living in Sweden is awesome! You can do it!

First, the school or company that plans to hire you must get plenty of paperwork and identification from you (and your partner if you have one).Typically, they will require you to send in:

  • Signed power of attorney form
  • Completed work permit application
  • A marriage certificate (or a document stating that you’ve lived with your partner for at least two years)
  • A scan of passports

Once all the proper documentation is in, the company’s economist or HR department will communicate on your behalf with Migrationsverket, the agency in Sweden that regulates migration and approves visas. The process can take up to a few months, but as long as everything goes according to plan, your request will be granted and you will be eligible for at least a one-year work visa.

Next step: Pack your bags, you are moving to Sweden! Once you land, one of the first things you must do is schedule an appointment at Migrationsverket to be fingerprinted and photographed for a residency permit card. This card is important and shows that you have permission to live in the country for one year. Make sure you have a reliable physical address that it can be mailed to.

Woohoo! You are one huge step closer to being a bonafide Swedish resident!

However, to be considered a real person in Sweden, you still need the all important personal identity number. Each Swede is given this 12-digit person number when they are born, and people that move here must apply for one as well. This number is needed to get medical treatment, open a bank account, purchase a cell phone plan, and even apply for grocery store loyalty programs. It is also important that your employer is given this number because it is associated with your taxes. In fact, the tax agency, Skatteverket, is where you need to go to apply for a person number. Make an appointment and bring your passport, residency permit cards, marriage certificate, and birth certificates for any children you may have. If all goes well, your person number will be mailed to you in a few days.

Once you have a person number you can now open a bank account. Since my school had an agreement with Handelsbanken, opening an account was not too difficult, though we did need more documentation as Americans than my Canadian coworkers did. Throughout the last year, I have heard a few horror stories of endless back and forths when applying for a bank account. If you want to save time and a headache, do your research and find out exactly what a person from your country needs before going in to set up an account.

Congratulations! You’re done and you definitely deserve a fika!

At this point, you basically have everything you need to logistically live in Sweden. However, you may also want to consider applying for a Swedish ID card. This is not required, but since your residency card was received before your person number, it can be helpful to have an ID card that shows your person number. To get this ID card, you must have a Swedish bank account so that you can transfer the 400 kronor fee for the card.

>Now that you have completed all of this seemingly endless paperwork, your one year permit in Sweden may be up. The good news is you (through your company) can now apply for a two year residency permit. However, keep in mind that if your passport will be expiring within a year, you will need to renew it before your two year work permit will be approved. Be proactive and renew your passport in advance so that you don’t force yourself into a stressful situation.

Want to know how I found a teaching job in Europe?

For more information on getting a job teaching in the school system that I work for in Sweden click here.

The Best of Budapest

So you’ve accepted a new job, but it doesn’t start for a month. What to do? Travel, of course!!

OK, maybe not always the best idea financially, but since Kevin was on school break, how could we resist? Off to Budapest!

Here are some of our favorite experiences in Budapest.

Thermal baths

Don’t let the old men in speedos put you off – the thermal baths in Budapest are not to be missed. Pick your flavor: the indoor/outdoor, swimsuit required, mixed pools at Széchenyi Baths in City Park; the more upscale and touristy experience at Gellért Baths; or the all in, leave your swimsuit in the locker, single gender baths at Rudas. We opted to keep on suits on and tried out both Széchenyi and Gellért. There is nothing better to soothe tired legs and brains after long days of touristing than a leisurely soak at the baths.

Perfect for: anyone who underestimates the distance you walk on city trips.

Memento Park

I’ve never been great at history. I can’t remember dates or who’s who, and I get easily bored. But visiting Berlin got me to thinking about what life was like on the other side of that wall they built. Then in book club (nerd alert), we read a novel about a family from Lithuania who was sent to a Soviet labor camp during WWII and didn’t return until years after the war (and even then, they weren’t allowed to speak of anything to do with their absence). Then I started a 600-page book on life in Eastern Europe under communism.

It was awful! (The communist regime, not the book. The book was great.) I’ve realized that there is so much that I know so little about. Knowing the history of a place gives enormous insight into understanding the culture, the food, the attractions.

After the fall of communism, some enterprising young soul gathered up many of the statues and monuments erected by the communist leaders and created a park in the outskirts of Budapest.The heavyhandedness, the lack of art, the absurd poses and ridiculous motivations were front and center as we walked through Memento Park. Rick Steves’ commentary kept us giggling at every stop. We struck silly poses and considered buying the “Communism’s Greatest Hits” CD at the gift shop. We were the only visitors in the park, which made the whole experience even more surreal.

Perfect for: anyone interested in the dark communist past, who doesn’t mind thumbing their nose at the absurdity of it.

Ruin bars

Hungarian wines are top notch, but when you’re ready to make friends and get rowdy, the ruin bars are the place to be. Imagine walking down a somewhat questionable alley, which opens up to an eclectic hipster haven. Part crumbling basement, part vine-covered garden, and full of future friends. The Pest side of town, specifically around the Jewish quarter, is covered with just this type of place. The most famous, Szimpla Kert, happened to be next door to our Airbnb. Pro tip: bring a Sharpie.

Where Swedish bars are generally not super conducive to make friends, ruin bars are the opposite. We met folks from all over, shared fresh carrots and hookah, and had an all around great time.

Perfect for: people who have always wanted to turn a thrift store into a bar.

Nighttime on the Danube

One thing is for sure: Budapest knows how to show off its architecture. Once darkness falls, floodlights give these grand and imposing structures extra drama. There are plenty of river cruises to glide you along the water (but for goodness sake, turn off your flash if you’re taking photos inside the boat), or broad walking paths make for a lovely evening stroll.

Perfect for: Anyone looking for a nice way to wind down at the end of the day.

Of course there is TONS more in Budapest that I haven’t mentioned here, but these were our favorites.

So next time you’re faced with an empty holiday weekend, get out there and plan a last-minute trip to explore somewhere new! You’ll be glad you did.

Life Without Four Wheels: Public Transit in Stockholm

Without a doubt, one of the most drastic changes to my day-to-day life since moving to Europe has been not having a car. As anyone who lives in the States knows, driving a car is most often the only way to get around. However, this is not the case in Europe; most cities have extensive public transportation systems. So before taking the flight across the Atlantic, JoEllen and I sold our cars and began life without four wheels.

We were happy to find that Stockholm’s public transit system is one of the best a city can offer. After a few personal failures (I once made it into the subway as the doors were closing, leaving JoEllen on the other side… on Valentine’s Day), we learned that living without a car comes with both positives and negatives. If I had a car here, my drive to and from work would take about 35 minutes. Instead, my morning commute takes almost an hour. It starts with a a five minute bus ride, to a 30 minute train ride, and finishes with a 15 minute walk to school.

Pros

First, let’s talk money. To use the SL, all you need is a prepaid card so that you can beep yourself (get your mind out of the gutter) onto the bus, metro, tram, train, whatever. JoEllen and I knew we would be staying around for a while so we decided to buy a one-year pass that cost 8320 SEK (roughly 900 USD). That’s it. No more car payments, monthly insurance drafts, gas fill-ups, tag renewal fees, mechanic bills, depreciation, or speeding tickets.

Money is not the only green thing saved by using public transportation; it is also much better for the environment. For example, mass transit such as the tunnelbana (metro) in Stockholm not only saves fuel, but produces 76% lower greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than a single driver in a car. Since using public transit forces people to walk more, it is also more beneficial for overall health. According to my Fitbit, I walk on average two miles more per day that I did when I owned a car, which saves calories for more food and beer.

Speaking of beer, the option to take public transit can literally be a lifesaver. If a person chooses to have a few beverages, they have a safe way to get home without harming themselves or others and without getting in trouble with the law. Friends can enjoy going out together without assigning a designated driver for the evening.

Not owning a car also highlights how much stress driving can cause. Worrying about getting in an accident, careless drivers, and – most of all – traffic is eliminated when taking the tunnelbana or pendletåg (commuter train). As I hear that traffic is getting worse every day Nashville, I am thankful to jump onto public transit and enjoy the ride.

Not being in control of the vehicle also allows travelers to engage in other activities that would be impossible while driving. JoEllen loves to read during a commute, while I tend to play on my phone or practice learning Swedish.

Almost all of Stockholm’s stations also have a Pressbryån, a nice little shop to pick up a snack for your commute. I love my routine of getting a coffee every morning from the same little shop, saying hello to the ladies who work at the store, then sipping coffee on my train ride to work.

Stockholm as a city also has a few perks that make its public transit all that more special. Our friend Linda, who was once a Stockholm tour guide, once told me that one third of the city consists of water, another third of nature, and the remainder of developed city. This means that the views of the city as you commute are often stunning.

One of the best parts of my day is walking over a bridge on my way to school that has a beautiful view of Stockholm. The weather mixed with the constantly changing hours of daylight this far north cause the same view to have different nuances everyday. There is always something new to appreciate. No matter how good or bad my day is, I pause here for a brief moment to remind myself I am lucky to be living my dream of teaching in Europe. These four photos were taken from this bridge on my way to work during the same week.

Stockholm is also one of the only cities in the world that includes ferries in its public transit system. Without paying extra, locals and tourists can take a trip across water and enjoy the views. Additionally, more than 90 of the 100 subway stations in Stockholm have been decorated with sculptures, mosaics, or paintings from 150 artists. The Stockholm tunnelbana system, 110 kilometers long, is said to be the world’s longest art exhibit. The blue line that JoEllen and I live on is particularly beautiful.

Cons

Now for the negatives. I can’t deny that sometimes I just miss the feeling of driving down the road alone, with the windows down, radio up, and singing as loud as I want. Now, instead of having my own little bubble and some alone time, I am lucky to get a seat that is not directly next to a stranger (and I don’t think they would appreciate my singing voice too much).

Having a car also allows a driver to be on their own schedule, there are few things worse that getting to the train station after a long day at work only to see the doors shut in your face and have to wait 15 minutes for the next, especially during Swedish winters. Every so often there are issues with the public transit that force trains to be delayed.

Not only can timing public transit be difficult, but finding the particular bus or train stop you need can be as well. JoEllen and I have had many stressful moments wandering around trying to find the best way home. Getting to certain residential areas outside of the city without a car can also be difficult because transit lines, though extensive, are limited. Certain bus routes also pause during the late hours of the night, so if you miss the last one, you’ll have to cough up cash for a taxi.

Overall, JoEllen and I are enjoying this phase of life without a car. However, we do look forward to getting back behind the wheel when we take our summer trips home to Nashville.

Swede Tooth

After living in Stockholm for a year and a half, one thing has become crystal clear to me: Swedes are born with an insatiable sweet tooth! Swedes take their sweets seriously… very seriously. In fact, their confectionery consumption is a rich part of their culture.

First of all, there is the most quintessential Swedish experience of fika. This is a quick break taken during the day to enjoy a coffee and a small sweet treat. To learn more about fika, check out my previous blog post.

In 2016, the average Swede ate 23.1 pounds of candy, making Sweden the country with the 7th highest per capita candy consumption (say that five times fast). This does not surprise me at all. You know the little candy stores in US malls where you grab a shovel, fill a bag full of candy, and weigh it? Every store, gas station, movie theater, and you-name-it in Sweden has one of these! One day, I was talking to my Swedish landlord who is currently living in America. I asked him how the States were treating him and if he missed home. He replied simply, “I miss the candy.”

Beware: Swedes also have an obsession for salt liquorice, so proceed with caution!

My sister-in-law visited and had her first lördagsgodis!

Most of this candy is eaten on one special day of the week: lördagsgodis or Candy Saturday. Possibly in an attempt to remain lagom – enjoying just enough without over indulging – Swedes limit the majority of their candy consumption to Saturdays. This seems to cause children and adults alike to anticipate and appreciate lördagsgodies even more.

Lördagsgodis is not the only special day associated with a sweet treat. Swedes have a few calendar days throughout the year when one MUST enjoy a certain Swedish pastry. First there is JoEllen’s favorite: Semla Day, celebrated on Fat Tuesday. Imagine a mini bread bowl of soup but sweet and filled with whipped cream and almond paste and topped with powdered sugar.

 

During the darkest week of the year, Sweden celebrates St. Lucia. This day is filled with music that allows Swedes to commiserate in the darkness while looking forward to the bright days to come. On St. Lucia everyone must eat a few luciabullar. Though these pastries are not very sweet they are flavored with saffron and two raisins.

Most importantly, there is kanelbullens dag, Cinnamon Bun Day, on October 4, celebrated since the time after WWI when rationed food started to make its way back into Swedish homes. The kanelbullar is definitely the most beloved pastry in Sweden; supposedly the average Swede eats 316 of these a year! Appropriately, the first kanelbullar I ever had was on kanelbullens dag and it was a eye-opening experience. Instead of being covered in icing, these rolls are sprinkled with sugar crystals and jam packed with cinnamon. YUM!

So the next time you are at the mall and see one of the little candy stores, consider picking out a few colorful treats and enjoy them on Saturday!

12 Countries in 12 Months (Part 2)

From December through July 2016, JoEllen and I visited five more countries to round out our travel total to  12 countries in 12 months. During these trips we began a new tradition of collecting a small flag from each country. Searching for these souvenirs has been a lot of fun. They cause me to look more closely at each nation’s flag, and each one has a fun memory associated with it.

Sweden: Uppsala, Falun, Mora and Ydre

It is crazy to think that neither JoEllen nor I had stepped foot onto Sweden until we moved here, and we are very lucky that we both fell in love with the country right away. Not only do we constantly find new things to love about Stockholm (many weekends are spent checking out a museum with our friend Frida and others), we have also ventured outside of the capital city to discover what else the country has to offer.

For sportlov, which is a week long school break in February designated for enjoying sports and nature, JoEllen and I ventured north. Our first stop was a visit in the college town of Uppsala, which has a very impressive cathedral. Next, we spent a day in the city of Falun, which is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Falun Gruva, a copper mine that was in operation for over a thousand years and produced over two thirds of Europe’s copper during this time. We were in luck and visited the small and cozy town of Mora while the Vasaloppet (the oldest and longest cross-country ski race in the world) was in full swing. However, the highlight of sportlov was our visit to the original Dala horse factories where we got to see how they are made! For hundreds of years, the Dala horse has been the national symbol of Sweden and these hand carved, hand painted wooden figures just make me happy. It takes over two weeks to transform a boring block of wood into a beautiful cultural icon, and we picked out a customized little fellow to take home.

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One of my favorite weekends of the year happened in June, when we were lucky enough to be invited to spend the weekend with our friends Alex and Ale in Ale’s family’s traditional summer cottage. Since we were going to miss Midsummer, our friends wanted to make sure we still got a taste of a quintessential Swedish summer holiday. This relaxing weekend consisted of everything Swedish: delicious meals eaten outside, swimming in a freezing cold lake, walking through the woods in search of 12 different types of flowers to make a krans (flower crown), drinking wine, and playing board games until the sun went down around 2 a.m. JoEllen and I were both very thankful to Alex and Ale for making us feel like bonafide Swedes.

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France: Avignon, Nice, Aix en Provence, Orange

For påsklov (Easter break) JoEllen and I spent the week road tripping through the Provence region of southern France with a Canadian (Kelly), a Swede (Frida), and an American (Alex). Experiencing a new part of the world with our close friends made this trip all the more special. We enjoyed seeing the sites at a relaxing and leisurely pace. In particular, we loved our home base and the hours spent in the “House Next Door.” JoEllen did an excellent job finding this AirBNB, which was a huge historic home with plenty of room to cook, enjoy wine in the spacious yard, play card games, while also having more than enough private space for everyone. Alex even surprised everyone by providing us with traditional Swedish Easter treats! We really felt like a little family for the week.

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When we weren’t enjoying time in our AirBNB, we enjoyed getting to know the Provence region of France. The highlight of the trip for me was visiting the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct that is one of the civilization’s most impressive engineering feats (you may recognize it from the Volkswagen Bug commercial). Seeing this enormous structure in person exceeded my expectations and reminded me how people can do almost anything they put their minds to. The cliff-side fortress and town of Les Baux was also a worthwhile pit stop, mainly because of its unique underground quarry light show/theater. It is impossible to describe this experience, the best I can do is say go check it out!

One entire day was spent on a wine tour of the region. We had a personal driver pick us up and take us to different vineyards while teaching us how wine is grown in the region and how to taste and experience the wine like professionals. The wine expert at the final vineyard was especially memorable, I felt lucky to learn from his enthusiasm for the wine-making and tasting process. To this day, when any of us have a glass of wine together we sometimes joke around and see if we can “detect the nose” of a particular wine.

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The last few days of our trip were spent exploring Orange (with its Roman theater), Avignon (and a tour of the Palace of the Popes), and Aix en Provence (a beautiful city that we were all too tired to enjoy properly). “Three Americans, a Canadian, and a Swede go to France” was a pleasant and memorable trip.

USA: Nashville

Home sweet home!! There is nothing like coming home for three weeks after being away for an entire year! Unlike the other 11 countries, where we visited with checklist of new things to see and experience, it was nice to settle into the familiar for a few weeks.

Reasons it was good to be home:

  • Play time with our nieces Harper and Collins
  • Mexican food
  • Drinks with friends at The Flying Saucer
  • Family time at the Diggs’ lake house and seeing how much the nieces and nephews have grown
  • Monday Night Raw with wrestling friends
  • Fried chicken
  • Relaxing evenings with the Buckleys
  • One-on-one time with good friends
  • Hosting my Swedish coworker and her daughter (my student) in Nashville
  • Seeing EVERYONE at Tony and Liz’s 4th of July party


A few things did catch me off guard after being gone for a while. First of all, slow down Nashville, you are growing way too quickly! I can’t believe how many high rises are being built downtown; I barely recognized the place. Also, things in the US have gotten politically charged. Everyone wants to talk about politics, but no one wants to listen. This was particularly hard for me because my political and social outlook has changed vastly since moving to Stockholm. (More on that in another post someday.) I was sad to leave friends, family, and food, but it was also good to come back home to Sweden.

UK: Cambridge, London and Bath

After spending a few weeks with my family in Nashville, it was their turn to visit us in Stockholm. After a quick stop in Cambridge, we spent a week in my mom’s favorite city, London. London is a city full of some of the world’s most iconic historic landmarks and the Buckleys explored several of them. We took a boat tour (where my mom was nice enough to help clean seagull poop out of JoEllen’s hair) and got a view of Shakespeare’s Globe theater which we later went inside of to enjoy a showing of “Macbeth”. We enjoyed delicious meals and beers with the family, and Natalie and I even beat Chris and JoEllen at a game of wife swap darts!

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JoEllen is a huge fan of street art and since London has a renowned street art scene, we couldn’t miss taking a street art tour. We loved seeing the unique artwork and the off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods of London. Camden Market in particular stole the show. We could have wandered the maze of oddball shops and ethnic food stalls all day. Some of London’s neighborhoods gave me an eye-opening glimpse into the process of gentrification – seeing the stark contrast of upper/middle class patrons enjoying their fancy hipster cocktails in the middle of low income areas caused me to think deeply about how gentrification affected these Londoner’s lives.

Poland: Krakow

When our close friends from home, Amy and Aaron, wanted to come visit us in Europe, where to go was a no-brainer. Aaron’s grandparents are from Poland, so we joined as he visited this country for the first time. I am so glad that we did. Krakow is a must see European city and has so much to offer: history, great cuisine, a lively night scene, a stunning old town, and most importantly, everything is affordable! Krakow’s old town square is the largest in Europe and I can’t think of a better place to spend a sunny afternoon with friends.

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Since traveling throughout Europe and getting to know other cultures was the main reason we decided to move to Sweden, we are thankful to have had an exciting first year full of new memories and friendships. I look forward to where the next years take us and to adding many new flags to our shelf.

Click here to catch up on part one of the series 12 Countries in 12 Months.