Not content with one terms worth of fumbling Swedish pronunciation and being made to feel like a 5 year old, I returned to school for the spring term. And I was very glad I did.
Not only was I reunited with a lot of my old classmates but at the front of the class was a totally new creature…and she had a welcoming smile on her face! My name is Kristina she beamed. But you can all call me K. What a breath of fresh air to feel such positivity and friendliness. Despite this, being in this new class took a little getting used to and I slowly began to realise that I had actually been quite traumatised from my previous experience! I don’t mean to overdramatise my situation here. You can’t exactly compare a 35 year old being made to feel like a 5 year old with loosing half your family in a war and becoming a refugee or anything, but it had affected me. By comparison my classmates; Tunisian Tariq, Thai Thongchai, Filipino Fay, Serbian Selma and Iraki Iman, didn’t seem to be very fussed about mean ol’ Eva in the slightest.
They were all pretty much indifferent to whether a teacher was good or bad. I don’t mean that they didn’t have an opinion, it’s just that good or bad teaching made no odds to them as long as the passed the course. Without the certificate ‘Gymnasium Swedish level B’ life in Sweden was a sort of no-mans land. Coming from countries such as they did, they just HAD to learn Swedish as no-one could speak their languages. Although I too lived in this ‘no-mans land’ of not totally belonging, at least I had the emergency parachute of speaking English if I got into sticky situations.
As I got to know my class pals much better over the year and heard their hardships and for some, tragic past lives I did reflect a little on my cotton wool wrapped western upbringing and my maybe slightly oversensitive western demands (slightly I say!) .
There was no doubt that I had been having a hard time fitting in to the Swedish way of life with its different ways and foreignness on many levels. For the first year I felt like someone had pressed the mute button, they had directed the remote control at me and turned off my usually more than active mouth. I couldn’t explain myself fully in Swedish so tended to stand back and observe rather than participate. This lack of understanding mostly led to my mind wandering away from conversations totally and start wondering about such things like whether I should buy the princess cake with the green icing or the pink icing next time at ICA Maxi. Hearing Swedes talking Swedish around me resembled nothing like the words I had been learning at school, it was just like white noise and so I just tuned out to it, content in the knowledge that, yes!, I had in fact decided I would get the cake with green icing. (For those residing elsewhere Princess cake is a Swedish cake topped with jam, then thick custard, then lashings of whipped cream, then sturdy green (or pink) coloured marzipan-like icing. Well if you are going to have cake may as well go the whole hog!)
People told jokes around me and laughed without explaining to me what was so bleeding funny, which led to a paranoid delusion that, it was in fact me that was the joke. Maybe… Well OK! No! Probably life’s not ALL about me, but when you are feeling down and insecure your imagination does get carried away with itself. Before you know it you are locked in a small cupboard somewhere, sobbing about feeling like an alien with a large spoon in one hand and that strange lard laden green cake in the other.
But if my experience of adapting to my new life was difficult, what the hell must it be like for those without English, without Swedish boys (or girls), without standard levels of education, without financial means and without the privileged knowledge of western culture. Not forgetting that most of them were additionally afflicted by some real type of trauma such as war, death, poverty, persecution…. Looking at my class mates made me realise that life could be much much harder, so I better blow my nose, dry my tears, stiffen that upper lip and pull my socks up! Like them, I needed to show some fighting spirit.
So with my renewed perspective on life’s hardships and the strict, but wholly more approachable K coaxing me to utter perfect Swedish sentences I am starting to adjust to this new Swedish lifestyle. I am even starting to understand some of that white noise around me and reduce my cake dependency. School as an adult is not so bad after all, you just have to show some good old fashioned British reserve and keep your chin up…and not let one bad experience overtake you…slowly things start making sense.