Bronco Abroad: First Week Woes

When the packing list says “bug repellant,” bring a lot. Assume you will not find any in nearby stores, so pack a ton. It will save a lot of itching.

Seriously, back home I never get bitten by mosquitos. Maybe twice every summer. But here in Sweden? One day, just one day, wearing capris and I have six bites on my legs and one on my thumb. This did give me motivation to find the nearest pharmacy and health center for hydrocortisone cream and this knowledge could come in handy. Still it is an experience I would rather go without.

Also, be prepared for credit cards that claim to have no foreign transaction fees, but in fact have a fee amounting to three percent of each transaction. This is why opening a local bank account is recommended. Of course, recent changes to American financial laws make this difficult as there is only one bank in Vaxjo which will open an account for me in under six months.

This bank account requires I send paperwork to my home bank, get their signature, and then have the original document mailed to them before I can open an account. So that will probably take a month, given mailing and turn-around time. Naturally, they won’t accept a fax, so snail-mail is the only option.

Very frustrating.

On the bright side, I signed up for a shift at the student-run coffee shop, found the nearest grocery store and got a coupon for a free coffee, all before starting classes! Actually, I only have two classes at one time this whole semester and after Christmas I only have one.

The semester here ends on Jan. 20. Weird, especially with no scheduled vacations, though instructors apparently schedule no lectures between Christmas and Jan. 6. Which is perfect, because that is optimal skiing time.

Depending on the university, most will offer some form of orientation for international students. This is a nice thing to offer, it’s informative and useful. Putting it all in one day so we are all sitting in a packed lecture hall from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. is a little much. I doubt I remember all of it, though the talk that stood out the most was the local police officer who informed us of Swedish laws.

That is the reason my pocket knife is currently living in my closet, rather than in my pocket. Good thing he told us that, because otherwise I could have been fined and detained for carrying around a dinky pocket knife that is the only decent cutting utensil I have been able to find here. No steak knives, no cheese knives – nothing. Chopping frozen vegetables with a pocket knife is hard and dangerous, as the smaller knife lends itself to deflecting off the vegetables and going for a finger instead.

Today’s mission is to go to all the second hand-shops in walking distance and find a steak knife at least.

Second-hand shops are great for saving money. So is joining the Student Union or the equivalent. Not all schools have that membership automatic with enrollment and tuition fees, so a visit to the Student Union to buy a membership may be in order. Take advantage of the discounts they offer and it will pay for itself pretty quickly most of the time.

Another useful way to keep track of money is to know the usual currency exchange rate. Swedish kroner have been hovering around six per dollar for the past year. So anytime I go to the grocery store and choke (milk’s sale price is 15) I divide the number by six (2 point … something) and breathe again. Not too bad. This life-saving technique doesn’t work at all locations. Shoes are remarkably expensive, as are second-hand bikes. The search for a second-hand bike priced under 600 kr (about 100 dollars) is ongoing.

No matter what country you visit, odds are there will be some location with prices that will make you choke while another lets you breathe easy. Knowing the currency exchange rate just helps with keeping everything in perspective and not blowing your entire budget because you just know it’s a good deal, because their currency is so much less than the U.S. dollar.

Some exchange students do not have this foresight. One particularly clueless individual was loudly crowing over the fantastic deal she received on this questionable bike, because it was only “like, 600 of their dollars, which is like 20 of ours, right? Score!”

I nearly cried. Please don’t be that person. Please.

About the author  ⁄ Suzanne Craig

Suzanne Craig

Suzanne Craig is a senior majoring in mathematics and is an online editor for The Arbiter. She recently returned from studying abroad in Sweden.