This post was contributed by Kai Fleischman, a Global Ambassador studying at Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan in Stockholm, Sweden. Kai is a computer science major in the College of Natural Sciences. Stay tuned throughout the semester as Kai shares his experiences abroad! Read his first post.
I wake up, tightly cocooned within warm blankets insulating my body from the frigid air in my comfortable studio apartment. I slump out of my fabric entombment directly into the slippers strategically placed by the side of my bed. The previous step is crucial as the apartment’s floor is a hard, smooth, stone-like material that is like a slab of ice to my toasty toes this early in the day. I begin to boil water for tea to ease my stomach into breakfast and my mind into the onslaught of tasks I’ve set out to accomplish from the previous day.
After sipping the fragrant chai tea to completion – the contents of which thaw my hands, mouth and throat – I proceed to make breakfast. The kitchen is small, yet capable for a single person. Available to me are an oven, a sink, a toaster, two cabinets and an electric stovetop with two elements to cook with. For my usual morning meal of toast and oatmeal, the kitchen specifications are more than enough. After preparation and mastication of breakfast, I clean the dirtied dishes, meticulously clothe myself with many layers of warmth, prepare my backpack and then I set for the outdoors.
Outside, I breathe in ice and blow out steam. The sun has not crept over the horizon, yet hints at the promise to do so, the earliest rays illuminating the tiny dew droplets spread across the blades of grass like a million diamonds. Autumn has swept through like a precise military attack, the rotting carcasses of fruit from nearby trees littering the streets. Leaves, as well, lay to the side in mountainous, decomposing piles. The world itself seems lifeless – no chirping of birds, no scuttling from squirrels. During the ten-minute walk to the nearest subway station, I’m tricked into believing that I am the only person awake within the entire Stockholm suburb of Bredäng.
On a backroad with replicated, bland, eight-stories tall apartment buildings on one side, and an uninterrupted row of cars on the other, I walk in uninterrupted silence. Nothing makes a sound except for the occasional crunching of leaves below my feet. Far off in the misty distance, the subway train tracks cross over the backroad, and I’m able to see the trains passing through. Beyond sparse woods filling empty gaps in the landscape, there’s not much else.
The road is long and repetitive, my weary mind wanders to the parked cars on my left. The cars represent a uniquely European mix – Renault, BMW, Citroën, Fiat, Skoda, Volkswagen, Mercedes and Volvo. At home, this sight would be completely foreign, but after three months it’s become a familiar and comforting characteristic of the street. During the rest of my walk to the subway station, I think over my time in Sweden and am filled with feelings of gratefulness, fulfillment and awe. The last three months have been some of the most impactful in my life.
I wait in the cold for the next train heading to Mörby Centrum. I am amongst many others that have gotten up for the day to fulfill some route or reach a premeditated destination, just as I. Pulling into the station, the train is visibly full. With the doors sliding open, hardly any passengers exit. Bredäng is not a popular destination on a weekday morning. Those of us desiring to travel towards Stockholm enter the carriage, and with the seats completely taken, stand amongst many others.
The train is quite full, yet there is hardly a buzz. Every soul is silent, physically present yet mentally asleep back at home in their cozy beds. If I close my eyes, I could truly believe I was all alone again. As the subway embarks on a journey to the city center – dropping off and picking up new, sleepy passengers along the way from other suburbs – the collective level of energy begins to rise. Peoples’ cheeks – rosy from the wickedness of Jack Frost’s howl – begin to normalize; conversation begins to accelerate; children transform into effervescent balls of energy. By the time of the sun’s promised arrival, the passengers on this particular train have fully awakened.
The entirety of my ride to campus lasts from thirty to forty minutes. The student apartment assigned to me lies quite distant to the south-west. Initially, I found the commute to be annoying because the people I had grown closest to were the farthest away as they had either on-campus living or were situated in the opposite from Björksätravägen – my accommodation. In my time here, I’ve grown fond of the commute. Now, I see those thirty-minute rides as reserved time in my day to rest, decompress, relax and think through how I feel. This processing is crucial for my mental health. Without the train rides, the extra time in my day would be eaten up by studying, or hanging out with friends, or doing some activity such that my mental energy is externally concentrated.
I’m also grateful for the commute because of the views, especially that of when the train passes on a bridge between the islands of Södermalm and Gamla Stan. At this point in the journey, the scene from the train is dominated by charming traditional Stockholm buildings covering steep hills that overlook a wide body of water occupied by sailboats. At all points of the day I am fascinated by this leg of the trip, but particularly during sunset and sunrise, the view is astounding.
The end of the subway ride is marked by my arrival at the Tekniska Högskolan station, announced by the robotic voice of the intercom system: “Nästa, Tekniska Högskolan.” Hopping off the train, into the underground station, I ride the escalator up to the surface. My re-entrance to the overworld positions me exactly at the foot of the KTH campus where I walk to my study spot of choice. At this point, my morning routine is complete, and I’m ready to take on the rest of the day.