I arrived in Stockholm, Sweden the day before yesterday. Luckily, I do not start work until Monday, so I've had some time to get things settled and figure out my way around. I've lived and traveled abroad before, but this was the first time I was on my own with no one picking me up from the airport or giving me a country orientation. I admit, I was a bit intimidated. On the long plane ride overnight, I had horrible visions of myself stumbling around the city, staggering under my unruly luggage. There was indeed some stumbling and some staggering, as well as a few hiccups along the way. However, when all is said and done, I think it went pretty well!
It seems that very time I pass through the passport check the official I face down has some new requirement that s/he believes is the same in every country and that everyone knows. In my experience, no matter how many people in the line beg to differ with the official, s/he refuses to believe that the requirement is unusual. This time, the customs official demanded I present a return ticket. I explained that this was not possible because tickets are not available until 24 hours before the flight. She was not convinced, but let me through saying now I knew... Not exactly the välkommen to Sweden I was hoping for. I have a feeling that the next time I pass through customs, there will be a different "expected" requirement.
Fortunately, I managed to make my way to T-Centralen, the central metro station, without much ado. Most Swedes are kind and happy to help when asked for directions. And they speak remarkably good English. Their foreign language programs in school must be amazing. I wish we could replicate it back in the states.
Thanks to the help of a neighbor, I managed to find my flat and call my flatmate so she could come let me in. I live in a quiet neighborhood, right across the street from a metro station and a little grocery store. My flatmates are two very nice Filipinas who have lived in Stockholm for a few years. They work late most days, so I have the apartment to myself a lot of the time. This means that I'm on my own and sometimes I have to learn lessons the hard way. For instance, most Swedes use debit cards, so the card reader automatically asks for a code. My credit card does not have a code. In order for it to work, I have to make sure that the cashier knows I'm using a card without a code. Otherwise, they tell me to call my bank. Also, there is a child safety lock on the stove. It doesn't say it, but it is there. If you don't unlock the stove, your water will never boil and you can forget about pasta for dinner. Whenever I encounter one of these lessons, I know there must be a simple solution that I don't even know to look for. Sometimes I feel foolish when the answer is revealed. But you can't know what you don't know, right? I'm sure I have many more lessons to learn this summer.
Stockholm is a lovely city. Everyone here is reveling in the warmer weather and longer days. Summer-y weather here is generally around 70 degrees, so it will be quite a change from my summer in DC last year. The sun stays up for a long time here, not really setting until around 10pm, and rising very early the next morning. So far, I haven't really noticed because I've been so tired from walking around by the end of the day that I fall right to sleep.
I'm really looking forward to starting work on Monday. While I was doing some sightseeing this weekend, I made a point to find my way too the building where International IDEA is located. It is a square building located all alone on its own island, right across from the parliament buildings. When I first learned this, I pictured a kind of castle surrounded by a moat. That was before I knew that Stockholm is situated on many islands, some of which are very close together. It's very easy to go from one island to the other on foot of by the metro. to get to IDEA, I cross halfway over Vasabron (a bridge) and take the little bridge branching off to the IDEA island.