Sweden <--> Ohio: Student

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Unrelated to travel even tangentially, comes this gem from Chris over at Practical Theory, a blog about teaching and school administration:

"What is the worst consequence of your best idea?"

I'm blown away. Though not original (no doubt it's been said before), it's an interesting thing to think of in this time of bad government and in trying to be one of the good people fighting for better government.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Pix: Temp placeholder

Folks, I've not been in the blogging mood lately, though I have been collecting things to blog about. Below are some pictures for later.


Friday, May 11, 2007


What's important?

Time, with enough money to enjoy it.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Trees and Rain

Soft persistent rain today. The ground is in good shape - plants are growing, flowers are blooming, trees feel like they've been in full leaves for weeks now. -- that being said, I have no doubt farmers are rejoicing about the rain. It hasn't rained here for more than 5min (rarely, that!) in something like 3 weeks. The last serious precipitation here was snow.

So back to the trees - yesterday's education class was a walk through several different ecosystems within a 15min walk of campus. We saw a "grazing area" (a wild meadow), a section of dead forest (storms), old forest, new forest (perhaps from older storms?), and a bog.

The bog was the coolest. The wow factor of jumping up and down on 'ground' and feeling it move yet remain solid was undeniable. (Also, cranberries grow as ground cover, blueberries grow on tiny little plants and sphagnum moss really does grow in the wild - and is apparently used in packing wounds in Germany after being dried and sterilized)

We spent the most time in the meadow - educational exercises, learning birdsongs (no, I can't perform any of them), learning to interest kids in the specific aspects of nature that we're loosing. The teacher for this class was a guy who has written books and many articles aimed at educating adults as well as children about nature. In addition, he takes pictures and has had a bunch of those published too. He's dynamic, interesting and engaging.

The 'dead forest' wasn't actually dead, just short on 'big' organisms. Moss, lichens, grasses and little white flowers were everywhere. There was a storm in 2006 (the worst ever) that uprooted an entire year's timber (link to PDF) and damaged even greater numbers of forests (I've heard estimates of 40% loss, but am not finding sources for that number). I've heard from several people (but am not finding English-language sources online) that suicides skyrocketed as some farmers (40% of forests in Sweden are family farms) committed suicide. Also, twisting the tragedy of this story further is the knowledge that storms will increase in severity due to climate change. (Link is also source for picture below)

Our guide told a story that I want to retell here. It's the story of his favorite early spring water bird. He demonstrated it's call and told us how he listens every spring for it's formal arrival announcement as exemplified by this water bird. He described running along the lake, starting in late winter, keeping an ear open in the hopes of catching it. He described this year, watching spring arrive in full force and still listening, hoping it was just late this year. The story ended with his hopes that it will be back next year.

I'm not sure if he tells this story to children, but for adults - it was a pointed and timely reminder of the consequences of our own actions. As much as I feel veterinary public health is my passion, I'm curious if there's a way to 'do' public health (particularly veterinary pubhealth - I'm picturing farm runoff!) in a less environmentally disruptive way. While this is an issue close to my heart - it's not 'mine' except in the personal decisions, personal responsibility and feeling of shared responsibility for the consequences discussed above.

(Note: the rain started yesterday - our nature walk was dry - but we got soaked on our walk home - and there was hail!)

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Saturday, May 05, 2007


I've decided to fail my Swedish re-exam.

I've studied for it (and I studied for the first one too), I attended most of the classes (some I was out of town, one or two I was sick), and I put work and effort into the homework.

However, i failed the first exam and I'm equally certain that even if they give the same exam a second time, that I'll fail it again.

Because I'm not comfortable taking the failure (and I'm *certain* there's no way to avoid it) without a lesson, here's what I'm thinking:

1) Minimize the damage
a) contact Study Abroad and ask what can be done so this does not impact my GPA, my finaid, and in an ideal world, it wouldn't even appear on my transcript (I'm taking enough credits w/o it from my teacher ed class to stay FT).

2) Call it a failure to learn Swedish, but reframe personally and professionally as a calculated throwing in of the towel. Recognition that my motivation and goals were flimsy and insufficient to achieve a passing grade in this class.

Learning a new language depends on mother tongue acquisition, rules, and competency - and my realization is this: beyond the rote memorization required to grasp vocabulary, my grasp of the rules of the English language is nill. My understanding of English is based on what "sounds right". While perfectly fine for using English in a communicative context, the result is a utter lack of background for learning other languages.

Building a house on sand, if you will. There's no bedrock, no background, no other experience of language rules to pull from, no ability to make comparisons, realizations, or mental structures of similarity and difference to work with. (Learning biology without knowledge of evolution?).

Rote memorization of phrases and vocabulary has gotten me this far. However, that's so utterly insufficient as to make rectifying that in a solid month of studying Swedish a sad and tragic joke.

On a personal level it's made me determined to do my best to raise a multilingual child - both for the value of learning new languages (for travel, living abroad, and for the humbling experience of attempting to communicate in a language other than your mother tongue) and for the global implications of travel and cross cultural communication.

Also, personally, I'm determined to stop saying "I have a hard time learning languages" and just shut up about the subject. Repeating that phrase and others like it, while seemingly true, is in no way helpful for learning anything. Also, on the child front, what's the value in telling a child that they're expected to do something their mother "can't" do? I'd much prefer to model the things I can do, encourage hard work, experimentation, dedication, determination, etc... stuff I have done, and will continue to do in other areas.

I'm still waffling about joining some sort of deaf get-together. The experience would be good for me. I love the culture, the astounding kindness and openness (deaf culture for me is the experience of American culture for the rest of world, perhaps?), but straight-up: I'm terrified. It's like being 12 and wanting to talk to the cute guy at the dance. I expect to be laughed at, ridiculed, and maybe even gently and pityingly humored... but above all else, I don't have the feeling or belief that I have anything of value to contribute, I feel that my presence is unwelcome or accepted on kindness, but not out of genuine interest. It's a clusterfuck of overwhelmingly negative feelings.

However, like the dance - I want to go anyway. Some sort of sick determination to be accepted, to gain that _feeling_ of acceptance (which is harder, takes longer, and requires a trust I can't conceive of) and a pigheaded belief that acceptance into a community can be based on showing up.

So that's the trade I guess. I'm going to take the failure in Swedish language but find a deaf monthly coffee or deaf camp weekend or something. It's the brutal soul-searing culturally-immersive experience that travel abroad should encourage - but without the plane ticket.

More personal realizations: I'm sad. I'd hoped that this experience of being an exchange student could be a "testing out" of the idea of emigration. A dry run, with a safety net and a return date - a preliminary venture, a making of contacts, and a testing of my personal adaptability.

In that, I've failed miserably. I don't think I can realistically consider living in a culture that requires learning a new language. That limits my options significantly.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Juvy: Swedish-style

I visited a prison that manages, almost, to not quite look like a prison.

It's for kids. Boys, specifically between the ages of 13 and 21, who have a cluster of problems (criminal, drug, social, emotionally, and usually educational) and have been removed from their homes by the state.

It's juvy - the alternative is regular adult prison and there are only four of these high-security facilities in the entire country of Sweden.

They were currently housing 25 boys and generally see about 52 boys a year. The maximum stay is 6mo, and starts with 2mo in a lockdown building, graduating to more freedoms as they act accordingly. Prisoners were referred to exclusively as "boys" rather than inmates, clients, prisoners, or students.

I met a few of the boys - they were curious, talkative, sarcastic, clear about their situation and options in life. Most spoke excellent English in addition to Swedish. One guy was obsessed with gangsters and sounded like he wanted to run off to the states "You have gangsters there!".

Stats: After 5 years, 30% of the students have returned to jail, 30% are dead, and 30% are employed. They employ 60 people to serve 24 students.

Job placement, family counseling, free family housing while counseling is being conducted, 150SEK/week allowance, and the inability to force boys to enter treatment are only some of the services offered. Maximum class size is 4 students. The auto class I watched had 2 students and the woodworking class only had 1. 70% of boys at that facility are immigrants (not sure if this is first generation or second generation or both).

The bottom line? They get $500 PER DAY per student from the municipality for rehabbing these guys.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

You know, it feels... dishonest... to read this and have written that.

But maybe that's the point. I still stand by what I wrote, Sweden _is_ an incredibly racist society on every level and has zero awareness or interest in rectifying this state of affairs.

Then I look at us and wonder - how much better are we?

I want to feel virtuous about the fact that we at least have news articles about these things, public awareness is far higher (I feel), and people understand and believe in the concept of institutionalized racism in a way that is inconceivable here. (Even considering that my unscientific 'sample' is heavily biased towards upper middle class white educated liberals and that my grasp of Swedish news media is limited, at best).

But we have poverty in a way they don't here. Does poverty + racism = genocide? Is money the only thing that's keeping Sweden from the same fate? Or is there an ethical component - would Sweden object, were they still poor, to disproportionately rising live birth deaths... among the immigrant population?

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