Sweden <--> Ohio: Student

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lebanese carrots from my Swedish-Italian Fadder

Slice carrots into bite size pieces ( large matchsticks or rounds)
Place single-layer in shallow bowl or plate
Squeeze single lemon or lime over
Salt heavily
Let sit for 20min before eating

Surprisingly, I like this (and I'm not much of a fan of carrots generally).

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File Under: Notes

I regret many packing decisions. This is largely the effect of not differentiating between the wonderful web advice about packing lightly and the reality of moving to a new location for six months. I approached the task with an eye to eliminating weight, bulk, and keeping warm.

Turns out, at least so far, I should have dumped all but one or two of the sweaters and packed t-shirts, skirts, and shorts. In addition, though admirable, packing a suit was a bad decision (I knew there would be several formal events and wanted one solution for all of them - a sweater and pants would actually get worn, unlike the suit).

Good decisions - shoes. I don't regret any of em, not even the big huge honkin' boots (though were I forced to jettson something: them or the heels). I thought I was crazy for packing 5 pairs of shoes. I now wish I'd brought tennis shoes too (a sudden and bewildering desire for a jog, I'm not sure where it came from).

I packed with an eye to style and public comfort (and succeeded, though I wish more T-shirts and more skirts). I regret not bringing a big ugly shapeless skirt for wearing around the bedroom and equally ugly cotton shorts for sleeping in when traveling.

Good tech decisions? Computer, firstly, was a necessary investment. Also, I get more use out of my travel mouse than I ever suspected (I thought I'd get used to the track pad... I still hate it after a month of intermittent use). The mouse came as part of a 'travel accessories' pack for $15 from buy.com before the holidays (I was most interested in the USB hub at the time, though I've also used the reeled RJ45 cable, I've not used the phone line). Wise investment, and came with a handy packing case to boot.

Less-wise tech decision? Travel wireless router. I'd use it (particularly because it'd let me move my desk across the room) but I'd have to buy another power adapter for it... and it never occurred to me to buy a second one before leaving.

Baseless angst? Medicines, both traveling with them, and overestimation of my need for a variety of OTC meds (that I knew I wouldn't be able to obtain here). However, I suspect that the first time I get sick I'll stop thinking this was wasted money and effort.

Wishes - that I'd known the very real need for duty free alcohol and took full advantage of the 5L (or 2L, or whatever) that I was allowed to bring into the country. Still kicking myself over that one.

Impossible wishes - that I'd brought a supply of gum, a wok, my stash of spices, and beer-brewing supplies with me.

Things I need to buy here that I suspect will cause me considerable angst: bras, underwear, and large-sized clothing.

Unanticipated costs: shipping! I expected to be mostly self-sufficient once I got over here - able to purchase whatever I needed in town. This hasn't been the case, both due to cost of items here, and being unable to find larger-sized clothes. I predict a request for a box of clothes from home soon. (Shorts, T-shirts, skirts, running shoes, and new bras). In addition, I'm feeling an intense desire for a sewing machine to make more skirts - they're by far the most used item in my wardrobe other than shoes. I am hoping to find either a super-cheep super-tiny/light model at home or the ability to borrow one while I'm over here.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I love evolutionary theory. I'm sad that I'm finishing my undergraduate degree (not sad about that!) and won't be able to take an evolutionary theory class before I graduate.

So much of what is being discovered through this method of approaching various areas of science is immediately applicable to our lives. It's far more accessible than the historical disciplines and provides a popular understanding for psychology, nutrition, and understanding of biological or business processes.

More importantly to me, it provides a framework for understanding scientific process, discovery, new methods of thought, and fashions of psychology or nutrition in a critical way. Criticizing the latest nutritional scam shouldn't take advanced degrees in nutrition or health, it should be a logical, simple, and straightforward process to apply to the conclusions of a study, author, or public figure.

The tragedy that is the dumbing down of science and the farce that is "intelligent design" is another post for another day, but it bears noting that the future repercussions of the educational decisions we make today will be with us for the next 80 years at minimum. Isn't teaching students to be critical thinkers while respecting scientific thought, research, and discoveries one of the goals of education?

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I've been bad about posting.


Internal pressure. I have been trying to keep this blog 'professional' and 'interesting'. In my attempt to conform my unstructured writing to these higher standards I've avoided writing unless I have a concise and clear post ready-formed in my head.

Obviously, this is rare.

To this end I leave you today with many pictures and few words.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thinking about security.

It's what we desire. As humans, though it means different things to everyone, we all crave it and spend our whole lives trying to attain it. Some find it in education and well paid jobs, some find it in saving a portion of what they have, others find it in family, in children, and in ensuring their dreams live on in someone else's life. Some never find it no matter the money, the investments, or the energy spent on it's pursuit.

Some never find it for other reasons - mental illness, their born gender and socioeconomic status, chance and changed circumstances, early death due to war, health, or accident, or perhaps chronic health problems or economic or personal strife.

In my Swedish language class the other night someone asked the professor why he liked Sweden. He thought for a long second, admitted it wasn't the weather or the weak beer, paused again and said that he liked 'the Swedish system'.

Interesting choice as I view the security-obsessed white house republicans scrambling for votes, for assurances, for a continued stream of hate to fuel another four years in office.

Perhaps we'll buy the insecurity of war, dressed as an endless supply of oil and an eternal American way of life. Perhaps genocide will be more attractive, with the security of knowing our neighbors are all 'just like us'. The real security of civil liberties, health care, social programs, and equitable distribution of wealth will be feared for the reasons it's always been feared: the unknown 'other' (painted with the conservative brush: the faceless brown tide of illegal immigrants, Welfare Queens, the too-lazy to work minorities in the inner-city and rural small town).

Will we, as Americans, ever be able to choose to trust a government to provide for all, equally, over an individualistic 'winner takes whatever he's able to hang onto' and a system where losers are all those who aren't able to be winners?

Will we as a country ever get the hang of 'security' based on something more permanent than the transitory thrill of having the biggest gun?

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Children are allowed to close doors in preschool here.

They are allowed to play outside of direct adult supervision behind closed doors.

It doesn't sound like much - but think about it. In this post-Columbine school environment - the idea that students would spend any time at all unsupervised, except by accident, is shocking!

There's a reading room with a bed in it. I saw the (male) preschool teacher throw no less than three children on the ground and spank them (in fun, outside in the snow, during some inventive variant of 'tag').

Outside I watched children hide behind bushes, play alone, in groups, on jungle gyms, throw snowballs, wedge themselves between a fence and thick bushes, and run wildly in circles. Inside two boys closed themselves in the block room and proceeded to throw toy trucks across the room (not at each other). Another child sat at the kitchen table and played a memory game by himself.

Other children played with blocks, legos, barbies, and one boy spent 15min pushing a baby buggy with a doll in it past the exchange students smiling at us the whole time.

There were 4 preschool teachers and 32 children from 1-5 years old. We watched them sing songs, dance in a group and alone (hen dance for girls and a cock dance for boys), hear stories about magic eggs and farmers and play bongo drums while being accompanied by their classmates in song. After this high-energy music extravaganza, lasting 20-30min, the children were 'free'. Most chose to go outside and play in the snow. Some chose to stay inside, unsupervised (or perhaps the instructors were relying on us to supervise?).

In my observations about yesterday, I am most struck by the free and comfortable touching that happens between teachers and kids and the incredible freedom that children are given to choose what they would prefer to do. In addition, though everything was brand new and the school is considered quite prosperous (nicer neighborhood, music specialty profile), there was an amazing (to my jaded American eyes) disregard for what we'd call "safety".

I didn't see anyone get hurt and only heard one child cry, once, for 10seconds because she discovered that an exchange student that she fancied was leaving. Children played with incredible restraint, even the truck-throwing boys (they played only in the block room and only with the door closed and never threw anything at each other).

I'm not quite sure what conclusions to draw from this. The preschool students look far healthier, happier, engaged, interested, and creative than any preschool I've seen in the United States. However, the safety standards here are obviously far different - with apparently the result of producing healthy, safe, creative, independent children and adults.

I don't understand.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

First first-hand Swedish school experience today. We didn't teach, but talked to and observed some classes (w/o preparation) in a Swedish High School. It was a medium size HS with 400 students and was located just outside of town. As such, it was particularly "Swedish" with only two non-Swedish (immigrant) students in the whole school.

The school was a long low building, one level, in a straight line. The cafeteria was a separate building behind the school (and the lunch was *vile*, though free for all students and staff, including us). I didn't take a picture though I was tempted - mashed potatoes (w/ ketchup), a bowl of sweet relish, and what I can only describe as huge salty spam hotdogs served by the 'slice'/spoonful. Also, hard biscut-crackers with butter/margarine and milk or water. And shredded carrots without dressing, which some students actually took.

The students in classes were engaged, actively, which was a huge change from my experiences of American schools. Some students asked questions, others paid attention w/o coercion, and other students made occasional quiet comments to their neighbors (the most 'acting out' that I witnessed). The students have an incredible amount of freedom - 10-20min between classes, completely unsupervised in the hallways (the teachers retire to the lounge for coffee and sliced bread with butter). There are only 20-22 students per teacher in class and the power dynamic between teachers and students is far more balanced than in the United States.

Democracy and the democratic process were mentioned countless times, both in reference to classroom progress and in reference to the incredible (to us) freedoms we witnessed. Teachers look relaxed and do not yell at their students - I am unclear on what punishments are available or what other method they use to obtain obedience... perhaps none, if the headmaster's claims are to be believed. Also, teachers look to students for approval of teaching methods and feedback about presentation of material in a way I would normally associate with the power dynamic between office colleagues.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

It only snowed for 20min or so today - when I saw it start I ran outside, camera in hand, to get some shots of the fat fluffy flakes as they fell.

Public health is more than government regulation, organized educational programs, city planning, health departments, vaccines, and inspections. It's also what's available at the grocery store and part of what people customarily consume.

In some ways my diet has changed drastically in the last three weeks since I've arrived and in others it's remained exactly the same. I still have to expend effort and thought to include vegetables in my diet, but my fiber intake is much higher due to these guys:

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

So in contemplation of Swedish cultural views on drinking - I spent this weekend drinking. It was fun, comparatively moderate, useful socially, but has left me with an association of slothfullness. I'm not sure if I've (this quickly?) internalized the Swedish cultural view of working hard and partying hard or if I just happen to be ready for a new challenge and the boredom is asserting itself particularly after a weekend of heavily social recreation.

Thinking about thinking - ended up reading today about mind and concept mapping, both as study tools (they look more useful to me as review tools than as a method of studying - the lack of detail seems prohibitive for lectures) and as 'learning to learn' tools (learning a framework, then details, to be 'hung' on the framework 'pegs').

In reflection, I think the timing has much to do with personal events awaiting me in the States (impending professional school) and a desire to find a coping strategy in advance of jumping in. I feel the coping strategies that got me through undergraduate school are unlikely to be rigorous enough for the stresses of professional school.

Personally, professionally, and mentally, I feel a sharp desire for optimization - cutting useless fluff, increasing focus, and a researching of options post-professional school (without goals, staying afloat becomes goal enough).

Reflecting on my American cultural tendencies, my strategy would be to "try harder"; more rigorously control my time, my actions, and to carefully schedule metered work increments to attain specific goals. (Goal attainment through rigorous planning).

The Swedish view (as I currently understand it) would be to further those goals five days a week with intent, passion, and deliberately focused attention. On the two weekend days, forgetting, relaxing, and recovering from both the workweek and the weekend excesses would be the goal. (Goal attainment through excess). Planning happens in the early stages and has more to do with agreement about intent, consensus building, and 'broad strokes' work than details - those are handled independently by the person encountering them in the process of completing their work.

On a personal level, this would mean navel-gazing about the reasons for my goals, brainstorming about possible methods of attainment, exploration of alternate scenarios, fleshing out specifics of long-term-goals and then working on those items without step-by-step planning or periodic reassessment of goal progress (my time being better spent on actual progress rather than planning).

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