Friday, February 28, 2014

Night Train to Riksgränsen and Alpine Skiing

We had been talking about taking a trip up north to see the Northern Lights, experience some colder weather and to see some actual snow since the winter in Stockholm has been pretty mild.  Jake started planning this trip on his own but then he decided maybe it would be best for us to plan it together to see what we really wanted to do.  We actually booked the trip about a week before we left so we didn't have much time to prepare.

We took a night train from Stockholm to Riksgränsen on Friday, February 21st.  Our train was supposed to leave at 10:40 pm on Friday night by once we got to central station we noticed the train had been delayed until 11:53.  Thankfully we didn't have any plans on Saturday that would be ruined but we were supposed to switch trains in Boden.  We only had 10 minutes to switch trains which was a problem considering our train was an hour and 13 minutes late.  While we were waiting on the train we thought about skipping the night train and just taking a flight.  The train takes 18 hours to get there and the flight is only an hour and a half.  We thought that train would be a fun way to see more of Sweden than we would be able to see from the air. We ultimately decided to just take the train and hope that it would all work out.  While we were waiting for our train I saw two of my students.  One from each school.  Schools in Stockholm had sport break during week 9 (in Sweden they use week numbers which actually makes lots of sense, but for my American friends that is the week of February 24th) which just means they have a week off from school and most of the kids go skiing.  I knew a few kids would be going up on a night train at the same time as we were but I didn't think I would see them.  

When it was time to head to the platform we noticed a family with three sleeping boys, it was almost midnight, and lots of luggage so we decided to ask them if they would like some help.  Jake and I took some of their luggage while the parents woke up their kids and carried the rest of their luggage.  Their youngest son, who was maybe four, had a hard time waking up.  He was standing in front of his dad and fell back asleep.  It was hilarious watching him try to stay standing while sleeping.  We made it to the platform and they were able to load the rest of the luggage without our help.

We reserved a sleeping car since it was a night train and we don't sleep well in chairs :).  We found our cabin and when we walked in it smelled like stinky boys!  It was awful!  The lights were off and there were already three people sleeping.  Awesome.  Jake and I had the two top bunks and the third person that got on in Stockholm had one of the bottom bunks.  We decided to go use the restroom and brush our teeth before we started making our beds so that we didn't have to climb up more than once.  While we were waiting for the bathroom Jake said he thought the top bunks should smell better and I was really hoping he was right.

It ended up smelling much better on our top bunks.  We had a nice shelf to put our backpacks, we made our beds and then tried to get some sleep.  I had a really hard time falling asleep.  When one of the train workers stopped by our cabin to check our tickets the other girl in our cabin asked about making the connection for the other train since we were over an hour late.  He said that we would still make it.  That made me think they were going to go really fast to make up the time so every corner we took I was paranoid that we were going to fly off the tracks.  Over analyze much?  We survived and it was better than we thought it would be when we first walked into our cabin.

The two stinky boys left before we got out of bed so we didn't get to meet them but we hung out with a girl from China who is studying in Stockholm and a man who was moving back north after living in Stockholm for the past 49 years.  

Here is a short video from the train ride.

Jake thought we should try to pack in backpacks since we would be staying in a different place each of our four nights and we didn't know how much snow we might have to roll bags through.  I am an over-packer.  I like to be prepared and we were skiing which meant we would have ski pants, ski gloves, goggles and lots of layers but we did it.  Two backpacks for 5 days and 4 nights.  By the end of the trip I had mentioned several times how thankful I was that we didn't have rolling bags. 

We ate breakfast on our first train.  I had an apple and a cinnamon roll and Jake had a roll with cheese, a yogurt drink and some coffee.  The food choices were lacking a bit and we started to get a little bit worried about what the lunch choices would be.  We thought they choices would be similar to a ferry that we took in the fall that had actual sandwiches but it wasn't looking like that would be the case. 

We were on the first train from 11:53 pm on Friday until 12:00 pm on Saturday.  They held our connecting train in Boden which was great since we originally only had 10 minutes to transfer and our first train was over an hour late.  We were on the second train for about 6 hours so our total time by train was about 18 hours.  We had lunch on the second train.  It wasn't great.  We noticed that most people brought food so we made a mental note to do that next time.  Our lunch was a whole bag of chips, an orange, another cinnamon roll, coffee and some candy. 
Another video from the train.

Here was our route.  We started in Stockholm, switched trains in Boden and got off the train in Riksgränsen, Sweden which is on the border of Sweden and Norway.  We didn't get to Riksgränsen until 6:00 pm so our plan for the night was to hang out at the hotel, eat dinner at 8:00 and then go to bed early so we could ski the next day.  When we checked in we found out we got a room upgrade.  We were supposed to be in a ski room which basically had bunk beds.  So the upgrade to the hotel room sounded great to us.  We went to the ski shop to get fitted for our skis and then headed to dinner.  We had reservations for 8:00 pm but since breakfast and lunch were both less than nutritious we decided to go down early to see if we could get a table and thankfully they were able to seat us.
I had a moose steak with potatoes and Jake had the buffet.  The moose steak had good flavor but it was pretty fatty.  After dinner we walked around outside hoping to see the Northern Lights.  I didn't know much about the Northern Lights before our trip other than what I've seen in pictures.  The lights are on a scale from 0-10 as far as intensity goes but then you also need a clear night and a dark place to go see the lights.  We saw some lights on our walk but they weren't as brilliant as we thought they would be.  It was hard getting away from the lights of the ski resort and I got a little freaked out walking to darker places.

We woke up early the next morning to grab some breakfast and then hit the slopes since we only could ski for half of a day.  The lifts by our hotel only had blue and red runs so we asked if someone could take us to the other lift that had some green runs so we could warm up a little.  I've only been skiing twice and Jake hasn't ever been to a real mountain to ski, only to the little hill in the Kansas City area, so we definitely needed to ease our way into it.  They took us to the other life on a snowmobile!  Jake road in a cart attached to the back and I road behind the guy driving.  It was really fun riding on the snowmobile until we went straight down a hill.  I was terrified but we survived :).
The view from our window our first morning in Riksgränsen.
When we got to the mountain we were the only ones on the slopes for at least 30 minutes.  It was opening weekend for the ski resort but most people were heading home since it was a Sunday so the slopes were pretty empty.  I was confused as to why this was their opening weekend because they have had snow for a while but after talking with someone I realized it has been too dark and too cold to ski that far north.  

We went down three greens and then Jake was ready to move on to bigger and better things.  We headed over to a bigger lift to go down some blues.  I'm used to using chair lifts when I go skiing.  They had platter or button lifts where you put a pole between your legs and it pulls you up mountain.  We did fine on the one to the greens but the bigger lift was a little awkward and we both wiped out trying to get on the lift.  I have a nice bruise to show for it now.
A Platter or Button lift.  I picked the one picture I could find that didn't have a kid as the model :).
We spent the rest of our time going down blues.  For Jake's first time skiing he did awesome.  I on the other hand was a little bit of a mess.  I get so nervous when I ski.  I'm afraid I'm going to blow out a knee or fall off the mountain.  This is my third time skiing and I'm just not sure I really enjoy it.  Part of my problem was that I felt like I was holding Jake back and since it was just us we had to stick together.  He did a great job of waiting for me whenever he would get ahead.  I think if we do go skiing again it would be better to go in a bigger group so he can go try crazy things with other people who aren't terrified and I can go down greens and easy blues :).
We only have a few pictures of us skiing because it was so cold we didn't want to bring our camera and anytime we I wanted a picture Jake would have to take his gloves off.  It was 14°F when we started skiing and 17°F when we finished so it was pretty chilly.  We were plenty warm in our layers but Jake wasn't a fan of stopping to take pictures since we only had a few hours and his hand would get cold.

On our last run Jake wanted to do another blue but I was done for the day so we split up.  I was nervous that one of us would get hurt but I was going down a green that I had already done twice so I thought I would be fine and Jake was going down a blue and there were actually a few people on the blues so he should be okay.  We were going to meet up to take the very last run down to the resort.  I ended up accidentally following him too far and I had take my skis off and climb up a little hill or end up going down another blue with him.  I decided climbing would be best :).

We met up after our solo runs and then headed back to the resort.  The last run was a blue to get to the resort and there were at least two fences up to catch you because the drop off on the side of the mountain was so steep.  You could say I was not a fan.

We returned our equipment, had some lunch and hopped on another train headed to Kiruna, Sweden.

Monday, February 24, 2014

6 Months!

We moved to Stockholm. I still can’t believe that sentence and we've been here for 6 months today! Just seems so surreal. In some ways it feels like we just left Olathe but in other ways I feel like I haven’t been home in years. I thought it would be fun to do a summary of things we've been doing over the last 6 months and talk about things that I miss and what I've really enjoyed about living in Stockholm.

Like I've said before I don’t like change. The unknown scares me because I like being in control and having a plan. Making the decision to move here was hard and stressful but ultimately it came down to trust. Did I trust God enough to make the move? Did I trust that He had a better plan than my plan? I was not without doubts when we boarded that plane in Kansas but I did have faith and hope. I had faith and hope that God has a plan and that his plan is better than my plan. That He knew (knows) the big picture in all of this that I couldn't see or understand but that I needed to trust Him and I am so glad that I did. We are experiencing something that I would have never dreamed about and I am so thankful that I didn't let fear stop me.
The transition went pretty well. It wasn't as shocking as I thought it would be. Sure, there were times when I was frustrated and wanted to read an English menu and shop at Walmart instead of struggling through but the struggle made me appreciate things so much more.

Technology has helped SO much! I cannot imagine moving so far away from family and friends and not having technology to make the distance feel shorter. Thanks to technology my friends and family can call or text my old cell phone number, the one I've had for the past 14 years, and it will ring through to my Swedish cell phone and it won’t cost either of us any money at all! (So if you want to call or text me go for! Just remember I am 7 hours ahead of you.) I use Google Voice and an app on my phone to talk and text as long as I am on wifi or I have a data connection. And thankfully one of the only things that is cheaper in Stockholm than in the US is cell phone plans. For $30 a month I get pretty much unlimited phone calls and texts in Sweden (which I barely use since I only have two friends other than Jake) but then I get 1GB of data and even though I use more than that a month it still works.

Facebook is awesome. I am able to see what my family and friends are doing which makes me feel more connected and I am able to share what we are doing. I was pretty quiet on Facebook before we moved. I probably posted something a couple times a month and now I post something almost daily and if it is an exciting day then I post multiple times that day. I love getting comments and hearing from people that I haven’t talked to since high school. It is also fun because several people have posted articles or videos of something they've run across that has to do with Stockholm or Sweden to see if I've heard about it. Facebook chat is also very nice. I use that everyday to talk to friends back home or my friend Lisa in Stockholm.

Last but not least I love Skype and Google Hangout! Talking on the phone is great but seeing someone you love while talking to them is wonderful! If you haven’t Skyped with me but want to just let me know! The best is when I get an unexpected video call. Since I can answer on my phone without worrying about using too much data it is great to see someone I wasn't expecting to see.
I sure do miss my nieces!
What I Miss
The first four months I missed specific foods: espinaca dip and chips from Mi Ranchito, Goldfish, Honey Nut Cheerios, animal crackers, pizza from Pizza Hut and bread sticks from Little Caesars, etc. When we were home for Christmas we ate out at almost every meal so we could get in all the places we had been craving. I went to the store and bought macaroni and cheese, animal crackers and I was given goldfish for Christmas. After I lugged all of my goodies from Walmart back to Stockholm I realized that maybe missing things, like food, is better than figuring out how to bring it all back with me. I will be able to eat goldfish and animal crackers for the rest of my life, obviously they wouldn't ever think about discontinuing them :), so do I really need them while I’m in Stockholm? When I get homesick it is nice to have familiar food but in general I think maybe it is better to find things here that I like and can enjoy while I can. I would LOVE to find a good Mexican restaurant here to enjoy chips and cheese dip but we have yet to find one. There is a Pizza Hut here but the only time we've been there it was about $50 for two drinks, wings and two small pizzas so we haven’t been back.

I miss my friends! A lot. For the most part I have been able to keep in touch with most of my friends. There are some friends that I've talked to more now that we've move than when I was living in Olathe. But there are also some friends that I've had a harder time keeping in touch with. My friend Amber, who I used to work with in Haysville, and I used to talk on the phone every week or at least every other week. We haven’t been able to do that as much now because of the time zone but we are starting to get better at emailing each other random things that used to be a phone call instead. And I have a few other friends that I've lost touch with for one reason or another but some of that would have happened anyway because of all of the transfers that happened in my school district for this school year. The three people I worked closest with at school were all moving to different schools and that was going to be a hard adjustment (and it still is hard if I’m being honest). I have a hard time letting people in but once I do I have an even harder time letting people go. I miss those relationships and being able to see and talk to them every day.

I am missing friends who are having babies. Having a baby is such a big step in life and I am so sad that I won’t be there to see my friends become parents for the first time and for a few friends a second time. I like seeing babies when they are "brand new" aka in the hospital and now by the time I see some of these babies they will be several months old :(.

My Family:
I do miss my family but I actually talk to them more now than I used to. Jake and I Skype with both sets of parents once a week so we "see" them way more than we used to. I miss seeing our nieces and nephews. They change so fast when they are little and it is hard missing out on seeing them grow up.

Get Togethers:
Hanging out with people. We tried to hang out with as many people as we could when we were back at Christmas because we just missed seeing friends so much. I miss random after work get togethers, watching football with friends, going to K-State football games (which means I get to see my roommates as well as my brother and sometimes my Dad) and having people over to play games. I wouldn't say we were super social when we lived in Olathe but we would hang out with friends every now and then. But there is a big difference between hanging out with friends and being able to hang out with friends. We've made a few friends here but we've really only hung out with two different couples. When we don’t have as many friends to hang out with it feels a little pushy sometimes asking the same people to do things every time we want to do something even if they seem to enjoy it.

I don’t miss driving as much as I thought I would. I think part of that has to do with how much I love hopping on the metro. I don’t have to think about where I am going, pay attention to traffic or the weather. I can just sit there and play on my phone or listen to music. I very rarely talk when I’m on the metro because no one else is talking and I don’t like to stand out. So even if Jake and I are riding it together we usually don’t talk. The metro is unusually quiet and in the morning it is silent. No one speaks at all during the morning commute. Everyone is either reading the newspaper, reading their phone or listening to music.
What I Have Enjoyed
I have always loved to travel and of course Jake is up for any new experience. We both enjoy flying and the excitement of going some place new. One of our goals during our time in Stockholm is to visit as many places as we could. We were hoping to go on some sort of trip each month. That hasn't exactly happened but we have been able to see a lot in the last six months. Our first trip out of the country was when we traveled to Taipei, Taiwan for a week so that Jake could work and I could explore the city. On our way back from Taipei we stopped in Beijing for about 72 hours. A couple of weeks after our trip to Asia we headed to our first stop in Europe which was Amsterdam. Jake had work conference for two days but we decided to go a few days early to explore the city together.

We have also gone on a few adventures in Sweden. We went backpacking and then sailing through the Archipelago. We also went ice skating, cross country skiing and to a chocolate festival. Before we went home for Christmas we went to a Julbord at a castle which was a fun experience.

I can’t decide which trip outside of Sweden I liked the most. It is probably a tie between Taipei and Amsterdam. However, with that being said the place I am really thankful we visited was the Great Wall. That is something I will always remember and it was such a beautiful day. As far as staying in Sweden, my favorite thing so far has been backpacking in the Archipelago.

Living in the City & Our Apartment:
I love where we live.  We are close enough to the city that it only takes about 15 minutes by metro to get downtown but we are outside it enough to enjoy parks, trees and the water.  It takes Jake about 20 minutes to get to work and it takes me either 20 or 30 minutes depending on whether I go to my volunteer school or my subbing school.  I really appreciate that there is a small grocery store right at the bottom of the hill in between the metro and our apartment.  It is so convenient and I often have Jake stop by and grab something on his way home.  I do enjoy living in the city.  I like having everything so close but I miss seeing open spaces.  It feels a bit claustrophobic sometimes which I didn't fully realize until we were home at Christmas.

I love our apartment. Most of my friends lived in an apartment after they were married before they bought a house but Jake already had a house so we never got to live in an apartment. As silly as that sounds I was kind of sad about not getting to experience that but now we can cross that off our list. Our apartment is very small compared to our house in Olathe but I love that I only have to clean one bathroom and that sweeping the floor and picking up the whole apartment takes less than 30 minutes. I also love how open and connected our kitchen and living room are to each other.

Relying on Each Other:
At the beginning Jake and I made lots of jokes about how the other person was the only one we knew in the entire country so we better be nice to each other. That was funny and terrifying all at the same time. If you are married you know that marriage is hard. I used to hear that before I was married and I never understood what it meant. When you are connected to one other person for the rest of your life it can be a bit much sometimes. When you only have one other person in the entire country that you can see, hang out with and talk to it could be really hard. But, it has actually been really great. We have had to learn how to communicate differently and give each other space and freedom to do things on our own since we are together so much. I love that we are on this adventure together and that we are a team. Ever since we've been married we always try to remember that no matter what happens we are a team and that we need to remember that even when things get tough.

One of Jake’s favorite sayings since we started this adventure is ‘we are not lost if we are together.’ How cute (and slightly annoying) is that? Jake might be a little directionally challenged so I think this phrase is his way of making me calm down when we have no clue where we are. We have been in so many new places we are often ‘lost’. When we are on a new adventure and we have no idea where we are going Jake will grab my hand and say ‘we are not lost if we are together’ and then I smile and know that he is right (even if I roll my eyes after he says it). We have each other and I am so glad that he is the one I get to experience this with. We will never forget our time in Stockholm and all of these adventures we've been able to experience together.

What Kara Has Been Up To:
The first few weeks after moving I was trying to get us settled and I had two different interviews with schools. I started volunteering at the second school that I interviewed with. That school is in Södermalm. I started volunteering everyday from 8:30 to 2:00 or 2:10. I worked with the PYP6 class (primary years program 6th grade, which is Swedish 5th grade but equal to 6th grade in the United States). In October Jake and I both took a Swedish class at Folks University. It was everyday from 12:15-2:30. After that month I decided to go back to volunteering at the school but only three and a half days a week (Monday, Wednesday-Thursday and a half a day on Friday). I usually help out in the classroom during math and English but I also help in Art and PE. I usually work with Emma, who is one of the PYP6 teachers. She is great and I have really enjoyed working with her.

Before Christmas I decided I wanted to start subbing. I asked my first school if they would be willing to pay me on days that I subbed (typically other teachers just cover and they don’t hire out for subs) but they weren't able to do that. I was fine with that but I wanted to check first. So I put my name on the sub list at first school that I interviewed with and started subbing there. Two days after my name was on the list I had a sub job for 4 days for junior school math (4th-6th graders). Those four days turned into me subbing for 17 out of the next 20 days. I have really enjoyed subbing. Most of the time I am subbing for junior school math or English. I have done a few senior school jobs in art, math and science. I prefer junior school because I actually have a lesson plan and I get to teach. For senior school they give you something for the students to work on the whole hour and then you have to herd cats do behavior management.

What Jake Has Been Up To:
Jake has been going to work everyday at the Garmin office in Stockholm. His job is similar to what is was doing in Olathe. He works as an electrical engineer on marine products. He still gets to work with his friends in the Olathe office on projects and has phone meetings with them which isn't fair is great! (I may be a tad bit jealous that Jake gets to continue to work with the same friends from Olathe and I don’t. If only they needed schools from different countries to work together.) Jake has been able to go out on a few boats to install equipment and test some products. The office in Stockholm is very small. There are about 8 people in the office. So far Jake has enjoyed working in the new office.

When Jake isn't working he is planning future trips or figuring out what crazy adventures he can talk me into :). He gets a little stir crazy in the apartment on the weekends since he can’t do any remodeling projects so he usually plans some sort of outing for us. We've been on several long walks and to a few museums.
Thank you for all of the love, support and prayers that have been sent our way since we've moved.  If you read our blog or my posts on Facebook thank you for keeping up with us!  I love hearing from people back home so feel free to comment to let me know you are there! I can’t wait to see what the next 6 months will bring!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Substitute Teaching versus Volunteering in Schools in Stockholm

When I first found out we might be moving to Stockholm I started looking into teaching jobs.  I found a few schools in the city that taught in English, at least some of their courses were in English, and I decided to get my documents together in case I ended up needing them.  When we were in Stockholm in June I walked by one of the schools that I was most interested in working at.  It was in the same area of the city where Jake was going to be working and I thought that would make it easier when we started looking for apartments if I had an idea of where my school might be.  When we left Stockholm in June, we knew Garmin wanted us to move so I started filling out applications and getting my cv (similar to a resume but a little bit different), reference letters and cover letter together.

While we were in Stockholm this summer I walked past the school I was most interested in just to see what it looked like.
I thought it was funny that it said "No Child Left Behind" and "Tough Love."  I wonder how they would feel about Love and Logic? 
I knew that I needed to find something to do while we were living in Stockholm or else I would go stir crazy but I wasn't sure I wanted a full time teaching job.  Jake and I really wanted to travel as much as we could while we were living abroad and teaching doesn't really allow you to take vacation days whenever you want like most other jobs.  Plus, if you have ever taught you know the first year teaching a new grade or subject it is a lot of hard work and long hours.  I wasn't sure I really wanted to put all of that time and effort in for just one year.  So I started looking for a part time position or a support position.  Part time positions don't really exist but support positions do.  There are classroom assistant positions that I'm sure would be more flexible with time off but I could not find one available.  I did still apply for some teaching positions and just prayed that I would find a place to work with kids over the next year.

Unfortunately, we didn't get the work permit approved until after the school year started in Stockholm so that really made it difficult to find a job since all the schools had already started for the year.

I had an interview with the school that I walked by this summer after we got settled to see if they might have a place for me.  I interviewed with the "Tough Love" school and it went well but unfortunately they didn't have any positions available and they didn't really understand how to use me as a volunteer.  They did put my name on the substitute teaching list but I realized a few days later that I didn't have my Swedish personal number (like a social security number but you need it for everything over here) which meant I couldn't sub.  So I took my name off the list until I got my personal number.

I found out about another school that also taught some subjects in English and contacted them.  They seemed interested and interviewed me but again they didn't have any positions.  They were willing to let me volunteer.  I was so happy because I just needed something consistent where I could meet some people and continue to work with kids.  I started going on September 16th everyday from 8:30 until about 2 or 2:15.  It was great getting back in the classroom and working with kids again.  I really enjoyed it.

Side note: I was working with Swedish 5th graders (which is the same age as 6th graders in the US).  Grades here are a little off from the US.  In the Kansas, they put you in kindergarten if you turn five by August 31st.  In Sweden, they don't have kindergarten.  They just start with first grade and to be in first grade you have to be 7 years old during that calendar year (not school year).  So all kids that turn seven in 2014 will all be in 1st grade that year.  Kids are in compulsory (primary) school from ages 7-16 and then they can go to Upper Secondary School called Gymnasium from 16-19 years old.

We started taking a Swedish class at Folks University the month of October so I just volunteered from  8:30-11:30, ate lunch at school and then headed to Swedish class.  After I finished the Swedish class I realized I was so busy still trying to get everything done that needed to be done after moving to a new country and it seemed silly to be stressed out when I was just volunteering.  So I cut my volunteer days back from 5 days a week to 3.5 days a week.  So I continued to volunteer on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and a half a day on Friday.  That was going really well especially since I could take off time to go to Taiwan, Beijing and Amsterdam.

Before we went home for Christmas I was starting to feel like I needed to do more than just volunteer.  While I was volunteering I really only helped kids and I didn't get to teach or do small groups like I was hoping I would.  There were a handful of times that I subbed for teachers if they were gone but since this school doesn't hire substitutes I subbed for free. Instead of having subs the teachers have it in their contracts that they will sub for classes a certain number of times each month if necessary which is great if you are already getting paid but I wasn't.  I enjoyed subbing because it meant I could actually teach the class but it is a lot more work than volunteering and I felt like I should be getting paid.  I talked to the principal of the school to see if I could get paid for the hours that I subbed but not the hours I was just a classroom assistant.  I told him I had another school I was going to contact to see if I could start subbing there after Christmas but wanted to see if they could use me first.  He got back with  me and said they couldn't do that which was fine.  I just wanted to check before I started subbing at another school.

After Christmas break I called the first school that I interviewed with and put my name on their substitute teaching list.  I got my first call to sub two days later.  They wanted me for four days the next week and I would be subbing for junior school math.  It was great!  I actually got to teach for four days in math which was awesome!

I taught 4th and 5th grade students during those four days.  Their math lessons are typically in English which was great and since I was teaching one subject I only had to learn the plans for 4 different lessons since I just retaught those same lessons to different classes throughout the week.  I taught the 4th graders how to tell time and elapsed time which I was used to teaching with my 3rd graders back home.  The 5th graders were working on 3D shapes and volume.

Subs are paid a little bit differently in Sweden.  Instead of being paid for a full day or a half day you are paid by the hour for the number of lessons you teach.  So even though I was at school from 8-3:30 that first day I only got paid for the hours of actual lessons which was about 5 hours.  The hourly rate is really good, about 225 kr an hour or $35 an hour but sometimes there are big gaps in the schedule.  One of my days the first week I had a lesson from 8:05-9:05 and then my next one wasn't until 11:45 so I had 2 hours and 40 minutes of unpaid downtime :(.  Thankfully the secretaries do a good job of trying to fill in your down time with other random classes so that first week I did an art class almost everyday so my schedule had less down time.

My plan is to continue to volunteer on days that I'm not subbing so I can keep a consistent routine.  I thought I would probably sub one or two days a week but my first four days of subbing turned into a full five day week plus a four day week the next week.  So I might end up subbing more than I thought which I completely fine by me.  I miss my volunteer school.  I miss the kids and the staff but I am really enjoying the fact that I am teaching again.  Plus it is really nice to get paid :).

I am not a huge fan of senior school (grades 7th-9th which is really 8th-10th graders by US standards).  For one I'm just not as comfortable around them and if anyone is going to be able to tell that it will be the older kids.  But the main thing that I struggle with is the lesson plans that I'm supposed to do.  With the older students the lesson plans are usually "have the students work on _______ for the whole hour" which means I give them directions and then do classroom management for an hour instead of being able to teach.  I will probably continue to say yes to senior school for another week or two so the secretaries get used to me saying yes so they will hopefully think of me first.  They already know that I prefer junior school but I have still been willing to do senior school so we shall see if it gets better.

There are a few differences so far that I have noticed between my volunteer school and my substituting school.  At my volunteer school they call the teachers by their first names.  That took a long time for me to get used to and to be quite honest I'm still not a fan.  I feel like the students think they are equals with the teacher and therefore aren't as respectful as they should be.  I think it is pretty common in Sweden for teachers to be called by their first names.  However at the substitute school the teachers are called Mr. and Ms. which I really appreciate.  I guess all of the women are Ms. regardless of their martial status.  In fact after talking with the volunteer school principal he thought it was so strange that teachers aren't called by their first names.  He thinks that it is strange that kids don't know their teachers' first names and that some even try to keep it a secret.  He couldn't understand how you could build a relationship with a kid if they didn't even know their first name.  Well sir, I have a few good stories for you :).

Kids at the volunteer school don't seem to have many consequences for behaviors.  In general I would say about 80% of the kids are well behaved and even better behaved than kids in the US but the last 20% could use some discipline in their lives.  They aren't completely unruly but they get away with more than they should (although the most difficult behavior that I've seen here doesn't even come close to what I've seen in the states).  The only real consequence is an email or a phone call to parents which does seem to work because parents are very involved which isn't always the case in the US.

At my substitute school the kids can receive a behavior note if they are being disrespectful, chewing gum, being physical with another student, if you see or hear their cell phone in school, etc.  The kids in junior school (grades 4-6) really respond to behavior notes but the kids in senior school seem less phased by it.  Depending on what the kids do they can get 1-4 points on a behavior note and 4 points in a week earns them a detention at the end of the week.  When I subbed for junior school 95% of the kids were awesome!  It was so refreshing to be teaching and for them to be listening and respectful.  There was maybe 1 student in each class that was a little hard but nothing compared to what I've dealt with on a daily basis in the US.

At both schools the kids and the staff eat for free.  The staff gets to eat for free because they are supervising the kids.  No more duty free lunches.  That was a hard adjustment but now it isn't so bad.  The food at my volunteer school was pretty good the first semester but then they changed suppliers and it isn't as good this semester.  They have a small salad bar which usually has cold corn, cucumbers, shredded carrots, peas, etc.  Very rarely does it actually have lettuce and there is never any salad dressing.  The hot food used to be pretty good but now isn't that great.  Each meal has some kind of meat (chicken, pork, beef) or fish with either rice, potatoes or noodles and then some sauce.  There is a vegetarian option but that is only for people who have specifically requested it.  You can have water or milk to drink.  At the end of every meal in Sweden you eat knäckbröd which is basically a big cracker.  They put butter on it and sometimes seasonings.  We used to have fruit but haven't had any in a long time which is too bad because it was nice to have fruit with lunch.

This picture is from my volunteer school.   I had Swedish meatballs, boiled potatoes, shredded carrots (which I have almost every lunch) a few peppers and knäckbröd.

The food at my new school is really good.  They have a full salad bar with lettuce and dressing along with several other things.  They have three hot food choices at each meal.  They have a meat, fish and vegetarian option and you can take any or all of them.  They also have a pasta salad bar with cold pasta salad as well as toppings and other things like hummus and cottage cheese.  You can have milk or water to drink and they also have knäckbröd with butter and seasonings.  They have a daily soup and regular bread.  They also have fruit and each person can take one piece.

I hope I can continue to sub over the next few months.  It has been so fun learning how different schools work in Sweden compared to the United States.  The great thing about kids is that no matter where you are kids are still kids no matter where they live :).

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ice Skating and Cross Country Skiing

We have been back for almost a month since our trip home.  The first couple of weekends it was nice to just relax after 3 weeks of seeing family and friends but after the first two weekends of relaxing Jake was getting antsy (and I was too for that matter). Our goal was to go on a trip once a month while we are living in Stockholm but it is hard to find a place to go in January. So we decided to try to explore a little around Stockholm.

Last weekend we went ice skating and cross country skiing.  I've been ice skating before but it had been a while.  We went to Kungsträgåden (a park in the middle of Stockholm) to ice skate on Saturday, January 25th.  It was -3°C (or 25°F) which isn't too bad if you wear the right number of layers.  We got bundled up (I wore my outside pants) and headed to the ice skating rink.  There were lots of people ice skating.  Most people here own their own ice skates and helmets.  Kids always wear helmets and some adults do too.  We were able to rent ice skates for about $9 an hour for each of us.  We skated for about an hour before heading back home.  Ice skating was a fun reason to get out of the house but it was hard.  It used muscles that aren't used to being worked out but we had a good time.

Jake found a place where we could go cross country skiing that was about 40 minutes away from where we live so we decided to give that a try on Sunday, January 26th.  We had an early lunch and then took the metro to Slussen and then took a bus to Hellasgården.  You can rent cross country skis and ice skates there.  They have several tracks that you can follow and it was beautiful.  When Jake first suggested we go, I wasn't super excited about it.  I'm still going to claim that I am not adventurous, even though I'm typing this from our apartment in Stockholm.  I am not naturally adventurous.  It takes some convincing for me to try new things.  We talked about cross country skiing Friday night and Saturday and on Saturday night I watched two YouTube videos about how to cross country ski and it looked pretty easy so I told Jake I'd give it a try.

We got to Hellasgården around 12:30 and tried to rent skis but they were out.  They kids, who were probably in middle school, that were running the ski rental said to come back in about two hours.  Well that didn't sound like much fun since we were planning on our whole trip to travel there, ski and travel back to be about 3 to 4 hours.  I decided to go change into my outside pants and then we could walk around for a little while before heading back home to try skiing another day.  After I put on my outside pants we saw some people returning skis and we checked and they had some that would fit us.  So we rented skis for about $45 for 3 hours and went to find a track.  I was kind of expecting a short lesson on what to do but we didn't get one so I guess it was a good thing I watched those two 4 minute videos on YouTube :).

We decided to start with a kid's track that was 1.3 km long (.8 miles).  In the videos that I watched it basically looks like you walk/glide but on skis.  You put your opposite foot and pole out at the same time and glide a little before switching sides.  I went about a minute before the first time I fell.  I was not expecting to fall while cross country skiing.  That is like falling while walking.  But it happened and it kind of hurt.  Good thing the video showed me how to get up with skis on :).  I got back up and kept going.  This time I was a little more aware that I could actually lose my balance and fall.  Jake fell twice when we first started going.  Then I got into a groove and was doing okay.  We stayed on our little track and stopped a few times to take a break and a few pictures.
I liked the Mickey Mouse picture on our km marker :).  This was when we were on the kids track obviously.
While we were skiing I noticed when I was ahead Jake was usually a little ways behind me.  I thought he was just trying to give me space.  But then when he was in front of me I was right on the back of his skis. I realized he wasn't giving me room before he was just having a hard time keeping up. I had to slow down and give him lots of space before skiing again so I didn't catch up to him too quickly.  Jake asked me a few times if I wanted to take a break and I said no because I was fine and then I realized he wanted to take one.  He was getting frustrated because it wasn't as easy for him as he thought it would be and I was having an easier time than he was.  He said the reason why I was doing better was because I watched the YouTube videos and he didn't and if he would have known we were going than he would haven't watched them and been more prepared.  I was just excited that we were doing something outside that I enjoyed more than he did.  That never happens.

We decided to try another track before returning our skis since we had them for 3 hours and had only used them for about 45 minutes.  We picked a track that was 2.3 km plus 800 m there and back so 3.1 km total (about 2 miles).  That track was good.  It went by the lake that was frozen (some people were cross country skiing and ice skating on it) and we went through lots of trees.  The track we were on also had lights so you could do it at night which would be cool.  The only frustrating thing with this track, which we also had on the first track, was low snow during parts of the track.  We hadn't had snow in a while but it had stayed below freezing so the snow hadn't melted but there were some low spots which made it difficult to go over in our skis.

After about 2 hours we decided to take our skis back and head home.  We had fun and I could see us doing this again sometime.

Dressing for the Winter
I have talked before about how they use inside shoes and outside shoes.  Now that I've been here through the winter I can definitely tell why we need inside and outside shoes.  All of the snow, water, sand and dirt that you bring in from the outside would not be fun to clean up.

Before winter started I had also heard that people wore outside pants.  I was curious as to what those might look like.  They are basically ski pants over your regular pants.  Kids about 12 and younger wear outside pants anytime they are outside. While they are traveling to school, walking outside or playing they have on outside pants.  Little kids are in one piece snow suits.  Babies are also outside in strollers.  They are bundled up with lots of layers and then they are placed in something that looks like a sleeping bag before then are ready for the cold.  Just because it is below freezing does not mean babies stay inside.  I am surprised every time I see a stroller being pushed through the snow but they can't stay inside for 6 months straight.
Kids at school take off their outside pants and shoes and put on inside shoes before heading into the classroom.
I thought I would also see adults wearing outside pants while walking around Stockholm but for the most part you won't see that.  There might be a few people in them (some older ladies wear outside skirts which are made out of the same material as pants) but if people are just commuting and not planning on standing outside for a long period of time they just wear their regular pants plus a coat.  Teachers do bring outside pants for the one hour break they have with their classes throughout the week.

Although I am not a fan of going outside when it is cold it is different being in Sweden in the winter and still having outside recess.  There is no way we would have recess in Olathe if we had snow on the ground or if the temp drops below 20°F with the wind chill factored in. And kids are definitely not allowed to play in the snow if they are outside.  They can only play on the green top (or basketball court area) that has been cleared.  Not in Stockholm.  Kids are dressed appropriately and they can play in the snow or go sledding during their outside break.  They don't throw snow balls.  I don't know if that is because they are told that they can't or because they see so much snow that it isn't that big of a deal anymore.  The way Swedes handle being outside in the winter makes me think we could learn a thing or two, at least in Kansas.   If anyone from up north is reading this, how do you guys handle recess during the winter?  Why can't kids in the US go out and play in the snow?  If they have the appropriate clothes wouldn't it be beneficial?  In Sweden they know if kids don't go outside and play during the school day in the winter than they won't see the sun except on the weekends since it is light for such a short amount of time (the shortest day = sunrise at 8:45 am and sets at 2:45 pm).  I still don't like the idea of being outside in such cold weather but if I wore my outside pants and outside shoes I would be just fine.  And there is a good chance I will start wearing them to recess once we move back :).
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