The Struggle is Real: My Experience with Culture Shock in Sweden

Rachel Slappy is a student at University of Tennesse at Knoxville and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with EuroScholars in Stockholm, Sweden

Prior to moving to Stockholm, I was skeptical of the concept of culture shock and brushed it off as something that happens when moving to a more exotic location. I did my research on Sweden before I left and was confident about my move. However, I quickly realized on my first day that I was so very wrong. There are many things that a Google search cannot reveal about Sweden, but would have been helpful to know in my transition.

  1. You are expected to take at least two fikas a day.

A fika involves taking a break from whatever you are doing to enjoy a coffee and pastry with friends. Swedes highly value community so it makes sense that they would prioritize setting aside time each day to reconnect with others. Fika is an awesome time to meet new people as well as catch up with friends!

Fika is one of my favorite Swedish traditions to take part in and always a highlight of my day!
  1. Swedes like to keep to themselves.

I did not realize that the aloofness of Swedes would upset me so much. I grew up in the American South where everyone is very friendly. I found that little things like not being asked my life story at the coffee shop by the barista upset me. However, Swedish people are not rude. Instead, they practice being lagom, which roughly translates to “just enough.” Swedish people like to do everything in moderation, which can be seen in many facets of Swedish culture. 

  1. Walking five miles a day is normal.

The Scandinavian winters can be very dark and cold so the Swedish people do not take any sunny day for granted. Since the weather has been mild, I have found myself walking a lot around Stockholm. Often it is easiest to get from place to place by walking, which allows you to see so much of the city and enjoy the fresh air. Though it has been very tiring to get used to, it also has made me feel better about all of the kardamummabullar that I have been eating!

Seeing small details is the best part of walking around the city like the Swedish coat of arms on the top of this arch in front of the Parliament building!
  1. Everything is in Swedish.

I had read that everyone speaks English and while it is true that most people speak English, almost all of them prefer to speak Swedish. However, you quickly pick up the important words like kaffe (coffee), hej (hello), and tack (thank you). After struggling with simple errands, I definitely have the utmost respect for non-Native English speakers who move to the US.

I think it is important for all exchange students to know that it is hard to move countries no matter how “similar” you may think they may be. As I have found, no amount of prior research can really prepare you for the emotional journey of adjusting to life in a different culture. You have to jump in with both feet and be patient with yourself as well as others. As long as you keep an open mind and are willing to learn, your experience will be a rewarding one!

Stockholm is such a rich cultural environment with so much to offer!


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