Second phase of the volunteer experience: the reality phase

Hej, I’m Julian, a 20-year-old guy from Austria and I’m doing a year abroad here in Växjö, Sweden.

I have been here for two months, and what should I say? Time flies! Together with other volunteers, I’m living in the SIP-Villa which is a pretty decent place, to be honest. With the lake and the forest just around the corner, there are always places to discover and explore. Almost every weekend we have an international dinner where we cook some food of our home countries and we have also started the tradition of weekly movie nights!

A day in Kalmar with the other volunteers
Driving to Kalmar!

Before coming to Sweden, I graduated high school in Austria. Due to the (still) ongoing pandemic, 2020 hasn’t been as enjoyable as I had it expected to be. Home schooling from March until our final exams, eternal changes of governmental plans, graduation parties that didn’t take place, no graduation trip with friends… This list could be continued but I want to focus on the good things here. The pandemic taught many of us to focus on ourselves, getting to know yourself more and, most of all, starting to think outside the box and trying out new things. Besides starting to play the guitar and starting to DJ, I used the time to think about my future and that’s when I decided to apply for an ESC here in Växjö.

Sweden has always been a special country to me. I grew up watching “Emil i Lönneberga”, “Vicke Viking” and “Pippi Långstrump” and I probably still know most of the texts and places. I first visited Sweden when I was 12 and I was amazed by the lovely cities, many lakes and never-ending woods. Since then I always dreamt of coming back and when I got the message that I got accepted, I was more than happy.

When coming here, a lot of people mentioned the honeymoon phase, a term Irene described in her letter. But to be honest, I think that I just skipped it from the first day on. I knew that this year wasn’t going to be a vacation and that there were going to be some ups and downs and so I landed in the reality phase.

If you are a newcomer, it really feels as if the Swedish system wants to make your life hard and therefore, they put some obstacles in your way:

First of all: the Personnummer

Without it you can’t do anything. Literally nothing. Buying train tickets online? Nope! Picking up a parcel at the post office? No way. Opening a bank account? Of course not. But once you have it, you really feel like you have the whole country beneath your feet and finally you are able to live!

Secondly: Cashless payment

In my home country, I was used to use cash in almost every occasion but here it is quite different. A lot of places don’t even accept cash here, paying by card is standard and then there is also Swish. The app that you can just use if you have Bank ID, for which you need a Swedish bank account, for which you should preferably have an ID-Kort, which you can just get if you have a Personnummer. Really complicated.

Thirdly: Systembolaget and its opening hours

Being an Austrian, I like to have a beer or two on a Saturday evening besides having dinner. Usually, I would just go to the next grocery store and buy them but here, the reality is a bit different. The variety of beer at the supermarket is limited and most of them don’t seem to taste that good. So Systembolaget is the place to go. Or not. Because the store is just opened until 3 p.m., which means that there is no beer this evening.

Having mentioned some negative things, I want to return to positivity now: my workplace. I’m part of the SIP Activity Team, working together with Jan Malte. We are doing all kinds of projects and activities here at SIP, which are more than awesome. Since it is “Wellness-Month” now, we helped doing the yoga classes, attended an online meeting with Jesse from Arizona, who is doing therapies for all kinds of people with mini-horses, and we were also able to start a new project with asylum seekers. Not to forget the Minecraft & VR evenings with youth, which is also a lot of fun!

Yoga classes
Project with asylum seekers

That is all from me for now, stay healthy and see you soon!