Life in Sweden has been extremely fun.

Making new friends, getting out of my comfort zone, experiencing tons of new things – it has spiced up my exchange life here, and coupled with the beautiful nature and winter that Sweden has to offer, I’m feeling really blessed here. I’ve found nice communities and I’m enjoying it while I can because I know that it won’t last and, as the saying goes, all good things come to an end.

I’ve thought about moving to Sweden. It’s a question that floats around during gatherings – people can randomly ask you that question. And giving it some thought, some people said no.

For me, it’s not about parental restrictions or anything like that. I’d love to move to Sweden if I could. I love the slow-paced environment, the vast nature I’ll never ever get back home, and a lot of freedom and space. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. It’s beautiful.

But thinking hard about it, life now is fun because I’m on exchange. I’m surrounded by students and international students. They, or we, are the life of the party. All the fun parties I’ve attended and every fun event that’s been organised is all run by the students.

But if I were to live in Sweden just to work, I think that life wouldn’t be as fun. You wouldn’t have such frequent happening parties. No language cafe, food safaris, frequent overseas trips, and many of the fun events organised by the student union. No frequent gathering at random times because work is everyday. No jetting off to cities because it’s not like I could skip work like I skip school. No such fun.

In fact, life in Sweden as a worker makes life just as normal as everyone else everywhere. Going to work every day, coming home tired, and then maybe doing your own things, resting or hanging out with friends. Definitely not as wild or adventurous as it is now. Definitely not the exchange life I’m living – it’s going to be a lot calmer, a lot quieter, a lot like back home.

Exchange life is really different for me. It’s different from Singapore. It’s way more happening than Singapore and I like not having to care about my grades and how well I do. I like being free of that pressure and that competition that’s worrying me all the time back home. I like experiencing life, experiencing Western culture, and doing all the different things I’d never have the chance to back home. It’s refreshing.

But working here would not be like that and while I don’t mind that kind of life, not everyone likes it. Some people need fun in their life and this city can be boring with nothing to do. Some people wouldn’t ever live here for a long time. Exchange? Fine, because there are always activities to do. But work for years? Maybe not.

For me, it’s fine. I like serenity and I like having big spaces and having time to myself. I like tranquil moments where I can spend time with myself and with God. I like having quality time to do things properly and not just rush through life like back home.

So do I love Jönköping? Yes. Would I love to come back? Absolutely.

Life, in general, is simply a road of opportunities. Take up the different ones that come your way, and you experience many different things. It’s really up to the individual to decide what kind of life he or she wants to lead. This is something for you to consider if you really want to move overseas to work and live – what kind of ‘fun’ life are you looking for, what kind of environment, and what kind of people would you want to be surrounded with? Know what you want, and then go for it. Many people think that living overseas is thrilling. It may not be. Exchange is exciting, yes, and I would definitely recommend it to everyone. But working overseas in certain areas may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

To me, this is everything I’ve dreamed of. And I’m living it fully while it lasts, because I don’t really see myself coming back to live here. I will come back for holidays again, but I’m unlikely to come back here to work.

We’ll see, ay?


A compilation of random things that I’ve heard and learnt about here in Sweden. This by no means represents anyone in particular, or an entire Swedish culture as a whole – it’s just probably a part of the city I’m in. I do not mean to discriminate against anybody.

Exchange is such an entirely fresh experience that it’s eye-opening if a bus comes on time, or I get a free bus ride. It’s strange to be able to eat on trains. It’s even more uncomfortable calling a teacher by her first name. There are things I try to avoid, quite naturally; I avoid eating on a train because I think people will judge me, and I avoid calling a teacher unless I absolutely have to.

So these are some of the little stories I’ve compiled over a few weeks so that I have a memory of it.


1) Anything strange is not Swedish. They like to know that they have their things in order. For example, there’s a roundabout here in Jönköping that’s neither round nor just a circle. There’s a random road that cuts across the middle of the roundabout.
What it’s for, and how it should work, was really hard to understand. It was a really strange roundabout.
What did the Swedish call these strange things they couldn’t fathom?


2) “There’s something like no littering and chewing gum in Singapore right? I don’t know much about it. It might be just a rumour I’ve heard.”
“Oh, yes!! That’s very true, it’s a fact that you’ll get fined for littering in Singapore, and chewing gum is banned there as well. You can’t eat it, buy it, or smuggle it in.”
“HAHAHA. Smuggling in chewing gum. It sounds strange.”

A very common understanding of Singapore from someone who’s not familiar with the country. Not just Swedish people, but many people in general. It’s quite amusing to learn that the things people know about Singapore are its ‘pretty silly’ rules, according to everyone else who can hardly believe there’s such a law not permitting chewing gum.

3) “Sweden is a small country.”
Oh yeah. Two Singapores can fit into Lake Vättern.
Response: 😳
How can a country be so small???

4) Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t know what language Singapore speaks. Because we’re an Asian country, and literally all Asian countries have a native first language except for Singapore, people think that Singapore speaks a language that’s not English. But they have no idea what.
Many people ask me what language Singaporeans speak. We explain that English is our first language and everybody speaks that so that we understand each other in a country of many different races. Then we tell them that Chinese (Mandarin) is our second language. Different races will learn different languages as their second language.
And that Cantonese is my dialect.
Also, that Singlish is used extensively in Singapore – basically the English language with many additions of slangs, and Chinese, Malay and Hokkien words we commonly use. We also like to mix the languages together – for example, lapsing into Chinese in the middle of a sentence.

It’s difficult to explain Singapore to people. We’re not a country of ‘one race’ and it’s a new concept that people have to grasp. Most people are surprised that we speak English and when they ask why, we explain that it’s because Singapore used to be ruled by the British.
Then it clicks.

5) It was lunch time and a group of Singaporeans, Swedish and a Canadian happened to sit together at a table. One of the Singaporeans, F, FaceTimed her mother back in Singapore.
A little way into the conversation, F turned her phone to another friend, Z, who had been drinking her pumpkin soup.
“Hi auntie!” Z greeted F’s mum happily.
“Hello!!” Her mum very enthusiastically greeted back.
It was a light atmosphere, the cold seeping into the rather large and empty dining hall, when one of the Swedish guys spoke up.
“Hey, are you two related or something?”
“Huh?? No we aren’t.”
“But you called her auntie…?”

This was the lightbulb moment. All of us Singaporeans burst out laughing at the confusion we hadn’t realised we’d caused.
“Oh, ‘auntie’ is just a way of calling someone who’s older than you. In Singapore, we use ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ very loosely – basically anyone who’s older than you and who looks old enough can be called ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle’. It’s our way of greeting or calling people. We’re not related at all.”
“For example, if we were at a coffee shop and we wanted to order some food or drinks, we’d just call ‘Auntie! Can I have one ice lemon tea?”. We also greet each other’s parents like this. It’s our way of respect.”

They found it very interesting. Yes, Singaporeans do call their aunts and uncles as ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ as well. But we also use ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ for just about anybody who’s old enough (usually above 40 years old). We use ‘jiejie’ (older sister in chinese) and ‘gorgor’ (older brother in chinese) for the younger people who are still older than us. It’s just our way of addressing people, strangers or not, with respect.

In Sweden, they call everyone (not their family) by their first names. In classes, we have to call our teachers by their first names, without any ‘miss’ or ‘mr’ or ‘mrs’ in front. It’s the same in the workplace in Sweden – they address their boss by their first names. It’s a very informal setting even though the lines between teacher and student, and boss and employee, are still respected.

I felt really awkward and uncomfortable going up to my teacher and saying, “Hey Carina”.

Yes, I’m currently in Sweden for a six month exchange at Jönköping University. I’m into my third week here and it feels like a long time has passed. Even though the days pass quickly because of about 7 hours of sunlight, it feels like I’ve been here a long, long, time. And that I’m ready to go home.

But alas, I’m not even a month into exchange so I’m not going home anytime soon. I’m happy to report that I’m not homesick yet – I’m happy living here alone and I’m happy taking in so many new and interesting things. I’ve never felt so free before – to be able to plan everything on my own, to account for everything myself (of course, to my dad back home as well), and to live the way I choose to. Everything here is my choice. If I choose to go to the club, or stay in my spacious room, it’s all up to me with no one to tell me what I should do. I’m discovering a lot about myself and my values here and I’m very excited to know what kind of person I am and how I motivate myself.

Jönköping has been an amazing quaint little town. It’s located at the southern tip of Lake Vättern and as I always tell other exchange students, you could fit two Singapores into Lake Vättern. That’s how big (or rather, long) this country is. When the professor said that Sweden is a small country, I had to scoff. 

Admittedly, Sweden is far longer than I’ve ever been able to imagine or estimate. Abisko is in northern Sweden and it takes more than a day to go there by train. The distance to northern Sweden is as far (or maybe even further) than the distance directly down south to Italy. It’s really, really big. 

This country is full of nature. There are forests with pine trees and cones everywhere, and lakes dot the landscape. The air is fresh and cold (save for the areas where people smoke), the skies are really clear, and the pace of life is slower than Singapore. People love the sunshine and come out as much as they can when there is sunlight. After all, the sun rises after 8am and sets by 4pm.

I took a five-hour train down here from Stockholm. Cities rolled by with large distances between them, and from the plane I saw white everywhere – snow covering the roads, landscapes and even the tops of trees. In this subarctic climate the people dress up thickly in puffy winter clothing, but they dress very well. Their makeup is on point even when they’re in school. They dress stylishly and take care of their appearances. It’s really different from how people simply throw on a shirt and shorts in school back home.

I walk everywhere here. It’s either the bus or it’s walking. Strangely, it’s sparse outside – especially on weekends. There are very few people on the streets on weekends, and buses run every half an hour as compared to every ten minutes on weekdays (that’s for bus 1 and 3 here). It’s a stark difference from Singapore, where the malls are crowded and packed with people, and nearly everywhere you’d see people. It’s difficult to have your own personal space in public. Here, personal space is everything.

Last Sunday I went to eat a proper meal at a cheap Swedish restaurant. In Singapore, the staff love to seat people as close to each other as possible, and close off a part of the restaurant. They’d usually lead me to a seat beside someone else, which I have never liked. I like being alone and being far away from people so that no one hears my conversations and I have a lot of space. I’m someone who hates small spaces – I was once claustrophobic.

In Sweden, they sat me as far away from everyone else as possible. You cannot believe how incredibly happy I was. I was happy to be alone, and I noticed how almost every occupied table was in its own bubble, as far away from the next occupied table as possible. It’s their culture here – they like to leave each other alone. They’re not willing to make conversations randomly, but they are friendly people. 

Other parts of their culture include fika, which is the Swedish word for coffee break. They love fika. They will take a break from work or school to have some cinnamon buns and a cup of steaming hot coffee. My lectures are filled with breaks because it is a must. 

Another word I learnt was lagom, which meant something like having everything in balance and in-between. No loud clothing like bright reds, yellows, or greens ridiculously hashed together. They like black because it’s easy to match outfits and it’s not striking. Swedish also are fairly quiet on the streets, and you don’t really hear little children screaming and shouting. When I came here with the Singaporeans, we liked to call each other across quite a distance when someone wandered too far off. A big no-no; we tried to behave and blend in with the Swedes.

I stay at Råslätt, commonly referred to as the hood of Jönköping because many foreigners (immigrants) stay there. There are also three rows of blocks reserved solely for exchange students. I live with a Mexican and a Dutch exchange student in an apartment where we share a bathroom and a kitchen.

Our rooms are huge. It’s unbelievably large for a single person and should be since space isn’t an issue for Sweden. I thought my room was large when I had a big square that’s bigger than my bedroom with three girls staying inside. I have a lot of storage space and empty space in the middle of my room. I could practise dancing in my room more easily than I ever could back home.

But I entered my flatmate’s room and I was blown away. Hers was a large rectangle, as big as two rooms combined back home. For one person. All rooms have a coffee table and a reading chair along with a reading lamp, but she had a huge empty corner with two reading chairs just because there was too much space. She had at least six shelves and cupboards, and her bed was tucked behind two cupboards, almost like a room within a room. She had so much space. I can’t believe how I’ll live if I got that room. (Her rent is higher, of course.)

It’s true; everything in the house is from Ikea. From cupboards to pillows to beds to pans, they’re mostly from Ikea. And Eldorado is another cheap and popular household brand here in Sweden. They have everything from different kinds of foods and cereals to toilet paper and shampoo. To save money, buy their products – they’re pretty worth it. I bought 1kg of sliced cheese from them.

Sweden is expensive, so eat at home and cook your own meals. Supermarkets like Netto and Willys are pretty cheap here and everyone buys from them. Swedish also have a bring-food-from-home culture. In school, we have an entire room of at least 12 microwaves for everyone to heat up the lunches they pack to school. It’s very crowded there during lunch. Everyone brings their own food and some will store them in the fridges provided.

They also love salads. They’re healthy people and I was served salad for lunch on my first day at school. They’re big on cheese as well, so the salads were filled with cheese that became too gelat after a while. 

And of course, they exercise. Even in winter people are running outdoors as long as the sun is out.

I went to Stadsparken, a popular park on a hill. It was a chilly day but fortunately it wasn’t snowing. We kept slipping on the rocks though. 

The park was filled with young children and their parents. There was a playground and children were all running around even if they weren’t screaming loud enough to break the tranquility. There were also more than a hundred ducks that were being fed by the kids. It was amusing to watch the ducks because they kept fighting over the food thrown at them and some would steal them and run for their lives. It was entertaining to watch. The white ducks were more aggressive and kept flying around to get the food. And because it was mostly ice on the rocks, the ducks looked like they were ice skating.

It was golden hour then and the place was beautifully lit. I loved the warm glow of the sun against nature and the long shadows and stretched out on the other side of it. The warmth made the park look like a happy place and nothing like the mild winter it was going through. By then, there was barely any snow. The snow only lasted a few days upon my arrival in Sweden, but it quickly warmed up and melted away.

I learnt about many cultures and their stereotypes and I was really intrigued by them.

Yesterday, I had a dutch pancakes party with several exchange students from Holland, Mexico, USA and Australia. We started sharing about our lives back home and it was mind-blowing to see the large differences in different societies and cultures. I became a lot more aware of my own culture after coming here and having to explain what Singapore is to everybody, but I was fascinated by actually knowing how another culture was like, hearing it firsthand from someone from there.

(I’m very glad no one thought Singapore was in China or part of China. I’m glad no one lives under a rock here. Maybe only my Intercultural professor, who said that Singapore was China in class.)

I heard a lot about Mexico, about how corruption is present on all levels, from the government to the businesses and to the citizens. It’s become a way of life. They don’t blink an eye selling the answers to an upcoming examination and people actually buy them. They get into good schools and universities through money and connections. They won’t bat an eyelid running someone down on their horrific streets. That’s why nobody walks or cycles – sometimes they don’t even have pavements for that. Everyone drives. Even public transport isn’t common – apparently only the poorer people who cannot afford a car take public transport. And that becomes a sign of status in society. It’s inevitable.

My flatmate was telling us about their buses being nothing like Sweden’s – Swedish are big on punctuality and their buses and trains usually come and leave on time. They have an app that tells you what time the bus is coming and it’s mostly accurate. She was telling us that Mexico had nothing like that and sometimes the buses didn’t even stop for you. Sometimes they didn’t even come if the bus drivers didn’t feel like driving.

My other flatmate then commented that it was like a religious faith there – trusting and believing that the bus would come because nothing would tell you whether it was coming or not. Everyone laughed. It was a good night telling about how differently we live – in Amsterdam, everyone cycles and people would think you’re crazy if you drive. The Dutch people also said ‘get a baby’ and they learnt that it was better to say ‘have a baby’. It was these little quirks which I really enjoyed. The Australian didn’t know the English abbreviations so when the American texted her ‘lmk’ she went, ‘what’s mmmk?’ as a single word (she thought the l was an i). It was really funny. 

What was interesting was seeing how everyone became aware of their own privileges. Aside from my flatmate commenting that she was really privileged to be able to have money to own a car, study at the university and come on exchange, we also realized, from listening to her, how privileged we were as well. For me, I realized not everyone had the same opportunities to study abroad as I had. I was finally fulfilling my dream of studying overseas and travelling in Europe. I had always taken it for granted as my university had the exchange programme and I qualified, so I could go. But then, thinking deeper, there were a lot of factors that seemed like a given, but was actually privilege. I am privileged to be able to have the finances to study abroad and travel even though I am on a tight budget. I am privileged to be able to be selected for the university and the country I wanted because God blessed me with decent grades. I am privileged to be staying in Singapore, which is a first world country and is safe. I am privileged to be brought up with the ‘right’ moral values and to be taught ‘good’ things (both ‘right’ and ‘good’ are subjective – I’ll leave you to consider what you think is right or good).

It was one of the most fun nights I’ve had here. I was deeply interested in hearing about other cultures and how they represented them. It was also enlightening to find out what Singapore’s culture and identity really was through such exposure. ‘Singaporean’ is a nationality, not a race of people – we’re a country made of up different races that all come under one identity as a nationality. And we all live under the same ‘Singaporean’ style. We all speak Singlish, for example. It doesn’t matter which race we are, we are still Singaporeans.

That’s not the case in other countries – for example, Swedish people are mostly whites. Duh. The ‘original’ Swedish are whites and therefore the other races here are immigrants or refugees. And they don’t live the same even though they try their best to adapt to Swedish culture. It’s totally different from Singapore and quite a hard concept to grasp if I wasn’t exposed to it here and didn’t discuss about it in my Conflict class. What seemed like a natural thing was totally not to the others. For example, washing machines in homes should be normal, right? No – they have communal laundry areas here in all apartments. Even for locals.

Exchange is a wonderful experience. You will not only get to live in a totally new place and learn a new culture, you will get to see many new things and understand a lot more about many different cultures worldwide. You will learn to be independent, cook your own food, and manage your own finances and expenses. You will cooperate with other people and make friends who can’t understand ‘aiyo so jialat ah’. You will speak good English (more slowly, and maybe with an accent that you unconsciously put on), and you will invariably try to find things that are familiar to you. An Asian mart, a familiar song, or a home brand. Anything at all.

There’s also the less glamourous part of exchange no one likes to say. You will have work to do and exams to take. You will get homesick along the way when Skype calls are all you have to sustain your relationships with your friends and loved ones back home. You may break down and cry even when you have friends during exchange. That’s normal. Embrace it, and if the tears threaten to flow, let it flow. Let it go.

So three weeks into exchange, I’m adapting to this new environment and I’m satisfied to be able to say that I love this place and I’m comfortable in my own skin. It took me a few days to come to terms with myself and reality over some issues I personally faced a week into exchange, but I overcame them and became stronger myself. 

Time actually flies. It’s February and as I look into free weekends to book trips, I realize that I don’t have a lot of time at all. Before I know it, it’ll be time to leave. I don’t want that to happen so quickly. I want to be able to enjoy and savour every moment of this refreshing new experience I may never get to experience again.

So, a quick look back on the first two weeks of exchange – I’ve filmed a short vlog, and it serves as a form of memory for myself. What I’ve seen and heard, what I’ve gone through, and what will be a part of me.