We arrived in Växjö on Tuesday, April 16th. For the next five days we all got to live with Swedish host families; some of us in the group were in pairs and others were alone. Kallie and I stayed with Magnus and Katarina and their four children, Aaron, Salomon, Miriam, and Efraim. (They also have a cat, which made us both happy.) Their family lived in Costa Rica for seven years serving the church. They returned to Sweden two years ago and settled in Växjö, where Magnus works in family counselling and Katarina for the diocese of Växjö.
We were given a tour of the house and had tea. Magnus was curious to know what we missed most from home and what is different here in Sweden. After supper, I got to share part of a project I am working on here, translating Swedish poetry. I read Tranströmer’s ‘Genom Skogen’ in Swedish and then my English translation. It was so peaceful at their house in the evening with candles for light. We then had a conversation about our churches and current issues.
The next day, our group took a field trip to Kalmar and Öland. The long drive was made pleasant by the forest areas along the road. Looking out, I saw a variety of lichens and mosses covering the ground and the distinctive, tall pines, their branches concentrated at the top (somewhat lopsidedly). Eventually we all succumbed to sleep in the vans (aside from the drivers) and rested contentedly. Though the Kalmar Castle building was not open for the season, we got to walk the grounds and look out on the sea from the castle’s edge. There was beautiful weather for our day out, but it was windy by the water all the same.
We continued on to Ottenby Fågelstation on Öland– a long, skinny county on the Eastern coast. This island is a good location for the bird-trapping project because the birds are tired after their journey over the water and alight to rest here. Our guides, who were ‘ringers’, showed us the nets and boxes used for capturing birds and then how they take measurements of the animals before tagging (with a metal band, thus ‘ringing’) and releasing them again.
On Thursday, we met Hans Andren who gave us a tour of the timber-constructed buildings in Växjö. The timber industry is part of what makes Växjö so green. Scraps from the process are burned for district heating. This means they are less reliant on fossil fuels. And the city has high goals for the future. It has already begun to provide more organic and local foods in schools and other institutions and would like to be completely fossil free, including the cars of residents. That evening, everyone gathered for a grillkväll at the home of our hosts Monica and Stefan. Conversation and good food made it a memorable time.
Our group gave a presentation to high school students at Katedral Skolan on Friday. After an explanation of our college and what a liberal arts education is, we each described our own interest in Sweden. We visited an English class in which the students had prepared questions to ask us. Several groups asked me: “What do you think of Sweden?”, while another group wondered what my favourite McDonald’s burger was (I had to explain that I don’t really eat burgers there).
Our free day on Saturday was spent with host families. Kallie and I joined Erik and his host mom and sister for a visit to Småland’s glassriket. This ‘Kingdom of Glass’ contains numerous glass-blowing factories, but we visited just one. Kosta was started in 1742–of course, the equipment used to-day is more modern than that. We watched them make wine goblets. Each worker had a specific task and perfect timing. The operation went amazingly smoothly, they made it look effortless. Every goblet had an extra lip on the top from being held on the blowing stick. It is later shaved off very precisely in a machine. In the afternoon, we visited the Kronoberg Castle ruins. The castle was built in the 15th century, but after the mid 1600s it was no longer needed for defense against the Danes. Many of the stones were taken to build other structures in the Växjö area and then it was left to decay. Still, it is a noble monument on the shore of beautiful Helgasjön. We also stopped by Teleborgs Slott, a more recent (well, 100 years old) castle near Linnaeus University. It was unfortunately not open for fika, so we could not see inside. By this time, though, it was time for tea and we found a place in town where we could enjoy the sun.
I’m glad we all got the chance to meet Swedish families and share our experience here with them. I only wish we had more time!