Complaints

Fri Nov 17 2017

Our loyal listeners may have noticed that I didn't write last week. That's probably to no one's surprise, since my track record hasn't exactly been incredible re: keeping this blog updated, but for once I feel like I have a pretty reasonable excuse. To that effect, I give you:

Complaints about AFS

The reason I didn't write last week is because there was an AFS activity. I think it was our "Post-arrival camp", but honestly I lost track of the AFS camp names a long time ago. Either way, it was an activity for the students in the Stockholm area, plus a few from out in the countryside who didn't have anywhere closer to go.

Friday night, the students from outside Stockholm arrived by train or plane and went to stay with an exchange student in the city. I believe Camille, another American who is living in a small town somewhere up north, stayed with Blair, but there were a few other visitors who I'm less sure about. Blair, Susan, a few others and I were out eating ramen and buying bulk candy, so we picked Camille up from the train station.

The next morning, we all showed up to the AFS office at 10:00. Notably, 10:00 is earlier than I start school three out of five weekdays, and certainly earlier than I ever want to be doing anything on a weekend. However, the AFS office has an espresso machine, so I faithfully trudged over there. I was planning on traveling commuter rail ⇨ subway ⇨ bus (the AFS office is pretty far from my home, and also just pretty badly located no matter where you're coming from), but before I could catch the bus, my least favorite exchange student ran up behind me.

I assume he doesn't read my blog, and also that sentence of description is enough for him to know I'm talking about him if he does, so I don't have any need to withhold information, but I'm still going to forego further description, on the grounds that I'm in a pretty good mood right now and I don't want to ruin it.

He was with Susan, who I think feels pretty much the same way as I do, but together we put up with him. He decided that we should walk instead of taking a bus, and I think I might have enjoyed the walk if he hadn't been there.

I'm not actually writing this blog post just to complain about this one guy, even though I'm sure I could, so let's jump ahead a bit. All 30-odd exchange students are at the (not very large) AFS office, most of us have been given name tags we've been making small talk for a long time as we wait for the camp to begin, and mostly nothing has happened.

We're broken up into 3 groups seemingly at random, and either by chance or design my group ends up including the Italian guy who has a crush on me who I have absolutely no romantic interest in, plus a bunch of people I haven't really spoken to. Each group has one volunteer leading activities throughout the day, except none of the volunteers could actually free their schedules for the whole day, so we have Erika (who attends my school) for the first and last of our activities, and she leaves for the middle two to attend a Mama Mia sing-along with Hedda, who is leading one of the other groups.

For those middle two workshops, two of the other volunteers switch off leading. Neither of them seemed particularly enthused, and if I had to guess I'd say that the reason it wasn't the same person both times is because she didn't want to do another one after the first.

The workshops themselves were the same stuff we do at every AFS camp: the "cultural iceberg", goal setting, the D.I.V.E. method, and evaluating our expectations vs. reality. Actually, before all of the workshops, they did a presentation about the schedule and such, and during it they asked us not to use our phones during the workshops.

Life pro tip: if you're going to a presentation and the presenter asks you not to use your phone, it means the presentation is going to be incredibly boring. If you're a presenter and you notice that people are ignoring you in favor of looking at their phones, consider improving your presentation so that you grab their attention more.

Around noon, AFS served us a lunch of build-your-own ham and cheese sandwiches with a side of apples or bananas. No vegetables were present (a nice crunch lettuce is a staple of any ham and cheese sandwich, and things like tomatoes, onions, and peppers never hurt), nor were any condiments beyond butter. The only bread was this weird round stuff Swedes eat that I'd characterize as being 50% bread, 50% cracker, 0% flavor. There was enough of the ingredients for each of us to have roughly two open-faced or one regular sandwich, which wasn't particularly enough food.

For dinner, after all four workshops and several unnecessarily long breaks, we had pizza from a local pizza place. I can't really fault AFS for this, but by the time we got the pizza it was lukewarm and bad. We also somehow wound up with 40 serving-sized containers of "pizza salad", a cabbage-based... thing (I wanted to say "dish" or "side", but both of those words seemed too generous) which, as far as I could tell, was actually just finely chopped cabbage with no sauce or other vegetables. It was like if someone tried to make coleslaw, but got lazy and gave up about two minutes in.

So dinner was over and everyone wanted to leave. Those who weren't in Stockholm wanted to see the city, those who were wanted to go home, and everyone was pretty miserable. Actually, the Italians seemed to be having a pretty good time, which honestly made it much worse for me. They were very loud and unpleasant.

Naturally, instead of calling it a day now that all of their nominally educational material was finished, AFS decided that we would all watch a movie. Eventually, they compromised and said that we didn't have to watch the movie, but we weren't allowed to leave the office until 21:00, when the camp was scheduled to end. The astute reader will remember that we arrived at 10:00, making this an 11 hour day.

I think roughly two people watched the movie. I sat in a corner and listened to Judge John Hodgman, a silly podcast which I recommend to anyone wherein author John Hodgman pretends to be a judge and settles domestic disputes from people who call in.

At around 20:30, I felt well enough to go and talk to some people again. Apparently, while I was out, my AFS rival had gotten into an argument with a volunteer and been sent home, so the rest of us had a somewhat more pleasant chat for a while. Just about exactly 21:00, one of the volunteers turned to me and Henry and asked, "So how long are you thinking about staying tonight?"

I immediately responding with, "Can we leave now?" and within minutes the two of us were out the door. Henry and I walked together to a not-very-nearby subway station, and we had a very interesting conversation.

Henry is from The South™, lives in a small town, works in a diner, and plans on joining the army as soon as he's old enough. In short, he comes from a very different America than I do, but he's also a very nice guy, and I enjoyed talking to him.

After that intra-national crossculturalism, I got home and went to sleep. We were scheduled to resume at 9:00 the next day, which would have left me about 9 hours at home after the 1.5 hour commute each way. Instead, I reached out to one of the volunteers and told her that the day had left me struggling with mental illness and that I wanted to stay home Sunday to relax. She was very accommodating (credit to AFS for that), and instead I spent Sunday with my host family.

That Sunday was Father's Day in Sweden, which I would have missed much of if I had been at the second day of the AFS camp, so that seemed like poor planning.