I've been quite busy for about the past month, and I'll do my best to catch you folks at home up on everything that has happened.
I was nominated for the Presidential Scholars Program, which is a huge honor and not something someone turns down, but I am also somewhat concerned because there's a strong chance that, if I were selected as a Presidential Scholar, the ceremony would feature the U.S. President in some capacity and I would almost certainly half to shake his hand. That is something that I would really prefer not to do. but I suppose it is a price I am willing to pay in exchange for all of the benefits of being a Presidential Scholar (I'm not sure exactly what those benefits are, but based on the application I had to fill out there must be a lot of them).
The application was a lot of work and included a photo and essay section. Ivar told me he liked my essay and my parents encouraged me to post it here, so here it is:
The twin prompts were "Please upload a photograph of something or someone of great significance to you" and "Please write an essay about the topic in your Essay Photograph above. Your essay should demonstrate style, depth and breadth of your knowledge, and individuality."
My photograph shows Riksdagshuset, the Swedish house of parliament. Riksdagshuset is located directly in Gamla stan, the oldest part of Stockholm, a beautiful neighborhood boasting history and landmarks dating back well before American independence, and some even before the discovery of the New World. The city of Stockholm is proud of that history and fights to preserve it - laws prevent the construction of tall buildings which might overshadow, for example, the 300-year-old Royal Palace.
The most striking thing about Riksdagshuset, though, is not the centuries of culture surrounding it; rather, it is the modern glass round overlooking the river. That section was built in 1971, after the Sweden moved from a bicameral parliament to a unicameral one - a larger building was needed to house their single combined legislature. Options for how to handle the expansion abounded: the Riksdag could relocate to a new building elsewhere (they did this, briefly, while the expansion was being built); they could tear down the existing Riksdagshus and construct a new one, either in a modern or a traditional style; or they could build an expansion onto the building they had.
The choice to expand must have been an easy one - Riksdagshuset is a beautiful building, so tearing it down was out of the question, and the Swedish parliament has met at the same spot for nearly a millennium, a tradition that could not be lightly eschewed. The choice to construct a contemporary expansion seems less intuitive. Even now, nearly 50 years later, I have heard people complain that the addition does not fit in. They are few, though, and nearly everyone is satisfied with Riksdagshuset's masterful blending of the old and the new, with the way the sleek style of the new section compliments the blocky stone elegance of the original building.
My fear when I hear advocacy for a more unified America or a more unified globe is that we will lose the things that make us unique; that the goal is to become homogeneous. Our differences are beautiful, and to lose them would be to destroy both our individual identities and the identity of America and of the world. I will never surrender the things that make me who I am. My religion is not "the opiate of the masses," as Karl Marx would have me believe; it is a valuable connection to my ancestors and to my community.
Sweden has, by and large, managed to grow together and look forward without losing their identity or forgetting what is behind them (there are cases where this is untrue and areas where Swedish society fails, but that is a topic for another time). World-class museums, free for students, teach the nation's history; Churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship are available to people of a variety of faiths; The state protects historical minority languages such as Sami, Romani and Yiddish, and offers their speakers education, news and other services in their native tongues.
The blending of tradition and progress, the idea of unity without homogeneity, has made Sweden strong. America is a country of extremes, and extremes have their place, but as my year abroad has continued I have found myself wishing more and more that the U.S. could be a little less extreme and a little more Swedish.
In my last post I mentioned that we were reading Spöksonaten in my Swedish class. We've finished with that and I now feel like I understand how ESL students feel about Shakespeare.
There was a lot of what I assume was figurative language which I didn't understand in the play, and I'm sure I also missed any allusions present. That said, I understood the play at least at a surface level and was able to write the simple analysis the teacher wanted, which I am proud of.
I also spent some time helping my classmate Knut with his gymnasiearbete - his paper is within the field of epidemiology and I wrote him some code to do simple epidemiological simulations. I haven't heard from him in a while about that, so I'm not sure how his paper has turned out, but like whatever.
They say that exchange is about self-discovery, and so now that I'm 18, I've been experimenting in mixology. This may surprise some people (I feel like I've cultivated the image of a big square), but I have had bad experiences with alcohol, and my trick for avoiding them in the future is to only drink fancy mixed drinks - the more work that goes into them, the less inclined I am to have a second.
Having been a legal adult for several months now, I am informing you all that my canonical mixed drink is a Whiskey Buck.
Shake two shots (4 cl) whiskey with ice and strain into a chilled ~350ml highball glass (the only kind of glass available to me). Fill the glass with the strongest, spiciest ginger beer you can find, garnish with a twist of lemon, and serve with a straw.
Swedes get two spring breaks, sportlov and påsklov, each a week long. I am currently on sportlov, and I have spent most of it either working on my Presidential Scholar application or recovering from doing that. Tomorrow I will be going to fjärilhuset, a combination butterfly house and aquarium, with Hanna. I haven't seen Hanna in a while, and I love aquariums and feel generally ambivalent about butterflies, so that should be fun.
It's also Johanna's birthday tomorrow. She works, so the plan is to have a big fancy birthday brunch for her on Saturday. I hope to contribute somehow to the brunch, and I'm also planning on finding her some sort of plant as a gift.
For påsklov I'm planning to go to Paris to visit my friend Claire, another exchange student and a fellow Minneapolis native. I don't really have much to say about that other than that it's the plan and I hope to be able to tell you exciting stories about my visit to the City of Love.