The student exchange programme is often about stepping beyond one’s comfort zone, to see the world and to meet friends of different nationalities and cultures. The GISA buddy program is one excellent way to do that! Our group consisted of friends from all over the world, including Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Korea, Hong Kong, Turkey, Lithuania and Singapore. The group was led by our very welcoming and friendly buddy, Tomas.

One of the events planned was to cook a traditional Swedish dinner together as a group. One might ask, what does a traditional Swedish dinner consist of? This question is best answered by one of Sweden’s most known exports to the world, Ikea. Famous not only for the vast myriad of furniture that the company produces, Ikea’s meatballs are renowned and Ikea have placed meatballs at the forefront of Swedish cuisine amongst other foods. On the menu that evening, were meatballs, potatoes and salad. Meatballs were made by hand, with everyone chipping in the preparation and cooking to make sure there was enough food on the table. As vegetables were being chopped and minced beef slowly but surely being fashioned into round meatballs, conversation was abound at the table as well.

Coming halfway from around the world, I was interested to know cultural differences between where I came from (Singapore) and the wonderful people that I had just got to know. For instance, it might be surprising for Europeans to know that Asians live with their parents until they get married, which might be as late as in their thirties. Conversely, Asians may be unaware that it is common for Europeans to move out of home and stay by themselves as soon as they begin their college education in their early twenties, some even earlier. Such cultural differences were a fascinating theme for discussion. Another favourite conversation topic was to find out what other places one could visit around Europe! One thing that everyone shared in common that evening, was our love for travel. We all have come to see more of Sweden and Europe. Hence, favourite cities in Europe as destinations for travel were discussed in great detail.

Soon, minced beef became meatballs and the first batch of meatballs went into the pan. The fragrant smell that emanated from the frying of the meatballs soon filled the kitchen and started to get everyone to feel hungry. We eagerly anticipated having that first bite of the meatballs that everyone painstakingly helped to make. The dinner table was set and everyone got a plate to begin dinner.

Fork? Checked. Meatballs? Checked. Potatoes and gravy? Checked. Salad? Check check check.

It was now time to eat! The first bite was the best, and well worth the wait. Tomas also made a vegetarian version of meatballs from soy, which was really delicious as well. With so many of us, there was not much room to manoeuvre around, but that made dinner even cosier. There were plenty of meatballs to go around, and not a hungry soul was left at the end of dinner. Towards the end of the dinner, Tomas also sprang a surprise by making a delectable dessert of honey glazed bananas with ice cream on the side.

This was certainly a very friendly, authentic and homely introduction to Swedish culture and the student exchange program here in the heart of Gothenburg. I walked away with a fuzzy feeling inside of me, an antidote to the homesickness I have been feeling over the week. Without a doubt, I am looking forward to seeing and experiencing more of the city, people and culture.

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Written by Calvin Hui