24 March 2009

Counting down

I'm leaving the country very soon.  To go where, you ask?  Sweden! I shout.

I haven't written about this to date even though I've known about it since January 4th because I was having a hard time trying to figure out how to explain what I'm doing.  Without talking specifically about my job and where I'm going and why.

I'm not sure that I've figured that out; muddling through as usual.  

I have partly my job to thank for this; and partly the fact that I was an exchange student in high school.  Part of my work takes me to community groups to speak about our product.  My overall field could - -partially - - be explained by one word:  Marketing.

There is one large specific civic organization that I particularly enjoy speaking to, because it gives me a chance to mention my exchange year, and how much it changed my life.

Someone in the audience always, without fail, asks where I went, and if I can still speak the language.  I almost always smart off to them på Svenska as a response, after telling them it was Sweden.

Early in January, I spoke for this group.  About an hour after returning to my office, I got a telephone call from one of the members, asking if I wanted a spot on a team going to Sweden in April/May.  Ha, twist my arm, buddy.  Nooooo.  *eye roll*  

After jumping through a few hoops, and some crazy machinations, I got permission from my employer to do this, to be gone for about 5 weeks.  I still can't believe they said it was OK, that all the relevant details just kind of fell into place.  And there were a lot of them.  Insurance, for one.  My employer provides INCREDIBLE health insurance, but my leave of absence is 5 weeks long, most of it unpaid.  If they're not paying me, then I don't have the insurance benefits.  Hurdle #1.  Hurdle #2 was the whole money issue; unpaid for 5 weeks?  Eeek.  Got around both of those with some time, effort & planning.

Hurdle #3 was just work in general.  How to be gone for so long without causing harm to my employer?  I'm still not sure that's going to work perfectly, but s'OK.  The work will still be waiting when I return.

Times like this, I'm glad that I have OCD.  I make lists, obsessively.  The current to-do list tacked to a magnetic board in my office is 5 pages long.  Probably 2-1/2 pages of the list have a check mark, meaning they're done, next to each item.  Every time I think of something else that needs done, I write it down, no matter where I am or what I'm doing.  It gets added to the master list at the earliest opportunity.  Hopefully, nothing slips through the cracks that way.

So what the heck am I doing in Sweden for 5 weeks?  Um.  Lots?  How to explain without all the gory details?

The trip is a vocational exchange.  That means that I will visit businesses similar to the one that I work for here in the US.  We will visit schools, civic and community organizations, government offices, hospitals, almost any place of business or work that you can think of.  The idea is to see how someone in another country does your job, what challenges they face, how they work around it, what government regulations they have, how they solve problems.

There are many reasons that this is so exciting, but the primary one, for me, is this:

At 16, when I was an exchange student, I thought Sweden was perfect.  Their public schools are in fantastic shape.  Ditto their roads, their cradle-to-grave health care system, their government, their public transportation system, hell, their EVERYTHING.  From the perspective of an unemployed high school student, that is.

What I have come to realize with the passage of time is this; I was NOT a taxpayer, I was NOT a voter, I was NOT a gainfully employed member of society.  I didn't pay bills, or have any responsibilities, and I was 3,000 miles away from my very strict parents.  In my mid-30's, I recognize now that the strict rules of my parents' house did me more good than harm, but at 16, I wanted to be able to do whatever I pleased.  I was a grown-up, after all, of course.  (Somewhere in Florida my mother is rolling her eyes!! {Hi Mom!})

So it will be extraordinarily interesting to see things from an adult perspective, and to learn things that I didn't last time around.  How it all works, and does it all work, if you're out there trying to make a living?

I'm also going to get the chance to visit some Swedish traditional craftspeople, among them weavers of traditional patterns.  I'm so excited about that.  Has nothing to do with what I do for a living, but it is still something that fascinates me.

Finally, I hope to have a chance to see the family that I lived with as a teenager; I am still in close touch with them, and they know I'm coming.  Where I am spending the vocational exchange, though, is about 350 miles south of where I lived as an exchange student, so I won't just be able to pop in to see them whenever I have a minute.  The Swedish spoken in my destination spot is different from what I'm used to, as well; the best example I can come up with is that it would be like dropping an upper-crust Bostonian in the midst of Cajun country; yes, they're speaking the same language, but no, they don't understand one another so well.  My inner language geek is ecstatic, the opportunity to study the differences between regional dialects! The part of me that doesn't like being able to understand the answer when I ask where the bathroom is, on the other hand, abjectly terrified.

During the time that I am away, I sincerely doubt that I will have any time at all to update Well Behaved.  Posts usually take me about an hour to write, and I am given to understand that almost every moment of every day is taken up with something.  We've been told to expect 16-18 hour days, and to sleep whenever and wherever we can, because it will be a mighty precious commodity!  I am not taking my laptop, and therefore internet access will probably be restricted to checking e-mail on my Blackberry.  Mobile blogging is a PITA, so I doubt I'll be doing any of that.

Departure is on April 19th.  Between now and then, I have two major events to cover at work, and countless details to take care of for the trip.  I've already decided what to pack (ha, OCD @ work again, I have a list!) but there are all kinds of things I need to actually gather together and put in suitcases.  I may not be able to write much between now and then.  We come back on May 22, when I'm sure I'll have so many stories to tell that I think it is safe to assume that regular posting will resume then.

In the meantime, Söt om dej, och vi sees/hörs snart!

Take care of yourself, and we'll meet again soon.



John said...

Have a wonderful time! Please plan in at least 4 hours to update all of us on the trip when you return! Something to add to your trip observations...what is the state of the church there? Just interested in the continuing intersection of religion and culture. Sweeden has a most intriguing religious history.

Blessings and God-speed!


Francis S. said...

Have fun with the skånska... I still have trouble understanding people with truly thick accents, all those drawn out diphthongs. Ugh.

Lucy Arin said...

John- it is indeed an interesting story, from the Vikings to the "official" religion of today, Lutheranism. Outside of the religious aspect, even from just a historical perspective, there are churches that were built in the 900s (yeah, 900s, NOT 1900s) and earlier in Sweden. I'll keep it in mind as we visit the region's cities and small towns. Fascinating discussions are ahead!

Francis- Javisst, det är jag lite oroligt över. Skånska är tuff att folja, specialt när mans modersmål är inte Svenska. Jag har lyssnat lite på P4 Malmö över webben, och oj! Fattar då o då, men inte allt. Forhoppningsvis, efter ett par dagar ska det blir OK.