from Alex Smith in Sweden
High: Travels to Spain
The first week of October we were able to spend ten days back in Madrid, Spain, our former home. It was just what the doctor ordered. A dose of sunshine, 24 degree temps (75 fahrenheit), great food and wine, late nights out and reconnecting with amazing friends, often in plazas with more great food and wine! It’s always nice to change the scene for a few days and escape the daily routine. It’s even better when you can do that in a place that you’re passionate about. When you’re a long-term expat and move countries, your identity begins to change and you glean pieces of the places you’ve lived. Spain will always be a sort of sanctuary for my soul. It was great to recharge my batteries.
Low: Refugee Crisis
If you’ve followed the news at all recently you have read about the historic refugee crisis occurring in Europe as millions of people are displaced, the majority now coming from Syria. Sweden happens to be one of the top destinations for refugees seeking asylum so during the past months there have been thousands of people making their way to Sweden – on boats from Germany as well as by train from Denmark. Because of Malmö’s geographic location it is the main entry point into Sweden for most refugees. For weeks our central train station has been a welcome center to more than 900 asylum seekers per day. The Red Cross has a stand set up to provide information when people arrive, give them a hot coffee and other basic supplies. Many refugees also curl up on a blanket for a night’s sleep in the train station.
The stories of what many people have gone through to get here are heart-wrenching. It’s hard to imagine being in the situation of having to risk everything to leave your own country. It has to be terrible when the fear of dying while escaping is less than the fear of staying in your own home.
One evening after getting off my train and making my way through the station I saw a group of refugees with a couple police officers and Red Cross volunteers. They had just made contact via cell phone with family members who had been separated in the migration process. They were crying tears of joy and jumping up and down together in collective joy and relief. The emotion was palpable and I couldn’t help but get choked up. It was as if the images from the news had come out of the television and met me face-to-face. It made it real instead of merely something happening “over there” that you can easily forget.
Glitter: Fall Colors
After years living in Boston and New York City I was spoiled with amazing fall colors and I still miss it most this time of the year. The past two fall seasons have been subpar in Malmö and I had basically succumb to the fact that I won’t experience fall again like on the East Coast. This year, however, we have been enjoying some fantastic colors. My morning bike rides to work have been filled with “ooo” and “ahhh” moments. Yellow and orange leaves formed beautiful canopies over the bike paths creating a sort of living kaleidoscope as the light passed through. I’m grateful Mother Nature is giving us this beautiful show before our days turn to pure darkness!
Alex Smith’s semester in Seville, Spain became the motivation for his leaving the comforts of a corporate job in his native United States to rekindle his love affair with Spain. He is the author of Study U Abroad: The 5 Keys to Unlock Your Awesomeness and Transform Your World, a book that empowers students to stretch beyond their comfort zones and seize the opportunity for self-growth while abroad. Alex currently resides in Malmö, Sweden but has lived and worked in Boston, New York City, Atlanta, Barcelona, and Madrid. He draws on his personal and professional life experiences to help students and expats thrive abroad and back home. Connect with Alex at studyuabroad.com.