One of my favorite things about my study abroad program is that they really encourage students to not only explore Stockholm, but Sweden as a whole. When we first arrived in Sweden we were given transportation cards that we are able to use on the metro, trains, and buses throughout the country. DIS also plans short study tours for us during the semester, where we travel to another part of Sweden with a professor and one of our classes. Last week I was able to travel with my Public Health and Migration class to Malmö, which is a city on the southwest coast of Sweden with the highest immigrant population in the country. I was excited for a change of pace from Stockholm, and to be able to experience a more diverse city.
After sitting on a four hour train ride, we finally arrived in Malmö in the late afternoon. We had an hour to explore before dinner and took the time to walk to the city square. The ground was all cobblestone; it was hard to tell the difference between the streets and the sidewalks. The buildings reminded me of those in the older parts of Stockholm, but they were more colorful. As we continued to walk around I noticed that Malmö as a whole seemed to be brighter than Stockholm, even as the daylight faded. In Stockholm, I had gotten used to everyone wearing monochromatic colors and walking quickly past more modern-looking buildings. In Malmö, things seemed to be a bit slower paced, with people of all ages passing by us on their bikes. We eventually ended up at St. Peter’s Church, which was one of my favorite places in the city. The exterior was red brick, and it was built in a Gothic architectural style, which it is known for Southwest Sweden. When we walked into the church, there were no services in session so we were able to walk around and listen to the organ player who was practicing for the Sunday mass.
When we met up with our professor afterwards, he told us that the best way to explore the city was through its food, as many of the immigrants in Malmö opened their own restaurants and food stalls to share the food they grew up eating in their home countries. He then brought us to a Lebanese restaurant, where I had the best food I’ve had so far this semester. Not only was the food delicious, but we were also able to learn a lot about Lebanese culture through the dishes we ate. Our professor grew up in Lebanon and told us stories about his grandma cooking him the same dishes growing up from ingredients she would pick up from local street markets. I learned that family is really important in Lebanese culture, and it was evident through the way that all of the dishes that were served were meant to be shared and passed around the table for everyone to enjoy together. At the end of the meal, we were able to meet some of the employees at the restaurant. Even though our professor had to translate what they were saying for us, it was very clear how warm and welcoming they were; they seemed so delighted that we had wiped all of our plates clean.
The next day after our lectures, we went to another restaurant, which was rumored to have the best falafel in all of Sweden. The employees seemed so surprised to see a group of 15 English-speaking students enter their restaurant at 2 in the afternoon, but again, they were very welcoming, taking the time to help us understand all of the different ingredients they used in their cooking. When we finally sat down to eat, they played Middle Eastern music for us, which was the highlight of my trip. They were dancing behind the counter to the melodies and it was such a rewarding experience to be able to take part in a part of their culture that they seemed to enjoy so much.
As we continued to walk around over the next couple of days, I saw a few brochures that read “All roads lead to Malmö,” and I really saw what they meant. Malmö had everything you could want in a city— beautiful churches, good food, and warm people. When people talk about visiting the country, most go to Stockholm, but I’m so glad I was able to experience Malmö even for just a couple of days. While the city was smaller and quieter than Stockholm, the people seemed to be a lot more friendly and open. As an Asian-American student, it was nice to see more diversity in Malmö than I had seen in Stockholm, and I felt more at home surrounded by the melting pot of cultures in that city.