I was at a loss for what to do after graduating from my senior year. I was interested in many different subjects and could not decide on a career path. I was also tired. Tired of homework, spending hours in the library, and thinking about college applications. I had been working part-time for many years and had saved up a tidy sum of money. And so, I decided to take a gap year, and spend it in Sweden.
Seeing the Sights
When I was in Sweden, I was fortunate to be able to participate in many festivals with my local friends. On the 30th of April, they celebrated Valborgsmässoafton or Walpurgis Eve where there was an enormous bonfire, choirs singing folksongs, lots of toasts, and fireworks. Near the end of June, they celebrated Midsummer, which honestly felt like Christmas. I joined a friend and his family for a feast that included new potatoes cooked with dill and an outrageous amount of fresh local strawberries. Partygoers wore flowers in their hair and played whimsical garden games, all the while toasting and singing. In August, to mark the end of summer, they had kräftskiva or a crayfish party. Massive numbers of crayfish were cooked and eaten by people wearing silly hats and drinking. Oh, and of course, they were singing as well.
Outside of celebrating festivals, drinking and eating with friends is a large part of the Swedish lifestyle. Fika, or the enjoyment of an afternoon cake and coffee, is a daily occurrence, even on busy days. Swedish people love to sit and have a chat over some snacks, connecting with their friends and enjoying each other’s company. My friends in the city also loved to go for quiet walks, often spending their lunch hours or weekends in the parks and nature reserves. For someone who comes from a busy, gadget-driven society, the Swedish culture of taking time out to connect with nature and each other was very thought-provoking.
Another unforgettable experience that I had in Sweden was the northern lights or aurora borealis. While the northern lights can sometimes be seen throughout Lapland during the winter, I wanted to maximize my chances. So, I made my way to the village of Jukkasjärvi, which is reputed to have one of the best chances of seeing the northern lights. While I was there, I visited the Icehotel, which—as you can imagine—has incredible rooms that were carved out of ice. Thankfully, they also had rooms made of normal materials which were comparatively cheaper and much more comfortable. The landscape was stunning and watching the northern lights was just a completely magical experience that I will never forget.
To be a Better Man
It might seem like I spent all my time touring around and enjoying myself, but in truth, I devoted a large chunk of my time to gainful pursuits. For six months, I spent my weekends on a PT utbildning course which finally earned me a personal trainer certification and accreditation that allowed me to work as a personal trainer internationally. The training institute also offered a five-week intensive course for people in a hurry, but I decided that doing my training over a longer time would let me have a more balanced feel of an adult lifestyle. The course included CPR training, which was something that I always wanted to learn, and an internship with real customers, which I think helped a lot in building my confidence. It also tied into dietician training, which I decided would be my field of study when I went back to university.
After the personal training course, I signed up to be a member of WWOOF Sweden, which stands for WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFing is a global movement where travelers can live with organic farmers and receive meals and accommodation in exchange for their work around the farm. I joined a family farm in Blekinge on a huge 72-hectare property and spent a month there with three other volunteers. We alternated cooking duties, constructed basic structures around the farm, and tended the vegetable garden. In our downtime, we hiked in the woods, swam in the stream, and practiced yoga. This was a valuable experience as it helped me to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of food and where it comes from.
Having a gap year changed my life. It helped me to step away from my immediate concerns like the latest social media trends and all the stuff that my friends were buying. I managed to decide on the career path that I wanted to pursue and felt confident in my ability to commit to four years of university when I got home. While the gap year may have cost me a fair sum, I managed to save a lot of money just by staying in hostels, bunking with friends, and WWOOFing. I learned so much during my gap year travels. And I am looking forward to doing it again after my university graduation!