2015: Travels and moving forward

So 2015 is now in the past, and while like any year it creeps along at walking pace while living it, looking back it seems now to have been very full and sometimes reaching a sprint. It has been a year of travelling (7 different countries!), big steps forward (my own business) and important decisions.

It started, as all years do in Sweden, with fireworks and then a trip to Stockholm. Later in the month I met my mum in Copenhagen and traveled around with her, as we showed each other our lives in the North, both past and present.

As the darkness and cold continued to set in, there was a trip to sunny Malaga, a brief inoculation against the winter that has also left me in love with Spain.
Time passed, fear came to my home town, and then Easter and the turning of the seasons. I continued to work, relief teaching at schools and gathering private students, learning as I went. That fear seemed to grow throughout the year, rising from under the surface and at least right now it doesn’t look as though it’s going to recede any time soon.

More trips around the Nordic regions followed, including a cruise across the Baltic and a short stay in Aarhus, Denmark. Summer arrived, and with the holidays I left a beloved school, experienced my second Midsummer picnic and attempted indoor gardening. Other hobbies included joining a flamenco choir, trying to make it to a language café in between teaching and tasting the brews made by my partner.

As summer passed we flew to Malta, experiencing long sunny days, chaos, sea and incredible history. Back at home work continued to increase, with more and more private students and work through a consultancy. I found less time for writing and reflection, and for the first time since I started this blog, the gaps between posts became 2 weeks or more rather than 1. As my focus shifted, I set about making the most of the change, and formally set up my business, including a website and a business plan.

With the end of the year almost upon us, we visited London, a place I’ve long considered as a home that I’d not yet got around to visiting. It met, surpassed and left my expectations far behind, giving me yet another place that lurks invitingly in the back of my mind whenever I’m feeling restless.

Finally we returned to Australia for family, christmas and a holiday of sorts. It was intense, as any trip home to family, friends and real life is bound to be. As well as the various pressures and commitments, the days of the festive season were for the most part relaxing and enjoyable, filled with food and love. I also got a bit of a tan, though you wouldn’t think so if you asked the repairman who came to fix our dryer. I’m fairly sure I let him down a bit.

Then the year came full circle, with fireworks in the cold, cheering and friends, and a return to the long, dark wait until Spring. 2016 is still new and fresh and full of potential, and no amount of guesswork can tell what might happen. A few things are certain, and will be shared in their time, but mostly the year is unwritten, and we shall we what we shall see.

Lessons from the real world

So, sadly again there has been a delay with posts, and I feel that I ought to say that this post will not include travel stories, musings about Swedish culture or the life of an expat. It is instead something of an announcement relating to my life outside of blogging and musing, the stuff that provides the spare change to enjoy this cup of tea steaming away next to my tablet, and incidentally, the tablet itself.

I have my own small business! And … a website!
*cue the standing ovation*

So considering I finally feel as though I’m getting somewhere, I thought it might be a good time to share some of my dicsoveries, in the hopes that someone out there might find it useful. So without further ado,

How to set up your own business

If you are providing a service to at least one person on an on-going basis, you want to continue to do that and perhaps find more people, you have a small business. Even if you don’t call it that or haven’t ventured into the forests of tax related paperwork.

Without knowing it, I’d been running my own small business for months before I realised what it was. What this meant was that by the time I started thinking about business plans and goals, I more or less knew what I wanted to do, because I’d already started my journey. This would not be so easy for someone starting from scratch.

So now that I knew that I had a small business, what was the next step? According to reliable friends, I needed a business plan, and armed with a pad and pencils I soon had the skeleton of one formed before me. I made a list of the steps I would need to take to turn the plan into a functioning reality, including facing up to the unwelcome prospect of paperwork.

Sweden is well known, at least by people who live here, as a nation that has embraced the idea of bureaucracy, like the most pedantic lion tamer who will never run out of hoops for their lions to jump through. My first step came almost by accident, when a potential customer asked if I was registered for tax purposes. Of course, I said, filling out the paperwork. Then I had to set up a business account at the bank, which needed the details for the tax registration, which was soon sorted out. So, F-skatt and bankgiro done. I managed with these for a few months, toying with the idea of going further. I seemed to be bringing in more and more work, through adds on job sites and word of mouth, but was this sustainable? So I got creative.

Out came the pen and paper, and after a few days logos appeared, and multiplied. I winnowed through them, relying on advice and objective opinion, until I reached the last handful, and from these I made my own choice without outside help.
Along with a logo I decided I needed a website which took faaaaar more time planning than actually making. What did I want to stay? How did I want it to look? Which of the thousands of wordpress themes should I use? Should I use that moving across the screen picture thing? (I didn’t) Again with the help of a friend, I got server space and a platform to easily launch into the websire creation. Et voila, I had a website. Which I adore as it’s new and I made it.

So now? Now I continue, building and working and learning. You never stop learning, even when the website’s done and you feel as though you can sit back and wait for the tidal wave of clients to come pouring in. And this is what I have learnt so far:

Ask for help. There will be people you know who know things you don’t, and for the price of company an fika will help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, even if it’s something you feel that you should know.

Make up your own mind. You may have an idea that you like, and after some beta-testing you’ve got positive and negatives comments. In the end you need to follow what you think, because in the end the product is yours and whether it succeeds or fails rests on you alone.

Do the paperwork. It may take half a day and what feels like your will to live, but you’ve got to get it done, so you might as well get it done now.

So, from the little table in the corner of the café, I hope all of you out there are enjoying your little part of the world and whoever of you is thinking of embarking on something new, go for it and good luck! And to all those who helped me get to where I am, in particular my bsuiness plan advising, server providing, super reliable friend – thanks again and again and again!

On the lack of posts

Weekly readers may have noticed that my record of one post per week has tailed off recently. If you were concerned that I had gotten lost in the forest, lost the use of my fingers in a freak wildlife incident or was otherwise incapacitated, worry no longer. I’m fine. I am, if this is even a word, overcapacitated.

My hopes of getting more work and being busier were answered by whatever gods see to that and so for the last two weeks I’ve been rushing around teaching English all over the place. What began as a trickle of inquiries a month ago turned into a torrent, and though I don’t know why it all happened at once I hope whatever caused it continues.
Sadly this has meant my blogging has been pushed back, week after week, even though ideas for posts bubble away and hang around untyped. Typing an explanation for the lack of posts doesn’t seem to me to count as a topic, though I figured it was better to post something rather than nothing.

I hope that over the next few weeks work will even out and I’ll work out better ways to balance it all, and find time to sit down and put my thoughts to paper. Until that next post, with any luck next week, I’ll leave you with this photo that I took on the way home from a lesson out in the country. May it relax you as much as it relaxed me to be there.

Sunset over a lake

Sunset over a lake

A room full of love

Many months ago, not very long after we’d arrived in Sweden, I found out about a school that I very much wanted to work at. I was at the time looking for relief teaching work, and sending my CV hither and thither in the hopes of finding something, anything.
I added an extra sentence to the email, and hoped that my enthusiasm if not my experience would attract someone’s notice. It did. I got an interview and soon found myself Englishing at ladies from all ages and backgrounds, coming in every few weeks or so to cover for sick leave or training.
In time I was asked to take over a class for the second half of a term, and then this year I was asked to take a class for a whole term. I obviously said yes to both, having grown to love the school, for opening its doors to me and for what it represented.

Fast forward a little to last Friday. The term is over, the last class has flown past (don’t forget the deadline for logbooks ladies!) and while for some this is a pause before getting back to the books next term, for others it’s the end. Graduation day. This term it includes not only many students, some of whom I have taught, but a teacher who has meant a lot to me.
There were no trucks or sailor hats for these women, but rather a party. It celebrated the ending of term, the beginning of the holidays, what had been achieved, who was leaving and what the school had come to mean to those who were a part of it. And love. A lot of that.

It started with one of the MCs stalking off in a huff. The huffer and huffee were students of mine, I was proud to see, and the huff obviously false. They did a quick costume change and then sashayed back into the room in a suit and a cheerleader outfit to pounding music. From there the party was launched, and the first order of business was to launch ourselves in good order at the smörgåstortor (sandwich cakes) along the sideboard, which had been made by one of the classes. They were all vegan and tastier than I would have thought, given the suspicion I have viewed them with in the past.
As myself and the other teachers and students stuffed ourselves with cake, a stool was set up at the front of the room. A young woman sat on it with a guitar and started to sing. She sang about friendship, surprises, learning and her experiences at the school. As she sang I looked to my left to see two teachers hugging as tears fell down their cheeks, and behind them the principal’s eyes were overflowing. When the song ended the room erupted, cheers rising and tears falling from all parts of the audience of 100 or so women. From that moment, if not before, we were all in it together.

The song for the school

The song for the school

What followed was 2 hours of dancing, poetry, speeches and films, the students and teachers performing to each other in turns.
A group of mostly Somali women did an interpretive song and dance with the theme of water.
The media class played 4 short films, about a feminist taxi making it’s rounds of town, a dreamy short about trans issues, a stop-motion raft almost capsizing and finally a music video for ‘I Will Always Love You.’ They ended the last video with a sing-along of the last chorus, accompanied by the rest of the room and with rainbow flags waving behind them.
‘Jag jävla älska dig’ (I f*****g love you) cried one of the MCs as they sat down. There were many hugs.
Teachers impersonated each other and then famous feminists to huge applause and laughter, the principal at one point upstaging one of the teachers with an uncanny impersonation of her which she didn’t at first clock on to. Marie Curie/the science teacher impressed us all with some flashy test tube tricks, and was followed by speeches from Frida Kahlo, Simone de Bauvoir, Emmeline Pankhurst, Emma Goldman and others.

Audience and bunting

Audience and bunting

One teacher called us cracks in the wall, inheritors of those that had brought down the Berlin Wall, and told us to never give up.
Then a student blew us all away with her story. She went on stage bedecked in bright blue robes and shimmering jewellry, telling us that from the time she was a child she had been by teachers that she couldn’t achieve what she wanted, and told by her mother to keep doing what she needed regardless of what anyone said. In SFI (the free Swedish course all immigrants do) the teacher expressed disbelief that she got the highest marks. No, she said, I will show you that I am more than you think. She switched languages and belted out ‘Still I Rise‘ by Maya Angelou, bringing yet more deafening cheers and tears to the room.
A poem was performed in Farsi and a song sung in Swedish by another student, who lead a group of students and teachers in a singing line, encouraging them all to launch into a second performance with much enthusiasm.
Soon after my class performed their disconnected, collected lines of poetry, and one of them, who had been one of the most nervous of my students took part in an energetic flashmob dance.
The party was now drawing to a close, and before it ended the singer from the beginning was called back onto stage for an encore. There were fewer laughs and tears this time, but at the last line love and applause rocked around the room to calls for it to become the official song of the school.

After which the principal tore up her prepared speech, declaring that nothing she could have prepared could possibly follow what had come before. She told us that this day, these experiences, were knots that we would tie on the pack that we all carried with us, strengthening it and marking a stage of our journey. Then we all joined together to clean up the room and the stage became a dance floor, Persian dance music thumping away as teachers and students twirled in a circle, taking turns shimmying in the centre. A woman in a wheelchair got an especially big applause as she was pulled on, and a few more eyes were full yet again.

The dance floor getting underway

The dance floor getting underway

I got hugs and flowers, thanking the teacher who was leaving who had first called me in and being thanked by a student for speaking up for her. I left hoping to be able to keep the feeling of the day intact. Perhaps by writing it down I’ll keep it alive, so that even if I never visit the community again, the feeling of love will never fade.

Teaching and learning

As mentioned now and then, when not learning Swedish I have been teaching English since I moved to Sweden. It has mostly been relief teaching at adult schools, emergency or pre-planned lessons, with material I bring or part of a syllabus. It always varies, so I can never claim to be bored. Almost without fail my students, which is how I feel about them from the moment I enter the classroom, have been curious, focused and full of questions. The nightmare of bored teenagers and inertia hasn’t happened (I almost typed yet, but I don’t want to tempt fate).
You stay a step ahead, have a plan, prepare to drop the plan if needed, think about what they need, treat them as people and above all, listen.
There are few people in this world who won’t tell you want they want if you ask them sincerely.

It has been a process of learning for me as well, honing multitasking, patience and not being afraid of watching eyes. And throughout it all still being myself.

Recently I have been given, or rather loaned, my own class until the end of semester. Or as Swedes would say, until the start of semester. Yes, confusing, I know.
I reacted to the news with excitement and soon began to plan all of the cool things I could teach them about, all the stories and songs I could bring and share with them. Neil Gaiman, Suzanne Vega, Terry Pratchett, fairy tales, myths and legends, so many things! So many options! The real question should have been, of course, what do they need to learn and how can I help them to find it.

Writing exercise

Writing exercise

Discipline is required, especially when it comes to stories that you hold dear and would happily shove in the face of strangers on the street if you thought you could get away with it.
That said, I have included a few tasty morsels that I think the students will find interesting, and about which I can wax lyrical. The Queen and the Soldier has been done, with many insightful comments from the students, including aspects I’d never considered.
I’ve also found that learning another language has helped enormously in teaching my own, as I can see why people can make certain mistakes and for the first time get my head around the feeling of absorbing a language other than your own. It’s hard, and I am ever so glad that the two languages concerned have the same origin.



So how do you teach? My mother would say that you should facilitate learning, which brings to my mind images of people as conduits, funneling knowledge out of their chests into the minds of others, holding knowledge within their reach if students want to take it. Then there’s the old method from Dickensian dramas, the repetition of information, provided on blackboards for absorption or a background to whatever the student is thinking about.
There are many others, of course, as I have been finding my own way, a way that is being more settled as time goes on.

There will be another class this week, and such is the nature of the job that there may be more. I seem to have almost fallen into teaching, and I finally feel as though I’m managing to tread water and perhaps even swim.