Monday, October 31, 2011

LVBK vs. Örebro

Winner winner chicken dinner!!! Ljungby Volleybollklubb had its first Elite Series victory, at home, against Örebro. After our 4-set loss to Gislaved two weekends before, the team was fired up to finally play at home and show our fans some exciting volleyball. Daniel (our coach) came to pick Jo and I up Saturday morning to take us to the gym for an hour-long morning practice. Both Jo and I were surprisingly chipper, or as the Swedes call it “morning pigs”; we were ready to go! After our practice, we went to the yellow house for our pregame meal, spaghetti made by some of the mothers. SLASH, Swedes put ketchup on their spaghetti; very strange.

The match started out a back and forth battle, neither team jumping out until we took the lead 21-18. Our middles were able to be highly effective due to our serve receive and playing against their inexperienced middles. Jo had a HUGE kill in set one: the ball was passed high and on the net, so I jump set causing both Örebro’s outside and middle blockers to jump with me, leaving an open net for Jo to crush the ball inside the 3-meter line. Luckily their libero was able to get her hands up fast enough to protect her face.  We won the first set 25-19. Set two, we struggled a bit more trailing the entire time; finally losing 19-25. We had a 10-minute break between the 2nd and 3rd set where we went to the locker room and talked about how we need to be patient and not rush to win the match on the first few points. 
#9 Sofie, #5 Julle, #6 me, #3 Malin
This pep talk helped us relax and come back out strong and focused. Despite a 6-point deficit, we kept fighting for each point, and our blocking game really turned up. (I should probably state that there are NO line judges here, as with most European volleyball leagues, so the referees must make all close calls themselves.) Jo and I had a key momentum-changing block that would have given us match point, but the up-ref called the ball out. The crowd, our coaching staff, and our team went crazy! If my eyes could kill, that poor guy would be a goner. Fortunately, we were able to pull out the win with a close score of 29-27. We held the lead the entire fourth set, finishing Örebro off 25-19. First “w” of the season! Jo was named MVP for our team, receiving purple flowers, after hitting 15/15 kills and no errors (we think that the stats were kept wrong; the stats also give block-assists to only one player, instead of .5 blocks to both players involved). 
Me and Jo with Me and Jo :)

That night we celebrated our victory at a local bar (not Harry’s) and listened to a Swedish girl-band called Sahara Hot Nights. It was a great way to end this successful day.
Sahara Hot Nights

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Preseason Hanukkah

Preseason Christmas (noun): usually a day or two after student-athletes return to preseason in which they receive clothing and other various equipment that will be used throughout their sport season; for volleyball this can include, but is not limited to: practice shirts, practice spandex, socks, kneepads, match warm ups, sweatshirt, sweatpants, sneakers, backpack, travel bag. Depending on your school’s funding, you may receive more or less than I listed, and you are often required to return some items at the end of the season. 

Here in Sweden, as with most things, this distribution of “gifts” has been somewhat drawn out, more like a Preseason Hanukkah. I almost prefer this, because I never know what more we might be getting, or on which days we could be receiving the items. It’s like a surprise every time – and although I’m not too keen on surprises, these are pretty great.

Our first team-issued gear: brand new sneakers. Most members of our team have these same pair, however, we were given 1000kr (about $150) to spend on any of the training shoes that are sold in InterSport. Both Jo and I opted for the purple Asics. 
New Euro-kneepads
Right before our first scrimmage, we received our match warm ups: a Puma jacket with side neck zipper and matching Puma capri pants; we also got a Puma pullover sweatshirt with matching Puma sweatpants. I’m sure you guessed by now that Puma is one of our team sponsors.
Pullover and sweat pants
Warm-up jacket and capris
We have received 2 practice t-shirts from ELTT – an electrical company that sponsors the team, and a Puma t-shirt for us to travel in. Also, when Jo and I first arrived, we were given InterSport t-shirts (another sponsor). Jo and I also were given “move-in” gifts of an ELTT towel and last year’s team ELTT beanie.
Practice shirts and Beanie
As per Euro-style, the jerseys and spandex are covered in our sponsors’ names. There is not a single spot that we aren’t advertising something. One company got pretty creative and decided to advertise across the front of the spandex as they are usually shown during blocking and hitting pictures.

6 ads on the front

4 ads on each side
3 ads on the back
Did I mention we get team parkas? And that I’ve actually used it on multiple occasions despite there not being snow on the ground? Because I now live in a place where we need team-issued parkas. (I don’t care what ANY of the UT swim team may say; there is NO need for parkas in Florida…)

Team parka!!
Our final gifts arrived this past week: our leather Puma travel bag and Base-brand high knee socks.
Travel bag 

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I get paid on the 25th of each month; unless, of course, the 25th falls on a weekend, in which case the money will go in my SwedBank account the Friday before. Did I mention that I have my own bank account here? Well, I do. Jo and I are proud SwedBank Visa cardholders…there’s even a security chip on our “bankkort” (bank card”). It’s pretty legit.

I deleted my account number, but yeah, the card is still pretty sweet.

There are a few things I’ve learned in life that you just don’t talk about with people: religion, politics, and income. Therefore, I’m definitely NOT going to tell you curious readers how much I get paid. I will, however, tell you a little about the currency here.

1.     Currency name: Krona (singular), Kronor (plural); abbreviated as “kr” (similar to $ sign) or SEK (similar to USD)
2.     There are 3 coins that are in circulation: 1 krona, 5 kronor, and 10 kronor--why is the 10 piece always the smallest? A dime is the smallest coin in the US...think about it and get back to me.

Clockwise from top left: 10kr, 1kr, 5kr
3.     There are 5 cash notes/bills that are used: 20kr, 50kr, 100kr, 500kr, and 1000kr. Each bill has a different color, and as bills increase in value, they increase slightly in size.

500kr and 100kr - notice: the different colors and slightly different sizes
4.     The Swedish kroner ranks at #9 in the most traded currencies in the world (USD is #1)
5.     Although Sweden is a member of the European Union, the majority of the voting citizens are still against the transition to the Euro as their national currency.
6.     $1 USD is roughly = 6.4 kr

Monday, October 24, 2011

2 Days, a Dozen Disappointments

Saturday morning, Jo and I hit the road with one of our teammates (she’s a middle), Emma, and her husband. Our destination? Göteborg, written in English as “Gothenburg”, the 2nd largest city in Sweden. Daniel had suggested a cheap hostel that we could stay at for the night called Göteborgs Vandrarham.
Welcome to Gothenburg Hostel

Thus bringing forth disappointment number one: the hostel, where some assembly would be required. After paying 300 kroner ($45) each for the room, with an additional 60 kroner ($10) for bedding, we opened door number 20 to find our beds standing on end with the mattress-pads folded up on the desk. There were no pillows or blankets anywhere. Wonderful. From here, we began wandering throughout the city. We passed Liseberg amusement park – the largest amusement park in Scandinavia, where we faced disappointment number two: it was closed for the season, opening for the Christmas premier mid-November. We were only a month early. 
Liseberg Amusement Park - Closed until November 18

We kept walking to find the Gothia Towers; part conference hall, part hotel, with a restaurant on the top floor. We had been advised by friends to eat the shrimp sandwich from their restaurant; however, the food was a bit out of our price range. Disappointment number three. We found the main boulevard, Kungsportavenyn, also called Avenyn or in English “The Avenue”. This road begins at the Gothenburg Museum of Art, where the Poseidon statue stands. Unfortunately for us, the Poseidon statue is currently under renovation and would not be revealed from its white covering until November. Cue disappointment number four
Poseidon Statue in front of Goteborg Art Museum, under renovation

We decided it was time to find some food for lunch before we would begin our mid-season shopping. Subway provided us with our cheapest full meal in Sweden: 6” sub of the day (spicy Italian) with chips and a drink for 52 kroner. SUCCESS! Despite our overzealous shopping attitudes, we were fairly unsuccessful in this endeavor. “Look, another H&M!” Disappointment number five, as this was just the rear entrance of the H&M we were just inside. Continuing down the road, I spied a giant Ferris wheel and, thinking it was near something cool, we wandered towards it. The weather was not optimal Ferris-wheel weather, as it had been cold, wet, rainy all day and was now foggy. Despite my long sleeve shirt, sweater, scarf, gloves, and down jacket liner/outer raincoat winter jacket, I was still feeling chilled – disappointment number six. At least there isn’t snow on the ground yet (knock on wood). 

Foggy day in Goteborg
As the day progressed, we began getting a bit more and more stiff from the cold, our bodies aching from the uneven cobblestone sidewalks. I should probably state here that there are NO potholes anywhere on the streets in this country. I actually think it’s a law that the local area has to repair them immediately, to prevent accidents or something like that. Its very impressive how quickly they get roadwork done here; something that America should maybe take in advisement. We agreed that a massage would be a great way to spend time and money here, so if we happened to come across a spa, it was our destiny and we were allowed by fate to go inside. Alas, across the street from the Ferris wheel was, much to our surprise, a spa! We practically ran inside, only to find disappointment number seven – they closed 7 minutes earlier. Seriously? This was beginning to get ridiculous. 
Rainy day in Goteborg
Emma has recommended a few points-of-interest for us to try to find during our two days here, so we changed our mindset and focused on searching for the Feskekôrka Fish Market Hall. Known as the “fish church”, it houses an indoor fish market. Disappointing fact number eight: we never found it, despite wandering the city for hours both Saturday and Sunday. It’s possible that we walked past it, but there is no way to be sure. The mid-season sales also proved to be disappointment number nine; all I wanted to get from this weekend was a sweater with elbow pads – they’re very chic here in Sweden. Unfortunately they were not right, and we all know, if you don’t love it in the store, you’ll like it even less at home. Our “centrally located hostel”, as it advertises online, was a 45-minute walk from our current location…in the city Centrum. Do I even have to say that this was disappointment number ten? Finally back at the hostel, we rested for about an hour before setting out to search for shrimp sandwiches. We investigated the Gothia Towers, taking a scenic elevator ride to “Heaven” (the restaurant located on the top floor), finding their food priced a bit too high, and decided to continue on.

View of Liseberg from "Heaven" in Gothia Towers

We finally stopped to eat at Jameson’s Pub. The food was delicious, and hit the spot. Disappointment number eleven came when the waiter brought the bill; for a shrimp sandwich, a plate of fries (which we split), and a pint of Guinness, we paid 224 kroner ($35) each. Did I mention we ate at the bar? 

135 kroner ($20) Shrimp Sandwich at Jameson's Pub
The pinnacle of our first day in Göteborg was planned to start at 9:30 that evening. We were going to see Crazy, Stupid, Love starring Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, and Emma Stone. It was fantastic!! Except for the point that it made us miss our families and friends at home…disappointment number twelve.

Nalle Puhs (Winnie the Pooh) and friends at the movie theater
I believe that I should comment that this trip wasn’t a complete and epic fail. Jo and I had a great time wandering the streets of such a large city (still nothing compared to the States). We were able to have bagels for the first time Sunday morning for breakfast; for lunch, we ate stuffed crust pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut. We got a bunch of pictures and some pretty funny stories. We completed our second month here in Sweden mostly unscathed. I wonder what’s going to happen next…

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ICA Maxi - Where shopping is a pleasure

In our first newspaper interview, Jo and I were asked about our initial impressions of Sweden. My response, verbatim, was that people are helpful and good at English. I can shop at the grocery store without knowing a word of Swedish, since so many speak good English. This statement has only proven to be somewhat true.

A week or two ago, Jo and I were having another Taco-Friday, a common practice here in Ljungby. We had decided before our 4:30 practice that she would go home and start cooking while I went to the grocery store to pick up some last minute additions to our meal. Simple enough, right? Well, let me be the one to tell you this was an incorrect assumption. I walked in confident, list in hand as I towed my shopping basket behind me. Bananas? Very obvious, check. Guacamole? Same name, check. Shredded cheese? Easily found, check. Sour cream? …

We had just eaten tacos with Jaz a few days before, so I had an idea of what the container would look like. Also, sour cream is a dairy product, so it would only make sense for it to be in the milk-yogurt-cheese section of the store. I searched high and low, scouring through each and every shelf. Nothing. I calmly asked one of the employees for help. When she phoned in for backup, I knew I was in trouble. Determined to return home successfully with every item on the list, I tried to explain “sour cream” using my infamous Catch Phrase skills. This led me to the taco aisle (yes, there is a whole aisle dedicated to tacos) and the girl to ask me if I meant the taco seasoning. Clearly I’m losing my touch. Back to the dairy section, she finally pointed out this “crème fraiche” container. I took it, convinced that I had just bought some weird Swedish salad dressing that would ruin Taco-Friday. Fortunately, this was a success, and helped make our meal delicious. I’m still not 100% convinced that this is the same thing we had with Jaz, but it tasted legit enough and neither one of us complained.

Today, Jo was planning to make bacon wrapped chicken, however, we still needed toothpicks in order for her to perfect this masterpiece. Naturally, we headed to Maxi with a small shopping list. Now, toothpicks are a tricky item as they could be placed among many different areas: baking supplies, kitchenware, oral hygiene, the spice area, etc. So we searched kitchenware. Then we looked in the baking supplies. We glanced over at oral hygiene, but still, found nothing. Finally, Jo asked an employee for help, starting with “do you speak English?” When he hesitated, I knew we were in for an interesting surprise. She charaded out “toothpick”, and when the guy still looked confused, I decided to complete the rest of the list while she stayed with him. Upon my return with the milk, I see Jo chasing after our guy going a little faster than the mom mall-walker pace. I followed. The guy was taking us past all the typical American-sites for toothpicks to the…wait for it…alcohol? Sure enough, tucked in a small corner of the beer and booze section sits 2 different styles of toothpicks.

This country constantly amazes me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Elitseriepremiär - Elite Series Premier

The day we have all been waiting for has finally arrived: Elite Serien premier match Ljungby vs. Gislaved! The team met at Sunnerbohallen a little after 11 to load up the cars for the hour drive to Gislaved. I noticed that Daniel was wearing a suit, turned to Jo to quote How I Met Your Mother’s character Barney, and said “suit up!” As soon as I spoke, Jocke and Jimmie walked up wearing, wait for it, the EXACT same suit as Daniel. So I did what anyone would have done in that situation: take pictures while shouting “suit up!” at them.

Daniel, Jimmie, and Jocke

Everyone loaded up the cars and we began our drive. Once we arrived at the gym, the team took a leisure walk around the town to loosen up our bodies from the drive. Malin and I were jamming out to my “Boy Banders” iPod playlist – ok, mostly I was jamming, and Malin just was laughing at me. Heading into the locker room, we all were getting really excited for the match. After everyone was decked out in our gear (knee-high socks, black Euro-style kneepads, billboard-esque spandex and red warm up shirts) it was time to head out to the gym. Before we stepped through the doors, Sofie turned to me and said that this gym is terrible and the lights are awful. Sure enough, as soon as we walked in, an ugly yellow paint job and prison-ward lighting greeted us. Fantastic.

Me and Selma's reactions to the boys being "suited up"

The match warm up went fairly well, everyone seemed to be finding their groove. Once the first game started, however, you could feel a mixture of nerves and excitement. Overall, our serve receive was pretty weak (we were aced 12 times; 7 times in the first set alone!), as was our serving (we only made 6 aces, with 12 errors). When we were able to be in system, our hitters were able to be very effective. The final scores were: 17-25, 18-25, 25-20, and 22-25. Despite being down in almost every set, we had a lot of fight and gradually became more aggressive as the match went on. Jo was named player of the match for our team, receiving 4 lottery tickets as her award. This is apparently common that one player from each team is named “player of the match” and will get some sort of gift from the host team. Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.

Stats, anyone?
Jo (middle) – 11 kills, 1 error, 21 attempts; 0 aces, 2 errors; 3 blocks
Malin (outside) – 13 kills, 7 errors, 47 attempts; 1 ace, 3 errors
Julle (rightside) – 11 kills, 4 errors, 33 attempts; 0 aces, 1 error; 1 block
Sofie (outside) – 4 kills, 1 error, 19 attempts; 1 ace, 2 errors
Jazzi (middle) – 2 kills, 1 error, 8 attempts; 0 ace, 1 error; 2 blocks
Me (setter) – 2 kills, 2 errors, 9 attempts; 4 aces, 3 errors; 2 blocks
Total, we had 43 kills, 16 errors, 138 attempts (.196), 6 aces, 12 errors; 8 blocks

I'm not sure if digs or assists are kept, they don't seem to be listed on the stat sheet, but I can ask for future reference.

Gislaved’s top performer, Whitney (American), had 19 kills, 6 errors, 42 attempts. 

To see the full match statistics click HERE!! and then click on "Gislaved - Ljungby 3-1"

You can also watch our match ONLINE !

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's (almost) time for the main event!!!

In America, college volleyball preseason is condensed into 2-3 weeks of 2 practices per day - 6 days a week, lifting 3 times per week, with 2-3 scrimmage dates. If I’ve done my math correctly, that would be about 36 practices, 9 weight trainings, and at least 6 scrimmage matches. And that is all just until school starts, where you would cut down to 1 practice per day - still 6 times a week, lifting 3 times per week, and then matches start around Labor Day, adding in possibly an extra 5 practices, and 3 weights all before your first match. Grand total: 41 practices, 12 weight trainings in under 4 weeks.

Here, we practice 4 times per week and lift twice (3 times per week if we have a free weekend). We’ve had 25 team practices, 11 mandatory weight trainings, 1 stretching/spa practice, 1 tournament in Borås - where we went 2-3, and 5 scrimmages. Due to everyone on our team working a full-time job, we are much more limited to quantity of daily trainings and must be willing to work around the team’s real life demands. Thus our preseason, much like our regular season, is drawn out at a slower, more relaxed pace. We’re starting on week 6.

Did I mention that the collegiate volleyball season begins around mid-August (preseason), matches officially starting after Labor Day and ending, for most teams, the last week of November/first week of December? That’s only 4 months of competition, where teams play 25-30 matches. Meanwhile, the European volleyball season begins with preseason in late August-early September, matches begin over a month later and will continue until March. 

In Sweden, we have 10 teams in the Elit Serie division, which we will play each team home and away - a total of 18 matches. Our first match is October 15, and our last is March 4. But that’s just regular season. The top 8 teams make it into the Swedish championship, while the bottom 2 teams must fight to stay in the division. For the teams in the top 8, they will play similarly to NBA playoffs, where you must win 3 of 5 matches to advance, and the matches alternate between home and away. I believe that teams play for every placement, so if you lose in the 1st round, you go on to the consolation bracket playing for places 5-8.

My dad has made up an excel spreadsheet with our schedule so you can follow along. I’m not sure if the matches will be streamed online or not, but as soon as I figure that out, I can post something. Check out the “Team Schedule” page to see when we play next!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Tour de Apartment

Come on in!

Straight ahead: my room; on the right: my closet; on the left: our bathroom
My closet!

Our bathroom - we're still waiting on the bathtub

My room - the window is the middle of the wall.
And there is a desk underneath it now :)
The kitchen!
View of living room from Jo's room;
The TV stand is actually my dresser

View of living room from the balcony.
Jo's room is closed, the hallway doorway is open.
Other random things from our apartment:

On the left: outlet; on the right: phone jack

These are on the ceiling in every room so you can plug in your own ceiling light
Outlet plug - Euro style

Oven knobs, Celsius is great!

Swenglish, anyone?

Everyone speaks English here. By everyone I literally mean anyone over the age of 9 knows some dosage of English that enables me to never have to learn any Swedish. I find this both a blessing and a curse. During my 4 months in Hungary, finding an English speaking person both willing and able to communicate//help me was rare, thus forcing me to learn basic Hungarian words and phrases in order to get by. Despite their 44-letter, 14-vowel alphabet, I was able to pick up quite a bit of Hungarian: "hello", "thank you", "I don't know", "beer", "OMG"...the list goes on. Here, however, I am not under the same requirements. 

I barely know ANY Swedish, and I've already been here over 5 weeks.

Before coming to Sweden, my friend Matt -- some of you may know him as "Mongo", but that's another story entirely -- and I looked up the alphabet on a sort of speak-and-spell website. Like Hungary, the Swedes have very interesting vowels with crazy accent marks. These fancy letters make sounds that are unheard of in America. I have tried to have local students at Astradskolan (where Jo and I make guest appearances in English classes on random Thursdays) help me learn their pronunciations. I sound like a fool. Anything to make the children laugh. 

For you, my lovely blog readers, I have done a little research to help better the overall understanding of the Swedish vowels.

A, a : pronounced long (as in hold it for a while), like in the word bar
E, e : pronounced both long, as in the word cafe, and short, as in the word net
I, i : pronounced both long, as in the word keep, and short, as in the word pit
O, o : pronounced 4 ways: long/short as in tool, long as in fore, short as in not
U, u : pronounced both long, as in rude, and short, but there isn't an English equivalent for the sound
Å, å : pronounced long, as in fore, and short as in yonder
Ä, ä : pronounced both long, as in air, and short, as in best

Ö, ö : pronounced long, as in deux (French), long (only when followed by an -r), as in fur, and short, as in her

As you can see, some letter-sounds overlap while others make absolutely impossible sounds, depending on the surrounding letters. This makes the pronunciations extremely difficult for someone who learned their ABC's in an English speaking country. Unless you're a cheater like Jo, who took 3 semesters of Swedish at University of Illinois. She claims that it was an easy A; that she didn't learn anything and just spoke English in class the whole time. Lies, my friends, lies. She can communicate with the little kindergarteners and understands various conversation that occurs around us. Meanwhile, I'm standing there watching the wind blow, completely oblivious that anyone is actually speaking even after they've transitioned back to English and are now trying to ask me a question. 

I have managed to fool one kindergartener, named Stephanie, into thinking that I am fluent in Swedish. She tells me stories, completely in Swedish, and I stand there with a look of utter amazement on my face. Once she finishes, I challenge her information by saying "nej! nej!" (or "no! no!" -- I told you my Swedish was limited), and she rebuttals with "ja, ja!" This conversation goes on for a while before she tells me another story. Rinse and repeat. Despite Daniel's efforts to tell her that I, in fact, don't know any Swedish and have no idea what she is telling me, Stephanie continues telling me her stories. She'll probably learn English before I learn Swedish anyways.