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WORLDVIEW: A sports culture in Stockholm

Ruairi Smith-Dewey ’13 finds frisbee abroad

By Ruairi Smith-Dewey
On December 5, 2011

I was settling into my quiet routine of a Tunnelbana commute from the University of Stockholm, listening to "Teenage Dream"on my iPhone and thinking about which Disney movie I would watch with my very adorable and very blond preschool host brothers that evening, when mass chaos ensued. Hordes of people dressed in yellow and black pushed their way onto the train, chanting, banging the roof and jumping up and down. I gazed at the people and tried to determine what was happening, as the police escorted a group of people off the train.

I became quickly lost listening to the Swedish announcement of the conductor, which was nothing like the basic Swedish they teach you in the first week of class. The train started moving again as cheering and singing people drank beers and an electric feeling of excitement imbued the entire car.

The train blew by five stops without even slowing down before reaching my destination in Solna Centrum. As the doors opened, crowds of people tried to squeeze out at once to join the masses headed outside. Cell phones, beer bottles and newspapers fell to the platform floor as people pushed to the exit, cattle-style.

Suddenly, a firework was launched at the train, and I seemed to be the only one even mildly concerned that it was launched underground. I was contemplating the chaos around me when I finally noticed the escalators ahead. All three had been turned off and were filled with people pushing their way up, scaling the slippery metal area between the escalators in order to reach the outside world faster. I was shocked at how quickly my quiet afternoon routine had turned into utter chaos.

I finally reached the outside world. There were fireworks being launched to both my left and right. There were cops with batons forcefully pushing people to the side and out from under the underpass. There were echoing yells.

And then I figured it out. There was a big soccer match between Stockholm's two rivaling teams that night, and the riot-like experience was just the Swedish anticipation of a good match, an excitement which often engulfs the soccer-centered country.

I had never considered Swedes as very sports-minded people. Before coming to Stockholm, I envisioned Stockholm University as a larger and blonder version of Brandeis. Not only is it supersized, with more than 50,000 students, but students here also don't typically start college until their early to mid-twenties, making for a much older student population than we are used to at Brandeis.

I thought the larger size would mean more diverse clubs and different things to get involved in that aren't available at Brandeis, but I was mistaken. The blandness at Stockholm University manifests itself with less than a third of the number of clubs offered at Brandeis, and most of the ones they do have are designed for specific majors or future career paths. I was disheartened and wondered how I would fill my free time in a country so far from my pre-med requirements.

I went to Plan B: Google. I looked up any and every interesting-looking activity I could think of that might be offered around the Stockholm area. I searched for extracurricular activities offered in English so I wouldn't be left in a constant state of wide-eyed incomprehension.

A member of the Brandeis' women's ultimate Frisbee team, I decided to Google ultimate opportunities in the area. I easily found the website for a mixed team that was based in Stockholm and had a website in English. It looked perfect, but waiting days without a response from the team captain deflated me a bit. By this time, the foreign feeling of having too much free time began wearing on me and I decided take matters into my own hands.

With practice times and locations for the Stockholm Syndromes Frisbee team listed on the website, I decided to show up and see what would happen. My confidence dulled as I wandered around lost for an hour among Swedish street signs, desperately trying to find the park. I became increasingly unsure of my decision when I finally stumbled upon a team that moved with a fluency that only comes from significant experience playing together.

I joined the team despite my apprehension. It turns out that the Stockholm Syndromes are not as polished and cohesive as they first appeared. Rather, it is an eclectic team with players from all around the globe.

I played with the Syndromes that day, and the following I week even participated in the Swedish Nationals tournament. Although the prevalence of ultimate is much lower in Sweden than in the U.S., the "ultimate culture" is similar to that of back home. I've found international friends in the sport that I love.

There is a camaraderie about the ultimate players here. It makes the community a most welcoming group and has helped me find my place in Sweden. 

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