Japan Life in Sweden Travelling

Ticket to Ride

Västerås Station

When I was interviewed for the job at IESE I was asked where I would be planning to live should I be offered the position. I explained to them that as Nicklas would be working in Västerås we would base ourselves there, and was struck by the look of concern that briefly flitted across my interviewer’s face. I was immediately aware that my response was one of the things that would go against me as a potential candidate for the role. This was confirmed when the follow-up question was whether Nicklas would be able to look for work in Stockholm instead. As it turns out, I was offered the job but in subsequent conversations with my future employer the issue of my long commute was raised again and I began to wonder just how much of a problem it was going to become.

In Vietnam I had a pretty good deal; I lived just the other side of the river and could reach school by taxi within 15 minutes for the bargain price of 50,000vnd (£1.60/17SEK). I would usually ride on the back of Alex’s Honda Nuovo – taking in the stunning views of the Saigon river and ignoring the less stunning views of those using the side of the road as a public urinal. Either mode of traffic was fine as long as I didn’t watch the road – if you see how many times you are almost involved in a potentially fatal accident you would never leave the house!

Check out a video of my journey home from work in Vietnam at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1m_PlCpBXvY

Commuting is not a new thing for me. During my time in Japan I lived in a small area called Atsugi and I was based in a different school every day. To get to each school I would use Tokyo’s extensive rail network and the travelling time varied daily. On Monday, I headed to Kamakura (Japan’s ancient capital), Tuesdays I went to Wakaba, Wednesdays I only travelled one stop to Hon-Atsugi, Thursdays was Miyauchi, and Fridays was Tokaichiba Most days I would travel for up to 2 hours each way. That sounds like a vastly disproportionate amount of time to travel to work each day but, honestly, I enjoyed it. My job was easy; I didn’t need to plan or mark as I was employed purely to entertain Japanese children. My train journey allowed me to read books, listen to CDs – because in 2002 I’d never even heard of an ipod or an MP3 player – or just take in the views. I always enjoyed my journey on the slow Sagami line as in winter you got a stunning view of picture-perfect Mt. Fuji snow-capped in the distance. Yeah, commuting suits me, I thought.

The Beautiful Fuji-San

What I didn’t think about was how my timetable in Japan consisted of a maximum of 5 hours teaching, therefore it didn’t really matter if I had a long journey to and from work. Something I had not really considered for my new job in Stockholm. These days I am a fully trained English teacher working in an International School, with all of the planning and marking that this brings with it. My daily commute consists of 2 trains: Firstly an hour journey on the SJ line from Västerås to Stockholm Central, and then a quick sprint through to the Tunnelbana (Metro/Underground) to make my connection to Gubbängen, 20 minutes away. The journey tends to average about 2 hours of travelling time. This means getting up before 5am to make my 8am start (which only occurs once a week, thankfully) and not getting home before 6pm. After-school meetings and my weekly Swedish lesson might mean that I do not get home much before 9pm.  I have some compensation in the form of a light day on Friday where my last lesson finishes at 10.25, which more than makes up for a tough ride in the week.

The time is not completely wasted as Swedish trains are modern and comfortable and smooth enough to mark a complete set of Year 9 papers legibly! I tend to view my commute as working time, a few hours every day where I can get my marking out of the way. If I have no marking to do then I will reward myself by reading a book – something that I have not had time to do in a LONG time as teaching the IB at BIS ensured that I never had time to read a book of my own choice!! I have managed to read 6 books since I started working 10 weeks ago and that is only on my train journeys! I am sitting on the train right now as I write this. No, the time is not wasted.

Unfortunately, commuting is not all positive. When the trains are delayed it can be infuriating, although it doesn’t often happen. Yesterday was pretty bad, halfway to Stockholm the train ground to a halt and we were told that the railway lines had “stopped working” (??!) and we needed to get off and take buses. Once we got outside to wait for a bus we turned round to watch a train to Stockholm go sailing past us unheeded. Once we all crowded onto the Pendeltåg there was nowhere to sit and we were all crushed together – luckily hours of journeys spent crushed into somebody’s armpit in Tokyo had more than prepared me for this! I managed to get to work but missed my first lesson. A few weeks ago I was sitting on the Tunnelbana train, reading a book. I was listening out for the station announcements as we passed the stations and at Talkrogen, one stop before mine, I looked up to discover that I was not at Talkrogen. Confused, I turned around to see that the normally full train was deserted apart from a few others looking as confused as me. The tannoy was still announcing the right station but the station we were at was not where I wanted to be. The front of the train still said the right destination. Weird. Turns out that at some point the train had splintered off the right track and was now heading somewhere else entirely. It was difficult explaining that one to school:

Me: “Hi, I’m going to be late as I am not at the right station”

Angelica: “you took the wrong train?”

Me: “No, I took the right train but the train is at the wrong station!”

Angelica: “Hmmmm, right. Okay…”

I’m sure that once the winter comes the situation will get much worse. In the UK trains cease to operate and chaos ensues at the first sniff of snow, and whilst Sweden is undeniably more prepared for extreme weather there comes a point after months of snow, ice, and temperatures of -25 when things are not going to run effectively. Last year SJ trains compensated every commuter with a week of free travel after the constant onslaught of merciless Siberian weather eventually bested them. I can’t imagine Virgin offering that. The winter is going to be tough, especially if Polish meteorologist predictions that Sweden will this year see the worst winter in 1000 years are proven accurate…

Commuting is going to be a bumpy ride: I can watch the beautiful Swedish countryside as it progresses through the seasons, and I will scream with frustration at the delays. I will meet interesting people – I sat with a lovely lady from Fiji yesterday, and I sometimes meet up with my friend Jordan for an hour’s gossip on the way to Stockholm. I can relax and read a book. But I don’t think I can do it for more than a year, so I’m hoping that IESE open a school in Västerås before too long!

The view of Gamla Stan as I pass through the centre of Stockholm

By the way the books that I have read so far are:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Swan Thieves

The Other Boleyn Girl

Alone in Berlin

Company of Liars

The Piano Teacher

I also read Boy Overboard as we are teaching it in Year 7. It took me one journey and it is rubbish!

I’m just about to start Sea of Poppies.

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