Last month, I received a message from a friend who informed me about an educational STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) tour in Sweden organised by some principals and educators in HK. Since he was not able to go, he asked if I would be interested instead. I agreed and accepted the offer within half an hour and paid the full fee the following day. I hesitated a little at first because of my tutorial classes and volunteering commitments but I knew this opportunity was too good to pass up on and it may not come around again. I informed my students and teammates and told them I would be away for about 9 days in May for an education tour. They were all very understanding and wished me well.
In the days leading up to the trip, I read up on Swedish culture and history and tried to absorb as much information as possible and even tried learning a few phrases in Swedish (my pronunciation was so poor that Duolingo kept saying I was wrong).
The main objective of the tour was to gain an understanding of the Swedish education system, to visit different schools and education agencies, and connect with other teachers and school leaders. We would also have sightseeing and shopping opportunities, and time to explore on our own in the first and last couple of days.
It was quite a struggle for me, packing for this trip. The weather forecast said the temperatures ranged from 0 to 12 degrees Celcius and it was around 30 degrees in HK when I started packing. I dug out my winter clothes, down jackets, scarves, beanies, gloves and heat packs and stuffed everything in my suitcase. Then I spent the next couple of days re-evaluating each item, removing, replacing, folding and reorganising everything I had packed. I made sure to leave enough room for snacks and souvenirs.
We had a pre-trip briefing at the travel agency that helped organise the trip and I got to meet a few other members from the group I would be spending 9 days with. I found out that there was something called AIRSIM card that you can use worldwide and bought it from them immediately. You just need to download their App and choose the data plan you want in the location you are travelling to. You just need to top it up and you can use it for a whole year! Why did I not know about this before? I could have saved so much hassle and effort getting new SIM cards for every trip!
Finally, it was time to go to the airport and say goodbye to my mum and brother. After checking in, I met the other members of the group and the tour leader and guide, and we all introduced ourselves briefly. We took a big group photo and headed in the departure gate. I went straight for the Plaza Premium Lounge and enjoyed a light supper before heading to the gate for boarding. I was so excited and nervous, I hardly slept for the next 10 hours of the flight, even though it was a red-eye flight! I think I watched three movies and listened to an audiobook on my phone just to drown out the noise of the engine and other passengers.
We landed in London Heathrow first, and had to wait an hour for the connecting flight to Stockholm. When I looked at the flight path, I saw that we had actually flown through Sweden before arriving in London but there were no direct flights from HK to Stockholm, so we had to transfer and add at least two more hours to the torture! (Right next to the gate for Stockholm was the gate for Reykjavik! My heart jumped and I wondered when I would ever make it to Iceland – top of my bucketlist of places to travel.)
While we were waiting for the connecting flight, I got to chat to a principal of a drama and theatre school in HK and we shared about what we were both doing. Hopefully we can collaborate in some projects in the future! She said she is looking for writers to write scripts for their plays! This is definitely something I can try.
Finally, we arrived in Stockholm Arlanda Airport and made our way out without issues. We took out our jackets and warm clothes out of our suitcases. I exchanged some Euros for some Kronas and waited for a few more members of the group to arrive. After we loaded everything into our coach, we headed off to dinner, where I could barely remember what I ate, before finally arriving at our hotel – Scandic Talk. I was ready to collapse and pass out by the time we got there. I really should have slept on the plane…
End of Part 1
Continue to Sweden (Part 2)