Arctic Summer – Six Weeks in Jokkmokk, Sweden

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‘Vi leker nu!’ (we’re playing now!). It was to become a familiar refrain during my six weeks in Jokkmokk.

On the 1st June I left England for a small Swedish town called Jokkmokk, about 10km north of the Arctic Circle. I was to be working for a Swedish family, helping look after their two small children; a 4 year old girl and 18 month old boy. I was nervous about the idea of moving into somebody’s family for 6 weeks. A constant ‘but what if the children don’t like me?’ was running through my head in the build up to leaving. It was an unfounded fear. I felt welcomed with open arms.

There were numerous reasons for wanting to go. Firstly, I wished to improve my Swedish. Having studied the language for two years, I felt that the next step was to get some practical experience. Secondly, Jokkmokk is a cultural centre for the Sámi, the indigenous population of northern Fenno-Scandinavia. The Sámi are traditionally associated with the practise of reindeer herding, however their lifestyles are rapidly changing due to interference by government and increasing prevalence of modern technology. By staying in Jokkmokk I hoped to learn more about their culture. Finally, the landscape of northern Sweden is indescribably beautiful, and I hoped to be able to spend some time hiking within it.

Spending all day with two young children who spoke no English was a brilliant way of improving my language skills. The girl in particular took great pleasure in correcting my Swedish every time I messed up. She would make me repeat the correct Swedish after her, over and over again, until I got it right.

The father of the family worked for the local (by northern Sweden terms at least-it was actually an hours drive away!) hospital, flying the air ambulance. During his weeks off, we would pack up and drive to the family house in the mountain village of Kvikkjokk. This satisfied my desire of getting to hike in beautiful mountain landscapes, as Kvikkjokk is an access point for many spectacular trails and two national parks, including the infamous Sarek, often termed as Europe’s last true wilderness.

My Swedish family were very generous with my time off, meaning one week I was able to plan a three day expedition along the Padjelanta Trail. The night before I left, our neighbour came over with a present for me. It was a lump of dried reindeer meat, cured from a reindeer from his own herd. Sami people often taken dried reindeer when following their herds, as the preservation process helps it last through long expeditions. It made a fabulous snack while hiking!

Spending my summer in northern Sweden was a truly indescribable experience. I was incredibly sorry to say goodbye. It was hard at times, travelling out alone to such an isolated location, becoming part of a new family. But it was also one of the best things I’ve ever done. In any case, I’m already planning my next trip back!

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Looking out into Sarek National Park

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Jokkmokk has a very specific sort of traffic problem…

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Slicing up dried reindeer meat for a mid-afternoon snack. I was told the best dried reindeer is dark on the outside, but still pink and tender in the middle.

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