European love story
Spending a study semester abroad is a perfect way to get to know a new country, new customs and new people. The European student program `Erasmus` was set up to facilitate exchanges between European universities. The experience of living in another country for one or two semesters is refreshing, confronting and intense. Because of this, `Erasmus` students tend to spend a lot of time together and create strong bonds between each other. Most of those turn out to be of temporary nature ? explaining the nickname `Orgasmus`, but there`s always a few that stretch beyond the exchange period.
Italian Lorenzo (29) and Swedish Carolina (31), posing for the photograph with their daughter Magdalena (1), met each other during their Erasmus period, now eight years ago. They met in Clermont-Ferrand while studying economics at the local Ecole de Commerce. The three of them now live in Montegrotto-Terme in the north of Italy. On my visit to their house, they tell me about what happened in the early spring of the year 2000.
Carolina (31)<br>Lorenzo (29):
`If all had gone according to plan, we would never have met`
`We were never supposed to meet`, explains Lorenzo. `First of all, I had only signed up for the exchange thinking that I would not be selected to go. There were only 16 placements at the time, and I was number 22 on the list. Then my teacher called me to his office one day and asked whether I wanted to go to Clermont. I said yes, told my parents about it and left shortly after summer in 1999. I was only going to stay for one semester, but liked it lots and applied for another one. My grades were good and they allowed me to stay until the end of the year. Sometime in February, the exchange students for the second semester arrived. I was on the ski-week at the time. I remember calling my German flatmate Philippe to inquire about the newly arrived Swedish exchange students. He told me that they were too tall for me anyway.`
Carolina knew that she wanted to go to France, but she initially preferred Nice and Lyon over Clermont. `Then, a schoolmate convinced me to go to Clermont, saying that Nice was not a really nice place for lone female students to go to, and that the streets were not too safe at night. The university in Lyon had a strange timing, which made it difficult to integrate with my studies in Orebro, Sweden. And so, I ended up going to Clermont in February 2000.`
Looking for love
Carolina had no intention of getting herself into a relationship when she left Sweden. `I had one before leaving and I was quite sure I did not want to end up in anything when I left to France. Then, Lorenzo and his housemate had organised the first party for the newly arrived exchange students, including myself. And so we met. I liked him for his openness and friendliness, but still had nothing particular in mind about getting into anything.`
`A week later, we and the entire group of exchange students climbed one of the hills surrounding the city for an early spring picknick`, Carolina tells. `We then got to know each other a little better and the next day, we had a coffee together and ended up kissing. Then, Valentine`s Day came. Lorenzo prepared dinner, which we shared with Philippe and his Portuguese girlfriend. The day after, I remembered about my plans not to get into any relationship. I told Lorenzo and we didn`t see each other for two days. He had to play in a football tournament in Grenoble for two days and I was surprised by how much I missed him in such a short time. When he came back, we got back together and since then, I have never had any more doubts about whether we should be together.
End of the semester
`At the end of the semester, we both had to return home. Before that, we spent a few days together in Lyon and talked about how we should arrange to stay together. We never really decided anything, but we were both convinced that everything would sort itself out somehow. So I left to Sweden and Lorenzo went back to Padua.`
Lorenzo explains that he could by no means tell Carolina to come to Italy at the time: `I was living with my parents, I was financially dependent of them and I still had three more years of studying to do. I also knew that I could get nothing done in Sweden. I didn`t speak English for a start. During the exchange, we spoke French most of the time. It was a bit difficult at the start, but we made it work. Still, I decided to learn English so I could at least make myself understood if I went to Sweden. For a year and a half, we traveled back and forth in order to keep seeing each other.`
When Carolina finished the theoretical part of her studies, she moved to Italy for a few months: `I still had to complete my thesis, but I wanted to give Italy a try. I had taken some courses in Italian and wanted to know whether I could adapt to living in Italy. I moved in with Lorenzo and his parents, staying on the same floor as his sister. Sleeping together was not strictly forbidden, but there was no encouragement either.`
`After those few months, I returned to Sweden to complete my thesis. After that, Lorenzo flew to Sweden to take me and my furniture with him on the way back. I have been living in Italy since 2002.`
After being encouraged by Carolina`s father who toasted to a `long future together` at a family party, Lorenzo proposed to Carolina by giving her a ring and telling her that he would marry her within a year after. `That was near a lake in Sweden, and we had champagne with the family afterwards. And more importantly, we did get married within a year from then`, Lorenzo tells with pride. `Carolina got to choose a location for the wedding and since we were going to live in Italy, she opted for Sweden. That was a nice excursion for my family and friends from Italy. The friends brought their girlfriends along to the wedding, but obviously couldn`t stop looking at the Swedish women, photographing them and talking about them. Much to the disgust of the Italian girlfriends.`
`When we returned to Italy, we created a separate entry into the house of Lorenzo`s parents`, Carolina tells. `We now live in the same house, but we don`t share the kitchen and all that anymore. We are waiting for the house next door to be completed, so we can move out and have a place of our own.`
Between each other, Lorenzo and Carolina did not have much cultural confusion. Carolina did have slight problems with the Italian family values and social standards. `But that was only at the start. From a Swedish perspective, I was not used to so much external involvement in a relationship. At the same time, it was difficult to make new friends without speaking Italian. Even Lorenzo`s friends speak quite poor English, so I had to learn quickly if I wanted to have any social life. And so I did. I now speak Italian fluently. I think that people only notice that I am not Swedish when they listen very carefully or when we have a very long conversation. Otherwise, they will simply take me for an Italian. My father jokes at how much I talk with my hands now, which is for sure not a typically Swedish thing to do.`
`Italy and Sweden are different in many ways. In Sweden, friends hug when they meet each other, and they usually don`t kiss. Kissing would be a bit too intimate. In Italy, it`s the other way around. Friends kiss all the time, but they don`t usually hug. Another difference is how all Swedish people are in a way alike. As long as you don`t get too know them very well, you may well think that all Swedes are modeled in the same way. In Italy, every next person you meet has a different character, which will usually be obvious right from the start. On the other hand, Italian people sometimes put on friendly smiles even without any meaning behind it. Swedish people are more likely to look happy only when they feel happy`, Carolina says.
Lorenzo adds that Sweden has fewer rules than Italy: `And you had best observe those rules carefully. In Italy, we have many rules, and we also break many rules. There are so many rules that you oftentimes can`t obey one without breaking another one.`
Carolina managed to adapt quite differently to her new home country. `Much of that is thanks to the fact that have lived in many different countries from an early age onwards. In Sweden, obviously, but also in Switzerland when I was a kid, in Belgium before coming to Clermont and even in France before going on the Erasmus exchange. My parents are perfectly fine with the fact that I live in Italy. They sometimes say that they can`t blame me for it, as they were the ones who kept taking me to foreign places because their jobs required them to move to different countries every so many years.`
Carolina still travels to Sweden regularly, mostly with Lorenzo accompanying her. `I try to go there for a few weeks every summer and we usually spend Christmas there as well. I also try to speak Swedish to our little daughter, but it comes a bit unnatural because I hardly ever speak Swedish with anybody myself. I would like to teach her some Swedish values as well. After all, I myself am still at least 50% Swedish. I feel attached to Swedish things like Santa Lucia, eating crayfish in august, Mid-Summer, liquorice, salmon and caviar paste although I think I would have a hard time to re-integrate if I ever moved back to Sweden. I do sometimes miss Sweden. After all, it`s my home country. Whenever that happens, I sometimes go to IKEA to buy ingredients to cook a Swedish meals. But when I go to Sweden, I will bring Italian wine, Parmezan cheese, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.`
According to Italian family tradition, Carolina is usually the one who`s cooking and the everyday local cuisine is Italian. `I thought I would possibly get tired of the pasta but I haven`t so far`, she says. `The fact that I`m cooking is mostly for practical reasons. I only work half days since Magdalena was born. Lorenzo and I both work in his father`s company. We manufacture pumps for industrial dishwashers. I do a bit of everything, mainly administration, while Lorenzo is responsible fot the overall operations.`
Thinking back of their student times in Clermont-Ferrand, Lorenzo and Carolina marvel at what should not have happened if everything had gone according to plan. Neither of them was supposed to be there on the moment they met for the first time. But that`s how things go during Erasmus exchanges. Preparation is almost impossible. The choice is whether to accept the adventure. Carolina and Lorenzo did, and are soon expecting another expansion of the family. If all goes according to plan, the next youngest family member will join in October of this year.
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