Joe started an SFI class last spring, but had to stop when his course work at the university began; he had a little bureaucratic adventure trying to get signed up.* My experience was quite the opposite of his: I went in in the late afternoon in mid-January and was seen by a very nice lady after only a 5 minute wait. She took my particulars, filled out a couple forms for me, assessed my Swedish skills quickly, and described the different types of classes I could take. We settled on the Lernia program, which is mostly geared towards language (the other programs include cultural assimilation classes), and is theoretically aimed at "the more educated immigrant." When can I start? I asked, remembering that Joe had lag time of a few months. She looked at the calendar. "This Thursday," she answered.
The first night of class was not inspirational: the building seemed dingy (it isn't, really), and the fact that there's a gospel church in the basement (see the picture at left and please note its name translated into English, under "Gospelkyrkan") worried me a little. There were only three other students, two Pakistani boys who are studying ecology at SLU, and a Ugandan woman a little younger than I. The Pakistanis were complete beginners: the Ugandan (let's call her AB.) had completed the same course I had at Folksuniversitet. That meant the the first night was an endless repetition of "Hej, jag heter..." and such elementary stuff. It had to be done, of course, but I was not impressed (too slow for me, I thought). Nevertheless, I went back for the second class the next week, to find the situation completely turned on its head. Gone were the Pakistanis, to be replaced by an Armenian and a Eritrean, both of whom sounded pretty darn fluent to me. Again, I thought I had better cut bait and drop this class (whoa! 'way too advanced for me) but then AB. showed up, and the teacher (a different one than last week) set the two fluent ones to learning the alphabet at the computer, while she talked to us and gave us our textbooks.
The teacher, M., is a character unlike anyone I've dealt with in Sweden so far. She's older than my previous teacher, who was definately in the young-and-hip crowd. She dresses somewhat theatrically and wears makeup. She makes no bones about separating people into "educated" and "uneducated" (which she considers the Armenian and Eritrean to be, despite their better language skills). She said something to AB. that at first I thought might be horribly racist (but I now think was not). She has eagerly told us that she hoped that we were "more ambitious than most of her students," and she's the first Swede I've met who seems to have any expectations of me at all. Interesting, in other words.
So the way it is now, AB. and I are getting twice weekly 2-hour semi-private tutoring sessions, while the "uneducated" others use the computers to catch up with things like spelling. Strange. But free. Which is a pretty good deal, and worth sticking it out for a while, I think, just to see what happens next if nothing else.
* I ran into German G. from my Folksuniversitet class the next day, and, based on my experience, urged him to go to SFI right away and try to get into my class. But G.'s experience was exactly like Joe's: a long wait at SFI only to be told impatiently that there was no time to interview him properly just now, and in any event he couldn't possibly start a class before March. The lesson? Some bureaucrats are better than others.