My name is Caitlin, and let me first say: I got in, and I'm going to Sweden (07-08 represent!)! I'm 18 years old and I've graduated early from Deland High, and I've never left the country before. This will be my first experience outside the U.S. and seeing snow! I live here with my parents and two kitties, Mazzy and Elsie, and my life pretty much revolves around my friends.
I'd love to pursue a career in either music or animal medicine (or some field with animals - I love them so), and to prepare for that, I like to volunteer at my veterinarian's office and take classical voice training at Stetson nearby. I enjoy the outdoors, to an extent (e.g. getting lost in the woods and missing lunch makes me hate nature), and I love to feed people: cooking some elaborate meal and feeding everyone I know makes me happy inside.
So what's there to say about a girl who has barely seen anything outside her small town in Florida - who is spending an exchange year in Sweden? "Can't wait to find out." I'm so thrilled to be in this program - thank you Rotary for this opportunity, and good luck to the rest of the outbounds!
August 24 Journal
It still seems like just a few days ago I was in the Orlando airport losing my boarding passes three times in the security line (that’s a 15-minute time span, thank goodness for random acts of kindness) and waving goodbye to my parents… But no, in two days I’ll have been here a month, in this wonderful country called we call Sweden. It doesn’t seem like that long, and I dare not think of my exchange as 1/11th over – I haven’t even started school yet, so of course I have a long, long time left here.
I flew alone to Detroit, during which I was next to a screaming child. When I finally got to the Detroit airport, I walked 50 gates and met up with Michelle, so I thought “Oh yay! I won’t be alone on my flight!”, but, I was. There were several other exchange students on that flight as well, and they were all seated in the back of the plane, and my seat was toward the front; so I spent the 7-hour flight to Amsterdam trying to explain to random people around me that I couldn’t go have drinks when we landed and waiting for this hellish flight to end. We arrived, finally, all of us exchange students, passed through customs, and found our gate, only to wait an hour or so for boarding to begin. The flight from Amsterdam to Stockholm was the longest, or so it seemed; all the while thinking, “This is it,” no music on my ipod seemed to accurately fit my mood or thoughts, so instead I listened to the Swedish being spoken around me hoping the next time I was on this plane again, I would understand what everyone was saying.
We landed at Arlanda Airport, Stockholm around 4:30 local time, and eventually located baggage claim (where I waited a very, very long time for my bags to appear). Walking out of baggage claim, there was a giant crowd around the exit, and Eva, my host mom, walked right up to me and said “Finally!” My family was there, smiling (except my host brother, but he hates life, or something), and even though I was jet-lagged and felt gross from not showering in so long, I had never been more excited to be somewhere. I waved goodbye to the other inbounds because they all had connecting flights to catch, and walked out to the car where Eva explained that Steffe (my host father) brought his car as well, because they expected me to have so much luggage, but I ended up having the least out of all the other exchange students. I really wish I’d packed more; things are so expensive here!
We arrived 20 or so minutes later at my new home, which resided on the top of an apartment building on Lidingö, East Stockholm. After a quick shower and tour, we headed out to dinner at a restaurant called Foresta, which overlooks the water and the bridge that connects Lidingö to the rest of Stockholm. It was here that I realized, yes, people really do use forks and knives for everything. Even fries.
We were about to go on a tour of the island, but I was about to pass out as it was, so we decided to pass on that for the time being. Before I went to sleep for 14 hours though, I managed to give Peter what I thought was a cool gift from Florida: an alligator head. It’s got sharp teeth, it looks menacing, he’s a 15-year-old guy - that sounds like an OK gift, right? Well, apparently not. He screamed, said “No” several times in English and Swedish, batted it out of my hand, ran away, and hasn’t spoken to me since except to tell me when it’s time for dinner. Oops. I gave him chocolate and he said it was okay, but, he still doesn’t speak to me. Aside from that though, I really love my host family; they’re very helpful when they teach me Swedish and help me get used to everything here – and they’re very easy to talk to – well, Eva and Steffe, anyway.
When I eventually woke up, we went exploring in Stockholm – and to Gamla Stan, which is the old Stockholm (literally “Old Town”); this country is so beautiful, the buildings, the nature, the weather – though everyone here complains about the weather, I love it. There’s an ancient law here that says you can go anywhere you want, even if someone owns that piece of land, and set up camp, go fishing, whatever you want, as long as you’re respectful of the land – we’ve taken advantage of this when we were at the summer cottage in Svartsö; we headed out on the boat and found an island to have a picnic, it was quite amazing.
The food. Oh my god. I can’t even begin… Everything I’ve eaten so far has been a wonderful experience J Hahaha, everything from raw slices of fish with potatoes and sauce to mushrooms on toast to butter-and-cheese sandwiches, up until the salt candy, has been amazing. Salt candy is exactly what it sounds like, it’s salty, and it’s candy, and it’s disgusting, but at least I tried it. The other candy, however, is being stockpiled in my mini fridge (bahahaha), because it’s the only way to keep Peter from eating it. Coffee: everyone drinks it. It’s very strong. In Sweden we have “fika”, which is like a coffee break, and almost everyone has a fika everyday, to just drink coffee and some sort of pastry and relax.. It’s lovely. And I can honestly say I’ve had more coffee in this past month than I have in the past year. I’m actually on my third cup today as I write this (granted, it’s 1/3 milk and has a cube or two of sugar).
A few days after I arrived, I expressed an interest in the other Scandinavian countries. Two days later we went to Finland J Helsinki (Helsingfors as we call it) is nice, but Stockholm is better. Eva pointed out how all Finnish signs are also translated into Swedish, which was nice, but didn’t really help me at all. Apparently there’s a rivalry or something between the Swedes and the Finns, because the entire time on the boat ride there, whenever a Finn walked by, Steffe would say “Look.. At the elusive Finnish giant!” all the Finnish people we saw were very tall, so it was kind of funny. And anytime a Finn spoke to me, as soon as they found out I lived in Sweden, they were like “Oh, I have to go..” Hahahaah >.<
I understand what Glenn said in her journal last year about Swedes being open about things. Especially being naked. Sauna was an interesting experience, and people really will change in front of you or walk around in their underwear without giving it a second thought. But it’s okay, because all Swedes are incredibly attractive, haha.
The months leading up to an exchange, you find and talk to every other exchange student going to the same country as you at least once. All us inbounds around Stockholm have already met up: once in Stockholm and once in Uppsala, most of us are American but Rosie is from Canada. And of course we’re all going to see each other again at the language camp next week ^_^
Yesterday I went to school (Gångsätra Gymnasium) to set up my scheme for school; I’m in the Social Science program and have a class that doesn’t translate into English (something like… How different cultures affect your personality; basically, it’s like a class for exchange students!). As far as I can tell, Swedish high school is a lot like college; each day is different and you can actually sleep in (I start at 10 on Tuesdays =] )
I love everything so far, everything is still so new and exciting; it’s like being a child again, and I hope this feeling never goes away.