My name is Michael Natelli, I'm 16 years old and I've lived in Plantation, Florida all my life. I am the vice president of my sophomore class at the Sagemont Upper School in Weston, which I have attended for 11 years. I like photography, movies, and hanging out with friends and I'm the photo/design editor of my school's yearbook. I also have a part-time job at a Japanese restaurant and I'm really excited to find out which country I will be assigned to.
As the photo/design editor of the yearbook, I am responsible for overseeing all pictures in the yearbook and managing design. Well, that's my official job; in actuality I take almost every single picture that ends up in the yearbook, newspaper, school website, misc. publications and anything else that requires pictures. I'm kind of the "photography slave," but I love every second of it, even though photography is not my career aspiration. I cover everything from sports (GO LIONS!) to drama, clubs to the art department to publicity shots for the school; so I am the unofficial school photographer.
I kind of a linguist; I have a bunch of books of many different languages, and I love to learn different phrases in different languages. I take Spanish in school and I've been teaching myself Japanese for almost 2 years. I've also started to pick up a little Korean from the (non Rotary) exchange students at my school. I'm extremely multicultural and I love food from all around the world. (obviously, I work at a Japanese restaurant, and nothing's better than free sushi!)
Well it seems that I've started rambling so in conclusion, I would like to thank Rotary for making this possible, and I look forward to meeting new people and making new friends on the greatest adventure of my life.
July 29 Journal
The day of my departure has been rapidly approaching and I'm beginning to feel extremely apprehensive and nervous, but at the same time excited. Tomorrow I will have to leave the place I have called home for the past 16 years and depart to a foreign country to which I have never been.
It always seemed that I would never leave, or that my departure date was so far away that it would never come, and I always pushed it to the back of my mind. Yesterday I had to finish packing everything I own into two suitcases and try to force them closed while somehow managing to keep them under 50 pounds. There's a funny story behind this: I don't have a scale in my house, so I had to drive my suitcases to Publix and weigh them on their scale while all the other shoppers give me strange looks. Doing this at 10:30 at night probably didn't help either…
Tomorrow I will have to say goodbye to my family and part with them for a year. It will be a very sad occasion for both them and me, and it will be very hard to walk away knowing that I won't see them again for a year; the impact is finally setting in. But it's all good because the excitement of the year to come overpowers any feelings of sadness, and I can't wait to leave! I know the feeling that Joanie and Katie are talking about!
I would just like to thank Rotary for this amazing opportunity and also to thank Al for putting up with my craziness and not giving up on me.
Well the journey begins tomorrow and the next time I write, it will be from Sweden!!
August 17 Journal
Well I've been here for over two weeks, so I guess its about time to write my first journal from Sweden. It's hard to sum it all up; so many things have happened, so I have to try my best to summarize. Here we go…
Let's start with the flight. My flight left at 9:25, which meant, according to Bokoff Kaplan, that I should've been at the airport at around 6:30, but in reality we arrived a lot later… The lady at the check in counter was kind enough to overlook the fact that one of my bags was exactly 51.00 pounds and went a whole step further by giving my parents passes that would allow them past security to say goodbye to me. So after a tough goodbye I stepped on to the plane and I realized that my adventure had finally begun. The flight was relatively uneventful and I landed in Detroit earlier than expected and found myself in the middle of a huge terminal with no idea of where to go. So I put on my blazer and my "Rotary smile" and approached a lady at a ticket counter and then found out where my next gate was. Upon reaching my gate, I met two other girls going to Sweden from California and South Carolina and so we sat talking and eventually our group grew larger until there were about 8 of us all heading for Sweden. After the five hour layover, we boarded the plane to Amsterdam and in about another seven and a half hours, we were there. We formed a little exchange student "clump" near the gate of our next flight to Stockholm/Arlanda and waited to board and then about two and half hours later we landed in Sweden. We went to the baggage claim and after finally getting all of our luggage, we headed to the exit to find our host families, or to other connecting flights. I was met by my host parents and my Rotary counselor and we went to their car to drive about an hour to their home.
By this time, I had been awake for many, many hours without any sleep; we had all been talking during the whole flight from Detroit so by the time I had arrived in Stockholm, I hadn't slept in over 24 hours. So by the time I arrived home, I was about ready to pass out, but my host parents said that I should try to stay awake for the rest of the day so I would wake up the next day on Swedish time. So about after an hour they told me that they were going to IKEA to pick out a desk for my room and asked me if I wanted to come, and despite barely being able to stay awake, I decided to go. On the way there I was thinking, "Wow, I've just arrived in Sweden, and what's the first thing that I do? Go to IKEA!" How wonderfully stereotypical. (For those of you who don't know, IKEA is a Swedish furniture store.) I was surprised to find that mostly everything was the same as in the American stores, even the food at the restaurant was mostly the same. So after purchasing the desk and dragging it to the car we headed home and I fought the desire to fall asleep.
Moving ahead, over the next couple of days I traveled into the city center, which is completely closed off to traffic and only pedestrians and bikes are allowed. Everybody rides bikes here and most people are reluctant to take their cars. I've experienced the unique aspect of Swedish culture; fika, which is kind of like a coffee or tea break where one gathers with friends and drinks coffee and eats kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls) while just talking and relaxing. This can be done several times a day and many people do so. I've been to a cultural festival with a lot of people selling crafts and various preserves while dressed in traditional clothing with folk music playing in the background. I've been to Stockholm twice already, once to pick up my host sister from the train station and again for just general sightseeing. The most notable sights were Gamla Stan (the old town) and the Vasa museum which contains a perfectly preserved (at least for now) ship that sank over 333 years ago in Stockholm harbor. I've even managed to open a bank account even after they insisted on a letter from the Swedish Rotary proving that I wasn't lying and that I really was here on exchange.
I gave a speech to my Rotary club about myself in Swedish, which was terrifying, but they all liked it and said that my Swedish was amazing considering I had only been there for four days. (I did have a little help from my host dad. Ok, maybe a lot of help…) I've baked bread and eaten pancakes for dinner and drank tap water. That caused some initial culture shock, because I always drank bottled water at home, but here it tastes just like bottled water and now I'm hooked. My host family also has this magical contraption that carbonates the water and they also have a magic coffee machine that can make a cup of coffee in about ten seconds from actually coffee beans (not instant).
School starts in a few days and I'll be going to language camp during the second week so that should be a lot of fun. Well this journal is starting to get very long, so I think I'll have to end it for now, so until next time,
August 21 Journal
Today was a very interesting day as it was my first day of school. I awoke at the horrid hour of 6:45 or qvart i sju and then got ready for school. After a breakfast of yogurt and cereal (mixed together, because that's how they eat it here) I left the house at 7:30 or halv åtta and headed for the bus stop which was about a five minute walk away. I waited for the bus for a while and paid for my fare with a text message (it's 5 kronor cheaper that way) and then got on the bus. At the next stop, Anna (from Australia) got on; this was no coincidence, it was carefully planned, and a few stops later, Iliyas (from France) got on and then we rode into town where we got off and walked in the rain for about ten minutes to school. As soon as we arrived Anna started saying hi to everyone and we felt all sad because we didn't know anyone yet... but then I saw a bunch of people that I knew and I started saying hej and then I felt better about myself. ^_^
We all gathered in the Aulan (like an auditorium) and then they gave a speech about what a great year it will be (of which I did not understand a single word) and then we headed to our respective classes. So we all met in a room and they said some words about the upcoming year and thankfully one of my friends, Viktor, translated for me and then we got calendars (planners/agendas) and then we left to go to our next class (even though it was for a while). That's one thing very different about Swedish schools; there is a lot of free time in between classes. Then one of my teachers (Stina) pulled me aside and was nice enough to take me to the office to get my meal card, bus card and locker key. The meal card is to ensure that non-students or former students or homeless people don't try to come and get a free meal and you scan it every time you go in, which is kinda cool. The bus card is for anybody that lives more than 6 kilometers away from school so they can ride the city bus for free (the city buses here are sooooooo nice and they're really big and green) twice a day (once to school and once back) or if you want you can ride the bike to school and then use the bus card to go into town later... And finally, the locker key; well it's not that exciting but the lockers here actually have keys instead of combination locks so that's cool, and the locks say "FINLAND" on them, which I thought was rather funny.
After this I found my classmates hanging out in the hall so I stayed with them until my next class: English. It was actually a lot of fun because the teacher was American and spoke 100% English during the whole class; not a single word of Swedish. We practiced some tongue twisters, then we practiced saying Shakespeare-era insults at each other (Thou are an onion-eyed serpent's egg!) and then we did a group exercise that involved telling a story, with each group member adding on from the last. Our group's story mysteriously paralleled the plot of the movie Speed, but that wasn't my fault, the guy who started the story made it about a bus with a bomb that explodes if the bus goes under 50...
After English we went to Chemistry and everyone warned me that the teacher was really mean and nasty, but when I met her, she seemed very nice, but maybe that's just because I'm an exchange student... Haha I actually like that she spoke very clearly and I could understand a little bit, but when she started using bigger words she lost me.
After this we had lunch which consisted of some kind of soup with bread and this nasty "pancakes" that were neither American nor Swedish style; they were square and mushy and rather disgusting... but everything else was good.
After lunch we had a "Language block", so I decided to go check out Spanish 2 to see if it was too easy. They only offer Spanish 2 or 4 for my schedule, and I have already taken Spanish 2 back home, but I figured it might be nice to take a class where I actually know what's going on... There were only about 5 others in the classroom, but the teacher seemed nice enough and she could speak Swedish, English and Spanish, so it wasn't too hard to communicate with her. But after about 10 minutes she said we were done even though we hadn't learned anything, so we left and she gave us textbooks to take.
So I met up again with my friends and we had some time to fika, so we ate kanelbullar and drank coffee while we talked about stuff. People always keep asking me why I chose Sweden, and now every time someone asks me, I try to come up with a really crazy answer, like "I LOVE Abba" or something funny like that. It's a good way to break the ice anyway. ...dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen....
Moving along, we had physics, which was absolutely impossible to understand, and also absolutely impossible to stay awake during. So I basically stared at the floor and fell asleep with my eyes open.. Then finally the class was over and we headed to what I thought was Swedish class, but turned out to be Biology.
The room was really interesting, probably to a downright distracting point, because the side of the room where I was sitting had about 6 fish tanks of various sizes all filled with different types of fish and tons upon tons of algae. Two of the tanks were really small and had only algae in them, I think this was so some type of study. The teacher passed out some information about a field experiment that we are going to conduct in a small town outside of Uppsala. We are going to spend one night there and conduct various experiments on the water and aquatic life there and since I'm not getting any grades and I can barely understand them, I'm just tagging along and getting closer to my classmates. This was the final class of the day, so after that I left and I was able to find my way home on the bus all by myself! And I also got to use my fancy new bus card, which was fun because you have to wave it in front of the machine and then hit a button, but mine wouldn't register, so I had to stand there for a while waving my card around like an idiot while people stared. Well it actually wasn't that bad... I got it after like three tries, so maybe I'm exaggerating...
So I arrived home and then remembered that I was having dinner at one of my Rotary contact person's house so I got ready and then she came to pick me up. Her son was leaving on exchange for Ireland this Saturday so she wanted me to meet him before I left. Dinner was nice and during the meal, vi pratade bara svenska (we spoke only Swedish), which really boosted my confidence level and made me more confident. For some reason it was easier to understand them than just about any other Swedish person I have met... maybe it was because we used a lot of "Swenglish," so I guess we didn't truly speak only Swedish.
So tomorrow is my second day of school, and it will probably be a little better than today because I won't be so tired, and hopefully I can try to understand a little more. And maybe I will actually try speaking Swedish with my friends, because I have to say, with some guilt, that it is way too easy to just let them speak English because they are so willing to practice speaking it. I'll have to insist: bara svenska! bara svenska! ingen engelska! After school tomorrow, my host family is taking me up a little north and we are going to see my host aunt perform in a play, and then we will go sailing if the weather permits, so I am greatly looking forward to this, so until next time,
November 16 Journal
Ok, so it's been quite a while since my last journal entry, so let's try to sum up what I've done in the past two months. It's winter now, so some of these events happened back in fall, it's not necessarily in chronological order, it's kind of just a random mix of absolutely everything!
Before I tell about all the fun things I've been doing, I'll first talk about some of the little ideas that I've written down to make sure I mentioned them here, they are just a couple of random thoughts. In my spare time (the little amount that I do have of it) I've been teaching myself to play the piano when nobody's home; it's become a little hobby of mine. I also want to mention that Swedish people love to get naked, whether it's at school, at the gym, at home, or at the "Tea Society," there is never an excuse needed to get naked; it must just be a Swedish thing that I haven't fully grasped yet…
Way back in September we had our Language camp which was held in Eskilstuna, the former murder capital of Sweden, and got to meet all the other exchange students in our area. It was very late compared to the other districts in Sweden, but it was still a lot of fun even if I didn't learn that much. It was because it was so late that I didn't learn very much because I had already learned all the basics from just being here. We still had an unbelievable amount of fun there.
I have to say that I am actually extremely surprised at how well I can speak Swedish now, at the risk of sounding like I'm bragging. I can pretty much understand about 70% of what goes on in school (which is better than the >2% when I first started). I have a lot of Swedish friends and they speak Swedish to me. I speak Swedish almost completely with my host family and rarely have to use English. I am able to order food and shop for things without any help. It seems that actually this week I improved a ton, I'm not sure why, but this week was just amazing! (in terms of language)
I really like school here because it is so different from American school. My schedule is crazy and I have so many breaks and some weeks I never have to go in before 10:00. Mondays, for example usually run from 10:15 until 12:35 and that's it, and every other Thursday school starts at 1:20! At first it was really hard to understand, but now I'm actually getting much better and I'm able to follow along for the most part.
Now this may sound a little strange, but I've gone mushroom picking several times with my family in different places; mushroom picking is like a national pastime here. We will just drive out to some forest somewhere and just go right in and start searching for mushrooms. There is a law here called "Allemansrätten" which means "Every Man's Right" which allows you to just go wherever you please and not have to worry about who owns the property. You are allowed to pick mushrooms and berries and even camp the night anywhere, as long as you do not disturb the nature or leave any trace. This "law" is what allows activities such as mushroom and berry picking to be performed. It's pretty cool actually, everyone is laid back and they don't put up fences around everything.
I have had the experience of eating something called Surströmming since I've been here. It is very Swedish, as most other people wouldn't dare to eat or even go near it. Surströmming is basically fermented herring that comes in these bloated looking cans that expand from all the gasses that build up during the fermentation process. It has a smell that could kill animals and small children; it's so bad that you never open it inside the house, always outside.
Höst Lov: Fall Vacation
There is much to say about höst lovet på Gotland (the vacation on Gotland). I had a fun time, but the week was a weird combination of feelings. Let's start from the beginning...
We left on Saturday afternoon and drove for about 2 hours south east to a town who's name has escaped me and then boarded the ferry. After about three hours we arrived on Gotland and it was around 11:30 at night. Since we had taken two cars but had only brought one on the ferry, we had to take two trips so Katarina (host mom), Per (host dad) and Amanda (host sister) drove to the house which is about 7 kilometers away from Visby (the main city in Gotland) and we stayed with mormor (Katarina's mother aka host grandma) and explored the city for a little while. There was not much to see at night but it was still pretty cool. After about 25 minutes Per came back and took us to their house. They had just finished building the house and had also just finished putting all the finishing touches on it recently, so it was beautiful and all brand-new feeling. Little did we know that a flaw in the house's design would be it's ultimate downfall... Amanda, Anna (from Australia) , Iliyas (from France) and I all slept in one room, which was pretty cool because it had like a little loft in it which housed other beds so we were all comfortable.
Unfortunately the weather wasn't very nice so we didn't get to explore around the island as much as we would have liked to. During the whole time we mostly spent our time indoors, and the two times that we did make it into Visby (the biggest city), it was either really cool and very very windy or cold and raining. The weather was not very nice. It also didn't help when we found out that it was snowing in Ekilstuna on Thursday night and then it started snowing in Uppsala (where I live) on Friday.
On Saturday morning we woke up at 6:00 and then got ready to head back home. We did get one nice surprise; there was heavy frost outside so the grass was all frozen and white and there was frost on the car. It was about -5C out which was pretty cool, but it didn't feel all that cold. After the 3 hour ferry ride (on the floor in a corridor because all the tables and seats were taken) we got back to mainland Sweden and then headed home.
I was delighted to see that there was still some "snow" left. I use the term lightly because it used to be snow, but snow it's just a thin little layer of slush. But it's still snow, and I was excited!!
I've been to Stockholm several times since I've been here, but the most notable was probably when I went with my class. For our Swedish class we all went to see Hamlet at this really old theater in Stockholm, it was really cool. I had a very hard time understanding what was going on, but I knew the general story line so it was ok for me, it was just very hard to understand the "Shakespearian" Swedish. The play was a modern adaptation and I thought it was very well done.
I've also done all the touristy things in Stockholm, like going into Gamla Stan (the old town) and seeing the castle and the Vasa Museum.
It's snowed twice here; once when we were on vacation (as previously mentioned) and again today, actually. I was so excited because my host sister woke me up and told me that it was snowing and I didn't believe her, I just thought she was trying to wake me up. But sure enough, I looked out the window and it was snowing a little bit, not too much, but it was still snow! It melted as soon as it hit the ground because it was about 2 degrees out. It's already snowing a lot in the northern parts of Sweden (I'm in the center-ish area).
We also had a conference here with our district (2350) in Uppsala so all the other exchange students came here. We had to perform something for all the Rotarians that represented out country, so all decided to sing songs that represented our various countries (USA, Australia, France, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand and Argentina). So Michael (from Michigan) and I, "the two American Michaels," sang "The 50 States That Rhyme." After the conference we all hung out around Uppsala and we showed everybody else around.
Last night we had a (late) Halloween party with the other exchange students in our district. Despite that fact that Halloween was two weeks ago, we all got dressed up and had a party at Anna's (from Australia) house here in Uppsala. We ate a lot of candy and danced and had really fun time.
So that's about it, I may have forgotten some things, but if I remember I'll add them in, so until next time,
January 20 Journal
Ok I figure it's about time to update everyone on what I've been doing so far, so here we go. I suppose I'll just take it chronologically with everything that I can remember since my last journal.
So, starting from where I left off in November... That next weekend my friend Miranda from Canada who lives about 2 hours away came to Uppsala for the weekend and we hung out with Iliyas from France and also my Swedish friend Anton. (I do actually have Swedish friends, I guess I just don't write about them much...) We had a lot of fun and enjoyed the snow. I almost forgot about the snow actually, it seems like it was so long ago... We got about a foot of snow, maybe even more, it was amazing! So we had a lot of fun playing in the snow during the weekend.
The snow was so much fun while it lasted. During the week we went to Sunnerstabacken, a hill (or kind of like a basin) right near my house and åkte pulka (I'm not really sure what that's called in English, I suppose going on a sled). It was a lot of fun; I went with Anton, Gen from Australia and Amanda, my host sister. We had two "sleds;" one round one and one that could hold two people so we took turns going down the hill. I went again the next day with Gen and Iliyas and we had just as much fun as before. We threw snowballs at each other, wrestled in snow and buried Iliyas in the snow.
Unfortunately the magic of the snow was short lived because it melted that Thursday, well not entirely, but pretty much most of it, and it was all just slippery slush that was really annoying to walk on. So I had another boring week at school, nothing notable happened, the fun started again on the weekend. Rotary organized a weekend in Stockholm for us with all the exchange students in the three districts in our area (so we all already know each other because we went to language camp together). It was fun, we went to the Vasa Museum (even though I've already been there with my host mom) and to Skansen which is like this big park/zoo/cultural fair in the middle of Stockholm. We stayed in a hostel on Saturday night which was surprisingly nice and actually really cool. On Saturday night we had our oldies from the Southern Hemisphere talk about how their years had been and it was just so sad because they would be going home in less than a month, so they were all crying; it was very emotional for all of us. So on Sunday we went home which was sad because it the last time that we would see some of our oldies. On the train ride back to Uppsala we had to sit on the floor because some insensitive Swedish people's luggage needed seats more than we did. That's why they invented luggage racks on the trains, people!!
The next weekend Miranda came again with Emmanuel from France, who both live in the same town (Eskilstuna) and we hung out during the weekend which was a lot of fun. We had the whole Uppsala crew (Anna, Gen, Iliyas and I) plus our two friends from E-tuna (our nickname for their town) together which was really cool, we hung out for like the whole weekend.
The next week there was nothing too notable that occurred except on Wednesday where I watched Iliyas play innebandy (indoor bandy, which is a sport kind of like hockey but on foot; it is usually played on ice, but innebandy is inside and on foot) which was really funny because it was students against teachers, and all the students were dressed in Lucia clothes (more on that a little later). I also had my final exam in Physics A on Thursday which was really stressful; I studied really hard for it, which was a lot of work because I had to try to learn in like one week what the rest of the class had learned in a year (Physics A stretches over year one and into half of year 2, which I think is really stupid...). I didn't have to take it but I wanted to at least give it a shot. I failed; I got 7 points and you needed at least 12 to pass, but that's ok, I didn't really expect to pass anyway.
The real high point of the week was the Luciatåg in school on Friday. Every 13th of December is Lucia in Sweden which celebrates Sankta Lucia (Saint Lucia) from Italy (still have no idea why they have a holiday to honor an Italian saint in Sweden...). It was a concert in school where we dressed up in traditional clothes, which consisted of a long white robe and held candles while singing about seven songs in Swedish in front of the whole school. It was mortifying, but I think I did pretty well; we had been practicing for about a month. I still didn't know all the words to all of the songs; it's really hard to memorize songs in your non-native language, but I was able to cheat a little and hide the lyrics to a few songs in my candle, because it had like a plate around it on the bottom to catch the wax. I also forgot to mention that I saw one Lucia performance before this in Domkyrkan (the enormous church in the middle of Uppsala) on Thursday. On Saturday I went to yet another Lucia performance in the concert hall, which was really nice, but I have to say that after that I was thoroughly Lucia'ed out.
The next day Iliyas and I went by train to Upplands Väsby to have lunch with the other exchange students from our district at our District chairperson's house (our version of Al) which was huge and out a little in the countryside. She is so unbelievably nice and we love her so much. We had lunch and talked a little about upcoming events later in the year, like going to the Ice Hotel and skiing in Åre and she showed us her scrapbook from when she went on exchange to America.
The next week was relatively uneventful until Thursday where a bunch of the clubs and societies put on a performance called Kul i Jul, which means like Fun in Christmas, it was pretty funny even though it was a little hard to understand at some points. The next day there was another assembly for avslutningen which is like the end of the term and the start of the jullov, or Christmas holiday. That was pretty boring as it was just a bunch of teachers and administrators talking about boring stuff... The real fun started after that where my class had planned to play Lasertag, which was really cool. We played two rounds and I did really horribly on the first round, but actually quite well on the second round.
The next day (Saturday) we left for Gotland (big island off the coast of Sweden) again where we would spend Christmas. It was mostly uneventful there, which I kind of expected, until Christmas, which is celebrated on the 24th here. After dinner we had a visit from tomten (Santa Claus) who came into the house and gave us some presents, it was a shame that my host aunt missed him; she was out buying the newspaper when he came, it was strange though because they had a similar body type... After tomten left, we all opened the rest of our presents which was really nice, I feel so attached to my host family, I don't want to leave them. We came home from Gotland on the next Sunday.
The next week was really cool, I did a lot of stuff. On Monday, Emmanuel came from Eskilstuna again to hang out. On Tuesday, Anna, Gen, Emmanuel and I went ice skating on a lake outside of Uppsala with Gen's host family, which was unbelievably fun. When you skate on a lake, you use long skates, which are about one foot in length, which I think makes it easier to skate with. We spent a couple of hours on the ice and then went back home.
The next day Anna, Gen and I went to Eskilstuna because we were going to celebrate New Years at Miranda's house. We took a really crazy route to get there involving two busses and a train, but it was a lot of fun. We spent the night at Miranda's and made pizza and cake and also built a fire outside, which kept us warm because it was freezing. We went home the next day.
On Saturday Anna and Gen had a combined goodbye party because they would be leaving in less than a week. It was fun and not as sad as I expected it to be.
The next day we went ice skating again with my host family on a lake right near my house. We skated for about 3 Swedish miles, or about 30 kilometers, it was tiring but really cool, and the long ice skates make it easier because it's less work.
Next week on Tuesday we went ice skating again with Iliyas which was really cool, and I really am loving all this ice skating and I'm going to miss it so much when spring comes, I'm not sure if there are any indoor rinks nearby...
School started on Thursday which was not very fun, but I guess all good things must eventually come to an end... It was just a regular boring day at school until the afternoon where Iliyas and I met Anna and gave her emotional support because she had to say goodbye to her classmates. We then went home after that
The next day was a day of great sadness because it was the day that Anna and Gen were going home to Australia. My host dad gave Iliyas and I a ride to the airport so we could say goodbye to them. It was really sad and there was a lot of crying. After they left we went home and just spent the rest of the day together and didn't go to school.
The next week was just same old boringness until Thursday which was my birthday. My class sang Happy Birthday in Swedish to me when I came in (all 4 verses of "Ja, må han leva!") and they all signed a picture of me and hung it on my locker (which is like a tradition at my school for birthdays). It was really nice of them and made me really happy.
So that pretty much sums up everything I've done thus far. I'm going to change host families in about two weeks which is a little sad but will be ok because I know the family really well (Iliyas and I are trading families) and our newbie from Australia is coming in less than a week so we're going to try our hardest to make him feel at home.
Until next time,
April 27 Journal
It’s been quite an amount of time since I’ve written my last journal; I’ve been busy with a lot of different things, but now I’m sitting down and finally writing it. The theme of this journal must definitely be winter and winter sports. I just checked the website to see where I left off and Whoa! I have a lot to say now.
I forgot to mention something about my birthday, probably the most important part of course: my present! My host family surprised me in the morning, burst into my room with a cake and singing “Ja må han leva!” at some horrible hour of the early morning. The most exciting part however was my present; they bought skiing lessons for me at the local ski slope, which is only a 4 minute walk from my house. They wouldn’t be starting for a couple of weeks, so I’ll discuss more about that later.
Vattenfall and Hovgården:
This isn’t the most interesting topic in the world, and probably not the most pleasantly scented, but I figure that I should say something about it anyway. On the 27th of January, shortly after my last journal left off, I went on a field trip with my class to two places called Vattenfall and Hovgården. Vattenfall was the first place that we visited, and it is located a little bit outside of the city center near Boländerna, where all the big box stores and IKEA are. It is this big collection of buildings with a huge smokestack in the middle that billowed out white steam into the fresh winter air. Vattenfall is the name of the main energy company in Uppsala, and they produce energy (duh!) and something called fjärrvärme, which translates as ”district heating,” which I’ve never heard of. I’m not sure if it just doesn’t exist in the US, or just that we never need to have heating in Florida. Anyway, they burn the city’s garbage here in this big scary-looking furnace (that had a little window where you could peer in) which is converted to energy and the leftover heat is used to heat up water to skin scalding temperatures which is them pumped out to homes and businesses in Uppsala. They use the hot water to heat the houses (in the heating elements on the wall) and also for just general hot water. It’s almost unlimited, you never have to worry about the hot water heater running out of hot water here! So we learned a lot about garbage collection, energy production and heating in the city so it was an educational visit that was at least interesting. I didn’t think it smelled nearly as bad there as I thought it would, little did I know that the smell was yet to come.
We took a bus to somewhere outside of the city, a place called Hovgården. It is basically just a large outside dump/landfill/compost heap/heavy items dump that had a horrible odor. Unfortunately the temperature was just a little above freezing (unusually warm) so it was all ”muddy” (although I don’t think it was really mud…) and soggy on the ground. Here they take care of the garbage that can’t be burnt, such as large metal items like cars or refrigerators and take them apart and do various things with them. The main attraction, however, was the big landfill, which was accompanied by several smaller compost heaps that were steaming, literally and giving off a not-so-pleasant smell. We learned a little about what they do here, but nobody was interested, they just wanted to get out of the cold and the smell, so after about an hour of learning about how much garbage smells we finally caught a bus back into the city. That pretty much details that day. Oh, I also forgot that I got locked out of the house that day and my phone was completely drained of battery so I had to wait for my host sister to come home and let me in.
New Exchange Student:
As mentioned in my last post, our beloved Australians went home in January. We now have a new Australian guy that’s living in our town and we’re working to make him feel welcome. His name is Anthony and he goes to my school, just in a different class.
New Host Family:
At the end of the month, on a Sunday, I switched host families with Iliyas (from France). It was sad because I had become very attached to my first host family and really felt like I was a part of their family. It turned out to be not nearly as tough as I thought it would be, and I already knew the family very well because I had been there so many times. They are really nice and I feel welcome and accepted. My host parent’s names are Ewa and Jan Svensk and they have 3 children: one, Linnea is on exchange in Spain (I met her before she left), the other, Erik is 16 and lives at home, and Tina has her own apartment.
As I had mentioned, I received skiing lessons from my first host family back on my birthday, and they were 2 nights a week for 3 weeks. I went with my friend Iliyas because his host parents also bought the same lessons for him so it was really cool. We were a small group of 5 people, so we got a lot of individual attention. We also met a girl from our school there; she was in our group so that was cool to make a new friend.
The first lesson was hard; we were on a very small hill, but the mini lift was broken so we had to climb our way up each time on our own so it was very annoying. I had a hard time stopping, also, so I was beginning to think that I would never get the hang of it… But as we took more lessons I got better, and we eventually moved on to the bigger slopes. There were 3 slopes at Sunnerstabacken: 1 really little one and two bigger ones: they were not that tall, and also not long at all, but rather steep. It was good practice, and we went almost every night in between the lessons to get even more practice. It was just so much fun! All this practicing did have a reason, however, which I will explain shortly.
At the end of the second week of my skiing lessons, my school had a Friluftsdag or ”Free Air Day,” which is basically just a day where everyone in the second year does winter sports. Skiing was one of the options so I jumped at the opportunity to get better. We went to a town called Järvsö to the north, it’s near Hudiksvall, so it’s actually in about the center of Sweden (in terms of North-South). It was about a 3 hour bus ride away and when we got there I was so excited. The slopes were really big, much bigger and longer than any that I had seen before, so I was both nervous and excited. The day went really well, I hung out with some different people from my class and got closer to them, which is good because Swedish people can be difficult to get close to sometimes. I even tried 2 black slopes, and I surprisingly didn’t fall or die! So I was very pleased, and I knew that I was ready for the big skiing trip that was to come.
During sportlov, or sport vacation, in February, my host family was going to visit their daughter in Spain and my first host family was going skiing in Åre, Scandinavia’s biggest ski resort. They have an apartment right next to one of the major lifts, seriously like 3 minutes walking, so it was so convenient and great. We drove about 7 hours to get there and it was night when we did, so Iliyas and I spent the first night just exploring the little town. The next day was when the real fun would start. Iliyas’ host sister Amanda (my former host sister) also brought a friend so the four of us went up to the top together and started a day of excellent skiing. We split up after a while so it was just Iliyas and I. Luckily we didn’t get lost in the giant resort; there were so many slopes and lifts that all led to different places. The next days were the same, just excellent skiing all day. We were really luckily on the first two days because it was really sunny and beautiful, despite being very cold; on the third day it was not really sunny, but about -17 degrees Celsius out, so it was very cold, but all the movement from skiing really does keep you warm.
Later in the week we met a girl that Iliyas had met at Sunnerstabacken before and her friend, so it was really cool to have some friends to go skiing with. We skied for a total of 6 days, and it was just great, we had such a great time, and I am so glad that I was able to have this experience. Tack så mycket Familjen Nielsen och Rotary! (Thank you so much Nielsen family and Rotary!)
This brings me to another point: Swedish. I have to say that by now I consider myself pretty much fluent; I can understand everything that goes on around and I can express myself. I have to say that it really is an amazing feeling when you can express yourself in another language. It took a lot of work, however, and I felt that it took about 6 whole months of being here before approaching fluency and then another month or so to finally realize it. I’m not saying that I’m a master at Swedish or anything, but I have to say that I deserve some credit because there are some people that have been here as long as me that can barely get by; they just speak English the whole time and have never bothered to learn Swedish. My secret is: just speak it! If you want to learn a language, then just speak it, make an effort, it will be rewarded. People are usually very helpful and are even honored that you are taking the time to learn their language. Studying before does help, it gives you a good basis (yes, this is directed at you, future outbounds), but the easiest way to learn the language is to be immersed in it, and forced to speak it.
I really like reading in Swedish too, I’ve read a few Swedish books that nobody had probably ever heard of, but now I’m reading The Kite Runner in Swedish (it’s called Flyga Drake) for my Swedish class in school. It’s difficult, but I really like it. Enough about Swedish now.
The month of March just kinda flew by, nothing that interesting happened, it was mostly just doing homework, working on online classes and hanging out a little with friends, nothing too interesting to report here.
Spring has finally started to come, the snow all melted and it was a little bit warm here (about 10 degrees Celsius), which was nice until it snowed again and was cold for another week. The weather here is a bit tricky.
Kiruna and Jukkasjärvi!!
This has to be the highlight of these past few months, along with skiing in Åre. You have probably never heard of Kiruna and would be afraid to try to even pronounce Jukkasjärvi. These are two cities, well actually one city and one small town up in the very north of Sweden, about a 16 hour train ride away from Uppsala. They are not too far from the Sweden/Norway/Finland border up at the top and they are a good way above the Arctic Circle. Needless to say, it is still cold there, despite the fact that the rest of the country was seeing snow, and temperatures in around 15 degrees Celsius. It was a bit of a shock going from T-shirt weather back up to the Great White North, I was finally accepting that winter was over and then BAM! back up to the cold!
You may be wondering what there is to see up at the North Pole (ok, not really at the North Pole, but very very far north). Well the city of Kiruna has about 17,000 residents, has a thriving mine, whose cracks are causing the entire city to picked up and moved 1 kilometer away, and a rich Sami culture (the Sami people are the indigenous people of Scandinavia). They also have the Esrange Space center, where they launch rockets and satellites into space. Other than that, it’s most just snow. Oh, I forgot something, the nearby town of Jukkasjärvi is home to the ICEHOTEL, which is known around the world for being, well a hotel completely made of ice and snow. But more on that later.
We traveled up to Kiruna with 2 other Rotary districts, which new people that we had never met before, so it was really cool to make some new contacts. The train ride was fun, but sleeping on a train is not so much fun, I have to say. We stayed in a youth hostel in the center of the city. On the first day we met up with some girls from the local high school that go in the Tourism program and they used us as a project and showed us around the town and organized the rest of the trip’s events. We arrived in the morning so we spent the rest of the day just seeing the city itself and some attractions like an old church and the city hall, which was voted to be Sweden’s prettiest building (on the inside) for that year, although we didn’t think it was anything amazing, but we all kept our mouths shut… That night we ate pizza which was the first time I’ve had non-microwave pizza in 8 months, so I devoured it. That night we went to the girls’ school and hung out, played Singstar and reverse hide and seek (where one person hides and the whole group has to find them, the last one to find them is then “it”). We misplaced a Mexican, and it took us a really long time to find him; he hid really well. Everyone was running around the school calling his name and also yelling “Taco!” which I thought was offensive, but funny.
The next day, we went on a snowmobile safari. Since we were a big group we had about 12 snowmobiles pulling a bunch of sleds behind them that we were all sitting in. We rode for over an hour and saw some reindeer along the way. We found out that every reindeer is owned by a Sami person, so if you shoot them or hit them with a snowmobile you can get heavily fined or go to jail, so we had to stop a lot and wait for them to go away. We finally arrived at a frozen lake (although you could never tell because there was so much snow everywhere) and the girls started building a fire. There was a bunch things for us to do, including ice fishing, sledding or riding the snowmobiles up to a nearby mountain, which I decided to do, it was much different being on the back of the snowmobile instead of in a sled behind it. It was a bumpy ride, but it’s similar to riding on a jetski. After soaking up a really nice view from the top of the mountain we headed back and ate some hamburgers that they cooked over the fire, which was funny because the fire itself was in a deep hole of snow over two feet deep. It was really cold, and we were all freezing from being outside for such a long time, although it was rather warm for Kiruna, which in the middle of winter gets temperatures of around -30 Celsius, while now it was only between -10 and -5. We eventually headed back, which took around an hour and then went swimming (in an indoor pool) before heading to dinner at the girls’ school. They put on a whole little dinner production, which was nicely done and followed a performance by Sami songs from two Sami girls in the class.
The next day was the final day, and also the highlight of the trip. The day started off with a visit to the Esrange Space Center, where rockets from all over Europe are launched. Virgin Galatic is going to use it for “Spaceport Sweden” with their commercial space travel service that is set to start in a few years, along with another spaceport in New Mexico. It was interesting to see, it was kind of like a mini Kennedy Space Center, and everything was covered in snow, so there wasn’t all the much to see, but we need get to go inside one building where a bunch of German scientists were preparing this telescope that would be launched in the summer. It was cool because we got to get a lot closer to things than one does at say, Kennedy Space center. We went inside a launch silo and went into the control room, which had a really cool big red “FIRE” button that everyone was tempted to press. It was pretty interesting and the guide was informative, but everybody was really excited for what was to come after the space center.
We then took a bus from the space center to the small village of Jukkasjärvi and ate lunch at “Restaurant.” It was the only restaurant in Jukkasjärvi, so I suppose it didn’t need a name, the sign just said “Restaurant.” It was actually the restaurant for the ICEHOTEL and was located across the street. After a good meal of reindeer meat (first time eating that in my life) we headed excitedly over to the ICEHOTEL itself. The whole area was really big, consisting of a shop, a reception area, warm (non-ice) villas that you can stay in and a building with lockers, showers and bathrooms for those who were staying in the ice rooms. The hotel was surprisingly big, much bigger than I had originally thought that it would be. It consisted of around 70-something rooms; I had thought that it was only a couple. 20-something of these rooms were custom designed art suites which all had unique artwork in ice. We started out with a tour, which began in the Ice Chapel, where a lot of people get married every year, there are even baptisms, although those are not as popular… everything was amazingly designed, and the guide was very informative. We then proceeded into the hotel itself, saw the ice reception area and the main hall, which was enormous and branched out into six corridors where the ice rooms were. We also got a look at the “ABSOLUT ICEBAR” (yes they do go a little overkill with the all capital letters) where you can buy drinks in ice glasses (both alcoholic and non alcoholic). Then the tour guide set us free to explore the hotel by ourselves, so that’s exactly what we did; we went into every room and I took approximately 80,000 pictures (ok, maybe it was only like 400…). I can’t even put into words what it was like, it was just such an amazing experience. Everything was made out of ice, it was just so beautiful, and the ice suites were all amazingly done; the artists were so creative. This was something that I have been looking forward to doing ever since I found out that I was coming to Sweden; I had always been hoping to make it here, even if I had to go by myself, but it was really great that Rotary here was able to organize something for us, because it was a lot of fun to be with the other exchange students. Thank you so much Rotary Sweden for organizing this, and thank you RYE Florida for making it possible!
Now some closing thoughts. I came back from Kiruna and it’s been about 3 weeks now. Spring has come and it’s getting really warm here, around 15 Celsius and getting hotter, so it’s really nice to be able to go outside again without heavy jackets on. Hopefully I can regain a bit of tan that has been lost from 6 months of long sleeves and pants, so we’ll see how that goes.
I just want to take this opportunity to thank Rotary once again for this amazing experience! You have no idea how much I appreciate it!
Until next time!
July 18 Journal
So now I’m sitting down once again to write a journal, probably my final one, so be prepared for a long one, as a lot has happened in the past amount of time since my last journal.
The first interesting topic to cover would be Valborg, which is a Swedish holiday celebrated on the 30th of April. Like many other Swedish holidays, Valborg is celebrated mostly by extreme drinking. Just kidding, there are actually some traditions and other events that happen between and or during the drinking. Valborg is meant to celebrate the arrival of spring, and most Swedes like to start the day with a champagne breakfast. In Uppsala this is usually followed by watching the försränningen on the river in the center of town. This is where many of the university students float down the river on self made ”boats” and try to stay afloat even after going down the small waterfall downstream. The entire population of Uppsala (this is the fourth largest city in Sweden) packs along the river and space is tight; everyone’s inner sadistic side really wants to see the poor students crash and have their boats destroyed. These “boats” have all different shapes and designs, ranging from actual boats (one looked like a Viking Line Ferry) to random objects (such as a floating toilet). After this most people go home because they are so tired from waking up so early to get a good spot by the river. Lunch is then eaten and the rest of the day is spent relaxing with a nice dinner at the end of the day.
The next interesting event was a Rotary-organized trip to Sundbyberg, which is a small municipality in Stockholm. It is actually the smallest municipality in Sweden, and it covers an area of about 7 km². The day started with a visit to a “make your own CD” studio, where we split into groups of six and recorded 3 songs. The first two groups recorded “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA and “Wonder Wall” by Oasis, respectively, but our last group was very mixed; there were no two people from the same country and the majority were from non-English speaking countries (finally!). Needless to say, it was a little difficult to find a song that all of us were familiar with, so we wound up settling on none other than the legendary Ms. Britney Spears. That’s right, we recorded “Oops I Did it Again” for our track on the CD. This certainly shows the impact of a pop icon such as Britney Spears has on the world.
After leaving the studio we headed to a small botanical garden in Sundbyberg, which was really pretty because it had a bunch of flowers that were just beginning to bloom. Now maybe the old me wouldn’t get that excited about flowers, but the new me definitely appreciates them because after a long cold winter with no sun, little things like some flowers really brighten up your day. After a nice stroll in the park we went to the Rotary Club of Sundbyberg for lunch. After we ate we all had to stand up one by one and introduce ourselves and the Rotarians asked us questions from a list, such as “what is the biggest difference between (insert country here) and Sweden?” It was then that I realized how ungrateful some of the other exchange students are. It was really sad to see what little effort they had put into learning Swedish; after being here for 8/9 months (at this time), one would expect that they would be able to understand and respond to basic questions such as those. I can understand that the southern hemisphere people who came in January would of course not be as good at Swedish yet, but I think it is unacceptable to be unable to speak even basic Swedish after 8/9 months. I hope that everybody in Sweden realizes how grateful I am, because I think one of the best ways to show it is by actually learning the language; I think it disgustingly unacceptable and disrespectful to not learn the language of your host country. Now I seem to be getting off topic however, so back to Sundbyberg… After eating lunch we went to the town hall and watched a presentation (all in Swedish, and I can say about 90% of the room was completely lost, what a shame) about the history of Sweden’s smallest municipality. After that we just had free time for the rest of the day to just wander around together and just hang out; generally what exchange students do best!
It was also around this time that I began a sailing course down on the lake right near my house. I went with my friend Iliyas from France, we figured it would be something fun to do together, as we had taken ski lessons together in the winter. Unfortunately it wasn’t what we expected; it wasn’t a beginner’s “Learn to Sail” course, it was more just a sailing club for people that already could sail, and most of them were much younger than us, In any case, it was still fun and we did learn a bit, although I definitely can’t say that I would feel comfortable enough sailing alone or without somebody else that knew how to sail. Every Tuesday and Thursday we would head to Skarholmen where the boats were kept. The boats we sailed in were known as “två krona” and were about 12 feet long and could hold between 2 and 4 people. It was interesting to learn all the sailing vocabulary; all new concepts to me because I have never sailed before. All in all it was a fun experience, but at times I felt mostly just like dead weight because I didn’t really know what I was doing. At least my dead weight helps keep the boat from tipping on a windy day!
Oh dear. Yes, Fjuckby, no, it’s not a typo, it’s actually the name of a very small town/village here in Uppland (the region in which I live), about 18 kilometers from my house in Uppsala. After I found it while randomly searching on a map, I knew I had to go and take some pictures. So I dragged my best Swedish friend Anton with me there. It’s not the easiest place to find; we had to take one of the city busses out to the very end of the line to a place called Lövstalöt and then walk another 4 kilometers to get there, through fields and a small forest. I had a map, but Google Maps didn’t really give the correct location so we had to wander a bit and eventually found it. We met some sheep along the way that were really nice and came up to us to let us pet them. We finally made it there, but there was nothing really interesting there, mostly just houses. The main attraction, however, was the signs that marked the name of the village: Fjuckby. In case you are wondering, it’s pronounced “fyook-bee” in Swedish, and the spelling has changed from a more ancient spelling of Fjukeby, which is slightly less funny. It is also the location of an ancient rune stone, but this is really common in small Swedish villages such as this, so that wasn’t all that exciting. I hope this post doesn’t offend anybody!
Fika och chillar
The same week that I made my adventure to Fjuckby I also received a visit from a good friend that I flew over to Sweden with. Her name is Meredith and she was the second exchange student I met on my journey over to Sweden (not counting ones I had met in the US). She called me up out of the blue (excuse the cliché) because she would be coming down to Uppsala. I spent the day with her and Anthony (other exchange student in Uppsala from Australia) showing her around Uppsala and going for fika (Swedish word for going to a café, eating pastries, drinking coffee, and talking for hours, no real English equivalent). Later that night I met up with a Swedish friend from my class, Viktor, and we played pool and hung out for a few hours in town, which was a lot of fun.
The next day we followed her to Stockholm because we had the day off from school (Kristi Himmelsfärdsdag, something not celebrated in the US) and met up with some of the other exchange students and had a grand old time as we usually do.
Linnea och Anna
It was also around this time that my host sister Linnea came home from her exchange in Spain, she had only been there for about nine months; I met her before she left and will spend 2 months with her before I leave. I like to think that I made the most out of my year by staying as long as possible to enjoy every last second of my time here.
Another very exciting event was getting to see my oldie from Australia, Anna, who had gone home back in January. She came back to Sweden for a month to see her host sister graduate and to see her friends again. It was really great to see her again, I realized how much I missed her while she was gone. Exchange is really something special, you make instant unbreakable bonds with so many people, and the hardest part is saying goodbye, and knowing that you might not get to see them again. But more on this later, this is only the tip of the iceberg…
The school I attend here in Uppsala is something like 600 years old and has had a rival school here for probably almost as long called Lundellska Skolan. My school, Katte (Katedralskolan) and Skrapan (Lundellska Skolan) have been at war forever and every year there is one day where they both compete in mixed athletic events. Skrapan has won for the last 15 years or so, and everyone always hopes that this year will be the year that Katte wins. After a long day outside in the cold rain it was finally over and the winner was announced: Katte! It was a big surprise and everybody was very happy and excited. After the events everybody rushed to the nearest café to fika and warm up a bit.
As some of my more avid readers may recall, Eskilstuna is the place where my district had it’s language camp (along with our two other friend districts) and it’s also where a bunch of my exchange student friends live. I went to Eskilstuna for a goodbye party for Michael from Canada and to celebrate Brenton from Australia’s 18th Birthday. The goodbye party was a complete surprise and he had no idea that we had gathered 20 people to meet him, he thought it was just going to be the 5 people that lived in Eskilstuna. We grilled hotdogs outside and hung out in this park for the day and then went back to Brenton’s house for the night. The next day we celebrated Brenton’s birthday at his house; we baked a cake and people bought him presents, overall it was a fun experience.
Last Day of School
The next day was the last day of school, known as Avslutningen, where everyone gathers in the auditorium and the principal says a few words about the year. We were surprised when she called Iliyas and I up to the stage to receive some presents from the school, we both got a book and a pin with the school’s logo on it, and a big round of applause from the whole school. After the assembly we broke up into our individual classes (mine is NV2, Naturvetenskap, natural sciences, year 2) and had a little fika in the classroom. My best friend Anton then called me up and presented me with a red Katte sweatshirt that the class all pooled together to buy for me, which was really nice. The head teacher for our class, who is also our class mentor, Swedish teacher and my Swedish as another language teacher presented me with a book of Swedish poetry, because we didn’t have enough to time this year to read enough Swedish poetry, according to her. I was so grateful for everything that the class had done for me, they had been so nice and accepting for the whole year. Tack så jättemycket till alla er i NV2 på Katte!
After a little while the class went outside to a field near the school and we played a game called brändboll, something I had never played or heard of before. It is like baseball except there is no pitcher, you have to throw the ball and hit it yourself, and you have to make it to the bases before the person standing in the center gets the ball and says brand (burn). I personally think it was more interesting than baseball, but that’s just my opinion. I had fun in any case. After playing we went into the center of town and ate lunch at this nice restaurant; my class treated me to the meal, which was really nice. After that it started pouring so we decided to head to somebody’s house and we chose Stina’s, which is in Sävja, a little far out from town but still nice. The plan was that almost everybody would come but it turned out just being about 7 people including myself that showed up. We wound up playing Trivial Pursuit for a few hours, which was not nearly as hard as I expected, despite the fact that it was in Swedish. I felt like I really got closer to some of my classmates that day, it’s a shame that it’s the last day of school, but oh well.
That Saturday, I wanted to get out of the house so I went with Anton to his family’s summer house (all Swedish people have summer houses/cottages, some every have several) in Sandika, which is near Östhammar, which is near the coast, about an hour from Uppsala. It rained the whole day so we wound up just hanging out inside and watching TV, but it was still a nice change.
On Monday I was invited by Hamza from France to take a tour of Sweden’s Parliament building in Stockholm along with a few of the other exchange students because his counselor works there. It was really interesting to see how the government in Sweden looks, and the building was really beautifully decorated on the inside. We even got to go in and watch a debate on the parliament floor. It was just something about some environmental policy, so it wasn’t extremely interesting, but it was still really cool to sit in and see what everything looks like.
That night I was invited to a movie night at Emma from my class’ house. They hadn’t decided on a movie yet but by the time everyone got there we wound up just watching Mean Girls on TV, which I hadn’t seen before and was actually quite funny.
That Wednesday my class had a pool party at Viktor’s house. Many of you may be wondering if there are any pools in Sweden, and if so are they ever warm enough to bathe in, well he has a pool, yes it’s outside, and yes the water was very cold despite the fact that they had a heater. It was a cool 24 degrees Celsius, which is about 75.4, a bit too cold for my taste, but I went in anyway and had a fun time. At least I wasn’t the only one that thought it was cold, most of the other Swedish people thought it was pretty cold; I was pretty proud of myself because I managed to stay in for longer than most of them. We spent the rest of the day chilling in and out of the pool and enjoying the sun. We wound up going to McDonald’s later because it was the cheapest thing in town and the easiest way to feed 20+ people. It was after we ate that I had to say goodbye to many of my friends, most likely for good, because I would be away for a large part of the summer and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to see any of them again before I went home. It was really sad because I felt like I had just finally gotten to know them, and then I had to say goodbye, possibly forever. But that’s all part of being an exchange student, and I knew what I was getting myself into when I signed up!
Midsommar is another one of those Swedish-people-getting-really-drunk-and-then-dancing-around-a-phallic-shaped-pole-pretending-to-be-frogs kind of holidays, not too dissimilar to Valborg, previously described. I went with my host family to Hudiksvall, where they have their summer house and we spent Midsommar with their friends that live there. Overall it wasn’t the most interesting holiday, except for watching full grown adults jumping around a pole pretending to be frogs, a phenomenon I like to call “små grodorna complex.” It was also funny to see the Swedish people sing about small bumble bees in between drinking snaps (which by the way is pronounced as it’s spelled, there is no “sh” sound in snaps), something I like to call the “Vi äro små humlor vi complex.”
Final Rotary Meeting
I had to wake up early the next Monday to go to my final Rotary meeting for the year and thank all the Rotarians for having me and for basically giving me tons of money to live off of for the year (the students in Uppsala got almost double the amount of money that the rest of the students in Sweden got). Since I had already given my presentation about myself on my fourth day here (a bit of a mortifying experience, but definitely mortifying in a good way, if that’s possible), so I just had to sit through the meeting and then thank a bunch of people and give out a ton of hugs. I received a present from the former president, who has been so nice to me this year, which was a book about Uppland (the region in which I live).
My club is a breakfast club, so I still had a ton of time for the rest of the day to pack in all the things I had planned. I met my friend Anton and we hung out in town and then I met Viktor to give him back his jacket that I had borrowed. We then met up with a few other people from my class and we decided that we would go to a movie tonight, despite the fact that I needed to pack tonight for a big trip that I would be taking the next day, but more on that later. So after eating lunch with them I rushed home and did several loads of wash and then quickly shoved everything in a bag and got ready to go out again for the movie that night. We saw the new Terminator movie, it was pretty good, but I hadn’t seen the first ones, lots of killing robots. It was good, though, because they treated me to the movie, they really are so nice. At the end I had to head home, and also say goodbye to a few people, which is always really sad.
One of the main highlights of the year I have to say was the Eurotour. It had to be one of the greatest adventures of my life, excluding of course my whole exchange to Sweden. Our group consisted of 68 exchange students from all over Sweden, who came from many different countries, it was really an awesome multicultural experience, many people from different cultures exploring many different cultures together. We visited 7 countries in 18 days, it was only a taste of each country, but it really was awesome. We visited Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, France and Belgium. I won’t go on and on about each country in detail because then it would go on for pages and pages and this report is already really long. But I will say that Poland was very nice, Prague was absolutely gorgeous, hiking in the Alps in Austria was awesome, Italy has great food, Paris was just beautiful, and Belgium has good chocolate and waffles.
All in all the entire trip felt like a mini-exchange in itself, and coming home gave me a preview of what it will be like to come home to the US, really scary and honestly kind of horrible. It’s not to say that I don’t want to come home, because part of me does (albeit an extremely small part), but I have met so many great people and made so many lifelong friends that I just really don’t want to leave. But that is just part of exchange and life goes on; we’ll all stay in contact and now we all have to plan tons of trips all over the world to see our best friends. As quoted from a speech that someone read at the end of the tour that somebody else had written: “It’s not goodbye, it’s just see you later.” It really doesn’t have to be goodbye forever, even though it may seem like it is, they are my friends for life, and I know that I’ll see them again some day.
As I write this, I only have 9 days left in Sweden and it’s really starting to scare me. Leaving off on a sad and serious note,
July 27 Journal
Now I’m sitting down to write what will most likely be my final journal for the year, it’s not very much of a journal compared to my other ones, more of a random collection of some thoughts. Today was my final full day in Sweden and I am leaving the country tomorrow. If it was up to me I would be staying here forever, but that can’t be helped; it is a natural part of exchange.
I have to say that this year has been the best of my life so far; it has been such an amazing experience, I don’t even know how to begin describing it. I’ve had so much fun and met so many people, but mostly this year has been a big learning experience. I have learned so much about the world around me and about other cultures, but most of all I’ve learned so much about myself. I can reflect back on the year and see how much I have changed as well; I definitely know that my parents are not getting back the same Michael that they sent away to Sweden almost one year ago, and whether it’s a good thing or not is yet to be determined. I think it’s a good thing, I feel that I have been able to improve on my weaknesses and become a better person. I hope everybody else feels the same way; I know that many people are expecting the same Michael to come back, and they may be shocked to find otherwise. But so goes exchange.
The hardest part about going home is not so much leaving the country, it’s more leaving all the lifelong friends that I have made here. This last week has been very tough and downright depressing because I’ve had to say goodbye to so many friends for indefinite periods of time, possibly forever. This has to be the absolute best and worst thing about exchange; you get to meet so many amazing people and then before you know it you are ripped apart from them. Luckily we live in a time of modern technology with things such as skype, so the world gets a little smaller, but it is still very hard to say goodbye to people that you have become so close to. But I knew what I was getting into when I signed up, and now I’ve mentally prepared myself to go home now and I think I’m ready to face it.
And finally just one final thought. I would just like to thank Rotary and all the Rotarians in both Florida and Sweden for everything that they have done for not only me, but for all the other exchange students this year, in previous years and in the years to come. This really has been the best experience of my life, I don’t even know how to put into words how grateful I am for this. Thank you so much, tack så hemskt mycket för allt ni har gjort.