Brandon Riggs
2009-10 Outbound to Sweden

Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Sebastian River HS
Sponsor: Sebastian Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Lund-Kloster Rotary Club, District 2390, Sweden

Brandon's Bio

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello, my name is Brandon, or as they say in Sweden, “Hej, mitt namn är Brandon!” I am 18 and am currently attending my senior year at Sebastian River High School. I will be graduating this year and all my friends will be going off to college without me. They all think I have lost my mind, but they just don’t understand why I would take another year of high school. My friends don’t comprehend the fact that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I would rather experience this now rather than never.

I still live with both of my parents and my two siblings. My brother, Aaron, is finishing his AA degree, while my sister, Erika, is a sophomore at Sebastian River High School. I am attending college as well, but for dual-enrollment. I am taking advantage of this opportunity to take a few college classes. It is definitely worth it in the end because I will be well prepared for college.

I am very active in my school. I am in the school band and I play several instruments. I play tuba, trombone, tenor saxophone, and viola (just to name a few…). I’ve been playing the tuba for seven years now and ever since then, I have fallen in love with music. Band takes up most of my time because I do jazz band, marching band, concert band, and a Caribbean steel drum band (which is really neat and is brand new at my school). I am also a very active Boy Scout, and I am currently on the trail to becoming an Eagle Scout. When I’m not participating in one of these activities, I am participating in one of my clubs at the school. Some of the clubs that I am involved in at my school are Interact, Students Against Destructive Decisions, and Future Business Leaders of America.

I love to go outside and play all sorts of sports. My favorite sports to play are lacrosse, soccer, and beach volleyball. I am on the Boy’s Varsity Lacrosse team and I play the position of goalie. This is only my second year, but I have found it to be an absolutely amazing sport! Among these activities, I love to try new things. I have recently tried snowboarding and skiing, and found them rather exciting. Along with experiencing something new, I have acquired a liking for a variety of foods from different cultures such as Italian and Mexican.

I have only been out of the country once in my entire life, and that was during the summer of my junior year. I went to England and France for two weeks. It was wonderful, but it was too short. Now, I get to take a journey back over to Europe and spend a whole year there…in SWEDEN!! I can not think of a more perfect place to go than to Sweden because I have been dreaming of going there ever since I was a little boy. I would not be doing this exchange without the help of our wonderful Rotarians who put all their time and effort into this exchange. I want to thank them for all that they do! I would like to thank my future host families and host Rotary club for so generously taking me into their homes and their community. Without them, I would not be going to Sweden to enjoy the experience of a lifetime!

Adjö!

Brandon

Brandon's Journals

August 6 Journal

Gaffel … kniv … sked … gaffel … kniv … sked … gaffel … kniv … sked … REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION!! That’s the key to learning the language for sure. Just by putting one little Swedish word in everyday, it helps me improve my vocabulary and my communication with my family. This is exactly how it has been for me for this past week and I’m loving every bit of it.

But let me back up for you all to the beginning when I got off my flight in Copenhagen. Other than the delayed flight and my baggage taking almost 45 minutes to get to me, it went pretty good. Most people say their first night with the host family is a rough one; you're jet-lagged and tired, you can’t understand a word anyone is saying, and the food is weird. But for me, none of this was true. When I got off my flight and headed for the exit, I was welcomed by my host father, Sven, and my youngest host brother, Arvid. Sven spoke basically perfect English to me, and the 30 minute drive home wasn’t awkward at all, maybe for Arvid though because he was being kind of shy.

When we arrived home, I met my other host brother, Anton, who was getting ready to leave in a few days to go on exchange in California. He’s a pretty neat guy and I’m glad he was here for the first few days of my new adventure in this new country. When it came to lunch time, I was expecting some weird concoction of a meal (maybe some strömming or something along those lines) but what I got was spaghetti! I was surprised and rather delighted to be having some food that I was accustomed to. After we finished eating lunch, Sven decided to take me on a walk around Lund. Captivating! That’s what Lund was to me. It’s a fairly old city and quite populated compared to my little town back home. It’s a University town as well, so there’s a lot of young people that live here, and from what I’ve been told, a lot of parties. The whole walk was wonderful and it seemed to go by so quickly because the next thing I knew, we were home.

But that wasn’t the end of my day just yet, because my next adventure was to the grocery store!! I was so excited to go see how different it was, but when I got there, I was bummed out … not much different at all. Of course everything was in Swedish, so it made it interesting. Sven even decided to be funny and try to buy some strömming for me, but luckily they didn’t have any, so I got off this time. But the weird thing about the grocery store was that you had to pay for your grocery cart and then when you returned it, you would be paid back … weird for sure, but I bet no one ever steals a cart around here. When we got home, I finally got to meet my oldest host brother, Albin, and we bonded quickly because he knows exactly how it is for me because he was in fact an exchange student a few years ago in Oregon.

The next day I had fun with Albin’s girlfriend, Alexandra, as we made cinnamon rolls. She is a very nice girl and we talked for a while as I helped her make the cinnamon rolls. She did most of the work though because she actually knew how to make them, unlike me. She had actually taken a bakery class before, so she was good at making these types of things. But I helped out by putting the eggs and sugar on top of the rolls. It was very fascinating to actually make cinnamon rolls, because usually when I have them, they come out of a can. We actually got to eat a few of them later, and man were they good!

The rest of the week went by in a breeze; it mostly consisted of more walks with Sven, watching the world championship for swimming on TV in Swedish, going to meet my host mother (Ingegerd) at her choir rehearsal and watching her choir concert, meeting and hanging out with two other exchange students (Josh from Australia and Courtney from South Africa), jumping on the trampoline with Arvid, and playing soccer with Arvid and Anton. Sunday, though, I got to meet most of the family because Ingegerd’s sister and family came as well as Sven’s sister and father. They were all coming over to say their last goodbyes to Anton before he left. I talked to Anton’s uncle for a while about everything from politics to the cat. We had a great time and it was nice to see the perspective through the eyes of someone from a different country.

Afterwards we decided to go to the beach, and man was I excited!! When we arrived I was in awe; it was beautiful! A lot different from our beaches for sure: the water was hundreds and hundreds of feet deep (not to mention the fact that it was freezing), in place of sand around the beach there were a bunch of big rocks, and there were cliffs all around the beach that people were jumping off of. The whole place was wonderful, but what I thought was rather weird was that people changed ON the beach, right in front of everyone! Of course they had a towel on while they changed, but it was just awkward … I obviously didn’t change on the beach, but then again I was the only one that had to have a towel in the car….

The following two days consisted of Sven, Ingegerd, Anton, and me driving up to Stockholm for Anton’s departure to the USA. We had to drive up on Monday because they were having a little orientation for the outbounds that were leaving the following day. I got to sit in on the meeting and it felt like I was in my first day of school already; I was totally lost. The lady, of course, spoke in only Swedish during the whole meeting, so I just acted like I knew what she was saying. The good thing about the meeting was that I got to meet an exchange student from New York. I talked to her for a while and when she left, I got to meet Adam who is one of the exchange students coming to Florida from Sweden. He seemed pretty nice and he was excited about going to Florida. But I can’t blame him, because Florida is nice, even though it does get deadly hot. That’s why I’m glad that I’m here In Sweden because it isn’t deadly hot at all.

But that’s been my week so far. Now I’m just waiting to go to my orientation on Monday and meet some more exchange students!! The language part might not be all that fun, but let’s pray that I get a good teacher, so that way I can come out of this camp as a pro at Swedish!! If I don’t, then oh well, I’ll eventually be a pro at it anyway …

August 16 Journal

Some useful things to know about Sweden if you ever decide to come here:

Volvo- this car is everywhere! I’m serious, every time you turn a corner, BAM! There it is again! And if, for some reason, you don’t see one of these cars, then you’re bound to see a Saab.

Pedestrians- they have the right-of-way everywhere EXCEPT at a stoplight…it’s very weird for sure…

Bicycle- this will be your main source of transportation other than your own two feet. But it’s very relaxing just to cruise down Lund on your bike with the wonderful breeze.

Breakfast- don’t expect eggs and bacon every morning because you’ll be disappointed. No, you should expect one of these choices: A) sour milk with cereal, B) yogurt with cereal, C) milk with cereal, or D) cheese and bread.

Farms- land among land among land of crops all over Lund. They produce many crops like: wheat, corn, wheat, beans, wheat, lettuce, and wheat….oh and did I forget to mention wheat?

Beaches- expect one of the two types of beaches: A) looks like a regular beach, but there’s not a lot of sand and the water is up to your knees (until you go about a half of a mile out), or B) take away the sand and replace it with rocks, and replace the shallow, wavy water with deep (hundreds and hundreds of feet deep) and very cold water. The fun part about these beaches though is that there are cliffs that you can jump off of into the water; it is quite fun!

Insects- There are definitely not as many mosquitoes here as there are in Florida, which is a big plus. But the insects that are really annoying over here are lady bugs….THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!!!!!!!

Thought you would enjoy some information about Sweden! Well, I definitely didn’t start off my second week in Sweden the best way that I would have liked. I did start it off in a good place though: the beach. This beach was a lot more like home to me, so it made me happy to see sand and waves again. But I wasn’t thinking at all and forgot to take off my ring when I got into the water. So, stupid me was playing ball in the water and take a wild guess at what happens….if you guessed that my ring flew off, then you’re good because that’s precisely what happened. Yep my very expensive class ring is lost in the ocean off the coast of Sweden…of course Sven and Arvid helped me look for it for about half an hour, but we had no luck at all. But hey that’s life! It’ll make me think twice next time I decide to wear something expensive like that in the water ever again.

Well besides that horrible tragedy, everything else this week was perfect! I got to go to my host grandfather’s farm during the weekend and I had a lot of fun! I was mostly hanging out with Arvid the whole time we were there. And we did many of different things there: we swam in the lake (about 95% of the time), we played soccer (about 3 % of the time), we played lacrosse (about 1.5 % of the time), and we played some handball (about .5 % of the time). The lake was really fun for sure; there was this one time where we decided to swim out to the center of the lake and it felt very creepy. I felt like I was swimming in the Black Lake at Hogwarts and a giant squid or something along those lines would just drag me down forever. I did not like this feeling whatsoever. But we made it back safe and sound, so that’s all that matters. Oh and teaching Arvid how to play lacrosse was pretty fun as well. He didn’t really know how to catch the ball that greatly and now he’s becoming a pro at it! Arvid is actually considering playing lacrosse when he goes over to America on foreign exchange in probably about 4 years, so I’m trying to teach him the basics now so that way he’s good by the time he comes over. Other than hanging out with Arvid, I got to pick potatoes with my host father! Talk about exhausting! I would have never thought some farm work could be so exhausting! Thank God I’m in Sweden and not Florida though, because then picking potatoes would have been even more exhausting. But it was fun to do some farm work and get a taste of something new.

Now I’ve come back from my wonderful trip to Vimmerby for my orientation and language camp. At first, I hated it: 1) because I didn’t know anyone really, 2) because some of the lessons were very boring, and 3) because there wasn’t much to do during our free time. But I managed to make many awesome new friends from all over the USA, Mexico, Brazil, France, Austria, Germany, and even Canada. All the exchange students were awesome here and I can already tell that we will be very close during this exchange and even years to come. Since I made friends at the orientation, it became a whole lot better for me; not just because I can say I have made friends, but because they are going through the same things as me, so we are already very close. Since there wasn’t much to do around our school we mainly just sat around and talked or played a game. But we did finally get to have some fun the day we went to Astrid Lindgren’s World.

I thought this was going to be a very boring place because it was made for little kids. But of course, teens always have fun doing little kid things! My group especially had fun on all the little kiddy things. And to make things a whole lot better, it rained, and then we had the time of our lives! The only thing that I regret not doing while at Astrid Lindgren’s World was going to one of the plays. Although they are all in Swedish, it would have been nice to see one.

When the end of our week was coming to an end, it was a very sad moment; all of us would be going our separate ways and probably won’t see each other again until Euro Tour. It better not be that way. I don’t care how far away they live, I plan on seeing them all again sometime this year. I’m just glad that I’m at most thirty minutes away from about a dozen of them, because it makes it a lot easier for me to see them.

August 25 Journal

Man, do the weeks fly by fast! I swear it seems like only yesterday that I was sitting down writing my last journal. This week was terrific and I’m sure you want to hear all about it!

My host family is really into this thing called “Geocaching” and I had never heard of it until I came here, but they supposedly do it all over the world. It’s weird; people place boxes all over and put down the coordinates onto the website, and people go and try to find the box with their GPS. But all you do when you find the box is write your name down on the piece of parchment. Occasionally they have boxes that have items in them and if you want one of the items, you can have it only if you trade something for it. I got a pin out of one of them and put it on my blazer! But this is very fun for my family, so they do it a lot…which is why we’ve found about 15 of the boxes this week alone..

Well I have finally joined a fotboll team here and am glad that I did. As soon as I joined the team, many of them introduced themselves and started talking to me; I was making friends already! But my practices so far have been utterly horrible. I actually thought I was good at fotboll until I saw these guys play; they are so quick and talented (not to mention they’ve been playing together for probably six years), so I look completely horrible compared to them. The coaches had us running and doing drills and all sorts of things and I was just too out of shape to keep up with all of my team; they all had been practicing together during the summer, so they were all in shape. Thank God my second practice went better for me because I actually looked like I was a part of the team. Other than the fact that I couldn’t understand a word the coaches were telling us, I still felt like a part of the team!

On Monday (after my first fotboll practice) my counselor had picked me up from the fields and brought me home. Of course the first day that I get to meet my counselor, I smell horrible; so once I got home I took a shower. After my wonderful shower, my counselor, my host parents, and I sat down and had a great lllooonng chat about my exchange. It took about an hour, but it cleared up a lot of things for me. But the next day was definitely the most useful because that’s when we met my headmaster at my school. We talked with him for about an hour and went over the schedule and all the classes. Man was that schedule confusing! I don’t see how any one person could fully memorize the schedule. Back home in Florida I got used to the seven classes and the change of the schedule by the first day, but here it changes WAY too much, so it will take me a while (especially with twelve classes). Here’s the breakdown of my schedule:

On Måndag, I have classes 1, 2, 3, and 4…the first class starting at 8:20 and the last class ending at 4:30.

On Tisdag, I have classes 5, 6, 7, 3, 2, and 8….the first class starting at 8:25 and the last class ending at 3:30.

On Onsdag, I have classes 4,9,8,3, and 1….the first class starting at 8:30 and the last class ending at 4:10.

On Torsdag, I have classes 5, 2, 10, 7, and 11…the first class starting at 8:20 and the last class ending at 5:30.

On Fredag, I have classes 10, 6, 9, and 12….the first class starting at 8:20 and the last class ending at 2:55.

Confusing, right? Well ya wanna make it more confusing? Well, add in the random days that they call “D DAYS”….I don’t know what it stands for, but it is a day to study and rest; basically a free day! This is an awesome day, but the problem is, I don’t know when those days are…it’s not like there’s any pattern to it. The thing that I can get used to though is the lunch time; it’s perfect. It’s probably not the best food in the world, but you get to serve yourself and it’s around the actual lunch time (not like back home where lunch starts at around ten o’clock).

You’re probably wondering what my first day was like, right? Well it depends on what you consider my first day…Is it the day that I actually stepped foot into a classroom? Well if so, then that was Thursday and it was terrific because it was only an hour long! Or is it the first day that I actually stepped into a classroom to learn something? If that’s the case, then that was Friday and it was alright. Now I gotta admit, my first class on Friday was pretty awesome and I understood every single word the lady was saying. And why is this? BECAUSE IT WAS ENGLISH CLASS!!! I was actually worried about this class because they said it was an advanced English class. But when I got into the class I realized that it was basically the same as my high school English class, except for the fact that everyone doesn’t speak perfect English yet. After that I had my Philosophy class and man was I bored out of my mind! After that, I had a great lunch and then headed off to Swedish (we didn’t have science that day, so we went straight to Swedish). Alright, I bet you’re wanting to know all the classes that I’m taking. Well, here they are in order: 1) drama, 2) French 5, 3) math, 4) beginners Swedish, 5) international relations, 6) philosophy, 7) psychology, 8) religion, 9) science, 10) Advanced English, 11) photography, and 12) Swedish.

Thursday and Friday were absolutely amazing days for me; not because school started and I started to make new friends, but because I went to Malmöfestivalen. This is a HUGE concert in Malmö that lasts a week. It has many bands playing throughout the day, so you’re never bored. But my exchange friends and I just went there to see a few bands: The Sounds, Promo, and Familjen. Now, if you know me, you know that I don’t listen to any of this type of music, I only listen to Christian rock. But I broke out of my box and ended up enjoying the concerts very much, especially The Sounds!

Oh I almost forgot to mention: by the end of my second (or first) day of school, I was invited to a party. ME, of all people got invited to go to a party. So, like a good exchange student, I said “YES” to the invitation, and am glad I did so. The party was absolutely amazing and I met so many new people there. Everyone was very cool, and luckily, most of them went to my school!

On Sunday, I went back to the farm again just for the day with my host parents. I was excited to go and was happy with how much fun I had. I was helping Sven’s sister, Mari, with the lunch and I learned how to make Swedish meatballs! That was a blast and the food was absolutely amazing that day…I also learned how to make honey. It was weird because I had never seen the process before; what you had to do was take the frames out of the beehives and scrap off the “cappings” that the bees put over the honey. Then you had to put it in this special case and set it inside the centrifuge (it spins out the honey). This part was my job and it was fun to watch the honey flying off of the frames and into the centrifuge.

Like I said before, time sure does fly by quickly; so I need to try and savor my year even more and as much as possible. Because if I don’t, my experience won’t be as great as all the other exchange students that have gone before me. I’m hoping mine will only be better, but I’ll be satisfied as long as my exchange is a successful one!

September 8 Journal

Today I’m sitting down and writing this journal for two reasons: because I need a break from my German (yes, you heard right: German) and I need to get you all up to date with everything that I’ve been doing lately.

Well, school is finally getting more exciting, but then again it helps having fun classes like photography and drama. Photography seems like it will be a fun class because we will get to take pictures while at school and will learn how to take good ones, and the most fun part will be learning how to develop our own film in the darkroom!! Drama, on the other hand, is definitely my favorite class above all. The only thing we do in the class is play games; it’s awesome!! I’m glad I’m going to be having those classes all year long!!

Well, on August 29th, I went to the island of Ven with all the exchange students in Skåne (the bottom region of Sweden) and we went bike riding for a few hours. Everyone had a blast and we bonded a lot more with each other. I had a difficult time while on the bike: 1) because my bike was messed up, so it was tugging the whole time and 2) because my partner wasn’t committing himself to peddling like I was. I was on a double seated bike because it seemed like it would be really fun to do, but it just ended up giving me a workout. Ian and I made the best out of our situation and had fun regardless of how horrible it was for us, which was good because we ended up bonding more than we did at our orientation.

Later that day, I met up with Christoffer, one of my exchange friends from Höör (a city in Skåne), at the train station and we went to the festival that was taking place here in Lund. At first we weren’t really enjoying it because there weren’t any good bands on, but then a band called Simsoak came onto the stage and they were awesome! They were an R&B band and sang only in Swedish (of course), but one of the coolest things about them was that they breakdanced! I thought their music was good at first, but then one of the main singers just broke out with all his moves and that’s when Chris and I started having fun. After Simsoak got off the stage, our only amusement for the night was watching all the drunk people dance to old music and Chris giving a rose to the prettiest girl he saw that night (it only took him a couple of hours to finally do it though).

As you heard at the beginning of this journal, I’m taking German. You are probably thinking “Why would you take German of all languages while you’re learning Swedish?” Well I have three answers for that question: 1) French was getting too hard, so my options were either German or Italian, 2) I love learning new languages, and 3) Swedish is a Germanic language, so German will be more beneficial to my Swedish learning. Plus, I’ll be able to communicate with my German friends that are here in Sweden…well at least a little bit!! I do hate that I gave up French though because I really love the language and everyone was so nice in my French class, so it made it really hard for me to leave…but it doesn’t work out when everyone else in your class is two years ahead of you. Well I had my first German class that day and man was I confused. I realized how much harder German was than Swedish, but I did not back out this time. I knew that this class would really help me with my Swedish because of all the translating from German to Swedish to English or from Swedish to German to English. It’s all too confusing, but it will definitely help me out a lot in the end.

That evening I went to my first band practice with the local band in Lund (The Lund Symphonic Band). I was very confused but made friends with a few of the students (mostly with the fellow tuba players). It had been a while since I’d played the tuba, so I was a bit rusty at first, but easily got used to the new tuba and ended up having a great time. I was very happy to be playing in a band again.

On Friday evening Josh (my exchange friend from Australia) came over for dinner. My host parents wanted to get to know him more, so they asked me to invite him over since I see him at school. Me, being the exchange student that I am, asked my parents how to say it in Swedish, and so when I saw Josh at school, that’s exactly how I asked him. Of course he wanted to mess with me and ask me what I said, like he didn’t know already. Axel, from my fotboll team, also came over with his mom because they are friends of the family. Anyway, we had a MARVELOUS dinner that night (do you hear the hint of sarcasm in there?). Well the reason why it was so “marvelous” was because we had surströmming. If you don’t know what that is, it’s fermented fish (see picture) and it’s absolutely gross! I had to torture myself through the whole thing; I don’t see how this is a Swedish delicacy, only Swedish meatballs should be, because those are at least good and appetizing!! Well it was actually funny because Albin, Arvid, and Axel had never tried it as well, so obviously all the teens were disgusted by it. Arvid was the lucky one though, because he only had to have one bite of it. But luckily we had fish soup afterwards (that way we could wash away the taste in our mouths).

The following two days consisted of band camp. Yes, you did hear me correctly, I said band camp. I thought I wouldn’t be saying that for a while, but that’s what it was. Luckily it wasn’t like band camp back home, because all we did was play music 24/7. So it was very tiring. But fortunately, I made many new friends at this camp (mostly guys, which is a big change since I’m used to making friends with girls more than guys for some reason) and we had a blast hanging out in the little free time that we did have.

Well, that’s the end of my journal for this week…so until next time:

Hejdå

September 23 Journal

I never realized how peaceful bike rides could actually be until I came here. It’s such a relaxing feeling and it makes me wonder why I didn’t do it back home more often…Was it because it was too hot or not windy enough? Well here I don’t have to worry about either of those problems because it’s always nice, cool, and windy (i.e. the perfect weather for a bike ride). Even after a long and sweaty fotboll practice, the bike ride home is so peaceful. Until, of course, you hear horns honking and sirens blaring or you see dead birds crushed into the cracks of the brick roads (not a pretty sight at all). But these bike rides make you think a lot about your life and everything that has happened to you in the past week. This is why I write my journals so much; I hear my thoughts every single day, and by writing it down and telling everyone about it, I make room for more memories to come in.

Lately I have started to feel like an outsider compared to all these Swedes because every corner I turn I see people are wearing jeans or slacks with a sweater or coat, while I’m sitting there wearing my shorts and short sleeved t-shirt and still not even freezing. I admit that it is chilly (5º C = 41º F), but it feels great to me!

You know how they always say “after you’ve been immersed into a language for so long, your dreams will start to be in that language”? Well, so far I haven’t had a Swedish dream yet, and I’ve been here for over a month now. But I have a bad feeling that the first dream I will have in a foreign language will be in German way before it’s in Swedish. That is not a good thing at all; I came to Sweden to become fluent in Swedish, not in German (even though it would be nice to be fluent in both by the time I leave). So why can’t my Swedish teacher be as good as my German teacher? Is that hard to ask? It’s not like she’s teaching in Swedish like my German teacher is, cause then in would be very difficult. So, hopefully a miracle happens and she finally realizes how to teach us Swedish, because then life would be easier!

On the 10th, I went to an awesome Rotaract meeting! This meeting was more for the exchange students, so they therefore made it more fun. The Rotaract club in Malmö actually invited us to come to this meeting so that they could meet all of us, but only a few of us came (as well as a bunch of ambassadorial scholars). At first, they talked about the club and what we would do and then we sat there and talked for about half an hour to bond with the Rotaract people. After that we were separated into groups and we had a random scavenger hunt (I say random because the things we were looking for were random- for instance: a small, brown dog). Everyone had way too much fun with this, but we’re allowed to, right? Well after the scavenger hunt everyone went to Chili’s (not part of the chain back home) and there we ate and found out the winner of the scavenger hunt. My team won of course, but only by one point, so we were very happy.

Who ever thought that by coming to Sweden I would be experiencing other cultures, besides the Swedish one, for the first time? I know I didn’t. Last weekend, I tried Thai food for the first time: real, homemade Thai food, and man was it delicious! I had never tasted anything like it before and now I am so glad that I said yes to the invitation to come over. It was at my good friend Emily’s house who is a fellow exchange student from California living in Höör, about a twenty minute train ride from Lund. Well I basically spent that whole weekend in Höör hanging out with my exchange friends that lived there (Christoffer, Caienna, and Emily). They gave me a tour of their small town and I even tried a Swedish version of a Mexican pizza. The pizza was great, but just eating the pizza made me miss all the Mexican food back home; I’m still dying to have something spicy!

I also got to experience another version of something that the Swedes stole from the US: it’s called Idol. Yes, it is in fact the Swedish version of American Idol and the people that are singing are actually pretty good. But the thing that surprised me the most about this version is the age limit: THERE IS NONE! Back home the age limit was between 16 and 28, but here in Sweden, fifty and sixty year olds are auditioning. Some are actually pretty decent (and some are horrible), but at least they get the chance to audition.

This past weekend was definitely the best time that I have had while in Sweden. The Höör Rotary Club arranged a canoeing/camping trip for all the exchange students in Skåne (that would be thirteen of us total, but one person decided not to come). So on Saturday morning, we took off on the river in Höör and canoed for a big portion of the day. The canoeing on this day was not much fun for some reason; maybe it was because I was canoeing with a Rotarian…I don’t know. But when we got to the campsite, that’s when the fun happened. We played fotboll, ate a wonderful dinner, went for a walk to go see the sunset, and then came back to sit around the fire and tell stories, jokes, and riddles (while we had some s’mores). It was all part of our bonding experience, but all good things must come to an end at some point, and so we had to go to bed. No one said that they had a good sleep, probably because the sleeping arrangements were horrible: 1 military tent + 1 hard, wooden floor + 15 people squished side by side = not fun at all. But luckily the next day made up for it. Fortunately, I got to change partners this time and I got Marguerite! We bonded a lot while canoeing and we talked about many random things: everything from Disney to the trees. And for the last hour and a half of our canoeing trip, we played a 2,000 question game. It may sound quite boring to you, but we had a blast and learned a lot about each other that even our best friends don’t know about us. But like I said before: this was definitely the best time I’ve had so far!

Well, enough talk, I’ll let you get back to your life in whichever country you may be in, so:

Good bye!

Adios!

Tchau!

Sayonara!

Au revoir!

Ciao!

Hejdå!

Tchuss!

October 1 Journal

The honeymoon part is over and now it’s time to face the tough part. You’re probably thinking “WHAT?! When did you get married?”, but that’s not the kind of honeymoon I’m talking about. I’m talking about the exchange honeymoon (the one with my country): the beginning of your exchange where everything seems so wonderful, magical, and unreal; the part of your exchange where you seem to be in a dream that just never seems to end. But now, everything seems the same to me and all the small things aren’t as exciting as they once were.

For instance, the language: at the beginning I was so in love with it and was eager to learn the beautiful language, and of course I thought it would be a breeze. But here I am, two months later, and I’m frustrated because I still don’t understand the language that well. That’s the one thing that bothers me in life: not being able to accomplish something. Now I regret not learning more Swedish back home or using my sources to learn it quicker, because then it would be a whole lot easier for me and I definitely wouldn’t be writing this right now. In a way, though, I am kind of happy that I didn’t because then I wouldn’t gain as much of an experience by the time my exchange is over. So, if my Swedish teacher will not help me, then I guess it’s all up to me…

As you already know, I’ve been going to the Rotaract meetings in Malmö lately and each time it's something new and fun. The meeting on the 23rd wasn’t all that great because all we did was plan, but it was nice to see everything that the Rotaract club was doing and going to be doing throughout the year. The meeting yesterday, though, made me realize how much fun I will be having with this club. It was my first time to bowl in Sweden; I was expecting it to be really different like the French ones, but it wasn’t different at all. That’s all right though, because if it was different, I would have probably been really bad at it. Luckily, there was a lot more exchange students that came this time, so we had an amazing time!

Last weekend, my family and I went to Stockholm because Albin was running in the 15k there. The race was the main reason we were there, but fortunately we were able to go sightseeing afterwards, which was nice. I really enjoyed a lot of the buildings and landscapes, but I didn’t really care for the city too much. “WHY?!” you may ask. Well because I’m not a “big city” kind of guy, hence why I wanted to go to the country part of Sweden. The only big city that I have ever actually liked was London, but other than that, the small cities are more breathtaking for me. One thing that I especially disliked about Stockholm was the train station; it was so much more confusing that the Skånetrafiken down in my region of Sweden. This train station was just TOO big and it took me about ten or fifteen minutes just to find my way out of the station. Well after all that confusion, I met up with Marian, one of my exchange friends that I met back in Vimmerby, and she showed me around the town more (because she lives in Stockholm). After more sightseeing, we decided to stop and go grab a bite to eat. Unfortunately, the only restaurants that were opened this late were the fast food ones, so we decided to go to Pizza Hut (only because it was an actual sit down restaurant). The restaurant was very nice and it did not look like a Pizza Hut at all, but I was happy to have something familiar again. And you want to know the saddest thing about this? It was the first fast food restaurant that I actually ate at since coming to Sweden…pretty sad, especially since there are fast food restaurants everywhere like back home.

This past Monday is when everything in Lund started to change; the weather that I was used to is now becoming worse. Monday was the first time that it had actually down poured since I have been in Lund and now it’s happening more frequently. Now the Swedes are telling me, “now you’re experiencing the REAL Swedish weather, this is how it was supposed to be ever day since July”, but I guess I’ve just been really lucky. I don’t want to start pointing fingers, but if it wasn’t for Sven jinxing the weather the day before, it probably wouldn’t have rained at all. But oh well, I can deal with the rain because I just think about how lucky I am to just have rain every now and then while everyone back home is having to deal with hurricanes and tropical storms. It has also started to get colder; now; when you see me wearing a jacket and pants, you know it’s cold because I NEVER wear jackets or pants, I just wear my t-shirts and shorts! That’s why every morning when I ride my bike to school it feels as though arctic water is being poured all over my body continuously. But, stupid me, I always forget my jacket, so I have to freeze all the way to school (oh what fun!).

Well, that’s been my life for the past week and a half. Now I’m just waiting for tomorrow and this weekend to come because I’m going to have a fantastic time!

Hälsningar,

Brandon

October 26 Journal

I’m sorry it has taken so long to write my journal, but I’ve just been having so much fun this month! So, disregard what I said about my honeymoon being over in my last journal, because the day after I wrote that, I felt like I was on my honeymoon again.

You see, what happened was this: I went to a church camp with my friend Johanna. This camp changed my life and my views on Sweden. I went to the first service in the sanctuary and since Johanna was by my side, she was my personal translator the whole time. I felt like one of those Chinese businessmen that comes over to America and has his translator do all of the work. But for one, I’m not Chinese and for two, I didn’t allow her to translate everything for me because I wanted to try as well. Unfortunately, I still didn’t understand anything when I tried by myself, but it sure would be nice. So later, Johanna and I had some of the preachers pray for us and during this time, I prayed that my views on Sweden would change, I would start having more fun, and I would understand the language more. It was remarkable; later that night as we were listening to the band and singing with them, I was started to get fascinated with the language once more! And as I was listening, I actually started to understand big parts of the songs. Now my Swedish is improving thankfully and I can understand way more than I did a few weeks ago (and can speak more too). So, if you can’t tell, I had a fantastic time at the camp and met many awesome new people. I can’t wait until our next camp so that I can see all these people again.

Luckily, I did get to see a few of them again, because I found out that some were part of the youth group that I was going to join. So, when I went to the first meeting at the church, I knew a few of them, so I didn’t feel too isolated. But since everyone was so friendly, I met most of them anyways and talked to many of them for hours. My youth group is absolutely amazing, and although I have only been to it twice so far, I have a feeling that these guys will be my closest Swedish friends. Every time I go to the youth group, everyone talks to me for long periods of time and they even try to speak Swedish to me (unlike many of my other friends). And on top of all of that, I have a blast every time I go: the first time we played a game to get to know one another and the last time we played laser tag! That was probably the most fun I have had in ages and I actually did well in the last game (see attached photo). The amazing thing was my name in the game (“The Terminator”) and the place that I got. I received fourth place out of thirty-eight people and this made me very happy. We don’t only play games with the youth group though; afterwards, we go into the sanctuary and sing songs (in Swedish of course) in a circle by candlelight and then we have a small sermon and pray. Then after that we usually go into our room and have a fika until around 10:30 or 11:00 PM. So I usually get home very late since I have a 15 minute train ride and a 10-15 minute bike ride just to get home.

I have also had my first spinning class since I last wrote. If you don’t know what spinning is, it’s those wheel-less bikes in the gym that you ride on. My counselor is the instructor for the class, so I get to go to it for free! It is surprisingly pretty hard and tiring, but it feels great afterwards.

I also had to finally give my presentation to my Rotary club this past Tuesday. This was the one thing that I had been dreading ever since I came into Sweden, but after I was done with the presentation, everyone was saying I did a great job and that it was the best PowerPoint presentation they had ever seen; that made me feel good. I wonder why they thought it was so good though, was it because of all the special effects and the fact that there were no words on the slides (besides the title of the slide), but just pictures? Well I don’t know what it was, but I’m just happy it’s finally over and that I don’t have to do another one until at least January!

Other than that, I got to try out for the Spykset band at my school and I made it! I’m playing my tuba (like usual), but I’m also getting the chance to learn the trumpet for the band (and I’m very excited)! Spykset is a big play that the students at Spyken (my school) put together and perform at the end of the year. I feel it is a great privilege to be part of this great event at my school; it’ll help me leave a bigger mark on the school.

Well, until next time…HEJDÅ!

December 3 Journal

I can tell that I am becoming more of a Swede because:

-my left hand is my stronger eating hand

-eating hard bread does not faze me anymore…I actually enjoy it!

-fizzy water is no longer disgusting

-travelling by bike through the town is normal

-taking the train seems to be the only “normal” way to travel outside of the city

-the Swedish language no longer sounds like Japanese

-I have started to wear long pants

This past month seems to have flown by fast. It seems like only yesterday that I just started school here in Sweden, but now here I am four months later. I feel as if I belong here and Florida is just from my dreams.

I’ve been losing my English and have had many of those moments to where I can’t find the word I’m looking for (this happens numerous times a day) and although I feel sad, I’m also very happy because the result is great: I’m leaning more Swedish. I’ve been able to talk to people and write to them in Swedish and every time I get it right, I feel very proud of myself. Only four months and I’m improving immensely…I can’t wait to see what it’s like after another four months!

It’s October 23rd. My friend Morgane comes down from Sundsvall to visit me for the week of our höst lov (fall break). I get to experience something new: RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards). I had always heard about this program, but never got the chance to partake in it. My Rotaract club was in charge of this RYLA, so Morgane and I decided to go and help out. It was amazing to see all these teens interested in learning about leadership and becoming a better leader. I actually learned a few things from these two days, but only because the guy in charge of speaking, Ken, was from the UK and only spoke English. Hahaha. He was a funny and I can’t wait to do RYLA with him again.

I have always been telling people how much I love my youth group and how amazing they are. So, I took Morgane along to a youth group meeting on the 23rd and she fell in love with it as well. Now she sees why it’s one of the only things I look forward to go to every week.

During out höst lov week, these are the main things we did: met my Rotary club, went to Malmö, did some pumpkin carving, went to Copenhagen, and went to a Halloween party. The pumpkin carving and the Halloween party were with the Rotaract club. The pumpkin carving was a blast because I don’t think I’ve ever carved a pumpkin before, if I have, then I’ve totally forgotten about it. But I had a blast helping people carve their pumpkins and watching others transform theirs into very scary and funny ones. As for the trip to Copenhagen, now that was amazing. A fellow RYE Florida exchange student, Megan, came down from Örebro just to experience this trip. It was just Megan, Morgane, and I…three exchange students…in a country they had never been to…all by themselves. Sounds scary, huh? Well it wasn’t. Copenhagen was actually a very pleasant city and the three of us had a tremendous time being tourists. We saw almost everything there was to see in Copenhagen; from the Little Mermaid to the ghetto. Since it was a very long walk from the tourist square (where we were at for a while) to the Little Mermaid, we got to see the King’s building, the queen’s building, the royal army, the opera house, an old haunted-looking church, and an old navy base. I can definitely say that I like Copenhagen better than Stockholm (sorry).

When I was told I was coming over to Sweden I was told that I would not find a lacrosse team over here. Well whoever told me that was WRONG!! I am happy to say that I have indeed joined a lacrosse team (or club because we are made up of three teams) over here. Everyone on the team is older than me (around their mid-twenties) but I can still have fun with them. And since I will be the only goalie for the guys come January, I will get to play on all three teams (the Limping Ducks, Mockingbirds, and Nutcrackers). One other awesome thing about our club is that we get to play in both the Swedish and Danish leagues…that’s the beauty of living in Skåne!

My church put on another church camp weekend, but this time in Malmö at our church. I went, of course, and had an amazing time; it was great to see some of old faces from the last camp and a bunch of new ones to befriend. I also got to see my first standup comedy act at the camp, I was happy because I actually understood a few of the jokes, and that made me very happy! I went to Copenhagen again, but this time with my exchange friends and a few Rotarians. It wasn’t as great as the first time because we couldn’t do a lot of sightseeing while we were there, but we were in the tourist square a lot. We did get to learn about the history of Denmark though, and that was pretty nice. At the national museum, I made a sad discovery: the Vikings are not as we all picture them. They did not have horned helmets because it would have been horrible for battle. Something that did make me happy though is that I learned that the Vikings weren’t rapists and thieves like everyone has thought, but they were just your normal, everyday farmers.

For the past month, I have been living with my second host family; so I won’t be living with the Hellberg’s again until March… Well, the move wasn’t all too great, and neither was the packing and unpacking. It took a few trips to the car just to get all my stuff, and we luckily managed to fit it all into my new room. I didn’t realize how many clothes I brought until I moved into this house and didn’t have room for it all. It’d probably help if I didn’t have so many shorts, but I know I’ll be wearing them again very shortly and I don’t care how many weird looks I get throughout the day. :D

Thanksgiving Day: I bet you are all wondering what I did for Thanksgiving, right? Well it all started on Thanksgiving day. I cooked a huge meal for eleven people and it took about nine hours. Yes, nine hours of cooking; it was very tiring. Luckily I had Josh, my Australian friend, there to help anytime I needed it. The meal surprisingly came out better than I expected, so I was very happy. I was glad that my family liked it, especially since it was my first time making any of it, and especially from scratch.

This past weekend was basically a Rotary weekend for me, but not with exchange students…with Rotarians. Two Rotarians invited me to do things with them, and like a good exchange student, I said “yes”. But what did I say ‘yes’ to? Well on Saturday, Peter invited me to come to Spex (a comical musical with an all male class) I learned how the camera crew worked; I can now be a cameraman’s assistant! But I also got to watch the play as well, and although it was in Swedish, I understood the storyline, which made me happy. On Sunday, Henrik invited me to go watch an Ice Hockey game. Donna, the ambassadorial scholar in my host club, came with us and we had an awesome time. It was my first Ice Hockey game, and although Malmö lost, I still had an amazing time and now I want to play!

December 21 Journal

"Natten går tunga fjät, runt gård och stuva.

Kring jord som sol’n förgät, skuggorna ruva.

Då i vårt mörka hus, stiger med tända ljus,

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Natten var stor och stum. Nu, hör, det svingar

i alla tysta rum, sus som av vingar.

Se, på vår tröskel står, vitklädd med ljus i hår,

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Mörkret skall flykta snart, ur jordens dalar.

Så hon ett underbart ord till oss talar.

Dagen skall åter ny, stiga ur rosig sky,

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia."

Confused? Well you should be because you obviously don't know Swedish, but I've got you covered with the translation:

"Night walks with a heavy step, round yard and hearth.

As the sun departs from earth, shadows are brooding.

There in our dark house, walking with lit candles,

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia!

Night walks grand yet silent. Now hear its gentle wings

In every room so hushed, whispering like wings.

Look, at our threshold stands, white-clad with light in her hair,

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon, from earth’s valleys.

So she speaks a wonderful word to us.

A new day will rise again, from the rosy sky,

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia!"

This song is one of my favorite songs that they sing for a famous holiday here, Sankta Lucia or Saint Lucia. It is probably a bigger holiday than Christmas, but they do celebrate Christmas...it may not be like us Americans with all the extravagant lights and stuff, but it's still something. If you want to know more about Saint Lucia though, just google it, because I'm sure it would be easier than having me explain it.

This month, I have seen several Lucias, each one different in some way. The first one I saw was with Rotary at a Lucia fest. We had a nice dinner, the girls came out , sang, the Lucia fainted, she got back up after a few moments of chaos, they sang their last song, and left. The second one I saw was quite nice as well. One of my Rotarians invited me to his church to go see it. The funny thing was a few of the girls that were in this one were in the last one as well, but this time, the Lucia was a different girl. But it turned out almost the same because this Lucia fainted as well, but they just continued singing and had the Lucia sit on a chair without all the candles. The third one I saw was on TV and this one was the best. Mostly because the Lucia never fainted.

Enough of the Lucia, let me tell you what else has been going on. Let's start on the 2nd of December, where I left off. I had my first concert with the Lund Symphonic Band (a.k.a. my concert band). It felt nice to finally have a concert again, but I had a sad feeling knowing that I was missing Prism back home at my old school. But my concert went great and both the Hellbergs and the Olssons (my newest host family) came and saw it!

On Friday I finally got to meet my third host family. I didn't move in with them yet (that's not until January 16th), but I sure can't wait to. They seems like such an awesome family and they are very close with the Hellbergs. I was invited over to their house through the Hellbergs to come and enjoy an evening with all of them. It was a Glögg party, so I had some glögg obviously, but I also had some green cabbage soup. Glögg is a Christmas drink that they drink over here in Sweden (kind of like we have eggnog back home), I don't know what's in it, but it's quite good. It's a fruity drink and is especially good when you put almonds and raisins in it, but you're not supposed to have too much of it. As for the green cabbage soup, it might sound disgusting, but it is delicious. It tastes like my mom's broccoli casserole, so I was obviously in love with it.

On Saturday, I was quite busy; I was playing in an 8 hour long tournament with my lacrosse team. It wasn't the way I was expecting the tournament to be at all: people from all over the southern part of Sweden and from the whole of Denmark coming to play. It was just our four teams (3 guys teams and one girls team) and a Danish girls team. It was nice and I had a ball playing for a different team every game. I even got to play for the girls teams because they lacked a goalie...and it was really weird.

Later that day, I went to Malmö to a friend's apartment to hang out. It was a bunch of the guys from youth group and we basically had a gamer's night...playing Warfare 2 and such. It was the first time I ever had a gamer's night, and I liked it.

The following day (or should I say the same day since we stayed up until nine in the morning) I went to Helsingborg for the first time. I met up with a friend from church camp and he showed me around the city and we went back to his house and just hung out. The city was very nice; one of my favorite parts was by the harbor. All it looked like was steps leading down to the water, but Victor told me to stand in the middle and talk up to him. My mind was blown! It was like I was talking into a microphone, but to him, it just sounded like I was talking, nothing out of the ordinary. I sat there contemplating how this could be possible, but could not find a solution...it was a mystery ready to be solved...I'm still amazed and clueless as to how it did that....

On the 11th, I finally met up with a bunch of the Rotaractors again. It had been a while since I had seen a bunch of them, so it was nice to see them all. We had a Julfika (Christmas tea is direct translation, but it was basically a Christmas party or "get together"). I tried many new cakes and deserts, met new people, and had some glögg again. I just felt a little weird at first since I was the youngest one there because none of the other exchange students came. But I soon got over that because I met many awesome people, and I've already been invited to go places with them!

The following day I saw the second Lucia with my Rotarian and when I got home I went out to a Lussevaka party with my host brother Carl. Lussevaka is basically the night before Lucia day where you stay up all night and then watch the Lucia on TV (my third one) at 7-8 in the morning.

That same morning we had our first frost, and it's been snowing ever since! So, for the past week, I’ve been able to enjoy the lovely snow. The only down side of the snow is having to ride your bike in it; it's very icy and dangerous. But I sure don't mind walking in it! I'm just in love with it; I literally almost cried when I saw the snow first fall down. The main reason why I almost did is because I had never seen snow before and I was not expecting it to fall until January. That's when it usually comes from what all the Swedes tell me. Skåne usually has rain and wind only and rarely any snow. So, you're probably wondering if I had a snowball fight, made a snow angel, or even a snowman, right? Well I'll tell you that later, let me just continue with the week first because that comes later in the week.

On the 15th, I went to my Rotary meeting like usual, but this time it was a Christmas Smörgåsbord (a Christmas Dinner). There were many hot and cold dishes on the table, many of which I would have never touched back in the US. They had herring, raw salmon, smoked eel. I think you get the picture...But since I was here to try new things, I took one of each. Luckily there were Swedish meatballs and potatoes in the back to save me just in case. The herring wasn't bad, but why would you put tomato sauce on it? The salmon wasn't bad either, but I didn't like the texture of it. It didn't really have a taste, so it was easier to finish it off. As for the eel? Sounds gross, right? Well it basically just tasted like smoked sausage to me, it was just annoying because you couldn't eat the skin. The meal altogether was actually pretty good, so I was satisfied.

The 18th-my last day of school. Not the way I was expecting it at all. I was expecting to have to go to the classes and we'd just get out like usual and have no more school like back home. But no, we didn't have any classes at all! All we did was talk and sing in the auditorium and have a fika with our class. It was nice sitting there just chatting with my classmates for once.

Of course I also went to youth group that night. It was the last one for this year, so we had a Christmas party. I loved the Christmas present game that we played. It wasn't like the ones I was used to playing, everyone was basically killing each other over stuff for the whole eight minutes (it seemed like more than that though because of all the intensity). I won a yahtzee game and some Kex chocolate (so good).

The next day I went to my family's summer house with my parents and my nephew (that sounds so weird to say). It was a long car ride, but we finally managed to get there. Our main purposes for being there were: to get Christmas trees and shoot a moose (luckily they never got one, or I would have been really sad). We cut down about 12 Christmas trees and loaded them into the trailer. Afterwards, Anthony (my nephew) and I went and had a snowball fight while my parents went looking for the moose. I was so excited to have my first snowball fight! We both took opposite sides of the field and built our wall/barrier...and that’s when the war started. Anthony decided to abandon his wall and come attack me while I was building mine, so the walls were therefore pointless. But we had fun nonetheless. Oh and I did make my first snow angel, but I have yet to make my first snowman....

December 30 Journal

This past week has been short, but wonderful. What made it so wonderful? Well, for one, it was Christmas and for two, I got to meet up with some old friends.

I’ll start on Christmas Eve. This is the day that the Swedes celebrate Christmas (Jul) on, so lucky me, I got to open all of my presents a day early! The day started off with me waking up and opening the gifts I received from back home. Later on, I sat down with a few members of my family and watched Kalle Anke, a big Swedish tradition since the forties. It’s basically a bunch of clips from many Disney movies (new and old), but it’s very pleasant to watch and it makes everyone happy.

Afterwards we went over to my Aunt’s house to celebrate Christmas. First, we had a little glögg fika, but then we went to the real food. It was a typical Swedish Julbord (Christmas dinner), basically just like what I had with my Rotary club, minus the smoked eel. It was great sitting down with the whole family and just getting to know one another. After we finished the meal, my Uncle gave money to my cousin to go “buy a newspaper” (when what he is really doing is dressing up as Santa. This is very common in Sweden, but it can also be the father that dresses up. Either way, there’s always a Santa.). When “Santa” arrived, he passed out the presents and everybody tore at them like vultures on roadkill. It was great, I got many useful things for Sweden, but since I wasn’t expecting anything at all, I was very grateful. Then we finished the night off with some good ole porridge dessert.

The following day was a little depressing, but only because it involved a deer being shot. If you didn’t guess, we went hunting. My host parents are BIG on hunting and love doing it all the time. So, they invited me to come, and I went just to see how it was (I just didn’t want to shoot). I watched them the whole time and enjoyed every bit of it except for the shooting and gutting of the deer, it was quite sad to watch. I could not watch and luckily I won’t have to deal with eating it. Why? Because I’ll be switching families soon.

If you remember, I said that I made a few good friends at the Julfika that I went to on the 11th with Rotaract. Well, one of those people has been keeping in touch with me and invited me to their church on the 27th. So, since I didn’t have anything else to do over the holidays, I went. When I got there, my mind was blown. It was huge! A lot bigger than the church I always go to here in Malmö. But it was very nice; the people were very friendly and welcoming, so I felt at home. As for the service, it was really nice and I’m glad to say that I understood every single word of it! But that’s because they had somebody translating it in English the whole time because it is a bilingual church.

Immediately after the service, I hopped on a train for a three hour ride to Göteborg. When I arrived, I met up with two of my fellow RYE Florida friends, Caitlin and Megan, and a new Swedish friend, Tomas. Since it was almost eleven o’clock at night, we just took the bus back to Tomas’ house. catching up with each other for the whole forty minute bus ride. We decided we would just enjoy the city the following day bright and early, and we did, minus the “bright and early” part because we didn’t leave until around ten. I really enjoyed Göteborg, it was a nice city, and also better than Stockholm. We did some shopping and sightseeing and just had a great time hanging out together for a change. But like all good things, it had to come to an end and I had to head back home.

So after a three hour train ride and a ten minute bike ride, I was home. Unfortunately not for long though because soon after I ate, I had to switch host families again. I was now going back to the Hellberg’s house again! But not for long because I had to leave early the next morning to catch my flight, but I’ll tell you all about that next time. And since that will be after New Years, I just wanted to say:

Gott nytt år!

January 4 Journal

India! India! India! India! India! India! India! India!

You’ll never guess where I’ve been this past week. Just take a wild guess. If you guessed India, then boy are you wrong. Whatever gave you that idea? I sure would like to go to India, but I have actually been in Belgium for the past week with one of my closest exchange friends, Sarah. I needed a break from Sweden for a little bit, so I decided to go visit her for the holidays.

So on Tuesday morning, I flew out of Copenhagen to arrive in Brussels at two o’clock. I got my luggage and took a five minute train ride. I finally met up with Sarah, Chloé (one of her host sisters), and Kelsey (her best friend, who is also an exchange student). I had been anticipating this trip for over a month, and it was great to finally see Sarah after five and a half months. So we moved right onto sightseeing in Brussels for a few hours. We saw the major spots, ate at a burger- in, and finally we left because of the dark. We had a three hour train ride to Sarah’s town, but it was great bonding time for the four of us. After we got off the train, we weren’t anywhere near Sarah’s house; we still had a thirty minute car ride. Lucky for us, Pierre, her host father, picked us up from the train station.

The following day, Wednesday, was basically bonding time with Sarah’s host family. I fell in love with her family; everyone was so nice and welcoming. I bonded with Chloé and her host parents very well, and I bonded even better with her little host sisters (Juliette and Clémence). They were planning a big New Years Eve party, so there were a lot of other people staying with them. There were all types of Europeans; there were some French guys, Belgians, Swiss, and a German. I kind of bonded with a teenage guy from France, but it was hard to since I couldn’t speak much French to him. I was very sad about that because I had taken French for two years back home, and after seven months of not using it once, I had lost most of it. So I was really jealous of Sarah since she could understand everything and could speak quite well. Luckily coming to Belgium has improved my French, so I am no longer answering people in Swedish like I was at the beginning. I hope I can switch back to speaking Swedish when I get back to Sweden, or else I will be even worse than I was when I left.

Well anyway, back to Wednesday. Later that night, her family took me out to go bowling. I wasn’t exactly prepared for the French kind of bowling, but I had heard about it from Sarah, I just hadn’t played it yet. Sarah was right, it was definitely different; the balls were like bigger versions of a croquet ball (because it was small and had no holes) and the bowling lane was very funky. The first half of the lane was quite small, about a foot wide. The other half got bigger and bigger and was shaped like a very small hill so that if you rolled the ball straight down the middle, it would go to the side instead. It was very weird, but I really enjoyed it. I was happy to find out later that I had won the game, but I still don’t know how. When we arrived at the house, the girls and I sat in the living room and watched Coraline in French and 3D; I had never seen it before, so I enjoyed it.

New Year’s Eve. This was a great day for me. Let’s start at lunch time; for lunch we had escargot, which is now one of my favorite foods. I was afraid to eat it at first. It looked gross after I took it out of the shell, but it was amazing. So, I grabbed a bunch of them while all the other kids looked at me basically saying with their facial expressions: Are you crazy? Those are gross! But I loved them. After lunch, we went into Virton, the city that Sarah lives right outside of. We did some sightseeing and shopping. There wasn’t much to see since it was a very small town, but it was cozy and I got to see Sarah’s beautiful school. We went back home about an hour later to have the New Year’s party. To start the party, we ate; we had cheese fondue and meat. The cheese fondue was a Swiss recipe and went great with the bread, and as for the meat, it was a Belgian tradition. We made it by putting a deep fryer on the table and we put the meat on sticks and cooked them ourselves. They were quite good and I’m surprised that I didn’t over-cook or under-cook any of them. Oh, there’s one thing I forgot to mention- the Belgians love their fries. They have them for almost every meal , well at least this family. So I have a feeling that I have gained back some of the weight that I lost in Sweden just from being here in Belgium for a week. Oh well, I’ll lose it once I get back into my regular routine in Sweden. When we finished eating, we cleared away all the tables and made a dance floor. At first I didn’t want to dance, but it was fine once all the adults were drunk because we could laugh at them. At that point they put on better music that we could actually dance to.

The party lasted until four the next morning, so everyone slept in late that day and it ended up being a lazy day. One of my favorite things from that day was playing Belgian Monopoly. It was fun, but quite confusing, even with all the French I know. But I managed to do good because I conquered the board and everyone decided to forfeit on me. Other than that, I got to try new food again, but this time it was mussels. They were alright, but I’d rather have escargot.

The following day was an absolutely amazing and unforgettable day. Sarah brought me along with her to a Rotary activity with her district. I was amazed at how many people were in her district; there were 82 all together, which was a lot compared to the 13 people back in my district in Sweden. Her Rotary district had planned a trip to Bruges. So we had to take a 4 hour train to meet up with everyone else from her district. I immediately began bonding with the other students, and, being as social as possible, started handing out my handy-dandy business card. We had a nice long tour of Bruges, followed by free time to roam the city and a quick snack before we left. During the tour I had gotten to see Shannon, an exchange student from Florida who I had met before. She is also in Sarah’s district in Belgium, so for the whole tour Shannon had acted as my translator. That whole day was an amazing experience. It really stinks that I probably won’t see any of the other students again, but at least we can stay in contact via the information on my handy-dandy business cards.

As for now I about to board my flight back to Copenhagen. But I’m not going home just yet, because I have one last trip to go on…

February 2 Journal

I bet you’ve been dying to hear what trip I went onto after Belgium, huh? Well, I went to Falkenberg. If you are wondering, it is in Sweden, it’s about an hour and half train ride north of Lund. Why did I go there exactly? Well, I was getting there. I went to go visit an exchange friend of mine who I hadn’t seen since the orientation. I don’t know why I hadn’t seen her before now since she is so close to me, but better late than never!

So, I arrived in Falkenberg late in the day on the 4th, and Elisabeth and her host father met me at the train station to take me to their house, which took us twenty minutes by car. The only thing we really did that day was chat for hours just catching up with each other since it had been about six months.

I woke up the next morning to see snow falling from the sky in bunches. It made me happy; what a way to start out the day! Since we had stayed up very late the night prior, we had slept in, so it was now about lunch time. So, Elisabeth and I headed into town with many troubles. First, our bus was late, and then it got stuck in the snow for about twenty minutes. The whole time we were dying of hunger and hoping the bus would get unstuck sooner or later. But it never did. Instead, a backup bus came and took us into town. When we finally got into town, we started looking for the one place Elisabeth had been telling me all about: The Burger Inn. It was supposedly the best burger place there was. So, this is where we had our lunch…us two Americans eating hamburgers for lunch, how typical! But she was right, they were probably the best, if not one of the best, hamburgers I’ve ever eaten. It was so good and my stomach was completely satisfied!

After we finished eating, Elisabeth wanted to take me somewhere else: Gekas. It was supposedly one of the biggest shopping malls in Sweden and people came from all over just to shop there because the prices were like Wal-Mart. Imagine it as being the only Wal-Mart in America, that’s how crowded it usually was, but today, we got quite lucky thankfully. It was nice and I bought a new pair of jeans and a scarf (finally). These pants made me happy to wear though since they were six sizes smaller than my original pair of jeans; that just shows you how much weight I’ve lost. So when we got home, I put those babies on just to feel the satisfaction of wearing smaller jeans, and not baggy ones. But, I also put them on to impress the girls more since Elisabeth had planned a movie night with a bunch of her friends and, of course, they were all girls! But that was fine with me! So we watched a chick flick of course (Definitely Maybe) and an action film (The Intruders). They were both really good and I had a great time. But what was even more fun was the big snowball fight we had outside in between the two movies. It was just me and four of the girls fighting with snow…it was wild, but loads of fun…this is why I love snow so much!

The following day we went sledding!!!! This was my first time sledding and I loved it so much! Although you would think it would stink to fall over, it’s actually pretty fun when you fall over…just as fun as staying on it! I tried both types of sleds: the snowmobile one and the board. I liked the board better, it was harder to steer and more fun on jumps. So I stole this one halfway through our sledding fun. After Elisabeth and her host brother, Jonatan, got tired of sledding, we went inside to have a cup of hot cocoa and play a game of risk. It was just a great night! But unfortunately it had to end with me leaving to go back home to Lund. After almost missing the train and a hour and a half train ride later, I arrived home to unpack a little and go to bed because winter break was over and I had school the next day…

On that Saturday, I took a train up to Helsingborg to go visit my Swedish friend Victor. He was having a going away party because he was heading off to Australia to attend a college there, so it was a sad evening, but everyone had tons and tons of fun. I am very glad that I decided to stay the night because all the way until three in the morning we stayed up partying and playing some pretty cool games that I had never played before. These Swedes sure do know how to have fun!

The next big event to occur was my birthday! It was January 14th, and it sure was a heck of a lot better than my birthday last year. My whole class sang to me in my Psychology class, and that just made me happy for the rest of the day. Later that evening, after dinner, my host mom baked me a nice Swedish cake with tangerines and Daim (a very sweet Swedish candy) on top and a strawberry center…it was AMAZING!!!! And as a present they gave me a Swedish fotboll jersey…it was just another wonderful day in the life of me!

The next day was my party. Since I’m not good at organizing house parties, I just held it at the laserdome in Malmo. By the title of the place, you can obviously tell what we were going to do there: play laser tag!! It was great to play it with a bunch of my closest friends, but it just seems that I can never get higher than 4th place in laser tag, no matter how many times I play. But I had a blast and that’s all that matters. But the party was kind of a dual party; my birthday party and Josh’s going away party. Josh, my oldie from Australia, was leaving to go back home the next day, so this was the last time for people to say goodbye to him. So the party was a sad and happy party. Afterwards, we went out to eat at some Chinese place and then we parted ways and a few of my friends followed me to my youth group.

The following day was the time for me to switch to my third host family. So I did a lot of last minute packing and headed out with my ten different bags. Luckily I was moving just around the corner to a friend of the Hellbergs so the move was not hard at all. I was quite happy to move in with them because they seemed like a very cool family, so I had a feeling I would have a great time with them.

Church was the next day. I was glad I was part of this church because they had services at a good time for me. It wasn’t my regular church; it was the one I went to on the 27th of December with my friend Jennifer. So I met up with Jennifer and Elin at the church and went to a great service. It was quite an awesome service because the winner of Idol (the Swedish version) was there and he sang…it was quite awesome! Afterwards, the three of us and two Norwegian guys went to TGIF and had dinner. Since I have been dying for some buffalo wings since I came to Sweden, I had to get some for the appetizer. They weren’t the spiciest I’ve ever had, but it was better than nothing. As long as it ended my craving for the buffalo wings for some time.

That Friday I went to youth group and we did something quite different, we played Sing Star. I had never heard of it, but I had fun with it. At first I was hesitate to sing in front of people, but after a few tries I was begging to sing next. It certainly brought me out of my shell.

On Sunday I got to finally go back to lacrosse practice and it was quite a workout since it had been about a month since I played. Too bad I have to wait another week and a half to play again, but by that time, we’ll be heading off to a tournament in Goteborg. But anyway, after lacrosse practice I went with my family to a dinner with CISV (some type of exchange program). Johnannes, my host brother, had gone to Brazil that winter through them, so this dinner was with all the people that went on that trip, kind of like a reunion. It was great because I got to meet many new people and also see some familiar faces.

Tuesday was a special day at my Rotary meeting. Why is that? Well, because I finally got to trade flags with them. I could tell everyone was happy to get a flag from me, and I was very happy to get one from them as well. It just seemed like after the trading, the whole meeting was in a better mood.

Well, now I have packed my bags again to go off on another adventure around the world. Where may this stop be? Well, I will tell you in advance this time: France.

February 23 Journal

It had not hit me yet that I had left Sweden when we arrived in Geneva, Switzerland. The “we” that I’m referring to is Megan (yes, the other Floridian), Sofi and Kyle (two other exchange students), and myself. We walked around the city for hours, but it just felt like we were still in Stockholm and the plane just went into a complete circle for two hours. But I knew that that wasn’t true or possible, especially since the trains were way more confusing in Geneva. But Geneva was a beautiful city and I had a great time in it for the few hours we were there. After a two hour train ride and a thirty minute car ride, we were finally in Megève, our home for the next week. That’s when it finally hit me that we were in France! French speaking, escargot-eating France! When we got to the room that we were going to be staying in for the next week, we were in awe…it was so much better than we expected; it was basically like having our own house (kitchen and all), and we loved it.

The following day we got up bright and early in order to get our skis, ski lift passes, and to get in line for the ski lift before it opened. Yes, we were going to ski…best part is, we were skiing in the Alps!

So, the first day. Not much to say really. My first day of skiing was made up of taking LOADS of pictures, skiing, falling down, skiing, crashing, skiing some more, and more crashing. If you couldn’t guess already, I wasn’t that great at skiing. I had only skied once before back home, so this was my second time. I tried to stay positive while I skied, but since I’m not a very confident person, it was hard to every time I crashed.

The second day of skiing was probably the same, if not worse. My crashes were less, but the impact they made were far greater. After I made my last (and probably worse) crash, I quit. This was unusual for me because I usually never quit on anything, I just keep trying until I succeed. But I decided just to call it a day an hour early and see what would happen the following day.

I don’t know what happened to me during the night, but when I went out to ski for the third day, I did very well. It was as if God was watching over me the whole day; like he was torturing me the first two days to test me. It definitely worked though because the only times I fell were on the red slopes, but those were just minor falls. I actually had a blast and was able to keep up with everyone else the whole time. The end of the skiing day was probably the most fun though. I ended up taking the wrong slope down to get home so therefore I took the last lift up to the top in order to get back on track. That’s when the snow started to fall heavily. I looked around and saw nobody. Not a soul was around. It felt great to be the only person on the mountain. Unfortunately, as I started down the slope, the snow got even harder and I could barely see a foot in front of me. But, that made it all the more fun and interesting. I felt like a professional skier gliding through the Alps during a blizzard. I just wasn’t a professional…yet. I just needed a few more years of practice, but that doesn’t help when you live in Florida…

We only got to ski for three days since that’s all we could afford. So, the rest of the days were made up of us relaxing, touring the town, and meeting some great new French people (so therefore getting to brush up on my French again). The town was gorgeous with all their wooden ski resort hotels; there were tons of them…everywhere you turned you saw at least ten of them. We visited a museum about Megève, did some shopping (we got some pins and patches for our blazers), and fikad. The museum had some great history about Megève and gave me the idea of taking panoramic pictures. Unfortunately I didn’t get to take any panoramic of the Alps, but maybe some other time.

Our last day in France wasn’t a very long one because we had to leave at seven in the morning; first took a bus, then a train to finally arrive back in Geneva where we flew back to Sweden. But when I got there, my adventure wasn’t over yet. I had to catch a train in a few hours in order to go up north. So instead of just sitting there by myself for that long, I called up my exchange friends in Stockholm. My friends Marian and Carlos (from Mexico) and João (from Brazil) met up with me and we fikad and just talked for a few hours. It was nice to catch up with them, and see how they’ve changed, since I hadn’t seen them since orientation. My friends stayed longer than I expected them to though because my train was delayed an hour and a half…that’s one bad thing about the snow, the trains get delayed a lot. But it eventually came and I arrived in Hudiksvall finally at two in the morning. So I felt really bad because my friend Julia had to come and get me. Julia is a fellow exchange student. She is from Canada and I had not seen her since orientation (like most of the exchange students), but we bonded a lot back at the orientation so we have kept in touch.

That day we woke up quite late and realized that we were going to miss our train if we didn’t hurry up. So we high-tailed it outta there and ran all the way to the train station just in time to catch our train. Destination: Sundsvall. Mission: meet up with Morgane and see Sundsvall. It was great to see Morgane again, the last time I saw her was a few months ago, but after a few hours she had to leave to go home. So Julia and I, having an hour to spare until our train left, went shopping and had a nice big snowball fight. What a great time…

The following day we toured around Hudiksvall and met up with Julia’s old host sister, Anna, and fikad for about two and a half hours. When we finally said our goodbyes and went home, Julia and I decided to bake some cookies! We called them Canadian-American cookies. Don’t ask me why, because it was probably just because we were Canadian and American. I know it wasn’t because of the ingredients because we didn’t put Hershey’s chocolate and maple syrup in the cookies, otherwise it would definitely be Canadian-American cookies. We just had chocolate chips and walnuts in them though, and boy were they delicious!

The next day was kind of a lazy day. We mostly sat around and talked at her house or went out and walked around town, But, we did get to do one exciting thing: cross country skiing. I had never tried it before, so I was pretty excited. So, for about an hour we skied. At first I did really well; I did not fall at all. But then at the end of the track, I did, but I still had fun while falling.

Later that evening, I took the night train to go home. It was my first time on a night train and I did not like it so much. I did not have a bed, so I had to sit in a seat for the ten hour train ride. I got very restless and bored easily. Eventually I fell asleep only to be awoken by the sound of the train whistle as we were getting ready to come into Lund, my home. It felt great to be home; once I got to my house, I immediately went to my room and fell asleep.

The next few days were basically made up of cooling down, resting, and trying to get back into my “Swedish mode”. During those “cooling down” days, I got to skype with one of my favorite outbounds from Florida, Shaina! It had been six months since I had last seen her, so when her face had popped up on that screen, I was very happy! We had a lot of catching up tp do, so naturally our conversation lasted forever. I was on a skyping frenzy because the next day I got to skype with another Florida outbound, but this time a new one, Leelah. It was great to see and talk to one of the new outbounds face to face and remember how I felt only a year ago when I was in their shoes.

Valentine’s day wasn’t that special mainly because I didn’t have a significant other. Swedes aren’t like us on this holiday at all though; back home people passed out little cards and candy to their friends, while not a soul does a thing here. Even though Valentine’s Day was on a Sunday, I hadn’t seen anybody do it on the Friday before or the Monday after…it was sad. But on Valentine’s Day I went to church like usual and we had another guest appearance! This person was from Swedish Idol as well, but this time it wasn’t a winner, but it was a finalist by the name of Reza. She was a fantastic singer and had only been in Sweden for six months (which frustrated me because I have been here the same length, but she was practically fluent). She had an amazing voice and even sang Whitney Houston’s song “I Will Always Love You” and nailed it!

Being rushed to the ER was not my idea of starting off my first day “on the job” or my week. If you’re wondering what happened, don’t worry, I’ll tell you. So, my host mom, Paivi, works at a hospital and she knew that I wanted to become a Physical Therapist. Since I didn’t have any classes in the mornings on Tuesday and Wednesday, she asked the Physical Therapist in her ward if I could come and see what her job was like, and she said yes! So on Tuesday morning I followed Paivi to work to start my first day “on the job”. Annika the sjukgymnast (Physical Therapist) seemed to love her job, so I had fun until about halfway through. She was giving acupuncture to a patient and all of a sudden I got really dizzy and the next thing I know, I was on the floor being woken up by Annika and I had a bunch of midwives around me (I was on the pregnancy floor). I had fainted for the first time in my life. So they brought me to the ER just to make sure I didn’t do any damage to my body. Luckily I didn’t, but my shoulder hurt a lot. When I was released and got back to the ward, two of the midwives that had taken care of me gave me a baby’s hat as a souvenir of my experience. So I made it more of a souvenir by having them sign it. Now, it’s on my blazer as a wonderful memory and story. I became known as the “boy-who-fainted” throughout the whole pregnancy floor, mostly because I was the only guy in this hospital that wasn’t a doctor; It was a women’s hospital.

Although I was in a little pain, I went back to the hospital the next day to get more “on the job” training. I had a lot more fun since I didn’t faint this time, but probably because Anja, another sjukgymnast, was there with Annika.

On Thursday, I met up with my newbie, Chloe. She had only been in Lund for two weeks, but this was the first time I was getting to meet her. She was from Wisconsin which was odd because she was on an Aussie exchange year (an odd year for an American since Aussies come from January to January, so therefore she had to leave halfway through her school year back home). She had been held back from coming here because she had never received her visa, but now she’s here and that’s all that matters. So I met her at her house and we talked for hours and hours. We were like twins though, which was freaky because we liked a lot of the same things and thought the same way. But that just meant our friendship would be that much stronger.

The following day I had no school so I got to sleep in, but not much because my school band decided to hold a five hour rehearsal since there was no school. It was nice, but my chops were dead after an hour and a half because I’m still not that used to playing the trumpet for that long. Luckily they let us out an hour and a half early though, or else I would’ve died literally. So when I got home, I just rested until it was time to go to youth group. And like usual. Youth group was a blast. I don’t want to think about leaving them in only five months…

It’s Saturday. The day of my big lacrosse tournament in Göteborg. Well, not Huge, but still big for our team just to be playing somebody else. My team did really good too, we won all our games, but unfortunately I let a few goals pass by me each game. That’s the one thing I hate about being goalie: goals getting past me. I just need to practice more and make sure none ever get past me again, that’s all.

My goals for this upcoming vacation week:

Run everyday

Improve my Swedish

Improve my German

Improve my Italian

So that’s all I have planned for this week and hopefully I stick to that plan. Well, until next time. Ciao!

April 1 Journal

My vacation week did not go as planned…I DID go running and end up cycling a marathon, but I never did work on my languages…oops…

Well other than running and biking, I did get to hang out with some of my friends. On Monday, I hung out with a Swedish friend from my church, Frida. She came over to my house and we watched some movies and walked around Lund for a little bit before she had to go home. On Wednesday, we hung out again, but this time I went to her in Dalby (which is why I ended up doing a marathon on my bike). We went on a walk in Skrylle (a nature reserve park for running) and after a few minutes, we stopped and made snowmen! I was so excited because I had never made one before. We decided to make a family: a dad, mom, and child. Frida ended up making the dad and child and I made the mom (I’m a perfectionist, so it took me a while). We decorated them with funky, random items such as buttons and glow-in-the-dark stars. We name our family: Jack for the father, Rose for the mother, and Valentine for the child; it was such a beautiful family. We joked around and said it was the Titanic family, but they had a story behind their names. For Rose, it was because we both liked the name Rose, so we name her that…for the dad, we named him after Jack Frost, enough said. That’s when we realized what we had done, but we didn’t change it. As for Valentine, we both loved that name as well, so that’s why we chose it…it doesn’t have any connection with the Titanic though.

Vacation week ends and it’s time to go back to school…only class I was really having fun in was drama because we were reading and studying Alice in Wonderland in Swedish. Luckily I’m better at reading than listening or talking, so it was somewhat easy to get through the script. I just hope we’re going to perform it, the teacher still hasn’t told us.

It’s March 4th, a.k.a. Doomsday. Why’s that? Only one reason: my family is here. They arrive in Copenhagen stressed out because of their 24 hour delay in Georgia, and they were determined to make the best of their trip while they were here. This was their first time in Europe and out of America in general. So it was a pretty big deal for them to be here. My mother, brother, and sister were the ones that came to visit me, and I was happy to see them all. The day that they arrived, they basically rested, so we did all the sightseeing of Lund the following day. Other than the sightseeing, we had a great dinner with the Hellbergs, Lindvalls, and Arne (my first host family, my current host family (third host family), and my counselor). My family already knew the Hellbergs because that’s where they were staying, so this meal was basically to meet everybody else. After we ate dinner, we busted out an awesome, typical American game…Apples to Apples!! We were afraid that the game was going to be a bust with the Swedes, but like us Americans, they had a blast. Sven ended up winning, but everyone at the table agreed that he somehow cheated….if that’s possible…

On Sunday, my family and I took a nice 9-hour long car ride to Sälen, Sweden. Why were we there? One reason only: to go skiing of course (well snowboarding for my brother and sister). We rented a cabin for five days, so we got to relax a lot. The first day was the day we arrived, so we just stayed in the cabin to get settled in. The second day we drove to Norway (it was only an hour drive away). We checked out a lot of great scenery and a ski resort town so we could get some souvenirs. The third day was our first day to go skiing/snow-boarding. It was very windy, but still quite fun. Now do you remember how bad I was at skiing in France? Well I have definitely improved since then because I was basically just doing the red slopes and I was gliding down them with ease. But back in France, I only went down one red slope, and it was only half of one because I was afraid of falling the whole entire time. The second day of skiing was amazing and definitely one of my favorite days ever in my life. We went to a different mountain to try some new slopes. We did some red slopes, then my brother introduced my sister and I to tree skiing (skiing though trees). I was hesitant at first, but after doing it once, I was addicted. My brother and sister eventually ditched me so they could go try out the jumps, rails, and fun boxes. I, on the other hand, continued tree skiing and going through denser trees each time. Just before we were about to leave, I convinced my siblings to come tree ski with me through some very dense trees on a very steep mountain. It was hard and quite scary, but I loved the challenge. Halfway down the mountain I found myself on a black diamond slope, and without thinking twice about it, I went down it with ease. Knowing that I accomplished half a black diamond with such ease made my day even more wonderful. The following day we left the cabin and headed back on the road, but not to Lund…we were off to Stockholm!

The ride was alright, but afterwards I no longer wanted to see another Swedish meatball again. This was because I heated up a bunch of leftover meatballs at the cabin before we left, and I ate half of the box for my lunch. We arrived in Stockholm just in time to catch our cruise ship. CRUISE SHIP?! Yup, we were now going to Finland! The cruise went very well, and the views from the ship’s dock were absolutely amazing. It was pretty cool to see the ship driving next to all of those icebergs in the water…it reminded me of the Titanic again.

We arrived in Helsinki at ten the next morning and that’s when we met Elli, a previous exchange student that went to my school last year (not through Rotary though). So Elli showed us around Helsinki, we did some shopping, and ate some good Finnish food for lunch. When the clock hit four, we had to say our goodbyes and make our way back to the cruise ship…unless we didn’t want to ever go back home. That night I had a great dinner on the ship: Beef entrecôte and ratatouille. I felt so special because my mom just got a pizza and my siblings got a burger each…how lame, right? Well if you were wondering, yes, my meal was absolutely amazing. Actually, the main reason that I got that dish was because of the ratatouille. I had always wondered what it tasted like after seeing the movie so many times in French class last year and it definitely lived up to my expectations.

We arrived back in Stockholm around ten that next morning and did some sightseeing of Stockholm before heading off to Lund. The following day my family got to meet Arne’s family. We were invited over to have dinner there and of all things, guess what we had. Swedish meatballs…I wanted to puke. Luckily these were homemade ones though, so it was a lot easier to eat them since they didn’t taste at all like the other ones. We had a great time talking, playing ping pong, and looking at pictures that we stayed very late.

On Monday morning, my mom followed me to school just to see it. She went to my drama class with me and observed as we did our small projects for Alice in Wonderland. She decided to go home after that because she didn’t want to follow me to German for some reason…maybe she was tired of hearing one foreign language that a second one would drive her crazy.

Tuesday, my mom went to band with me for about an hour and then we left to go to the Olsson’s house for dinner. We had a nice dinner (and yes, there were Swedish meatballs again…but they were made from moose instead of pork and beef). For dessert, my mom had bought a princess cake (a typical Swedish cake). It is very fancy looking and amazingly good…and sadly, that was the first time I had had one. It was definitely worth the wait.

The following day I said goodbye to my family as they got on the plane to go back home. Now it was time to go back to my regular life…

Well, you can definitely tell it’s spring now because 1) the snow is gone (sadly), 2) spring flowers are starting to bloom everywhere, 3) it’s raining again, and 4) the weather ranges from 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit, so I am no longer wearing jeans and a coat…just my shorts and hoodie.

I’ve been keeping up with the running and I just keep slimming down. So far the farthest I have ran at one time is a quarter of a marathon in a little less than an hour, which I think is pretty good. I’m just happy that I’ve done that much because that means I’m halfway to my goal! Plus, just the fact that I ran six and a half miles makes me happy, I could’ve never done that back home eight months ago.

Now it’s Easter break and basically all that’s been happening this week for me is band for six hours a day, and running for an hour. Tuesday was the only day that was different. I had no band, so I went to visit Frida in Dalby (just a half an hour bike ride from my house). We watched Sleeping Beauty and Aladdin in Swedish and then had ratatouille for dinner (still loved it). Then we went upstairs and we played some American games (no, not Apples to Apples again, you can’t play that with only two people). We played skip-bo and five straight (a family game that some relative of mine made).

That’s basically been my life for the past month. I’ll try to update you more often.

Tschuss!

April 16 Journal

Eight and a half months and thirty five pounds later, I’ve finally reached the sad few months left of my exchange. Now’s the time to make the best of these last few months, right? Well that’s what I plan on doing. There’s only one way to do this in my mind: travel! We all know that I love to travel though, so this won’t be a problem for me at all.

Well these past few weeks have been great and relaxing for me. It all starts with my trip to the summer house with my host family. Their summer house is in Onslunda, a fifty minute drive east of Lund. It’s on the other coast of Sweden, so therefore it’s a bit colder since they don’t have the Gulf Stream to help warm them up. But I thought it felt nice anyway. We mostly relaxed while we were there; the toughest thing we had to do was burn yard debris (oh, the torture!). We finished the day off with a nice trip to the sauna! About time that I got to go into a sauna (sad, I know), but it was definitely worth the wait because it felt good. I sat in there for over an hour and I’ve never sweat so much in my life. I believe the temperature in there was 70º C, so that would be 158º F…and then add the humidity to that, and you realize that you’re basically sitting in an oven…OI! The typical Scandinavian thing to do is to jump into an ice cold lake after the sauna and then jump back into the sauna. Did I do it? Are you crazy?! Do I look that nuts to you? Well, then you’re right, because I did do it! There was just one problem: we didn’t have a lake. The substitute: an ice cold shower outside. I stepped into it once, full on, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack! But then I turned around and did it once more anyways!

This weekend had many firsts, because I had my first dream in Swedish as well! It only took eight and a half months…Anyway, the dream was in both Swedish and English, but after I woke up, I never felt different. I was hoping they were right and after the dream I would fully understand Swedish, but I didn’t. Maybe it’s just me and it works on others, I’m not sure.

Easter Sunday. No basket full of candy, no Easter egg hunt, no Easter egg dying, no Easter bunny. My heart sank a little. They definitely didn’t do anything like us, unless it was just my family. I know, that’s not what the holiday is about, but I’m just so used to having those traditions every year; you bond with your family during these times. It just seems like a normal day except for the Easter egg treat after dinner.

Later that week I hung out with Emily for once in several months. But we had a nice, long four hour fika, so we got to catch up with each other. She also interviewed me for a project that she was working on for school. All third years (seniors) have to do a project at the end of the year. Emily didn’t have to do one, but she decided to write a book/long essay in Swedish about being an exchange student and she wanted the view from someone else as well. I felt special because she said she picked me because of how much I have done and seen while on exchange.

It’s April 9th, early in the morning, and I’m catching the train to Falkenberg to go visit Elisabeth again. After I arrived, we sat down with her host family and had a nice fika. She was with a different host family this time, but I liked them nonetheless. After the fika, we decided to throw on our bathing suits and jog down to the beach. It was very nice out so we decided to test out the water…yes, it was very cold, so we only went ankle deep. Afterwards we continued to walk on the beach until we found this little sand bar. So what did we do? We wrote all over it! We just grabbed some sticks and started writing all over it and trying to take up the whole island with our graffiti. The first thing I ended up was the legendary “RYE Florida” and then I did many things after that. A man came up to us as we were out there and asked us if we had lost a bet. He just didn’t think any sane person would be out there on that cold and windy day in their bathing suits, especially since there was supposedly ice covering the whole beach about a week prior. We didn’t care though because we were enjoying ourselves. But before we left the beach, there was one thing I HAD to do: go swimming. Yes I did go swimming, but honestly the water was quite refreshing. I would gladly swim on that beach again than to go in that heart attack shower, that’s for sure. Afterwards we walked to Burger Inn and had a big and juicy burger. It was funny to see everybody’s faces as they drove by, because here we were acting like it was a summer day with our bathing suits and towels over our shoulder while everybody else was bundled up in their coats, pants, scarves, and gloves.

Later that night, we went over to Sara’s house (a friend of Elisabeth and mine) for a movie night. Nobody knew that I had come to Falkenberg besides Elisabeth because we wanted to surprise everyone. So they didn’t know that I was coming to the movie night, they just knew Elisabeth was bringing a friend. I can assure you that they were very surprised and happy indeed…mission accomplished. The movie night reminded me of the last time I was in Falkenberg. This one was just a smaller group and we didn’t have a big snowball fight during the night (only because there wasn’t any snow anymore). But we still had a jolly good time regardless.

The following day Elisabeth and I made some American pancakes for her host family with some good ole Bisquick. We ended up making three different kinds: chocolate chip, blueberry, and regular. Boy were they delicious! It sure had been a while since I had had any American pancakes; I was getting so used to the Swedish pancakes. Afterwards we went to Gekås in an attempt to but me some new clothes since all of my other clothes were way too big for me now. But we didn’t have much luck because we only ended up with a few dress shirts. Oh well, I think I can suffer for three more months. Immediately after we got home from Gekås, we ate a magnificent dinner (bruschetta and kebab with potatoes) and then we headed off to Falkenhallen for a big concert. It was a big band competition to see who would represent Hålland (the region of Sweden). Tessan, one of my friends, was in the competitions, so this was the only reason we really came to the concert. Unfortunately Tessan’s band didn’t win, but they were very good and I was happy that I finally got the chance to see them perform. And since this was the first time I saw Tessan since I had been in Falkenberg, she was very happy to see me.

Sunday was my last day in Falkenberg, so I had to make the best of it. To start out the day, we made some Jell-O! I had bought a box of lime Jell-O at the American store in Malmö, so what better time to make it than now? We obviously couldn’t eat it right away, so we put it in the refrigerator for later. We went for a jog afterwards and after a while of jogging, we found some nice flat rocks and we laid down and did some sun tanning. We accidently fell asleep, so we ended up being there for two hours…thank God the sun isn’t as strong in Sweden as it is in Florida, otherwise I would be like Austin’s sister Jacqs at the district conference back home (she was red on her front half and white on the back half because she accidently fell asleep for an hour). We got our stuff together and jogged back home to take a shower and go to the store. We were going to make some bruschetta for the first time. We were in love with the bruschetta that Ingrid (Elisabeth’s host mom) had made, so we were determined to have some more. The bruschetta ended up taking about thirty minutes in total to make, but it was definitely worth the wait. They may not have been as good as Ingrid’s but they were close!

With only a few hours left in Falkenberg, Elisabeth and I went to go play some basketball with Sara and Mimmi. At first, I was really bad because I had not played for ages, but when we played “horse”, it ended up just being Sara and I at the end. So my last few hours were quite fun and I had a great time playing basketball with the girls. Before I left, there was just one more order of business to attend to: to eat the Jell-O. I definitely didn’t want to forget about the Jell-O. So Elisabeth and I shared half of it and left the rest of it for her host parents to enjoy. I then said my thank yous and goodbyes and left Falkenberg.

Monday morning I woke up bright and early to go for my morning jog. I was determined to go further than I had ever gone before, and I ended up doing double what I had ever done. I ended up doing half a marathon! I was so happy with myself; I felt so accomplished. I didn’t do the whole thing non-stop though, but I only stopped twice: at the halfway point and at the ¾ point. I did want to stop many more times after the halfway point and the ¾ point, but I just kept pushing myself to go further. So, just the fact that I ran a quarter of a marathon without stopping was satisfying to me. That just means I’m that much closer to my goal: to run a half marathon non-stop. If you didn’t know, I’m training to run the broloppet in June, and that is a half marathon race.

Other than that, all I’ve been doing is going to Rotary, band, Scouts, Spyxet band, and school. Right now we are getting ready for our concert in a few weeks for band…and as for the Spyxet, well that’s in a week! I can’t wait for that, so wish us luck! Too bad I won’t be there for any more rehearsals before the performance because I’ll be on another trip. But I can’t reveal where I’m going just yet! All I can tell you is that I’m on a train to Stockholm right now.

So, until next time,

Hejdå!

July 6 Journal

Time is flying by too fast... it's been three months since I sent my last journal in...where HAS the time gone? Well I can tell you where it has gone...it has been made into amazing, unforgettable memories....

APRIL

I went up to Stockholm and visited Claire, from New York. She was one of those special exchange students because she lived in the rich part of town... on one of the king's islands (You have to know the King personally in order to live on one)... it was obviously beautiful and luxurious and you didn't have to worry about many neighbors for sure. After seeing this side of Stockholm for a few days, I found a new love for the big city.

After Stockholm, I took a 15 hour train ride up to Kiruna!! Rotary organized this trip, so the train was FILLED with many exchange students...now many of which are my closest friends after that train ride. We spent many days in Kiruna, so we got to do quite a lot. We of course had to go to the Ice Hotel (what Kiruna is famous for... and yes, we did get to go inside too!) We also got to go snowmobiling (oops... I broke a 'D'...*wink*wink*), to a few ski resorts, and to Norvik, Norway. It was so much fun and I was especially happy to see snow on the ground once again.

I immediately went home for Spyxet after a few days in Kiruna. Spyxet is a huge performance that my school puts on very year...the title is mixed with the school name (Spyken) and the word 'spex' (meaning: a comedy musical aimed or a younger audience. Usually done by college students in Sweden, but Lund is the only city that does it in High School as well). I was part of the band and I was playing my tuba and, for the first time in my life, the trumpet.

MAY

There were only four main events (that I can recall) that happened in the month of May. That would be the Lundaloppet, Lundakarnevalen, Blodomloippet, and canoeing in Rööne Å. The lundaloppet was a 10k race around Lund...this was my first race ever, so I was naturally very nervous. I finished the race in 53 minutes, which is not too bad for the first time. The blodomloppet was also a 10k race, but this one was for charity and I ran it with my Rotaract club. There were thousands of people participating, but only half were seriously running, but that’s because we had older people just doing it for the charity...there were even dogs, which cracked me up.

Lundakarnevalen... Oh what fun!! This was a three day event filled with fun, fun, and more fun! The Lundakarnevalen is a carnival that the Lund University students put on every four years... so I was very lucky to be here on that fourth year! They had many things at the Carnival... booths from massage to Sumo Wrestling, games, a circus, a parade, and concerts with many well-known artists. It was absolutely amazing and I hope to come back in four years for the next one.

The canoeing trip was on Rööne Å, aka Rööne (small) river. It was with my youth group in Malmö, so it was basically with a bunch of my closest Swedish friends. We basically just went canoeing and camping for three days, but it was the fact that was with them, that’s what made it great.

July 15 Journal

I am now, officially Swedified….I can now pass as a Swede with the blonde hair, blue eyes, skinny jeans, and white All-star shoes. If only I could talk perfect Swedish, then I think many would mistake me as a true Swede…

June

Studenten Week…aka Graduation week, BUT the Swedish graduations are so much more fun (sorry to say). We basically went into the auditorium for an hour; my principal/headmaster talked to us, we had bands play for us, and we said our goodbyes to all the teachers. Then we ran out into the courtyard with our class and were greeted by a HUGE crowd of friends and family. The families usually held up signs with their child’s name and baby picture on it, which is really neat, and then they would put gifts around your neck (like flowers, stuffed animals, horns, etc.). Then we ran out to the streets and got on our huge trucks with our friends and went around town a few times. We played music, danced, yelled, and blew our whistles while on the trucks, just to show how happy and excited we were to “take studenten”…the flaks (trucks that we used) are definitely the best and most fun part of the Swedish graduation, if they just added that to the American one, it would be awesome! I went through this for a week and a half. First it was my exchange friend Emily, then the following week it was Albin on Monday (first host family brother), Carl on Tuesday (second host family brother), Julia on Wednesday (third host family sister), and myself on Thursday. So it was basically a party all week in Lund! Sarah May and her mom actually came to my studenten…that made my day! I was so excited to see them and I went and meet them in Malmö the following day before they left for Germany.

That weekend was the dreaded Broloppet…the race I had been worrying about for the past three months. It was my third race, but my first half marathon race (that’s 21 kilometers/13.1 miles) and I ended up finishing in two hours and eleven minutes, not too bad…so now I can say that I’ve run from one country to another because the Broloppet was a race over the bridge from Copenhagen, Denmark to Malmö, Sweden. DEFINITELY an experience of a lifetime and I wouldn’t trade it for anything (especially since I plan on doing this more often when I get back home).

During June I got to visit three cities that I had never got the chance to go to before: Norrköping, Örebro, and Eskilstuna. I went to Norrköping for a few days and got to meet up with a lot of my exchange friends that I had not seen since orientation and also saw a bunch of my newer exchange friends from my Kiruna trip, and of course I met some new people too…I also got to swim for the first time since Summer started (unless you count my quick dip-ins at the beach in Falkenberg in March), and it was quite refreshing. I went to Örebro to visit Megan, since I hadn’t had the chance to, and stayed for a few days. While I was in Örebro, Megan and I went to Eskilstuna to meet up with Sofi and Kyle (from my skiing trip in France). I also got to meet some cool new people while we were watching the Mexico vs Uruguay fotboll game and the France vs South Africa fotboll game (Sofi was the Mexican, Zoe was the South African, and Nathan was the French guy…so we were basically rooting for every team EXCEPT Uruguay…). We mostly hung out with Sofi though and unfortunately had to say our last goodbyes to her since she was leaving to go back to Mexico. It was a sad moment.

Also, if you didn’t know, the Royal wedding (Bröloppet (not to be confused with the Broloppet….trust me, I mixed it up all the time)) for Sweden’s Crown Princess, Victoria, was on the 19th of June. Did I watch it? Of course I did because it was on basically every channel and lasted all day…I just didn’t go all the way to Stockholm for it (now if I had received a personal invitation from the princess, then maybe I would’ve gone). But I didn’t watch it all, because I do have a life you know…

MIDSOMMAR!!! Basically the biggest holiday in Sweden. It is a huge party all over Sweden celebrating summer and hot weather. I spent midsommar with the Olssons (second host family) at their summer home, and I found out that I have a good singing voice…or maybe just a good karaoke voice….because we sang A LOT of karaoke during midsommar, it was actually quite fun (I would usually never do it because I don’t like singing in front of people…but I’m not as shy anymore after being in Sweden). On the way back home from the summer house, we stopped by the Swedish Stonehenge…I had never been before so I was pretty excited to see it and it was pretty amazing…not as extravagant as the one in Great Britain, but it was still pretty cool.

July

Only one big event has happened since July began…my band trip to Italy. This was a ten day trip and I just got back from it yesterday, so it’s all still fresh in my mind. We took a bus from Lund, Sweden and drove all the way to Lido Di Jesolo, Italy. Yes, it was a very long bus ride, but I was with very cool people the whole time, and we stopped halfway both times in Germany (Jena and Bad Kissingen). We also got to go to Berlin, but this was only because the air-conditioning was broken and we had to get it fixed…but regardless, I got to see a bunch of Berlin! So I hit two birds with one stone on this trip since I had never been to either Germany or Italy. We went to a Swedish convention in Lido for that whole week (odd that we went all the way to Italy for a Swedish convention when we could’ve just stayed home…but I’m actually glad we didn’t stay because I would’ve never got the chance to go to Italy.). A typical day for us in Italy was pretty relaxed: we played a little in the morning, then we were free to go relax and chill on the beach for eight hours (we would play some volleyball, go swimming in the beach or pool, play some cards, and many people would Siesta (sleep for three hours) during this time)…after that we ate dinner, marched, and had a little concert at night. That was about it, it was very relaxed and I loved it that way. I definitely now have my tan because of our relaxed schedule…so I’m prepared for going home now (I used to look like death because of the lack of sunlight, now I look alive…haha). One of the days in Italy was also spent in the lovely city of Venice. We were on our own until dinner time, so we got a lot more sightseeing done this way. I even got to go on a gondola ride! It was pretty sweet, and our driver looked authentic, he just didn’t sing for us…

In the past two days, I have also gone to Liseberg and Varberg. Liseberg is an amusement park in Göteborg, it is quite big and very well known. I went to Liseberg with Elisabeth and all my Falkenberg friends. We had a great time, and lucky for us, the lines were quite short (but that’s because it was raining). I also went to Varberg for the first time (just 50 minutes south of Göteborg) with my host family. We toured around the city then went out on the boat for a few hours (I got to go tubing for the first time in a year…boy was it fun!).

But now I am in Falkenberg visiting Elisabeth…her going away party is today (she leaves on the same day as me) so it’s time for me to say my goodbyes to her and all my Falkenberg friends. I leave for my other home in just 5 days…yes it is a very sad thought and I still have so many things to do before I go. I don’t want to leave my home again for good, I had to do it just a year ago…now here I am again having to start saying my ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see you laters’. This is the one thing I was Not looking forward to for my exchange…I just wish I could stay….but at least I somewhat know what I’ll be going home to, but in a way, it’s still like going to a foreign place because home will not be the same as it once was….but I’m used to adjusting; I’m a foreign exchange student!