Conor Doherty
2009-10 Outbound to Sweden

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz HS
Sponsor: Downtown Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Lerum Rotary Club, District 2360, Sweden

Conor's Bio

Hello,

My name is Conor Doherty and as you may have heard, I am going to Sweden! A couple of years ago, my family hosted two exchange students. One was from Finland so I had had heard about Scandinavia and I figured that would be a cool place to go. My sister and brother were also exchange students, Makena went to Brazil and Liam went to Switzerland. If it wasn’t for them, I would not be in this situation right now. I have heard millions of stories about their exchange years and how they had such a good time and that their years abroad had changed their lives, so I decided to uphold the new “family tradition” and go abroad myself. The topic of exchange always came up when my siblings were abroad so I had a lot of time to think about it, but finally decided that it would be best for me to go. The application process was difficult and the interviews were even harder (a lot harder!), but it was all worth it. The orientations are coming up soon as well, so I am excited about officially being a Rotary Youth Exchange Student.

I am currently a sophomore at Buchholz High School and although I am only 15 years old, I feel like I am ready to venture pretty far from the nest and become more independent, more responsible, and more intelligent. I am hoping that my year abroad shapes me into a better person the way my family has for the last 15 years. I think that having three siblings has made me the person I am and I think that being abroad will also change me, hopefully for the good. I am really looking forward to learning another language and to my year away from home, but I am most excited to see myself develop and change as the experiences and the culture are integrated into my life.

Thanks Rotary, for making this possible for me!

Conor's Journals

August 29 Journal

I am not much for introductions, so I will just jump right in. On August 6th (my brother’s birthday), we set off to Jacksonville Airport from Gainesville. The whole way to the airport, I was just trying to keep my mind off of the point of the trip. Maybe I was scared, maybe just nervous, most likely both. When we arrived at the airport, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be, so that was a good start. It was at the security checkpoint, at which I had to see my family for the last time for a year, that I started to feel the adrenaline. I hugged my family goodbye, said happy birthday to my brother, and walked away without looking back.

The airports were not too bad. I had never flown before, so this was my first airplane/airport experience. I found my gate fine and I didn’t have any problems. The last thing I did in America was in the Detroit airport, I bought a small fry from McDonalds (a sentimental moment). I almost had a bad experience in the Amsterdam airport. I could not find my flight on the sign so I went to the gate for a flight headed to Göteborg, but after a while I heard a voice on the intercom saying: “Herr Dorothy...fgdasifblewifbe” (something in Dutch - it was hilarious how they pronounced my name). “Mr. Doherty, please begin boarding at gate C4 immediately.” I was a long way from the right gate and I was the last to board my plane, but I made it.

I cleaned up a little and changed to a nicer shirt on the plane, and upon arrival, I saw my three host families and my counselor Lena. We all spoke briefly and introduced ourselves, I exchanged the cash I had for SEK and we headed home.

Later, we all met together again at a BBQ in my honor. We all ate some delicious food, a good first impression of Swedish cuisine, played fotboll, went swimming, and all chatted in English. A quick note: Everyone here has good English. They don’t admit it, but they do. David, my host brother, was about to leave for the US and he was trying to practice his English with me. (He is gone now to Seattle.)

In the first few days I did quite a bit, even with jet lag. I went swimming, paintballing, biking, etc. I tried to get over the jet lag as fast as possible and it worked pretty well, seeing as it only lasted a couple days, although some effects lasted a week or so. For example, I would wake up at noon everyday, still feeling tired (coffee helps). Since then, I have gone on an army ship with my host brother Simon, who is in the Swedish navy, I have stayed in Fristad for the week long language course, I have given a presentation at 7:00 in the morning, på Svenska, to a bunch of Rotarians in the Borås Rotary Club, I’ve wakeboarded; gone sailing; had fotboll practice; observed a floorball practice (which was insane by the way); picked wild raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries; unexpectedly seen the band Europe live; seen other live music like EMD which I don’t really like, but it was fun anyways; gone to Liseberg, an amusement park in Göteborg; biked to school everyday; visited multiple museums, and I don’t even know what else. I try to say yes to almost every offer that involves activity. I have pretty much only spent money on food and candy. Everything here is much more expensive than in the USA, so I try to conserve my money.

I started school last week and I have realized that the school here is so much more relaxed. There is an open campus and no tardies or anything like that (I still really try not to be late). The first days of school (8 days), we haven’t done much of anything because we are slowly easing into having school and we are getting to know all of our classmates. There is a two day trip planned for all of the students in the first year ekonomi class so that we can get to know each other better. My classes consist of: Swedish, English, Math, Social Studies, Geography, History, Sport, and Music. My schedule varies a lot and a lot of the time, the schedule is not followed for some reason.

I think I have summed up the first few weeks pretty well so I will leave you at that. Until next time, greetings från Sverige!

November 4 Journal

Well, it is time for journal number two. To summarize the time I have spent since the last journal in a few words would be impossible. I will at least try to do it some justice.

My Swedish is getting better and better. My overall understanding of speech is okay, much better at reading, not too great at speaking, but I try. I have Swedish lessons once a week and they are helping a little, but I think at home and in school are where most of the learning takes place.

The weather is not too bad yet. It only gets colder and colder. Every night it gets to be around freezing or a little lower so frost in the morning is common. During the day it does not get much warmer and the wind does not help. No snow yet, surprisingly, but I think it will come in a short time. There is more rain than I would like so it is gray quite a bit. I could go on about the weather because it seems to be a prominent subject in conversations, as Swedes care a lot about good weather because it is rare.

I have visited the Rotary club a few times and attend the meetings every other week. They seem to enjoy me and Joe’s (an exchange student from California also living in Lerum) company. Although, the meetings are Tuesday dinner meetings and I have soccer training on Tuesdays a little later in the day.

I am still playing soccer with the local team. It is a good way to make friends and stay fit. I can also work on my Swedish with them as well. The soccer trainings are fun, but now the weather is getting very cold and we practice at 8:00 at night, so all of the practices are very cold. Good thing there is a turf field to play on or the grass would all be dead...

School is going relatively well. The school is in only Swedish except for the English class, so it is tough to manage. But, I try hard, study, and do well on tests and homeworks. Not only are the tests hard because I can’t read the questions, but even if I do know the question, then all of the lectures are in Swedish and all of the papers that the teacher gives out and all of the books, so studying is very difficult. I like school, though. Many friends and it gives me something to do all day instead of just sitting around and doing nothing all day.

I have been hanging out with friends a lot recently. I can now travel freely because I bought a travel card for my free time, (called a fritidskort, literally free time card). Now travel is easy, even long trips where I have to take trains and busses and the like. That makes me wish we had a system so good in the US... But bowling and going to movies, even shooting golf balls on a golfing range.

Last week, my host family planned a surprise party for my host mom and all went well. Everything went according to plan: She had no idea and we set up this big party for her. I was in a suit and it was very fun. My whole family helped with the decorations and the service at the party and it was all really great.

Overall, the best thing for me is that I can see myself maturing. I can see in my thoughts and in my interpretations of events and ethics that I am definitely maturing. I don’t know if I want to mature so fast quite yet. Sometimes I just want to be a kid while I am a kid, but on the other hand I think it is great that my social skills and confidence are higher and I am developing into an adult. Either way, the experiences I am having here are shaping me slowly and I am sure you will be able to see this when I get home. Imagine: It has only been a few months so what will I be like in 9 more months?

So, I am having a good time in Sverige! Best regards to Rotary and the other exchange students. I hope you are having as much fun as I am.

March 6 Journal

It is hard to describe these last few months… I moved to my next family and am having a great time living at their house. I am set up to go to my next host family in just a couple of weeks. My Swedish is getting better every day. Sweden, for me, used to be a place where I was staying for a year. I feel like now it is much more like my home. I feel as though I have lived here for years. I can only imagine the day I get back to my own home and realize that it feels less like home than my Swedish home. It is such a strange feeling to be gone for so long; so long that the new place is now your home.

The day after writing my last journal entry, it snowed for the first time of the year. After that, it continued snowing and snowing and snowing. There is still snow on the ground and it is -5 C mid day now. The snow has been on the ground for months and hasn’t gone away at all. It has gotten down to -20 C in my town, Lerum. I just hope that spring is right around the corner so I can finally do something outdoors! It feels so restricting with snow on the ground everywhere. The upside to the snow is that I went skiing with my host family one day and that was fun. My next family is also taking me on a ski trip over the Easter break for four or five days. I am definitely looking forward to that!

I have experienced many things since my last entry, so I will tell you about some of them. Christmas (Swedish style)! I didn’t think that Christmas would be much different and for the most part I was right. There is not much of a difference between our way and the Swedish way of celebrating. The biggest difference is that they celebrate and open the presents on Christmas Eve instead of the way we do it, on Christmas day. Also, there are different foods and different little things like writing a rhyme on your gift to someone else. I thought this was fun because the person receiving the gift would try to guess what it was by the rhyming clue. However, through all of the good things that happened, this was my first Christmas away from my family. As bad as it sounds, I wasn’t as disturbed by it as I thought I would be. (Sorry mom!).

New Years Eve was also very fun. We had fireworks and were shooting them off all over the place. We also saw a fireworks show that people in the community organize and that was really cool. We then celebrated the countdown and stayed up late having fun.

I have also been sledding (which is really fun and surprisingly dangerous), skiing, Pain-balling, (like paintball without paint in the balls so that they are just rubber), going to school, freezing my butt off outside, and taking in Sweden! I also gave a presentation at my Rotary club and have given multiple presentations at my school about United States history, about Gainesville, and about being an exchange student. I have been having a lot of fun and I hope to continue that when spring comes!

Until next time,

Conor Doherty