Megan Reuss
2009-10 Outbound to Sweden

Hometown: Lakewood Ranch, Florida
School: Lakewood Ranch HS
Sponsor: Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club, District 6960, Florida
Host: Örebro-Södra Rotary Club, District 2340, Sweden

Megan's Bio

Hey! I’m Megan Reuss and I am currently a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School. As I write this bio, I do not know quite what to expect in the next year but I’m looking forward to every second of it! I’ll start off by telling you about my exciting life in Lakewood Ranch. I have a rather active lifestyle, packed with running, club activities, school, hanging out with friends, spending time with family, playing soccer, attending pasta parties, participating in outdoor activities, and enjoying smoothies.

I run on my school’s varsity cross country team along with a bunch of my friends. Our team motto, “Never come to the starting line with thoughts of coming in second,” comes to mind when I think of Rotary and the wonderful opportunities it presents. As a team we obtained the district championship by a margin of two points! Just goes to show that determination and hard work can produce great results. Wellll, that and loading up with carbs on Friday nights! I also pole vault and run on varsity track and field. I recently began pole vaulting, looking for a new activity to test myself at. Turns out its really fun (despite being seconds away from falling 8 feet)! I also enjoy playing soccer although I stopped playing competitively this year to concentrate more on running. I still find time to play with some friends before/during/after running.

I am the historian of my school’s Technology Student Association (TSA) chapter. I am also a member of the National Honor Society (NHS), Technology Honor Society (THS), and Latin club. I have a sister, Wendy, who is 15 (and extremely jealous that I will be going to Sweden without her!). We have four pets; two golden retrievers (Dewie and Lily) and two ferrets (Fred and Joe). Surprisingly, the dogs are more afraid of the mischievous ferrets than the ferrets are of the dogs! I love hanging out with my family, extended and immediate. Florida has been a prime location for family vacations, doubling the chances of seeing my cousins/aunts/uncles/grandparents multiple times throughout the year. I am very thankful for all the support my parents have given me in basically every aspect of my life!

I was born in born in New York, lived in Colorado for 9 years, and have been living in Florida for almost 8 years. I’m looking forward to adding Sweden to my list of residences. I am especially anticipating the cold weather and beautiful scenery. Thanks, Rotary, for allowing me this amazing opportunity!

At the beginning of the year I wasn’t exactly sure what I would be doing after high school. I figured that I would be packing up my belongings, saying goodbye to my friends and family, and heading off to college. After completing the grueling college application process, the radiant option of Rotary Youth Exchange appeared to me as I found my way out of the haze of applications. My thoughts dwelled on the possibility of embarking on a year long experience in a completely different environment. Looking back to 2001, I recall my cousin frantically attempting to learn as much German as possible before flying off to Switzerland for her Rotary exchange. Upon her return, she was fluent in German and more thankful than ever that Rotary presented her such an amazing opportunity. I found myself filling out yet another application, only this one was to stay in high school rather than get out. Shortly after, the idea of becoming an exchange student began to shape into a reality.

When I found out I would be living to Sweden for a year, I was excited beyond belief. Everything that I had become accustomed to over the past 17 years would fade away and be replaced with the experience of a lifetime. My love for exploration will meet its ultimate match this fall, sending me headfirst into an adventure full of excitement and novelty. After reading about what a great time some current exchangers are having, I eagerly signed the outbound contract and now am preparing for orientation. So far, about 9 of my friends have booked their seats to Sweden, in none other than the extravagant and luxurious compartments my suitcases! Not quite sure how that will work out with the suitcase rule and weight limit but it’s reassuring knowing I have a supportive base of friends in the states =]

Megan's Journals

August 26 Journal

Departure and Arrival

The beginning of a new month also became that of a new year when flight NW491 took off from Tampa International Airport at 8:15 AM. I occupied seat 18D wearing my outstanding blue Rotary blazer clad with only the RYE Florida patches.

Four days before this point, I was anxious beyond belief. My visa hadn’t arrived and I was scheduled to leave the next morning. Much to my relief the elusive visa arrived when I was supposed to take off, ironic right? Bokoff then booked my flights for August 1st, the same day most of the Denmark outbounds were leaving!

After a day with my family and a night staying up way too late with friends I realized saying goodbye was a lot harder than I imagined. With five teary-eyed friends, two speechless parents, and one confounded sister, tears began to fall as my excitement and apprehension built up. I had no idea what to expect once I passed though security and left my life in Florida behind.

All of these worries left me as I slept for nearly three hours before arriving in Detroit. After my last American lunch I found a handful of exchange students gathered together at gate A50, departure to AMSTERDAM at 4:00PM. Here we exchanged pins and shared thoughts. Before long, many others (including Juan, Caitlin, Morgan, Gabby, Sydney, and Peter from FL RYE!!) arrived. All of us were excited beyond belief and more than ready to arrive in our host countries.

The flight seemed much longer than 7 hours but eventually we arrived and unloaded from the plane while chatting and posing for our last pictures together. Customs was HECTIC. There were so many people running around and jumping into lines that it took a good ten minutes for us to find the right place. From there I had to say goodbye once again, only this time I was all smiles knowing that the next stop would be Stockholm!

My host family was waiting with a huge poster and USA flags right outside of baggage claim. From there we headed out to the infamous Red Volvo and took off for a small town right outside of Stockholm for my first fika! I have no idea why this amazing idea hasn’t made it to the United States but it has definitely become my favorite time of day. After learning some very quintessential Swedish (kaffe och kanelbulle) we piled into the ‘bil’ and traveled to the house.

Stockholm

I woke up as we pulled into the driveway. From there I moved into my new room only to pack again when I found out we were headed to Stockholm the next morning! On the two hour train ride, I found out sitting in a backwards facing seat is definitely NOT a good idea. After that unfortunate discovery, my host sisters taught me some Swedish card games where I learned that the number ‘sju’ is nearly impossible to say.

We dropped off our belongings, began to walk, stopped for an ice cream fika, and finally arrived at Gröna Lund! In a unanimous decision, my host sisters and I decided that the famed Insane was nothing in comparison to Extreme and Katapulten. We then took a ferry ride to Gamla Stad (Old Town) and saw tourist shops, the government building, and the castle (which my host family says is much ‘uglier’ than the castle in our town).

The next morning we took a boat trip to an archipelago in Stockholm. The small shops featuring local trades and the outstanding view of the Baltic Sea created a cozy atmosphere. While on Fjäderholm we ran into some fri snatching Florida natives, fiskmås! Next was Skansen, the most visited tourist destination in Sweden. Although we did not see any polar bears wandering the streets, we saw a few brown bear cubs there.

Rotary Club

I met my YEO (Britt-Marie) from the Rotary Club here in Sweden and received my first allowance as well as a Swedish flag and moose pin. We visited Rudbecksskolan and talked to the headmaster. They tried to put me in the English speaking program but I had to remind them many times that I’m in Sweden to learn Swedish. I will be in the second grade (no, not as in for seven year olds) ung foretagsamhet program.

Örebro Södra Rotary Club meetings are held every Friday at noon. I showed up in my dashing blue blazer and presented myself, in Swedish!! We then looked at a new set of apartments going up in the city and I got invited to visit Nora with Britt-Marie. We met the next week when I received the money for language camp (THANK YOU SO MUCH ROTARY!!).

We then took off for Nora, the town is known for its daily fresh made ice cream so naturally we had to try some! The smooth texture and mixture of vanilj, hasselnöt, and lingon was amazing! While Britt-Marie’s husband and I were looking over a USA road atlas, Britt-Marie whipped up some great kantarell sandwiches. During our little fika I found out that he has been to New York 11 times (9 of which were to run the New York Marathon), has a friend who biked 4000 km in 23 days, is going to bike in a 500 km race this summer, and used to be one of the top orienteerers in Sweden. Quite the cool guy!

Örebro and My New Family

The weekend was filled with parties. The first was a going away party for Karin. I met a lot of cool people (they were very impressed by the FL RYE business cards), who were more than happy to teach me some Swedish. After a late night mosquito massacre (I’m still suffering from the itchy wounds) we slept to regain energy for my host mom’s birthday party. I met a lot of the family, all of which were extremely friendly. My host cousins are especially sweet!

My host sisters (Karin-17, Eva-15, and Maria-12) and I visited the city where I saw the castle, the church, and the water tower ‘Svampen’. There is a lot of art around the town in random places (openART). A hand pointing from the moat to the castle and a monk statue sitting under a bridge were just a couple of pieces. On the bike ride back from town, there is a bicycle counter that shows how many have passed through during the day. By the time we got there, the counter was on about 4,000!

Karin’s last day at home was that of a typical exchange student: packing, weighing, unpacking, reevaluating, repacking. Eventually the suitcases made it to the car and she was off to Stockholm to meet up with the 35 other USA outbounds! We took a trip to the mall (Eva tells me it was recently renovated to look more American) and to IKEA!! About half the stuff in my room comes from IKEA as well as most of the furniture for the house. The store was huge even though it’s either the smallest (Eva’s presumption) or second smallest (Maria’s guess) IKEA in Sweden.

Orienteering

The whole family does this sport called orienteering where you run through the woods with a map and compass trying to find various checkpoints. On my first orienteering expedition my host dad and I ran the same course but he only helped me through the first two points. For the last four I was on my own. After lots of confusion while walking, navigating, and battling it out with the trees, I finished the 2.6 km course in 64:35!! Amazing, I know. After the outing we went home and ate these Swedish yellow mushrooms (kantarell) that my host sisters picked in the woods while orienteering. They were delicious!

The Orienteering Club had their annual Cross Country Championship!! This year yielded the largest turnout. Despite the rain it ended up being really fun! We also participated in another orienteering event called Golden Weekend. I was on my own for this course and I have to admit I was kind of nervous I would get lost and have to rough it in the woods for the rest of my life. Luckily I ran a course that had a lot of paths so it was relatively easy to find all of the checkpoints. Although between the last two I had no idea where I was which was when a photographer snapped a shot of the confused me! I came in first in ‘Öppet 1’ (granted all of my competitors were probably ages 3 and under)!! Eva and Maria placed in their age groups and got some pretty schnazzy prizes! OH! I experienced the much renowned Swedish nudity. Let’s just say the showers at orienteering events are very open!

I moved up to Öppet 2 in Orienteering, competition: 12 year olds!! I got lost A LOT this time but luckily some friendly Swedes helped me to get on the right path. Turns out the L signs are only for the little kids. My host parents also got lost but Maria maintained her leader status!

Other Happenings

On the weekend we drove to Filipstad to visit an exchange student in my district. The town was very small but had a huge hill (45 degrees straight up according to Nick’s host brother, Johan) that yielded a great view of the area. We walked around the town and somehow managed to get lost for three hours. I took my first bus ride after this and no I didn’t get lost (possibly because Resecentrum was the last stop)!

The first day of school was great! I didn’t have to show up until 13:00 (1 o’clock pm) so I had a nice lunch in town with my host dad and his fellow workers. School is very different here, the schedule has random 3 hour breaks, with different start and finish times everyday, kids smoke on campus between classes, and lunch and bus transportation is free for everyone! After school, my host mom and I went to an Örebro Fotboll Match! ‘VI VANN!!!’ 2-0 with goals in the first and last 3 minutes.

The people who created IKEA are very clever, you cannot skip anything in that store. It is made in a path so you MUST view everything. We had a nice outdoor lunch afterwards. Afterwards I went to VOX Festivalen with a few friends. We listened to some bands then went to an apartment on the other side of town (they taught me how to navigate the city bus system) where we played some Monopol (Swedish Monopoly)!

While in Sweden I have learned how to cook!! At least with apples. For the past week we’ve been having apples in just about every meal. Apple crumb cake, apples with sausage, chicken wok and apples, apples with ice cream, pretty much anything you can imagine. I successfully made apple pie (my host mom helped me with the Swedish directions) and ugnspannkaka med äpplen! I made that all on my own, with the Swedish cookbook!

Observations

American Hamburger sauce, pretty sure we don’t have it in the USA!

You walk around the grocery store with a scanner, put everything in bags then check out without having to remove everything from the cart (yes this means you could steal stuff but they check your bag occasionally)

November 30 Journal

It’s been quite a while since my last journal but there’s just so much going on its hard to take the time to sit down and write about it all! No school today so now’s the perfect time. Plus, it’s been about three months since my last journal.

Where to start…

School! Since last time I wrote, I’ve switched programs. The one I was in wasn’t working out; all the kids smoked and didn’t seem interested in the whole exchange student thing. Now I’m in the Specialidrott Program and it’s going great! There are only 18 students in the class and we all play sports. In Swedish schools, you stay with the same group of people for all of your classes. The classes we take are science, math, and sport based. When we don’t have kemi, physik, bilogi, or calculus we’re training for our ‘special sport’. Wednesdays and Fridays are by far my favorite days, soccer trainings in the mornings followed by only two classes in the afternoon. Tuesdays and Thursdays are rough, class from 8 am till 5 pm. It’s already dark out by the time I bike home! English is definitely my easiest class with Samhällskunskap being the hardest. The course name itself is a tongue twister! The biggest problem with school is staying awake but thankfully a few of my guy friends with their antics ensure that I don’t doze off too often.

Host Families! After höstlov (fall break) I switched to a new host family! It was a major surprise that my counselor found another one for me and I’m really thankful she did! Being able to see how another family functions has definitely broadened my views on the Swedish people as a whole. My new home is right near the university and about twice as close to town. My oldest host brother is thinking about going on exchange next year so the family decided to host me to let him see how the life of an exchange student is! I have two host brothers (Viktor 16 and Anton 14), a host sister (Elin, who just turned 11), and a host dog (Lipton, like the tea). My new family got back from the USA (New York City) the day before I moved in, pretty crazy right?

Rotary Weekends! About, ohhh let’s see, two-and-a-half months ago all of the exchange students in 2340 and 2370 (and one from Umeå) met up for language camp in Eskilstuna. For the week I stayed with Kelsey’s (from Washington state, not D.C.) host family in a town about 30 minutes southeast of Eskilstuna called Ärla. We had class everyday from 8 until about 2 at a folkhögskolan (adult high school) in town followed by an afternoon event (bowling, the Zoo, BBQ, the water park, movies, Frisbee, etc.). I don’t think the 16 of us would be able to survive the lessons without a minimum of two fikas a day! Everyday we went to different sponsor Rotary Club lunches. They were all hosted at the same place which meant you guessed it, the same food for 4 days in a row. All of us introduced ourselves with the signature ‘Hej! Jag heter…’ speech that we worked so diligently on perfecting during class. Luckily we only messed on occasionally on the ‘Nu bor jag…’ (it's not ‘Nu jag bor’) part. We all learned a lot and had a great time getting to know each other.

Our next meeting was at the Stresund Folkhögskolan in Trosa, located right on the shores of the Baltic Sea. We slept in a classroom and prepared for the District Conference that would take place a few weeks later. My group did a skit on the life of an exchange student in Sweden. Scenes included: silent bus rides, awkward showering, and the infamous fika. We had a fun time watching Kyle (from California), Nathan and Maxence (our Frenchies) attempting to canoe in the sea. They eventually ended up tipping and swimming the sinking canoe back to the shore. Did I mention this is in Sweden, not Florida, where the water is actually cold? After a tour of a Swedish Rescue Boat, Nathan (the Canadian one) and I discovered the most amazing drink ever, espressochoco. Being good-natured, we decided to share this discovery with the others which led to the depletion of the ingredients in the machine; in other words, no more espressochoco.

On our free time we got to wander around the premises when we discovered that some old Swedish buildings have ladders built into the outer walls! We quickly found out that ladders, despite their intended purpose, are not meant to be climbed.

To wrap up the weekend we saw an act about violence at football (soccer) games. Turns out hooligans are a big deal in Sweden. Many teens are sent to centers to help them quit the football gangs they are a part of. A few weeks later we met up in Strängnäs for the 2370 (my adoptive district) District Conference. While there we got to chill in a Swedish fire station until the actual district conference started. Fire stations actually do have the poles you slide down on! All of us gladly took advantage of being given the opportunity to test it. Later we got to take a ride in a fire truck and go up 30 meters (about 100 ft for all you Americans) in a sky lift that gave an awesome view of the town. Before our party at the station we toured the famous Strängnäs Cathedral that was frequented by the kings themselves back in the day.

The next day we woke up early and headed off to the conference. There we met many Rotarians from 2370, some from Russia, a few from other parts of Scandinavia, and even one from England! Sensing that our interest in the Swedish speeches was decreasing, our kind counselor for the weekend released us for fika. We met back up with the Rotarians for a tour of Strängnäs and then it was time for us to head home.

The 2340 (my actual district) District Conference was held in Strömsholm, a little town outside of Västerås. After listening to a few speeches, we headed off to Rödridhuset for lunch. While there we saw some horses jump extreme heights, I’m talking taller than me. We also got a tour of the renowned Animal Hospital that the area is known for. Later on in the evening we attended the Rotary dinner. We gave our Rotary speeches and chatted it up with the cheery Rotarians. I got a few invites to local Rotary meetings and met a past RYE student who spent a year in Tampa! Gunnar (RYE District Chair) supplied us with some delicious chocolate, which in turn left us staying up too late. Well that, and the fact that the hostel was haunted. Mailis (from Estonia) didn’t sleep at all, bathroom lights turned off sporadically, and strange noises were heard.

The next day was spent in meetings. Surprisingly, our attention was captured throughout the morning with speeches about Rotaract and the presentation of photos of Västerås by a National Geographic Photographer.

Last weekend was Stockholmhelg! About thirty of the exchange students from around the area met up at the big circle in the middle of Centralstation where we then split off and toured the city. We learned a little history, saw some sights, and even experienced a riot. The afternoon was supposed to be spent ice-skating, but the outdoor rink had melted away before we could! Instead we went bowling and I’m proud to report I haven’t improved in the least bit over the past few months.

We stayed the night at a hostel a little northwest of Centrum. I can now say not all hostels are like that in the movie Hostel. Strangers who approach you aren’t all serial murderers; in fact they have quite the stories! The next morning we made our way to Skansen where we spotted wolves, perused the Christmas market, and danced to Svensk Jusmusik around a Christmas tree. I can’t wait for the next Rotary Weekend; I don’t think I would be able to survive the entire year without my fellow exchangers!

Travels! I spend many of my weekends meeting up with my exchange friends throughout Sweden. With Sweden’s wonderful public transportation at my fingertips, I can’t afford not to be traveling constantly! Two of the past few weekends, I headed off to Nyköping for camping. Our first outing was near Lucia’s (from Argentina) host family’s house in Ripsa (which spells Paris with the letters jumbled!), a really small town about 30 minutes north of Nyköping. Grace (from Australia) and I trekked through the woods and met up with the other 3 in the dark of the night, right after a fika with Lucia’s host mom of course! We spent the night roasting chamallows (not marshmallows) over the fire and catching up on everything. The next day we took a hike and went out on the lake in an abandoned canoe. Then it started raining so we built an awesome lean-to to sleep in for the night. Luckily we turned out to be pretty good architects (mostly because we had Nathan, the Canadian Scout), only a few pieces of the second fort (the first one kind of collapsed on Grace) fell off during the night. Zach (Washington, state as well) and Lucia say the lean-to is still standing today!

Our next weekend was in Trosa, a town just northeast of Nyköping. Nathan’s host dad works at a folkhögskolan (the one we stayed at a few weeks before) with lots of camping sites. We found a nice teepee, fireplace and all, and claimed it as our home for the weekend. Before we arrived, Mayuka (from Japan) had an incident with woodcutting that led Zach to ban her from using knives. Fortunately we did not witness this nearly tragic event. We spent most of the weekend inside the warmth of the teepee roasting köttbullar, boiling top ramen, and feasting on falukorv/knäckebröd/ketchup sandwiches. When we ventured outside, we ended up watching an intense tree climbing competition. All three contenders dominated every tree we chose for them. By the end of an active weekend, I truly felt bad for anyone who would have to sit next to me on the bus/train. Weeks later and my winter jacket still smells of campfire and korv.

Over höstlov I visited Alina (from Arizona, who got her visa three weeks late!) in Södertälje. We toured the town, which is located right outside of Stockholm. The first thing I noticed was the McDonald’s that overlooks the port of the town. Then next day we traveled to Stockholm and met up with Kelsey. We had a quality day of touristing in Gamla Stan and shopping on Drottninggatan. We even saw a few Halloween decorations!

A few days later I headed off to Lund to visit Brandon (fellow Floridian)! After the 4 hour train ride, we met up and rode bikes back to his host house. Lund is a University town and because of that it has millions of bikes, probably more than I have ever seen in my life all gathered together in one place. After staying up way too late catching up on everything, we met up with Morgane (from France) at the train station. Next thing we knew we were on our way to Copenhagen! None of us had been to Denmark before so when we got there we took a few turns and ended up on some street with a bunch of shops fitting under a category that I should probably not mention. Luckily we made our way to Strøge and did some tourist shopping. We checked with the clerk at some store about which landmarks we should visit. He pointed us in the direction of the Little Mermaid. We managed to find the statue, which turned out to be much smaller than imagined but striking nonetheless! On the way there we saw a bunch of sweet buildings including Christiansborg Palace (the place on the Danish Butter Cookies tin) and the Copenhagen Opera House. By 17:00 it was dark out so we made our way to the train station and headed to back to Sweden.

It was the last weekend of höstlov, which meant all the Sunday train tickets were sold out so I headed to Nyköping to meet up with Lucia. We had a nice fika, kidnapped Zach, and went off to Eskilstuna to meet up with the other exchange students for Halloween.

A few weekends ago, Kelsey and Alina came to Örebro. We toured around the city, made a trip to IKEA (where we purchased awesome blankets for a mere 13 kr each!), and visited Svampen (Örebro’s legendary mushroom watertower). My host mom took us to the local women soccer team’s last game of the season. We got some schnazzy volleyball (yes, we were at a football match) supporter pins with our tickets to add to the Rotary blazers. KIF (Örebro’s team) played Linköping (the winners of the Swedish League) and won 2-0!

Last weekend, my host family took me to another sporting event, a Swedish Basketball game! It was more like a high school basketball game in the sense that you could sit anywhere you want and the players were constantly adjusting their uniforms (pointed out by my host mom). Of course, we had a fika at halftime. Unfortunately, Örebro Eco Basket lost the game that was supposed to be an easy win! The next morning my sister had a track meet in Västerås. My host mom and I toured the town between events. The coolest thing was Anundshög, the Viking burial mounds. From the top of the mound, you could see the outline of ships marked out by large stones. We had lunch in the city’s skyscraper on the 23rd floor with a view of the lake Mälaren. The sun finally decided to show itself so it was quite a pleasant day!

One of my friends was scheduled to be flown back to the USA (no, not due to misbehavior or anything of the sort) so we decided to meet up with and tour Stockholm together, hitting up some of the famous museums that are free to students while there. After a striking display of washing machines in the Nordiska Museet, we went to see The Vasa. The story behind the ship is quite spectacular so here comes a little history lesson. Built in the early 1600s, Vasa was meant to be a Swedish warship. Unfortunately the top-heavy ship sank after sailing less than a nautical mile (no clue how far that is but I’m sure my water crazed fam back in FL does!). After the valuable cannons were rescued, the ship was forgotten. That is until the late 1950s when it was discovered outside of the Stockholm harbor. The Vasa was salvaged nearly fully intact and is now located in the Vasa Museum.

Later on in the week Kelsey and I travelled to Nyköping for a farewell fika with the exchange students there. We had a grand day chasing busses, feeding ducks, and having too many fikas. The Nyköpingers, being the amazing people they are, bought a Swedish flag that we all signed and presented to Kelsey as a going away gift. Losing one of the group is tough but I guess that’s part of exchange! In a few months all of the oldies will be back in the Southern hemisphere and a few more after that and the rest of us will be back on native soil. The time crunch somehow makes all the highs and lows seem worth it, reminding us that once we leave things will never be the same. This is in no way a negative, quite the opposite! An infinite amount of thanks to Rotary and all that it stands for. I’m extremely proud to call myself an exchange student, even more so to say that it was compliments of Rotary.

Last week I traveled to Nyköping for an international Thanksgiving. We spent Thursday night at an ishockey match in Södertälje. The crowd was MUCH larger the other sports games I’ve been to in Sweden. The result of the fast paced game was in favor of the home team over MODO. We arrived back in Nyköping and began the long walk back to the Centrum. Mayuka ended up falling asleep in midwalk. Nathan being the champ that he is carried her for the 35+ min walk. The next morning she only remembered falling asleep at the bus stop. Guess that’s what happens when you study too much!

The next morning we planned our Thanksgiving menu and headed toward Coop to purchase all the materials. We managed to keep the price under 480 kr and it only cost us 180 kr thanks to Grace’s awesome gift card. After finding a house to use and lugging the many groceries back, we slaved away in the kitchen for hours snacking on anything edible, singing to Swedish tunes, and attempting to modify English measurements into metric. We ended up deciding a coffee cup was a suitable replacement for the Cup measurement. Everything turned out exquisitely and we feasted for hours, challenging each other to shovel down bite after bite. It was quite the experience for us North Americans to share with people from Argentina, Australia, France, Japan, and Sweden. It made me realize how extremely thankful I am for everything in my life. We joked about looking back on this day years later and reminiscing, all knowing that we would constantly be remembering our exchange year for decades to come.

Transportation! Over the few months that I’ve been here I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with the Swedish Transportation System, specifically with Länsträfiken (the buses) and SJ (the trains). Student bus cards get deactivated randomly which leads the cardholder having to bike to Wadköping in search of a replacement. I have learned the hard way that train doors do not stop, like elevators do, when people are in the midst of boarding. Bus drivers do not wait for you to say goodbye to friends, inevitably leaving you looking like an idiot when you have to chase the train, knock on the doors, and return to the stop after the failed attempt. Train tickets cost literally twice as much if you wake up late and have to buy them on the train instead of a hundred meters away at the station. Buses no longer accept cash as payment, bus cards only. But luckily: bike rides lead to discovering new places, the train doors are no match for me (I still have no idea how I managed to squeeze on), Swedish friends offer to bike you to the next stop (after laughing at you for missing the bus), train mishaps teach excellent lessons, and exchange students pay for your bus ticket in return for treating to fika. I love transportation here and I have no idea how Anni (with my family) is surviving life in the USA.

Rotary! Many Fridays I’m able to attend the Rotary lunch after training at Behrn Arena (Astroturf field that the Örebro SK and KIF play on). Luckily my English teacher doesn’t mind if I miss half a class. Last week I gave a spur of the minute speech about my höstlov completely in Swedish! Each time I go, I find myself meeting more Rotarians and being offered more opportunities. I’m extremely thankful for Rotary for allowing me this amazing opportunity. I cannot express my gratitude enough. Being here has already taught me so much and has influenced beyond belief. Again, tack så mycket Rotary!

December 29 Journal

Ohhh Sverige! I’ve recently come to realize how much I love being here. This country is absolutely amazing. From the speedy transportation to the general cleanliness of every town, I don’t think Rotary could have selected a better place for me.

Örebro is a great place to be, I can get anywhere I need to be within half an hour. Despite the fact that winter has come, I can still ride my bike everywhere. It’s quite the challenge to get to school when the sidewalks are covered with snow but surprisingly I’ve managed to get by! When the winter does manage to pull one over on me, I can’t help but laugh when I realize that instead of acquiring a nasty scrape, I’ve instead been covered in a layer of snow!

I’m starting to become adjusted to, and quite fond of, the sun’s lack of presence. The best part of a sunrise at 9:00 and sunset at 15:00 is the atmosphere that it creates, perfect for a cozy fika! My host dad recently commented on the ominous rain, the most there’s been in years. Luckily the weather seems to taken a turn for the better creating a landscape covered in a dazzling blanket of white.

The Swedes were right when they said the snow makes everything brighter and when they said the dark red color of the berries would bring a cold, snowy winter. The sun’s been peeking though the cloud cover quite often and when it does, the snow sparkles like there’s no tomorrow.

The atmosphere here is full of the Christmas spirit. Everything from the lights that illuminate the town, luciatågar, the ‘O Helga Natt’ concert to the jolly Rotarians, julgodis, advent festivities, julklappar shopping, and avslutning have certainly put me into a cheery mood! Although my ‘real’ family’s not here with me, I’ve found little time to mull over that fact. My time with the Domberg’s has been wonderful and I couldn’t have asked for a better family to spend the holidays with. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, god jul och gott nytt år!

February 28 Journal

Halfway… I can’t believe my exchange has reached this point! It was only a year ago that I was wishing time would speed up and now it seems to be going by all too quickly. The end of 2009 was a bit rocky. I had a bit of an issue with my host family. Not much positive to say, only that all families aren’t cut out to host exchange students. 2010 – 2011 outbounds, if you feel uncomfortable with your living arrangements, make sure to contact your counselor.

Despite that small speed bump, things are going extremely well now. I changed families in January and things couldn’t be better! Recently we’ve been caught up watching OS on TV. Sweden’s cross country ski team is doing amazingly well. My host parents love going and I’ve tagged along a few times. With all the snow Sweden’s been getting this winter, conditions are perfect on the local tracks.

Although cross country skiing is fun, I’ve really enjoyed getting back into downhill skiing! A few of my exchange friends and I took a trip to visit my aunt’s chalet in the mountains. We took a train to the plane then hopped on a trolley to catch another train and boarded yet another train to get to a taxi. We finally reached our destination after traveling though various towns in Sweden, Switzerland, and finally France.

We got into town pretty late with the snow falling like crazy so it wasn’t until the next morning that our vision was set into the right focus. We had made it to Megève safe and sound and were staying in a two bedroom/ two bathroom/ full kitchen apartment right at the foot of the mountain. We thought life couldn’t get any better until we reached the top of the mountain and the clouds peeled away leaving us with the astonishing view of the Alps.

My second ski trip was up to Sälen for a day with my school. Definitely something we don’t get to do in Florida! Number three is coming up this week when I take my second sportlov (sport vacation) and head off to Sälen again with Alina’s host family.

My official sportlov was spent last week in Oslo with 4 other exchange students. Nathan, from Canada, contacted the Rotary there who was glad to help us out. We ended up staying with a Rotarian who lived right outside of the city while another Rotarian family took us out to dinner and taught us how to ‘snakker norsk’. Norwegian is surprisingly similar to Swedish, we were able to communicate with practically no language barrier! While in Oslo we visited almost every museum (Norway Resistance, FRAM, Norwegian Maritime, National Gallery, Army, Akershus Fortress, etc.) possible in the short time we were there. Yet another amazing trip thanks to Rotary!!

August 2010

It’s been quite some time since my last journal so I figured the easiest way to write this journal would be by looking through my calendar and summing things up. I’ve had amazing time over the past few months so I hope my entry helps to convey everything! I apologize for the length of the journal and for the time it has taken me to gather everything into one place in advance, hope you enjoy!

March 3 - 7, Sportlov in Sälen with Alina (inbound from Arizona) and her host family. It was Alina's second time skiing so I decided to try my feet (and hands, they spent quite some time bracing my falls) at snowboarding! We stuck to the green slopes for the first day to brush up on the basics. On day two we were hitting the blues with Alina's host parents. By the last day we were flying down reds, pros at the t-bar lifts, and even managed to survive a run in with some deep snow. At the end of each day we all had a great time singing along with the afterski bands.

March 13 - 19, Åre Ski Camp with 40 inbounds. The night of March 13 the night train to Järpen took off from Stockholm after about two hours of delay (one of the downsides to taking trains in the winter). About 10 exchange students were onboard. Only a few were cunning enough to books sleeper cars while the rest of us decided we would rather save kroner and 'sleep' in seats. Despite the difference in preferences, we all arrived full of excitement, ready for a week of fun. We were staying right outside of Åre in a house full of bunk beds. We did some outdoor teambuilding exercises on the first night, we were all determined to finish first in order to get inside and warm up! The next day we hit the slopes. After getting all the equipment sorted out we were all divided into groups. We had a variety of skill levels ranging from beginning skiers to competitive boarders. Our instructors were people our age who were in the midst of obtaining their instructor certification. It was great getting having them to show us all the slopes, we would've been lost without them! I spent the first two days skiing the reds and blacks with the more elite crowd. We had a blast flying down the pists, especially through the woods where a few people had some unfortunate encounters with the trees. Claire (from New York) and I learned how to do tandem 360 swing spins! I later switched to snowboarding to relieve my legs from ski boot pains! We headed to the top peak of the resort on the third day, out last day with our instructors. The ride up was amazing. After passing a certain point, everything was whited out including the air around us. Once getting off the gondola we could barely see the people in front of us! As apposed to my first time down the trail on skis, boarding was a bit more of a thrill. Two other boarders (Deni from Australia and Zoe from South Africa) and I were stressing to keep up with the beginner skiiers. By the last day we were all a bit exhausted and most of our time was spent in the yoghurt and müesli hut, how could we pass it up when it was tempting us at the end of each run? While we weren't skiing we spent some time in Sauna World, touring around icy waterfalls, and of course attending a Rotary meeting!

March 22 - 26, flight back home to Florida to attend my grandpa's funeral. After hearing about my grandpa's death, I was in a mess of tears. The next morning I was boarding a plane headed to Florida. I would like to give a huge thank you to Rotary for making this possible. After 36 hours of travel, I was where I needed to be. All of my cousins, uncles, and aunts flew in as soon as they got the news. 48 hours later and I was on a 24 hour trip back to Sweden with my mom, dad, and sister.

March 26 - April 9, the Reuss family invades Sweden. After such a devastating trip back to the states, it was a relief to have my family with me for the two following weeks. Upon our arrival to Arlanda, a group of my friends (The Stockholmers - Alina, Jono and Jess from Australia, and Marian from Mexico) met up with us outside the terminal. After getting moved into our hotel (the Grand Hotel, only five star hotel in Sweden and only hotel in Stockholm with a room for four) we met up with the Stockholmers again for a classy dinner at Max, home of Sverige’s bästa hamburgare! The next stop was Tampere, Finland, Anni Haaika's hometown! It was great to actually meet the exchange student who had been living with my family when I was back in Florida. In all honesty, I can say she is definitely part of our family. We headed down to Helsinki for a day and toured around before heading off on our cruise back to Sweden. This cruise wasn't heading off to tropical destinations but instead through the iceberg filled waters of the Baltic Sea. My host dad, Bosse, met up with us at the dock and took us back to Örebro. My family finally got to see the house I had been living in for the past 3 months! We kicked off their stay with the traditional international bowling match. The Swedes prevailed again! We toured around town and were headed off to the winter house in Sälen the next morning for påsklov (Easter vacation). All was going well until the kids car (with my host siblings Rickard and Karin, Wendy and I being the passengers) suffered a minor breakdown. Karin, Wendy, and I joined the moms while we left the guys to sort out the trouble. Right as it started to rain, they got the engine running again and arrived to the house minutes after the inaugural first night pizza did. The next morning we hit the slopes. My dad, Wendy, and I on boards while the rest of the crew were on skis. We all met up for lunch where we had the biggest purchase of the day, food for 13! At night we took a snowmobile trip up to the top restaurant for a fondue dinner. After catching up on some sleep, we went on a snowmobile tour the next afternoon, which was breathtaking (especially with my 16 year old sister driving)! The highlight of the day was Easter dinner, a really big deal here in Sweden. The table was filled with traditional Swedish food, 10 different sorts of sill (herring), boiled eggs decorated American style, påskmust for the kids, and schnapps for the adults. Jonas (my host sister Hannah's husband) taught us a traditional Finnish drinking song which was very long and complicated. My family was off to Oslo, Norway the day after. With our Oslo Passes in hand we visited Holmenkollen, the Fram Museum, Kontiki Museum, the town hall, Nobel Peace Prize Museum, etc. We headed out of Norway to meet up with my counselor and her daughter in Göteborg. My family is quite into sailing so we visited the harbour the next day. Madeline (My counselor's daughter) is also quite into sailing and knew of a few of the sailors who has been in Florida's big winter competition a few months back. We went to the Slottsskugan later on to meet up with a few of my exchange friends who lived in the area. That night we were headed back to Örebro. We spent the last night cooking dinner for my second and third host families. We took the 04:52 train to Arlanda for my family's early flight the next morning. A big thanks to my host families, counselor, and Rotary for everything!

April 17 - 23, trip to Kiruna with 40 exchange students. Stevie (New Zealand) and I travelled up to Kiruna on the 18 hour night train (with beds this time) the night before the camp started. We met up with Alex (New Zealand), David, and Crystal (Australia) the next morning who had to change their travel plans at the last minute do to the Iceland Volcanic Ash inhibiting their scheduled flight. We spend the night in the hostel, which was quite creepy when not filled with heaps of exchange students. We kept busy by singing Manboy everywhere we went. The next morning we met up with all the other exchange students and headed off on our tour of Kiruna. The second and third year tourism classes at the gymnasium in Kiruna set up the trip. The first thing they took us to do was to see the Ice Hotel. We were told that it had closed a few days before but once we got there they told us that it was cold enough to actually go in! We got a little debriefing on where they get the ice from and all the countries they ship it to. It was pretty interesting to learn about the ice harvesting! They usually start in November once the ice is thick enough to slice into blocks. In the few months the water isn't frozen over, you can actually drink straight from the Torne River. The next day they brought us on a bus tour. There's this road that connects Sweden and Norway on which the speed limit is actually listed as the slowest you can go due to the abundance of avalanches in the area. On our way to Narvik, we visited a few notable ski resorts. With the perfect blend of snow and sun the views were absolutely amazing! On the next day, we were split into two groups. Our first activity was to talk to an English class. It was really cool to interact with the natives and learn about how life for a teen is in the city with no sun in the winter and nothing but it in the summer! A few of the members of the class were Sami, one of the girls spends her summers herding and tagging reindeer. Life in the Arctic Circle sounds quite exciting! The second half of the day we were out on a snowmobile tour. Our little wagon was a bit shaky going over all the bumps but it was a sweet ride! Once we got out to the lake (still frozen over), we split into groups of four for a little tournament. We had to hand drill a hole in the ice for ice fishing, run through cones with drunk goggles, walk on planks as a team, and light a fire in the snow. After we finished we had hotdogs around the fire. On our way back to town, we ended up getting stuck going up a hill! We all got out and pushed our snowmobile and wagon until we made it up. On one of the nights we had dinner at the school with all the students who planned our trip. We got to hear a native Sami 'joik' and we followed suit by singing our respective national anthems. Later we participated in a huge scavenger hunt around the school. Deni, Alex, Jess (all Australians), Stevie, and I ended up coming in first! We got these sweet I <3 Kiruna beanies which fit perfectly with the Destination Kiruna t-shirts we got before we left. The train that about 15 exchange students and I were going on wasn't leaving until later on so the class took us out to LKAB, Kiruna's iron ore mine. The mine is becoming a huge deal in Kiruna. The land is beginning to shift from all the rock being removed and replaced. The city has to change locations within the next two years. The ride down to the mines was through a pitch black tunnel, no lights. When we got into the visitor mine, we all had to put on helmets just in case of any loose rocks falling. The tour was really interesting, we got to see the dynamite they use to release the iron ore and how the loose rock is moved out after. Our train was delayed about two hours so we had some quality chill time in the train station before we finally took off on the 16 hour ride to Stockholm. We piled the 15 of us into a 6 person sleeper room to chat a bit before heading off to sleep.

April 24, The Last Bounce. My host brother had bought tickets for my host older host sister to see Bounce in their final performance and luckily I got to tag along! Bounce is a Swedish dance troupe who is known worldwide. All of their acts were amazing! They had invited a bunch of other renowned dance troupes to participate in their final showing.

April 28 - May 4, trip with Sofi (from Mexico) to visit a family friend in Italy. Sofi and I headed off on our flight to Milan, Italy in great excitement. We didn't realize quite how amazing the views of would be until we woke up from a two hour nap and looked out the window. The landscape was draped with the Alps, most of which were still sporting quite a bit of snow. We arrived and were picked up by Joanne, a good friend of my grandparents. We would be staying in Verbania (located on Lake Maggorie) with her. We were completely in awe once we got to the house. Right off the veranda was a breathtaking view of the lake and surrounding mountains. We spent our first day visiting the Borromeo Islands. The gardens and mansions covering the islands were amazing. We took the following day to take a bucket ride up to the top of a mountain. We went to the town market to see what local life was like the next morning. One of the sweetest parts of the trip was driving to Switzerland. We got to see the dam that was part of the James Bond movie 'Golden Eye'. The tourist attraction there was a bungy (sp?) jump but we doubted we'd see it in action due to the rain and strong winds although there was a sign saying jumping would still be going on later in the day! We drove on and walked over a few bridges gaping the distance over the raging river. When we got back to the dam, we saw a few more people out. Surely enough we saw two people jump in the pouring rain! Once back in Italy we stopped at the local Italian Pizzeria. The pizza was outstanding as was all of the other meals Joanne treated us to! It was really cool to see how quickly she switched languages between her Italian, German, and American friends.

May 8 - 9, Rotary Districts 2340 and 2350 orientation weekend. We spent the weekend at Norberg catching up with all the other inbounds and rotex while getting to know the new outbounds. Being around so many excited faces reminded me of the RYE Florida orientation about a year earlier. All of the outbounds grilled us about our years abroad while we gladly answered questions. The first night we all played an assortment of get-to-know-you games. The Swedes have a reputation for being shy and reserved so the rotex thought it would be suiting to get the outbounds a bit out of their comfort zones. We started off with a hug circle, the rotex being the final judge of the quality. After, we played a card game where you had to press a card to your teammate with the called out body part. We finished off the night with a slow dance competition. By the end of the weekend its safe to say we all became pretty close and it was a bummer (as always) to have to leave.

May 17, Kolmården. My class took a study trip to Kolmården, one of Sweden’s best zoos for the day to study the apes and chimpanzees for biology. We spent most of the time observing and recording the habits of various chimpanzees. Later on in the week we would compile our studies into a lab report but for the time remaining at the zoo we got to look at the tigers, see a dolphin show, and trek around before it was time to head home.

May 19, birthday and Vårruset. The day was off to a great start before it even began. The day before my class found out we had no lessons! Vad skönt att ha sovmorgon på födelsedagen! My host family surprised me before they left for work with the Sandberg’s Swedish birthday tradition. They came into my room singing ‘Ja må hon leva’ with a pile of presents and a wonderful breakfast tray. Later on I attended a Rotary meeting with my host dad. The topic of the day was the Swedish coach of the United States Women’s soccer team. Afterwards I met up with my host mom to participate in Vårruset, a women’s 5k that takes place every spring in cities all around Sweden. There were a bunch of guys doing stretching exercises for us up on pedestals and even a few who snuck into the race (with wigs and skirts on of course!). At the end of the race, everyone received medals. After meeting up with my host mom, we had a nice team picnic with her fellow workers. Later that day, my counselor surprised us with a visit right as we were about to have cake (I learned how to make kladdkaka earlier in the week!). All in all, it was a great 19th!

May 21 - 23, Rotary District 2370 orientation weekend. Another inbound/outbounds weekend! This time it was being held in Stensund, a nice town located on the Baltic. The same place that we had a Rotary weekend back in the fall! It was great to catch up with all the exchange students again, this weekend we spent most of our time giving speeches (in Swedish) about our years on exchange. After the outbounds went through a few debriefings we had a grill evening out by the water. Most of the outbounds were going to places that we were from! One of the girls is even going to Florida! It’s amazing how small Rotary makes the world seem.

May 26, Rotary Lunch with GSE from Alabama. Classes have been winding down so I’ve had a lot of free time to attend Rotary meetings. This time around the topic was Alabama. A group of 5 adults had been traveling around Sweden and staying with Rotary members through Group Study Exchange. It was really cool to get to meet some Americans after being in Sweden for such a long time! I chatted with a tv reporter for most of the time. It was quite interesting to hear her take on the Swedish culture after being in the country for about a month. She was surprised I thought it was so warm considering she was from a similar climate in the states. All month she had been borrowing winter jackets from the host families!

May 28 - 30, Rotary kayaking weekend. Friday afternoon I took off to Hudiksvall to meet up with about 10 other exchange students. We would be spending the weekend sea kayaking off the east coast of Sweden! The first night we all got together for a grill party and learned the basics of kayaking. Everyone was terrified that they would flip due to the choppy water and our inexperienced nature. The next day we drove out to the drop point with all of our recently fitted kayaks, skirts, jackets, and paddles. On the beach we packed all of our belongings into the compartments and were off into the blue! We paddled for about 3 hours before coming to our first campsite. There we set up everything for the night and took a tour of the old sea port town. The town had recently become unusable as a port due to the rising of the land. We had a great time touring around and having competitions on the beach. When it finally got dark (the sun never sets in Swedish summer) my Canadian friend Julia and I introduced all the Australians and Swedes to the wonder of the s’more. The next morning we took a short paddle around to another port before heading back to Hudiksvall to catch our trains.

May 31 - June 3, klass avslutning. The week began with a class camping trip. We all met after school with gear for the night in tow and began the 2 svensk mil (2 swedish miles – 20 kilometer – 12 american miles) bike ride to our class handler’s summer house. Once there (it was an exhausting trip! Sweden has hills unlike Florida..) we had a fika before taking use of all tennis and basketball courts. After everyone was tuckered out, we grilled (grilling is HUGE in the Swedish summer) and headed down to the lake. About half of us slept down in a hut (where I learned the great sport of maskkrig) near the lake while the other half chose to sleep in tents. We headed back to Örebro the next morning to get back in time for the class competition in Stadsparken. A few friends came over before we went out to the park where we competed in a variety of games. On the second, we had our klass avslutning. Everyone met up at the building across from the school where all the class handlers talked about the year. Later some students (later joined by the teachers) played and sang a few songs about summer. As we were leaving the building to go up to the classroom, the graduating class bombarded us with water balloons!! When we finally made it across the street my class met up in our room for a farewell party. We all talked about the year and our plans for the summer and watched a slideshow one of our handlers put together for us. After, we all went to Pizza Planet for a farewell lunch. It was great getting to know NV2E, they took great care of me!

June 4 - 6, camping in Oxelösund. After watching the studenten (the Swedish version of graduation) celebration in my town, I headed off to Nyköping for a final camping trip. I’ve really grown to love Allemansrätt, the Swedish law which permits campers to stay one night in any location (even on someone’s property) as long as you leave the site in the condition you found it in. This time we would be camping out in Oxelösund, right on the Baltic Sea. After some travel complications I arrived at the location a car ride, three trains, a taxi, a bus trip, and about six hours later. We (Canadian and Franch Nathans, Phil, Zach, and Mayuka) spent the first night catching up as always. The next morning we picked up materials for s’morewiches and a few other campers (Deni, Jess, and Zoe). We spent the rest of the day swimming in the Baltic and collecting firewood before heading home the next afternoon.

June 9 - 11, Alina’s visit to Örebro. After almost a year of visiting Alina in Stockholm we finally found a date that worked out for her to visit Örebro. We spent a deal of time touring around the city. We visited one of my favorite places, my running route along the Svartån (black river) towards Mälaren (third largest lake in Sweden). The scenery is beautiful and the temperature seems to be perfect almost every outing. The next day we spent some time out in the park before meeting up with one my friends who had been on exchange in Minnesota the year before. It was really cool getting her take on strange American traditions and everything. After dropping Alina off at the train station I had my final Rotary speech. It was really nice to be able to share my whole year with a club who had done so much to accommodate me. The whole speech was in Swedish and besides a few tears the whole thing went really well!

June 12, grillkväll. As said before, grilling is quite a big deal in the summer. My host parents had a grill evening to attend so my host sister (Karin, she was on exchange in New Zealand a few years back) took me to a grill party that she had been invited to. We went to the Linus’ (Karin’s boyfriend) family’s house before heading to the their family friends house down the road. One of the guys at the party lives in Tampa, Florida on and off so it was nice to talk to someone who knew the same places I had grown up around! Even though it was raining we had a great time and some amazing food!

June 14 - 17, Latvia trip. On the fourteenth I headed to Nyköping where I would be staying the night at Nathan’s before we embarked on our trip to Riga, Latvia. The night was spent looking up Latvian phrases and landmarks in Riga. We got to Nyköping’s Airport bright and early the next morning to meet up with Zach and then headed off to Riga on our hour long Ryan Air flight (tickets cost about 30 USD round trip!!). We arrived in Latvia at the same hour we left Sweden (hour time difference) and were picked up by Emils, our Latvian Rotary contact (president of Riga Rotaract). We were dropped off at our hostel in the middle of city and given some time to clean up before heading into town for a Rotary meeting. We went on a tour of a new building before going to dinner under some massive umbrellas. The next day we went on a tour of the town. The country used to be under control of Russia so there are many citizens who speak both Latvian and Russian. Riga is claimed to be the home of the first Christmas tree. In the center square there is a Christmas tree shaped glass piece of art that counts down the days until the tree is lit. Later on we went on a boat tour on the river Riga is situated on. The next morning we had lunch with a Rotary club in a hotel restaurant that overlooked the city. One of the most prominent buildings was that of Swedbank, a Swedish bank. After meeting some guests of the Rotary club from Georgia, we headed off to the airport and waved farewell to our great host and the city of Riga.

June 19, Kungliga Bröloppet. The wedding between the crown princess of Sweden, Victoria, and Daniel Westling took place in Stockholm. It had been advertised like crazy months prior to the wedding. At every tourist shop you could find memorabilia with the faces of Victoria and Daniel printed upon them. With a month to go until the royal wedding it seemed as though almost every show on television was about the royal family or past royal weddings. Needless to say, the royal wedding was a big deal in Sweden. I met up with about 20 exchange friends to participate in the festivities. We watched the procession via big screen in Kungsträdgården, one of the main plazas in Stockholm.

June 20 - 23, Brandon’s visit to Örebro. Right after getting back from the royal wedding, Brandon came to stay in Örebro for a few days! It’s always nice meeting up with a fellow Floridian. We toured around Örebro for a day then Brandon and I went to Eskilstuna to say goodbye to Sofi, our friend from Mexico who went to France with us earlier in the year. Before that I had visited Deni in Uppsala, a big university town in Sweden. We met up with Phil from Australia there and saw Uppsala’s Kyrkan before spending the rest of the day eating strawberries in the park (traditional Swedish summer activity, summer fika).

June 24 - 29, Summerstugan and Midsommar. Deni and Alex came down to celebrate Midsommar with my host family and I. Before we headed off to the sommarstugan we spent some time touring Örebro (I’ve gotten quite good at tours by now!), bowling in my basement, and watching the World Cup. We spent part of Midsommar in Wadköping, Örebro’s old town, dancing around a maypole and singing Swedish songs before heading off to Askersund to my host family’s summer house. From there we headed directly over my host family’s friend’s summer house. After a match or two of bocce ball Deni, Alex, and I went looking for flowers for our midsommar wreathes with my host mom. By the time the flowers were gathered and on our heads we were looking quite Swedish!! We became even more Swedish by the end of the night after trying sill (Swedish herring) and listening to my host parents and company sing traditional Swedish snaps songs. By the time we got home we were almost too tired to look for 7 different sorts of flowers to put under our pillows. Doing so is supposed to make you dream about your future husband! We went out on the boat the next day and took a swim in the lake. The rest of the time we just relaxed in the sun and had a good time. The only stressful thing was that I hadn’t packed for EuroTour and I would be arriving back in Örebro the night before heading off to begin the tour!!

June 30 - July 18, EuroTour!! Our trip would consist of 68 exchange students (all on exchange in Sweden) touring around 7 countries over the course of 17 days. Needless to say it was the trip of a lifetime, I’m so glad I decided to go!! We started off in Malmö on June 30th. After a night of no sleep at the hotel, we embarked on our wonderful double decker bus after packing the trailer full of our suitcases. The first stop would be on the ferry to Germany after driving over/under the famous Öresundsbron into Denmark. We were all bustling with excitement once we realized that EuroTour had officially begun. After a short bus tour of Berlin, we had a traditional German dinner of sausages and sauerkraut. We took another bus tour on Day 2 with a few added in stops. First up was Checkpoint Charlie and shortly after we were at the Berlin Wall. On our free time, a group of other exchange students and I invested in a day long metro pass which we used to get to Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. After dinner we met up with one of Alex’s German friends who was on exchange in Australia who took us to an outdoor club on the riverside to go dancing. The next day was spent driving to Krakow, Poland. Once we arrived there we had a traditional Jewish dinner. The next day we took a walking tour of the city on which we toured the Old City and saw Wawel Castel. We ended at the Main Marketplace where a group of fellow Americans and I had lunch at the Hard Rock Café considering it was the Fourth of July! Later on we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau which was a really heavy thing to experience. It was a really touching experience to be able to see where such a major part of the Holocaust had taken place. On day five we started the drive to the Czech Republic. We would be spending the next few days in Prague. We took a walking tour of the city on the hill of Hradcany where we saw a number of memorable sites. At night we went on a dinner cruise where we passed under the Charles Bridge, the same one we walked over earlier in the day. By day seven we were in Austria. Our first stop was at Mozart’s birthplace and the filming location of the Sound of Music, Salzburg! We took a quick tour around the city before heading off to Zell am See. The next morning we began our hike up into the Alps. It took about 4 hours but we finally made it and I must say the views were outstanding and the air was extremely fresh. When we finally got back into town we all took a refreshing jump into the lake, one of the cleanest in Europe. On day eight we arrived in Lido di Jesolo after a day of driving. Our hostel was located only a few block from the beach so naturally the first thing we did was go for a swim! Our time in the beach town was spent swimming, sunning, eating gelato, indulging in Italian pizza, and strolling the streets. We took a day trip to Venice on day ten. The city was very tourist oriented but nonetheless it was still great to see such a famous city! Rotary took us on a gondola ride through the water streets of the city and we spent our free time wandering the small passageways. We spent the night of day twelve in a random city in France, we couldn’t make it all the way to Paris in one fell swoop. The next morning we had arrived in the city of lights and it couldn’t have been more amazing! We toured around and got our bearings the first night in order to be able to find our way around the city on the Fourteenth of July, more commonly known as Bastille Day. We got up early to see the parade, luckily it rained which cleared out a bit of the crowd and gave us better views of the parade down Champs-Elysees, Paris’ main street. The next morning two friends and I took off to climb the stairs of the Eiffel Tower. The weather was perfect and the views were amazing! After that I headed over to Roland Garrows with a tennis enthusiast to see where the French Open is played. We went into the Louvre right before we had to head back to the hotel to meet up with everyone for dinner. Later on we saw Paris by night off the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Day sixteen we left France and headed into Brussels. It was a really neat city to see even though we only had a few hours. We saw Manneken Pis while enjoying a Belgian waffle before getting back onto the bus and driving to Germany. Our final night together as the EuroTour group was spent having a party in the hotel. We gave gifts to our wonderful Rotary counselors, had an awards ceremony for memorable moments along the trip, and finished the night off by dancing and signing flags. It didn’t set in that the tour was actually over until we were back in Sweden on July 17th. Once we unloaded from the bus and collected our luggage for the last time tears started flowing like there was no tomorrow. It would be the last time most of us would see each other. The trip was more amazing that I could have though possible and I’ve become so close to so many great people.

Now, I am sitting here writing this journal reflecting on all the great times I've had in Sweden and around Europe. It was everything I could have asked for and more. Thank you Rotary, being an exchange student has taught me much more than I could have ever imagined.

Tack för allt Rotary, Megan