Let me tell you, time flies. I can hardly believe that this time last year I was stressing about the 19 page application for this exchange. The day before I left St. Augustine I did all my favorite things with my friends and family, it’s the perfect thing to do before you leave. I never thought looking at my house for the last time before leaving for a year would be so hard. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest, it happened all at once, I broke down. From the day I left until the next day when I arrived I had never had so many emotions happen at once. I was calm before I left my house, then cried, then was fine in the car, then died a little when I said goodbye to my 2 best friends and my parents, then I was sooo nervous and excited to get off the plane and meet my host family for the first time.
Already after two weeks I was extremely homesick. I hadn’t been able to stay at my first host families house at all since I had gotten off the plane. I dropped off my luggage at the house then packed a bag for language camp in a different city. When the language camp was over my host family was still in Spain so I stayed in another house until they came back. I stayed at three different families in 2 weeks. It was rough, I wanted nothing more than to go home to Florida until I finally got to spend time with the family I am at now. I don’t think I could’ve picked a better host family. I get along with them so well and one of my host sisters Filippa is also 16 and we’re best friends.
The best thing happened the other weekend. I went to different cities in southern Sweden with my Host club President and his wife for a couple days, then when I came back my host family said they missed having me and they couldn’t wait for me to come back, the house was too quiet and not the same. Then Filippa said honestly it was horrible I missed you, and I’m so happy you’re here and we get along so well. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I love the Lirvall family.
School… I chose to be in first year which are students born in 1995. I should be in second year but I chose first because everyone is new and I figured it would be easier to make friends because no one had their cliques yet. No one talks the first day, it the most uncomfortable thing. But NOW, our class never stops talking and neither do I. The actual lessons are still boring because I am not fluent in Swedish and when the teacher talks about Swedish politics it’s incredibly hard to follow. Luckily this year doesn’t count for me so I’m not stressed about my bad grades.
Transportation… Buses will always be your main transportation in Sweden, or a bike. All families have cars but don’t always use them. The buses go so often that it’s not necessary to drive. I miss driving my car though!
Swedish… Honestly when I first came here it sounded like Chinese, it could have easily been Chinese and I wouldn’t have known the difference. But now I’m familiar with the way it sounds. It’s so much easier for me to read Swedish than for me to speak it. Yes, everyone in Sweden speaks English. It’s bittersweet. When I try to speak Swedish like when I order a coffee or something they hear my accent and automatically reply in English, it’s very frustrating. Or even on the bus when you tell the driver “ett barn till Södra Sandby” he laughs and makes fun of my accent! I mean honestly cut me some slack here I’m doing my best with this crazy difficult language! It’s not very hard to learn, but pronouncing the words is NOT EASY. My host family is doing a good job with speaking Swedish to me, but of course it’s not all the time because if I don’t understand then they explain it in English. But it’s really cool when you start to understand your target language, you feel accomplished.
Food… I am officially a successful exchange student, I have gained about 9 lbs in 2 and a half months! The food here is really good I like it, clearly. There’s always cheese and bread and dairy products so that explains the weight gain. They eat a lot of potatoes, fish, and sausage. Their salads aren’t usually made with lettuce more like just the toppings. Fika is a wonderful thing here in Sweden, it’s like a coffee break that Swedes make time for, it’s a good time to relax and talk. Swede’s eat the most godis (candy) and deserts, love it.
My best advice for someone thinking about being an exchange student is to make sure you really want this. It is NOT a vacation; it is an adventure. You realize that the world really isn’t so big. No, it’s not easy.
Sometimes it’s not very exciting, it becomes normal life and you’re just living it. You absolutely can’t be too shy to talk to people or be yourself or proud of where you are from. You will most likely be living like a college student; broke, stressed with studying your language, and sometimes a little homesick. But the people you meet when on an exchange make it all worthwhile. I love the country of Sweden, I would come back for the people that are here, but not for the weather…
So I’m now an expert at smiling and laughing at the right times when I’m sitting in a group of people and they’re speaking Swedish and I don’t understand. Now awkward situations kind of make up my life. Before I came to Sweden I was kind of always nervous about things and afraid to just go out on a limb and DO SOMETHING, but now I just do whatever and not have expectations because if I let myself relax then I know I will have fun. That’s what I love about this exchange it makes me fearless to live, that’s what this life is about, LIVING IN THE MOMENT.
Rotary, you are a God sent. Thanks a million for sending me on this exchange!