August 5, 2013
I wrote this on June 16th, but late's better than never:
I’m a Rotary Youth Exchange student. Last October, I heard a talk about some program in which I could live abroad for a year, make new friends, become bi-cultural, and all that sort of thing. It sounded cool, so I just kinda filled out the application, turned it in, and hoped my parents would get more on board with the idea as time went on. I was accepted by Rotary after a series of interviews, I got my country (Lithuania) and I went to my first weekend at a place called Lake Yale. It’s a summer campey place with a playground and a lake; all the trimmings, it’s pretty nice.
All 80ish of the outbound students (those leaving the US) come together for a weekend of talks and lectures about all the basics of being an exchange student: don’t die, do anything stupid, or come home early. Over the next six or so months, I got my country changed to Sweden, did some essays, rode in a few horse shows, finished my IB testing, decided which college I would attend, and ate lots of popsicles at the Hyppo, a popsicle store near my house.
That’s all you need to know about my life before this weekend for this blog to make sense. So, that is what you shall get. I didn’t write in much more detail because I don’t remember most of it. (Well, I’ll remember the horses and popsicles until my memory decays, but the school-related stuff already seems to have lost its grip on me.)
Fast-forward to this weekend. We went to Lake Yale again for a “Cultural Boot Camp" and I think I speak for all the Outbounds when I say I had an outstanding time. We played quite a few games and we had quite a few conversations about said games. That were fun, but those weren't the things that affected me most this weekend. What did? My peers. I have never had a group of people I enjoy more than out RYE Florida Outbounds.
That’s why I feel so confused.
I have never met a group of people I love more. It is both one of the most and least diverse group I have met. Diverse in the usual ways, but similar in that they all value experience, understanding, adventure, and in that they desire to make themselves lost just for the sake of being found again on a map of their own creation.
But I won’t see them again for a year. And in about six weeks I’m going to meet a group just as fantastic.
Another outbound said to me a few weeks ago that he’s no longer in Florida, he’s in Peru (the country where he’s going, in case you, dear reader, are a little slow). I can’t say the same thing. In general, I pride myself on being very present, in the present, wherever I presently am. I can live with people and things moving in and out of my life, and I’m almost always fine with it.
However, after this weekend, I find myself really, really angry. Not at me, or my parents, or Rotary; I’m angry at time. I want it to move fast and slow at the same time because I can’t wait for the next thing that’s going to happen, but I don’t want what’s happening now to end. I want to meet and spend forever with my future friends in Sweden, and a I want to do the same with my friends that I met just last January. Unfortunately, I don’t even have one forever to fill, let alone the endless ones I need.
I haven’t even left yet, and I already understand why the Doctor hates endings.
August 8, 2013
I have been in Ängelholm for a little over 24 hours now, and I could certainly not think of many places I would rather be (pretty much only Rivendell and Gallifrey). The weather is what I would say is like a crisp autumn day, close to the beach, adorable town that I can take the bus to in a period of ten minutes, and there are quite a few horses around. I’m going to try to find a barn where I could muck stalls on weekends or something for a ride or two, but they’re nice to look at regardless. My host family is pretty darn cool, if I do say so myself. I’m their fourth exchange student, so they’re quite helpful in guiding me through and tolerating my cluelessness.
A quick narrative breakdown of yesterday before I get to my new cultural insights and all that jazz: I got on a plane at Jacksonville, had a six hour layover at Dulles in Washington, DC (with almost zero internet access) and got on an 8-hour flight to Copenhagen— a business class 8-hour flight! I got upgraded for free because someone had to move to economy to sit with someone or something. I got off the plane and was met by my host dad, mom, and sister (in the house, we also have my host brother, his girlfriend, and another exchange student form NZ), we drove into Sweden and an hour north. My day consisted of a trip to the grocery store, a trip downtown for an international food festival and some shopping, and my hose sister Linnea’s going away party. She’s leaving for Boise, Idaho early next week.
Now, what all my readers are probably waiting for: things that confuse/amaze me about Sweden!:
*there is no humidity, so the air feels super crisp
*the bowls look like plates and it is confusing
*the water in bottles doesn’t really look carbonated, but it is.
really, really carbonated
*there is bacon-cheese in toothpaste tubes
*everyone is like four feet taller than me
*also at the party last night 80% of people were blonde. People
will say, “Oh, only 40% of Swedes are blonde.” don’t
believe anyone who tells you this. They are liars.
*you can leave windows and doors open without fear of a
horde of insects taking over your house
*I have the opportunity to live here for a year.
September 11, 2013
Hej! I’ve been in Sweden about a month now, and I’ve failed to be a very good blogger.
In fact, since my last update I have
• Started school
• Switched programs twice
• Went to Liseberg
• Started SFI
• Visited Hamlets house
• Gone to a crayfish party, a gong away party, and another dinner party
• Canoed 26 kilometers on a Rotary trip
• And generally lived the life of an exchange student
I feel bad about my lack of blogging, but as you can see, I’ve been busy.
School… is nice. My school is six buildings, with three stories. It has a dining hall and a separate café, and all the classes take place in different classrooms and at different times of day each day. Some days I have one class, some I have five. Its more like university than American high school. I’m doing the humanistika program which is languages and the like. I take French, English, Swedish, math, philosophy, history, and Swedish for immigrants.
I have several Swedish friends, plus 4 exchange students, which is pretty good for an exchange student in Sweden for a month—this is not one o those countries where being this exotic American will gain you legions of friends, which is nice in a way, because it makes you feel very normal. Some people find me interesting, some don’t, some put up with me speaking like a three year old, some don’t.
That’s the thing—exchange is normal. Like the rest of life, if you make it wonderful and exciting, it will be, and if you don’t, it won’t. I was talking to my host dad last week and he said that one of their previous exchange students, who went home, by the way, went on exchange to `find herself´, which O don’t think is what you can do on exchange. Exchange is something you do when you’ve found yourself (whatever that means), are very confident in the person you are, and are ready to meet some new people. You have to be confident in yourself already, because exchange is not easy. You will not be instantly happy and have friends. Exchange life has been a series of moments, in some of them I am surrounded by a huge number of people, and that can be stifling, but it can also be fun, and you have to make it fun. The next day, you could be walking through school, alone, not understanding what people around you are saying, and feel more alone than anyone in that world. But you have to take those moments as they come, too. But coming into exchange, you have to be able to deal with taking control of your view every moment, and that’s not something everyone is disciplined enough to do, so before you go, make sure you are.
Anyway, enough of that. Now I think I’ll talk a bit about cool, fun Swedish stuff.
It is already cold here. Me and my host family went out to get pizza on August 31, and I was wearing two cashmere sweaters and a blazer. This winter, if I stop updating, it’s probably because I’ve died of frostbite.
I went to Hamlet’s house! On a field trip to Denmark—Horatio gave us a tour, and I was fangirling so, so hard. I got to see where the epic duel happened, and also I met my current class, of about 5 girls, and they are wonderful and I’m grateful they’ve taken me in. I love Lauren and Juanje, but I’d rather not spend my whole year with other exchange students.
We have had some very nice dinner parties. I mean, I always love dinner parties, I could survive for weeks feasting only on others merriment, but the food here is usually pretty good, so Im glad I don’t have too. My first was a crayfish party to say goodbye to Vilhelm and Ebba, my host brother and his girlfriend, who are moving to New Zealand. It involved crayfish, schnapps, and a horde of Swedish twenty year olds. They were all very nice, and by Swedish standards I am a much better dancer than I am in the US.
Ebba’s parents had another goodbye dinner, and they are amazing, amazing cooks. I think I ate an entire zucchini pizza, tons of these brilliant Swedish mushrooms, they’re small, yellow-orange, and made of happiness, and a quarter of this blackberry pie thing. The food was so, so good.
We also had another party at our house with my host parent’s friends. I won a corn on the cob eating contest, and we had a lovely time over dessert. I think most of my favorite moments in Sweden have involved doing things over coffee.
Speaking of, Swedish coffee is better than American coffee. It’s not as bitter. Also, they don’t really have Starbucks over here. They have Espresso House, which is crazy expensive, but very good. We went to Starbucks after our trip to Liseberg, the amusement part in Göteborg, and it was even more expensive. We’re talking seven dollar tall coffees, here. Also, Liseberg, though not as nice as our parks in Orlando, has this drop ride, where you get to sit over Göteborg for like 20 seconds before being dropped, and it was one of the best views I’ve ever seen, and one of my favorite moments thus far in Sweden.
Lastly, this weekend I had a camping/canoeing trip with Rotary. We went for 26 kilometers over two days, and I got to be with my partner Emmy both days, and there was a campfire (which may or may not have made me a tad homesick) and I got to sleep under the stars and it was, all in all, a very lovely weekend. In fact, it was so lovely, I was inspired to ask my friend Sofi if I could join her scout group, and I have been granted permission. We’re going hiking soon, so prepare to read about that in a future update.
November 2, 2013
As I write this, on November 2, 2013, I have been in on exchange for 90 days; and my god, what a 90 days it has been. Exchange is in full swing, and everything I was told would happen, has happened. The projected highs and lows have been spot on. Rotary has been right about everything, and in only three months, my exchange has changed me more than I thought it could in a year.
First, I give you a summary of my adventures since my last journal. I’ve canoed 20-plus kilometers. I’ve seen a production of Hamlet in Swedish. I’ve had fika for hours in Stockholm. I’ve learned how to drink strong espresso without any milk or sugar. I’ve picked mushrooms with my host family and had them for dinner. I’ve ridden a horse for the first time since I left the US. I’ve navigated the Paris metro system. I’ve been homesick for my home in Sweden; and for approximately 100% of these events, I’ve had mini mental breakdown while trying to understand both how lucky I am to be here (seriously, thank you mom, dad, and rotary for helping me make this happen) and how proud of myself I am for making this happen (thank you mom, dad, rotary, friends, and Haddenloch for making me the kind of person who can do this.)
That being said, exchange has not been a three month long vacation. I still feel guilty that I’m not fluent, or even conversationally fluent, at this point, and I imagine I won’t stop feeling guilty until I am. I still have to deal with living day-to-day with a culture that is much less organized and type-A than I’m used to (Though if I need to vent about that, there’s a German exchange student in my town who understands my pain). And I still need to deal with homesickness, which honestly didn’t hit me until I saw pictures of my stable’s Halloween horse show, which to me is the beginning of the ‘’holiday season’’. To top it off, at this point in Sweden, it’s pitch black by 5 pm. To deal with all of this, my usual plan of ‘’be busy all the time’’ hasn’t been quite enough, so I’ve taken up baking, in an apparent effort to make my host family obese. Both my host family and my exchange student family, both in Sweden and from Florida have been so much help. I’m also super lucky to have an amazing group of Swedish friends who tolerate me speaking Swedish like a small child (ironically, my best Swedish friend, Sofi, is half-Lithuanian, so I feel super cool when I know things about Lithuania and she’s impressed by my knowledge).
Perhaps the most important part of my exchange, however, is repeating the message to myself, loud and clear, that an experience doesn’t have to have immediate results, add to the bottom line, or make you more prepared of some career, to be important and worthwhile. This is a belief that I’ve held my whole life as a longtime fan of obscure science, fantasy novels, and other purely ‘’intellectual’’ pursuits. However, as I moved closer to University, adulthood, and all that jazz, it because more difficult to take time and do something which only was meant to delight and teach me. In Sweden, I’m not learning Spanish or Chinese for a job, I’m not doing a study abroad program or internship at university (though I’m sure that people who do these things do have some wonderful experiences). I am here enjoying a people and a culture. I’m also here learning that hobbits and wizards and orphans on the run from pirates aren ’t the only things in the world that can be enchanting. And growing up in the rather puritanical culture of the US, I started to feel my doubts about doing things merely for the pleasure of doing them, because that is what ‘’adults do’’. Travel, like novels, films, and other various arts, is form of ‘’escapism’’—not like the escape of the deserter in the military, but the escape of a one of those heroes and heroines in a dystopian novel. It frees you to see the values of the culture you were born to and the culture you now live in, and it allows you to take the best of both, and leave the worst.
These 90 days have been so, so amazing, and I can’t wait for the next 8 months (!) of buying an infinite number of wool socks, having fika, traveling, and making flower crowns.
December 6, 2013
So, at this point writing blogs is getting a little difficult—exchange no longer feels like a cool trip, it just feels like life, and when you’re just living day-to-day, it gets hard to remember that you’re doing something really cool that’s worth reading about. Then I thought of what I wanted to read about when I found out my country, and this blog will be mainly related to that.
School: School in Sweden is very, very different than it is in the US. It’s about a million times more relaxed, which I think is great for exchange purposes, but I’m not too sure what I think of it as a system. Each of my classes I have twice a week, and each of those classes I will have between one and two hours of class time. Most of the time we spend in class is just working on assignments on the Macbooks the school gives all the students (except for me, I use my Lenovo, and we’re very happy together.) You call your teachers by their first names, and you can go to the bathroom without asking. Sometimes I have an hour or two between classes, and this is spent either going on tumblr or having fika in the school café with my friends. My school has a café and a cafeteria—the cafeteria serves a pretty good (10,000x better than in the US) lunch, and it’s free, and the café has chokoladbollar, coffee, kanelbollar, and other delicious, sugary things, but you have to pay. If the teacher is not there, you don’t have class. Also, one of the most interesting things, to me, is that both the teachers and students move classrooms. For example, I have French on Mondays and Thursdays, but each class has a different time and a different room. This is resulted in me still not having my schedule memorized. As far as grades go, as long as I participate, all is well.
Swedish Rotary: Swedish Rotary is hard to get used to after US Rotary. My US Rotary club was very involved in the local community, and they had some volunteer opportunities. Thanks to the Swedish government, not quite as much volunteer work in needed in Sweden. The first meeting I went to I asked what opportunities I could have to help out, and my president told me that they mainly send money to Doctors Without Borders, and there wasn’t too much I could do to help with that. I also thought it was really interesting that my club of about 30 people only had two women, which seemed strange to me, as Sweden is famed for its gender equality (though I have heard that other clubs have a better gender distribution). Rotary is also pretty relaxed in Sweden. I don’t mean that in a ‘’exchange students break the Ds all the time and everything is okay’’ kind of way, though we do have some risqué, Rotary-sponsored, snowmobile driving. I mean that, at least in southern Sweden, travel rules are very relaxed. As long as you’re responsible and reasonable, Rotary will say yes to most of your travel requests, even out of Sweden. Though if you take advantage of the freedom they give you, I have heard stories of Rotary coming down pretty hard on exchange students. Be smart. There aren’t too many rules, so follow the ones that exist.
Weather: It is cold. You will be cold. Expect to spend a lot of money on winter clothes and accessories when you get here. It’s an unavoidable evil, and if you don’t plan, you will be poor after the first cold day when you have to leave school and buy some clothes so you don’t die of frostbite. You do not make good financial decisions when you just really want something warm on your body.
Language: Yes, most people speak English. Yes, it is hard to get people to always speak Swedish to you. Do note, that even though you can’t control what language people speak to you, you can control what language you speak to them. My speaking is better than my listening because of this, as many Swedes get annoyed when they have to talk slowly and repeat things. Try to insist, but don’t be rude about it. If you find someone who will help you learn and speak Swedish to you, be friends with them, and try to surround yourself with people that are patient with your language learning. Another note: if you travel to other parts of Sweden and don’t understand what people are saying at first, don’t beat yourself up about it, as regional accents are quite distinct. For example, my host family is from Stockholm, and they tell me I can’t speak a word of Swedish, only Skånska, which is the name of my regional dialect.
Fika: fika is a Swedish tradition of coffee and pastries with friends. It can be done as many times as you want per day, and the time is never wrong for a fika. This tradition, combined with the Swedish love of mushrooms, has made me 90% sure that all Swedes are giant hobbits. Why the entire world has not adopted fika, we may never know, because it is the best.
Public Bathrooms: Speaking of things that are the best, the entire world should model their public bathrooms off of Swedish ones. Individual rooms, individual sinks, and you know when the doors are locked, because the area above the lock is red. Swedish design at its finest.
Food and exchange weight: Most main courses in Sweden is pretty bland, with lots of potatoes, and many raw vegetables and salads. Also they eat a lot of meat. If you’re a meat-and-potatoes kind of person, you will be in heaven. I’m not a huge fan of Swedish food, as it’s not terribly interesting or vegetarian-friendly, but it’s rarely bad. Most of the food I cook for my host family gets complaints fro being ‘’too’’: too spicy, to heavy, too much flavor. Where Swedish cuisine shines, though, is in the desserts. Pies, cakes, cinnamon and chocolate buns, all really good, and all the leading causes of exchange weight in Sweden. On exchange weight: if you aren’t terribly healthy and active in the US, you will probably lose weight if you only fika once or twice per day. If you play sports and eat really well in the US, you will gain a few kilos, but you will survive.
Fashion: anything warm. Bring lots of warm clothes, don’t bother with sandals, maybe bring one pair of shorts. Girls usually dress in a 90’s grunge style; boys have more of a classic American look. They are all well dressed; abut not super fashion-y. In the winter, all Swedes look the same. Dark pants, dark jacket, dark scarf, dark hat, dark gloves. I recommend you follow suit.
Culture shock: this caught me pretty unawares. ‘’Oh, western civilization,’’ I said. ‘’We’re all pretty much the same,’’ I said. I was wrong, and knowing that the culture was going to be super different would have made the first few months a bit easier. All my time as a student in the US was very much based on the idea of ‘’achieve the most and be the best.’’ And now more than ever I realize that competition is one of the core values of US society. In Sweden, this is not the case. Few students are ‘’overacheivers,’’ as Sweden has more of a culture of collaboration than of competition. That attitude was hard for me to adjust to, especially since I came from a school environment that was more competitive than most. Interestingly, Swedish classes are not separated by level, like standard, honors, AP, and IB, but by subject, like science or language. There’s also this idea of ‘’lagom’’ in the culture, which is an idea of everything in moderation. This is another thing that takes some getting used to, coming from the idea of ‘’work hard, play hard,’’ ‘’more is better’’ culture of the US. Most of this I’ve come to understand and have gotten used to, though I still find the need for Swedes to plan everything approximately three years in advance to be odd, as well as the fact that they label weeks. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to casually tell someone that I’ll be busy the weekend of week 33.
So, future exchange students to Sweden, I hope that answers some of the questions you have. And to everyone else, there’s a peak at my everyday life in Sweden.