Samantha Bicknell
2013-14 Outbound to Sweden

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
HOST: The Rotary Club of Upplands Väsby

Samantha's Bio

Hallå! Jag heter Samantha, jag är 17 år gammal och jag kommer att bo I Sverige nästa år! Translating that to English, I said "Hello, I'm Samantha, I am 17 years old, and I will be living in Sweden next year!" Yes, I am very excited at the fact that I will having an adventure of my own, in just a few short months in the "Land of the Midnight Sun". It's nice to know that after the dreadful application is filled out, the intimidating home interviews are over, and the even more nail-biting district interview is done with and accomplished, it's a great feeling to know it'll be well worth it! My whole life, I've been surrounded by a worldly family that each have their own stories of their travels and tales of the great places they've experienced. I have family members from England, Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, and so on and so forth. But when would I have my time to tell my story? As from now on, I will have my own story to tell. Today, is officially the first day for the rest of my life! I can remember myself back in September with my Spanish 3 class, going to some assembly. I never would've realized how life changing this assembly would turn out to be. Seeing all the rebounds and inbounds speaking in their foreign languages fascinated me. I wanted to be standing up in the front of the auditorium speaking an impressive language that would awe the crowd, like all the students did that day. I wanted to wear that navy blue blazer, that were coated with pins and souvenirs, that made them sound like Santa's reindeer when they walked around. I wanted to be in those pictures that they presented of the outbounds in their host countries. When Mr. Murray asked everyone who was considering it, my friends thought I was crazy for raising my hand. But a little bit about myself, I was born and raised in St. Augustine, Florida, by my two lovely parents, Pamela and Stuart, alongside my younger brother, Keaton, my 2 dogs, Penny and Bailey, and my kitten, Minuit. I currently attend Nease High School as a Senior and a goalie for the Lady Panthers Varsity Lacrosse Team (GO PANTHERS!), however, I will have to give up my love for lacrosse to complete school in order to go on this adventure of a lifetime! During my spare time, I am usually hanging out with my best friends, completing my online class work to graduate early, or cramming in even more homework from my regular public school. My life can be stressful and hectic at times, but I know, it will all be worth it in the end! When I want something, I fight for it. I try everything humanly possible to make that dream come true. I don't think I've ever wanted something so bad in my life, and I thank all of the Rotarians for everything they do to make dreams, like mine, come true. They really underestimate their true greatness, and I really cannot thank them enough for everything they've done. I want to thank my parents who've supported me every step of the way, my best friends who have been there for me whenever I doubted myself, I'd like to thank all of the inbounds and rebounds for being so gracious and welcoming and always willing to answer my questions, and the Rotarians for helping me along the way into getting me more steps closer to my dream. And with that, I look forward to each new step into this adventure! Hej då!

Samantha's Journals

August 28, 2013

Today marks my 25th day of living here in the beautiful land of the Midnight Sun, and I don’t really know where to start.

I’ll start off with my arrival in Sweden. After 10 hours of traveling throughout the night, I was shockingly more awake than ever from the anticipation and excitement of landing in Sweden. I arrived at around 12:00pm the following day where my host family stood with a welcome banner that said ‘Välkomna till Sverige Samantha!’ It was then I realized that this exchange is real. I really am in Sweden, and I am about to start the best year of my life. I had to keep reassuring myself that this wasn’t a dream.

For the first few days, I spent time with my lovely host family. We take many family trips to their Swedish country home and out to different sections of the country. So far, I’ve been to Åre (beautiful skiing resort; however there was no snow at the time), Halmstad (by Gothenberg; a beach town as well to remind me of home!), Dalarna (Swedish country side), and all different parts of Stockholm. They take me to all these breathtakingly beautiful and interesting places and every day here is a new adventure for me. They make sure I get a real and true experience of Sweden in every aspect. They made my transition so easy and painless because they were so welcoming, kind, and ever so caring. It feels like I’d never even left home.

Then I met the other exchange students. Already, we are getting so close and it feels like I’ve known these people my whole life. We share each of our own unique experiences in Sweden and we go out on our own adventures and experience Sweden altogether. We all have the same awkward Swedish conversation stories, we all waste our money on fika, we all jump around like crazy people with our flags and end up on Swedish national television, and we all end up getting lost in the tunnelbana or taking the wrong train. I’ve already made lifelong memories with them that I will never forget. They are all like my brothers and sisters and I love them already.

Thereafter, I started school… where do I even begin with Swedish school? I’ll begin with the fact of how relaxed and calmed down Swedish school is. Everyday is a different schedule with different times. The past 2 days, I’ve started school at 12.00, and no, I am not skipping; school literally started at noon. It’s also hard to tell the difference between the students and teachers because the teachers dress SO casually (and very fashionably)! My male teacher was (I kid you not) wearing a jean dress shirt with shiny metal studs on the shoulders with bright red skinny jeans. It’s saying something when your teacher dresses more fashionable than you do…

My Swedish friends at school are so sweet too! It was hard at first making friends since the Swedes are naturally shy, so you really have to go out of your way to make friends with people. Luckily, I made a great group of friends and they are just like my friends back at home. They help me with my Swedish and ask me questions about America and the English language, and we always have fun times when we’re together.

I could go on for days telling you all the things I’ve done, the places I’ve visited, and all my incredible experiences I’ve had so far, but I can barely think of words to express how my exchange has been. It’s because there are no words to describe exchange. I could sit here and try to tell you what exchange is like, and that still wouldn’t be enough because it’s indescribable. I haven’t even been here for a whole month and I’ve already met so many amazing people, made so many great friends from around the world, seen some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, tried the most delicious foods that I can’t have back at home, and I am just having the time of my life overall. If you are considering exchange, I can promise you one thing; you won’t regret it and overall, it will be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made in your life. You will learn, you will become open minded, you will grow as a person, and you will experience something new that will change your life forever!

I can already tell that this is going to be one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever had to make… but for now, I am just absorbing every single moment, sight, and experience in Sweden for the time that I do have left here. I can’t wait to see where more this adventure will lead me.

Till then, tack så mycket allihop och hej då!

October 7, 2013

I guess it is that time again! A few days ago, I proudly embarked on my 2nd month in this beautiful country, and there are no English, nor Swedish words to describe my experience so far here. And get used to me saying this a lot, because there are no words to describe exchange, let’s face it; it’s an experience only described by experiencing it yourself.

During these two months, I’ve come to realization about a lot of things. I’m learning more and more everyday about the charming Swedish culture, and I am learning more and more about myself everyday. I am learning what I am capable of, how strong I am, how adaptable I am, everything. I’m finding out some really deep stuff about me that I didn’t even care to think about or even notice. I’m changing subconsciously, and noticing it at the strangest times as well. I seem to find something new about lots of things, and usually in the most uncomfortable or awkward ways. Let’s face it, exchange is a whole year of awkward experiences, but overall, it is worth it and makes for great stories!

There is so much I’ve done here, and way to much to recite and tell you about now. I’ve learned that Sweden is a very underrated and unappreciated culture, and as Americans, we barely scratch the surface of this interesting and charming culture. So as my ambassadorial duties are, here are some little factoids and stories you may not have known about Swedes:

1. The Swedes are very lagom. What is lagom you ask? There are two words in the Swedish language that are not found directly translated to any other language, and that is fika (my favorite Swedish word) and lagom. Lagom in English, translates to the phrase ‘not too much, not too little, just right’. You always need the perfect amount of everything, not too much, not too little.

2. Swedes are extremely equal here. In an article I read, Sweden is number one in the world for gender equality, and it’s true. Everyone here, even beyond gender, are equal. Everyone earns the same respect from everyone else, and it is equally given in return. Another funny thing about being equal, is that it’s hard to declare leadership in anything such as group projects, group decisions, anything. Before making a decision with anything, there must be a fair group discussion and compromises and final answers must satisfy all parties. It makes the Swedes feel uncomfortable to be put in charge of others. It’s the strangest thing, yet one of the most refreshing things I’ve experienced so far.

3. Swedes are very punctual. They love to always be on time, and on top of that, they plan EVERYTHING. I promise, you will never meet a Swede that doesn’t care much for planning. From dinners to even watching television! I am not kidding. They have special apps to help them with planning how much TV they watch and what shows to watch.

4. Swedes love to sing. Whether good or bad, Swedes love to sing and hear other people sing. They have shows dedicated to just other Swedes getting together and singing. And no, I’m not talking about singing competitions (although those are also very popular here along with chorus competitions), I’m talking about shows that air in Göteborg and Stockholm where more famous Swedish singers/songwriters sing with crowds of other Swedes just to sing.

5. Everyone wears American themed clothes here. The American flag is probably the biggest fashion statement here in Sweden. Why don’t they wear the Swedish flag instead? Because it is seen as racist, due to the fact that one of the biggest issues in Sweden now is immigration. Representing the Swedish flag shows that you are against immigration and overly prideful. It is seen as rude to be overly prideful about being Swedish. You never boast about your background or your country ever.

6. Can we just take a moment to admire those things that are Swedish? Such as H&M, IKEA, AVICII, ABBA, Volvo and such. Round of applause for Sweden.

7. And speaking of American things, the Swedes love the Americans in general. If we are to go with the typical American view from other countries in the stereotype, you would think they would hate us. But the Swedes find us very interesting.. yeah, interesting would be a good word. They think we are very strange, and sometimes they don’t understand why we do things, but overall, they love our television shows, our cities, our culture, and our people overall. I’ve never felt so welcomed as an American ever.

8. Also, it’s pretty touchy to bring up the Vikings in some areas. With the Swedish stereotype, people usually think of the blood thirsty Vikings, known for destroying, murdering, and conquering many different countries from around the world way back when. Whenever you begin talking about the Vikings and how terrible they were, the Swedes get very uncomfortable. They don’t like to be reminded of their terrible murderous ‘phase’. And it’s funny, because the Swedes are the exact opposite of what the Vikings did.

9. Americans, Italians, whoever, say what you want, but honestly, the best pizza I’ve ever eaten has come from Sweden. It’s called Kebab and it’s the only flavor of pizza that should ever be eaten. Just try it sometime.

10. American college students have their ramen noodles and tater tots as their main source of easy food. Swedes? Try Swedish meatballs, pasta, and ketchup. And not in the mood for that? Blood pudding.

11. Swedes love their house music. That is the only stereotype that has lived up to it’s standard so far. And when I mean everyone, I mean everyone. Children, teenagers, adults, elderly people, everyone! I absolutely love their love for house music, especially AVICII. Has anyone realized how amazing he is?

12. CONVERSES ARE EVERYWHERE! Especially the white pairs. Try to find a Swede that doesn’t own a pair of white converse. I dare you.

13. FIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKA

FIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFKAFIKAFIKAFIKAFIKA. That is all I have to say.

14. Swedes love to travel. Rotary really knew what they were doing when they were assigning our countries, but the Swedes and I can relate to our excessive needs of travel. And not to mention it is very easy. Booking flights in Sweden are up to 75% cheaper than in the United States. Even to really distant places like Thailand and India. Currently, I am planning a trip to London to visit my Aunt and my budget for traveling alone is under 100 American Dollars… yeah, beat that. And with that, they are all for weekend getaways! Almost every Swedish family owns a summer house or rents one. Although they are called summer houses, they make sure to take monthly treks out for a weekend just to get away from their work and the city. I cannot tell you how many times and how many different summer houses I have visited.

15. As an American, people usually compare all the Scandinavian countries as one, like their all the same. But they couldn’t have been more wrong. The Scandinavian countries see themselves as brothers and sisters; and not due to the fact that they’re close together, but because they like to pick on each other and mock each other every once in a while, until they realize they are pretty similar and love each other at the end of the day. Now, what I am about to say is not based off what I think, but what the Swedes have told me so far about the other Scandinavian countries. In this case, I will explain the differences between the languages. In Sweden, Swedish and Norwegian are very similar. You can get through a small conversation with almost little to no language barrier. The Swedes put it this way: Swedes speak sing-song like, Norwegians sing even more sing-song like, Finnish is the ugliest language, and the Danish speak like they have potatoes in their mouth. On ce again, this isn’t my point of view, but what every Swedish person has explained to me so far. Yet, the Danish do speak a little funny ;)

But those were some quirky little facts that you may or may not have known about Sweden. Charming, isn’t it?

With every day, I am falling more and more in love with this country. I can’t even believe that there is anything more amazing left to offer, yet, I still have a whole year ahead of me for discovery and experience.

And with that, hej då!

November 10th, 2013

And I am back once more for another update post! Currently, here in Sweden, we are almost half way through November, and it has rained every single day since the first day of the month. Sunset is also around 3:30 on some days, and it is pitch black by 4. Yes, the winter is slowly creeping up on us here in Sweden. The funny thing is, is that I think I am the only person here in Sweden that is excited to actually see the winter. Speaking of complaining about the weather, Swedes ALWAYS complain about the weather. And here I am, the annoyingly optimistic American cheering on this miserable weather. But through the miserable, dark, cold weather, things are just perfect here in Sweden.

They say it’s around your 3-4 months (usually the holiday season) when you begin to feel homesick. I hadn’t thought, cried, or complained about home since I’d been here, but the other day when my day was a little slow, I stopped and thought. Thinking about home and my friends back in St. Augustine did make me a little sad. What was this that I was feeling? For a few hours or so, I was a little depressed. But it took me until 00:05 that following night to realize why I was so sad.

I was amazed.

I wasn’t sad. I had realized that it had been almost a year since I began preparing for joining Rotary. I spent countless hours on homework and online homework for my online classes because if I made Rotary, I would have to graduate early. Although it wasn’t guaranteed that I would make Rotary, I had to get started to cover my bases. I had spent extra hours on learning phrases from each of the native languages of my countries of choice. I spent even more hours on practicing speeches and mock interviews with my mom to prepare for my interviews. I spent hours of just thinking to myself, Sam, there is no way you’re going to make this. You would have to work so hard to be one of the 21 lucky students in your district to make it. It would take a miracle, it’s impossible. I spent nights crying over this sometimes.

Then I went to the interviews, and took a few deep breaths and earned a spurt of confidence for me to get through my district interview. I still to this day have no idea how I did it or what came over me on that day, but I am so happy for it. I spent the following days pacing around my house, hoping, and praying I would get that ACCEPTED email from Daphne.

Then I was accepted. For about 10 seconds, my heart stopped, then for the following 20 minutes after, it was spent screaming, jumping, hugging, crying, running, hitting my toe on every furniture corner in the house, and calling everyone I knew to tell them I had been accepted into Rotary.

Then came Reveal Day. I had spent days wondering which country I would be spending the next year in. I had spent hours online looking at the beautiful landmarks of my possible countries I would be sent to. I spent hours of ranting with my parents about which countries I thought I was being sent to. My whole body was shaking as I walked into that conference room in the library, where I held my little square of paper that said 19. I had spent 18 presentations shaking, sweating, holding my breath until I found out my country. I spent those 30 seconds of hearing the lovely Swedish Rotarian, Catrine, speaking the beautiful, sing-song language of the Swedes, welcoming me into her home country with open arms. And while spending those 30 seconds, I was jumping and holding in screams from my happiness! I spent an hour that following night at dinner researching Sweden on my Iphone and calling all my family telling them the country I would be sent to.

Then came the months of preparation. I spent my weekends to myself, in my room, completing my senior and junior classwork, while trying to learn Swedish. I spent nights of crying to my mom at how hard this year was and how I felt like just giving it all up. I spent nights crying to my mom on how hard school was and how getting through this year would take a miracle. I spent hours talking with rebounds, outbounds, and inbounds from Sweden to get advice, and making some life long friends along the way. I spent hours on my weekends, after school, before school, and even during school, trying my best to complete my classes and graduate on time.

Then came graduation. I’d spent weeks in shock; Wow, I made it. I really made it. I spent my whole time with my family afterwards crying with joy, it was all over and I could start my life in Sweden. I spent the following weeks and months attending my final Rotary meetings, bonding and thanking everybody for all the hard work they were doing to get me to Sweden.

Then it came my time to say my goodbyes. I’d spent the following week meeting with all my amazing friends and family and started saying my goodbyes. I spent my time crying while giving away my final hugs and kisses to everyone, but was happy to know I was finally leaving for this amazing year that I had worked on for, for what seemed like eternity.

Then, I’d finally made it to Sweden, and it was pure bliss. I spent my times bonding with my host family whilst traveling and enjoying Sweden. I spent my times embarrassing myself in front of the Swedish culture. I spent my times making new friends from all around the world. I spent my times wasting my money on the almighty fika breaks with friends. I spent my times laughing and spending memory making moments with my newly made international friends. I spent my times attempting to be confident in my Swedish skills. I spent time trying the crazy Swedish traditions. I spent time trying the crazy European fashions. I spent time trying to understand my teachers in Swedish. I spent time making my Swedish friends laugh over the differences between the US and Sweden. I spent my time the way I had always wanted it to be and even beyond that.

So what was I crying for? How much my life has changed in the time span of less than a year.

Yeah yeah, call it lame or call me a cry baby, but you can’t imagine the feeling until you experience it yourself. It’s amazing how much your life can change in the span of a year. Last October, I would’ve never imagined myself in Sweden, let alone anywhere else overseas. You grow so much before and during exchange, it’s amazing.

Exchange changes you on so many levels; personally, mentally, physically, emotionally, logically, culturally, everything. It changes everything, and definitely for the better. It changes your perspective on things, from all sorts of topics. It changes your outlooks on life. It changes your attitudes towards different things. You learn to adapt, you learn to experience and enjoy foreign things, you learn to become more tolerant, you become more understanding, you become more wise, and you become more you. You realize the person who you are really meant to be. You learn not to do things to please other people, but to please yourself. You learn how to be the best person you can be, for yourself and for the benefit of others.

So I know there are many of you right now back in Florida, wondering if this may be for you, if you’re ready to go on this type of adventure, and all I can say is try it. You’ll be amazed of what your life could become. And no matter what the outcome, you will never regret it. And yes, it’ll be challenging to get here, but it sure as hell is worth it. I do not regret going through all I did to get here. I would go through it all over again if that meant I could be in Sweden. But we’ve all been in your position. There are so many perspectives of joining RYE and so many people to go to about it.

But there was my two cents on exchange and life right now. And if it wasn’t for my amazing family, awesome friends, and RYE Florida and RYE Sweden, I wouldn’t be here. I thank you all so much for everything you have done not for just me, but all the other exchange students world wide.

For those who are applying now, if you have any questions, need advice, or anything, you can always contact me on Facebook!

Lycka till allihopa!

Mycket kärlek från Sverige

January 6, 2014

Hello readers. Welcome back for an all new installment of my monthly life in Sweden. I am sorry it has been so long since I’ve last posted, but this last month has been absolutely nuts. I’ve noticed in most of my posts, I’ve talked more about deep mushy gushy lesson learning things, but this time, it’ll be a little different.

Since my last entry back in November, lots has happened. I’ve turned 18, I saw my first snow day, I made a snow man, I celebrated Christmas, I celebrated New Years, I’ve moved host families, I went skiing for the fist time, I saw my first wild moose, I went to a Bruno Mars concert, I bought my tickets to London to visit my aunt, and my parents booked their tickets to come visit me in March! I probably forgot something, but oh well.

I’ll start off with the first day of December. Swedes don’t mess around when it comes to the month of December. You think Americans are crazy when Christmas time is near? Come to Sweden and I promise you will change your mind. Because not only does Christmas happen in December, but so does Sankta Lucia Dag and Sunday Advents, which are all huge deals here. By the way, did I mention that Christmas lasts 3 days here?

Starting the first day of December, the days get shorter, colder, and darker. The sun can set during any time from as early as 4:30 to even earlier times like 2:30 in the afternoon. Have I gotten used to it yet? That answer is no. Every day is harder to wake up, and even harder to stay awake during school when outside it is pitch black. I was warned about this darkness coming from all the Swedes I had talked to prior, and all of the videos I’ve watched. I was told that the suicide rates go up during the winter time, the weather is absolutely miserable, and so on and so on, but to me, it wasn’t that dramatic.

Onto the first advent that took place on the 6th of December, you will see that every house in Stockholm – let alone the whole country of Sweden – was decorated with all sorts of ljus (lights or candles, mostly candles) and stjärnor (stars) in the windows of the houses. Every Sunday is usually spent with your family, where you watch special Christmas-y television specials and where you eat pepparkaka (ginger breadmen but in the shapes of hearts and stars), drink glögg (Swedish warm mulled wine with almonds and rasins), and sit by the fire. I had never really heard of advent being celebrated in America, or at least my family never did, but I think these little Sunday nights were very comforting and nice. That is a good way to describe the Swedish month of December; comforting and nice.

Then it was onto Sankta Lucia Dag. Still, I really have no idea why Scandinavia celebrate Sankta Lucia Dag. The real Sankta Lucia had absolutely nothing to do with Sweden. She was an Italian saint who was a martyr and somewhere along the lines of her story, ended up gouging her eyes out. However, she was the bearer of light. She was seen as a beautiful blonde woman, who wore a long white dress with a red ribbon, and wore a wreath on her head bearing candles. They celebrate Sankta Lucia Dag by having concerts and dressing up. It is nearly impossible to miss a Sankta Lucia Concert because they are everywhere. Churches, pre schools, primary schools, gymnasiums, choirs, everywhere. I went to one by myself at the local church by my school where I watched my host sister and fellow exchange student Hikaru from Japan perform in her Lucia concert. It is a very beautiful holiday and comes with beautiful performances. The whole church was darkened, with the only light coming from Lucia ’s candle wreath, and the other girls that held their candles in the luciatåget (literally translates to Lucia Train, but it is more like a group: includes stjärngossar, pepparkaksgubbar, tomtar, och tärnor). Also, lots of Lucia Dag special food is eaten, like Lussekatter, which are yellow saffron buns in the shapes of Ss, and they are very good. I think I ate about 9 of them on my first try. It was definitely a moment I will never forget about the Swedish culture.

Then a few days before Christmas, we got our Christmas tree the Viking way… Yes, we chopped down our own Christmas tree, in the woods. I am no longer in Florida anymore.

Then onto the days of Christmas, and yes, I said days. Christmas is celebrated for 3 whole days, beginning with Julafton, or Christmas Eve. Their Christmas Eve, is what Christmas Day is to Americans. It begins by watching Kalle Anka at 3:30. It is a Christmas tradition here in Sweden to watch ‘Kalle Anka’ - or Donald Duck’s Christmas Special. In this program, they show many different cartoons from Disney. And EVERYONE watches this, of all ages. After, you will commense the shoveling of food. Yes, the famous julbord. Julbords are another thing here in Sweden that is impossible to not attend or avoid. I had attended 4 julbords. And for those who don’t know what is included in a Swedish Julbord, here is a general list of items included:

Julskinka – Christmas Ham

Köttbullar – Swedish meatballs

Various types of Sil – pickled herring (I even got to make my own! It was very good if you’re asking)

Roastbiff – Roast Beef

Leverpastej – liver sausage like stuff

Prins korv – Small cocktail hot dogs, and literally translates to Prince Sausage

Various types of Lax - Salmon

Lutfisk – a special Scandinavian fish eaten around Christmas

Potatisallad – Potato salad

Rokt Potatis – Boiled potatoes

Potatismos – mashed potatoes

Rödbetor – red beets

Janssons frestelse – ‘Janssons Temptation’ which is a potato casserole with anchovies at the bottom

Fläskkorv – smoked pork

Knäckebröd – crisp bread, but that is eaten year round

And yes, you will eat everything. And that’s not even including desserts, and here is a basic list for desserts:

Fruktkaka – Fruit cake, and yes, it is eaten literally here and not as a joke.

Ostkaka – Cheese Cake, but not like our cheese cakes. They also eat our cheese cakes too

Pepparkaka – Ginger snaps

Ischoklad – Ice chocolate with a different taste

Knäck – caramel like hard candy with almonds (I made some and it was a huge fail)

Ris a l’amande – rice pudding stuff

Chokladbollar – chocolate balls (eaten year round)

During this time, there are also many other Christmas drinks. For example, around Christmas time, LOTS and LOTS of alcohol is consumed. With every julbord, there is snapps. And I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but you always have to sing a special snapps song with the whole entire family or group you are with before you take a sip, and everyone must sing and take a sip with you. On top of that, there’s lots of special jul öl, or Christmas beer only sold aroud Christmas time, which means everyone must take advantage of as much as they can before it goes away. And then there is my favorite Christmas drink, Julmust. I think while on my way back America and I have my 3 hour cry, 20 minutes of that will be because that there will be no more Julmust in America. Julmust is a special Christmas soda. I can’t even describe the taste either, because it doesn’t really taste like any other drink. If you add Dr. Pepper and a little bit of Coca Cola, and ta ke away a little bit of the carbonation, that is almost Julmust, but not as good.

During or after the julbord, you can also finish watching the final episode of Julcalendern. Julcalendern is a childrens program shown on the TV and played on the radio and it is all focused around Christmas. Every night, there is a 15 minute episode on Channel 1, and while watching that, you have to follow along with your actual Julcalendern, or Christmas Calendar, which includes pictures of the program, puzzles, games, crosswords, etc. I was probably the only 18 year old in Sweden that followed along with the Julcalendern program, but I had no shame. This year, it featured Familjen Hedenhös, which is a family of Cavemen which was a popular Swedish cartoon, and how they travel into the future and discover Christmas. It was very cute.

Following the julbord, you will waddle yourself over to the Christmas tree where you will open presents. Now because I was not a small child, Tomte (Santa) didn’t come to the door to drop off my presents. But that is a huge Christmas tradition in Sweden. Usually, your father is Santa of course, and he will say ‘I need to get the newspaper’, and while he is out, Santa will show up and deliver presents, and shortly after, dad will be back, and you have to describe everything that has happened while he was gone. However, after a few years, the children start getting the idea that dad is Santa after all. And you can do either of two things: tell them the truth or do what my 3rd host father did. My third host father, Frederik, told me that they had a secret train of Santas throughout the neighborhood. Most of their children were the same age, and started getting the hints about the real Santa around the same time. So they decided to be the Santa of the other fami ly’s houses so the children would be really stunned! Smart idea, eh?

For Christmas, I got some movies, lots of socks, underwear, books on Sweden and a fika giftcard from my host family. I was so grateful that they were able to open their house for Christmas to a complete outsider like me and really make me feel like a family member. It was a Christmas I will never forget.

Then Christmas Day came. On Christmas Day, it is a little more calm than Christmas Eve. You sit around the house, bake goodies if you want, and eat ham sandwiches from the julskinka which lasts quite some time. Then Christmas night, you have yet another Julbord, but the food is so good, so you never have to worry about getting tired of it. Then that night, I introduced them to my family’s Christmas tradition of watching A Christmas Story. It was a little different because I don’t think they understood the American jokes and the American humor in the movie, so it wasn’t really the same watching it which made me a little homesick but I was happy to introduce them to it.

Then Annanda Jul comes, which is the day after Christmas. And guess what you do on that day? Yes! We have ANOTHER Julbord. However, I’ll back track a little. For breakfast, we ate a traditional Swedish porridge, which is called Julgröt. It is just like porridge, with a white rice and milk type taste, where kanel and socker (cinnamon and sugar) are added on top. However, one cannot simply eat Julbord without suffering a consequence. In the mix, there are two almonds. If while you’re eating your gröt, you have either of the almonds, you must create and recite a poem about Christmas or somebody in the family, and if you do, you will have good luck for the coming new year. Fortunately, my host brother earned both almonds in his gröt and had to recite two poems.

The following days after Christmas, we went up to the countryside of Sweden called Dalarna, and we went skiing. It was the first time I had ever gone skiing in my life and my host parents said they could barely tell I was from Florida after they saw me, not to brag or anything.. Then the day after we arrived back home, it was New Years. My Swedish New Year was one of those times that made me realize how happy I was to be here. How happy I was to be in Sweden, to be doing exchange, to be with my international family, to be on the highest point in Stockholm while watching the whole city light up with lanterns and fireworks, to count down to the New Year in Swedish, to just be alive! It was an exhilarating feeling, and definitely a sight and feeling I will never be able to recreate in my life again. It was that one moment of greatness.

Following New Years, I would have to move within the next few days to my new host family. My new host family didn’t live far away from the host family I’d been living with, but it would be a whole new environment. From living with my host parents, host brother and a dog, I would move into a new house with new host parents, a new host sister, and another exchange host sister from Japan. I would have to start all over again, with a new bus, new train, new way to school, a new school, everything! Needless to say, I was very nervous and feeling a little homesick. Before I came to Sweden, I had never moved in my entire life, so I didn’t know what it would feel like to move into a new house and family. I think my host mother saw this feeling in me, and 2 days before I switched, she took me to the famous ABBA museum in Stockholm! It was kind of our goodbye trip together, but it was amazing! I had been listening to ABBA my whole life, and it was weird to think that I would be in the country and city that the band emerged from. I even live near Björn! So we sang, we danced, and enjoyed the whole time there! It was excellent.

Then switching day came, and shockingly, I didn’t cry. I was so grateful for my first host family to have did all they have done for me, and I will never forget them. They were there for everything. They knew me before I spoke a word of Swedish, they were there during my first moments of being in the new foreign country, and they taught me everything I now know about my city, the language, the people, and Sweden in general. I am so grateful for them, and I am so happy for them to have come into my life. But I knew moving would only add more memories, and would include another new family into my life that would open my eyes to a new perspective of life in Sweden, so I put on a smile and began unpacking into my new room at the Leijonhuvfud family house.

Now it is currently day 2 with my new family, and I am loving it here. I have such fantastic host parents and an awesome host sister who even did exchange in America! And I also love my other host exchange sister, Hikaru from Japan, so we are both in the same boat together!

I can’t wait to see what else this year has in store. And as always, thank you Rotary, my amazing host family, my great American family, and my ever loving and supporting friends.

The adventures continue in Sweden.

PS- HAVE AN AWESOME WEEKEND NEWBIES! Get ready for the ride of your life and keep pushing through, exchange is closer than you think ;)

February 9, 2014

Hey again everybody! I have a feeling this next post is going to be one of the hardest ones for me to write, because this is my halfway post. So try to bear with me on this one! Some reality is about to kick in.

Everything was settling in very well. Since I last wrote, I have switched host families, and I think I've settled in. Coming from someone who has never moved in her life, I think I am handling these adjustments pretty well. I live with a family of exchange students, and no, I am not kidding when I say that. My host mother, Agneta, was an exchange student in Switzerland when she was a high school student. My host father was an exchange student in New York, USA when he was a high school student. My older host sister, Louise, was an exchange student in Utah, USA two years ago. My younger host sister, Hika, is an exchange student from Japan. My two younger twin host brothers, Claes and Wilhelm, are exchange students in Indiana (Claes), and Toowomba, Australia (Wilhelm). So with that, I feel very comfortable in this house! And it has almost been a whole month since I've switched. I've noticed that nearly everything on exchange moves at least 5 times fast than it ne eds to be. So as my first set of advice in this post, is to just cherish your moments. I know that really goes without saying, but you will be amazed at how fast time flies while on exchange, it's almost hard to grasp everything, and you're haunted always by the fact that you will only have this for only one year (or for another 6 months in my case), so cherish and enjoy every moment while on exchange.

And it wasn't really until I moved to my 2nd host family that I realized I was really just living a normal life here in Sweden. I rarely ever felt like I was a tourist anymore, let alone an exchange student. It felt like I've lived here almost my whole life. I could get to school without a problem, I knew the bus system like the back of my hand, I've helped tourist make their way around Stockholm, I had a new favorite fika place, and I could make my way around and be polite in my host language. I felt comfortable and didn't feel like an outsider so much! It's weird to think that my life back in Florida was completely polar opposite, and it's almost hard to remember things of what it was like in Florida, like how it feels to be in warm weather. It's crazy!

Just like the rotarians and rotex will tell you, you can never escape the goodbyes. You imagine just leaving your home country and leaving your host country is your only goodbye, but you couldn't be more wrong. Exchange is a whole year of hellos and goodbyes. Not only your real families, but your supportive host families, the great friends you meet along the way, the interesting people you've come to know, the people you become really close with, everything ends with a goodbye. And with that, I had to endure one of the hardest goodbyes in my life.

For the first 5 months of my exchange, I had a set of Australian, New Zealand, and Brazilian mentors (or Oldies) that had been living in Stockholm, who helped myself and the other Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and such of getting around Stockholm, communicating with other people, introducing us to the new culture, and everything. Along the way, we all became really close and we became international brothers and sisters. They were all people that have changed my life, and I will never forget them. They were all apart of my first memories of my exchange. But like I mentioned, with every hello, ends with a goodbye. It was one of the most nerve wrecking and heart wrenching moments of my life. We all jumped on the Arlanda Express train, directly towards the airport where we would hug, cry, take pictures, and say our final goodbyes to our amazing oldies. And it wasn't necessarily the goodbye that made us all so sad, but the unknowing. I had no idea when I would ever see the m again. Was this it? Would this be my last and final memory of them? Would we ever met again? It's the goodbye that hurts, but the oblivion and unknowing that kills. But with moments like these, I've learned that it's best to just say "Vi ses" instead of "Hej då". (See you soon instead of goodbye).

But with a depressing ending comes some sort of light in replacement. The following week, we introduced our newbies. We suddenly transformed into Oldies before we knew it, and then we found out that it was up to us to mentor them. We weren't new to this culture anymore, we were the wise and cultured ones to pave the way for our new Aussies. Our special newbie was named Patrick from Queensland, Aussie Land. Unfortunately, we weren't there to greet him at the airport, but the following afternoon, we met him for his first fika! Although exhausted, he managed very well and he fit in perfectly with the crazy eclectic Täby group! We love him very much, even though he is a reminder that our year is almost over.. But I mean that in the nicest of ways ;)

The following weeks upon our newbie's arrival was filled with activities. With the newbies coming in, you really get to rediscover and relive your first moments in Sweden through your newbies. Like listening to them try to pronounce Danderyds Sjukhus (a Metro/Bus stop) or Sjuksköterska (nurse), making them try latkris and Kalle's Kaviar, and showing them around Stockholm and telling them funny stories about our memories of our first months in Sweden. We took multiple trips out to Stockholm, went skiing, played in the snow, took a sauna and ran into the snow, ate some really good älg soppa, and had an overall fantastic time. Exchange students know how to have a good time and know how to make the best out of any situation no matter what.

I feel like I have nearly completed my mission over here in Sweden. I feel like I have almost fully adapted into this culture, and I feel very accomplished, and along with this, I have a story with proof.

2 weeks ago, I went to Mora, Dalarna, Sweden, which is in the traditional countryside of Sweden. Mora is a great destination for Midsummer, camping, hiking, and skiing especially. My host family, along with 5 other host families from my city in Täby, went all together to the woods in Mora. All of the other exchange students, besides myself, Hika, and Patrick (our newbie) had seen snow. This trip was our first real taste of what snow was like. In Täby, there had been maybe less than a foot of snow, but in Mora, there were about 1 and a half metres which was a HUGE difference. So there, we took part in many snow time activities, like skiing for the first time - which by the way, was one of the best things I have ever done! Probably my new favorite thing - had a snowball fight, went out on the pulkas (sledding), built a snow man, and did the Swedish tradition of taking a sauna. We were all dared to do the 'Swedish Challenge' which is staying in the sauna unti l you begin to sweat and feel very very warm, then immediately run out and bury yourself in the snow all around your body, then run back into the sauna and wait for the snow to melt. So being the exchange students that we were, we did it. We did it about 3 times. Afterwards, instead of running in the snow, we decided to just stand outside, but we added a game to it, making it into who could stay out the longest. There were 3 Swedes, 3 Americans, 1 Aussie, and 1 Japanese girl. So there we all stood outside in the freezing cold while it was snowing. I had never been more proud of myself when myself, along with Patrick and William (younger host brother to my friend) outlasted everyone else! I then realized I wasn't a Florida girl anymore, but a full on viking! Unfortunately, I didn't outlast the little Swede, but still, I was so proud. And he would've never backed down!

Anyways, life is good here in Sweden, and like every time I mention it, I couldn't be more thankful for my amazing family, my amazing host families, my best friends, the awesome exchange students who haven't left my side since day one, the supportive Rotarians in Sweden and in Florida for everything you do for me and every other exchange student, tack tack tack tack tack tack tack igen o igen o igen!

April 18, 2014

So this one is going to be a long one..

It's been quite some time since I last wrote, or at least it has felt like it because I have so much to tell you all! Since I last wrote, so many things have happened. I will be a bit scatter-brained because I honestly don't know where to start, so please, bare with me!

All the crazy excitement began when my mom and my brother came to visit me in Stockholm. They stayed for twelve days, and within those twelve days, we were able to reunite and reconnect together as a family, explore and discover new things together as a family, and I got to introduce them into a culture that I now have claimed as my own. I can proudly say, I have accomplished one of the biggest things I have ever wanted to have, and that is my own culture to claim expert as. I have many relatives from all over the world, and they each have their own. I grew up hearing stories from my dads parents about what is was like living in England and living in Japan, and I heard from my mothers mother what is was like growing up in Quebec and what it was like learning English. I had dreamed of having one of those stories of my own, and with my mom and brother coming to visit, I finally felt that I had my own culture and country to talk and tell stories about.

But besides the self accomplishment, I had a fantastic twelve days with my mom and brother. For those who have had their family members visit them while on exchange, they will understand, but having family coming to visit you makes you feel all sorts of emotions. You fall in love with your country again by revisiting all the places you first went to when you were on exchange, you realize how far you've come since you moved to your host country, and it puts your through a whirlwind, because for the first time in a very very long time, there is someone who is more foreign and out of place to your host country than you are. The family visit was an awakening for me and it was such a great wake up call. I realized how well I could understand and direct my family and myself around my host city, I was happy with how well my speaking and translating skills have gotten, and I was glad with how well I had adapted to the Swedish culture.

However, as a short overview of what exactly we did, we did loads of touristy things. We explored loads of museums, and my mom and I were able to experience the ABBA museum together - yes, this was a very groundbreaking moment for us. We got lost around Stockholm, I introduced all of my host parents to my real parents (another really bizarre but comfy feeling), and we even took a short cruise to Helsinki, Finland. We both were able to discover a new land and new culture together, which was awesome.

After the fantastic twelve days, I was onto another adventure. I went to Kiruna for my second time, but this time, it was with many other Rotary Youth Exchange Students from all over Sweden. This was the first Rotary trip I had attended, and it was the second one of the year. For those of you who don't know, Kiruna is a city in Sweden that is above the Arctic Circle. It is very cold, there are loads of snow, loads of reindeer, loads of beautiful nature, and there aren't so many people. This is a completely different scenery when compared to the city, but it is very refreshing!

There in Kiruna, we had heaps of activities to do. We started off with visiting the ice hotel, which is amazing. It was also my second time there, but it never ceases to amaze me. Then after, we got to meet reindeer, eat reindeer and talk with the Sámi people at the Sámi museum. For those of you who do not know who the Sámi people are, they are the natives of Sweden. It's funny how things work out too, because my grandmother, ever since I was a child, she would send me articles about these people, because my nickname ever since I was a child was Sami, which is very similar. So I came to Sweden with tons of previous knowledge and fascination about the Sámi culture.The Sámi people also live in Finland and Russia and have their own language that is related to Finnish and Hungarian. The Sámi people are also the only people who are allowed to own and herd reindeer in Sweden. It really is a beautiful culture and I had such a great time learning about it. Also, did you know that reindeer is one of the best meats to eat? It has 23 minerals contained in it, unlike pork which has 2 and beef that has 4-5.

Overall, my week in Kiruna was fantastic. I made loads of friends from all around Sweden, and made loads of memories.

But 3 days after, I was onto another adventure. Except this time, it was in England! I went to Burwash, England for 10 days to visit my Auntie Fiona, Uncle Anton, and my 2 little cousins. During my visit, I stayed with my family, did quick sight seeing in London, visited Stonehenge (one of the items on my bucket list), drank loads of PG Tips and loads of scones, and overall had a fantastic time. This is my second time in England, and I always saw England as my home away from home, but after visiting it after I've been living in Sweden for 8 months, England nearly feels like more of a foreign country to me than Sweden does. And I have been surrounded by British culture my whole life. Then I realized, I wasn't visiting England as an American, but more as a Swede. I swear, exchange really does things to you.

And guess what I am doing now? You guessed it! I am on another adventure with my host mom to meet up with my host dad, host sister, host exchange brother, and the whole family on the West Coast of Sweden in Hunnebostrand. Did I mention I arrived home from England last night at 11:30? And it's 9 am as I write this now. Then when I come home, I switch to my final host family. Busy busy busy, but I can't complain. I love living life like this with each day being a new adventure, I couldn't ask for it to be better, besides maybe making my exchange longer. I am pretending that I am not going home, so the fact that I am actually going home doesn't make me sad. I am trying so hard not to mention or even notice the fact that I have a little under 3 months left in this country.. but before I get too depressed, I will stop here.

Thank you for reading, and there are more stories to come!

Big thanks to my amazing families here in Sweden, to my amazing family back home in St. Augustine, to my amazing Rotaryklubb i Upplands Väsby, and to my amazing Rotary Club of Coastal St. Johns back at home! Love you all!