Tulaasi Jerome


Hometown: Port St. Lucie, Florida
School: Lincoln Park Academy K-12
Sponsor District : District 6930
Sponsor Club: Port St. Lucie Sunset, Florida
Host District: 2400
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Växjö S:t Sigfrid


My Bio

Hej! Jag heter Tulaasi och jag kommer att vara utbytesstudent i Sverige nästa år. Which translates to: Hi! My name is Tulaasi (pronounced Tulsi- the a’s are silent) and I am going to be an exchange student in Sweden next year! I am a senior in high school at Lincoln Park Academy, so my year on exchange will be a gap year before I begin college. At school, I am part of the International Baccalaureate program and am Vice President of the National Honor Society. Outside of school, I work at Chipotle and take a few yoga classes every week. As someone who has never left the United States, this is going to be an exciting experience for me- to say the least!

I live here in Florida, in a somewhat small city called Port Saint Lucie, with my mother and three sisters. My sisters and I are very close- both in age and in our freindships. My older sister is 18, I am 17, and my two younger sisters are 16 and 14. I was born in Hawaii and raised in Oregon, so I do have some experience outside of Florida, and refer to Oregon as my home more often than I do Florida. However, I hope my experience while on exchange will completely redefine what I know as the meaning of home- and give me a new language to explain it in! My name is Sanskrit and translates to “the indescribable one” and I want my exchange to shape me as a person to fit that definition even more than it already does. Updates to come as my adventure begins!

Hej då

Journals: Tulaasi - Sweden 2015-2016

  • Tulaasi, outbound to Sweden

    The end is here. Tomorrow is my last day in my little Swedish city that will be the answer to maybe the most common question I will receive upon my return- "so, where exactly were for the last year?" Glad you asked.

    I think I've always been slightly confused about where exactly "home" is, but living in Växjö has made me completely at a loss of words on the subject. If I was able to make this relatively unknown city in the middle of southern Sweden home for what is almost a year, who's to say it couldn't happen again in Turkey, or Japan, or maybe even Tanzania? Ok I know those are slightly bigger steps out from the states, but what I'm trying to say is I feel like I have that ability now. I think this experience has allowed me to set the foundation to an adulthood fueled by curiosity for the world and the confidence to pursue any dream I am crazy enough to think up. I'm more excited for what possibilities the future holds than I ever have been in my far too short 19 years, and it's all just getting started. My best friend from Florida arrived here in Sweden yesterday, and I'll be traveling with her and my older sister for three weeks before I head back to Florida. Then it's only 5 days before I move across the country back to Oregon, where I spent a large chunk of my childhood. It's a busy time, to say the least. And I'm sleep deprived beyond belief. So don't ask how I found the energy to write because I honestly have no clue. It's been around 5 months since my last journal, and I've been struggling to mold my thoughts into comprehensible strings of words ever since. 

    Although I very much look forward to seeing my family and starting another chapter in life that will be full of new challenges and adventures, I would be lying if I didn't say I was nervous as all heck. How do you answer simple questions like "so how's it been?" or "did you have a good time?" without completely pouring your heart out about every intricacy you've learned about this vast yet incredibly small world? Because I could quite easily go on for hours on end about the happenings that have occurred in the past year. But attempting to communicate an experience like this isn't exactly something that can be put into words. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll try anyways. And then I'll remind myself that bringing up another reason why I miss Sweden every other sentence will get redundant really quickly. A lot can happen in a year. And that goes for everyone. Friends have found their life partners. Others have had babies. And youngest siblings across the country started the scary chapter of life that is driving, including my awesome sister Suby. Life hasn't stopped in the states to pick back up again when I return. Skylines have changed. A crazy election season has begun (which I still want to be convinced is a drawn out prank being played on the US). And I'm sure there will be many slang words I'll need explained to me. Society is different in very subtle ways and this transition going back will be nothing like what I have been through. But I am ready for it.

    This year I've made life long friends from countries I have to use my fingers and some toes to count. I've had the amazing opportunity to visit Swedish Lapland, which most Swedes wish to some day visit - but that 20 hour train ride is understandably not feasible for most people, not to mention that Swedes usually prefer to escape the cold climate while on vacation. I've visited Paris with my amazing Swedish family that I adore and will miss dearly. I've had the opportunity to travel to Italy and stay with a great friend, James, who is on his Rotary exchange near Turin. Visiting James and his host family really gave me a whole new perspective as to some subtle changes that have happened in both of us, and definitely gave me the first glimpse of the tidal wave of reverse culture shock I'll endure so soon. It's unnerving and exciting, but the best part is that the people I knew when I left I will have the opportunity to get to know again with a whole new appreciation and understanding of companionship and humanity. And I could not be more thrilled. 

    Thank you, Sweden, for teaching me everything I needed to learn this year in your unconventional, progressive, and innovative ways. You will be missed. But don't worry, I'll make sure to visit as soon as possible.

    Love, Tulaasi

  • Tulaasi, outbound to Sweden

    It’s December 25th and I am skyping with my mom back home. She has conveniently propped “robot me” in computer form on a chair so I have a good view of the festivities and am easily pivotable to get a better view when needed. Mom put the bacon in front of me on the chair and we took the appropriate pictures for the moment of me pretending to take a piece from the other side of the screen. The sun is out in Florida, and it looks unreasonably bright to be only through a computer screen. It feels like the sun just rose here on the Scandinavian side of the world, and it’s gently sinking back over the horizon again.

    I spent Christmas with my really great friend Calla, who’s also an exchange student, and her wonderful host family. I have had the opportunity to get really close to them too, and they definitely feel like another one of my host families, so it was super nice to be able to spend the holiday with them. Christmas in Sweden is celebrated on Christmas Eve, so I get to celebrate it twice now which I’m actually really ok with. Swedish Christmas involved a whole lot of food, which I am also really ok with. They don’t joke when it comes to eating on the holidays. And they down it all with some schnapps to make sure it digests nicely (but none for the exchange student who isn’t allowed to drink of course). I was allowed to indulge in some glögg though (the Swedish version of mulled wine) which I am definitely bringing back to my family as a tradition. We ate kroppkakor (literally translated to “body cookies”) but they’re actually potato dumplings. Oh, and I definitely noticed a theme of pomegranate seeds- and can’t decide whether it was a coincidence or a festive delicacy that wasn’t ever really part of a conversation.

    After we ate, the kids all gathered around the TV to watch a bunch of clips of Disney movies dubbed in Swedish, the main one being with Donald Duck (or Kalle Anka på svenska). Because Swedes are so fluent in English, movies for kids are basically the only ones dubbed in Swedish, so this was the first time seeing anything dubbed into another language for me and it was pretty dang entertaining.

    Gift giving is a little different over here in Sweden. Tomten (or The Christmas Gnome) knocks on the door sometime after dinner when it’s dark outside and brings a sack with a gift for each child in the house. The children are meant to be scared and delighted of Tomten, which I’m still a little confused about. One of the parents is conveniently missing while the children are each nervously receiving their first gift from the burlap bag. I don’t know if this is part of the tradition in Sweden or just the family I was with, but the Tomten had a hard time pronouncing everyone’s names- which is obligatory with mine anyways- to add to the act in some way.

    Side note, it was Calla’s host mom Sara that played the Tomten, so I’m going to refer to her as a “she” for now. She teased a few of the kids as they attempted to grab their package from her hands moving quickly in random directions so as to keep it away as long as possible. But once everyone received their first gift, we all gathered downstairs to open those and the rest of them.

    I gifted a few ceramic pieces I have made in school this year for Calla’s host sister and dad, crocheted pot holders for Sara, gave her younger host brother candy and action figures, and wrote a poem for Calla. I have totally had way too much time for crafts this year and I love it. I got a cute little green ukulele from Calla, Hildur and Elis (host siblings of Calla), which I am going to play so much now because I miss mine back home a lot. It’s strange, I didn’t really play my ukulele very often back home, but it was always an option I had whenever I was bored, and there's so many things like this that I never thought I would miss. Like Poptarts, or Burts Bees products, or having my yoga mat to take with me everywhere (maybe I should invest in one here?). I’ve really gotten used to living out of a backpack and freeloading off of others’ endlessly generous hospitality, so these weird perks are definitely a distant memory to me at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I have been endlessly spoiled here, and I am so grateful to everyone that has made this possible, but I can’t help but miss those little joys I had from back “home” too.

    I moved from my first host family almost two weeks ago. My exchange while living with them was very difficult for reasons that are hard to sum up into words, but I will say this for any future exchange students out there that have stumbled upon this entry: if you are having a hard time really connecting with your host family and feeling comfortable, don’t feel bad. Sometimes it is as simple as being the wrong match and it was just a personality clash. That certainly does not mean you did anything wrong, and I know it is easy to slip into the cycle that you would seem ungrateful and rude if you were to bring anything up with your host family or even your club counsellor. But these people are here to make you feel comfortable in this unfamiliar land and culture, so let them know how you feel in order for them to help you. I waited far too long to explain exactly how I felt about my host family to my club counsellor, which I realize now is a main reason why I was having a difficult time on my exchange.

    I am still endlessly grateful to my first host family for opening their house to me and I wish them well on their next chapter in life. I am currently living with my club counsellor Claes and his wife Ingrid. They’re a wonderful couple in their 60s and all their kids have moved out, so this is the first time I have lived without people close to my age- but I am really enjoying it a lot more than I expected. Ingrid is petite, very patient with my Swedish, and is very physically active for her age. And Claes is humble, soft-spoken and makes amazing food. I will move to my next host family in about two weeks, which I am very much looking forward to, although I will miss living with Claes and Ingrid. I will have a host sister in my next family named Elinor. She is seventeen soon, has a freakishly similar taste in music to me, and will be going on exchange next year. We already get along really well and she reminds me a lot of my sisters back home, so it will be exciting to have another sister, with the added bonus of her being Swedish. Her father is my math teacher and mentor in school, and I have noticed that he always is making sure I am doing well in school.

    It is comforting to know that he is looking out for me, and I’m excited to have him as a host dad soon. They also told me a little while ago that they will be taking me to Paris over Påsklov (Easter break) which I am very much looking forward to. (I seriously can’t believe I am getting get to go to France while on exchange). There will also be a trip up north in the Arctic Circle that I will be going on with other exchange students sometime soon. We will be traveling the distance from here to Italy- but in the opposite direction- so that gives a heck of a perspective of how huge Sweden is geographically. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to have an opportunity to explore this part of the world with some amazing people that I have met in incredibly coincidental circumstances.

    As the year is coming to a close my perception of time is going into question again. I am basically half way through this crazy year of being an exchange student which figuratively blows my mind. In just a few weeks, Sweden will be saying goodbye to a great group of exchange students from down under in Australia and New Zealand and will be welcoming some newbies to take their place. It will be impossible to replace a few of my oldies that I got really close to, but it’s exciting to think that I will be able to meet fresh new exchange students and hopefully form a similar bond with some of them.

    Quick update on my literacy in Swedish: I have read the first 250 pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Swedish, which was painful for the first few chapters but got surprisingly easy after that. I can understand almost everything in normal conversation, but I’m still very embarrassed to practice with people, so I usually just talk to the dog in Swedish whenever I feel like saying things out loud that sound funny. One of my New Year’s resolutions will definitely be to put myself out there more when it comes to speaking Swedish and stop leaning on my English crutch.

    I am excited to see what the second half of my exchange has in store for me. The winter Solstice passed this week, so the days are finally going to start getting brighter from here on out. It’ll be nice to be coming home from school when it’s not pitch black outside in a few months. It has been an experience, and a pleasure for sure, to live through the Swedish winter, but I can see why seasonal depression is common here, for sure. I experienced my first Swedish snow a little over a month ago, but it has been surprisingly warm ever since and I don’t see snow coming again anytime soon, if at all, this year.

    Skyping with my family earlier today was wonderful. Knowing that they are only a phone call away makes the distance feel a lot smaller and although I miss them a lot, I know the sweet hugs at the end of all this will be so much sweeter than if I cut this all short because I can’t bear to be without them any longer. Because the reality of it is that I almost can’t. I miss them almost every day. But this is exchange and I am taking this opportunity to become a Swede instead of spending my time missing my life back home. I definitely have realized more than ever that I am so lucky to have such a loving family back home. It sucks to miss them, but I would rather miss them more than anything than have nothing to miss as much as them. Ok, I’m signing off on this entry and again, am super bad at good byes. So see ya later interwebs!

    To see my homepage click HERE

  • Tulaasi, outbound to Sweden

    Consistency is something I struggle with more than I am willing to admit, so for those few of you out there that are actually interested in my journals, I apologize for this one being far overdue. It has been over three months here in Sweden. The colors of the leaves changed almost as quickly as I feel the time has gone by so far. But now the trees are bare and a looming gray haze sums up the majority of the exponentially decreasing time in the day.

    There is a field of ridiculously tall sunflowers outside of the school I go to, and just a few weeks ago they were still in bloom- but now they are tired and wilted as though to match the weather. This three month mark is supposed to evoke the deepest homesickness while on exchange, but I feel like I already went through the worst of it about a month ago. I was having some pretty serious sister/mama withdrawals and it got to the point where my immune system was affected and I was sick for a while. Although I don’t anticipate it getting any harder than it already has been, there’s something strange about being on exchange that seems to magnify each emotion to its full potential. The lows are much lower, and the highs are even higher, so it really does make sense now that this will be the worst and best year of my life.

    Looking back, these past weeks and months have been pretty eventful. I went on a canoeing trip with other exchange students down the Rönne Å where we slept in military tents. And then went canoeing again two days later with some of the IB (international baccalaureate) students. My arms were boiled noodles at that point, but I still had a great time. I went to Halmstad to attend the District Conference, and of course, I was spoiled rotten. I’m pretty sure we had fika every hour, and some wonderful Rotarians gave us exchange students canvases and paint instead of making us sit through the lectures (which I’m sure would have been interesting if I could understand the language). We also attended the fanciest dinner I could have ever imagined, where I was served a different kind of wine with each course, and there was a magician casually walking around as entertainment.

    I went to Anderstorp to attend a crayfish party, and met probably around fifty more exchange students here in Sweden. Crayfish parties are a tradition here where everyone puts on pointy hats, drinks schnapps, sings the classic song, and of course eats crayfish.

    I went to Karlskrona, Helsinborg, and Lund to visit other exchange students, where we explored the network of winding cobblestone roads that make up every city here.

    I’ve visited my closest friend that I have made while on exchange several times in Ronneby. Her name is Calla and she’s from Wisconsin. I’m so glad I have been able to get to know her- she reminds me a lot of my sisters and home. We have had a lot of forest excursions and moderately successful cooking experiments, but the coolest thing we did was turn her attic into a coincidentally Alice-in-Wonderland-themed fort. She basically lives in a mansion, and naturally, it is filled with beautiful antique furniture and vintage robes, and other miscellaneous items (like a super old papier mâché seal that now looks like a burn victim) that turned into the perfect combination for our fairy tale hangout spot. I totally feel like I’m back in my childhood when we’re together, and I am definitely embracing my inner kid.

    Daily life has become more normal and a routine has settled in. It is pretty hard to not have a job, or something I can consistently do for a large chunk of my time outside of school, so I have been trying out a lot of new things. I have found is that I really enjoy doing things that I am really horrible at next to people who could be professional. It sounds strange, but it makes me appreciate all the hard work and dedication they have put in to getting that good at what they are doing, and I also really enjoy watching the learning curve in myself.

    I go to a yoga class and gym class, both once a week. I go out for a run almost daily, and try to take a new path each time. I also tried acroyoga, which I was so bad at but it was so fun, and I wish I had the money to invest more of my time there. Before this year, I never really enjoyed cooking, but I think that this is the most significant change in me I have observed. Food is such a multifaceted area of knowledge so I know there will always be something new for me to learn- and I think that’s what intrigues me most.

    In the first almost two months that I was here, a lot of my time was spent drawing, which is something that I had anticipated would happen before coming. Drawing for me has always been something I can turn to when I want to express myself in ways that words can’t, but recently I have found a sense of selfishness and indulgence when I spend hours on end with paper and my pens. It’s hard to express in my own words, so I’ll steal some from Harper Lee to suffice: “People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    School hasn’t gotten much easier for me, and the only subject I have even the slightest grasp on is biology (but I think that’s because I had three years of it before I came here). My Swedish has improved ever so slightly, and my confidence in being able to pronounce the words is virtually nonexistent, so I almost always revert to English. I really need to stop doing that. I joined a Swedish for beginner’s course a few weeks ago because I am getting pretty frustrated with how difficult it is to learn the language. I don’t know exactly what makes Swedish so difficult, but I’ve heard that it is statistically one of the hardest to learn. So I’m giving myself some credit for being able to understand a lot more than I was able to when I first got here.

    Last night I came to the realization that confusion is now default for me. In any given situation, I do not expect that I will understand what people are talking about or doing, and ordering from a menu almost always turns into a surprise of some sort. This is going to sound strange, but I actually really enjoy having a large portion of my surroundings being something that I don’t understand. Being in a constant state of aloofness to my surroundings is my new twisted sense of comfort. I think this is my distorted way of saying that the Swedish culture is becoming less and less foreign to me. Either that or I am numb to it.

    The days crawl by slowly, but the weeks go quickly and the months have flown by. Time is funny that way, and before I know it, this year will be over. I have never been good at goodbyes or endings, so until next time…
    Har en bra dag!

    To see my home page click HERE

  • Tulaasi, outbound to Sweden

    Today marks the closing of my sixth week here in Sweden. On July 29th, I left Florida to embark on this crazy journey we call youth exchange. As with all great adventures, I had a notably rocky start. I was not informed about my resident permit or my plane ticket until the day before I left, so that last day was definitely an adventure in itself. (Thank you Mom, Grandma and Grandpa for helping with all the last-minute paper work!) Saying goodbye to my sisters and mother for the last time was ineffably difficult, and gosh, what I would give to go back and hug them all a little tighter. I don’t think I actually had a grasp on the idea that I wouldn’t be seeing them for a long while, so I definitely took that moment for granted. Other than the anxiety of anticipation leading up to my departure, my flights went pretty smoothly with a few minor annoyances.

    I had a nine hour overnight flight from Miami to Zurich and then a two hour flight the next day to Copenhagen. Under normal circumstances, I’m pretty sure I have a super power that allows me to sleep anytime and anywhere should I need it- but that first flight was anything but normal. There was a crying baby, a pubescent teen incessantly kicking the back of my seat, and I’m pretty sure it was near 37 degrees (Fahrenheit), need I say more? But after I got off that first flight, I brushed myself off and put on some more decent clothes to meet my host family in Copenhagen. My host mother (Hillevi), her twin brother (Calle), and her son (Nils) greeted me at the airport and it was so nice to finally meet them after only communicating through social media for almost six months.

    Our first stop was at Calle’s apartment in Malmö where I had my first meal in Sweden- Thai food! I definitely wasn’t expecting that one, but what a wonderful surprise. We got back in the car and drove two hours north, passing through Skåne- the picture sque southern Sweden with fields upon fields of farmland and little red houses with white borders. We stopped in Vislanda, which was about thirty minutes outside our final destination, to pick up the dog (Bea) and pick some wild blueberries. And soon enough, we arrived in Växjö, the city I am calling home for the next year.

    It was surreal, to say the least, seeing this wonderful place for the first time.
    Växjö is wonderful. It’s about a fifteen minute bike ride into the city center from where I am staying right now. My host brother Nils took me around the city on my third day here with the bikes. He showed me where my school was and some other important landmarks in Växjö, including the church, the central bus station, and the lake that is named after the city (or maybe the city is named after the lake- which came first, chicken or egg?). Much of my first week here was spent either drawing or going out to Stojby where my host brother and I would swim in the lake and relax on the “brygga” (which translates to bridge, but it’s actually like a big cement dock-type of thing).

    During my second week I went to Göteborg, Sweden’s second largest city, where we stayed with my host mother’s close friend. We went to the city’s amusement park called Liseberg and went on a boat tour of the archipelago which I believe went out to the western most point of the country. I also had the opportunity to catch up with my friend Simon who lives in Mölndal, a suburb of Göteborg. Simon was an exchange student to Florida last year and heavily influenced my decision to put Sweden on my list of options for exchange, so it was pretty special to see him so soon after I had become an exchange student myself.

    The next weekend there was a festival in Växjö called Karl-Oskardagarna- which is on my list of favorite times on exchange for sure. I had the opportunity to meet a guy named Simon (different one than before) whom we had only known through mutual friends from back in Oregon. I got to meet his cousins and we all had a blast together that Saturday night.

    The following week was language camp in Åhus: a small city in southern Sweden, right on the ocean, and also home to the famous Absolut Vodka. I finally got to meet all the exchange students in the southern part of Sweden. They’re a really diversely talented group of young people and I feel pretty lucky to have met them and create a bond with them so quickly. That week was filled with countless trips to the candy aisle of the grocery store where we discovered the powerfully addicting chocolate of Sweden. (Good thing it was a decent walk to and from the store). We learned a lot of very basic and introductory Swedish, which I had already learned most of on my own, but it was nice to learn with others the beautifully impossible Swedish language. And soon enough, that week came to an end and it was time for school to start.

    School here is very different from Florida. The first day was very similar to what we would call an “Open-House” back in Florida, where you get your schedule and meet your classmates. There is no dress code in school, lunch is like actual real food and tastes great (and is free!), and the schedule rotates weekly instead of every-other day. I am taking drawing, religion, history, biology, physics, math, ceramics, and physical education- all in Swedish (and I’m taking English because I couldn’t help myself from indulging in one class that I could actually understand.)

    I am going into a program called “Natural Sciences” and am in the third and final year- which means that this class is already a pretty tightly knit group of kids. But they are so nice to me, and I really couldn’t be happier with being in such a great class. I have managed to make a few friends so far, but I can tell that I will start to make more as my Swedish improves an d the year continues. My Swedish is still at a very basic level at the moment, and I am definitely having a pretty tough time learning the language and all its intricacies. It makes it especially more difficult when basically every Swede is beyond proficient in English, and of course they love to practice with the American exchange student. It will come with time, and I seriously can’t wait for the day when it just clicks.

    The second weekend after school started I took a trip to Stockholm. I fell in love with the city quite easily and had a “wow, I’m actually in Stockholm right now” moment at least once every hour. I stayed with my childhood friend, Morgan, who lives in Oregon and has been in Europe for the past six-or-so weeks. It was pretty crazy to see him considering that we hadn’t seen each other in almost a decade, yet we had so much to catch up on with all that elementary school drama and the thousands of other things that can happen in ten years. We walked around the city for hours on end, and my feet were most definitely not prepared for the blisters that would ensue.

    We passed four weddings in one day, toured the Old City (or Gamla Stan på svenska), had several amazing meals, and went to a photography museum. Stockholm has a pretty intricate subway system, but it was pretty cool to get around on something that seemed so complicated with someone who knew h ow to navigate it effortlessly. Traveling to and from Stockholm on my own was pretty great in itself. I got to take a train, and I hadn’t been on one since I was ten years old, so not only was it super exciting because it was a train, but I got to see the beautiful countryside of Sweden from a Hogwarts-esque cabin and everything felt like magic. (Side note: I think I am obsessed with trains now.)

    So far, exchange has been pretty difficult, but also very wonderful. It is everything I had dreamed of and nothing like what I could have imagined. It sucks missing familiarity and my family back home, but I can tell this year is going to change me and make me appreciate the little things a whole lot more. I already have come to realize that cobblestone roads are probably the most underrated thing on the planet, and I know there are so many things just as great that I neglected to appreciate back in the states. I am doing my absolute best to stay positive through this process of missing home. But soon, this will be home to me. I am eternally grateful for this opportunity and am eager to see what this year has in store for me.

    To see my home page click HERE

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