Mia Cleary

Sweden

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Sunset
Host District: 2340
Host Club: Karlstad City

 

My Bio


Hej! My name is Mia Cleary and I from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. I am currently a junior at Ponte Vedra High School. I live at home with my 2 cats, 5 dogs, 3 brothers and 2 parents. My mom is from Puerto Rico, little brother from Taiwan and my other brother is Dominican and Puerto Rican, so you could say my family is quite the house of Nations. I have lived in Ponte Vedra my whole life and I am so excited to call a new place my home and that home would be Sweden!! I've been doing my research the best I can and I am so pumped to go! I am a big talker and love to be loud and outstanding. A good word to describe me would be gregarious. I am loud and outgoing and could basically make friends with a brick wall. When I'm not talking I am very involved in my theater department as I directed our Schools production of To Kill A Mockingbird and performed in Hairspray! I have been the treasurer of the drama club for 2 years and really love acting and singing. Fighting for the rights of and being friends with people that have special needs (disabilities) is also something I love to do. I am president of my schools Best Buddies club and the proud owner of a Best Buddies Fanny Pack. Understanding international relations and working to better understand how the world works and functions is also a hobby of mine. I am a part of my schools model United Nations club and have been lucky enough to win two outstanding delegate awards. I would love to bring peace to the world and am so excited that it gets to start with my exchange.


Me on top of the world

Me on top of the world

The most beautiful sunset over Stockholm

The most beautiful sunset over Stockholm

My best Swedish friends!

My best Swedish friends!

Åre!

Åre!

My best Swedish friends!

My best Swedish friends!

Sailing trip with my best friend Anne

Sailing trip with my best friend Anne

Stockholm!

Stockholm!

District conference!

District conference!

Thanksgiving with this goofy host family I love!

Thanksgiving with this goofy host family I love!

Skating on a frozen lake!

Skating on a frozen lake!

Here is me literally playing a Gorilla in a children's play, loved every second

Here is me literally playing a Gorilla in a children's play, loved every second

Skiing!

Skiing!

Sainta Lucia day, featuring my host brother and friend in traditional choir clothes

Sainta Lucia day, featuring my host brother and friend in traditional choir clothes

Representing the US front page!

Representing the US front page!

Happiest of new Halloweens!

Happiest of new Halloweens!

Just me and my castle, no biggy

Just me and my castle, no biggy

Journals: Mia -Sweden 2016-2017

  • Mia, outbound to Sweden

    Read more about Mia and all her blogs

    It has been way too long and I completely apologize for withholding information of a country that deserves to be told over and again. 

    Since I last wrote it was October, I was kinda sad and on a social media ban, I am soooooo different now wow. 


    Let’s begin where I left off: 

    October: 

    Anderstrop 10/21-10/24 
    Enjoyed a super nice time with Sweden’s other exchange students having a little late, but great Crayfish party. A weekend spent dancing with my Italian and taking trips into the deep Swedish forest. Thank you Rotary for the great time! 

    The leaves continued to change and the cold started to find her place in my life. 

    Sweden doesn’t really celebrate halloween, but I was able to carve pumpkins and make cupcakes for a nice Fika with all the RYE families in Karlstad. I remember it being the most beautiful view of the largest lake of Sweden, with a sunset at about 3pm… I know early….Welcome to Swedish Winter time. 

    November:

    Norrköping 10/31-11/3
    So once upon a time a Swede named Agnes came to Florida as an exchange student, specifically to Panama Beach. Another girl, Floridan had found out she would spend the next in said Agnes’ country. The two became very close and had been separated for 5 months, but finally reunited in Agnes home town. 

    No, but I got to go to my best friends amazing historical town. Surprisingly this town turned out to be one of my favorite’s in Sweden, the rich history and seemingly effortless way to restore all old factory building into schools, museums, apartments, cafes made it so charming. We saw a play, toured the beautiful town and just had an amazing time. 

    I had my first ever play all in Swedish, like with real lines and a real audience. I am such a highly confident person on stage, but I will admit playing a Gorilla for 50 kids, speaking Swedish was certainly a new experience and I’m so happy I had such an amazing class to work with and a big thank you to my patient teacher and best friends who helped me actually sound Swedish during the play. And my host mom for staying up late to rehearse my lines with me. 

    Election day: 
    It was a new, almost unreal experience seeing the election from another country. I began to speak to English classes about 4 weeks before the election, about how the American System works, who is important and even a bit about my own views. Many Swedes are quite liberal, which is very interesting for me to live and learn about a completely different government system. I watched the election at a big sleepover event with a Swedish youth political group, “the Swedish Social Democrats” and was even interviewed for the newspaper and appeared front page the day of the election. Not to go in depth about my views of result, I’ve grown so much seeing my country from another view. When I’m older I want to work as an international politician and this is exactly the experience I need to reach my goals. 

    Thanksgiving: 
    To start I spend my free class watching Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving crying to myself, I didn’t miss the event itself, more like just the underappreciated time I spend at grandma's house in South FL, yelling about politics. I even dressed nice for school. Going home was very fun though, I had the other 3 boys (2 Americans and 1 Italian) come over for dinner and my best friend came into town just to celebrate. We had a big Swedish-American Thanksgiving, with burned cornbread and overflowed gravy, and a beautiful pecan pie, it felt just like my home away from home, not to mention falling asleep right after on the couch watching tv. My host mom asked why the food made her so full, I replied “that’s Thanksgiving.”

    I got a gym membership…. it lasted a less than a month before I quit…..exchange in a nutshell


    December:

    Food, concerts and the most cozy I’ve ever ever felt in my life. 

    Stockholm 2.0 12/2-12/4
    Whoop, whoop, my city again!!!!! Returning to my Swedish version of the Big Apple was again a dream, filled with more photo shoots, luxurious food I couldn’t afford and friends that made me explode with joy. Dressed in all red for the season, I was so so so ready. First real day, we headed out of Sofia’s house, camera in hand, outfits planned and makeup done. I had the “exchange snapchat” for the day, in which I snapped all the things for the day and I was not about to let Sweden look boring. We began Saturday knowing I was going to have a special snapchat account where over 600 people view my story, so I had to make my day be extra fun. We headed to old town and looked at the charming and old cathedral, the palace, some stores, a candy factory, the Gamla Stan Christmas market, which was adorable and packed, and my favorite- the Riksdag or the Swedish Parliament. It was so enhancing and interesting to me as I want to work in politics when I grow up. The big cr eam colored arched building had so much character and class it was magnificent, it was so different than my country’s government buildings, I guess you could say more european, different charm. Seeing this country makes me realize how young mine is. After the tour around Gamla Stan we made our way to a fancy restaurant I found while looking for Instagram worthy spots in Stockholm and oh were my expectations exceeded. The restaurant was an old green house on a garden that was probably the most aesthetically pleasing place I had ever been. The food, carrot soup with a side of french bread and a cookie was ever so delicious and the photo shoot that followed defiantly made the trip there worth it. Full of food and good photos we made our way through the snow to The Swedish Natural History Museum, it was pretty cool to be in a museum where the writing on the walls is in a language different from your own. 

    Day two we set out to go see the real life palace, like where the king and queen live!!! Fairy tale moment! They too had a Christmas market, but this time we had the palace gardens surrounding us. We made our way past the vendors, into the pricy gift shop and partly into the palace itself. It was not as big as I thought, but oh so magnificent. Marble everywhere, luxurious stairs, large ceilings. We found some dogs who were tied on leashes outside, we wondered who would bring their dogs to the castle and later learned from my host mom they were probably the Royal family’s pups! After a few photo shoots at the palace, we headed to the dreadful train station to say goodbye to our “oldies,” many tears later we newbies watched as some of best friends headed off and even worse we watched the friendships of our oldies shine through as they said goodbye to each other for the last time. It reminds me of how lucky I am to have such close exchange friends and to think one day they will be a world away and not a short train trip away. I took my bus home, sore from walking, with a bit of a heavy heart. 

    This month has absolutely been my favorite of exchange. I’m not sure if you are aware, but in Sweden the sunsets really early in the winter, like 2pm or 3 some days. And the dark mixed with the cold doesn’t always bring the happiest of feelings. I start feeling this seasonal depression in October cause you know I’m from Florida, but I tried my best to work around it. However December changed that all. Christmas isn’t really the same here as America, actually I would say it's quite different. I’m not sure if you have had a chance to hear Swedish before, but it has a very distinct rhythm and some say it sounds like a song. Well Swedes are so so so so good, I mean so good at singing, like it comes so naturally, harmonizing and almost all children have been in a choir at one point of their life here. They’re amazing singing capabilities come to light in December with a concert at least once a week. 

    Saint Lucia Day: 

    St.Lucia was a Saint in Italy who was thought to help the poor and represent bringing light in darkness. In Sweden a girl plays St. Lucia and wears a crown with candles,( yes, real candles, it's kinda dangerous) has her hair down (normally a girl with long blonde hair), and wears a white dress with a red band, because she was killed for falling in love with one of the people she helped. She sits and holds a tray of Lucia Buns and behind sings a beautiful choir all dressed in white dresses, holding one candle each. This tradition is seen in small churches with groups of small children (and fake candles, because no no no), in schools of all ages and even professional Lucia concerts in big concert halls. 

    On Lucia day my host parents came into my room at 6 am, wearing the traditional clothes, holding candles and a tray with Lucia buns, singing the song “Sainta Lucia,” I was so excited for this day and so moved they took they effort to prepare a little ceremony, I couldn’t help but to break into tears. That day I went on to eat 4 Lucia buns, and watch the concert in school twice and the best one in Sweden on TV. Living in Sweden had been getting especially hard for me dealing with my growing sad emotions, the cold and the dark and this holiday really touched me. I hope to celebrate it for the rest of my life. The beautiful sounds of the choir and not one light on, just candles will sit in my head for the rest of my life. 

    In Sweden we never put up all the decorations at once, every week brings more and more. And the tree goes up only 3 days before, weird, right? But no I promise, it makes you appreciate the month a little more knowing it's never complete, it builds the anticipation. So in the month of December I probably went to 15 concerts; Lucia, school, host dad’s choir and every one struck a new chord in my heart. I think every concert was a little hint of the culture and it kept showing me how beautiful Swedish culture is. Swedish Christmas candies are the best!! Like we have really been missing out and we make them home-made, lots of sugar and a very happy Mia. In Sweden we have this thing call “Julbord” which is basically a Christmas table, you start with choosing from a buffet of fish and herring (I don’t particularly enjoy fish, but I tried everything cause why not), then you move to cold meats, then hot meats and finally dessert which means more CHRISTMAS CANDY!! ! And it's served with this drink called “Julmust” and Jul means Christmas so to me in broken Swedish English, it kinda sounds like Christmas must… Jul-must. 

    In Sweden and many European countries Christmas is celebrated on the 24th and at 3pm we watch a show called “Kalle Anka” which is Donald Duck, but it's basically a series of Donald Duck and his friends in Christmas. It kinda of funny to truly see how far Disney’s legacy goes around the world (being from Florida and all) After watching that for an hour, I spend dinner with my family and again had a “Julbord,” and finally presents! One family member dresses up as the “jultomten” or Christmas troll which is kinda Santa, but not really. Anyhow that person is in charge of giving out presents, and this year that was me! I got a sweater, a Karlstad towel, a fika tray and a book on Sweden and while I’m used to expensive and over the top presents, these presents had so much meaning, they were all things I loved and valued and it certainly was Christmas I won’t ever forget. That night we attended Midnight Mass which was in my local 100 year old church and just illuminating. 

    The next morning (the 25th) I wanted to do something special for my family and woke up early to cook an American breakfast, complete with pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs, I also made the rule of not changing out of their Pjs. I then gave them all their presents from me and I opened my presents from my American family. It was all perfect. 

    New Year’s was kind of hard to celebrate without my American family as it has always been the biggest holiday for us, but it was also fun to experience it with my Swedish squad watching the fireworks over the river. 

    January: 

    Tis the month of changes. While the new year changed so did the family. I was extremely close with my first family and I spend hours crying just because I wouldn’t get to see them everyday. But I will say, as hard a it was to move, my new family brought all kinds of new joy and it turned out more than okay. In this family I have 4 siblings all of whom have been on exchange in America. Two are in college, one on exchange and one is 2 years older than me and attends the same school. They all have been incredible and the one two years older has really become one of my best friends. It’s nice to have a sibling at home again, to make fun of, ask advice from and sometimes even help with homework. My new family is highly musically talented and it’s so fun to hear them sing and play all night.
    So this month was the beginning of the winter sports starting with my first time walking on a frozen lake and skating two days in a row for 3-4 hours a day and it was soooooooo cool. (Literally) 

    February: 

    WINTER at it’s highest! Cold and snowy, but what a fun month.

    Isaberg: 
    More Rotary trips! This time I was back in the South of Sweden with my buds to go….. SKIING. It’s very obvious to know I am from the Sunshine state, whether it’s my giant winter coat or constantly falling on the ice you tell me how I stand out in Swedish society in the winter. Well my time to shine came when I went skiing for the first time, it was going really well, you know on the baby slopes until I accidently went on a huge slope, freaked out and sat on the mountain for 20 min absolutely terrified. I even facetimed my mom while stuck to get my mind off of being sacred. I ended up standing up again, only to fall 1 second later, so I then took off my skis and went down on my butt. Needless to say I was terrified and did not continue to ski that day. But it was a great new experience and fun to experience with other exchange students. 


    Skiing Con’t: 

    For some reason I was so determined to get this skiing thing down. I don’t know if it was the 3 year old Swedish kids passing me on the slopes or the raging Swede in me, I just knew I had to keep trying even though it scared me beyond belief. I'm a tad dramatic, but heights on a roller coaster are a bit different than heights on a mountain full of snow. My balance is terrible, but from that first trip, I never gave up and skied every single weekend after that. Either in the small ski slope near my house alone or in the big one up north with my family, and while I never really got the full hang of it, cried more than a few times (I’m not kidding,) and had a body full of bruises, I was so proud of myself. I faced my fears and somehow, someway got down the slope and with every fall brought a new memory. Not to mention, I saw some beautiful views in the process. 
    One day even school took me cross country skiing and made American pancakes. What a fun “field trip”!!

    March: 

    Stockholm 3.0 

    Both of my host parents lived in Stockholm, well actually they met there, so the city means a lot to them. While there with my host family I got to see where they lived, what cafes they went to and it was kind of cool to get a glimpse into their old life besides photos. We went to the Abba museum, which is as Swedish as it gets and to the Tutankhamun museum. I spent one day in Uppsala, a big university town and had lunch with my Swedish host grandma and she was sooo nice. Apparently she normally doesn’t always talk to much and can be a bit shy, but she loved speaking English and it really helped us bond. I even got to go inside the Dome kyra in Uppsala which is the largest church in Scandinavia. After that I split up from my host parents and headed back to Stockholm for the 373369 time in my life. I only had one day with Sofia this time and her friend from Italy was visiting. It was so funny to actually be the translator this time. I had my first authentic Mexican in 7 months, visited the Vasa Museum, had a great Fika and sat on a dock and watched as broken ice passed by. The next day I headed over to Eskilstuna to see my friend John and see his city! 

    Mullsjö and Lidköping :

    I was so happy to be invited to speak at PETS about exchange with my best friend Anne from Canada. I got to go to school with Anne for a day and meet her friends and family. We watched “Melodifestivalen” which is like Sweden’s biggest competition, it’s basically a lot of yelling and voting for your favorite. (one of my favs won) 

    I have been very lucky to gain new friends in Sweden, one being a girl from Syria, whose mind and unapologetic character stood out. We became great friends talking about politics and sharing our life stories. We decided to start an International Relations club at school where every meeting we discuss a new world topic. While we’ve only had one meeting and there was a mere 10 people, I’m really excited to see it continue. 

    These past few months I’ve had my fair share of tears, missing homc and feeling utterly alive. But finally things are calm, not too high, not too low and when one of those feelings comes to hard I know how to handle it. My friend recently asked “wouldn’t you had loved to have the feelings you have now in the beginning of exchange?” So I thought about it, well of course I would, but I have experienced so much to get here and I would never give that up. 

  • Mia, outbound to Sweden

    Read more about Mia and all her blogs

    Tjena!! I’m now almost 3 months into my exchange, which is crazy to say. To think a year ago I was applying, second guessing myself, spending countless nights dreaming out what it would be like to live in a foreign country, stressing about getting my TB results and getting prepped for what would turn out to be the biggest interview of my life, is really really crazy. Now I’m here, sitting in my school’s cafe, in Sweden, a country one year ago I knew nothing about other than it was cold and a Rotarian I knew went here on exchange 50 years ago. To all those applying, take a breath, it’s okay, relaxed you is way better than stressed you. Best advice, don’t have big exceptions and know Rotary will do their best to see if you are right for exchange and if you’re not, you will have countless more experiences and opportunities in your life. If you are so fortunate to be selected, also know Rotary wants to throw you out of your comfort zone only to the extent to which you can handle, they are extremely smart in choosing your country, I don’t know how, but they will find you the “perfect” country. I got my 5th choice and was so surprised, but I cannot explain how happy I am with Sweden. I’m so happy you all even took the leap to apply. Know you are brave and if anyone doesn’t support, they are a small bit of negativity in a life that should be full of positivity. If you have any questions regarding exchange feel free to message me on social media. :) 

    It’s been a while so I’m going to share what I have been doing, seeing, tasting and loving. 

    To start, they didn’t lie, it’s cold, very cold. At the bus stop, in the town square, at the grocery, walking to the cafeteria , all cold. In Sweden they don’t ask if you are cold, they ask if you are freezing. At first I always answered no, because to me freezing is like so cold you can’t go outside, while it is cold here, I wouldn’t in English say I’m freezing. To my Floridans “fryser du?” (are you freezing?) Yes, I’m cold everyday, but after some time of complaining, which didn’t change the weather, I actually like it. The way it hits your face and makes you feel fresh. It wakes me up in the morning AND it makes the trees die kinda, which bring something I never saw in the US…. FALL. A true fall with the leaves and coats and scarfs and gloves. I LOVE IT. My locker is on the third floor of my school and over looks a hedge of bright pink and orange leaves. Sweden is actually fake sometimes. My bus ride is goes throug h the country side and is 30 min everyday, but the beauty from the drive is beyond words. Värmland, my “state” or region in Sweden has many hills, like those tv shows set in the fall and many pine trees. My view consists illuminating trees that change colors in the fall and pine trees mixed together, I’m not really sure that makes sense, but its beautiful trust me. My town’s old cathedral style Church has blood red vines all going down the side of it and it is so gorgeous. 

    I have had more homesickness and cultural shock than I thought, but my family is constantly helping me adjust to Swedish culture. I stopped using FB (other than messenger for other exchange students), Instagram and blocked all my friends from the US on snapchat and have limited communication to just my parents. This is a what I call an American diet, but my relationship with my friends has become poetic as we now write letters to each other. It’s so important I keep trying to learn Swedish, because as of now that is by far my biggest obstacle. Exchange is more fun and most stressful than I ever thought, sometimes I have to take school day by day and try my best to get used to life. This country however is beyond words and I’m so happy I got selected to go here. 

    I have a personal blog as well, so I’m going to throw in some bits about school and traveling from there. 

    With the start of school, things became much harder than I thought they were going to be. The people are different, the way school works is different, my friends are different and the hardest part, the language is different. None of this unexpected, but in reality much harder than I ever thought. Different not being a bad feeling, but a new one for sure. 

    Here is the big differences in school I’ve noticed almost 2 months in. 
    So in Sweden you have basically 3 years in high school. If you are born in 2000 you are in 1st year, 1999-2nd and 1998-3rd. (I’m in 1st cause there wasn’t enough space in 2nd year, but I love my classmates so its all good) In America, you choose a class you need to take (Chem, US history etc.) and you get put in the first available one, maybe being with your friends in a few by chance. Here you choose a program and you have almost all your classes with your program. It’s like two 3 tiers, your year, program (mine is arts or Estet) and then you choose your specific program within your program, but not all have specific one (mine is theatre). There are many programs to choose from, arts, sports, basics, languages, nature, economy, time and so many others. Almost all my classes are with the theatre and dance 1st year students. Classes are different everyday, like I have math twice a week for and hour and half each class. No school bell as well. Also another funny diffe rence, they don’t have stalls, just a bunch of single bathrooms, which is kinda cool. ALSO they have a cafe with so much food, so if I’m running late I can good and healthy sandwiches before class starts. And school doesn’t have American school desks, just IKEA tables with nice seats. Teachers don’t have one class room, they have an office and bring their supplies for class everyday. Most teachers teach in more than one classroom. 

    The first day, I was lucky enough to have my third host sister (she was only in school for two weeks before she departed to Italy for her exchange) in my class and she was my saving grace. It was the first time I had heard only Swedish and at an extremely fast pace. It felt as though I was surrounded by moving lips and sound, but no comprehension. I’m in the equivalent of American freshman year, with slightly older students because high school goes from 15-19 ish here. The day went by pretty fast, I met some classmates, all of which were very nice. Some impressions I got from the first day were: 1. Swedes dress incredibly well, like the legends were true, Sweden has amazing fashion. I kept saying in my head this  “ is a vogue model shot or school?” 2. Many girls wear makeup and are stellar at it. Like their contour could cut someone and their brows were beyond on point. 3. The school lunch is free and amazing. SO MUCH BREAD 4. Swedes love it when foreigner s try to speak Swedish 5. The level of independence in school is crazy, you are treated like an adult. 7. School is like college and schedules are sometimes super hard to understand 8. Theatre kids rock around the country


    I’m not gonna sugarcoat it, the rest of the week was very hard. Sweden went from fairy tale to homesickness abyss way to fast.

    Not understanding jokes, not understanding fashion or how my schedule works. My Swedish friends and school are absolutely amazing none the less, it was just difficult. On the second day of school, I dropped and cracked my phone so bad it didn’t work. This little bad thing, led my brain to let out every piece of anxiety I had. I got home, pretended like nothing was wrong, went to my room, cried in my room, eat Swedish candy (Diam, specifically) and watched Netflix. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be home or I missed something specific, it was the thought that in the US I had everything and I was confident and happy and here I thought to myself, I can’t do this, I can’t learn Swedish, I won’t make friends. All so far from the truth, but when homesickness comes it becomes quite hard to disguise the truth from the tears. Of course this Netflix spree helped the pain for only a bit of time before it came back the next day. A day that was fun as we had many activities with all years, but not understanding jokes and having to figure out what is going on 80% of the time can get frustrating at the beginning. Friday was by far the best of my week, but still an uncomfortable and unknown feeling. I got home and repeated the same process, cry, watch Netflix, eat candy. Something I told myself I would NEVER do on exchange. However this time I was able to FT another exchange student and rant, which is actually a good thing because she was able to relate. I felt like I just couldn’t do this, a feeling I thought I had no control over. As this tiring, but interesting week ended, I,  like a whiny child was so mad at myself for reacting this way and was just sad. 

    However Saturday was a new day. 

     Assuming I could stay in my room again, telling myself  "I deserved this, because this was a hard week." But as Saturday ended I now realize that is not true. I don't deserve to stay in my room, I’m in Sweden. Sweden, that’s so cool. As my host parents came into my room and told me we would be going to see art that day, I got quite happy because I love spending time with them, not knowing I would learn a few big lessons that day. They said we would be going to this cool place in Forshaga (my small, small village town). I thought by now I had seen almost the whole town. Wrong. We drove literally 3 min away to 6 houses as old as 600 years, originally owned by my favorite Swedish author. As I went into these houses with amazement, I came across a picture of a sad women, it reminded me of myself. She looked as though she had no control of her sadness. At that point I realized I was not that women. I did indeed have control of my happiness, I’m in freaking Sweden after all. We then walked back outside and I stared at the 6 houses in pure shock I lived so close to such historical homes and I learned another lesson, no matter how well I think I know something, no matter how much I think school is going to continue to be hard, life can surprise you any step of the way.

    A Rotex once told me “the best part of exchange lies in the unexpected”.

    After an afternoon of life lessons hitting me in the face, I went to a garden party where I got to spend time with my amazing Swedish family and 20 amazing neighbors. Some Swedish children loved that I was from the alleged “US” and helped me learn some Swedish.

    Monday to my shock wasn’t the best as I was late to class, but with my new found attitude, I just kept hoping life would surprise me.

    And it did.

    I had Swedish class for all the exchange students in my town (we have 15 with different programs, the most are with Rotary, my personal favorite), and within the afternoon we became very close. We went to Fika right after class and got to know each other. They too could relate to homesickness and day dreaming in class and sometimes just not understanding one word of Swedish. 

    Tuesday was one of my best days yet. I explained to my Swedish theatre class how it feels sometimes to be an exchange student and feeling like you have no voice, even if you’re me and love to talk. They not only understood, but they also offered to speak in English for class. I kindly told the teacher no and said “as hard as it can be, I’m in Sweden and need to learn your language because it’s your country.” My teacher smiled as did my classmates with much joy that I said that. Yes it hurt to say, but it’s the truth. Swedish is hard, but it gets easier everyday and with help from my terrific classmates, I only continue to learn.

    After I told my Swedish friends how I felt, they too could relate. We were freshman after all and they were also new and scared of fitting in. I then really started bonding with my class and got invited to FIKA, with SWEDES! Once I got past my internal fear of not fitting in with Swedes, I really started getting close with them. I think the internet scared me out of letting myself connect with them. The internet says that Swedes are reserved and never smile and are anti-social. With my particularly large personality this was my biggest fear coming to Sweden. 

    The internet could not have not been more wrong. My classmates have some of the biggest hearts ever. They will adjust at all needs to make me comfortable. They love my “large American personality” as they say. They are outgoing and just so genuine. 

    Fun story: I love sports class or PE here as we play really fun games and everyone has some sports experience so we play hard. I never really tried in PE in the US and here I’m like an animal and smack balls out of people hands, get  flagged, and have a blast. The best is when my PE coach was showing the Swedes how to catch an American Football, sure I was football cheerleader for 6 years and watched it since I was baby, but that did not, in any circumstances mean I was good. He threw the ball to me and I kind of caught it and threw it back, to my surprise it even spiraled a bit and then he said something in Swedish and threw it back. This time I was not as lucky as it hit me super hard right in the throat. I couldn’t stop laughing and neither could my classmates. 

    So fast forward, I’m now I’m 2 months into school and literally I could not love my classmates, more. I’ve gone to a few Swedish parties, had some Fikas and practice my Swedish with my classmates everyday. We sing in halls and shout and talk about boys and yea I’m just bonding and I love them so much. I have given 3 presentations to English classes about the election and being American in Sweden, which is my dream because I love politics and talking. I will do about 8 presentations total to 8 different classes in the next 2 weeks. They have a cafe in school and I’m always buying Kanelbulle (cinnamon buns) for 10kr and I have no shame whatsoever. (well now I’m on a slight diet cause I’m not fitting in my blazer anymore, even though I walk all the time) I am so thankful to have such an amazing school, teachers and classmates, they are already changing my life. 

    Traveling:
    Your girl has had her fair share of traveling, let's get into some details of this astonishing country. 

    Örebro: 
    22/AUG/2016
    Örebro is a town about an hour away, in a different “region” of Sweden. I had to go to migration center with other American exchange students from Karlstad. (min boy's Pete och Nick) Anyhow our lovely counselor Ethel took us through this old and gorgeous town, complete with a castle in the center of town. Literally I turned a corner in the park and there was just a huge castle. (fairytale moment) That was a blast. 

    Åre: 
    1-5/SEP/2016
    Åre, Åre, Åre. How do I describe this? Let’s put it this way, Rotary had planned a wilderness camp for 28 exchange students, 5 days in one of the most beautiful parts of Sweden. Pete and I traveled from little Karlstad for 16 hours to, Åre, a town known for it amazing Skiing and mountain biking. Like one of the best in the world. No it wasn’t cold enough to ski, haha. 

    Day 1: We arrived 5 hours late and the minute I arrived I just ran into all my best friend's arms. Some I hadn’t met in person and others I hadn’t seen in 2 weeks. (tragic I know) Doesn’t matter, I had talked to everyone prior to the camp and I was just beyond excited to see them.

    Day 2: We started our trek with my huge backpack carrying all my stuff. We were going on the side of a mountain (not Åre) to camp in tents for a night. It was about 7 kilometers away, encompassing many uphill treks. Immediately I had a problem as my boots were too big and hurting me while I was walking, typical Mia move. I got new boots (which were too small and my big toe has been numb for weeks, but the experience was worth it) I ended up becoming extremely close with some exchange students as we bonded over taking photos on the journey to camp. Listen, the nature was draw droopingly beautiful, I mean I can’t even explain it. I was like Dora going through the forest.  We would go from open grasslands to thick green forests, to eerie trees that were close to dying to forests filled with tons of berries. It was actually a fairytale moment. We arrived at camp(we were the slowest ones), had a swim, ate reindeer meat and had a mystic campfire. At 9pm my new best friends went on a walk and ended up walking more than halfway back, walking for 2 and half hours. 

    Day 3: It was raining too hard so we couldn’t stay another night, we instead walked back and this time I wasn’t the last one to arrive! We hung out at the cabin the rest of the day and as exchange students do, we talked about life and played games. 

    Day 4: BEST DAY YET. Our amazing Rotarians were like “today we are going to Åre” and I was okay cool, a really cool mountain. Well life had another little surprise moment. As we were taking a ski lift up Åre, they said you could either climb up the mountain the rest of the way or you can take another ski lift. Feeling a bit adventurous, I was like “Abbey (my Aussie bestie) let’s go this way” Well I was wearing sweatpants and crappy tennis shoes and Abbey was afraid of  heights and we somehow together managed to climb the terrifying mountain. Full of mud and literally holding onto ropes to not fall off the side of the mountain, it was by far the scariest and coolest thing I’ve ever done. I’m from FL, the largest mountain I have is Mt. Dora and you can push your baby up that, so it was a very new experience. Once we got past the mud filled, jungle part of the journey to the top, we climbed an area most people do with walking st icks, but I obviously didn’t have those. My brain was like okay Mia you need to spider crawl, so I literally spider crawled up the rest on the way up. By the time we were to where the other ski lift dropped off my friends, everyone had been there for like 40 min. Of course we then had million stairs to the top and you know climbing isn’t as fun when you’re not holding on for dear life. So Abbey and I made it to the top….finally. Every Swede I saw congratulated me for making it to the top as some saw me climbing. Once at the top I had never been more proud of myself. I always tell myself I can’t do things, especially physical and I just climbed a 200 meter vertical slope. I felt like I was on the top of the world, literally. Not that it was a shock, but the view from the top was breathtaking, ( the stairs were also breath taking) miles of mountains, my gosh, it was amazing. After that we went to go eat lunch at a lodge near the top and guess what, IT ST ARTED SNOWING, I immediately tried to make snow angels even though that wasn’t possible. Abbey and I then assumed we could take the ski lift down, but we couldn’t, now pro hikers, we didn’t mind. So we hiked down and Abbey fell… and sprained her wrist. Life is like that sometimes. We went to Åre’s downtown and looked around, had a presentation and went back. At night all of us exchangers hung out and at night guess what we saw??? THE NORTHERN LIGHTS, though they weren’t super bright, they were there and that was enough for me to freak out. Again. 

    Day 5: I packed my bags, headed back to Karlstad, sleeping every train ride.

    I love Sweden. 

    Uddevalla, Ljungskile and an Island I forgot the name of:
    10-12/SEP/2016

    Sailing!!! I am the Captain now, paint me like one of your french girls, *pretend to be captain Jack Sparrow* 
    Rotary planned a Swedish West coast sailing trip for 2 days, yayyyy!

    Day 1: Like the klutz I am, I missed my first train, but it didn’t bother me as I am so used to traveling now, I was like okay just get a new ticket. So Pete, Lorenzo (other Rotary students from my town) and I stayed with a very nice Rotarian man and his wife in Ljungskile, a small town on the Swedish west coast (near Gothenburg). His house was pristine and modern on a cliff overlooking the town, with the ocean in the middle. We had some great food and went for a swim in the ocean at 11pm, which is pitch black. Okay clarity, Sweden doesn’t have deadly animals in the ocean other than jellyfish. After 20 min on the diving board too afraid to jump in, I finally jumped off the 10 ft high board and hit the oh so familiar salt water. It felt so relaxing to feel the cold salt water again. I jump and move my hands around and guess what I see? GLOWING PLANKTON I freaked out again, like I do. They say it’s the Northern lights, but underwater. We went and sat on the dock, look ing at the most stunning sky full of stars ever. I could legitimately see the Milky way. 

    Day 2: We hopped in the car and headed to a town 20 min away called Uddevalla. We were among the first to arrive to the charming ship that was about 60 yrs old. The minute I saw my best, best, best friend on exchange from Canada arrive (remember her from the last journal), I, in the most dramatic fashion ran to her and jumped in her arms. It had been like 3 weeks since I had last seen her, so of course I was excited. We proceeded to settle in the boat made for people to learn how to sail. Our beds were built into the wall, upon sitting on my bed I hit my head on a pole because it was a bit cramped, but the experience was worth it. We all received a number and learned some facts about the ship. We started to set sail about 2 hrs into our journey. Oh yea we were going through the archipelago, (that’s a hard one to spell). Long story short, it's a bunch of super cool granite rocks just casually sitting in the Swedish West coast. The best was seeing little red lighthouses on t he rocks. After a few failed attempts at learning to sail, I was definitely the least experienced and took the longest to learn, but hey I learned... eventually. We found a cozy little island to stay at for the night. The island was filled with ravishing, abandoned homes as many wealthy city swedes had their summer homes there. Walking through the cobblestone roads and bright Swedish colored homes, I was astonished. We stopped at a hotel (didn’t stay there though, remember I’m a sailor and sleep on the ship)  and learned some things about the town we were in, followed by another dip in the Swedish west coast waters. 

    Day 3: We woke up to some unforgiving hard rain and had to do everything to work around it, we again set sail, but this time the waves were insane. For the first time in my life, I was a seasick mess. Grabbing onto my best friend Anne for dear life as I tried to not throw up. (you can laugh) Once the waves cleared up, I decided to go on the front net of the ship with my friend Alex, who basically saved me from falling the whole time. The view from the front was extraordinary, especially when we saw jellyfish swim by. We then cleaned the ship and packed up, and gave my friends giant hugs as we parted ways. 

    Arboga: 
    25/SEP/2016
    District Conference!!! We went to a very adorable and little town for our Rotary District 2340 Conference. The Karlstad squad spoke in Swedish for about 3 min each in front of 65 Swedish Rotarians. Luckily I had my RYE FL elevator speech basically down and didn’t do so bad, as Swedish can be quite difficult for me. After a delicious meal provided by Rotary, I was able to meet a famous Swedish author, Jan Mårtenson former Head of the Secretariat to the King of Sweden, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Director-General at the UN Office at Geneva, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN and head of the UN's European headquarters in Geneva. I may have freaked out a bit. I got to speak to him for some time about working for the UN and my interest in human rights. After the conference we got to walk around Arboga and take “artsy photos” and really just spent quality time with my Karlstad guys. Thank you so much to the Rotarians for making my time in Swe den extremely fun and supporting me. 

    Stockholm: 
    30-2/SEP-OCT/2016
    For three days I went to Stockholm. Yes Stockholm, you know the small town, only like the “capital” of Scandinavia. Not a big deal or anything. Autumn is in full swing here and it was probably one the best times to go. Fashion in “Stocky” is just wow. I stayed with my gal pal Sofia from Colorado who lives in Spånga, a mere 10 min by train to the center of  Stockholm, even though the train came every 15min, we were always and I mean always full on sprinting to catch it. When arriving in the massive central station, I ran into Sofia’s arms as this was our first time meeting. We decided it would be a good idea to go to Stockholm’s Gamla Stan or Old Town. Complete with medieval streets and cozy, narrow cobblestone streets, I was, yet again in love. The funniest part was taking my suitcase on the cobblestone roads, if you come I highly suggest otherwise, take the time to drop off your luggage. On day 2, the birthday boy and reason I was in St ockholm arrived. Little Johnny boy from California was turning 16. In our little Stocky/ Karlstad squad we had about 10 exchange students. Prancing around Stockholm in our planned “diva” outfits, we felt like the talk of the town. We went to the Museum of Modern Art in town, felt posh looking at art, some pieces actually making me cry. We then full of sprinted to catch our bus and headed to THE STORES. Okay listen, I’m not a shopaholic, I just really like clothes, maybe a lot in this country. We went to all the stores and maybe spent all of our Rotary allowance. Wearing my sunglasses inside and holding a million bags I felt as if I was in an episode of Gossip Girl. After some great shopping, we headed for the classiest place to eat in Old Town, but we couldn’t find anywhere for our now tiny bank accounts, so we went to the second classiest place in Stocky for dinner….fast food… Before dinner we had to stop for something that caught our eye. Walk ing up from the subway, the most elegant sunset overlooking the old city. As a natural reaction, we grabbed our cameras and had a photo shoot. Oh and we ran into other exchange students from the US and France, they saw us holding our flags and freaked out. Immediately following dinner we headed to the subway blue line, in which the entire underground subway tunnel is covered in marvelous blue drawings. So we had another photo shoot. Finally we arrived at Sofia’s house and went to bed at 4:30am and woke up at 6am to another packed day. Looking like divas we strutted to central station and met up in a Starbucks with the squad, getting my first Starbucks in 2 months. We left and went shopping...again, this time in a place called Slussen. We then went to my favorite place in Stockholm called Sodermalm,where Sofia’s high school was. I don’t know how to describe it, it was just so posh and not too cramped, but also super Euro if that makes sense. Maybe upper east side Ne w York, where all the rich people live. We had a nice picnic in the city center, but had to eventually leave my perfect weekend. 

    If you made it to the end of my exchange novel, you’ll see how much fun I have been having. I’m extremely lucky to be an exchange student with Rotary and owe my amazing times to the organization, be it my amazing club or family or school or trips, they were all in charge and do an terrific job. 

    Lycka till to all those applying and my other nuggets from FL on exchange.

  • Mia, outbound to Sweden

    To see all Mia's journals and photos CLICK HERE

    Hello all. I’ve been in Sweden for what is now 2 weeks and I have fallen in love with this beautiful country. I have fallen in love with the people, the lifestyle, the food, the nature, the clothes, the transportation, you name it. Now that you know how Sweden has already taken my heart I’m going to share with you my biggest challenges, my biggest successes and what I have been doing.

    Challenges:

    They weren’t lying when they said everyone speaks English. The Swedes have terrific English comprehension. It becomes harder to understand Swedish when many things are in English, from the shampoo and body wash to some of the commercials on TV, English is very big. It is definitely some I plan to work on very hard in the future.


    I got a tiny bit homesick on my third day as I looked some goodbye photos from the airport, but the weird thing is that I wasn’t that sad, everything in Sweden has been amazing. But I think the thing with exchange is the many uncontrollable tears. The feeling that your heart feels, but your brain doesn’t. After 15 dramatic min I took a deep breath and reminded myself where I was and that my friends will always have my back.

    One the third night of my language camp I started having some unknown anxiety. It was such a rush of every emotion, every memory from home, that my brain couldn’t even settle on one individual thing. I listened to music and tried to make it go away, but songs about memories only made it worse. As terrible and unexpected as this cry session was, I’m glad it happened. It’s an indescribable happiness. I guess I had more respect and happiness for being able to have such good friends at home in Florida that I cry missing them and being so sacred and overjoyed about getting to know everyone new. I definitely regret trying to turn to my friends back home. It only made the tears worse, next time I want to turn to the people that are in this country with me, even if it is hard.

    The other biggest challenge is one that is kinda funny. I forgot how dry it was and my lips are a chapped mess, but my fantastic host parents have given me medicine and every tip for my Floridian lips.

    Successes:

    I always knew RYE FL prepped us very well for Exchange, but the level to which they prepared us speaks no boundaries. They said be a “Yes” person and try every food. So I have literally tried every food. Sweden has many berries outside just casually growing (sounds like a fairytale) and I have eaten almost every fruit I see. Sometimes the fruit will be just at my lips, when my host parents realize what I have picked and tell me not to eat it. I then ask if it will kill me. They always reply with, no, cause almost nothing in Sweden is dangerous, and I end up eating the fruit. My favorite bad fruit was probably the tiny apple that wasn’t ready and tasted like actual soap. My host parents and I then laughed till our sides hurt.

    Another thing RYE told us is not to stay in your bedroom for too long. I have also taken this very seriously. Unless I am dead from exercising and want to sit for a few minutes or am getting ready for going out, I’m not in my room. I have been trying my best to be downstairs helping my host parents or speaking with them. I think that we thought it would be hard to be with our host parents all the time, but you don’t need to be talking to them all the time to connect. I can still connect with them by bringing my computer downstairs and downloading my pictures, but show them the pictures in the process, no talking needed. Also if I am downstairs chilling on my phone and my host mom says what she is doing, I almost immediately ask if she needs any help or if I can come, from picking berries to cooking. The thing is that we had such good training these things feel almost natural.

    The last 2 weeks:

    Okay the juiciest part…what is Sweden like?

    Day 1: I arrived into the tiny Karlstad airport after a very long, but very fun adventure from Jacksonville. (PS make friends with people on the plane, in total I gave out 6 business cards and made friends with people from everywhere, Germany, Philippines, Utah, South Africa. Use your blazer to it’s full celebrity advantage cause now I have friends everywhere and they know about Rotary #win)

    So I arrived and was a bit flustered because I couldn’t find my suitcase and I heard what sounded like my last name in Swedish. Walking out very confused, my host mom yelled my name and I turned to see my her with a huge sign that said Welcome to Sweden Mia. My heart immediately filled with joy and I ran to them and gave my host mom a huge hug. After getting my luggage situation figured out, my third host family met us at the airport and we had a nice chat. It really meant a lot to have so many people at my arrival. After that we have a lovely drive that consisted of me taking photos of just about everything, every house, every field, things that 2 weeks later are very normal in Sweden. We arrived at my home and I got a full house tour. My house is amazing. period. end of sentence. We had a very good Swedish meal and then went on a bike ride around my town of Forshaga and almost in second I was in love.


    First week:

    Well oh course this country stole my heart. Waking up every morning to a new land, going downstairs to smell my host moms new foods, going outside to smell the new air, the “high” everyone talks about is real and very, very fun. The happiness you have every day, its about a million times better than any vacation. The lingering thought of “I can’t believe I’m going to live here for a year.” It’s like walking in a model home in really nice area and thinking wow it would be awesome to live here, but then actually being able to live there. It’s house hunters international. I have climbed mountains and breathed the fresh Swedish air. I have jumped from joy holding my big American flag, I have picked every berry that grows in Sweden and tasted every food offered to me. I have gone to a crayfish party and “sang” songs with Swedish people. I have sat in conversations and literally not understood one word. I have gone to a famous Swe dish feminist/writer/god’s home. To say the least I have done a thing or two my first two weeks here.

    Experiences that stood out so far:

    The first would be when I climbed (mostly drove) up a hill (it was mountain to me cause I’m from Florida) and got to see my region of Sweden. The beauty of Värmland is too much to explain, it’s grace and simple way of life, filled too with an outdoor lifestyle and kind hearted people make every bad day worth it and the memory of having fika and just simply talking and spending time with my family that day is enough to last me a lifetime of smiles.

    Another favorite experience is when I was given the opportunity (shoutout to my amazing host family for making this happen) to volunteer with refugees. With refugees being such a relevant topic in our the world politics and something I studied and followed for so long, acceptance of refugees is one of the reasons I wanted to come to Sweden from the beginning. So the day finally came where I did. The local Red Cross in Forshaga let me, a outgoing, English speaking American, volunteer with Arabic/Swedish speaking refugees, but some how I managed to learn so much. I was first introduced to 6 boys from Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. My media filled brain made me assume they were going to be sad and quiet, exhausted from life and drained from trying to understand a new land… my brain could not have lied to me more. The first thing the boys did when they heard I was from the US was laugh and whisper “oooo Barack Obama”. I was introduced to these crazy, life, ene rgy filled boys, 10-13 years old and immediately fell in love. Not only were they adorable, but man were they little characters. Speaking my little Swedish and their little English, conversations were near to impossible. We then spoke mostly in hand gestures and eye contact, maybe a few head nods. After my time with the boys, I then went and sat in on a Swedish lesson with adults and two teens. They showed me on a map how they came to Sweden and it was, for the first time so real as to what I read and watched on TV. Crossing on boats, sleeping in streets, families walking for 10 hours over mountains with children. Two girls, not much younger than me, were from Afghanistan. They were so kind and warm spirited. I asked a question that dawned on me. I’m from the US and it is not secret that we went to war with their country. It’s not secret, we are raised in a way to believe people from a certain country may dislike us because we went to war. Keeping that in mind I asked th e question “what do you know about the America?”. No that was not a bad question and yes I am absolutely glad asked. The younger sister responded with (roughly) “I don’t know much, but I think they are very kind and I really hope to visit one day” and just like that my whole view changed. Believe what you choose to believe, but even better go out and seek the answer yourself.


    Language camp:

    Language camp needs it’s own separate paragraph it was so amazing. My friends from that camp are now my best friends. It becomes hard in world of so many differences to find people that you have stuff in common with. I was given terrific friends back home, but when it came to exchange, no one but other exchange students really knew what was going on inside this little brain of mine. However none of my nuggets in Florida knew these first steps of being in this country. These new, but eerily familiar inbounds I had Skyped months leading up to this trip were so relatable and genuine in real life. After what I thought was awkward moments, we finally broke the first day’s silence, but cuddling and lucky for me I was at the base of said cuddle puddle. Long nights, freezing, freezing, freezing cold lakes, hours of Swedish and many attempts to make myself focus, the week was amazing. I now have new friends from every corner of the world that get to love Sweden just as much as I d o. We got to go exploring in mines, which was freezing, and afterwords climb to the top of the mountain the mine was in and sing “typical exchange songs” and take “typical exchange flag pics”. Being the only any Latina there, I got to show off my great salsa skills and even show some Rotarians how to dance to Shakira. I engaged in and began a full on food fight, that ended with a bloody nose and cinnamon all over my tongue, but the pain was worth it. I got to explore the deep forests of Småland and “run” with my friends. (apologies to those who actually wanted to run, I was enjoying the nature by walking, I promise that’s the reason) Long story short, language camp was like everything in Sweden, amazing and life changing, yes a week, yes best friends, yes I love my other inbounds.


    Amazing. Fantastic. Beautiful. Serene. Old. New.

    No amount of words could describe this feeling. This country is beyond words. My host family is beyond words. My town is beyond words. Any friend of mine or other exchange knows how excited I was leading up to exchange. Well that excitement is now very very raised. Sweden is everything I expected in a way I never could have expected. Swedes are 20 times nicer than they are given credit for. Swedes are positively as healthy as everyone says. (but the nature here explains it) Swedes, though more reserved are very open and warm if they are friends and would do anything for each other. Sweden is 712835289237829% prettier in person. No photo, even from the best camera in the world could capture the sheer, untouched, fresh beauty of this amazing country. But of course I have a favorite part of this place. One very unexpected. The community or kommun here is one I have never seen. Everyone knows each other, people take care of one another, they like to support the community and the town. It may sound cheesy, like in a disney movie, but I’m being serious, the sense of place and belonging Swedes have is a beautiful thing to see. My Forshaga Kommun, host family and other exchange students already feel like home.

    To finish this novel I would like to say thank you. It is a word I have used so much being here, but never used enough being home. It’s easy to forget how much work others do, have done and are currently doing for me. So here are some individual thank yous. To Mrs. Paula and Mr. Hart/ Ponte Vedra Sunset club, thank you for sponsoring me and taking a chance on this wild, PVHS senior to experience this. Without your support from the beginning I would not be here. To Mrs. Cyndi, my rotex, and at RYE Florida, you taught me more than you can imagine and it payed off like you said it would. To know that you care so much is a great feeling, thank you. To my FL outbound class- the journey has just began, thank for being as crazy as me and doing this. To my friends and family that got me here- it was worth every penny, every tear and everything. Words cannot describe how thankful I am to you. It’s been two weeks and it’s been everything I thought (and probably told you every day ) and more. The energy and feeling is one I wish I could share with you. I’ve never been happier. While I may get sad at the thought of not seeing you for a year, to know you supported me this far is amazing. To my mom and dad - I love you and know no matter what crazy, scary adventure I do, I will stay alive and you’re the best parents in the world for letting me do this, I miss you so much, but this is the best present ever. And finally to this new country, people, host family, Rotary club, new friends- tack så mycket for trusting an American girl and teaching her the ways of this beautiful and captivating new culture.

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