I’ve been kind of AWOL when it comes to these journals, so everyone has missed out on quite a few of my adventures I think. I’ll probably do two journals, one for August, September, and October, and another journal for November and December, just so you don’t miss out on hearing about what I’ve been doing for these past few months. That said, this journal is talking about things in August, September, and October.
Before school started, I met with the school’s secondary headmaster, my counselor, and my host father to discuss what program I would be in and what grade I would be in. I chose the Teknik (Technology) program and chose to be in the third year (12th grade).
The Teknik program is split into two sides: Theoretical Science and Practical Science. I chose Theoretical Science, which means I have classes in math and physics, while those in the Practical Science classes have more construction and architectural art classes.
My classes are: math, physics, construction, religion, Swedish for immigrants, and digital creating.
While most of my classes were set within the program, I was allowed to choose one class. I chose Digital Creating, which focuses on creating different media and art with digital tools. This is my favorite class and by far the easiest, since art isn’t affected by language barriers so much.
My first day of school was August 22, and it was only an hour long. All of the students were given a greeting by the headmaster, and then we all split up to meet with our classes and discuss our basic plan for the year.
My class has 16 people in it, including me. Of those 16, 12 of them are boys. Apparently it’s normal for the Teknik program to have a lot more boys than girls. My classmates have all known each other for about two years, since they have all stayed in the same program and same class with each other. On the first day of school I introduced myself to all of them in Swedish. I quickly found out that my classmates are really nice and really good at English.
High school in Sweden seems to be more like college rather than high school. Each day follows a different class schedule, however you are always with the same people in every class. Some teachers teach multiple subjects, so you may have one of your teachers more than once during the school day.
One of the best things about Swedish schools is the school food. I have to say, school food here definitely outranks school food in the U.S. The food at school is free, and most students eat the school’s food rather than bring their own or skip eating. However, we are free to leave the school campus at any time, so some students will leave and go grab lunch in the city instead.
I actually have two Rotary clubs: Mariefred and Strängnäs. Mariefred is supposed to be my official Rotary club, however Strängnäs provides my allowance and my counselor from Strängnäs works with all of my official stuff like school and Rotary activities.
My host father is a member of Mariefred’s Rotary club, so I go to meetings whenever he goes, which is almost every week. Mariefred meets on Mondays for a dinner meeting, which is nice since we have more time to talk to everyone, eat, and hold the meeting. With Strängnäs, I have gone to every meeting since I started attending them. Strängnäs meets on Tuesdays for a lunch meeting, so I leave school and my counselor will usually drive me back to school for my last class.
My two Rotary clubs here have quite a few women in them, which I’ve heard is unusual. All of the Rotarians are incredibly kind and they have helped me with learning Swedish a bit. A few of the Rotarians have invited me to different events or outings with them. So far, Rotarians have taken me shopping in Stockholm and to a jazz concert.
I did a presentation on myself and where I’m from for both Rotary clubs. I used a PowerPoint presentation that was all in Swedish, and I tried to speak mostly in Swedish during my presentation. I talked about my family, my school, and my city. I know I threw a few jokes about the Jacksonville Jaguars in my presentation, but I don’t think those jokes hold up anymore since they have actually been winning games recently it seems. The Rotarians seemed to really enjoy it and I received many compliments from them.
Many, if not most, of the Rotary clubs here have something called the vinlotteri (wine lottery). Each Rotarian puts a 20 kronor bill (a little less than $2.50) in a basket and memorizes the last four numbers of the serial code. Someone then pulls a random note from the basket and calls out the last four numbers on that bill, and whoever that bill belonged to wins a bottle of wine. Obviously, I can’t participate, but I sometimes collect the money for it or call out the numbers.
One of the major things that happened at the end of August was my birthday. The two other exchange students in Strängäs stayed over at my house for that weekend, and on that Sunday we baked cakes and invited over the two other host families and my counselors. My host father set up a Swedish flag outside, since that’s something they do on birthdays here. I really enjoyed being with everyone on my birthday, although I think the cakes were probably my favorite part.
One of my host families took the other exchange students and I to Birka for a day. Birka is an old Viking city situated on an island in Lake Mälaren, and it’s known as Sweden’s first city. Since it’s in the middle of a lake, we took a boat there. For most of the boat ride we sat outside so we could get a good look at everything we passed by on our way, but eventually it got way too cold and windy. Our tour guide, who was dressed like a Viking, was on the boat with us and took us on a tour of the city when we arrived. Being an archaeologist, he was very interested in all that Birka has to offer in terms of history, and his enthusiasm was very evident in the way that he explained everything to the tour group. I have to say that he was probably the best tour guide I’ve ever had, because he was genuinely enthusiastic about everything and he knew a lot about the city. We also got to eat in a Viking themed restaurant on the island, which was run by a Swedish musician, E-Type. His music is fairly good, but I think the food in his restaurant is a bit better.
Another big thing that has happened recently was the Rotary District Conference. It was a required event for all exchange students in the district and we had to wear our blazers, which was fine because it gave us an opportunity to exchange any pins that we missed or forgot about before. Before the actual conference we had breakfast, which was really more like breakfast fika. Throughout the whole day I think we had fika three or four times.
If I haven’t mentioned fika before, it’s basically a coffee break that doesn’t necessarily have to have coffee, usually accompanied by pastries, sandwiches, or other small snacks.
After our breakfast fika, we had speaking part of the conference, where Rotarians or people related to Rotary, like Rotex, came up and spoke about different topics. Since most of the talks were in Swedish, it was a little hard to follow at times, but I think I got the main ideas of the talks. The whole event lasted for most of the day, and since us exchange students did not need to be there for certain parts of the conference, we mainly used that time to catch up and make plans with each other.
In October, I got to see The Rolling Stones in concert. Apparently my host father has been to about 8 of these concerts and there happened to be another one this year, so he invited me to come with him and my host mother. I will admit, I don't know all to much about The Rolling Stones, but I said yes to going anyway.
The concert was held in Stockholm, and the arena is was in was completely packed full of people. I knew The Rolling Stones were popular, but I didn't know they were this popular.
The concert consisted of really good (and loud) music, cool visual effects on the arena's big screen, and Mick Jagger trying to speak Swedish.
Sweden is cold. If you didn’t know that before, then I don’t know what to tell you.
As someone from Florida, the word “cold” is used to refer to any temperature below 70°F. In Sweden, 70°F is pretty much nothing. I had to buy a winter jacket and boots, and I started wearing them in November. Ice started forming on the roads and cars, and eventually it started snowing.
I had never seen snow before I came to Sweden, so this was all really fascinating. However, I quickly learned that snow is much more fun to look at than to be in. It’s cold. Like, really cold.
I have yet to build a snowman or make a snow angel or do any of the snow activities, but hopefully I’ll get around to it eventually.
Challenges & Successes:
Since this journal is talking about past months, I’ll talk about any challenges and successes I remember from that time.
During this time, I was relying almost completely on English. I had no clue what my teachers were saying and I had to translate all of my schoolwork and pages in my textbooks. Some of my teachers would help a bit by speaking in English for part of the class, or by asking me if I understood and repeating anything I didn’t understand in English for me, but others only spoke Swedish.
Despite this I think I succeeded in at least trying to speak more Swedish and trying to learn more. I would speak a little Swedish to Rotarians and then in turn they would help me learn new words by pointing at things around the room and saying the object’s name in Swedish. Whenever I translated something in school, I would write down unfamiliar words and their translations in the margin of my notebook, just in case it came up again later.
There wasn’t a lot of homesickness during these months, except around Thanksgiving. I did feel a little homesick around Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t incredibly bad and I moved past it rather quickly.
As you can probably tell, I’m really enjoying my stay here even if it’s freezing. It’s not Sweden’s fault that I keep forgetting my gloves at home. We won’t say who’s fault that is.
Some exchange students have been complaining about RYE, but I see no reason to complain. I think Rotary has done a great job getting us to our host countries and making sure we are taken care of. Whenever people talk about wanting to be an exchange student I always give them a long speech about how Rotary is probably the best exchange program out there.
So thanks Rotary, for giving me this wonderful opportunity and helping me along my way.
Now, I expect to be hearing from next year’s exchange students to Sweden soon. Good luck to the Outbound candidates. Your training is about to begin and while it is a lot of work sometimes, it’s worth it in the end.
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