To start this journal off, I just want to say THANK YOU to all the Rotarians with RYE Florida, and my sponsor club for making this dream of exchange a reality!!!! You all are amazing!
I can’t believe it has been almost ONE MONTH since I have arrived in Stockholm, Sweden. In less than a month, I have grown to love this country and everything about it. Since it has been 4 weeks since my arrival, I thought I’d celebrate with a journal submission.
Getting to Stockholm was a long and frustrating process, but I won’t get into too much detail. Basically, my flights leaving Tallahassee towards Atlanta we’re delayed due to a severe thunderstorm and I kept switching between 2 flights as one seemed like it would leave before the other. I was supposed to leave at 12:50pm on Tuesday July 31st and didn’t end up leaving Tallahassee until about 7:30pm that evening. I said goodbye to my family twice and boarded 2 different flights (that I got off of due to an extreme delay) before I actually said goodbye and was on my way. This was frustrating as I was filled with so much emotion. I was feeling anxious, happy, excited, and sad all at the same time. The Delta staff were very kind and let my family wait with me at the gate while we were figuring everything out.
The next day, August 1st, I arrived in Stockholm and was greeted by my amazing host family. I was so happy and relieved to finally be in their company after the day I had just dealt with.
My first 1 1/2 weeks in Stockholm were filled with all kinds of adventures. We took a guided tour of Stadshuset, Stockholm City Hall, (where the Nobel Prize Banquet is held every year in December), the Vasamuseet (a 16th century ship that sank during it’s maiden voyage in Stockholm Harbor and was almost fully recovered in the 60s after spending 300+ years underwater), an Arsenal preseason futbol game (my first futbol game) with my host brother, a trip to the Riddarholmskyrkan in Gamla Stan, and probably one of my favorite museums, The ABBA Museum!!
My family here has been amazing and have let me see and experience so much of Stockholm. Living in the center of such an alive city definitely has its perks. I have grown a liking towards public transportation (specifically the subways!), fika, the weather, the nature, and if we’re being honest, EVERYTHING! I can’t fully express how much love I feel towards my new home, as the emotion is just too great.
After about two weeks into my exchange, it was time to go to Sundsvall to spend a week at the language camp Rotary has set up for us. This was an amazing week filled with new friendships, new food, new experiences, and learning new Swedish words and phrases. Students from districts 2370, 2350, 2340, 2330, and 2320 came together to meet each other for the first time. I made so many friends and relationships that will definitely last forever. Swimming in the lake while it was 14 degrees Celsius, walking to ICA, and taking trips into downtown Sundsvall are all memories I will hold onto.
I came home from Sundsvall on a Sunday, and the next Monday would be my first day of school! I wasn’t that nervous as I had met some of my classmates a few weeks before. I was just very excited to see them again. My first day was amazing, and everyone in my class is so nice and wonderful! Everyone is kind to each other and especially to me which I was grateful for.
I attend Internationella Engelska Gymnasiet, which translates to International English High school, as all the classes are taught in English by many native English speaking teachers. The school also has a lot of influence from high schools in English speaking countries such as the US, Canada, and the UK. For example, my school has many clubs and sports teams which allows the students to become very involved. The school has also adopted the house system from Britain (and Harry Potter!). Basically, there are 4 houses that students are places in based on what Swedish national program they are in. They are also all named after Nobel Prize winners. There is the Pavlov house (my house!!) which is where the students in Natural Science and Social Science (my program), Russell house, Curie house, and King house. With these houses we create events together, and have house competitions in all kinds of things (sports, dance, debate, etc). There is so much to do and be involved in at my school and I love it!
In this past month, I’ve truly understood what it means to be an exchange student and a citizen of the world. It is one thing to hear from your Rotarians and Rotex back home, but it is a completely other thing to experience it first hand in your new host country. While the big picture has been sunny and amazing, there have been times where I didn’t feel my best. Some days I come home with a pounding headache from the reality of everything. Hearing an unfamiliar language all day, traveling to different places, meeting so many new people... It is all amazing but there are times when it can get to you and that is just the reality of being an exchange student.
However, exchange is truly what you make it and even though I’ve been here for a relatively short amount of time, I can say that statement is 100% reality. What you get and experience from your exchange, will be a representation of what you have put into it to experience those things. I have always been and considered myself a positive, outgoing person so I haven’t had that hard of a time bonding with my new friends and family and really trying to be connected to Sweden. I have only talked to my family back home maybe a handful of times (and not for long either). I’m so happy I did because it has allowed me to keep my mind in Sweden with my body. Keeping your mind where your feet are is a huge thing to be reminded of on exchange.
Language is a HUGE thing that I have focused on since I have been here. Sweden is a country where most people speak relatively fluent English, so being able to learn the language is rather difficult on top of going to a Swedish school where all my lessons of taught in English. I am enrolled in Swedish 2 (the class my Swedish classmates are in), and Swedish for Beginners at my school. I will also be taking an intensive Swedish course with my host club. And on top of that, my family is teaching me new words, phrases, and helping me practice my Swedish at home. And if that wasn’t enough, I’ve been taking 10 minutes out of my day in the evenings (or extra time whenever I am free) to practice my Swedish using Duolingo. With all of this practice, I am so amazed by the Swedish I have picked up on in such a short amount of time. I can sometimes understand my family, my friends, and even some peoples conversations on the subway! Starting with the basics has helped me be able to understand the context or purpose of what someone is saying even if I cannot fully understand it. I’m not going to lie, speaking Swedish to Swedish speakers when they can tell I’m American by the second I say one word is nerve-wracking. They will want to speak English with you since they are so good at it. But you just have to get over that fear and stay persistent to speak the language. I can read a good amount of Swedish, but I am trying very hard to speak Swedish to get used to the unique language.
Long story short, I love it here in Sweden. This first month has been the best time of my life and I can’t wait to see where the rest of my exchange leads me.
(PS: to all the high schoolers back home reading this, APPLY FOR ROTARY YOUTH EXCHANGE!! It will be the best experience of your life, I can promise you that!)
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