Amelia, Outbound to Sweden

Hi everyone, I’m Mya and I’ve just hit 4 months here in Sweden. It’s honestly insane how fast this year is going by.

I’m living in Gothenburg, the second-largest city in Sweden which isn’t saying much as the population is only a little more than half a million people. It’s such a cool city and I love the architecture here. The host family I am staying with lives in Central Gothenburg, right next to a tram stop. The public transportation here is so nice and you can go virtually anywhere, granted Rotary’s permission of course. We live on the 4th floor of an apartment building, very different from my home in Florida, three bedrooms: one for my host parents, another for my host brother, and the last for me. It’s not a small apartment but it can feel cramped at night when everyone gets ready for bed. My high school is named Hvitfeldska and it’s huge; with over 2,000 students and five stories, they have a lot of stairs. It’s only a 10-minute walk away from where I live, the only drawback is that it’s getting colder and colder so it takes more layers to go out.

I usually wake up around 8 because most of my school days start at 9:30 - I know, really late - although some days I go to the gym before school and get up earlier. Most of the time, everyone is on their way out of the house when I have breakfast, usually bread and butter as well as a piece of fruit, so I spend the morning practicing piano. My host family has a real piano which is the absolute best thing in the world, I don’t know how I'll go back to my keyboard after this year. I usually leave for school about 20 minutes before class to make sure I’m there on time and to chat with my classmates before. School has been the hardest part of my exchange because academics and extracurriculars have always been really important to me but in Sweden, I have to focus on different parts of life more because of both my own inability to understand a lot in class and the fact that they don’t have extracurriculars in the same way as in the US. School here is so different from the US, I won’t explain it all but basically, they have high school programs like Science, Social Studies, Music, etc. and students just take classes related to that over three years. I’m in the second-year-Natural Science class and take Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Math, Social Studies, Swedish, and English. I think their classes are a little harder and more in-depth than our AP classes in the US but they take them over 3 years. I’m usually 87% lost in my classes so it’s always a special moment to understand something. We usually have about three classes a day and lunch is a different time each day of the week. The lunch is free and it was really good the first few weeks of school but now - I’ve probably just gotten used to it - it's mediocre. They have a few things I really like though. My favorite part of school is playing card games with my classmates and hanging out between classes.

After school, almost every day I go to the climbing gym. When I found out I was coming to Gothenburg, one of the first things I did was to see if they had one. The gym in Gainesville closed a few years ago, so being able to start climbing again while here has been one of the greatest things. I’m super excited because after the Christmas break, we’re going to climb in the Swedish P.E. class and the teacher asked me to help. Climbing has been super great for my mental health here because it's a meditative sport in some ways and a physical challenge I can focus on. I’m so happy there’s a gym here. After the gym, usually around 5:30 pm, I head home and, nowadays, it’s dark when I leave. I take a bus and walk, sometimes visiting a cafe/bookstore to study or read a little. We eat dinner around 6 or 7 and it’s so good. My host family has a meal kit service so it’s a different thing every day. We talk about the day and plans for the rest of the week. After dinner, we clear the table and have some time to ourselves. I usually practice piano or do SAT prep. At the end of the day, we always watch some T.V. So far, we just finished “Vår tid är Nu”, a Swedish Family Drama. Lastly, we watch the Swedish News which is always interesting and there’s usually some mention of Greta Thunberg.

Sweden is in many ways very similar to the US. The standard of living in Sweden is a little higher than the US and it’s definitely a very developed country. Perhaps the largest difference is in the Swedish government, which I believe also translates into little differences in the way of life and mind set of Swedes relative to Americans. Sweden is a socialist country, meaning they are very focused on the health and well being of workers. As a result, they have a 44% income tax but with tax brackets requiring less or more depending on income. Though the taxes seem very high, they pay for Sweden’s social welfare programs. There’s free healthcare and education - university included - which is really cool. Job security in Sweden is also very different but I don’t feel knowledgeable enough on the subject to explain it just yet.

When I first arrived in Sweden, I was very excited because I knew I would have a lot of free time and I had planned to find some places to volunteer. During one of my first dinners, I brought up the topic to see if my host parents knew of any opportunities near us, to which they promptly informed me that volunteering isn’t really a thing in Sweden. It was definitely one of the more shocking realizations about Sweden but I’ve talked with many Swedes about it and the consensus seems to be that volunteering, or the work that would be done through volunteering, is seen as something the State should do so they leave it to them. My host father says that churches are really the only places that do volunteer work and it’s almost always involving the homeless or very poor. It’s one difference that has let me better understand my adoptive home and the mindset of its people.

Sweden is also a very progressive country when it comes to sustainability. More than half of Sweden’s energy production is renewable and every household I’ve seen, and likely all of them, recycle. That was one thing that struck me immediately when coming here. Before my arrival, I would say I had a fatalistic viewpoint of environmentalism and the future, but after living in a country where sustainability is just a part of life, I am definitely more optimistic about the future.

On-exchange you get a LOT of time to think and really analyze yourself and your motivations, finding the things you want to work on. The years before exchange I was very focused on school and extracurriculars, as most teenagers are. The months before my acceptance into Rotary I performed the worst I had before in my academic life. I was overjoyed to be accepted into Rotary but it was bittersweet as I struggled with choosing this experience or focusing on academics and my “future”. Just for clarification, I am a Junior now, the most important year for academics and the year that colleges consider most during the application process. I had a very hard time leaving for exchange because as much as I wanted to do it, I thought it would cost me. When I arrived in Sweden unable to understand the classes and lacking any familiar outlet to explore my interests and work towards college I felt jarred, depressed, and like a complete failure. In my first couple of months, I couldn’t speak Swedish enough to express all that I wanted so I relied heavily on my English, something I warn future exchange students to Sweden to avoid. Speaking English helped me to connect and make friends in Sweden but immediately added to my feeling of failing really before I had even started my exchange. Learning to accept and enjoy being in a place and environment where I can’t be perfect, has been so difficult and it’s an ongoing process but I’m so thankful that Rotary has given me the opportunity to realize this about myself so that I can work to change it.

Overall, my exchange has been great with many more fun days ahead!

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