Erilyn, Outbound to Sweden

I have really sucked at these journal things and I’m sorry!!!! I have so many things to catch up on so be prepared.

I guess the absolute most exciting thing about these last 6 months is my trip to Kiruna in March! Me and a bunch of other inbounds traveled up 200km (125mi) north of the Arctic Circle for about a week. There were two weeks we could go on this trip and I chose the second week as it was the one with most of my friends and some of the other exchangers I haven’t met yet. During this trip, a high school tourism class from Kiruna were our tour guides and the ones in charge of us for this week. On Day 1 (Monday), we either flew up or took the train to Kiruna (I personally chose the 1 ½ hour flight over the 15 hour train ride). Once everyone arrived, we went to our hotel to unpack and get ready for the evening planned for us. We walked to the ski mountain to eat dinner and do some downhill sledding! During dinner we introduced ourselves and got a preview of the week that was ahead of us. Then it was time for the sledding. I had never been sledding before and after this experience, I can say I personally haven’t missed out on anything and am definitely 100% a Florida girl. I had to walk my sled up the second half of the slope (in knee deep snow) and by the time I reached the top, I was ready to be done with it. The whole time I was sledding down, every other minute I would fall over and have to get back on again so overall not the best experience. Later that night, we walked back to the hotel and were really hopeful to see any Northern Lights, but we weren’t so lucky. So instead we went back and watched Adam Sandler movies on Netflix on the TV in our communal living room.

The next day we went to Jukkasjärvi to visit the ICEHOTEL and a Sami village/open air museum (Sami are the indigenous people to Sweden, Norway, and Finland). First we visited the Sami museum and we got to feed and play with reindeer! We learned a lot about the way of Sami living which was really interesting to here. They live in the Lappland of Sweden, Norway, and Finland and they move with the reindeer. For lunch we ate a traditional Sami meal with reindeer and it was actually really delicious but I have eaten reindeer meat earlier in the year so I knew it was good. The people who live up north in Kiruna (even regular Swedes) say they regularly will eat reindeer meat. Then we went to the ICEHOTEL. The ICEHOTEL was absolutely incredible! Every room had a different theme with different artwork entirely made up of ice and snow. There is an ICEHOTEL that’s around all year round which is inside of an actual building and then there is the one that is made every winter and melts every summer that is made 100% of ice. My favorite room was probably the one that had a Volkswagen van in it. In the ICEHOTEL is also a chapel wher people can get married, and a bar. The other exchange students and I got mocktails (because we follow the 4 D’s!!!!). You could choose an orange pineapple flavor or a blue raspberry flavor in an ice champagne glass for 100kr (approx. $10) but it was worth it for the experience. That night, around 10pm, we got to see the Northern Lights! It was one of the best experiences of my life to be honest. It was a big check off of my bucket list not only for my time in Sweden, but in general. They were around off and on for about an hour and a half and it was a night I’ll never forget. I even started crying at how amazing they were. I still can’t believe I really got to see them.

The next day, we went on a dogsled to a camp area owned by ICEHOTEL and did various different activities. We went ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and just hung around and talked. For lunch, once again, we had reindeer. The rest of the day was just us spending time together before we left the next day.

I’ve gotten the opportunity to do lots of other things in the last few months and I’ll share some of them now, and then in a journal that I will upload shortly after this one!

In February, I went on a ski trip with my school! In Sweden, they have days in the school year called ”Sports Day” where they have different activities to choose from and be outside being active. My school gave us the option to go indoor rock climbing, ice skating, going on a scenic walk, and going to Romme Ski Resort to go skiing or snowboarding. I went snowboarding and it was REALLY hard. I had never done it before and maybe underestimated how hard it might’ve been when I signed up. I probably should’ve choosen skiing first since I’ve never done either but it was still a good time. Not many of my friends went on the trip so I made some new friends from my school who helped me learn how to snowboard. I did the bunny slopes for a while to get the hang of it, and then once I felt somewhat uncomfortable I decided to try one of the green slopes. I fell a lot, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and by the 2nd and 3rd time I did it, I was having a pretty good time! I’m glad I went since I had never done anything like it before and proud of myself for taking the risk and going out of my comfort zone.

For Easter, we get a week off from school so during that break I hung out with my classmates and other exchange students almost every day! The weather was finally getting over 50° and it was really sunny. During that time was when I think I hit the peak of my exchange. The language started coming so easy to me, I had solid friends, and my exchange felt complete and like I was a Swede at heart. It felt like all my time working and trying so hard finally paid off and I felt like the most me I could be. Ever since then, I’ve been in a really good mood and making great memories.

Just 3 weeks ago during the first week of June, my mom came to Stockholm to visit me for the week! She arrived the night of my birthday and it was the best present I could’ve gotten. While she was here I showed her all around the city to some of my favorite local spots but also to my favorite tourist spots. We went on a boat tour around the different islands of Stockholm, to the ABBA Museum (my favorite!), Skansen to see reindeer, my school to meet my classmates and teachers, and the infamous Old Town. It was so good to show her into my life for the last 10 months and to just talk with her and hug her again. It also gave me inside to some of the reverse culture clashes I may face when I come back home.

And from then on, it has kind of set in that soon I’ll be home again. It’s really weird to think about. Life here has gotten so normal and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Speaking and hearing and seeing Swedish everywhere has almost become as normal as it is in English. Riding the subway to the city center, taking trains to visit my friends outside of Sweden, making spontaneous plans with the exchange students… It’s all so strange it’s coming to an end. In a week I’ll be back home and with my family in my old room 5000 miles away from my other home and my other family and the room I’ve lived in for 8 months. I’ve learned so much about life and while I have learned about myself, I feel like this year gave me so many opportunities to be the me that I’ve always been but never had the chance to back home in Tallahassee. I’m still the same me, but I feel like maybe an extra version of me. This year has truly been a dream and I’m forever grateful for the experience. Every person who has contributed including Rotary, my parents, and all the amazing people I’ve met like my host families, classmates, and other RYE friends: I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve made this the best year of my entire life. I wouldn’t redo anything or wish this year went any differently. All of you have such a large place in my heart. Stockholm, Sweden is always my second home. I’ll be back sooner than you know it and it’ll be like I never left!

Thank you Rotary for everything you have contributed, taught me, and given me this past year. This is not the end of my time working with Rotary! I’m so excited to become a Rotex and potentially a Rotarian in the future.

I’ll try to upload one last journey during this last week or maybe even once I’ve arrived home. But just in case, I wanted to include all of my thank yous and goodbyes into this one.

Hejdå Sverige och vi ska träffas igen snart!

Sverige i mitt hjärta, forever ❤️

Click HERE to read more about Erilyn and all her blogs.