Mia, outbound to Sweden

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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.