Mia, outbound to Sweden

Read more about Mia and all her blogs

Tjena!! I’m now almost 3 months into my exchange, which is crazy to say. To think a year ago I was applying, second guessing myself, spending countless nights dreaming out what it would be like to live in a foreign country, stressing about getting my TB results and getting prepped for what would turn out to be the biggest interview of my life, is really really crazy. Now I’m here, sitting in my school’s cafe, in Sweden, a country one year ago I knew nothing about other than it was cold and a Rotarian I knew went here on exchange 50 years ago. To all those applying, take a breath, it’s okay, relaxed you is way better than stressed you. Best advice, don’t have big exceptions and know Rotary will do their best to see if you are right for exchange and if you’re not, you will have countless more experiences and opportunities in your life. If you are so fortunate to be selected, also know Rotary wants to throw you out of your comfort zone only to the extent to which you can handle, they are extremely smart in choosing your country, I don’t know how, but they will find you the “perfect” country. I got my 5th choice and was so surprised, but I cannot explain how happy I am with Sweden. I’m so happy you all even took the leap to apply. Know you are brave and if anyone doesn’t support, they are a small bit of negativity in a life that should be full of positivity. If you have any questions regarding exchange feel free to message me on social media. :) 

It’s been a while so I’m going to share what I have been doing, seeing, tasting and loving. 

To start, they didn’t lie, it’s cold, very cold. At the bus stop, in the town square, at the grocery, walking to the cafeteria , all cold. In Sweden they don’t ask if you are cold, they ask if you are freezing. At first I always answered no, because to me freezing is like so cold you can’t go outside, while it is cold here, I wouldn’t in English say I’m freezing. To my Floridans “fryser du?” (are you freezing?) Yes, I’m cold everyday, but after some time of complaining, which didn’t change the weather, I actually like it. The way it hits your face and makes you feel fresh. It wakes me up in the morning AND it makes the trees die kinda, which bring something I never saw in the US…. FALL. A true fall with the leaves and coats and scarfs and gloves. I LOVE IT. My locker is on the third floor of my school and over looks a hedge of bright pink and orange leaves. Sweden is actually fake sometimes. My bus ride is goes throug h the country side and is 30 min everyday, but the beauty from the drive is beyond words. Värmland, my “state” or region in Sweden has many hills, like those tv shows set in the fall and many pine trees. My view consists illuminating trees that change colors in the fall and pine trees mixed together, I’m not really sure that makes sense, but its beautiful trust me. My town’s old cathedral style Church has blood red vines all going down the side of it and it is so gorgeous. 

I have had more homesickness and cultural shock than I thought, but my family is constantly helping me adjust to Swedish culture. I stopped using FB (other than messenger for other exchange students), Instagram and blocked all my friends from the US on snapchat and have limited communication to just my parents. This is a what I call an American diet, but my relationship with my friends has become poetic as we now write letters to each other. It’s so important I keep trying to learn Swedish, because as of now that is by far my biggest obstacle. Exchange is more fun and most stressful than I ever thought, sometimes I have to take school day by day and try my best to get used to life. This country however is beyond words and I’m so happy I got selected to go here. 

I have a personal blog as well, so I’m going to throw in some bits about school and traveling from there. 

With the start of school, things became much harder than I thought they were going to be. The people are different, the way school works is different, my friends are different and the hardest part, the language is different. None of this unexpected, but in reality much harder than I ever thought. Different not being a bad feeling, but a new one for sure. 

Here is the big differences in school I’ve noticed almost 2 months in. 
So in Sweden you have basically 3 years in high school. If you are born in 2000 you are in 1st year, 1999-2nd and 1998-3rd. (I’m in 1st cause there wasn’t enough space in 2nd year, but I love my classmates so its all good) In America, you choose a class you need to take (Chem, US history etc.) and you get put in the first available one, maybe being with your friends in a few by chance. Here you choose a program and you have almost all your classes with your program. It’s like two 3 tiers, your year, program (mine is arts or Estet) and then you choose your specific program within your program, but not all have specific one (mine is theatre). There are many programs to choose from, arts, sports, basics, languages, nature, economy, time and so many others. Almost all my classes are with the theatre and dance 1st year students. Classes are different everyday, like I have math twice a week for and hour and half each class. No school bell as well. Also another funny diffe rence, they don’t have stalls, just a bunch of single bathrooms, which is kinda cool. ALSO they have a cafe with so much food, so if I’m running late I can good and healthy sandwiches before class starts. And school doesn’t have American school desks, just IKEA tables with nice seats. Teachers don’t have one class room, they have an office and bring their supplies for class everyday. Most teachers teach in more than one classroom. 

The first day, I was lucky enough to have my third host sister (she was only in school for two weeks before she departed to Italy for her exchange) in my class and she was my saving grace. It was the first time I had heard only Swedish and at an extremely fast pace. It felt as though I was surrounded by moving lips and sound, but no comprehension. I’m in the equivalent of American freshman year, with slightly older students because high school goes from 15-19 ish here. The day went by pretty fast, I met some classmates, all of which were very nice. Some impressions I got from the first day were: 1. Swedes dress incredibly well, like the legends were true, Sweden has amazing fashion. I kept saying in my head this  “ is a vogue model shot or school?” 2. Many girls wear makeup and are stellar at it. Like their contour could cut someone and their brows were beyond on point. 3. The school lunch is free and amazing. SO MUCH BREAD 4. Swedes love it when foreigner s try to speak Swedish 5. The level of independence in school is crazy, you are treated like an adult. 7. School is like college and schedules are sometimes super hard to understand 8. Theatre kids rock around the country

I’m not gonna sugarcoat it, the rest of the week was very hard. Sweden went from fairy tale to homesickness abyss way to fast.

Not understanding jokes, not understanding fashion or how my schedule works. My Swedish friends and school are absolutely amazing none the less, it was just difficult. On the second day of school, I dropped and cracked my phone so bad it didn’t work. This little bad thing, led my brain to let out every piece of anxiety I had. I got home, pretended like nothing was wrong, went to my room, cried in my room, eat Swedish candy (Diam, specifically) and watched Netflix. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be home or I missed something specific, it was the thought that in the US I had everything and I was confident and happy and here I thought to myself, I can’t do this, I can’t learn Swedish, I won’t make friends. All so far from the truth, but when homesickness comes it becomes quite hard to disguise the truth from the tears. Of course this Netflix spree helped the pain for only a bit of time before it came back the next day. A day that was fun as we had many activities with all years, but not understanding jokes and having to figure out what is going on 80% of the time can get frustrating at the beginning. Friday was by far the best of my week, but still an uncomfortable and unknown feeling. I got home and repeated the same process, cry, watch Netflix, eat candy. Something I told myself I would NEVER do on exchange. However this time I was able to FT another exchange student and rant, which is actually a good thing because she was able to relate. I felt like I just couldn’t do this, a feeling I thought I had no control over. As this tiring, but interesting week ended, I,  like a whiny child was so mad at myself for reacting this way and was just sad. 

However Saturday was a new day. 

 Assuming I could stay in my room again, telling myself  "I deserved this, because this was a hard week." But as Saturday ended I now realize that is not true. I don't deserve to stay in my room, I’m in Sweden. Sweden, that’s so cool. As my host parents came into my room and told me we would be going to see art that day, I got quite happy because I love spending time with them, not knowing I would learn a few big lessons that day. They said we would be going to this cool place in Forshaga (my small, small village town). I thought by now I had seen almost the whole town. Wrong. We drove literally 3 min away to 6 houses as old as 600 years, originally owned by my favorite Swedish author. As I went into these houses with amazement, I came across a picture of a sad women, it reminded me of myself. She looked as though she had no control of her sadness. At that point I realized I was not that women. I did indeed have control of my happiness, I’m in freaking Sweden after all. We then walked back outside and I stared at the 6 houses in pure shock I lived so close to such historical homes and I learned another lesson, no matter how well I think I know something, no matter how much I think school is going to continue to be hard, life can surprise you any step of the way.

A Rotex once told me “the best part of exchange lies in the unexpected”.

After an afternoon of life lessons hitting me in the face, I went to a garden party where I got to spend time with my amazing Swedish family and 20 amazing neighbors. Some Swedish children loved that I was from the alleged “US” and helped me learn some Swedish.

Monday to my shock wasn’t the best as I was late to class, but with my new found attitude, I just kept hoping life would surprise me.

And it did.

I had Swedish class for all the exchange students in my town (we have 15 with different programs, the most are with Rotary, my personal favorite), and within the afternoon we became very close. We went to Fika right after class and got to know each other. They too could relate to homesickness and day dreaming in class and sometimes just not understanding one word of Swedish. 

Tuesday was one of my best days yet. I explained to my Swedish theatre class how it feels sometimes to be an exchange student and feeling like you have no voice, even if you’re me and love to talk. They not only understood, but they also offered to speak in English for class. I kindly told the teacher no and said “as hard as it can be, I’m in Sweden and need to learn your language because it’s your country.” My teacher smiled as did my classmates with much joy that I said that. Yes it hurt to say, but it’s the truth. Swedish is hard, but it gets easier everyday and with help from my terrific classmates, I only continue to learn.

After I told my Swedish friends how I felt, they too could relate. We were freshman after all and they were also new and scared of fitting in. I then really started bonding with my class and got invited to FIKA, with SWEDES! Once I got past my internal fear of not fitting in with Swedes, I really started getting close with them. I think the internet scared me out of letting myself connect with them. The internet says that Swedes are reserved and never smile and are anti-social. With my particularly large personality this was my biggest fear coming to Sweden. 

The internet could not have not been more wrong. My classmates have some of the biggest hearts ever. They will adjust at all needs to make me comfortable. They love my “large American personality” as they say. They are outgoing and just so genuine. 

Fun story: I love sports class or PE here as we play really fun games and everyone has some sports experience so we play hard. I never really tried in PE in the US and here I’m like an animal and smack balls out of people hands, get  flagged, and have a blast. The best is when my PE coach was showing the Swedes how to catch an American Football, sure I was football cheerleader for 6 years and watched it since I was baby, but that did not, in any circumstances mean I was good. He threw the ball to me and I kind of caught it and threw it back, to my surprise it even spiraled a bit and then he said something in Swedish and threw it back. This time I was not as lucky as it hit me super hard right in the throat. I couldn’t stop laughing and neither could my classmates. 

So fast forward, I’m now I’m 2 months into school and literally I could not love my classmates, more. I’ve gone to a few Swedish parties, had some Fikas and practice my Swedish with my classmates everyday. We sing in halls and shout and talk about boys and yea I’m just bonding and I love them so much. I have given 3 presentations to English classes about the election and being American in Sweden, which is my dream because I love politics and talking. I will do about 8 presentations total to 8 different classes in the next 2 weeks. They have a cafe in school and I’m always buying Kanelbulle (cinnamon buns) for 10kr and I have no shame whatsoever. (well now I’m on a slight diet cause I’m not fitting in my blazer anymore, even though I walk all the time) I am so thankful to have such an amazing school, teachers and classmates, they are already changing my life. 

Your girl has had her fair share of traveling, let's get into some details of this astonishing country. 

Örebro is a town about an hour away, in a different “region” of Sweden. I had to go to migration center with other American exchange students from Karlstad. (min boy's Pete och Nick) Anyhow our lovely counselor Ethel took us through this old and gorgeous town, complete with a castle in the center of town. Literally I turned a corner in the park and there was just a huge castle. (fairytale moment) That was a blast. 

Åre, Åre, Åre. How do I describe this? Let’s put it this way, Rotary had planned a wilderness camp for 28 exchange students, 5 days in one of the most beautiful parts of Sweden. Pete and I traveled from little Karlstad for 16 hours to, Åre, a town known for it amazing Skiing and mountain biking. Like one of the best in the world. No it wasn’t cold enough to ski, haha. 

Day 1: We arrived 5 hours late and the minute I arrived I just ran into all my best friend's arms. Some I hadn’t met in person and others I hadn’t seen in 2 weeks. (tragic I know) Doesn’t matter, I had talked to everyone prior to the camp and I was just beyond excited to see them.

Day 2: We started our trek with my huge backpack carrying all my stuff. We were going on the side of a mountain (not Åre) to camp in tents for a night. It was about 7 kilometers away, encompassing many uphill treks. Immediately I had a problem as my boots were too big and hurting me while I was walking, typical Mia move. I got new boots (which were too small and my big toe has been numb for weeks, but the experience was worth it) I ended up becoming extremely close with some exchange students as we bonded over taking photos on the journey to camp. Listen, the nature was draw droopingly beautiful, I mean I can’t even explain it. I was like Dora going through the forest.  We would go from open grasslands to thick green forests, to eerie trees that were close to dying to forests filled with tons of berries. It was actually a fairytale moment. We arrived at camp(we were the slowest ones), had a swim, ate reindeer meat and had a mystic campfire. At 9pm my new best friends went on a walk and ended up walking more than halfway back, walking for 2 and half hours. 

Day 3: It was raining too hard so we couldn’t stay another night, we instead walked back and this time I wasn’t the last one to arrive! We hung out at the cabin the rest of the day and as exchange students do, we talked about life and played games. 

Day 4: BEST DAY YET. Our amazing Rotarians were like “today we are going to Åre” and I was okay cool, a really cool mountain. Well life had another little surprise moment. As we were taking a ski lift up Åre, they said you could either climb up the mountain the rest of the way or you can take another ski lift. Feeling a bit adventurous, I was like “Abbey (my Aussie bestie) let’s go this way” Well I was wearing sweatpants and crappy tennis shoes and Abbey was afraid of  heights and we somehow together managed to climb the terrifying mountain. Full of mud and literally holding onto ropes to not fall off the side of the mountain, it was by far the scariest and coolest thing I’ve ever done. I’m from FL, the largest mountain I have is Mt. Dora and you can push your baby up that, so it was a very new experience. Once we got past the mud filled, jungle part of the journey to the top, we climbed an area most people do with walking st icks, but I obviously didn’t have those. My brain was like okay Mia you need to spider crawl, so I literally spider crawled up the rest on the way up. By the time we were to where the other ski lift dropped off my friends, everyone had been there for like 40 min. Of course we then had million stairs to the top and you know climbing isn’t as fun when you’re not holding on for dear life. So Abbey and I made it to the top….finally. Every Swede I saw congratulated me for making it to the top as some saw me climbing. Once at the top I had never been more proud of myself. I always tell myself I can’t do things, especially physical and I just climbed a 200 meter vertical slope. I felt like I was on the top of the world, literally. Not that it was a shock, but the view from the top was breathtaking, ( the stairs were also breath taking) miles of mountains, my gosh, it was amazing. After that we went to go eat lunch at a lodge near the top and guess what, IT ST ARTED SNOWING, I immediately tried to make snow angels even though that wasn’t possible. Abbey and I then assumed we could take the ski lift down, but we couldn’t, now pro hikers, we didn’t mind. So we hiked down and Abbey fell… and sprained her wrist. Life is like that sometimes. We went to Åre’s downtown and looked around, had a presentation and went back. At night all of us exchangers hung out and at night guess what we saw??? THE NORTHERN LIGHTS, though they weren’t super bright, they were there and that was enough for me to freak out. Again. 

Day 5: I packed my bags, headed back to Karlstad, sleeping every train ride.

I love Sweden. 

Uddevalla, Ljungskile and an Island I forgot the name of:

Sailing!!! I am the Captain now, paint me like one of your french girls, *pretend to be captain Jack Sparrow* 
Rotary planned a Swedish West coast sailing trip for 2 days, yayyyy!

Day 1: Like the klutz I am, I missed my first train, but it didn’t bother me as I am so used to traveling now, I was like okay just get a new ticket. So Pete, Lorenzo (other Rotary students from my town) and I stayed with a very nice Rotarian man and his wife in Ljungskile, a small town on the Swedish west coast (near Gothenburg). His house was pristine and modern on a cliff overlooking the town, with the ocean in the middle. We had some great food and went for a swim in the ocean at 11pm, which is pitch black. Okay clarity, Sweden doesn’t have deadly animals in the ocean other than jellyfish. After 20 min on the diving board too afraid to jump in, I finally jumped off the 10 ft high board and hit the oh so familiar salt water. It felt so relaxing to feel the cold salt water again. I jump and move my hands around and guess what I see? GLOWING PLANKTON I freaked out again, like I do. They say it’s the Northern lights, but underwater. We went and sat on the dock, look ing at the most stunning sky full of stars ever. I could legitimately see the Milky way. 

Day 2: We hopped in the car and headed to a town 20 min away called Uddevalla. We were among the first to arrive to the charming ship that was about 60 yrs old. The minute I saw my best, best, best friend on exchange from Canada arrive (remember her from the last journal), I, in the most dramatic fashion ran to her and jumped in her arms. It had been like 3 weeks since I had last seen her, so of course I was excited. We proceeded to settle in the boat made for people to learn how to sail. Our beds were built into the wall, upon sitting on my bed I hit my head on a pole because it was a bit cramped, but the experience was worth it. We all received a number and learned some facts about the ship. We started to set sail about 2 hrs into our journey. Oh yea we were going through the archipelago, (that’s a hard one to spell). Long story short, it's a bunch of super cool granite rocks just casually sitting in the Swedish West coast. The best was seeing little red lighthouses on t he rocks. After a few failed attempts at learning to sail, I was definitely the least experienced and took the longest to learn, but hey I learned... eventually. We found a cozy little island to stay at for the night. The island was filled with ravishing, abandoned homes as many wealthy city swedes had their summer homes there. Walking through the cobblestone roads and bright Swedish colored homes, I was astonished. We stopped at a hotel (didn’t stay there though, remember I’m a sailor and sleep on the ship)  and learned some things about the town we were in, followed by another dip in the Swedish west coast waters. 

Day 3: We woke up to some unforgiving hard rain and had to do everything to work around it, we again set sail, but this time the waves were insane. For the first time in my life, I was a seasick mess. Grabbing onto my best friend Anne for dear life as I tried to not throw up. (you can laugh) Once the waves cleared up, I decided to go on the front net of the ship with my friend Alex, who basically saved me from falling the whole time. The view from the front was extraordinary, especially when we saw jellyfish swim by. We then cleaned the ship and packed up, and gave my friends giant hugs as we parted ways. 

District Conference!!! We went to a very adorable and little town for our Rotary District 2340 Conference. The Karlstad squad spoke in Swedish for about 3 min each in front of 65 Swedish Rotarians. Luckily I had my RYE FL elevator speech basically down and didn’t do so bad, as Swedish can be quite difficult for me. After a delicious meal provided by Rotary, I was able to meet a famous Swedish author, Jan Mårtenson former Head of the Secretariat to the King of Sweden, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Director-General at the UN Office at Geneva, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN and head of the UN's European headquarters in Geneva. I may have freaked out a bit. I got to speak to him for some time about working for the UN and my interest in human rights. After the conference we got to walk around Arboga and take “artsy photos” and really just spent quality time with my Karlstad guys. Thank you so much to the Rotarians for making my time in Swe den extremely fun and supporting me. 

For three days I went to Stockholm. Yes Stockholm, you know the small town, only like the “capital” of Scandinavia. Not a big deal or anything. Autumn is in full swing here and it was probably one the best times to go. Fashion in “Stocky” is just wow. I stayed with my gal pal Sofia from Colorado who lives in Spånga, a mere 10 min by train to the center of  Stockholm, even though the train came every 15min, we were always and I mean always full on sprinting to catch it. When arriving in the massive central station, I ran into Sofia’s arms as this was our first time meeting. We decided it would be a good idea to go to Stockholm’s Gamla Stan or Old Town. Complete with medieval streets and cozy, narrow cobblestone streets, I was, yet again in love. The funniest part was taking my suitcase on the cobblestone roads, if you come I highly suggest otherwise, take the time to drop off your luggage. On day 2, the birthday boy and reason I was in St ockholm arrived. Little Johnny boy from California was turning 16. In our little Stocky/ Karlstad squad we had about 10 exchange students. Prancing around Stockholm in our planned “diva” outfits, we felt like the talk of the town. We went to the Museum of Modern Art in town, felt posh looking at art, some pieces actually making me cry. We then full of sprinted to catch our bus and headed to THE STORES. Okay listen, I’m not a shopaholic, I just really like clothes, maybe a lot in this country. We went to all the stores and maybe spent all of our Rotary allowance. Wearing my sunglasses inside and holding a million bags I felt as if I was in an episode of Gossip Girl. After some great shopping, we headed for the classiest place to eat in Old Town, but we couldn’t find anywhere for our now tiny bank accounts, so we went to the second classiest place in Stocky for dinner….fast food… Before dinner we had to stop for something that caught our eye. Walk ing up from the subway, the most elegant sunset overlooking the old city. As a natural reaction, we grabbed our cameras and had a photo shoot. Oh and we ran into other exchange students from the US and France, they saw us holding our flags and freaked out. Immediately following dinner we headed to the subway blue line, in which the entire underground subway tunnel is covered in marvelous blue drawings. So we had another photo shoot. Finally we arrived at Sofia’s house and went to bed at 4:30am and woke up at 6am to another packed day. Looking like divas we strutted to central station and met up in a Starbucks with the squad, getting my first Starbucks in 2 months. We left and went shopping...again, this time in a place called Slussen. We then went to my favorite place in Stockholm called Sodermalm,where Sofia’s high school was. I don’t know how to describe it, it was just so posh and not too cramped, but also super Euro if that makes sense. Maybe upper east side Ne w York, where all the rich people live. We had a nice picnic in the city center, but had to eventually leave my perfect weekend. 

If you made it to the end of my exchange novel, you’ll see how much fun I have been having. I’m extremely lucky to be an exchange student with Rotary and owe my amazing times to the organization, be it my amazing club or family or school or trips, they were all in charge and do an terrific job. 

Lycka till to all those applying and my other nuggets from FL on exchange.