Tulaasi, outbound to Sweden

Today marks the closing of my sixth week here in Sweden. On July 29th, I left Florida to embark on this crazy journey we call youth exchange. As with all great adventures, I had a notably rocky start. I was not informed about my resident permit or my plane ticket until the day before I left, so that last day was definitely an adventure in itself. (Thank you Mom, Grandma and Grandpa for helping with all the last-minute paper work!) Saying goodbye to my sisters and mother for the last time was ineffably difficult, and gosh, what I would give to go back and hug them all a little tighter. I don’t think I actually had a grasp on the idea that I wouldn’t be seeing them for a long while, so I definitely took that moment for granted. Other than the anxiety of anticipation leading up to my departure, my flights went pretty smoothly with a few minor annoyances.

I had a nine hour overnight flight from Miami to Zurich and then a two hour flight the next day to Copenhagen. Under normal circumstances, I’m pretty sure I have a super power that allows me to sleep anytime and anywhere should I need it- but that first flight was anything but normal. There was a crying baby, a pubescent teen incessantly kicking the back of my seat, and I’m pretty sure it was near 37 degrees (Fahrenheit), need I say more? But after I got off that first flight, I brushed myself off and put on some more decent clothes to meet my host family in Copenhagen. My host mother (Hillevi), her twin brother (Calle), and her son (Nils) greeted me at the airport and it was so nice to finally meet them after only communicating through social media for almost six months.

Our first stop was at Calle’s apartment in Malmö where I had my first meal in Sweden- Thai food! I definitely wasn’t expecting that one, but what a wonderful surprise. We got back in the car and drove two hours north, passing through Skåne- the picture sque southern Sweden with fields upon fields of farmland and little red houses with white borders. We stopped in Vislanda, which was about thirty minutes outside our final destination, to pick up the dog (Bea) and pick some wild blueberries. And soon enough, we arrived in Växjö, the city I am calling home for the next year.

It was surreal, to say the least, seeing this wonderful place for the first time.
Växjö is wonderful. It’s about a fifteen minute bike ride into the city center from where I am staying right now. My host brother Nils took me around the city on my third day here with the bikes. He showed me where my school was and some other important landmarks in Växjö, including the church, the central bus station, and the lake that is named after the city (or maybe the city is named after the lake- which came first, chicken or egg?). Much of my first week here was spent either drawing or going out to Stojby where my host brother and I would swim in the lake and relax on the “brygga” (which translates to bridge, but it’s actually like a big cement dock-type of thing).

During my second week I went to Göteborg, Sweden’s second largest city, where we stayed with my host mother’s close friend. We went to the city’s amusement park called Liseberg and went on a boat tour of the archipelago which I believe went out to the western most point of the country. I also had the opportunity to catch up with my friend Simon who lives in Mölndal, a suburb of Göteborg. Simon was an exchange student to Florida last year and heavily influenced my decision to put Sweden on my list of options for exchange, so it was pretty special to see him so soon after I had become an exchange student myself.

The next weekend there was a festival in Växjö called Karl-Oskardagarna- which is on my list of favorite times on exchange for sure. I had the opportunity to meet a guy named Simon (different one than before) whom we had only known through mutual friends from back in Oregon. I got to meet his cousins and we all had a blast together that Saturday night.

The following week was language camp in Åhus: a small city in southern Sweden, right on the ocean, and also home to the famous Absolut Vodka. I finally got to meet all the exchange students in the southern part of Sweden. They’re a really diversely talented group of young people and I feel pretty lucky to have met them and create a bond with them so quickly. That week was filled with countless trips to the candy aisle of the grocery store where we discovered the powerfully addicting chocolate of Sweden. (Good thing it was a decent walk to and from the store). We learned a lot of very basic and introductory Swedish, which I had already learned most of on my own, but it was nice to learn with others the beautifully impossible Swedish language. And soon enough, that week came to an end and it was time for school to start.

School here is very different from Florida. The first day was very similar to what we would call an “Open-House” back in Florida, where you get your schedule and meet your classmates. There is no dress code in school, lunch is like actual real food and tastes great (and is free!), and the schedule rotates weekly instead of every-other day. I am taking drawing, religion, history, biology, physics, math, ceramics, and physical education- all in Swedish (and I’m taking English because I couldn’t help myself from indulging in one class that I could actually understand.)

I am going into a program called “Natural Sciences” and am in the third and final year- which means that this class is already a pretty tightly knit group of kids. But they are so nice to me, and I really couldn’t be happier with being in such a great class. I have managed to make a few friends so far, but I can tell that I will start to make more as my Swedish improves an d the year continues. My Swedish is still at a very basic level at the moment, and I am definitely having a pretty tough time learning the language and all its intricacies. It makes it especially more difficult when basically every Swede is beyond proficient in English, and of course they love to practice with the American exchange student. It will come with time, and I seriously can’t wait for the day when it just clicks.

The second weekend after school started I took a trip to Stockholm. I fell in love with the city quite easily and had a “wow, I’m actually in Stockholm right now” moment at least once every hour. I stayed with my childhood friend, Morgan, who lives in Oregon and has been in Europe for the past six-or-so weeks. It was pretty crazy to see him considering that we hadn’t seen each other in almost a decade, yet we had so much to catch up on with all that elementary school drama and the thousands of other things that can happen in ten years. We walked around the city for hours on end, and my feet were most definitely not prepared for the blisters that would ensue.

We passed four weddings in one day, toured the Old City (or Gamla Stan på svenska), had several amazing meals, and went to a photography museum. Stockholm has a pretty intricate subway system, but it was pretty cool to get around on something that seemed so complicated with someone who knew h ow to navigate it effortlessly. Traveling to and from Stockholm on my own was pretty great in itself. I got to take a train, and I hadn’t been on one since I was ten years old, so not only was it super exciting because it was a train, but I got to see the beautiful countryside of Sweden from a Hogwarts-esque cabin and everything felt like magic. (Side note: I think I am obsessed with trains now.)

So far, exchange has been pretty difficult, but also very wonderful. It is everything I had dreamed of and nothing like what I could have imagined. It sucks missing familiarity and my family back home, but I can tell this year is going to change me and make me appreciate the little things a whole lot more. I already have come to realize that cobblestone roads are probably the most underrated thing on the planet, and I know there are so many things just as great that I neglected to appreciate back in the states. I am doing my absolute best to stay positive through this process of missing home. But soon, this will be home to me. I am eternally grateful for this opportunity and am eager to see what this year has in store for me.

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