Vivianne, Outbound to Sweden

Hej allihopa!

It’s been a while since my last journal entry, so I’ll get right into everything I’ve done since then.

Host Families

Since my last journal, I’ve changed host families twice. I stayed with my first host family for about six months, from August to the beginning of January, and then changed host families for the second and last time in the beginning of April.

In my second host family is was mainly just host parents and I, but I did have a host sister who wasn’t living at home, but visited a lot. With this family I was living a bit out in the countryside, about 10-15 minutes (by car) from the city. It was far enough out that no buses came there, so I had to get a ride from one of my host parents to get to school each day. The four houses, plus smaller buildings, in our area were all owned by my host father’s family, so his parents and his sister and her family all lived close by.

I was really excited when I moved to this host family because they had quite a few pets: one dog, three cats and two horses. I have to admit, despite all the cat hair that ended up on my clothes, I was always happy to have the animals around.

This host family was incredibly nice. They treated me as part of the family from the moment I moved in with them. It wasn’t just them either; the whole family was incredibly sweet and inviting when I arrived. I have to say, I really didn’t want to leave.

In my current host family, I have both parents and two younger siblings: a 15-year-old host brother and a 13-year-old host sister. Everyone is usually quite busy and is off doing their own stuff most of the time, so I don’t spend so much time with them during the day. I’ve only been with this host family for a few weeks, but it’s already obvious to me that it’s a lively and busy household.

School

There isn't so much to say about school right now, really. The school year is close to being finished, with graduation (Studenten) being on June 15, so my class isn’t doing so much work right now. My classmates are all preparing their final project and studying for an important test, so most of our classes right now are focusing on those two things.

Everyone is mainly looking forward to graduation, I think. Graduation here is like a huge party, where students have competitions in the school and later ride around the city in trucks and blasting loud music. For graduation, girls usually wear white dresses (I’m not too excited about the dress part). I will be honest, I’m not exactly sure what boys wear, but from the pictures it looks like they usually wear black or blue suits. I’m in the process of looking for an outfit for graduation now, and my host mom has told me that the closer to graduation it gets, the more white clothes you’ll see in stores.

I also have a really cool graduation cap. One thing I really like about the whole graduation process here is that it’s a bit more customized. In the beginning of the year, I got to design my graduation cap. Everyone’s is always a little different, which I really like.

Holidays

Saint Lucia’s Day was a completely new holiday for me. It was on December 13 and I mainly celebrated with my Rotary clubs. Saint Lucia’s Day is meant to commemorate Saint Lucia, a Christian martyr who lived between the years 283-304. Each year around this day, girls will be chosen to represent Lucia for their town, region, school, church, etc. Only one girl takes the role of Lucia for whatever organization or area she is representing. Traditionally, Lucia is supposed to have “light in her hair” which in most cases means either electric or real candles are put on the chosen girl’s head.

When I visited the church with my Rotary club on Saint Lucia’s Day, the Lucia for the city came there with her procession made up of boys and girls carrying candles and singing. My school also had a Lucia visit, and she and her procession also had real candles. Someone had told me that one year, the candles on the Lucia’s head had gotten too hot for her, so she had fainted on stage. But luckily that didn't happen this year. Both Lucia’s I saw only had the problem of getting the candle wax out of their hair after they were finished.

Christmas was quite similar to what I was used to, although in Sweden it is celebrated on December 24 instead of the 25th. I celebrated Christmas with my host family and my host mom’s family in Stockholm, with a lot of food and some dancing around the Christmas tree. Along with the food I was used to eating for Christmas, we also ate quite a bit of fish, mainly herring, but also some salmon. I don’t like fish so much to begin with, but i have tried herring a few times, and it is safe to say I probably will not do it again.

On Christmas Eve at the same time every year, the TV plays a Disney Christmas special cartoon. It’s mainly referred to as Kalle Anka here, which in English would be Donald Duck. As far as I know, it’s roughly the same cartoon each year, called “From All of Us to All of You”, although sometimes they feature scenes from newer movies. It was interesting to hear well known songs from classic Disney movies in Swedish and listen to how all the characters sounded. I think this was one of my favorite things about Christmas.

Easter was a bit similar to Christmas, with most of the food being the same. During Easter I was with my second host family, so I celebrated with them and other members of their family. My host parents and some of the other adults had hidden an Easter egg and another gift for each of the kids ( which they defined as anyone under the age of 22). It was quite fun searching for them, since my second host family had such a large area around their house. When we had found our gifts we had gone back inside to eat and then played a quiz game. The quiz asked some trivia about the Easter holiday and we were all partnered up and sent away to answer all of the questions before coming back to check them. I was partnered with my host dad’s sister and we ended up being tied in correct answers with my host dad and his father. On the Thursday before Easter, children go around dressed up like witches and hand out candy. I first thought that they received candy, but I was told it was the opposite. My host dad’s nieces came by dressed in witch costumes and brought candy to us in the afternoon.

Activities

I’ve been to a few museums in the past few months, including the ABBA Museum and the Technology Museum, but the biggest thing I’ve done was go on a Rotary organized trip to Kiruna. Kiruna is the northernmost town in Sweden and most of us exchange students here were able to go on the trip and visit for 4 days. Me and a few other exchange students were a bit unlucky at first, because we were originally supposed to go by plane in the morning and arrive in Kiruna in the afternoon, but our flight was cancelled. We ended up taking a night train (a 15 hour long ride) and arriving a day late, but we didn’t miss too much.

We were able to arrive just in time to see the ice hotel. The ice hotel has many different rooms, including several art rooms, regular “ice rooms”, and a church, as well as an ice bar in another building that is active all year. The art rooms are all different and have different themes and sculptures inside each room. My favorite room was the space themed one, where it had ice sculptures of astronauts and a glowing picture of the world also made from ice. The hotel wasn’t as cold as you think it would be, in fact I found that it actually felt a little warmer than the outside was.

We also visited a Sami cultural center to learn about their culture. The Sami are an indigenous people who are a bit similar to Native Americans in a way. Several of our guides were Sami and showed us how the Sami lived in the past and how they currently live. One thing that they are know for is reindeer herding. We were able to see a few reindeer and even feed them a bit before we headed indoors for lunch, which consisted of reindeer. Don’t worry, the reindeer we fed were not ones that were meant to be eaten. Although some of us did feel a little bad about the situation.

The next day we went to a frozen lake and walked around on it for a bit while playing some games. Eventually a group of dog sleds came to take us to our next activity area on the other side of the lake. The sleds each had a different number of dogs pulling them, but the one I rode on had the most (some number between 12 and 16, I can’t quite remember), and the dogs were really strong and fast. Our next activities included a few small games, and later a ride on a snowmobile (with someone else driving, of course). We even went ice fishing later, which was relaxing, but a little too relaxing because some people ended up falling asleep. No one was able to catch anything, but it was an experience nonetheless.

Rotary

I’ve been going to one of my Rotary club’s meetings every week, since it is close enough for me to walk to, but my other club is a bit harder to get to since it is further away. I still visit that club, but rather than going once a week like I did when I was living close by the club’s meeting place, I now go about once a month.

Recently I went to a Rotary event for the World Children’s Prize. The WCP program is an initiative to protect children’s rights around the world. The program has an annual award ceremony held in Mariefred, Sweden that honors people who have helped in this initiative. The Queen of Sweden presents the awards to the recipients. While it was not possible for other exchange students and I to go to the actual ceremony, a special sort of reenactment of the ceremony was held for Rotary and we were able to go to that. From what I heard, the reenactment ceremony was almost exactly the same as the actual ceremony, except the award presentations were all shown on video rather than done in person. The ceremony consisted of a lot of different performances from a few different children’s music and dance groups. Even the winner of Idols South Africa (American Idol, but in South Africa) was there and performed for us.

Closing

I recently set up my return date, and it’s a bit hard to think that I’ll be returning home in just three months. This year has flown by really quickly and I have to admit I am a bit sad that it is coming to an end. I still have three months though, and many more things to experience in that time like an Eminem concert, so I hope to enjoy it as much as I can. I know for certain that I‘ll miss Sweden when after I return home. It’s now my second home, and I know that I’ll be back sometime in the future. I think my mom was getting a bit annoyed with me a while ago, because I was looking up flight costs and hotels and everything in Strängnäs, and already planning a trip back before I’ve even left.

For the students heading to Sweden later this year, just know that you got a really awesome (the best) country!

Hej så länge!

Click HERE to read more about Vivianne and all her blogs