2023-24 Juliann, outbound to Sweden

Sep 11, 2023

Journal Entry #1, 9/11/23

Hej allihopa! I cannot believe it has already been a month here!

I arrived on August 2nd with no issues in the airport. During the flight I met a woman who is a part of Rotary and had done a short term exchange when she was younger. It is very cool to see how big these exchanges have impacted someone’s life, especially at the beginning of my journey.

I was exhausted when I arrived in Gothenburg because of the time change and the flight. My host dad (Michael), host mom (Ida), host brothers (Ture and Milton), the Rotary Club counselor (Michael), and his son (Alex) met me at the airport. I don’t remember much from when I first met them because of how tired I was. But we talked for a little bit and then left the airport and went home. When we got home, my host family had to bring Milton to the train station to go to Stockholm because he was leaving for his exchange the same day I arrived. So while they were gone my goal was to stay awake, but I didn’t. I napped for a little while and then they came back and we all had lunch together and just talked. We went on a walk in Näset along the ocean as the sun was still out. All I could think was “wow this place is so beautiful.” The first day with my host family I knew everything was gonna work out. Even though now it has only been a little over a month, I feel like I have known my host family for way longer than that and they feel the same. I am so lucky to have the host parents I do. They are so encouraging, loving, and always inviting me to do and try new things.

The first couple days I was here and I was telling a story or something and Ida would breathe air in and it sounded to me like she was surprised or that something had happened. But then I learned that sucking air in meant “yes” or “continue” not that something had happened. I have started saying yes that way now too, especially when I am at school with friends. I have been to my host family’s summer house in Kungsham and it is so beautiful. I got to go on their boat which was so fun as well. The town their summer house is in looks straight out of a pinterest swedish board or like what you see when you look up “Sweden” on google.

Two weeks into my exchange I had celebrated my birthday, the Swedish way. Ida and Ture came into my room while I was asleep singing with a candle in a homemade cinnamon roll. In the afternoon, we went to the beach and played kubb. Then we had a family dinner that I got to pick out. We had a delicious cake as well. It was meringue on the bottom with ice cream and fresh berries on the next layer, then more meringue, then whipped cream, and topped with more fresh berries.

After my birthday I went to the intro camp for three days. It was incredible to meet the other exchange students in Sweden and I made some good friends there as well. We went to the lake twice everyday and played volleyball. The camp organizers taught us some of the basics in Swedish which I had already learned but it was good to help the others with their pronunciation and spelling. The camp was a very good way to learn about Sweden and meet other students.
Most recently, in Ljungskille, there was a camp just for my district. There are 5 students in my district. We all hiked up to the cabin we would stay at for the night. There was no running water, no electricity, and no service which I think was great. We all slowed down and enjoyed the little things. We just got to know each other because some of the students were not at the intro camp. This was our first time meeting each other. I started the fire that we cooked food on with just a fire striker! Some of us watched the stars that night as well because there was no artificial light and we saw 2 shooting stars.

I visited Ikea for the first time and it really is as incredible and huge as people say. I loved walking through the different staged rooms and pretending that these rooms were my bedroom, kitchen, or living room.

Two of the things I love here are cozy Fridays and losviktsgodis (candy) Saturdays. On cozy Fridays we eat chips and watch a movie or something. We just chill basically. On Saturdays we go to the store and pick out some candies. There is basically a whole candy store in the regular grocery store. You grab a bag and a scooper, pick out what you want, and weigh it. My favorites so far are Kex, a wafer lightly covered in chocolate, and licorice, especially the spiral ones.

The grocery stores aren’t that different here, but the one thing that stuck out to me was that at Ica (the main grocery store we go to) you use a scanner as you shop and just pay for everything as you leave. It saves so much time because you do not have to wait in a line. Another thing in the grocery store is that you can bring your empty soda cans to get some money.

There are 11 different types of trash. Separating the trash has been very difficult for me because even plastic coated paper goes in the paper section.

There are some other things I thought were new and different.

The public transportation system here is great. I can get wherever I need to go almost whenever I want to go. I get to school by the bus or sometimes I take the bus and the ferry instead. A lot of the kids here are really independent, I sometimes see kids that are maybe 10 years or younger walking back from the grocery store on Saturdays with their candy. It is also very typical to walk or bike everywhere (which I love). My host dad bikes to work everyday. Sometimes he will run to work. One time he came home from work, I didn’t know he ran to work at this point, and I just saw his head bobbing behind the bushes as he made his way home, all while he was smiling. He had just finished a 10k run from work and was smiling and not tired.

One thing I had never seen before was people practicing cross country skiing during the summer. They have these short skis on wheels with ski poles and they just go along the sidewalk. There are so many people doing that too. I now have learned they are very dangerous because they do not have brakes and people just go off into the grass to stop but sometimes they fall.

One of my favorite things that I have tried is swimrun. Swimrun was started in Sweden and it is where you run across one island, swim to another, run across that one, then swim, then run, etc… I am enjoying that so much. Ida sets up these swimruns for beginners and I get to go with the fast group! The only thing you have to watch out for are jellyfish. When my host mom first told me there were jellyfish, I thought she said yellow fish so I kept looking for yellow fish and I never saw one. It took me a couple weeks to figure out she was talking about jellyfish. I really enjoy the swimruns because when I am running I know I get to swim soon. Plus doing these in a group is so amazing and inspiring. Really recently I completed a 2.5 hour swimrun! I am so proud that I am able to complete these swimruns and enjoy them!

I started school a couple weeks ago and it is so different here. The schedule changes every day, when teachers are not at school we don’t have a sub (most of the time) so we just don’t have class, lunch is in another building, sometimes there are long breaks in between class, and you can leave the building and come back in between classes. Everyone at my school is so nice and welcoming. I am trying my best in each class and I have started answering questions that the teachers ask, but my Swedish is not very good yet so I do not understand very many words in chemistry, CAD, and architecture class. However, I am still enjoying school here because I don’t have the stress of doing well on my shoulders. One of my favorite classes so far is “Idrott” or PE class. The first couple weeks we have been doing “orientation” which is when we are given a map and a card. We have to walk around in groups and find all these different points. We have also played team sports and everyone gets so into it! I learn a lot of new words in that class because it is so repetitive.

My Swedish has been improving a lot, I think. I am understanding a lot more of what the teachers are saying and of what my friends are saying. It feels good when I understand what is going on.
I presented for the first time at my Rotary club fully in Swedish and everyone was super impressed. I am so proud and glad it went so well.

I am really enjoying my time here and I look forward to what is to come!

Journal Entry #2, 10/28/23

It’s been almost three months, and it’s incredible how time has flown by since I first arrived here. Let me share with you what I’ve been up to:

One of the most magical experiences I’ve had so far is witnessing bioluminescence and even swimming in it. The water transforms into a mesmerizing blue glow as you swim through it. It is rare, requiring just the perfect temperature and the right amount of salt in the water. I consider myself lucky to have experienced it.

I’ve also spent several days exploring Göteborg, both on my own and with friends. My architecture class has been a fascinating adventure as we ventured into the city to examine various building types and their architectural designs. What’s remarkable is that we don’t merely observe pictures of these buildings; we physically visit them, discuss their history, unique features, and even sketch them.

One aspect of my schooling that still surprises me is that we don’t stay in the building the whole day. Lunch is in another building and we travel to the city to study different aspects. At lunch, we refer to the eating place as “bamba,” a typical Göteborg term that isn’t used in other cities like Stockholm. Additionally, time is expressed differently here, with dates often referred to as “we have a test week 43” or “fall break is week 44,” which is practical and intuitive. Another thing that initially threw me off but now makes perfect sense is that the week starts on Monday.

I’m slowly mastering the bus system, and I can now figure out which bus to take without needing to check the app. School has been going well also…I have passed all of the tests I have taken(in Swedish).

In late September, I had an exciting swimrun weekend with Ida. I met several new people and reconnected with some I already met. The camaraderie among swimrunners is remarkable; they support and challenge each other to do better. We kicked off the weekend with a 14k run, followed by a yummy dinner. Someone even baked fresh sourdough bread that was absolutely scrumptious. The next day, we did a 2.5-hour swimrun adventure in Smögen, one of my favorite places for swimrun. Smögen’s picturesque beauty and a tower jump before a swim made the experience so memorable. We also had the chance to go rock climbing, as some of the swimrunners were skilled in outdoor climbing. After a few attempts, I made it to the top, and I must say, it’s much harder than it looks. It’s amazing to think that I got to swimrun and rock climb in Smögen, a city that is pictured in Google when you look up Sweden. The last day brought a shorter 2-hour swimrun, followed by a nice fika.

A common Swedish activity is lobster fishing. I joined Ida, Michael, Ture, and Ida’s brother and his daughter at their summer house. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t permit lobster fishing, so we took a boat ride around Smögen instead. Typically, lobster traps are set out on Friday and checked several times on Saturday and Sunday.
Ida and I share the love for making kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls), and we had the perfect excuse to bake them on October 4th, Kanelbullens dag, and share them with friends. All you could smell on October 4th was cinnamon rolls!

I also had the opportunity to visit France recently. Ida and I took a train to Stockholm, where we met up with her swimrun teammate, Anders Södergron, and his daughter Joline. From there, we caught an early morning flight to Nice, France, and then took a train to Cannes. After settling in, we headed to the beach and spent the entire day there. Some of Ida’s friends joined us, and we all had a great time, sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company. Dinner was a memorable experience, with other swimrunners who were competing. It was held at an Italian restaurant with multiple courses, from bread to tomato and fresh mozzarella, various pasta dishes, and a variety of desserts. The company was just as wonderful as the food, with individuals doing so many different things, including a motivational writer, an ex-Olympian, and a CEO. Despite the language challenge, I did my best to keep up with the fast-paced Swedish conversations. The following morning, Ida and I woke up early to catch the stunning sunrise along a beautiful boardwalk by the water. It was an incredible sunrise, and we indulged in croissants and pain au chocolat on the way back. We then went on a ferry to Ile Sainte-Marguerite, an island near Cannes, where we explored the island, swam to discover some really cool statue heads in the water, and had lunch. That night someone was looking for a swimrun teammate so I signed up with them. We ended up getting 3rd! The views during the runs were breathtaking, and the clear water allowed us to look at the fish while swimming. It was an adventure I hadn’t anticipated, but it went so well. We celebrated with French crepes. Then the next day we had to go home.

The weekend following our French adventure, I attended a friend’s birthday party, which was a blast. There were 10 of us and we enjoyed burgers, played Mario Kart, watched a movie, and played card games. The next day, I participated in the Rotary District Conference for District 2360. Along with three other exchange students from the district, we prepared a video where we showcased dishes or desserts from our states/countries. I made a peach crumble, as Georgia is famous for its peaches, and I did my video in Swedish. Before we showed the video, we each gave a quick introduction of ourselves. I gave my introduction in Swedish but the clothes were in half Swedish, half English. All the Rotarians were super impressed and told us we did a great job. A few rotarians came up afterwards, we talked in Swedish and they complimented my Swedish. That felt pretty good.

Most recently, my friends and I visited Liseberg, the amusement park in Gothenburg. Max, Enis, Lovisa, Cornelia, Madde, and I had a great time riding roller coasters, with “Helix” being my personal favorite. We also braved a haunted house – my first haunted house experience, and Lovisa’s too. After one haunted house, Lovisa and I chose to do more roller coasters while the others ventured into another spooky adventure because one spooky house was enough.

As I adapt to the local culture and language, I find that I’m making significant progress. I might not be fluent yet, but I understand more than 50% of what people are saying. I’m even starting to catch the jokes my friends make.

It started getting dark pretty early, around 5:30pm. It has also started getting colder, not below freezing during the day yet though. It is only going to get colder and I am a little nervous for that to happen.

Journal Entry #3, 1/3/24

It has been a while since my last update, and during this time, I have had some new experiences!

First I want to share some of the things that I have noticed are different: Rather than crossing fingers to express hope or anticipation, the cultural norm is to hold thumbs – forming a fist with the thumb inside. Sandwiches are different, they usually consist of a single slice of bread with butter and cheese. No slice of bread on top. It’s extremely common for Swedes to stock multiple blocks of cheese in their fridges for these sandwiches as well. They may be out of everything else in their fridge but not cheese.

One thing that caught me off guard is the use of “en mil,” which translates to one mile but it actually means 10k. This distinction became apparent when I misunderstood the length of a run, learning the hard way to interpret “en mil” accurately. Taxes are included in displayed prices, which is quite nice when I go to purchase something.

Adjusting to the Swedish educational system is going well. The hardest part, however, is that in the U.S. I am used to addressing teachers with titles like Mrs. or Mr. followed by their last name. But here the norm is to address teachers by their first names. Initially, this felt odd, but slowly became something I am used to. I completed the first semester of school entirely in Swedish and that was a pretty big achievement. I managed to pass all my classes!

When swedes are describing something they may say that it is horribly delicious and when I first heard this I was really confused because I didn’t understand why they were describing something like that. How could it be horrible and delicious at the same time??? I am still getting used to this.

Everyone had warned me that the darkness and the cold was going to be horrible and the worst thing I will experience. I am thankful they told me that, but it is not true. The darkness just makes me want to sleep all the time but I would not say that it is horrible. The cold is just something you get used to. On the darkest day of the year we got 6 hours of light. Some weeks you don’t even see the sun because it’s just so cloudy all the time, but you get used to it I promise.

As for my Swedish, I think that it has been really improving and I have even started to think in Swedish. Now if someone speaks in Swedish to me I don’t have to translate it into English in my head, I just know what it means. As well as if I’m reading or I hear someone say something I sometimes cannot remember if it was in Swedish or in English. When I meet new people and start speaking Swedish with them and they find out that I am an exchange student from the US they say that they are very very impressed with my Swedish and they understand everything that I said clearly( I think that is a good thing.) I’ve started to become a little more confident when I’m speaking Swedish as well.

The first snow this year, real snow, happened November 29th. Everything started turning white and calm and it was beautiful to see. The day after, Ida and I ran in an 11 km Trail Run Race. It was pretty incredible to get to run in the snow even though it made it much more difficult and slippery. Along the race path there were people playing traditional Swedish instruments to cheer us along, I thought that was really neat. My host family and I got to go to a “julmarknad” , a Christmas Market. They make the street look beautiful and they have all these different vendors with typical Swedish food and other things like Swedish Santas. Gothenburg was decorated beautifully and one of my most notable things was the big mall which is called Nordstan had its name changed to Nordpolen, the North Pole. I thought that was really neat to see. One of the things that is very common around Christmas time is gingerbread cookies. Everyone says they make it from scratch but really they all buy the dough from the store. This dough is the best thing ever, you could literally just sit there and eat the dough forever and ever and never make the cookies. One weekend, Ida and I baked gingerbread cookies and lussekatter. Lussekatter are a sweet dough with saffron. They are so delicious.

As for what I have been doing, I have been hanging out with my friends from school and other Exchange students. With my friends from school we will sometimes go to the city after school and just hang out, have some fika, and go shopping. Sometimes we go over to each other’s houses and play cards, watch movies, and talk. We had also made gingerbread houses together. The pre-made gingerbread in Sweden is actually really really good.
I got to meet Ida’s parents and listen to her dad play a Swedish traditional instrument, the nyckelharpa. They were super sweet to me and made sure to speak their Swedish slowly so I could understand them.

I got to see a hockey game for the first time and I realized how much of a contact sport it is! It looks painful but it was pretty fun to watch.

I had the opportunity to travel to Östersund, Sweden, situated in the central part of Sweden. Ida and I took the Night Train, a 10-hour journey during which we sat the whole time. This was definitely an experience for me, as I had never gone on such a lengthy train ride before.

In Östersund, I had the chance to learn cross-country skiing from an ex-Olympian, Anders Södergron. Over the course of three days, Ida and I skied five times. I love xc skiing now! I had to master the art of layering clothing for this trip. I also got to see the wonders of a snow playground. Everything was beautiful, white, and quiet. I got the chance to go on a couple walks and it was incredible to walk around and see the wonders nature had in store for me. Everything glistened with the white snow and when the snow was falling it became incredibly peaceful.

Through Ida’s work connections, we got to see how the Swedish national cross-country team prepared their skis for races. Attending the Nordic World Cup was a highlight, I learned some of the details of cross-country skiing that I had no idea about before. I was surprised to learn that winners in sprint races had to compete four times in a single day! The energy in the stadium was incredible, there was a drummer who created cheers which was really fun. During this trip I was introduced to my first julbord, a Christmas table covered with various traditional Swedish foods such as herring, meatballs, potatoes, raw salmon, and other traditional Christmas foods.

Sweden has a unique celebration known as St. Lucia Day, which is basically there to show that there is light and happiness in this darkness that we are experiencing. I had the privilege of witnessing St. Lucia singing before school with my host mom. The atmosphere was beautiful and really brought up the Christmas spirit. My school also commemorated St. Lucia’s day by playing her song and giving out gingerbread cookies and juleskum (candy).

For Christmas, Ida’s brother(Claus) and his daughter(Elin) came up to Kungshamn to celebrate Christmas with us. In Sweden Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve. The family just spends time together throughout the day and then at 3:00 p.m. we all watch Kalle Anka. It is short clips of animated cartoons like donald duck and every Swedish family watches it at 3:00 p.m. Then we all ate dinner together, julbord. After dinner we opened presents and took a walk. There is a typical Christmas game that is played in Sweden. There are a bunch of inexpensive gifts on the table and we all roll a die. if you get a one or a six you get to pick a gift. Once all the gifts are handed out then we roll again and if you get a one or a six you can take a gift from somebody else. You are basing what you pick off of how it looks. Then after the time runs out you open your gifts and see what you got. After the game, we had dessert. Ture and I made the desserts together the day before. We made white chocolate saffron cookies and chokladbollar. It was incredible to spend Christmas with this family and see how much they truly love one another.

For Christmas day, Ida thought it would be a good idea to have a semi-american Christmas Day. So I made a Christmas tree out of cinnamon rolls because that reminded me of home the most. I also made twice baked potatoes for dinner. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

For New Year’s Eve, we all played a part in making dinner together and we also got dressed up. For dinner we had cod and cooked potatoes, which is the typical Swedish New Year’s Eve dish. Åsa came to celebrate with us. Ida’s relative. We all played games like Rummikub and Swedish scramble. Ture and I got to drink apple cider. When it started getting dark outside at about 4:00 p.m., it started snowing. It was windy and snow was coming down really hard outside. So after dessert, which was a white chocolate cream and raspberry dish, Ture and I went outside to play in the snow. We had a snowball fight which lasted surprisingly a really long time and we built a Snowman together. I had the best time in that snowball fight with him. It felt like we were really siblings as we bombarded each other with snowballs. We have gotten so much closer now which I am so grateful for because I had a hard time connecting with him at the first part of my exchange.

I also got to experience my first “cold plunge” or winter bath on the first day of the new year.. Åsa does this all the time so Ida, Åsa, and I did a winter bath together. The trick is to stay calm but it is easier said than done. The water was 2° C. After getting warm again, I found myself thinking that I kind of would like to do it again.

Journal Entry #4, 2/18/24

The weather is starting to get warmer now with temperatures around zero degrees. However, I’ve been told that there might be one more cold blast coming through in March. It’s dark most of the time and rainy, so the few days we see the sun must be taken advantage of, as they might not come again for another three weeks. I noticed that I have adjusted to the cold because one day it was 1 degree and I stepped outside and said it was warm. I would have never said that a year ago. Recently, I had a cold, and I’m not sure if this is just a Swedish thing, but their food “remedy” for a cold is ice cream.

I had my first real dream in Swedish! Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve had dreams where people were speaking Swedish, but in the dream, I was thinking or responding in English, or the dreams were too short to actually count. But in January, I had two dreams that were entirely in Swedish. The dreams themselves didn’t make much sense, even though I understood what was being said. They were set in Sweden but I was in my American house with my American mom and she was speaking Swedish back to me and there was a lot of talk about plates…very odd.

I’ve also made significant progress in reading. I can now read adult books, although not perfectly. It surprises me how much I comprehend. I picked up a book that my friend was reading and found that I could understand it with relative ease. In Swedish class, we’re reading a book that uses old Swedish, but even that I can understand. I’m catching jokes, keeping up with conversations, and people speak Swedish with me without being reminded. This might not seem like a big deal, but it certainly feels like one.

On the downside, my English skills have noticeably diminished when I speak, but I see this as a good thing. Even in English class, I find myself forgetting words like “bookshelf” or “remain.” It’s worse when I don’t know the word in either language because I usually know it in Swedish but not in English. It’s okay when I know it in Swedish because I can simply Google Translate it.

Ida and I traveled up to Trysil, Norway for a girls’ ski weekend. We met up with Jonna (Claus’s girlfriend) and Elin (Claus’s daughter). Jonna owns a place in Trysil where we stayed. In three days, Ida and I did about 115 km of cross-country skiing. The tracks were perfect, and the views were incredible! Sometimes I got distracted and lost balance because I wasn’t looking where I was skiing…oops. Norway is really similar to Sweden in my opinion, in a good way. Definitely an incredible experience to get to go there.

School is going well and most parts are fun. In architecture we got to design our own apartment, put it into CAD, print it using the laser printer, and build it! Each student got to do their apartment how they wanted, so when we put them together it looked so cool because of all the unique shapes. I expected math to be going better because I thought math was math, but I was wrong. Even the formulas are different. We have labs every week and get to mix chemicals in chemistry and run different tests in physics. Plus, after school sometimes my friends and I just go to the city together and have some fika or something.

A few of my friends recently celebrated their 18th birthdays, and 18 is a big one here. They’re really fun to go to, especially because they almost always end with kladdkaka with ice cream and strawberries. Kladdkaka is like if brownies were cake. It’s so good. Birthday parties are pretty similar to the ones in the US. There are snacks and games like charades and karaoke. Lovisa and I won each time, even though I didn’t know what some of the words meant. I’m so glad to have a group of friends that enjoys just hanging out and spending time together.

My favorite part of Sweden and the reason I picked it was because of the nature, and I truly appreciate it. It’s incredible to just go for a walk in the woods that are pretty much right next to the house and have the most beautiful views you could ask for. I get to go running through the powdery snow in the woods and listen to the complete silence the snow brings. I feel as though I’m appreciating the little things around me so much more than I ever have.

There is one major drawback to Sweden: The candy is way too good and it is nearly impossible to stop because it is so delicious and cheap.

Fat Tuesday is a very big day in Sweden. Almost everyone celebrates it. It’s typical to have semla on that day, February 13th. Semla is a cardamom pastry that has a vanilla or almond cream and whipped cream sandwiched between the top and the bottom. They’re very good but very heavy with all that cream. One of the Swedish Kings died because he ate too many semlor. It also used to be illegal for a bakery to sell semlor before Fat Tuesday.

I got to try indoor skiing as well. You have to make a lot of turns but it is very cool to be able to ski indoors! I did not know that was a thing.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m eagerly looking forward to the fun trips coming up!