When I first told my parents and friends back in Germany that I wanted to go on exchange year in Sweden, their reaction was: ”Wow! Nice! But… Ummh… Why Sweden and not the popular countries like Australia, New Zealand, USA or Great Britian?!!”
Now I’ve been in Sweden for more than half a year and I must admit that I never expected Sweden to be that different from Germany- or in general, that European countries can be that different in their culture. But while you are on exchange, you won’t only discover the culture and the different lifestyle of the country you live in, but so much more.
Left: First self-cooked Thai-food with my friend in Sweden. Right: Me falling in love with Swedish nature
I met many other exchange students from all over the world (especially at the Softlanding Camp), so I also got to taste the well-hated australian Vegemite (it’s not that bad, I just don’t like salty breakfast), some salted seaweed as a Thai-snack but also heard scary stories about spiders (which I should have better not listened to), and how to use chopsticks.
At the moment, I am studying three other languages, Spanish, Thai and Japanese. I would have never expected to start learning them while I rather was to learn the Swedish language- but as my best friend comes from central Bangkok I am kind of motivated to learn it now.
The good thing with going abroad is that no one knows you when you arrive, so you can be the person you always wanted to be and try whatever you want to. Which is why I started singing in a choir, tried soccer, track and field and climbing, and finally ended up doing Capoeira (a Brazilian dance and fight choreography). I’d never have expected myself to start this in southern Sweden. Fortunately, I met another exchange student at practice- and she comes from Sao Paulo but has never done Capoeira before! Now we are friends and already planning to visit each other after exchange.
The language part can be tougher than you expect it in the beginning. Even if I understood the main message of what was written down in Swedish when I left Germany, I couldn’t speak a simple sentence. But through rereading Astrid Lindgren’s children books, I progressed very quickly. However, when you are surrounded by people speaking another language than your mother tongue you can get the message after a weeks or months- the speaking part is much harder. It is very helpful that Swedish people want you to learn their language, so they helped me very much. And after I finally started speaking, it is super fun!
You also never end exploring and wondering when you are on exchange. It’s not just when you travel around with your host family and friends and see new places- it’s also eating your first semla thinking about who came on the idea of putting whipped cream on the marzipan and put it into the bun altogether. Even the way of making Pizza is different here than in Germany. Most of the people in Sweden is more nature- orientated, which I think is very cool because I love being outside. And the nature in southern Sweden is very beautiful, too. It’s more the small things like that which make the difference for me.
Of course, there are also times during exchange which aren’t that easy, and that’s mostly caused by homesickness, the different culture or the language that you can’t understand in the beginning. Especially at Christmas, when it was cold, windy and rainy, it was very hard for me to be not homesick- because I missed the traditions we had back in Germany and my family who I used to see every year at this point. It was a new experience (and it also cheered me up) to celebrate Christmas in Sweden- with the julbord, jultomten who was played by my host mum and julgröt. After opening the presents, we even had a little julfika.
School life in Sweden is totally different here than in Germany. The students are supposed to be much more organized, but at the same time everyone wants you to feel good! Lunch is paid from the government, you can decide which specific subject you want to study in your last three years at the ”gymnasiet” and there are way more electrical devices used in Scandinavia so that I sometimes think Germany is a place where cavemen live. Everyone looked at me like I must be crazy when I packed out my stuff at the first day and was the only one in my class who had a pencil and paper. As I am in the nature and adventure program at school, I also tried many different things I’d never even thought of when I left Germany, like outside/cliff climbing, Mountainbike, fishing, SUP and wakeboard, but we also learn about communication and other things.
The only advice I have to future exchange students: Enjoy. Because you will make so many different experiences, some will seem hard first, but you can make it! And in the end, it will pay off and you gain so much through just living in another country for a couple of months! I even could say I was falling in love with Sweden the day I came here and discover something new every day, and I fall in love again and again. Sweden became my second home country and I found a second family and many friends here, too!
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