Friday, October 17, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > Örnsköldsvik

So, just how far north is Cody?

Boston, Massachusetts, a place most Americans consider cold and snowy, is a mere 42 degrees north. Moscow, Russia, a bit higher, measures at 55. Juneau, Alaska, the land of the big black bear, is 58 and Helsinki, Finland, is 60 degrees north.

Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, Cody's new home, is 63 degrees north, almost in line with Reykjavík, Iceland, and Fairbanks, Alaska, both of which register at 64. Cody grew up in Alexandria, Virginia (38 degrees north since I am citing map coordinates here) and specifically asked YFU to send him to a distant part of Sweden.

Cody is living in Fälludden, a quiet and beautiful neighborhood about 20km (12 miles) outside of Örnsköldsvik. The number of residents living in the city and surrounding area is approximately 55,000. When you compare that number to the DC Metro area, which is estimated at 5,860,342 residents, it's quite a contrast. Here's my question for Cody:

Hi Cody,
Tell us about your first impressions of Örnsköldsvik. Did you feel far away?

Cody: Well, I didn't notice much the first day since I was so tired after having been awake for 30+ hours, but the day after I arrived, my host family and I went into the city and I noticed just how small everything was by comparison. Örnsköldsvik has most of what we have in Alexandria; it's just that the buildings are much smaller and don't fit as many people. I felt like I was in another part of America for some reason, not in Sweden. I still don't feel as if I've actually left. I'm not sure why, but it feels normal being here.

Leslie: Thank you, Cody. I guess we are all more the same than we are different.

Fälludden, Sweden
Fälludden is located on the Gulf of Bothnia in the northernmost arm of the Baltic Sea. For more photos, "like" the Fälludden Facebook page here.

And for more information about YFU's international educational exchange program, visit their website.

Monday, October 13, 2014

YFU: Youth for Understanding

Youth for Understanding (YFU) is an intercultural exchange program that promotes the tagline Make the world your home. YFU's history began in 1951 in an "effort to heal the wounds of World War II" and today the organization hosts more than 4,000 exchange students annually to approximately 60 countries worldwide.

Cody, featured here, here, and here, is currently one of YFU's exchange students living abroad and, for the next few months, I will profile his adventures and those of his host family here on my blog. Here's my first interview with Cody:

Hi Cody,
Tell us why becoming a foreign exchange student appealed to you.

Cody: That's actually a tough question. There were so many reasons. It's hard to pick just one, so I'll give you a few.

The first thing I thought about was learning a new language. One of the most important skills you can have nowadays is being able to communicate well with other people and knowing many different languages can definitely help with that.

Another thing that appealed to me was the idea of being immersed in an entirely new culture. I've been around America all of my life and it's all I have ever known so I thought it would be great to learn how people in other countries live.

I also thought I could benefit from meeting new people and making new friends.

Leslie: Thank you, Cody. It's going to be an awesome year.

Becoming a Foreign Exchange Student
It was a lengthy process becoming a YFU student. There was an online application with an essay to submit. A packet to mail with personal photos, recommendations, and several years of notarized and sealed school records. There was an interview process, passport and visa requirements, shot and health documents, and, in between that, a lot of explaining to do about why the high school experience was preferable to the university semester abroad experience.

Cody was accepted into the program and attended two team-building events, one here in Washington, DC, and the other in Chicago, Illinois. Everything was set, or so we thought, but the departure date came and went. There was no host family for Cody.

Panic set in. How can Cody spend a year abroad with no host family?

But everything worked out and just kept getting better and better. The details were soon announced. Eric, Cody, and I met Magnus, Teresia, Lovisa, and Emilia via Facebook. Cody's host family is warm, friendly, and welcoming. It's so much better leaving home when you know who's there to greet you.

And then a flurry of rapid activity. Going away parties with grandparents, cousins, and aunts. Last-minute shopping, list making, and luggage labeling.

August 26, 2014. Cody's travel date. Cody flies from Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia at age 16 to Frankfurt, Germany, alone. And then Frankfurt to Stockholm, and Stockholm to Örnsköldsvik by train.

Yes, Cody's in Sweden. 

For his junior year of high school.

Tune in often for more news about Cody's adventures as a YFU foreign exchange student in the far north of Sweden.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Richmond- Main Street Station

I have tagged posts from all over Virginia - Alexandria, Arlington, Fredericksburg, Urbanna, and the Northern Neck. This is Amtrak's waiting room in Richmond's Main Street Station. Looks like a cosy living room, doesn't it?

My mom and I witnessed the investiture of a family friend and attended a celebration in honor of the new federal judge, returning home the next day after a restful night at The Berkeley Hotel. Richmond is old money, history, and status as it relates to the legal profession, finance, and government. A quick trip by train but a world away ...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Miami - Summer 2014

Bright sun, sea, and sand. Cuban food. A quick few days away cut even shorter by airplane delays. The Leslie Hotel. A place where Spanish is spoken first and English second.

I've been to Miami only one time before and oddly enough when I arrived this past summer, I felt as if I were home, as if I'd been there a hundred times before …

Monday, October 6, 2014

Guadalajara - Summer 2013

Guadalajara, summer before last, for two weeks. I never blogged about it. Eric, his daughter Cassedy, and I stayed in the historic center and took language classes at IMAC. We drank machine-drip coffee before school but had the best bakery items possible during break. I savored my infrequent lattes, made a few friends, took a carriage ride, and now know a little bit more about Mexico.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Literature in the 1940s

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley

The Body in the Library* by Agatha Christie

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Hungry Hill* by Daphne du Maurier
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn*  by Betty Smith

Gigi* by Colette

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Josephine Leslie/ RA Dick
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Village in the Sun by Dane Chandos

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House by Eric Hodgins

Gentleman's Agreement by Laura Z. Hobson

Maigret's First Case by Georges Simenon

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
No Boats on Bannermere by Geofrey Trease

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Village in the Sun (1945)

This book is about Ajijic, a small village situated between a lake and a mountain, found within close distance to the larger Chapala and the even larger Guadalajara. Currently, Ajijic is a thriving expat community full of Americans and Canadians, but in 1945, when Village in the Sun was first published Ajijic was a remote, hard-to-reach pueblo accessible easiest by water. The author Dane Chandos (a pseudonym for Peter Lilley, Nigel Millet, and Anthony Stansfield) was one of the area's earliest foreign residents.

Very little happens in this book. The writing is heavily descriptive about birds, dogs, the water, light, sunsets, fruit, and flowers. It's a beautiful night-time read, very painterly and restful, right before you go to sleep. A paradise of Eden in print.

The narrator, known only as el Señor, is kind but remote to the story's plot. He is primarily an observer. The real characters are the Indios: Candelaria the cook, Cayetano el mozo (a joven/youth with butler duties), Don Bernabe the builder, and to a lesser degree many others including the three seamstress sisters, Aurora the laundry woman with a sour face, and the revolving maids who work together to keep the position filled. While the Indios may be antiquated in practice, their dialogue is translated with an elegance reminiscent of Shakespearean English. Chandos clearly has respect for the culture in which he lives and writes. El Senor's visitors are not quite as accepting, though. Some of the Europeans who breeze through the small town and some of the big-city Mexicans are condescending and rude. Social class is definitely an issue in 1940s Mexico and the external world is moving in. At the end of the novel, the presence of a powerboat on the lake sums it up. Mexico is changing. And so is Ajijic. The future of the small village is foreshadowed by Don Pedro who takes a loss every year in anticipation of the time when Ajijic will become a resort town with conveniences. That time is now.