Friday, November 14, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > Norrtälje (and Fika)

Cody and Katarina in a Cafe
After Cody's big adventure in Stockholm, he met his host mom (Teresia), sisters (Lovisa and Emilia), and aunt (Katarina) in Norrtälje for a few days. Sweden is known to be one of the world's greatest consumers of coffee. When Cody left America, he was not a coffee drinker, but now after twelve weeks in Sweden, here's proof that Cody has adopted one of his host country's most-loved social activities, fika.

According to my research, fika is a social institution in Sweden; it means "having a break, most often a coffee break, with one's colleagues, friends, date, or family." If you google "fika," most sources will tell you fika is much more than a break; it's an social obligation that Swedes honor on a daily basis.

In the US, we drink coffee, probably just as much as they do in Sweden, but we do it on the run. I buy my coffee at Starbucks as I head for the Metro and then drink it quietly in solitude on the bus and train. Americans meet up for coffee but it's not a daily ritual and sometimes it's not even coffee. Sometimes, it's a euphemism for a casual date or a promised reunion. You know, let's have coffee. Not dinner. Not lunch. Not for any length of time. Not even for coffee. Maybe not at all. In Sweden, fika is a "tradition observed frequently," a time set aside for relationships and relaxation. Let's chat with Cody about coffee and fika.

Leslie: Hi Cody, are you drinking coffee now?

Cody: I have been trying to get used to coffee since so many people drink it here. I will drink maybe three cups of coffee a week.

Leslie: How do you define fika?

Cody and Teresia
in Norrtälje
Cody: Fika is like a snack break or a dessert break. The same way Americans take smoke breaks, Swedes take fika. Well, maybe less frequently, but it's about the same. For fika, you can have anything you want, anything from chocolate cake and cookies to just a sandwich. The weirdest thing about fika, though, is you don't plan it; it just happens. You will be walking through the city and all of the sudden you are in a cafe having fika.

Leslie: That's how it was for me when I lived in Adams Morgan. I would frequently meet friends on a whim. I loved it. When you meet friends for fika, do you have coffee?

Cody: I don't think most teenagers drink coffee. Most of my friends will get a soda or some water when we go out for fika.

Leslie: At what age do Swedes start drinking coffee?

Cody: I would guess somewhere around age 20 people start drinking coffee.

Leslie: Do you like your coffee black, with or without sugar, with or without milk?

Cody: I drink my coffee black about 75% of the time and use milk only about 25% of the time. During my entire time in Sweden, I haven't seen a single person put sugar in their coffee. Some people will put milk, but not many.

Leslie: Thanks, Cody. Norrtälje looks like a lovely visit and fika seems like a nice tradition.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > Stockholm

Sweden's capital Stockholm has a lot of history. By 1000 AD Vikings were in the area. In 1252 it was founded as a city. Stockholm is spread across fourteen islands and includes a large number of parks and green space. It's said to be one of the sunniest cities in northern Europe and has won multiple awards for also being one of the cleanest. Stockholm is similar to Washington, DC in many ways. Both cities are highly walkable, well maintained, and brightly lit. Both have distinct seasons. The leaves on deciduous trees change color in the fall and shed in the winter.

Cody's been to Stockholm three times now. He tells me it's a beautiful city. The first time Cody was in Stockholm it was a brief visit when he passed through on his way from the airport to the train that took him north to Örnsköldsvik. The next time was for his YFU orientation in September, and, more recently, Cody was in Stockholm for three days as part of a YFU camp.

Hi Cody,
Tell us about your trip to Stockholm last week.

Cody: On the second day in Stockholm, we went to the Vasa Museum together as a group. After about an hour and a half there we had a lot of free time to do whatever we wanted. A couple of friends and I went into the city to meet up with another exchange student who lives in Stockholm. She's from the USA so of course we had to go to McDonald's.

The Vasa Capsizing (taken from orgchanger.com)
Leslie: Of course! It makes sense that expats visit places that remind them of home! Tell us about the Vasa Museum. In 1628, a Swedish warship, the Vasa, sank on her maiden voyage. How did that come about?

Cody: The way it was explained to me, the Vasa was designed to be the prize ship of the Swedish Navy. The king at the time (King Gustav II Adolf) told the ship builders that he wanted it bigger and better, so they built another unexpected row of cannons higher on the ship. This made it top heavy and a gust of wind came by and knocked it over.

Leslie: Better to sink in port and not out to sea, I guess. In 1961, the Vasa was salvaged and put on display in the Vasa Shipyard and the current museum opened in 1988. I have read that the wreckage provides a lot of information to historians about shipbuilding techniques and everyday life at the time. The museum is said to be one of the most highly-visited non-art museums in Scandinavia. Do you recommend people visit the Vasa Museum when they are in Stockholm?

Cody: Definitely! It was a beautiful ship with almost all original parts and you can tell they had worked so hard on it.

Leslie: So, let's come back to the 21st century for a minute. When you went to McDonald's, did they have a specifically Swedish item on the menu?

Cody: Not that I noticed. I asked what types of McFlurrys they have and they said chocolate fudge, strawberry fudge, and smarties. My friends from Germany pointed out that smarties are what we call M&Ms.

Leslie: I see online that they also have cinnamon buns and double chocolate muffins! Thanks, Cody. Next week, we can talk about your visit to Norrtälje.

Photo taken from the YFU Sweden Facebook page.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > Why Sweden? Why Now?

Sweden has an official typeface! And it's a good looking one, too. Commissioned by the Swedish government to provide brand identity for international promotions and communications, Sweden Sans was created by Stefan Hattenbach in collaboration with the design agency Söderhavet. Inspiration is said to have come from old signs. Take a look to your left to see the typeface in print, and, for all of you type geeks out there, Sweden Sans is mono spaced, meaning that all of the letters are the same width.

But to answer the question, Why Study in Sweden, let's go now to Cody's dad, Eric.

Hi Eric,
Tell us about your decision to send Cody to Sweden.

Eric: Much of my childhood was spent in Germany being raised by multilingual parents. Our home was filled with folk music from foreign countries and decorated with exotic curios from around the globe. A holiday meal just wouldn't be the same without Dad's fascinating stories about his travels around the world and his teen years spent in Sweden. Conversations about foreign languages and cultures were standard fare. My father instilled in me a thirst for adventure and a fascination with the world beyond my front door. My decision to send Cody to Sweden was in large part a desire to pass this priceless gift on to my son. And, of course, I couldn't ignore the "awe factor." A year abroad is waaay too cool an experience to pass up.

Leslie: Why a full year? Why not a summer abroad or a gap year?

Eric: For high school students, YFU offers either a summer or a junior year abroad, or a gap year between high school and college. Cody's junior year was fast approaching and the cost for both high school programs were exactly the same so it was an easy decision for me. Convincing Cody took about three and a half minutes. Convincing his mom was another story altogether.

Cody's high school guidance counselor argued against a junior year abroad claiming that his graduation would be delayed if his Swedish credits did not transfer. My (mostly intuitive) understanding of the benefits of travel and foreign language acquisition led me to conclude that a year in Sweden would more than compensate for any delay in his graduation or entry into college.

A year living with a host family in a foreign country as a 16-year old would be a far more transformative experience than the same year spent as a 19- or 20-year old gap year student. Language acquisition is quicker and easier when younger and relationships formed as a teen are more likely to be strong and lasting. Here are just some of the benefits of becoming an exchange student. The student:
  • discovers new strengths and abilities
  • increases his or her self reliance and confidence
  • becomes adept at creative problem solving
  • develops a deeper passion for learning in general
  • improves inter-cultural communication skills
  • learns a foreign language
  • expands career options
A YFU year abroad is a qualitatively superior experience to just visiting a country as a tourist. Cody's immersion into Swedish culture will most certainly expand his world view and give him a more mature and objective perception of the USA. More importantly, it will make him a really interesting first date. :-)

Leslie: So, why Sweden, especially since you spent your early years in Germany?

Eric: YFU offers exchange opportunities in a number of countries, but in my mind there was really only one option. My father's parents were both Swedish. My father spent his teen years in Sweden and still maintains contact with his relatives. As a 12-year old, I spent a summer in Sweden living with my grandmother and meeting relatives. In the US, most of us come from somewhere else and many of us take great pleasure in identifying with our countries of origin. I am no exception … and I expect Cody will forever-after feel a kinship with Sweden.

Leslie: Thanks, Eric. It gives me great pleasure to chronicle Cody's year in Sweden.




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > Language Study and Host Sisters

Lovisa, Cody, and Emilia
The Swedish Language
Swedish is a northern Germanic language, spoken by almost 10 million people. Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish people normally understand each other, but Finnish is completely different, with its roots in what are called the Uralic languages.

Around 9 million people are native Swedish speakers, of which 8.5 million live in Sweden. In Finland, some 300,000 people have Swedish as a native language--around 6 per cent of the country's population. Swedish children start studying English in the third year of primary school. (Information quoted from Sweden.se.)

Language Study Abroad
One of the benefits of studying in a foreign country for a full year as opposed to a semester or summer abroad is the opportunity it provides to learn a new language. While Cody's classes are in Swedish, his host parents speak English (as do about 86% of all Swedes). In recent weeks, however, Magnus and Teresia have started to speak Swedish more often in the home. Cody's immersion in the Swedish language has started to intensify. Let's find out how well he's doing.

Hi Cody,
Tell us what it's like to live in a country that speaks a different language. Are you learning to speak Swedish?

Cody: Well, living in Sweden is not the same as it would be in most foreign countries. Everybody here speaks English so even if I never tried to learn Swedish, I would still be fine.

In the first month, people could somehow "smell" that I was an American. They would speak to me in English before talking in Swedish. Then after about a month, I was mistaken for someone who could speak Swedish. At that point, I had learned enough Swedish to understand key words in sentences so I was doing okay.

I started to understand a lot of what people were saying to me by the end of my first month and I could say quite a few things by then as well. Right now (after two months), I am working to increase my vocabulary and have started to learn more about grammar. I am starting to put together more complex sentences. I am no where close to being fluent in Swedish yet, but I'm getting there.

Leslie: Thanks, Cody. Let's ask your host sisters what they think!

Hej Lovisa and Emilia,
Does Cody sound funny when he speaks Swedish? Is there one particular word Cody says in Swedish that makes you laugh?

Lovisa: Cody låter väldigt rolig när han ska uttala ord som innehåller bokstaven R. Han gör något gulligt med munnen när han ska artikulerar, speciellt ordet RÖST låter roligt.

Translation: Cody sounds VERY funny when he expresses words with the letter R in them. He does something cute with his mouth when he tried to say words like "röst."

Emilia: Jag gillar det sätt Cody säger Emilia på!

Translation: I like the way Cody says my name!

Leslie: Thank you, Lovisa and Emilia!
Hugs require no translation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > High School / Gymnasium


A few days after arriving in Sweden, Cody enrolled in Nolaskolan, a local gymnasium where he was assigned a temporary guide, given a tour of the building, and placed in the Natural Science program.

While the Swedish educational system has a structure similar to the American model with grades 1-9 compulsory and grades 10-12 optional, I have read online that there are major differences in how the Swedish classroom is managed. Here's what various websites have indicated:
  • Swedish students address their teachers by their first names. 
  • Swedish students do not have to report to class or explain their absences. 
  • Swedish students are not given homework assignments. 
  • Swedish students are expected to learn the material on their own.
Hmmm ... that sounds a bit too good to be true. Let's ask Cody about it.

Hi Cody,
Tell us what it's like to attend gymnasium in Sweden. How does it compare to the American high school?

Cody: I read a lot about how relaxed school was in Sweden before moving here, but it's not how I expected it would be.

Regarding your statement about being tardy or absent, it's only partially true. You still have to call or e-mail the school to say you won't be coming in, but you can walk into class 30 minutes late and no one will say anything. There's one student who comes in to every class 10 minutes late.

We do have homework albeit not as much as in America. I have only had five or six hours of homework in the two months I have been here and I used to have two to three hours of homework every night in America.

Teachers are like friends here, unlike in America. I have a friend from Estonia who lives here and he went to his teacher's house to watch soccer. My teachers in America were afraid to add us on Facebook because they might have been fired. That's a huge difference!

We have so much time between classes that we can play games. The least amount of time I have between classes is ten minutes and on average I have between 15 to 25 minutes. We have so much time during lunch that sometimes my friends and I will walk into town to have fika.

But don't worry! I still learn a lot. Each lesson is usually around an hour, or an hour and a half. The teacher spends about twenty minutes or so lecturing and the rest of the time going around helping people individually who don't understand.

Leslie: Thank you, Cody. Maybe next week we can tell everyone about the Swedish custom called fika. :-)

Cody is in Sweden for his junior year of high school. Come back often to hear more about his adventures as a foreign exchange student. And to learn more about YFU, go here.

(Photo from the Nolaskolan website.)

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 here.

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.