Friday, October 31, 2014

I ♡ Pippi Longstocking ❤ ❤

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.

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 ...