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YFU

YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Tag: Sweden

Campus Ambassador Introductions: Emma

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“I have a greater understanding of the workings of our society, and I believe that it is vital for youth to learn for themselves the true meaning of exchange. ”

Some people cite the long plane ride overseas as the beginning of their exchange, while others say it was the first face-to-face meeting with their host family. For me, though, my exchange began the moment I turned away from my family in the airport terminal.

I had been raised to always do things passionately or not at all. My family and I both knew that I was independent enough to survive a semester away from home in the country of Sweden; that I would be driven to craft the best experience possible for myself; that I would persevere through anything that came my way. And so, I faced the future and never looked back.

Once I left to get on the plane to Sweden, I never looked back, and I am thankful for that every single day!

Once I left to get on the plane to Sweden, I never looked back, and I am thankful for that every single day!

That didn’t mean that I wouldn’t miss my family, nor did it imply that I wanted to leave behind my life in the United States; in fact, it was quite the contrary. By keeping my gaze fixed on the future, though, I was able to appreciate what I left behind while remaining open towards what lie ahead.

That important realization came into play for the first time when I met my younger host sister in beautiful Stockholm, where YFU held their Arrival Orientation. Light rain drizzled overhead as my host mother, Marie helped me collect my bags, leaving me to talk to 7-year-old Denice, who didn’t know a word of English besides the numbers from one to ten. I used my fragmented Swedish skills to offer her my favorite American candy (Reese’s Pieces). She accepted with a grin. On the first of two train rides home, we chit-chatted as if we were actually sisters, and we drew pictures in a fluffy pink notebook to aid in communication with one another. Denice fell asleep with her head on my shoulder, and I knew then and there that a language barrier would not stop me from making Sweden my home.

I took this picture with my host sister on the first day that I met my host family.

I took this picture with my host sister on the first day that I met my host family.

Even though we didn’t speak the same language in the beginning, we found a way to communicate and I became an older sister for the first time in my life.

Even though we didn’t speak the same language in the beginning, we found a way to communicate and I became an older sister for the first time in my life.

Though I struggled with learning Swedish in the beginning,  I was never dissuaded from making friends and learning new information. I specifically remember one instance when I was sitting in chemistry class, determinedly taking notes though I had only an inkling as to what they meant. I smiled to myself, though, first asking my classmates to help me translate them and then understanding that one day, I would be able to read the notebook and understand all of the information inside. I made hundreds of flash cards for words that would prove obscure: gräsmatta, skildhet, orkan. (Lawn, divorce, hurricane.) I studied verb conjugations, I listened to Swedish music, I read my textbooks out loud while I was home alone.

In Sweden, I studied four science classes, a criminal law class, and three languages - wow! My classmates welcomed me with open arms and helped me understand what it was like to live overseas. Thank you for everything, NA13B!

In Sweden, I studied four science classes, a criminal law class, and three languages - wow! My classmates welcomed me with open arms and helped me understand what it was like to live overseas. Thank you for everything, NA13B!

After a few months had elapsed, it all fell together; I began feeling comfortable being around my friends in school, my Swedish skills had skyrocketed, and I remained in close contact with other exchange students who became some of my best friends.

But YFU prepared me for homesickness and culture shock, too, which I readily accepted as a not-too-distant reality. About midway through my semester in Sweden, I had a very hard decision to make that cultivated in my move to another host family in the area. When I left the home of my first family permanently with a bittersweet wave of emotions washing over me, I turned away and never looked back.

By not looking back, I was able to move forward into bigger and better things. I made mistakes when it came to my first family even though I loved them immensely, but in my missteps I discovered the tools I needed to have a successful relationship with 15-year-old twins Victor and William and my new parents, Paul and Helene.

After dozens of attempts, my friends Lisa from Austria, Léa from France and I finally got a picture we were satisfied with! That is what exchange is about - working hard to see some spectacular results.

After dozens of attempts, my friends Lisa from Austria, Léa from France and I finally got a picture we were satisfied with! That is what exchange is about - working hard to see some spectacular results.

I could tell quirky anecdotes about my exchange all day if I had the opportunity, but more important are the lessons that I learned abroad. For one, I began to comprehend the significance of self-confidence. Without high self esteem, I could have never ventured out into the Swedish public with only enough skills to ask where the bathroom was. Nor could I have ordered my coffee in Swedish, traveled on public transportation alone, or even walked home two miles from the train station.

Perhaps the most valuable piece of advice I can pass along is to take advantage of every opportunity that is given to you. Fear can hold a person back or propel them forward, and though it was scary at times, I allowed myself to take risks. I never let something as petty as fear stop me from accomplishing my dreams. In short, I carpe’d the heck out of that diem.

As an exchange student in Sweden, I learned how to take advantage of exciting opportunities. Just smile, relax, and live your life to the fullest - that’s what I did!

As an exchange student in Sweden, I learned how to take advantage of exciting opportunities. Just smile, relax, and live your life to the fullest - that’s what I did!

The number of lessons I have learned since going on exchange is infinitely large, so I can only hope to scratch the surface through this blog post. But I know now that my exchange experience will always be a part of me.

Now, as a Campus Ambassador with YFU, I get the chance to give the community a little glimpse into what my life was like in Sweden. I was a meager teenager on the asking end of the questions once, too, and being able to impart my wisdom onto the YFU community helps me relive the best moments of my exchange. Being able to live overseas affected me in a way that I could have never predicted. I have a greater understanding on the workings of our society, and I believe that it is vital for youth to learn for themselves the true meaning of exchange.

I sit in front of my computer screen over a year later, reminiscing on the five wonderful months I spent living in Sweden, and I am glad that I never looked back.

Campus Ambassador Introductions: Misha

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“Studying abroad provided me with a second home and a new set of eyes through which to see the world.”

The realization of a dream is a surreal sensation.  Reminiscing now, the memory of that realization is made of various fragments - the feel of a YFU lanyard around my neck, the travel pouch resting in my lap; the numbness in my toes after long hours of sitting; the melody of the song I was listening to when it happened.

Sweden seemed like a very abstract concept, merely a dream, until I first looked out the window of the airplane as I descended into Stockholm.  Looking out over the beautiful archipelago, it hit me full force - I was about to spend ten months living in this foreign country.  The song “I Can See the Pines Are Dancing” by A.A. Bondy came up on my shuffle and a feeling of awe transformed my small airplane seat into a holy place.  Reverently I let my eyes trace the cobalt curves where the water hugged the land.  My worries and fears quieted as the peace I felt told me I was where I was meant to be.

It was the first of many similarly momentous realizations.  My entire exchange year was a series of eye-opening experiences.  Every day was a new adventure filled with discovery; boredom only meant I wasn’t making the most of my time.  I learned about the wide array of food the Swedes enjoy, everything from surströmming (pungent fermented herring) to kanelbullar (cinnamon buns).  Not to mention the rules - like how one mustn’t stir the porridge, or how anything that fits on a piece of bread can be called a sandwich.  I learned to be more reserved in public like a Swede, but similarly just as warm and welcoming in close quarters.  I was adopted into an incredible family I love with all my heart.  I discovered a love for the people, for my beautiful city Göteborg, for the culture and for the language.

The last day I spent with my host family was so bittersweet, I still remember their last words to me as I boarded the train. They were the best part of my exchange and I'm so excited to see them in a few months!

The last day I spent with my host family was so bittersweet, I still remember their last words to me as I boarded the train. They were the best part of my exchange and I'm so excited to see them in a few months!

Famous Swedish Midsommar (Midsummer) celebrations always include these flower/wreath crowns, handmade with fresh picked wild flowers. Participating in the traditions of the culture is one of the greatest privileges of being an exchange student.

Famous Swedish Midsommar (Midsummer) celebrations always include these flower/wreath crowns, handmade with fresh picked wild flowers. Participating in the traditions of the culture is one of the greatest privileges of being an exchange student.

The YFU Sweden camps were always such amazing times. Staying up all night, bonding over the wonderful little cultural differences we discovered, teaching one another that friendship is a universal language. I can now honestly say I have friends in several different countries, eager to meet again in the future - despite whatever length of time has separated us.

The YFU Sweden camps were always such amazing times. Staying up all night, bonding over the wonderful little cultural differences we discovered, teaching one another that friendship is a universal language. I can now honestly say I have friends in several different countries, eager to meet again in the future - despite whatever length of time has separated us.

Friendships made while on exchange are both enduring and life changing.

Friendships made while on exchange are both enduring and life changing.

I will always be so grateful to my classmates for welcoming me into their school.

I will always be so grateful to my classmates for welcoming me into their school.

Studying abroad provided me with a second home and a new set of eyes through which to see the world.  I learned more about myself and became my own favorite travel companion as I navigated the emotional rollercoaster that is an exchange year.  It was a transformative period in my life and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have studied abroad with YFU.  My experience made it apparent to me once I returned home to the States that I had a responsibility to help other students get the chance to learn and grow the way I did, if for no other reason than to remember that sacred feeling of seeing Sweden for the first time from thousands of feet above ground.

The beauty of Sweden is something I never got over.

The beauty of Sweden is something I never got over.

YFU Campus Ambassadors: Meet Misha

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As we celebrate International Education Week, YFU is excited to announce the launch of our new Campus Ambassador Program (CAP). Following a competitive application process, five YFU young alumni were selected from across the country to serve as our inaugural class of Campus Ambassadors. As a continuation of their exchange experience, they will mentor prospective study abroad and international students, and share YFU exchange opportunities within their schools and communities across the country. Stay tuned throughout the week as we introduce these student leaders. 

“I believe in exchange because it creates a global community that fosters understanding and compassion.”

Name: Misha

From: Virginia

Went on exchange to: Sweden

My name is Misha, I am currently finishing up my last year of high school in Arlington, VA.  I spent my sophomore year abroad in Gothenburg, Sweden, where I found a second family and another home. My exchange year has been the most significant thing I've done in my life thus far, and I have been happy to get the chance to continue my connection with YFU through volunteer work since my return to the States. It's exciting to get the opportunity to focus all efforts in an established program, so I am looking forward to being able to participate with fellow alumni to make a difference in the organization.  

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Anna Enjoys a Gap Year in Sweden

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Ready for adventure, Anna deferred her college admission for a year and traveled to Sweden on exchange to fulfill a lifelong dream. Here's what Anna's written about her experience thus far:

"I have deferred my university admission and will be taking a gap year in Sweden for the next eleven months!” This was my usual response when asked about my future plans throughout my senior year in high school, which was usually met with dropped jaws and amazed expressions from my family and friends. As a current YFU gap year exchange student, I can wholeheartedly say that taking a gap year has been the most adventurous decision of my life to date. However it has also been my best and most life-changing decision!

This whole exchange student experience began quite some time ago - before I was born actually! My father was an exchange student in Sweden when he was in high school. Although that was back in the 80′s, I grew up knowing about his exchange experience and hearing about Sweden, along with learning about the Swedish ancestry in my family through several of my family members. So I think I had always had some sort of interest in Sweden.

Anna Wangen_US to Sweden_Gap 2013

Anna Wangen_US to Sweden_Gap 2013

Now, speed forward several years to me at age twelve. Here come the Swedish camp years. My family had known about Concordia Language Villages for several years, but had always been a little afraid of shipping me off to camp where I didn’t know the language. So somehow during those years as a Swedish student at camp, I got the crazy idea that I wanted to be an exchange student myself. I had learned about many different exchange programs and opportunities, and did much research on my own. Still, many people balked at the idea at first. It seems most unusual and culturally unacceptable to take a gap year between high school and college to most Americans, although it is absolutely normal here in Europe. I soon discovered Youth For Understanding and their arts exchange program in Sweden. It couldn’t have been more perfect, and I filled out an application to do a gap year last August. Simultaneously, I prepared an audition repertoire and visited many colleges in order that I could defer my admission for a year at the music college of my choosing.

Needless to say, everything has worked out unbelievably smoothly and I am now enjoying an amazing year abroad in Sweden! YFU has a wonderful network overseas, and this year has been full of cultural and life lessons. From learning to ALWAYS wear my rain pants when bicycling in the rain to singing in a Santa Lucia choir, I have been able to absorb Swedish culture while simultaneously sharing American traditions such as Thanksgiving. My host family definitely enjoyed both the joyful companionship and the pumpkin pie of our classic American holiday. I cannot wait for what the rest of my exchange year has in store!

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

First Hand Gap Year Experience

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Nikole Hampton Photo 2 - Graduation“Most kids from my hometown either went straight to work or straight to college.” This may have been true for many students in Harrisville, Michigan, but Nikole Hampton wanted more after she graduated in 2008, so she decided to take a gap year between high school and college to attend high school in Sweden. “It was the best experience of my life and forever changed me for the better,” Nikole says of her year. She had been unsure of her future plans, but she was sure of one thing: she was looking for the adventure of a lifetime and she got it.

“My parents were more in support of me going to college immediately, until they looked into gap year programs with me and realized that I was really motivated to do this. I deferred my acceptance to the University of Michigan, so they were happy to know I didn’t lose this opportunity either, and then they really started to support me.” Nikole got the best of both worlds with her gap year. She was able to take a giant leap out of her comfort zone and find out what she was made of, then attend college the following year.

Nikole Hampton Photo 3 - Art ClassNikole lived with a host family outside of Stockholm and attended Nacka Gymnasium as a third year (or a senior). In Sweden, students attend school until they are around 19 years old, which meant that her classmates were the same age, which was very important to Nikole. Despite the fact that she was the same age as most of her classmates, Swedish school took some getting used to. “Swedish high school is set up more like American colleges, with weekly schedules and classes that met twice per week.  We also had the majority of classes with our ‘class,’ or about 20-30 students studying the same track.  Mine was social science and art, so that is what my classes were mostly about except for our electives.” Her classmates quickly became her closest friends. “We were like a family!” She also made friends with kids on her track team and became close with her host sister who often invited her to hang out with her friends even though they went to different schools.

One of the best memories she has was the vacation she took with her host family. “My favorite was going on a road trip with my host family and skiing! It was so beautiful and we got to spend a lot of quality time together, cooking and playing cards and such.  School and life gets crazy busy sometimes, so it was relaxing to have some time off and just spend time with each other. And be in the outdoors of course!” It is times like these that really characterize an exchange. Although Nikole’s family’s English was near perfect, eventually they only spoke Swedish to her so she could practice. “They helped me with homework and taught me lots of words before school even started! They also got me a library card too, and I spent a lot of time reading which was another good way to learn a language.”

Nikole Hampton Photo 1 - Family VacationNot only did she get the opportunity to bond with her host family, but she was also able to bond with her natural family as well! “I visited family that lived in the south of Sweden and got to learn more about my heritage and experience a very different region. I also had some family living in the Stockholm area, so I met up with them occasionally too!”

Because Nikole joined her class during their last year of school, she was able to graduate with them! “Graduation was completely different than in the U.S. We had what was called an ‘utspring’ at school after an assembly, where they called out each class and we ran out of school and looked for a poster of us that our families secretly made (I realize this sounds strange...). Then our family put presents and letters on necklaces around our necks and we went home with them, changed out of our nice clothes, and then met up with our class again on a giant flat-bed truck that went all around Stockholm and blasted music.  After that, we go home again, and our families and friends were all over for a dinner and such in honor of the new graduate.”

Nikole Hampton Photo 5 - Class PhotoNikole took a risk and challenged herself and it paid off immensely. She learned a new language, made incredible friends, even ate reindeer! Now, she is finishing up a bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of Michigan. As a graduation present to herself, she is traveling back to Sweden this summer to visit her friends and host family, that she hasn’t seen in four years, to relive all of the wonderful memories she had there. This experience for her was unforgettable and transformative. She came back from Sweden motivated, confident and ready to continue with the ideas that ignited her passion for social issues while abroad.

Written by Zoe ColtonQuotes from Nikole Hampton

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!