Stories from Sweden

Alisa Gains a Loving Family in Sweden

Being a part of the 2019 Educator Exchange program, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but looking back, I see that it was much more than I had ever expected it would be. It all began the moment Jeffrey Shores and I arrived in Sweden, as my host Jessica Olofsson and Jeffrey’s host Johanna Soderblom were waiting for us in the airport with huge smiles. When I arrived at Jessica’s house, her husband Erick and son Love were ready to welcome me and gave me the tour of what would be my home for the following three weeks. Upstairs was where I would be staying, and it was absolutely perfect. Not to mention, they had a welcome basket full of goodies on my bed. It definitely felt like home. 

 My biggest take-away from this experience was the amount of freedom given to Swedish students. During recess they were able to play freely, including climbing trees and hiking in the forest, rain or shine. In addition, during lunch, students served themselves what they wanted along with what portion size they would like. After eating, students were responsible for taking their own tray, placing leftover food in the compost bag, putting dishes in their designated area to be washed, and finally grabbing a hand towel to clean their table. Although this doesn’t sound like a big deal, these types of things allow students to grow independently and take on situations without having to immediately look for adult support. 

 While staying in Sweden, I had the opportunity to celebrate their National Day. We attended a festival at a park where we listened to ABBA music played by a local high school band. Back at home, Jessica made us a Swedish meal with salmon, potatoes, caviar, and a homemade Swedish strawberry sponge cake. The meal was absolutely delicious. 

 Another event I greatly enjoyed was the graduation of Johanna’s sixth graders. This experience was very special. Each grade level was allotted an hour in their neighborhood church. Jeff and I walked with Johanna’s class from the school to the church where parents and other family members awaited the arrival of their children and followed them inside the church. In the church, the teachers gave each child a gift along with an award only after the students sang a variety of songs they had practiced all school year. The performances were very heart warming and you could really see the love between the teachers and their students. 

Through this experience, I understand that kids are kids no matter where they are in the world, but I also see that giving students more opportunities to do things on their own expands their life skills as succeeding adults. Since being back in my classroom, I have learned to give my students more opportunities to be independent. Subsequently, I have noticed changes. Students tend to make the right choices the first time and seem more caring towards others while holding themselves responsible for all of their actions. 

Not only did I learn a lot in the classrooms and from my traveling experiences in the various cities, but I also gained a loving family in Sweden. Jessica, Erick, and Love were more than welcoming and treated me as though I was part of their family. They took me to many family activities, including Fjallbacka where we enjoyed pastries from their family bakery, fished for mackerel, and hiked the top of the mountain to view the beautiful archipelago. I will never forget the views we saw at the top of the mountain. I look forward to the many other experiences that await my Swedish family and myself. 

Takeaways from Sweden by Jeffrey Shore

Education in Sweden:

My host family consisted of Johanna, the teacher, and her husband, a computer programmer. Johanna had a higher salary. At the end of every year, teachers are required to sit down with their principal and negotiate their salary for the following year. When teachers are told they will make $45,000. They take home $45,000. The other items are worked out in addition to the actual salary. When it comes to Special Education services, the US is by far more supportive than Sweden for students with ADHD, students receiving resource services, and other less severe disabilities.

Other noticeable differences included small class sizes. Many classes were 15 students or less. In more populated areas class sizes were closer to 25. Students called teachers by their first name. Students cursed frequently. The cursing occurred in English.

The end of the school year includes a special ceremony in a large meeting area…often a church. Students are able to give speeches, tributes, showcase musical talents, and be recognized by their teachers and vice versa.

Cultural Observations:

Sports are highly encouraged for youth. Sweden overall, appears to be a very active society. Fresh fruits and vegetables were available in all restaurants, school cafeterias, and at our family dinner table. Fast food was a rare sight. There were several McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Subways. However, there were pizza shops on every corner.

When in a different country, I try to eat their food and drink their drinks. High school students recommended Kabob Pizza. I ate it several times and also tried to recreate it at home. We also were treated to an early Mid-Summer’s Day lunch. This lunch consisted of a salad, tomato pie, pickled herring topped with potato, egg, chive, caviar, sour cream, and pickled onion. A strawberry shortcake was for desert. Schnapps, a chilled 40% alcohol spirit was the traditional drink.

I was asked how I felt about Donald Trump in every classroom. Many adults made comments as well. I was reminded by several Swedes that President Trump had made several false statements about their country.

Favorite Experiences:

We went on a day trip to the Western Coast of Sweden. We went to Fjällbacka to Jessica’s parents’ home. We went out on the boat and caught over 20 fish. Her father cleaned the fish and we had them for lunch.

We were in Stockholm and went to Mama Mia: the Party (an extension of Mama Mia). It was their 700th show and Bjorn the original member of Abba came out to celebrate the milestone.

Spending time with my family was a favorite. We went to the kids’ soccer games, ate meals together, watched world cup matches, went to festivals, witnessed my family vote in an election, and so many other things. My family lived near a picturesque, large lake. During my free time I would walk along the lake and the little town of Vänersborg.

We also took a day trip to Oslo, Norway (beautiful, but expensive), took a day trip and a canal cruise in Gothenburg, celebrated Sweden’s National Day, ate our first moose dinner (very tasty), went for a hike and fishing on the King’s mountain, attended a school play of Greece, and so much more.

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