As I teenager, I attend school, participate in extracurricular activities, and, of course, get caught up in the high school experience. However, I never thought my life would be changed by a girl named Karin Gustafsson who lived thousands of miles away in a small town called Kalmar. This small town was in Sweden and Karin became my sister during my sophomore year in high school.
For ten months, my family was fortunate enough to host a foreign exchange student from Kalmar, Sweden. Karin helped open my eyes to a world outside of Farmington Hills, Michigan. She taught me there is so much more to life than fancy cars, malls, and the inner city.
Where she comes from, citizens walk just about everywhere, visit ancient castles instead of malls, and relax in coffee shops to catch up with friends and family. While Karin stayed in the United States, I learned all about her background and lifestyle. However, nothing helped me understand her more than actually visiting her hometown as a high school junior. Although it was snowy and extremely cold, the vacation was a life changing experience.
After traveling ten hours on a plane and three on a train, my family and I were ready to experience life in Sweden. Upon arrival, Karin’s mother had hot blueberry tea waiting and welcoming us into her home. The Gustafsson’s home, unlike many where I live, is rather small.
Although small, this house felt more like home than anywhere else I have ever stayed in my life. The cozy atmosphere made me smile as Karin gave me a tour. Getting ready for bed, Karin announced the week’s schedule, consisting of tours, a little shopping, relaxing, and card playing.
I woke up to the bright sun, ready to start the adventures! Throughout the first day, I was given a tour of Kalmar, an ancient city that has so much history. It was incredible to see the difference between my city’s paved streets and sidewalks and Kalmar’s cobblestone areas, where pedestrians were allowed to walk through because the fastest thing around was a friendly bike-rider getting their exercise for the day. The beautiful Baltic Sea surrounds the city, creating a chilly breeze, however it is easy to get used to.
We ended the day sitting down in a nice, small restaurant. Most tourists who come to Sweden happen to speak English, so after being seated, my family was given different menus than everyone else that were completely written in English. Ordering our meals was quite interesting, as the waiter spoke very little English. However, with the help of both the English and Swedish menus, we were able to order and enjoy a very appetizing meal.
A fifteen minute walk away lays Karin’s high school. Completely different than American high schools, the Swedish treat theirs just like college. Instead of going from class to class, many students schedules consists of 30 minutes breaks, or even an hour break in between their classes.
During their resting period, many students gather in lounge-type room, and sit for fika, a time to for coffee, snacks and catching up with others. After learning about their school system, it was time to explore the famous castle which sits in the middle of their town. In the middle of winter, and with no heat, the castle was quite cold, but that did not keep us from climbing down ladders into ancient dungeons, or escaping into an old bathroom hideout of a king’s. My mind was enriched after hearing the stories of battles that surrounded the castle, and fascinating explanations behind all the paintings hung in every room.
I left the castle with a much better understanding of Kalmar’s history, and was ready to learn one more thing that day: an amazing card game called ‘Tricks.’ Instead of going to the hottest hang out, many play cards and drink coffee to wind down the day. So far, my trip had been incredible, but it had only just begun. A long day was ahead of our family as we traveled far to a famous glass blowing machinery, Kosta Boda.
Watching the masters blow glass is something I’ll never forget. However, the best part was given the chance to try it myself. As I blew as hard as I could into a tube, I realized how incredibly gifted glass blowers really are. Attempting to blow glass gave me another insight to Sweden I never knew existed.
We ate dinner to authentic Swedish music in the middle of the glass blower’s workshop, and had a blast playing a lottery game and dancing to the tunes. After spending the next few days touring the rest of the city, shopping, and getting to know Karin’s friends I had found a home away from home. I talk to my ‘sister’ constantly through e-mail and phone conversation, knowing I will always have a place to stay and cherish my new found Swedish lifestyle in the beautiful Kalmar, Sweden.
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