Life as an exchange student: Junior lives American high school dream

September 8, 2021

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Photo courtesy Marie Svärd.

Six-year-old Alex Svärd shakes a pom pom in her “High School Musical” cheerleading outfit. She enjoyed playing dress up and singing the “High School Musical” soundtrack.

 

As a European kid, I have been fed with the perception of American high school as something perfect and ever since I was little, I have been dreaming about being a part of it. The football games, school spirit, prom, clubs and the magical high school love depicted in movies and music throughout my childhood. I would play dress up wearing cheerleading clothes and rewatch “High School Musical” countless times. I had my mind set, that some day I was going to live the American high school dream. 

However, my seven year old Zac-Efron-loving self was not convincing enough for my entire family to move to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and I soon realized that this was something I would have to do by myself. So in 2019, I finally took the step to start the extremely long process to become an exchange student. The original plan to come here in 2020 did not work out due to obvious reasons, but this year, it finally happened. 

One of the first things I have realized is that basically everything is bigger. Not only am I referring to the portion sizes, but to the way that everything is. The commonly used Swedish word “lagom”, directly translated to moderate, barely exists, and I absolutely love it. So far, “High School Musical” has not lied to me, but I have yet to experience my first football game, school dance, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, all of which I know will be something to remember. 

Although my year has been off to a great start, I struggle sometimes, too. Speaking another language, meeting new people and not living with the same people I have lived with for 17 years is such an amazing experience, but at the same time a tough one. From time to time, I just feel like speaking Swedish and eating my grandmother’s home cooked Swedish meatballs. Yet, I know that I am growing and will continue to grow every second of my year-long stay here. Nevertheless, I appreciate parts of my Swedish life that I have never thought of before. Whenever things feel a little hard, I try to think that it is not good, it is not bad: it’s just different, regardless if it is about eating with only a fork, or not having the same freedom to go everywhere. 

Almost one month of my exchange year has passed, and I have already met a lot of great people and been exposed to glimpses of the life I have dreamt of for so long. Some days I think the Swedish flag is tattooed on my forehead, and other days it feels like I have never lived anywhere else. Still, if there is something I know I am, it is lucky.

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