From Sweden to the States

Exchange student speaks on her experience at PVHS

Elsa Sjo is an exchange student from Sweden and is currently a junior here at PVHS. 

She grew up in Norrkoping, Sweden and will be staying at PVHS for one year, continuing to pursue her interests.

“I love sports,” Sjo said. “I do club surfing and water polo, and I’m hoping to do a Spring sport as well. Before I got here, I did handball and horseback riding.” 

Sjo shared that her school year here doesn’t count in Sweden because the subjects and grading are different.

Elsa explained the countless differences between the Swedish and American schooling system. These differences include perception of different grade levels, 

“Here you pick and choose subjects, while in Sweden everybody has the same classes up until ninth grade, which is when we finish our middle school years. Our high school is kind of like college. That’s already when you pick and decide what you’re going to do in life.” 

Elsa shared that when you go to high school in Sweden, you have to make a list of what high schools you want to go to. The one you prefer the most is at the top, as well as what package of studies you would like to study at that high school. 

Swedish students “compete to get into these schools with points you get from your grades in middle school.” 

Elsa explained the process further, by sharing, “When picking your package of studies, there are two different categories you can choose from. One is preparing you for higher education, so going to a university. The other one prepares you for work. It is not expected of you to go to a University at all.” 

In addition, she explained, unlike in the US, Swedish high schools don’t have sports and electives.

Sjo had to go through a long process before being accepted for the exchange program. 

“When I decided to go, I signed up as an interest for their exchange program,” Sjo said. “Then I got accepted and filled out a full application with a bunch of stuff about myself.”

Surprisingly, Sjo wasn’t allowed to pick one specific city or country where she would like to have stayed.

She chose the USA and Canada as her top choice, and it happened to be where she ended up. She was very excited about being placed at a school and with a family that is so close to the beach.

There were some difficulties with coming to a brand new country.  

“The hardest part was leaving my best friend and my dog. I do miss my parents, but I talk to them a lot. My friend, she’s like my sister, we’re really close and I miss her a lot. I just want to hug her.” 

One thing that was unexpectedly hard for Elsa was applying for and receiving her visa, which was partly because of COVID-19, “In Sweden, to get a visa, there was a waiting line of 100 days when I was applying for it, to get to the embassy and get the interview.” 

Due to COVID there weren’t enough people working, and there were numerous restrictions. Elsa shared, “there was so much to fill out to get a visa. I actually went to Oslo, Norway to get my visa because the wait time in Sweden was too long.”

Before moving to the U.S., Sjo was mostly worried about possibly not fitting in with her host family because every family is very different. 

“My host family right now is pretty good. We have our differences, but you have to see beyond those differences,” Sjo said.

Sjo was most looking forward to trying different activities.

“I was really excited about going to concerts, because there are so many more opportunities for going to concerts here. [I was also really excited about]surfing. When I figured out where I was going to end up I [knew I] wanted to learn how to surf,” Sjo said.

Sjo contemplated whether or not she would like to come back to the U.S. after completing her year with the exchange program.

 “I would probably like to visit. Maybe visit my host families that I stayed with  and any good friends, or just vacation,” Sjo said. 

Sjo is proud she took the opportunity to come to the U.S., and regards the experience of studying abroad highly.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity, and I feel everybody who has the opportunity should definitely [take] it. You learn another language, or in my case develop it even more,” Sjo said. “I think I have more of an understanding of other people…there is a lot more diversity here,” Sjo said. “So even though most of the USA’s culture is the same as Sweden’s, I learned a lot more about people. I have already grown a lot during my experience here.”