When asked how they decided to host an exchange student, Josephine, host mother to Anita since august 2020, answered that she felt she wanted to give back after her own experience abroad as a teenage exchange student. She moved to France for a year and she is still in contact with a few friends, and up to a few years ago, with her host family. A bond and an experience that lasts long throughout life.
Anita, 17 years old Italian girl who originally comes from northern Italy, has become as a daughter for the family. The reason behind Anita’s high school year abroad was two-folded. She has also had an earlier experience as an exchange student. “I went to Denmark for a year and a Danish girl stayed in Italy during the same period. It was a very beautiful experience and my interest and love for the Nordic countries started there.” Together with other things, Anita became fascinated by how Scandinavians organized life differently to Italy. “Everything is different! How they go to work, the schools, how the daily routine is organized and so on.” After that experience she decided to choose Sweden as a host country where to spend a year abroad.
Being an exchange student during the pandemic has not been easy for Anita, but hearing from her joyful response, the unusual circumstances did not seem to prevent her from having a rewarding experience. Distance learning at her school was introduced quite soon after she arrived in the province of Uppsala, the place that she would call home for the year ahead. ”At first I was at school each other week, and later every two weeks. Since December all lectures were to be followed by distance” – tells me Anita, with a relaxed attitude and a smile on her face – “Some of the major differences have been meeting my friends less often and by using different means. “We still videochat but of course it is not the same thing. Also, I miss playing volleyball” something that Anita started with already at the start of the exchange program. “I look forward to starting again and hopefully it will happen soon”. On the other hand, STS has organized different meetings, both with exchange students in Sweden, and students living throughout the Nordic countries. Although some challenges, Anita had the chance to try out and experience traditions as every other exchange student would have the chance to do in more normal circumstances. Among the others, Anita’s host mother proudly showed me an article written by a local newspaper from the city where Anita comes from, Parma. In the article, Anita was pictured together with her new family while making tortellini, a tipical dish from the Emilia-Romagna region, where she comes from.
Along with the exchange program in general, holidays have not been an exception when it comes to uncommon routines. Christmas has been no less than one of these situations, but also one that was filled with nice memories connected to experiencing Swedish traditions for the first time. “I really do like to do the gingerbread house and watch the Julkalender (a traditional Swedish tv-series sent starting from the first of Advent) with my host family, that was really new for me and I like to sit all together, it is very cozy!”. Moreover, adds Josephine, “on Christmas we all had the chance to videochat with some of the family who were abroad, and Anita also had the chance to speak to her family.” Josephine and her husband also have a son on an exchange year, in Ireland, who left just a few days after Anita arrived. So it was good for them to be able to share some moments of Christmas with him as well.
When talking to Anita, it did come natural to focus only a few minutes on home-sickness. Anitas’ enthusiasm for everything she wanted to tell about took away almost every single suspect about difficulties of being abroad, and whether distance took over the excitement and satisfaction of being abroad. “It may sound strange, but I noticed quite soon that if I video-chatted often with my family in Italy I would feel more relaxed and less home-sick than if I did not have contact”. This can be an advice to all the students that are thinking about starting an exchange program, although everyone is different and usually finds their own way to deal with distance and home-sickness. Anita is glad to have taken the decision to leave for an exchange year and encourages everyone thinking about this kind of experience to take the step. “Just go! It is a beautiful experience, and even if it is not that easy to leave your friend and family at start, it is really worth it”.