Swedish to Friends Results in Successful Cultural Exchange

Leah Johnson, News Editor

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This May, eight students from Calmare International School (CIS) in Calmare Sweden, Anna Nyteg, Ida Kandenäs, Ronja Kandenäs, Philip Thorsell, Axel Palmqvist, Stina Gardesten, Matilda Wikman, and Agnes Lindblad, arrived at WFS to learn about the school, American culture, and meet the pen pals with whom they had been corresponding with for the past few months. For the Swedes this trip was the culminating experience of their Americans Studies course in which they studied American history, literature and culture.

When asked why she entered this course and chose to go on this trip, Ida Kandenäs replied, “I guess I wanted to experience everything and see if it lived up to my expectations (and if it was like all the movies I have seen, which it wasn’t).”

Wilmington Friends School has hosted students from CIS in the past and this exchange originally grew out of the sister-city connection between Wilmington and Calmare. The trip was coordinated by Mr. Morton, U.S. History teacher, who commented on the purpose of the trip, “The idea is to support our commitment to Global Education/Learning. The hope is that by a face to face exchange with other students (in this case, students from Sweden) that our own students will gain perspective, and become more culturally literate.” The Wilmington visit for the Swedes began with an overnight host stay, followed by a visit to the school on Friday and goodbyes Friday evening.

The overnight stay was different for each of the pen pal groups because of the different interpretations of what an ‘American evening’ truly is.

Abby Kleman ‘18 commented, “My Swedish pen pal, Matilda, had told me that she really enjoyed going to the gym, so I decided to take her on a tour of the athletic club where I work as a lifeguard. After that, we went to Woodside to get ice cream and made brownies which we shared with my math class the next day. It was a great bonding experience!”

Woodside ice cream was a popular activity amongst the hosts and Gustavo Silveira ’17 described his experience, “After meeting Axel Thursday afternoon, I drove him to the Woodside Farm Creamery (a.k.a. world’s best ice cream, according to Axel). I then drove him to my house, from where we biked around my neighborhood (Axel commented frequently on the omnipresence of greenery this time of year; common here, rare in Calmare). We discussed the nature of the Swedish alphabet and the translation of random animals’ names, rode back and ate dinner, all the while talking about our respective families, cultural backgrounds, and typical foods (kroppkaka and lingonberry jam standing out among these).”

Many of the hosts commented that the overnight stay was the best part of the experience because of the opportunity to learn about the culture of a country that is both similar to ours and very different. However, a significant part of this night was not just about cultural exchange, but getting to know teens who (in many ways) are very similar to their American hosts. One amusing memory of the extraordinary similarities between the hosts and guests was when Gustavo and Axel were packing up and the group discovered they had almost identical leather jackets. The similarities and differences between cultures and people were further explored during the in-school visit on Friday.

The Swedish students were particularly interested in seeing how the WFS classes were different from theirs back at CIS. Cecilia Ergueta ‘18 commented, “Anna was really surprised at the amount of intellectual independence students had in the classroom. For example, she was blown away by the student leadership in English classes; in Sweden, students, it seems, are taught by the teacher exactly what to think by books that are hundreds of years old. This is very different from Friends.”

This sentiment was echoed by all of the Swedish guests. Ida commented after a Math Methods class with John Roskovensky, “[The class] was so cool and so much better than in Sweden! I swear, if I had your math teacher and the equipment you have, I would have loved math.”

While walking between classes, Ida and Philip explained that they had some teachers who conducted active classes, but many others who opened textbooks and read them out loud for three hours straight. Friends school students balked at the concept of a three hour class, however the Swedes shrugged and said that over time it becomes natural to have just two long classes a day.

In addition to the academics, our guests got to meet and talk to other students throughout the day. Abby Kleman remarked that Matilda, “was incredibly surprised to see how many people here are comfortable talking to people whom they do not know. She said that people here are very friendly and are very open to meeting and talking to new people.” This comment was rooted in the friendly classroom atmosphere that WFS students created by asking questions and going up to introduce themselves.

The Swedish students were similarly surprised at how talkative people in America were. Philip shared a Swedish proverb over dinner Thursday night: “talking is silver, but listening is gold.” He went on to explain that in Sweden, a greater value is placed on listening, and this is very different from what he has seen so far in America.

Small cultural exchanges like these were what got at the core of this trip’s purpose. Ultimately, this opportunity was designed for our Swedish counterparts to learn about America in a way that is different from watching a movie or reading a textbook. The American students were similarly impacted, and many hosts admitted that they knew almost nothing about Sweden or Swedish culture before that week.

Three o’clock became the dreaded hour, marking the start of the sad goodbyes between people who had quickly become friends in the short time they had known each other. However, the leaders of the trip told the students they had the evening to themselves, so all eight Swedish students and four American hosts decided to extend the day to dinner and a movie.

Half of the group went to Takumi, a sushi restaurant, and half to Rasa Sayang, a Malaysian restaurant, both in Independence Mall. This dinner gave the students the opportunity to compare the activities of teenagers in their respective countries and hang out like old friends. The time finally came for the Swedes to return to their hotel, and goodbyes were exchanged in front of the school.

Despite the sad occasion, Gustavo commented that the goodbyes were actually his favorite part of the exchange. He remarked, “At that moment, I realized everyone felt as I did: as if we were old friends that had somehow met each other the day before. The friendship pervading those moments when we said goodbye was tangible, felt lasting. It was, I think, a moment of inspiration, to maintain that connection and continue to learn from each other, which made me immeasurably happy.”

The sense of friendship that had taken hold of the group was astounding; hosts and Swedes alike were surprised at how close they had gotten in just 24 hours. American hosts wished their new friends a good rest of the trip, which included trips to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and New York City. After exchanging contact information, the Swedes waved a final goodbye from their vans and then drove back to their hotel.