My name is Gypsy-Rose Koteka and I travelled to Sweden for my exchange in 2019.
Where do I start? I’m just a Cook Island, Māori girl from the small town of Tokoroa, who had a dream of doing an exchange overseas. What better way to do that than with AFS NZ? With so many different countries to choose from, after researching for a while I finally came up with my top 3: Denmark, Sweden, and Thailand. Unfortunately for me, Denmark could not take me, but to my surprise I was accepted by AFS Sweden. I was over the moon with excitement!
I was placed in a city that was in the centre-north of Sweden called Östersund with around 60,000 residents living there. On my arrival in Sweden I started with a warm welcome from my host family. I had three younger host brothers aged 15, 13 and 10 and of course I had a host Mum and Dad. I was lucky enough that I didn’t have to attend school right away like the other exchange students who were there. I had a whole week to get settled into my new family and environment and explore the city while I was getting over my jet lag as well. During my experience I was fortunate to have two great host families. In my second host family, this time I had three host sisters, two older and one younger, a host mum and dad. I stayed with them for the rest of my exchange.
Other than the obvious differences, it really didn’t feel real that I was in another country. I guess the biggest difference was the language, the environment, people, atmosphere, and how they drive on the other side of the road. That was a little hard to get used to. At times I would go to the driver’s seat instead of the passenger’s seat. Each time gave us all a good laugh.
Because I was further north in Sweden and not by the bigger cities down south, we had one of the biggest regions in Sweden which was Jamtland. As a result we also had one of the largest schools in Sweden. The school I attended was Jämtland Gymnasium Wargentin which had around 4,000 students.
For me, school was the hardest part to adjust to because in NZ I came from a small town and went to a school that had around 500-600 students. Going to a school that had 4 times as many students and being around so many people at once was draining at times, but I got used to it after about a month. In my Swedish school so many things were different. Instead of having a tailor made timetable, you had to pick a programme. For example, if you wanted to be a doctor or a Marine Biologist, the programme suited for you was the Science programme, where all the subjects were already in place. You would be with the same classmates every class. Some other programmes included sports, technology, economics, music, and many others. I was in the Science programme in second grade which is Year 12 in NZ. My classmates were all working towards the same goal and definitely became friends for life.
Some of my best experiences/highlights were making new friends, connections, memories, and trying new things such as food, and sports. I went
on a lot of ‘fika’ dates, which is a coffee break that’s more about socialising than drinking coffee. And something sweet is also welcome, like a cinnamon bun, muffin, or a sandwich. I spent a lot of time with my friends going out eating, to the movies, watching winter sports, going on walks, laughing and just hanging out at each other’s houses.
My second host family made me try so many different foods that were mainly super yum and a few not so much. They taught me how to ski, that was hard at first but I got there in the end after falling on my butt a few times! They took me to different cities and towns and told me the history of the places and how they came about to nowadays. My best experience with them would have to be the week of skiing in the mountains with family and friends, very tiring but worth it.
All and all everything that I did, big or small was so worth it. I just wish it hadn’t gone as fast as it did. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would 100% do everything again, meeting the people I met, doing the things I did, even if I wasn’t doing anything. Just being in an environment that wasn’t home (NZ) was such a great opportunity. If you were to ask the Gypsy that left NZ in 2019 to the Gypsy now in 2020 I would definitely say that I’ve become more mature, more open minded to the world, I see things more differently and more clearly to how I did before. I’ve definitely become a better vision of myself.
Having to come home earlier than expected was hard to comprehend at first but I knew there were others going through the same thing as me. Having to leave exchange students in Sweden from all around the world because of Covid was tough. It did affect me when I got the news just because I wasn’t ready to leave just then and I hadn’t really thought about what I would do if I was to go home earlier than expected. I was all over the place with emotions, feelings and about everything that was going on.
Once I arrived home, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, just weird being back so soon. I went straight into isolation at home, then NZ went into Level 4 lockdown which meant everyone had to stay at home. About one week after I returned, we had our post-return orientation zoom call with those who also came home to NZ because of Covid. It was great to hear from everyone because we all pretty much went through the same thing, so we understood each other and how we were feeling about everything. During this time as well, I was completing the Global Competence Certificate. It was very interesting hearing and reading different ideas and thoughts about exchanges, but even having the opportunity to meet new people again through this programme and to learn about their cultures was great.
For now I’m taking each day as it comes and sorting out what I may want to do in the future, because my exchange was supposed to help me find what I would potentially like to do once I get back into NZ. But it took a turn for the better, now I have the rest of the year to plan for next year’s challenges.
Skiing with my host family
Bowling with my friends
AFS Sweden Arrival Camp 2019/20