Exchange student enjoying stay with Tollefson family
CULTURE CONTRAST — Swedish foreign exchange student Linnea “Lilly” Strom-Olsen has experienced many cultural differences since arriving in the United States in August. (Star Eagle photo by Jim Lutgens)
By MARK DOMEIER
NBC recently cancelled a sitcom titled Welcome to Sweden. The show centered around an American who moved to Sweden to be near his girlfriend, who was from that country, and to get away from the bustle of New York. The episodes showed Sweden as a relaxed, welcoming country where most people got along with each other.
New NRHEG foreign exchange student Linnea Strom-Olsen said that is a pretty accurate description of her home country. Strom-Olsen, who goes by Lilly, is staying with Mark and Sandy Tollefson, and their daughter Emma, of New Richland. Tollefsons said they had been contemplating hosting an exchange student for a couple years and have a little more room in the house now with both sons Carter and Spencer off to college.
Lilly, age 17, is from Helsingborg, Sweden, and wanted to come to America for a year because she enjoys traveling and experiencing new things. She saw this as a chance to see more of the world and find out about American culture. So far, she’s found many similarities and differences.
At the end of August, she flew to New York City and stayed there a few days to begin the acclimatization process before flying to Minneapolis. Nothing has been exactly the same as back home, though the sight of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway are familiar in both countries. The biggest difference, according to Lilly, is that people in the United States are much more open than in Sweden. If Americans feel something, they will tell you. Swedes tend to keep potentially offensive thoughts to themselves.
“Americans are more open-minded and forward,” she commented.
Lilly had to be open-minded herself. She admitted that she requested to be in California or Florida, but was not displeased to land in Minnesota. Comparing the climate, she said that her part of the world receives snow, though not as much as us. Temperatures in the winter stay around freezing, but don’t usually get as cold as our area. Summers also aren’t as hot as here, being in a more temperate zone.
She’s enjoyed her stay so far, making all the paperwork and attaining a visa well worth it. The Tollefsons also had to go through a ton of steps such as a phone interview, background checks, and filling out questionnaires. They were excited to have Strom-Olsen since their own family is of Scandinavian background, and they hope to reciprocate the trip with a visit to Norway and Sweden someday.
Lilly quickly found a little part of Sweden in Minnesota when she joined the Tollefsons on a trip to the Mall of America and the IKEA store up there. She was able to find some Swedish décor and chocolate while there to help remind her of home. She said, naturally, that was the most difficult part of this journey – leaving her family and friends.
“It’s strange to not have them around, to start over from zero, not knowing anyone,” she said.
Still, she’s felt very welcomed by the NRHEG community, and she said the students and teachers have been very nice so far.
She’s also been out of state already, joining her host family on a road trip to Colorado to watch the Minnesota Gophers football team play Colorado State in an overtime win. She didn’t care much for the corn fields in Iowa and Nebraska, but enjoyed the game, especially tailgating beforehand. There are also plans to go to Florida in December for Emma’s dance competition as well as trips to Northern Minnesota for some winter activities.
As far as the education system, Lilly has found much to like about school in America. While she enjoys Sweden’s block schedule with more and longer breaks, she’s not as fond of the high school structure. She’s currently in a school where all her classes are chosen for her on a track system. Students attend different schools, depending on what their future plans are. She’s not yet sure of her own, so she’s in a school that focuses a lot on government but allows a more wide open look at her future. She said that classes in the United States are more fun and she loves that you get to choose many of them. However, when she returns to Sweden, she will have to still take all the classes planned for her there; her time in an American school will not count toward that education!
Possibly the biggest difference from Sweden to America? The Swedish language has three more vowel sounds than English. They use their throat more in their speech, which has been a somewhat difficult thing for the Tollefsons to attempt to learn. Still, Strom-Olsen and her host family have plenty of time left together during this school year to learn from each other and bring a little Swedish culture to the NRHEG area.