Emma Millis

I am the American girl.

I left my home and high school in Moab to attend school for a full year in Sweden. My new classmates ask me, the new girl, questions.

“Where are you from?” a female classmate asked.

“The U.S.” I replied.

“Obviously, where are you from in the U.S.?”

“Utah,” I said, and before she asked where that is, I said, “It’s close to California.”

Everyone knows where California is.

“Well, it looks like I have a friend from America now,” she replied.

That’s how I made my very first friend at school.

There is a general stereotype about Swedish people: they’re cold and don’t make friends very well. But I have to say, my very first week, I felt overwhelmed by how many people crowded me, and wanted to hug me or hold my hand. I even decided that this stereotype was wrong. The truth is, I believe, Swedish people are some of the most introverted extroverts I have ever met. You just have to meet their energy.

I was told by my good friend, Cornelia, that, “A Swede’s worst fear is someone sitting next to them on the bus.”

I noticed over time that even when there was an empty seat next to an occupied one, Swedish people would rather stand than sit.

But once you have a Swedish friend, you can’t shake them off. There is always something to do, in and out of class, whether that means going shopping, watching a movie or having a “fika.”

Fika is a special Swedish tradition where you sit down with a friend or a family member, and either eat a sweet treat or drink a hot beverage in the afternoon. The idea is that you allow yourself to be in complete rest and comfort. It is the perfect time to talk with friends, and let others know a little about you. I have had some of the deepest conversations of my life in the one month here in Sweden over fika.

While Sweden may be known for IKEA, ABBA or Vikings, I have not heard one thing having to do with any of these things. In fact, everyone has been so caught up in the recent election, there has been nothing else to really talk about.

Voting is very important in Sweden.

At school, we even had a special class on how the election process works. We went to an event where each of the eight political parties set up to give pamphlets and candy. Some of these political parties would have representatives who would go to the bus stops and train stations to give gift bags with pamphlets to students on their way to school.

I learned a lot from it, especially as Sweden starts to delve into what my social studies teacher called “a political turmoil.”

What he means is that Sweden has arrived at a point in its election process that there are so many political parties that people are voting for, that a majority vote cannot be made.

Being a part of this class made me appreciate the school I am going to even more. I go to an art school, one with kids of all different backgrounds and different art styles. Some have decided to be in music, visual, theater or even media. But in the end, we are all treated with the same ideology: We are important citizens to the country and deserve an education to be better citizens.

This builds critical thinkers.

I have seen the good use of critical thinkers in this art school. Many can play multiple instruments, while also advancing in classical art, as well as theater or media. We even have a class to bring each of our talents together, but also have fun.

Four of my classmates and I are filming a movie in this class. We were given the use of cameras and costumes from the fashion department. We even got to make our own shirts to perform in. There is never a quiet moment when we practice the scenes.

Friends will play the piano (provided in every classroom), or play a game of UNO, just as friends should do when we have nothing else in class. School is independently based, so students enjoy their education, instead of waiting around for teachers.

The sense of unity here is amazing.

Overall, I already feel like Sweden is becoming my home, and in little ways it feels as though it has been home forever. And this is all thanks to the amazing community we have in our little town of Moab. Thank you for all of your support.

Emma Millis is a local 16-year-old high school student who decided to go to Sweden for the 2018-19 school year with AFS Intercultural Studies.