Marlena Erickson returned from a life-changing trip to Sweden last Tuesday. Erickson spent more than 11 months in Hudisvall, Sweden, which is approximately two hours north of Stockholm, as a foreign exchange student through the Petersburg Rotary Club.
“I still feel like I’m in a dream,” Erickson said. “It was such an amazing experience.”
Erickson explained that she was able to take a three week tour of Europe while she was there as well. She visited Germany, Poland, Austria, France and Belgium. “They are all such beautiful places,” she said. “Sweden will always feel like a home to me.”
She said that her mother, Kris, encouraged her to participate in this program.
“I was really hesitant about it at first because I didn’t want to leave home, but she told me this would be a great opportunity for me,” she said.
Leaving her family and friends behind was a very hard step for her to take.
“I did it,” she said. “And I had an amazing year.”
Erickson explained that being of Norwegian and Swedish background, this trip meant much more to her.
“I was able to learn more of my heritage and even meet some distant relatives while I was there,” she said.
Her first host family was Bjorn and Katarina Kvick who had six children who no longer lived at home.
“It was just me and they traveled a lot for work,” Erickson said. “I had a lot of time to myself and it was hard being there and home alone, but I managed.”
The second host family was Niklas Arvidsson and Anna Persson who had eight year old twin boys Alfred and Lukas.
“They were young and like to do things, it was perfect,” Erickson said. “It was great with the boys, too, because they didn’t speak English, so I had to speak Swedish with them. It was great to practice my Swedish with them and they didn’t care if I got things wrong.”
She attended school while there and explained that the educational system is very different there.
“High school is structured differently,” Erickson stated. “It is like college is for us, here. They have to know what they want to do before they enter high school. Once they are there, they choose a program that will prepare them for their career.”
Erickson chose the hotel and restaurant program because she felt it would be a fun program and she did not want to be bombarded with homework while she was there. She just wanted to enjoy her year.
“I knew I was coming home and that is what college is for,” Erickson said. “The classes I took there didn’t count for me anyway.”
She received some credit for being there and while she was in Sweden she kept a journal and that counted for an English credit.
“I’ll still graduate when I’m supposed to,” she stated. “I took a few extra classes before I left so I could keep up and wouldn’t drown in work for my senior year.”
Erickson’s dream is to become a doctor. She went back and forth as to the specialties, but, as of about five years ago, she has chosen to become a dermatologist.
“I have had psoriasis most of my life, and I remember being bullied and teased about it,” Erickson said. “I want to be able to help people with the same problem or worse.”
College is her next step in life and her hope is to attend Stanford University and will be visiting the campus with her family next week.
“I have heard that Stanford likes exchange students and I hope they see something in me that they like,” Erickson said. “I didn’t know much about the exchange program, but after experiencing it, I feel I can conquer the world now.”
Erickson explained that the beauty of Sweden is very different from Petersburg.
“Petersburg is beautiful,” she stated. “But this is a different kind of beautiful.”
She described the countryside as green, mostly flat farmland.
“They don’t have any mountains and it doesn’t rain as much,” she stated. “I even started to miss the rain a little.”
Erickson explained that by the end of her time there it was hard for her to leave her new friends. She thought that was good because it meant she had a great year.
From this experience, Erickson brought home memories and new skills that will stay with her forever and she can’t wait to go back.
“My family and I are planning a trip to Sweden for the graduation of the class I was with, and I will get to go through the ceremony with them,” Erickson said. “I absolutely loved this experience, I would encourage any of my peers to be an exchange student. You will come away a different person.”