Two sisters embark on a life-changing exchange year in the US. Malin, 17 years old, and Sophia, 18 years old, are sisters from Sweden who have always been very close. They have been best friends their entire lives, sharing experiences and leaning on one another for support. “We have always talked about everything,” shares Malin. “In Sweden, we went to the same school, worked at the same place, and knew each other’s lives very well.” Their most recent shared experience is participating on the PSE program together.

Malin and Sophia chose to attend high schools in different cities within the state of Massachusetts. “Our parents wanted us close to each other, but they also wanted us not too close so that we could have our own experiences,” says Sophia. The sisters enjoy living with their respective host families and have fostered wonderful relationships with them.

Malin’s host parents, Kristy and Adam, describe her as sassy, loving, athletic, energetic, confident, intelligent, and outgoing. They love her humor and witty banter. “One of my favorite things about Malin is that she made herself at home as soon as she arrived. There was no awkwardness. We have a great relationship with her, and it’s like she was made for our family” says Kristy.

Adam shares, “Malin is fully entrenched in her exchange experience, and she has built a special relationship with every member of our household. She has made her own friends and takes advantage of every opportunity that comes her way!”

Sophia’s host parents, Patti and Gerry describe her as outgoing, friendly, happy, and enthusiastic. “She is always very excited to try new things,” says Patti. “She has easily become part of our family. We have dinner together every night and talk about our day.” 

Sophia and her host sister, Kiara, share in all kinds of activities, including shopping, watching movies, and having dinner with friends. “Just like real siblings. They get along so well,” says Patti.

The sisters feel like being placed an hour apart from one another is working out really well.

“Having Sophia one hour from me makes it easy for us to talk because we are in the same time zone. We also can visit each other if we want to,” says Malin. They both stay busy with their friends and activities, but also look forward to catching up with each other on the phone about once a week. During their weekly calls, the sisters are able to share about their experiences, talk about similarities and differences, and support each other when they miss their family and friends back in Sweden. Overall, they are able to be there for one another through their exchange year. Sophia shares, “Malin is one of my biggest supporters and one of my best friends.”

Being the new student at school and adapting to a new culture involves many challenges, which Malin and Sophia have been able to work through together. Sophia shares, “It is nice to have my sister going through things that I am experiencing at the same time. We understand each other and what we are going through because we can relate to those feelings. We can talk about how hard it is sometimes and how much fun we are having at the same time.”

Malin and Sophia have also been able to share in the joys and excitement of learning about a new culture and school system. “We also talk about how much fun we have that we are living in the U.S., how it is like a dream, and how much we like it and love all the differences as well as all the things we don’t have in Sweden” Sophia shares. “We also talk about how we feel grateful that we are in the U.S. and get to experience things we only have seen in the movies… Sometimes I wish we could visit each other more, but we are both living two different lives. I feel like we both are trying to live as Americans and trying things with our friends.”


Spotting the Differences

So far, during their time in the U.S., Malin and Sophia have noted several differences between living in the U.S. compared to Sweden. The key differences being American high school, cuisine, and the open and friendly culture.

 American High School

Malin reports, “The first thing I noticed here was that the food at school would never be served to us in Sweden – pizza, hamburgers, and chicken nuggets!” Malin continues, “Also, after every assignment, we get a grade. However, in Sweden, we only receive a grade at the end of the school year. The traditions at school are so fun! For example, Homecoming, Prom, school sports, senior night, school clubs, the yellow school buses; just to mention a few things.” 

Sophia agrees, “School has so many fun things to do throughout the year like Spirit Week, pep rallies, car painting day, Homecoming, and the Senior formal.” 

Sophia adds, “I like how school here allows you to join clubs and take classes that you are interested in. I took 3D Art and Video Production, and this semester I’m taking Robotics and Sociology. These are classes that are never offered in Sweden, and they are so much fun!”

American Food

Malin shares, “Outside of school, the differences are big also.  Literally, when we buy food, the packages are much bigger than in Sweden. Everything is bigger!”  Sophia agrees, “Yes, the food here is way unhealthier compared to Sweden, and the portions are huge.”

Kristy says that Malin has enjoyed exploring the different foods in America. “Her favorite thing to put on everything is ketchup. She is always up for trying something new.” Adam adds, “Malin absolutely loves Dunkin Donuts which they don’t have in Sweden.”

Malin is pictured in the grocery store with her host family.

Open and Friendly Culture

Malin remarks how friendly Americans are, describing them as open and welcoming. “They always say, ‘Thank you’, and it’s so much easier to start a conversation with everyone. At school, in the hallway, people always say ‘Hi’ to me, even if I only had one conversation with them.” Sophia agrees. “People are definitely more open and nicer.”


New and Unique Experiences

The sisters have participated in many new experiences. Since they are in different host families, different schools, and expressing different interests, Sophia and Malin’s exchange years have been unique and exciting.

Sophia

Sophia has engaged in her community, met new friends, and tried new activities that are distinctly American.

She shares that some of her favorite memories on the PSE program include football games, cheerleading, meeting new people and making new friends. Some other memorable experiences include when she traveled to New York with her host family, simply sharing dinners with her host family, watching hockey with her host dad, and enjoying movie days with her host sister.

“I like so many things about the everyday life I have created here that I never would have done in Sweden. Joining cheerleading, a sport I had never done before, is so fun and very American. Doing apple picking with my friends and going to a drive-in movie was a new experience and felt like a dream. Visiting Boston with my friends and doing an American trick-or-treat. Celebrating Thanksgiving was an experience.  It was so much fun, and I ate so much!”

Patti says that Sophia joined Girl Scouts, which her host sister, Kiara, has been in for many years. “With scouting, Sophia has gone camping for the first time, attended a self-defense class, and will participate in selling the cookies at a booth… Also, we went with Kiara and friends to a paint-your-own-pottery shop. Sophia really enjoyed that first time experience.”

Patti continues to share that Sophia is really enjoying the American high school experiences she has had, recalling specifically spirit week (dressing up for the theme of the day), attending sporting events, participating in sports (cross country running and cheerleading), attending dances (homecoming and senior formal), and Friday night football games.

Sophia reflects on her exchange experience thus far; “I like all the people I have met and the friendships I have made. The whole experience is something I can’t explain in words because just living in the U.S. compared to Sweden is a whole new experience. I have so much fun every day because I get to be on the other side of the world, live a different life, meet so many new people, see new cultures, and be a citizen in a new country and not just be here for vacation. I love everything about my exchange year so far, and I am so thankful for it!” 

Malin

Malin gained a new confidence living in America and her athleticism and outgoing personality has thrived here.

Malin explains how her exchange experience has changed her significantly. “I have always been a confident and extroverted person. When I came to America, I felt so brave that I would be on my own. I feel like I have become even more independent. On those days when I don’t feel as confident, I think twice and realize that there is no time to waste in feeling that way. Sometimes, I must remind myself that I am living the high school teenage dream and remember all the fun things I have done and people I’ve met.”

Malin shares, “One of my favorite things about America is school sports because it’s a really big thing.  I enjoyed playing soccer at school, and I was very committed. We had practice almost every day after school and games 2-3 times a week. Playing soccer helped me make close friends here. Joining clubs is an easy and fun way to talk to new people at school!”

This is a photo of Malin and her friend after their senior soccer game, at which gifts are given to seniors. Though Malin is not a senior, because she will not be here next year, they gifted her a Swedish flag.

Sophia was even able to attend one of Malin’s soccer games when she played near the town in which she is placed. (Malin is pictured in the red jersey above). Adam, Malin’s host dad, says, “After the game, they ran to each other and gave each other a big hug. They were so excited to see each other. Sophia even made a poster that she held at the game for Malin.”


Looking Ahead

Malin states that when she graduates from her school in Sweden, she would like to attend a college or university for six months in the U.S. “I haven’t decided where to go yet, but I’m looking at Florida or Texas as options. I would like to paint, and one of my dreams is to become an artist and have a studio. I also love to travel, and would love to explore more of the U.S.”

For Sophia, she would like to take a year off from school to work in Sweden and enjoy the ski season in winter. “My dream is to move to New York or another big city in the U.S. I don’t really know what the future holds for me, but I am so thankful for this year because I have learned so much about myself and am more comfortable about who I am. I have learned that I can do anything I want to if I put my mind to it.” 

PSE wishes Malin and Sophia bright futures ahead and hope that their special relationship as sisters and best friends remains solid throughout their life.

Written by Flo Webb; Edited by Lauren Lunt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *