You’re in Sweden. Lost. Alone. Don’t know a word of the language.
Having a host family is a great way to experience Swedish culture. One thing you might learn is how to row a boat. Photo: Lennart Nordmark
What are you to do? Get back on the plane? Call your parents? Head to the nearest singles bar?
How about call your host family? You know, the people who volunteered to show you Swedish culture and provide support when you emailed the international office at Linnaeus University saying you were interested in participating in the “Friend Family” program.
It’s an idea, isn’t it? They’ll be glad you called them.
You’ll have a lot of fun. I know I have. Heck, I’ve had more strange adventures with them than Indiana Jones in any of George Lucas’ movies.
Let me tell you about my host family, the Nordmarks. They’re an average, middle-class Swedish family that lives in Växjö. They have three children, and like many Swedish families own a summer house which they share with my host father Lennart’s brothers. They’re both school teachers, and have lived in Växjö their whole lives.
My host family's "summer" house in winter. Located on the shores of Lake Helgasjön, the house has been in the family since 1907. Photo: Ben Mack
Sounds rather bland doesn’t it? Well read on, Einstein.
I’ve had a lot of fun with this “typical” family. I’ve spoken several times to students at both the schools my host parents teach at, showing Powerpoint presentations about the U.S. and answering the kind of questions most teenagers have when encountering a visitor from a foreign country, especially the U.S. Seriously, the knowledge these students have of hip-hop music and the Twilight series is extraordinary.
With them, I’ve also survived multiple encounters with soccer hooligans, failed to catch a fish in three attempts, helped repair a lawnmower, successfully navigated a fika with a 97-year-old woman who has been to 37 U.S. states and five continents, dropped by unannounced for waffles, and consumed more sausages than any previous human in history. Oh, and I’ve also jumped into a frozen lake in the middle of February, spent multiple hours attempting to pick up a drill out of said lake with a magnet and string, and watched prepubescent girls march around with candles in their hair in a show of pageantry and pain tolerance known as Lucia.
Forget trying to keep up with the Joneses. Try keeping up with this family.
On Lake Helgasjön near the Normark's summer house north of Växjö. Photo: Ben Mack
But really, having a host family is about more than random adventures and going on more side trips than the guys in The Hangover. It’s about cultural exchange, sharing your own culture while learning about Swedish culture in an environment other than just an on-campus pub or from your Swedish classmates who are as equally broke as you are.
While with the Nordmarks, I’ve learned about Swedish cuisine, how Swedish families interact, and of course what life is like in Sweden when you’re not just a student. And through that, I’ve been able to examine my own culture, and realized that – in the end – we’re all human and share the same values and beliefs.
And if it wasn’t for them, I’d never have realized pickled herring is absolutely delicious, despite the odor.
So, what are you waiting for? Pick up that phone and make that call. You made the effort to be paired up with a host family, so why not meet them? At the very worst you’ll be getting a free meal.
At the very best you’ll be meeting people you’ll hopefully stay in close contact with for the rest of your life.
Sure makes that 20 kronor phone call worth it.
My host family, the Nordmarks. Photo: Ben Mack