The family I stayed with in the summer of 2018 lives near Jönköping, Sweden, which is just below Lake Vättern, which is the second largest lake in Sweden! I’d known them since I was in kindergarten and they moved to Sweden two years before I visited. My friend’s dad picked me up at the airport and we took a train home in the middle of the night. It was a really exhausting journey; We arrived at 5 or 6 in the morning!
I originally tried to stay awake so I could hang out with my friend, Paola, and her family, but I crashed really hard and slept half the day. It was definitely the nap I needed! During my stay with Paola, most of the activities and people I spent time with were located in Jönköping, while I was staying in a smaller town very close to the city. The view from the train station overlooked Lake Vättern and it was beautiful, especially in the evenings.
Even though I had read about the long Swedish summer days, I was surprised by how light it stayed all the time! I definitely wasn’t prepared for the sun to set past midnight sometimes! Even after the sun set, the sky stayed dusky and light. Sometimes, the sky and the clouds felt really close because of the perpetual, sometimes eerie illumination.
I arrived just in time for the annual food festival. It was amazing! There were so many smells and different foods and cultures! Apparently, in 2017 there was an Australian stall where they sold kangaroo meat, but it wasn’t there when we went. In one of the squares, there was a giant bubble blowing station, which was adorable and super fun. I spent a good half hour or so popping and blowing bubbles with a couple of friends! It was really hot and humid but the bubbles made me forget all about how sweaty I was!
Jönköping, although it’s a small, not very touristy city, was incredibly cute and full of culture and gorgeous views. All of the people I met there were fun, sweet, and welcoming! I really want to go back, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to soon so I can visit my friend and explore more of what Sweden has to offer!
Moving countries is daunting in itself. When I left home just after my high school graduation to stay in Sweden with a friend, I had no idea that I wouldn’t come home for another 6 months. I just wanted a vacation and a short adventure with my friend!
Towards the end of my stay in Sweden, I withdrew from my intended university and decided to fly to Korea to attend Korean language school at Seoul National University. I was (and am) young, inexperienced, and afraid to move to a big city. Being a small town girl from Central California, I didn’t know whether or not I would acclimate well to life in a giant metropolis like Seoul.
Luckily, I found that I’m pretty good at adapting to my environment. My aunt helped me find a good goshiwon (room) to stay in and I met some amazing friends at my language school with whom I explored Seoul and found a beautiful, diverse community.
After my course ended, I returned home with a better understanding of Korean and Korea, enriched by my overseas experience. But I wanted more! I longed to jump on a plane and go somewhere — anywhere. But who would pay for something like that? I had about $700 saved after my adventures in Sweden and Korea.
So, what could I do?
I decided to au pair! I spoke to maybe 9 families and eventually had to pick between 2: one was from Spain and one from the Netherlands. It was a very hard decision and, ultimately, I picked the Dutch family. (That turned out to be the wrong choice, but that’s for another time!). The good thing about au pairing abroad is that I had next to no living costs. Some au pairs even get their public transportation and language classes paid for by their host families!
I was originally supposed to stay with my Dutch host family in Amsterdam for 7 months, but after 3 months I realized that my living and working conditions were too stressful and unhealthy, so I quit. Now I’m touring around Europe when I can, still based near Amsterdam, and working on getting a student visa to study in Belgium this Fall.