Grade 11 Elphinstone Secondary student Matthew Drope has moved to Sweden for the next year as the selected Rotary Youth Exchange student from the Rotary Club of the Sunshine Coast. He is living in Kållered, a small town south of Gothenburg.
Travelling to school takes 40 minutes by train in the mornings. Matthew is studying in a Nature Science program that includes heavy doses of science and math. So far the Swedish students seem to be a “fair bit more advanced,” he says, and learning to do math and science in the Swedish language is an added hurdle.
While learning the language, Matthew is at the point where he can’t speak very much and has found himself “speaking much less and listening much, much more.” This has been an interesting experience, says the 16-year-old. “Having to listen more has taught me so much about people. In a way, it’s an opportunity to step back and observe.”
Learning the Swedish language has been “a slow but steady process,” he says. “I am starting to gain a bit of a foothold, which is nice, but I still have a whole mountain to climb. Swedish is a very interesting language, both to speak and to listen to. They have a variety of sounds that I have never used before, and they also roll their Rs, so pronunciation is a very difficult thing.” While it is difficult and hard work learning a second language, Matthew adds that “being able to communicate with someone from another country in their own language is a very special thing.”
Moving to a new country without your natural support structures and friends can be difficult, and Matthew acknowledges that. “The honeymoon period has definitely ended. I’m no longer a tourist and this is my life for the next eight months. Living with a host family here has its own set of challenges, but I’m lucky that they understand where I am coming from for the most part. They have one of their kids away as an exchange student as well this year. It’s all a part of the learning experience and I know it will be worth it in the end.”
Overall, he says, the experience has been eye opening.
“Coming from a relatively small town to being thrown into a whole different culture is quite shocking. Taking it all in at once is impossible. When I first signed up to be a part of Rotary Exchange, I definitely wasn’t expecting most of these experiences. The challenges I’m facing are much different than I could have ever expected. And for that I’m so grateful.”