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Learning One Word Every Day

By Bailey Jones '22

railway station in Sweden

On my daily commute at the Visigne Roslagsbanan (light rail) station.
Photo credit: Bailey Jones '22 (Sweden, DIS, fall 2021)

I had the opportunity to study abroad in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, during the fall of 2021. My program, DIS Stockholm, provided a plethora of housing options including living alongside Swedish university students. However, I opted to live in a homestay, as it would allow me to connect with the Swedish culture daily in a tangible way. I was very nervous going into the semester, filled with a sense of uncertainty and excitement for a future yet to be written. I distinctly remember standing by the SEPTA train tracks and receiving an email titled “Welcome to Sweden!”

At the time, I was still waiting for my housing placement from DIS and was excited to be welcomed by the warm words of my soon-to-be host mom, Anna. I would be living with her and her husband Fredrik and their two children Max and Moa in Täby, 30 minutes north of Stockholm. Despite her welcoming words, I still could not predict how close I would feel to them throughout the semester, how safe I felt in their family, and how much I would long to come back to visit them.

Anna and I would often talk about how quickly the semester flew by at each monthly milestone of my stay, and it surprised me how quickly I began to feel like part of their family. I would look forward to sitting at the breakfast table as Max and Moa got ready for school, who would sometimes ask me to help review their English or Spanish vocabulary lists.

Max and Moa representing Swarthmore with their new friend Millie.

Photo credit: Bailey Jones '22 (Sweden, DIS, fall 2021)

After a long day at the lab or in classes, I could envision sitting at the dining room table with my host family. I particularly appreciated how eager they were to learn about American culture and how openly they shared theirs with me. We bonded over cooking and hosting Thanksgiving dinner for my friends from DIS and going to Finland, where my host mom was born, for a traditional julbord (literally “Christmas table”). Shopping for lördagsgodis or “Saturday candy” helped me celebrate my inner child, and going to a shrimp dinner party at their neighbors’ allowed me to imagine myself singing at a Swedish crayfish party. Through living with my host family, Sweden soon became more than a foreign country in which I studied abroad; it became a place I began to call home, albeit their home, for four months.


Photo credit: Bailey Jones '22 (Sweden, DIS, fall 2021)

Some of my favorite moments in Sweden consist of Anna and I sitting at the dining room table, teaching each other one new word every day. Admittedly, her English far surpassed my Swedish, so I would teach her idioms like ‘kick the bucket’ and the important distinction between ‘butt dial’ and ‘booty call.’ In return, she would teach me how to say very advanced words such as ‘a table,’ or ‘ett bord.’ I distinctly remember my Swedish teacher telling me that my friend Celia and I gave her goosebumps and recalling Anna teaching me, “Du ger mig gåshud!” One of my most exciting and humbling experiences consisted of Anna, Moa, and I going to Täby’s library and checking out a stack of children’s books. Who knew that Gunilla Wolde’s Emmas första dag på dagis (Emma’s first day at daycare) would rival the complexity of some of the books I’ve read for class?

Living in a host family not only made me feel connected to the Swedish culture but allowed me to establish a sense of safety and home in a new country. While being abroad allowed me to feel like I could temporarily reinvent myself, having a home base and an accepting family made me feel safe in a time of change and newness. Even after landing in the U.S., I have continued to keep in contact with my host family and am excited to visit them this June for Midsommar.

My host family dropped me off at Arlanda Airport. Vi ses snart!

Photo credit: Bailey Jones '22 (Sweden, DIS, fall 2021)