On the Water
After four days in Stockholm, I traveled from the east to the west coast of Sweden, to the second largest city, Goteburg. Once again, I was staying with friends of friends, Hilde and John, who had lived in Virginia Beach for five years in the early 2000’s. I was in Goteburg just to meet her and to talk to some teachers she knew about the special education programs they have here. In order for me to travel this year and still have a job when I get home, I applied for and received an academic leave. I am writing a paper comparing the training programs we have for our special ed students to some of the programs they have in Europe. I have either been to schools, or talked to teachers and parents in England, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
Hilde and John are actually Norwegian but have lived in the US and throughout Europe because of John’s work. Hilde teaches fourth grade and the second day I was here, I went with her to school and we went on a field trip with 12 students. The Universeum is a combination Aquarium and hands on natural science center. It promotes these field trips, and has high school students trained to be guides, as a part of their school day. They also have teachers that are hired for one year at a time, as guides within the exhibits. When the schools set up field trips, they choose from one of several sections of the museum. There is a dinosaur section, and one about space travel, but we were visiting the rain forest today, with all the plants and live animals you would find in a tropical rain forest, including monkeys. My group established a “base camp” outside the giant multi-level rain forest atrium and the students were teamed up and given an assignment, which the teenage guide explained. They can ask their teacher or anyone that works at the Universeum for help, but these fourth graders were fairly independent and took off to answer the assigned questions. They were given free rein and were never really alone, but it did make me a bit nervous when I saw that the monkeys were not behind bars. The previous week, one boy from Hilde’s school got bitten by a monkey, but he was provoking the monkey so they figured he earned what he deserved.
It was an amazing day and I was so impressed with the entire system. All the kids packed their own lunch, we didn’t have to bring extra money or extra food for anyone, which I ALWAYS have to bring when I take kids on field trips. We took public transportation from the school to the Universeum, it’s free for all students, they don’t use school buses. We walked about eight minutes from the school down to the bus stop, and when we got back, the kids just went home from the bus stop even though technically, there was about 15 minutes of school left. Things like this just don’t happen in the US, at least not in Tidewater. Hilde said they do trips like this on average two or three times a month, and this was the second or third time they’ve been to this particular center this year. I loved watching Hilde interact with the kids and it was obvious they loved her. One thing I couldn’t wrap my mind around was the fact that they all called her Hilde. All students call their teachers by first name, from first grade up. I’m not sure I like that, I think there needs to be a line in the sand between teacher and student, and to me, first names imply a familiarity that I’m not comfortable with.
I spent the next day at a different school with Anna, a friend of Hilde’s that teaches English and music to 8th and 9th graders. English is mandatory from the 2nd grade up to the 9th and I spoke with many of the students, all of whom were fairly fluent. I talked with one fifteen year old boy who had finished his English assignment and was working on a Science assignment about the pro’s and con’s of nuclear energy. Without looking at his paper, he told me how Sweden is powered-the percent of nuclear, water, wind, solar power, and oil, and the benefits of each. I was very impressed. I observed her classes and then I met with a special education teacher to discuss the Swedish special education system. Anna looked like a cross between a young Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet, was very fun, and we had a great time hanging out that day.
On my last day, I took the ferry over to Styrso, a small island village, and walked all over the little roads, exploring for three hours. There are dozens of these small islands, an archipelago, all of them covered with cabins, bigger houses, just a few cafes, maybe a B&B or two. In the southern archipelago, no cars are allowed, everyone gets around by bike or golf cart, only a few businesses are allowed a car. It was very charming and peaceful. Most of these islands are close enough for people to commute into Goteburg, and many do. They leave their bikes and golf carts near the ferry landing, in the commuter parking lot. I took a long walk in the woods on one side of the island because I had seen “Church ruins” on a map and wanted to check it out. It was a 4km walk but the weather was clear and not too chilly so I decided to go for it. The pathway was gold with the leaves from the white trunked birches, no people around, just the sound of the wind high in the trees. I finally reached the ruins and it was a big square of stacked rocks, only about three feet high at the highest point. It was very old, perhaps from the Vikings the sign said, and was situated at the top of a slope which ended at the water’s edge. That view was worth the walk, even if the ruins were a bit of a disappointment.
Hilde and John live in a suburb outside of Goteburg called Fiskeback, in a boating centered community. All the apartments look out over the little marina filled with motorboats and sailboats. John was gone most of the time I was there, helping a neighbor that had bought a boat in Germany, to sail it back up to Fiskeback. It took them four days but it sounded like they had a good time doing it. The night they returned home, we had a dinner party at Camilla’s in the apartment next door, as her husband was also part of the “crew” that helped sail the boat. It was dark when the boat arrived, after 9pm at night, and we took plastic cups and two bottles of champagne down to greet the returning sailors, then came back upstairs for a delicious spaghetti dinner, the first warm meal the men had had for four days I think.
I never really saw much of Goteburg, but I loved my time there, mostly because of Hilde and her friends. They helped me revise my initial impression of the Swedes as being somewhat unapproachable. It must have just been a Stockholm thing, like Sweden’s version of Paris.