In a cold winter time, I got a bunch of questions from my friends asking me, “What are you doing in Sweden?”, “Are you staying there for good?”, “Are you going to work there?”, “Wow! You’re in a vacation!”, etc…
Basically, I was one of the participants for the Youth Exchange Program or the Young in the World Wide Church. This is a program that was established by the Church of Sweden.
Herewith, you will eyewitness my experience and perhaps, could definitely find the answer.
(P.S. This is somewhat a throwback blog wherein I wrote this 3 months ago when I was still in Sweden. It’s just now that I got the time to update.)
One of the main highlights of the Youth Exchange Program is to live in a congregation where young people will have the chance to share their life, culture and faith in God. The way it makes me feel anxious about it, could even mixed up into a more excitement. As a youth of our humble church and being one of the participants for this program, this is truly a one of a kind experience for me. In here, I got the chance to travel to the other side of the world where no one knows about me and could meet people from different kind of races. This is just truly a great idea in giving opportunity for us young people to discover and explore a new place with our own perspective.
My partner and I were assigned to live for 5 weeks in the Diocese of Strängnäs (Strängnäs Domkyrkan). We were being handled by our two supervisors, Fr. Pierre Schelander and Deacon Minna Johansson. They were the ones who made the schedule of activities that we had followed day by day. We are really grateful to have them in helping us to live and grow as individuals here in the congregation. From the bottom of my heart, I felt so glad to have them as my supervisors who stood as our parents here in the congregation. They were very kind and very patient to us. They always try their best to make us feel comfortable and happy. Furthermore, they gave us two lovely families where we lived for 5 weeks in the congregation. In the first 3 weeks, we stayed at the house of a lovely married couple, Mr. Jörg Von Bethmor and Mrs. Cia Von Bethmor and in the last 2 weeks of our stay, we were sheltered under the happy family of Mr. Hannu Lounela and Mrs. Birgitta Lounela with their 3 nice children. I was a bit anxious and shy at the beginning of our stay with those families. At the back of my mind, I was a bit curious of how life would be going with them. I felt excited about such thought and looked forward to what they had prepared for us because I had seen how happy and pleased they were when they welcomed us in their humble homes.
Our stay in the first congregation went smoothly with a well-organized schedule of activities that we followed day by day. It’s indeed fascinating to know that our supervisors had prepared various activities for us to work on everyday. We truly had no idea on how our stay in the congregation would be, so I got thrilled about it. There were some activities that created interesting ideas that made me appreciate things in one way or another. Every single day, there was always something new to look forward to. And no matter how tiresome it was in accomplishing such works that I have in a day, at the end of the day, I felt that it will always be worth it. Definitely because there’s always something that I learn from people that I meet everyday. As a matter of fact, every time I pray before I sleep at night and upon waking up in the morning, I always feel motivated to be more productive and determined. It is all because God has given me the strength and wisdom to accomplish those works I have every day and this makes me feel better at the end of the day.
All the activities that we had for 5 weeks here in Strängnäs were absolutely interesting. I had a lot of fun meeting those activities, gained some lessons and at the same time did my part of contributing something that made them more meaningful. Throughout my stay in the congregation, everything that happened was truly a memorable one. What highlighted the most of my stay in the congregation were the following: Firstly, our visits in the Thomas Gården and Maria’s Gården where the elderly people live. It’s interesting to visit a place like those because in the Philippines, we don’t have this kind of homes for elderly people. Instead, they live with their own families. Meeting those elderly people in the elderly homes in Strängnäs was truly amazing because I got the chance to hear and talk with them, hopeful that somehow I made them happy as well. I couldn’t avoid feeling sad everytimeI I see elderly people living alone, just like those elderly people who live in the home for the elderlies without their families. But then, I am positive that they are often visited by their families and so sure that God is guiding and giving them strength to stay strong and healthy. Secondly, was when we visited a monastery in Stallarholmen where two old nuns are still living there. It’s indeed interesting to visit the monastery because I’ve never been to this kind of place before and that thrilled me so much. It was just interesting to know that they have been living there since 1960 and spent almost their entire life there. They have the deepest care and love for the monastery and I’ve seen how devoted and committed they are to the Lord Almighty. It was definitely a memorable one for me because I got the chance to meet and talk to them. At the end of that day, I talked to God through a prayer and gave thanks to Him for always giving me the opportunity to explore new things and meet people on the other side of the world. Thirdly, was when we had the nerve-wrecking presentation about our humble church and our country -the Philippines. We had been preparing it for almost a week and did our best to make it fascinating to the eyes of the Swedish people. In addition to our presentation, we cooked one of our specialties –Lumpiang Shanghai to be served during the presentation which they found it pleasing to taste. We discussed our presentation wearing our national costume and felt anxious when I was about to take the floor thus, I took a deep breath and silently prayed to the Lord. As I was talking in front of the audience, I felt how my anxiousness was fading when I saw them attentively listening to what I was discussing. It’s always encouraging when you see that your audience are really interested in what you are discussing by just listening to what you are saying. That made me indeed motivated and confident in talking and sharing more about the topic that we had. What’s more amazing was that they didn’t leave until it was over. I couldn’t hide my smile and joy when they congratulated us and told us that we did a great job. The shanghai that we made tasted really good and our presentation was great! I was so happy hearing those words from them and that’s because of the guidance of the Lord and I thanked Him again by silently praying. Fourth, meeting the two foster families where we lived and the people who were with us during our entire stay in the congregation. This program gave me the opportunity to meet people from different kind of races- to get to know their life, to share our life and culture, but despite of our differences, it’s our strong faith in God that keeps us similar to one another. The family of Mr. Jörg and Mrs. CiaVon Bothmer was truly a happy one. Their children didn’t live with them anymore because they already have their own families but I’ve seen how strong and solid their relationship to one another is. They always keep in touch with one another and make time to see one another even just for once a month or more. Our stay there was truly a fantastic and a memorable one. We were treated like their own children that made me feel the care and love of real parents. They always make sure that we’re doing well and comfortable in the house. My favorite part of our stay in the family was when they took us out to the Sausage Festival in Stallarholmen, the dinner in Scottvang Gufvenand the Ice Hockey competition in Scaniarinken. Those were the times where I felt the need of having a “family day” during weekends. I really had fun during our stay there because they really have a big-heart and that I will always remember them and forever treasure those memories with them. The family of Mr. Hannu and Mrs.Brigitta Lounella and their children was also a very happy family. I’ve seen how organized and well raised their children were. The fact that they have children made me indeed grateful that they accepted us to live with them and treated us like a part of their family. My unforgettable moments with them took place during the easter day and when we watched football game together. It was during those times that I saw my family in them which gradually wiped-out my homesickness. I always love it every time we were having a good time with their children because they are easy to get along with and fun to be with. I appreciate how they made us feel happy to have us in their home. Those memories that we had will surely be in my heart and I look forward to keep in touch with them.
The people whom I met throughout my stay in the congregation were indeed instrumental in creating a better me. They were all nice and I always feel absolutely complete every time I hear them say they were glad and pleased to have us. Our supervisors, Fr. Pierre and Deacon Minna indeed gave all their best to make our stay a great one. Because of the one of a kind experience that they prepared for us, my confidence in speaking out for myself was strengthened. I feel truly blessed to have lots of wonderful people around me here.
Those memories and friendship that we had built will surely be missed and will forever be treasured in my heart. I will never forget Linnéa and Pim, who had been also with us during our stay in the congregation with whom we built friendship even just for a short period of time. They had been really nice to us and took good care of us during those times we were with them. I am truly happy that I found friends like them here in Sweden.
Lastly, my heart will forever keep with fondness the evening dinner we had with some of the good Swedish people that we had met. I couldn’t contain my feelings for that night. Mixed emotions, – grateful and lonely. Grateful in a way that I’ve been blessed for the opportunity to have met great people (foster families, supervisors, church people and new friends) here in Strängnäs whom I had shared great things, learned a lot with and helped me grow and believed in myself in any way I can. I was just so glad for the dinner gathering that Ms. Kristina had planned for us where in fact, we just had met her for the first time before the dinner happened. It’s quiet amazing how she thought of that idea and so nice to hear it from her that she really loves the Philippines and the Filipinos that’s why she came up with this great idea just for us because she was so pleased to have met us. Lonely, due to the fact that we’re leaving Strängnäs soon and the people we’ve been for 5 weeks who had been our first family here in Sweden. Talking in front of them when you’re very emotional is not that easy to handle yet I still managed to talk and gave them a thank you speech that came from the bottom of my heart.
Truly, it’s not that easy to travel to a place that is far away from home for this very young age because we never know what lies ahead of us in this unfamiliar place. Somehow, I managed to stay positive about it that it will going to be better and know that God is with me in this journey. I will truly miss them and will forever treasure them in my heart. It was so nice to have them during our stay here in our first congregation and I really learned a lot from them. I am also happy that I got the opportunity to share something to them as well about my life, our church, our country and my faith in God.
In travelling, what makes it more exciting is to learn and experience is their culture. In my 5 weeks of stay in Strängnäs, I could tell that I was able to adjust and learn some of their culture. From their food to their way of life, it was truly fascinating to get to know more of them. I got used of their meals everyday even though sometimes, I’ve been longing to rice but then I have to be flexible about it. Everyday, we always make sure to be on time in meeting those activities in our schedule. I am confident enough to say that I’ve adjusted to Swedish time already and I am happy about that because back home, I’m sometimes late. The Swedish time or being on time basically, how important it is for them was truly amazing because it helped me to be more attentive and organized in meeting scheduled times. The way Swedish people call the elder ones by just their name took me a long time to think about it if I should call the elders by just their names or not. And we were asked initiatively to just call their names and I wasn’t really comfortable about it because it sounds rude if I call them by their names. But since then, I got used to in a way that I always make sure to show respect to them through a gesture like bowing to them. What challenged me the most was their language. I always heard them talking in Swedish daily. Hearing them talking to one another using Swedish always made me curious about what they were talking about. I wanted to learn Swedish language but it’s not that easy to learn every single word with their respective accents. I always got interested in learning different languages that’s why every time they talk, I always tried to cope up some words that somehow helped me understand the meaning of it, or by trying to ask them simple words that I could learn. It’s amazing that this world has a lot of different languages but has this universal language which is English that makes people from different races can communicate to one another. This challenge that I always faced throughout my stay in Strängnäs made me overcome it by just remaining positive that they were not talking about me when they were talking in Swedish and by trying to learn some words. Every part of the world when we’re travelling, we can’t avoid people who are racist. We had experienced this and we were shocked and disappointed. We were in a grocery store that moment with the Lounella family. We were looking for a product in the personal hygiene area and there was this man who came to us all of a sudden and attempted to accuse us that we were going to steal the product that we picked. We felt quite nervous but tried to remain calm during that situation. We explained to him that we didn’t have the intention to steal the product, that we were going to buy it and that we were with someone in the family. He kept on speaking that made us really nervous that time but after that, he walked out and disappeared. We told it to Brigitta right away and she got really angry on the way the man reacted to us. She tried to talk to the staff about what happened and apologized to us. I felt so down and really disappointed that time as if I wanted to go home. I never expected that to happen to us and it was my first time to experience that kind of situation. I had been paranoid and afraid that people would be like that again the next time we go out. The family and our supervisors comforted us and told us that maybe the man judged us by our color and mistakenly identified us as refugees because there are some Swedish people who are against the refugees living their country. I prayed to God for His guidance and of making us remain strong and positive about our journey. I’m still grateful that there are those people in the congregation who gave us so much care and treated us well as if we’re part of the society. I just considered this as an experience and hoping that this will never happen again for the rest of our stay here in Sweden. With God at my side and keeping my faith in Him, I know that I could hurdle all the challenges that will go along the way.
Through all these great things that happened in our first congregation- the opportunity to meet other people from different races whom I learned and shared a lot and the one in a lifetime experience that made me blossom into a matured Christian, I thank the Lord Almighty and to Him I bring back all the glory.
As I continue the journey of sharing my life, my culture and faith in Sweden, I will draw my unfaltering strength from God and forever be guided with His nourishing words that are embedded in Philippians 4:6-7 “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ.”