Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Speaking English and Schools in Stockholm

I started looking into schools before we visited in June to get an idea of what types of schools they have here and if any of them speak/teach in English.  I didn't know much about Sweden before finding out we were going to move here but one of the first things I learned was that everyone speaks English.  They start learning basic words in first or second grade until eventually they become fluent.  In middle school the usually pick up a third language.  I think the US could learn a thing or two from the Swedes.  It is so neat that they are all at least bilingual, some adults can speak several languages.

Knowing that everyone speaks English is great as a tourist.  You can go into any store or restaurant and ask for help or order without a problem.  But it in my opinion it can also be intimidating that they all know English.  I like to fit in.  Actually, it is more that I don't like to stick out.  To me there is a difference.  I had a hard time speaking in English around others because I knew that they could understand me but I couldn't understand them if they talked about me in Swedish.  When Jake and I first moved here I wouldn't talk to him in public much unless we were walking.  So if we were on the metro or in a store I would get really shy and not talk, some of you that can't believe this should come visit us just to see that :).  I've gotten more comfortable now but I still try to blend in as much as I can which to me means not speaking in English.  Even though everyone knows English they all speak Swedish most of the time.

In June I found a few schools that were international schools and spent part of their day in English.  I applied for those schools.  Two of the schools didn't have any positions but one school was interested even though they didn't have a position.  The school that was most interested I walked by in June and interviewed with our second week here.  The interview went well and I was excited about that possibility but again they didn't have any positions.  I was put on their sub list and was basically told I can't volunteer because they don't ever have volunteers and they wouldn't know what to do with me.
This was the school in Bromma that didn't know what to do with a volunteer.  That still confuses me.  At first I thought they didn't understand that it meant I would show up and help without getting paid.  But even after I cleared that up they still weren't interested.  

I was frustrated that the one school I had been in contact with since July hadn't really panned out like I though it would.  But I found out about another school that seemed to have potential and sent them my resume, cover letter and reference letters.  They also didn't have a position but they were highly interested in me volunteering!  Which was great because at this point I just needed to get out of the house apartment hotel and make some friends.
My new school!

I interviewed with them last Monday and went to a teacher's meeting last Wednesday.  This meeting was similar to a faculty meeting.  My first day was yesterday, September 16th.  All I knew was that I was going to meet with the PYP 6 (Primary Years Program) teachers at 8:10 and kids show up at 8:30.  This school has preschool through 9th grade.  They are also an IB (International Baccalaureate) school.  The grades are a bit different here.  I am working with PYP 6 students, which is Swedish Grade 5 but these are 11-12 year olds which would be 6th graders in the US.  I am actually helping with two PYP 6 classes.  One teacher teaches math and science and the other teacher does Swedish and social studies.  I spend most of my time in the classroom with math and science.  I thought more lessons would be in English but they are mostly in Swedish.  The teacher does translate for me or has the kids tell me what they are working on before the lesson starts so I know what they should be doing.  I think their specials are all in English and I will be going to at least PE and Art with the classes to help a few students who struggle with fine/gross motor skills.

Here are some of my observations after the first two days plus the faculty meeting:

  • They call their teachers by their first names.  It just seems strange but I guess over here they don't really use Mr. and Mrs. much in any setting that I know of so far.
  • This school is in a building that you would see downtown.  It has 4 or 5 floors.  It is strange walking kids up and down the stairs instead of down a hallway.  Plus they don't really do it quietly.  I'm not sure if that is the age of the kids, the expectations or if the whole school is like that.  Apparently their first fire drill took 6 minutes because they were jammed in the stairwells.  Plus some of the rooms couldn't hear the alarm.  They also couldn't figure out how to let the office know that everyone was accounted for.  I wanted to suggest walkie talkies but decided to not say anything.
  • Their schedule isn't the same everyday other than when school starts.  School starts at 8:30 but then lunch varies every day.  My first day it was at 11:20 but today it was at 12:20 and tomorrow is 11:50.  It isn't the same any day of the week.  They also have specials thrown in throughout the day/week.  They don't have specials everyday for an hour like I'm used to and it isn't at the same time as the other grade level teacher.  So I'm not quite sure when they plan together.  They do have PE, Music, Library and Art.  I think all of these are taught in English.  I went to Art twice today which was fun.  
  • School gets out at different times each day and for each grade.  Monday we got out at 2:00 but today was 2:10 and Friday is 2:40.  The younger grades usually get out around the same time but then stay for after school care.
  • I LOVE getting out of school at 2 or 2:10.  Technically I can get out whenever because I'm volunteering but how great would it be if I could get paid and get out of school at that time!
  • I told the teacher I've been working with that it is hard to follow the schedule because each day is different.  I explained our schedule where we start and end at the same time.  Lunch is the same time and so are specials.  She was really jealous of our lunch time being the same.
    The classroom.  This picture isn't great.  I'll try to take another one.  Each classroom has a smart board.  The kids sit at tables.  They keep their supplies in cabinets to the left of this picture.

  • Here the teachers eat lunch with the kids.  Can I just say I miss lunch at GE for so many reasons?  My assigned seat, no kids and most of all my friends.  Oh how I miss my coworkers!  Talking to kids at lunch just isn't the same as your coworkers and close friends.  Plus it is so LOUD!  It is strange walking the halls and not seeing familiar faces.  I know these faces will become familiar but I want to see the faces that I know and love!  Maybe I should start working on convincing my teacher friends to move over here and work with me . . .
  • An English teacher comes to the classroom two or three times a week for lessons.  The teacher leaves during this time.
  • Kids use pencils without erasers.  I'm not sure the reasoning behind this.  Then they also have to carry erasers with them.  They also like throwing erasers.  I had already thought of what I would do about those erasers if this was my classroom because that seems like a pet peeve I would have.

You can kind of see the slots where they put binders and other books on the shelf against the wall.
  • The classroom teacher and I noticed that the desktops were dirty today.  I asked if they had janitors.  They do but they only clean the room on Tuesdays and Fridays.  She said it should be pretty clean but it looks like someone wore their outside shoes inside. . . their what?
  • I had noticed that about half the kids on Monday were wearing socks.  I thought that was because it had rained and maybe their shoes and feet were wet from walking.  But I guess here they are supposed to have outside shoes and inside shoes.  So they wear shoes to school and then change once they get to school.  The teachers do this too.  But some kids prefer to wear just their socks.  Looks like I need to wear outside shoes and then change into my inside shoes at school.  That does make more sense because I've seen a lot of people on the metro wearing tennis shoes and nice outfits but I didn't realize that it is actually a policy and not just a comfort thing.
  • The kids have short breaks throughout the day in between lessons.  They might have a lesson, then a ten minute break, then another lesson and then another ten minute break.  Short breaks are done in the classroom.  They also have a longer break during the day when they go outside for 20-30 minutes.  Once a week they have an hour long break outside where they go to the park.  I'm already nervous about the hour long breaks during winter :/.
  • After the faculty meeting last week I met with the principal to talk about my schedule.  He asked what I thought about the meeting.  I told him it was similar to faculty meetings in the states but the school in Stockholm is much smaller.  There were probably 10-15 teachers instead of 25-30 like we have in the states.  When I told him that he said, "How do you have meetings with so many people?  How does everyone get a chance to be heard?"  Side note - apparently in Sweden consensus between colleagues is big.  Everyone needs to be heard and feel like they were heard and that their opinion was taken into consideration.  Then when a decision is made everyone makes it and comes to a consensus.  Apparently they take that seriously.  He was very surprised that our school would be that big because not everyone would be heard.  I had a hard time not laughing out loud thinking back to faculty meetings I've been to.  Not everyone gets heard but in the US it seems like you either care and pipe up or you just go with the flow.
School today was better than yesterday.  My first day had way more Swedish than I was expecting.  Once I start taking Swedish lessons at the end of this month I think that will be great but right now it is just hard to help when I can't figure out what they are saying and I don't know enough to read it on the page to figure it out.  Math is definitely the easiest subject for me to struggle though in Swedish.  The kids can also translate for me but usually the ones that need help are also the ones that have the lowest English skills.  The girls have been very sweet to me and seem to want to get to know me.  The boys are also getting to know me but I'm not sure they are excited about why they are having to get to know me :).  I'm also having a hard time not being the one in charge of the classroom.  I'm not sure that feeling will ever go away and to be honest it makes me really miss teaching.  I miss having my own classroom but I think this experience will make me a better teacher and help me to not take things for granted.  I feel like I took my coworkers for granted now that I don't have them.  I have always had a great team but the last few years have been my favorite.  We just clicked.  We not only got a long but we truly enjoyed being together.  I miss my coworkers the most at this point more than anything else since moving.

After today I can say that I'm glad we moved to Stockholm.  I know that feeling will come and go but today I was glad.  I like learning about Sweden and how it is different from the US.  Riding on the metro to get to school everyday is awesome!  It takes about 30 minutes but for about 20-25 minutes I can read a book on my phone, check my email, listen to music or day dream because I'm not driving!  (I did notice today that no one puts on make on the metro.  At least I haven't seen it yet so maybe if you are one of those crazy people that puts on make up while you drive you should move over here because then you can put it on during your commute without endangering anyone.)  

 I take the metro to work everyday.  I actually feel pretty safe taking it.  So far I haven't felt scared on the public transportation which is good.  It is a big city so I do need to remember to be careful but it doesn't feel as scary as I think it does in other big cities.
 Going over one of the bridges on my way to work.  Stockholm is made up of 14 islands and is connected by bridges and ferries.  It is really beautiful.
 On the metro.  It is usually pretty full when I get on but I didn't want to take a picture right in someone's face so I waited until it emptied out a little bit.  The picture on the right is from a few days ago.  Most people are on their phones playing games, listening to music or checking social media sites while on the metro.
Escalators are everywhere.  That topic might get a post all by itself.

I love that technology has made home feel closer but eventually chatting, emails and Skype won't cut it and I'll be homesick.  But for now I enjoyed waking up, going to school, getting home early, working out, shopping with Jake, making dinner and then hanging out before heading to bed.  

We did find an apartment that we love and we are trying to get things finalized.  Once we do, I will tell you all about apartment hunting in Stockholm.  It is very different than the US.

Things are really coming together and I can see God's timing in all of it.  That really does my heart good to know that He is taking care of us and providing for us.  I still can't believe I moved to Stockholm!


  1. When you post about house hunting, put a tag of House Hunters! You might get contacted!

    I'm proud of you! It's easy to sit here and think what you are doing is easy peasy but it wouldn't be easy peasy for me either!

  2. I so badly want to come visit! I will certainly be working on that. And I'm proud of you too!!

  3. This was so cool!!! :) I loved reading this and learning about the Sweden school system. But just made me miss working with you more!!!! :( Maybe I will have to come over and join you! ;)

  4. I'm loving reading about your adventures. I think you're going to want to stay a bit longer!


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