Last week IB1 girls spent five days on an Exchange with a school in Sweden, accompanied by Miss Weston and Mr Briggs. Sven Erikson Gymnasiet offers Swedish national education programmes as well as the IB Diploma, and the IB cohort is more separate there than at the Royal High School. Many of the Sven Erikson IB students have come to Sweden from all over the world – there are over 40 nations represented among them – and some have extraordinary stories to tell.
One Afghan boy walked all the way from his homeland to Scandinavia as a teenager to find a new life both for himself and his family. While we were there in Boras, a Syrian asylum seeker (who had already been through the traumatic experience of crossing the Mediterranean in an unseaworthy fishing vessel) found out that his best friend had just been killed back in his hometown of Aleppo.
We were moved by these and other stories and were overwhelmed by the generosity of our hosts – both students and teachers. In school, we worked in mixed groups with our Swedish counterparts on Theory of Knowledge presentations: each group took a situation from life and analysed the knowledge problems and questions arising from it; these included considering what knowledge questions about History arise from the new discoveries about the sinking of the Titanic, how the use of Photoshop can aid or hinder our understanding of beauty, whether humans really employ reason in electing a leader (with reference to the elections in the US and France) and whether the possession of knowledge imposes a duty to tell the truth.
But it was not all work. In the evenings, we went bowling and enjoyed meals out and in with our hosts; on the Saturday we spent the whole day, which was bright and blustery, in Gothenburg: we began in the World Culture Museum where we enjoyed three very different exhibitions, and then we were free to explore the city, which is beautiful.
Reflecting on the experience, which several of us agreed was the best thing so far about the IB Diploma Programme, we felt we had learned, observed and discovered many different things:
“I really enjoyed staying with the student host as I got to see the inside and actually live the life of a Swedish student. This experience was very enriching and perspective broadening.
With reference to students and to what I’ve seen in school, the relationships between students and teachers are less formal than in our school and the ambiance in the Gymnasium is very relaxed. Observing the Swedish students, I noticed that they seem to have less control from adults than we have and seem to have more independence.” (Anna)
“In school, teachers and students have an equal relationship: they call each other by first names and know each other on a more personal level. There are also fewer restrictions at school, no signing in or out system. Outside school, most buildings seem to have been designed to be environmentally friendly and aim to use less electricity for lighting and air conditioning. Drivers are more considerate of pedestrians, always stopping at the crossing.” (Ivon)
“I admire the infrastructures in Gothenburg - lanes dedicated for cycling (environmentally friendly), and trams with special rails/panels for wheelchairs to get on and off easily. Swedish parents are quite relaxed: even when they knew their daughter had an unexpected test for which she did not prepare, they just laughed it off. It was amazing to learn that students who scored the highest grades in their exams get a prize of cash up to 7000 Swedish krona. There are a lot of open areas around the school for people to chat, chill and relax - something that I would like to see more of in the UK.
My most memorable experience: my host family was quite musical (a daughter doing music, the mother a singer/guitarist, the father a pianist) so for the last night we sang songs together while I played the piano. It was a peaceful and delightful evening.” (Joanne)
“I found the economic situation in Sweden interesting – there doesn’t seem to be much inequality, and the middle class makes up most of the country. I also quite like the fact that so many things are paid for in taxes. I found the architecture and public transport situations very similar to the German ones. The IB group at Sven Erikson seemed a lot more segregated from the rest of the school than our IB groups are (which is a good sign for us, I guess). It was really funny how casual the student-teacher relationships were! Also, every Swedish person I spoke to, whether in a shop or in school, spoke amazing English. I really enjoyed getting to know the other IB students; all of them have such interesting backgrounds. Gothenburg was beautiful, and we were really lucky with the weather. All in all, this trip exceeded my expectations, and I wish we could have stayed for longer.” (Charlotte)
“Young people in Sweden are a lot more independent, with several living alone or generally just managing their own time when not much older than us. The old city in Gothenburg, called Haga, was really nice: lots of individual quirky shops and cool buildings, cafes extended out into the street, which made it feel like a little community of its own.” (Maia)
“We stand for a time and an image of girls’ education that is unprecedented in global history and I’m proud to be a part of that and of the Royal High. On the bus to the airport, I was thinking ‘this bus represents more than just a group of girls going on holiday in Sweden... It represents women forging ahead into the world, venturing into new times, new cultures and for the sake of knowledge and the world. We are a group of people going after one ideal: empowering women. We are today, but we are also tomorrow.’
In Boras we went to a school with similar ideals, but in a different environment. Their rules were focused on different areas of life and for very different types of people. For example, students were allowed to not turn up to school if they didn’t have lessons, call their teachers on a first name basis, and it’s normal for students to hug their teachers in the morning.
Being in this other culture opens your eyes to so many new people, ways of living, new life experiences. It makes you realise how big the world is and how broad ranging the IB is. You know you are doing the same course and the same subjects, but the methods through which they are learning it and the layout of the classrooms makes you feel like they are doing another course entirely. It was a great experience, definitely one of the highlights of IB so far, and I fully recommend it to anyone doing it next year.” (Aida)