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Exchange student from Sweden hosted by Pike family

Hedvig Rask of Sweden has temporarily made Pike County her home as she visits the states as part of an exchange student program with Rotary International. She is a student at the University of Georgia and she lives with commissioner James Jenkins and his family when she is ‘home’ from school on breaks. She said the people here are very open and nice and willing to talk to everyone. The biggest difference, she said, is the way people travel and how little cobblestone there is in the states. In Sweden, she said everyone bikes back and forth to school and Jenkins got a bicycle to use on campus at UGA.

“In Sweden, you can start practicing to drive when you are 16 but you can’t get your license until you are 18. Even then, most people do not get a car until they are in their 30s or later because they are very expensive. Gas prices are about double what they are in the states and that’s for liters, not gallons.”

Hedvig is following in her father’s footsteps and was scheduled to travel to Argentina as a high school exchange student when the pandemic hit. Her dad was a high school exchange student in Canada and her brother was an exchange student in England. Her dad’s four siblings all did high school exchanges with Rotary in the United States. Hedvig’s mother helped her find the UGA scholarship and even though none of the credits will transfer back to Sweden, she is enjoying her ‘gap year’ while taking ceramics, Italian, Spanish, biology and soccer. She is fluent in English and Swedish and also speaks Spanish and German.

She hopes to become a veterinarian when she returns home. Hedvig said in Sweden, it is common to take breaks or gap years between high school and college and that instead of having a veterinary science major like in American colleges, she will start a program with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences which will take around five years to complete. She added that there are no scholarships in Sweden since all universities are completely free and the government even pays students to attend.

Hedvig grew up in Lund, home to one of the oldest universities in Sweden, so Athens feels a little bit like home since it is also a ‘college town.’

Southern cuisine is quite different from traditional Swedish foods such as pickled herring.
“Sometimes when they serve fish in the dining halls, it feels a bit like food from home,” she said.
She said the weather here is different from southern Sweden where it is mostly rainy in the fall. She said she hopes it will snow this winter in Georgia and she will miss skiing with friends back home. She said in southern Sweden where she lives, the snow usually builds up to around six inches over the winter.

She has enjoyed several typical southern experiences including a rodeo (which had her friends from back home jealous), a visit to Savannah and football games. She wasn’t impressed with the game of football, noting that the whistle blows too much and there are only short bursts of time when the players are actually playing.

She plans to visit New York City in December and hopes to travel out west in the 60 days between the conclusion of her classes at UGA and her return home. She won’t be returning home but her parents will visit her around the holidays and she is going to experience a truly southern Thanksgiving celebration.

“This has been a very fun experience and I recommend anyone who has the opportunity to do it,” said Hedvig. “Not only do we get to meet great people like my host family, but we also get to meet all the kids who are part of the exchange program so I’ve met people from all around the world.”

Jenkins has been a member of Rotary International for 30 years and Hedvig found her home in Pike through the Georgia Rotary Student Program. He said hosting an exchange student has been something he has always wanted to do and that he wants Hedvig to experience as much as possible during her stay. His daughter Melissa White said she was so glad her dad is hosting Hedvig during her exchange student program.

“It’s been great to get to know her and nice to have another girl to talk to and we definitely share an interest in animals,” she said. “I teared up when I found out he was going to host an exchange student because we’re talking about someone who already has 12 kids and it just shows how selfless he really is.”

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