The Swedish School System from an Exchange Student’s Perspective

The Swedish School System from an Exchange Student’s Perspective

I’ve been in school here in Sweden for a little over two months! Time has gone by so quickly but I’m really enjoying the experience of going to highschool and staying with a host family. There are quite a few differences between the school systems that I noticed quite quickly! I arrived in Sweden by train from Copenhagen in the late afternoon on Saturday and met my host family for the first time. Everything was so new and a little scary, but they made me feel right at home by showing me around the house and having fika as soon as we arrived. Despite feeling more comfortable at home, I was starting school on Monday! I was nervous and I didn’t really know what to expect.

Early Monday morning my host father Mikael walked me to the school and we met with some teachers. I am attending gymnasieskola , the Swedish equivalent of highschool. They gave me my schedule and a laptop and my media teacher, Tommy, took me upstairs to the media room, which is full of computers and cameras. The first big difference between a Swedish and American school is how you address the teachers. In Sweden, they always go by their first name and would find it strange if you address them as Mr/Ms. This takes a little getting used to as I’ve been taught since kindergarten to always use Mr/Ms when talking to my teachers, but I enjoy calling teachers by their first name. I think it makes them seem more like a friend instead of an authority figure.

Secondly, the grades in school are a bit different from America. As I said, I’m attending gymnasieskola –– sort of like American high school. It has three grades and people are usually ages16-19 when they attend.

Here is how it’s laid out:

Förskola and Förskoleklass – like preschool, ranging from ages 1 through 6
Grundskola – 9 grades, sort of like elementary and middle school + freshman year of highschool. Ages 7-15. It’s divided into 3 sections:

  • Lågstadiet (grades 1-3)
  • Mellanstadiet (grades 4-6) and
  • Högstadiet (grades 6-9) Gymnasieskola – 3 years, much like the last three years of American high school.

Despite being 16, I’m taking 2nd and 3rd year classes so I can experience the photography and media program more. Normally, a 16 year old would be a year one student in gymnasieskola !

My first media class had only four other students, and in my experience, many of the class sizes are small to medium depending on what you are used to. Some of my classes range from 5-10 people and some of the bigger classes like math have 15 students. In Sweden, Gymnasieskola is much more tailored to your interests and future career than American high school. My school focuses heavily on media, journalism, and digital arts. That isn’t to say that we don’t have math and language classes as well. In my application process, I was able to express my interests which helped me get into a school that was a good match for me.

And lastly, the biggest difference! The schedule in Swedish school is basically the polar opposite of American schools. When I first received my schedule I was confused about the large empty spots between classes. I asked one of my new friends and they told me there were no classes in those spots and I could do whatever I wanted. I was shocked! In America, at least at my school, classes are back to back and you can’t leave the building freely or be in the halls while class is happening. With these large breaks in my schedule, I am allowed to leave school and do whatever I want whether it be going for a walk, going to a cafe or the store with friends, or heading to the lunchroom. This freedom reminds me a lot of what I’ve heard about a college experience and I really enjoy it. I feel much less stressed about school and I have time to do things I enjoy doing.

Swedish schools also don’t take being late or tardy seriously, which is good and bad. On one hand, it’s nice to not be punished for being a couple of minutes late. On the other hand, sometimes students come in 20-30 minutes late and end up missing most of class. I definitely recommend trying to be timely if you’re thinking of attending a Swedish high school! You’ll get much more out of the class and it’s much nicer for the teacher. Going to high school abroad is an amazing and invaluable experience, and I hope this insight helped. Thank you for reading!

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