Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Sweet home Alabama:
A Swedish highschooler studies in America, learns a lot
Academic exchange programs are so important. For American students they offer the hope of remedial language classes, and for foreigners they offer the opportunity to see America as it really is, without the negative images presented by the foreign press. We may hope that after a year's study the foreign student will have developed a lifelong affection for the U.S. and be available later in life for recruitment by the CIA.
It was in one such program that young Patrik Sundelin of Stockholm participated. He paid to attend a high school in Irvington, Alabama, just south of Mobile, where he hoped to play football.
Alma Bryant High School appears to be a good school for football. The new coach earned a feather in his cap when 16 of this year's seniors signed on to play at the college level—"the most signees in school history." But it's a good school for sports in general. We note from their web page that Eddie's Pawn Shop, Uncle Louie and Jemison Marine have all contributed generously to the Archery Club.
And of course along with sports there's plenty of opportunity for prayer. The school handbook [pdf] is firm on this point—
School employees will not prevent, or otherwise deny student participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in our schools, consistent with the guidance issued by the U. S. Department of Education and applicable judicial decisions interpreting the U.S. Constitution.
The students wear uniforms. This year's freshmen will be sporting "a gray 'polo' style shirt with khaki pants," which should give them a vaguely Maoist look.
And no drugs! Again the handbook is plain—
5.24 Searches: School officials will cooperate with local law enforcement agencies by permitting periodic searches for illegal drugs on the approval of the superintendent and building principal.
5.27 Drug Free School Policy: The Mobile County Public School System requires that all students referenced in the System’s Drug Free Policy Procedures be subjected to drug testing as set forth in said procedures.
I especially appreciate that the writer selected the verb "subjected."
Of course foreign exchange students aren't simply dropped off at the Alibi Motel to fend for themselves. They must live with a carefully selected host family. The handbook gives guidance on this—
Students who enter the United States under an approved exchange program must reside with an approved sponsor family residing in Mobile County. The guardian must obtain a permit from the Division of Student Support Services for the student’s admission to the Mobile County Public School System.
It's not clear which agency must approve the sponsoring family, so perhaps there's some confusion.
In any event, according to The Local, a Swedish news outlet, here's what young Patrik learned abroad—
Patrik Sundelin was looking forward to spending the 2006-2007 academic year in the United States on an EF Education-arranged programme.1
Seventeen at the time, the enthusiastic teen hoped to try out for the American football team at Alma Bryant High School, located in the small town south of Mobile, Alabama.
“I was going mostly because I wanted to do something new, to improve my English, and experience a new culture,” Patrik told The Local.
"I was expecting to have a really fun year.”
There's no better place than Mobile, Alabama, to improve your English and experience a new culture I always say. And if you don't have fun, it's your own damned fault.
But Patrik’s excitement quickly turned to despair when he discovered his host family already had two unpleasant houseguests living with them, both of whom had had brushes with the law.
This was a lesson in language and culture. In the South "a brush with the law" is what people are said to have when they're not currently in jail or prison.
“The first night they brought me into the kitchen to show me their knife collection. Then one started telling me the best ways to cut someone up with a knife,” said Patrik.
“It was a surreal experience.”
What's the problem? After all, don't the Swedes have compulsory military service?
The following day, Patrik found himself taken on an even more bizarre first “field trip”.
“They took me for a ride into town. We ended up at the courthouse so one of them could meet with her probation officer,” he said.
“On the way there, she pointed out all the places where I could buy drugs, if I was interested in doing so.”
Southerners are famous for their hospitality.
And the two dodgy sub-letters weren’t Patrik’s only concern. Not only was house itself also a mess, but the host father was gravely ill and the family’s own son had recently been taken by social services.
Patrik was undoubtedly surprised to find that Americans have their own social services network, though it currently doesn't extend to the heads of families.
"Patrik called us and said there was no way he could spend a year with this family,” said his mother, Lena Sundelin.
Clearly he was not prepared for the culture shock. A good foreign exchange program, aside from innoculations, should certainly try to give the student some idea of how the natives live.
Well, the sponsoring agency bounced Patrik around from home to home for a while until he finally settled in some two months later. And all's well that ends well—
“I really enjoyed the school and the friends I met there and I did end up getting to play American football,” he said.
A Swedish court even awarded his family a rebate.
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