After my first year in 'senior high school', 16 going on 17, my parents apparently thought me mature enough to go off out into the world alone. They sent me on a sort of educational holiday to England, to stay for four weeks with a family in a small village near Doncaster in Yorkshire.
This was not a family we knew beforehand. It was organized rather like an exchange student program, except that there was no exchange. The family I went to stay with had a girl about my age – she was in the 5th form in a Comprehensive School. I visited her school with her, but she did not go back to Sweden with me.
The flight to England and an initial short stay in London (two nights) was made in a group, with adult supervision. After that, we were sent off in different directions by train, to whereever each of us was going to stay for the next four weeks.
In this village, I stayed with the family A., in a rather typical English house.
Mr A., if I my memory serves me right, worked in the coal mines, or at least in some way for the coal mining company. Mrs A. worked part time at the local pub. Besides their teenage daughter, Lynne, they had a boy of about 5, Lyndon. In the house, on the ground floor there was a living room, a dining room and a small kitchen. Upstairs, three small bedrooms. During my stay, Lyndon had to move in with his mum and dad, and I got to have his room. This he did not seem to mind; on the contrary he quite fell in love with the exciting foreign visitor, followed me around everywhere, called himself my boyfriend, getting jealous of anyone who possibly threatened that position. Cute; but I soon also learned to say one phrase in proper Yorkshire dialect:"Gi' o'er Lyndon!"
Besides the family, I was soon introduced to aunts, cousins, grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, and more or less the whole village. I remember one visit to an old man in the countryside who spoke in heavy Yorkshire dialect very unlike any English I had ever heard before, and not easy for me to understand. He said to me: "You speak like you come from the BBC!" I'm not sure it was meant as a compliment…
Me (between the boys) and some English friends at school
Most days, I went to school with Lynne (the school was in another village, so we went by bus). From strictly educational point of view, there wasn't really much going on at school for her and her friends except exams (O-levels). I did attend a few classes, but there were also a lot of free periods which we spent just hanging around… the school, the village, the cricket field, or other students' houses… especially one boy's house whose parents were away… At that age, however, and in the month of June - one is rather good at just hanging…
Lynne and the boys
One thing that fascinated me about English village life was the habit everyone seemed to have of just walking right into other people's houses without waiting for them to open the door. We never did that where I came from.
The cricket field
I had also been told beforehand, that schools in England were much more strict than in Sweden, including the relationship between students and teachers. My impression was exactly the opposite. The only thing more formal in England was that you addressed teachers (and parents) by Mr or Mrs, which was already getting rare in Sweden in the early 70s. Apart from that, I found the student-teacher relationships quite friendly.
Mr and Mrs A, Lyndon and a great-uncle, in Bridlington
With the whole family + grandmother + great uncle and aunt, we went on some outings to places like York, Cleethorpes (seaside) and Bridlington (seaside).
There were also some organized school activities, like a couple of trips to Leeds Rolarena. In Sweden, I had never heard of such a thing as a Rolarena (like a disco, but on rollerskates), and I had never been on a pair of rollerskates in my life. In fact, in spite of living in this Northern climate, I had never even learned the art of ice-skating. I think there were some kind people who held on tight to me and dragged me round the floor a few times on these Rolarena nights... But two visits to the place was not enough to make me glide around with the ease of those people depicted on the ticket, I assure you! However, I survived, and nothing got broken…
Chaperoned by a cousin of Lynne's (older than us, but not much ) we also on a couple of occasions went to a disco in Doncaster. This was nothing I was used to either, but at least there I did not have to balance on wheels!
All-in-all, besides picking up a lot of colloquial words and phrases and becoming more fluent in the spoken language, and learning more about everyday life in England, I consider the whole experience quite an important step on my way from childhood to adulthood - being away from my own family for a whole month, in a foreign country, and with no other Swedes around.
If you missed the previous episodes in this series, you will find all four of them in the Blog Archive for September 2009.