Once upon a time, I got to be part of a beauty pageant in Upstate NY in the United States as an exchange student. Yet, it was so much more. It was a talent competition, a group of dedicated seventeen year old girls bringing forth our scholastic abilities as well as putting on a good show. It was the first time I danced solo (jazz dance in black and red unitard) to my own routine which I made to the song "The time of my life" . I had just hoped for one of the smaller awards but I was chosen 2nd runner-up, well aware of that I wasn't allowed to win since I wasn't American. Even so, I was really grateful for my trophy and this is where my path towards learning what a true American is, began. With pride and an indefinite visa, it was called then.
At our graduation day at Ticonderoga Senior High school, upstate NY, class of '89, I also got to hold a speech in front of everybody, not as a Valedictorian but to share my gratitude for being the first exchange student ever there in 1988-89 together with a Spanish girl, but not the last one. My Swedish mother and my brother came to be part of the last week with both my hostfamilies. Now, more than two decades later, I have reconnected with some of my former classmates from Ticonderoga, NY and learned how they became inspired to travel and live abroad too for a while.
It was a tough year, far away from Internet in a small town with nobody to speak Swedish to, but somehow I became a “Sentinel” eventually with a much improved English and found my real self-esteem and confidence both thanks to great teachers and classmates, having discussions about our social systems and what pledging allegiance means. And receiving my freedom to dance.
When I came back to Sweden, I was elected the President of the local county chapter two years of the association “International Culture Exchange” (IKU Skåne) for former exchange students in Europe, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Not only did we have a lot of fun with meetings, workshops, dinners and our own comedy-performances, but we also conducted interviews on behalf of ASSE, with those who wanted to become High School students and I led a group of about 40 Scandinavian 16- and 17-year olds to and through transit in Chicago some years later. We also welcomed visits and arranged sightseeing for the organization “Up with people“ in Sweden. And when I became a Copywriter, one of my first freelance assignments in the early 90’s was to write the introduction for a brochure for the same organization ASSE that I had traveled and worked for.
(I changed my name in 2005.)