The Swedish approach to academics made Nicholas Balthrop realize that he should not concentrate on his academics to the exclusion of all other interests and hobbies. School is important, but it’s not everything.

Honorable Mention

Nicholas Balthrop
University of Portland

Junior year of high school I was fortunate enough to have spent a year abroad as an ambassador through Rotary International Youth Exchange to Linköping, Sweden. It was a year I will never forget; a year that let me grow into the independent person I am today. My experiences abroad gave me insights not only into foreign cultures but also my own. There were many differences between my home, the United States, and Sweden, especially in the way they educate their youth. Through these experiences I realized the difference in students’ stress levels in the United States and Sweden. Regarding my own education, I realized that although it is exceedingly important, there is more to life than just studying.
Here in the United States, we have and for many years have had a “go, go, go” lifestyle. This lifestyle is reflected in the fast food phenomenon, in the incredibly large amounts of caffeine we consume, and the enormous use of vehicles. This lifestyle is also mirrored in the classroom. In the United States, every student has one chance to do well in school; one chance to prove that he or she has the intelligence and the motivation to do well in life. This one shot deal makes education very competitive. We see class rankings in a majority of high schools, pitting students against one another in order to be the victor, and therefore, successful. Here in the United States, only the victorious survive.
This is a stark contrast to Sweden. In Sweden, no matter how poorly one does in high school, there is always a special school available where students can take whichever high school classes they choose again, and get a better grade. Theoretically, someone who gets the equivalent of 2.0 GPA can go back and turn each of those grades one by one into A’s, and eventually get a 4.0 GPA. In Sweden teachers rarely give out homework, believing that the students will study however hard they want and get the grade they deserve. If a student decides that school is not a very high priority right then in his or her life, they can make it up later on when it becomes more of a priority. The average Swedish student is appalled by class ranking, saying that it is not fair for the student who gets ranked last to feel bad about being last. An American would likely say that that is a motivator for the student to get better grades.
This way of thinking, a more empathetic and relaxed way of viewing education, ended up affecting me greatly. I do realize that I am in the dog-eat-dog American system, so however much I would like to, I cannot become relaxed with my education. However, this influence has also made me realize that school is not everything. Sometimes it is not good to spend the entire day in the library studying. Some days one needs to do simpler things, like take a walk and enjoy a sunset, or eat pizza with a group of friends. Life should not be entirely about getting the best grades possible, although that is of course important. It is also about the things we experience and the friends we make.
Nicholas learned to strike a balance between school and the rest of his life. That’s a lesson we all can use, no matter where in the world you attend school!