During the school’s February vacation, 14 students and two teachers from John Bapst traveled to Umea, Sweden to participate in an exchange program with a school there called Dragonskolan. This marks the fifth such trip from John Bapst to Umea, and on this trip the fiftieth John Bapst student traveled to Sweden’s “City of Birches.”
This year’s students followed a time-honored itinerary: Sight-seeing and pancake eating in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (Old City); a 10-hour night train ride north to Umea; a 6:00 a.m. meet-and-greet with Swedish host students; a week of classes at Dragonskolan, and various activities with host families.
John Bapst students spent the week immersed in the culture of northern Sweden with their host families. By the third day of this year’s trip, students had driven dog teams on the frozen Baltic Sea, attended a hockey match in nearby Ornskoldsvik, and gone sledding on the aptly named “Death Hill,” a huge esker located west of Umea. Because the group visited during a particularly severe winter, they attracted the attention of local media, and several students became minor media celebrities in both the Dragonskolan student newspaper and in one of the local city papers.
On the academic side, John Bapst students served as in-house ESL experts and were in great demand as native English speakers. Several programs at Dragonskolan have an English conversation requirement and John Bapst students were active not only in “Inter Class” courses (the program hosting them) but also in the construction and trades courses taught at Dragonskolan. Trip leader and John Bapst teacher Mark Tasker spent his time as an ESL guest lecturer, talking mostly about American Jazz and its role in American culture, while John Bapst science teacher Mary Lammert spent time in Dragonskolan chemistry classes.
On the morning of February 28, it was time for difficult goodbyes and promises to return soon. Since its inception in 2003, the John Bapst/Dragonskolan exchange has forged countless friendships. In the short term, both schools hope to have three students each involved with a “direct exchange” this fall (a program in which a John Bapst student and a Dragonskolan student literally swap houses, families, and schools), while in the longer term more winter trips and maybe even a combined summer mountain expedition are on the drawing board.