Source: Sherman Publications

Orion welcomes a Swedish student

by Gabriel L. Ouzounian

August 22, 2012

Like many area families, the Bjorks of Orion Township have a small family of two children and a house in the suburbs.

Unlike families here in Orion, they will soon invite one additional member into their home - in the form of Swedish exchange student Julia Grut. The 16-year-old Swede will attend classes at Lake Orion High School for the 2012/13 school year and the Bjorks couldn’t be happier to bring another exchange student into their home, which is about to be youth-free.

“We talked to the family about doing this two years ago when our youngest daughter was 16-years-old,” said Mike Bjork. “Our concern at that time was that with (our daughter’s) older brother going away to college she wanted time to be an only child, so we thought we’d wait until she went to Oakland University. That way she could commute and still spend time with (Grut.) Then after we selected a girl we thought would fit our family our daughter announced she was going to Saginaw Valley, so our ‘Swedish daughter’ is going to be an only child this year.”

While this may be unusual to most families in Orion, the Bjorks have a history of inviting foreign exchange students into their home. The love for the invitations began when Lisa Bjork, Mike’s wife, was an exchange student herself. She stayed in France mainly and has now hosted seven students herself from anywhere from four days to a month.

Both Mike and Lisa said they were ready for a long term visit.

“We’ve had one English boy, four French students and two German boys,” said Lisa. “I would like to do it longer though, so you can get to know them better and have an opportunity to learn more about the United States. You can’t do that in just a month. When the French student came, we spent almost a month just getting through the language barrier, but now with (Grut) she will get to know other students, get to know what American schools are like and get to experience holidays here.

“It’s a better experience.”

And an experience is what Grut will get. The Bjorks plan to travel a good deal with her, including frequent trips around Michigan, a Florida trip, football games, a brief stop in Boyne Mountain and more. Grut is an active skier and snowboarder - prompting the Boyne Mountain trip - and will likely join the ski team among other sports in Lake Orion.

Still, the Bjorks aren’t planning trips too far. A frequent mistake made by Europeans visiting the United States according to Lisa is wanting to go everywhere in the country. Grut is no exception, and said she wanted to visit Hollywood. Lisa said they had to explain to her that the distance is equal to where she is from, outside of Stockholm, to Cairo, Egypt.

“The size of the cars and the distance traveled every day also usually surprises Europeans,” said Lisa. “I drive 26 miles one way to work. Our food is also sweeter and the portions are much larger. They almost all say the food is cheaper here, so the large portions are surprising.”

They both said one of the biggest challenges is communication. Exchange students are a long way from home and homesickness is common. On top of it, language barriers can play negatively on the communication between host parents and children, which can harm what is essentially a relationship between actual parents with a child. When, for example, a foreign student has an issue at school, they may not feel comfortable telling a host parent.

But the Bjorks are up to the task and said they often see that foreigners find Americans pleasant and friendly.

“It’s the perspective they have of America before they come and what they think we are like is different when they get here,” said Mike. “It’s not like it is on TV. Our English student was at Cedar Point with us and when people in line heard his accent they struck up conversations. He was impressed that people were interested.

“Almost all our European students are reserved and it surprises them how outgoing and friendly people are here.”