Swedish students work toward violence prevention

New faces appeared in the halls on Tuesday, Oct. 3; faces from across the globe. The high school welcomed 33 people, including 11 students, from Sweden through the Mentors for Violence Prevention program.

Through the University of Northern Iowa program of the same name, the Swedish students were able to travel to Iowa and compare their anti-violence programs with the American versions in Cedar Falls.

The 11 Swedish students and their mayor, police chief and mentors made a tour around Cedar Falls, stopping first at Central Middle School in Waterloo and signing a proclamation between their mayors.

“We met Mayor Hart, shook hands with him,” Swedish junior Miranda Melki said. “They signed a proclamation about us visiting. They proclaimed October as MVP Month”

Next, the students came to spend the morning at Cedar Falls High School, where members of the high school’s MVP program led them on tours. For many Swedish students, like Melki, it was not what they were expecting.

“I thought it was supposed to be like high school musical, but without the musical, and I’ve seen a lot on Instagram about violence,” Melki said.

One of her fellow visitors agreed. “The [Cedar Falls] students asked me questions about Sweden and questions about my MVP. We went out to the football pitch. [The school] is really big. It’s huge compared to ours. It’s like the movies that we watch,” the student said. Another Swedish student added, “the time of the classes is pretty funny. You end at 18 or 33. It’s weird.”

Unlike the United States, education in Sweden is much more specialized at the high school level. Many students were amazed by the amount of electives that CFHS offers to their students.

“We had these classes when we were younger, and now we choose one thing,” one Swedish girl said. “I study economics and only economics. We don’t have choir or sports unless we choose to study it.”

Senior Makenna Carroll, tour guide to Melkie, said, “Their grading is a lot different than ours. You can’t take electives in high school. It’s like college. You have a major or decision of what you want to study, while we have to do some of everything to graduate.”

The Swedish students were able to witness firsthand the differences between the two countries’ culture and education as they sat in their mentor’s classes. After following the schedule from one to three hours, mentors and visitors alike joined in one room for a pizza party to share and discuss their experiences.

Cedar Falls mentors invited their Swedish visitors to attend the Friday football game, and also presented them with Tiger Nation shirts.

The Swedish visitors invited their mentors to a dinner party on Wednesday, Oct. 11, where they planned to serve Swedish meatballs, and they also gifted Cedar Falls students with Swedish chocolates and bracelets.

“I’ve been all over the school. If I would compare it to my school, they’re much calmer. They listen more, concentrated, focused on the subject,” a Swedish boy said following his experience in Cedar Falls as Swedish and American students alike chowed down on pizza. “It was pretty amazing.”

One difference that seemed to be significantly discussed was the difference between American teachers and Swedish teachers.

“Teachers [in America] are treated more respectfully. We don’t use Mr., Mrs, Ms. We call them by their first name,” a Swedish student said, “and the interactive learning in school, every teacher in every presentation, brought in every student into the learning. They give everyone an opportunity to speak.”

Another visitor said, “I found it interesting. It was different, like, he didn’t go from a book. He had his own [things to teach].”

CFHS students also were able to share their experiences from the day and what they learned from their buddy students. Senior Caleb Burjes expressed disbelief in the absence of varsity sports in Swedish schools. “Sports aren’t as big of a deal [in Sweden] as it is here,” he said. “Some of their schools don’t even have sports.”

Though all found differences, it was also easy to see the similarities between the students and their goals in preventing violence in their communities.

“There are areas where crime is high, so they try to bring kids away from that,” junior Lars Chistiason said. “That made me think of what we’re taught in our MVP. We try to bring people to a place that they feel safe, which they do too, so we have that common ground.”

“No matter where you’re from,” MVP director and school counselor Susan Langan said. “You can do amazing things. Take advantage.”

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