Swedish schools: a day in the life of an international boarding student

While boarding schools are a strong feature of the educational system in many countries, that’s not the case in Sweden. But one historic school in a magnificent forest setting, on the edge of the small town of Sigtuna, just north of Stockholm, counts around 200 boarders among its 700 students from ages 12 to 19.

Swedish schools: a day in the life of an international boarding student
SSHL boarding student Charlotte von BraunschweigPhoto: SSHL

The school is Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket (SSHL) and it offers a range of boarding options: full year-round boarding, traditional boarding (with a set number of weekends at home), and weekly boarding (where students go home to their families almost every weekend). Students at the bilingual school can follow Swedish academic programmes, or study International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes in English.

The Local followed 15-year-old boarder Charlotte von Braunschweig, originally from Frankfurt in Germany, through the course of a typical day (a Wednesday in October). Charlotte, who moved to Sweden to start at SSHL in August 2020, says: “My grandmother was Swedish, so I wanted to come here to learn more about Swedish culture, learn the language, and get back to my Swedish roots.”

Find out more about SSHL and the three distinct types of boarding it offers

6.30am: Wake-up time! Charlotte’s alarm goes off and she gets up and gets ready for her day. While most Swedish schools have no uniform, SSHL does – but tradition has it that it’s worn only on Wednesdays in a typical week. “It’s really nice not having to think about what to wear that day!” says Charlotte. 

Photo: SSHL

7am: Breakfast. Charlotte sits down with 25 to 30 people in her boarding house dining hall as they tuck into a cooked breakfast with cereal, eggs and more. “Sometimes, we’re lucky and the cook makes pancakes too!” School rules allow you until 7.30am to arrive – but don’t blame anyone else if you arrive late to find the pancakes have all gone!

8am – 8.50am: Mentorship. Wednesday means an early chance for Charlotte and her class-mates to speak to teachers who act as school mentors. “If we need help with anything at school or have a problem, we can talk to them about it,” Charlotte says. Sometimes, the session involves mentors making presentations on important topics to the whole school. 

Each house at SSHL also has House Parents, who are present around the clock to provide friendly support and guidance for boarders.

9am – 10.15am: Maths. Charlotte has just started with a new maths course called Analysis and Approaches. This is one of two courses she could follow in the IB Diploma Programme she’ll start next year (the other being Application and Interpretations). “I really like maths because of how you get to follow the logic.” she says.

Photo: SSHL

10.15am – 12pm: Lunch. Wednesday means an earlier and longer than usual lunch break (times are staggered so all students can eat in SSHL’s main dining hall). “The food is very good compared to my last school,” says Charlotte, who is Vice-President of the SSHL Food Group (one of the many school clubs and societies students can join). The group promotes awareness about food waste, raising money for a school in Kenya with a bake sale, and working to ensure a high quality of food and beverages in student meals. So, what’s her favourite option among the lunch dishes prepared by the school chef? “Spaghetti bolognese!”

The longer break also allows Charlotte and her friends to enjoy a pastry in the school cafe, or pop down to the shops in the centre of Sigtuna. She also loves to enjoy the scenic, natural beauty of the area. “I grew up in a city, so I really enjoy being so close to the lakes and the forest.”

Curious about boarding? At SSHL, you can try boarding before applying – find out more including the next available dates

Photo: SSHL

12pm – 12.50pm: Biology. Charlotte has a biology class in this slot for the next five weeks, following five weeks of physics and before five weeks of chemistry. “We’re starting a project on how to do lab reports about experiments,” she says. In physics, she learned about measurement and the laws of motion. “We learned about measuring quantities, speed, acceleration, and so on. It was really interesting.”

1pm – 2pm: Swedish Language Acquisition. Charlotte speaks fluent English in addition to her native German. She’s already in an advanced Swedish class, despite it being her third language. The only class above her is Swedish Language and Literature, which is “for people who are fluent in Swedish”.

“I knew very little Swedish before I came here,” she says. “What I like about our class is that we’re only around 15 people, so you can get a lot of help from the teacher. We also do a lot of speaking and presentations, so that we actually learn how to use the language.” 

2pm – 4pm: Free time. “I hang out with my friends in the boarding house. We like to watch TV, or movies or play Mario Kart. In my house there are loads of different  nationalities: Swedes, Germans, Americans, Swiss – it’s really nice to hang out with people from different backgrounds.”

4pm: Volleyball. A wide range of sports are played at SSHL. Charlotte plays volleyball twice a week and has been training for a weekend tournament in Stockholm. “My favourite days are when I get to sleep a little longer [a special privilege on days where her schedule starts with a free period] and then play volleyball in the evening, which is great fun!”

Photo: SSHL

Charlotte is also on the school tennis team, which consists of five girls and five boys. They sharpen their skills, and their competitive spirit, at the local tennis club next door to SSHL. “Last year we were planning to go to Amsterdam for an international tournament but it was cancelled due to the pandemic,” she says.

6pm: Dinner. Back to the dining hall, where there’s a new dinner menu every week. Charlotte especially loves the burgers, as well as a dessert of apple pie with traditional Swedish vanilla sauce (vaniljsås).

6.30 to 8pm: Homework. Charlotte does between 60 and 90 minutes. Each house at SSHL has a House Tutor on hand to provide academic support six days a week outside classes whenever needed.

Photo: SSHL

8pm: Free time. “We sometimes go and visit people at other boarding houses to hang out with them.” Charlotte says the boarding experience is supporting her personal development in ways that will be of real value in the future. “I’ve learned how to communicate with so many different people, even though not everyone speaks English and people come from different cultures, religions or ethnicities. You all learn how to live together. I think that will be really valuable in life.” 

10pm: Students must be back in their boarding house.

10.30pm: Lights out. 

So, that’s a typical day in the life of a student at a Swedish boarding school. Parents of students are always welcome – and often get involved in organising spontaneous dinners or activities during their visit! So, how often does Charlotte speak with and see her family? 

“I message my family a lot on WhatsApp and whenever I have free time, we of course spontaneously call each other or do video calls,” she says. She also goes back to Germany five times a year – the school is just a 20-minute drive from Stockholm Arlanda Airport – and her family recently visited her in Sweden. “My family think it’s a very nice place and they really like the school,” she says. 

Which boarding option at SSHL would work best for your family? Learn about the three distinct options and then see what students have to say about their ‘try boarding’ experiences at SSHL

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Distance learning remains a ‘possibility’ for Swedish schools: Education minister

Remote learning remains a possibility, but not an obligation, for schools in Sweden as students around the country begin term this week, the Education Minister said on Wednesday.

Distance learning remains a 'possibility' for Swedish schools: Education minister
Education Minister Anna Ekström (L) and general director of the Schools Inspectorate, Helén Ängmo. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Minister Anna Ekström made the comments during a press conference in which she outlined the rules ahead of back-to-school season but did not make any new announcements.

She urged schools to be “flexible”, outlining some of the measures which have been recommended by the National Board of Education since an early stage in the pandemic.

This include changing furniture arrangements to promote distancing, staggering lesson and break times to prevent students mixing in large groups, and increasing cleaning. Many parent-teacher meetings are likely to be cancelled, she said.

Schools for under-16s have remained open throughout the pandemic, and Ekström said this decision was based on research showing children were affected by the virus to a lesser extent. “The younger the child, the more mild the symptoms,” she said.

In Sweden, only one of the almost 6,000 people to have died after testing positive for the coronavirus was aged under 10, and none of the victims have been in the 10-19 age group.

Ekström added that no occupational group linked to schools had been over-represented in Sweden's coronavirus statistics.

In addition to taking this kind of measures, heads of schools have also been given additional decision-making powers.

These include the ability to switch to remote learning, or make other changes such as adapting the timetable (including moving lessons to weekends) if necessary due to the infection situation. 

“If the situation gets worse, teaching can be moved partially or entirely to distance learning. This could happen in the whole country, individual schools, or in municipalities or regions where schools may need to close as a measure to prevent spread of infection,” Ekström said.

“The government is prepared to take measures, but we don't want to close schools.”