Gothenburg High School was lucky enough to count a foreign exchange student among their student body and Class of 2021, but if you ask Hugo Morau, he would say he was the lucky one. In the midst of a global pandemic, Hugo wasn’t certain the exchange program was an opportunity he would get this past year.
Hugo is from Holleiken, Sweden – a country that his host parents here, Lisa and Brad Jorgenson – are very familiar with. Lisa was an exchange student to Sweden when she attended Gothenburg High School during the 1989-90 school year. Her daughter, Madeline, followed in those same footsteps and is currently in Sweden through an exchange program – the first GHS student to do so since her mom’s class. However, the local Rotary club has hosted several students during that time.
It was that program that Hugo was initially enrolled in. However, when Rotary canceled the program for the 2020-21 school year due to Covid, Hugo and his family decided to take a different route. He applied through an exchange program known as STS and was assigned to a school in Washington state. Ironically, Hugo’s family was supposed to be the host family in Sweden this year for Madeline.
“We had already gotten to know them through talking with them, so we ended up signing up with this other organization as well, and hosted Hugo for this year. So rather than his family being the host family for Madeline, we ended up being the host family for Hugo,” Lisa explained. “So that was a really cool deal.”
“It’s been a very special year,” said Hugo as he addressed the Gothenburg Rotary Club about his experience. “Not many exchange students can say they were here during a U.S. election and a global pandemic. It will definitely be memorable for me.”
Even during the pandemic, however, Hugo said there have been several things he was still able to enjoy during his year here. One of those was golfing, where he was a lettering member of the GHS boys varsity golf team and earned the Best Teammate Award as voted on by his peers. “I’ve been doing a lot of that, as it is one of the few sports I actually can do,” Hugo said with a chuckle. “We don’t really have that in Sweden – a golf team that is part of school.” Hugo also participated in the One Act Play at GHS this year as part of the stage crew.
He shared that there is a big difference in the school systems between the two countries. “High school in Sweden is structured more like college. We have more block schedules and longer lessons, so that was a little confusing at first,” he said. “We also have to apply to high school in ninth grade. So it’s been a little different here to see students who have been going to school with the same people for all 12 years, and to see how close everyone in the class is.”
Hugo explained that the grades students earn in ninth grade are then taken into consideration as the students apply for high school. The high schools offer different programs which match a student’s strengths or interests. Those programs include technology, economy, business, nature – which is more for doctors and scientists, and a fine arts type program.
Students may also choose to attend school somewhere other than their hometown, so they often have students from several different cities represented at a high school. He said it is also very competitive, so those scoring the highest grades in each area have preference for available spots in that school. “That also means that the people who are there actually want to be there, so we don’t have detention or anything like that. Instead, if one person misses a lot of school he can lose his spot,” he said. Hugo is going the technology line, focused toward engineering.
Unfortunately, this school year did not count for Hugo back home, so when he returns to Sweden he will have to complete his senior year of high school. “But I get two senior years, so I can’t really complain. I get two graduations so that will be awesome.”
While here on exchange, Hugo did have the chance to do a little bit of traveling and see a few sights. He experienced a trip to Chicago, has been skiing, and visited Mt. Rushmore. “It was snowing while we were there so it kind of looked like George Washington was crying,” he shared with a laugh. He also attended Husker football and baseball games, as well as a major league baseball game while in Chicago.
“We also had two school dances, and that was fun,” said Hugo. “We have nothing like that in Sweden so that was special.”
When asked what he is going to miss about Gothenburg when he returns to Sweden, Hugo replied, “Just the closeness of the community – how everyone shows up at games and everyone is together,” he said.