Senior foreign exchange student Smilla Arehult navigates high school while pursuing her interests in basketball

Upon completing her elementary and primary high school education in Stockholm, Sweden, Smilla Arehult moved to San Jose in early August 2021 to experience American high school education at UPA as a transfer student starting on Aug. 9. Her preference for warmer weather and close proximity to the coast prompted her decision to search for schools in California to further pursue her education. Her mother’s fulfilling and positive recounting of her own study abroad experience in Ohio also largely influenced Arehult’s decision, made during the 2019-2020 school year, to leave her home behind and come stay with a host family for a year while studying.

Smilla Arehult photographed in the UPA amphitheater during lunch on December 15, 2021. (Photo by Akhila Ayyadevara.)

Arehult was paired with her respective host family through an organization called the American Field System—AFS for short—which is a nonprofit organization that provides exchange programs for students, allowing them to study at a high school in a new country for a full academic year, semester or trimester. The program advertises the opportunity to live with a provided host family while traversing a journey of cultural exploration and active global citizenship. Arehult came to hear of UPA in particular through another foreign exchange student who came to UPA in the 2019-2020 school year as a senior: Laura Cunha-Vaz. 

Arehult describes her childhood spent in Stockholm with her family as joyous and fulfilling. While living in Sweden, she participated in a variety of extracurricular activities including basketball, which she played for 11 years back home. She was surprised to see the athletic programs that UPA offered within school, as only traditional club sports outside of school are offered back in Stockholm. After transferring to UPA, she tried out for and joined the Varsity cross country team. Although prior to coming to UPA she had never tried cross country, she joined the school’s team and quickly excelled among the other members of the school team.

“This is my first time with cross country, but it’s nice to meet new people and stay in shape,” Arehult said. “I was the fastest girl at the time of the first practice, so that was nice to see.”

Arehult’s passion for basketball was also ignited by her mother, who played basketball in her youth. She developed skill in the sport fairly quickly and started to play more seriously while participating in club sports back in Stockholm. She tried out for the Varsity Basketball team at school for which tryouts were held on Nov. 1.

“It went well—I’m on the team and we have played five games already!” she said. “It’s normal to be a little nervous. Like, I would even be nervous if I was trying out for any other sport as well. It’s just tryouts so it’s not too big of a thing.”

So far, school has been quite enjoyable and everyone she has met has been friendly, making the transition to a new school less stressful. Coming from a different education system back in Stockholm, Arehult was not required to show proof of completion for any prerequisite classes before registering for certain courses. She did not opt to take any Advanced Placement (AP) courses due to the different schooling system, where she may have already completed those courses under different names. Nevertheless, she has taken a liking to several courses she took for the first time at UPA, one of which is English Teacher Kristin Moore’s film analysis class. She enjoys watching film and crime documentaries in her free time, and is considering pursuing the interest further in college after finishing her transfer year at UPA. 

“I don’t have any set particular dream jobs necessarily,” she said. “But I would like to go into investigation of crime scenes.”

Arehult currently lives with a host family that takes care of her needs during her stay in California. With them, she has been able to do some sightseeing, particularly visiting the coasts and beaches. One place that stood out to her specifically was the city of Sonora, which she thought was a beautiful place to visit for all of the scenic coastal areas and pleasant weather. 

“They want to get to know more about my culture, and I want to get to know more about American culture, so it’s working out fine so far,” Arehult said. “I guess in the beginning, it was a bit weird because you don’t know much about the people you are living with, but overall I think they’re really nice people.”

Arehult is in frequent contact with her family back home, and usually talks to them at least once a week, but she says she misses seeing them on a daily basis. She has a sister named Tuva who she is very close with. 

“Every time after I call them, I usually feel a bit homesick,” she said. 

Despite this, she still feels at home with her host family, and spending time with them fills the void of not having her family with her.

As of now, Arehult does not have any resolute plans for which college she wishes to attend after graduating from UPA. She does know that she will return back to Stockholm, Sweden after this school year concludes for college. As for her future plans, she is undecided but will continue to try to find answers to her uncertainties throughout this school year.