Teacher working in Sweden reflects on experience

Matthew Friend

For many Americans, the Fourth of July is a time to relax and take part in all things red, white, and blue. But for one history teacher, it signaled the beginning of a journey that would take him and his family outside the United States’ borders.

Redwood teacher Erik Berridge moved his family (pictured above) to Sweden and is taking a leave of absence from Redwood. He plans to return within the next two years.

Erik Berridge, who has taught at Redwood since the fall of 2000, moved to Sweden nearly five months ago. He is now working at the International School of the Stockholm Region, or ISSR, where he is serving as the Department Chair of Humanities, English, and Social Studies, for grades 5-9.

Berridge is living there with his wife and two children, a boy and girl ages nine and 12, respectively.

According to Berridge, his absence from Redwood is only temporary, and will be returning to his post either at the start of the 2013-2014 or 2014-2015 school year.

Berridge said that his family at first faces complications in their move to Sweden with a series of problems plaguing the visa process.

While visiting Denmark on the way to Sweden, Berridge and his family received news that their visas were being denied.

“They allowed us to enter the country, on a tourist basis, for the first almost month and a half, and at the school I was ‘volunteering’, because I wasn’t really supposed to be working there,” Berridge said.

Berridge said that once these initial difficulties were worked out, his experience has been full of learning and excitement. According to Berridge, one of his favorite aspects of the trip is learning about the different cultures and international perspectives.

“You really realized that there’s so much more to the world than California or the United States. I think in the United States, because everyone speaks English, we get really focused on the American way,” Berridge said. “But when you go abroad, and are forced to try and understand these other languages and meet other people, you realize they’re so many other alternatives and so many other humans living not like Americans.”

Berridge said that the most striking difference between Sweden and California is the darkness that accompanies the Nordic winter.

“When we get to the winter, we are not going to see any light until maybe 10 a.m., and it will get dark around 2 [p.m.],” Berridge said.

Berridge also said that because he is teaching at an international school, he is exposed to students from all over the globe every day, including nations like North Korea, Laos, Saudi Arabia, and Spain. He noted that his is one of only two U.S. families attending the ISSR.

According to Berridge, one of the reasons he was able to take time away from Redwood was that he could bring back to Redwood many of the different teaching techniques used at the ISSR.

A difference Berridge said he has noticed between Redwood and the ISSR’s education is that the ISSR uses a lot more discussion and analysis, as they teach using the International Baccalaureate system.

“It’s about learning how to learn,” Berridge said.

Culturally, Berridge has noticed some differences as well between California and Sweden. He said that there seems to be a lot more for children to do there, especially with a highly effective and free public transportation system. Also, he noticed that in Sweden, there is not as much of a drug culture present as in American life.

“Of course there’s alcohol stuff, but it’s not on the same level,” Berridge said. “It’s kind of refreshing.”

Berridge said that he misses Marin, and all the Redwood faculty and students he had developed relationships with, but is enjoying his experience overseas with his family immensely.

“As a family, the four of us, this trip abroad has really made us closer. It’s a great bonding experience for the four of us, there’s no doubt about that,” Berridge said.