SIGNE Christerson was expecting to find kangaroos roaming the streets when she arrived in Melbourne last July for a year-long exchange trip.
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Cultural experience: Swedish student Signe Christerson is taking part in a year-long exchange program. Picture: Craig Sillitoe

Eight months later, the Swedish student has learnt she’s not the only one surprised to discover that many cultural stereotypes are untrue.

Signe, 18, says she also had to dispel the odd stereotype, including that all Swedish people are tall, have blonde hair and blue eyes.

She was shocked that some people thought Scandinavia was a country, and amazed by Australians’ love for IKEA and ABBA.

“I’ve had people start singing Dancing Queen from ABBA and asking me to help put IKEA furniture together,” she says.

“But I also didn’t know much about Australia before I came. I was amazed ABBA was big here because I hadn’t experienced that in Sweden.”

Signe is one of 20 students in Victoria as part of a Rotary Club exchange program.

She’s being looked after by four families from the Rotary Club of Laverton Point Cook and attending school at Truganina’s Westbourne Grammar.

Signe decided to take part in the program after hearing about her brother and cousin’s exchange experiences in New Zealand and America.

She says travelling to a foreign country was daunting.

“Trusting people was difficult at first. I thought, how am I supposed to talk to these people; they don’t know me. But I feel like I have evolved. I feel different but I probably won’t realise how different I am until I’m home.”

Signe says there are many differences between Melbourne and her home town in Sweden’s south. One of the biggest differences is the school system, with Swedish students not required to wear uniforms and spending an extra year at school. She was also taken aback by the size of Melbourne.

“When I first arrived I thought Melbourne was crazy big. I’ve never seen a big city like Melbourne before. I’ve been to Stockholm in Sweden before but Melbourne was crazy.”

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