LVC Graduate Blace Newkirk Teaching Music in Stockholm

Music major Blace Newkirk graduates from Lebanon Valley College

Adjusting to life after graduation can be equal parts stressful and exciting; for students such as Blace Newkirk ’16, these feelings are increased tenfold as they face the task of adjusting to life and work abroad.

Following his graduation, Newkirk signed a two-year contract with the Internationella Engelska Skolan, or International English School (IES), in Stockholm, Sweden, and began the process of transitioning to life as an expatriate. While this transition may seem daunting for some, Newkirk is eager to undertake the challenge.

“The prospect of teaching abroad is really exciting for me, and while I will probably feel homesick sooner or later, that point feels far off for the time being,” he affirms. 

The IES program proved supportive from the start. After speaking with recruiters from the program at the New Teacher Recruitment Day at Millersville University, the principal of IES contacted Newkirk months later to inform him about a music teaching position. Two weeks after interviewing for the position, Newkirk received an offer to work for the school. Despite the many bureaucratic complications surrounding immigration and the associated residency and professional permits, individuals from the program provide assistance throughout the process. 

In reality, the International English School is a Swedish corporation composed of 29 different private campuses. Newkirk’s school in the Södermalm district of Stockholm is the only high school operated by the organization and is free for students to attend through the national voucher system. 

“It’s fun to talk with the students and teachers. I feel like I am part of something bigger than myself, and have started to learn the students’ names and a little bit about their personalities,” reflects Newkirk. 

Education at IES is based in the core belief of bilingual education, with half of students’ coursework being taught in English by native English speakers from countries such as the United Kingdom, United States, and other English-speaking countries. 

“It can be difficult because students’ English skills vary, and those in the younger grades are often afraid to speak in English,” comments Newkirk. 

Outside of his classroom, the vast majority of the population speaks English. Within the past two months, Newkirk remembers meeting only one individual who did not speak English. 

Acclimation to the shift from American to Swedish culture required some familiarization; however, Newkirk found many similarities between the two countries that assisted with this change.

“There is a lot of the same music, as well as a lot of the same movies being released—just at different times,” recounts Newkirk. “And interestingly, when they are released here, they usually have English audio with Swedish subtitles.”

One prominent cultural difference, he notes, is the appreciation of the need for leisure time. Business hours are more restrictive, which allows workers defined personal and family time. It is also not unusual for individuals to vacation for upwards of five weeks during the summer, time that is often used for travel. 

“People travel a lot in Sweden, and I’m very excited to get in on the game! It is very easy to travel to so many wonderful places. For instance, we have a week off in November for autumn break, and people are traveling to Croatia, Tuscany, and Germany. I myself will go to England,” explains Newkirk.

Despite these differences, Newkirk finds that the skills he learned through music and teaching courses at Lebanon Valley College translate well to the Swedish education system. 

“Every day I use the training that I acquired at LVC,” he says. “Everything from how to lesson plan to how to speak to students comes in and plays a factor.”

The greatest transition Newkirk faces remains timeless and universal for American and Swedish graduates: “It is really very weird to me that I can present ideas that I have, and am able to defend them to my peers. I’m not used to being a college-educated professional.”