Rotary student enjoying the South

By April Avison

Peter Arvidsson wants to see the Grand Canyon, Disney World and Hawaii. And while for now he may have to settle for another item on his to-do list n something like visiting a NASCAR race n he's not complaining.

Arvidsson was asked to make a wish list to submit to the families who are hosting him this year n Raymond and Susan Baggarly in Clayton County, and Emanuel and Gloria Jones in Henry County n and the Rotary clubs they represent.

"They are the nicest people I've ever met," Arvidsson said of his host families. "They have welcomed me into the family with open arms."

Arvidsson said his strategy with his wish list was to aim high just in case he encountered someone who wanted to take him to Hawaii.

Arvidsson spoke Monday to the Rotary Club of Henry County.

"I want to say thank you," he said. "Thank you are the words I've used the most since I got here. This experience gives me knowledge in life."

Since its inception, the Georgia Rotary Student Program has provided one year of education for more than 2,250 young men and women from 82 countries. The program is not an exchange but rather Georgia Rotary clubs pay for the student's tuition, books, meals and a small cash allowance for personal expenses for one year.

Although the program allows students like Arvidsson to expand their education, it also allows the Rotary clubs in Georgia to learn more about foreign countries and to foster a spirit of friendliness among the U.S. and other countries.

Arvidsson spoke briefly Monday about the recent death of Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh.

"When I spoke to the Clayton Rotary club, I talked about how open and safe Sweden is," he said. "I may have been na?ve ... We have worked very strongly for freedom and equality."

Arvidsson said his culture is somewhat different from what he sees in the U.S.

"We have been united as a nation for 1,000 years and we haven't had a war for 200 years," he said. "We don't go into wars n we discuss wars."

The weather in Sweden is different, too.

"This winter is going to be weird to me, not seeing any snow at Christmas," Arvidsson said.

But he's still finding enjoyment in Georgia, he said. He was recruited to join Emanuel Jones' Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association team that plays on weekends, and he's already attended an Atlanta Braves game with a large group of Rotary members.

Arvidsson said he looks forward to his year of study in Georgia, even if he doesn't make it to Hawaii. And the families who are hosting him say they are already enjoying the Swedish student's presence.

"Peter over the past several weeks has become my friend," Jones said.