Rikard “Richard” Wilkens loves the United States.

“I have been to the U.S. many times,” he said.

Hailing from Stockholm, Sweden, Wilkens said he comes to the United States at least once a year and has been to many of the big cities and has visited several of its sites. Yet, until Aug. 11 he had never been to Minnesota.

Wilkens, who is living as an exchange student with the Cindy Wilson family, arrived in the United States Aug. 1 and spent 10 days at a camp in Allentown, Pa.

Then he made his way to Redwood Falls Aug. 11.

“Stockholm is a city of about 2 million people,” said Wilkens. 

Wilkens lives in the downtown area of the Swedish city.

So, for him, Redwood Falls was a different kind of setting.

“When I arrived in Redwood Falls I got a tour of the city,” said Wilkens, adding even though it is much smaller than he is used to his initial impression of the town was positive. “People seem to know everyone here. “You do not have that in Sweden.”

The people he has encountered in Redwood Falls are very helpful, said Wilkins, adding they don’t appear to be as stressed or in as much of a rush.

Wilkens said his first big connection with the United States was through sports.

“I grew up watching American sports,” he said, adding in Sweden that can pose a bit of a challenge because of the time difference.

Having traveled across the Atlantic Ocean for frequent visits to America, Wilkens said he has been able to see professional football, hockey and baseball games in various stadiums. His favorite teams are from Pittsburgh, Pa.

While coming to the United States again can be added to the list of Wilkens’ experiences, he knows this visit is going to be different in various ways.

First of all, he is going to be in the U.S. for the entire school year, rather than for a short-term visit, and second he is living with an American family and is being immersed in the culture like he has not been with other visits.

Wilkens said he had a brother who went to school at San Diego State, and he was encouraged to come to the United States and experience the culture through his brother’s experiences.

Wilkens, who has been studying English for most of his life, said he was pretty confident in his communication skills when he arrived, adding one of his goals by the time he goes home next spring is to have more of an American accent to his English. Wilkens said the English students are taught in Sweden is British based, and having set a goal to one day live in the United States, Wilkens said he wants to be able to speak more like an American.

As a junior at Redwood Valley High School, Wilkens is taking a variety of classes including Energy, Power and Transportation, strength and conditioning, English, Algebra, geography and Honors chemistry. Wilkens said he enrolled in some of his classes, such as Energy, Power and Transportation and strength and conditioning because those are classes he would not be offered in Sweden.

The classes, he said, are pretty easy here. When Wilkens returns to Sweden he will have to repeat this year of his education, adding that means he still has three years of high school left. Wilkens believes having the experience in the United States is definitely going to be worth it.

In addition to studying, Wilkens has gotten involved in athletics in school and is currently playing football. He said watching football and playing it are very different.

“It seems a lot easier when you are watching it,” said Wilkens, adding when he came and starting playing football they tried him out as a kicker. “I am probably the first European who is bad at kicking.”

Wilkens said he never really got into soccer, adding he played a lot of tennis as a club sport in Sweden. He is looking forward to playing that at Redwood Valley and is hoping to see some success in that this spring.

“I would love to be able to go to state,” Wilkens said.

Wilkens said he is also planning to play hockey this winter.

Over the next several months, Wilkens said he wants to experience new things and to meet new people, adding the people he has already met have been so nice to him.

The son of Fredrik and Jannike is having a good time in Redwood Falls and is learning a lot about the country he hopes one day will be his home.