Hello dear readers! I didn’t introduce myself in January when I wrote about our travels to Sweden, so now it’s better late than never! My name is Paget, and I am a junior Political Science major. I love cats, the color blue, and dishware. I wanted to go on the Gustavus Semester in Sweden program since I was a senior in high school. I had to research a potential study abroad program for my French class final project. I happened upon Gustavus’s CICE webpage, and on the homepage it boasted about the top-to-bottom travel experience around Sweden–and for the same cost as a semester on campus! I was hooked, and never turned back. So here I am! Below you will read about our final week in Växjö, the greenest city in Europe, and our adventures to the greater Småland region. Enjoy!
Monday, May 4: Karl Oskar Skolan
Today we visited the Karl-Oskar Skolan in Växjö. Ola, one of the teachers (who is actually from Georgia!) greeted us at the school and gave a mini introduction to what this school is all about. This is a public school that is not funded by the municipality, but functions just like any other free public education available to Swedish students. Ola said these schools are comparable to a charter school in the U.S. Karl-Oskar Skolan is actually a for-profit company geared toward digital learning for students in 4th-9th grade. Afterwards, the students go to high school, or gymnasium in Swedish.
We visited a sixth grade English class first. They play an interactive computer game that helps them learn English called “The Minnets.” Then we had lunch where I sat next to a bunch of chatty sixth graders who were so curious about our American lives—and they spoke great English! One girl, Eileen, asked me if a) I like makeup tutorials on YouTube and b) if I own a gun…(the answer to both of those was no). Then we joined an eighth grade class that broke off into smaller groups to discuss English books they had just finished. I joined a group of two boys who had just finished reading Twilight. They didn’t like it. No surprise.
Overall, this school was quite different than what any of us from the U.S. are used to. It was cool to talk to the eager sixth graders and see how a digital curriculum school works.
Tuesday, May 5: Birthplace of Carl Linnaeus & IKEA visit
On this rainy day we traveled 45 minutes west of Växjö to the birthplace of Carl Linnaeus. Also known as Carl von Linné after his ennoblement, he is the Swedish botanist that created the classification system of plants, animals, and minerals. However, Linnaeus was a renaissance man of many talents and interests. He was an anthropologist who travelled all over studying people and even classifying them. He was also extremely religious and believed God put him on this Earth to name all of the plants. So, back to his birthplace: Råshult in Småland. It is a quaint area covered in small hills, meadows, and lots of rocky land. We were greeted by a Carl Linnaeus impersonator, who took us around Linnaeus’s home and told us all about his life.
After the fun tour and a walk around the meadows, we all piled in two vans and a car and went to the “birthplace of IKEA” where Ingevar Kampas created the first IKEA store. We first went to the actual IKEA store to walk around. I got lost. Oops. Then we went to “IKEA land” where there was a mini-city of IKEA buildings, including offices, a hotel, and the visitor’s center. We had a scheduled tour of the visitors’ center where we learned all about the beginnings of IKEA as an entrepreneurial endeavor in 1950. Our tour guide took us through the decades where we could see all the changes in furniture sales, styles, and packaging this company, and many others, went through. What surprised me about IKEA is that although it is a Swedish company, many of their production and distribution facilities are elsewhere, like in Poland and the Netherlands. For a store that is oh-so-very Swedish, IKEA seems pretty capitalistic from a business perspective.
Wednesday, May 6: Glass and Swedish Emigration
The next morning in downtown Växjö we went to a studio art glass display and then next door to Utvandrarnas Hus, or the Swedish emigrants museum. In the studio glass gallery we saw some of the first glass art pieces from Sweden. The explosion of studio glass began with Åsa Brandt in the 1960s, who built her own furnace to make glass artwork. Then, in the 1970’s, studio glass workshops started springing up all over Sweden, built by the pioneers of studio glass (Anders Wingård, Ulla Forsell, Eva Ullberg, Eva Almeberg, etc). As we toured the gallery, we saw glass shaped like moons, balloons, people, and much more, crafted by these pioneers. It was fascinating to see such a delicate material be shaped so many ways!
Then we walked next door to the Emigrants Museum. Here, we got to look inside author Vilhelm Moberg’s cabin where he wrote his books and plays, see a link from Swedish emigration to his writings, and learn about Swedes moving to America! Backtracking a bit, I saw the play Kristina Från Duvamål at the Göteborg Opera House, which is adapted from Moberg’s 5-book series about a Swedish family emmigrating to Minnesota. In the museum, we learned from boarding the ship to Ellis Island to travelling to a final destination how Swedes made it to America. I learned that Eric Norelius, founder of our college, sailed on one of the first ships out of Sweden to America in 1850! I didn’t know that there were travel agents back in the days of mass immigration. These agents served specific emigrants based on language, country, or religion, and were paid to help them journey to their final destinations. Lastly, Gustavus Adolphus College and the American Swedish Institute got a shoutout in the “modern” section of Swedish culture in America section of the museum too!!!
Our next stop was about an hour away, this time, heading west towards Kalmar. We went to a famous glass factory, Kosta Boda. We got to walk into the workshop and watch skilled craftspeople blowing glass, creating glass sculptures, and making vases. It was so cool! Then we walked through the Kosta Boda gallery, where I fell in love with their dishware displays. What was really cool was the overwhelming amount of weird, funky, artsy glass pieces. Kosta Boda’s products are a large mixture of elegant champagne glasses and glass lipstick sculptures. Overall, this day was a cool blend of culture, art, and history of Sweden!
Thursday, May 7th- Following The Emigrants story + a surprise visit
We travelled to the heart of Småland today to see the story of The Emigrants in real life. Karl-Oskar is a fictional character from Duvamål, Sweden who is struggling with his wife, Kristina, and children, to make it as farmers in Sweden. They decide to emigrate to Stillwater, Minnesota. This saga is written into five books by Vilhelm Moberg (as mentioned previously), and we focused on the first book which talks about the family’s church, farm, and place they sailed out of to get to America. Over the day we visited a classic church from the area, one where the preacher would give a “fire and brimstone” sermon to instill fear on people like Kristina from the book, who took church very seriously. After that we travelled to the Baltic seaside to Karlshamn, where Karl-Oskar and Kristina departed for America!
After that we took our vans to Tingsryd, the sister city to Lindström, Minnesota + Roland’s birthplace!! We visited his old family farm and learned how a typical farming family lived in the 40s and 50s. Then Roland took us 1km down the road to a secret spot….the bilkyrkagård, or “Car-church-yard” aka a junkyard! But this isn’t just any old junkyard–its art. We walked through the forest and all along the way, old cars sat rusting away. It was oddly peaceful and so funky. Photographers would fall in love with this place. The man who ran this junkyard was named Åke, and he lived in a little shack. I found some of his fascist and communist books strewn about his shack as well…that was interesting.
Tomorrow is Friday, and we’re spending the day saying goodbye to our dear friend Växjö:( Then we are off to our final destination, Visby. I hope you all enjoyed this blog post, and watch out for our last few coming up here!