Greetings from Sweden

JMU’s Jim Heffernan (’96) gives us a glimpse of country that’s a little mysterious …..

Greetings from Sweden

by Jim Heffernan

Greetings from Sweden, the country that produced film legends Ingrid Bergman and Greta Garbo, tennis great Bjorn Borg, Alfred Nobel (hint: think peace prize), the musical group ABBA and the chic home furnishings store IKEA, to name just a few. I’m here, along with three of my colleagues from JMU’s Office of International Programs, in Malmö, a city of nearly 300,000 in the southernmost province of Scania, near the border with Denmark. We’re taking part in a series of international staff training sessions hosted by Malmö University, a member of the International Network of Universities of which JMU assumed the leadership in January.

To the outside observer, Malmö is a study in contrast — a one-time Viking outpost seized from the Danes in the mid-1600s and steeped in Old World European charms like cobbled streets, village squares and Gothic architecture; and an emerging post-industrial commercial center linked with Copenhagen via the new Oresund bridge and tunnel. In the Swedish tradition, Malmo is quiet and exceptionally clean, with little to no crime, and there is a sense of confidence among its residents, both for their past and for their future.

Malmö University, which is housed in a half-dozen distinctively modern buildings near the waterfront, is helping fuel the city’s transformation from a vanquished shipyard to a thriving educational and cultural hub. Established in 1998, the university targets international students with an array of multidisciplinary programs, including courses taught in English. If you want to study here, you can do so through the INU. The folks in JMU international programs and their counterparts at Malmö University would be happy to sit down with you and help make it happen.

Don’t know much about Sweden, you say? It’s okay. There’s a mystery surrounding this northern European country that has been at peace since the early 18th century. Indeed the popular perception of Swedes as tall, blond, blue-eyed people who wear wooly hats falls a bit short in Malmo, a port city that today boasts 160 nationalities. However, other Swedish stereotypes are evident. Native citizens and their adopted siblings are notoriously punctual, honest and hard working. According to professor Steve Myers, a transplant from England who teaches at Malmö University, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Swede who doesn’t pay his taxes on time or carry with him a plastic bag when walking his dog in public. And he would never even think of taking a bath after 10 p.m. for fear of disturbing his neighbors. What’s more, Sweden has one of the highest levels of gender equality in the world, and as a welfare state there is a strong sense of tolerance and fair play. If there’s a downside to such a staid society, Myers claims, it’s that Sweden becomes a land of trivial complaints — the gentle reminder in the break room to wash your coffee cup or a note in the lift of your apartment building on how not to park your bicycle.

But beneath the Swedes’ shy, withdrawn demeanor lies a passion for life and for nature and even a soft-spoken national pride. After all, this is the land of crayfish parties and outdoor festivals such as “Midsummer Madness,” during which Swedes decorate their homes with garlands, dance around the Maypole and sing songs known to all. And don’t be put off by Swedes’ seemingly chilly reception to strangers, says Alexandra Norby, a 22-year-old Swedish exchange student at JMU majoring in international affairs. It may take a while to earn their trust, she says, but once you do, you have a friend for life.

I’m already making some friends of my own here this week, and planning a return visit. Goodbye for now, or as the Swedes say, “Hej då.”

(Photos by Jim Heffernan)

About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

4 Responses to Greetings from Sweden

  1. aloo10 says:

    Well articulated!



  2. Anna Singhateh says:



  3. Melanie says:

    What a great article Jim! We have a great group of people her in Sweden – it’s been a wonderful mix of events, very inspiring conversations and a lot of wonderful food!


  4. shellhite says:

    Congrats to JMU and JMU’s Office of International Programs on leading the International Network of Universities!! Can’t wait to read more, Jim! Awesome post!
    P.S. And, … Yes, I do want photos of Swedish Death Metal bands rocking out! Field trip! ROCK!! \,,/ \,,/


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