Internationals experience Nordic culture

Nordic Culture is one of the most popular courses amongst LiU’s international students, with more than 800 participants over the years. The course is based on experiential learning, outdoor education and the important of place. Cooking a Swedish Easter buffet is one example.

The Cooking Lab in the Key Building at Campus Valla is crowded, hot and full of cooking fumes, as some 25 students from 15 countries prepare an Easter buffet. The menu features Swedish specialities – pickled herring, Jansson’s Temptation, meatballs and gravlax. The head chef tonight is course coordinator Bo Hinnerson, who started Nordic Culture 17 years ago.

“Sure, you can read about food. But there’s no point if you don’t get to cook and taste it. The same goes for all culture – you have to experience it.”

Nordic Culture is intended for exchange students, and is part-time for one term. The group meets every Wednesday evening. For some students it’s part of their agreement, but many take it as an elective. Many of the students are European, while others come from Australia, North America and increasingly, Asia. Marketing isn’t necessary; the course sells itself and there’s always a waiting list.

“In our teaching we use methods inspired by experiential learning and outdoor education. In addition to more traditional study forms, there’s a lot of hands-on content; we experience things and have fun together. To make this happen, we travel on live-in seminars for a few days, experiencing both urban and rural settings.”

Countryside is an aha experience 

This year’s group has already travelled to the Swedish mountains, where many of the students saw snow and mountains for the first time. They snowshoed over the Åreskutan mountain, experienced Sami culture and visited the Jamtli open-air museum. On route they stopped in Nusnäs to see how Dalecarlian horses are made. Soon they’re off to a nearby archipelago – after spending a day on a local walking trail.

The programme varies depending on season. Some classes visit Stockholm, to sample some culture in the city centre as well as the suburbs.

“The countryside is an aha experience, as the students aren’t used to being out in nature, and they have no idea of the Swedish Right of Public Access and our relation to nature. We make an effort not to be tourists, but to get below the surface, so we can understand the culture. On our trip to the archipelago we head out with professional fishermen, and everyone helps out with letting out and taking in the nets, and with cleaning, smoking and eating the fish. Not many Swedes get to experience that.”

Nordic art, literature, architecture, film, folk and contemporary music, as well as traditions and festivities are all on the curriculum. As is immaterial culture such as folklore and folk religion. And the ’fika’ is a strong tradition that every visitor to Sweden comes across, and many want to take home with them,” according to Bo Hinnerson.

A portion of identity 

In the Cooking Lab the Easter buffet is almost ready. Alena Stvanova and Maria Gutiérrez are standing at a table, making meatballs.

“I wanted to meet students from other countries and learn more about Sweden. I love nature, and Sweden has lots of nature,” says Alena Stvanova from Prague, who is studying human resources and adult education.

“I get the impression that in Sweden people care more about their history and culture. We have snow and mountains in the Czech Republic as well, but seeing other people get excited about it actually makes me appreciate it more than I used to. And I like the social idea of the Swedish fika.”

Her classmate Maria Gutiérrez also likes fika – coffee or tea and a snack. Maria comes from Navarra, Spain, where she studies teaching for special needs. In Linköping she is doing her work experience.

“Sweden is so different, I wanted to discover the country and meet people from other countries. The teaching is different too, I wanted to learn more about the methods.”

“One thing that surprised me is that even though it is very cold here, you Swedes still get out into the countryside very much.”

“A sizeable portion of the course is about identity. It’s an eye-opener, and it gives lots of people a new perspective on their own culture and identity,” says Bo Hinnerson.

Do you think about the fact that you have quite a large impact on the image of Sweden that gets spread abroad?

“Yes, I actually do think about that. More than 800 students worldwide have taken the course. Some come back to do their master’s. One did their graduation project on the small-scale professional fishermen, a profession that will probably disappear. One former student now works in the EU parliament with nature and environmental issues, which is obviously a topic we discuss in the course. Plus, the world isn’t that big, we learn from one another. When the world meets here in Linköping we discover that we actually have quite a lot in common,” concludes Bo Hinnerson.