"Dispatches from Europe" Blog Contest

Are you planning on traveleling to the European Union this summer? Submit a post to be featured on our Across the Pond blog and win prizes!

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Blogs

The third Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class traveled to the Arctic Circle in summer 2014. Check out their blog entries from this summer!

Ringing the Bells at the Banner of Peace

Landscape Architecture Doctoral candidate Caroline Wisler reflects on her travels to Bulgaria.

Zach Grotovsky's Summer 2013: 14 Cities, 15 Weeks, One Long Adventure

University of Illinois graduate student in Germanic Literatures and Languages Zach Grotovsky documents his travels throughout Eastern Europe in the summer of 2013.

Polar Bears

The Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class spotted polar bears in Norway!

Peaceful Opposition in Izmir

MAEUS student Levi Armlovich describes his experiences with the protests in Izmir, Turkey.

Friday, June 29, 2012

An Illini in a Swedish Land

by Rachel Bonnet and Matthew Borden

Thus far you have seen a number of recreational, cultural, and relaxing activities from us, the abroad-Illini. While these accounts seem to frame our travels into an extended vacation/field trip, we wanted to remind everyone that first and foremost we are students with responsibilities and normal routines outside of the classroom. Here is a glimpse into the daily life of a student studying here in the beautiful city of Stockholm.

With a sun that rises around 3:30 a.m. it is a necessity to keep our thick curtains shut or else sleep is difficult to come by. The wailing of an IKEA alarm clock marks the start of a new day. Any lingering “Z”s or feelings of exhaustion are easily washed away with a hot and welcomed shower. Depending on the time remaining before our daily group meet-up, a nice breakfast and time to review lecture material tends to be a common and very beneficial ritual. Breakfast typically consists of us being spoiled by the various fresh and decadent breads and pastries that we have available daily. Various jams and juices only sweeten the day’s first and already delicious meal.

After a short walk and an even shorter trip on Stockholm’s Tunnelbana (subway) we find ourselves sitting in the classroom waiting for the start of lectures, which varies in subject from Arctic markets and geopolitics to historic Arctic explorations endeavors and even Nordic folklore and Romanticism themes that lie within this vast and unknown entity that was and still is the great Northern Arctic. Next in succession is our daily break, known as “Fika,” which is traditionally time for coffee or tea and pastries. Nearby cafes provide the perfect setting for enjoying a wide variety of coffees, teas, and pastries during a welcomed reprieve consisting of catching up on the daily happenings, discussing the day’s lecture material, and reminiscing about home. The end of break time signals the continuation of lecture and some discussion of thoughts on the key points.

Class is over, now what? Students may head into the city for a grocery store run and shopping trips are also commonplace. Heading back to campus housing for a nice little snack or maybe for a nap which often ends up being much longer than intended is always tempting but some students dive right into the next day’s coursework while others take an hour or so to just relax and simply enjoy being in Sweden. If you spend an evening with us, you may take part in a game of mafia around a campfire, watch a Euro 2012 match at the sports bar while enjoying a delicious kabob, or swim in the freezing nearby lake as the sun slowly dips under the horizon. Each day brings new lessons and mind-broadening concepts while each night brings new adventures, tales, and fond memories. Godnatt.

Rachel Bonet is a senior studying Anthropology, Animal Sciences, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She intends to study Environmental Law. Rachel comes from Darien, IL.

Matthew Borden is a senior studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, concentrating in Human Dimensions of the Environment. Matt hails from Oak
Forest, IL.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Royal Weekend

by Alexandra Wright and Jane Rivas

This past weekend, our group embarked on an exploration of the Swedish Royal Palace.  Along with viewing the Royal State and Bernadotte Apartments, we were treated to a viewing of the Changing of the Guard, glimpses of the Royal Treasury, a walking tour of the palace’s exciting history, as well as the antiquities collection of King Gustav III.  We began the day with a guided tour of the Royal Apartments as an introduction to the palace.  After a fire in 1697 that destroyed much of the medieval castle, the current building was completed in 1757.  The rebuilt palace modeled its exteriors on the Baroque, and its later completed interiors after the Rococo.  Many of the rooms drew directly from the decorative designs of Versailles.  Each aspect of ornamentation within the lavish rooms was imbued with meaning for not only visiting dignitaries, but also for the members of the royal family.  One could tell their place in court simply by the state of the plastered ivy encircling the royal shield above their bedroom door.

After having toured the castle, a brief respite in the day’s rain enabled us to witness the parade of the guards and military band.  As they waved the Swedish flag and changed the guard, a program of national tunes, including a few of ABBA, entertained the crowds of tourists.  When the band marched away and the rain again began to fall, our touring continued with the glittering items of the Royal Treasury.  The crown jewels were followed by an exploration of the archeological remains of the original Tre Kronor Castle.  Built into the base of the building, the Tre Kronor Museum presented a fascinating exploration of the pottery shards, suits of armor, and delicate china that were recovered from the ashes of the 1697 fire.  Each aspect of the Royal Palace presented an in depth view of the Swedish Monarchy from the beginnings of its reign to the present day.

Amid this whirlwind immersion into the cultural past, we were also lucky enough to stumble upon one of the cellar cafes of Gamla Stan.  Built into basements of the homes lining the streets of the city’s central island, these medieval alcoves have been transformed into modern and themed cafes.  Resting between tours, we dined on traditional Swedish dishes and deliciously warm beverages.  The homemade white hot chocolate found particular favor with our group!

Alexandra Wright is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Human Dimensions. Chicago, IL

Jane Rivas is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She is currently studying in the pre-medical field and pursuing a duel degree in Chemistry and the History of Art.  Jane is studying in Stockholm, Sweden with the Arctic Summer Program.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Glad Midsommar! (Happy Midsummer!)

by Noel Piatek

Midsummer is a holiday recognized all over Scandinavia and Europe. However, Midsummer is especially important in Sweden wherein Christmas is the only other holiday more celebrated. Midsummer was created to welcome summertime and celebrate fertility, and although it appears to have turned into a large celebration to be with family, many of the traditions remain intact. Midsummer was traditionally the longest day and the shortest night of the year, but has since been moved so that it falls on a Friday. The day begins with a collection of flowers to create wreaths for the maypole, after the pole is decorated it is raised in front of all who gather, and dancing to classic folk songs ensues. There is also traditional food eaten on this day, consisting of pickled herring and boiled new potatoes with dill and sour cream. For dessert there is usually a delicious cake topped with strawberries and cream.

Today we were invited by our Swedish professor, Dag Avango, to celebrate Midsummer in Bredang, a suburb neighborhood of Stockholm. Before going to the celebration Dag gave us background about Bredang and also the traditions of Midsummer. We arrived just as the dancing started and many of us partook in learning the new steps and dancing around the pole with the local people. Later, a group of older people dressed in traditional Swedish folk costumes took to the maypole and danced to classic Swedish music. There were also a few tents where traditional Swedish pastries as well as candied apples and cotton candy for the children could be had. Some members of our group created the traditional Midsummer crowns by going into the forest and picking beautiful flowers and twigs for support. They were actually quite good! We spent most of the afternoon here, basking in the sun and enjoying the high energy of the celebration.

Later in the afternoon, we all returned to the beach by our dorms and created a nice bonfire. We talked about the day and watched the sun set. We all went to sleep early because we were exhausted from the day’s festivities. It was an awesome experience to celebrate Midsummer authentically with everyone and it is definitely something I will always remember.

Noel Piatek is a senior studying Integrative Biology with a concentration on Conservation and Ecology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is from Homer Glen, Illinois.


Journey Northward

by Robert Nystrom and Miriam Zarate

As our first week of class comes to a close, we are a week closer to our trip up north to Svalbard. Our lectures this week began with one on Swedish colonization and future visions in the Arctic, a lecture on Artic governance and geopolitical interest of both Arctic and non-Arctic states, another lecture on literature regarding arctic travel specifically concerning the Vikings and their records of discovery, and concluded with a lecture about the personal written accounts of Carl von Linné's journey to Lapland and his discoveries about the Sami culture and the environment of Sweden’s northern frontier. Complementing our lectures are a series of readings including The Vinland Sagas, which are a recount of the Viking’s encounters and adventures during exploration of Nordic and Arctic regions. The Vikings were expected to explore the new lands upon sighting or else risk losing credibility as true Viking explorers. We have also begun our reading of Farthest North, an anthology chronicling the race for the North Pole and quests to find new trading routes. The academic diversity of our class has helped lead to great discussions of both the lecture material and readings, and provided different viewpoints on issues and topics regarding some of the first recorded voyages to the Arctic. Having a mixture of PhD, masters and undergraduate students has also enriched our learning experience, the additional years of study that most of the Swedish and international students have has broadened our understanding and introduced different perspectives of the content we are studying. Although the class consists of varying ages and years in education, our common interest in the future of Arctic environments has definitely set a common stage for all to relate. We are working diligently in the classroom to better understand the history of the Arctic region in order to gain the most while on the island of Spitsbergen (Svalbard). 

While we have been busy studying the history of Arctic exploration and governance, we are also excited about the celebration of Midsommar, the commemoration marking the first day of summer. We look forward to learning new and interesting things about our host country and island, and bringing exciting updates of our adventures here in the Nordic region!

Robert Nystrom is a sophomore studying Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois. He is from Villa Park, IL. 

Miriam Zarate is a junior studying Earth, Society, and Environment with a concentration in Science of the Earth System. She is from Bartlett, IL.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kickoff to Summer in Stockholm

by Sarah Rivard and Nick Musso

This Wednesday marked our third day of the Arctic course with the Swedish students. Our lecture was on the Foundations of Arctic Travel Narratives, with a focus on the Vikings. We read two historically-based VinlandSagas – Saga of the Greenlanders and Erik the Red’s Saga – as well as three Norse mythology stories: "The Creation," "The War of the Aesir and Vanir," and "Ragnarok." We learned how these readings could be interpreted in several different ways, including historical, ecological, economic, colonial, moral, and even feminist viewpoints. Our lecture also taught us about how the characters in the sagas portrayed the values and vices of the time. In addition, we discussed how fire and ice symbolized both creation and destruction in the Norse myths. It was interesting to see how many different ways each of these stories and their symbols could be interpreted!

All of this studying can sure work up an appetite, and in Stockholm there is no shortage of places to eat. As we’ve strolled down the streets we’ve been entranced by the smells escaping the walls of restaurants, cafes, and candy stores. If only it were possible to capture some of these amazing scents and bring them back home to our friends and family! In terms of our favorites, many of us have tried, and loved, dishes like fresh salmon, meatballs, quiche, and dumplings. Another traditional Scandinavian snack we’ve enjoyed is Swedish cracker bread, knäckebröd, topped with meat and cheese. In addition, we can all agree that the cafes are all too tempting, especially since we never have to walk far to find one! It is a custom in Sweden to take coffee breaks, called fikas, both during the work day and occasionally at night with friends and family. The U of I group has spent many days and nights at various cafes, including one in an old cellar in Gamla Stan.

To kick off the start of summer and celebrate the longest day of the year, we decided to have a picnic in the evening. We gathered in a small courtyard just outside of our campus housing, where grills are available for us to use. Everyone brought something to share, including burgers, buns, condiments, drinks, and other snacks. We were outside eating, talking, laughing, and playing Frisbee and hacky sack until about 10:30 at "night," even though there was still plenty of light in the sky by the time we decided to leave. We’re definitely taking advantage of these long Swedish summer days!

Sarah Rivard is a senior studying Integrative Biology with a minor in Atmospheric Sciences. She is from Kankakee, IL.

Nick Musso is a junior studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Human Dimensions. He is from Oak Lawn, IL.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Politics, Campfires, and Peace Prizes

by Rebecca Herrmann and Aaron Letterly

We started the first portion of our Arctic classes this week! Meeting the Swedish and international students taking the class alongside us was exciting, but also daunting. The other students are all masters or PhD students, but we plan to make an excellent name for ourselves! Today we had a guest lecture, Annika Nilsson, who educated us on "Governance in a Changing Arctic." The discussion brought to our attention the political intrigue and challenges surrounding the newly-exposed Arctic area. New access to resources has been allowed by climate change and a growing number of countries have developed interest in the Arctic. Boundaries have to be established by countries with territorial claims. Russia has gone so far as to place their flag at the bottom of the ocean floor at the North Pole! While this represents no legal claim, it is a gesture similar to America placing its flag on the moon.

Outside of the classroom, we continue to have adventures of our own! On Saturday, a group of us went to the Nobel Museum. Included in the museum was the "Sketches of Science" exhibit, featuring Nobel laureates with their own depictions of their inventions sketched out on paper. It was fun to see the humorous, and sometimes not-so-artistic, side of the inventors! 

Last night the group visited the beach near our campus housing. Even though it had rained all weekend, a small campfire allowed us to enjoy toasted marshmallows. The water is still too cold for swimming, but a few brave souls attempted to wade along the shoreline to get a picturesque view of the opposite coastline. We stayed out, swapping stories and jokes until it started sprinkling on us again, then walked back with the sky lightening behind us even though it was only midnight.

Getting used to the long hours of daylight has been just one of the many cultural changes we've had to face. Between taking the subway, doing our extensive course readings, and buying groceries in Swedish stores, we’re adjusting well to our new environment! It hasn’t been that difficult to fit in with the Swedes.  We’ve enjoyed our new experiences so far, and look forward to the rest to come. 

Rebecca Herrmann is junior studying Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois, with a focus in Environmental Engineering and Sustainability.  She is from Batavia, IL.

Aaron Letterly is a senior studying Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois, with a concentration in Climatology/Atmospheric Chemistry.  He is from Latham, IL.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Parading through Helsinki

by Dariusz Hareza and Lauren Ceckowski

As much as we enjoy learning about the history and culture of Scandinavia in the classroom, we knew that experiencing it first-hand would be far more enriching. So part of the group from U of I studying at KTH this summer decided to immerse its weekend in Finnish culture by traveling to Helsinki on a cruise ship. The moment we stepped off the ship the contrasts of the city caught our eyes. Old red-brick industrial buildings housed the latest exhibits on innovative designs. Trams rumbled through streets lined with sleek new department stores. We were immediately taken in by the open air markets housing stalls filled with various trinkets dear to the Finnish identity. With a little bargaining, one could buy a well-groomed mink hat to face the terrors of a Scandinavian winter. After a long night of sailing through the Baltic, we were absolutely ravenous. Luckily, with great Finnish hospitality a buffet was able to accommodate us. We were thrilled with the choices that included salmon, trout, and assortments of breads, salads, cheeses, and jams. Needless to say, we took full advantage of the opportunity to satisfy our hungry appetites. Now we could slowly take in the sights and sounds around us.

In front of the great Helsinki Cathedral, we noticed that there was a lot of commotion stirring. Apparently, we struck gold with our timing of the trip as various dance groups from the city were preparing to put on a parade. The colors of the costumes were absolutely stunning, as were the themed floats. Peacock feathers, sparkling wings, and theatrical masks are just a few words to describe the breadth of different styles we saw. As preparations for the parade were made, we decided to visit the inside of Helsinki Cathedral. The cathedral’s simplicity on the outside directly matched it on the inside. It was very much less ornate than the Uspenski Cathedral we had visited earlier in the day. Yet Helsinki Cathedral’s simplicity does not take away from its majesty. Clean curves and high ceilings give it a very light feel and exemplify the boldness of the architecture. Later we learned that the seats in the pews were all made using horse hairs. Not having noticed that the first time we entered, we returned to the Cathedral to marvel at the lustrous black seats that filled the Cathedral’s hall.

After taking in the architecture, we decided to do a bit of shopping in the fashion district where the city truly burst with life. Street vendors and musicians added to the unique atmosphere we had not yet experienced anywhere else. Once we had taken a few turns we quite accidently ran into the parade we had seen being prepared. We looked at each other in awe at how loud and flamboyant the whole spectacle was. As we returned to the ship, we were truly disappointed that we could only spend a day in Helsinki; the city still had so much to offer us.

Dariusz Hareza is a junior studying Molecular with a Cellular Biology Honors Concentration, minoring in Chemistry, and is Pre-Med. He is from Oak Lawn, IL.

Lauren Ceckowski is a senior studying Earth, Society, and Environment with a concentration on Society and the Environment.  She is from Gurnee, IL.


Monday, June 18, 2012

The Wonders of Skansen

by Sarah Buckman, Pratik Patel, and Alex Li

On Wednesday, we had our third excursion to Skansen. Skansen is very special because it is not only an outdoor museum, but also a zoo. Skansen is the first outdoor museum in the world, founded in 1891. It is also a miniature of the whole of Sweden before the industrial era. Walking from the very south to the very north in Skansen, we can see different styles of buildings from the south to north in Sweden. Among them, the Sami camp left the deepest impression on us. One of the most interesting places to go in Skansen is the zoo. Different from the typical zoos we’ve seen in the United States, Skansen provides the animals with a larger natural habitat for them instead of a cage. We can see a variety of birds, mammals and reptiles disappearing and reappearing in the forests and jungles. The zoo also provides glimpses of native Scandinavian animals, such as wolverines, brown bears and eagle owls.

Although rain halted our exploration of the open-air museum for a short period of time, many visitors, both young and old, could indulge in the homemade sugary treats or other goods produced by the Skansen employees. Fitting into an authentic model for what a pre-industrialized folk society would seem like in Sweden, the daily jobs of bakers, dairy farmers, glassblowers, and other craft workers at this museum maintain a high level of successful self-subsistence, which advocates for the flexible preservation of cultural histories. The representation of Sami peoples, the oldest known indigenous population found in the northern-most area of Scandinavia dating back to more than 5,000 years ago, have been of great interest to us in our studies due to the great commonalities with the historical and geographical maltreatment of the North American indigenous populations. It is their successful reindeer husbandry, fishing techniques, adobe-like architecture, and the history of their nomadic movement that distinguishes the Samis from other indigenous populations as well as other Scandinavian cultures. Greater appreciation should be shown to the Sami peoples for the great knowledge they have shared to advance our knowledge of the Arctic sphere.
Attending the educational trip to Skansen, we were able to get a sense of Swedish culture. On our way to the educational park, we did not know what to expect or what we would learn from it. However, on our way home on the trolley, we felt a connection to the country in a way we had not felt before. We were able to grasp the depth of what culture was like for the Samis and how they adapted their lifestyle to such a harsh Arctic environment. As we discussed in class, Skansen is not only meant for outsiders to get an understanding of Swedish culture, but local Swedes can also take a part in the journey to discover the truth about their history. We would definitely recommend this to others because it’s not only educational, but also a lot of fun. Workers employed at the park are extremely friendly and did an excellent job of portraying Swedish culture.

Sarah Buckman is a senior in both Global Studies and Spanish with a concentration geared in environmental sustainability. She usually resides in the city of Chicago.

Pratik Patel is a senior studying Atmospheric Sciences with a concentration in Atmospheric Dynamics/Chemistry. He resides in the Northwest Suburbs near Chicago.

Alex Li is a sophomore studying Agricultural Engineering. He is an international student from China at the University of Illinois.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hejsan from Stockholm!

by Rachel Bonet and Matthew Borden

Hejsan! The University of Illinois students living here in sweet Stockholm Sweden kicked off their studies with a tour of Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm, and a tour of the Vasa, a famous Swedish warship from the 17th century. Our tour started off with a guided tour as well as a history lesson on the Riksdaghuset – Parliament House – the Royal Palace of Stockholm, and various historical areas throughout old town. The Royal Palace, a once mighty fortress that boasted a core tower, was known as the Tre Knonor – Three Crowns – is an architectural and cultural landmark at the heart of Stockholm. While touring we got the chance to see a copy of the famous Sankt Goran and the Dragon statue, a famous depiction and Swedish allegory to a great battle in the 15th century of Sweden (Saint George) against Denmark (the evil dragon) to defend the fair maiden princess (Stockholm). Some beauty does come with a bloody history such as the Stortorget – The Great Square – where in 1520 the Danish-Swedish King Christian II beheaded more than 80 Swedish nobles. For those looking for a tight squeeze, Gamla Stan is home to the alley of Marten Trotzig which happens to be the narrowest functioning alley in all of Stockholm. Gamla Stan is a wonderful place and if you look hard enough you may be able to find ancient Norse runestones built right into a building or two.

Tuesday, the second day, included a visit to the Vasa Museum, which included the Vasa ship that tragically sank on its maiden voyage on August 10, 1628 due to incorrect measurements of the weights of the bottom in proportion to the top of the ship (insufficient ballast). The ship keeled over and 30 people died as a result.  It was not rediscovered and raised out of the water again until the 1961, when thousands of ship parts and other artifacts were found aboard the sunken ship. The ship was built as a symbol of power for the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus and the ship’s ornate carvings of power symbols from many non-Scandinavian cultures (such as Roman figures and lions) symbolize how Gustavus wished to be viewed as a courageous warrior and leader of a nation that was on par with the rest of Europe. The museum included other aspects of the disaster such as the unearthed remains of some of those trapped aboard when the ship sank.  It cast a humanizing light on the entire experience as it showed how individuals created certain aspects of the ship and died and well as how the nation, Scandinavia as a whole, and sectors of people (such as sailors) were all integral in the creation, sailing, and aftermath of the disaster. The sheer size of the ship and the aspirations that were linked to its creation and maiden voyage are clearly felt throughout the museum, which is a wonderful tribute to the Scandinavian culture of the period.

Rachel Bonet is a senior studying Anthropology, Animal Sciences, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She intends to study Environmental Law. Rachel comes from Darien, IL.

Matthew Borden is a senior in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, concentrating in Human Dimensions of the Environment. He is from Oak Forest, IL.