Santa Fe College faculty have maintained a vibrant virtual and face-to-face exchange with counterparts in Orebro, Sweden for over a decade (double check this from the audio file). Join our conversation with Professor Doug Diekow and representatives from the Thoren Business School to learn more about the Swedish-Gainesville connection and how this has benefitted students over the years.
Vilma: Welcome to Santa Fe College. My name is Vilma Fuentes, and this is our podcast, Developing Global Citizens. Today we're going to explore the long-standing relationship between Santa Fe College and partners in Sweden. I am joined today by professor of sociology, Douglas Diekow, and four special guests from Sweden.
Pernilla: Pernilla [inaudible].
Emma: Emma [inaudible].
Marcus: Marcus [inaudible].
Magnus: Magnus [inaudible].
Vilma: Wonderful. And Santa Fe has been working closely with colleagues in Sweden for over a decade now. Doug, tell us about this. How did this all start?
Doug: It actually began with nobody in this room. It began in 2007, at the time, Magnus's colleagues, Nigel McGowen-Smith, reached out to myself and Naima Brown, in terms of establishing some kind of a collaboration.
Vilma: And Dr. Naima Brown was a professor of sociology at the time.
Vilma: Today she serves as a vice president for student affairs.
Doug: And so I had just become department chair and was not teaching, so I was not able to do that, and so Naima jumped on it and Naima and Nigel began this collaboration. And then over time, I believe Nigel then brought in Magnus.
Magnus: Yeah, mm-hmm.
Doug: And then when Naima became vice president, she said, "We need to keep this going. Can you take it on?" And I said, "Most definitely." And so three times a semester we would connect on Skype and connect one of our classes. And then over time, Nigel stepped away and it became just Magnus and I.
Vilma: So I think what you're describing is what today a lot of people call virtual exchanges, like an international virtual exchange. At some institutions, like at the State University of New York, or even Florida International University, they call it COIL, Collaborative Online International Learning, I think it's called. So explain to me how this works. So is it just you and Magnus working and talking to each other alone?
Doug: No, it's actually our students talking to each other. We began initially on Skype, and so I would take my students to a computer lab and we would log onto all these accounts and then we would connect and they would talk individually.
Vilma: And now there's a big time difference though between Sweden and Florida. How did you make that work out?
Doug: Initially I was teaching an 8:00 AM class, which would put it at 2:00 PM in Sweden.
Vilma: So there's a significant time difference between Sweden and Florida. So how is this working out?
Doug: Usually means that we go early and they go late.
Vilma: Okay. How early is early?
Doug: I was always connecting with an 8:00 AM class, and I had one class every semester. At the time, we were doing it on Wednesday mornings, and so I taught a class on Monday and Wednesday at 8:00 AM. And at the time, we were doing three meetings a semester. And so we would pick those dates and we would come in and I would set my students up and he would have his students set up. And then the other thing that we would do is we would switch students in and out, so that Santa Fe students and Swedish students were talking to more than one of their counterparts in the other country.
Vilma: So Magnus, on your end, were you teaching sociology? Are you a sociology teacher?
Magnus: No, not really a sociology teacher. I teach civics, and that's a part of that subject in Sweden. So it's very much the same issues we address, society, views on crime and family values and things like that. So it's pretty much the same, I'd say.
Vilma: So it's interesting because that's an interdisciplinary collaboration, it doesn't have to be, so it sounds like, sociologists with sociologists, it can be a sociologist with a civics or government professor. What do you do about that, Magnus, do your students speak in Swedish?
Magnus: Well, the American students sure want to hear some Swedish words and they pick up some, not always the best words maybe, but no, our students are kind of fluent in English.
Vilma: How long have they studied English?
Magnus: They start in Swedish schools in grade three.
Vilma: Wonderful. And Doug, on your end, do your students decide to start learning Swedish, do they pick up on a few words or what happens?
Doug: There have been some that have explored it. They're fascinated by the language because it's so very different than anything that they've ever been exposed to.
Vilma: So you said, Doug, that you were starting, everybody would get together at 8:00 AM in one computer room. So what happened when COVID hit?
Doug: When COVID hit, it was actually, I hate to say this, but beneficial for us because we started using Zoom. And so I created a Zoom room and everybody would come into that room, and then I would create breakout rooms. And logistically it would be like, "Okay, Swedish students, when I put you in a room, stay there. Santa Fe students, I'm going to put you in a room. When you feel that you're ready for a change, come back to the main room and then I'll put you in another room." And so I would switch people around so that they would have the experience. And instead of being one-on-one, we would have groups of four or five, two or three Swedish students and two or three Santa Fe students.
Doug: And that's how we've continued to do it. We currently do it five times a semester. And one of the things that is extremely beneficial for me is Magnus has expanded it on his end and brought in his colleagues. And so I don't meet with Magnus five times a semester, I meet with him maybe once, and then I meet with Emma, and I meet with Marcus, and then another colleague of theirs [inaudible] who I met with a week ago, and I'm going to meet again this Monday, I believe.
Vilma: So when you say you're ... so Emma and Marcus, I'd love to turn to you. So when you're saying you are meeting with Emma and Marcus, it sounds like it's more you're meeting with their students.
Vilma: Okay. So Emma and Marcus, tell us about this. So you came in during COVID or after COVID?
Emma: No, I actually think it was a little before COVID, I would say. But yeah, mostly during the pandemic.
Vilma: And what do you teach?
Emma: I teach civics and I teach English as well.
Vilma: Okay. And you Marcus?
Marcus: I teach English mostly, and some Chinese and media as well. But English is the reason why we're speaking with our American friends, and I also get a feel for what it means to be an American. Because they talk about, the American students, they ask questions about Swedish life and culture, and then of course the Swedish students will ask the American students as well. So there's sort of an exchange there of ideas and how things are in these two different countries. So it's really beneficial for our students as well, in terms of language and culture.
Vilma: So a couple of the things that we're trying to do at Santa Fe, is help our students gain global knowledge and also develop intercultural competence. Do you think your students on both sides are accomplishing that?
Emma: Yeah, definitely. I think that they learn a lot during these meetings and they grow as individuals, and many of them stay in touch with people that they talk to during the Zoom calls as well. So for some of them it's only a 30-minute experience, but for quite a few of them, they exchange social media accounts and they start talking to each other and they keep on learning even after the class has ended.
Vilma: Give me examples of things that our students on either end have learned that was surprising or shocking to them.
Doug: Well, one of the things that I deliberately, for my students, they have a project associated with each Zoom session, and so I give them a task and they need to gather information. And all the projects are focused around a social policy issue that Sweden has and that we have. And I deliberately choose ones that are very different because I would actually agree with you that there are a lot of similarities between the United States and Sweden, but then I would also say from a social policy perspective, there are tremendous differences. And so for example, one of the projects that I do is I have them look at gun control and mass shootings, and what is gun control like in Sweden, and then compare that to gun control in the United States. And one of the things that they find out is that in Sweden, you have to have a reason to own a gun. And the only reasons are hunting, collecting, or if you're a competitive sharp shooter. If you were to go in and say, "I want a gun for protection," you would be told no.
Vilma: So you can't walk into an IKEA store, and buy a gun?
Vilma: But you can walk into a Walmart and then by a gun.
Doug: Correct. And so then they also ask about mass shootings. And none of the Swedish students can ever remember there being a mass shooting in Sweden. And then our students also ask, what is their opinion of what's going on here? And so very much a learning curve, I think for both sides, because the Swedish students are also shocked. Our students, many of them will ask, have you ever seen a gun? And most of the Swedish students are like, "Yeah, no." And that just blows the minds of the Santa Fe students. Later on, one project later on that I'm going to have them do, and Marcus, you'll be very interested in this, is I'm going to ask them to talk about the political systems in each country, and particularly what are the Swede's perspectives on what is happening here right now, particularly with the January 6th insurrection and all that has happened after that, and so they're going to be exploring that.
I also ... gosh, what else? Oh, I also have them look at poverty. What does it mean to be poor in the United States, and what does it mean to be poor in Sweden? We've talked about gender before as well. I think there was one semester we were actually also talking, I can't remember, talking about possibly adolescent sexuality, and perspectives on sexuality for teenagers in Sweden versus the United States. Also looking at pregnancy rates. We have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world, Sweden has one of the lowest.
Vilma: So Emma and Marcus, I'm curious, so tell me about your students and what do they tell you about these issues or others?
Emma: Well, just like Doug said, they're kind of surprised because they think as well, that while the US and Sweden, we're kind of similar, they know about the gun control things. So I mean, some of the aspects will surprise them, but they also hear quite a few things in the news. But then other things, when it comes to, for instance, sexuality, teen pregnancy, or family values, et cetera, they're more surprised, they're shocked because they think that, well, they expect the US to be Sweden and vice versa.
Vilma: So give me an example of something that your students have been shocked at or perhaps that any of you have been shocked at during your visit here in Florida?
Pernilla: Well, there are lots of, I think, common challenges that we have, if we think of global citizens and one area where we try to teach and live, sustainability is a very, very interesting topic. And there, I think sometimes we're surprised by all the one time utensils that we are exposed to when we're here, because quite recently, there is a law in Sweden that we cannot use the plastic forks, for instance.
Vilma: You can't have plastic forks or utensils.
Vilma: So what do you use?
Pernilla: Well, you have to be inventive and come up with new ideas. And that's where it takes new entrepreneurs that we're trying to educate, to come up with new ideas. Because the global warming and the challenge when it comes to our climate, we need to do something about it, so we need good problem-solving students.
Vilma: So what has Sweden done, if you don't have plastic forks, are you going back to metal or silver, or what are you using in quick cafés or restaurants?
Magnus: I'd say different kind, lots of bamboo, I think they use even paper.
Vilma: Paper forks?
Vilma: Paper forks.
Magnus: Even some special corn, in a way, I don't know how it works, but it works, apparently.
Pernilla: So one inventive thing that just came up at Young Entrepreneurship Fair that I went to, was an ice cream spoon made out of a biscuit. So you could actually eat the ice cream with the spoon and then you could eat the spoon.
Vilma: I love it. That's a great idea. Okay. And so this virtual exchange, so what happens at the end of the semester, so I've heard it's over, that's it, is there any follow up afterward?
Doug: Usually I process with my students throughout the semester, and so after every session, the next class period, one of the very first things I do is say, "Let's talk about what you found out." I mean, they're writing about it, but I also want them to have an open discussion with each other and with me about what they found out. The other thing too is we also use it as a means to recruit, because starting in 2014, I started leading a group of students every year over there on a study abroad trip. And so for students who have gone through the class, it's a great opportunity for them to actually then go over and meet and spend time with these people that they've talked to. And so we use that as a means to encourage students to continue their affiliation and to continue to remain engaged.
Vilma: What do the Swedish students say when these American college students show up?
Marcus: They're quite ... Okay, I'm sorry.
Vilma: No, no, please, Marcus.
Marcus: Oh, they're happy to meet them and talk with them and also practice their English and just hang out. I think that's most of your experience from this, Magnus.
Magnus: Yeah, they love it. They really like to hang out with the American students, and we emphasize that, we really like them to become friends, so that's a big thing.
Emma: And they enjoy taking them out and showing them the town and showing what's typical Swedish, et cetera. And I think they also learn quite a bit about their own country in that way, because they need to reflect on things that are Swedish that perhaps they have never thought of before.
Vilma: Like what?
Emma: Well, anything from cultural habits, everything from how we greet people, like that we don't use Mr. or Mrs. It could be anything sort of.
Vilma: So how do you greet people?
Emma: Yeah, we're not that over polite. So either we just say your name or it's you simply.
Vilma: Like, hey, you?
Emma: Yeah, sort of.
Doug: One other example to add on to that is the last time that I took students over was in 2019.
Vilma: Right before the pandemic.
Doug: Right before the pandemic. And we always build in a lot of free time in the afternoon to give them unstructured opportunities to engage with the students from Sweden. And in 2019, a Swedish student approached and said, "Can I invite them to my house for dinner tonight?" And I said, "Of course." And so we had six students that year, they all went over to the Swedish student's house, and they actually showed me a video later, the student gave them a crash course in what you do on Swedish holidays. And so they were out in the backyard and different dances and basically gave them a crash course that this is what we do on all these holidays. Midsummer was a big one.
Magnus: Yeah, I think they did Midsummer, they did Christmas and they did Easter holiday.
Vilma: Midsummer, when somebody says Midsummer thinking about Shakespeare, what do you do in Sweden in Midsummer?
Magnus: We raise a big pole, then we put flowers on that pole, then we dance around it,
Emma: Jump around like frogs.
Vilma: Because summer is here.
Magnus: Celebrating seeing the sun again. And of course we eat and drink a lot as well.
Vilma: That sounds like a great holiday. So the four of you have been here for about a week and you've been visiting and meeting lots of administrators and faculty and students. You've gone to different parts of the college. Why are you here? We already have a relationship.
Magnus: Well, we want to broaden it and make it deeper, and so that's why we're here. And during these four or five days, I think we have found many new people that we can cooperate with. Among them, Thomas Maple in media, and we were over at the Blonde Hall and we met some business teachers. What was his name again?
Emma: Jake Searcy.
Vilma: He's one, yes.
Magnus: Yeah, yeah.
Vilma: And business, why do you have a special interest in business?
Pernilla: Yes. The school that we're representing is called [inaudible] Business School, it's a high school in Sweden, and there are actually 14 of them spread out all over Sweden. We focus on training future entrepreneurs and leaders. So while our students are with us in Sweden, we try to make them practice different skills that they need in order to become leaders and entrepreneurs. So they start their own company their third year, their last year when they're with us, and that's a big thing. And we see that you do a lot of things similar to what we do, and we think that there are very many possibilities for us to work together in different ways.
Vilma: So I know a few days ago you visited our business department. You met a lot of business students, faculty, community leaders. You also visited our Center for Innovation and Economic Development. You met Trenton Hightower, I believe. Did you learn anything new that you didn't know, anything that seemed interesting to you?
Marcus: I think we're just quite impressed by the building and the fact that you have an incubator attached to the college. So the students sort of pass by the incubator, then they go up to the second floor and third floor and learn about business while business is actually in the building. So I think that's something we would like to have in the future, perhaps. Who knows?
Pernilla: Yeah. And it was very inspiring last night when we went to the local farmer's market and met some of your entrepreneurs.
Vilma: Our graduates.
Pernilla: Yes. We had very nice kombucha that they have made. And they were also people who we have met in Sweden.
Vilma: Yes. Students that traveled to Sweden with you, Doug, yes.
Pernilla: Yes. And we also met some local entrepreneurs here from Gainesville the other night, when we had a panel discussion with students from the business department and local entrepreneurs. And we just passed by the Knot, a climbing gym. And one of the owners from that took part in the panel discussion.
Vilma: So I'm guessing that the owner who started the rock climbing gym probably started his business in the seed, maybe. So in other words, you met in practice, people that graduated from our business school and are now local entrepreneurs, or people that incubated at the seed and are now doing their business. That's super cool. So are you hoping to expand into business in particular? What are you thinking, virtual exchanges with business students, or do you have something else in mind?
Emma: Well, we're open for a lot of different things, and of course we hope to expand it to also include the business in our collaboration, but we also hope to do join projects perhaps within other subjects as well. So I would love for instance, and Magnus here as well, to do something within the subject of civics, and we're also hoping to bring some of the context or the info from context with us to Sweden and share with our colleagues as well.
Vilma: And so I guess a final question I have for all of you is why is this important? Why should any professor want to even invest time in this? Why should a student participate in this? What do they stand to gain?
Magnus: Everything. They gain everything. I mean, traveling to another country, meet another culture, no matter if you go in person or you meet over the internet, it's a great opportunity to reflect upon yourself and your own culture, but also the similarities and differences to another person's culture. And that meeting, it's like magic, everything happens in that meeting. And I think that's the most important thing with all of this collaboration.
Doug: I just think it just is such an amazing learning experience for students. My perception when I teach is that we are an extremely, extremely ethnocentric culture. We think our way is the only way, we think our way is the best way, and it is just illuminating for students to be able to see that there's something so different that's working, because their assumption is that it wouldn't. As Emma was saying, through the virtual, we see students building these relationships and maintaining those relationships, we also see that with the study abroad. Through the years, I can't even begin to count the number of students that have gone over there with me, who have then returned on their own to visit friends, or hosted their friends over here. And so those relationships have maintained, some of them for seven, eight years at this point.
Vilma: Actually, I think you all met the director of our Institute of Public Safety, Tom Ackerman. So that goes even farther because I think years, maybe decades ago, Tom studied the Swedish policing system, I think. And now, what does he do with it now, how does that impact our work, did he tell you?
Pernilla: Yeah, that was very surprising because the fantastic facilities that they now have created here, were inspired by his visit that he did many years ago, to the Swedish Police Academy, and not maybe everything there, but that they actually put a real life situations or true situations.
Vilma: The simulation, the real ... Okay. Yeah, the simulator things.
Pernilla: Yeah. So things that he saw there, developed his thinking and thoughts and vision, how he could create something here. And he said that he thought Sweden was 10 years ahead when he visited, and now I think you're definitely 15 years ahead of us. So it takes jumps like that, I think, that we inspire each other in different aspects, and we need to meet people from different parts of the world, we need to communicate, and that's more important than ever, I think.
Vilma: Well, thank you all for everything that you do. Thank you to our Swedish friends for visiting us.
Marcus: Thank you.
Vilma: Some of us from Santa Fe, look forward to visiting you and seeing the magic happen.
Magnus: Great. You're welcome.