Face-to-Face with Faculty: Madeleine Hurd


Madeleine Hurd’s passion for Swedish Culture can be felt the moment you meet her. Her enthusiasm is matched by a profound knowledge of the country’s history, which transforms facts and lessons into rich stories of Sweden’s culture. We are thrilled that Madeleine will be teaching Swedish Language and Culture and History of Sweden in Europe and the World this fall in Stockholm, and recently heard from Madeleine about her course plans and recommendations for living like a local in the city!

This fall, you will be teaching Swedish Language and Culture and History of Sweden in Europe and the World. How would you encourage students to take these courses during their semester with DIS Stockholm?

If you live in Stockholm, you want to get beyond the tourist surface. To really understand the people and place, you need to glimpse it through Swedish eyes. How do Swedes live in the city? What do they love about it; what does it mean to “be a Stockholmer”? How do Swedes talk about every-day activities; how can one open a conversation?

And Stockholm can be complex, as well. Swedes combine a love for old Swedish traditions and new American culture. They are nostalgic for Sweden’s agrarian countryside, while aspiring to be Europe’s most modern country. They are proud both of their war-like past and their centuries of peace; they believe equally in monarchy and democracy. They complain about a winter filled with festivals of light, and talk passionately about the summer – when everyone leaves town. We discuss all this, and more – Swedish culture, gender politics, welfare state, attitudes towards multi-culturalism – in the course Swedish Language and Culture. Welcome all interested students!

Swedish history is, in fact, intriguing. It has left a deep imprint on Swedish self-understanding. Swedes remember their short-lived “Age of Greatness”, and still resent and fear Russia (which put an end to it). They love Swedish nature; the fact that famine and poverty sent 1.5 million to the U.S. resulted in an equally great affection for that country. They enjoy the reputation for neutral morality garnered after World War Two, and maintain faith in the welfare state; yet now endorse a firmly neo-liberal path. The course History of Sweden course analyzes all this, and illustrates it with select Swedish literature and films – and a few excursions to some of the more spectacular sites of Swedish history. A very good way of understanding Swedishness – and fun, too.


Do you have anything fun planned for these courses?

There is plenty to do and see around Stockholm – it is a proud, beautiful and ancient city. Stockholm is on the water – the “Venice of the North” – and so we’ll be taking ferries to cultural and historical sites. These will include the Royal Family’s summer castle and the King’s hunting-forest, which harbors the time-honored amusement park Gröna Lund and that bucolic site of tradition and history, Skansen. There is the great war-ship Wasa; there is the Nobel Museum (we’ll be discussing that proud tradition in class). We will certainly take advantage of Stockholm’s theater and music, including the 131 events scheduled for Stockholm’s ‘Cultural Night’. Finally, we’ll participate in at least one of Stockholm’s festivals of light – Lucia, All Saints’ Eve and Walpurgis Night.

What do you look forward to most with the incoming class?

I grew up in Stockholm – and returned to the city 15 years ago. I am looking forward very much to sharing my own love of Stockholm with DIS students; to communicate, if I can, some of my own enthusiasm for and enjoyment of Stockholm culture and society, so as to make students’ stay as valuable and memorable as possible. I wish, in short, to create a life-long love of the city and the people.


What is your favorite aspect of Swedish culture that you are excited to share with students?

Perhaps I can make students understand Swedes’ love of their country? The memories of ice-skating on Stockholm waters; the smell of pine-needles in the forests that surround the city; the cozy cafés, with strong coffee and Swedish pastries; the sound of organ music in the old churches; the feeling of fun and happiness around Christmas, the heartfelt joy of the Spring? The sense of being anchored in history; the dedication to peace; the pride in modernity, gender equality and egalitarianism, a deep feeling of belonging in Norden?

Now, as an experienced Stockholmer, we want to hear your suggestions for favorite things to do in the city. What are your recommendations? (cafes, museums, events, etc.)

There is so much! I would start the day at a traditional konditori (an old-fashioned café); or perhaps treat myself to a full breakfast, complete with scrambled eggs, sour milk and jam, rye bread, smoked reindeer and pickled herring. I might then take the ferry to Djurgården, and drop in on some of the art galleries or the Botanical Gardens or the quaint old Museum of Swedish Nature. I’d then hop a street-car to the Old Town, where I’d look at the handicraft and art shops and admire some street-artists before having a good lunch of potato pancakes with lingon-berry jam in one of the century-old restaurants. During the afternoon, I’d hang out with friends in Kulturhuset, with its cafés-bookshop and photographic exhibits; or go check out the music offered in one of the old churches. If it’s summer, we might take in some free theater-in-the-park; if fall, the performances at the Baltic Sea Festival; if winter, a Christmas Market; if spring, we might well go for a walk in the woods, looking for wild Spring mushrooms. All of this would make us feel strongly Swedish!


What is your advice for students experience Swedish culture and studying abroad for the first time?

Be open to new worlds! Stockholm is beautiful, clean, safe, modern, and very welcoming to Americans; but it’s also an ancient cultural site, intensely proud of its past, and very, very Swedish. Get to know the city; find out its odd and special corners; understand its historical layers, its combination of Swedish traditions, its relation to the nature that surrounds it. DIS Stockholm will guide you through this experience: we love the city, and are looking forward to introducing you to it.

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