The College Line: Over forty years of friendship and cultural exchange

by Charles Peterson

The Sweden exchange program between North Park University in Chicago and Södra Vätterbygdens Folkhögskola (SVF) in Jönköping, Sweden, has provided students, faculty, families, and friends with life-changing experiences and significant learning opportunities since its beginning in 1976. Fifty faculty and spouses from the United States, director Hans Nilsson and many colleagues from SVF, and hundreds of American and Swedish students have participated. Hundreds more family members and friends have visited SVF and North Park to see for themselves what all the excitement is about.

As with many exchange programs, the “College Line” program began because of personal relationships between faculty at both institutions. Long before Dr. Gunnar Hallingberg became rector at SVF, he was invited to North Park College by President Karl Olsson to teach in the Swedish department during the 1961-62 school year. During his time in Chicago he lived near the campus of North Park with his young family. He later returned with his family from 1971-73 to teach at the University of Chicago as the Thord-Gray Memorial Fund fellow, a program of the American-Scandinavian Foundation. During this period, Gunnar was often on North Park’s campus. Because of his close relationships to faculty and administrators, the seeds were planted for future cooperation. When Gunnar eventually became rector of SVF in 1975, the time was right to establish new links between the Covenant Churches of Sweden and the United States. At North Park, Dean Hobart Edgren, professors of philosophy, Dr. Elder Lindahl and Dr. Mel Soneson, and professor of history, Zenos Hawkinson, were eager to establish North Park’s first international program.

Photo of students

Swedish students at SVF, 1983

The first group study visit took place in February 1976. Elder Lindahl led a group of fourteen students on a one and a half week study visit during spring break to SVF and Stockholm with the purpose of exploring the possibility of establishing a study abroad exchange program. The group included the following students: Mary Stohlberg, Kathy Wiberg, Krisann Jarvis, Bruce Munson, Joan Eklund, Sue Becker, Cynthia Cole, Christy Thorngren, David Poor, Kris Carlson, Karen Soneson, David Helwig, Nancy Sandburg, and Corrine Bergquist. Corrine recalls:

“We spent time learning from them and about them, as well as doing some sightseeing. I remember bringing home some glassware from Orrefors and meeting up with some of my family who showed Karen and me all over Stockholm. It was my first and only time out of the country, so I remember just being so thrilled to have the experience.”

Professor Lindahl wrote in the December 1976 North Parker about the new Sweden exchange program:

“Both schools are Covenant owned … The faculties of each school attempt to bring the Christian faith and the liberal arts together … The experience should be the occasion for some reshaping of Americanized consciousness … seeing problems and issues from an international perspective … and providing new possibilities for appreciation of ethnic heritage.”

Based on the success of this first study visit, a group of thirteen North Park students studied at SVF from September 1976 until March 1977. This first official study abroad group included the following students from North Park College: Jan Peterson, Carl Wiberg, Mark Johnson, Steve Peterson, David Sporrong, Megan Peterson, Cindy Nordling, Jon Brorson, Lori Carlson, Bruce Erickson, Kristin Anderson, Mark Anderson, and Karen Soneson.

Jan Peterson, one of these students and later a guest faculty member at SVF, wrote about her experience in the May 1977 North Parker:

“As one of the American members of the program, I feel that the greatest advantage of overseas study is that one not only reads about a country or studies the language, but can actually experience life in another culture.”

The first group of twelve SVF students arrived at North Park in March 1977. I remember well the excitement on campus as we awaited the arrival of the Swedes. I thought I was welcoming one of the young students to campus one day in the library. It turned out to be their teacher, Johan Nordangård. That meeting was the beginning of a personal friendship and collegial partnership that has lasted to this day.

Photo of NPU

North Park University, Chicago

The guest faculty at SVF included faculty members from North Park and North Park graduates. The list includes faculty and spouses from many disciplines. Initially, faculty were recruited by SVF directly. North Park faculty took academic leave to participate in the program. Later, the faculty were chosen by North Park and participated in the program as a part of their faculty load. The Center for Scandinavian Studies at North Park University then supervised the exchange program for students and faculty. The exchange partnership has greatly enriched the professional development of North Park faculty. The following chart contains the names of the guest faculty from the beginning to the present:

1976 (Feb)Elder Lindahl Philosophy
1976 Zenos Hawkinson and Mel Soneson History and Philosophy
1977 Greta Lagerberg
1978 Chris Olsson
1979-80 Jan Peterson
1980-82 Dean and Donna Erickson and Barb Hawkinson
1982-83 Ted and Meredith Ericson
1983-84 Charles and Sharon Peterson Communication Arts
1984-85 Jane Nordeen
1985-86 Bill and Helen Fredrickson Economics
1986-87 Charles and Sharon Peterson Communication Arts
1987-88 Martha Melander Library
1988-89 Elder and Muriel Lindahl Philosophy
1989-90 Hans and Elsa Mollenhauer German/Italian
1990-91 Gayle Bradley-Johnson Art
1991-92 John Wicks and Jim Nelson Math and Theology
1992-93 Sue Horner Women’s Studies
1993-94 Paul Nilsen and Scott Erickson Education
1994-95 Tim Mitchell ESL
1995-96 Greg and Doy Athnos Music
1996 Chuck and Elsa Wiberg History
1997 Jill and Vern Wettersten Anthropology and Education
1998 Gayle Bradley-Johnson and Bruce Johnson Art
1999 David and Lucia Gill Ethics
2000 Don and Kay Olson Math
2001 David and Kristina Nystrom Biblical and Theological Studies
2002 Anne-Marie Andreasson Hogg and Robert Hogg Swedish
2003 Frank and Margot Steinhart Sociology
2004 Cal and Fern Katter Theology
2005 Kristy Odelius English
2006 Kurt and Cathy Peterson History
2007 Liza Ann Acosta English
2008 Warren and Mitzy Wade Political Science
2009 Chad Eric and Celia Bergman Communication Arts
2010 Joe and Catherine Alulis Political Science
2011 Sally and Vince Anderson Brandel Library
2012 Al and Jan Bjorkman Biology
2013 Cherie Meacham Spanish
2014 Catherine Marsh School of Business and Nonprofit Management
2015 John and Beth Hjelm Exercise Science
2016 Linda and Rick Craft Spanish
2017 Rachelle Ankney and Ryan Stavros Mathematics
2018 Wes and Deb Lindahl School of Business and Nonprofit Management

The benefits of the Sweden exchange program for faculty, students, families, and friends are truly significant. The program has also benefited our two institutions. North Park and SVF faculty have enjoyed the opportunity to expand their teaching experience and to pursue their individual research projects. North Park and SVF faculty families have also enjoyed the opportunity for international experience. Students have expanded their worldviews significantly inside and outside the classroom. Study visits to the Soviet Union, Greece, and Italy have brought history lessons to life. Students have learned to take responsibility for themselves, to mature in self-understanding, and to gain skills in international travel. International friendships have endured over the decades. Because of the students’ experiences, additional family members and friends have taken advantage of opportunities to visit Sweden and the United States. Now the second generation of Sweden exchange program students are attending SVF and North Park. Many are eager to share the experience that was so significant for their parents.

Photo of SVF

Södra Vätterbygdens Folkhögskola, Jönköping, Sweden.

The success of this program is in great part due to the commitment of many people. Some of the originators of the program are no longer with us. These supporters remained devoted to the program as long as they lived. Gunnar Hallingberg has long been very supportive of SVF and North Park University. Swedish professor Raymond Jarvi fostered the connection to SVF in the early years by heading the exchange program and teaching at SVF for nearly a decade. The record for the longest continuous service to the exchange program must be given to Hans Nilsson and his wife,

The North Parker. May 1977. Swedish students come to campus

Katrine Franke. The program owes its very character to the personal commitment, personal sacrifice, and skills that Hans brought as Director of the College Line at SVF. The hundreds of enthusiastic alumni of the program are testimony to rich and memorable experiences that the program has given to students and faculty.

The Sweden exchange program was the first international program for North Park University. In the years since the exchange began, other study abroad programs and exchanges have been added. These study abroad experiences have been crucial in the building of an international and multicultural environment at North Park, a core identity of our university committed by mission “to prepare students for lives of significance and service.”