Study Abroad Course Focused on Sustainability in Sweden

A visit to EcoVillage in Sweden

A visit to EcoVillage

“It was a big success,” said Polly Chandler, of the week-long course on sustainability that brought twenty students from Antioch University New England (AUNE) and two other graduate schools in the Antioch University system to Sweden last semester.

Chandler, chair of AUNE’s Department of Organization and Management (O&M), organized and led the class. “It went off without a hitch and it far exceeded my expectations and hope,” she said.

The Antioch University Chancellor’s Office funded the three-credit course to create an international field experience open to students on all five campuses in the Antioch University system. Eighteen of the students were from AUNE; there were two students each from Antioch University Seattle and Antioch University Los Angeles.

The integrated format is new to Antioch University. “There was a mix of students, and each came with a different lens on sustainability,” Chandler said. “That made everyone else’s lens more expansive and appreciative.”

The class visited an intentional community; the Stockholm Aquarium, for an update on the Baltic Sea; Stockholm University; the Royal National City Park, the world’s first national urban park; municipal services such as wastewater treatment plants; and the city of Eskiltuna. They listened to several speakers each day and had a debriefing at the end of each day.

“It was fun to watch the course evolve from when students arrived, thinking they were in sustainability nirvana, to realizing its complexities,” Chandler said. “There are differences. Sweden is a very tiny, little country, and they use the collective power of  ‘we.’ They don’t have the U.S. individualism, and so it’s different, moving change.”

Garett Kopczynski, a May AUNE MBA graduate, said he brought home an appreciation of how the Swedes have developed an infrastructure that makes it easy for people to live sustainably in their daily lives. “Recycling is an example,” he said. “In the United States we rely on people wanting to do something for the environment instead of having sufficient infrastructure that encourages everyone to recycle.”

Sweden’s highly organized society and the authority of its municipalities make sustainability easier, too, Kopczynski said. “Here [in the United States], the federal government hands down mandates because they think that’s the best way … If we could reverse that trend we could make strides, because I think local governments are much more aware of the needs of the system.”

For Kopczynski, the Stockholm Aquarium was the most surprising visit. “In the U.S., it would have been a giant fish tank,” he said. But the Swedish aquarium doesn’t place barriers between visitors and the exhibits. “It was like being in a rainforest and entering the ecosystem.

David Boynton, another May MBA grad, said most exciting moment for him was seeing how community collaboration in Sweden opens up the possibilities of sustainable development.

“It was intriguing to see the incredible projects and initiatives that were changing the cultural mindset around how we do business and how we operate as one of many species on this earth,” Boynton said. “The idea that a sustainable ecology, economy and society are not only related but dependent on each other was inherent and almost even unspoken in the culture. What we can do in our communities here in the U.S. is limitless if we shift our cultural mindset just a little.”

AUNE will offer the course again next year, but Chandler hopes more faculty will become involved in organizing it. “It’s a big time investment but it was well worth it when you saw how appreciative and enthusiastic the students were,” she said.

Find out more about the MBA Study Abroad Trip to Sweden here.

Find out more about the trip on Boynton’s blog here.