The day after their arrival in the United States and just minutes after completing a tour of the Missouri Southern campus, the seven photography students from Sweden were welcomed with a distinctly American ritual – a pizza party.
Introductions were made and then lunch was served, as students and faculty from Southern’s Art Department gathered to welcome the new arrivals.
For Karl Reiver, 19, and Lisa Redner, 20, the trip doesn’t mark their first visit to the United States. Both have previously been to New York.
“It’s fun to explore a different culture, and it helps develop my photography with a broader view,” said Reiver.
“It’s the same for me,” said Redner, adding that she’d like to go to the movies while here.
The pizza certainly didn’t hurt, either.
“I like to try the typical American food,” Reiver said.
All seven of the students who arrived on campus on April 11 for a three-week visit are from the Mullsjö Folkhögskola. The school is similar to an American community college and focuses on two main courses of study – general studies and art. It has had a partner relationship with Missouri Southern for two decades. Each year, a contingent of students from the school travel to Joplin, and Southern students take classes there in the summer.
“The exchange is that we don’t have a full-time photography instructor,” said Burt Bucher, an associate professor of art who has been involved with the program for nine years. “Their photography instructor teaches our students photography, and our graphic design instructors will teach them graphic design because they don’t have that program.”
But Bucher said that all involved with the program gain much more than classroom instruction.
“You learn what other people and cultures are like, and gain a broader awareness of yourself in the world,” he said.
During their stay, Bucher said he has planned activities such as shopping and museum trips for the students to enjoy.
“It’s not just classwork,” he said. “They’ll get out and see other areas in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas.”
Tell-Inge Leandersson, the rector of Mullsjö Folkhögskola, and photography instructor Örjan Henriksson arrived on campus this week to visit as well.
Luke Blevins, a junior art major at Southern, will be among those who attends Mullsjö Folkhögskola in the summer, and said he’s looking forward to meeting and working with Henriksson. He plans to study classic and black and white photography as well as art history.
“I wanted to study abroad but didn’t want to go for a full semester,” he said. “I’m really excited to learn more about their culture.”
Emma Gustavsson, a senior graphic design major who hopes to graduate in December, came to Missouri Southern four years ago as part of the program. Her experience has been a bit different from most of the students who come to Joplin from Sweden, however.
“When we came to visit, they asked if anyone was interested in coming back for a semester or two,” she said. “I wanted to get away and do something different, so I came back here. I decided during that time that I wasn’t really done.
“It’s a great experience, I feel like. I just took it a step further, I guess.”
Gustavsson hopes that the Swedish students visiting campus make the most of the experience.
“I’d advise them not to be shy,” she said. “Swedish people have a tendency not to talk to strangers. But people around here are friendly. They should skip that part of their personality a little bit and get to know people because it will get them so much further during their time here.”
Emelie Johansson Thunman, 20, said she definitely wants to embrace the opportunity.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing to come here,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go to America and see what it’s like.”