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Adventures Abroad: Inside the KCAD Sweden Study Away Experience - Part 1

Posted June 12, 2014 in Classes & Presentations

Day Six - Farewell Stockholm by Kaylee, Bosun, and Ben

From Kaylee:

We all have been insanely busy the last few days during our visit to Stockholm. However, even through all the chaos, lack of sleep, and pure physical exhaustion, I don’t think anyone is complaining. We all have been talking about how beautiful, mesmerizing, and wonderful it is, and how we all cannot wait to come back.

Today our adventures were scattered.

We started our morning meeting together at 8am for a tour of the Skansen Museum. Skansen is the world’s first open-air museum, founded in 1891. Here we strolled through five centuries of Swedish history. We explored historical buildings and dwellings from each period, and got to meet real characters of that time and learn about what their lives were like. We even got to go to a zoo, where we saw animals that were all native to Sweden.

open air history museum in SwedenOpen air history museum in Stockholm

After a few hours, our group was allowed to explore. Some people visited the museum of Fotografiska (which is the worlds largest photography museum) and explored Sweden’s oldest amusement park, Grona Lund, which sits on the edge of the island overlooking the heart of Stockholm. Others choose to visit one of the worlds only Ice Bars (a bar completely made of ice- cups, tables, walls, chairs, and all), visit the Vasa Museum (which is a museum designated to the only flag ship every to have been recreated from a wreckage), or visit the Spirits Museum, which is a museum designated to the art of vodka and other spirits.

at the Spirits Museum in StockholmOne of the students' favortie things to explore in Stockholm: spirits

From Bosun:

Today, we went to the Museum of Sprits. The museum focuses on Sweden’s bittersweet relationship to alcohol. The museum gave us a very nice experience of art, scenery, scents, and tastes.

After we finished exploring, we tasted 3 local beverages: Björk, Maskros, and Sparris Elader. Each had a very interesting and different flavor than I have ever experienced before. One was asparagus with elder flower, another the flavor of dandelion, and the last one was birch. It all tasted amazing. Each aroma and flavor came from local flowers and plants.

Sampling some Swedish spiritsSampling some Swedish spirits

I’d have to say, none of us wasted any time in Stockholm. I do have to say, however, it has been quite interesting observing the differences between Sweden and America. As mentioned yesterday, we did an observation exercise where we were split into two groups to explore how people in Sweden interacted with space. I think we all had this feeling of awe over how much people embrace and use every aspect of their space. One person threw out the word “practical,” and that’s really what Sweden is all about. Talking to one of the locals yesterday about our project, she ended the conversation by explaining to me that, “In Sweden, people really only want what they need, and nothing else. And that’s just because nothing else is necessary to make people happy.”

From Ben:

Today ended up being one of the best days on this trip so far. Andi, Deanna, and I went to the Stockholm photography museum and we were all completely blown away, especially by the exhibit of Lu Kowski. We even had to go back through his photos again on our way out. His style is everything I wish I could do with my personal photography. I highly advise everyone to check out his other work.

Another great thing that happened today was that Andi and I found the first WESC store. WESC is an apparel company that is heavily influenced by skate style design, which we both really like. Neither of us knew that it started right here in Stockholm! With this being one of our favorite brands we got some new beanies, because why not?

Last day in Stockholm = perfect day!

Day Five - Stockholm Part 2 by Abby, Erica, and Tom

From Abby:

This morning, we took a tour of the city via boat. Stockholm is an archipelago, or a city made of islands. We saw palaces, gardens, the royal hunting grounds (now the Skansen Museum, which we are going to tomorrow!), the house of one of the members of ABBA, the rowing club used in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics (the only one ever held in Sweden), and so much more. The audio tour provided so many interesting facts that I wish we could have a recording to be able to remember all of them.

Afterwards, we split into two groups. One group sat in a square and observed the people and the environment while remaining stationary. The other group ventured into the depths of Stockholm, visiting the world’s longest art museum: the Stockholm Tunnelbana (underground train). Many of the subway stops in Stockholm feature artwork that ranges from entire stations serving as installation pieces to stops where the work is featured temporarily and replaced with new work every so often. Both groups’ objective was to really observe a place and work to understand our perceptions. We want to dig deep into a place from all angles, seeing it through the different lenses of the different students to create a larger story. I can’t wait to see what kind of work comes out of these two projects and even how they might merge into one giant visual story of life in Stockholm.

subway station in Stockhom, SwedenSubway station in Stockholm, adorned with art

From Erica: One of Those Days

Today was by far one of the most relaxed and enjoyable days compared to the fast-paced life we’ve been living the past week. Today we got to lives as the Swedes do – at a pace of leisurely enjoyment – as we shared a park with them on this unhurried Sunday. It was probably one of the most memorable moments of our trip, as time ceased to hold meaning. Of course, such perfection had to be balanced by many moments of personal stupidity, because what is the world without balance?

statue in Stockhom, SwedenStatue in Stockholm

First, my friend Linny and I frantically thought we were permanently stuck in Sweden as our Stockholm passes, which allow unlimited public access to travel, refused to swipe properly, causing the turnstile to flash an angry red “X”. We stood just behind the turnstile in a haze of confusion and panic (and apparently stupidity) as we watched our group leave us behind. When our teacher Suzanne came to rescue us, we embarrassedly realized that we’d swiped our cards in the wrong spot. Immediately following our public humiliation, our group thoroughly learned Stockholm’s subway system as we repeatedly confused ourselves into getting lost only to find we were exactly where we needed to be.

My final moment of stupidity happened in the largest IKEA in the world. I wasn’t panicked when I got lost in the subway, but I was when I got lost in the IKEA store. They were not lying about its massive size. There were three floors of meandering and overwhelming displays of home goods and all sorts of IKEA goodness. Linny and I decided to wander off on our own to find a cheap IKEA meal at a café, and as we circled the ground floor in confusion, recognizing nothing, we began to panic and wonder how the hell we get lost in a IKEA. At one point, we considered giving up and curling up in one of the oh-so-cute displays. Luckily, we met up with Emily and she asked one of the employees (aka our savior), who led us to an exit hidden behind a wall in a little nook with no notable signage. At that moment it was clear how dependent we are on signage meeting our American expectations. We expect a red neon exit sign, not flat vinyl signage subtly posted on the wall. It was definitely a day of learning the reality of the expectations we, as Americans, have for Sweden

panorama view of stockholm, SwedenPanorama view of beautiful Stockholm

From Tom:

Today is the second day we are in Stockholm. We gathered at nine after we ate breakfast and took the subway to the central station of Stockholm. The subway station is really cool! Every stop has different decoration.

subway station in stockhom, swedenMore subway art in Stockholm

Then, we went above ground to take a boat tour that showed us every famous sightseeing spot, and also gave us interesting background information. John discovered a new way to count us, which is that each person has a number and yells it. He said we are always moving, so he cannot count us. After we finished our boat tour, we were split into two groups to finish today’s mission.

students riding ferry in stockholm, swedenRiding the ferry, KCAD style

John led the group to explore the subway system and Suzanne led the group to enjoy the people of this city. I was in the city group, and we just found a place and enjoyed the sunshine and environment before recording, illustrating, and writing about what we saw.

ferry in stockholmStudents got a unique tour of Stockhom, which is an archipelago

Then we went back to the IKEA nearby our hotel. It is the largest IKEA in the world, but in my opinion it looks the same as all the others. But IKEA is always fun!

Day Four - Sightseeing in Stockholm by Nicole

Stockholm: the capital of Sweden, a city of royalty, history, and One Direction? Yes my friends, apparently there was a One Direction concert going on in the very city that we were visiting. Man, was it crowded at the train station! But once we actually got out into the city that was filled with so much Swedish pride and heritage, the wonder and curiosity began to soar. We all finally had the opportunity to try our very first authentic Swedish dishes. I personally had baked salmon with a red wine sauce, fresh buttered snap peas, white asparagus, and mashed potatoes, and I have to say, it was absolutely amazing! How the Swedes stay so skinny with that kind of amazing food is beyond me.

It was a wonderful day of sightseeing. We spent most of the day exploring, with trips to the palace and church of the royal family and the gamla stan, better known as the part of the city that still holds the ancient cobble stones that had been laid centuries ago. One can almost imagine the clip clop of horse-drawn carriages in the air while walking down the beautifully historical streets and gazing in the vintage shops that each have their own unique personality and charm.

There is a certain air that blows through Stockholm, one of strong confidence and tradition, but also one with more energy and vibrancy than I have yet experienced in Malmö. It wasn’t just the One Direction concert – there were performers singing in the streets, a group of people loudly protesting in front of the royal palace, and just a general buzz in the air that seemed to infuse itself into your skin and make you crave to find out more about this old and beautiful city.

Hopefully we as a class will act more upon this craving and try and figure out exactly what gives Stockholm that feeling of something more.

To be continued, but here is a picture to help keep your curiosities satisfied while we explore more of this amazing city!

the malmo hogskulaKCAD students walking across the main bridge into gamla stan

Day Three - Trip to the Malmo Hogskula and Lund by Emily and Sarah

By Emily:

Our day started with a lecture from Christel Brost at the Malmo Hogskula. Ms. Brost is a Swedish native who studied photography at the Lund University. With a yearning to leave Sweden, she moved to New York City to work independently before becoming the photo editor for both Rolling Stone and Esquire. She then returned the Sweden and started teaching, and she now teaches at the Malmo Hogskula.

the malmo hogskulaInside the Malmo Hogskula

The message we received was “to go on a quest for lagom.” Lagom keeps you in a mindset of blending in and keeping yourself in your own place.

Spar Smakad (Swedish Design) is to hold back tastefully. This goes along with the Jante Law which states that you’re not better than anyone else and no one else is better than you.

These messages are different from the design mindset back home in Grand Rapids. I’ve noticed that our mindset is to make our work stand out and to be specific in our detail. We judge the art and design all around us comparatively to our own work and the art featured in our city, state and country, and even beyond into the work of other countries and historical time periods. We are the opposite of Lagom with our creativity.

The Sketch Museum

After the Malmo Hogskula, we took a short train ride to Lund where we toured around the Sketch Museum. We observed rough drawings, sculptural prototypes, and what was considered to be “rejected or undesirable” art from a wide variety of designers. Our tour guide, Ambrin Carlstein, took us to rooms filled with these varies categories of work, each in a different stage of the design process, a concept we’re very familiar with at KCAD.

In working on school projects, the beginning stages of the design process are usually resource gathering and concept connections. It’s a tough process, but without the first step projects can/will lack finesse and value.

sculpture in the Sketch MuseumScultpure Inside the Sketch Museum

The museum showed us that the process of design isn’t meant to be an added filler set forth by professors to make our workload as unbearable as possible; it’s a proven process that all great designers use. The museum was unconventional in displaying gesture sketches that designers don’t usually want to reveal, but for students, that’s something we strive to see to figure out what we have to do to make it the world as professionals.


The town of Lund has what Americans would consider that old European charm. It featured hidden alleyways that went nowhere, little cafes with tons of seating, and way more people riding bikes than driving cars. The town is relaxing with its carefree and slow pace. There was a wide variety of architecture, gardens, shopping, and restaurants.

church in Lund, SwedenChurch in Lund

t offered a nice spot for free time and many of us were sad to be leaving. Many of us went shopping and continued sightseeing and taking pictures after our tour of the sketch museum. If offered the perfect carefree European experience!

America is a fast-paced environment where everyone is in a hurry. We don’t just simply go out for the day, we are on a mission to get things accomplished. Waiting 30 minutes or longer to receive the bill at the end of your meal is not how we do things. We rush ourselves and those around us with everything we set out to accomplish. Sometimes it’s just nice to take a second to smell the roses.

From Sara: An Epiphany from a First Time World Traveler

Now, I’ve never been one to be overly superstitious. Spilling a little salt doesn’t lead me to furiously toss grains over my shoulder; a broken mirror doesn’t cause me worry for the next seven years; and I certainly don’t think twice about walking under a ladder. But today, on Friday the 13th of June, I was getting the heebie-jeebies as we toured our way through Sweden.

We began the day at Malmo Hogskola, where I proceeded to seemingly just tip over from a standing position as we toured the school. It seemed odd, because I usually have the uncanny ability to stand upright without falling over. Then, as the group began exiting the building, I violently tripped in a doorway, requiring the brace of a friend to keep from having an after-breakfast cement snack. This unusually clumsy behavior only increased in the train station, where I nearly fell backwards on an escalator because I managed to stand exactly where the steps separate. Ugh. Seriously, I’m pretty sure I figured out escalators by the time I was ten.

As the day grew dim, my horribly uncoordinated behavior almost lead to the loss of teeth, blood, and definitely a few eyeballs on numerous occasions due to stairs, sidewalks, and of course, that unfamiliar Swedish air. It wasn’t until the bus ride back to the dorms that I realized it was Friday the 13th and then everything made sense. This cursed day was the cause of all my stumbles, trips, biffs, and blunders.

My conclusion from all of this? Do your best not to be in a foreign country on Friday the 13th because it will BREAK you. Unless you normally have awesome balancing skills like me, because honestly, if I was naturally a huge klutz I’d probably be chillin' in a hospital bed right now.

Now I know what you’re thinking… Sara, don’t you think that your accident potential increased due to the fact that you spent the majority of the day rubbernecking instead of watching where you were walking? Or because you were way too excited to gawk at the Turning Torso, the Lund Cathedral, or all of the other stunning sights in Sweden?

Psh, how silly of you to ask. Of course that wasn’t it. It was Friday the 13th’s fault… 

Day Two - Getting Settled by Kaylee and JoJo 

From Kaylee:

Today, the group met at 10AM. We walked to Central Station to get our bus passes and stopped for coffee at Patisserie David along the way. From there we explored Old Town, got lunch, and met at the Form Design Center. After our tour, we had the rest of the evening to explore!

Patisserie David

Fun Fact: In Sweden coffee drinking is fostered through a tradition in which friends, family, or colleagues meet for coffee or tea, often with something sweet on the side. This is called fika (fee•kah), and Swedes really love their coffee. Most Swedes enjoy at least one fika a day as an opportunity to bond.

books artworkInside the Patisserie David

High School Graduate Celebration

Today, we discovered that in Sweden it is tradition for high school students to dress in white and wear sailor style caps called Uppsala / Lund Caps for their graduation. Throughout the day, students raid the streets, blowing whistles and horns for hours and celebrating their successes.

books artworkIn Sweden, High School graduates celebrate with a parade

Form/Design Center

The Form/Design Center is a meeting place for ideas in design and architecture. Every year, they put on over twenty exhibitions including industrial design, crafts, furniture and textile design, architecture and urban planning, fashion, graphic design, and illustration. Form/Design Center also has a program of lectures, workshops, and seminars and is an arena for the exchange of ideas between designers, the public, academic research, and trade and industry.  Visit their website, it was really cool! http://www.formdesigncenter.com

books artworkInside the From Design Center

Today was our first full day in Sweden, and let's just say we didn’t waste any time.

From JoJo:

Today was so amazing! My group and I met someone from California. His name is Max, and he told us what to go out to do and where to go!! Throughout the whole day we noticed the graduates and how excited they were for life! It was an amazing experience to be involved in! They drove around in trucks that resembled dump trucks, and they were blasting loud music, shouting, and blowing whistles - what an awesome experience!

books artworkThe KCAD Sweden Experience crew

Stay tuned for more along our trip! But for now, Hallä (Hello, I think) from Sweden!

Day One - A Long 24 Hours by Abby

Between traffic jams on the expressway to O’Hare, Rennie’s suitcase being damaged beyond repair, a train strike, and our lack of knowledge of the early closing time of most Swedish businesses (seriously, we tried to get dinner at 9pm and almost everything was closed!), we’ve had quite a day. We also settled into our dorms, made our way walking through rain, dealt with non-English-speaking cabbies, and had a grocery store adventure.

books artworkArriving in Sweden

And that’s what this is: an adventure. We’re stepping out of the KCAD bubble and striking out on a different course, even for just two weeks. I can only imagine how our bravery will increase as the days progress, and I hope we’ll be able to keep that maverick spirit in both our personal lives and our work as designers.

books artworkSearching for dinner on our first night in Sweden


  • Amy Henrickson June 12, 2014

    That’s the spirit!  Travel is all about embracing your experiences, even (especially?)the unexpected ones.

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