Visiting Skåne Sweden
Remembering the Past while Investing in the Future
By: David Pratt, MAST International Manager
Skåne is the southernmost region of Sweden just north of Denmark. Historically this was part of Denmark for hundreds of years, and battles were fought for its location and fertile fields. Even today, many Swedes from this area share a sense of Danish nationalism. In fact, their regional flag shares the red and white of Denmark. This was where I spent my days in Sweden.
I had the privilege to stay with the Hakansson family. Lars was a MAST participant in ’84, and his son Alex just completed his MAST program last year. Both had their training in North Dakota, their farms a mere 20 miles away from each other. Lars took his family back to the Larimore area a few years ago proudly showing them his farm and the famous Larimore bar where he spent a few evenings. Sadly for Lars, but to the complete amusement of his family, the return to the bar was a surreal event. A tree was growing through the front door and it did not appear there had been any drinks served there for many years. When Alex went to see “the bar” a year ago, it was an empty field. A lot can change over the years, but the memories continue on.
The Hakanssons truly believe in the program and how it has changed their lives. With their help, I connected with three agricultural schools in the Skåne area. Two schools were gymnasiets (agricultural colleges). At one school, the students spent three days in class and two days interning on a local farm. The instruction is very technical and it was great to see students using front end loaders and tractors as part of their curriculum. These students will either go on to study further or begin working in the agricultural sector. Another school was in Alnarp and part of the Swedish University system. Students here were farm kids who previously attended a gymnasiet. Now they are taking high level classes on leadership, management, and economics. They will be future agricultural leaders in Sweden and they have the hands on experience too!
The three of us talked about the MAST program and met directly with over 80 students. I am encouraged that over time we will be able to receive many Swedish trainees. There is even better news! Lars is part of a foundation that has money set aside for international endeavors. I went to his board meeting and explained all that MAST has to offer. In the end, students from the Skåne region who attend the MAST program will receive a scholarship covering a minimum of 60% of all their costs. This includes airfare, insurance, program fees, and the study period fees. What a fantastic opportunity for these young men and women.
Beyond the school visits and meetings, I had the opportunity to visit many MAST alumni. They were coming out of the woodwork! I met Joel Svensson ‘00 on his farm, alomg with his father Ulf Svensson who was also a MAST trainee in 1968. What a treat! The stories were remarkable and they were telling them like they happened yesterday. I have worked for the MAST program since 1992, so I remember Joel and have been to his farm visiting his host family several times. I am lucky to share these connections. Ulf had many stories to share. He took a trip during his MAST experience that included witnessing a parade for the astronauts returning from their mission to the moon. He also had the opportunity to meet each presidential nominee for that year’s election; this included our own Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon, and even Robert Kennedy. Wow!
A few days later I went out for burgers with Magnus Dellwik ’86 and Per Johnsson ‘86. Again, these two gentlemen had nothing but fond memories of their MAST experience. Even today, they still meet with their MAST acquaintances every other year in a different country. The group is mostly from 1986, but more alumni from other years are joining the group. Magnus (wearing his vintage MAST t-shirt) said they bring their families to the reunions as well, and even though they were not on the program they seem to be able to retell some of the stories better than those that lived it. One hilarious conversation revolved around their MAST cars – Chevrolet Impala 1974 6.2 liters $420, Lincoln Continental Coupe A ’67 $1200, and a Ford LTD ’74, purchased at a pawn shop because the former owner was shot!
I also had the privilege of meeting Folke Pehrsson ‘65. He came to the program with three other Swedes by airplane and was able to name the type of airplane and just about every detail of the trip. What amazed me more is how he returned home…… by boat! Eight days to get back to Sweden on a boat, and I am sure it is not like the cruises of today. This program has really spanned the years. We hit it off so well that he came back to see me the next day with all his MAST memorabilia in tow. He had his binder, his yearbook, even the pamphlet of the car he purchased while on the program, a yellow 1966 Mustang. Today Folke is a successful farmer and businessman in Sweden.
These visits with alumni hit home the true importance of the MAST program. It was created right after World War II as a means of peace. Through agriculture, foreign trainees would come to the US and have an agricultural and cultural experience, bringing home fond memories of their stay. It was a soft form of diplomacy. Well, from my quick visit I can see that this is surely a success. But it reminds me that we need to continue the cultural and personal exchange between individuals to keep this wonderful program and its goals continuing on into the future. I encourage our trainees to take in every opportunity. Travel when you get a chance. Do and see as much as you can. To our hosts, encourage your trainees to get out and see the US, both locally and throughout the country. Not only encourage this, but make time for these opportunities and take part in it with them if you can. I know that someone else years from now will take a trip similar to mine, and hear of all the wonderful experiences had by our current trainees and hosts.
So I am back in the office now with my batteries recharged, and my spirit high! I will look back fondly on this wonderful trip to Sweden. I know this is one visit that could be replicated in many other places in the world and it brings a big smile to my face. Thanks for being part of a fantastic program.
Skol - David