Takeshi Kaji and John Castronuovo used to study Swedish at Columbia University. John felt he had to “because my mother is Swedish and she actually helped me get a dual citizenship.” Takeshi picked Swedish because a friend of his is half-Swedish, and he had just spent some time learning Icelandic on his own.
“I began Swedish the same way actually,” he says, “by picking up a book. It was hard, very hard. I speak French, but Swedish was more challenging.”
John, who was used to the sound of Swedish, says that he was resistant to learning Swedish in his youth.
“I understood much more than I could speak, I knew the basic vocabulary.”
This past summer, they both applied for scholarships to study Swedish in Sweden, Takeshi on the island of Tjörn and John in Malung. Their professor in Swedish, Verne Moberg, had recommended them. They were both accepted.
“There were 30 guys and 6 girls, so it was a bit tilted,” says John. “Me and this other older guy — he was like 60 — were the only Americans. Most of the other students were Russian. It was very nice. We made field trips to Mårbacka (the estate where Selma Lagerlöf was born and died), and we went to where they make Dalahästar and got to make our own. One girl cut herself badly, and there was blood everywhere, I felt bad for her. We also took a lot of bike rides.”
Takeshi also enjoyed his 14-day long stay. He said the food was amazing.
“I especially liked filmjölk. Every morning they served muesli and filmjölk and havregrynsgröt. It was very good. For lunch they served international food. I like to go to grocery stores when I come to a new country, and I thought the funniest product in Sweden was ‘mellanmjölk’ — middle milk!”
John says he found the literature part of his course the most satisfying, and that amazed him. He never thought he’d be so interested in poetry.
“I liked how the whole course was geared towards doing presentations.”
Neither one of them met any Swedish people except the teachers.
“Well, after I was done in Tjörn I actually went to Stockholm where I stayed with a Swedish family I had run into in California,” says Takeshi. “I called them up and asked if I could stay with them and I walked right into a birthday party, which was cool. There was a cake and I was taught to sing ‘Ja må hon leva.’ I visited a lot of museums in Stockholm, because museums there are free if you’re under 18, which I was then. The oddest thing about Sweden was that there are no post offices. I had to go to ICA to buy a stamp!”
Both Takeshi and John plan on returning to Sweden. Both would like to work there.
“I plan to become a doctor, so I would like to work in Sweden,” says John. “I love Sweden, especially in the summertime, the way it stays bright is truly unique.”
Takeshi says he would like to teach English in Sweden. This semester, however, he is studying Russian.
“And that’s much, much harder than Swedish!”

Swedish at Columbia University
The Swedish Program at Columbia is over a century old. It goes back to at least 1896. This makes it pretty old, since the first Scandinavian department in the country was founded in Madison in 1875. Around the turn of the century language courses were taught in Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian, plus Old Norse. There were also literature courses in several of these areas. Today Columbia University offers Elementary Swedish I and II and Intermediate Swedish I and II. In addition, there is a course each semester in Swedish and/or Scandinavian literature, film, or culture. Columbia’s Swedish courses are four-credit academic language courses that fulfill the requirements of the university. They involve regular attendance and homework assignments plus quizzes as well as midterm and final examinations. Each course involves four hours of classroom instruction per week, and the semester runs for fourteen weeks. A number of students have successfully created their own programs with an emphasis in Swedish and Nordic studies. By completing the basic language courses and enrolling regularly in Scandinavian culture courses (both in the Swedish Program and through other programs in the university or at institutions abroad in Scandinavia) it is possible to achieve this result.
There are also Swedish program events at Deutsches Haus at Columbia. These presentations, including drama, literary readings, and social and political talks and forums, serve as an essential supplement to the regular curriculum in the Swedish Program. Deutsches Haus is located at 420 West 116th Street, near Amsterdam Avenue.
For more information about the Swedish program at Columbia University: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/swedish/home/main.html


10 good reasons why you should study Swedish at Columbia
"…it was a relief to hold up the moderating Swedish mirror to my Greek exaggeration. It naturally made me feel a little less Greek, but my writings gained in objectivity and freedom. It was a kind of magic." Theodor Kallifatides (famous Greek immigrant writer in Sweden)
1. Here you can find courses in folktales, political poetry, Nordic film classics (from silent movies to the Dogma), feminist literature criticism, the sex wars of Ibsen and Strindberg, and the underpublicized charms of Scandinavia’s personable and civilized cities.
2. You can learn to communicate with individuals who are ecologically high consciousness, pro-active on equality, technologically ingenious, and unanimously literate.
3. You will get to know the people who invented dental implants, zippers, monkey wrenches, cream separators, ball bearings, safety matches, turbo engines, paper milk cartons, propellers, modern telephones, safe cars, smörgåsbord, and not only dynamite but also the Nobel Prize (for peace, among other things).
4. Learn to understand a part of the world where nearly half the government consists of women, same-sex partners have legal rights and benefits, and it is against the law either to spank children or fire employees.
5. Most Swedes have cousins in America and are curious about the place. About a quarter of the population of Sweden emigrated here starting in the mid-nineteenth century.
6. You can learn about a place with one of the world's longest life spans and lowest infant mortality rates.
7. This is the world's third most successful exporter of pop music, and Stockholmers go to the theater about eight times more often than New Yorkers.
8. Enrolled in our courses, you will definitely get to know your teacher and classmates.
9. The lilt of the language is lovely, and you can learn it.
10. Once you do, you can go to Sweden and discover for yourself whether blondes have more fun.