No one can escape the Swedes at Chicago's North Park University
The Swedish Invasion
No one can escape the Swedes at Chicago's North Park University. North Park University was founded in 1891 by the Covenant Church to offer Swedish immigrants the education and skills that would help them be successful in America. Today, a recent and continuous rise in the number of Swedish students indicates that the original intentions of the Swedish immigrants are resurfacing.
North Park’s Swedish presence has certainly been apparent in the past, but it wasn’t until recently that the figures began to amplify. According to statistics from the school’s International Office, a substantial increase in Swedish students has been seen in the last two years. North Park has had an increase from 18 to 57 enrolled Swedish students during this period. That means North Park enrolled more than three times as many Swedish students this year compared to two years ago. At the moment, the total number of Scandinavian students is 79 (57 Swedes, 18 Norwegians, four Finns). However, it is important to acknowledge that North Park’s general enrollment has increased during this period as well.
According to Charles Peterson, dean of the college, the increase has been seen among the degree-seeking students. North Park has always had an exchange with Södra Vätterbygdens Folkhögskola, a program that consistently brings 15 Swedish exchange students to North Park every year. Also, nursing and business students from Jönköping frequently attend North Park. In this school year, there are also 31 enrolled Swedish degree-seeking students.
According to Ann-Helen Anderson, international student adviser and secretary of the Board of the Center for Scandinavian Studies, it was the name change from North Park College to North Park University in the 1990s that started to attract more Swedes.
“When I first came here 1989 you could count the Swedish students on one hand,” said Anderson.
She also credits the school's soccer team for attracting Swedish students.
Last season, the soccer team had a record 14 Swedes and two Norwegians on the roster. In the last game of the season their starters included nine Swedes and only two Americans.
Johan Söderberg Svensson, a Swedish student and member of the soccer team, came here two years ago to get away from Sweden.
“You can’t escape it,” said a laughing Söderberg Svensson. “Last night we were playing Xbox in my apartment. At one point we were 18 people there—17 Swedes and one Norwegian.”
Exchange student Karin Fröjd, from Jönköping, expected some Swedish exchange students but couldn’t imagine the amount of Swedish degree-seeking students.
“It feels strange with Swedes everywhere when I’m in Chicago,” said Fröjd. “Even the Americans are somehow related to Sweden.”
Joseph Ferguson, an American first-year student and member of the soccer team is still getting used to the Swedish influence.
“I was shocked at first, but by playing on the soccer team I got used to it and it soon became a norm,” said Ferguson. “But it is definitely weird walking around campus and hearing more Swedish being spoken than English.”
A sunny day outside North Park University's oldest building, Old Main, from 1894.