Stockholm Stacks

Penn Stater Tess Kutasz, a graduate student in Art History, is currently studying in Sweden for ten months through the Fulbright Program.

“Winter is coming.” This is what staff members of the Swedish Fulbright commission told me on my first day in Stockholm when I arrived at the end of August. As they put my paperwork in order, the staff encouraged me to get outside and enjoy what was forecast to be one of the year’s last days of warm summer weather.

I will be here in Sweden for ten months and have enjoyed talking with people about my somewhat confusing situation as an American art historian of Italian Renaissance and Baroque collecting, working on documents in Sweden written in French and Italian about ancient Roman objects purchased in 17th century Italy by a Swedish queen. 

My dissertation examines Queen Christina of Sweden’s self-fashioning through the display of her collections, and her involvement in the antiquities market in Rome after she abdicated her throne at the age of 28, converted to Catholicism, and moved to Italy to become one of the periods leading patrons of academics, music, and the arts.

Tess Kutasz stands on a tree-lined path in Sweden

Art History graduate student Tess Kutasz

Graduate student Tess Kutasz is spending ten months in Sweden as part of the Fulbright Program. Studying Art History, Kutasz researches the art collection of 17th century Sweden’s Queen Christina.

Image: Tess Kutasz

Before this trip, I’d visited the country only once on a brief research trip, barely having had the chance to see anything except the inside of the royal archives. I still spend a good deal of my time in libraries and archives, translating the official court records, letters, and palace inventories of Queen Christina, and I have attended several seminars and symposia, making valuable professional contacts.

I’ve [also] made it a point to enjoy my time outside of the archives and have taken advantage of this opportunity to visit museums, travel, meet locals, and try interesting new foods such as reindeer, whale, moose, and cod roe.

The encouragement I received from the Fulbright staff to go outside and enjoy the outdoors upon my arrival—a recommendation I’ve heard reiterated by other Swedes I’ve met since—was not simply a warning of colder days to come, but an earnest suggestion to experience the season and enjoy nature. 

"The connections, academic opportunities, and cultural experiences offered through Fulbright provide personal and professional benefits that will last a lifetime."—Tess Kutasz

Enjoyment, preservation, and understanding of nature is a central part of both individual and national identity for many Swedes, and it is the reason why several of the other Fulbrighters in Sweden have come to study how the country has embraced green research initiatives and ecological business practices.

Along with universal health care and free college education for all Swedes, one of the most frequently mentioned social rights enjoyed by the people here is the “allemansrätten,” or “right of every man” to have access to land, privately owned or not, for the purposes of hiking, skiing, camping, mushrooming, and berry picking or biking so long as individuals do not disturb or destroy the property. 

No matter the season, people here embrace the outdoors with the famous Swedish design aesthetic often highlighting organic functionality and incorporating large, inviting windows. There is something of an indoor-outdoor balance to the lifestyle here with many café patios staying busy, despite the steadily dropping temperatures, by providing lap blankets for customers.

"Enjoyment, preservation, and understanding of nature is a central part of both individual and national identity for many Swedes."—Tess Kutasz

Fika, a social coffee and pastry break taken one or more times a day throughout Sweden, is a constant no matter the weather or daily schedule, and many people here particularly enjoy a small picnic fika when out exploring the countryside. While traveling with locals, I’ve been treated to pre-packed fika to-go everywhere from a stone monolith site in the southern coastal region of Skåne to the side of the road in the middle of the burnt remains of the Västmanland forest.

Sweden typically hosts about seven American Fulbright students each year. The connections, academic opportunities, and cultural experiences offered through Fulbright provide personal and professional benefits that will last a lifetime. Skål! 

About the Fulbright Program

Penn State students are traveling around the world to conduct research, teach English, attend master's degree programs, and more as part of the Fulbright Program, a highly sought-after nine-month international educational exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State.