Any Pitta student who wants to learn Swedish will sooner or later end up with Eva Albertson – after all, she is the only teacher who learns Swedish.
But that’s not what she really thinks. She loves small classes and working with students who are really interested in their native language and culture.
They tried to make room for Swedish in their schedule. They often have a personal interest, Albertson said. I never get anyone who doesn’t want to be there [in class], and as a teacher it’s such a gift.
For the last 16 years Albertson has been Sweden’s only university professor. She independently teaches eight levels of Swedish and a course in Swedish culture, runs Pitt’s Swedish Studies Abroad program and advises the Swedish baby.
Her path to one of Pitt’s Swedish wives was unclear. Albertson, a Swedish citizen, originally wanted to become a lawyer in her homeland. Her mother was a police officer working with refugees and she saw how the law could be used to help people. But in hindsight, Albertson knows that his view of the legal field was unrealistic.
I realized I was wearing very pink glasses when it came to [the law]. I was more concerned with law and order, she said.
Hannah Heisler | frame photographer
Although she was not part of her life plan, Albertson always knew she was interested in learning the language. In Sweden, students complete nine years of compulsory education before going to upper secondary school or continuing their studies, where they specialise in an academic subject, depending on their plans for admission to university. The Albertson program was very extensive and enabled him to pursue a wide range of interests. She took the opportunity to learn eight languages – Danish, Russian, Norwegian, English, German, French, Italian and Latin.
Subsequently she received a Swedish-American Foundation scholarship for the Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. When Albertson returned to Sweden, she wanted to continue learning English in order to meet the language requirements of the law school. On the advice of her mother, she enrolled in a language course at Lund University and suddenly fell in love with teaching.
I literally wanted to do it for about a year or so to see what I thought of it, she said. I never went to law school and I never looked back. I enjoyed it. As soon as I was in class, I found my place.
Albertson met her current husband at Lund University. After his graduation he joined a multinational company as an engineer, where a couple had to move constantly for several months. For about nine years, Albertson took extended leave to follow her partner around the world, in countries such as Australia and South Korea, but she returned to Sweden many times.
When the family finally arrived in Pittsburgh, Albertson decided it was time to move to a place that would offer his children a more stable life. She was left behind while her husband went to work.
We came here and it was easy, sorry for the joke about daddy, Pitt Stop for two years, but that was 20 years ago, she says. Our children wanted to grow up in one place and go to school in one place.
Albertson applied for a job on a whim, four years after moving to Pittsburgh. She found out about the opening through a mailing list of the Scandinavian Association of Western Pennsylvania, which originally appeared in the spam folder of the general mailbox of her and her husband. By the time she saw it, the deadline for applications had already passed.
My husband went the other way and decided to search our spam folder and found the [mailing list] at 4 in the morning, Albertson said. It was Sunday night, Monday morning. I woke up and called around 8am, and [the department] listened to my CV, said: “Come in, you interviewed me that day, and everything else is in the past.
Claude Mock became director of the Centre for Lesser Used Languages in the same semester that Albertson started teaching at Pitt. Originally, the faculty only offered four semesters of Swedish courses without the opportunity to take the minor, but Mauk felt that Swedish students should have the same depth as other language students.
You can study Spanish for four years, so why not study Swedish for four years? Mook said.
According to Mauk, Albertson played an important role in the expansion of the Swedish programme, mainly because she was the only one who had the knowledge to develop high-level Swedish programmes at the LCTL.
I can’t press a button and the program will magically expand, he said. Albertson, like most of the other speakers in the centre, has its own language programme. He is the driving force behind the development of the Swedish programme.
Albertson said she wanted to make Swedish education practical for her students. For her it is important to get to know a minor, because that means that at the end of their Swedish career students have real documents in their transcripts to prove their language skills.
It was my motivation to make it useful to the student, not just the language you use for fun, she said. But to make it something that students can use when they leave Pitt, something they can use in their CVs, in their interviews.
Swedish language courses are usually taught in much lower classes than other language courses. In the first year of Albertsson’s Swedish course there are usually about 20 students and the size of the class decreases as the level rises. This semester she has only one student – Lovisa Ljungquist Brinson, who is also an assistant teacher for Swedish 2 – in her Swedish 8 course.
Hannah Heisler | frame photographer
Ljungqvist Brinson, a young neuroscientist, came to Swedish because she grew up there with her family and did not want to lose her speaking skills during her studies. Albertson’s lessons focus on authentic conversation, and Jungquist Brinson said the content was in her own interest.
Usually I describe the lessons with [Albertson] as play dates. It’s never boring, she says. Right now we are talking about the Vikings, their history, their runes and their [Norwegian] deities. I’m very interested in [these subjects] and she knows it.
Lungquist Brinson also said that Albertson genuinely cares about his students. She tries not to give the students too much work when they are busy and constantly monitors their mental health.
She’ll ask me: Are you busy this week? Do I have to give this written order? – Lungquist Brinson said. She’ll switch places to make sure you can do your best and that you’re okay.
Besides her husband and three sons, the whole Albertson family still lives in Sweden, and she comes back every year to visit them. Although he misses his family and his homeland, Albertson feels as much at home in Pittsburgh as he does in Sweden.
I always say I have one foot in every country. When I’m here, I’ll talk about going back to Sweden. When I talk about going back [to the United States], I’m also talking about going home, she said. I really feel at home in both places.
But sometimes cultural differences between the two Albertssson houses are noticeable. Sometimes she still feels uncomfortable when Americans want to open up to foreigners, because Sweden tends to call less. In fact, small talk can be translated into Swedish as kallprat, which literally means cold language.
I take it literally like a Swede. I only talk when I really talk, Albertson said. They say it takes a long time to get to know each other. You don’t know anyone until you’re ten years old, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be invited to their house. I don’t think that’s true, but there is a grain of truth in this case.
Although she loves the United States, Albertson knows she has strayed from the culture of the United States. In Pittsburgh she feels like a Swede, but when she comes back to Sweden, she feels like an American.
I always hear that I’m not a typical Swede when I come back, she said. I’m happy [in both places], but I stand out. When I’m at home, I’m a woman living in the United States, and when I’m here, I’m Swedish. So you’re getting a little lost.
In the end, however, Albertson finds it important to acknowledge cultural differences. During the Maymester program in Pitt, Sweden, she takes students on guided tours to show them aspects of Swedish life that Americans generally find confusing, such as the Swedish education system and politics.
The trip takes place on the campus of Uppsala. Albertson brings his students together with language partners from local universities in the hope that they will get to know each other’s cultures and stay in touch after the program has ended. Although young Swedes can speak English and consume the American media, Albertson said students begin to recognize their differences as soon as they engage in deeper conversation.
I show them that although we may be very similar on the surface, she said, there are differences, and we have to be aware of those differences. We like to search and investigate them.
And I show them that not everything is like in Midsommar, she adds with a smile.morning edition china,npr recent stories