American diplomats get an education by engaging with the people, politics, and panoramas of Sweden.

Friday, December 2, 2011

BlogOm: New Address and Thanks!

Over the past two years we have been so thankful that so many Swedes and Americans have found our blog interesting and useful. When we started this blog, we weren't sure what kind of reception we would get. The welcome we received was much more than we ever could have hoped for. Former Ambassador Barzun loved reading all the wonderful messages that were sent him about his musings on things Swedish and the connections between the US and Sweden. It has been no different for us following his departure. We want to thank everyone for their support, comments and suggestions!

We are not going away though! We have a new Ambassador and a new blog! Ambassador Mark Brzezinski and his wife Natalia will be blogging about their experiences, impressions and thoughts at "Brzezinski Blog" at the following address:

Please come and join us at our new blog and get to know our new Ambassadorial family!

Thanks for everything from BlogOm and the US Embassy Sweden!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Blog Om: An Evening Out

Anna and Laura about to dance for science! 

On Friday night, we got dressed up.  We put on our dancing shoes and headed out for an evening of science.  That’s right, science.  We had the privilege to attend the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences’ (IVA) 92th annual meeting and banquet.  The event celebrated Swedish contributions to advancements in science, economics, business and engineering.  We learned that the biggest telescope to be built in Sweden in 35 years is ready for use outside Gothenburg.  We learned that scientists in Uppsala are building a long mini-submarine to help study lakes under glaciers at the South pole.  We learned that a research lab is figuring out how to use a laser to quickly identify metal types in order to recycle more scrap metal.  We learned that researchers from KTH have reportedly discovered a new nitrogen oxide molecule which could help produce greener rocket fuel in the future.  There’s only one word to describe these advancements: Wow.

During the annual meeting, the members of IVA honored Sonya Kovalevsky, the first woman to become a full professor of mathematics in modern times.  And that happened in Sweden in the 19th century.  She is still remembered today, 120 years after her death, for making huge strides as a mathematician and for breaking ground for women in academia. Honoring Sonya Kovalevsky was particularly meaningful given a fact we learned the day before: that only around 15 percent of graduates from undergraduate engineering programs in the United States are women.  Sonya Kovalevsky lived in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Berlin and Stockholm, all because she wanted to study.  Now scholarships and conferences are named after her, some of which are meant to bring more women into mathematics.  An inspirational legacy that is still needed today.

While we listened, we could not help looking around and thinking about science today.  Science, research, math, engineering, business… it’s all global.  The people in these industries are global problem solvers, roll models and innovators.  They are diplomats, just like us. 

After the annual meeting, the group moved from the Stockholm Concert Hall to the Stockholm City Hall for a banquet to celebrate all this success.  We sat and ate in the same room where the Nobel Prize banquet is held.  And then there was dancing.

Laura Kirkconnell and Anna Stinchcomb

Monday, October 31, 2011

BlogOm: Does Research Actually Spur Innovation?

Last week we had the honor of attending events with Dr. Subra Suresh, the Director of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), where he featured as both a speaker and panelist.  We learned a lot about how our own government funds, supports and promotes science.  Did you know:

·         NSF’s mission is to fund all types of research including “pure” research just for curiosity’s sake;
·         Overhead is less than 6% of the total NSF budget of $7 billion;
·         NSF gave a purely mathematical grant to Sergey Brin and Larry Page – the two men who ended up founding Google;
·         NSF funds social science research because all our predictive powers about the planet don’t save lives if we don’t know how people respond to predictions!

Dr Suresh challenged our thinking with a few out-of-the-box questions.  Our favorite was: Does funding research matter?  The answer is up to you.  Think about Sergey Brin and Larry Page.  Did they invent something?  Did they create jobs?  Did they change the world? ''

Here’s another one.  What do Alfred Nobel and the NSF have in common?  194 Nobel Laureates have been supported by NSF since 1950. 

Dr Suresh was hosted by KTH University and by IVA (the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences). The discussions came back again and again to innovation, which is taking center stage in university and public policy planning.  All speakers agreed on one thing: without constant innovation, whole economies run the risk of falling behind on a global scale.  Getting to the heart of innovation – learning what ecosystems nurture it and finding the risk takers who embrace it – is one of the most pressing challenges of the coming decade. We felt grateful to witness two events that contribute to the core of that discussion.

-- Anna and Rachel from the US Embassy Stockholm Economic Section

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

BlogOm: Women Working Together

Last night, I had the honor to host a truly special event at the Ambassador’s Residence, the closing cocktail reception for the Swedish-American Executive Women’s Conference.The Conference gives business women on both sides of the Atlantic an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas on how to support and mentor the women business executives of today and tomorrow. It’s the tenth time they’ve had this event, which rotates between Sweden and New York.

Their conference had featured remarkably open and free discussions of a wide range of issues from how to leverage the new media scene to how counterfeiting is not a victimless crime.  It ended with an amazing nine-year old Swedish entrepreneur who started a business where she and other kids sell kanelbullar to raise money for Save the Children.

I was especially grateful for the opportunity to host this group, because empowering women through entrepreneurship is an expanding focus of US foreign policy. My “boss,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, recently formed the International Council on Women’s Business Leadership, where leaders around the globe advise her on how to integrate business interests and women’s empowerment into overall foreign policy.  We are very fortunate that former Minister for Enterprise and Energy Maud Olofsson accepted Secretary Clinton’s invitation to join this Council.  

The United States is not alone in this interest, of course.  A recent summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)  adopted a declaration that affirmed each member’s  commitment to improving women’s access to capital and markets, building women’s capacities and skills, and supporting the rise of women leaders in both the public and private sectors.

Secretary Clinton spoke at this APEC conference on the symbolic impact of this declaration, saying  it went beyond advancing the rights of women, achieving justice and equality on women’s behalf. The goal boldly extends beyond women to all humankind. It is to “give every one of our citizens, men and women alike, young and old alike, greater opportunity to find work, to save and spend money, to pursue happiness ultimately to live up to their own God-given potentials.” 

You can read Secretary Clinton’s speech at

We at the U.S.  Embassy here in Stockholm look forward to advancing our collaboration with Sweden to promote women in politics and business.  The U.S. State Department has programs where we seek to support women’s entrepreneurship in developing countries, such as Pathways to Prosperity, which connects policymakers and private sector leaders in 15 countries across the Americas, and the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program. The U.S. private sector is also quite active, including Goldman Sachs, Coca Cola and Wal-Mart are undertaking. 

I know this is a priority of the U.S. Government, and of Sweden.  My embassy colleagues and I are excited by the possibilities to expand our work with Sweden in this area.  And, meeting this engaged group of women business leaders makes me see more and more possibilities of great things we could do together. 

So, I want to extend a special thanks to Reneé Lundholm for organizing this conference and making our evening possible, and to the wonderful group of American and Swedish women business leaders.

- Laura Kirkconnell

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blog Om: Embrace!

Yesterday I participated in the opening of a new art exhibition in Växjö called Embrace!  Embrace! explores the immigration experience through art and culture.  The exhibition is hosted in Växjö's Utvandrarnas hus, allowing visitors to begin by reflecting on the history of the hundreds of thousands of Swedes who emmigrated to the United States from Småland from 1840-1930 and the art produced by those early Swedish immigrants.  But Embrace! brings the long history of Swedish-American migration into relevance for today by featuring the work of current Swedish artists living and working in the United States.  Embrace! draws upon the expression through art of past and present Swedish immigrants to foster contemplation of the experience of the many immigrants to Sweden who have settled in Småland.  
Bishop and Imam of Växjö and Rabbi of Stockholm help open Embrace!

The exhibition comes from the life, love, and creativity of an indominable Chinese woman who emmigrated to the United States, and then again to Sweden.  Curator Lixuan An grew up in the United States with many of the confused and conflicted feelings immigrants have as they try to find a place in a new society.  After leaving the pervasive diversity of New York City to settle in Växjö with her Swedish husband and their daughter, Lixuan felt what she describes as "a curious chasm between generous immigration policies and the native Swedes' lack of emotional embrace for newcomers."  After learning of the history of Swedish migration to America from Småland, Lixuan wondered "if Swedish people actively embraced this important part of their history, perhaps they would find a new empathy for those who come to Sweden today."  That was the beginning of Embrace!
The U.S. Embassy is proud to be a sponsor of Embrace!  Culture has historically been a very effective means for engendering safe, constructive contemplation and discussion of sensitive issues.  There is no doubt that immigration, and the influences it has on both the immigrants and their new home societies, is a sensitive topic today in both Sweden and the United States.  It just makes so much sense to look at this set of issues through the cultural experiences of immigrants themselves.  For members of the "majority community" it can remind that - in the past and present - people just like them who have immigrated to a new land have the same feelings and desires to keep hold of parts of their home culture while seeking to understand, embrace, and be embraced, by their new home, as those new neighbors from unfamiliar places.  For those who have immigrated, the themes and images of Embrace! can make them feel more secure, knowing that they are not alone in the displacement they feel and that by giving the best of who they are, they can enrich, and become enriched by, their new home.
I encourage you to visit Embrace! at Utvandrarnas hus in Växjö through January 28, 2012, at Alvesta kommuns uställningshall from September 22 - October 31, 2011 and in Ljungby at Ljunbergmuseet October 1-31, 2011.  Details at

Public Affairs Officer Chris Dunnett

Friday, August 26, 2011

Blog Om: Science, Nature and Economy

Nature is the Economy

That’s what I learned last night.

I had the honor to attend the magnificent Royal Gala where Stephen Carpenter received the 2011 Stockholm Water Prize. Dr. Carpenter is Professor of Zoology and Limnology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States.  His groundbreaking research combined theoretical models and large-scale research on lakes to show how lake ecosystems are impacted by humans and the surrounding landscape.  He helped us understand how we all affect lakes by the way we farm, fish, and bring in exotic species – and what we should do about it. His findings have led to concrete improvements in managing lakes.

The evening was filled with many delights.  The excitement and grandeur of a Royal event; a highly entertaining, charming Master of Ceremonies; splendid music, including an amazing 15-year old student from Lilla Akademien playing a beautiful piece that sounded like Gershwin and classical music at the same time, and the most evocative folk music as a chorus of women seemed to be standing of the shores of the Bohuslan Coast longing for their men out at sea.  But none of that was the highlight.

The stunning beauty of City Hall, with its Golden Room and Blue Room; such creative, even artistic, Swedish cuisine; the many fascinating people I met – wonderful, but not the highlight. Seeing the humble joy and satisfaction of an American professor and scientist honored for a lifetime of work – that touched my heart, but it was not the highlight.

The highlight started with the buzz at my table among the Stockholm International Water Prize Laureates from the United States, India, Australia and elsewhere talking excitedly about the lively seminar they had  earlier in the day.  They said it was not the usual Power Points, or paper presentations, but a real dialog where people with very, very different views listened to each other, had their views shaped by each other, and reached “convergence.”  Convergence, not consensus, they said.  Convergence around what?  I needed to know. But, I was timid that I might not understand the answer if I asked these chemical engineers, zoologists, ecological scientists, and limnologists what their great minds converged on.  (I had to look up what limnology was – it’s the study of freshwater, like lakes.) 

Fortunately, Dr. Carpenter used  his Tack för Maten (and Tack for the honor of the Award) speech to tell us what they learned in their seminar that day.

I tried to remember each word, but can only offer a poor paraphrase.

Nature is the economy.  And water flows through it all.  Food security, human health, biodiversity, and so many other things that make our planet livable depend on water. Finance, prices, all of that, are only an approximation of what has real value - what we depend on to live. The problem is that pricing is not realistic because it does not reflect the value of things in the real economy – nature.

When I am not acting as Chief or Deputy Chief of the U.S. Embassy, I’m an Economic Officer.  I have learned that economies only work when we get the incentives right, when we reward good behavior and discourage bad behavior.  That’s why President Obama proposed to the G-20 that we eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels. As long as we subsidize green house gas producing energy sources, we will encourage too much production and consumption of those fuels.  The decisions people make when we shop, invest, an go through our daily lives will not reflect the real value, the real cost.  We need to align economic incentives with the real economy – nature.

Thank you to the Stockholm International Water Institute for bringing together such a passionate group of scientists, engineers, government officials, activists, business people, young people and others for the 21st annual World Water Week in Stockholm.  Thank you for giving me such a great lesson.

Laura Kirkconnell, acting Chargé d'Affaires

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Blog om: Water and science

One of the fun things about being Charge’ d’ Affairs this week is that as Head of the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm, I got to meet Alison Bick from Short Hills, New Jersey, winner of the 2011 Stockholm Junior Water Prize!
I met Alison during a wonderful event last night celebrating all 54 finalists, age 15-24, from 28 countries.  The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said that 9000 young scientists had applied in this year’s competition. 

After four years of research on water pollution, Alison discovered a way to use mobile phones to accurately test for harmful bacteria in water.  She did this while in high school!  She just graduated and is on her way to Princeton.

Years ago, my younger brother did a high school research project on water pollution, measuring levels of harmful bacteria in Tampa Bay, Florida.  We were very proud of him, but his project never grew to anything like this!  To be fair, he was working before mobile phones.  But Alison was not content with merely measuring pollution, she found a way to empower people to measure water pollution themselves with technology almost all of us now carry around in our pocket.

I was inspired by meeting Alison and the other young scientists.  These are people who are using their minds and talents to make a difference – to make our planet better.  On the occasion of the 2010 Stockholm World Water Week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “(…) being serious about dealing with and adapting to climate change is about being serious about water.”   We are all fortunate that great minds like these are so serious about water.

And my younger brother?  He did OK.  He went to Georgia Tech, now has a teenager of his own, and works for a company where he helped invent a solar power source that U.S. Marines are using in Afghanistan.   It folds out of a small plastic suitcase, and powers all sorts of things – even mobile phones! 

- Laura Kirkconnell