Interview with the Director of the Maison des étudiants suédois
I went to Aix-en-Provence to learn French when I was 20 and I stayed for 3 years. First for my university studies, then for work as I obtained an administrative role at a language institute, with accommodation on site, for adults wanting to learn French. I continued my French, economics and political science studies at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. However, I missed France and I returned. This time I went to Paris where I held several different positions within the French-Swedish community, notably as the Head of tourism at the Swedish Institute, the Swedish Cultural Centre. Walking up the steps and going through the Cité internationale’s gate for the first time is quite an experience! Having the imposing Maison internationale building before you is very impressive and gives you the scale of the founding values of peace and solidarity. But my heart skipped a beat when I saw the Maison des étudiants suédois, the smallest building at the Cité internationale, with its blue shutters that are so characteristic of Sweden! There it is, I’m back home!
It’s not only the 150 different nationalities that are simultaneously present but also the fact that all of the disciplines are also present. In general, a campus is managed by a university where the students have the same curriculum. At the Cité internationale, all of the disciplines are represented as there are no on-site universities. A Swede who studies natural sciences can be around a Brazilian with a masters in the saxophone as well as a Frenchman who researches linguistics etc. It’s the Cité internationale’s greatest strength and the students and researchers are very well aware of the opportunity that this presents them with. A large area is also given to artists and musicians as well as top-level athletes who add another dimension to the Cité internationale’s residents.
The Maison des étudiants suédois is the only house that doesn’t have a hallway. The building’s layout, with its large living spaces, promotes conviviality and meetings between residents. Every floor has bedrooms, a kitchen, showers and toilets. The house also has a library and a large lounge where the majority of the cultural events take place. The music studios are on the top level. The Cité’s founding values are more relevant than ever. The system of mixing between the houses offers a very enriching and unforgettable stay thanks to the intercultural contact that builds bridges between people.
“A rainbow isn’t a physical thing. It’s an optical effect whose position depends on the observer and the sun”. This sums up what the former residents said when they came back to the Cité internationale. Between dreams, memories and reality, everything is a palette of colours, nationalities and disciplines all in one place.
Håkan Åkesson graduated in economics from Uppsala University in Sweden and is a former foreign student at the National School of Administration. He also studied at the University of Montpellier. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1995 and has held various positions in Stockholm and abroad. Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission at the Swedish Embassy in Singapore from 1998 to 2002, Ambassador from 2002 to 2005, he was then Ambassador to Turkey from 2010 to 2013. Håkan Åkesson was Director General of Administration at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responsible for EU issues at the Ministry of Finance and then at the Budget Directorate. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of Swedfund International.