Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway are four distinct countries with their own cultures, food and politics – despite being grouped together as Scandinavia.

This month, 23 students from across PennWest traveled across these landscapes to immerse themselves in a European experience during Spring Break.

To Allison Dobrinski, a sophomore history major with minors in pre-law and theatre history and literature at PennWest California, this was her opportunity to explore the daily rituals and traditional meals in Scandinavia, focusing on culture through the food of Denmark.

“Having another point of view through an on-ground experience challenges your established perspective to change and look at differently,” she said.

PennWest travelers at Uspenski Cathedral

During the 10-day trip, led by faculty member Dr. Sean Madden of the College of Education, Arts and Humanities, PennWest travelers kicked off their exploration with a walking tour of Helsinki, Finland, to see the Government House, Helsinki University and Uspenski Cathedral.

After exploring Helsinki on a guided tour, the PennWest crew boarded a ferry to travel to Stockholm, Sweden.

“One of the highlights was getting to go on a ferry overnight to travel from Helsinki to Stockholm, because the views were amazing and the experience so unique,” said Claire Mapes, a senior history major at PennWest Clarion.

In Stockholm, an expert local guide led a trip through the Vasa Museum to see a 17th century warship that sank in 1628 and fully recovered and salvaged in 1961. The Vasa is now housed in the museum with approximately 95% of the original wood construction salvaged.

“It's important in understanding our place in the world and what we wish to bring to it,” said Mapes, who spent the academic portion of the trip researching women and gender in Scandinavia. “It expands our minds and gives us new ideas and experiences that we wouldn't get any other way.”

The travelers wrapped up the Stockholm portion of the trip with an exploration of City Hall and dinner in the city.

Allison Dobrinski and her Copenhagen hot dog

“Scandinavian countries have a very rich, historical past, combined with a modern outlook,” said Madden, whose international experience includes a Fulbright fellowship at the National Research University in Perm, Russia. “It is my belief that to know our world – and ourselves – we must visit the world.”

After a quick train ride, it was on to Copenhagen, Denmark, where our PennWest travelers took a walking tour of Old Town and the city hall square. An expert local guide led an excursion through the culinary experience of Copenhagen, where Dobrinski discovered an overlooked delicacy.

“One of the highlights of Copenhagen was experiencing the hot dog stands in Denmark,” she said. “And eating a traditional hotdog was my unexpected highlight of the trip.”

On the final day of the trip, PennWest students and their faculty leaders hopped a ferry to explore Oslo, Norway, to see the site of the Nobel Peace Prize banquet, Oslo University and the Parliament House. The final itinerary items included a visit the Vikingskipshuset (Viking Ship Museum) and the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

In addition to the landmarks and historic sites that students discovered, the trip also served as an opportunity to learn about different lifestyles.

“Scandinavian counties value slowing down and making a meal an experience, as well as enjoying saunas and ice baths for one's health,” Mapes said. “They also all understand the importance of good healthcare and education.”

It was also a chance to learn from other travelers in the group.

“My favorite moment of every day was having breakfast with the group,” Dobrinski said. “It was full of stories and laughter before we would set out adventuring for the day.”

Dr. Sean Madden at SkyWheel Helsinki