“I am so happy to be here”, says Alvina Erman, this evening’s perhaps newest alumnus. She completed her studies in Lund in Sweden last year and, together with her Canadian friend and former Lund student Jean-Francois Trinh Tan, she has come to attend Lund University’s very first alumni event in Washington DC.
It is a warm November evening and as the dusk sets in over the United States capital, there is a stream of people – both young and old – heading toward the House of Sweden, beautifully located down by the Potomac River. The house is home to both the Swedish and Icelandic embassies, and is known for its exhibitions (currently about Ingrid Bergman), conference halls and other events.
Alvina Erman was pleasantly surprised when she received an invitation to the event. She’s excited about hearing stories from other Lund alumni about how they ended up in the United States. Alvina herself studied economics, which has since led her first to the World Bank, followed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), where her friend Jean-Francois Trinh Tan works as well.
“It’s always fun to meet new people – especially if you have something in common that unites you, such as having studied in Lund”, she says.
The House of Sweden is quickly filled and the organisers, Ulrika Nilsson and Michelle Ariga from the Development Office, Anne Messeter from External Relations, professor Katarina Olsson from the Faculty of Law, and chair of the LU board Jonas Hafström, are busy talking to and mingling with both the embassy staff and people from business and industry, donors, and old and new alumni.
Many contacts are made and there joyful reunions. In the crowd you can spot a great big ambassador’s hug between Jonas Hafström (former Swedish ambassador to the US), Björn Lyrvall (current Swedish ambassador) and Mark Brzezinski (former US ambassador to Sweden), among many others. The latter concludes the evening with an engaging speech about Raoul Wallenberg and the importance of not being indifferent.
The organisers take a breather, noting that more people attended than they had ever dared to hope for. A few hours ago they got off the train from New York, where they had attended another alumni event the other night, as well as a board meeting with members of the Lund University Foundation. By now they are quite accustomed to New York, and were more excited about tonight’s debut event in the capital.
LU established itself in the US five years ago. At the time, Karolinska Institutet, Chalmers and Uppsala University were already present. The US is the land of philanthropy, and fundraising is a natural phenomenon.
“Staying in contact with one’s higher education institution is a common occurrence, and people are happy to give back if they are able to”, says Ulrika Nilsson.
She is working to have this spirit spread to the Lund University alumni as well. Ideally, she would prefer the relationship between the University and the alumni to begin to form the day the studies commence.
“Today, a lot of people are extremely surprised when we contact them. People who have not heard from us in thirty years….But at the same time they are excited. There is a will to become involved”, says Ulrika Nilsson.
Back then – five years ago – there were approximately 111 registered LU alumni in the United States. Today, there are nearly 3,500. This is the result of solid detective work using primarily personal business networks and social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
“I feel proud and happy about it. Together we have worked as good entrepreneurs”, says Ulrika Nilsson and estimates that, over the years, through large and small donations, LU has received SEK 5.32 million from alumni in the US.
Text: Maria Lindh