Students travel to Sweden to study HR practices

May 24, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State students interested in human resource management and health care recently had a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the Swedish culture and explore the country’s human resource management and health care systems. 

Fourteen students — eight studying health policy and administration and six studying labor and employment relations — enrolled in the HPA 499/LER 499 Human Resource Management: The Swedish Experience course, visited the European country from May 9 to 19.

The purpose of the course is to provide a global perspective to students on content they are learning in their degree programs. The course provides insight into the human resource management practices and health care system in a contrasting culture with a strong focus on social welfare.

In 2016, the three-credit embedded course was offered for the first time. Now in its third year, the program provides an opportunity to bring together HPA and LER students for a joint embedded program experience.

The course is an interdisciplinary partnership between the College of Health and Human Development and College of the Liberal Arts. Diane Spokus, associate teaching professor and associate director of undergraduate professional development in the Department of Health Policy and Administration at Penn State, and Elaine Farndale, associate professor of human resource management and director of the Center for International Human Resource Studies at Penn State, co-taught the required in-classroom portion of the course during the spring semester and led students on the 10-day visit to Sweden.

Students toured three different companies, IKEA, Volvo and Husqvarna, to learn about human resource management in Sweden, the Swedish health care system and the government’s work-family-life policies. Students also attended a seminar at Jönköping University about the Swedish labor market and labor legislation in Sweden.

Jönköping University has had an on-going relationship with the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State since Spokus first visited Jönköping University's Institute of Gerontology in the mid-1990s. Then, in May 2015, Jönköping University reached out to Penn State to explore opportunities for collaboration in human resource management. Jönköping has also collaborated with the College of Education at Penn State.

Additionally, students attended seminars at Gothenburg University, where they learned more about changes in the Nordic Model for economic policies and issues related to older Swedish workers. Students also visited the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm where they listened to several lectures, including one about the Swedish twin studies and another about women in the workplace who experience mental and physical stress. 

“For the past three years, student interest in this HR course has significantly grown thanks to testimonials from students who have previously participated in the course,” said Spokus, who is also associate director of undergraduate professional development of Health Policy and Administration.

During the visit to Gothenburg University, both Spokus and Farndale gave presentations while students interacted with other university students. This was the third year students traveled to Sweden.

Students and faculty pose with firetruck in Volvo museum

Penn State students posed with faculty members next to a vintage firetruck inside a Volvo museum in Sweden. During the trip, students met with Volvo executives to learn about the company's human resource system.

IMAGE: Penn State

Students documented their experiences through a blog designed for the course. Here is a sample of those entries:

Xueyin “Eileen” Chen and Jiangxue “Cheryl” Tian

I would argue that even though we learned a lot in class back in the (United States), the most I absorbed was from this actual trip.

The combination of the classroom learning and actual visiting helped us to learn in different ways. From the corporate visiting, we were able to apply what we learned in class to the real corporate environment and gain a deeper understanding of (human resource management) through listening to the lecture of HR experts in top companies.

This trip is both fun and informative and we have gained so much knowledge about Sweden’s unique culture, business model, labor relations, and human resources practices.

Hannah Ross and Emily Fisher

It’s hard to believe that 11 days in Sweden came and went, but we are both incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn about health policy administration and human resource management in such a beautiful country. We both made some tremendous friendships, and we are already looking forward to our reunion in the fall. 

Nick Delano and Alexis Johnacola

Today was less about the educational experience of learning about Swedish culture and more about getting to where we needed to go. In this particular situation, we were trying to get to Gothenburg, and after a three-hour train ride, we finally arrived.

While traveling from place to place is not typically the most riveting part of being abroad, Sweden’s luscious hills and farmland made the journey enjoyable. There are many cities that we passed with seemingly rich culture visible from the outside, and it is sad to think that we will never get a chance to visit. But while the sorrow of not being able to explore every city is evident, it is only reasonable that we spend time in the cities that have the richest culture and the most beautiful scenery.

Happily, Gothenburg fulfilled its expectations of being a beautiful Swedish metropolitan area with rich culture and beautiful waterways making up the vast cityscape.

To learn more about study abroad opportunities, including the Sweden program, with the College of Health and Human Development, visit Students interested in enrolling in Human Resource Management: The Swedish Experience for 2019 can send an email to Spokus at

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Last Updated May 25, 2018