Calling Sweden / by Jennifer Leahy

In late April, I read a New York Times article on the Swedish Number, an initiative by the Swedish Tourist Association to both promote international interest in Sweden and to celebrate free speech; commemorating the 250th anniversary of the country's constitutional law abolishing censorship. Anyone in the world could call Sweden (literally - the country had a number), and speak to a "random Swede, somewhere in Sweden." It struck me that this was an incredible, creative opportunity to connect with strangers, hear their stories, and learn about a different part of the world (also, an award-winning marketing idea on the part of Ingo). I made a call that same day, and was hooked. 

From then until the Swedish Number closed, on June 24th, I called Sweden several times a week, and have talked to dozens of Swedes. I've had the chance to hear perspectives on things like education, immigration, and paid parental leave, and also on hiking, hockey, and the traditional songs you should sing before drinking shots of Akvavit at Midsummer. 

Now, it's time for the next logical step: I'm headed to Sweden, (update: I'm already here!), following a path created by dozens of chance, serendipitous phone conversations: visiting hometowns, exploring places and ideas shared by strangers, and most fun of all, meeting up in person with several of the Swedes who were on the other end of the line - Facebook, Instagram, and good old-fashioned email allowed us to track each other down and keep the conversation going.