When Kostia and I were applying to universities in Sweden this time last year, we didn’t pay any attention to WHICH universities we were applying to. Rather, we were just looking for programs we were qualified for. For us, studying was just a pretext for living in Sweden. We didn’t know anything about the reputations of Swedish universities, nor did we really care. I already have an M.A. from a decent U.S. university, so this was really all about having a positive Swedish experience, not about getting an impressive piece of paper to wave around.

I think that, entirely accidentally, we wound up in a really good place for us. We both like our programs a lot, Falun is a nice little town, and I think we would not have been able to make our savings stretch the whole academic year in a bigger city. I’ve heard that finding student housing in some other places is really difficult, and some universities don’t even offer Swedish classes for their international students!

The funny thing is, people are always talking about another university: Uppsala. Before we came, a few of our St. Petersburg friends who have more of a clue than we do asked us if we were going to be attending Uppsala. Kostia was on an e-mail list for prospective students in his program and one of them sent an e-mail to the list saying “I’ve been accepted to Dalarna University, but I don’t know… it doesn’t have a good reputation like Uppsala”.

People say “Uppsala” here with the same kind of reverence that Americans use for Harvard. And, like Harvard, people like to try to “casually” work it into conversation if they or someone they’re related to went there: “My son finished his studies in New Zealand – the university there had an exchange program with… UPPSALA.” Even one of my professors, a seemingly typically humble Swede once said, “When I was doing my PhD… at UPPSALA…” I suppose I should be flattered that some people here have said things to me and Kostia like, “How come you guys didn’t go to UPPSALA?”

Well, part of the reason we didn’t go to UPPSALA is that we didn’t get in. We applied to some programs there that were only remotely related to our academic backgrounds, and we didn’t really sweat over our applications, figuring that the whole Sweden thing was just a pipe dream anyway. Maybe if we had known that Uppsala was UPPSALA, we would have made more effort, or maybe we wouldn’t have bothered applying at all.

Ultimately this UPPSALA thing just makes me laugh because university reputations really don’t matter to me at all. I know idiots who went to Ivy League schools and brilliant people who attended completely unknown colleges. In my experience, education is mostly about what the student brings to it, and given the academic job market, most people who are going to teach you anywhere went to places like UPPSALA anyway. I’m learning more in the program I’m in now than in my last M.A. program, mostly because I’m older and more focused, and I’m enjoying it a lot more in part because the people around me aren’t pompous assholes. I’ll admit that the name on the diploma of my previous M.A. has probably opened some doors for me, but I also know how absurd that is, because I’ve never used a damn thing I learned there, other than the fact that I don’t want a career in academia (which was, admittedly, a useful thing to learn).

I had told Hugh about all of this when he was visiting last week. Then, when we were talking to the crazy earth mother in the vegetarian café, right on cue, she said, “There’s a university in Falun?” [pause] “There’s a really good university called UPPSALA…” Hugh started to laugh his trademark laugh. “I TOLD you,” I said.