NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Through a partnership between Stephen F. Austin State University's Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, the School of Human Sciences' Hospitality Administration program and Älvdalen Educational Center, a forestry and hospitality post-secondary technical college in Älvdalen, Sweden, 15 Swedish students and two faculty members from the educational center completed a two-week exploration of East Texas.

Robert Nilsson and Matthew Tunn, instructors at Älvdalen's Educational Center, said the partnership greatly benefits the participating students, many of whom have never traveled abroad.

During their stay, students toured sights throughout the region that were focused on their particular area of study.

Dr. Hans Williams, associate dean of SFA's Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, and Dr. Chay Runnels, associate professor and hospitality administration program coordinator at SFA, organized the visit, which included trips to state parks, historic sites and the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, as well as logging operations.

The machines used in U.S. logging operations are very different from those used in Sweden, said Daniel Karlsson. Karlsson, who will graduate from Älvdalen's forestry program next year, added that seeing the difference in forest operations has helped him grow as a student.

While the partnership places great focus on the vocational pursuits of the students involved, Williams said perhaps the most important aspect is the personal growth that results from experiencing a different culture.

The broadening of horizons led to the partnership between SFA and Älvdalen's Educational Center more than three years ago. Since that time, five SFA students also have visited Älvdalen's Educational Center for similar cross-cultural immersion.

"It's more than just learning forestry, it's about seeing a whole different culture," Williams said.

Emma Sandgren, a nature and adventure tourism student at Älvdalen's Educational Center, said while she thought the Texas weather would be warmer, it did not detract from her enjoyment of the local cuisine and people.

The students' visit culminated in a barbecue and tour of SFA's Walter C. Todd Agricultural Research Center. Prior to their departure home, the SFA Horseman's Association demonstrated a range of versatility and skill-based events before facilitating horse rides for the students.

"The welcome we had, the hospitality and the friendliness, has just been overwhelming," said Tunn.

This May, Runnels and Dr. Mary Olle, assistant professor of human sciences at SFA, will lead a Maymester course titled "Connecting People with Nature in Sweden." The class will provide participants with the opportunity to explore the confluence of ecology, history and culture through visits to forest, recreation and hospitality resources in the Älvdalen region.