The CEMUS Diaries – Stories from past, present and future

A year of celebrating 25 years of student-led education, 20 years as joint Uppsala University and SLU centre, 15 years of transdisciplinary research and research education

Join us in celebrating CEMUS and all the people that made it happen, and discussing the past, present and future environment, development and sustainability issues.

As part of the jubilee we are doing a story/essay series that will be published every week throughout the year. The title is “The CEMUS Diaries – Stories from past, present and future” and it will be a series of short stories written by present and former staff, students, work group members, associates etc.

The format and style is very open. It can be short articles, novels, poems, memories, funny anecdotes. It can be a look-back at past times, a reflection of the contemporary or a prediction of the future. It can be text, videos, art etc. Together it will cover a wide range of narratives, perspectives and personalities that somehow are all connected to CEMUS. These stories will then be posted on our webpage, Facebook and CEMUSE magazine and in the end of the year put together in a publication as well. Enjoy!

Week 13 – “X is the space” by Sofia Tonetti

Week 12 – “25 years of staying with the trouble” by Alexis Engström & Susanna Barrineau

Week 11 – “Think globally, act locally” by Magnus Josephson

Week 10 – CE”MUSE” by Hannah Sutton

Week 9 – “When talking about climate change…” by Anna Joos Lindberg

Week 8 – “Newbies at Work – Conversation in the CEMUS Kitchen” by Angelica & Lisa

Week 7 – “CEMUS – Will you be my valentine?” by Friederike May

Week 6 – “Run from your idols” by David Kronlid

Week 5 – “Dreams that dreamers dream” by Bon V. Logburg

Week 4 – “Finding your way” by Malin Andersson

Week 3 – “Why am I still around?” by Hannes Willner

Week 2 – “What is your dream course?” by Sachiko Ishihara

Week 1 – “2017 we celebrate CEMUS” by Daniel Mossberg

X is the space

by Sofia Tonetti

Former Course Coordinator at CEMUS

X is for the people that haven’t been heard, those who speak Dari, Mandarin, Persian, Swahili, Spanish, Serbian, Swedish.

For Valentina that never could make it into this university because she doesn’t speak 
That language even though she speaks the third most spoken language in the world.

For those who couldn’t or weren´t encourage to enter the world of education but teaches things anyway. For those who didn’t learn to read or write but manage to communicate important insights.

X is for the visionary ones with a million wonderful ideas that never were discovered.

For him that never became that scientist or pianist.

For those who write books signed with others names.

X is for those who had to make hard decisions.

For Antonia, that I had the chance to be for a week at the web page, where you live the life as someone else. Leave my family to go and study at a university far away in Bogotá or stay at home and become a community leader.

For those that not even make it into the books of the Global environmental history course, a course that aims at looking at more angels of the history.

X is for my grandfather who begged his neighbours for money to go and study at the university to become an engineer. Who later wrote books about steel. Superman, steel man my grandfather.

X is the space.

How can we make space for difference in a world screaming for words spelled in one way?

Education for her to educate others so that they can educate her. Welcome to the world of possibilities! Sadly you didn’t have that key. But one hole in the net, some silver coins, an ace of hearts and you slipped thorough the space. I couldn’t be more shocked or speechless.

25 years of staying with the trouble - or why won’t the professor tell me how to save the world?

by Alexis Engström & Susanna Barrineau

Project Assistants at the Active Student Participation (ASP) project, Uppsala University

The university needs to return to big questions; it must engage in public crises and engage in the translation of what it means to be a learner in this age of climate change. ©Christelle Enault, Institute of Light

Did you know that there is no potential for learning without dissonance? That it’s only in times of pedagogical crisis that we can shift our frames of understanding? These are statements more and more commonly expressed by researchers – and while we don’t necessarily (dis)agree we still ask ourselves: What would make anyone believe this to be true? It is, we assume, a very specific form of learning that they are talking about.

Two things: First, there is no consensus on how learning happens or how it happens best. Second, we find ourselves in the mess which we call climate change, and in order to prepare current and future generations to deal with climate change, some educational institutions are working with education for sustainable development, a term that is equally contentious and used to various ends, some for better and others for worse.

CEMUS’s conspicuous usage of ‘sustainable development’ in all of its courses can make one wonder, what is actually different here? Is CEMUS free from institutional constructions of the term that result in nothing except for ‘business as usual’? Hardly. We may never know exactly what all the students, coordinators, professors, researchers, and so on, take with them from CEMUS education and CEMUS is part of a very old, traditional university structure.

Yet, CEMUS invites translation. It invites agency and creates conditions to “re-learn [ways] of teaching and learning” (Wals and Jickling 2002, p.228). In a way, it further invites learners to “re-gain the agency we need to move towards the crisis rather than away from it” (Houwer 2011, p.111). The sometimes abrupt realization that your courses are actually being led by students and not professors of sustainable development is the first clue that, as a place where old traditions may not have such a stronghold, CEMUS education offers opportunities for different translations of sustainable development. The moment the “sage on the stage” disappears and students are invited to plan and lead courses is the moment where the idea that someone is going to tell you what it means to be “sustainable” vanishes and the moment where uncertainty, and where crisis may emerge.

But how can crisis in the classroom possibly be constructive? Houwer argues that, “Crises, when accessed, defamiliarize normative frames of reference and reveal the structural, historical and political roots of the situation…[and] produce a potentially pedagogical cognitive dissonance” (2011, p.112). Students that learn in and through crises do not return to their pre-crisis framings, but instead re-frame and make the world anew. In this process, the learner cannot merely feel the crisis, but must also act and reflect in order for it to be transformative. This involves becoming a subject (as opposed to a passive object) and choosing to ‘stay with the trouble’ (Haraway 2014).

“The urgent task for schools is not to respond to ‘the climate crisis.’ Rather, the task is to learn how to learn with and through any public crisis” (Houwer 2011, p.115). In that sense, the university needs to return to big questions; it must engage in public crises and engage in the translation of what it means to be a learner in this age of climate change. So thank you CEMUS, for your pedagogical crisis and for all your trouble. We hope we can stay with it.

Haraway, D. (2014) Lecture: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble. In Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet on 05/09/2014.

Houwer, R. (2011) Learning Freedom: The pedagogical potential of crisis. Journal for Activism in Science & Technology Education, 3(1), 109-117.

Wals, A. & Jickling, B. (2002) “Sustainability” in higher education: From doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 3(3), 221-232.

Think globally, act locally

by Magnus Josephson

Former course coordinator for the Life Philosophy course

I heard it over and over again. Think globally, act locally. But I never really got it. Or perhaps I didn’t listen. It sounded like nice words. In a big scary world.

Now I see the world shrinking. At my doorstep. In my office. I meet refugees, asylum seekers, families, babies, musicians, football players, dreamers. I talk to them, but mostly I listen. And the stories are beautiful and gruesome at the same time. Like the boy, who at 16 years of age fled through the Sahara desert. He had one bottle of water to keep him from drying out. At one point, a guy in the same group asked him for water. The boy with the water made a quick judgement, realised that his own chance of surviving dramatically decreased if he gave it away. So he kept it to himself, and survived. The other guy died. Or another time, when a woman started crying when I asked her how she was doing. After a few seconds she told me that they were tears of joy. A man had never asked her how she was doing before. In her world, that was rational, the way things worked.

“The rationality of the ruled is always the weapon of the rulers.”

Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust

The modern world, that I grew up in, gave me boxes and boundaries. It also gave me the privilege of never having to deal with such a dilemma as the boy in the desert faced. But every time I meet someone who comes from a different world than mine, on the other side of all the boundaries. With different boxes. Every time this meeting occurs, the boundaries are faded out. The boxes are rearranged. My world is rearranged.

When the world comes to your door step, it shrinks. Overwhelmed by emotions, it grows smaller. Let it change. Let it challenge you. Let the rationality be challenged. Think globally, act locally, tell stories. And listen to the ones waiting to be told.

Storytelling in Bo, Norway, as part of the Life Philosophy course.


By Hannah Sutton

Exchange student at CEMUS during Fall 2016, part of the UU delegation to COP22

Practicing what we preach: The COP22 delegation (#minivandiaries) getting ready to embark on our 5 day drive down to Morocco to attend the COP22 negotiations. We felt it was hypocritical to emit huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere to fly to Morocco to attend a Climate Change discussion, so we spent extra time, money and efforts to drive a minivan from Sweden to Morocco. Classic CEMUS style.


“muse” : to become absorbed in thought; to think about something carefully and thoroughly; a state of deep thought or dreamy abstraction.


Today, all the scientific evidence is telling us that we cannot afford to delay the reckoning with climate change. With each passing day, the case grows more compelling and the costs of inaction grow beyond anything that anyone with conscience or common sense should be willing to contemplate. Studying Sustainability puts an interdisciplinary perspective on the world, its’ finite resources and of our human impacts. The world has learnt to judge success and prosperity by a monetary figure often gained by the exploitation of fellow humans, or our environment. But we need to rethink this.


And this is what CEMUS inspires us to do.



To meditate. To ponder. To ruminate.

To consider or examine attentively or deliberately.

To think about something carefully or thoroughly.



CEMUS is a quest to find answers. The big questions that loom over us relating to climate change, environment, energy, poverty, economic development, power structures and more that are forever debated with never a concrete solution.


It is a response to the ‘too-hard-basket’ excuse, pardoning those in power for overseeing the hurdles of our time.


It is group of impassioned people motivated to tackle the impending problems of the world, which can too often be overseen or brushed aside.


It is a response to the top down usual teaching methods. It appreciates everyone’s diverse background, insights and inspirations in their own ways.


It is about transcending boundaries, pursuing individual initiatives and defining our own questions.


CEMUS calls for collaboration. In this individualistic world we live in, it is a refreshing touch. And this is what happens when thousands of minds come together.


It is a collective identity. It is a network of like-minded people.


It is that feeling of acceptance. A feeling that you have found what you were looking for.


CEMUS is about becoming a someone and not a something. Someone who challenges the most habitual trains of thought, who can take an external perspective and who has developed their own voice and morals. Not a something that has emerged from a professionalization process without an interdisciplinary perspective.


It is a “meeting place.” It is a magnet for all those individuals who seek a sense of community, inspiration and a platform for taking action together.


CEMUS does as it preaches. (Even if this means driving for 5 days from Sweden to Morocco with 9 people in a minivan trying to avoid flying in order to minimise our CO2 footprint).


It is so much more than Pass / Fail. It is long nights in the CEMUS library, a full schedule with activist groups, gardening days, petitioning, sign making, dumpster diving, documentary screening etc etc shenanigans.


It inspires those not only who sit within the classrooms, it permeates far beyond the university walls. A butterfly effect creating ripples.


It is a blur of accents from every corner of the globe, a buzzing mind full of never ending questions seeking answers.


It is a collective of cynics, social reformers, activists, optimists and engaged compassionate human beings.


It is not static, but ever changing with the contributions of each group of students and teachers who help it to evolve.


CEMUS is our home away from home.


CEMUS is our muse.


So happy birthday CEMUS. 25 years of inspiring students and co-habitants on this finite and ever evolving planet. Though you look not a day older, you are more the wiser.


“Environmental education must be an exercise in applied hope that equips young people with the skills, aptitudes, analytical wherewithal, creativity and stamina to dream, act and lead heroically. To be effective on a significant scale, however, the creative energy of the rising generations must be joined with strong and bold institutional leadership to catalyse a future better than the one in prospect.”

David Orr*



Communal action and change: Friendships form at CEMUS and with a common goal and motivation for change, group actions evolve. Pictured above is the “climate justice” march held in the cold winter months of Uppsala prior to setting off for the long drive down to Morocco with the COP22 delegation.

*Orr, “What is Higher Education Now?” The State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability, London, Earthscan, 2009, p.82.



When talking about climate change…

by Anna Joos Lindberg

Course Coordinator at CEMUS

“In The Age of Stupid, Fanny Armstrong’s speculative documentary of a
future in which climate change has decimated life on Earth, the narrator
seems mystified by what he perceives as a failure to act. ‘What state of
mind were we in,‘ the Last Man wonders, ‘to face extinction and simply
shrug it off?’” (Weston in Animate Planet, 2016)


On the one hand, there is the version of reality derived through logical reasoning based on scientific evidence revealing global ecological devastation. On the other, there is the intuitive emotional response set off from the threat of losing something you love. Outcome: visualizations of the future getting blurred by a screen of logic and ultimately, disabling some from caring at all. But what then? Call on the same emotional response which resonated with Trump supporters? Or is that different? How is it different?

Paradoxical necessities in liminal spaces etc.


It is a difficult task, being human – a lifetime project. Bashing our funny looking tentacles at various items, animals, plants and each other we come to realizations such as that there is dead, living, big, small, edible, sentient stuff, lots of green stuff, stuff that hurt, stuff that feels good and finally, that in a peculiar dance of interrelatedness all these entities form a One.

For some that last little bit can be tremendously hard to fully comprehend. As a very very random example of someone who has yet to explore the vast mysteries of the universe, take Trump. He formulated his stance towards climate change as follows, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Who knows what this all means? I’m no expert.


I’m just as confused as you are.


To put an end to this jibber-jabber, I invite reconciliation between all of us, earthly creatures, by subscribing to the acclaimed brilliance of that one guy – Albert Einstein, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Rest assured as we are all equal in our capacity to be stupid, insufficient. Trump as well as climate activists.

Hold on.

Being offered a limited vision is for some better than the alternative of having no vision at all, as ugly as it might be. People need something to believe in. A compass, a frame – a relatable story. The current blockbuster: “us” versus “them”. Don’t wait, buy it now!

As stupid as we are
there is no hope at all
The crazy craze of the human race
reducing life into a market place

What’s the deal? Let us steal
the power of narration back
and reclaim our lands of fantasy

The gluttony of words, dressing them in a deceptive haze
it’s a white man’s maze
but more so, fantasy’s disgrace

Good luck with that, you stay there guys
that is one version of living life
The silence of the rest
is dying to reveal…

Newbies at Work - Conversation in the CEMUS Kitchen

By Angelica Halvarsson & Lisa Plattner

Course Coordinators at CEMUS

Person X (experienced course coordinator, works at CEMUS already 3 years) Newbie #1 (just started at CEMUS, crazy activist)
Newbie #2 (brand new glossophobic* course coordinator)

[Person X comes into the CEMUS-kitchen and sees the freshly started course coordinators (newbie #1 and #2) having lunch.]

Person X: Hej guys, how is the course going?
[Opener of almost every CEMUS conversation] Newbie #1: Great, it’s so much fun! I already told them to stop buying Nestlé products. Person X: Alright [perplexed face] Newbie #2: I finally made it to three minutes of public speaking before my face and neck turned red.
Person X: Congrats on the new personal record! So, whom have you invited for next week? Newbie #1: Well, after email exchanges between 8 different professors and PhD students, we still don’t know.
Newbie #2: And one class with just us course coordinators for the entire period is enough. Do you have any recommendations?
Person X: Yes, sure! Which field are you thinking of?
Newbie #1: Threats to human existence from a meta-ethical nihilist perspective.
Person X: Hmmm…sorry, never had someone like that in my course, but you should definitely have a look at our excel database.
Newbie #2: Thanks, we’ll check it out!
[Proceeding to their office, Newbie #1 and Newbie #2 log onto their computers, surrounded by semi-aquatic plants and empty ink pens] Newbie #1: Have you already printed out the attendance list for this week?
Newbie #2: I’d love to once I figure out who is actually attending the course.
Newbie #1: I think it’s time that we sit down and memorize their names and faces.
[Person X comes into the office with a big smile] Person X: It’s fika time, come on, stop working!
[As the irresistible, overbearing scent of coffee and blue cheese gingerbread cookies enters our office, the newbies find it increasingly difficult to sift through the endless excel cells of lecturer names] Newbie #2: So… Studentportalen…
Newbie #1: I don’t get the system yet, but could you maybe program a new block called ‘assignments’.
Newbie #2: Sure, it takes like 10 seconds
[Newbie #2 opens> New message> Subject: URGENT QUESTION> Hey, lovely course resource person! Hope your day is fine. We were just wondering real quick how to add new blocks and sub-blocks on Studentportalen? Take care!] Newbie #1: Cool, you digital natives will conquer the world.
Newbie #2: Oh by the way, do you already have access to the lecture halls?
Newbie #1: I’m actually still waiting for my key-card and course email access. But I’ll work it out. How are you feeling about our next class?
Newbie #2: Totally fine, although I’d like to talk for longer without a stutter this time. You as an activist have no problem to speak in front of a group of people, what are your tips for me?
Newbie #1: Well, just imagine you need to save the world now, trust me, that makes everything easier. But seriously, just imagine we’re living through a mass extinction event, apocalyptic weather and an ever-increasing wage gap between rich and poor, and that you as an educator are the last hope for the future of our kind. That’s what I usually do.
Newbie #2: Thanks, I’ll give it a shot! So, when it comes to the literature and materials for next week, I have this cool new video I want to show the class. Take a look.

Newbie #1: Yes, let’s show it, but we need some theory as well.
Newbie #2: Let’s have a look in the CEMUS library, you can always get some inspiration there.

[4 hours of sustainability theory later] Newbie #1: So, how do narrow this down from a 5 day seminar series to a 3 hour class period?
Newbie #2: We just split them into groups and give them whiteboards of course! Every group gets a theory and has to summarize the main ideas and then they present their results in front of the class. Voilá!
Newbie #1: We should not forget about the post-its! And yeah, let’s do a game in the beginning of the class, I saw a new book the other day in the lounge about pedagogics in the classroom.
[As the coordinators were overcome with excitement, resources, and helpful advice from their colleagues, they sat in their sunlit office with mismatched cups of Chocomilk and coordinated happily ever after]

✵ ✵ FIN ✵ ✵

-Huge thank you to all the amazing individuals at CEMUS who have made our time here unforgettable, and hoping for many more wonderful memories to come!-

[*Editor’s note: Glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general. Source: Wikipedia]

CEMUS - Will you be my valentine?

by Friederike May

Course Coordinator at CEMUS

Welcome to the week of commercial manifestations of this thing called love. Here’s my contribution.

When I was 5 years old I met my future husband. Kidding.

When I was 5 years old, the first student-led course was run at CEMUS. About 20 years later we ran into each other. And while I’m sure neither of us expected it to happen, but we fell in love instantly. There were flowers, fireworks, rainbows and unicorns and all that jazz. It was magic. And we’ve been on cloud cloud nine* for almost four years now. #blessed

So I wanted to take this truly magnificent moment in time and do something special for CEMUS, to show…it (him? her?) just how much I care about…it. As a result, you, and all the rest of the world (with internet access) will now have the opportunity to read the first ever co-created CEMUS love poem.

Essentially I gave all my colleagues minimum instructions to help me out with this. They were: Send me 1-2 poetic lines on the subject of ‘CEMUS love’.

While this overwhelmed some/most I managed to bully many of them into submitting something anyway. And then I just put it together. Easy. It’s a bit like doing research really. You integrate what people have said into something new, ideally coherent and include a little bit of your own spice to make it great. The parallels are undeniable, really.

Now without further ado, sit down, hold your horses, buckle up and hide your children, here it comes:

(takes deep breath, relaxes)

The moonlight outlines the tree silhouettes
And the ocean moans whispers in the wind.

I can see the stars through my window, and the moon is bright.

We are all lichen.

How I used to be and who I am,
CEMUS did a thing to me.

My heavy heart aches for thee like one of Rockström’s theories
When I am with you, I blow all planetary boundaries.

Here runs the paternoster of hope
With the iridescent names of my children.

A place to meet, a place to talk,
A place to learn and change the world.

Sweaty armpits and ill-fitting clothes.
Vegan timeframes
And crispy ideas.

It’s a place to learn to live to learn,
Of chaos and structure only you can define
A place to call home and a place that will change and challenge what was before.

Where wisdom and innovation blend to reshape novel futures
And enthusiasm defies the pessimism of age.

A vortex of the best kind. Head spinning, mind stretching, soul is dancing along.
Into the depth of things, realising it is a dream, I wake up and realise I’m home.

And even when you are far,
CEMUS still warms your heart.

From a silent spring to flower power
From love is in the air to carbon rising out of the ground.

Even if a wolf’s howl from the lecture hall is all,
it might be how y’all tore down that wall.

Roses are red, violets are blue,
As to what we’re doing, we have no clue.

PS: To hate the grey zones or to love them – is that our spicy question?!

And, in all seriousness: Thank you, CEMUS. To me, you’re not a place or an institution. You’re not a collection of courses or a library and not even a ‘meeting place for transdisciplinary learning’. You are the people that come in and shape you, just as they shape me. Students, course coordinators and the random others – when I am old and grey and full of sleep** you are what I will remember, because with you I learned, laughed and lived. Without you, I would not be me. And without you, my life would feel like a life less extraordinary.

Many thanks for their contributions go to (in reversed alphabetical order, because why not): Hannes Willner, Isak Stoddard, Mel Rideout, Lisa Plattner, Daniel Mossberg, Alejandro Marcos Valls, Anna Joos Lindberg, Sachiko Ishihara, Alexis Engström, Dani Ceder, Isabel Baudish, Sanna Barrineau, Malin Andersson, Lakin Anderson, Kevin Anderson (no known relation to the former).

*Fun fact: In German it’s ‚cloud seven’. Not sure what this means, but I’m sure you could run a societal discourse analysis based on it.

**I did not write this line. William Butler Yeats did („When you are old“, 1892).

Run from your idols

by David Kronlid

Senior lecturer at Department of Education, Coordinator at SWEDESD

[Should be read as spoken word]

It’s not that I like riots and yes, the African students are anything but prudent, in fact some will call them political pollutants at least if you are asking the cops that will shoot’em you can see both sides running to catch up with their idols – almost bridal – and the cops don’t need informed consent and I wonder who is bent and meant to be a gent with all this violence and shut-up-and-be-silent and the kids won’t back down cause this is their showdown maybe this is our meltdown and a time for all of us who are close enough to drop the fluff and be strident

So the climate is fucked-up, although some like to present-it-like-its-brushed-up like a photo-shopped image of madness, yet the climate is sadness and I know that you know that they know what we know to be a true story that there’s no death with glory the truth it’s just gory and speaking of madness what’s up with progress let’s take a quick-guess that the so-called noblesse that really should confess that they fucked-up the process while they still harness…economy – they’re riding a bigotry-horse straight-in-to-the-furnace

And this that I´m writing it is not that I’m fighting but you know that I might’ve been if I was not living a life of not giving what is this sea that I am swimming in tears of the young ones who are posing as strong ones, our daughters and sons who are joining with ISIS are paying the prices of ignorant teaching and fun-da-men-ta-list preaching, no not by the priest and not by the beast cause the priest is a beast and the beast is a priest no by mummy and daddy and good old slim shady and sister and brother and no-one will bother until that-one, the Other, is crashing our feast

So, I’m in my kitchen, the-kitchen-I’m-rich-in writing this poem though I’m no Leonard Cohen and God no LKJ although I like the dub at home or at the club any day, but does that mean that I’m less than authentic, I’m just sick of the frantic fighting for what? as a teacher of college and the books that I cook they all look like this verse u know gobbledygook when you are antic. So, I am leaving you now, this line is the final, but the final might be tidal if you idle so let’s beat suicidal and run full steam ahead; but away from your idols.

Dreams that dreamers dream

by Bon V. Logburg

Poet in residence

Finding your way

by Malin Andersson

Course coordinator at CEMUS

I remember when I got the job at CEMUS, I had finished my Bachelor’s program a couple of months earlier and had been looking for a job without much success. Many jobs did not seem interesting, and the ones that did required years of experience. I felt lost. I wanted to do something that mattered.

Then I saw that CEMUS where looking for course coordinators and after having taking courses there myself, I was very interested. Though, I remember that I was very nervous. “Why would they hire me?” and “I’m not qualified to do this” were thoughts that ran through my head. However, after talking to friends and family, telling me that I should definitely take the chance, I finally sent in my application, and to my great joy I got the position.

I was so happy! I really felt that now I had a job where I could make a real difference. Where I could be a part of making the world a better place. Where I could inspire people. And I still feel the same way today. I really believe that the education we offer at CEMUS can change people, can help them find their way in the labyrinth of sustainable development.

* * *

* * *

Because it is often difficult to find the way in the myriad of definitions and solutions when it comes to sustainable development. What is one to do? Hopefully, here at CEMUS we can offer a way to find your own path. To find the way for you to make the world a better place, and help you find the courage to follow it. Because one person can’t do everything, but everyone can do something, and together we can make a change. I believe that change starts within you, if you can find what matters most to you, if you can find your strengths and weaknesses, if you can find your path.

Both studying at CEMUS and working here makes you realize that sustainable development is not easy. Sometimes you feel lost, or angry, or hopeless. The path might not be easy, it might be filled with obstacles, but when you reach your goal it will all be worth it.

* * *

* * *

Furthermore, at CEMUS, you can hopefully find people who feel the same way. Who are also worried about the state our world is in and what will happen in the future. A place where you will see that you are not alone, and that you do not have to do this on your own. A place where you can find your way, and see that it is not a lonely path. A place where you can make a change. I’m glad I had the courage to follow my path, and I believe that CEMUS can help people do the same.

“”I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”” J.R.R Tolkien. The Fellowship of the ring

Why am I still around?

by Hannes Willner

Course coordinator at CEMUS

My first encounter with the university was in 2008. After graduating from high school and two years of music studies at a Folk high school, I was looking for a way to challenge myself more intellectually. Following my interest in environmental issues, I sent a late application for a course in sustainable development in Uppsala the week before the semester started, called the institution and asked about the chances of getting enrolled with such short notice.

Just show up on Monday and we’ll work it out, someone said to me over the phone.

That following Monday I took the train to Uppsala and somehow made my way, confused and with a heavy breath, to Geocentrum. I stepped into Hamberg lecture hall half an hour late, gazed around all the foreign faces in the room and sat down in the back-row. It was one of the course coordinators Anders Carlborg holding the introduction lecture for the course Sustainable Development A. I don’t remember exactly what he was talking about, but I remember thinking there and then:

This is it. This is exactly what I should be doing right now.

I had a very strong feeling that because of how things are now, there is nothing more important to study than the issues about sustainability.

Dating almost ten (!) years back, that was the first time I set my foot at CEMUS. After that I came back to take the Sustainable Development B course (HUB) in 2010, took my first shaky steps as a course coordinator for the then brand new Sustainable Design course in 2011, went away for a couple of years, came back to run the Life Philosophy course in 2014 which was followed by coordinating Sustainable Development A (HUA) last year. The course everything started with. Circle closed.

* * *

I have asked myself lately though, as I have strolled up and down through the charming corridors of Geocentrum: Why am I still around?

Is it because of the state of the world? Since I took my first course here things haven’t really improved, rather the opposite. We are standing in front of innumerable challenges of a magnitude and complexity that we have never experienced before. And society keeps telling us that everything is OK. Keep calm and carry on doing whatever.

Is it just therapy? A way for me to process feelings of hope and despair. A breathing hole through which I can at least tell myself that I am doing something, with the risk of falling into a false sense of satisfaction of being a do-gooder and hoping that things will work out. (I remember reading Derrick Jensen during one of the courses, writing that hope is the most dangerous thing as it leads to inaction, leaving us apathetical, hoping that somehow things will work out. I didn’t agree at all back then and I’m not sure if I agree completely today either, but I do see the danger of thinking that you are doing something that matters instead of actually doing the things that matter).

Maybe it is because of the people? All the fantastic colleagues and fellow students that I have had the privilege to get to know and who have become almost like a second family from time to time. People to share intellectually and morally challenging discussions as well as lunchroom jokes, frustration over administrative obstacles and really bad coffee.

Or is it because of what we actually do? A never-ending but intriguing and inspiring search for answers about how we are to respond to these challenges. The thought that another education is possible and maybe, just maybe, through learning and unlearning, we might fix all of this after all?

Probably it is a little bit of everything.

My new home

* * *

I am still around, even though I am soon leaving. Slowly detaching myself and moving on to other business. Although, I find it somewhat hard to let go. Maybe it is because, despite all the doubt, I know that what we do and how we do it is in a way pretty unique as well as very, very necessary.

That thought is why I have committed to education and am moving on to work as a teacher. I believe that if we are going to have the slightest chance of getting to the roots of all our problems, we need a fundamental shift of how we think about the world and ourselves. This is not something that you achieve through mere information or just more knowledge. It is not even more education that will save us, but education of a certain kind, as David Orr wrote.

But what is this certain kind of education then? Personally, I believe we need to learn how to un-learn and re-learn. We often say that we want to create change but we rarely talk about what this change actually entails. Change itself is not inherently good. A lot of things that we see changing today are actually for worse. Sustainability, after all the apolitical save-the-world-jargon has been washed off, is at its core a contested concept and practice. There are a lot of people, companies, governments, organizations that benefit from status quo or the opposite of sustainability and will work hard against it. We are a part of this as well, only through living our everyday lives. That is why we need to learn how to un-learn our preconceived notions about how the world works and re-learn our own role in the ongoing destruction to start with.

During my time here at CEMUS and my journey through the realm of education and sustainability, have I succeeded with changing the world? I don’t know. Probably not enough, since a lot of stuff is going south right now. But even so, it has been a great journey because of everything I have learnt myself, all the people I have met, and the opportunities I have had to make some kind of change – no matter how small it may be. This journey continues and it probably never ends, but it is a journey well worth traveling.

I believe that is why I am still around.

The journey continues…

What is your dream course?

by Sachiko Ishihara

Course coordinator at CEMUS


If you could change education, what would you do?
If you could create your dream course, how would it look like?

These are questions we constantly ask ourselves at CEMUS. We actually have the opportunity to create your own, ‘dream course’. Course Coordinators, who are students hired to design and run Bachelor and Master’s level courses at CEMUS in collaboration with staff, researchers and colleagues, are asked already at the job interview: What would you change in the course?

Two coordinators for each course have a few months to plan and design the course, with support from CEMUS colleagues and a Course Working Group (See more about the model at: Transcending Boundaries).

This unique model was definitely what caught my eye when I was looking for Master’s programmes from the other side of the world – Japan. I knew no one in and nothing about Europe, let alone Sweden. Students hired to design and run a course – what would that look like? Could that model be working? I was skeptical. But extremely intrigued. I decided to apply for the Master’s programme in Sustainable Development at UU & SLU that was connected to CEMUS. Even if it wasn’t working perfectly, it’s an interesting idea. Could be worth getting an insider’s view.

After many applications, now I am a Course Coordinator, second year in.

Just finishing a very busy semester, and at the start of a new year, I’m going to choose to write about something I want to explore further in the future: empowerment. And relating that to one of the courses I coordinated.


* * *


In Japan, I think people feel that things can’t change in society, whatever problem it may have. More so, it’s hard for people to see their role in changing it either. People feel so disempowered. Maybe this is similar in other parts of the world too.

Cramming knowledge is still the dominant form of education in Japan, critical thinking is not valued, and hierarchy is prevalent in the classroom and in organizations. Coming from that perspective, the participatory and critical education that CEMUS practices, the democracy the organization strives internally, and the opportunity and responsibility it gives to student coordinators like me is, in short, groundbreaking.

After studying in the U.S. and Sweden, I feel that Japanese education is definitely not helping for people to feel empowered.


But what could be education that is empowering?


While coordinating the course Global Challenges and Sustainable Futures, perhaps it makes sense to say that empowerment was implicitly one guiding theme in designing the assignments and activities.


The semester starts with a ‘30 Day Challenge’, where students choose one thing to change in their everyday life to make it more sustainable and try it for 30 days. They present their outcome and experience in a creative format – posters, videos, comics, etc., and somewhat surprisingly, their stories are super positive and encouraging. I had a student challenge her own ‘shopaholic’ behavior, forbidding herself to buy new clothes for 30 days. She came out of the challenge saying that she felt better, liberated not feeling the need to keep up with the latest trends, and ‘actually felt satisfied with myself for once’.

During the semester, we have the different groups of students use half of each class to organize discussion activities called ‘Student-led Sessions’. In a sense, my colleague Alejandro Marcos Valls and I, coordinators of this course, had set up this course in the way we thought it would be the best course ever, and so we opened up for the students to use their turn to create the rest of the class. The students used different methods – quizzes, group discussions with various questions and themes, Fish Bowl discussions, etc. It was always fun for me to see what they come up with, and exciting to see sometimes otherwise quiet students being in the spotlight to lead the class.

The final group project that students work on for 7 weeks is perhaps what Alejandro and I put in the most effort to develop: Back from the Future We Want. Here we asked students to develop their ideas on: What is the future we want? and How do we get there? Our reflection of the Fall 2015 will be coming out as a chapter in Envisioning futures for environmental and sustainability education in February 2017.


What do you think? Do you think this fits what could be empowering education? Maybe I should catch one of the students that took this course and have them write about their experience.


* * *


So this was just a sneak peak of what I’ve been working on recently, out of many other things I wanted to write about. (Maybe I’ll occupy another space for that another time.)

And maybe I’ll finish with one direction that CEMUS should work on more.

I just finished reading Strangers in Their Own Land, a book that explores the American conservative south. The author talks about exploring the other side of your ‘empathy wall’, in other words, people you don’t agree with, in the context of the widened political divide.

At a nation the other day, my partner and I were discussing with my colleague Lakin Anderson, who was the Course Coordinator for the course The Global Economy 2 years ago when we were taking the course. My partner was saying:

“In the Global Economy, I remember that lecturer who had a position that I totally didn’t agree with. And I really appreciated having that lecturer, since then I could really understand where he was coming from to get that perspective.”

In the era of social media where we tend to get information that you agree with and hang out increasingly with likeminded people, it is so easy to get into your ‘Echo Chamber’ of ideas.

But in this time, we need to stop ridiculing the voters of Trump or Brexit or Sweden Democrats, or whoever you don’t agree with, as ‘stupid’ or ‘uneducated’ or ‘racist’. How do we not lose and even develop a language to truly communicate with people we strongly disagree with?

As CEMUS strives to be a meeting place that transcends boundaries, the challenge is pressing and real. Let’s explore the other side of the Empathy Wall.


What would this sort of education look like?

2017 we celebrate CEMUS

by Daniel Mossberg

Director of studies at CEMUS


2017 we celebrate CEMUS and all the people that made it happen – students, professors, course coordinators, researchers, university administrators, practitioners, writers, artists. People, human beings, working tirelessly together to make the world into a better place. We remember those magic moments when our efforts exceeded our expectations and try to learn from our many failures. 25 years is a long time in a human being’s life, and still somehow time flies.I came to Uppsala University back in 1998, studying whatever courses interested me at the time – art history, philosophy, anthropology. Having a previous interest in environmental issues and social justice, I took my first course at CEMUS in 2002, Environment and Development Studies – Theory and Analysis (Miljö- och utvecklingsstudier – teori och analys), followed by the Method and Project-course (Toan och Moppen om ni minns). Together the courses made up a full time semester at CEMUS. The passionate and knowledgeable course coordinators (thank you Niclas Hällström, David Kronlid, Robert Österbergh) always questioned our preconceived understanding of the world, and in combination with wise and experienced guest lecturers the course was the best I had taken at the university. That spring semester changed my life and made me see how education could change the world – one heart, mind and student at a time. Later as a student representative and course coordinator I saw the potential of what CEMUS as whole could be and do in the world, that’s why I’m still here.

They say 2016 was a horrible year, annus horribilis, and in some sense maybe 2016 was worse, but each year holds its own horrors, terrors, death, but also love, compassion, courage. CEMUS can’t save the world on its own, but we can be a refugee of sorts where ideas, people meet and learn, unlearn together in education as well as in research. The same can be said of the role of Uppsala’s universities and colleges. Year by year, together, humanity can make the world a better place for all – planet and people. We have the genius to save this place.

Listen to “This Place” by Joni Mitchell.

Some numbers and timelines in relationship to CEMUS +25:

  • 25 years of student-driven, student-led, student-initiated, student-teacher-collaborative education on undergraduate and master level with guest lecturers and course work groups.
  • 20 years of joint Uppsala University and SLU centre, bringing together the best people and ideas from Uppsala’s two universities.
  • 15 years of transdisciplinary research and research education, with courses, workshops, conferences, research projects framed and started by PhD- students, researchers, professors in collaboration, challenging traditional disciplinary boundaries and raising new research questions.
  • Low estimate – over 10 000 students from all over the world have taken a course at CEMUS since 1992.
  • Each student has studied at least 7.5 credits/högskolepoäng which amounts to 200 hours spent on one course over one semester.
  • 10 000 student’s times 200 hours amounts to 2 million hours which equals 83 333,3 days around the clock, the same as 228,3 years spent on learning and unlearning about environment and development issues, for sustainability.
  • Another low estimate – over 2500 guest lecturers have contributed with their knowledge, wisdom and passion since 1992.
  • Over 500 external course work members have volunteered their time, energy and expertise during the work with the student-led courses since 1992.
  • CEMUS board (nämnd) have involved university teachers, researchers, administrators, students from Uppsala University and SLU from many different disciplines, and external actors with experience of work within the sustainability field.