“Let’s find an intercultural way to a good quality of life”

Interview with Jens Allwood and Elisabeth Ahlsén

                                                 quality-of-life-in-the-world                  Reporter: Ivan Dzido

There are many ways which you can improve your quality of life. There are also many different idea of how to make life better around the world. In China, South Africa, USA or in Sweden – everywhere humans have ideas about good-quality of life. We try to bring together all these experiences and ideas and teach and learn them by meetings between people from all over the world. “We are trying to look around the world to see the variation in how people do things and then select those things which are good in order to try them out and teach them here” says Jens Allwood, professor of linguistics at University of Gothenburg (UG) and simultaneously head of Intercultural Center for Quality of Life in Mullsjö, Marston Hill. Along with Elisabeth Ahlsén, professor of neurolinguistics at UG, they lead this institution, situated in a calm place, on a hill surrounded by the nature and forest. We were talking of Center’s purpose, their activities and aspects which make this place magic.

We are at Marston Hill – Intercultural Center for Quality of Life. There is a forest and nature all around… Is there something specific or magical about this place?

Jens: Well many people who come here feel that it’s a good environment to think, discuss and experience nature. Some people feel that they can relax and get away from other things. I don’t know if it’s more magical than that.

Elisabeth: Maybe the tradition here is a little bit magical. There have been so many people from different cultures contributing to the creation of places and activities over years.

Jens: That’s true. It’s been very multicultural for a long time, in fact, since 1920. In fact soon a hundred years!


Marston Hill

What is the main purpose of Marston Hill?

Jens: Today the main purpose is to be an Intercultural Center for Quality of Life. Earlier the focus has been more on language teaching. But there have been other things earlier too –  more cultural things like music, sociology, psychoanalysis etc. I was teaching here in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and to some extent also in the last ten years we have also had more advanced academic courses.

Ok. But what do you mean by the term “quality of life”? Do you want to connect through different kinds of activities relating to quality of life in different countries or by the way we can influence each other here?

Jens: We are trying to look around the world to see the variation in how people do things and then select those things which are good and try to learn and teach them out here. Examples could be ways of keeping healthy or physical exercises for keeping in good shape. Or it could be more philosophical stuff, concerning how you should think about life to make it as good as possible.

Can we call these activities example of global, international or multicultural quality of life?  

Jens: We can call them quality of life inspired by good things from many different cultures.

Why do you think that improving quality of life is so important for society generally?

Jens: Well, I think that improving quality of life is a main goal for most people. What other goals do we have in life? Quality of life is very abstract notion. It could cover many different things. It signifies something close to one of the main goals of life for most people. But we must recognize that it mean different things for different people.

One of the main purposes of Marston Hill is also improving quality of life of foreigners, not only Swedes…

Jens: Yes, that’s right. That is one of the reasons, we have called it intercultural. We include all human beings and also non-humans animals.

Elisabeth: Yeah, one of our purposes to introduce immigrants to Swedish culture but at the same time also to introduce quality of life’s ideas from their countries to Sweden. So it’s an exchange not just one way. This includes activities also for other non-Swedes than immigrants.  But we have lots of other things, not under the label “immigrants” and we have activities for Swedes also.P1060987

Can we call the activities at Marston Hill an attempt at easier integration of foreigners/immigrants into majority society?

Jens: No. They would cover this but it’s not the main goal. It would be a side effect of what we’re doing because we want to increase quality of life for everyone. If becoming more integrated in Swedish society is an increase in quality of life than it would be covered. Notice that I said: If! (laugh)

Did anyone who has been here in Marston Hill let you know that he/she is happier than before and his/her quality of life has changed a lot after the experience with the Intercultural Center?    

Jens: I have met many people who have been here in the past. This is natural since we have been here in existence actually having courses since 1924. The main thing that people say is that they learned very much English here. So our activities were extremely successful as a learning experience. I have had very many commons of this sort. The second most common thing people say is “I met my wife there”. (laugh) And then actually for our more academic courses and I meet people who say: “Your summer course actually made me think a lot more deeply about some things!”

What do you mean by the sentence “think more deeply”? Should I understand it like thinking about some spiritual things?

Jens: Well, not only religious. It could be more scientific that they thought about some problems more deeply or that they became broadly interest in some themes. Or it could concern more personal things.

Elisabeth: It’s only the last 10 years we have started to have this quality of life theme. People also say they liked being here because they liked the mix of discussions. You officially discuss in a course or seminar and then you discuss unofficially in the evening or during a dinner or sit outside, drinking wine in the summer etc. And then you can go picking mushrooms together or you can run, walk in the wood and other things. So that kind of mixture they like. The courses could be dealing with quality of life or other themes.


Meditative place close to Bungalow

Are these activities in harmony with multicultural Swedish society?

Jens: I would say yes. It’s in harmony with this. I am not sure to what extent what we’ve been doing has been done independently of general Swedish development. In any case I think they are going the same direction.

Elisabeth: Mullsjö is a pretty small village. And Marston Hill has been a place where foreigners come I guess in Mullsjö. So this is a kind of international place where there have been people of different race and color.

Elisabeth, you told me about several activities for Afghan teenage children. Can you give more information?  

Elisabeth: It started in 2011. At that time the first group of solitary refugee children” (14 – 18 years old) were coming to Mullsjö. Mullsjö was positive to receiving them, many Swedish “kommuns” were not. But at the same time they didn’t really know what to do with them. They were placed in a house and they got people to look after them and then they organized teaching but what else? How could they be integrated? We decided to get involved through our “Green Quality of Life” project together with the Immigrant Institute and we started different kinds of activities.

We were particular active when they had February holidays. But before that we helped them with swimming or football training. In the February holiday they had something every day. They could try different Swedish things. When they had holidays or when they got away from school they’ve had a football, they’ve had an intensive swimming course but they’ve had also course during the whole spring 2011 and 2012. Most of them learned to swim. They didn’t know to swim before because they had not had the opportunity like Swedes go out into lakes etc.

Some of the activities had to do with things that come from Afghanistan, so we also included horses. We used a specific method where the horse follows you along certain path which promotes self-confidence. There was also nature walks and in winter skiing lessons. They have never been skiing before. There was also bobsleigh and ice fishing. The idea was to let then typical Swedish activities in a Swedish countryside area. Many immigrants don’t have contacts with this because they usually live in a suburb of a big city like Gothenburg where it is harder to have extensive contacts with nature.

Thank you for your time. I wish the Marston Hill, Intercultural Center for Quality of Life the best!

Mullsjö - Marston Hill, Intercultural Center for Quality of Life; July 3 2013


Jens Allwood

Professor i lingvistik

Föreståndare för SSKKII (eng. SCCIIL)

SSKKII är ett centrum för tvärvetenskaplig forskning i skärningsområdet mellan områdena Språk, Semantik, Kognition, Kommunikation, Information och Interaktion.



Elisabeth Ahlsénelisabeth

Professor i neurolingvistik

Vice föreståndare för Kollegium SSKKII (eng. SCCIIL).

SSKKII är ett centrum för tvärvetenskaplig forskning i skärningsområdet mellan områdena Språk, Semantik, Kognition, Kommunikation, Information och Interaktion.




Activities 2011

Sunday May 8

The Leader project ”Green Quality of Life!

Open house and Network meeting!

(Marston Hill, Havstenshultliden 12)

For members of the network – and persons interested in becoming members: 10.30-12.30

For the public: 14.00-16.00

Saturday May 21

The Leader project ”Green Quality of Life”

Presentation and discussion: Bengt Brülde, philosopher and happiness researcher: How green is actually happiness?

in cooperation with SMN (Scientific and Medical Network), Saturday May 21 at 11.00

(Marston Hill, Havstenshultliden 12)

Saturday May 28

The Leader project ”Green Quality of Life”

Nature walk

9.00 Marston Hill, Havstenshultsliden 12. Bring coffee.

(Contact: Håkan Hedström, 073-928 58 69)

June 4-11

Mullsjö Photo Festival

  • Five exhibitions with nature emotives
  • Hawk Ridge Cafe – Indian food
  • Rooms

July 11-14

Visit of group of Chinese university teachers

Swedish culture and nature program

August 14-20

SweCog Summer School in Cognitive Science 2011-07-24

The school is open to all researchers within cognitive science (Ph.D. students and persons who already have a doctorate). The number of available places is limited. If necessary, a certain preference will be given to Ph.D. students. Participation and travel will be paid by the Swedish Graduat School in Cognitive Science.