A boardroom in the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business may be the last place you expect a leader of a European country to turn up – but that’s been the case twice in the last four months.
It’s the second most powerful public position in the northern European country. The monarchy is higher, but that's not an elected position.
Ahlin has a winter home in Florida, and his connection to USF is through Walter Andrusyszyn.
The former member of the U.S. State Department and the White House National Security Council, who headed USF’s program in National and Competitive Intelligence before retiring late last year.
“They rarely get a chance to speak with someone who’s a real leader in a parliamentary or government sense as well," Andrusyszyn said. "But I think what they get out of it is a good sense that one, you have to be good at what you do in order to have that position, but the other thing is how rough it is and how difficult it is make political arrangements and political solutions to problems.
"I think that’s what I’d like to transmit to students: there’s not a gray area in between that you can just go out and then say, ‘This is the solution,’" he added. "It’s a constant political struggle in order to find solutions to different kinds of problems and there’s always many, many problems but there’s very few solutions.”
Ahlin met with students at USF back in November of last year, shortly before the presidential election. He returned last month to share his thoughts – and find out what they’re thinking – now that Donald Trump has taken the reins of the world’s last superpower.
During his 90-minute talk with around a dozen students, Ahlin shared limited thoughts about Trump’s campaign and behavior since being elected. Instead, he focused mainly on the evolving relationship between the U.S. and Europe.
“What I really wanted to give them was a message that I think it’s important that countries work together," Ahlin said. "I have a motto and that is: ‘prosperous countries have prosperous neighbors,’ and at least for the European Union, it’s really like that – if you have cooperation with other countries, it benefits yourself.”
The speaker, a member of Sweden’s center-left Social Democratic Party, told the students the turn by many countries throughout the Western Hemisphere towards policies of nationalism worries him.
“If we want to defeat terrorists, if we want to fight climate change, if we want to have economic progress, if we want to stabilize the financial markets, or whatever you have there, you need to cooperate between countries," Ahlin said. "I’m a little bit sad when I see a wave of nationalists all over the world, I think that is not the right recipe for the world we are in today.”
The visit took place about a week and a half before the President’s tweets criticizing Sweden’s refugee policies. But Trump's effort to temporarily block refugees of some majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. was still a major topic of discussion.
Ahlin shared how his country has changed its regulations, which now give those seeking asylum temporary residency for between 13 months and three years, while also limiting the possibility of asylum seekers’ bringing their families to Sweden.
“I was sort of fascinated to hear how within Sweden, they’re trying to sort of take this economic valuation of immigration versus just sort of purely an ideological one," second year political science Ph.D. student Keith McCoy said. “They’re not just talking about having bans or something like that, they’re talking about 'How do we manage it so it’s such that we can support it with our infrastructure and have it be a good thing for the country, for Sweden, and also be sensitive to our own ideals about refugees?'”
McCoy appreciated being given the chance to talk with an international politician for a number of reasons.
“It’s incredible. As a political science student, it’s nice to be connected with an actual politician directly. It’s a tremendous opportunity to see what they’re actually thinking and the thought process behind the policies that they’re planning on carrying out, undertaking," he said.
"And it’s great because this has been an interdisciplinary thing too," McCoy added. "It’s not just political science students coming over, but you have all these business majors as well, it’s two very different schools, I mean, economists versus political economists and such.”
The variety of students went beyond majors. USF students from Sweden, Italy and Russia were also in attendance.
Mark Smyslov, 19, is a finance junior from Moscow. He spoke at length with the speaker about the relationship between the country where Smyslov is attending school and his homeland.
“What surprised me was that he actually knows why and what’s happening and how it affects rather than just expressing his opinion about it," Smyslov said. "He showed facts and showed his knowledge about Crimea, he showed knowledge about the Ukraine situation, so he knows the little aspects and it shows that a person is dedicated to it, so I had a great conversation with a person who knows his stuff and who actually cares.”
For Ahlin's part, he loved the give-and-take of talking with an international group of students, saying that it exposes him to voices that he doesn’t hear in Sweden.
“As a politician, it gives you lots of energy, it gives you lots of insight what is actually going on," he said, smiling. "That makes me tick, it makes me tick, you know, to meet young people and talking to them about the future, what are they worried about, what do they dream about, how do they view themself in the society they are living in. It gives you lots of knowledge."
And it wasn’t all about world affairs – Keith McCoy found common ground with Ahlin talking about hockey and the Tampa Bay Lightning, particularly their global lineup of Swedish defensemen and a U.S.-Russian goalie duo.
“I’m a big Bolts fan through thick and thin, and so is he apparently, so, yeah, connected there, talking about (Victor) Hedman and (Anton) Stralman and (Andrei) Vasilevsky and (since traded Ben) Bishop, so it was pretty cool," McCoy said with a grin. "Maybe we’ll be able to get a beer some time.”