Louise Ulveland ’12 has lived in or visited 28 countries in her young life, a rate of more than one per year for the 24-year-old. But none of those places has a story quite like the country where Ulveland is headed next.
This fall, Ulveland will travel from her native Sweden to South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, where she will work as an intern for UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Ulveland is currently completing a master’s degree from Sweden’s Lund University in international development and management. Her work focuses on the relationship between civil society and the military in post-conflict situations. It is hard to imagine a more relevant place to explore such themes than South Sudan. Formed in 2011, the country is the product of decades of civil strife.
“It’s quite exciting,” she said by email from Sweden. “This is the type of country I find most interesting when it comes to development. I wish to continue to work in post-conflict countries such as South Sudan.”
The challenges are considerable. The young country is rich in natural resources, especially oil, but it remains one of the least-developed nations in the world. It is also one of the least literate; only 27 percent of South Sudanese over the age of 15 are literate. But Ulveland is undaunted.
“I hope to use my skills and knowledge in a challenging environment,” she said. “I also hope to do relevant research beneficial to both UNESCO and for my master’s thesis.”
Ulveland has never shirked from adventure. She grew up in Stockholm, except for a two-year period when her father’s work took the family to North Carolina. As a college student she was determined to study abroad, but wanted a school that was not overrun by expatriate Swedes. Nothing against her countrymen; Ulveland merely wanted to learn more about another way of life.
“I knew it would be too easy to be sucked into my comfort zone and hang out with other Swedes,” she explained. “I wanted a challenge. I wanted to get to know American students.”
She liked Elmhurst’s location and its reputation for welcoming international students. She soon experienced the College’s welcoming environment for herself. When she arrived at O’Hare, Ulveland found Alice Niziolek, assistant director of international education, waiting to pick her up, ferry her to campus, and give her a tour of her new home.
“I was ecstatic,” she recalled. “I felt like I belonged right away.”
At Elmhurst, she completed two majors—one in interdisciplinary communication studies and one in multi-language. Her senior capstone project was on human trafficking in Central America. She also continued to satisfy her hunger for international travel. She spent one summer studying in Granada, Spain, and one term on a Semester at Sea experience, circumnavigating the world.
“She was very well read and had a very humanistic orientation,” said Craig Engstrom, who taught Ulveland in communication studies. “I’m not surprised that she is applying her interests to something that will do some good in the world.”
Ulveland has already started preparing for her next adventure in South Sudan by “brushing up on her Arabic” and reading as much as possible about the region’s cultures. And although she will be working in Juba, the capital, which she said was “seen as fairly safe” compared to other parts of the still-volatile country, she is counting on her knowledge of Krav Maga, the Israeli martial art, to keep her secure.
“I love adventure,” Ulveland said. “I learn so much about the world and about myself [by traveling]. I hope I will never stop exploring.”