Ängsbacka: A Magical Erasmus Internship in Sweden

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Since 1997, thousands of people have been touched by the warm, open, loving atmosphere during workshops, festivals and visits at Ängsbacka. It is an international course and festival center in Northern Europe with participants, workshop leaders and volunteers from all over the world. It is located in the beautiful deep forests of Värmland in Sweden, halfway between Stockholm and Oslo.

To many, this place has become like a second home and a source of inspiration. Hundreds of people have lived and worked in Ängsbacka for short or longer periods, and contributed time, money, labor and their hearts to create what can be shared and enjoyed today. It is among the most important meeting places in Scandinavia for people who want to live a more conscious life, live from the heart, and care for the planet.

Whenever I remember my time there last summer, I feel honored to find Ängsbacka and experience its magic through my master’s program in Estonia. My Erasmus internship there from July to September 2018 gave me insights on the pros and cons on living, working, and running a course and festival center.

In the wellness industry, one of the many tools to assess an organization’s meaningful contribution to its stakeholders is looking into The 8 Wellness Dimension Wheel. True enough, Ängsbacka advocates a comprehensive approach to achieve one’s best life and encourages these dimensions: emotional, environmental, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, spiritual, and financial to be practiced with fun, joy, and readiness. Let’s dive in.

1.     Emotional Wellness

The Awareness and Acceptance of Feelings and Emotions

A foundational part of the Ängsbacka experience is the collective practice of sharing, where it is usually based on the working group (i.e. kitchen, garden, housekeeping, café, safety), composed of four to six people. The purpose of the sharing is to give space for each of the members to voice out what is alive in them in the moment and is done twice per week. It’s a sacred space, meaning that whatever arises in the circle is confidential and is neither commented on during, nor taken up after the sharing is closed.

2.         Environmental Wellness

The Recognition of Interdependence with Nature

Ängsbacka is currently utilizing its garden to source micro-greens and vegetables for their menu production. Initiatives such as using biodegradable cleaning products, composting food scraps, recycling packaging (i.e. cardboard, metal, bottle), and donating clothes to the community free shop are of high priority in its zero-waste management principles.  

3.         Intellectual Wellness

The Openness to New Concepts and Ideas

All members of Ängsbacka has a unique position to access and contribute to a daily program of activities that support growth and development. The day begins with the possibility for yoga or meditation practice that continues in the afternoon and evening with a variety of creative and connecting forms (i.e. dance, music, men’s and women’s circles, tantric and shamanic practices, massage, sauna, open stage). The daily morning or evening program is decided and put together by the community with a space opened for anyone to offer a workshop or whatever is alive within.

4.         Occupational Wellness

The Ability to Contribute to Society through Volunteer Activities

Volunteer service at Ängsbacka is based on five hours of working meditation per day with two days off per week. With the allotted participation, there is ample opportunity to learn about one’s personal relationship to work, develop a variety of soft and hard skills, and learn how to be present with what it is to be in service. To support both the workflow and the volunteer experience, a minimum commitment of two weeks for every volunteer is required.

5.     Physical Wellness

The Maintenance of a Healthy Body through Good Nutrition, Regular Exercise, and Avoidance of Harmful Habits

Ängsbacka caters to different dietary restrictions (i.e. lactose, soy, and gluten intolerances) as well as diet choices (i.e. vegetarian and vegan). By focusing on real food, the kitchen team prepares everything from scratch — own soup stock, grow vegetables and utilize natural, organic, GMO-free products — which results in food made with good intentions. The success stories have included many participants and volunteers feeling a stronger bond with their food and a disappearance of eating disorders.

6.         Social Wellness

The Ability to Perform Social Roles Effectively, Comfortably, and Without Harming Others.

Ängsbacka has a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use and sets The 12 Guidelines stating how they aspire to live and work as a community. It is not only a place to serve one’s own personal development as a volunteer but also the development of the many hundreds of participants who join the courses and trainings throughout the year. The concept of giving the gift of providing a warm, safe, clean and nourishing environment through its different working groups also means providing a nurturing and respectful space, where everyone can relax and unfold.

7.         Spiritual Wellness

The Meaning and Purpose of Human Existence

Anyone involved in Ängsbacka has access to a variety of meditation experiences through its daily program of activities, which can include the 30 minute ‘silent sitting’ practice, Osho Dynamic meditation, Osho Kundalini meditation and various styles of yoga offered on festivals or by the community itself.

8.         Financial Wellness

The Awareness that Everyone’s Financial Values, Needs, and Circumstances are Unique

Ängsbacka offers a variety of payment options for all. Participants are offered with an early bird and reduced rate aside from the regular price on courses and festival tickets. Volunteers pay a discounted fee as one contributes time and energy in the form of working meditation. The fee includes three beautiful vegetarian meals a day, a bed in one of the shared dormitories, and access the festival for free outside the working hours.

While Sweden is a culture free of exaggeration, the management style and interactions are straightforward and more transparent. What I highly appreciated during the entire internship was the flat organizational structure with a non-existent management hierarchy. The connections, encouragements, and admiration were given sincerely to the entire working teams as well as to individuals.

The understanding of shared purpose has been well embraced too. The communal spirit is very alive and the collective wisdom is translated into shareable experiences with the new and returning visitors, participants, workshop leaders, staff, and volunteers. There is a feeling of belongingness, of being home, of being included, of being welcomed. The culture of care and warmth beyond differences open everyone’s hearts and minds that is vital to feel good in all the wellness dimensions.

Overall, the Ängsbacka magic really held me in an allowing and cooperative space to reflect, flourish, and give my best to a shared vision of the community. This learning opportunity was pivotal in expanding my understanding of Ängsbacka as a benevolent business enterprise and community space contributing its share for the good of all. With its big love sprinkled all over, it is indeed one of my most memorable internship ever.

Written By:
Fiona Jade Lim (Philippines)
MA in Wellness and Spa Service Design Management

Ängsbacka Photos: (https://www.flickr.com/photos/angsbacka/)

*This blog was posted originally for International Student Ambassadors – University of Tartu

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