Scandia-raised Andrew Morrison was on the most recent season of “Allt för Sverige” (The Great Swedish Adventure). In the Swedish reality television show, American descendants of Swedish immigrants visit Sweden to learn more about their roots. The Messenger reached Morrison at home in Los Angeles to talk about his experience on the show.
What sparked this adventure? How did you find out about casting and what inspired you to try out?
First, I’ve always been curious about my living Swedish relatives and ancestors since I was a young kid. Growing up, I’d attend huge family reunions which I enjoyed but there was never much emphasis on our living Swedish relatives. It was a gray area in my life that I couldn’t let go of but didn’t know how to take action on.
Really wanting to know the history of my Swedish ancestors and meeting my Swedish relatives ignited when I was living in Brazil during my undergrad. In 2014 I met two Swedes named Per and Per who, after knowing me for less than 15 minutes, said I’d be a fool not to audition for the show “Allt För Sverige.”
At the time I was more focused on my career and didn’t think it was an ideal way to connect with relatives but over time the show changed, I changed and my curiosities manifested. I realized how much freedom I had to take on the opportunity, and the responsibility of reconnecting with my Swedish relatives seemed very natural. Ultimately, my grandmother, Esther Morrison, was a major inspiration in my life. With her passing our knowledge of our ancestors and relationships with our Swedish relatives were gone as well. I felt an unexplainable sense of urgency to go sooner than later because I realized if Esther had passed, who else in Sweden might be close to death. Maybe they needed help with something! The more I had those thoughts the more seriously I became about applying. Someone in the Morrison family needed to take the leap and venture over.
One of the requirements to be on the show is that you’ve never visited Sweden before. What was it like to be there for the first time?
The only two requirements to be on the show are, you’ve never been to Sweden and you have Swedish ancestry. Passed that quiz! It’s hilarious watching the first episode of the show because you always see these ridiculous people getting so emotional when they arrive in Sweden for the first time. Kissing the ground, jumping in the water and eating the grass…now I didn’t eat any grass but I did feel an immense wave of emotions come over me when I arrived in Sweden that I honestly wasn’t anticipating. I have a very “get-it-done” attitude and I thought it would just be another thing I’d check off on the adventure to-do list. I was wrong. I remember that moment as a feeling of enlightenment and gratitude. I am the first person in my family to travel to Sweden since my grandmother and aunts went in the ‘90s, which felt like an overwhelming pressure and honor to take on.
It was the first major milestone on that journey toward finding my relatives and I just remember crying uncontrollably. It was the moment I realized the madness I went through in casting, scheduling, pre-production filming and the possibility of meeting my Swedish relatives was now happening.
The journey was very much about life and death, and that moment of stepping into Sweden for the first time awoke a part of my spirit that I can’t quite explain. I understand myself far more deeply now.
What surprised or impressed you along the way?
It was a huge surprise to learn that I had so much in common with my living relatives and ancestors. That feeling of belonging, feeling welcomed and appreciated for who I am was the greatest gift I could ever ask for.
Not too much surprised me about Sweden’s landscapes or people. I guess between my personal studies of the language, history, growing up immersed in the Gammalgården and events at the Swedish Institute when I lived in Minneapolis prepared me quite well.
But a part of the journey was to learn about current affairs in Sweden surrounding immigration, politics and how their collective culture (lagom and jantalgen) stifles creativity. I was surprised to learn how the immigration issues in Sweden were similar to Minnesota. Just like some of my ancestors, people around the world today are being displaced from their homes due to natural disasters, wars or issues surrounding their beliefs (religion typically) and are in need of a new home for survival. Sweden and Minnesota are handling immigration and refugees very similarly with language, housing and work placement programs. I glad about this but there’s much room for improvement.
How did you feel about the competitive aspects of the show and the outcome in your case?
I dreaded the competitions. The cast would become demons on those days. All of our nervous ticks would emerge and I’d just hide from everyone with my coffee and granola bars until we were called in. As an artist, I’ve never been very competitive and I don’t handle competitive scenarios well but I am still glad it’s a part of the Allt For Sverige journey.
Look at it this way, my forefathers endured far more arduous experiences to achieve their goals so why shouldn’t I suck it up, put together puzzles and answer some trivia questions in order to achieve mine? It’s easier said than done however, especially when you’re up for elimination and that also means sending your best friends home.
It’s also worth saying that I learned the most about myself from the competitions. I learned how I react to fear, how I handle my achievements in the face of defeating others and I realized that I had a lot of work to do on my self esteem and self worth having gone through some very dark times in my life prior to the show. I am very happy with my outcomes and I wouldn’t change a thing about my actions because for every failure I had on the show I learned valuable life lessons, which I work toward preventing in future. Watching the show now is even more rewarding. I am so proud of how far I’ve come thanks to those wretched challenges.
Anything else you’d like people to know about or learn vicariously through your adventure?
I think it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the surface level crap like competitions, goofy characters, whether our ancestors were like us and whether or not Sweden is better than the USA. This realization hit me most deeply on my last day in Sweden, and I tear up thinking about it. The treasure chests we opened on the show were usually filled to the brim with Swedish cultural items and other clues to what was coming. But on the last day the treasure chest we opened had only one thing inside. The Swedish flag. This signaled that the adventure had come to an end. The scroll read something like this, “Today is the last day you’ll compete and tomorrow only one of you will be meeting your Swedish relatives. At this very moment, your family is arriving from across Sweden just to meet you.”
In that moment I began sobbing and realized I got what I came for. I had family in Sweden that cared about me and wanted to be with me. To reconnect the familial bond. They were dropping their lives just for a 1/4 chance they’d get to meet me in person for a few hours. When I heard that I realized the moral of the story for me. The greatest thing you’ll ever learn in life is just to love and be loved in return.