The Swedish Life

Amy Hamblin and Amy Hamblin

Curled up in a chair wearing brown yoga pants and fuzzy blue socks with no shoes, Marika Lindholm is comfortable where she is in life.

On this particular day, the Swedish-born sociology professor is working on her latest short story about a sushi chef. Photos and artwork of her six children adorn the office where she is working.

Stacked on her desk are bumper stickers that read “Social justice is a moral value.” The slogan she officially has patented is not only a post-election political statement but also captures her life’s work to promote tolerance and social equality.

“My goal is to empower people to look at the world around them and see what they can do in their small way,” she said. “I’m not saying everyone should start a social movement but just by the way you interact with individuals on a daily basis is a really powerful thing.”

Since arriving at Northwestern in 1992, she has taught courses in the Kellogg School of Management, the American Studies and Business Institutions programs, and the sociology department.

She said her childhood experiences with discrimination and inequality pushed her to become a sociologist. When Lindholm was 5, her family moved to the United States. For several years, her mother scraped money together as an actress and model, while her father was a photographer in Manhattan. Her mother later remarried, and the family moved to Westchester, a wealthy suburb of New York City.

She and her five siblings lived with a nanny in a separate house next to the “presentable house.” It was difficult to transition from her poor working-class neighborhood in Manhattan to a more affluent suburb, she said.

Being a child of immigrants, she added, only made matters worse.

“There were a lot of times when I felt out of place or awkward,” Lindholm said. “At that time when I was wearing clogs, people were like ‘Are those special shoes?'”

Lindholm said she eventually was able to adapt to her new setting but not without some embarrassing moments. She laughs when she recalls arriving at a public pool without her swimsuit top, as is the custom in Sweden for children.

After being seriously injured in a car crash at 15, Lindholm gave up horse riding and vaulting, and started playing tennis.

The self-described “jock” said she still plays twice a week and travels around the area to compete. Two years ago, she and her partner were ranked eighth in the nation for the 40-year-old division.

Her tennis partner, Ann Taylor, said the two friends have helped each other through the “ups and downs” of the past seven years.

“She is very sensitive and gets what’s going on with someone without having to explain,” said Taylor, a Deerfield resident.

When they started playing tennis together, Lindholm recently had separated from her husband and was living with her two kids in an apartment where she slept in the dining room.

“It was a very challenging time,” she said. “It was kind of like reconfiguring your identity and figuring out your financial situation.”

But she said she finally was enjoying the single life when she met her future second husband at Borders. The two casually discussed books in line but never exchanged contact information.

Lindholm said she was shocked when he e-mailed her a month later.

She explained that he had his secretary find the mystery woman by using a few clues: she was an NU professor from Sweden who played tennis.

“I was totally psyched,” Lindholm said of the surprise e-mail.

Now married just more than a year with a 10-month-old baby together, the couple is considering adopting a girl.

Because her new husband came to the marriage with triplets, the household tally currently is at eight.

Her life might be hectic, but she said her “hyper” nature keeps her going.

Brent Nakamura, currently doing independent study with Lindholm, said he liked her relaxed teaching style when he took Sociology 201.

“She welcomed a lot of class participation,” said Nakamura, a Weinberg junior. “She made class very personal.”

For Lindholm, teaching is about both educational and personal relationships with students.

“I remember almost every face,” she said. “You’ll see me in a store and you’ll look at me like, ‘Hey, why is she saying hello to me?'”

Reach Amy Hamblin at [email protected].

Extra Credit Question:

You called yourself a jock. What other sports do you like?

I grew up scuba diving and windsurfing and being a water-person. When my parents split up, my father went and lived on a boat. Anytime I wanted to go to a great vacation spot, we’d sail there — the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rican Islands, Dutch Antilles.