German exchange officer with his sights set on the Nordic region
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Rost speaks excellent Swedish. This is impressive considering that he is a German army officer. He has just finished his studies at the Higher Officer Program at the Swedish Defence University in Stockholm.
"For two years, Sweden was my home base and the Swedish Defence University was my military home."
After two years in Sweden, the entire Rost family is back in their home town of Dresden. There are still a few moving boxes to unpack after moving an entire household between countries.
While unpacking, the family is reflecting on what they miss from their time in Sweden. The children miss their friends, of course. But mostly the family misses the beauty of Stockholm and opportunities to spend weekends out in nature.
Alexander Rost has long had a great interest in the Nordic region, and when he had the opportunity to apply for education abroad, he chose Sweden and the Higher Officer Program (HOP). There were several reasons.
"The most important thing was cultural, educational, and language-based aspects of the learning experience, and that it would work well for the whole family to come along", he says.
Different social codes
He notes that the whole family settled in well in Sweden, as they learnt the language and a lot about the country and its people.
"A functioning family is very important when you go abroad and I am very proud of how my family coped. But not everything was easy from the start."
"We Germans have an overly romanticized image of Sweden. I thought it would be easier to get to know Swedes, to get into different social contexts. There are different layers, being an acquaintance, being a pal, being a friend", says Alexander Rost.
"In addition, conflict and competition are handled in different ways. You seem to handle problems more indirectly, diplomatically, and that can be a bit difficult for us Germans to read. If I have a conflict with a colleague in Germany, it is immediately noticeable and I bring it up with the person in question", he says, laughing.
"But after two years we have learned a lot about Sweden and no less about ourselves. However, despite all the differences and conflicts, Sweden and Germany are very like-minded and close, like old friends."
"Language is a matter of self-identity and culture"
The Higher Officer Program (HOP) is taught in Swedish, and selected officers from other countries are expected to know Swedish when they start the program. Alexander Rost speaks, impressively enough, excellent Swedish. He says that Germany offers receive really good language training. He also chose to write his master's thesis in Swedish instead of English. However, he does note that it was a challenge to balance the academic level and the new language at the same time.
He believes that education should be in Swedish even though international collaborations are increasingly more common.
"Language is a question of self-identity and culture. Being able to speak English in a professional manner is important. But it is equally important to maintain the Swedish language even within NATO membership."
His wife Luise learned Swedish by studying Swedish for immigrants (SFI) and then worked for the German-Swedish Chamber of Commerce. The two oldest children went to a German school in Stockholm and learned Swedish there, while the youngest child attended a Swedish preschool.
"My youngest, Friedrich, is more Swedish than German and I still only speak Swedish with him."
Socially outgoing and popular
At the Swedish Defence University, Rost was quickly recognized and liked by many staff and students. In addition to lectures and seminars, he often sat and studied on the university premises. Social, open, positive and interested, he also got involved as a trustee in HOP and in the Swedish Defence University's student union.
"Since I saw the National Defence College as my military home for two years, I wanted to truly become integrated and build a social network. I'm not just here for myself, but to get to know other people", says Alexander Rost.
"After two years, I am very grateful for the great people I got to know and work with."
More exchange officers on HOP
Alexander Rost attended the two-year HOP, a master's level university course commissioned by the Swedish Armed Forces. In Germany, this level of education is called General Staff Courses.
The course, which is also offered as a one-year master's, is designed for officers who want to advance in their careers, either from captain to major or lieutenant commander or the next step, to lieutenant colonel or commander. The course is run by the Swedish Defence University, and the teachers are both civilian and military academics and officers employed as military teachers.
The program has a handful of spots available for exchange officers from other countries' armed forces. The recently completed course had participants from Brazil, South Korea, Germany and the United States. Before that (2020-2022), officers from Brazil, Finland, Norway, and South Korea participated. On the current program (2022-2024) officers from Finland, Lithuania, and Norway participate. Alexander Rost thinks that exchange studies are a benefit that more people should take advantage of and he would like to see a German participant at the HOP every year.
"More engagement is needed, for example through the attaché network, to attract more international officers. Participation in the HOP can be a good prerequisite for entering the PhD program for international staff officers."
"I recommend everyone who has the opportunity to apply. The Swedish Defence University offers a study- and research environment at the highest level with an increasingly international focus, which is a good base for building international relations", says Alexander Rost.
Different education systems with a chance to broaden horizons
Unlike his Swedish peers, Alexander Rost did not have to take the course to be promoted - he was already a lieutenant colonel.
"German officers are expected to study at university level, but earlier in their career. Officers can study engineering, education, history or economics, which was Alexander Rost's choice, but not war science in light of Germany's historical heritage."
"In Sweden, staff officer training is more academic. The education in Germany is more practically oriented and provides knowledge to understand how the Armed Forces work and more concretely what is required in your future role. The HOP was therefore a very good opportunity to gain personal experience but even more so to broaden one's horizons with subjects that simply do not exist in Germany."
In terms of the quality of the education, HOP more than met his expectations. He was most curious about the parts he hadn't come into contact with before. In general, he is particularly pleased with the courses in military strategy, a subject he has not studied in the same way before.
"Studying at the Swedish Defence University opened up a completely different perspective for me on the officer's profession, and it was a very good complement to the more practically oriented German staff officer training. And the impact was dramatically increased against the backdrop of the security policy changes in the world."
Long-term planning - from army staff to defence attaché
Alexander Rost is convinced that his education in Sweden will contribute to his future career. After the summer break, he will start a new position at the German army headquarters in Strausberg, where he will work with international relations.
"My time in Sweden and at the Swedish Defence University gave me a lot of experience of the international and diplomatic scene. It was challenging but also instructive, something I am grateful for."
"I hope to work specifically with the Nordic region. Especially Sweden's NATO membership opens great opportunities for the deepening of German-Swedish defence cooperation. But there is a need for people on both sides to take advantage of the dynamics arising from the changing security situation and drive defence cooperation between both countries."
As in Sweden, officers are expected to regularly change positions and tasks. Alexander Rost's career plans extend several years ahead: after the army staff, he plans to continue working in international relations, but in the German Ministry of Defence.
In the long term, which means a few years ahead, the plan is to return to Sweden as Defence Attaché at the German Embassy.
"The family has already accepted the plan", he laughs.
Name: Alexander Rost
Title: Army Engineer, Lieutenant Colonel
Place of residence: Dresden, Germany
Family: Wife Luise and three children: Anton and Konrad, 12 years old, and Friedrich, 4 years old.
In the spotlight because: Recent graduate from the Higher Officer Program at the Swedish Defence University
Read Alexander Rost's master's thesis: Old friends on a new stage - an eclectic approach to explain how Sweden's entry into NATO affects the conditions for German-Swedish defence cooperation.
- Last updated: