Center offers Scandinavian opportunities

by John Adams

Rather than go through the University for her office furniture, Susan Larson ordered her new office furniture through a Swedish manufacturer.
This is one of the small things Larson, executive director of the Center for Scandinavian Studies, is doing to increase the Scandinavian presence on campus.
Larson wants to make the 2-month-old center the focal point for students and people in the community who are interested in Scandinavia. The center, in partnership with the Global Campus, offers 33 opportunities for students to study abroad in Scandinavian countries, which Larson said have a lot to offer.
The center is on the second floor of Folwell Hall in the former dean’s office of the College of Liberal Arts. Its large windows overlook the Williamson Hall courtyard.
The burgeoning center looks now more like a temporary election campaign office, but its spaciousness speaks to its potential presence on campus, which officials hope will include classes, community programs and study abroad programs.
“There is a huge potential for learning about Scandinavia here,” Larson said, alluding to the nearly 1.5 million Minnesotans who reported Scandinavian ancestry in the 1990 census report.
The majority of those individuals come from the traditional Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, while Finland, Iceland and Greenland enter the definition of a Scandinavian country depending on the source. Larson, drawing on linguistics graduate work in Finland, includes all six countries in Scandinavia.
Larson said many Scandinavian immigrants settled in Minnesota because it looked like home. Minnesota’s landscape of farmlands and forest is comparable to that of many Scandinavian countries. This common trait leads the areas to share similar economies such as forestry and agriculture, which make the two a good pair for student and professor exchanges.
Thomas Petersson, a visiting lecturer from Denmark, spends half of his time spreading the word to students about the opportunity they have to learn about Scandinavian countries. Petersson said only three other universities in the United States offer full Scandinavian departments like the University’s.
The center is one of only two Scandinavian centers on campuses in the United States.
“The center functions as a bridge from the University to the community as a place for research and conferences,” said Monica Zagar, assistant professor in the Department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch. Through these programs, Larson said she hopes students will see what the Scandinavian culture has to offer.
“They are a very pragmatic people, and aesthetic,” Larson said of Scandinavians. She added that their pragmatism is shown in many areas where University students could get a different perspective on society, from agriculture, to cutting-edge technology, to their popular public transportation system.
But students are not required to leave the United States to learn about Scandinavia. Through a partnership with the National Institute of Summer Scandinavian Studies, the center is offering intensive language courses in Norwegian and Swedish, as well as other Scandinavian cultural courses, this summer.
Former University President Nils Hasselmo, who was part of the initial discussion that led to the creation of the center, said it is an important place for students.
“It’s important to identify issues where Scandinavia is playing a major role, such as the environment, politics and lifestyle issues,” said the Swede.
The center has many programs with Scandinavian universities that offer students the opportunity to study in nearly every subject area. Larson said many of the programs do not have a language requirement and that Scandinavians do not usually require it either.
“Most Scandinavians will want to practice their English on you,” Larson said.
The College of Liberal Arts and the University Foundation provided the money to establish the center.