By Christopher Thrall –
At this year’s Spring Soiree, Augustana’s unique Scandinavian Studies program attracted an endowment from the Scandinavian Trade and Cultural Society. Ingrid Urberg, associate professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, was grateful for the gift and the opportunities it presents to support research and promotion of Scandinavian culture and heritage.
“Scandinavian studies is an unusual offering,” she says. “A lot of people will teach courses part-time, but there are very few full-fledged programs in Canada. Our students are seeking a unique education, on a subject they can’t find just anywhere.”
The endowment will help support Scandinavian studies in two vital areas. “Not only will we be able to provide scholarships for students traveling to Norway or other Scandinavian countries,” says Urberg, “but we will also be able to continue bringing internationally renowned speakers to Augustana.” These speakers have included a polar explorer, a prize-winning author and the head of the Nobel Peace Prize committee.
Despite the fact that the entire Nordic region has fewer people than Canada, the area has produced a number of writers and thinkers – such as Henrik Ibsen, Edvard Grieg, Søren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen – that have had a tremendous impact on Western culture. Today, Scandinavian nations often rank highest in quality of life comparisons and they are leaders in environmentally sound energy development, social programs, gender equality and health care. “The choices they make for their societies can inspire or inform the decisions that people make in other countries around the world,” Urberg says.
A minor in Scandinavian studies is available to students in any program, while students who pursue a major in the program earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in modern languages. This pairs their Norwegian language instruction with either French or German and requires study abroad. “I always tell my students that they never know what doors will open,” says Urberg. She has been teaching the program at Augustana for 17 years. “Due to the nature of the program, Scandinavian studies complements many other areas of study. We have had students go on to politics, the performing arts, translation, medicine, education, the travel or oil and gas industries, and businesses of all kinds.”
“Not only does the program offer a solid liberal arts degree where students learn to write and think well,” Urberg continues, “but it offers a variety of courses for a range of interests – for both students and many members of the community who come to audit my classes!” Because of the area’s Norwegian roots, many auditing students are retirees from Camrose who are learning the language or exploring the material out of interest. “However, many auditing students have been younger as well – it is great to have a range of ages in the classes.” Courses include Scandinavian folk literature, personal narratives of the North and an upcoming class on Viking-age mythology and its influence on modern literature.
There are some very popular, more extreme courses available as well. “One key to having a successful small program is the importance of connecting with colleagues,” says Urberg. For example, Urberg and Outdoor Education’s Morten Asfeldt combine the study of personal narratives in northern literature with a two-week dogsledding trip and homestead stay, after which students write their own narratives. Whether it is the study of important works of literature in translation, or Nordic cultural geography, Urberg feels that it is very important to build interdisciplinary connections for her program. The options attract interested students from all over.
“I tend to have more students minoring in Scandinavian studies or just taking a course or two out of interest,” says Urberg, “and they come from all areas: the social sciences, the sciences and the arts.” She has taught students from across Canada, South Korea, the United States, Uganda and Scandinavia itself. “Whether they enrol to learn Norwegian or simply to be introduced to another culture, students come away with new perspectives on their own cultures.” Plus, a job application with Scandinavian studies listed makes the candidate stand out immediately; it breaks the ice in conversation and opens unexpected doors.
One of these doors leads to Telemark University College in Bø, Norway. An international cooperation agreement with Augustana has led to student and faculty mobility between the institutions, as well as conferences on northern and rural issues. The second conference takes place here this fall, and will feature celebrated authors, politicians and academics from around the world. Locally, the Nordic Club on campus hosts extracurricular activities and events, while Urberg herself teaches Norwegian and is trying to get a book club together. The Scandinavian Trade and Cultural Society endowment will help support initiatives like these and many others to come.
“I am very excited about the endowment,” says Urberg, “and very grateful to the Society. Because of the history of Augustana, Scandinavian studies has a special places on this campus. Thanks to the endowment – and the interest of students majoring, minoring and auditing the program – we will be able to plan for even more opportunities to study these multi-faceted cultures in the future.”