Nordic Studies program makes waves among Luther students


As one of the fastest growing academic programs at Luther, the Nordic Studies department is making waves among students. Luther is one of only a handful of higher education institutions, and one of only two private liberal arts colleges, with Nordic Studies programs in the U.S. The unique study abroad opportunities, internships, and career paths introduced by the department make it an exciting place to be for many students. 


Associate Professor of Nordic Studies Maren Johnson’s vision for the department is to make it more individualized, creating unique paths within the major for each student. Some students only take Norwegian 101 and 102, while majors and minors may choose to focus more on language, culture, history, or any combination of these tracks. 


“I want to continue and see our programs grow in a way that best serves our students,” Johnson said. “One of the things that we’ve been working on a lot the last few years is to create internships and collaborations with other colleges and organizations globally, so that our students can really have a diverse “menu” of options when they study [Nordic Studies] here at Luther.”


The Nordic Studies department has offered a multitude of study abroad opportunities for students throughout the years, and it is a requirement for all majors to study in Norway. These programs help students to increase their language fluency, and also exposes them to post-collegiate opportunities. Nordic Studies major Berit Skogen (‘23) attended the online Oslo International Summer School through the department, and now hopes to pursue graduate studies at the University of Oslo after graduating from Luther. Her connections to the faculty after taking Norwegian-101 were what spurred her decision to pursue the major.


“I was just considering doing a minor, and then I took my first class in Norwegian,” Skogen said “I really just fell in love with the subject matter and really made a connection with the faculty. I also found out that [Nordic Studies] was a pretty ‘do-able’ double major, so I decided I would try to fit it in.”


Skogen hopes to pursue a master’s degree in Literature in Norway after her graduation, in league with many Luther students whose studies of the Nordic region shaped their post-grad plans. Anna Beaverson (‘24) is double majoring in neuroscience and Nordic Studies, and has taken an interest in research to improve societal wellbeing in the U.S. by comparing and contrasting it with that in Nordic countries.


“I’m interested in research, analyzing the way that society impacts people’s mental and emotional wellbeing,” Beaverson said. “[I am] specifically looking at how Nordic countries influence [their populace], because they have some of the happiest people in the world. There is a higher rate of teen depression in the US, but it’s one of the largest countries in the world, and it has a large economic system. Studying the differences between the two [countries] is what I’m interested in.”


Like Beaverson, many students choose to combine the Nordic Studies major with another. This is a result of Johnson’s goal to make Nordic Studies a student-centered major, one that can complement and support other areas of study. Johnson believes the flexible yet rigorous curriculum offers exciting opportunities for individualized learning.


“I would say that one of the things that has been really exciting to see is all the creative ways in which our students have conceptualized their studies of the Nordic region,” Johnson said. “Lots of our students [are] double majors, so that’s really exciting. A lot of our students have taken the opportunity [of studying Norwegian] to think creatively about what types of experiences they want to have, and we’ve worked in partnership to create the degree program that maintains high academic standards but also gives [students] diverse opportunities to launch themselves into the world.”


The Nordic Studies department is undertaking many projects during the 2021-22 academic year. They plan to offer more Norwegian language courses, as well as a class on Nordic foods. The department’s club, Norskklub, will hold more regular meetings, and the department will continue to foster community programs teaching Norwegian language and culture to children and adults. 


“We’re getting our Norwegian club, Norskklub, back up and running,” Johnson said. “We’re working on language classes with Vesterheim, for non-Luther students and the community. We’re providing an afterschool program for Decorah kids to learn about Norwegian culture. I have a new colleague [Language Teaching Assistant Evelyn Galstad (‘20)], who just started this fall, so that’s really exciting. We have 75 students in our first year Norwegian, and so there’s just a lot of energy and enthusiasm going on.”