Friendship and fun at Skogfjorden

Photo courtesy CLV.

Photo courtesy CLV.

Skogfjorden celebrates 50 years of learning

By Kelsey Larson

For 50 summers now, Skogfjorden Norwegian Language Village has allowed kids to escape the modern world and enjoy nature, friends and learning. Located on Turtle River Lake, in a peaceful forest setting north of Bemidji, Minn., Skogfjorden has faithfully carried out its unique mission of Norwegian language and cultural education in an immersion setting.

“I was first a villager in 1984. My sister had gone to Waldsee the previous year and I had a friend headed to Skogfjorden. So I chose Norsk!” says Sarah “Hannah” Hansen, who has been involved at Skogfjorden in many capacities since her first year as a Villager, and today sits on the 50th Anniversary Committee. “Skogfjorden inspires me in many ways – most importantly in having the opportunity to learn from kids. I love hearing their ideas about Norway in the world, about responsible global citizenship, and about being just plain silly… på norsk!”

Skogfjorden is part of Concordia Language Villages, an initiative that began in the 1960s to help kids learn language. Gerhard Haukebo, Ph.D., a Concordia College faculty member, suggested the college initiate an experimental program using immersion techniques to teach language. Norwegian was taught for the first time in 1963. These early sessions were held in rented spaces, but in 1969, Skogfjorden was the first Village to have its own permanent, architecturally authentic site constructed.

As part of the 50th anniversary festivities, some of the earliest participants will join current staff and villagers for a weekend of fun June 22 – 24. “I am most excited to meet the Skogfjorden Pioneers – villagers and staff from the 1960s. These are the folks who laid the groundwork for our beautiful place for learning Norwegian by a lake in the woods,” says Hansen.

Skogfjorden offers unique language education through immersion techniques. Once a Villager steps into Skogfjorden territory, he enters a different world, where the language, food and even the money is unfamiliar. Everyone chooses a Norwegian name, and often these names become more important than a Villager may bargain for. Many Skogfjorden counselors and Villagers even have alternate Facebook profiles for their Skogfjorden identities, or else include their Skogfjorden name as their first or middle name. “More people know me socially as Hannah (than as Sarah) these days. Skogfjorden just sticks with a person,” says Hansen.

Different activities – singing, games, crafts and even meal times – help with the learning of the language. One of these activities, called Allsang, in which even the least confident singers raise their voices in fun Norwegian songs, has been a constant throughout the years. As part of the anniversary weekend, an activity called “Allsang through the ages” will be held. Says Hansen, “I am looking forward to singing the songs that have been constant and learning some new songs from the Skogfjorden Pioneers!”

Besides the unique way in which language is taught at Skogfjorden, the Village is set apart by the attitudes of its participants. Adults and counselors work hard to make sure kids feel safe and accepted at Skogfjorden. This has created an incredible environment of fun and friendship at the Language Village, to the point where many Villagers see Skogfjorden as a second home, and their Skogfjorden friends as family.

“Not only has Skogfjorden given me the opportunity to meet new people from around the world and learn a new language and unique skills, it has also rewarded me with the qualities of a teacher, a leader, and a friend. Skogfjorden has become my home and there is nothing that I am more proud of than to say that I am a member of the family created at Skogfjorden,” says Jillian “Olivia” Flom, who was a Villager at Skogfjorden for 10 years and a counselor for two.

“Skogfjorden is constant, but it’s also constantly new. I can count on the welcoming traditions and sense of home when I’m there, and at the same time, there’s always something exciting to learn or do that keeps me coming back and makes me want to share the excitement with others,” says Katherine “Ingeborg” Spencer, who was a Villager for a year and a counselor for two.

The 50th Anniversary Committee wants to see as many faces at Skogfjorden this summer as possible, old and new: “Bli med! As Paul Dovre told us at International Day in 1993, we are all villagers! Not only do we have programs for kids 7 – 17 in the summer in Bemidji, we have adult programs, family programs, pre-K programs! Send a kid or send yourself! You can also support Skogfjorden financially by making a tax-deductible contribution to support scholarships and new building projects. Vi sees på Skogfjorden!”

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.