Reasons to study Scandinavia

Photo: Jon Dennie Scandinavia and its flags on display at PLU’s Scandinavian Cultural Center.

Photo: Jon Dennie
Scandinavia and its flags on display at PLU’s Scandinavian Cultural Center.

Jon Dennie
Pacific Lutheran University

Your major is in what? A Scandinavian Area Studies major often requires a bit of an explanation to dispel the idea that the degree is a waste of time. Among Nordic exchange students, there is a running joke that while participating in extracurricular activities the student is “studying.” Even those from Scandinavia find the degree title odd.

The Nordic countries play a vital role in the world, contributing to peace-conflict resolution, the global economy, the arts, and plenty more. One must look no further than the multitude of “World’s Happiest Countries” articles, in which all the Scandinavian countries fall into top-ranking positions. Even current political debates in the United States have made note of the living situation among Scandinavians. Senator Bernie Sanders has been quoted as favoring governments and economies such as that of social-democratic Denmark. Studying these countries offers an opportunity to study how to better society as a whole.

By studying Nordic culture, language, and ideas, students gain the ability to dissect information through varying perceptive lenses. The student becomes capable of approaching issues, forms of learning, and viewpoints from differing perspectives. In this, students develop a deeper, more complex competency in approaching problems or issues. Ultimately, this broadening of the mind results in a more informed global citizen acquiring transferable skills that will be useful throughout the entirety of a person’s home and work life.

Foreign policy gives us plenty of examples. There are many international issues, but a full-scale assault war does not always need to be the answer. Using Norway as an example, the theories implemented by the Peace and Conflict Institution aim to open a dialog between those in conflict.

In a speech at the Second Annual Somali Peace Conference, State Secretary Raymond Johansen noted: “In the last fifteen years, the world has suffered one hundred conflicts, of which about thirty are still ‘active’ today. Nearly all of them are internal. Due to globalization we are affected by these conflicts. Many of today’s greatest challenges—terrorism, international crime, environmental degradation, the spread of infectious diseases and fear—originate in conflict areas far away. However, there is really no ‘far away’ anymore: Local conflicts are also a global problem, a global challenge.

As speaker Johansen points out, because of the interconnectedness of humanity today, any problem in a place far away has the ability to affect one’s home community. Consider the drought in California in 2014. According to a federal report, California exports 1.8 million tons of hay and alfalfa to countries like Japan, China, UAE, and Korea. Water restrictions hit national news last summer and fall. This affected communities in suburban California and had an impact on agriculture production, which in turn can lead to reduced exports to export countries. While not a disturbance to cause war, the economic results are massive. Due to the globalized community that exists today, it is important to observe and implement strategies currently practiced by governments and agencies such as the peace-and-conflict resolution strategies exercised by the Norwegian government.

The Scandinavian Area Studies degree is not only for those of Scandinavian heritage wishing to learn more of a language. The study of Scandinavia creates a more informed critical thinker with the ability to offer a magnitude of approaches to any argument in any field. Such competencies are of increasing importance in the confrontation of cultural boundaries within this increasingly globalized community.

Jon Dennie is a graduate in Scandinavian Area Studies from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. He is currently working on reconstruction and refurbishment of older houses. He spends his free time staying active in the outdoors and maintains ties to family in Vassbotnfjell, Rognan, Nordland, Norway. He has lived, worked, and studied in both Norway and the United States.

This article originally appeared in the April 8, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

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