Major of the week: Norwegian Studies

Jacob Notermann, Staff Writer

It’s getting to be that time of year when snow begins to blanket UND’s campus. A time for last-minute panicking over finals, remembering to pack clothes before traveling back home and getting ready for Santa Claus to visit.

For some students at UND, getting close to the North Pole is just part of their studies.

The two main components  of the program, as one can imagine, are the linguistic and cultural aspects of Norway. UND Associate Professor for the Norwegian program, Melissa Gjellstad, tries to keep these two aspects as one.

“Learning a language is learning culture all the time; you can’t separate those,” Gjellstad said.

Gjellstad covers the cultural courses on Norwegian literature, plays and their best-seller: a course on Vikings. These courses don’t require any prerequisites, so those interested from all corners of the academic world are welcome.

And don’t worry, non-Norwegian speakers. These courses are taught in English.

The program has both a major and a minor that are advertised as complementary to a wide variety of majors.

Just ask UND Senior Wayne Knain. With Knain’s Norwegian major, he is also majoring in information systems. Knain is originally from the small town of Reynolds, North Dakota, but for him, Norway is in his backyard.

Knain has a  Norwegian family heritage. His grandfather would even speak Norwegian to them, on occasion.

Despite the early exposure to the culture, Knain didn’t pursue a Norwegian major until after he had begun his college studies.

Knain originally started as an accounting major, which he planned on accomplishing in five years. He decided to fill his time with another major, Norwegian.

“I had started taking Norwegian classes. Next thing I know, my teacher who had studied abroad was talking to us about Norway and I was thinking ‘that sounds pretty cool,’” Knain said.

Studying abroad is a notable part of the program. UND’s program also partners with a variety of institutions in Norway as part of a student exchange program, one that both UND’s law and medical school partake in.

For Knain, his recruitment was swift.

“I go to this study abroad fair and put my name down for Norway just so I could get information,” Knain said. “Next thing I know, I’m signing my name saying I’m going.”

There, Knain took classes in Norwegian music, language and politics.

For many students, studying abroad is not only an opportunity to learn about a new country, it’s also a chance to learn about the one they already live in.

“The bigger thing is that you really can’t know your own country and language unless you study in another country,” UND Norwegian language lecturer Steven Finney said. “You learn more about your own country than you do about the country you’re visiting.”

This lesson, as Knain found out, is not one easily digested.

“They call that reverse culture shock,” Knain said. “Most people know what culture shock is, but reverse culture shock is when you’ve been living in a new culture and you come back and kind of look down on everything. Like, nothing’s really changed; you feel like you’re above everybody else. I felt that so much.”

This may be an early impression, for the long-term effects can be worth it.

“It makes everything richer with the comparative perspective,” Gjellstad said.

There are roughly a dozen students who take the Norwegian major and another dozen who take the minor. The two-team faculty do their work to ensure that the program can complement other academic aspirations.

“It’s something I didn’t know I needed in my life,” Knain said.

For the past semester, the Dakota Student has been highlighting various major programs at UND. We’ve covered lesser-known and newly-developed programs, as well as programs riddled with stereotypes.

Despite selecting a different major every week, there are still many more programs offered at UND with a story to tell.

If you are majoring in a program that would like to be nominated for the Major of the Week, please email [email protected] with your nominated major.

Jacob Notermann is a staff writer for the Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]