Showering the students with Norwegian greetings, Dr. Tove Dahl’s entire face lights up as she brings the language and culture of her homeland to the children of Skogfjorden, the Norwegian Language Village.
After 26 years as dean of the Village and 30 total years working with Concordia Language Villages, Dahl has danced and sang with hundreds of children, told dozens of Norwegian fairy tales and shaped the curriculum that helps students learn the language and culture of the country she holds so dear. While she is confident in her role as dean of the program, she is still always working to make the Village relevant for today’s students.
“I have yet to experience the feeling of being ‘utlært’ as a dean, which is a Norwegian expression that means ‘I have learned it all,’” Dahl says. “There is so much to learn from and through young people.”
It’s that constant state of learning and her dedication to Norway that earned Dahl the honor of being named a Knight of the First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit, “Ridder 1. klasse av Den Kongelige Norske Fortjenstorden,” by His Majesty King Harald V of Norway. Dahl says the knighting left her speechless and quickly explains that she believes this is really an honor for everyone who is part of Skogfjorden.
“This is about the work that all of the staff do at Skogfjorden,” Dahl says. “Norway has taken notice in a fundamental way that the language and culture of Norway are honored and shared at Skogfjorden – ways that matter not only to the individuals at the Village but the entire nation of Norway.”
Dahl’s history with Skogfjorden runs deep. Though she was born in Norway, her parents moved to the United States to study. They wanted to be sure she kept up on both her English and Norwegian, so she attended the Norwegian Language Village for four years beginning when she was 10. Dahl said it took her many years, and time spent in the United States and Norway, to figure out if she was more Norwegian or more American.
“I had this amazing realization one day that I could be both,” Dahl says. “I didn’t have to be just Norwegian or just American. It was OK to have a Norwegian passport and feel a strong identity with the United States and a strong identity with Norway.”
Dahl has been comfortable identifying with two countries ever since. During winter months she works as an associate professor of psychology at the University of Tromsø and is on the board of the university’s Centre for Peace Studies. For three months during the summer, Dahl, her husband and their teenage son make their home in the U.S. at the Norwegian Language Village on Turtle River Lake near Bemidji, Minn.
President Pamela Jolicoeur, who nominated Dahl for the award, believes the combination of Dahl’s work in both Norway and the U.S. brings a wealth of knowledge to her students on both sides of the Atlantic.
“The Norwegian Language Village is an educationally rich setting that reflects the vision and leadership of Dr. Tove Dahl,” Jolicoeur says. “As the primary writer of the Skogfjorden curriculum, Tove has not only embedded strong language-learning principles, but also content-rich material on modern Norway. She ensures that Norway’s prominent role in peacemaking is understood and experienced by all villagers.”
Teaching students of all ages – from elementary through high school at Concordia Language Villages and undergraduates and graduate students at the University of Tromsø – might sound like enough of a challenge to most, but the teacher and researcher in Dahl also wants to be sure her curriculum is working. That’s why she and two university colleagues are researching the relevance Skogfjorden has to villagers later in life.
“Villagers may not understand the deeper aspects of our work while they are with us,” Dahl says, “but research I have recently done with Dr. Lisa Sethre-Hofstad (Concordia) and Dr. Gavriel Salomon (University of Haifa) shows the depth of what we do and represent, that isn’t immediately salient to kids, becomes clear over time.”
And knowing the role the Villages play in the lives of children makes her work all the more meaningful.
“I can think of nothing more interesting and of greater purpose,” Dahl says, “than to help kids discover what they care about and help them find ways to do something meaningful with that far beyond Skogfjorden’s borders.”
Originally published in the Winter 2009 Concordia Magazine