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Concordia Language Villages: Norwegian village celebrates 50 years

Concordia Language Village's Skogfjorden celebrates 50 years of teaching youth the Norwegian language and culture. Brian matthews | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - To celebrate 50 years of teaching youth the Norwegian language and immersing them in its culture, Skogfjorden is holding a reunion full of Norwegian song, dance and of course food.

"You can go various ways with a reunion, you can go with the golf game, you can go with the performance by the Norwegian group or lectures by Norwegian authors, but we decided almost immediately that we wanted to recreate Skogfjorden," volunteer Sarah "Hannah" Hansen said.

Skogfjorden is part of the Concordia Language Villages, a camp that teaches youth languages using immersion techniques. The Norwegian Village started in 1963, before opening its year round village on Turtle River Lake in 1971.

"It has changed from being a pioneering program to something that is now a standard for immersion education," Dean of Skogfjorden Tove Dahl said about the village, which to her knowledge is one of the largest programs for teaching Norwegian anywhere in the world.

Dahl has directed the program since 1983 and served on the staff in various ways before that. She, like more than half of the current staff, was once a villager herself.

"It is a program that is aligned with my own values and what I think is important," Dahl said. "The most important thing of all is that getting to know another culture, you get to know yourself."

To celebrate this immersion teaching of Norwegian culture, 270 people made up of former villagers, staff and supporters are coming to experience the village as they remember it. The people attending come from as far as Norway itself and across the U.S.

The reunion kicks off 6-10 tonight with an open house at Sparkling Waters.

On Saturday, registration starts at 9 a.m. and will be followed by the closing program for the 75 one- and two-week villagers finishing their sessions. After the villagers are gone, Norwegian traditional open faced sandwiches will be served.

From 1-6 p.m., Skogfjorden will be open for visitors to experience all of their favorite places and see how the village has grown.

Miniature lectures will also take place, discussing the Norwegian experience during World War II and discussion of the treatment of genders in the Norway workplace.

A traditional midsummer celebration called "SanktHans," with singing and dancing to Norwegian songs, is planned Saturday night.

Sunday will provide some quiet time for people to reflect on the weekend before another round of open sandwiches and helping clean the village to prepare for the next session of villagers.

Hansen said the weekend will bring villagers representing every decade of the village's existence, including one villager from the very first year of the program. She said in planning for the event she has heard similar stories from villagers of all ages, showing the tradition that Skogfjorden has built and continues to get stronger.

"Now that we are multigenerational I think that we have that to build on to be even stronger," Dahl said.

Dahl said that there are some underlying values in Norwegian culture that have a lot of merit for all people.

"We want to create a place where kids can focus on what their values are and help find ways to express that," Dahl said. "We are not about telling kids what their values are, we're about giving them a platform to do something that matters."

Dahl said Skogfjorden has always been about continuing to strengthen its Norwegian programs and it will continue to do so into the future.