Choose Your Own Adventure

Portrait of Lily Obeda.
Photo by Jacob Van Blarcom, CLAgency student

“I love that there is no end to your options here at the U,” says Lily Obeda. “It's such a big school, but it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure novel; the story is not written for you. Especially in the case of [the German, Scandinavian & Dutch department] you are allowed to take a huge number of electives and focus in on what it is that you want to learn.”

Obeda’s adventure? She just graduated with a double major in German, Scandinavian, Dutch (GSD) with a Scandinavian & Finnish emphasis and speech-language-hearing sciences (SLHS). She spent her college career connecting language and cultural studies with the scientific study of how language works.

“Once you find your passion and the piece of you that clicks, everything else falls into place,” she says of her dual course of study.

Connecting Two Fields

Obeda is fascinated by the relationship between social and applied linguistics. Through SLHS, she engaged with topics like why people speak, the cognitive concept behind communication, and how voices actually work. As she explored those ideas, she was also deepening her understanding of one particular language and culture: Finnish.

“Our studies in GSD are not something that we take lightly,” she says. “Once you get into it, everyone takes it to heart and the professors are so passionate [that] it really rubs off on everyone else.”

Obeda cites Finnish lecturer Dr. Daniel Karvonen as being instrumental in getting her to where she is today. “Dan has been an amazing teacher and mentor to me… He challenges me to put everything I have into Finnish studies.”

Karvonen gives Obeda a lot of credit too, saying that "Lily is one of those rare students who takes advantage of every opportunity she can in order to improve her proficiency in Finnish. Her passion and joy for the language is palpable and rubs off on everyone she comes into contact with.” 

Thanks to this guidance, Obeda decided to spend her junior year at the University of Oulu, near the Arctic Circle in Finland. That experience not only strengthened her understanding of her host country, but also gave her the opportunity to view her own language and culture through a Nordic perspective through classes like English philology (the study of language especially in its historical, structural, and literary aspects).

Reaching Into The Past

Finnish has always been a significant part of Obeda’s life. Her family celebrates its Finnish heritage, and Obeda says that she began speaking Finnish in bits and pieces from a young age.

As she grew older, Obeda took steps to learn more about her Finnish background. She believes that connecting with the past is something that everyone can benefit from. “A lot of Americans value their heritage; we all came from somewhere,” she points out. “Being able to understand our heritage and think about what that heritage means is critical in today’s society.”

Through the influence of her grandfather, Obeda pursued an education focused on Finnish studies—she attended programs in Finnish through the Concordia Language Villages and later took college courses in the language during high school through the post-secondary enrollment options (PSEO) program. “Although Finnish is a very linguistically complex language, I tried my hand at it while I was young and I fell in love immediately.”

She has continued to explore and reconnect with her own language and heritage at the University of Minnesota. “I was raised in a Finnish American household, so taking courses in GSD has allowed me to see reflections of myself but also find out new information on Finnish culture.”

The Next Chapter

Obeda reflects on how the path she chose in college has helped to prepare her for future adventures. Her “ultimate goal in the future is to find a career in academia, so speaking Finnish in itself is a major skill moving forward.”

More generally, she appreciates how her studies have prepared her to empathize with others and approach global problems from a perspective of openness. “Looking at an issue from multiple viewpoints can give students a much more well-rounded way of problem-solving and critical thinking,” she says.“Even within one focus, the ability to branch out of your own specialization and think about things in a different way I think is incredibly important.”

Obeda sees her language skills and liberal arts background as essential preparations for the road ahead.

A distinguished scholar, Obeda received the Finnish Connection Scholarship, the Edelstein Family Foundation Scholarship, the Mary Ann Wilson Hansen Scholarship in Scandinavian Studies, and the Warren C. Locke - Post Office American Legion Post No 540 Scholarship during her time in CLA.

This story was written by an undergraduate student in CLA.

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