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Making Connections

August 15, 2016

Seeing is believing. Connection has always been essential to learning for Dr. Lena Norrman, “by relating your life experiences to work done in the classroom you broaden your horizons and gain a deeper understanding of the topic.” Norrman credits this practical approach that combines teaching with rigorous coursework to Harvard’s “out of the classroom approach,” where having an interactive classroom and curiosity is most desirable. As a PhD student, Norrman sat in a seminar at Harvard that looked at frescos and was prompted by her professor to consider what one could perceive from looking closely at the images. Soon thereafter, Norrman made the connection between her previous work as a dressmaker and what she could infer from viewing Viking tapestries. These tapestries functioned as decorative oral traditions. Norman reflects, “Much like a storyteller, a weaver can change some things but, are restricted by parameters of weaving.” This curiosity about how to combine her life experience with practical learning in a college setting is what Norrman values and what she hopes to bring into the classroom.

For the Immigration Course (SCAN 3504) students read a novel that focused on the Swedish immigration to America in the 1800-1900’s. Chair of the Department of German, Scandinavian & Dutch, Charlotte Melin, made the connection between Dr. Norrman’s class content and a project that colleague Mike Greco (director of the University’s Resilient Communities Project, RCP) was working on. To enhance the learning experience, Dr. Norrman and Mike Greco arranged a field trip (with all financial support coming from RCP) to the Andrew Peterson homestead in Carver county. This particular farmstead is significant because of the owner's diligent journaling. Andrew Peterson kept a journal documenting his daily life from the time he left Sweden in 1850 until his death in 1898. After finding Peterson’s journals at the Minnesota Historical Society, author Vilhelm Möberg published them as part of his series on immigrants, which increased the visibility of this farm immensely. Making the connection between the course readings and a specific immigrant experience was powerful for Norrman’s students.

Student Mathilda Fromentine reflects, “Our teacher Lena Norrman did an excellent job teaching us about Scandinavian immigration and emigration to the United States, but the icing on the cake was our field trip to the Andrew Peterson farm at the end of the semester. At the farmstead, we got to see with our own eyes how past immigrants settled in the United States. The houses and the barn [looked like] a farm that could be located in Sweden; it was amazing to see!"

At the end of the course, students were asked to write about the contemporary issues based on one of the novels they read or to write about the farmstead. While 10 students chose to write on contemporary issues, 16 wrote on the experience and impact of farmstead. The course expands upon immigration and emigration from the 1850s to present day, the trip, what happened when immigrants arrived in America, and broad questions like “Where is Home?” and can immigrants “really integrate?”. The last part of the course focuses on what is happening today. Through this process, students come to the realization that people go to a place where they can make a better life for themselves. Seeing a place like the farmstead makes connections for the students not only about the past but also about the current experience of immigrants.

Dr. Norrman truly feels grateful for her job and the support she receives from the German, Scandinavian and Dutch department. “They have always been open to having out of the classroom experiences and new ideas; they encourage me to be who I am." This is something Norrman hopes will inspire students to grow and learn when taking her courses.