NSU hosting Danish students for language, Cherokee studies

(Tahlequah, Okla.)--For the second consecutive summer, Northeastern State University is hosting a group of students visiting from Denmark to hone their English reading and writing comprehension and to take Cherokee language and cultural classes.

The students, on campus July 29-August 19, comprise the second group to visit from Esbjerg. Another group was on campus in August 2011. Both visits derived from the visit by Dr. Les Hannah, director of Cherokee studies programs at NSU, to Esbjerg Handelsskole in 2010 as a Fulbright Scholar.

"We have these students staying with the Cherokee Promise scholars on the third floor of the Haskell Annex," Hannah said. "That is our Cherokee language immersion floor. Some of the Promise scholars will take part in activities with the Danes."

The class numbers 10 Danish students and their chaperone, plus two German students. Their itinerary includes the Murrell Home, the Cherokee Nation Courthouse and the Cherokee Cultural Heritage Center. It also includes stickball, Cherokee marbles, horseback riding and an Illinois River float trip. On August 8 they heard from Cherokee storyteller Robert Lewis.

"I decided to come to the United States because I had never been here before," said Shpetim Sherifi, 17. "I also wanted to improve my English skills and study American culture and see how it is different. I enjoyed the horseback riding. I'd never done that before."

The students are finding the American Indian emphasis of their study immensely interesting.

"My father loved reading about American Indian culture and explained much to me," said Dina Sigmundsen, 16. "It is fascinating to be here among all of it. I definitely enjoyed the stickball. It was so funny when we played. Well, we tried."

The students also visited the 27th annual Bell Powwow, which Sigmundsen found surprising.

"I saw the dancing and heard the drums," she said. "Really, I wasn't aware that American Indians still preserved so many of their older customs."

Lewis, also an adjunct faculty member at NSU, said the survival of Cherokee language and customs was enhanced by teaching them to the widest possible audience.

"It is understandable that some of the young Cherokees haven't learned about the culture," he said. "They need to go to school and learn to function in a world of rapidly advancing technology. But some of the elders are passing on and once a language dies, the culture pretty much dies with it. Sharing these aspects of culture – language, baskets, history, storytelling – can help to keep the culture viable and alive."

Hannah called the addition of the German students "a happy coincidence."

"They are actually a little younger than the Danes," he said. "They just happen to be here attending Tahlequah Public Schools as foreign exchange students. I was contacted by Rachel Farinelli (director of NSU's Office of Continuing Education) and she asked whether these students could tag along. I certainly had no problem with it and the Danes are very happy to have them join the activities."

By visiting the U.S., the Danes are fulfilling an international study requirement – but Hannah said this particular group was doing something unusual.

"Many Danes meet the requirement by going to Germany or elsewhere in northern Europe," he said. "They go to another country like we go to another state."

Hannah said some groups do visit the U.S., but they go to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami.

"They figure that is America, and of course it is," he said. "But the groups that have come here to Oklahoma and Tahlequah say this is different. They say they can see New York and Los Angeles on television in Denmark, but they don't see Tahlequah. By coming here, they believe they have seen a very genuine facet of America."

For more information about the Danish students at NSU call Hannah at 918-444-3605. 

Published: 8/14/2012 11:29:35 AM

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