Danish students study Native American culture at NSU

Image of Danish students learning from the Cherokee Language Program.NSU graduate Kristen Smith Snell shows traditional basket weaving techniques with visiting students from Denmark.

(Tahlequah, Okla.)—Studies in English and Native American culture were the focus of a recent visit for Denmark students who traveled to Northeastern State University. Their August trip derives from a 2010 trek to Esbjerg Handelsskole made by Dr. Les Hannah, NSU associate professor of English and director of the Cherokee language program.

“While I was there as a Fulbright Scholar, I taught abbreviated versions of courses which covered American Indian history, culture and portrayal in film and other media,” Hannah said. “We had some discussions about possibly sending students to the U.S. to hone their English skills. I said, ‘Sure, you just need your passports or visas to come on over.’ They said, ‘No, we want to study American Indians.’”

Pia Hansen, an English teacher at Esbjerg Handelsskole, served as a chaperone during the students’ stay.

“Since Les had been to our school, sending students to NSU seemed a natural choice,” Hansen said. “These students attended his classes when he was with us and he provided some background, so they didn’t come unprepared. They loved being here and I believe they learned many things.”

During the students’ stay Hannah gave lessons in Cherokee language, culture and history, they also visited the Cherokee Cultural Heritage Center and attended the 26th annual Bell Powwow.

Hannah, who also directs NSU’s Cherokee language program, said it has been necessary to dispel some expectations of the students concerning Native American traditions.

“In Denmark I often had to try to bust the Hollywood stereotype,” he said. “Even now that the students are here, I sometimes need to explain that Cherokees were not nomadic and did not wear elaborate war bonnets – that American Indians in different regions lived differently and celebrate their diversity just like Europeans.”

While the introductions and contacts with Native American culture offer the students stimulating topics to study, Hannah noted that the overarching purpose of their visit was to hone English skills.

“These students are completing an essay assignment similar to what is required of our college freshmen,” he said. “Obviously it must be truncated because they are here for such a short period of time, but it will be an effective assessment of their language skills.”

Hannah said he expects the students will turn in good work.

“They are really sharp,” he said. “Some of them speak five or six languages. Sometimes I wonder if they realize just how much they know.”

Hansen said real-life experiences in the U.S. were invaluable to improving the English proficiency of her students, and widening their window on the world.

“The cultural component is an important reason for visiting,” she said. “Globalization requires us to understand each other to a greater degree. Coming to NSU and Tahlequah gives us something we can’t get from watching the BBC or CNN. Our visit has been a great experience and I hope our school continues offering this to our students.”

Published: 8/22/2011 3:00:24 PM

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