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Big Experiences for Small Scandinavian Studies Graduate Program

The Scandinavian Section, which split off from the department of Germanic languages decades ago, is geared toward independent students who are responsible for their own learning and progress.

By Alexa Parmisano for The Daily Bruin

Anna Blomster is one of only four UCLA students pursuing a degree in Scandinavian studies, making the Scandinavian section one of the smallest graduate programs on campus.

After studying in Sweden to complete her master’s degree in folklore, Blomster sought a broader education in the United States.

The doctoral student wanted a program where she could integrate her interests in Swedish film and politics into her graduate studies.

Her adviser knew a faculty member in the Scandinavian section at UCLA and urged Blomster to apply. Now at UCLA, she takes an array of classes in subjects such as Scandinavian cinema and culture as well as sociology and political science.

Initially part of Germanic languages, the Scandinavian section split off from that program in 1967 and was granted independent administrative status, said Arne Lunde, assistant professor in the section and an undergraduate adviser.

According to Kendra Willson, assistant professor in the Scandinavian section, the section is geared toward independent students who are responsible for their own learning and progress.

“We don’t have specific, required classes ­– (students) take whatever is offered, (and) a certain number of classes don’t have to be in the department,” Willson said. “You need a certain number of units for a master’s and doctoral degree and take comprehensive exams for both.”

The exams students take for the master’s and doctorate programs are tailored to the reading lists students create, Willson said.

A professor will look at a reading list that may be specific to the field of folklore, then come up with an exam based off the reading lists that students create. She added that experts in Scandinavian culture have to be of all trades and be able to teach subjects such as language, literature and culture from the Viking era to modern day.

“(We maintain) a very broad focus within a narrow part of the world,” Willson said.

Although graduate study is extremely self-directed, advisers are very supportive and are there to continually help with papers and guide students, said Chip Robinson, a doctoral student in Scandinavian studies.

Robinson said he was drawn to the section because of the strong faculty reputation and collaboration. He said it was the energy and spirit of the section that drove him to choose UCLA over the other six graduate programs he applied to. However, sustaining such a small section is difficult, with one major issue being funding, she said.

Graduate students are supported by a combination of paid teaching assistant positions and outside funding, Willson said. Blomster is currently a teaching assistant for Scandinavian Literature 50W, the class that Willson is teaching.

Lack of funding is also one of the reasons the already-small Scandinavian section will continue to be able to support only a few students.

“Given the current system of fellowship allotment, money is distributed from grad division based on current head counts,” said Tangherlini. “Since there is no minimum threshold as there once was, (with) at least one Chancellor’s Fellowship to each department irrespective of size, the Scandinavian section has been starved for university-wide funding.”

Another reason the section is so small is that it is required that incoming graduate students have native or near-native fluency in one or more Nordic languages, Tangherlini said.

Because of the high expense of having foreign graduate students and the lack of American students with the language background necessary for the program, the pool of applicants is constrained.

Yet current students in the program have found that the section’s small size has allowed for a more intimate, interdisciplinary environment.

Post-graduation, the program’s main focus is to place students in academic positions, Tangherlini said. Generally there are two to three assistant professor positions and two to three lecture positions available nationally every year.

However, Robinson, who was a German, Dutch and Scandinavian specialist in the libraries at Harvard, said he is interested in possibly returning to the libraries and earning a library degree, working for the government or working in arts and academics.

“I believe in the academic mission and in promoting Scandinavian culture into the future,” Robinson said.

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