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St. Olaf students experience Snaasa

By Claire Carlson '12
July 20, 2010

To Norwegians, the municipality of Snåsa is best known for agriculture and wildlife, but for avid Ole historians it is better known as the birthplace of Lutheran minister Bernt Julius Muus, one of the founders of St. Olaf College.

Snåsa native Ingri Wahlstrøm (left), Kelsey Solum '11 (center), and Siri Smithback '12 (right) enjoy the view from one of Norway's sod roofs during the St. Olaf students' stay in the country as part of a new summer program.

Because of this connection, Snåsa has a history of sending local students to St. Olaf — and this summer, that exchange began going the other way as well. For three weeks in June, Siri Smithback '12 and Kelsey Solum '11 stayed with a host family on a farm in the rural Norwegian countryside, learning about sheep and dairy farming, the logging industry, and local crafts, food, culture, and religion. They were the first students to take part in a new internship program that connects St. Olaf students with life in Snåsa.

Ingri Wahlstrøm, a Snåsa native, is the Snåsa-St. Olaf College committee coordinator, and she spent the 2008–09 academic year at St. Olaf as part of the exchange program. "Our goal with this internship is to enhance the relationship between Snåsa and St. Olaf and to show students from America what Norway really is about," she says. "We want to teach the students about Norwegian language, culture, history, and the South Sami people."

Both Smithback and Solum cited their Norwegian heritage and love of the outdoors as the impetus for applying to the program. For Solum, a fourth-generation Norwegian American, reconnecting with her roots was the biggest highlight of the experience. Smithback enjoyed using and improving the Norwegian language skills that she developed over the course of four semesters of St. Olaf instruction. She also experienced sauslepp (sheep herding), which required her to help guide more than 200 sheep up a mountain to summer grazing areas.

In addition to experiencing the local culture, Smithback and Solum also learned about religious traditions, visiting institutions ranging from the grand Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim to the small Stav Churches in rural Norway. To Solum, these excursions were especially meaningful. "This experience gave me a greater appreciation for my home, my family, my community, and my God," she says. "I took this journey on a leap of faith and, in doing so, grew in my faith."

This was the pilot year for the program, and plans are under way to offer the internship on a yearly basis.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or