My best professor in college was Dr. Niels Ingwersen.
I went to the University of Wisconsin, Madison because it had a Scandinavian Department. I had gone to Denmark as an exchange student during my high school senior year. I had to come back and finish high school. I needed US and Virginia Government and Twelfth grade english. I chose to do them at the Community College instead of returning to high school.
I went to the Danish embassy in Washington DC and asked about colleges where I could continue to learn Danish. They recommended three: U WI Madison, U WA Seattle and Austin, TX. My parents said that Washington was too far away. I thought there was more chance to ski in Wisconsin, so that was the only college I applied to. Good thing I got in, right?
The first class I took in the Scandinavian Department was with Niels Ingwersen, his HC Andersen class. It was packed. It was known as a fun and informative class that would fulfill an english requirement. I was fascinated because Dr. Ingwersen talked about the politics, the economics, the story behind Hans Christian Andersen’s stories.
I begged permission to write stories myself for the required paper and he let me. I moved in to graduate student classes, because I wanted to take anything he would teach.
I took a class on the modern scandinavian novel. We had five students and him. It was on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 5 pm. None of us could stay awake. In the third class Niels said, “How about we move this class to peoples’ houses? We will take turns hosting and bring potluck.” We also brought wine and the class blossomed. Instead of three hours it ended up being 5 or 6. We would stray from literary criticism into politics, world events, economics, biology, whatever. It was fun!
We each had to choose a book to read. I was tired of books about depressed alcoholics and asked him for a recommendation. He said, “How about Livsens Ondskab?” Life’s Malice. Written in the late 1800s, it’s a mocking and dark comedy about the people in a small town and how funny and awful they are. I loved it.
I applied for a summer honors scholarship, to translate Livsens Ondskab. Niels was gone for the summer, to the U of WA. I sent him questions about the translation. “How much were you going to translate?” he asked. “All of it!” I said. I worked out that I needed to do five pages a day. Some days were quick and some were slow, slow, slow.
Niels was my favorite professor because he was not only a wonderful teacher but also a really nice person. Hard to find that delightful combination, but worth it if you do.
For the daily post prompt We can be taught!
The photo is my sister, about when I started college. I think Niels made me laugh that way.