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From Danske with love

By Staff | Jun 17, 2010

Wendy Thomsen

So why would a woman travel from Denmark to visit a small northwestern Iowa town?

Well, because it’s Ringsted.

Don’t tell Wendy Thomsen Ringsted’s Danish roots don’t run deep. She felt them tugging at her, all the way from her home near Holtug, Denmark. Thomsen, in her second year teaching for the Concordia College summer language camp, visited with members of the Ringsted chapter of the Danish-American Fellowship Tuesday night, part of her visit to the area this week.

It was 2004 when Thomsen and her family first came to the U.S. on a tour of the national parks. Thomsen learned about Ringsted, which takes its namesake from a town in Denmark, while looking at a Danish newspaper Web site last year when a Danish journalist visited Ringsted and carried news of the town’s attempts to retain its Danish culture back home. Thomsen also corresponded with Mark Larsen who, just incidentally, on Wednesday left for the same area of Denmark where Thomsen and her husband and family live. “Sometimes you think the world is very small,” Thomsen observed.

And that’s how Thomsen happened to arrive at Ringsted on Monday.

“Since yesterday I have me a lot of people,” Thomsen said to Fellowship members Tuesday night. “You have so much history here.”

Thomsen told the Fellowship about the Concordia College summer language camp north of Bemidji. Thomsen, who teaches Danish to non-native speakers in Denmark, applied to teach at the camp two years ago. Last year she taught at the camp for four weeks.

Thomsen lives with her family on a peninsula 40 miles south of Copenhagen. Their home is so near the famed white cliffs that part of the local church fell into the sea.

Born in Copenhagen, Thomsen’s parents moved to Kge when she was 10. She attended school there and after graduating went to England for a year to refine her English. She later studied anthropology at the University of Copenhagen, specializing in the Cheyenne Indians of the Northern Plains and Turkish culture.

Thomsen began teaching school children and later adults. She works in the language center in Kge with non-native speakers who want to learn Danish. Her students include both those in the classroom as well as on-line students who work on remote Danish farms and are unable to attend classes.

And of course, after her initial remarks, everyone had a lot of questions.

Thomsen said her students in Denmark have ranged in age from 18-95. Some of her students married a Danish person while others have come to Denmark to work, often at seasonal jobs. “We have big groups that are not speaking Danish,” Thomsen said.

Her Concordia students, meanwhile, learn Danish in a real-life immersion environment. “They won’t get any potatoes if they don’t ask correctly,” she said.

Thomsen observed that Denmark is not immune from the international economic downturn, particularly in its construction sector. Danes had a referendum and readopted the krone as its monetary unit rather than the Euro. Due to Denmark’s tax rate, many people live in Sweden and commute to Copenhagen, she said.

While 200,000 Muslims have moved to Denmark, many are more Muslim by culture or tradition than they are by religion, said Thomsen. “They’re not so orthodox. They’re more relaxed about it,” Thomsen said. Denmark has a total population of 5 million.

To meet Danish naturalization standards, people have to learn Danish. Children born of non-citizens have to decide at age 18 what nationality they want to claim.

Unfortunately, Thomsen has to leave Thursday, on the eve of Ringsted Danish Days. But she certainly lent a great ‘Danish mood’ to this year’s celebration.