Students explore farms and Friluftsliv in Norway

By Libby Sherwood
Staff Writer

An overseas opportunity for Prescott College environmental students once got them called “American Vikings” by local Norwegians. This September, for the fifth time, Prescott College Professor Doug Hulmes will teach a course called Exploration of Norway: Nature and Culture. The course focuses on the interrelation between landscape and culture, and the unique history of mythology, folklore, traditions and ecology.

For this course, students travel to cultural sights on the west coast of Norway, studying Norwegian philosophies of Deep Ecology and Frilufsliv, which means “open air life,”  a theme of Norwegian culture. Students visit different traditional Norwegian farms and schools that work diligently to promote sustainability and environmental awareness.

The first week of the course, students live on a small island called Litle Faerøy, at the mouth of the Sognefjord, the second largest fjord in the world. On this island, “buffeted by storms that come off the North Sea,” described Hulmes, they study the traditional ways of living and surviving in such a harsh environment.

Next, they travel half-way up the Fjord to Sogn Folk High School, where they stay with previous Prescott College exchange students and meet some of the Friluftsliv students who are taking what we call a “gap year.”

They continue on to Aurland, at the head of Sognefjord, and visit a farm that has existed for over 1000 years and contains over 26 Viking graves. The district is a Natural Cultural Heritage Site that was designated by the United Nations to protect cultural integrity and farmlands of the region.

Hulmes has established a rapport over the last decade with local students and teachers. His course assists with their harvest, and visits the town elementary school, in which each grade has a thematic garden, contributing produce to a dinner held by the school at the end of each year.

The PC students then study the history of Norway while visiting Bømlo Island, where Hulmes taught at a Folk High School in the early ’90s. The island is the location of the oldest Christian church, established by a Norwegian Viking king in 995 C.E.

At Telemark University, one of their final destinations, students learn about Deep Ecology from an expert in the field. For students who wish to study Friluftsliv, eco-tourism or environmental studies, they can participate in the exchange program between Prescott and Telemark, where Hulmes was a guest professor from 1996 to 1997.

Hulmes’ vision with this program is much bigger than international traveling. Although learning about and visiting the spectacular coastal Fjords of Norway might satisfy most students, he adopts the traditional definitions of the Friluftsliv and Deep Ecology movements while inspiring that passion within his students.

He advocates these movements as essential. “Looking at nature purely as a commodity, and not realizing that we have to live within ecological limits, is going to take us down,” he said. “What we need is a deep ecological understanding to inform our decision-making and base our decisions on what is sustainable ecologically, rather than what we’re doing in western civilization.”

Hulmes has become widely connected with various people in his field over the years. He has given various lectures for Scandinavian/American associations and published a paper in the book Nature First, called, “From Tomte Wisdom to Friluftsliv: Scandinavian Perspectives on Nature.”

This course will run for the fifth time this September. Previously, Hulmes has taken one other course overseas, Explorations of Norway from Sea to Glacier. For a month, students sailed a Viking ship replica up the coast of Norway and skied across the Fogelfonn Icecap. Due to the attention-grabbing nature of the ship, they caught a lot of interest from the locals, and became known as the “American Vikings in Norway.”

Since then, Hulmes has followed through with his desires to make the course more academically based. Through his work, he has created wonderful opportunities for both the region and Deep Ecology and Friluftsliv.

This article appeared in the March 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.
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