Laurie Iudin-Nelson is the Head of the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Linguistics and currently serves as the Director of Russian Studies and Director of Nordic Studies.
What is special about the language program at Luther?
My research interest is language teaching pedagogy, in particular—the use of music in teaching and learning a foreign language. I am regularly invited to present workshops for teachers from across the nation on this topic. In my classes at Luther, I often use music (rock, pop, folk) to teach language and culture. Also, I was employed for 21 years (16 as Dean) at the Russian Village of Concordia Language Villages, a culture and language immersion-type program for youth ages 7-18. This experience profoundly impacted the way I teach language, and my desire to incorporate a variety of techniques and make language study effective, enjoyable, and relevant to learners.
Did you major in Russian in college?
Yes, although it was a complete surprise and not at all what I had planned when I entered college. I began my college studies with majors in Music and English, and had not studied language (much less Russian) in high school. As a first-year student I chose Russian to fulfill the college language requirement, and fell in love with Russian language, culture, literature, music, history . . . and graduated with a triple major in Russian, History, and Russian Studies. For two years I directed the St. Olaf Russian Choir, a group of about 30 members.
In other words, I was (and still am) deeply involved in music and literature, just in a different language (Russian). There is no way I could have predicted the path my life and interests would take when I entered college, and this is why I love the liberal arts at a small college. There is the opportunity to explore, try new things, and perhaps discover a passion you never knew you had.
Which study abroad courses/ programs have you led?
I have led many January Term courses abroad in Russia (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Ryazan'), Estonia, and Norway (Oslo, Lillehammer). I was Program Director of the semester program in Lillehammer, Norway. Currently I am developing two new abroad courses: "Russia Today" and also an abroad course about "Peace and Reconciliation Dialogue in Norway and the Balkans," in partnership with Steinar Bryn of the Nansen Peace and Dialogue Center (Lillehammer, Norway).
Are you involved in any extracurricular activities for students?
For 21 years I have directed the Luther College Balalaika Ensemble, a group of approx. 15 people who perform Russian, East European, and Romany music on traditional instruments (balalaika—a triangular 3-stringed folk instrument, and domra—an oval stringed instrument). We have performed hundreds of concerts across the nation, and raised thousands of dollars for charitable causes in Russia. We often perform in schools and community centers. It is a fun co-curricular activity that builds a strong sense of camaraderie among the students and has an important service component.