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Schools for Peace in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway

International People’s Colleges Focus on Global Knowledge

By Noah Ross

An old house off a small cobblestone lane in peaceful Helsingør, Denmark.

The International People's College (IPC) is in Helsingør, Denmark is an international school in every sense of the word. As a student there for six months in 2003, I was one of three North Americans living in a dorm with 70 others from 34 countries. Our teachers included Danes Gertrud Tinning, a former UN aid worker; Jorn Boye Nielsen, an international peace activist, and the internationally recognized Cuban artist Rolando Duartes.

The coastal town of Helsingør (Elsinore in English) is the home of Kronborg castle, the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The town of 60,000 is only 40 minutes by train from Copenhagen and a 15-minute ferry ride from Helsingbør in Sweden.

My fellow students at IPC ranged from Blessed, a 19-year-old Nigerian studying economics, to Marcia, a Brazilian journalist in her 30s who was researching a book. The many young Eastern and West-ern Europeans brought diverse cultural and political insight. As the term went on these groups merged almost seamlessly as age and racial differences fell away and a deeper community developed. Each night offered another unique experience, from a Japanese-Korean sushi-birthday party to a chess game with Dara, the unbeaten Cambodian teacher who had survived Pol Pot's scythe, to a walk along the North Sea with a new-found companion.

IPC is part of the folk high school system, which is popular throughout Scandinavia. Pioneered by the Dane N.F.S. Grundtvig in the mid 19th century, these are residential adult education centers in which students are active agents in social change. The schools have no exams or marks and concentrate on human development rather than measurable outcomes. The more than 400 folk high schools in Scandinavia range in focus from drama and sports to wilderness survival and filmmaking.

Classes at IPC regularly change as foreign teachers come and go, but the focus is always on the raising of peace awareness through communication, shared experience, and global knowledge. This has been the emphasis since 1923, when IPC was founded by the Danish writer and philanthropist Peter Manniche. He believed that through increased communication and understanding future wars could be eliminated.

For years the school attracted primarily Danish students, but the change to English-language courses in recent years has brought an influx of international students. Many students come to IPC thanks to bursaries from affiliated organizations within their own country. The other option is to pay your own way, as I did. The basic cost is $4,000 Canadian for a 20-week term, which includes lodging, food, tuition, and excursions in Denmark and Sweden. Core subjects include a certified NGO project management program, professional English and globalization. Options such as Danish language, yoga, and musical instrument playing rounding out the term.

IPC is closely involved with many Danish NGOs, including MS (Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke, one of the largest developmental organizations in the world), and is a perfect place to build contacts and friends all around the world. The study terms are fall and spring. A few student-teacher positions offer pocket money and valuable teaching experience. The courses are not universally transferable but the experience and friendships gained will last a lifetime.

For More Info

International People’s College is a worldwide network of former alumni who can be accessed via IPC.

Folk High Schools in Denmark includes a list of Danish folk high schools that welcome international students, links to folk high school organizations across Scandinavia, and associated programs in developing countries.

Folk High Schools in Sweden offers a guide to the pedagogical foundation of folk high schools and their position within Nordic society, as well as information for international students on visas and links to individual Swedish schools. In Sweden, folk high schools are closely connected to the university system.

Folk High Schools in Norway shows what you can expect on an average day at a Norwegian folk high school and offers general information for the international student along with a list of schools that accept international students.

NOAH ROSS is a student in political science at the Univ. of Victoria.

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