An ambitious exchange program aims to link students across the 4 Arctic and North Atlantic nations

Teens from four current and former Danish-speaking countries will soon have the chance to spend their secondary-school years in each others’ countries.

By Kevin McGwin - July 11, 2018
A street sign in Sisimiut, Greenland, where the final year of the program will be held (Kevin McGwin)

Starting in 2019, four university-preparatory schools in Denmark, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Iceland plan begin offering a ‘North Atlantic’ program that will see students taking part spend at least two years of the three-year program abroad.

The 28 students enrolled in the Nordatlantisk Gymnasieklasse will a spend their first year in Denmark, followed by single semesters during the second year in the Faroe Islands and Iceland before ending with a year in Greenland. Instruction will primarily be in Danish.

Creation of the program comes at a time when the Danish language is losing ground in its three former North Atlantic colonies. In Iceland, for example, few young people feel comfortable speaking Danish, while in Greenland there is a movement to replace Danish with English as the first foreign language taught in schools.

[A Nuuk plan to marginalize the Danish language in Greenland worries Copenhagen]

The Danish and Greenlandic educators who came up with program underscore, however, that the idea has been in the works for several years. According to Kristoffer Høy Sidenius, the principal of Gribskov Gymnasium, in Denmark, which is coordinating the program, the point is student enrichment, not to show how useful Danish could be.

“We already have exchange programs with schools in the U.S. and Spain. This is similar in that it is an opportunity for students to understand another culture from the inside,” Sidenius said.

One big difference is how long the program lasts. Another is its exotic location. “This is a region they have historic ties with but probably know less about than other parts of the world,” he said.

The program has been approved by education authorities in Denmark for an initial five-year period. It will be open to young people from all four countries. Although there are no special requirements for acceptance, there is, according to Sidenius, an ideal candidate: mature enough to be away from home from up to a full year at a time and capable of adjusting to new surroundings.

“They will have the same classmates all three years, but they will be starting at a new school four times in four different countries,” he said. “On the one hand that will give them a totally different school experience than their peers get, but it will also require them to have a good portion of wanderlust.”