My story - Gary ‘Truls’ Peterson
Published: October 8, 2017
By Gary 'Truls' Peterson
It would be a couple of years before I realized the deep impacts that would result from a late enrollment as a first-year blåstreng villager at age 18. It was a two-week whirlwind of fun and study with people who I didn’t realize would become friends for life. The staff impressed me with their hilarity and kindness. When I arrived in Stavern, Norway as an exchange student three weeks later, I had a solid start in language learning and my host families and teachers respected and appreciated the effort. The immersion in Norway inspired my study of political science with a focus on international relations. My professors, advisors and fellow students, from Moorhead State University to what is now the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, represented a wide variety of cultures, most notably West African and Chinese, helping to expand my knowledge.
Two summers after my blåstreng experience, warm memories of that first summer led me to apply for a staff position at Skogfjorden. The friendship among staff was deep and palpable, and due to a staff member’s illness, I was asked to return to work beyond the dates of my original contract. I was thrilled to dive back in. The collegiality I experienced over the subsequent five summers shaped the combination of joy and professionalism that I’ve brought to my work ever since.
The leadership styles I experienced at Concordia Language Villages were also deeply inspiring, built on trust, solidarity, mutual respect, and an awareness and commitment to the mission: preparing young people for responsible citizenship in our global community. The long hours and shared devotion to creating an excellent experience for the villagers, all within a positive dynamic among staff, inspired my love of philanthropy. It’s inspired my career.
At its core, philanthropy is the love of humankind, and it’s been central in my work with programs and advocacy to promote sustainable agriculture and healthy regional food systems. Curiously, in hindsight, it all started at camp. I’m grateful that Concordia Language Villages also afforded me the opportunity to develop ideas from Skogfjorden to create proposals for financial support. Building on late-night brainstorms with Kyle 'Kåre' Gjeruldsen, and with a new pedagogy, kretser, our efforts played a part in attracting support for the immigrant låve, a barn built to support program activities.
Today, 32 years since I first stepped foot på torget, friendships started back then have endured, and are among the most deeply valued in my life. Most importantly, my wife Randi Buckley came into my life at Skogfjorden. She’s since been part of its leadership, supporting continued connection to the people and place that help define my worldview. Skogfjorden inspires understanding, mutual support, and community ̶ all of which are ingredients for creating a better world. You won’t know what lies ahead when you get involved in Skogfjorden, but it’s very likely to impact you for life.