Valerie Magna Borey was the 2013 recipient for the Odell Bjerkness Staff Recognition Award, an award which annually recognizes a Concordia Language Villages staff member who “embodies the Villages’ mission of demonstrable excellence in the practice of global citizenship.”
When Magna first came to the Villages as a summer counselor in 2000, she thought it would be a one-time summer job. But a one-time summer gig turned into a year-round, 15-year commitment. It’s been something about the people that has made her stay.
In her nearly 15 years with Concordia Language Villages, Magna has served as a staff as a counselor, teacher and leadership staff member during summer programs at Skogfjorden, the Norwegian Language Village. Additionally, Magna serves as a teacher for the pre-K Norwegian program during the school year.
Magna has gone above and beyond in her work with the Villages. She has developed alternative programming including the Twin Cities Norwegian day camp program, the weekend Norge Rundt and the first Norwegian family week. She has written curricula, advised credit curriculum and worked with a team to develop and implement a peace curriculum.
The various endeavors Magna has chosen to explore at the Villages have allowed her to pursue her curiosities, such as what language-learning looks like at different ages: what is each age group fascinated by in terms of language and culture and what strategies do they require in order to grow and thrive in an immersive environment?
These curiosities stem from Magna’s passion of connecting with others—teaching them and learning from them—and her overwhelming desire to see others succeed. (Magna has guided villagers on numerous research projects and has even helped students publish work in a national Norwegian newspaper.) “I really like people,” Magna says. “I think people are interesting.”
Those who know Magna in some capacity at the Villages – her students, her co-staff members and her collaborators – are aware of Magna’s passion for connection, her dedication to the Villages, and her commitment to always going above and beyond in her work.
Tove Dahl, dean of Skogfjorden, describes Magna as “rare gem.”
“Magna has a unique ability to get along with anyone,” says Tove. “This may be said of a lot of people, but Magna stands head and shoulders above them. Her worldly experiences and intense curiosity as well as crazy range of personal stories make her someone people want to get to know and who they feel comfortable hanging out with because she really sees them and wants to understand them and their stories.”
The assistant dean at the Norwegian village, Randi Buckley, has worked with Magna for about 15 years and wrote one of nomination letters for the Odell Bjerkness award. “She’s the most creative person I’ve ever met, and she does it in the way. . . that’s really inviting for (others) to step in and join that,” Randi says. She adds that Magna is a “safe place for a lot of people” – if people are upset and have concerns or have a new idea, they know they can approach Magna and not be held in judgment.
There are so many people who have claimed that Concordia Language Villages has changed their lives, Magna says. She admits she was skeptical of that idea at first. But what she initially thought was “kind of propaganda in the beginning,” she has seen come to fruition through seeing her students grow up and be accepted into the Peace Corps and have their own kids and get married to someone they met at the Language Villages. “It’s clearly something that has colored their entire lives and their way of approaching things,” she says.
“When I was 14, I thought I was done with being Norwegian,” she adds. She never imagined she would teach the language or remain so immersed in its culture. In fact the Village environment even influenced Magna to have her own daughter, who has already spent numerous years at the Villages and fallen in love with her experiences. “She has basically told me that she doesn’t want to do anything if it interferes with going to Skogfjorden,” Magna says.
Can Concordia Language Villages change your life? Magna says she thinks it’s true.