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Instructor brings global perspective to campus

October 4, 2007

For Monika Johansson, the seeds were sown early.

As a child, she spent her summer vacations exploring the countries of Western Europe with her family.

During grade school she gained fluency in three languages besides her native German: English, French and Latin.

The foundation was laid for the UW-River Falls instructor of modern languages to develop a strong fascination with cultures different from her own.

In her 29th year at the University, Monika Johansson hopes to inspire students in her beginning French and German courses with the same fervor.

“I enjoy sharing knowledge about other cultures and languages with them, and opening the door to other cultures to my students,” she said. “That brings every day enjoyment.”

In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, foreign language proficiency is a valuable tool to have, Monika Johansson said.

“I try to convey that to my students, that it’s a life skill,” she said of language fluency. “Sooner or later, they will be able to use what they learn in the classroom in today’s world.”

Teaching students how to properly conjugate French and German verbs is the fulfillment of a childhood dream for the mother of two.

The Neumunster, Germany, native grew up knowing that she wanted to head her own classroom. A career in university instruction was particularly appealing to her.

“I always wanted to teach college,” she said. “I like to discuss current events, literature, history…topics that are more for an adult audience.”

She entered the University of Freiburg, Germany in 1969 with the intent of earning a bachelor’s degree in history and German literature. But fate stepped in when she met American graduate student Peter Johansson at a University-sponsored dance that year.

Studying at Freiburg on a Volkswagen Foundation Scholarship, the UWRF professor of modern languages said that he was immediately impressed by his future wife’s personality.

“I liked her optimism [and] her decisiveness.”  he said.

The two found that they had a lot in common, including a shared curiosity about each other’s home countries.

“He had a lot of interest in my culture, and I had a lot of interest in his culture,” Monika Johansson said.

They married in 1971, and Monika Johansson followed her husband to the University of California-Santa Barbara that fall, where he enrolled as a doctoral student in Germanic language and literature. She transferred her studies there as well, eventually earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in German literature with a minor in French.

When asked about her attraction to the French language, Monika Johansson cites the country’s rich heritage as a reason.

“There’s just so much that comes out of the French culture that has contributed to world literature and world art,” she said.

In 1977, Peter Johansson accepted a teaching position in the UWRF modern languages department, and the Johanssons made Western Wisconsin their home. 

Monika Johansson served a two-year stint as a user services specialist in the University’s computer center before becoming a teacher herself in 1980.

And after having been in the classroom for 27 years, witnessing the personal evolution of her students still excites her.

“You hope that students come out differently after four years so that they have grown personally and educationally,” she said.  “You can see that after a semester, with most people, that something is happening.”

UWRF senior Jaymie Stocks, who took Monika Johansson for Intermediate German, can attest to the instructor’s passion for her subject matter.

“If you want to learn German and keep up with it, she’s a good teacher to have,” Stocks said. “She knew what she was talking about.”

So can Kristine Butler, chair of the UWRF modern language department, who extolled Monika Johansson as “a very caring person who takes a strong interest in her students” in an e-mail interview.

“She’s a great resource as a language instructor,” Butler said. “[She] has a wealth of experience and cultural fluency that serve her students well.”

But perhaps the most meaningful praise comes from her husband and co-worker Peter Johansson.

“She’s well-organized [and] very enthusiastic,” he said. “I would say [she’s] a great teacher.”