Friday Interview: Ms Jennie Nell

17 September 2010
Off to SU to finish her PhD

The Friday interview this week is with Ms Jennie Nell, who has gone back to Stockholm University to finish her PhD. Ms Nell taught Swedish and Latin at IEGS for two years and we look forward to welcoming her back. As well as taking time to answer a few questions, Ms Nell shares two of her very best recipes!!!

IEGS: What's been the best thing about working at IEG and why?

Ms Nell: The students and the staff! The kids are great, hard working and so inspirational. You can tell that the students care about the school and about each other, and that’s real nice to see. The staff are caring and giving people who are good at what they do and take great pride in their work. Working here has made me a better teacher. It’s also fun to work in a multi-cultural environment. You learn something almost every day, about others and about yourself.

IEGS You're going off to finish your PhD on Bellman. Do you think the humanities have a strong role to play in Swedish society? After all, many of our students are keen on careers in science, law, business, etc.

Ms Nell: Yes, I believe the humanities have a strong role to play in society. I work within the field of Comparative Literature at the university and students have often asked me ‘what do you become’ when you study Literature. Well, you sure don’t become something in a fixed profession like a doctor or a lawyer right away. Not many people work as pure literary scholars either, except for teachers and researchers at universities and colleges.

But there are many professions that gain greatly from having studied Literature; school teachers, librarians, journalists, writers, copywriters, actors, communication officers, people who work with international relations, advertising and publishing and so on. You don’t just read books and learn who wrote what and when, you acquire many useful transferable skills such as critical analysis of texts and ideas, and organizing and structuring huge amounts of information. You also learn presentation skills (both oral and written) as well as develop your own language, your argumentative skills and your analytical skills.

Indirectly you learn about different cultures and their views of the world, historically. And this is true for most subjects within the humanities. “The Arts” are the results of human expression and reaction, and so furthermore, you acquire knowledge of the ideas and ideologies that helped change and shape the world we live in, you learn how and what people have thought and felt about, and dealt with, different questions and topics that are still important today; life, death, faith, love, happiness, infidelity, sorrow, murder, war, slavery and other ethical issues.

People who have a background in humanities are often involved in official discussions and debates on ethics. Directly, you read and interpret and get acquainted with texts that say something profound about us humans and the world and the universe. All of the generic skills you acquire, and much of the subject-specific knowledge you learn, are both useful and important even for those who are bent on a career in law or business or really any career dealing with people and human nature; you become an informed carrier of traditions and a critical and analytical member of society. And beyond all the practical, instrumental stuff, it’s enriching on a personal and aesthetic level, and that's important to consider too.

IEGS: You've taught Latin at IEG, as well as Swedish. Isn't it a dead language? Why should students consider learning Latin?

Ms Nell: True, it’s pretty much a dead language when it comes to conversation, I think the estimate is that only a few hundred people in the world can be considered to be totally fluent in Latin, and about 3000 speakers can carry out a decent conversation. But it is one of the most influential languages in the Western world, and it is still very much alive in English and the Romance languages. If you study English, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese or Romanian you will benefit greatly from also studying Latin.

A large percentage of the loanwords in these languages come from Latin as well as many roots, prefixes and suffixes. So you will recognize or be able to figure out what a lot of fancy words in the modern languages mean if you know basic Latin. Also, you’ll become a grammar whiz, it might sound boring and nerdy, but it is fun! – and nerdy… and indisputably useful when studying any language. It’s also beneficial if you want to study medicine, science or law; many of the terms in these fields are in Latin or come from Latin.

What’s more, you learn famous quotes and study the life and times of one of the most powerful and influential nations in world history; Rome. Besides, ain’t it cool to think that you’ll be the carrier of such a consequential and important part of world history and language history – and just knowing stuff only a few people know? If you know basic Latin and Roman history and mythology, you can show off dropping learned and nerdy comments when watching movies and TV shows like Gladiator, Troy and Rome with your non-Latin speaking friends… and half of the 'riddles' in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code are not so mysterious, just plain language. I sure hope more students consider taking Latin; Lingua speciem involutam praebet, sed sat cito eam comprehendes.

IEGS: You're a native speaker of English AND Swedish, but so much emphasis is put on English at IEGS. Students come to us because they want to study in English. What's the biggest challenge teaching Swedish in such a strong English environment?

Ms Nell: The biggest challenge is making the students feel that Swedish is indeed important. Too many seem to think that proficiency in English is more important than proficiency in Swedish. Well, English is important, but we are in actual fact in Sweden and in a school that follows the Swedish study plan, where Swedish is a core subject. Most students will go on to Swedish universities and professional careers in Sweden, and therefore Swedish is important to know, and to know well. It isn't at all cool to have a Swedish high school diploma and to not have passed Swedish, as it wouldn’t be cool having a British or American high school exam without having passed English.

Even if students go abroad to study, having poor results in a core subject don’t look good no matter what. Most kids don’t seem to realize that developing their Swedish skills means that they also develop their language skills overall – including their English. I really try to convey that when I teach Swedish. Language is an important key to mastering cultural codes within a society, and every language you learn, know and use, no matter how ‘small’, is an asset, both on your CV and in your personal life.

IEGS: You're known amongst the staff as an amazing baker of cakes – which the students probably don't know. Can you share a recipe with us so the students have something to try out at the next bake sale!

Ms Nell: Haha, I have been known to bake for my students too, on occasion. I’m happy to share with y’all two easy, no-fail recipes; Peanut butter Bars and Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake with frosting.

Peanut butter Bars

  • 1.3 cups (US) or 1 jar (340 grams) organic crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 cup light syrup
  • ½ cup white castor sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
  • 1.3 cups toasted coconut flakes
  • Ca 2 cups Rice Krispies
  • 1 bar (ca 200 grams) dark sweet chocolate

In a skillet, toast the shredded coconut until golden. In a saucepan on low heat, combine peanut butter, light syrup, castor sugar and vanilla sugar. Stir well until mix has melted and blended well. Make sure you don’t burn it. Turn off the heat and gently fold in toasted coconut flakes and Rice Krispies. Be quick so that the mixture don’t set. Clad two square or rectangular baking pans with plastic wrap. Scoop the mixture into the two pans and pat down well until you have two firm and smooth loaves. Refrigerate for two hours. Melt the chocolate over low heat and brush it out in an even layer on both loaves. Refrigerate for another four hours. Remove the loaves from the pan and the plastic wrap from the loaves. Cut into fingers or squares.

Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake

  • 3/4 cup (US) unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups scalded milk
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla powder (not vanilla sugar)

Grease two 9-inch layer cake pans and line bottoms with wax paper. Grease wax paper too. Sift the cocoa with 1/3 cup sugar; pour into the milk gradually; stir until well blended. Set aside to cool. Sift together flour, remaining 1 cup sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add butter and half of the cooled cocoa and milk mixture. Beat at medium speed of an electric mixer. Add eggs, vanilla, and remaining cocoa and milk mixture. Continue beating for about 2 minutes. Pour into the prepared pans. Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes; turn out on racks and peel off paper. When cool, you can frost the cake with any type of frosting you might like. A very simple chocolate or vanilla butter cream frosting is easy to make using

  • 1 stick of butter (ca 125 grams), room temperature
  • About 1/2 – 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla powder OR 3-5 tablespoons cocoa powder

Beat butter and powdered sugar until creamy; add powdered sugar until you have a spreadable consistency. Add vanilla powder or cocoa powder to desired taste. If you want you can also spice up the butter cream frosting with cinnamon or almond oil or whatever you wish.

After spreading frosting between layers and on top and around the cake, refridgerate at least two hours to let the frosting set.

Happy bakin’ y’all!

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