International Teacher of the Year is not afraid to challenge his students

The University of Helsinki Student Union elects Claus Elholm Andersen the Best International Teacher of the Year.

Three years ago Claus Elholm Andersen said goodbye to the California sun and moved to Finland to teach Nordic literature and the Danish language at the University of Helsinki. This week his efforts at the University were rewarded with the Best International Teacher of the Year prize. Andersen received the prize during the International Evening on 11 November 2014. 

“I’m proud and happy to accept this recognition. It’s the best feedback a teacher can get,” says Andersen.

Andersen, who works as a university teacher at the Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies, hails from Aarhus in Denmark. After graduating from the University of Copenhagen, where he studied Nordic literature, he spent ten years in the USA, teaching at the University of Minnesota and UCLA, among other places.

“I still give an annual summer course in Nordic literature at UCLA. It’s a very exotic subject there.”

The Student Union elects the Best International Teacher annually.

“The purpose of the prize is to highlight teachers who actively develop teaching at the University. This is our way of thanking them for their efforts. We hope the prize also inspires other teachers to focus on improving their teaching methods,” says Toivo Laitinen, who is responsible for international affairs on the Student Union’s Board.


Andersen’s good results in the lecture halls are based on two key factors. Challenging students is one of them.

“A successful lecture is one in which students participate actively,” explains Andersen. Based on his experience from North-American, Danish and Finnish auditoriums, Andersen ventures to say that Finnish students need more encouragement than the others.

“The more I challenge my students, the better results they produce. Finnish students are very clever and have high work ethics,” Andersen praises.  

…and engagement

Strong engagement – both on the teacher’s and the students’ part – is the other key to success.

Says Andersen, “Literature is fantastic! If I can convey this feeling to my students and arouse their interest, I have succeeded as a teacher.” 

Similar to many higher education institutions, the University of Helsinki emphasises research-based teaching to motivate students and integrate them into the academic community. Andersen flipped this approach and now conducts teaching-based research.

“My doctoral dissertation examines the Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård’s new way of writing prose. The discussions and analyses of my students have been of great help to my own writing process,” explains Andersen.

Valtteri Kulmala, who has studied Danish under Andersen’s lead, ensures that Andersen’s approach works.

“Claus is an enthusiastic teacher, who is able to convey his passion for literature and politics to others. He cares about his students and isn’t afraid to demand a lot of them. In our advanced Danish course, our homework for every class was to read a news article in Danish and present it in class – in pure “Danish”! It was really instructive,” Kulmala recalls.

We interviewed Claus Elholm Andersen three years ago, right after he started teaching at the University of Helsinki. Read the interview »