Planting Seeds of Friendship & Nurturing International Collaboration

In 2006, I received an inquiry about the possibility of a professor from Denmark embarking on a six-month sabbatical with me. At that time, I served as the Director of the Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Learning and Development at East Tennessee State University. We had never sponsored a person to do a sabbatical in the Center, but it sounded like an exciting opportunity.

Little did I anticipate the wonderful collaboration and lasting friendship that would unfold during that six-month visit. Charlotte Ringsmose, a Professor from Aalborg University, Denmark, relocated to Jonesborough, Tennessee, with her 5-year-old daughter who attended the ETSU Child Study Center. Charlotte immersed herself in ETSU, visiting early childhood programs, lecturing in classes, and extensively observing our Child Study Center. She became very interested in the elements of a quality environment that would nurture children’s development. Her intensive study of the early environment evolved into a long-term research interest. Collaborating with her colleague Grethe Kragh-Müller, Danish School of Education, DPU, Aarhus University, they developed the KIDS evaluation scale, widely used in Denmark to assess the quality of early childhood program environments.

With each passing year, our collaboration thrived. We continued to visit, write together, and discuss issues related to early childhood environments. The result was a very productive relationship, yielding articles, books, chapters, and collaborative scales.

During one of my visits to Copenhagen, I had the privilege of teaching a course at their university (Aarhus University) and visiting numerous early childhood programs in their country. The experience was not only academically enriching but also fostered deep friendships and understanding about their culture. A few years ago, I was honored to be the speaker at a celebration for Grethe, marking her 40-year anniversary at the university.

Who could have ever recognized that our work and close relationships would last for so many years? Sixteen years later, Charlotte returned to visit, and it felt as if we had never been apart. We shared memories, stories, and discussed the future.

This journey serves as a reminder that embracing the new and taking risks can lead to marvelous results, creating treasures that endure for years to come.

My next blog will tell you about the special friendship that developed between Victoria, Charlotte’s daughter, and Elliott at the Child Study Center during their time at ETSU.