Teaching Traveling: What is a sabbatical, and how can it help refresh you?
Ever thought of taking a year off teaching at home to be an educator in another country?
Check out this story of Lynn Janik! Lynn, tell us about your background.
Lynn: Greetings from Norway! Although I’m from Chicago, this year I’m lucky to call this fjord filled nation home thanks to a Fulbright Grant. Although this is my twelfth year of teaching, I’m logging the most miles to get to work this year! My job as a Roving Scholar is to travel to schools all over Norway and deliver workshops to students in grades 8-10 on American history, culture, education, and literature.
In addition to that, I give teacher workshops on active learning and current teaching methods and practices. My school district in Riverside, IL, a suburb of Chicago, granted me a sabbatical this year. I look forward to returning next year to share my findings with students and the community.
Travel has been a major motivating factor in my life. I have found that I better understand myself, the American culture, and my role in the world when I leave the comforts and familiarity of home to explore the unknown. This is exactly what Mark Twain encourages in Innocents Abroad, when he writes: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
We fear what we don’t understand, so I am on a life-long quest to learn, listen, and explore in the hopes that I combat ignorance and stereotypes.
My mom’s career was in the travel industry, so I grew up hearing about her adventures and craving some of my own. My first solo trip was to Spain when I was in high school and I was instantly hooked! Since then I have studied abroad in Ecuador, China, Japan, Spain and Mexico.
My first teaching job was in Japan where I taught for two years in the rural village of Tsuwano with the JET Program. For now, Chicago is home, but my life continues to be enhanced by the summers and breaks I spend traveling when I’m not teaching. So far I’ve set foot on six continents and have explored 46 countries.
TT: Amazing! Tell us more about your travels during your sabbatical.
L: Where to begin? While I am based in Oslo this year, the job allows me to visit schools all over Norway. I’ve taught in Hammerfest, which claims to be the Northermost town in the world, and was lucky enough to see the Northern lights a few times during the week I was there. In Harstad, a town in Northern Norway which is also above the Polar Circle, I experienced 22 hours of darkness during December.
I drank excessive amounts of coffee to stay awake while teaching which led to a slight accidental caffeine overdose! I’ve been to cities and rural villages, and lodging has ranged from hotels to cabins. No two commutes to work have been the same — I’ve walked, taken planes, buses, trains, and ferries. My brain is constantly challenged and there is always a sense of wonder and adventure with each week’s teaching assignment.
The most fulfilling part of the job comes with meeting students and teachers throughout the country. I have been welcomed and respected in each of the 36 schools I have visited so far. One popular workshop topic is exploring stereotypes. First students write down their thoughts about different areas of Norway, and from there we move to their perceptions of the U.S.
By the end of the workshop I attempt to redirect the focus to the importance of meeting people, recognizing each person as a unique individual, and recognizing how understanding at a local level is essential. I’ve been asked all sorts of questions ranging from whether or not life in the US is like the reality shows, to whether or not I like “brunost,” Norway’s brown cheese.
TT: Hah! How did you learn about this funding to pay for your sabbatical travel?
L: I learned about Fulbright Grants through their travel exchanges website. The U.S. Government sponsors the Fulbright educational exchange program to increase mutual understanding between U.S. citizens and people of other countries, and I am honored to be one of the educators selected to represent the United States this year.
TT: How does the Roving Scholar funding work?
L: The Fulbright Roving Scholar grant stipend covers one school year in Norway. Applications are due in August each year. Following a submission of an online application, the next round involves submitting a teaching video and then a Skype interview. I found out in February that I was awarded the grant.
TT: So exciting. Tell us about a particularly powerful or interesting moment during your time as an educator in Norway.
L: Recently I took a trip to the middle of the country to visit some small towns and remote areas. The scenery was spectacular — endless expanses of vast open spaces contrasted with snow covered peaks and frozen rivers. But I wasn’t there entirely as a tourist, so I had to navigate sporadic transport in rural areas which grew quite tiring after long days of teaching.
One afternoon I took a bus after school to the town I was scheduled to teach in the next day and couldn’t find my lodging. Google Maps showed that I was there, but reality had me standing, slightly annoyed, on a hill, getting covered in snow and splattered with dirt kicked up by cars whizzing past. All I could see were residential houses, most of them with lights on and families gathered around tables for dinner. My polka dotted suitcase and I must’ve been quite a sight for the people in town.
I called the farm hotel and after the fourth try, someone picked up. When asked where I was, I told the owner that I climbed the hill from the bus stop but couldn’t locate her property. She said, “Oh my God, you’re going to die!” After that she told me to walk back to the bus stop and she’d come pick me up. It turns out through a conversation of broken Norwegian and English I figured out she thought I was climbing a mountain of some 2,000 meters and was worried that it was getting dark and I’d be stranded.
She then pointed out, countless times, that I was mistaken, and that the “hill” I walked up was merely an incline, and this midwesterner had a thing or two to learn about what constitutes using the word “hill.” We laughed about it both mornings I stayed there while enjoying homemade bread and jam at breakfast.
A “powerful” moment was attending the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony and being in awe of the dedication some individuals devote to making this world a better place.
TT: Love those stories! How has your sabbatical travel impacted you in your career?
L: I strive to be a contributing, thoughtful member of society, and a dedicated global citizen. Education is the perfect outlet for me to share this passion, as I thrive on facilitating lessons that expose students to the necessity of being open minded and responsible citizens. The work I do inspires me and gives me great hope and joy.
I consider myself lucky to have so many opportunities to interact with students and learn about their dreams and concerns. No two days on the job are alike, and I find myself getting better each day at living simply (out of my suitcase), being open minded and flexible.
Gaining these new perspectives by engaging in meaningful dialogue while traveling transforms me. In my classroom, I constantly challenge my students to consider stories and historical events from different perspectives. In that vain, I challenge myself to do the same so as to avoid the dangers of a single narrative.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers dreaming of travel?
L: There are countless ways to get abroad and travel. Don’t let money or fear stand in the way of visiting or working in another country. If you’re interested, pursue it. Talk to people and do your research. Your life will change in ways you cannot imagine and that in itself is a reason to sign a contract and get on a plane!