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A Sabbatical from Teaching in the U.S. to Be an Educator in Norway

Colorful Trondheim, Norway.
Colorful Trondheim, Norway.

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.

Lynn, deep in conversation.
Lynn, deep in conversation.

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.

Scenery in Lofoten, Northern Norway. Wow!
Scenery in Lofoten, Northern Norway. Wow!

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.

Painting in a school cafeteria in Bergen.
Painting in a school cafeteria in Bergen.

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.

Gorgeous Bergen, Norway.
Gorgeous Bergen, Norway.

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.

Lynn in Frogner Park.
Lynn in Frogner Park.

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.

A fjord near Oslo, Norway, where Lynn is living for the year.
A fjord near Oslo, Norway, where Lynn is living for the year.

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.

Hammerfest, Norway.
Hammerfest, Norway.

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!

TT: Thanks so much, Lynn! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for this sabbatical travel expert?


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Emma Dames

Sunday 5th of August 2018

Hi Lynn, I am thoroughly inspired by this article. I am currently still getting my undergrad at Missouri State University pursuing history education. I want to teach in the U.S. for a few years, but I had no idea that it was possible to use my interests in teaching history while exploring the globe. Norway especially is a dream! Thank you for sharing your story, and I hope to follow in your footsteps one day!


Sunday 5th of August 2018

Thanks for the kind words, Emma, and good luck to you!


Sunday 5th of August 2018

So glad you enjoyed the interview! Best of luck, and feel free to reach out if you ever want to be interviewed, yourself, in the future!

Dr. Cecilia Folasade Ojetunde

Thursday 2nd of August 2018

Thanks.,very impressive! I'd love to come for a year sabbatical job as well. I specialize in English syntax and Applied Linguistics.

Alana Kellard

Tuesday 27th of March 2018

Lynn, thank you for sharing your experience. I'm going to look into this immediately! How did you decide what your focus would be when working with students and teachers in. Norway?

Thank you!

Lynn Janik

Thursday 29th of March 2018

Hi Alana, Applications are due by August 1st for the upcoming year. I chose to offer workshops based on personal interest and experience, but I was also open to suggestions from Norwegian teachers. You'll have to propose workshop topics for the application, but you'll have time to modify offerings before teaching them if you get accepted. Good luck and let me know if I can be of further assistance! Lynn

Jenna Kotula

Tuesday 21st of November 2017

Hi Lynn!

I loved reading about your teaching and traveling experiences. It seems as if you have touched the lives of so many students across the globe. I am so inspired!

Last year, I graduated from Michigan State University with an Elementary teaching degree with a focus of Language Arts and a teaching minor in Teaching English as a Second Language. As of right now, I am teaching English as a Foreign language in French schools as a teaching assistant. I love the feel of traveling and teaching. I feel as I want to continue teaching abroad as an actual teacher--not an assistant. I was wondering if you had any piece of advice for me of where to search?

I think I may apply to some Fulbright scholarships, but I also think that international schools sound appealing. However, I am not even sure where to start, especially since I am not sure how requirements transfer over to different countries. Any piece of advice would be helpful! Thank you for your response.


Friday 24th of November 2017

Hi Jenna!

Happy Thanksgiving. :) Glad the article inspired you! There are so many places to look for international teaching jobs. Have you ever considered attending a fair? The one in Iowa is a good start: Even if you don't attend, you can register, upload your materials, and then you may still receive requests for skype interviews. At the very least, you'll see names of schools all over the world to continue your search.

If you're interested in teaching in Japan, the JET Program is worth looking into. You wouldn't have your own classroom, though. I also highly recommend looking at Fulbright ETA positions. I know you said you're looking for something other than assistant positions, but I liked having cooperating teachers in host countries to help me navigate my journey, and as time went on, I was given more responsibilities.

If I can be of further assistance, be in touch! Good luck!


Monday 13th of February 2017

It sounds like a fantastic opportunity, Lynn! So proud that you are representing our country with your passion for learning! Good luck to you!


Tuesday 14th of February 2017

Thanks, Paula!

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