Want to experience modern Germany and study history on a funded summer teacher travel tour?
Welcome Nate Larsen, an educator who has had a wonderful experience with TOP: the Transatlantic Outreach Program.
Teaching Traveling: Nate, tell us about your background, and what led you funded teacher travel abroad.
Nate: Hello! I live in Nebraska and come from a family of educators (dad, mother-in-law, wife, 5 aunts and 5 cousins). I am 41 years old and currently in my 5th year as an assistant principal and activities director in a 7-12 building.
Prior to that I taught social studies (Government, Current Issues, US History and Psychology as well as 2 classes: Holocaust Studies and History of Film that I designed and started myself) in a 9-12 setting for 10 years.
I taught social studies (US History, World History and Ancient History) in a 6-8 setting for 4 years prior to my high school experience. In addition to my current job I serve on the board for the Nebraska State Council for the Social Studies, work with the Institute for Holocaust Education and serve as both a mentor and part of the network of trainer specialists for the Transatlantic Outreach Program (TOP).
My travel background was limited to family vacations until a couple of colleagues made me aware of the many fully-funded travel grants available for teachers.
TT: So impressive! Tell us about this Germany tour scholarship program you did.
N: The 2-week study tours available through the Transatlantic Outreach Program have been the most interesting for me. I was fortunate enough to travel as a fellow in 2009 and again in 2013 (the last year repeat fellows were allowed) before serving as a group leader in 2016 and 2018.
These study tours have taken me to multiple cities throughout Germany and allowed me to visit places of historical significance, meet and interact with government officials, develop friendships and partnerships with educators from across the United States, Canada and Germany, and to experience a new culture.
I feel like nothing I write can truly explain how incredible the study tours are, I highly recommend that everyone eligible take the time to apply!
The other travel opportunity that stands out is the Pearl Harbor: History, Memory, Memorial workshop through the NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities). The opportunity to meet both American and Japanese survivors, visit places that typically only military personnel are allowed and hear from so many experts was incredible.
TT: Stupendous. How do you find your travel grants and scholarships?
N: I first learned about travel opportunities from colleagues. That got my foot in the door with the Pearl Harbor NEH workshop where I met some incredible people who told me about TOP.
The “Scholarships, Grants and Summer Institutes for Teachers” Facebook page (of which the accomplished teacher traveler, Dunn Woods is one of the moderators) is an incredible resource! There are so many members that have participated in amazing opportunities and are willing to share those experiences. That has been probably the best single location to learn about new grants and programs.
Other than that, visiting with friends I have made while taking part in travel opportunities is a great way to learn about new opportunities. I also suggest visiting websites (NEH, Gilder-Lehrman and opportunity specific sites) and attending conferences (NCSS, etc) to meet people and learn about upcoming opportunities. Also, here is a giant spreadsheet of 200 teacher travel programs!
TT: Excellent resources. Now, can you explain what parts of these travel programs are paid for?
N: All of the opportunities I have been a part of are either fully funded as a result of partnerships (TOP) or provide stipends that cover most if not all of the expenses. There will always be incidental expenses (souvenirs, snacks, etc) that I plan to bring my own spending money for.
That said, I didn’t hesitate to stay in a dorm when in Hawaii for the Pearl Harbor NEH workshop as the stipend would not have covered my flight and lodging otherwise.
TT: Smart. Do tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
N: The moments that come to mind as most powerful for me all involve people. My study tour group gave coloring books designed to help with language acquisition and colored pencils to children living in a transition camp in Germany.
We made and then ate dinner with an individual who fled Syria for a better life in Germany. We met with students and teachers to learn about the German education system and programs of study specific to the schools we visited.
We listened to Margot Friedlander (a Holocaust survivor) as she read from her book before talking with us about her life experiences. We walked along the former border between East and West Germany while hearing from a former West German border guard and individuals who lived on both sides of the border prior to reunification.
My NEH group was able to hear firsthand accounts of the attack on Pearl Harbor from both American and Japanese survivors. These are the experiences I will remember as long as I live, things I couldn’t have even imagined had I not sought out and taken advantage of the learning and travel professional development opportunities available for educators.
TT: So true. How have your travels impacted you in your career, and as a person?
N: My travels have impacted my career in a very positive way. I am much better at being able to see things from multiple perspectives than I had been previously. My network of teachers, administrators and subject area experts has grown exponentially.
There is always someone I can reach out and talk to who has experienced or can offer advice regarding just about anything I am dealing with in my job. My teaching methods and curriculum both improved as a result of my travels and experiences as well.
I have the opportunity to interact with professionals and impact instruction in schools and districts all over the state of Nebraska and country as a whole, and I have no doubt that a big reason for that is the professional travel experiences I have been a part of.
There has probably been an even greater impact personally because of my travels. I have experienced many new cultures and made countless friends through these experiences. There are people from all over the world and as close as 15 miles away that I am in touch with on a regular basis.
My family has started new traditions and I have been able to develop a love of travel in my children through my stories and the experiences we have had as a family as a result. My worldview is so much broader than I ever could have imagined as a kid growing up in Nebraska thanks to my travels, and my family is able to say the same.
TT: Beautifully put. What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel?
N: The first piece of advice I have would be to search out opportunities that are of particular interest or relevance to you, this will make it much easier to complete the application form. Take your time when completing an application, be sure your answers to all questions are well thought out and follow the instructions given.
Look over any letters of reference and support you plan to turn in with your application, you would be surprised how often those contain spelling or grammar errors. Search for people who have participated in the opportunities you are interested in and get their advice.
There are several of us out there who are happy to offer tips, read essays and put you in contact with program directors who can answer questions you may have. Most importantly, if you are selected to participate in one of these amazing opportunities, conduct yourself in a professional manner.
Program directors interact with one another frequently and a poor decision while on one travel opportunity can impact your chances of being selected for future opportunities. Lastly, take advantage of the opportunities that are out there! You will enjoy incredible experiences, make new friends and grow both personally and professionally as a result!