For several years I have been privileged to work with an international research team studying positive psychology and health promotion. This fits very nicely with the ongoing theme of our work here at Luther College in the Laboratory for the Investigation of Mind, Body and Spirit. In July of 2016, I was invited to participate in a small gathering of this international group of researchers in Coburg, Germany. I accepted this invitation and began making plans for the trip. In short, I became a Luther student who was set to study abroad albeit for a much shorter time, one week, and with the delightful company of my wife Kimberly, but no instructor to guide the way. Neither of us have been out of the country much, we don't speak a lick of German, and our general international travel savvy is…well…not real strong.
Enter the Center for Global Learning at Luther under the direction of Jon Lund. The patient and reassuring advice and guidance of Jon and his staff were welcome. Jon has been virtually everywhere and knows something about almost everything there is to know about international travel. From how to make arrangements for trains, handle your cash and credit cards, make lodging arrangements, communicate via smartphone, etc., Jon has the answers. Having Jon's support gave me certain relief about traveling in Germany.
Our departure date came, and we set out on our way to Coburg. We arrived jet-lagged, hungry and excited for our adventure. We were greeted by our colleagues, shown to our hotel and immediately began learning about Coburg. I should mention that Coburg was never bombed during World War II, and its architecture is stunning to say the very least. Coburg is nestled in the rolling hills and wilderness of Northern Bavaria, and yes – the chocolate and bread are every bit as good as advertised. Our research meetings were collegial, productive and deeply stimulating in every possible way. In a few short days we forged a strong professional network that continues to grow daily. To this day, we continue to collaborate, write, present and publish.
In the midst of our visit to Coburg, I couldn't help but think that this was the kind of experience that I wanted to share with students. Fortunately, our meetings began with presentations from the president of the university and head of the international office. They both affirmed their commitment to international studies and invited our ongoing collaboration. We are currently working to develop a research internship exchange between Coburg University and Luther College. We envision working on positive psychology and health promotion research projects, visiting prevention clinics and tertiary care clinics, and working with local, regional and national collaborators. We have so many bright and motivated students at Luther that could benefit from an internship at Coburg University, and likewise we in turn can offer a fitting experience for Coburg students here at Luther. It is exactly the type of innovative partnership and international experience that I believe that students at both institutions will be drawn to. I would love to hear from students that might be interested.
As I reflect on my "study abroad" experience in Coburg, I can't help but think about the impact these types of experiences have on Luther College students. One particular personal experience stands out and speaks to the transformative impact that studying abroad can have, especially for students early in their personal and professional development. On the cusp of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation I went to this little town in the middle of Germany to meet and work with colleagues, but little did I know that in this place was a castle like few others in its connection to Luther College. It was at Veste Coburg that Martin Luther took shelter for several months and continued his work in translating the Bible. As I stood in Martin Luther's "office" and stared at his desk and chair, I was simply in awe of the realness of this place. This was truly a transformative and inspiring moment. This was a real man, who fled to be sheltered in this very real and wonderfully preserved medieval castle. As a professor, I thought about what it must have been like to work in those conditions; what were the challenges, his motives, what might have happened if the King refused to shelter him? I'm pretty sure Wi-Fi was out of the question, but did he teach during this time, did he bring students, did he have his lecture notes?! Questions began stirring and I was taken aback by what this visit meant to me. In short, a small part of the history of my faith came alive that day standing in his office.
I'm completing my thirteenth year at Luther College and I've always known that we have an incredible global studies program. The Center for Global Learning and the faculty who lead study abroad experiences are impressive in so many ways. The glimpse I had of what study abroad means for so many students makes the words "thank you" seem insufficient for the dedication, sacrifices (both professional and personal), and commitment of the faculty and staff that make study abroad what it is at Luther College. I'm hopeful that we can create a one-of-a-kind collaboration that offers study abroad, research internships, and other connections with Coburg University. I'd love to know what students think about this possibility, and I know that if we put our heads together we can build on the strong tradition of global learning at Luther College.
Loren Toussaint, Luther professor of psychology and associate director of the Sierra Leone Forgiveness Project, is conducting research to broadly understand religious and spiritual factors, especially forgiveness, and how they are related to mental and physical health and wellbeing. He is director of The Laboratory for the Investigation of Mind, Body, and Spirit at Luther, which consists of a network of students, alumni, colleagues and friends of the laboratory that investigate the psycho-spiritual antecedents, correlates and outcomes of health. Toussaint's research has been featured in a number of print, online and radio outlets, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Des Moines Register, Greater Good, Miller-McCune, Ladies Home Journal, Scotland on Sunday, Men's Health, Psychology Today and the Associated Press. Toussaint was interviewed on Georgia Public Broadcasting on the science behind forgiveness.