It was eight years ago this spring that I had my first true international travel experience and as cliché as it sounds, it changed my life. I was a Luther student at the time studying on the small island of Malta. My time abroad changed me, the way I viewed myself, my place in the world, and how I view the country I grew up in. It left an impression that still runs deep in my life and has helped me shape and define who I am.
When I began interviewing for art faculty positions three years ago one of the first questions I always asked in the interviews was: “are there opportunities to lead study abroad trips?” I believe in the power of travel, and I couldn’t imagine working for an institution that didn’t share that same belief. So when I found myself at Luther I immediately started scheming (mostly privately in my own head) of ways to lead a trip abroad. Now, like a dream, I find myself sitting in my room in China while 14 college students (some only 19 years old, while others have never even been out of Iowa) have returned from eating a Szechuan group dinner (which included eating whole prawns, head and all) and are now busying editing photos from the day.
There is something about photography that really gives one an outlet for a different type of exploration and engagement with people and culture than you would get when you are just touring. Our students have been asked to explore the neighborhoods and communities of Hong Kong fairly independently; navigating metros, winding streets, and small alleyways in small groups without the guidance of instructors. With a photography prompt/theme introduced to them in the morning they set out to explore (and sometimes get lost) in their small groups, seeking out images to fulfil their assignment. Later, we come together as a group and get to hear everyone’s exciting stories from their afternoon adventures.
It’s been incredible to watch people grow so quickly over the last couple of weeks. When we first arrived in Hong Kong many were nervous, a bit timid, and had many questions about what they were getting themselves into. You can see everyone’s confidence growing by the day; many are trying food they never thought they would eat, jumping on and off the metro like pros, and (maybe most importantly) producing some pretty killer photographs.
It’s these types of life experiences that will stick with them for the rest of their lives and it’s these types of experiences that make Luther College such a special place to go to school and for me, proud to teach.