Visit the January Term 2018 Course Blogs website for the latest posts.

During J-Term 2017, 292 students and 34 program leaders will participate in one of Luther's 19 courses around the globe. Although it's impossible to keep up with everyone, these blogs are designed to provide glimpses into our students' adventures.

Take a look at the course descriptions, itineraries, and leaders to learn the details of each exciting trip. Most importantly, read the blogs to experience life alongside our traveling students.

J-Term Highlights

Check out these highlighted posts about unforgettable moments, lessons learned, and life-changing experiences!

This has certainly been quite the trip! In the last three weeks, each of us has had a unique experience, so here's a peek, written by each member of our trip, into what we have learned!

Noah Tiegs, High School Spanish

I made the trip to Gallup to immerse myself in unknown cultures and to challenge my desire to become a secondary Spanish teacher. I return to Decorah more determined than ever to pursue a career in education. This J-Term experience offers a unique glimpse at the culture of a people who have largely been forgotten in the rush of modern America. The diversity in the Gallup McKinley Schools spans all races, religions, colors, creeds, orientations, and ideologies. It was my honor to assist in these students' education each day they came to school, even if only a fraction of what they learned was Spanish. Teaching is an underrated, exhausting job; but these three weeks in the classroom are among the most rewarding experiences I have had. Connecting to and guiding these young men and women during a tumultuous time in their lives gives me a great feeling of satisfaction. Not every day is an overwhelming success, but that does not make a day a failure. If I come away from this trip with any wisdom, it would be twofold: Attitude genuinely is everything. And NEVER love your subject more than your students.

Cora Antoncich, Middle/High School Band and Choir

Over the course of the past three weeks, which passed by in the blink of an eye, I learned so much about what it means to be an educator. I also made an amazing group of friends who made it a great experience.

Jessica Carpenter, Middle School Science

Way back during early first semester, I didn't know what to expect out of this J-term, but I wouldn't change a thing about my experience. It has been an incredible adventure spending time with this group of determined future educators who are passionate about helping kids. They believe they can change the world, and I know they are capable of doing so. There are certain innate traits of teachers, unteachable to most, that each of the Luther students possesses, some being patience and understanding, but also a need to have book smarts and street smarts. I was placed in Gallup's Kennedy Middle School for my three weeks and I could see which students would gravitate towards their teachers, because of their skills and compassion. Although I'm still uncertain about committing to the Education program, I know that every Luther student on the trip is going to make a phenomenal teacher someday, and I thank them and Dr. Norland for an unforgettable experience in Gallup!

Marri Saunders, Elementary

During this J-term, I was able to work in a 5th grade classroom at Catherine A. Miller Elementary School. It was such an amazing experience to work in a school district in which the students face a wide variety of challenges. The students in the Gallup area have so many obstacles in their lives, but they make the best of their situations and this was a beautiful thing to see as a future educator. Their constant positivity in the classroom encourages me to pursue education, but also to keep in mind the diverse circumstances of all students. The Gallup trip has opened my eyes to a new world of education, and I am very excited to continue my path to becoming a teacher!

Ellie Hemker, Elementary

Education 185 in Gallup, New Mexico was a trip to remember. Every day I had the privilege to observe the Navajo culture in and out of the classroom. The kids at Catherine A. Miller taught me a lot that I could not learn from textbooks. I found out about the background of many students and I am amazed at all the obstacles they have conquered at such a young age. This trip has assured me that I want to be a teacher. I can now see the impact a teacher has on the lives of their students. I want to make a difference like the teachers at Catherine A. Miller.

Laura Bianchi, Elementary Music

The three weeks I have spent in Gallup have been truly life changing. Visiting the town itself was like traveling out of the country. The people, culture, and landscape were so different from anything I've seen. But the aside from the breathtaking view we found at the top of the Pyramid hiking trail, the time that I spent with the students at Roosevelt Elementary School was extremely humbling. These students were so excited to learn and so intelligent. I feel as though I learned far more from them than they learned from me. My hope is that I will be able to go back and see how they all have grown into the powerful young adults I know they will be.

Rachel Trautmann, Elementary

The J-term trip to New Mexico was a truly enjoyable experience. It was amazing to work in a school of primarily Navajo students and it was eye opening to see what they go through everyday. The second-grade class I was in was a lot of fun to be around and it was fun to see the students progress in the three weeks I was able to spend with them. The weekends were full of hikes and adventures which were absolutely stunning. Every day I spent in New Mexico was a great one and a huge part of that was the group that I was a part of. Everyone was a pleasure to be around and we all got along right from the beginning. I am happy to have the memories I do with all the people I could spend these last three weeks with.

Abby Cornejo, Elementary

Going to Gallup for J-term was one of the best decisions I've made. I learned so much from both my cooperating teachers and my 1st graders. Let me start by saying Gallup, New Mexico is a completely different place and everyday brought a new experience. The kids come from less than ideal homes yet they come to school and do their best. They persevere everyday. The kids taught me how a teacher needs to know each of their students in order to help them learn best. The teachers make do with the little they have and inspire and love their students everyday. I strive to be that teacher. Both in the classroom and with our group, I learned what it really means to be a community. To know, count on, and learn from others.

Jenny Hickey, Elementary

This J-term in Gallup, NM has been an amazing experience. From the first day, I stepped into my second-grade classroom to the slightly tear-filled goodbyes, I have learned so much.  It was a truly eye-opening experience to see how the Navajo students stay in touch with their culture in a world that is pushing them to conform. I admire their resilience as a people and how beautifully they have preserved their culture and language.  I am so glad I had the opportunity to partake in this adventure with so many amazing classmates that I have grown to become very fond of.

Colin Cosgrove, Elementary Music

What a long, strange trip it's been. Except for it wasn't very long. I'd even venture to say that these three weeks went by faster than any other three weeks I've experienced up to this point in my life. But it certainly was strange. During these weeks I frequently felt as though I was spending time in a different country. Almost constantly surrounded by Native Americans, this sensation struck me as a rather ironic one. The culture is so different from my perfect little life in the midwest. Given the recent changes in America, it was hard not to consider the many similarities (learned helplessness, poverty, etc.) between the Navajo, or "Diné", people and the reading I've done on our nation's newest minority: the white working class. The similarities between the two cultures, unfortunately, are mostly negative, resulting in many challenges for each (more than just a shocking presidential election). The circumstances of the Diné people have led to rampant drug and alcohol abuse, frequently resulting in very difficult home lives for many of the students with whom I received the privilege of working. I often times heard my fellow members of the Gallup crew refer to the lives of these students as "heartbreaking", reciting story after heart-wrenching story about how bad they've got it, generally extracting a gasp and a heartfelt "oh dear" from the rest of us. But I feel that our purpose here is not to shed pity. After all, these are their lives! I can't empathize entirely with the Natives here, but I'm sure that the last thing I would want as a Navajo student is for a group of well-off "belaganas" to come marvel at my pathetic lifestyle. Yes, it is evident that a mere three weeks with these kids was enough to make an impact, but at the same time, it is even more apparent that we learned far more than they did through this experience. I leave this trip with a newfound appreciation for a previously unfamiliar culture, as well as a drastically changed (and increased) sense of purpose. I will very much miss the routine of saying goodnight to the coolest 11 people with which I have ever shared a living space, only to wake up the next day to accompany them in spending the day with the most genuine group of children with which I have ever shared a classroom. I am indescribably grateful to have been fortunate enough to embark on this unforgettable journey. Peace and Love!

Payton Knutson, Middle School Math

Before I left for Gallup and even while I was there, people kept asking me why I would travel all the way to New Mexico to do my observation. My answers varied from "It's warmer here than in Iowa," to "I wanted a unique cultural experience." Honestly, I don't know why I chose to make my way from Decorah, IA to Gallup, NM, but I am so glad I did. I learned what it means to be a teacher: you have to know your subject material, be organized, have patience, be able to communicate with people from all backgrounds, know the strengths and weaknesses of each of your students, and you have to have a passion for helping others, to name a few traits of a successful teacher. I also had the privilege to experience the unique culture of a beautiful place with an unfortunate past which led to a difficult present. However, there is hope for the future, provided in part by the teachers who work diligently to ensure the success of their students. So while I don't have a definitive answer as to why I decided to spend my January with a bunch of 8th graders in Gallup, it is because of this trip that I now know why I want to be a teacher: not just to teach, but also to support, challenge, and love my students because everyone deserves to have a teacher who truly cares enough to give them hope for their future.

Final Thoughts

Now we have returned home with new memories, we will recount or experience to friends, family, and maybe even some strangers. As you can see, these stories will be different for each of us, but I think it is safe to say we will miss Gallup and our students. And now, as the Navajo say, “Yá'át'ééh,” which can be used as a parting phrase, but also means “hello.” We are saying see you later to Gallup, but we are greeting our futures as teachers and students.

Thank you for following our journey by reading this blog!

We found a cactus in Phoenix and had to take a picture with it!
Goodbye Phoenix!
Our last picture as a group at the Phoenix airport