There are three things I truly enjoy: interesting people, great conversation, and a good cup of fair trade coffee. Luther’s Sense of Vocation, through its Kaffeepause (coffee break, in Norwegian) allowed me to bring them all together. During the last academic year, I advertised in class that I would be available to talk to students about issues that interested them and were ultimately related to our common calling to be full human beings: vocation. We would meet at Marty’s, the campus coffee shop, and talk about their concerns and hopes, about classes and college life, their plans for the future or just how to make it through the semester. I learned a lot.
First, a whole new window about the life of college students opened itself up to me. I learned that the lives of students are more complex and existentially demanding than one might think. And that is not only due to academic challenges or the multitasking that goes on campus through competitions, concerts, performances, or exhibitions. It has to do with the messiness of life (which affects everybody, not only young adults): human relationships, issues of identity and self-esteem, existential crises, conflicts of interest, and a general need to make sense of one’s life in light of these issues. I believe college is a transition period between the relatively protected environment of home and the challenges of independent, yet responsible adulthood. In a variety of ways, students learn to make decisions, to establish priorities, to compromise when needed, and to experience the frustration of not being able to do everything they want. In sum, they learn what it means to juggle the multiple and intricate elements of life and make sense of it all.
Second, I was told quite often that students live in a “Luther bubble” that protects them from knowing what goes on in the real world. But does the idyllic landscape of a small Midwestern town like Decorah prevent students from knowing about the harshness of hunger, poverty, violence, or war? The opposite was proven to me. I was positively impressed by the number of students who were socially aware of what goes on in the world. Political instability, economic disparity, and social inequality were frequent topics of conversation. Many of the conversations dealt with the contrast between the United States and other parts of the globe, including my home country, Brazil. Perhaps not all students had read the daily newspaper, but they had a general awareness of being in the world and wanting to make a difference in it.
Finally, I was also moved by their spirituality. It is generally expected that a liberal arts college, affiliated with the church, will have a strong sense of spiritual formation. From my experience, this is generally the background that students bring to college, since many are active members of congregations. The academic environment challenges students to grow not only in terms of knowledge and skills, but also in expressing their beliefs in a more complex and coherent manner. The students’ religious journey does not start when they are young adults, of course, but as young adults they are searching for a language that honors their doubts and fears, one that leads them away from a simplistic understanding of faith yet affirms the ongoing presence of God in their lives. Independent of religious affiliation, I perceived a sense of vocation among the students. They were able to identify God’s graceful presence in the midst of life’s upheavals and their own call to be full human beings. The college environment allows them to grow in their faith and to articulate their beliefs also in an academic setting, as they figure out what their place in the world actually is. Ultimately, I too learned more about what it means to be called to teach at Luther College.