An Interview with American Teacher Benjamin Chandler
American artist and schoolteacher Benjamin Chandler first came to Martin during the summer of 2008 as a member of a mission trip to teach English as a Foreign Language to elementary-school children. In 2011 he left his teaching job in the United States, moved to Slovakia and joined the faculty of the Lutheran Academy. Benjamin’s book The Way You Call Into the Mountain (the title a translation of a Slovak proverb) is a memoir of his time in Slovakia. It presents an American perspective on Slovak culture and Slovak people. It also talks about seeking and finding God’s will—and finding love.
You made two mission trips to Slovakia before deciding to leave your job in the United States and join the faculty of the Lutheran Academy. How did that happen?
I was looking for a change in my life. I was happy at my old job, but I felt like my life outside of work was stagnating. I wanted a challenge, something new, maybe even an adventure. During my second visit here, when Michal Valčo suggested I come to Slovakia and teach for 10 months, a little spark was set in my brain that maybe working here for some time would provide me with some of the challenges and newness I was looking for.
During your first mission trip here, in 2008, you taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) to elementary-school students. How did you decide to make a mission trip to Slovakia?
I was working at Grace Lutheran, a Lutheran school in the Chicago area that had a connection with the Bible School and the Lutheran Academy in Martin. One spring, before a staff devotion, one of the church’s pastors asked if anyone wanted to go to Slovakia to teach English during the summer. I declined. I didn’t want to spend my summer vacation working. But then all the teachers who did go came back with such smiles and stories; my curiosity was piqued. When the offer to teach in Slovakia came up the following summer, I took it.
What has been the most surprising thing about your life in Slovakia?
Well, I wasn’t planning on finding a wife, I’ll tell you that for free! That was the most surprising.
I also was surprised by everyone’s generosity. I felt welcomed into so many homes, was given so many meals. I did not know that the “opening of the home” is a big part of Slovak culture when I first arrived. I kept waiting for someone at dinner to say, “I bet you’re wondering why I invited you over. We need you to do something…” But that never happened. In the U.S., dinner invitations from strangers usually mean they want something from you, but that’s not the case here.
I think I had an idea in my head of what life in Slovakia would be like. Mostly I envisioned me sitting in a small room all by myself reading books I’d never had time to read before, or working in brightly colored classrooms with kids who didn’t understand me. Some of that happened, but I think I imagined a much quieter, solitary life than what I found here. Or, perhaps, the solitude is in a different form. I am not alone here. I work with many wonderful and understanding people, and have forged some friendships with them. So, while I am not physically alone, I sometimes feel isolated by language or culture. That’s probably the most difficult thing, and I did not anticipate those feelings.
|The Center for Christian Education is grateful for the ministry of individuals like Benjamin Chandler. Please consider sponsoring Benjamin or one of his Lutheran Academy colleagues! For details, contact our Director of Development, Sisa Schudichova, at firstname.lastname@example.org|