An Interview with American Teacher Benjamin Chandler

After completing mission trips to Martin during the summers of 2008 and 2010, American artist and schoolteacher Benjamin Chandler made the decision to leave his teaching job in the United States, move to Slovakia and join the faculty of the Lutheran Academy. Benjamin describes his journey in his memoir The Way You Call Into the Mountain, an engaging account of life in Slovakia.

In what ways have you had to adjust to living in Slovakia?

At first, many of the things I felt like I had to adapt to were just differences between the very consumer-based America and the more family-based Slovakia. I was used to stores being open late hours—even on Sundays. I could run to the shop at 10pm on a Sunday night in Chicago, but not so in Martin! Sunday was family time. Actually, that used to be the way it was in the U.S., too, when I was young. Then, sometime in the 80s, stores started to be open more days, more hours, all in the name of making more money.

I also had to get used to finding or not finding certain items in the grocery store. Cooking is important to me, so the different vegetables and brands were fun to explore. But I also missed a few items I used to find in Chicago. I have to say, though, that in the 3 years I’ve been here, the grocery stores have slowly been offering more and more varieties of foods.

The biggest thing I had to adapt to was not being understood or not understanding. Because of language there is a big wall between me and the rest of the world. Of course, there are many, many English speakers in Martin, and my Slovak is improving, however slowly. But when I first came here, not being an active participant in conversations or understanding every word said to me was a huge hurdle.

Your book, The Way You Call Into the Mountain, offers an interesting look at Slovakia through the eyes of an American. Please tell us more.

I think Slovakia balances the modern and the traditional in an interesting way. In some ways, the country is well planted in the Information Age with smartphones in everyone’s pockets. At the same time, it works hard to maintain its heritage. Maybe because Slovaks were so long oppressed by different empires and foreign powers, they understand the value of holding onto those things that make Slovaks Slovak.

I remember the cultural fair in Batizovce [a small town near Slovakia’s famous Tatra Mountains] where people performed in Slovak costume, sang traditional songs, and played innocent matchmaking games. Sometimes those old traditions are strange to me, an outsider, but other times I relate because they come from feelings we all have. The strongest traditions are born from the elements that make us human —laughter, singing, hope, and relationships — which anyone can relate to, even if they don’t know the language.

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.
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