Sabbaticals can provide a mental interruption from one’s usual work and life, a break from what has become habitual. This disruption creates space for new ideas to take hold and grow. For me, this was certainly the intent and outcome of my sabbatical plans. From January through July of 2022, I spent most of my time in France and then in Germany, studying languages and observing people’s lives and response to the pandemic, climate crisis, and then war.
I needed and wanted to rethink where I was going with my life and work in the face of the climate crisis. My job is to teach young adults. My aim is to give them information, skills, and confidence for creating their futures. Today, it is impossible to ignore the effect that our climate crisis is going to have on that future. I am also at a point where my own children are young adults and there is space to rework how I spend my time both with them and with others.
My sabbatical motto was, “Think differently.” It was a reminder to me to let go of how I might typically do something and instead take hold of a new opportunity that was presented. Often these were small, limited acts, like eating hard boiled goose eggs or not fretting about getting lost and instead noticing what interesting things happened because I got lost. But, I knew that relaxing into these seemingly small changes would allow me loosen up to larger or more continuous change.
Living in other countries during my sabbatical gave me a great opportunity to step outside of my normal routine. It allowed me to observe “the narrative” in other cultures and to experiment with changing my own “narrative of what is possible”. Studying French and German was also part of this. At more advanced levels of language use, one has to let go of the thought processes and structures of one’s primary or mother tongue. The perspective, logic, and organization of the language becomes part of how you think. In addition, classes were filled with discussions of culture and debates of current topics with people from countries around the world.
Much of what I spent time on during my sabbatical was not “productive” in that no money was exchanged and nothing physical was produced. But my existence and interactions were useful. I met, talked with, and shared meals with people from newly formed countries, from countries with old wars and scars, families who had fled violence a decade ago and were still waiting for papers, and young people who had recently fled war and were trying to adjust to new homes and languages, people who look up to the U.S. who aided them in the past but can’t grasp our embrace of violence (guns) and lack of rights (abortion). These interactions expanded my understanding and empathy. They also gave me new narratives to work from.
From my side, I did my best to explain the history of racism in the U.S., our attachment to guns, the changing landscape of abortion rights, the legal details of Roe v.~Wade and the Second Amendment, the role of trans women and drag queens in the creation of Pride parades, and that cornbread in buttermilk is a nice breakfast.
Did it work? Yes. I have new insights about how to teach my classes and what I want to teach. Larger scale, I have new ideas and projects I want to discuss with colleagues at SAIC and also people in my local community. I wish everyone could have the opportunity to step away from their routine, to step back and gain new perspectives. Personally and professionally, I am immensely grateful for having had this period in my life.
In closing, I want to thank my department and science colleagues for supporting this sabbatical, my family — John, Elly, Betty and Ray — for supporting the long trip away from them, all the people I met who gave me new narratives to think about, the language teachers who encouraged us to learn about their country’s culture and share our own, and finally to Sam, Cacie, and Liam for helping me clarify my thoughts and giving me inspiration for my poster in the faculty exhibition.
-Elizabeth Freeland, Full Professor, Adj., Liberal Arts