Hospitality and Wonder
| by Eva Gudbergsdottir
The term “perfect fit” is probably overused, but the Institute has an unusual gift for appealing to individuals with remarkably diverse backgrounds and interests and allowing them to shine. Thor Sawin, a member of the TESOL/TFL faculty, is an excellent example of this phenomenon. After going to college to study geography and map making, he was lured into linguistics by a friend who sought company in a dreaded course. He graduated with a dual degree in linguistics and geography.
Thor, who was named after Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, described himself as “the guy who will be found talking passionately about vowels at a dinner party.” Like his namesake, Thor is an enthusiastic explorer of other cultures. He studied abroad in Ukraine, taught German in Lithuania, English in a Chinese city bordering North Korea, and German again in South Korea. He researched language acquisition among development professionals in Eastern Europe for his dissertation. Along the way, he has become fluent in English and German, proficient in Russian, French, Spanish, and Lithuanian, and has enough Chinese and Serbo-Croatian to “get by.”
Language teaching for Thor is about two words: hospitality and wonder. For him, learning another language has a lot to do with hospitality, because when you speak a language well, people feel welcomed, even loved. “Learning a language is one of the deepest forms of respect you can extend to another culture.” But languages are also about wonder for Thor, who believes “the way language systems work is amazing” and a thing of beauty.
“There are very few jobs I could have found that tie together all of my lives and interests.” A large part of the draw in Monterey was the opportunity to “work with some extremely well-respected senior colleagues who have been incredibly helpful.” He said he could think of no better place to continue his path of growth and learning. When you add to that the many students benefiting from Thor’s passion for teaching, “perfect fit” no longer seems like a cliché.
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