Leading lifelong learners abroad: A Q&A with Michon and David Weeks
This spring St. Olaf College alumni, friends, and families will have the opportunity to hike, bike, and kayak through Croatia and Slovenia while learning about the culture and history of the region and sampling local food and wine.
It’s all part of an Alumni & Family Travel program custom-designed for St. Olaf participants by Associate Professor of Practice in Art and Art History Michon Weeks and her husband, David, the pastor at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church of Northfield.
In addition to offering more than 120 international or domestic off-campus study programs for current students, St. Olaf offers about 12 programs per year to alumni, families, and friends. These Alumni & Family Travel programs — led by current and retired faculty and hosted by campus leaders — enable Oles to explore and learn in new corners of the world.
While St. Olaf put the Alumni & Family Travel program on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the programs that were scheduled to take place this year have been rescheduled to 2022 or 2023 — and registration is now open. All programs will follow COVID safety protocols, and leaders will monitor global conditions ahead of the programs and make any travel adjustments necessary. The main goal of Alumni & Family Travel is to deliver a highly educational itinerary shaped by the expertise of faculty leaders.
Michon and David Weeks bring both expertise and experience in leading programs abroad. Most recently they led the Environmental Science in Australia and New Zealand International and Off-Campus Program for St. Olaf students during the 2020 spring semester. The program was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, but provided a lot of valuable lessons — and made the Weeks eager to lead another group abroad.
They took a moment to share why they developed the Alumni & Family Travel program to Croatia and Slovenia and what fuels their interest in leading lifelong learners abroad.
Michon, what led you to be a professor of art and art history?
I am a practicing artist, and teaching art is one of my passions. It is a joy working in an art studio where students are learning and engaged. I have a responsibility to work hard for my students, passing to them what I have learned. It is a privilege and responsibility to share the subject matter that I care about with others. I am glad that my studio work as a painter is supported and encouraged by my colleagues at St. Olaf.
What did you enjoy about leading students abroad?
Michon: College students are so much fun to travel with because of their camaraderie, playfulness, enthusiasm, curiosity, and desire for adventure. I also like eating ice cream with the students and swimming in the ocean.
David: As a pastor, I work mostly with older adults, so it was fun and delightful to interact with younger adults.
What was it like to be caught abroad with a group of students when the pandemic began?
Michon: We were all disappointed that our time in Australia was cut short by two months due to the pandemic. As a result, we missed spending 10 days on the great barrier reef snorkeling and studying marine biology. This was particularly hard for our students. Yet we trusted the decisions of St. Olaf’s International and Off-Campus Studies Office as they monitored the situation and decided when we needed to end our time in Australia. Their skill and support made my job as the leader much easier. In hindsight I am so thankful that we got to spend a full month studying in New Zealand in February of 2020 before the pandemic expanded.
What prompted you to consider leading an Alumni & Family Travel program?
David: Why wouldn’t you want to lead a group of adults through St. Olaf’s Alumni & Family Travel? This is a great opportunity to explore other cultures, foods, and histories, and make new friends. Also, the program is so well supported by the Alumni & Family Travel staff.
How did you choose the destinations for your 2022 program?
Michon: We chose Croatia and Slovenia in order to experience the brilliantly blue glacial Lake Bled, the sunlit Adriatic coast, the spectacular wonders of Plitvice Lakes National Park, and the historic cities and villages along the Dalmatian Coast. We are also excited about the Backroads cycling portion of the trip.
We chose Croatia and Slovenia in order to experience the brilliantly blue glacial Lake Bled, the sunlit Adriatic coast, the spectacular wonders of Plitvice Lakes National Park, and the historic cities and villages along the Dalmatian Coast.Michon Weeks
David: It would be sweet to see professional cyclists Tadej Pogacar or Primoz Roglic, who are from Slovenia and currently ranked #1 and #3 in the world. The pletna boats on Lake Bled sound exciting to me.
Compared to leading students, what do you think will differ when leading adult lifelong learners abroad?
Michon: There will be a diversity of people on the trip, including professional people, retired people, and young adults. We will all learn from each other — and there is no grade at the end of the program.
David: As much as I enjoyed leading young adults, our ages and life experiences were different. I look forward to stimulating conversations while sampling craft beers in Slovenia and Croatia.