For most of you, Thor Sawin seems like a new face on campus, when he is a returning professor to the English department at LCC International University. As we look at his life before coming to LCC for the first time and now coming back this fall, Thor shared about the multiple languages that he knows, the countries he has visited, and his teaching experience and expertise.
When asked where he is from, Thor jokes, “Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m a local!” Originally, Thor grew up in Traverse City, Michigan in the United States. He received his undergraduate degree in Cartography and Linguistics in his home state from Michigan State University. He stayed at MSU to receive his graduate degree in Linguistics and TESOL. Some years later, he received his doctorate in Linguistics from the University of South Carolina. Before coming to Klaipėda this fall, he made his home in Monterey, California.
While finishing his studies at MSU, he was introduced to LCC. “I first heard about LCC in 2003 when I was finishing my master’s degree and I was looking for a job. I was telling a professor at my school that I wanted to work in Eastern Europe somewhere,” shares Thor. His conversation was overheard by another professor passing by. “She said that she had just gotten an email about LCC. I have no idea how or why she would’ve gotten that email, and even she still doesn’t know either. She sent me the job information and when I looked it over and looked at the LCC website, it looked like an amazing place to work. I thought that I would try it for one year... I stayed for three.”
After leaving LCC in 2006, he taught English in China and South Korea, and later went back to the United States. Until this fall, he was working as a professor of Applied Linguistics at a Masters-level graduate school in Monterey. He has also taught Intercultural Communication, German, and other linguistics courses, and even an English course for LCC while in Albania.
At the moment, Thor teaches three different writing courses and a Second Language Acquisition class, which is the field of his specialization.
When asked why he decided to come back, Thor said that when he started his job in Monterey, California, one of the conditions for professors was to take a sabbatical every 7 years. LCC was already on his mind, so he decided to come back for at least part of his sabbatical. During the years away from LCC, Thor kept up with the new things happening in LCC by our newsletter.
One reason why Thor enjoys staying in Klaipėda and at LCC is the professional and personal opportunities that he has. He came to teach at LCC right after he received his graduate degree. Here he got to design, teach and administer classes at the very beginning of his career. “I got pushed into teaching new fields, which has helped me grow. And those experiences on my resume opened many doors later in life,” he shared. Not only did he improve professionally, but he also made good friends that he is enjoying visiting with again this fall.
Thor can see differences in how LCC looked back in the early 2000s as to how it is now. One of the main differences that he noticed is that there is a larger diversity of international students. Thor pointed out, “I would say that when I was here before, 9 out of 10 students in my classes were Lithuanian,” which is not the case currently. Thor also noticed that “many of the admitted students have so much more confidence speaking in English right away as freshmen. The access to English for high schoolers has increased and is evidenced by the more natural intonation patterns I hear when students are speaking.” In terms of teaching in hybrid mode, Thor is happy to be teaching in person as he has not had this opportunity since March of 2020. Although he jokes by pointing out that people seem more reluctant now to shake hands, supposedly because of coronavirus.
Thor also mentioned things he likes about working at LCC. He acknowledges that he is always pushed to learn. “Teaching at LCC forces me into new realms of knowledge. I’m teaching several writing courses now, which I haven’t taught in a while.” One other thing that Thor loves to do while working at LCC is to analyze student language use. “It's interesting, the language choices learners make, and also trying to figure out why they made them and figuring out effective ways to present other options.”
Besides having a degree in Linguistics, Thor knows several foreign languages. When asked about the number of languages he knows, he humbly admits knowing at least six languages that he can use to teach or read philosophical papers, such as German or French. Besides English, the other four languages are Lithuanian, Korean, Spanish, and Russian. He also knows some other languages like Italian and Ukrainian that he can use in simple conversations. When learning languages, he invested most in learning Lithuanian but found the Korean language the most challenging one to learn. Next, he would like to learn Arabic, since it is a widely spoken language. He would like to then use his knowledge to instruct his students who aspire to be Arabic teachers.
During his free time, Thor likes to go for long walks or go on road trips, but mostly he likes to visit the local markets for items to cook. “I have been dreaming for years about going back to Klaipėda's old market and buying some of the foods there, such as lašiniai and ungurys, the homemade uogienė, the baravykai and voveraitės – all of the amazing Lithuanian foods.” He finds joy in creating “three-dimensional objects” also known as food since most of his job is done on the flat computer screen.
In addition to going for walks, traveling, and cooking, Thor also likes to involve himself in the local Church community. Thor mentions he gets through life with God. God has played a huge part in his life ever since his time in university. “His [God’s] presence has always been there, and as an unmarried person, most of my lived-out family life has been in the context of the church – being an extra parental figure to kids there, being an older brother to those who need one, being a help where I can.” Coming back to Klaipėda has allowed him to reconnect to Miesto Bažnyčia. As he got involved there before from 2003 to 2006, it was one of the main reasons he learned Lithuanian so well.
Getting sick with coronavirus brought awareness for him about where his focus was instead of where it should have been. This obstacle helped him draw closer to God and cope with the distresses in the world, his country, and his own life, and “to focus on Jesus’ heart for the world and His ultimate control over a messy world and my sometimes messy life.”
Sadly, Thor is planning only to be at LCC for this fall semester 2021, as he will be a Fulbright Scholar in Switzerland in the coming spring. He has many plans for the near future, such as taking classes in Germany and leading a trip across the Balkans for Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) students from Monterey. Additionally, he wants to collaborate on improving language apps by advising designers how to make the apps “actually work for their users according to language acquisition principles and not just user experience principles.” In the future, he also wishes to create (or help create) an international, multi-generational, living community. And finally, he is eager to travel more freely again.
“As an opportunity for growth in the next 30 years I would wish for LCC to provide more opportunities for students to study and learn international languages other than English” - Thor Sawin.