Leah Hodge

Navajo Nation

My placement:
Many Farms is an extremely small community, but is centrally located in the reservation with access to many nearby towns. The high school where I was placed, Many Farms High School, is operated by the Bureau of Indian Education and is one of few remaining high schools with a dormitory system. The highlights of my experience were the relationships I made with my fellow teachers, bonding with students during and outside of school, and experiencing the Navajo world firsthand. I still have students reach out to me, asking me to come back, and I couldn’t miss them more!

The host culture:
The most incredible thing about the Navajo people is their openness and inclusivity. Almost all the people I met, both adults and children/students, were interested in who I was and how they could make my experience memorable. I was invited to fairs and local events, told stories, given food and gifts, invited to be with others if I happened to be alone, and was welcomed to participate in reservation life with open arms. I very rarely felt like an outsider, despite being alone in a minority in a completely foreign place.

Overcoming Challenges:
The most challenging part of living in Many Farms was adapting to life there by myself. As a graduate student, I chose to participate in my Global Gateways experience alone, so I never had anyone else to check in with. It was overwhelming at times to work as constantly as I needed to and participate in all aspects of student teaching life without another student teacher to share the load, or at least share the experience with. However, this was ultimately one of the best parts of my experience because of how completely I had to adapt to my new home.

Deciding to participate in this program was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it has changed the way that I teach and the way that I live.

Professional Development:
Teaching on the Navajo reservation taught me so much about my profession and myself. I learned how to create a classroom that was a place to facilitate the exchange of knowledge. Together, my students and I created a space where they could teach me about their culture, and I, in turn, could include these lessons into the assigned curriculum. I learned how to create diverse and equitable lessons and thrive in a situation in which I was a minority. I learned how to change lessons on the spot, react to situations that I may not have dealt with in Indiana, and how to be a stronger and more flexible instructor. I learned that being a teacher is not about simply pushing knowledge onto students, but about creating a safe space in which everyone can learn and share.

Advice for Future Students:
Be easy on yourselves! You are doing amazing work that not many people are capable of doing. If you feel homesick or like you aren’t doing enough, know that being present and yourself is the beginning of something wonderful. Do what you can and push yourself, but don’t feel bad if you need to take a little “me time” too. Contact your instructor and other Global Gateway staff whenever you need to and communicate how you are doing. Be proud of yourself for choosing this path. Know that you are changing your life and are growing beyond measure.

Last words:
My time in the Navajo Nation was challenging, exhausting, eye opening, exciting, and so very fun. Deciding to participate in this program was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it has changed the way that I teach and the way that I live. In fact, I am on my way back to Many Farms to visit my friends and former students. Many Farms will always have a piece of my heart and I wouldn’t change my experience there for the world.