Gull Lake social studies teacher Jack Vander Sluis grew up in East Grand Rapids on a street named “Alexander” with his parents and two sisters.
“I moved there [same home in Grand Rapids} when I was 2 years old and that’s where my parents still live today,” Vander Sluis said.
After Vander Sluis graduated from high school, he went to Calvin College in Grand Rapids.
“I was originally slated to study architecture but was pretty disinterested in everything that I was doing,” he said. “I was also pretty sick of going to school and wasn’t in a very good mental state to be spending money on education, so I dropped out after my first trimester and went hiking the Appalachian Trail with a good friend of mine from elementary school. After lots of hiking, thinking and talking I ended up re-enrolling in community college the next year. After that, I transferred back to Calvin College to pursue degrees in Secondary Education, History and Social Studies.”
Vander Sluis said that how he stated to travel and continues to do so for a variety of reasons.
“First of all, more than anything else, there is so much beauty in people and places that are different than what I am used to,” he said. “Appreciating differences simply for what they are is a wonderful part of being human. On a more practical level, traveling gives me the opportunity to learn from other cultures. Whether it is in the lifestyles, cuisine, architecture or relationships, there is so much to learn from others. Traveling is also so much fun. We are meant to explore and limiting ourselves to one city, state, country, or continent takes away from who we are supposed to be.”
When students think of Vander Sluis, they think of the teacher who has traveled the world because he shares those experiences and passes them on.
“I have been to some countries for years, others for months and some for just a few days, but here are the countries I’ve visited over the years: Canada, Mexico, Israel, Palestine, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Morocco, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Hong Kong, Thailand, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and France.”
Vander Sluis said these were all great experiences, but of course, there are times where he got homesick, physically sick or just bogged down in work.
“But once it was all over with all of the good times stand out so much brighter than anything else. The friendships, food, adventures in the wild and in the cities, all made my life more fully,” said Vander Sluis.
After having traveled to all of these places as he has, you would think that he would stop and settle down somewhere a bit more complex and exciting than East Grand Rapids, where he still lives and has commuted from to teach at Gull Lake for the last three years.
“I moved back to West Michigan after teaching in Honduras because I needed to create some stability in my life for a little bit,” he said. “I had to work towards paying off college. I married my wife, and I bought a house. She also loves to travel, and we both got into teaching in part because we can do it anywhere in the world, so we are both always on the lookout for another opportunity to live and work outside of the country.”
Vander Sluis said that he encourages everyone to get out and travel.
“It doesn’t need to be outside of the country, or even the state,” said Vander Sluis, “but going to unfamiliar places pushes us all to use skills we might not otherwise, open our eyes to new things, and allows us to create memories that are unattainable if we stay put in the places and routines that make us comfortable.”