Student Journey Series: Kate Zyskowski

Each month, the Student Journeys Series features a guest blog post by a former student of Vicki’s. They write about how their lives have been shaped through their global education experiences. This week’s Student Journey post is written by Kate Zyskowski. Kate currently lives in San Francisco where she is in her last year of her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology. Her dissertation research is based in Hyderabad, India, the site of her first global education program.

My introduction to global travel happened through stories. I remember one book from my childhood called Material World: A Global Family Portrait. This book showcased pictures of families worldwide with all their possessions in front of their home. I spent countless nights sitting in front of the fire devouring this book, comparing the food products, clothing, and furniture styles across the world. Looking back on it now, I learned that difference was something to celebrate and I had a lot to learn about the world.

Volunteering with an educational foundation in Hyderabad while studying abroad

Volunteering with an educational foundation in Hyderabad while studying abroad

I first traveled outside of the country the summer after my sophomore in college when my family made a trip to Europe. At the end of that trip, I took a direct flight to India for a semester study abroad which was my introduction to global education programs. For my study abroad experience, I wanted a program where I would be staying with a host family and attending a local university and I found one in Hyderabad, India. Living with a host family and attending local classes were challenging. It took me weeks to figure out how the semester workload worked at the local university and to adjust to the more relaxed timings of classes (once, a professor was 90 minutes late to class). I have a vivid memory of one afternoon, a few months in, sitting on top of my host family’s roof, wanting to go home and be done with this experiment. I thought I might never travel again.

I learned quickly that I learn the most about myself, and others, by placing myself in challenging situations. By the time I left Hyderabad, I was already plotting on how to get back. The following summer I received a research fellowship to return to Hyderabad for my senior thesis on history and politics in the city. Today – eleven years later – I’m still close with my host family and I last visited their home in Hyderabad about a year ago.

Atop the Bhoolbhulaiya or Labarynth (The direct Urdu translation is "the thing that makes you forget") in Lucknow, India

Atop the Bhoolbhulaiya or Labarynth (The direct Urdu translation is “the thing that makes you forget”) in Lucknow, India

After completing college I wanted to pursue a career in global education working in South Asia. I knew that to work in South Asia I would need to know Hindi and Urdu languages, at a minimum. I applied for a year-long Urdu language study in Lucknow, India through American Institute of Indian Studies. We had classes from nine until two every day, then lunch, and then a lot of homework. Our classes covered poetry, film, newspapers, verbal interaction, and short stories. Lucknow is a city rich in music, dance, and literary history making it a perfect place for language immersion.

While living in Lucknow I applied for graduate school in education policy. I attended a one-year masters program at University of Pennsylvania and quickly realized that I wanted to pursue a PhD program. I am now in the final year of my PhD program in Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of Washington. My dissertation “Certifying India: Everyday Aspiration and Basic IT Training in Hyderabad” is based on fifteen months of ethnographic research on the everyday experiences of marginalized students trying to get ahead by acquiring computer skills.

One thing I would like to point out is that my area studies opened many avenues for scholarships and grants. I received one federally funded grant called the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship three times – this grant funds graduate students in any discipline if they take area studies and language courses. My dissertation research was also funded through area studies grants including the Fulbright and AIIS foundations.

One of my GSL groups in Uttarakhand

One of my GSL groups in Uttarakhand

Outside of academic pursuits, my initial global education experience led to numerous other career opportunities. I led global service learning programs to India with Lakeside and Putney Student Travel for four summers. I have also conducted research with both Microsoft Research and Facebook on digital labor and new technologies in India. I am currently doing a research internship at Facebook on a team that focuses on security and safety of women in India. After having a firsthand look at the impact and breadth of something like Facebook and WhatsApp on students I was working with in Hyderabad, it’s exciting to be able to apply my research skills and area knowledge to different areas.

With friends on a rooftop in Hyderabad last year

With friends on a rooftop in Hyderabad last year

An adage often used to describe anthropology is to “make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.” There are multiple educational paths to undoing familiar things and finding empathy for strange things, but one of the most effective I’ve found is global education. The process of going through the multiple layers of adapting to a culture (and finding distance from your own) and the sheer time spent surrounded by different people, foods, and customs has always had the effect on me of allowing me to grow in new ways and forge new relationships. People fear things that are unfamiliar, and I think it’s important, for our students and communities, to do work that undoes fear.

Educator Journey Series: Donald Anselmi

Donald Peru Honeymoon 2012Each month, the Educator Journeys Series features a guest blog post written by one of our colleagues. They write about how they got into their work, lessons they’ve learned, and their innovative approaches to shaping the future of education. This week’s Educator Journey post is written by Donald Anselmi. Donald currently teaches Spanish and is the incoming Director of Pro Vita at Berkshire School, a 9th-12th college preparatory and boarding school in southwestern Massachusetts.  He lives on campus with his wife, Dana, who works in admissions, his son, Hudson, and his dog, Pancho.

Donald With Students On The Camino 2017 (first on right, bottom row)

Donald With Students On The Camino 2017 (first on right, bottom row)

As a father, husband, and educator, I don’t have to look far to realize that there is always room for growth in my quest to become a better global citizen.  On a recent trip to walk the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain with students, I came to the realization that both my passion for teaching and the Spanish language originated in the same country almost eighteen years earlier. This sudden nostalgia inspired me to reflect on all my adventures since my first trip abroad in high school, nearly twenty years ago. So many of these experiences equipped me with the skills and education to ultimately lead others on similar journeys.

Valle de Los Caidos, Spain, 1999

Valle de Los Caidos, Spain, 1999

In 1999, I was first exposed to a unique way of living on an abroad trip to Spain that was offered through my high school. I had been to Mexico a few times growing up and had come to know many Hispanics who lived in my hometown, but I lacked the tools and the language skills to really understand our cultural differences. During my homestay and school time in Valencia, I was fully immersed. While this experience was daunting and overwhelming at times, it forced me to adapt. I realized very early on that I would need to step outside of my comfort zone in order to understand both the language and culture. Because of this time spent abroad and many inspiring teachers, I ultimately decided to major in these subjects in college.

Northern Spain Galicia Santiago, 2003

Northern Spain Galicia Santiago, 2003

For the first couple years, I took a smorgasbord of classes in the liberal arts curriculum that my college offered. With each Spanish and History class I took, the more my passion grew in these areas. I loved all the stories and characters in history, and I kept referring back to my own experience in Spain. My parents urged me to go abroad for a full academic year. My nine months in Spain were even richer the second time there, with Madrid and the rest of the country as my playground. It was during that time that my love of Spanish and culture truly blossomed. All the while, I began to consider teaching by starting an internship at a local school.

Before I knew it, I was back in the United States working at a summer school teaching study skills. As my senior year came to an end, I was fortunate to land a wonderful job in California that launched my teaching career, and I have never looked back. During my first four years of teaching, I was mentored by great role models and taught thoughtful adolescents. I enjoyed having a lot of freedom with my teaching while getting my feet wet with experience. During my time in California and later at a middle school in Connecticut, I came to value the teaching of practical and life skills by trying to implement real-life scenarios both in and out of the classroom.  It was also during this time that I had the flexibility of traveling through new territories in the United States, Europe, and South America.

In the winter of 2009, about half way through this eighteen year period, I decided to pursue an advanced degree in Spanish. I took classes domestically and abroad, in Argentina and Mexico, where I was exposed to many global issues. During this Masters program, I also came to the realization that I was a visual and experiential learner. Living abroad in the summers of 2011 and 2012 was the best classroom that I could have asked for as I felt that I learned the most while I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

Where There Be Dragon's Nepal Group, 2016 (third from left, back row)

Where There Be Dragons Nepal Group, 2016

Because of my own global experiences, both as a student and an independent traveler, I knew that I would eventually want to provide trips for students of my own. I knew where I wanted to take them, but I still didn’t really know how to design a course. With recommendations from colleagues, I attended several conferences that gave me the confidence to pursue this passion.  I took two courses offered by Where There Be Dragons that helped me better understand how to safely push students out of their comfort zones to make them more globally competent in an experiential learning setting.  I also attended the Gardner Carney Leadership Institute that exposed me to many teachable moments and strategies to empower students.  

Donald With Students In Argentina, 2014

Donald With Students In Argentina, 2014

Since 2014, I have taken students to Argentina, California, and Spain. I have come to recognize the value of meetings and orientations before the actual trip to cover risks, cultural competence, team building, and student leadership. During the trips, I have found it extremely important to empower participants and to make sure each activity is intentional in pushing students to become more aware. With all of this “doing,” my hope is that students come away with both something for themselves and to offer the world. On my recent trip to Spain, students were assigned days to lead, and everyone kept an art journal where they wrote, drew, pasted Kodak photos and made collages about their experience that they would later share with the community. It was also awesome learning from my co-leader, an art teacher and former NOLS instructor, who was instrumental in designing this experience. I have found it truly helpful, inspirational and important to work alongside my colleagues. Both of these trips that I have offered have further highlighted the values of education and travel, and they constitute my most sacred moments of experiential learning. Leading these trips has helped me realize that I can continue to grow alongside my students as we push each other beyond what is comfortable and familiar to explore the unknown. 

Student Journey Series: Zoe Schuler

first canoliEach month, the Student Journeys Series features a guest blog post by a former student of Vicki’s. They write about how their lives have been shaped through their global education experiences. This week’s Student Journey post is written by Zoe Schuler. Zoe recently moved from Los Angeles back to her hometown of Seattle, Washington, where she is applying to local nonprofits that serve the community’s most vulnerable populations. 

I am emphatically grateful that travel has played a profound role in my life, and cannot overestimate its impact on the evolution of my character. My parental units have always been upfront about their investment in education —  education both in the classroom, and experiential education in the world at large. Thus my first departures from the country happened before I learned to ride a bike.

Me in Tuscany Catacomb, 2012

Me in Tuscany Catacomb, 2012

In the late 1990’s, my dad was invited to a conference in Milan, and we decided to make it a family affair. We visited the capital, Stockholm, and Umeå, a small town in Northern Sweden. There, we stayed with friends we had made the previous year when they had spent time in Seattle. To this day, I consider these Swedes an extension of my American family. I remember falling in love with Europe’s stately old buildings and picturesque fountains. I even remember getting canker sores from the candy I was given in exchange for my equanimity on the long flight. I remember these things decades later in more detail than I remember eating my breakfast this morning. Travel intensifies everything, because you are jolted into the reality of being alive by being firmly removed from your routine.  From the new scents, to new sights to new sounds, your senses struggle to function concurrently: The eyes competing with the nose, with the hands and the ears. It is overwhelming, and it is glorious.

I knew I was infected with the so-called travel bug, and the virus wouldn’t lie dormant for long. By middle school I was itching to go away again. When I learned about the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica for a short language immersion program through my school, I was desperate to go. My parents understood the impact such an experience would have on me at age 14, and made the sacrifice to accommodate my journey. I had been to sleepaway camp, but never away from my parents and country at same time. Costa Rica was not an altogether easy trip for me — marked by, among other misfortunes, an acute case of sun poisoning that left me sicker than I’d ever been in my life. My strength returned enough for me to zip line through the jungle a few days later, and by the time I returned to American soil, I wore a mantle of newfound independence which still defines my person some decade and a half later. This experience impelled me to travel more, to travel further, to travel longer; it impelled me and it prepared me.

Me & the Pups at my India Homestay

Me & the Pups at my India Homestay

When I traveled to India at age seventeen, it was my first understanding of something more akin to actually living abroad rather than traveling abroad. I spent a month there, volunteering for a Grassroots Cooperative that promoted economic self-sufficiency in rural Ranikhet. It was part of my high school’s Global Service Learning Program that would send small groups of students to countries all around the globe, where we had the pleasure of staying with local families and working with local organizations. We got to know our families, developed relationships replete with inside jokes and playful swatting. My Indian grandmother liked to see how close she could get to piercing my nose before her son would realize her intention and intervene, waving his hands wildly for her to stop. She would also spank me good-naturedly if she saw me around the homestead without my kurta. We did not speak even one word of the other’s language, but our interactions expressed a comfortable intimacy based on a mutual pluckiness. Even now, I can’t write about her without my lips instinctively stretching into a grin.

Jams & Spices

Jams & Spices

I got close to my fellow student travelers as well. The foreignness of it all bonded us, and we had daily check-ins to openly discuss the current state of our bowels and bowel movements. We ate dal for nearly every meal, and slept in shared rooms, in cots that felt small and hard compared to the plush beds that most of us had back home. We took showers in darkness, pouring buckets of cold water over our naked shivering bodies, scrubbing with a single bar of Dial soap. We saw poverty in forms darker than we could have imagined, and had to grapple with the recognition of our privilege and simultaneous present-moment powerlessness. Our volunteer work consisted mainly of helping the cooperative develop a website that featured their handmade clothing; we spent some time grinding spices and planting trees, but the true work was getting us to think bigger than ourselves, and think differently, less rigidly. Part of the work, I think, was to get us to understand just how much we don’t know about the world, and to transfer that realization to our everyday lives. How much do we really know about the struggles of our classmates, our neighbors, the refugees we see at the grocery store? What common interests or similar dreams might we share? Queries such as these tend to incite curiosity, and empathy, and a desire to connect more deeply to more people.  

Traveling forces you to ask questions about everything, including yourself, to dig deeper, to become a more self-sufficient human being—even when that means asking for help. Global education speaks to the importance of collaboration with people from other backgrounds, helps you learn how to reach creative solutions even in the face of unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable situations. I believe I am a more capable, kind, and dynamic human being because of my global travel experiences.

india2I always had the feeling that there was a big world out there, but my India exchange was my first realization that the rest of the world might be truly accessible to me, and I to it. Travel was not simply an exhilarating tear into the unknown, but a representation of how I would lead my life. Not only would I go on to spend a month in China, to write travel blogs in multiple European countries and study abroad in Rome, but I would forge my own ever-evolving, unfurling path according to my own moral compass. For me, this wasn’t so much a profound shift as it was a profound cementation of who I was.

Since entering the workforce, I have been working people-centric jobs, ones that require deep empathy, innovative thinking, and a commitment to societal change. I have taken risks, moved to new cities, said yes to opportunities that intimidated me. And yes, I am daydreaming about my next big trip abroad.

 

Washington State Charter Schools

Last week Vicki and I went to an Educators’ Night put on by an organization called Washington State Charter Schools Association (WA Charters for short).  To be honest, when we signed up for the event we had little idea what to expect. We both knew that there has been an ongoing legal battle over whether or not Charter Schools are constitutional — just under two weeks ago supporters of the schools won a huge victory when a King County Superior Court judge ruled in their favor. We went in excited to learn more and see what was already happening the the eight existing Charter Schools that are open across Washington State.

The event opened with mingling followed by opening remarks by Steve Mullen, president of the Washington Roundtable and one of the original board members of WA Charters. Steve advocated in Olympia for charter legislation from the mid-1990s to 2004, culminating in the successful passage of a charter law that ultimately was overturned via referendum. While he knows the previous legal battles well, his opening focused on the future of Charter Schools in Washington and the importance of reaching students who are underrepresented and/or underperforming in their existing public schools.

16708446_1429702317074801_326630255262463517_nAfter the talk, the group of educators in attendance divided into breakout sessions focusing on various topics. Vicki and I went to a session to learn about what it takes to start a new Charter. We heard from visionary leaders who had participated in WA Charter’s School Incubation Program as well as those currently running schools. The conversation was fruitful, and I left daydreaming about what a fully experiential Charter School in Seattle might look like.

After the session, we had a bit more time to mingle and we spent that time chatting with Dan Calzaretta, the founder of Willow Public School in Walla Walla. Dan’s school will open in the 2017-2018 school year and it will fulfill three goals: Provide a rigorous, personalized education to all students, ensure that all students finish middle school with the skills necessary to excel in advanced high school courses and create an engaging, innovative school where all students find joy and purpose. While his vision for the school is impressive, I was struck by his process of getting the school to inception. To gauge what parents truly cared about in their children’s school, Dan and his team went door to door to talk to people in person. Because of the high population of Spanish speakers in Walla Walla, they made sure that in all of their interviews. community meetings, and marketing materials were in both English and Spanish. His passion for his students was clear, as was his dedication to moving away from a “one size fits all” model of public education.

In the days after the event I have grown increasingly excited about the future of WA Charters and the education reform taking place in these schools. Educators’ Night gave me just the nudge I needed to learn more and get involved, and Vicki and I plan to go volunteer at Rainier Prep in Seattle where one of her former students is the Special Education teacher. Stay tuned, we’ll post an account of that experience in the coming months! In the meantime, check out this video of reflections from the WA Charter’s Incubator Program.

Experiential Education School Models

Last week I had the great pleasure of visiting four different schools modeling experiential education in action. I came away so inspired about what is possible and all the different ways this kind of learning serves students. I was in Washington, DC with my friend Madhu Sudan who is exploring ways to encourage experiential education in India, so we set out to connect with educators I know and look at a few schools.

unnamedWe started with Mysa School, a micro school in Bethesda, Maryland started by my friend Siri Fiske last fall. Eighth and ninth graders spend mornings on a menu of individualized lessons depending on their needs; some may be advancing algebra skills while others work with a writing tutor, take a martial arts class nearby, or explore scientific concepts with an NIH researcher. In the afternoons and for one full day a week, they engage in project-based learning using Washington DC and the surrounding area as their classroom. Combining individual skill-building with group learning and an emphasis on community makes for a lively and engaged student body. The school has done so well even in its first year that they are planning to add an elementary campus in Georgetown.

unnamedOur next stop was Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA where my friend Jeremy Goldstein runs the Washington program. Episcopal is a very traditional school with a sprawling campus and beautiful buildings, excellent teachers and engaged students. The program Jeremy runs gets students into DC every Wednesday afternoon to add an experiential component to classroom learning by engaging with political leaders, NGOs, museum educators, and service learning providers. They even managed to continue a tradition of taking the whole school to the Presidential inauguration this year, adding an alternative experience at an elder care facility watching the Kennedy inauguration and interviewing residents who were present at his. Faculty members have the opportunity to create connections with what they are currently teaching, and students are exposed to real world issues more challenging to encounter from their campus. Many find summer opportunities based on their experiences, and when it comes time to plan their senior spring month long “externship,” they are well informed and eager to commit to an area of interest.

Our third stop was a meeting with Noah Bopp who created and runs a semester program for high school juniors called the School for Ethics and Global Leadership. Noah is from Seattle and went to Lakeside School, my alma mater, so I had heard about the school for a long time and wanted to learn more about it. Most other semester schools are in remote locations and focus on wilderness experiences, but these 24 students each term spend time engaging with issues on all sides of the political spectrum, examining the concepts of ethics and leadership in depth, meeting with high level officials and wrestling with complex and fascinating topics. After being exposed to a number of people and issues, each student has the chance to work independently on one specific thing and create a policy brief which they actually present to a panel of experts. They end the term with both a broader and deeper understanding of how government works and their role as citizens.

unnamedFinally, we visited a public elementary school called School Within School. My friend Marla McLean is an art teacher and one of the originators of what started as a program in a school 23 years ago, and is now a full-fledged Pre-K to Grade 5 school in southeast DC. At the beginning, four classrooms began collaborating and used an Italian educational model called Reggio-Emilia which is teacher-run, relies heavily on art, reflection and documentation of student work, and has ties to the world beyond the classroom. The program was so successful they eventually moved into their own building, agreeing to add medically-fragile students and those on the autism spectrum to their ranks. The school is a lively learning center and you can feel the loving community the minute you walk in the door. There are two art studios, each staffed by an Atelierista who connects art to everything happening in and out of their classes and engages the students in deeply meaningful and enjoyable learning. I had the opportunity to observe one of their other programs more closely, as a volunteer in the kitchen classroom. Here a master chef runs Foodprints, essentially a farm to table experience each class gets to participate in on a weekly basis. The day we were there, second graders tested the soil in the school garden beds for nutrients, created pictures of seeds, tubers and bulbs to learn the difference, and, in small groups, made a delicious lunch of four vegetarian dishes which were eagerly consumed by the class (and volunteers!) at the end. The school partners with organic farmers for the produce they can’t grow themselves, and teaches environmental stewardship along with cooking and dining etiquette. The teachers, parents, and students work hard to find funding for what is not covered by the district; it was incredibly inspiring to see what is possible in a public school when values are aligned with action and everyone is committed to what is best for children.

I came away from the visit convinced more than ever that experiential education is the most transformative form of learning, as it engages the whole self, involves reflection, connects to the world outside the classroom, and is so much fun! It was great to see a variety of examples of it, led by committed educators making a difference, one students, one classroom, one school at a time.