Purpose and Reflection

It is June. School is out or almost out for the summer. Educators and students are looking forward to time off to reflect, refresh, and rejuvenate. We have different ways of doing so, but for all of us, it is crucial time away from school that allows us to return in the fall ready for more. Even if we work or attend school in the summer, there is simply an alternate pace to summer, more time outside, a rhythm that invites us to slow down and tune into something besides the busyness of school life.

Last year's ISEEN Summer Institute Crew

Last year’s ISEEN Summer Institute Crew

The first thing I am excited to delve deeply into this summer is the Independent Schools Experiential Education (ISEEN) teacher institute in Santa Fe in mid-June. Educators from various parts of the world will come together to explore what it means to bring experiential pedagogy into classroom practice. Working in small subject-area cohorts, educators will have the chance to share ideas, learn from experienced facilitators, and develop lesson plans that will enhance their classroom practice. All in the stunning Southwest setting. This is the third year of this institute, and if past years are any indication, it will be a wonderful time of conversation, regional exploration, deep dives into classroom practice, and a lot of laughter. I can’t wait!

Our Purpose Logo

Our Purpose Logo

In July I am thrilled to return to Andean Peru, one of my favorite spots on the planet, to spend 10 days with another group of educators from around the globe. This time I will co-facilitate a course on the subject of Purpose — how we discover and deepen our understanding of a significant goal outside of ourselves that motivates us to action. We will use the Sacred Valley of the Inca as our lab to explore our calling, our deepest reason for our vocation: as Frederick Buechner says, “where our greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”

As we examine our own sense of purpose, we will create ways to help students find theirs. I am looking forward to being with other courageous educators and my friend and collaborator Ross Wehner of World Leadership School, learning about life in the Andes, cultural and educational practices, and ourselves. I predict this experience will be as profound as the one I had last summer on an educator course in Nepal: I really love seeing the impact of this kind of work!

So, whatever your plans are for the summer, I wish you reflection, relaxation, time with loved ones, and whatever you need to re energize you for another year of learning! Take care of yourself, and enjoy every minute.

A Course on Immigration

In my ever-expanding effort to connect global education and local communities, I find the issue of immigration one I am currently quite interested in. First, because we owe it to ourselves to remember that the only non-immigrants are the native peoples who were on this land centuries before we came; all other families came from somewhere outside our borders. The United States of America was created by immigrants, coming in waves for over two hundred years. Recently, I had the opportunity to dive more deeply into the issue and learn about many different aspects of it, and I am quite inspired by what I found.

Bush student meeting with NWIRP staff

Bush student meeting with NWIRP staff

When Seattle made national news after an executive order called for a “Muslim ban” and our Attorney General filed a lawsuit calling it unconstitutional, flocks of lawyers flew to the airport to help those in danger of being detained or sent home because of the ban. One organization that has gotten involved and continued to work very hard since is the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP). NWIRP provides free legal services to those in need, challenges laws they find unconstitutional, and serves those who are protected under our laws but cannot afford attorneys. My associate Kaitlin and I visited their offices and were very impressed by what they do. We decided it would be great to create a course looking at a variety of aspects of immigration, similar to the one I participated in through Hawken School in Cleveland (to learn more about that experience, see my post about it here). After consulting a number of organizations and receiving a green light, we reached out to educators in the area to see if anyone wanted to collaborate with us. The Bush School expressed interest, and after a couple of months of co-creating a weeklong experiential course, the students and their two teachers are spending five days studying various aspects of immigration in Seattle and our state capital, Olympia.

Visiting the former Seattle detention center

Visiting the former Seattle detention center

Yesterday was the downtown day, and four different organizations within walking distance of each other provided the learning structure. We started in the NWIRP offices, where students had the chance to meet the Executive Director, the Director of Development and Communications, and three staff attorneys to learn about how they handle cases. Then we moved on to the Seattle Detention Center, a facility used from 1930 to 2004 to detain immigrants and refugees seeking asylum and assistance (the current center is in nearby Tacoma). The center now houses artist studios, but it still feels very much like a prison and has plaques denoting how different parts of it were used when people were detained there, including the third story yards where many wrote their names and countries in tar. After a self-guided exploration of the building, we walked to the Impact Hub for a meeting with a community liaison officer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who spoke to us about the role ICE plays in Homeland Security, and how to distinguish rumors from facts about “roundups” and deportations. Our final stop, after a delicious Dominican lunch, was the office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to hear about the role they play vis a vis immigration — supporting protests, filing lawsuits, protecting the Bill of Rights, and educating the public.

It was a full and fascinating day, and I am inspired to continue the work. I would love for every high school student have a field trip like this, and I don’t see why they can’t. I plan to continue to reach out to educators in Seattle and help them create ways to learn more about immigration and how it affects our community. I want to hear about the rest of the Bush School week, and I already have a lot of ideas of other areas of immigration that would be great to explore.

Tell us: have you engaged your students in issues regarding immigrants and refugees? We would love to hear about it!

Bittersweet Transitions

WLS Instructors

WLS Instructors

A couple of weekends ago, Vicki and I attended a World Leadership School (WLS) Instructor Training in beautiful Buena Vista, Colorado. It was inspiring and thought-provoking in many ways (which I’ll get into momentarily), but it also marked the beginning of a big transition for our working relationship. For nearly three years, we’ve traveled to conferences and trainings as a Global Weeks duo. We’ve developed business systems and workflow patterns. We’ve logged countless miles during walking meetings and held each other accountable in our mostly-remote work with schools scattered across North America. We’ve learned each other’s strengths and challenges. We have counted on each other for support not only in our professional lives, but in our personal lives as well.

This trip was different. We went to the WLS training for separate reasons – Vicki to prepare for an Educator Course on Purpose she and WLS founder Ross Wehner are offering in Peru this summer, and me to prepare to instruct my first Collaborative Leadership Program for middle school girls in Belize. The real kicker, however, is that directly after training I started a new job managing women’s global programs for REI Adventures — a decision Vicki fully supported. It probably goes without saying why this transition feels so bittersweet.

Though our work life is transitioning, the GW duo will always remain strong

Though our work life is changing, the GW duo will always remain strong

As we flew to Denver, I was a mixed bag of emotions – hopeful, anxious, sad, excited and the list goes on. The 3.5 hour drive from Denver to Buena Vista was grey and rainy and I couldn’t help but curse the irony of a rainy day in usually sunny Colorado after the wettest February and March in Seattle in 120 years. Immediately upon arriving at the Fountain Valley School’s mountain campus, we were greeted with hugs and surrounded by passionate global educators. For those few days, my worries about the future and my sadness to be leaving Global Weeks in my existing capacity faded and I felt present and connected to the present moment.



Fast forward a week and a half and I’m waist-deep in a new job, figuring out new routines and overwhelmed by learning new processes. There are moments each day when I wonder if I made the right call. I already miss our coworking space, our walks around the lake, our understanding of one another. As I was reminded during the training, our comfort zone isn’t where we grow. It’s only when we stretch by putting ourselves in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations that we learn new skills and capabilities.

During an exercise at the WLS training, a colleague read the following passage as an example of a way to adjourn student programs. I think it’s appropriate to include here, and I hope it helps you as much as it does for me in difficult times. Here’s to learning to fly.

Fear of Transformation

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar or swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars. Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar- of-the-moment. It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart- of-hearts, I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present, well-know bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing, I have always made it. Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantee, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.” Its called transition. I have come to believe that it is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as “nothing”, a no-place between places. Sure the old trapeze-bar was real, and that new coming towards me, I hope, that’s real, too. But the void in between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible. What a waste! I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that can (but necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to hang out” in the transition between the trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly.”

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.

Inspiring Talks and Walks

As an experiential educator and someone who has always learned best when my whole self is engaged in doing something, I was recently reminded that powerful educational moments come in many forms.

Representing ISEEN at GEBG

Representing ISEEN at GEBG

Last week, I attended the fifth annual Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG) annual conference hosted by Chadwick School in Los Angeles. It was wonderful to be among longtime friends and make new ones, share stories and program ideas, gather in the sunshine and hear about new GEBG initiatives. Four parts of the conference stand out as particularly inspirational and transformative.

Wade Davis during his keynote

Wade Davis during his keynote

The first two were the keynote speakers, and they reminded me that a powerful lecture can be a life-changing event. Wade Davis, an anthropologist, National Geographic writer and photographer and author of books such as The Serpent and the Rainbow, spoke nonstop for an hour in what I can only describe as pure poetry accompanied by stunning visuals from around the globe to highlight the impact of vanishing languages and cultures on all of our lives. And Sonia Nazario, award-winning journalist and author of Enrique’s Journey, regaled us with the harrowing tales of young people making the perilous journey from Central America to the United States in search of their mothers who left to seek a better life for their families. The fact that she made the journey three times herself in order to understand and document it makes it all the more astounding, and her description of her own transformation from a journalist reporting the stories to actually advocating for change, plus the timeliness of the topic had us all riveted. Both speakers captivated my intellect and my emotions simultaneously and left me inspired to see more, learn more, and do more.

With my Lakeside colleagues

With my Lakeside colleagues

The third Inspiring moment came when I attended a workshop facilitated by two educators from Lakeside School, where I worked before starting Global Weeks. The presentation they gave on the initiatives the school has undertaken since I left broughy me grest happiness. The foundation we built in the Global Service Learning program is still rock solid, and from that foundation, they have forged ahead and created wonderful new projects that are more integrated into the life of the school. It is so exciting to have a Middle School program where global education is expressed locally, as well as yearlong elective courses in the Upper School with an embedded travel component. It was such a joy to see the core elements of the program I designed preserved and learn how they have improved upon them to offer programs that are even more transformative for students and teachers.


The post-conference crew

Finally, GEBG pioneered an optional post-conference activity that I found especially meaningful and enjoyable. Twelve of us set off to explore using Los Angeles as our classroom to learn about issues of immigration, race, and social justice, based on courses that two of our colleagues teach. We spent time in the Japanese American National Museum engrossed in stories of immigration, internment, and influence in Little Tokyo. The stories of Japanese internment were all the more moving since our colleague’s family members had been interned. We had a tour of Koreatown, stopping into restaurants and a grocery store, learning about architecture, history, food culture and growth from “migration to immigration to gentrification” in the area. We spent five hours in a small group, getting to know each other better with the city as our classroom. It was a wonderful way to end the conference, and reminded me once again how global education is everywhere, and we do not need to travel far to be steeped in its mysteries, learning opportunities, and richly rewarding experiences.