Educator Journey Series: Adam Ross

Each 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 Student Journey post is written by Adam Ross. Adam works as Chinese Curriculum and Technology Specialist at the Chinese American International School (CAIS) in San Francisco. In addition to his curriculum work, he co-leads CAIS’s 7th grade Beijing Academy, and works to integrate CAIS’s middle school Chinese curriculum with 7th and 8th grade international programs via Project Based Language Learning. Vicki Weeks and Adam were colleagues for many years at Lakeside School in Seattle, and worked together to develop Lakeside’s Global Service Learning China program in its first four years.

NW Yunnan Map

NW Yunnan Map (Source)

Once again, I was in northwest Yunnan. The bus from Lijiang shot out of the darkness of the tunnel and suddenly sunlight suffused our bus once again. Though this tunnel through the mountain had just been completed in the past two years and the highway we were on was entirely new to me, I knew instinctively to look over to the right side of the road. And there it was – Lashi Lake, with Nanyao village perched above on the mountainside. After 12 years, I felt like I had come home.

CAIS students with kindergarten students

CAIS students with kindergarten students

These were pretty much my thoughts in the moment this past April, when I had arrived in Yunnan with about 30 eighth grade students in tow. Our arrival marked nearly 12 years since I came to this northwest corner of Yunnan with my first group of upper school Lakeside School students in the inaugural year of our GSL (Global Service Learning) trip…and nearly 30 years since the first time I came here as a junior in college. Looking back, it’s amazing to see the changes in China over the years. This area truly felt like the end of the earth in the late 80s, and there were probably no more more than a dozen or more foreigners traveling in the area around Lijiang at the time, myself included. Coming back in 2005 to Lijiang was to see a city transformed – much of Lijiang had been destroyed in a huge earthquake in 1996, and the old town rebuilt, for better or for worse, as a tourist town. However, Lakeside took the road less traveled in developing our program, and while we stayed in Lijiang for a couple days, we opted to have our students spend the majority of our time there in the small Naxi village of Nanyao on the other side of the mountains at Lashi Lake to the west of town. Even back in the mid 2000s, it took quite a bit of time to get across along unpaved roads of the mountain pass to reach the village. Our stay living with local Naxi families was to experience a very different rural world than any of us had kNeblett before – no TVs, only a few electric lights and the occasional refrigerator in some homes, wood-fired stoves, animals in the courtyard just outside the building doors…and, of course, none of the conveniences of home.

What I loved about our first years developing the Lakeside China GSL program in Yunnan was how organic it was. We had a partner organization set up homestays for us, and they also arranged for us to teach English to a small number of younger students in the local school as a service learning project. Our Lakeside high school students, of course, were not trained English teachers, but they worked hard to make lessons that engaged elementary school students in songs, games and activities where they were actually using English. To our amazement that first year, each day more and more students showed up to our classes, so that while we started with only about a dozen students, we ended up with more than 50 after a week of teaching, along with a number of local teachers from other villages who also came to see what these American students were doing in Nanyao school.

With Naxi Women

With Naxi Women

We also befriended one of the local elders, a woman whom we called Li Nainai – “Grandma Li” in Mandarin. Li Nainai was barely over four feet in height, and my recollection was that she was in her 80s at the time. Also, to our benefit, she was one of the few members of the older generation who actually spoke Chinese, and she was outgoing and extroverted, welcoming our students into her home for snacks and tea. Toward the end of our visit, she organized an afternoon of Naxi dancing with the local women, who dressed in their finest Naxi outfits and engaged our group with food, singing and dancing. I still treasure this picture. Here I am – with Li Nainai just above my shoulder – sharing a postcard book of scenes of Seattle to her and the local women who surely were learning for the first time about my home in the U.S.

Fast forward twelve years later, and I am back in northwestern Yunnan with students. This time, however, I am traveling with middle school students from where I work now, Chinese American International School (CAIS) in San Francisco. Our school is a pre-K – 8th grade dual immersion school, and our kids have been studying Chinese since they were little. By the time they reach 8th grade, they already have had a wide variety of experiences in China and Taiwan, having done a homestay exchange with students in Taipei, Taiwan in the 5th grade, and a three-week intensive study program, also with homestays, in Beijing in the 7th grade. Our 8th grade program is a mix of adventure, culture and service, partnering students in rural Tibetan minority homestays outside the city of Shangri-La.

Songzanlin arrival

Songzanlin arrival

I find it amazing that the field of global education has grown so much in the past 15 years that not only is it the norm for high school students to engage in service learning and language study abroad, but experiences for middle school students and even elementary students continue to grow. In our 8th grade Yunnan trip, CAIS’s international and experiential learning coordinator Emma Loizeaux has arranged a terrific mix of hikes, cultural and environmental learning, and service learning activities for our two-week trip. Our daily schedules are pretty packed, and included a daylong hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge, visits to the Songzanlin Buddhist monastery in the outskirts of Shangri-La, making pottery with masters from a local village, planting potatoes in our local village, and working with Kindergarten students over two visits to their school.

Planting potatoes

Planting potatoes

 Our curriculum has developed such that we are now incorporating Project Based Learning in a lot of our international programming. In a nod to Brandon Stratton’s Humans of New York website, our 7th grade students interview people on the street and in their homestay families in their three week Beijing study trip –  they create reports of these “Humans of Beijing” to share online. Similarly, we are working to have our 8th grade students this year produce children’s stories in Mandarin so that the Tibetan Kindergarten students we work with will have Chinese readers – these younger students too are second-language learners of Chinese. I often feel incredibly envious of our students at CAIS to be able to experience so much of China and interact with these communities abroad while they are so young – I also envy them for their foreign language skills, as many CAIS graduates reach pre-advanced or fully advanced levels of proficiency in Mandarin.

While I am envious, I also feel incredibly lucky. Lucky to be able to keep returning to this incredibly beautiful part of China in Yunnan, and lucky to live vicariously through the eyes of my students as they experience the welcoming and friendly people here, the gorgeous mountain scenery, as well as an increasingly fleeting taste of a remoteness of a part of the world that is quickly being connected to the rest of the world – and hence forever changed – in China’s ongoing quest for modernization.

Mountain view at Tiger Leaping Gorge

Mountain view at Tiger Leaping Gorge

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.

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: Jamila Humphrie

unnamed-4Each 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 Jamila Humphrie. Jamila is the Assistant Director of Alumni Relations at NYU Law. She is also a part-time PhD student at NYU’s School of Education. In her free time, Jamila co-directs an interview theater play, How We G.L.O.W., which she co-wrote with her partner, that shares the stories of LGBTQ+ youth.

My introduction to travel was with my family. Though we took a 6-hour flight across the country twice a year to visit my mom and dad’s side of the family in Boston and Philadelphia, my first trip out of the country was to Canada. I don’t remember much about it except that it was a short drive (3 hours or so from Seattle) and it was considered a “cheap” vacation because the value of the U.S. dollar was strong. I grew up in the 98118 area code in Seattle, which encompassed parts of Seward Park, Columbia City, and Rainier Beach. It was listed as the most diverse zip codes in the United States. I had friends whose parents were born in Ethiopia, who were Mormon, or Chinese, or Italian, or multiracial; in a way, I grew up in a global neighborhood.

unnamed-2My first introduction to global travel beyond Canada, in the more traditional sense, was through my high school. I was presented with an opportunity to travel with a program that was in its beginning stages at the time.  A dozen or so students and administrative trip leaders took us on an incredible 4-week trip to Peru. To be honest, I don’t remember why I decided to sign up. This was not something I had ever done before. It felt very out of reach, but I received a scholarship to travel.  This trip was centered on service, intention, reflection, and understanding our role in a global society and how it influenced our education. That trip an immense effect on my life trajectory, the career opportunities I would pursue, and my general consciousness about how my actions affect others and the world around me.

unnamedEven though many of my Lakeside classmates had travelled the world, few had traveled with a critical lens, or with the goal of service and reflection. By critical, I don’t mean to say that GSL was critical of the cultures we experience abroad, but rather, critical of ourselves – questioning our ‘truths.’ American culture is so globally dominant; I was raised to think that dominant meant better. By extracting myself from that environment, I had a better opportunity to think about what I know to be true in a productive manner.

unnamed-1For students, global programs offer an incredible opportunity for theories, histories, and cultures to come to life. My Spanish improved greatly when I used it to communicate in Peru. My Portuguese was near fluent after nine months in Brazil. There is only so much you can learn in a classroom. This goes for history, social studies, it could event apply in math or engineering – examining the weight and design that goes into creating a “Sun Gate.” I remember waking up early on the morning of the solstice in Ollantaytambo, Peru. We woke up in darkness in hiked in the light of dawn to catch the rising sun and its rays pour through the Sun Gate. What we saw was the sun shining through this human-made structure, which then illuminated a human-made design on the valley below. It had cultural and religious significance to the Inca. This was a sacred location in the sacred valley. It was remarkable. The care, precision, and genius that went into the design was breathtaking. It’s hard to describe the feeling…of realizing that the world, its cultures and its people is so much bigger and more diverse and beautiful than 15-year old me could ever have imagined. Writing this I can see the field glowing. That moment really stands out.Twelve years later these images and moments stick with me so vividly. What I learned in the classroom was compounded by the experiences I had.

unnamed-5Last, for the communities we visit, it can be a wonderful opportunity to build networks of awareness and support where needed. All global education programming should strive to ensure that these trips and exchanges are mutually beneficial. This can be difficult to achieve, but it is important to work intentionally to make sure the community members are active participants in the program.  

unnamed-3There are so many moments from my global education experiences that shape my everyday life. One in particular that I’ve been thinking about lately is my experience teaching English in Brazil through the Fulbright Program. I had recently graduated and had student loans very much on my mind. Before graduating, I learned how much I needed to pay off—to the tune of $15,000. In America, this is a “reasonable” amount of debt. Teaching in Brazil, where their public universities are actually free for students and where private schools do not come anywhere near to the cost of private institutions in America, I wondered where we had gone wrong. I am now in a PhD program in Educational Leadership at NYU and my research is focused on the cost of education in our higher education institutions, and what our leaders and administrations can do to reduce the cost.

Global education, traveling globally, learning globally, impacts my day to day life whether I am home or abroad. And it’s not necessarily about how far I’ve gone, or what I’ve seen, but the relationships that I have worldwide. Especially today, our world needs more positive relationships and friendships across borders and boundaries – whether natural or man-made.