So Long for the Summer

17690_10153812215937796_914245462119184470_nHappy Summer! We are in the time of the Full Moon and the Summer Solstice, and it is time to take a break from blogging.

I just returned from the second annual ISEEN Teacher Training Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This year we worked with educators from the math, sciences and arts disciplines, all of whom left rejuvenated and inspired to use experiential pedagogies and practices in their classrooms.

Starting next week I will be participating in a Where There Be Dragons Educator Course in Nepal, followed by a week of unscheduled time that scares me in all the best ways. August brings family visits and reflection; enjoyment of the Pacific Northwest when it is most glorious.

I will have stories to share on the blog in September. Until then, have a wonderful summer of experiencing life unconnected to technology!

Student Journey Series: Zabia Colovos

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 Zabia Colovos. Zabia is currently wrapping up a great year in Los Angeles, where she has spent time making bread at a bakery, working with Muir (a brilliant, autistic, 13 year old “bug scientist”), and interning with his incredible therapists. She is inspired to continue understanding the connections between body, mind, nervous system and our personal relationships to one another, and looks forward to the next chapter.

When I was two years old, my parents left me in Addis Ababa with my grandmother and aunts as my mother and father went to travel through Ethiopia. I imagine I spent my days coddled, fed, and sung to by my distant family and the constant neighborhood visitors. Although I cannot remember these early experiences, I am certain that on a subconscious level, knowing and feeling love from my people abroad initiated my comfort towards strangers and travel.

fa461d19-ef1a-4e48-b2be-20bc3dfeeb5aThe experiences abroad that followed left me with more and more anticipation of the hospitality and warmth to be found and shared in the furthest reaches of my travels. During my time at Lakeside High School, I had the opportunity to go to Ollantaytambo, Peru with Vicki’s Global Service Learning program. This was the first global education program I had been on, and really, my first exposure to cultural immersion. I lived for three weeks with a family of five (mother, father, three kids) – all of whom took me in as if I were a long lost daughter. They integrated me into their daily routine and into the community. I adopted their waking and sleeping schedule, learned the art of bucket-showers in the dark, went from awful to mediocre at washing clothes by hand, and watched wide-eyed as our cute guinea pigs were neck-snapped, plucked, and thrown into the stew. I remember feeling free, walking late at night to the edge of town with my host-sister Lucero and her cousin, past the last streetlight, hopping over a cow fence and making our way towards the farm. I remember staggering, sandals stuck in the muddy road, holding hands as we took one step after another into utter darkness, beneath a beautiful moon.

The travel I have done has always felt something like a walk into darkness. I tend to avoid projecting a destination so that I can give myself to each moment, allowing people to call my attention and allowing serendipity to facilitate the journey. My time in New Zealand serves as a good example of such serendipity. I arrived in Auckland with a backpack, a crappy airport map, and a vague idea of how to get to the nearest hostel. There I met Linea, a lovely German girl who, like me, was low on money and in need of work. We had heard of an apple orchard in the north that was hiring pickers so we decided to begin hitchhiking early the next morning.

We started our walk to the nearest highway entrance and I couldn’t help but feel a little smug that my pack was smaller and lighter than hers. The driver who picked us up was a former professor and was now in his seventies. He spoke ever so slowly for the next few hours about the geothermal activity in the region, his latest permaculture experiments, and the history of the Māori (the indigenous polynesian people of New Zealand). We couldn’t have asked for a more gracious driver, and when he invited us to come stay with his wife and him for a couple nights and mentioned that we ought to meet his neighbors and their kids, we were overjoyed.

7de9e8b5-ccb3-43bf-8491-2b2b4260612eThis invitation changed the course of our travel. We sought all learning that was available to us – going with the neighbors to the local Māori trials and to the traditional boat races. We spent every day putting in work on the farm, learning how to herd large numbers of cows and helping the mothers through labor. We started going with the children to help at their school which blended Māori ethics with Reggio Emilia pedagogy. I witnessed the way the traditional Māori model of family (one that reinforces inclusion and mutual responsibility) alleviated disorder in the classroom, and society.

The juxtaposition that takes place while in transit (while in a new territory, language, and demographic) provokes growth – provokes reflection on the self, on the family, on priorities and on practices. Difference makes invisible things visible and gives us space to react to patterns and structures we have come to rely on. Difference helps us to break old habits, ask better questions and create models that address deeper needs of the society. I feel extremely privileged to have had access to schools that value global education and hope to work towards greater accessibility to such influential opportunity.

 

Retreat

I recently returned from a yoga retreat at Haramara, near Sayulita, Mexico, and I am struck by the power of retreat. To step outside of one’s regular life for an intentional time of reflection, new insights, new practices, is to come back refreshed and renewed. As a global educator, it was odd to be in a foreign country and spend so little time immersed in local culture, but this was a different kind of experience, much more of an inward journey.

with MJ, one of the teachers

With MJ, one of the teachers

I spent seven days in a beautiful center on a hillside above the beach about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. The center housed our group of 22 and another group of 20 for a week of yoga practice, delicious nutritious food, meditation, silent practice, journaling, and exploring the surrounding area as much as we wanted. We were led by a team of teachers from 8 Limbs Yoga in Seattle, including the founder. All of us practice at the studios, though most of us did not know each other before the retreat.

I signed up because two of my favorite teachers were leading, and a very good friend of mine was also going. I thought the coast of Mexico in April sounded pretty good — I speak Spanish, I love Mexican food, and swimming in the ocean is one of my favorite things to do. I was interested in deepening my yoga practice, reading, writing, and contemplating my current stage of life. All of these things happened and were wonderful, and yet I gained so much more than I could have imagined.

The beach where I did my daily swim

The beach where I did my daily swim

First of all, the setting was astonishingly beautiful. Set on a hillside, the public and private spaces all nestled into the high tropical jungle allowed privacy and quiet even with over 60 people on the grounds at any one time. Haramara overlooks the ocean and you can hear the crashing surf from every point on the property. We were there for the full moon and got to watch the sun set over the ocean in the evening while the moon rose over the jungle. Then the next morning we meditated on the beach while the moon set over the ocean and practiced yoga on the top of the hill while the sun rose above the trees. Birds, flowers, rocks, trees and exquisite decor rounded out the view: beauty everywhere you looked.

open air class

Open air class

Second, I had not counted on how it would feel to be outside all the time, and I mean all the time. A whole week without setting foot in an enclosed space did wonders for my soul. I felt so close to nature — to the critters who shared their home with us, to the falling of darkness at night and the emerging light in the morning. There is no electricity in the living spaces so the soft light of candles and oil lamps provided atmosphere in the evening. There is also no internet and very poor cell service, so I spent most of the week unplugged. What a joy that was.

Yoga practice twice daily was as good for the body as being outside and unplugged was for the mind. I stretched into some new places, tried some new poses, and gained strength from having three times as many classes as I usually do in a week. It was also a good reminder to take things slowly, rest when I needed to, and balance pushing myself with finding ease in each pose.

Our retreat community

Our retreat community

Finally, it was the community of travelers who made the time so rich. Women ranging in age from their 20s to 60s and one man shared a very special and magical time together. For many of us, it was a transformative time where we were able to let go of things we needed to shed, gain new perspectives on our lives, and make some changes to our pace and priorities. It was especially wonderful to be on retreat with people I will now see in yoga class. We are already planning reunions and the maintaining of relationships.

Coming home from this retreat, I am rested, strong, rejuvenated, and inspired. The natural beauty, silence, healthy delicious food and marvelous company did wonders for body, mind and soul. Though a retreat of this kind is a rare privilege for most of us, I recommend finding a way to take a small break from the business of your life in whatever way you can manage it.

Student Journey Series: Alex Krengel

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 Alex Krengel. Alex grew up in Seattle where he learned to love the outdoors and developed his taste for adventure. During college he worked as an EMT and become interested in health care, studying biology and getting a business degree with an emphasis in economics. He used his EMT training to travel on a number of medical missions, including a three-month trip to Laos and Vietnam following college graduation. Exposure to poor health outcomes in underdeveloped communities spurred Alex to get a Master’s of Public Health. He is now an operations consultant for Seattle Children’s, where he works on issues impacting children’s access to specialty care in the Northwest. His love for travel continues and he captures many of his memories through his photography.

Patients wrap around one of the school houses

Patients wrap around one of the school houses. Some have traveled for days and now have to wait hours.

In the back of a troop transport we bumped along a rocky mountainside road, fording four rivers that intersected our path. Outside of Santa Fe, Panama, a group of American doctors and EMTs finally reached our destination. On the only arid section of land in the middle of this lush jungle, a playfield and three concrete school houses signaled the center of a town, a spattering of huts scattered for miles under the surrounding canopy. I found myself on this adventure in this mysterious place by design, having sought a means to “help” or to “make an impact” during college. It was 2010 and my closest friends and I were to run a medical clinic for five days in the middle of—seemingly—nowhere, with the guidance of one Panamanian and two American doctors.

We set up shop, a production line churning out medical screenings. In the first morning we saw more than two hundred patients, mostly mothers and their young children. That afternoon, under the heat of the sun, the men came in from work and visited the clinic, clearly dehydrated, they complained of sore backs and chronic coughs. The next day the heat went from ninety-two to ninety-eight degrees and we scrambled to find shade for the growing procession. Unable to hide everyone from the sun, we wrapped mothers—many pregnant—and their young children around the school house, under its metal eaves. Throughout this process I engaged with many of them. Curious how far they had come, and for what, while ensuring they were feeling well.

I learned that a radio broadcast had gotten word to villages up to one hundred miles away in the weeks leading up to our arrival. Some, in broken or translated Spanish, reported traveling for an entire week on bare feet to find us and see their first ever doctor. This was a shocking revelation to me—that a lack of access to medical care could span not just swaths of sparsely populated land, but generations. In my quest to find purpose, I had chosen to sacrifice my time to provide for others something I had thought to be of value. And clearly the group of us was doing just that.

I kept on with this belief until day three, when one native woman, sapped from seven unimaginable days walking under the sun, presented her fainting infant to us. I immediately scoured the village for a minister and gathered with the doctors to pray for and nourish this mother and her child. In the following moments, which I remember vividly, I saw the fear and anguish that crept through her.

There was no shared language to communicate, but the rituals of prayer and healing that were administered soothed these fears. In one instant, there was a deep human connection forged over the life of a child, our cultural differences disintegrating to deal with what mattered most. This was juxtaposed by the current of thought that our engagement with this community as “helpers,” had actually led to the predicament we found ourselves in. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a doctor, the help we had brought, had caused something potentially devastating.

My friend Nick and I tucked into the entrance of a cave at the top of the granary ruins in Ollantaytambo.

My friend Nick and I tucked into the entrance of a cave at the top of the granary ruins in Ollantaytambo.

I began traveling as a way to challenge my understanding of the world. As a seventeen year-old, I ventured with a group of classmates to Ollantaytambo, Peru. In the middle of the Valle Sagrado we made our way around town, getting to know some of the locals. It was hard at the outset, my first time out of the country, nothing in common with my new neighbors but a second language — Spanish (Quechua is the primary language in much of the Andes). But, immersed in their culture, we learned an immense amount about their rich history. I remember speaking with the old owner of a new pizza parlor who had spent the first three-quarters of his life as a farmer but recently opened this restaurant to cater to the growing tourism coming into their small town. My friend and I, infatuated with the kitchen staff, became obsessed with the food and competed over who could eat the hotter ají (in an insurmountable feat, he also managed to put down 13 banana pancakes one morning).

While we continued to immerse ourselves, we debriefed over the contrasts of our lives to theirs. The local economy and history, belief systems, life opportunities, technology… the list grew and grew as we went around one-by-one describing the obvious things that didn’t seem like home to each of us.

These ancient Inca granaries sit precariously on a hill above Ollantaytambo, Peru. In 2005 they were the focus of my first project, a trail which future students completed only a few years ago.

These ancient Inca granaries were the focus of my first project, a trail which future students completed only a few years ago.

What struck me the most was the basic desire to enjoy life, to make friends, to have a family, to be somebody. It was easy to point to the differences in amenities or language, but what I found striking were the similarities that I was able to draw between myself and these people I was meeting. It was because of these similarities that this trip became worthwhile. I learned to widen and pivot my perspective, to deepen my empathy and experience the differences between not dissimilar people, but similar people living different lives.

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My friend Guram and I take a tour of the country of Georgia’s newest and most elaborate church, Tsminda Sameba.

Because of this trip to Peru I sought many more. To taste the food, to see the sights, but mostly to experience the culture. To me, the essence of a culture is distilled in the way its people are motivated to achieve their goals and confront life’s challenges. I see every trip as an opportunity to learn a lesson, to reflect on my life with a different perspective and to take those lessons with me when I return home. In Laos, a man who shared my name and age told his story to me and a thousand other people about losing both of his legs to unexploded ordnance dropped on his farm before his birth, during the Vietnam War. Realizing it was a matter of luck that I could have been him instead of myself, I was touched by his tenor and motivation in the face of his experience. I was reminded of the preciousness of each of our lives and, much like my experience in Panama, how our decisions to act can have both positive and negative consequences. I have come to appreciate travel as an opportunity to learn and share, not to help.

I have learned through travel that it is only through exposing myself to great difference that I learned to find comfort in the existence of similarities I share with others. I have little doubt in my mind that it is only because of my early experiences traveling that I have become the person I am today, interested in making a difference by learning about people and the issues their communities face in living healthy lives. As a result, I’ve achieved degrees in biology, business and public health and I spend my weeks finding ways to improve access to healthcare for children in the Northwest.

A man and child brazenly cross the street near Sword Lake, in a rare break in the constant swarm of motorbikes. Rush hour in Ha Noi is a real culture shock.

A man and child brazenly cross the street near Sword Lake, in a rare break in the constant swarm of motorbikes. Rush hour in Ha Noi is a real culture shock.

Student Journey Series: Ilana Kegel

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 Ilana Kegel. Ilana is a Marketing Manager at Walmart working on digital media targeting and planning. She works to optimize marketing expenditures to ensure efficient and impactful media delivery. She recently graduated with her MBA from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business – Go Blue!

Global travel has been a part of my life and my sense of self since I was 6 months old. My parents are South African – born and bred – and moved to Seattle in the 1970s, leaving behind their parents, my dad’s sister, and many cousins. Because our family was spread across the globe, and my parents were big fans of travel, international trips have been a regular event and make up some of my fondest memories since I was six months old. I am very lucky to have been brought up with this privileged exposure to all the world has to offer. It is energizing and mind-opening and had me hooked.

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I made a traditional Senegalese meal for my friends and family and taught them how to eat with their hands.

Having lived and loved this travel-filled youth, I have since sought out pretty much every global education opportunity that passed my way. In 7th grade, I traveled to Russia for two weeks with a group of fellow middle school students from Lakeside School. In high school, I spent a month in Germany with a language immersion program and home stay through Concordia Language Villages. In college, I chose my major based largely on my desire to travel more (in addition to a love of international relations and a goal of having a positive impact on the world). This major led me to study abroad in Senegal for a semester with the School for International Training and to intern with a hospital in Tanzania for a summer. Most recently in my MBA program at the University of Michigan, I spent a week in Ethiopia conducting research for a class consulting project. These experiences have been highly varied, and all entirely worth it.

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Making chocolate chip cookies with slightly different ingredients and tools for my host family. They were not fans…

Global travel is a gift to the individual who is lucky enough to experience it, and it’s a gift to those he or she interacts with. With travel, you are exposed to people, places, foods, smells, modes of transportation, communication styles, lifestyles, life values, and many more facets of a reality that is different from your own. When you’re in the minority on each of these facets, you can’t as easily write everyone else off as crazy; you have to – if even for a second – consider that you might be the crazy one. Experiencing these differences, understanding them, accepting them as valid, and forcing yourself to live them teaches you empathy.

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One of my Senegalese hosts taught me how to carry a baby. It’s not as easy as it looks!

The ability to consider others’ approaches as valid and to be open to fully understanding before judging is an incredibly important skill. As we move faster and faster toward an age dependent on innovation, the ability to see the world through someone else’s perspective will become ever more critical. Not to mention that empathy makes us more compassionate and thoughtful citizens. Global education is one of the most effective ways to give yourself, and others you interact with, this gift.

So, you might wonder where all this travel landed me. After many twists and turns, my early dreams of working for the Foreign Service in a new country every two years, or for a non-profit in West Africa, meandered to my current reality: working in Marketing for Walmart. It turns out that empathy is also a really important skill in marketing. I love thinking about our customers and the communication styles that will speak to them. Just goes to show, you never know where your travels will take you or what they’ll teach you, but you can have no doubt that you will learn and grow. Here are a few take-aways from my travels that I think of often:

1)   It’s okay to just sit. In Senegal, one of my biggest challenges was to be comfortable with the significant amount of time we spent sitting without talking or doing anything. It was a completely foreign concept for me and was a fascinating reflection point.

2)   A sense of urgency is not a universal concept and you have to understand and respect how others view time. Cultures place varying emphasis on promptness. It’s always important to learn the unwritten rules that you are working within, whether they speak to time or something else.

3)   Often when things seem chaotic, there is an underlying system and organization, you just haven’t yet learned to read the patterns. It’s always important to listen and learn first, before assuming you understand. You might be surprised by the details you can miss.

4)   Those closest to the issues usually come up with the best solutions to the problem.  I had been passionate about pursuing a career in development abroad, but my travel experiences opened my eyes to the innovations and ingenuity of the locals in Senegal and Tanzania that were solving their own problems in more sustainable ways than I could provide. It’s always best to get as close to the core problem as you can and ask those living it for their ideas of solutions.

5)   It’s a big world – keep your perspective. It’s always helpful to take a step back from your current frustrations and challenges and remember you are a small player in a big world with a lot left to learn.

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My husband and I enjoying some sun and music at a Head and the Heart concert.