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.

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.

Georgia

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.