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.

Student Journey Series: Zoe Schuler

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

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

Me in Tuscany Catacomb, 2012

Me in Tuscany Catacomb, 2012

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

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

Me & the Pups at my India Homestay

Me & the Pups at my India Homestay

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

Jams & Spices

Jams & Spices

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Student Journey Series: Dylan Holmes

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 Dylan Holmes. Dylan currently lives in Melbourne, Australia where he works as a product manager for a software startup. 

IMG_0922I was first introduced to global travel at 10 years old when my family and I spent a month in Italy and France. I visited Canada a number of times before then but, as a native of Seattle, Washington, it feels odd for me to call these “global” experiences. You don’t absorb much global culture while sitting in the back seat of a minivan during the four hour drive to the Canadian border. In any case, my time in Italy and France was marked by a series of adventures: climbing to the top of bell towers throughout Italy, playing chess against friendly strangers in Cinque Terre, perfecting my bocce game in a small town in Provence, France, and more. We saw all the typical tourist sights as well, but what has stuck with me from that trip are the mundane yet irreplaceable memories.

I sought more of these experiences throughout my educational life. I visited Costa Rica and Peru through global service learning programs during my middle and high school years. Was I mentally prepared for these trips? Doubtful. Were they worth it? Absolutely. Well, that’s probably the wrong question. The right question is: who would I be without these trips? They had such a profound impact on my life trajectory that it is hard to know.

IMG_0921 I respected my education before my trip to Peru, but my homestay in Ollantaytambo, Peru made me realize that I was taking too much of it for granted. My host family was hosting more than just me during my stay. They were also housing a five year old boy from a remote Andean village that only spoke Quechua. His reason for being there? Getting a quality education. His parents were hours away, he was surrounded by people that didn’t speak his language, and yet he was still there because Ollantaytambo had the best school for miles. And my host family was sacrificing a great deal to make sure this little boy could learn. He was a real part of the family – receiving food, housing, and love day in and day out. I was floored.

We were only in Ollanta for two weeks and I doubt I left a lasting imprint on the town or my host family. I do know, however, that the consistent presence of those global education programs in Ollantaytambo has led to fundamental changes in the region. Years after their original visit, students have gone back to Ollantaytambo to start nonprofits and help community organizations. Some of these initiatives are still running to this day.

IMG_0923Global travel and learning have been my top priorities since my early brush with global education. I studied abroad in Seville, Spain; became fluent in Spanish; foolishly let my Spanish skills rust; jumped into a career in software startups (for which I had no experience nor training coming out of college); absorbed the startup experience for four years in Seattle; and moved to Melbourne, Australia six months ago to become a product manager for yet another software startup.

Everyone that participates in a global education program takes something different away from it. I found a bit of extra motivation towards my education… and developed an even stronger love for travel. I’m on the other side of the world because of it. Now — I’m not trying to gloss over the difficult and trying moments. There are too many of those to count, but they have all been worth it.

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.