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.

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.

Student Journey Series: Abby Nathanson

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 Abby Nathanson. Abby is a yoga teacher and the Founder and Program Director of Engaging People in Change (EPIC), a leadership group for rural New York high school students.

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This is my “on occasion, they just pay me to do this” face.

At the moment, I am 24 years old and the last time I spent more than nine consecutive months in the United States, I was 18. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to volunteer, intern, study, work, and wander in different contexts and countries, in ways that were structured and unstructured, spur-of-the-moment and long-awaited. Experiential learning and global citizenship have gone from holding space in my life only as experiences on programs and trips, to becoming indistinguishable from how I think and operate in the world. I am a sociologist, and every day is a trip – learning through experience is the only way I know how to live.

I’m grateful that these principles were modeled and opened up to me from a young age. As a high school student, I spent four weeks in rural Peru with Lakeside School’s Global Service Learning (GSL) program. I was traveling with a group of classmates on a well-established program and staying with a family who had hosted countless young foreigners; certainly, my experience had its share of hand-holding and facilitation. Regardless, there is a quality of being in the unfamiliar – of feeling totally and completely out of your element, knowing that your own home landscape is a day’s journey away – that no amount of pre-trip orientation or program development could ever touch, nor would they try to. For the first time in my life, I felt confused for significant portions of my waking hours. I was learning a new language while I learned a new culture while I learned, above all, about myself and the spaces I knew as home. Through reflection- facilitated both by group leaders in circle time and by the ease and expanse of hours spent doing what Americans call “nothing” – I practiced the beautiful skill of adapting experiences into knowledge, drawing from the mundane and simple to arrive at complex, globally-significant, world-changing notions.

I was sitting at a waterfall in rural Panamá when I started chatting with this family, who quickly adopted me.

I was sitting at a waterfall in rural Panamá when I started chatting with this family, who quickly adopted me.

I was hooked and have continued to snatch every opportunity to continue to be in the unfamiliar. The morning after I finished my first year of college, I was on a plane to Ecuador with a thin outline of a plan. I harvested pineapple on a Hare Krishna farm in the Amazon, bounced on a milk truck through the cloud forest, and lived with a family in an indigenous community while helping to develop an arts and culture summer camp. Partially, I was testing myself with that trip. I thought that if I went on a summer adventure, I wouldn’t need to rush to study abroad the following school year. Yet one month in to the trip, I was at the cyber café submitting an application to spend my sophomore spring semester of college abroad. Travel wasn’t just a phase; I knew it was deeply important to how I was going to pursue my college education. I went on to spend a semester on the School for International Training (SIT)’s Social Pluralism and Development program in Cameroon, in which I lived with host families in four different regions and researched witchcraft as a tool of resistance in the rainforest. My following semester, I started out in SIT’s Emerging Identities in North Africa program in Tunisia, was politically “evacuated” due to France, and ultimately withdrew from the program to Couch Surf around Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Finally, I spent a summer with Learning Enterprises’ pilot English-teaching program in India, where I wrote a curriculum for volunteers and host families to bridge cultural gaps.

Seven years after staying in her home for three weeks with Lakeside School’s Global Service Learning program, I was reunited with Adela in Ollantaytambo, Peru, when I passed through town for one night on a trip I was leading.

Seven years after staying in her home for three weeks with my GSL program, I was reunited with Adela in Ollantaytambo, Peru, when I passed through town for one night on a trip I was leading.

These experiences were formative, transformative, and a bit destructive. I questioned everything I knew how to question, repeatedly, in multiple languages and alongside enormous quantities of omelets, baguettes, white rice, potatoes, and corn tortillas. The fact that I needed to be whisked away to the Andes as a high school student and subsequently to several other foreign countries in order to know places that were not designed for me is, of course, a function of the various privileges I benefit from as a well-educated and financially stable white American. I continue to contend with that reality while pursuing problematic yet beneficial opportunities; I also hope to be a part of re-imagining how educational and travel systems will grow to be more intersectional, mindful, and oriented towards social justice.

Students from the New York cities of Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, and Middletown enjoying Molly Moon’s ice cream on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

Students from the New York cities of Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, and Middletown enjoying Molly Moon’s ice cream on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

Experiences happen everywhere and realities are not held together by the nation-state boundaries. After graduating from college, I started a program called Coast-to-Coast Connections, which takes high school students from small cities in New York State to Seattle, Washington to study social justice. Keeping the experience within the United States has several benefits, especially that it’s an inter-cultural opportunity that’s accessible to undocumented students. I have also lead trips globally on Lakeside School’s GSL program to Senegal and Nicaragua, and with Walking Tree Travel’s Service Adventure program to Peru. Being a trip leader is a comically difficult job, but it is also precious and humbling. I love bearing witness and even facilitating, moment-to-moment, as the next generation of thinkers and doers push themselves to explore new limits, find new strengths, and feel thoroughly lost, annoyed, hopeful, and energized. Learning through experience and embracing the unfamiliar as an essential part of growth are tremendously valuable pedagogies – and I am grateful to hold these ideals close as I move through the world as a wanderer, educator, scholar, and friend.  

Student Journey Series: Flora Weeks

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 Flora Weeks, Vicki’s niece.

IMG_0618Growing up, I was privileged enough to travel regularly on school breaks.  Almost every summer throughout middle school and high school my family would take a few weeks to explore in US national parks, Europe, or Latin America.  I found during these trips that I was learning just as much, if not more, than I did in a typical week in school.  These weren’t organized global education programs, but I was constantly learning by reading, observing, and asking questions.  I became fascinated by the holocaust on a family trip to the Netherlands, and while rafting the Grand Canyon, each new rock formation stimulated a series of questions.  

10540385_677183315693855_5227287263240248821_nBecause of my positive experiences traveling with my family, I began to seek out similar opportunities on my own.  In high school, I went on a couple trips with Moondance Adventures, including a month in Australia, but the bigger decision was to take a gap year. I had always wanted to spend more than just a few weeks in a country and really get to know a community abroad, and as a result, decided to spend five months in Thailand between high school and college. I ended up living in a homestay near the Burmese border teaching English and writing grants for refugee organizations.  Although I was already well traveled before landing in Thailand, this lengthier stay allowed me to think more deeply about my place in the world.  Some of the things that really caught my attention were: 1) everyone wanted to learn English even though it would become their fifth or sixth language; 2) I could be independent and productive as an 18 year old abroad; and 3) there are refugee situations that P1010507have been going on for twenty years with no end in sight (this was the situation when I was there in 2008; luckily things have started to look better for Burmese refugees recently). These are all lessons that could have been learned in another way, but being on the ground, interacting with people first-hand for a few months, made these lessons much more real and memorable.

It wasn’t until midway through college when I realized that there was a trend: I was actively seeking out opportunities for experiential education.  I was a geology major, I think largely because I could take weekly outdoor labs where I was learning by exploring the rocks of Vermont.  I also spent a semester with Sea Education Association, getting hands-on sailing and scientific research experience while aboard a tall ship, sailing from Hawaii to Tahiti.  By my last year in college, I knew that I learned best outside of a classroom.

22427697242_ed0bcd10ef_zSince college, I have continued to seek out opportunities to travel, and have also started to work in global and experiential education.  I have taken students to China and Thailand the with Lakeside School’s Global Service Learning program, and I am currently working as a math teacher at The Island School in the Bahamas.  As a math teacher, my focus is not on the international aspects of our curriculum, but I continue to utilize the same principles that allowed me to learn so much from traveling.  I strive to use my surroundings at The Island School in each unit I teach, and I encourage my students to create math projects around questions they are already curious about.  Occasionally, I also get to take them sailing or to homecoming celebrations in a nearby settlement, and watch as they observe, ask questions, and learn just by being in a setting different from anything they could experience back home.   

Both from my own experience, and from what I have witnessed as an educator, I know that global education can be pivotal in a student’s life, whether just opening their eyes to a lifestyle different from the one they know, or fostering a passion that will alter the direction of their life and make a difference in the world.

 

Student Journey Series: Graeme Aegerter

unnamed-1Each 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 Graeme Aegerter.  Graeme graduated from Chapman University in May of 2015 and currently serves as the Statewide Training Coordinator for School’s Out Washington, supporting the delivery of high quality, culturally competent, and inclusive professional development opportunities for workers in the after school and youth development field across the state of Washington.

Global travel has woven my life’s tapestry from my birth onwards. With a mother from Harare, Zimbabwe and a father from Ketchikan, Alaska, the bonds of my being were forged across vast distances and seemingly disparate origins. Since I was a baby, I have had the immense privilege of traveling to the parts of the world where my family lives and beyond.

As I have come into adulthood, these roots in geographical “opposites” have motivated me to explore and embrace the term my parents gave me when I was young: an Alaskan-African, an “Alafrican.” My search for identity and belonging has also been profoundly impacted by my participation in global education programs. The learning I’ve experienced through these programs has given depth and context to what it means for me to identify as an “Alafrican,” an American, and a global citizen.

unnamed-2Two of the most formative periods of my life were the months I spent abroad through global education programs. The first of these was a month-long exchange in northern India through the Lakeside Global Service Learning (GSL) program in the summer before my junior year of high school. My peers and I lived with host families in two villages situated in the beautiful foothills of the Himalayas. Some of my fondest memories from this month are of small moments: carrying buckets of water through tall grasses back from the well with my host siblings and learning to make chapatti with my host mother, to name a few. There were many moments of discomfort, miscommunication, and cultural disconnect—memories I hold equally as dear. This was the first time in my life really learning to conscientiously sit in my discomfort in the hopes of cultivating empathy, humility, and understanding.

7ab50540-0f0d-459c-bb93-fd42ed1ad28cMany of the lessons—physical, emotional, and spiritual—that I gained from this month in India have remained with me through the years. Our daily yoga and meditation practice with a local yogi from a nearby village has carried on into to my own practice today; these traditions have been life saving in the face of my own personal struggles and hardships. In addition, GSL’s partnerships with local women’s cooperatives provided my first insights into global gender inequities and indigenous forms of feminism—topics that provided the theoretical foundations to my undergraduate senior thesis.

09414d1e-3e4c-4365-8051-8c15518b6da0In many ways, this month of learning in India laid the foundation for my study abroad experience at the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa. Having experience with global immersion as a high school student prepared me significantly for an exchange at the university level—from using foreign currency, to navigating language barriers, to intentionally creating time to reflect on experiences throughout the exchange. During my six months abroad, I experienced some of the highest highs and lowest lows of my life. This extended time in a part of the world that I had been visiting since I was an infant challenged me to dig deep to those familial roots and confront my “Alafrican” identity. At times this element of my identity felt affirmed and empowered and others it felt completely broken down and lost. Those latter experiences, however challenging, were necessary and formative.

78b34f4a-3b8d-415a-987b-126b72119c59Perhaps most importantly, my experience as a student at UCT was utterly transformative: I was able to take classes in criminology, South African history, sustainable development, and African gender studies. I encountered a fearlessness and level of engagement amongst my peers that was truly invigorating. On the “Jammie” bus downtown, I would listen to strangers talk about race, politics, and gender-based violence. When I was feeling bold, I joined in. I was proud to be a UCT student, even if temporarily, because I got to be a part of a groundswell of students who took academia seriously—for many, as a matter of life and death—and who held their institutions accountable using the combined tools of their education and lived experiences. In the year and a half since I left Cape Town, students at UCT and schools across South Africa have led successful student movements protesting neo-colonialism, racism, and tuition hikes at their universities.

096bf238-fbda-4c0e-95c6-21792f4ec34bWhether I was studying the peacemaking activism of Zimbabwean feminists, solo hiking through the mountains where my parents backpacked during their honeymoon, or learning to accept emotional support from a new group of friends, studying abroad provided me countless opportunities to engage all parts of my being to understand my place in the world and how to shape the world for the better.

It is not acceptable, I have learned, to simply reap the benefits of getting to travel the globe. Nor is it acceptable to simply participate in a service project in a foreign country and head home brimming with self-satisfaction. It is my responsibility to reflect deeply on my engagement and apply what I’ve learned in my daily life. Furthermore, the privilege of this travel necessitates problematizing the mechanics and underlying meanings of global education:

I am an “Alafrican” at UCT…so…what does it mean for me (a white, queer American man studying abroad at a university founded by white men on stolen indigenous land) to claim an identity that includes Alaska and Africa, two parts of the world that have been devastated by white men’s colonization and genocide?

Through my experiences with global education programs, it is this sort of challenging question that now stimulates and moves me to action, instead of shutting me down. In my daily life, I am compelled to find compassion and to honor my teachers of all ages and backgrounds from around the world.