Educator Journey Series: Donald Anselmi

Donald Peru Honeymoon 2012Each month, the Educator Journeys Series features a guest blog post written by one of our colleagues. They write about how they got into their work, lessons they’ve learned, and their innovative approaches to shaping the future of education. This week’s Educator Journey post is written by Donald Anselmi. Donald currently teaches Spanish and is the incoming Director of Pro Vita at Berkshire School, a 9th-12th college preparatory and boarding school in southwestern Massachusetts.  He lives on campus with his wife, Dana, who works in admissions, his son, Hudson, and his dog, Pancho.

Donald With Students On The Camino 2017 (first on right, bottom row)

Donald With Students On The Camino 2017 (first on right, bottom row)

As a father, husband, and educator, I don’t have to look far to realize that there is always room for growth in my quest to become a better global citizen.  On a recent trip to walk the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain with students, I came to the realization that both my passion for teaching and the Spanish language originated in the same country almost eighteen years earlier. This sudden nostalgia inspired me to reflect on all my adventures since my first trip abroad in high school, nearly twenty years ago. So many of these experiences equipped me with the skills and education to ultimately lead others on similar journeys.

Valle de Los Caidos, Spain, 1999

Valle de Los Caidos, Spain, 1999

In 1999, I was first exposed to a unique way of living on an abroad trip to Spain that was offered through my high school. I had been to Mexico a few times growing up and had come to know many Hispanics who lived in my hometown, but I lacked the tools and the language skills to really understand our cultural differences. During my homestay and school time in Valencia, I was fully immersed. While this experience was daunting and overwhelming at times, it forced me to adapt. I realized very early on that I would need to step outside of my comfort zone in order to understand both the language and culture. Because of this time spent abroad and many inspiring teachers, I ultimately decided to major in these subjects in college.

Northern Spain Galicia Santiago, 2003

Northern Spain Galicia Santiago, 2003

For the first couple years, I took a smorgasbord of classes in the liberal arts curriculum that my college offered. With each Spanish and History class I took, the more my passion grew in these areas. I loved all the stories and characters in history, and I kept referring back to my own experience in Spain. My parents urged me to go abroad for a full academic year. My nine months in Spain were even richer the second time there, with Madrid and the rest of the country as my playground. It was during that time that my love of Spanish and culture truly blossomed. All the while, I began to consider teaching by starting an internship at a local school.

Before I knew it, I was back in the United States working at a summer school teaching study skills. As my senior year came to an end, I was fortunate to land a wonderful job in California that launched my teaching career, and I have never looked back. During my first four years of teaching, I was mentored by great role models and taught thoughtful adolescents. I enjoyed having a lot of freedom with my teaching while getting my feet wet with experience. During my time in California and later at a middle school in Connecticut, I came to value the teaching of practical and life skills by trying to implement real-life scenarios both in and out of the classroom.  It was also during this time that I had the flexibility of traveling through new territories in the United States, Europe, and South America.

In the winter of 2009, about half way through this eighteen year period, I decided to pursue an advanced degree in Spanish. I took classes domestically and abroad, in Argentina and Mexico, where I was exposed to many global issues. During this Masters program, I also came to the realization that I was a visual and experiential learner. Living abroad in the summers of 2011 and 2012 was the best classroom that I could have asked for as I felt that I learned the most while I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

Where There Be Dragon's Nepal Group, 2016 (third from left, back row)

Where There Be Dragons Nepal Group, 2016

Because of my own global experiences, both as a student and an independent traveler, I knew that I would eventually want to provide trips for students of my own. I knew where I wanted to take them, but I still didn’t really know how to design a course. With recommendations from colleagues, I attended several conferences that gave me the confidence to pursue this passion.  I took two courses offered by Where There Be Dragons that helped me better understand how to safely push students out of their comfort zones to make them more globally competent in an experiential learning setting.  I also attended the Gardner Carney Leadership Institute that exposed me to many teachable moments and strategies to empower students.  

Donald With Students In Argentina, 2014

Donald With Students In Argentina, 2014

Since 2014, I have taken students to Argentina, California, and Spain. I have come to recognize the value of meetings and orientations before the actual trip to cover risks, cultural competence, team building, and student leadership. During the trips, I have found it extremely important to empower participants and to make sure each activity is intentional in pushing students to become more aware. With all of this “doing,” my hope is that students come away with both something for themselves and to offer the world. On my recent trip to Spain, students were assigned days to lead, and everyone kept an art journal where they wrote, drew, pasted Kodak photos and made collages about their experience that they would later share with the community. It was also awesome learning from my co-leader, an art teacher and former NOLS instructor, who was instrumental in designing this experience. I have found it truly helpful, inspirational and important to work alongside my colleagues. Both of these trips that I have offered have further highlighted the values of education and travel, and they constitute my most sacred moments of experiential learning. Leading these trips has helped me realize that I can continue to grow alongside my students as we push each other beyond what is comfortable and familiar to explore the unknown. 

Student Journey Series: Addie Asbridge

current1Each 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 Addie Asbridge. Currently living in Seattle, Addie is somewhere between the bright-eyed days of being fresh out of college and the throws of her mid-twenties’ ennui. She continues to jump between the non-profit and corporate worlds, blissfully unsure of where she will land next.

Despite the limited number of stamps in my passport, I have had the privilege to live and study abroad twice. The first time as a participant in Lakeside’s Global Service Learning (GSL) trip to Morocco in the summer of 2007, and the second as a semester abroad student in Buenos Aires during the spring semester of my junior year of college, 2012.

Morocco

Morocco

While the Morocco trip certainly informed my decision to study outside the US in college, neither stint abroad has impacted my life in a tangible, direct way… not yet at least. I did not change my major to International Relations or seek internships in the State Department as a result of my time overseas. I have yet to fill out my application for the Peace Corps, and while I desire to experience many parts of the world in my life, my wanderlust is currently sated by traversing the borders of my own country.

My taste for tagine has all but dissipated, perhaps never to return, and I do not henna my hair or drink mate. (While I am determined to appropriate the Argentine customary greeting of ‘el beso,’ it will likely take years before this gesture is widely adopted in the US.)

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires

Living abroad did not change my habits or career path. Rather, the effects have been more implicit and subtle but ultimately longer lasting. Above all, living abroad gave me empathy. That is, my experiences in Morocco and then Argentina solidified in me a deeper respect and empathy for anyone who is able to pick up and make a life in another country, especially one in which they don’t speak the majority language. This empathy became especially developed in Buenos Aires, where the length of the stay allowed us a taste of everyday life–from going to the grocery store or to a pub after class, my life there could have resembled that of a college student anywhere.

While living abroad can be a very rewarding and fun experience, for me it was often embarrassing, frustrating, and sometimes uneasy — even, or perhaps especially, during the simple day-to-day routine. In moments where I wanted nothing more than to blend in, I became acutely aware of my own foreignness. I’m sure this self-consciousness was the ‘tell’ to the men on the street who would holler “hey, beautiful” (though I did receive the occasional “fräulein”) or the waiters who would hand me the english menu before I even spoke a word. Most people I interacted with, from cashiers to professors to especially my homestay parents, were incredibly patient with my subpar language proficiency. Nevertheless, when someone would ask “que?” I would instantly berate myself for my lack of fluency, even if they had just misheard me. I could not help but cringe  every time I stumbled over a phrase and often avoided speaking to strangers all together.

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires

While I could wax-poetic on the Spanish Civil War or hold a coherent discussion of García Márquez in class, I didn’t have the vocabulary to play out simple scenarios, such as ordering the right cut of meat at the butcher. On one rare occasion that my host mother let me prepare dinner, I walked into her kitchen with 8 whole chicken breasts — nearly 2 pounds per person — because I had been too embarrassed to correct myself. Once, I didn’t realize that you had to get vegetables weighed in the back of the store, causing me to be laughed out of line by the man behind me at the cashier.

These struggles seem petty — and they were. I was living abroad as a student whose only responsibility was to get myself to class (not even on time as per the Argentine norm) and not do anything illegal. I didn’t need to worry about making it through a job interview or finding a place to live. I didn’t have a family to support. I even had considerable hand-holding navigating the visa process and never had the latent fear of being ‘sin documentos.’ My stay was temporary and as hard as things got, I was to return home to familiarity.

Eventually I chilled out. I didn’t feel so intense or embarrassed and I learned to cope, as you do with all life’s little challenges. You laugh at your blunders, you beg for forgiveness when you can’t count change quickly, you call yourself “yanqui” before anyone else can, you make your best effort and hope that people are patient and forgiving. And then, when you are back on your own turf, in your own comfort zone, you extend that same patience to others. You don’t roll your eyes at the man in the DMV who is having a hard time understanding the license process. You give ESL students enough time to collect their thoughts and interpret them. You smile. And you never assume that the ability to speak English is a metric of intelligence.