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: 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.

 

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.