Setting Positive Intentions for 2017

In the midst of transition this time of year, when many of us are taking time off to travel and celebrate holidays, it can be a powerful practice to reflect on the year that has passed and set goals and intentions for the one that lies ahead. This exercise gives us a chance to celebrate what went well in 2016, make peace with what did not, and devise a plan to get the most out of 2017.

Judging by the consensus within my community and all of the people featured in John Oliver’s season finale: A Tribute to a Truly Terrible Year, 2016 has been hard. The near constant stream of bad news from around the globe is not only heartbreaking, it also has terrible effects on our brains. Receiving negative information — similar to exhibiting negative thoughts and behavior — deteriorates our optimistic tendencies and strengthens our tendency toward negative thinking and pessimism.

The other day I sat down to brainstorm the beginning of my own list of 2017 goals. When I went back to start to formulate SMART Goals for myself this morning, I was surprised by how much of my initial list was framed in the negative. A few examples:

  • Eat less quickly.
  • Be better at staying in touch.
  • Stop saying “yes” to things I’d rather say “no” to.

It’s true, these are three areas of my life that could use some improvement. It is also true that I’m not going to get motivated to make changes by focusing on what I’m doing wrong. Paradoxically, if we put our attention toward what we want to accomplish, the more capacity we will have to manage what makes us feel bad. Here are my three example goals reworked in the positive:

  • Savor my meals and improve my digestion by chewing thoroughly and taking breaths between bites.
  • Reinvigorate relationships with distant friends and family by calling or writing at least two people each week.
  • When asked to do something, take a moment to think and do a body scan before answering. Ask myself if I have the time and interest and answer honestly.

None of this is new or revolutionary, but at the end of this challenging year, it’s worth a reminder that despite all the hard work and obstacles that lie ahead, we have the ability to start the new year on as positive note by treating ourselves kindly in regards to our goals.

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.



This week’s post is written by Kaitlin Fisher, Program Associate at Global Weeks. 

Here in Seattle there were at least three organized #GlobalRunningDay events. This was after an evening run at the Brook's Trailhead.

Here in Seattle there were at least three organized #GlobalRunningDay events. This was after an evening run at the Brook’s Trailhead.

Yesterday, on June 1st, 2016, I joined more than two and a half million people around the world who pledged to celebrate Global Running Day simply by going on a run. Founded in 2009 by a number of prominent running organizations, the first Wednesday of June has since marked a day for runners of all ages, genders, races and ability levels to celebrate the joys of running. From first time runners to elites, official races to family fun runs, thousands of events are taking place around the globe to commemorate the occasion. Take a peak at #GlobalRunningDay on Twitter or Instagram and you’ll see what I mean.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 8.00.43 PMFor me, what was particularly special about this year’s Global Running Day was its new centerpiece: the inaugural Million Kid Run with the goal of getting at least one million kids to pledge to run on June 1st. As an experiential educator who has spent countless weeks in the wilderness teaching adolescents, I am a big advocate of physical exercise as a tool to promote self-confidence, reflection, and grit. As a high school student who walked the mile in high school, I understand that for many people running does not come naturally. We have evolved as a species to move less and sit more, and as a result our natural human instincts to run do not always feel so natural.

with a friend after November Project Seattle's sunrise 6k in celebration of Global Running Day

with a friend after November Project Seattle’s sunrise 6k in celebration of Global Running Day

Running started to change for me when I was a student at the North Carolina Outward Bound School. I was part of an 8-person group on a 48-day Instructor Development Practicum during which we learned how to effectively lead wilderness leadership programs through firsthand experience backpacking, rock climbing, canoeing, and participating in a number of trainings. Unbeknownst to me, the course ended with what was known as the PCE (Personal Challenge Event), a 14 mile trail run to test how our physical fitness has improved as a result of our weeks in the field. A complete novice with no desire to run – let alone run up and down mountains for 14 miles – I totally panicked. I’m not ready. I don’t have the right shoes. I’m not strong enough.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 9.05.16 PMFast forward a few hours and I was running across the makeshift finish line in disbelief of what my body was capable of. I surely wasn’t the fastest or the most graceful, but I continued to move forward until I was done. Fast forward nearly 10 years and you’ll find me running every day. What I love about running is that it doesn’t require fancy equipment or the latest technology (although you can spend a fortune on the sport if you so choose). All you need is the ability to put one foot (or prosthetic!) in front of the other and a desire to reap one of the many benefits of running. Running is universal in the way that smiles are universal. We speak different languages and live our lives in vastly different ways, and yet yesterday at least 2.5 million people from at least 177 countries pledged to run and we all did it in more or less the same way. Whether you’ve never run around the block or you have countless marathons under your belt, I encourage to keep an eye out for next year’s Global Running Day on June 7th, 2017!


Considering Higher Education?

12715823_1145288665504402_762337878648045399_oWhether you work in the education field or not, you have undoubtedly heard the constant buzz about higher education reform. People are asking questions like “is a college degree worth it in 2016?” and “is the amount of debt I’ll graduate with manageable?” Free tuition to public universities is one of the cornerstones of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Experts are diving into how exactly colleges set their prices and debating what “affordable” really means. New research indicates that our collective student loan debt has reached $1.2 trillion dollars, yet it’s becoming increasingly harder for recent college grads to find employment. The “underemployment rate” for the highly educated millennial generation is believed to be around 44 percent – which means they are either unemployed or working in jobs that do not require the degree they have received.


Find your purpose.

So what are we to make of this crisis? How do we advise young people on the decision of whether or not the typical trajectory from high school to college is right for them? Having recently graduated with my Master’s in International Education from SIT Graduate Institute and a healthy amount of debt, I find myself feeling torn.

I believe the most important thing we can do is encourage students to make their decisions about higher education intentionally. A college education is not right for everyone, and even those who decide to pursue an advanced degree do not have to do it in the standard timeframe. Here is some food for thought if you or someone you know is considering a path to higher education.

  1. Consider taking a gap year between high school and college. Of the many benefits to taking a gap year, studies show that universities are “reporting an increase in GPA, greater engagement in campus life, and of course greater clarity with career ambitions” (American Gap Association).
  1. Ask yourself these 10 questions to start a college search. My favorite: “How have you done your best learning?” For me, an experiential approach to education was non-negotiable. I landed at Warren Wilson College for my undergraduate studies because of their unique Triad approach to education: a balance of academics, work, and service-learning. What type of environment will best support your learning style?
  1. Look into opportunities to really explore your passions before you decide. Sure, college is a time for exploration – but how are you supposed to decide on an area of study without taking your passions for a test drive? I love this video of Allan Watts’ “What if Money was no Object?” Ask yourself what you really love to do and seek out opportunities to explore those passions.
  1. Research alternative models. If you think a traditional college might not be right for you, you’re not the only one. New and innovative alternatives are popping up all the time. My friends and colleagues in Portland, Oregon, for example, are starting a new type of affordable college called the Wayfinding Academy. Students will be on an individualized quest to complete a comprehensive portfolio of experiences, not a set degree program. Similar innovations exist at the graduate level as well. Open Master’s is a community of self-directed learners who want to pursue higher-level studies without paying for graduate school. I highly recommend listening to Blake Boles’ Real Education Podcast in which he covers many ways in which we all can be self-directed learners.
The Wayfinding Academy Creed.

The Wayfinding Academy Creed.

The bottom line: do your research, then choose your own educational adventure. Despite the current system, there is no “one size fits all.”

What advice would you give young people considering higher education? Tell us in the comments below!

What If Money Was No Object ~ Alan Watts from Edgar Alves on Vimeo.

Brazil Youth Ambassador Program

imagesIn mid-January, I had the privilege of designing and implementing a two-week exchange program in Seattle for a group of 2016 Youth Ambassadors from Brazil. The Brazil Youth Ambassador Program (BYAP) is a joint-funded program by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Brazil which brings youth leaders and adult mentors from across Brazil to the United States for three weeks to focus on leadership development, social justice, and service-learning. Since its inception in 2002, Washington, D.C.-based NGO World Learning has administered the Brazil Youth Ambassador Program. Students spend the first week of the program in the nation’s capitol participating in trainings, acclimating to the new culture, and preparing for the next two weeks with their host families in their host communities.

As is always the case, this year’s Brazil Youth Ambassador Program was highly competitive: more than 14,000 applications were received for a total of 50 slots. As you can imagine, these students are bright, motivated, and committed to bettering themselves and their communities through intercultural exchange. After their first week in D.C., the 50 Youth Ambassadors were split into groups to travel to four different host communities: Portland, OR; Pensacola, FL; Tulsa, OK; and Seattle, WA.

Brazil Youth Ambassadors and students from Chief Sealth International High School

Brazil Youth Ambassadors and students from Chief Sealth International High School

In the weeks leading up to the students’ arrival in Seattle, I recruited and vetted homestay families, designed the program curriculum, coordinated all program logistics, and set up service activities, social justice-focused workshops, and cultural activities. As I did all of the legwork for the program, I wondered the same things I wonder every time I plan a new program: are the days full enough but not too full? Is there adequate time to debrief? Is the the curriculum designed to meet the program’s goals and objectives? As an experiential educator, I know how critical it is to research and prepare, yet I also know that the real magic of the program often happens during moments you can’t  possibly plan for: a random conversation about racism in America on a city bus, the spark of a new idea for a service project back home as the result of the programmed service activities, or a spontaneous dance party during a visit to a local high school class.

At Boeing

At Boeing

During the course of the program, my students experienced Seattle in a way that people who have lived here all of their lives are never able to. They met with the Washington Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, did a VIP tour of Boeing, volunteered at the Cherry Street Food Bank, participated in Garfield High School’s MLK Day Rally and Parade, shadowed high school students at two very different public schools, participated in a social media workshop with, and discussed issues facing young people with the EMP Museum’s Youth Advisory Board. They were made to feel like family in the homes of their host families and openly welcomed by the larger Seattle community. For a city known for its “freeze,” I can say with confidence that my students’ curiosity, wonder, and enthusiasm invited the warmth that lies below Seattle’s sometimes cold exterior.


Discussing issues facing young people with the Youth Advisory Board at the EMP

Most of my previous global education experience has been leading programs for American students in different parts of the world. This time, I had the unique opportunity of witnessing my own community through the eyes of my students. I was reminded daily of how many little things I take for granted here: flushing toilets, endless food options, access to educational materials through libraries, and readily available clean drinking water, just to name a few.

Participating in a social-justice photo project at

Participating in a social-justice photo project at

In chatting with one of my students during one of our many rides in a 16-passenger bus, I learned that her daily commute to school involves a two-hour crowded bus ride each way. She wakes up every morning at 4:30 am and heads to school, where she voluntarily tutors her peers in English, spends all day in class, and then participates in a wide range of extracurricular after-school activities to build her skill set and increase her chances of getting into a good university. She usually returns home around midnight, only to sleep for a mere 4 hours before doing it all again. This is not an atypical experience for many students in the developing world, yet I’m struck by these stories of grit and persistence every time I hear them. They give me a fresh perspective on my own life and a greater empathy for how varied the human experience is around the globe, and this is exactly why I believe global education is so important: to broaden our own worldview and foster a deeper understanding of ourselves and others as members of an interconnected global community.