This Changes Everything

This-Changes-Everything_FinalLast night I went to see the Seattle screening of This Changes Everything, a documentary by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis about the ramifications of climate change around the world. The film depicts much of what you might expect in a piece about climate change: vast stretches of clearcut forests, huge machinery tearing up the earth, melting glaciers, oil polluted waters… the effect of climate change go on and on.

From the very first scene, Klein’s narration sets the film apart from all of the other climate change documentaries you might have seen. “Can I be honest with you?” she says as a large chunk of glacier falls into the water on the screen. “I’ve always kinda hated films about climate change.” A polar bear struggles to stay afloat on a small slab of ice, and she goes on to talk about how we’ve heard the same story so many times that we’ve become desensitized. “Is it really possible to be bored by the end of the world?

01_Halkidiki_Courthouse-1024x427In an attempt to tell a different story — one that empowers viewers instead of leaving them feeling helpless — the film takes the audience to nine different countries on five continents and highlights people’s personal stories of resistance, victory, and hope. It strives to illustrate that climate change isn’t simply something that is happening somewhere else to someone else, but rather a global crisis which affects all of humanity. From oil drilling in the Canadian tar sands to gold mining in Greece to factory pollution in China, the personal struggles of people most affected by climate change are deeply interconnected.

As a global educator, this is exactly the message I hope we convey in dialogue around all global crises: there is no other. Climate change is a human issue. Poverty is a human issue. Access to education is a human issue. All of these issues are interrelated and interconnected, and we are all part of a collective human race. Our actions — however small — to solve these seemingly insurmountable challenges have the power to collectively add up and change the world for everyone.

If you’re interested in learning more and getting involved, check out the film trailer below and visit Beautiful Solutions, the film’s interactive platform for gathering strategies to create a more just and resilient world. 

Camino de Santiago

This week’s post is written by Kaitlin Fisher, former Global Weeks Program Associate, about her experience leading a group of high school students on backpacking program along the Camino de Santiago this summer.

The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a city in northwestern Spain where the remains of the apostle Saint James are believed to be buried. Dating back to the 9th century, millions of pilgrims have walked hundreds of miles to arrive at the cathedral in Santiago. While the pilgrimage is historically a catholic tradition to honor Saint James, many pilgrims now trek to Santiago for a variety h of spiritual, cultural, or historical reasons. The Way of Saint James, as it is also referred to, has gained popularity in more recent years as a result of books such as Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage and Shirley Maclaine’s The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit. and movies like Martin Sheen’s The Way.  

mappassportThere are dozens of established paths to Santiago de Compostela. The most heavily traveled route is the Camino Frances, beginning in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France. The 2013 data from the Pilgrim’s Office reported that of the nearly 216,000 pilgrims who arrived in Santiago that year, seventy percent of them walked the Camino Frances. When I was asked to lead a three-week backpacking trip for high school students on the Camino this summer for Hante Adventures, I was excited that they had chosen to take students on a far less traveled route: the Camino Portuguese de la Costa (the Portuguese Coastal Route).

Our group of ten (seven students and three instructors) arrived in Lisbon and spent the first two days getting accustomed to life in Portugal with the help of our friend Margarida, a Chemistry professor at the University of Lisbon who the Hante Program Coordinator met while on birthright in Israel earlier in the year. Out of the sheer goodness in her heart and the pride she has for her country, she volunteered to take three days off from work to tour us around the city and the surrounding area to tell us about the history and culture of Portugal in preparation for our impending journey to Santiago — all without having ever met us. These random connections and acts of kindness are one of my favorite aspects of global education.

The three leaders on the first day of walking the camino

The three leaders on the first day of walking the camino

We made our way through Fatima and on to Esposende where we began our 150 mile walk to Santiago. The night before we started our pilgrimage, we held a ceremony to set our personal and group intentions for the walk. We arrived at the Cathedral in Esposende early the next morning on the day of our departure to pick up our “credentials,” or pilgrim’s passports that we were to fill with stamps along the way in order to authenticate our journey upon arrival in Santiago. As we left the church, people lined the streets to wish us a “Bon Caminho!”

Each day we walked anywhere from 16-21 miles. The path, marked by the iconic scallop shell and yellow arrows, led us through villages, into forests, and on old Roman cobblestone roads. We spent a total of nine days walking, and the first seven of them followed the Portuguese Way along the coast of Portugal and then into Spain before the trail merged with the Camino Frances. We knew the coastal route would be far less crowded, but we were surprised that until we joined the “main path” we only saw four other peregriños: a woman from the basque region of Spain, a woman from Lithuania, and a father and son from the United Kingdom. They became “our people,” as our students called them, and we saw each them on different parts of the trail every day.

IMG_9685Two days before we arrived in Santiago, when we joined the masses, our experience changed drastically. We had spent a week navigating our way through the peaceful countryside and suddenly we were surrounded by hundreds of pilgrims en route to Santiago. There was a sense of hurriedness all around us that we hadn’t experienced up to that point as people rushed to arrive at the next albergue as fast as possible in order to secure themselves a bed for the night. Our students, who had grown accustomed to practicing their Portuguese with locals in small villages and taking hour-long siestas after lunch, were understandably overwhelmed.

When we stopped for lunch that afternoon, our student leader of the day led an unprompted guided mediation to reflect on the intentions we had set for ourselves at the beginning of our journey. He spoke about compassion and non-judgement and reminded the group that each person we encountered on the path was on their own journey. As an educator, it was one of those moments that made my heart sing. We set out for the final leg of our journey refreshed and excited.

When we arrived in Santiago and stood in front of the cathedral where so many had stood before us, we let out a collective sigh of accomplishment. The energy around us was indescribable, and the city was buzzing with pilgrims who had walked all across Europe. It was the Fourth of July, and while our friends and family were back home BBQing and watching fireworks, we were eating traditional Tarta de Santiago and reflecting on funny moments from the trail.

We went on to Finisterre, once believed to be the end of the world, and finally to Madrid before making our way home to the States. As I look back on the trip and think about my students, I am reminded why I do the work I do. Spending three weeks in a different culture with curious teenagers who are untethered from their technological devices gives me hope that the next generation has the power to change the world for the better.


My co-instructor, Rodrigo,  welcoming students to "the end of the world"

My co-instructor, Rodrigo, welcoming students to “the end of the world”

Student Journey Series: Ashley Jackson

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 Ashley Jackson. She participated in Seattle-based community service activities led by Vicki at Lakeside School in the days before the Global Service Learning program. Read more by Ashley on PSI’s global health work here.

I’m squeezed into a one-room hair salon in Malawi, a stranger’s baby in my lap, chatting with a hairdresser, her client, and three stylish young women waiting to have their hair braided. The salon is wedged between a tailor’s shop and a vegetable stand in a dense urban market. I hold up the draft of a poster advertising contraception and ask what the women think. They take it in for a moment, then burst into a vigorous discussion of the poster and their thoughts on the barriers to contraceptive use.

Work meeting in Tanzania with colleagues from Burundi, Liberia, and Nigeria

Work meeting in Tanzania with colleagues from Burundi, Liberia, and Nigeria

Pre-testing communication materials is a part of my job at Population Services International (PSI), a nonprofit organization that seeks to make it easier for people in the developing world to lead healthier lives and plan the families they desire by marketing affordable products and services. Most of my time is focused on designing or reviewing strategies to increase access to contraception. I live in Washington, D.C., and travel frequently to countries in Africa and Asia to hold trainings and workshops, meet with staff and partners, and check up on the quality of PSI’s work.

Cameroon, 2005

Homestay in Cameroon, 2005

How did I get here? In large part, thanks to global education. During college, two semesters abroad with the School for International Training (SIT) brought me to the verdant hills of Cameroon, where I studied the determinants of condom use among youth, and the Kenyan coast, where I designed health education materials for sex workers. In the year after college, I trekked across Benin researching education reform. Each of these experiences was bewildering and illuminating, frustrating and fulfilling, mundane and transformative all at once.

Here are three reasons why I recommend global education:

  1. You learn language skills that may be more valuable than you realize. Soon after I began studying French in middle school, I regretted the decision. I wished I had chosen Spanish, the only language I could foresee myself using outside the classroom. It was not until my experiences studying in the former French colonies of Cameroon and Benin that I realized how useful French could be. French opened up numerous career paths at development organizations like PSI, which need bilingual speakers of French and English to manage projects in countries where French is the national language. I was surprised to learn some of the lowest levels of economic development and highest rates of maternal mortality are found in Francophone West Africa. Language immersion is a quick and effective way to gain some of the skills needed to contribute to solving major global problems.
  1. You develop an understanding of other cultures that goes much deeper than what you can comprehend reading a book or visiting as a tourist. My homestay families in Kenya, Cameroon, and Benin were diverse. Muslim, Christian, animist. A pair of 30-year-olds who taught their five children—and me—the latest dance moves. A polygamous chief and his three wives. A grandmother who cared for her orphaned grandchildren. Across all of these homestay experiences, I observed the rhythms of daily life, asked endless questions, and engaged in discussions about gender equality, parenting, religion, ethnicity, politics, and more. My Cameroonian host parents believed everyone has an ethical obligation to maximize the number of children they have, because each life is valuable and worth living. Their moral philosophy was so different from anything I had encountered that debating the subject expanded my thinking and strengthened my commitment to my own values. With my host families, I attended weddings, baptisms, religious services, and giant, joyous funerals unlike any I had seen before. Homestays cultivated my cross-cultural communication skills and expanded my empathy for those in other parts of the world.
  1. Host siblings in Kenya look at pictures from Seattle, 2006

    Host siblings in Kenya look at pictures from Seattle, 2006

    You explore your place in the world and build the skills to make a difference. In Cameroon and Kenya, SIT instructors engaged my group of students in examining the tensions between modern and traditional cultural practices, development theories and approaches, and history before, during, and after colonization. We used anthropological methods to gather information and systematically reflected on our own perspectives. Independent study projects provided the opportunity to investigate topics of interest to us as individuals, and to find out whether we would like to pursue careers in those fields. I arrived in Benin thinking I would have a career in education, but after volunteering on a family planning project, left with the realization that public health was a better fit for me. Furthermore, independent study projects and volunteer work abroad lent me credibility when I applied for my first job at a global health organization.

As I sit in the Malawian hair salon, taking notes on the young clients’ feedback on the poster and their fascinating views on love and condom use, I feel grateful for the global education that set me on this course.

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.



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.


If you believe in the adage “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” then it’s safe to say that I’ve become an exponentially better person in the six months since I’ve known Vicki Weeks. Looking back on our first meeting last September (when she agreed to an informational interview despite the fact that, unbeknownst to me, she was busy preparing for the release of her Global Education book the very next day), it’s hard to imagine my life without her in it.

One of our working walkings on Whidbey  Island!

One of our working walkings on Whidbey Island!

As a newbie to Seattle, I sat down with 22 (this is not is not a typo) professionals somehow related to the field of global education. I moved to Seattle after a year of intense coursework at SIT Graduate Institute and was desperately searching for a job to fulfill the practicum requirement of my degree; a prospect which seemed increasingly daunting the more people I spoke with about employment in the greater Seattle area. As tends to be the case in my life, I sat down for coffee with Vicki right around the time that I was on precipice of giving up. After an hourlong conversation, we both realized that we were meant to work together; Vicki needed help with her growing business and I needed a supervisor who valued collaboration and gave me some creative flexibility. Just like that, I signed on to became the first Global Weeks Program Development Associate for six months.

Our work styles naturally complement one another and our routine quickly fell into place; sometimes we would work together at Vicki’s home office or at our shared coworking space at Impact Hub, sometimes we would work remotely, and sometimes we would take walks to bounce ideas around. No matter the case, we were always collaborating via Google Drive, email, or Wunderlist (a shared to-do list app I highly recommend). With Vicki’s input and expertise, I took on much of the legwork of the New Orleans service-learning program design as the basis for my thesis and we simultaneously worked on a number of other projects. We created systems to stay organized and held each other accountable.

Vicki and me with our IDEO teammates at Impact Hub

With our IDEO team at Impact Hub

Looking back, I’m proud of how much we accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to our consulting work, we redesigned the Global Weeks website, instituted a monthly newsletter (if you haven’t already, check out the latest installment!), developed a plan for the weekly blog including monthly guest posts for the Student Journey Series (my personal favorite; I love reading about how students have been inspired by global education); the list goes on. In just a couple of weeks, we will culminate our work together by facilitating a collaborative session on service-learning program design at the GEBG Global Educator’s Conference in Miami. Most importantly, amidst it all, we built a friendship.

Endings are inevitably sad if they’re viewed in isolation, so I’m choosing instead to see this as a transition. From one chapter to the next, Vicki and I will undoubtedly remain in each other’s stories even though our work together in this capacity is coming to an close.