Why Talk About Purpose?

Weaving instruction in Peru

Weaving instruction in Peru

I’ve always been someone who’s searching, looking for deeper meaning, trying to make sense out of things. Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what gives a life purpose. I think one of the reasons I became a teacher and enjoy working with young people because they are so interested in that question. It seems to me that schools should be places to examine purpose, to spend time learning what skills, interests, values and vision a student has and then trying out different ways to put them into action. This work happens sometimes in the classroom, and sometimes through activities outside the classroom, but it is most often hit or miss, a happy accident. I would love to see schools become places where purpose is intentionally explored and practiced.

With Ross

With Ross

To this end, I am involved in a number of projects. I co-facilitated a summer course for educators last year to examine their own sense of purpose so they can help students do the same. Following up on the success of that course, my colleague Ross Wehner of World Leadership School and I have continued to mine this rich and essential topic. We have embarked on a three-pronged journey this year to continue the work. Our first collaboration is a book for school leaders and parents on why purpose is so important and how it can be fostered in school communities and at home. The second is a purpose curriculum guide for K-12 teachers who seek practical tools to use in the classroom. The third is a K-12 Purpose Summit in Boulder, Colorado October 4-7 where educators will use a variety of methods to explore their own sense of purpose, practice some of the exercises found in the curriculum guide, and work together to create projects that will enrich student experience. We are excited to host participants from independent, charter, parochial and public schools working together on this crucial topic. I hope you will join us!

Why talk about purpose? Because it’s what gives life meaning. When you know why you are here, what you have to contribute, how you want to make a difference, and then discover the way to do it, that leads to a fulfilling life with no regrets.

2017 Purpose Group in Peru

2017 Purpose Group in Peru

Walking With Elders

As part of developing the Global Service Learning program at Lakeside School, we took a group of middle school students to the Makah Indian Reservation in Neah Bay, Washington for a two week project. Because it was summer and many of the young people in the community were away visiting relatives, we mostly interacted and worked with tribal elders. We learned songs, stories and games, delved into the whaling controversy, helped transcribe language tapes, gathered medicinal plants, and prepared for their annual festival. Lovely connections arose between the students and their Makah teachers. During a reflection at the end of the trip, one of the boys looked up from his journal and said: “How come we don’t have elders? We just have old people!”


First Nations Elders welcome us with song

I have thought of that moment and the ensuing conversation about what the difference is, and how we can change our perception and treatment of “old people” to honor them as elders in our community for the wisdom, experience, and lessons they have to teach us. Thus, it was with great anticipation that I traveled to Victoria, B.C. for ISEEN’s Winter institute with the theme Walking With Elders. Throughout the four days of learning, networking and celebrating, 150 educators explored what it means to have elders, to be elders, to mentor and to seek mentorship. First Nations elders told stories, sang songs, and introduced themselves by way of the land that is their mother. We learned from the students and faculty at St. Michaels University School who shared their experiential programs — from film making to salmon studies to coffee roasting to serving food to converting an automobile engine to making cedar bracelets. We took risks, shared stories about our school programs, practiced reflection techniques, and enjoyed the beautiful environment in and around Victoria.

The World According to Garv

The theme really resonated with me, as I move into elderhood and become more comfortable with standing in my own truth, claiming the life experience I have, and offering to share it with others. It was also very meaningful to be around the First Nations elders who speak at a different cadence, allow for silence and the stretching of time, and share their commitment to teaching young people the old ways. At the same time, there were particular people there who mentored me by example and story, and I loved gobbling up their wisdom. Dave Mochel, who works with people to manage stress, led us in a series of mindfulness practices, reminding us it only takes 15 seconds to change the energy in a room, get everyone grounded and ready for the next activity. James Toole, long a leader in the Service Learning movement, demonstrated his work with young people around the world to harness their “Superpowers” to solve problems that gnaw at them. And Dan Garvey, a guru in Experiential Education through his work at Prescott College and Semester at Sea, regaled us in a small group session with “The World According to Garv” which I took to heart and share with you here:


When we see them as co-creators of the learning, amazing things can happen.


Understand that administrators are not your enemy, and you will have much better success if you see that they are on your side.


Enough said.


Decide what’s most important to you — People, Purpose, or Place, and make decisions accordingly to avoid burnout and/or resentment.


Know when it’s time to go, and recognize that “your competence is your tenure in life.”


This network of Experiential Educators

It was a magical whirlwind of time among people who value experiential education and are committed to bringing it to students and schools. I felt equally inspired by people who were new to the work as by masters who have been living the pedagogy for decades. As we were challenged to bring one thing home we wanted more of in our life and commit to doing that thing, I chose singing and took the risk to lead a call and response chant I learned from one of my yoga teachers at the end of the institute: Lokaa Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu: May all beings everywhere be happy and free from suffering. It seemed a fitting way to end a magical time in a beautiful place, and I offer it to you now.


If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — an African proverb

I love this quote in spite of its unknown origins and somewhat vague reference to an entire continent rather than a specific person, country or culture. I like it because it is one of my core beliefs. People need each other. We hunger for connection. We do better when we work together. We are meant to exist in groups and can accomplish so much more in teams than we ever could on our own. For many of us, myself included, it is simply way more fun!

Purpose group in Peru

Purpose group in Peru

That is why, as a consultant, I am constantly seeking people with whom to partner. When I work with a school or other educational organization, I consider our time together co-creative and hopefully mutually beneficial. I look for organizations not only to hire me to add value to their work, but who truly want to share power, responsibility, and rewards. I serve on boards of organizations I believe in so I can feel part of something greater than my own individual company.

ISEEN board retreat in New York

ISEEN board retreat in New York

I would like to highlight two particular partners in this post. The first is the board of the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN), an organization whose mission is “transformative teaching and learning in an interconnected world.” Chairing this board is a rich, rewarding, exciting endeavor, even when we are wrestling with challenging issues and moving into uncharted territory. All of the board members are engaged, hard-working people with full time jobs and busy lives, yet they volunteer their time to attend meetings, create strategic plans, work out minute details of budgeting and finance, and manage to have a good time doing it! I am so grateful to know each and every one of them, and to chair the board during this time of tremendous growth. Though I have a title, we function with a shared leadership model and as a true team. I look forward to the annual Winter Institute for program directors and administrators, Summer Institute for classroom teachers, and our new initiatives for regional meetings and an international institute. In all of these cases, we partner with local schools and community organizations to create our offerings.

Collaborating with Ross Wehner in Peru

Collaborating with Ross Wehner in Peru

The second is World Leadership School, an organization that seeks to “empower young leaders to find innovative solutions to the world’s pressing problems, by partnering with K-12 schools to make the shift to 21st century learning.” I have worked with them as a trip leader on both student and faculty trips, leader trainings, and other initiatives as they evolve such as TabLabs. I am currently partnered with Ross Wehner, World Leadership School Founder, on a project to create curriculum based on Purpose for schools. At the same time, I am working with Shayna Cooke, Director of Educator Development, on an excursion in the Peruvian Andes where teachers will explore innovative educational practices and create their own projects to bring home to their own schools. You can read more about it here: we’d love to have you join us!

On a student trip to Peru

On a student trip to Peru

Why do I love partnerships? Maybe growing up in a family of six children had something to do with it, maybe it’s my extroverted personality, maybe all those years of going to summer camp, and maybe a combination of all these things; it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I love working in teams and feel energized, fortunate and happy when I find people and organizations interested in these kinds of generative partnerships.

Student Journey Series: Lucienne Brown

unnamedEach 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 Lucienne Brown, who is currently working in the Global Real Estate & Facilities department at Amazon in Seattle.

I’ve been privileged to travel in the Chinese-speaking world many times during my life. When I was in elementary school, my family moved to Hong Kong for a few years. In high school, I was lucky enough to travel to mainland China as part of my school’s global education program. In university, I studied abroad in Beijing, spending half a year at Peking University and another month or so on my own. The last wasn’t planned, exactly, but happened for the simple reason that I’d fallen in love. It was messy, it was complicated, and you’d better believe it had its ups and downs. And the unlikely object of my affection was Beijing itself.

 I’ve always had a weakness for history and, as an American, my access to places with a real sense of history was very limited. Beijing was the first place with a deep, historical legacy that I was able to truly get to know.

Me at the Forbidden City. Note the clear blue skies. A+ air quality.

Me at the Forbidden City. Note the clear blue skies. A+ air quality.

Ask any taxi driver and they’ll tell you that China has 5,000 years of unbroken cultural heritage. They’ll also tell you that everything has changed; it’s a new China, and nothing is the same as it was. Both are true. Neither are true. It’s a city of over 21 million people, and each person has their own truth. No history lesson or guidebook could have prepared me for the simple, everyday complexity of everything I saw in Beijing.

There are many historical sites to see in Beijing, but the old gates are my favourite, not so much for what they are today as for the story they tell. City walls once encircled the imperial heart of Beijing, and every gate through these walls had a name and a particular significance. Xuanwumen was the “Gate Proclaiming Military Strength” through which imperial soldiers would march when setting out on campaign. Returning, their triumphal entrance would be through Deshengmen, the “Gate of Virtue Victorious”. All but three of these old gates were demolished in the modern era, many simply because of the history they symbolized. But Beijing’s modern subway still follows the line of the vanished walls, and the memory of the old gates lives on in the names of the subway stops. Every day, people bustle through the doors of these stops, just like the people who once passed through the now-vanished gates of the same name. The fate of the walls could be a metaphor for modern Beijing: empires rise and fall, leaders come and go, but Beijing endures.

 Me across the street from Tiananmen in the heart of Beijing winter.

Me across the street from Tiananmen in the heart of Beijing winter.

Against the backdrop of centuries-old history, modern innovation, families living in their ancestral courtyard houses or glitzy apartments, and a veritable sea of humanity, I was deeply struck by my own identity as a stranger. People commented (in the most well-intentioned, ways) on things I’d thought were utterly commonplace, universal aspects of everyday life. They questioned things I’d utterly taken for granted.

There’s an implicit assumption in the idea of travel that each experience happens in relation to you and your own perspective. You travel to see the world; you’re the observer. But the further you go from home the more you begin to realise that’s not quite right.

When you’re visibly of vaguely European descent, tourists from less metropolitan parts of China often ask to take photos with you. City people generally don’t, but you get used to a certain amount of staring and people commenting on you to their neighbours as you walk by. From dawn ‘til dusk, your personal identity is subsumed in your classification as “foreigner.” It’s not in any way ill-intentioned – humans are evolutionarily designed to notice patterns and, by extension, any deviations from that pattern. I was no exception. One day on the subway back to my apartment on the outskirts of Beijing, I noticed another white person further down the train. I didn’t realise until they met my eyes that I’d been staring. It wasn’t that I hadn’t seen a white person before – I see one in the mirror every morning. My unknown fellow white person was such a conspicuous deviation from the norm that I was gawping like a carp.

For me, this incident drove home the real lesson of travel: you can start thinking that you’re going to see the world, but instead you’re travelling to let the world see you. You’re not an observer – you’re the outsider, and you stick out like a sore thumb.



Most of all, try as you might, you can’t hope to really understand the entirety of what you’re seeing. It’s like being at a restaurant when the next table over is singing “Happy Birthday;” you can extrapolate from experience what each person might be feeling, but you’re missing out on all the personal, private context that makes the event significant. The American myth of the melting pot tacitly assumes that we’re all the same, when you get down to it. Differences are assumed to be superficial. Travelling forces you to realise that, while we’re all human, it takes time, effort, and experience to understand people who are different from you. It is the single most rewarding and life-changing experience you can undertake, and it’s absolutely daunting.

All of this also puts you in your place with a vengeance. Everyone around you is living their normal, day-to-day lives. You, by contrast, are a stranger, more or less bumbling and incompetent, possessed of a Tarzan-like lack of both sophistication and manners, comical at best and an embarrassment at worst. It’s tough sometimes. And in a city like Beijing, you truly learn what it is to be alone in a crowd. The thing is, being vulnerable makes you appreciate each person who smiles at you and every local who extends a helping hand.

The middle-aged woman who took me under her wing when I was bewildered by the Beijing bus system probably doesn’t remember me; I only knew her for about four bus stops. She swooped in, unscrambled my confused account of where I was trying to go, cross-checked everything with the bus driver, and then sat with me to ensure I got off at the right stop. Did that matter in the big scheme of things? No. But I was a beached, directionally-challenged starfish, and she tossed me back into the sea. You’d better believe that mattered to me, and it’s that simultaneously personal and global perspective that gives travel its true value. When you see yourself from a global perspective you accept a challenge to be a better person than you were before. Once you realise you’re just one person in 7.6 billion, being kind is simultaneously the most insignificant yet profound thing you can do in your life.

Educator Journey Series: Adam Ross

Each 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 Student Journey post is written by Adam Ross. Adam works as Chinese Curriculum and Technology Specialist at the Chinese American International School (CAIS) in San Francisco. In addition to his curriculum work, he co-leads CAIS’s 7th grade Beijing Academy, and works to integrate CAIS’s middle school Chinese curriculum with 7th and 8th grade international programs via Project Based Language Learning. Vicki Weeks and Adam were colleagues for many years at Lakeside School in Seattle, and worked together to develop Lakeside’s Global Service Learning China program in its first four years.

NW Yunnan Map

NW Yunnan Map (Source)

Once again, I was in northwest Yunnan. The bus from Lijiang shot out of the darkness of the tunnel and suddenly sunlight suffused our bus once again. Though this tunnel through the mountain had just been completed in the past two years and the highway we were on was entirely new to me, I knew instinctively to look over to the right side of the road. And there it was – Lashi Lake, with Nanyao village perched above on the mountainside. After 12 years, I felt like I had come home.

CAIS students with kindergarten students

CAIS students with kindergarten students

These were pretty much my thoughts in the moment this past April, when I had arrived in Yunnan with about 30 eighth grade students in tow. Our arrival marked nearly 12 years since I came to this northwest corner of Yunnan with my first group of upper school Lakeside School students in the inaugural year of our GSL (Global Service Learning) trip…and nearly 30 years since the first time I came here as a junior in college. Looking back, it’s amazing to see the changes in China over the years. This area truly felt like the end of the earth in the late 80s, and there were probably no more more than a dozen or more foreigners traveling in the area around Lijiang at the time, myself included. Coming back in 2005 to Lijiang was to see a city transformed – much of Lijiang had been destroyed in a huge earthquake in 1996, and the old town rebuilt, for better or for worse, as a tourist town. However, Lakeside took the road less traveled in developing our program, and while we stayed in Lijiang for a couple days, we opted to have our students spend the majority of our time there in the small Naxi village of Nanyao on the other side of the mountains at Lashi Lake to the west of town. Even back in the mid 2000s, it took quite a bit of time to get across along unpaved roads of the mountain pass to reach the village. Our stay living with local Naxi families was to experience a very different rural world than any of us had kNeblett before – no TVs, only a few electric lights and the occasional refrigerator in some homes, wood-fired stoves, animals in the courtyard just outside the building doors…and, of course, none of the conveniences of home.

What I loved about our first years developing the Lakeside China GSL program in Yunnan was how organic it was. We had a partner organization set up homestays for us, and they also arranged for us to teach English to a small number of younger students in the local school as a service learning project. Our Lakeside high school students, of course, were not trained English teachers, but they worked hard to make lessons that engaged elementary school students in songs, games and activities where they were actually using English. To our amazement that first year, each day more and more students showed up to our classes, so that while we started with only about a dozen students, we ended up with more than 50 after a week of teaching, along with a number of local teachers from other villages who also came to see what these American students were doing in Nanyao school.

With Naxi Women

With Naxi Women

We also befriended one of the local elders, a woman whom we called Li Nainai – “Grandma Li” in Mandarin. Li Nainai was barely over four feet in height, and my recollection was that she was in her 80s at the time. Also, to our benefit, she was one of the few members of the older generation who actually spoke Chinese, and she was outgoing and extroverted, welcoming our students into her home for snacks and tea. Toward the end of our visit, she organized an afternoon of Naxi dancing with the local women, who dressed in their finest Naxi outfits and engaged our group with food, singing and dancing. I still treasure this picture. Here I am – with Li Nainai just above my shoulder – sharing a postcard book of scenes of Seattle to her and the local women who surely were learning for the first time about my home in the U.S.

Fast forward twelve years later, and I am back in northwestern Yunnan with students. This time, however, I am traveling with middle school students from where I work now, Chinese American International School (CAIS) in San Francisco. Our school is a pre-K – 8th grade dual immersion school, and our kids have been studying Chinese since they were little. By the time they reach 8th grade, they already have had a wide variety of experiences in China and Taiwan, having done a homestay exchange with students in Taipei, Taiwan in the 5th grade, and a three-week intensive study program, also with homestays, in Beijing in the 7th grade. Our 8th grade program is a mix of adventure, culture and service, partnering students in rural Tibetan minority homestays outside the city of Shangri-La.

Songzanlin arrival

Songzanlin arrival

I find it amazing that the field of global education has grown so much in the past 15 years that not only is it the norm for high school students to engage in service learning and language study abroad, but experiences for middle school students and even elementary students continue to grow. In our 8th grade Yunnan trip, CAIS’s international and experiential learning coordinator Emma Loizeaux has arranged a terrific mix of hikes, cultural and environmental learning, and service learning activities for our two-week trip. Our daily schedules are pretty packed, and included a daylong hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge, visits to the Songzanlin Buddhist monastery in the outskirts of Shangri-La, making pottery with masters from a local village, planting potatoes in our local village, and working with Kindergarten students over two visits to their school.

Planting potatoes

Planting potatoes

 Our curriculum has developed such that we are now incorporating Project Based Learning in a lot of our international programming. In a nod to Brandon Stratton’s Humans of New York website, our 7th grade students interview people on the street and in their homestay families in their three week Beijing study trip –  they create reports of these “Humans of Beijing” to share online. Similarly, we are working to have our 8th grade students this year produce children’s stories in Mandarin so that the Tibetan Kindergarten students we work with will have Chinese readers – these younger students too are second-language learners of Chinese. I often feel incredibly envious of our students at CAIS to be able to experience so much of China and interact with these communities abroad while they are so young – I also envy them for their foreign language skills, as many CAIS graduates reach pre-advanced or fully advanced levels of proficiency in Mandarin.

While I am envious, I also feel incredibly lucky. Lucky to be able to keep returning to this incredibly beautiful part of China in Yunnan, and lucky to live vicariously through the eyes of my students as they experience the welcoming and friendly people here, the gorgeous mountain scenery, as well as an increasingly fleeting taste of a remoteness of a part of the world that is quickly being connected to the rest of the world – and hence forever changed – in China’s ongoing quest for modernization.

Mountain view at Tiger Leaping Gorge

Mountain view at Tiger Leaping Gorge

Educator Development Rocks!

Welcome back to school everyone! As we dive into a new year, it is important to reflect on summer learning experiences we want to use in our work. Middle school history teacher Kelsea Turner joined Ross Wehner and me on the WLS/Global Weeks educator course Exploring Purpose in the Peruvian Andes in July 2017. These are her reflections…

I went rogue after college when my backpack and I set out for Western Europe and ended up in Damascus. After a couple of years, I folded up my map, put my pack in the attic, and hunkered down in the American Midwest (where I grew up) to recover a bit from all of the journeying, sitting out on the big adventures for a while. But a couple of years ago, I discovered the beauty of the summer educator course – experiential and global education for teachers. If you’ve never had the good fortune of going on an epic adventure in a magical part of the world with a motley crew of teachers you’ve never seen before, I highly recommend it. Seek out an opportunity and GO.

Spinning lesson

Spinning lesson

But don’t just go; go with your eyes wide open, your ears on, and your heart exposed. Feel the connections that develop along the way, respond to them, and commit to extending yourself far beyond the point where you thought you would. Open doors, follow someone, go it alone, be still, resist the urge to flee from discomfort, embrace the role of other; play, take part in a ceremony, listen; suspend disbelief. Allow someone to inspire you. Allow yourself to inspire someone else. Take someone in. Cause a storm and then refuse to take shelter when it hits. Let down your guard; dismiss your loyal soldier. Laugh. Cry. Feel. Take. It. All. In. Don’t take the journey; let the journey take you. Let the journey take you.

I wish I had learned this lesson sooner. A few years ago when my daughter Azra was nine, she asked me what she needed to do to get into a world class university. Stunned and concerned, I think I made some bold declaration that she should engage with life without regard for her college resume. Not bad, but if I had known then what I know now, I would’ve added that it’s all about the intersections.

With my homestay family

With my homestay family

If the philosophers are correct that purpose resides at the intersection of your gifts and the world’s greatest need, the most radical personal metamorphoses happen at the intersection of your greatest need and the world’s gifts, and if you don’t seize opportunities to engage with the world, you may never reach those intersections. 

For me, the World Leadership School and Global Weeks Educator Course Exploring Purpose in the Peruvian Andes was all about intersections. I needed to rewrite my story; so Vicki and Tiffani arrived to transform my perspective. I needed to uncover my purpose, so Ross came along to ask the right questions. I needed to be inspired, so the world brought me Ana, Aima, and an impossibly starry night high in the Andes. I needed to let go of some old demons, so I found myself at Machu Picchu. I needed to change the chip, and there was Vidal.

Our group with our homestay families

Our group with our homestay families

I have since returned home and been stunned out of my Peruvian summer reverie by the abrupt and violent “transition” back into the beautiful chaos that is the school year. A little to my surprise I find that I have to actively battle my reluctance to share the full glory of my experience in Peru with my students – because it means so much to me that sharing it broadly feels too vulnerable. But if there’s one thing I learned in Peru it’s that part of leading students to their intersections is showing them my roadmap. And so I force myself to unfold it once again. 

I embarked on this journey hoping to develop some clarity of personal purpose and to learn how to facilitate this exploration with my students. As I sit here in my kitchen just two months after the start of that big adventure, I marvel at the depth of the transformation it inspired in me, tremble at the idea that (for a moment) I considered sitting this one out, and feel overwhelmed by my gratitude for all of the intersections I encountered along the way.


Purpose and Reflection

It is June. School is out or almost out for the summer. Educators and students are looking forward to time off to reflect, refresh, and rejuvenate. We have different ways of doing so, but for all of us, it is crucial time away from school that allows us to return in the fall ready for more. Even if we work or attend school in the summer, there is simply an alternate pace to summer, more time outside, a rhythm that invites us to slow down and tune into something besides the busyness of school life.

Last year's ISEEN Summer Institute Crew

Last year’s ISEEN Summer Institute Crew

The first thing I am excited to delve deeply into this summer is the Independent Schools Experiential Education (ISEEN) teacher institute in Santa Fe in mid-June. Educators from various parts of the world will come together to explore what it means to bring experiential pedagogy into classroom practice. Working in small subject-area cohorts, educators will have the chance to share ideas, learn from experienced facilitators, and develop lesson plans that will enhance their classroom practice. All in the stunning Southwest setting. This is the third year of this institute, and if past years are any indication, it will be a wonderful time of conversation, regional exploration, deep dives into classroom practice, and a lot of laughter. I can’t wait!

Our Purpose Logo

Our Purpose Logo

In July I am thrilled to return to Andean Peru, one of my favorite spots on the planet, to spend 10 days with another group of educators from around the globe. This time I will co-facilitate a course on the subject of Purpose — how we discover and deepen our understanding of a significant goal outside of ourselves that motivates us to action. We will use the Sacred Valley of the Inca as our lab to explore our calling, our deepest reason for our vocation: as Frederick Buechner says, “where our greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”

As we examine our own sense of purpose, we will create ways to help students find theirs. I am looking forward to being with other courageous educators and my friend and collaborator Ross Wehner of World Leadership School, learning about life in the Andes, cultural and educational practices, and ourselves. I predict this experience will be as profound as the one I had last summer on an educator course in Nepal: I really love seeing the impact of this kind of work!

So, whatever your plans are for the summer, I wish you reflection, relaxation, time with loved ones, and whatever you need to re energize you for another year of learning! Take care of yourself, and enjoy every minute.

A Course on Immigration

In my ever-expanding effort to connect global education and local communities, I find the issue of immigration one I am currently quite interested in. First, because we owe it to ourselves to remember that the only non-immigrants are the native peoples who were on this land centuries before we came; all other families came from somewhere outside our borders. The United States of America was created by immigrants, coming in waves for over two hundred years. Recently, I had the opportunity to dive more deeply into the issue and learn about many different aspects of it, and I am quite inspired by what I found.

Bush student meeting with NWIRP staff

Bush student meeting with NWIRP staff

When Seattle made national news after an executive order called for a “Muslim ban” and our Attorney General filed a lawsuit calling it unconstitutional, flocks of lawyers flew to the airport to help those in danger of being detained or sent home because of the ban. One organization that has gotten involved and continued to work very hard since is the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP). NWIRP provides free legal services to those in need, challenges laws they find unconstitutional, and serves those who are protected under our laws but cannot afford attorneys. My associate Kaitlin and I visited their offices and were very impressed by what they do. We decided it would be great to create a course looking at a variety of aspects of immigration, similar to the one I participated in through Hawken School in Cleveland (to learn more about that experience, see my post about it here). After consulting a number of organizations and receiving a green light, we reached out to educators in the area to see if anyone wanted to collaborate with us. The Bush School expressed interest, and after a couple of months of co-creating a weeklong experiential course, the students and their two teachers are spending five days studying various aspects of immigration in Seattle and our state capital, Olympia.

Visiting the former Seattle detention center

Visiting the former Seattle detention center

Yesterday was the downtown day, and four different organizations within walking distance of each other provided the learning structure. We started in the NWIRP offices, where students had the chance to meet the Executive Director, the Director of Development and Communications, and three staff attorneys to learn about how they handle cases. Then we moved on to the Seattle Detention Center, a facility used from 1930 to 2004 to detain immigrants and refugees seeking asylum and assistance (the current center is in nearby Tacoma). The center now houses artist studios, but it still feels very much like a prison and has plaques denoting how different parts of it were used when people were detained there, including the third story yards where many wrote their names and countries in tar. After a self-guided exploration of the building, we walked to the Impact Hub for a meeting with a community liaison officer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who spoke to us about the role ICE plays in Homeland Security, and how to distinguish rumors from facts about “roundups” and deportations. Our final stop, after a delicious Dominican lunch, was the office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to hear about the role they play vis a vis immigration — supporting protests, filing lawsuits, protecting the Bill of Rights, and educating the public.

It was a full and fascinating day, and I am inspired to continue the work. I would love for every high school student have a field trip like this, and I don’t see why they can’t. I plan to continue to reach out to educators in Seattle and help them create ways to learn more about immigration and how it affects our community. I want to hear about the rest of the Bush School week, and I already have a lot of ideas of other areas of immigration that would be great to explore.

Tell us: have you engaged your students in issues regarding immigrants and refugees? We would love to hear about it!

Bittersweet Transitions

WLS Instructors

WLS Instructors

A couple of weekends ago, Vicki and I attended a World Leadership School (WLS) Instructor Training in beautiful Buena Vista, Colorado. It was inspiring and thought-provoking in many ways (which I’ll get into momentarily), but it also marked the beginning of a big transition for our working relationship. For nearly three years, we’ve traveled to conferences and trainings as a Global Weeks duo. We’ve developed business systems and workflow patterns. We’ve logged countless miles during walking meetings and held each other accountable in our mostly-remote work with schools scattered across North America. We’ve learned each other’s strengths and challenges. We have counted on each other for support not only in our professional lives, but in our personal lives as well.

This trip was different. We went to the WLS training for separate reasons – Vicki to prepare for an Educator Course on Purpose she and WLS founder Ross Wehner are offering in Peru this summer, and me to prepare to instruct my first Collaborative Leadership Program for middle school girls in Belize. The real kicker, however, is that directly after training I started a new job managing women’s global programs for REI Adventures — a decision Vicki fully supported. It probably goes without saying why this transition feels so bittersweet.

Though our work life is transitioning, the GW duo will always remain strong

Though our work life is changing, the GW duo will always remain strong

As we flew to Denver, I was a mixed bag of emotions – hopeful, anxious, sad, excited and the list goes on. The 3.5 hour drive from Denver to Buena Vista was grey and rainy and I couldn’t help but curse the irony of a rainy day in usually sunny Colorado after the wettest February and March in Seattle in 120 years. Immediately upon arriving at the Fountain Valley School’s mountain campus, we were greeted with hugs and surrounded by passionate global educators. For those few days, my worries about the future and my sadness to be leaving Global Weeks in my existing capacity faded and I felt present and connected to the present moment.



Fast forward a week and a half and I’m waist-deep in a new job, figuring out new routines and overwhelmed by learning new processes. There are moments each day when I wonder if I made the right call. I already miss our coworking space, our walks around the lake, our understanding of one another. As I was reminded during the training, our comfort zone isn’t where we grow. It’s only when we stretch by putting ourselves in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations that we learn new skills and capabilities.

During an exercise at the WLS training, a colleague read the following passage as an example of a way to adjourn student programs. I think it’s appropriate to include here, and I hope it helps you as much as it does for me in difficult times. Here’s to learning to fly.

Fear of Transformation

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar or swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars. Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar- of-the-moment. It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart- of-hearts, I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present, well-know bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing, I have always made it. Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantee, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.” Its called transition. I have come to believe that it is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as “nothing”, a no-place between places. Sure the old trapeze-bar was real, and that new coming towards me, I hope, that’s real, too. But the void in between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible. What a waste! I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that can (but necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to hang out” in the transition between the trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly.”

Student Journey Series: Kate Zyskowski

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 Kate Zyskowski. Kate currently lives in San Francisco where she is in her last year of her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology. Her dissertation research is based in Hyderabad, India, the site of her first global education program.

My introduction to global travel happened through stories. I remember one book from my childhood called Material World: A Global Family Portrait. This book showcased pictures of families worldwide with all their possessions in front of their home. I spent countless nights sitting in front of the fire devouring this book, comparing the food products, clothing, and furniture styles across the world. Looking back on it now, I learned that difference was something to celebrate and I had a lot to learn about the world.

Volunteering with an educational foundation in Hyderabad while studying abroad

Volunteering with an educational foundation in Hyderabad while studying abroad

I first traveled outside of the country the summer after my sophomore in college when my family made a trip to Europe. At the end of that trip, I took a direct flight to India for a semester study abroad which was my introduction to global education programs. For my study abroad experience, I wanted a program where I would be staying with a host family and attending a local university and I found one in Hyderabad, India. Living with a host family and attending local classes were challenging. It took me weeks to figure out how the semester workload worked at the local university and to adjust to the more relaxed timings of classes (once, a professor was 90 minutes late to class). I have a vivid memory of one afternoon, a few months in, sitting on top of my host family’s roof, wanting to go home and be done with this experiment. I thought I might never travel again.

I learned quickly that I learn the most about myself, and others, by placing myself in challenging situations. By the time I left Hyderabad, I was already plotting on how to get back. The following summer I received a research fellowship to return to Hyderabad for my senior thesis on history and politics in the city. Today – eleven years later – I’m still close with my host family and I last visited their home in Hyderabad about a year ago.

Atop the Bhoolbhulaiya or Labarynth (The direct Urdu translation is "the thing that makes you forget") in Lucknow, India

Atop the Bhoolbhulaiya or Labarynth (The direct Urdu translation is “the thing that makes you forget”) in Lucknow, India

After completing college I wanted to pursue a career in global education working in South Asia. I knew that to work in South Asia I would need to know Hindi and Urdu languages, at a minimum. I applied for a year-long Urdu language study in Lucknow, India through American Institute of Indian Studies. We had classes from nine until two every day, then lunch, and then a lot of homework. Our classes covered poetry, film, newspapers, verbal interaction, and short stories. Lucknow is a city rich in music, dance, and literary history making it a perfect place for language immersion.

While living in Lucknow I applied for graduate school in education policy. I attended a one-year masters program at University of Pennsylvania and quickly realized that I wanted to pursue a PhD program. I am now in the final year of my PhD program in Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of Washington. My dissertation “Certifying India: Everyday Aspiration and Basic IT Training in Hyderabad” is based on fifteen months of ethnographic research on the everyday experiences of marginalized students trying to get ahead by acquiring computer skills.

One thing I would like to point out is that my area studies opened many avenues for scholarships and grants. I received one federally funded grant called the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship three times – this grant funds graduate students in any discipline if they take area studies and language courses. My dissertation research was also funded through area studies grants including the Fulbright and AIIS foundations.

One of my GSL groups in Uttarakhand

One of my GSL groups in Uttarakhand

Outside of academic pursuits, my initial global education experience led to numerous other career opportunities. I led global service learning programs to India with Lakeside and Putney Student Travel for four summers. I have also conducted research with both Microsoft Research and Facebook on digital labor and new technologies in India. I am currently doing a research internship at Facebook on a team that focuses on security and safety of women in India. After having a firsthand look at the impact and breadth of something like Facebook and WhatsApp on students I was working with in Hyderabad, it’s exciting to be able to apply my research skills and area knowledge to different areas.

With friends on a rooftop in Hyderabad last year

With friends on a rooftop in Hyderabad last year

An adage often used to describe anthropology is to “make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.” There are multiple educational paths to undoing familiar things and finding empathy for strange things, but one of the most effective I’ve found is global education. The process of going through the multiple layers of adapting to a culture (and finding distance from your own) and the sheer time spent surrounded by different people, foods, and customs has always had the effect on me of allowing me to grow in new ways and forge new relationships. People fear things that are unfamiliar, and I think it’s important, for our students and communities, to do work that undoes fear.

Inspiring Talks and Walks

As an experiential educator and someone who has always learned best when my whole self is engaged in doing something, I was recently reminded that powerful educational moments come in many forms.

Representing ISEEN at GEBG

Representing ISEEN at GEBG

Last week, I attended the fifth annual Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG) annual conference hosted by Chadwick School in Los Angeles. It was wonderful to be among longtime friends and make new ones, share stories and program ideas, gather in the sunshine and hear about new GEBG initiatives. Four parts of the conference stand out as particularly inspirational and transformative.

Wade Davis during his keynote

Wade Davis during his keynote

The first two were the keynote speakers, and they reminded me that a powerful lecture can be a life-changing event. Wade Davis, an anthropologist, National Geographic writer and photographer and author of books such as The Serpent and the Rainbow, spoke nonstop for an hour in what I can only describe as pure poetry accompanied by stunning visuals from around the globe to highlight the impact of vanishing languages and cultures on all of our lives. And Sonia Nazario, award-winning journalist and author of Enrique’s Journey, regaled us with the harrowing tales of young people making the perilous journey from Central America to the United States in search of their mothers who left to seek a better life for their families. The fact that she made the journey three times herself in order to understand and document it makes it all the more astounding, and her description of her own transformation from a journalist reporting the stories to actually advocating for change, plus the timeliness of the topic had us all riveted. Both speakers captivated my intellect and my emotions simultaneously and left me inspired to see more, learn more, and do more.

With my Lakeside colleagues

With my Lakeside colleagues

The third Inspiring moment came when I attended a workshop facilitated by two educators from Lakeside School, where I worked before starting Global Weeks. The presentation they gave on the initiatives the school has undertaken since I left broughy me grest happiness. The foundation we built in the Global Service Learning program is still rock solid, and from that foundation, they have forged ahead and created wonderful new projects that are more integrated into the life of the school. It is so exciting to have a Middle School program where global education is expressed locally, as well as yearlong elective courses in the Upper School with an embedded travel component. It was such a joy to see the core elements of the program I designed preserved and learn how they have improved upon them to offer programs that are even more transformative for students and teachers.


The post-conference crew

Finally, GEBG pioneered an optional post-conference activity that I found especially meaningful and enjoyable. Twelve of us set off to explore using Los Angeles as our classroom to learn about issues of immigration, race, and social justice, based on courses that two of our colleagues teach. We spent time in the Japanese American National Museum engrossed in stories of immigration, internment, and influence in Little Tokyo. The stories of Japanese internment were all the more moving since our colleague’s family members had been interned. We had a tour of Koreatown, stopping into restaurants and a grocery store, learning about architecture, history, food culture and growth from “migration to immigration to gentrification” in the area. We spent five hours in a small group, getting to know each other better with the city as our classroom. It was a wonderful way to end the conference, and reminded me once again how global education is everywhere, and we do not need to travel far to be steeped in its mysteries, learning opportunities, and richly rewarding experiences.

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. 

We Must Not Forget Girls’ Education

I have been spending a lot of time on domestic issues recently. Post election, many of us seem to be interested in what caused the split in our country and how to heal it. We want to know who stands to suffer most under recent executive orders and policy proposals. Even issues with a global focus like climate change or immigrant and refugee support have tended to be locally-focused. The Global Weeks staff (ok, let’s be real, Kaitlin Fisher and I), spent an hour last week with a Bush School class called The Immigration Crisis: Understanding the Layers. Students will spend the next month improving their understand of the legal, social, historical and personal challenges surrounding immigration, and we are helping them set up some of the experiential components of the project. In addition to visiting the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project office, they will have sessions with ICE, the ACLU, the former Seattle Detention Center, and with recent immigrants themselves. The students and teachers are energized to learn and get involved, and it promises to be a wonderful course.

The Courage to Persist

The Courage to Persist

I was reminded last Thursday that, while we are paying close attention to domestic issues, we must not lose sight of the many important global issues, remembering how closely they are connected to our local challenges. Global Washington hosted a lunchtime event featuring an organization called Sahar that supports girls’ education in Afghanistan. We heard from the Executive Director, a board member, and an Afghan fellow about the difference their work is making to improve girls’ access to education. To date, they have built or rebuilt 22 schools that serve more than 22,000 girls annually. Girls’ education and women’s entrepreneurship programs like this one that was recently highlighted in the Impact Hub newsletter are making a huge difference around the world and in our local communities. What is good for girls across the globe is good for everyone. In related news, I learned at a business event today that Jonathan Sposato, local co-founder of Geekwire and CEO of PicMonkey, made a commitment to invest only in companies with at least one female founder. At PicMonkey, he is committed to maintaining a 50/50 ratio of women to men on the staff.

In addition to learning about how Sahar’s very small initiative has blossomed into a hugely transformative program that works through the ministry of education to change thousands of lives in Afghanistan, we were treated to some pretty sobering statistics about personal giving. Seattle as a city ranks tenth from the bottom in individual giving as a percentage of gross national income. Of course our charitable foundations push up the amount overall we give as a city, but as individuals we fall short. I was quite surprised to see these statistics, and vow to do my own part to both educate myself and contribute what I can to causes I believe in. Girls and women, education, and immigrant rights are definitely on my list.

Seattle at the bottom of the individual giving chart

Seattle at the bottom of the individual giving chart

Student Journey Series: Zoe Schuler

first canoliEach 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 Zoe Schuler. Zoe recently moved from Los Angeles back to her hometown of Seattle, Washington, where she is applying to local nonprofits that serve the community’s most vulnerable populations. 

I am emphatically grateful that travel has played a profound role in my life, and cannot overestimate its impact on the evolution of my character. My parental units have always been upfront about their investment in education —  education both in the classroom, and experiential education in the world at large. Thus my first departures from the country happened before I learned to ride a bike.

Me in Tuscany Catacomb, 2012

Me in Tuscany Catacomb, 2012

In the late 1990’s, my dad was invited to a conference in Milan, and we decided to make it a family affair. We visited the capital, Stockholm, and Umeå, a small town in Northern Sweden. There, we stayed with friends we had made the previous year when they had spent time in Seattle. To this day, I consider these Swedes an extension of my American family. I remember falling in love with Europe’s stately old buildings and picturesque fountains. I even remember getting canker sores from the candy I was given in exchange for my equanimity on the long flight. I remember these things decades later in more detail than I remember eating my breakfast this morning. Travel intensifies everything, because you are jolted into the reality of being alive by being firmly removed from your routine.  From the new scents, to new sights to new sounds, your senses struggle to function concurrently: The eyes competing with the nose, with the hands and the ears. It is overwhelming, and it is glorious.

I knew I was infected with the so-called travel bug, and the virus wouldn’t lie dormant for long. By middle school I was itching to go away again. When I learned about the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica for a short language immersion program through my school, I was desperate to go. My parents understood the impact such an experience would have on me at age 14, and made the sacrifice to accommodate my journey. I had been to sleepaway camp, but never away from my parents and country at same time. Costa Rica was not an altogether easy trip for me — marked by, among other misfortunes, an acute case of sun poisoning that left me sicker than I’d ever been in my life. My strength returned enough for me to zip line through the jungle a few days later, and by the time I returned to American soil, I wore a mantle of newfound independence which still defines my person some decade and a half later. This experience impelled me to travel more, to travel further, to travel longer; it impelled me and it prepared me.

Me & the Pups at my India Homestay

Me & the Pups at my India Homestay

When I traveled to India at age seventeen, it was my first understanding of something more akin to actually living abroad rather than traveling abroad. I spent a month there, volunteering for a Grassroots Cooperative that promoted economic self-sufficiency in rural Ranikhet. It was part of my high school’s Global Service Learning Program that would send small groups of students to countries all around the globe, where we had the pleasure of staying with local families and working with local organizations. We got to know our families, developed relationships replete with inside jokes and playful swatting. My Indian grandmother liked to see how close she could get to piercing my nose before her son would realize her intention and intervene, waving his hands wildly for her to stop. She would also spank me good-naturedly if she saw me around the homestead without my kurta. We did not speak even one word of the other’s language, but our interactions expressed a comfortable intimacy based on a mutual pluckiness. Even now, I can’t write about her without my lips instinctively stretching into a grin.

Jams & Spices

Jams & Spices

I got close to my fellow student travelers as well. The foreignness of it all bonded us, and we had daily check-ins to openly discuss the current state of our bowels and bowel movements. We ate dal for nearly every meal, and slept in shared rooms, in cots that felt small and hard compared to the plush beds that most of us had back home. We took showers in darkness, pouring buckets of cold water over our naked shivering bodies, scrubbing with a single bar of Dial soap. We saw poverty in forms darker than we could have imagined, and had to grapple with the recognition of our privilege and simultaneous present-moment powerlessness. Our volunteer work consisted mainly of helping the cooperative develop a website that featured their handmade clothing; we spent some time grinding spices and planting trees, but the true work was getting us to think bigger than ourselves, and think differently, less rigidly. Part of the work, I think, was to get us to understand just how much we don’t know about the world, and to transfer that realization to our everyday lives. How much do we really know about the struggles of our classmates, our neighbors, the refugees we see at the grocery store? What common interests or similar dreams might we share? Queries such as these tend to incite curiosity, and empathy, and a desire to connect more deeply to more people.  

Traveling forces you to ask questions about everything, including yourself, to dig deeper, to become a more self-sufficient human being—even when that means asking for help. Global education speaks to the importance of collaboration with people from other backgrounds, helps you learn how to reach creative solutions even in the face of unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable situations. I believe I am a more capable, kind, and dynamic human being because of my global travel experiences.

india2I always had the feeling that there was a big world out there, but my India exchange was my first realization that the rest of the world might be truly accessible to me, and I to it. Travel was not simply an exhilarating tear into the unknown, but a representation of how I would lead my life. Not only would I go on to spend a month in China, to write travel blogs in multiple European countries and study abroad in Rome, but I would forge my own ever-evolving, unfurling path according to my own moral compass. For me, this wasn’t so much a profound shift as it was a profound cementation of who I was.

Since entering the workforce, I have been working people-centric jobs, ones that require deep empathy, innovative thinking, and a commitment to societal change. I have taken risks, moved to new cities, said yes to opportunities that intimidated me. And yes, I am daydreaming about my next big trip abroad.


Educator Journey Series: Ross Wehner

urlEach 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 Ross Wehner. Ross is founder of World Leadership School and TabLab, both of which partner with K-12 schools to transform learning and create next-generation leaders.

Rather than talk about my background as an educator, I want to highlight a movement every educator should learn about and (hopefully) support: the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), a fast-growing coalition of private schools that is prototyping a new college transcript based on mastery of skills, rather than mere content knowledge. I believe this movement will, over the next decade, create a powerful alternative to ABCD grades and help upend the tyrannical college admissions process.

Our Students option 2The college admissions process has long stymied innovation across the entire K-12 spectrum and created an unhealthy and stressful learning environment for students. College admissions officers need something quick and easy – like ABCD grades and SAT scores – in order to sift through hundreds of thousands of application. But grades, and SAT scores, measure only a thin band of what students and schools can do – and they stress out our kids in the process.

Vicki Weeks and I looked at the college admissions process five years ago when we helped start Global Circles, a coalition of global education organizations. After studying the problem for a year, I had to say the serenity prayer for my own health and sanity (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”). I realized that shifting the direction of all the colleges and universities in the United States, not to mention the College Board, would require a certain type of leader and movement.

Scott Looney discussing the Mastery Transcript

Scott Looney discussing the Mastery Transcript

I heard that leader, Scott Looney, speak for the first time a few weeks ago and the movement is the Mastery Transcript Consortium. Looney is Head of Hawken School in Cleveland and he is the tenacious leader of the MTC movement, which now numbers 93 member schools — up from 66 just a mere two weeks ago! MTC’s goal was to reach 100 schools in the 2017-18 school year, but they will obviously exceed that goal. MTC is working only with independent schools but they eventually want to create a transcript used by the 37,000 high school in the United States – public, private, charter and parochial.

He and Doris Korda, Hawken’s Associate Head, have been touring the nation raising support for their idea. I heard them at the OESIS Conference in Los Angeles two weeks ago, at NAIS last week in Baltimore, and then talked with Scott this morning. World Leadership School is joining this consortium and will volunteer our time and expertise in whatever way we can to advance this important movement.

The new online transcript meets the litmus test of allowing an admissions officer to get a decent understanding of a student’s performance in two minutes or less. Under the Mastery Transcript students gain micro-credits (not grades) for a series of skills such as analytic and creative thinking, leadership and teamwork, global perspective, etc. It will allow college admission officers to see a more complete picture of a student’s strengths  — and without using any grades or numbers (the current idea, likely to change, is a sort of multi-colored spider web with featured credits listed at the side — see below ). Admissions officers can even click down into every skill the student has to see the standard, and then click down further to see the individual items of student work (videos, art work, writing) supporting that standard.Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 2.41.24 PM

This transcript will be hosted in a yet-to-be-built technology platform that Looney estimates could cost between $4-$8 million. Some of this money will come from member dues, but most from private fundraising and grants. The Consortium is currently pursuing a $2 million grant from the E.E. Ford Foundation. Fingers crossed.

It’s an ambitious idea but I have a clear sense that this coalition will pull it off. It’s time. Our students are stressed out; teachers have inflated grades almost to the point where the grades are meaningless; schools are held back from innovating; and even college admissions officers admit the whole system is broken.

A few innovative schools have been experimenting for years with alternative assessments. What’s different about the Consortium is that Looney is a hard-knuckled realist who is assembling a coalition of schools which wield real clout in the college marketplace. Independent schools may only educate 1% of students in the US, but they provide 9% of all Ivy League students and 25% of the full-paying students in private colleges in the US, according to the MTC.

Looney plans to wield the coalition’s influence to become what he calls a “credible partner” to universities — in other words, the MTC will come up with a strong working prototype and then work to gain endorsements from leading universities. Once the key colleges and universities are on board, Looney thinks it will be easier for parents and students to try the new transcript. He envisions that most MTC members will at first allow families to choose between either the traditional or new mastery transcript. So schools will have a mixture of students being evaluated in two basic ways – some receiving grades, others receiving micro-credits. The process of switching completely to a mastery transcript may take 15 years or more, and some schools may never feel they need to make the switch entirely.

The college admissions process stymies innovation at our schools and it has long created a toxic environment for our students. “What we measure, we do,” remarked management consultant Peter Drucker. ABCD grades represent only a thin slice of a student, and a tiny slice of all that a school can do. While we have grades, students and schools will be forced to perform within that tiny, unfair slice. There is a much larger world of learning out there that the Mastery Transcript Consortium will help unlock. Let’s get this done.

Founding and Member Schools

Founding and Member Schools

Washington State Charter Schools

Last week Vicki and I went to an Educators’ Night put on by an organization called Washington State Charter Schools Association (WA Charters for short).  To be honest, when we signed up for the event we had little idea what to expect. We both knew that there has been an ongoing legal battle over whether or not Charter Schools are constitutional — just under two weeks ago supporters of the schools won a huge victory when a King County Superior Court judge ruled in their favor. We went in excited to learn more and see what was already happening the the eight existing Charter Schools that are open across Washington State.

The event opened with mingling followed by opening remarks by Steve Mullen, president of the Washington Roundtable and one of the original board members of WA Charters. Steve advocated in Olympia for charter legislation from the mid-1990s to 2004, culminating in the successful passage of a charter law that ultimately was overturned via referendum. While he knows the previous legal battles well, his opening focused on the future of Charter Schools in Washington and the importance of reaching students who are underrepresented and/or underperforming in their existing public schools.

16708446_1429702317074801_326630255262463517_nAfter the talk, the group of educators in attendance divided into breakout sessions focusing on various topics. Vicki and I went to a session to learn about what it takes to start a new Charter. We heard from visionary leaders who had participated in WA Charter’s School Incubation Program as well as those currently running schools. The conversation was fruitful, and I left daydreaming about what a fully experiential Charter School in Seattle might look like.

After the session, we had a bit more time to mingle and we spent that time chatting with Dan Calzaretta, the founder of Willow Public School in Walla Walla. Dan’s school will open in the 2017-2018 school year and it will fulfill three goals: Provide a rigorous, personalized education to all students, ensure that all students finish middle school with the skills necessary to excel in advanced high school courses and create an engaging, innovative school where all students find joy and purpose. While his vision for the school is impressive, I was struck by his process of getting the school to inception. To gauge what parents truly cared about in their children’s school, Dan and his team went door to door to talk to people in person. Because of the high population of Spanish speakers in Walla Walla, they made sure that in all of their interviews. community meetings, and marketing materials were in both English and Spanish. His passion for his students was clear, as was his dedication to moving away from a “one size fits all” model of public education.

In the days after the event I have grown increasingly excited about the future of WA Charters and the education reform taking place in these schools. Educators’ Night gave me just the nudge I needed to learn more and get involved, and Vicki and I plan to go volunteer at Rainier Prep in Seattle where one of her former students is the Special Education teacher. Stay tuned, we’ll post an account of that experience in the coming months! In the meantime, check out this video of reflections from the WA Charter’s Incubator Program.

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.

Experiential Education School Models

Last week I had the great pleasure of visiting four different schools modeling experiential education in action. I came away so inspired about what is possible and all the different ways this kind of learning serves students. I was in Washington, DC with my friend Madhu Sudan who is exploring ways to encourage experiential education in India, so we set out to connect with educators I know and look at a few schools.

unnamedWe started with Mysa School, a micro school in Bethesda, Maryland started by my friend Siri Fiske last fall. Eighth and ninth graders spend mornings on a menu of individualized lessons depending on their needs; some may be advancing algebra skills while others work with a writing tutor, take a martial arts class nearby, or explore scientific concepts with an NIH researcher. In the afternoons and for one full day a week, they engage in project-based learning using Washington DC and the surrounding area as their classroom. Combining individual skill-building with group learning and an emphasis on community makes for a lively and engaged student body. The school has done so well even in its first year that they are planning to add an elementary campus in Georgetown.

unnamedOur next stop was Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA where my friend Jeremy Goldstein runs the Washington program. Episcopal is a very traditional school with a sprawling campus and beautiful buildings, excellent teachers and engaged students. The program Jeremy runs gets students into DC every Wednesday afternoon to add an experiential component to classroom learning by engaging with political leaders, NGOs, museum educators, and service learning providers. They even managed to continue a tradition of taking the whole school to the Presidential inauguration this year, adding an alternative experience at an elder care facility watching the Kennedy inauguration and interviewing residents who were present at his. Faculty members have the opportunity to create connections with what they are currently teaching, and students are exposed to real world issues more challenging to encounter from their campus. Many find summer opportunities based on their experiences, and when it comes time to plan their senior spring month long “externship,” they are well informed and eager to commit to an area of interest.

Our third stop was a meeting with Noah Bopp who created and runs a semester program for high school juniors called the School for Ethics and Global Leadership. Noah is from Seattle and went to Lakeside School, my alma mater, so I had heard about the school for a long time and wanted to learn more about it. Most other semester schools are in remote locations and focus on wilderness experiences, but these 24 students each term spend time engaging with issues on all sides of the political spectrum, examining the concepts of ethics and leadership in depth, meeting with high level officials and wrestling with complex and fascinating topics. After being exposed to a number of people and issues, each student has the chance to work independently on one specific thing and create a policy brief which they actually present to a panel of experts. They end the term with both a broader and deeper understanding of how government works and their role as citizens.

unnamedFinally, we visited a public elementary school called School Within School. My friend Marla McLean is an art teacher and one of the originators of what started as a program in a school 23 years ago, and is now a full-fledged Pre-K to Grade 5 school in southeast DC. At the beginning, four classrooms began collaborating and used an Italian educational model called Reggio-Emilia which is teacher-run, relies heavily on art, reflection and documentation of student work, and has ties to the world beyond the classroom. The program was so successful they eventually moved into their own building, agreeing to add medically-fragile students and those on the autism spectrum to their ranks. The school is a lively learning center and you can feel the loving community the minute you walk in the door. There are two art studios, each staffed by an Atelierista who connects art to everything happening in and out of their classes and engages the students in deeply meaningful and enjoyable learning. I had the opportunity to observe one of their other programs more closely, as a volunteer in the kitchen classroom. Here a master chef runs Foodprints, essentially a farm to table experience each class gets to participate in on a weekly basis. The day we were there, second graders tested the soil in the school garden beds for nutrients, created pictures of seeds, tubers and bulbs to learn the difference, and, in small groups, made a delicious lunch of four vegetarian dishes which were eagerly consumed by the class (and volunteers!) at the end. The school partners with organic farmers for the produce they can’t grow themselves, and teaches environmental stewardship along with cooking and dining etiquette. The teachers, parents, and students work hard to find funding for what is not covered by the district; it was incredibly inspiring to see what is possible in a public school when values are aligned with action and everyone is committed to what is best for children.

I came away from the visit convinced more than ever that experiential education is the most transformative form of learning, as it engages the whole self, involves reflection, connects to the world outside the classroom, and is so much fun! It was great to see a variety of examples of it, led by committed educators making a difference, one students, one classroom, one school at a time.

Educator Journey Series: Shayna Cooke

unnamed-1Welcome to our new Educator Journey Series! Each month, just like the Student Journeys Series, we will feature 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 Shayna Cooke. Shayna currently lives in Richmond, VA, where she teaches Upper School Science at Collegiate School. 


The first time that I ever set foot outside of the US was in 1995, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. I was asked by one of my professors to be a research assistant for the summer on Lake Baikal in Siberia/Russin. I was excited and nervous. I had never been anywhere of note without my parents at that point in my life and though I was ready for the independence, I was apprehensive about it as well. I would say that this was the trip that started the course of my life. I was bitten by the travel bug that summer in Siberia and never looked back. I traveled somewhere new, somewhere international, every year after that trip to Russia until I had touched down on every continent, except for Antartica. At first, I traveled alone. Coming home to make enough money to be able to head off again, and then I began teaching in Independent Schools that had a solid focus on global travel and found the beauty that is experiencing the world with a group of teenagers. Since I started teaching, I have had the pleasure of traveling to Costa Rica a few times, Australia twice, France, Namibia, India, Belize, and South Africa to name a few of my experiences with students. There is something magical about seeing the world through the eyes of a student, especially ones that, like me, have never ventured far from their parents or the borders of their own country. The awakening that happens within these young people is obvious and miraculous. These experiences help our students to really understand the plight of the world, to get a feel, first hand, of how the world looks, feels, and smells. These experiences give our students exposure and empathy, two pieces of the puzzle that will help to make them global stewards and responsible citizens. It is the pleasure of my life to be able to show my students the world and to help make a difference for them.
unnamedTeaching global competencies is an essential part of being an educator in the 21st century. The benefits of teaching these skills to students and, in turn, future generations, are immeasurable. Global education develops the skill of being able to view the world from different lenses; to develop a sense of empathy that is essential as part of the human spirit. The question is, how do we do that? Where do we start? This presentation will give tips on how to incorporate global issues into curricula with specific examples that have worked in a science classroom. From weekly “hot topics” to in-depth Project-Based Learning initiatives, globalizing your curriculum is a way to expose your students to life outside the walls of their schools and helps to foster curiosity of other cultures and countries. We live in a world that grows smaller every day, as advances in technology have shortened the distance between “us and them”. It’s important for our students to develop the perception that there is unity within diversity and give them a sense of belonging to a larger world community.
 As educators, we need to make a commitment to real world learning for our students. We need to provide opportunities for our students that encompass authentic and meaningful learning experiences that will encourage our students to become the solution-seekers and problem-solvers of the 21st century. The development of students as global citizens is a monumental task turned over to the teachers that guide them through the learning process. There is no specific place within our curriculum that speaks specifically to “global education” because it is a fluid and all-encompassing focus that should be interwoven throughout. The question is then: “how do I bring the world into my classroom in an authentic and meaningful way?”
unnamed-1The secret to globalizing the curriculum is that it can be done in small pieces, one at a time, that add up to a comprehensive world-view by the end of the year. In my curriculum, I set aside time each week for my students to present their “hot topics”. Hot Topics involve any topic pertaining to biology that is new and exciting around the world. The student researches and plans their mini-presentation (as a homework assignment) and is prepared to take questions after they present. Each presentation takes 2 – 3 minutes and inevitably leads to in-depth discussion about a region or the research that was presented.
I also use Project-Based Learning (PBL) activities to incorporate intensive global study. PBL is the tool that allows me to cultivate these essential skills with my students: collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and empathy. These skills are what will be useful to our students as they enter the global workforce. It is clear that they will be called upon in the near future to solve immense global challenges, and in preparation for these challenges, I ask them to solve real world problems in a very authentic manner. From designing a cell-based sensor for early detection of an Ebola infection, to creating recipes for the World Food Bank to aide the global food crisis, to using cellular respiration/photosynthesis as a platform to research and propose solutions to our energy problems, my students are thinking, designing, researching, and intelligently proposing solutions to very real world issues.
unnamed-3Because I teach biology and infectious diseases, the entire world has a place in my classroom. When we are talking about Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration, I can ask my students why deforestation in Brazil is negatively affecting Greenland; which allows for discussion of these regions and their ecosystems, the different environmental concerns for each region, global climate change and how much humans are contributing to it, and I can then ask my students to propose a solution to this problem. The Ebola outbreak has been a fantastic case study for my Infectious Diseases class in terms of immunology, epidemiology, socio-economic status and the relationship that has with access to appropriate medical care, medicine, ethics, the geography of Africa and specifically the “malaria belt” and why this area is so prevalent with disease. I ask my students to propose a solution to the late identification of an Ebola sickness or a solution that address the reintroduction of survivors back into their communities. The possibilities are endless when using strategies of project-based learning with students and these projects require a level of critical thinking, empathy, and collaboration from our students that other learning tools simply do not.
It is difficult to find actual usable information on the web about how to incorporate global education into our curriculum. I think these websites below do a good job of starting you on that journey, however, in most instances they fall flat on the “how to” aspect. I am working on another blog post that will give very specific ideas, examples, and strategies as to how to globalize your classroom. Stay tuned here!

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.

Taking an Experiential Leap Forward

Delivering the opening remarks at the 2017 ISEEN Winter Institute

Delivering the opening remarks at the 2017 ISEEN Winter Institute

Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) Winter Institute, hosted by Hawken School in Cleveland, Ohio. It was exhilarating, inspiring, and challenging in all the right ways. (Full disclosure: I am ISEEN’s board chair). The organization has been around for over a decade, and it has never been content with the status quo: this is a group of people who are moving forward, seeking connections between members and also looking outside the independent school bubble to learn from and contribute to progressive education everywhere.

Last year we were in Honolulu and focused our place-based education theme on a variety of  cultural influences, in particular the love for the islands and sea expressed through native Hawaiian lore and practice.

Our warm welcome from the Hawken mascot

Our warm welcome from the Hawken mascot

This year we continued to explore place-based education, but in an urban setting with a particular emphasis on social justice issues. As we learned about some of the innovative initiatives at Hawken School, we got a taste of the student experience as we fanned out into the city to discover its rich history, current challenges, and solutions in action. I participated in the workshop We the People: The Immigrant Experience, examining Cleveland’s rich immigration history past and present by doing original research using census data and the treasure that is the Western Reserve Archive. Another workshop, Experiencing Homelessness, explored the topic by visiting a local shelter, meeting with an advocacy group, and talking to people experiencing homelessness in the community. Another group participated in a workshop called In Pursuit of Justice, examining the justice system through the eyes of a judge, parole hearings in a courtroom, and a conversation with a US Marshall. Other seminars in printmaking, design, and digital fabrication took advantage of the rich visual art landscape in the city, and teams went out to interview residents and wrote narrative nonfiction based on their discoveries. Everything we did could be done in any kind of school, and experiencing it ourselves rather than just hearing about it, gave us such good ideas about where to take it.

Sharing ideas

Sharing ideas

We created the time to reflect on our experience and examine how to integrate more of this kind of learning at our own schools. We took on challenging topics like how to make meaningful connections with public schools in our area and be part of the change that needs to happen in our communities. I am especially excited by the way the institute dovetails into the course for educators I am co-leading this summer in Peru on examining Purpose.

We deepened our connections to one another and celebrated our work together at local restaurants and a renovated hotel that represent the revitalization that is happening in this rust belt city. It was a deeply moving and enjoyable week, and we are all returning home not only reenergized, but recommitted to using the flexibility and privilege that we have in our schools to take a leap forward to better education for all.

The whole ISEEN gang!

The whole ISEEN gang (being goofy!)

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.

Slowing Down as the World Speeds Up

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a lecture given by Thomas Friedman on the topic of his recent book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. I have been a fan of Friedman since I read The World is Flat, and I have continued to read his columns in The New York Times. While I don’t always agree with him, I find his work informative and provocative. Last night’s talk was no exception.

Thank you for Being Late

Thank you for Being Late

In this book (which I have not yet read but plan to very soon), Friedman outlines a framework for understanding why it feels like everything is moving exponentially faster all the time: because it is. I was struck by his description of all the technological innovations that happened in 2007 — the launching of the iPhone, the founding of Airbnb, and the beginning of fracking, just to name a few — the significance of which were lost in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. I appreciate the way he can describe complex phenomena in relatively simple terms non social-scientists like most of us can grasp. For example, since the rate of technological growth far outpaces the rate of human adaptation to change, it is no wonder we feel behind all the time.

The first thing I loved about his talk was the way he started it, by explaining the title: Thank You for Being Late. Friedman loves people and spends a lot of time over coffee and meals with them. He began to notice a pattern when people would arrive late for meetings, apologizing profusely, describing the reasons, etc. He realized that rather than being annoyed, he was actually grateful. Their being late gave him a chance to observe a room, eavesdrop on a nearby conversation, stare out the window and sometimes make a new connection between two seemingly disparate thoughts he was having. So he began to thank them for being late, and relish those moments even more. I was impressed he didn’t use the time to check his Twitter and Facebook accounts; clearly he saw the beauty in reflecting instead.

In the middle of his talk, he got my attention when he spoke about advice he gives his daughters as they engage in the world of work which has changed so much in the span of one generation. Friedman is roughly the same age as I am, so I really resonated with this part. He said he asks them to “always think like an immigrant (stay hungry – he called it being a “paranoid optimist”), like an artisan (take pride), like a startup (always be in beta), and like an entrepreneur (what is your value added?). Where we had to find jobs, young people today have to invent them.

Finally, I really enjoyed the way he ended his talk. He described the suburban town near Minneapolis where he grew up, how the Jewish families became integrated with the Scandinavian families to create a tight-knit community that looked out for each other. We all need to protect, respect and connect with each other. If we are to get along and work to solve the massive problems facing our world today, we need to build and then rely on our families and our wonderfully diverse communities. Family and community have always been powerful foundations in our country, and maybe if we learn to relish the moments when people arrive late to meetings we can use the time to pause and enhance the connections that make them strong.

If you’re interested in watching his Friedman’s entire talk, Town Hall Seattle has made it available!



The Kolb Cycle

As the days grow colder and the leaves begin to turn here in the Pacific Northwest, I find myself thinking about harvest time. I am a haphazard and low maintenance gardener; I don’t know much about plants, and like many things in my life, I learn better by doing first and studying later. In experiential education, we most often begin with direct experience and then travel around the Kolb cycle as a way to understand and learn from that experience. I would like to use my garden and harvest to illustrate this educational methodology.

First, the direct activity: in my small backyard garden, I planted lettuce, kale, beets, eggplant, zucchini, and several varieties of tomatoes and peppers.

After the actual physical experience, we next pay attention to what we notice and how it felt. Here are some things I observed this year:



  • It was fun to watch plants pop up at different times and notice which ones the bugs were most interested in (beet greens and eggplant leaves).
  • The lettuce grew so quickly that my husband could hardly keep up before it bolted while I was in Nepal in July. Luckily we had many opportunities to share the bounty with others.
  • The kale has been in slow production all summer and even now we have a steady stream to grace our suppers.
  • One zucchini plant produced nothing, while the other was so prolific and the squash so large we continue to be challenged to find ways to use it.
  • Anaheim peppers are abundant and it’s been hard to use all that we have.
  • The different varieties of tomatoes turned out to produce beautiful fruit but it was not nearly as tasty as the kinds I have grown in the past.
  • We also, without having planted it, reap the benefits of an Italian plum tree whose branches droop over the fence into our yard, and those plums are really messy if you don’t harvest them when they are ready.

Next in the Kolb cycle of experiential learning, we analyze what happened and then make decisions about how to go forward with what we have learned. Some of my analysis and thoughts about next year:

Massive Zucchini

Massive Zucchini

  • I had so much more bug destruction than in the past, and I’d like to find out how to minimize it next year.
  • I wonder why some beets grew so much larger than others.
  • I loved finding new recipes using these particular vegetables.
  • Some plants do better with haphazard gardening than others.
  • I have to be more vigilant about harvesting zucchini if I want to eat them while they are small.
  • I need to pay more attention to what type of peppers and tomatoes I buy if I want to be happy about the results.

Finally, we move forward into the next direct experience. I am already thinking about planting some new things I have not grown (artichokes? beans? carrots?), I plan to rotate the crops and stay on top of the plum harvest. Oh, and I think I will take a break from zucchini.

As educators, we often finish the school year exhausted, but find as we reflect over the summer, much that we began in the spring bears fruit in the fall. As you you move into a new school year, I invite you to think about what new ideas you planted in the spring, what grew during the summer, what you observed during your more reflective summer days, how you understand it now, and how you want to use it to inform your next experience this fall.

Happy Harvest!

So Long for the Summer

17690_10153812215937796_914245462119184470_nHappy Summer! We are in the time of the Full Moon and the Summer Solstice, and it is time to take a break from blogging.

I just returned from the second annual ISEEN Teacher Training Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This year we worked with educators from the math, sciences and arts disciplines, all of whom left rejuvenated and inspired to use experiential pedagogies and practices in their classrooms.

Starting next week I will be participating in a Where There Be Dragons Educator Course in Nepal, followed by a week of unscheduled time that scares me in all the best ways. August brings family visits and reflection; enjoyment of the Pacific Northwest when it is most glorious.

I will have stories to share on the blog in September. Until then, have a wonderful summer of experiencing life unconnected to technology!

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!


Finding Digital Balance

technology44-743413Most people I know have a love-hate relationship with the internet (I wrote another post about unplugging a few months ago), especially on our cell phones. We love that there is so much information at our fingertips, and the way we can stay connected to people who are not in our immediate vicinity. But we also resent our reliance on these same devices, and recognize that they can make us feel more alienated than connected to each other. I admire Louis C.K for shutting off the internet on his phone, and I love that he had his 10-year old daughter set up the restriction for him (watch the video where he talks about it here).

neden-yurtdisi-egitim-danismanlik-hizmeti-almaliyim-7961In education, digital tools are increasing in importance, and one of the most important access issues in global education has become narrowing the digital divide. Schools like the Global Online Academy, the Online School for Girls, and the Stanford Online High School develop courses that allow people around the world to connect and learn together. Students who do not have the financial means to travel, or deem the risks too high, or are concerned about carbon footprint can develop global citizenship through engagement with people across the globe. Although online learning has been around some years now, schools are still working to figure out the best ways to enhance education using available tools. I am encouraged by the efforts of schools like High Tech High, Big Picture Learning, and Mysa School, which are experimenting with a blended learning approach: part of the day in project-based, student-driven group projects, and part of the day using technology to address individual needs.

bitcoinI have been exposed to a number of tools designed to help us connect online and I’ve found that none of them offer quite what I’m looking for. The technology is still evolving, and so is the Internet connection in different parts of the world. I have participated in webinars for professional development, some of which are highly interactive and allow for connections that continue after the class. Others have been somewhat stilted and not conducive to innovation. Platforms like Webex, Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts seem to work sometimes but not always. I recently had the opportunity to try a relatively new online platform for all kinds of asynchronous connecting called Bundle that was quite promising. Using social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and subscribing to blogs of interest are other ways to stay informed and connect, but only if the people with whom you want to connect use the same platforms.

Mobile technology that bypasses the Internet and works off cell towers is another promising option, and many communities in the developing world are finding great success in joining the digital revolution in this way. Programs like TabLab and One Laptop Per Child are working to develop programs in rural villages to close the gap.

IMG_9926I am visiting Austin, Texas for the first time this week, and as I stroll around unfamiliar neighborhoods, I am both grateful for and aware of the downside of smartphone technology. I love that I can find coffee shops, yoga studios, live music venues and the most efficient way to get somewhere. I also miss when I used to go to a new city and relished getting lost so I could enjoy the adventure of finding my way back. Of course, I can still do that, I reminded myself today. I put away the phone and aimlessly wandered. Before I knew it, I had struck up great conversations with people: I discovered new ways to get around, places to visit that only locals know about, and even found two people who had moved here from Seattle to share some love for our home town. So today, I appreciate technology, and I vow to remember to shut it off more often so I can better connect with others and with my surroundings.


I recently returned from a yoga retreat at Haramara, near Sayulita, Mexico, and I am struck by the power of retreat. To step outside of one’s regular life for an intentional time of reflection, new insights, new practices, is to come back refreshed and renewed. As a global educator, it was odd to be in a foreign country and spend so little time immersed in local culture, but this was a different kind of experience, much more of an inward journey.

with MJ, one of the teachers

With MJ, one of the teachers

I spent seven days in a beautiful center on a hillside above the beach about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. The center housed our group of 22 and another group of 20 for a week of yoga practice, delicious nutritious food, meditation, silent practice, journaling, and exploring the surrounding area as much as we wanted. We were led by a team of teachers from 8 Limbs Yoga in Seattle, including the founder. All of us practice at the studios, though most of us did not know each other before the retreat.

I signed up because two of my favorite teachers were leading, and a very good friend of mine was also going. I thought the coast of Mexico in April sounded pretty good — I speak Spanish, I love Mexican food, and swimming in the ocean is one of my favorite things to do. I was interested in deepening my yoga practice, reading, writing, and contemplating my current stage of life. All of these things happened and were wonderful, and yet I gained so much more than I could have imagined.

The beach where I did my daily swim

The beach where I did my daily swim

First of all, the setting was astonishingly beautiful. Set on a hillside, the public and private spaces all nestled into the high tropical jungle allowed privacy and quiet even with over 60 people on the grounds at any one time. Haramara overlooks the ocean and you can hear the crashing surf from every point on the property. We were there for the full moon and got to watch the sun set over the ocean in the evening while the moon rose over the jungle. Then the next morning we meditated on the beach while the moon set over the ocean and practiced yoga on the top of the hill while the sun rose above the trees. Birds, flowers, rocks, trees and exquisite decor rounded out the view: beauty everywhere you looked.

open air class

Open air class

Second, I had not counted on how it would feel to be outside all the time, and I mean all the time. A whole week without setting foot in an enclosed space did wonders for my soul. I felt so close to nature — to the critters who shared their home with us, to the falling of darkness at night and the emerging light in the morning. There is no electricity in the living spaces so the soft light of candles and oil lamps provided atmosphere in the evening. There is also no internet and very poor cell service, so I spent most of the week unplugged. What a joy that was.

Yoga practice twice daily was as good for the body as being outside and unplugged was for the mind. I stretched into some new places, tried some new poses, and gained strength from having three times as many classes as I usually do in a week. It was also a good reminder to take things slowly, rest when I needed to, and balance pushing myself with finding ease in each pose.

Our retreat community

Our retreat community

Finally, it was the community of travelers who made the time so rich. Women ranging in age from their 20s to 60s and one man shared a very special and magical time together. For many of us, it was a transformative time where we were able to let go of things we needed to shed, gain new perspectives on our lives, and make some changes to our pace and priorities. It was especially wonderful to be on retreat with people I will now see in yoga class. We are already planning reunions and the maintaining of relationships.

Coming home from this retreat, I am rested, strong, rejuvenated, and inspired. The natural beauty, silence, healthy delicious food and marvelous company did wonders for body, mind and soul. Though a retreat of this kind is a rare privilege for most of us, I recommend finding a way to take a small break from the business of your life in whatever way you can manage it.

Goodbye to the GEBG Board!

Goodbye GEBG Board (about half of the members pictured here)

Goodbye GEBG Board (about half of the members pictured here)

Last week, after spending nine years on the board of an organization for which I was a founding member, I finished my final term and left my seat on the board. Though somewhat sad, I am incredibly proud of the work we have done together and excited about where the organization is headed.

ISEEN board members at the GEBG meeting

ISEEN board members at the GEBG meeting

Originally formed as a small group of global educators in U.S. independent schools, the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG) now consists of about 150 member schools in the U.S., Canada and overseas. When we first met, our task was to define a “global” school and benchmark the data that awarded that status. At our yearly meetings, about 10-12 of us sat around a table talking about what forms we use for programs and how to get various kinds of support from our administrators. We devised an annual survey to measure all aspects of our programs, and over the past eight years we have continued to map things like compensation, risk management plans, languages studied, number of students traveling abroad to which countries, service learning programs, and subject-area focused excursions. The yearly compiled results help schools see where they are in relation to their peers and assists global education directors as they advocate for stronger programs. Our member listserv is constantly buzzing with topics like how the Zika virus and attacks in Europe are affecting travel, how to vet service providers, and communication policies while traveling. We keep a database of information, forms, and procedures that members can access as well.



In 2013 we decided to hold an annual globally-focused conference at a member school, running sessions on all aspects of our programming. The first year we had 50 participants and this year, hosted by Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, we had over 200 attendees, a couple of featured speakers, and sessions on topics such as risk management, faculty training, assessing global citizenship, setting up school partnerships, using third-party providers, global scholars programs, and more. There was strong representation from many parts of the world, educators eagerly sharing stories and making plans for further collaboration during regional meetings. Of course, having our opening reception in a hotel in the French Quarter, complete with the Treme brass band, and our second night reception in an old mansion in the Garden District didn’t hurt. Throughout the two-day conference, there was time for educators to connect, teach and learn from each other, share resources and make plans to collaborate.

The women of the GEBG board

The women of the GEBG board

It has been a great pleasure to serve with such wonderful people creating important services for schools and having a great time doing it. I urge anyone interested in a cause to get involved via board membership – it is highly rewarding work. I will miss the biannual meetings and the excitement of developing new projects, but I know our friendships will continue and I plan on attending next April’s conference at Chadwick School in California!


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.


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.

Strategic Planning: One Goal, Two Models

I am on my way to New Orleans for some high level strategic planning at two different organizations. For the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN), I am running the meeting as board chair, and for the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG), I am reporting to the board in my role as chair of the strategic planning committee. These two groups have experienced rapid growth over the past few years and both boards need to make sure we have a plan in place to ensure mission-driven programming, adequate membership benefits, and sustainable staffing and governance structures that make it all possible.

1936354_10156754530475693_4591071554704292086_nI am intrigued by the differences and similarities in the processes each group has chosen to follow. In the case of ISEEN, we started working on a plan at our board retreat in September, carried it forward at a meeting in January, and now we’ll dive into vision and values before putting together our specific goals and timeline. Our part time Executive Director is leading this part of the process, and we are using a terrific resource called The Do-Good Strategic Plan Template for: Non Profits, Charities and Volunteer Organizations, by Rebecca Macfarlane. We will nominate a committee at this meeting that will steward the process and hold us accountable going forward.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 5.46.18 PMAt GEBG, we had lengthy discussions of mission, vision and values at an earlier board meeting, and the Executive Director appointed a committee at that point to create a plan and bring it to the board for review before our annual conference. This committee, made up of current board members, worked in pairs to develop our ideas around the subject areas of greatest need and desire, and then tasked one member of the group to create a draft open to comment. This draft outlines one and three-year milestones for each identified goal. If the board approves the overall plan, this same committee will be responsible for assigning specific people and dates to each milestone and hold the organization accountable for achieving our stated goals.

12974445_10156755223625693_6479911054720065382_nWhile strategic planning for these small and growing organizations is challenging, I am struck by one simple fact: taking the time necessary to do deep core work is what makes specific tasks possible.  Having a strong mission is important, but developing vision and values around that mission and then making sure everything grows out of the same center is what ensures success. Exactly how the process happens is far less important than making sure it does happen, and taking the time to develop a process that is inclusive, comprehensive, and thoughtful can lead to an organization that is both idealistic and realistic. I look forward to these meetings, to the work that grows out of them, and to the GEBG annual conference immediately following: Laissez les bon temps roulet!

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


My husband and I enjoying some sun and music at a Head and the Heart concert.

Global Women

imagesI remember how moved I was when I first read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The book has been called “a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world” and I was struck by powerful story after story of violence and other forms of oppression against women. The book is a call to action, and I believe it has indeed inspired much activity on behalf of women and girls. As I recently wrote in my newsletter, the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools puts on institutes and conferences for people addressing the issue to come together and share in the solutions to said oppression in the form of education. Although they call themselves a “National” coalition, they certainly addressed the need for girls education in the US and around the world.

The following two more recent events illuminated the importance of women helping women closer to home.

IWD-2016Two weeks ago, I was invited to participate in an event hosted by the World Affairs Council’s Young Professionals International Network group here in Seattle. It was called Speed Mentoring and it targeted women with an international focus to their work. The group identified mentoring as something very important to career growth that still happens with less frequency among women than among men. Thirty-five of us mentors met with thirty-five mentees at the Impact Hub Seattle. We had created a booklet of bios, and the mentees had chosen in advance with whom they wanted to speak. Over the course of two hours, we had the chance to meet with five different people and have three open networking times, food and drink provided. It was a well-organized, celebratory, educational and extremely beneficial event.

Last week, I attended a meeting of a group that was also enlightening and enjoyable. A group of women at all stages of and in a variety of global careers, is getting together monthly to share a meal and discuss topics of relevance to our work. We call ourselves the Global Women’s Group and will rotate among our homes, taking turns providing content and discussion topics as well. Again, I appreciate the organization of the group — two people are the facilitators of the group, making sure we have the next host, working with the host to set an agenda and choose the subject of conversation, but we all contribute our wisdom, ideas, questions and experience. It was great to meet a new set of women in the city of my birth, and to get an education in all the different kinds of work they are doing, from education to development, to health care and gender equity consulting. I’m looking forward to the next gathering already.

Impact Hub asks #WhatMakesSeattle? Women make Seattle!

Impact Hub asks #WhatMakesSeattle? Women make Seattle!

These events remind me of the importance of making connections. Freelance work, which has its benefits, can be isolating and lonely. It can be easy to lose perspective. Co-working spaces like the Impact Hub as well as large events and small gatherings can all help us learn from each other, stay connected, and make more meaningful contributions to the world so that women who hold up half the sky can flourish right alongside those holding up the other half.

Lifelong Learning: A Summer Search Design Challenge

Jump in and throw something wild out there; no suggestion too extreme!” I was told. My group was apparently being far too logical, rational, and moderate in our solutions. Once we heard prompts  like “Every program must cost at least a million dollars…. Or take place in outer space…. Or involve celebrities…” we loosened up a little and the ideas started flowing.

imgresI had the great privilege of participating in a design challenge last Saturday morning. Yes, Saturday morning. An organization called Summer Search was looking for some new ways to organize the second summer of their highly successful program for low income youth. An “innovation team” on their board pulled together 35 people — board members, staff members, current and former Summer Search students, and educators like myself — who agreed to spend four hours engaged in a design process to help them enhance their vision and think about potential new programming.

We spent our time going through a mini version of a typical design process, led by a skilled facilitator who kept us focused and on task, gave us just enough information at each stage to make decisions, and encouraged us to be creative and think big. We started with exercises designed to help us understand the student experience and develop empathy. Current and former students demonstrated their challenges and successes while we asked questions and prompted them to add detail. Each team of three had the chance to learn from three different students before we gathered all the information we had and attempted to define the issues facing Summer Search in this process.

Design-Thinking-670-x-443The next step set teams of four to brainstorm solutions and this is where we were encouraged to think big. Once we had all of our crazy and not so crazy ideas (“Sail around the world!” “Make a movie!” “Build a house!” “Intern at a business”) in sticky notes on the wall, we each chose the one we liked the best and developed it further so we could present it to the Summer Search innovation team for further review. They plan on taking the design challenge to the next levels of iteration, prototyping and testing; our work was done after the brainstorm and initial idea creation.

It was so much fun! I’m not sure when four hours have flown by so fast. I love the way the time was scripted and yet allowed for a lot of fertile creative thought. A small group of people working very hard on something they care about, contributing real ideas to an organization they care about, was incredibly engaging and thought-provoking. Design thinking is a tool I have heard so much about and even participated in a couple of times, but this took it to a new level for me. I am reminded of how much fun it is to learn something new with other people, and even better when what I learned for me actually will be useful to someone else. As educators, we often espouse lifelong learning as a goal; rarely have I experienced it in such a profound and enjoyable way.

The Design Thinking Process

The Design Thinking Process

Most Likely to Succeed


Outdoor Preschool

When I think about innovation in education, on the one hand I am daunted by all that needs to be done to fix our broken systems. I often feel overwhelmed by the achievement gap, inequity and lack of access to quality programs.  On the other hand, I am inspired by what I see happening in pockets all around me, if I look hard enough. From programs that open access to a broader range of students in independent schools, to outdoor preschools like Tiny Trees (inspired by models in Scandinavia like this one), to public school students like this group setting up computer labs in the developing world even though their school no longer houses the program they created.


Most Likely to Succeed Film Poster

The latest school to catch my interest is called High Tech High. It’s a public charter school in San Diego that has retooled its academic program around project based learning. I had heard about the school before, but when I watched the documentary film Most Likely to Succeed, I became reinvigorated by what is happening there. Students work on team-based interdisciplinary projects, each taught by a pair of teachers for one semester at a time. The students stand firmly at the center of their learning, so the teachers have been trained on how to set up a learning environment to support that pedagogy. The film focused on a ninth grade class taught by a humanities and a physics teacher. They explored ancient civilizations from a literature, arts and science perspective. The guiding question was “What factors cause civilizations to rise, thrive, and/or fall?” Using ancient texts, modern political situations, and mechanics of gears and wheels, the students worked in groups to explore the question from multiple angles.

High Tech High

High Tech High

At the end of the term, they hosted a huge showcase for their parents, guardians, and community members. They demonstrated the theme dramatically through Greek tragedy (all parts played by boys as would have been in that time period) and the Malala story (all parts played by girls to emphasize the importance of girls education). Then they showed the technology through a giant puzzle mechanism made up of all of their gear boards put together. It’s hard to describe, but somehow they were able to capture the rise and fall of civilizations through these two means in a very compelling way. As they spoke about their work to the visitors who came to see it, their learning, pride, teamwork and perseverance were evident. It was clear during the course of the semester they were also learning interpersonal skills, public speaking, problem-solving, collaboration, and self-advocacy, referred to as “soft” skills, and perhaps the most necessary for success in the workplace.

To the naysayers worried this kind of learning is not rigorous enough, they don’t cover enough material, they can’t quantify their progress, I point to a recent study done at a prestigious east coast independent school where the highest scoring students on all test measures (finals, APs, SATs) took the same tests three months later and failed them. Given the amount of content that can be found in one’s smart phone these days, what is learned through these kinds of comprehensive projects seems much more relevant to life in the real world than learning how to take tests. Now if only colleges and universities will agree…


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 PugetSoundOff.org, 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 PugetSoundOff.org.

Participating in a social-justice photo project at PugetSoundOff.org

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. 

Transformative Travel Plus

Last summer, I sat in Pioneer Square with Jennifer Spatz, founder and owner of Global Family Travels. Though we had met before, that day in the sun on the steps of Occidental Park confirmed our intention to work together. Over the next couple of months, we were joined by Lisa Merrill and Jennifer Geist to co-create a program we call Transformative Travel IMG_1384Plus, or TTP. I am inspired by the way our different skills and experience came together; a travel professional, a photojournalist, a digital storyteller and a global education facilitator each bring our expertise to this unique and fascinating project.

As Jennifer Spatz said in the recent article on her in Parentmap magazine, she created Global Family Travels when she experienced a void in the travel industry: meaningful service and immersive programs for families. All of her programs are designed for families, and for this particular experience in Nicaragua, we added elements before and after the travel itself to enhance the learning for all participants. As we worked on this project together, we found ourselves collaborating at a high level and ever more excited about the opportunities this kind of experience will provide for families. Once we met the families who had signed up, it all became that much more real, and we plunged into the first workshop with enthusiasm.

unnamed-1The twelve of us (five adults and five teenagers participants plus Jennifer and me), met at the Bellevue Impact Hub which, as a coworking space for people creating social impact, was a fitting spot. We began with an opening exercise and a review of the goals of the workshop, and then dove into the meat of the educational session. We each created a cultural self portrait, discussed what we had chosen to represent ourselves culturally, and had so much fun learning about each other. After a break, we played a game called Building Utopia, created by Jennifer Klein of World Leadership School. In the exercise, participants work in groups to put the United Nations 6797e66c-93cf-4b8c-82cc-16c918628cf7Sustainable Development Goals in order of which issue they would solve first. After fifteen minutes, we walked around the room and visited the other groups’ work and asked them to explain their thinking process and choices. In our final debrief, we all agreed it was much better to try and solve the impossible puzzle together than it would have been to do alone, and we loved seeing how each unnamedgroup came up with a different solution, all of which were correct.

We closed out the evening with a “Nicaraguan Nugget” — this time an overview of the country’s history — and a closing exercise. I came away with an even greater enthusiasm for this kind of experiential learning and a new excitement for how much fun it was to work with a multi-generational group. I can’t wait for the next workshop!

Place-Based Education


Welcome sign in giant hotel aquarium

Last week, I had the great privilege to attend the 11th annual institute run by the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN), of which I was recently elected chair of the board. ISEEN is doing some of the most innovative and exciting work in education today, and I have shared much of it in other posts. This time was no exception.

What made it so great? Well, yes, we were in Hawaii. In January. That helped.


ISEEN Educators on a Hike above Honolulu

We had chosen the theme of Place-Based Education a number of years ago, and Hawaii was the perfect place to explore that theme. The institute was hosted by Punahou School and Iolani School, both of which had exemplary programs to share. Participants heard inspiring talks by the Heads of each school focusing on innovation and change at every level. We learned how K-12 classes use their campus and immediate surroundings to teach a myriad of concepts through active learning. We also had the opportunity to spend an entire day at Kualoa Ranch, where their education staff taught us about flora and fauna, repurposing old fish ponds for oyster aquaculture, hiking through several ecosystems to get a better view of the island, and contributing to stream restoration. The ranch is an intriguing model of land use: the family who has owned the land for generations created an educational enterprise to serve the dual goals of economic viability and celebration of Native Hawaiian culture.


An ancient fishpond repurposed at Kualoa Ranch

Native Hawaiian culture was joyfully honored throughout our visit. We were welcomed with ceremony including ancient chants and contemporary songs; we took workshops in hula, lei and poi making; we learned about the worldwide voyage called Hokulea raising awareness and funds for the most vulnerable Hawaiians; and were invited to be full participants in everything we witnessed. It felt like a true blessing to be in the presence of people living out their spiritual traditions and connecting to the land in such meaningful ways.

In a more robust manner than ever, the ISEEN institute practiced the principles we so strongly believe in: learning by doing, staying connected to the real world, modeling Kolb’s Cycle of Experience/Reflect/Evaluate/Act (and even offering a workshop led by David and Alice Kolb themselves!), throughout the institute. These few days strengthened our commitment to experiential education. We believe this theory and the practices it embraces, including Design Thinking, Project-Based Learning, and Mindfulness in Education, are on the forefront of innovation in education. With so much content at our fingertips (literally), we must explore ways to make connections, think critically, and involve our whole selves in the learning process, or we just may cease to be relevant.


Round table sharing of school programs

All 120 educators from the US, Canada, Korea, Australia, and the UK went back to their homes and school communities ready to put what we learned to good use. Though it may not be as easy in our home communities to connect to the land and the first people who populated it as it was in Hawaii, we have pledged to do so. I invite you to ask yourself: who lived in your neighborhood before the colonizers? What relationship did they have to the land and what can you learn from them? Please consider joining us next year when Hawken School in Cleveland hosts the institute and we continue our exploration of Place-Based Education in an urban setting.  Aloha!

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.


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.  

Career Reflections

IMG_3659I was recently invited to reflect on my career for a podcast called Anthology. It provided the opportunity to revisit my life thus far: jobs I have held, places I have lived, people I have worked with and projects I have been passionate about. After my initial enthusiastic response to the request, I got nervous. My career trajectory has not exactly been linear, and I feared coming off as a dilettante. As the interviewer probed deeper into my career, I began to uncover some guiding principles and a visible if winding pathway.

Here are some commonalities in my work life: I have always worked with adolescents. I have studied and taught language. My fascination with other cultures, how people live and what we can learn from each other, has propelled my work. Learning by doing, taking risks, jumping into the unknown and not being afraid to change course shows up as a core value. I still do all of these things, and I am as engaged as ever in the business of educating young people to be responsible global citizens.

When I finally got up the courage to listen to the podcast, it was imagequite a singularly strange and surprisingly enjoyable experience. I felt as if I was listening to an old friend, someone I had known a very long time, tell some familiar stories. And yet I was hearing them as if for the first time, because instead of hearing them through the reaction of the listener, I was the listener. I felt I was being given the gift of seeing more clearly than I ever had before: the choices I made, the circumstances that affected me, the passions that compelled me. As I listened, I appreciated more than ever the transformative power of travel. I recalled a piece I read this morning on a blog I follow called The Daily Om that sums up this essential part of my existence:

Traveling presents a wonderful opportunity to practice being open-minded and grounded. The voyages you make help cultivate a worldwide community in which we as humans can acknowledge and appreciate our differences as much as we recognize and appreciate our similarities. Though you will eventually return home, the positive impression you leave behind will remain as a testament to the respect and amicability that marked your intercultural interactions.

I leave you humbled by the experience of being interviewed, delighted to have had this chance to reflect, and ever more committed to the work of advancing the field of global experiential education.

Happy New Year!

IMG_0408Happy New Year!

The start of a new year brings promise, hope, intention and resolve. Even in the dead of winter, the light is returning in the northern hemisphere, and the days begin to shorten in the global south. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions of some sort, even if we don’t say them out loud or write them down. After we have reflected on the past year, we use this time to think about what we want to let go of and what we want to carry forward into the coming year.

When I was younger, I made lists of things like eating less or exercising more, or both. I vowed to procrastinate less, be more organized, and make steady progress toward my career and personal goals. As I got a little older, I realized I needed to be concrete and specific if I wanted to be able to accomplish those goals. So my resolutions became to join a gym and work out three times a week, set intermediate deadlines and stick to them, chart goals on a monthly basis, etc. At some point, I realized that setting these kinds of goals didn’t really work for me. Unlike concrete, measurable goals and benchmarks that organizations must outline and meet, my personal life worked better on a non-linear basis.

urlFor the past few years, I have chosen a theme for the year, a quality, habit or attitude I want to adopt or foster. I have focused on that particular word or phrase in both my personal and professional life. The theme helps me stay on track, and when I look back at the end of the year, I can see all the ways I have grown in relation to this particular concept. At the beginning of 2015, I shared my theme with a friend, and we decided to help each other stay committed through daily text messages about how our themes showed up. Each text sat without comment from the receiver; if we wanted to discuss one in more detail, we sent an email or made a phone call. It turned out to be a wonderful practice for both of us, and we are going to do it again.

I invite you to set some intentions for this upcoming “Sweet Sixteen” year. If it sounds intriguing to you, feel free to try this “Word of the Year” method. If not, maybe you will make a general list, or a specific list, or find some other way to honor your aspirations for the year and pay attention to them as the months unfold. I welcome your comments: How will you outline your hopes and dreams for 2016?

Blog Year in Review

Students reflecting on their journey

This time of year lends itself to reflection. As I considered my customary examination of highlights, low lights, and lessons learned in 2015, I decided to reread my blog posts for the year to see what they might tell me about my year. It was fun to relive some of my adventures and see what I was puzzling over as the months unfolded. A couple of themes emerged.

The first pattern I noticed was that I wrote most often about school initiatives. This makes sense, as I work primarily with schools. I continue to be impressed by school leaders who are embracing concepts and practices such as experiential education, design thinking, and global-local connections; paying attention to risk management, program assessment and staff training; and creating meaningful overseas partnerships. I love working with schools, and I am encouraged and inspired by educators who seek improvement through both strategic planning and new initiatives. Serving on the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) and the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG) boards continues to shape my thinking, provide support for my work, and add meaning to all of my consulting partnerships.

Students from Trinity School (NYC) doing service work in New Orleans

Students from Trinity School (NYC) doing service work in New Orleans

Travel opened my mind and heart this year, whether to places far away like Namibia, South Africa and Peru, middle distances such as Arkansas, Santa Fe and New Orleans, or nearby in Victoria, B.C. and Olympia, WA. Each experience made me think about the world in new and interesting ways, and the people I met reinforced my belief in both our similarities and our differences. I returned home stimulated by new landscapes, engaged in new relationships, and brimming with new ideas for collaborative global and experiential education.

Another theme that emerged as I examined the posts is the importance of art and culture in all of their rich expression. My focus on visual art through Exhibit Be, theater for Little Bee, and music for OneBeat underscores my belief in the power of art to connect, to inspire, and to heal. I noticed that I invited my readers to engage with the world through art and also through political movements like Black Lives Matter, world events like the devastating Nepal earthquake, and then I encouraged heeding the call to an interior life (such as unplugging from technology and connecting with a group like Seasons of the Soul) to stay centered and able to both bear and help ease the pain in our world.

2015 - 2016 signpost in a desert road background

Bring it on 2016: I’m ready!

As I look back, I realize how grateful I am for the kind of work I do and how much I enjoyed writing about it. I appreciate the weekly practice of reflection and putting into words what I am thinking about, engaged in, puzzled by. The greatest joy the blog brought me this year came in the form of my twelve guest bloggers: former students and program associates who wrote about how global travel and experiential education have influenced their lives. Their testimonials reinforce my career choice and provide motivation to continue working on behalf of global and experiential education. Bring on 2016: I’m ready!

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.



WWelcome phrase in different languages. Word clouds concept.elcome. Wilkommen. Bienvenue. Bienvenidos. Haere Mai. Selamat Datang. After hello, it’s the first thing you hear when entering other people’s homes, workplaces, theaters, places of worship, countries. It’s what we say when we want to make people feel at home in a strange place. It’s what our parents, teachers, and most if not all religious organizations ask us to do: welcome strangers and make them feel comfortable

unnamedI am reminded of all the times I have been welcomed by strangers during my travels. I remember a great feast being prepared on a balcony in a Moroccan mountain town, and a basket of potatoes representing a day’s worth of food for the whole family being offered to me in a Peruvian village. Whether in a grand estate or a simple hut, people around the world have gone out of their way to make me feel at home, part of the family even. Often, those who have the least have seemed willing to share this kind of hospitality most readily, and I have been touched by such generosity time and again. Students who return from travel programs often comment on this behavior and vow to be more welcoming to strangers when they return home, remarking that in our culture we have sometimes forgotten this simple courtesy.

syrian-demoI feel embarrassed by such rudeness, when I see it in myself and when it is exhibited on our national stage. When Donald Trump suggests we refuse to let Muslims into the United States, and we vote not to take in Syrian refugees, I cringe. In sharp contrast, Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau has modeled welcoming behavior this week. In his speech, he embodied both the spirit and the act _87103511_hi030485166-1of welcome. “You’re safe at home now,” he told them, as he handed out winter coats. He pledged to follow his words with policies and programs to support the new arrivals. I had first hand knowledge of those policies when my Canadian niece and her husband told me they signed up to use their Airbnb suite to house refugees and the government would pay the rental fees. Trudeau also gained my respect when he spoke to First Nations people, welcoming them as full citizens with equal rights. He promised to reverse unjust policies put in place by his predecessor and work to build a new relationship with indigenous peoples, “one that understands that constitutionally guaranteed rights are not an inconvenience but a sacred obligation, one based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.”

come-from-away-posterAnother impressive show of Canadian welcome can be seen in the musical Come From Away at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. It is the story of how the town of Gander, Newfoundland welcomed visitors whose planes were diverted to their town on September 11, 2001 and spent 5 days in Gander, nearly doubling in size due to their arrival. The night I saw it, Seattle’s mayor was in the audience to welcome Gander’s mayor who was seeing the work for the first time. As I watched the beautiful story of his town’s generous gifts to these strangers unfold, knowing how proud he must feel of his community. The comparison of our two governments’ responses to people in need made me feel ashamed.

Brooklyn-Blusih-posterThe final opportunity for me to ponder the concept of welcome was the movie Brooklyn. The film follows a young Irish woman making her way in the “sometimes but not always welcoming” big city. Her struggles to understand difference, fit in, hold on to her homeland while making a new life in the US underscores the challenges all refugees and immigrants face, and how we could do a better job of helping people with the tremendous difficulties they encounter.

I’m not saying we never welcome strangers, but I do think we need to take a hard look at our founding principles. Unless you are Native American, your family immigrated at some point from some place, and more often than not, they were welcomed when they got here. The disturbing fact that we are turning away refugees, calling them a terror threat when they are fleeing from terrorism, makes me examine my own heart and vow to be more welcoming myself. This is the perfect time of year to begin. There are so many who do not feel welcomed by their own families and find it especially painful to witness so much focus on family traditions. I pledge to greet people I meet on the street with a welcoming gesture, invite someone who has nowhere to go during the holidays into my home, open my heart to refugees of all shapes and sizes.


IHands-connection value connection. A lot. And I love staying connected to friends and colleagues nearby and around the globe through the many avenues available to me: face to face, on the phone, via text, email, Facebook, and Twitter. I rely on my computer and mobile technology through my phone and tablet. Texting and social media using my phone have become preferred means of connection, and I am rarely without that device in my hand or whatever bag I am carrying. This is a good thing in that it allows me to stay in touch with people who are important to me, stay up on the latest news, have a few laughs, and conduct business wherever I am.

There are downsides, however. I texting_primary-100224994-largeoften mediate relationships through a screen. I miss things going on around me because I am looking down at my phone. I believe I must read and respond to every email and text immediately, just because I can, and then people come to expect it.  My thumbs begin to ache from texting, and my eyes strain to read print on the small screen (no I have not yet upgraded to the almost-tablet sized phone). I ask myself, am I so important that people need an instant response from me? Do I need to take and send every photo that reminds me of someone? Am I really lost if I’m not connected electronically? I remember how strict I have always been with students who want to engage through devices while traveling: unplug, I tell them. You will be amazed at how it can change your perspective. But what would it be like for me, at home?

no_screens_postcard-rb4804100a7724ed3a4e158a4ea418735_vgbaq_8byvr_512So I decided to do an experiment. A friend told me she had been having “Screen-Free Sundays” for the past couple of months, so I decided to try it. Two Sundays into it, and I can report mostly good news. I have stayed away from the computer, tablet and TV, and disabled everything on my phone except the actual phone function. That way I can still make and receive calls, but that is all. What do I notice? At first, itchiness, the automatic desire to pull out my phone and check email or text whenever there is a lull. I remind myself of the experiment. Then, I look around, talk to someone nearby, stare out the window, read, or go outside. I look around more. I notice more when I’m not either thinking about a text I just received, a post I just saw, or imagining something I’m about to post. My thoughts wandered in different directions, and I liked that. I think the best thing was doing something different, messing up my routine, showing me how dependent I am. The hardest part was not only not watching the Seahawks game, but not following it on Facebook or texting about it. Although I must admit, it was kind of fun to go “old school” and listen to it on the radio.

ee351b14945013f843b6d116de9b8501It seems the more we are connected through these devices, the more we also need to disconnect. Not from each other, but from the screens that stand between us. So we can connect with our thoughts, with nature, with silence and with the awkward moments when we don’t know what to do. I plan to continue the experiment, although I might try “Screen-Free Saturdays” when the Seahawks have a game!

Giving Thanks

12250165_10153603339386154_5358129855199829836_nThis past Sunday, in church, I heard the sermon I needed to hear. I had been reeling from world events, not knowing where to turn, how to think, how even to talk about what is going on. But also not wanting to shut it all out and retreat into my lovely comfortable life. The minister talked first about the sermon he WAS going to deliver, but decided not to. Revisiting the first Thanksgiving, with its nod to our church’s history (from Calvinists to Puritans, fleeing religious persecution, arriving as immigrants and refugees being welcomed by indigenous peoples) he reminded us of the ironic parallel to the Syrian refugee crisis and our lawmakers’ response to it.

But then he asked us not to turn away from the world, but to stay engaged with it from a position of gratitude. Waking in the morning glad to simply be alive. Focusing on the miracle of our bodies, that our hearts are pumping blood to the rest of our system, that our limbs, creaky and stiff as they may be, support us and allow us to stand, work, give, embrace. And he went on describing the little things we might tend to complain about, inviting us to think about them differently. The one that really got me was the car: rather than complaining about mechanical failure and increasing traffic (I have become quite cranky on this point), he asked us to be grateful that our world extends beyond the limits of where we can walk. I am. My world is huge. I have friends and colleagues all over the globe, and the opportunity to experience their realities through travel. It also means I feel the pain of the world, and I am called to listen, to hear, to think deeply about issues, educate myself, and understand as best as I can.

11036668_10154387115867796_5530270809414805710_nI was challenged last week by two stories that have stayed with me. One was an NPR Radiolab piece about thinking, especially how we think about thinking and its relationship to language. As a self-described “language person,” I was fascinated by some of the questions posed, such as “is there thinking without verbal language?” and “is music a language in the same way words are?” The other story was called The Withing Project, expressed through a theater piece combining song, dance, and spoken word to examine changes in brain activity created by connection with another person who isn’t in the same room. The combination of actual neuroscience experiments with music and movement, the blurring of the edges between science and art, was thought-provoking in a variety of ways.

Today, as a worldwide travel alert is issued by the US State Department, I can’t help but think of our broken world and the changes in our hearts and minds we need in order to heal. I don’t believe the answer is to shut our borders and stay home. I am inspired by some of the responses I see by young people around the world, and I am committed to educating myself to remove blinders. One of my current teachers is Ta-Nehisi Coates, as I read his book Between the World and Me. Challenging my assumptions, perspective, experience and conclusions in so many ways. As an educator, I am grateful for the ability and the desire to learn from and with others in whatever way they show up: as minister, refugee, terrorist, politician, radio host, scientist, dancer, author. I give thanks for all of it.


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.


25 countries, 17 musicians, OneBeat

What happens when you put 17 musicians from all over the world in a month long creative/educational residency program and they come to Seattle to collaborate with local educators and musicians? An energizing, inspiring, beautiful, fun and informative evening at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, that’s what!


2015 OneBeat Fellows

I showed up to the event having never heard of OneBeat, despite the fact it has been around since 2012 and had hosted over 80 musicians to date. It’s a pioneering music diplomacy initiative from the U.S. Department of State that brings the world’s brightest artists and musicians together for a dynamic one-month creative residency in the United States. The goal: promote cross-cultural collaboration between artists of diverse backgrounds, and demonstrate how it’s possible to transcend boundaries of race, region, religion and politics through music.

Mission accomplished, I’d say. The musical performances, often new works composed and rehearsed as the group made their way from the Bay Area to Seattle, were outstanding, from singers harmonizing with a chanting wail from Serbia to a group playing futuristic-sounding rhythms on an electronic instrument called a theremin.  There were panel discussions addressing questions such as “What role does politics play in your music?” (musicians from Egypt and Kosovo, for example) and “How do you avoid cultural appropriation when collaborating with people from other countries?” (Paul Simon’s musical director on the “Graceland” controversy, and a hip hop producer on the role of samples in rap) and “How is music a vehicle for social change?” (the first Pride parade in Turkey, women creating awareness through musical avenues in a variety of African nations). After an hour and a half of performance and discussion, the musicians retired to the downstairs hall for a reception to allow audience members to meet, mingle, and continue the conversation.

Jay Afrisando from Indonesia playing the theremin

Jay Afrisando from Indonesia playing the theremin

Kudos to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for financing this wonderful program, and to all the people who got involved as sponsors, participants, and educational partners. Being at this event reminded me of the power of art to transform. I want to learn about other ways people are using art to connect, to empower, to change lives and break down barriers. I am inspired to sing more, and to use music in my work, since it is, no matter how trite the phrase, truly the universal language.


Check out the video below to see what social engagement looks like at OneBeat!



The purpose of tradition. It ties us irrevocably to the past and to our ancestors. But at the same time, it reaches forward, connecting us to the future and to our descendants — so long as they remember and honor the traditions.”

-From Mama Namibia

unnamed-1I recently returned from Namibia where I helped a colleague from Riverdale Country School prepare for an upcoming student travel experience. We hired a local company, Indaba Tours to take us to a number of different sites in the country so we could create an itinerary that matched Riverdale’s goals for their students. Namibia is a vast, arid country with a kind of empty beauty that is hard to describe. Since we covered a lot of ground in a short time, many hours each day were spent staring out the window watching a strange and beautiful landscape go by. I loved the wide open spaces and the way my mind wandered through them. I was reading a book called Mama Namibia about the early twentieth century war between Germany and the native Damara people, and I was struck by how much has changed in the past 100 years and yet how some things are still the same. After a brief period of colonization by Germany, Namibia was ruled for many years by South Africa before gaining its independence in 1990. It exports minerals and meat, and imports virtually everything else since very little will grow there. I found myself drawn in by the landscape, fascinated by the history, interested in the people, and enthusiastic about the many educational opportunities afforded to students.

unnamedThe exploratory trip allowed us to look through a few different lenses as we thought about how students might engage and what they could learn in a two-week excursion. We had the chance to visit two different and equally fascinating research stations in the country. The first was the Gobabeb Desert Research Station, started in 1960 by an Austrian entymologist who wanted to know how a certain beetle survived in the dunes. Since that time, it has attracted scientists from all over the world who study weather patterns, climate change and the adaptive behaviors of plants, insects, mammals, and humans in the harshly beautiful terrain. It was fascinating to see all of the different projects that were happening there: from weather stations measuring wind speed, rainfall, fog and temperature; to how the plants adapted defense mechanisms and how the Topnaar people used those plants to help them survive the tough conditions. Climbing on the dunes, overlooking sand-covered hills, watching the wind erase my footprints, sharing space with a couple of birds and a few beetles, and knowing there were many other creatures hidden from view was an exhilarating and humbling experience.

unnamed-2The second research station we visited was the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Here, a dedicated international staff of researchers, educators and interns in fields including genetics, animal behavior, human biology, ecology and anthropology, come together to save the endangered cheetah, the fastest animal on the planet and yet one more fragile than it seems. The center studies human-wildlife interaction, and works with local farmers to find ways to protect their livestock and the cheetah, focusing on the sustainability of the entire ecosystem. The animals that are penned there are usually unable to return to the wild for a variety of reasons, so they provide the opportunity to study cheetah behavior. It was thrilling to watch the cheetah run, have the opportunity to feed them and observe them closely, gain a new respect for their tenuous place in the survival chain, and meet the inspiring people who are dedicated to helping them survive.

unnamed-3In addition to the research scientists, we met wonderful people in a few different educational settings. From Oritjitambo, a Himba tribal school, to the International School of Walvis Bay, to an underserved public school in Windhoek, to the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, we saw a wide range of schools and got a taste for some of the exciting new developments as well as issues facing Namibia and other parts of the continent. Getting even a small glimpse of such a vast and fascinating country opened my eyes to a new part of the world. I am excited for the students of Riverdale Country School who will be able to spend more time there and participate in both scientific and educational research projects next spring.

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. 

Seasons of the Soul

Last year, Seattle’s city council voted unanimously to change the name of Columbus Day, a federal holiday, to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This post is dedicated to the second observance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Seattle this coming Monday.

If we honor the land, we honor the people who lived on the land before us, and we honor the salmon whom they consider their brothers and sisters. And if we honor the salmon, we honor the Salish Sea they live in, and see it as connecting all life in our region.”

6E455BC4-5783-4CAE-BF7F-5083F7810BA5My sister just entered the fifth year of a continuing education model I find really interesting. It’s called Seasons of the Soul and it’s a hybrid, experience-based seminar of sorts that combines parts of a number of different educational philosophies and practices. It is collaborative, individual, participant-led, nature-based and rooted in psychology, with connections to all fields.

Several years ago, she embarked on a Vision Quest through the Animus Valley Institute in Colorado. This institute was started by Bill Plotkin who wrote books such as Wild Mind and Nature and the Human Soul. He believes much of human suffering is caused by our lack of connection with the natural world, and that healing ourselves and the parts of the world we have destroyed grows out of reconnecting to nature. Much like the “No Child Left Inside” movement, he encourages individuals to explore wild surroundings as both a mirror and a teacher. Two women who worked as guides at Animus Valley started their own practice here in the Pacific Northwest, based on Whidbey Island, called Northwest Soulquest. One of the educational opportunities they offer people is a yearlong, deep exploration of their own nature through connection with the land and each other. Groups meet once each season for several days at a time, spend significant amounts of time outdoors in wild places, using a variety of practices to learn about themselves and work together.

unnamed-2After two years of meeting as a group facilitated by their guides, this group of nine women decided to keep meeting, but without their guides. They made a commitment to attend all gatherings (in two years no one has missed a single one), share the leadership in both planning and facilitating, bring their individual strengths to the collective, learn from and teach each other. Occasionally, they have found something they’d like to learn more about, and have hired an instructor to come teach during part of a workshop. Through conversations with my sister over these past few years, I have developed a deep respect for the work these women are choosing to do and how they go about it. Each of them has grown both personally and professionally in profound ways, and the work they do together influences everyone else they encounter. I believe the elements of their program — developing deep relationships to nature, sharing leadership, commitment growth through challenge, is applicable in most educational settings.

Just today I received an announcement about an upcoming workshop combining nature and innovation for solutions to business problems; it reminded me why nature is so important, and how easily we city dwellers can forget:

  • Connecting with nature instantly centers and grounds us, decreases stress and reactivity and allows our minds to open up to new ideas.
  • Working with nature sparks a sense of wonder and curiosity; perspectives shift and novel solutions emerge.
  • Looking through nature’s perspective reveals connections and systems, expands awareness and increases the ability to make better decisions.
  • Collaborating while working with nature activates a sense of play, dissolves social  barriers, builds trust and increases team engagement.

unnamed-1Doing this kind of nature-based work on a regular basis makes one aware of how powerful these kinds of interventions are. At a recent poetry workshop some of the women attended, they agreed it was good but would have been excellent if it had included time in nature. As my sister and her group continue their explorations and nature-based education, I vow to spend more time in nature myself, and use it as a mirror and teacher in my work.


Strategic Planning

IMG_8773I am, by nature, not a planner. I like to let life unfold, see what appears, and work with whatever shows up to move me to the next phase. This makes me particularly well suited to experiential education: it’s not that I never plan, it’s more that I do something first and then, upon reflection, create the structure to understand and support the next action. Nevertheless, the importance of strategic planning cannot be underestimated. Organizations that have a clear vision and mission and then take the time to create concrete structures and plans to support their big picture vision are those most likely to get where they want to go. While few would dispute the value of this type of planning, I love the fact that there is no one way to do it. The methods an organization can employ vary by the kind of organization, number of people involved, desired outcomes, and time allotted. Going in with a commitment to mission-driven practices and producing actual measurable results appear to be common denominators to success.

ISEEN Board in Cleveland

ISEEN Board in Cleveland

I recently rejoined the board of the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN). I am thrilled to be back as a member of the group guiding this important and wonderful organization. When I attended my first ISEEN institute eight years ago, the group was called ISAN (Independent Schools Adventure Network) and existed to support outdoor and adventure education practitioners. Over the ten years since, the organization has grown to encompass other forms of experiential education programming (global, service learning, sustainability, student leadership), and added an institute for classroom teachers who wish to have more experiential pedagogy and practice in their classrooms. We have achieved our initial goals and met last weekend on a retreat with the purpose of creating new ones.The process included a review of current programs, including the winter institute for practitioners (this year held in Hawaii, hosted by Punahou and Iolani Schools — and focusing on place-based education), the summer institute for teachers (held in Santa Fe for math, science, and arts educators), and our relatively new membership platform. After reviewing them as a group, we spent time individually and then in triads, outlining new goals, finding commonalities and differences, and finally, coming together to set benchmarks and timeline for the work. It was gratifying, inspiring, and energizing as we move forward into the next five years of growth in the organization.

GEBG Board in Miami

GEBG Board in Miami

Another group on whose board I serve, the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG), is going through a similar process but in a slightly different way. We formed a strategic planning committee at a meeting last spring. This group met three times, once in person and twice virtually, to identify five priorities for the organization. Each committee member signed on to develop a couple of goals and create benchmarks and a timeline for reaching those goals. The material was sent to the Executive Director for review, and will appear on the agenda of our November board meeting to be discussed and voted on by the full board. We will outline our strategic plan to the wider membership at our annual conference in April (this year hosted by Isidore Newman School in New Orleans).

Finally, I have been contracted by an independent school to help develop a strategic plan specifically for global education at their school. During a strategic planning process for the whole school, they identified global education as a big part of that plan and they desire a more specific framework for global initiatives. I will spend a day on campus meeting with relevant stakeholders, review their current programs, and facilitate a conversation about the steps they might take to set new goals and the process to achieve those goals.

As I work with organization boards and schools, I realize I would like to undertake a similar process for my business. Where do I want Global Weeks to be in five years? I know my mission has expanded since I started the company 4 years ago: what are my new goals? What partnerships do I want to cultivate to help me create a process, outline strategies and reach new heights? I look forward to exploring this topic further and I invite you to do the same: what does your strategic planning process look like?

If you’re moved to share your strategic planning process with the Global Weeks community, I invite you to comment below.

Global Education in Unexpected Places

My mother-in-law at 91!

My mother-in-law at 91!

When we decided to visit my mother-in-law in Fayetteville, Arkansa on the occasion of her 90th birthday, I didn’t imagine I would be dropped into a global education classroom, but I was wrong. As part of her celebration, she wanted us to take her to Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozark mountains, just across the border into Missouri. Big Cedar is a beautiful wooded tumble of lodges, golf courses, docks, and other outdoor activities on the shores of Table Rock Lake. We spent two days there taking advantage of mini-golf, swimming, paddle-boating, hiking, a self-guided tour of the area including a waterfall cavern and eating at several of the many fine restaurants on the property.

"End of the Trail" sculpture

“End of the Trail” sculpture

The resort’s initial buildings were lavish homes built in the 1920s by railroad executives and business tycoons. When the Great Depression hit, the property went into disarray, and was revived in 1947 by real estate developer Dan Norris. It wasn’t until the property was acquired in 1987 by Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops, that the resort began to take shape as a world class destination. At first, I found the notion of a business tycoon in the hunting and fishing industry with a global perspective to be an oxymoron, but I became intrigued and impressed. One of Johnny’s mottos is “We all live downstream,” and he is committed to doing his part to protect the earth. The resort employs a myriad of conservation measures, including recycling, water treatment and usage, composting and wildlife preservation. Apparently, although hunters and fishermen are often at odds with other environmental groups there is a huge and powerful movement amongst game hunters to protect the natural world. Even if it is simply to preserve wild lands for hunting and fishing, the end result is good for the planet. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense; I would like to learn more and expand my horizons on this issue.

The Three Chiefs photograph by Edward Curtis

The Three Chiefs photograph by Edward Curtis

Equally surprising, and in fact, mind-blowing, was the Ozarks Natural History Museum on the property. Situated right next to a world class golf course, driving range, pro shop and a bar housed in Arnold Palmer’s family barn (relocated there) is the most extensive and impressive collection of Western United States Indian artifacts I have seen. The thousands of square footage in room after room, of arrowheads, axe heads and other tools, clothing, jewelry, drums and other instruments was a stunning collection in the sheer number, beauty, and array of objects. There were also many works of art depicting Native Americans, including a few Edward Curtis goldtone photographic prints made from the original negatives.

Elk Tooth child's dress

Elk Tooth child’s dress

The museum had a strange “thrown-together” feel as if it were someone’s homegrown project rather than the national treasure it is. There were no maps, very few explanations of context, some moving quotes by Native American leaders juxtaposed with sections that contained more information about the people who found the artifacts than the artifacts themselves. Once in awhile there would be an acknowledgement of the atrocities committed against Native peoples, but there was no overall lens through which the viewer was to understand the displays. Another somewhat jarring aspect of the collection were skeletons and recreations of huge mammals that once roamed the Ozarks. Though interesting to see their sheer size and vicious adaptations, I would have preferred to have a map, a guide, a sense of the eras represented, an explanation of the distinctive geology and natural history of the region. The exhibit ended with several rooms depicting guns and other Civil War memorabilia without much of a sense of the role Missouri played in that conflict or how the war shaped the region.

Quote in the museum

Quote in the museum

Walking through the museum was like a walk through time without a map. It made me wonder about the curation. The Native American artifacts were especially breathtaking and a reminder of how advanced those civilizations were when white settlers and soldiers called them “primitive.” I was simultaneously impressed with the cultures developed in the West, and grief-stricken at the genocide and ethnic cleansing perpetrated on its people. It reminded me that all land in the United States is stolen land and we have much to atone for. I was left with two haunting images. One was a photograph of Native American leaders lined up with the owners of Big Cedar Lodge at the opening of the museum. The caption stated the friendship between these two groups and how much the Native leaders liked the museum, but I wish I could talk to them about what they really thought, as I suspect it was more nuanced than portrayed. The second was a replica of Fraser’s “End of the Trail” statue which sits in an infinity pool at the edge of the End of the Trail Bar. All text surrounding this statue says it is a tribute to Native Americans, but I found its Indian rider slumped over his horse looking down in defeat extremely problematic and sad.

All in all, this has been both an enjoyable family vacation, and an enlightening global education experience. The trip has reminded me of the importance and lasting nature of a global perspective. Once you have it, you see it everywhere.

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: Reilly Bench

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 Reilly Bench. 

Enjoying a Mariner’s baseball game with my older brother Connor.

Enjoying a Mariner’s baseball game with my older brother Connor.

I am a very proud Seattleite – my friends at Notre Dame often refer to me as “Seattle,” because I won’t shut up about it. Despite my love for home, I always keep my ear to the ground for interesting ways to leave – at least for a bit. My first opportunity to leave the country (besides Canada), was when I traveled with my mother and brother to Antigua, Guatemala to spend some time with a family we knew from Seattle. Being 11, and deprived of video games as a child, I was pretty attached to my friend’s Gameboy during that trip. Unfortunately, this isn’t the way to travel or experience new cultures.

It wasn’t until several years later that I really caught the travel bug while at the Makah Indian Reservation on the Olympic Peninsula. The Lakeside Middle School GSL program was founded when I was in seventh grade, and I decided, with the urging of a good friend, to put in an application. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Over the two weeks we spent on the reservation, we learned about the native wildlife and vegetation; we fought valiantly to remove some invasive blackberries, (escaping with only a few scratches); we discussed the history of the tribe with its elders; we marveled at the enormous grey whale skeleton that dominates the main room of the reservation museum; and we ate fry bread and discussed the future of the tribe with some kids our own age. Through that trip, I realized that tradition is being threatened all over the world, and we are often dismissing or misunderstanding its value. Of course, not all tradition is good, but I know that it is difficult to determine that without getting as close to it as we can and discussing it with the people who live with it.

After a devastating phone call, informing me that I didn’t make my summer all-star baseball team, I was free to devote my summers to my newfound mission. Now that my summers were free, I committed to do just that. My French teacher told me that a French family wanted a student to spend time with their son at their home, and then show him a little about America. With my parents’ support, I agreed to participate in the exchange program, and I found myself in Sanary sur Mer, France 5 months later. Fred, the exchange student, and his family encouraged me to speak French fearlessly and patiently corrected my more than frequent errors. My comfort level and confidence improved with every conversation. In addition to my learning more about the French language, I found that locals appreciated my attempt to participate in their culture, and accepted any mistakes that came with it. Instead of spending my time in France buried in a Gameboy, I forced myself outside of my comfort zone and discovered opportunities to swim, play sports, and navigate a ropes course in the forest with new friends. I like to think it was through the success of that adventure that I gained the courage to seek out more opportunities like it.

Distributing clothes I collected from friends and family at an orphanage in Kissidougou, Guinea

Distributing clothes I collected from friends and family at an orphanage in Kissidougou, Guinea

The following year I found myself playing cards on the hood of a taxi in Kissidougou, Guinea with my brother, a Peace Corps Volunteer, and a bunch of local boys. My purpose in Guinea was to deliver clothes that I had collected in America to an orphanage in my brother’s village, yet the trip became much more. I ended up in the thick of my brother’s work setting up a banking and loans system in a nearby village, sitting in on NGO meetings, and generally learning the lifestyle of a volunteer in a foreign country. Of course it wasn’t all work – the countryside in Guinea is breathtaking and woke me up to how much of the world I want to see. I lived as a Peace Corps Volunteer for three weeks and through that, and the most important lesson I learned was that the value of travel in any capacity is the relationships formed through it. Knowing the people I work with makes the service something more meaningful for both parties.

The following summer, I returned to the GSL Program and spent a month building a school in Toufestalt, Morocco. Unfortunately, our Morocco group was confronted with a budgeting issue that kept us from completing our project while we were there. We decided to accept the challenge of raising the funds to finish back in Seattle by selling jewelry we bought from a women’s association. That was a great success, and reminded me that social efforts aren’t something you leave behind when you leave the country.

Working on a small organic farm in Appalachia with a group from Notre Dame

Working on a small organic farm in Appalachia with a group from Notre Dame

Since graduating high school, I have spent a semester abroad in Angers, France and led a couple of weeklong service trips to the Appalachian Mountains. All of this travel has shaped me in very special ways. We live in a world that revolves around the American flag, and rarely do we see the issues of the rest of the world firsthand – we see them only through the lens of a media we don’t trust. My experiences have made me feel like a citizen of the world, and have also shown me that the human spirit endures despite the massive social problems that exist on every continent. There is kindness, generosity, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship everywhere. I’ve been afforded access to an incredible education, and am motivated to apply the skills I’ve developed to improving opportunities for those less fortunate.

Experiential Education: Spread the Word, Deepen the Learning

I just returned from a very invigorating, inspiring and fun work day at St. Clement’s School, an independent school for girls in Toronto, Ontario. I was hired to run a series of staff workshops on Experiential Education: definitions, relevance, and how its pedagogy and practices can be used to strengthen curriculum surrounding both existing trips and “regular” school classrooms.

With faculty members

With faculty members

The day began with a series of technical glitches, which, rather than being stressful, served to underscore a core characteristic of Experiential Education: it’s messy, the unexpected occurs, and out of the chaos comes significant learning. By the time the “formal” part of my time began, we were already laughing like old friends. I love the way this dovetails with my teaching and learning style; the choice Experiential Education offers not just to “make the best of a situation,” but actually to embrace whatever comes and integrate the new event into an evolving plan.


After a short session with the whole staff, I met with 50 Middle and Upper School teachers. Over the course of three hours, the teachers reviewed and learned anew, played games, shared teaching practices and developed lesson plans. I was able to use what I learned at the ISEEN Teacher Institute to flesh out the philosophical underpinnings and practical applications of Experiential Education. More than anything, the faculty members seemed to appreciate time to be together, talk about teaching and learning, plan and dream about incorporating new ideas into what is already a dynamic and engaged learning community. As a facilitator, I loved watching them jump in and try new activities that took them out of their comfort zones and insisted they have fun while learning together. I am reminded again of the powerful learning that occurs when the whole self is present, when learning demands just the right amount of discomfort, when the borders break down between work and play.

Stairwell art

Stairwell art

My third meeting was with Junior School (that’s elementary, for those not familiar with Canadian educational nomenclature) teachers. As we explored their approach to teaching, I was struck by how much we can learn from early childhood educators. Hands-on learning, field trips, integration of subjects under a theme, and constant attention to values like sharing, empathy and inclusion need to find their way into the upper grades. The teachers are eager to enhance their role as experiential educators, especially through attention to reflection and debriefing activities. They also desire to connect more with Senior School students, and find ways to collaborate across divisions on similar units, themes or lessons.

IMG_8558The primary focus for the day was deepening learning through Experiential Education, and I applaud the move to infuse the school with its core principles and practices. I also urge them to dream even bigger and consider more radical changes. Reading Grant Lichtman’s #EdJourney has shown me that school reform is not only necessary but possible and happening in fascinating ways. I agree with him when he says, “The goal of education has changed from the transfer of knowledge to the inculcation of wisdom born of experience, which will help students to succeed in an increasingly ambiguous future.” Experiential Education teaches us to thrive in the midst of uncertainty, and it was an honor to work with adult learners at St. Clement’s School as they dive deeper into the pool and practice their strokes.

Transformative Travel Not too Far From Home

Having just returned from two weeks of travel in the Western United States, I am in awe. My husband and I drove through Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and I am once again struck by how different landscapes affect the people who live in them and those who are fortunate to experience being in them.


David and I at Dead Horse State Park, Utah


Everywhere we went we encountered places with Native American names, the mark of early pioneers and settlers, vast, open country and big big sky. In southern Idaho, we camped in an agricultural area complete with a nearly dry river bed and the smell of cattle. In Utah, we encountered holes in the cliffs, colors to astound, a thunderstorm to rattle us and scenery to gaze at in amazement and hike through in wonder. In Colorado, we walked among red rocks and aspen-ringed lakes, scrambled over boulders and sat by the confluence of two rivers flowing through an urban landscape. In Wyoming we drove through barren landscape and discovered hidden gems like ranches against the mountains, and across Montana we were mesmerized by clouds, fields, mountains and oh that astounding sky


Statue of John Denver at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado

We met campground hosts living a semi-nomadic lifestyle; young people drawn to Western towns for mountain biking, river sports and backpacking; people of all ages making their homes in the thriving metropolis that is Denver; a young man in Wyoming who took up the sport of bowhunting and shared about the start of the antelope hunting season. We had interesting conversations with gas station attendants, park rangers, and other travelers like ourselves. All of these encounters made us appreciate the vast, fascinating and stunningly beautiful country we live in, and gave us a special peek into the particular culture of the West.



Canyonlands, Utah

I am still assimilating all that we saw and learned, and mostly just happy that we were able to travel like this. Experiences not too far from home can certainly be as enlightening as those across the globe.


Arches National Park, Utah

Hope Against Hope


“Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children”

By Olivia Borgmann, Global Weeks summer intern 

Book cover

At the beginning of the summer I received a package on my doorstep from the college I will be attending in the fall. Curious to as to what bulky item they could be sending me so far from the start of school I opened it and found a book whose title intrigued me: Hope Against Hope. As a requirement at my school all incoming freshman are sent this book at the start of the summer and expected to have read by the time schools rolls around in the fall. What immediately grabbed by attention was the subject of the book: Education of America’s Children.

Hope Against Hope was written by Sarah Carr, an education journalist who lives in New Orleans. It follows the lives of a 14 year old student Geraldlynn as she attends KIPP Renaissance, a charter school in New Orleans; a 24 year old teacher Aidan Kelley who signed on to Teach For America in his senior year at Harvard; and Mary Laurie who became principal of one of the first public high schools to reopen after Katrina.

When I think of Hurricane Katrina and the havoc it wreaked it never crossed my mind that the whole education system would be in crisis mode as well. But I was truly appalled when I read that just days after the hurricane the New Orleans school board placed thousands of its employees on unpaid leave and then three months later effectively voted to fire them. On top of this the state took control out of the hands of the school board and placed it in the hands of the Recovery School District, meaning the locally elected school board as well as the teachers union no longer had control over what was happening.

Sarah Carr

Author Sarah Carr

While I have not yet finished the book, what I have read opened my eyes to the reality of the education system in many places in our country. The book focuses on the charter schools that were put in place as a result of the education crisis after Katrina. Living in Seattle these past few years I have heard a lot of discussion about charter schools, but until reading this book I didn’t have a solid idea of what they were or what I thought about them. Now after reading Hope Against Hope I strongly believe that charter schools are one answer to impoverished, struggling school districts. Not only do they create an atmosphere of structure and discipline but by being staffed by a diverse group of educators from programs such as Teach For America, they give kids a window into other cultures and ways of life they may never experience as well as a better representation of New Orleans many ethnicities and cultures.


Geraldlynn and her mother

What I love most about this book is how Carr chose to follow the stories of three people, all connected by their desire for educational success yet all different in their professional stages. It was Geraldlynn, perhaps because of our closeness in age, that I felt most connected to. Just like me she has hopes and dreams of what she will do with her life, just like me she has a curiosity and drive to succeed, but unlike me she and her family have to had to fight an unreasonably hard battle just get a decent education and overcome the violence and poverty that surrounds them.

This book has raised a lot of questions in my mind, mainly “what defines success?” Is it high test scores, one’s acceptance to a respectable college, a solid career or just staying a healthy balanced person through it all? As someone who has just finished the college application rat race and four years at a competitive high school I am preoccupied with this question. When can we stop and say to ourselves that we are successful? At what point can the educators faced with the insurmountable task of rebuilding the New Orleans schools from the ground up consider themselves successful?

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the direction of education in America. I think that the discussions it generates are ones we need to be having. While there are many places around the world where youth don’t have access to a solid academic foundation the truth is that there are also many areas in our own country where kids are not getting the education they deserve because of countless obstacles they are faced with. Reading this book has made me want to learn a lot more about tactics Charter Schools like KIPP use to break past these barriers.  I’m very interested as to the ideas and questions that this book raised for my classmates and can’t wait to discuss it with them when school begins in the fall. 

Measurable Outcomes: Think-Feel-Do


Bowdoin College

My friend Conny is in town and being with her inspires this post. We met at Bowdoin College in Maine and were roommates for a short time during our sophomore year, but spending time together the following year cemented our friendship. Most of our classmates who studied abroad only did so for one semester, but Conny and I both chose to spend our entire junior year overseas, she in Greece and I in Germany. When my long mid-year break came, I figured out that traveling in Greece in March was more appealing than northern Europe’s damp cold. Her program was an immersive experience that included modern Greek language and history embedded in classical archaeology and mythology. She was a great tour guide for all the sites in Athens and opened my eyes to the wonders of ancient ceramics and architecture. Also Greek food (can you say garlic, lemon, and olive oil?) and sunshine. I was smitten.


Santorini, Greece

After sampling city life, we headed out to explore a few of the legendary islands, notably Naxos, Paros and Santorini. It was Santorini that enchanted us. I remember climbing up a crazy steep long staircase from the harbor, lugging our own bags (because we were feminists, dammit! — and not perhaps as culturally sensitive to the needs of the baggage handlers as we might have been), finding a room to rent in a family’s home and exploring the island. It was Carneval, so everyone had these small plastic hammers and apparently the custom was to bonk each other (and strangers) on the head with them. Come nightfall, we found ourselves in a taverna where we witnessed something if I didn’t have Conny to back me up, I might not believe myself. During the requisite music and dancing part of the evening, after circle and scarf dances accompanied by impromptu live music, a short, thickly set man proceeded to pick up a chair and dance around the room with it — in his teeth! As we were pinching ourselves not quite believing what we were seeing, he put it down and did the same thing with a table. A table. In his teeth. Dancing around the room to a chorus of “Opa!” and hand clapping. We were flabbergasted. Shaking our heads. That feat remains one of the most astounding I have ever witnessed. We must have demonstrated our amazement and joy, as we soon became fast friends with the owners of the taverna and were invited back to their home for the after party. I think in that moment, I fell in love with Greece, with travel, with the kind of experiences you can only have when you get off the beaten track.

What does this have to do with Measurable Outcomes, you say? Well, Conny went on to enjoy a long career at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation where she managed guest research and evaluation as well as directed interpretive education. She became a nationally recognized expert on museum program evaluation. About fifteen years ago she began to transition into consulting for other museums who desire to learn her skills in interpretive history methods, measurement and evaluation. In this way, our paths have converged, because in my strategic planning work I am also confronted with providing measurable outcomes for transformative experiences. When I asked her to boil down her methods into simple terms, she said: “Think-Feel-Do.” What do you want your clients to think, feel, and do after they have experienced one of your programs?


With Conny in Seattle

I love both the simplicity and clarity of this way to frame goals. It works for any job, program, project, or class. Of course, just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. But once you have identified outcomes, it does become easier to measure them. Ask yourself: What tools do I have that will help me know what people are thinking, how they are feeling, and what actions they take as a result of the experience? What combination of observation during the experience, exit interviews, surveys, and numerical data afterward can I use to encourage improvement? If I am not sure, where can I go for help?

I look forward to practicing this simple strategy in my own business and encouraging organizations I serve to do the same. I welcome your comments on methods you have found useful to create and measure outcomes.

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.

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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.

School Partnerships Across Borders

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Chadwick International in South Korea

My first job as a consultant was at Chadwick International in South Korea, the partner of Chadwick School outside of Los Angeles. This international partnership was ready to add a high school, and they hired me to help with the experiential programming for incoming ninth graders. I traveled to South Korea twice with colleagues to create and then help lead this orientation program in the southern part of the country where many of the city-raised students had never been, setting up activities such as farming, fishing, hiking and living in homestays. In addition to enjoying the project itself, I learned a great deal about this partnership and became intrigued with what is becoming a trend in global education.


An island off the coast of South Korea

Several schools in China, South Korea, and India have reached out to independent schools in North America as partners. Each partnership differs according to the needs of the schools involved, and yet they all have some similarities. They appear to grow out of a desire to learn from each other, and since it is usually the Asian school that reaches out first, a desire to bring more critical thinking, innovation, and creativity to areas traditionally more structured and content-focused. The North American schools tend to benefit more financially as well. After I worked at Chadwick International, I heard about another school on Jeju Island in South Korea called Branksome Hall Asia operated by Branksome Hall School in Toronto, Ontario. Later, I learned that Barstow School in Kansas City, Missouri has partnerships with several schools in China. Closer to me, the University Child Development School in Seattle has partnered with Ascend International in Mumbai, India.


With a “friend” in Korea

These schools intrigue me for several reasons. First of all, I marvel at the nature of our world that these partnerships can exist, even thrive, across continents. Second, as an advocate for experiential education, I love the fact that people have jumped into something new and are figuring it out as they go along. Finally, I am excited by the possibilities of exchange between different cultures, educational systems, and teaching pedagogy. I wonder how they came about, how each school is benefitting, what bumps in the road they have experienced, and what they have learned that will serve them as they evolve. I suspect that strong leadership is important to keep them developing to mutual advantage.

I have followed Chadwick School’s experiment as they have added student and teacher exchanges, co-developed curriculum, and struggled with the decision to stay with the International Baccalaureate curriculum that is standard in International Schools, or use the Advanced Placement curriculum more common in the United States. I know that the relationship between the two schoolshas absolutely enriched both campuses even with the inherent challenges. (see these articles: “Chadwick fosters creative thinking” and “The ‘five-year-old Chadwick International” and for more information). Led by progressive educator Paula Smith, the University Child Development School (UCDS) has worked hard to foster a true partnership with Ascend International, not simply create an Indian clone of the Seattle school. Many faculty and staff, both senior and new, have spent significant time on their counterpart’s campus to ensure things like language, behavior and methodology function well in both cultures.


Faculty collaboration through soccer at Ascend International

I recently connected with a former student of mine who works at UCDS and just returned to India for his second year at Ascend International. He could not say enough about the impact working there has had on him. Teachers return to their home schools energized, transformed and excited about how the partnership enhanced their teaching. I want to learn more about these experiments, especially what educators are learning from each other, and what that learning means moving forward into the increasingly connected world of global education.

What is Culture?


French Quarter, New Orleans

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately. I find it interesting that when you say culture,” you could be talking about art, or biology, or a process of enrichment. Joshua Rothman wrote an article in the New Yorker discussing this very issue when Merriam-Webster declared “culture” as their 2014 Word of the Year. There are so many definitions, and I don’t find any of them ultimately satisfying when discussing global education. The concept is loaded, fraught with contradiction, appropriation, and nuance. I guess this one from dictionary.com works pretty well for me: “the sum of attitutes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Culture is transmitted through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, and art, from one generation to the next.” I like it because it covers aspects of the term that apply to many groups not necessarily thought of as cultures. Families have cultures, schools have cultures, geographic regions within a particular country have cultures, associations and sports teams have cultures; and ethnic groups and nations have cultures. How should we think about all these different cultures? How can we learn more about our own culture and increase understanding about other ones?

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Woman from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation

Often in my work I am asked if global education can be done locally, and if so, in what way(s). See my recent blog post (link) for one discussion of this issue. Although I will never give up on my quest to help more young people experience life in a different country, I also understand that we can and must look for ways to learn from others in our own neighborhoods. I am impressed with schools that are making efforts to do this in meaningful ways. Students from Trinity School in New York spent time in New Orleans exploring attitudes and beliefs in that region (see blog post). Palmer Trinity School in Miami sent a group to the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in South Dakota to learn about the people and the social institutions in that place.

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Apple packing line at Broetje Orchards, WA

This fall, Lakeside School in Seattle will send its entire eighth grade class in small groups to six different locations in the Pacific Northwest for a week to get to know the cultures represented in each. In addition to the Native American and Mexican American cultures they will encounter, the groups will learn about farming culture, fishing culture, and timber culture.They will explore global education through its local manifestations, broadening their minds and expanding their hearts as they learn about sustainable ways of living and working locally as part of a global economy. This project is a part of Lakeside’s extensive Global Service Learning program which I had the good fortune to help create. I love seeing the direction this Middle School portion has taken, including pre-trip curriculum and ties to the yearlong global issues eighth grade course. I am excited to see what they will learn about all the different cultures within our region and how they will tie                                                                                 that learning to their own cultures of family, friends, classes, teams,                                                                                and school when they return.




Travels with Olivia


I would like to introduce Olivia Borgmann, a summer intern at Global Weeks. Olivia just graduated from Garfield High School in Seattle and will be attending Macalester College in the fall. I feel fortunate to have her on my team this summer; she is dedicated, hard-working, organized and delightful. I met Olivia last fall when I started a consulting job with Technology Services Corps (TSC), a global service organization that works with Garfield High School students to provide computers, software and training to young people in other parts of the world. Student empowerment is a hallmark of the group, both in trip leadership and board membership. I have asked Olivia to share her experience with TSC as a leader and board member, as well as anything else she wants to share about her journey to global citizenship.

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With students at The Puente Piedra Project

If I had to name one thing in High School that had the greatest impact on shaping the direction of my life, it would be Technology Services Corps. TSC is a non-profit organization that is focused on engaging Garfield students in technology orientated service trips. To date we have installed over 500 computers at 38 schools worldwide.

I first became involved with TSC in the fall of my sophomore year of High School. TSC’s focus on student leadership coupled with the unique opportunity to exclusively work with fellow Garfield students immediately piqued my interest. I applied and was accepted onto a service trip to Guatemala.  For someone who had never been out of the country minus a few short trips across the Canadian border, the thought of traveling to a foreign country, let alone one whose language I did not speak (I had taken many years of French) was extremely daunting. It’s the same feeling that I see in kids’ eyes when I go to classes to talk about upcoming trips. Yeah this looks interesting but I could never do something like that myself. Seeing my classmates gain confidence and international perspective through involvement with TSC became one of my main motivations in working with the organization.

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             Playing with second graders at              Safe Passage 

In Guatemala we installed computer labs at two different schools.The first was located at Safe Passage, a school working to break the cycle of poverty by educating children whose parents work in the infamous Guatemala City Dump, the other a small K-2 school on the outskirts of Antigua.

I returned from Guatemala with a passion for global outreach and a strong desire to get more involved in TSC’s service work. In September of that year I was invited to join the TSC Board as a Student Advisor. Participating in monthly board meetings provided me with a behind the scenes understanding of the decision making and planning that goes into each TSC expedition. I loved the excitement and complexity of building the framework for each upcoming trip, so I decided to apply to be one of the TSC Leads for the summer trip to Peru and was selected as a Logistic Lead.

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       Teaching in the newly installed lab at          The Puente Piedra Project

I spent that winter working with my co-leads running student meetings, organizing team roles, leading fundraising efforts and communicating between team members and the Board. In July 2014 our team traveled to Lima, Peru and set up two labs in Puente Piedra. The main lab we installed was at a school partnered with the University of Washington through The Puente Piedra Project.

While I loved every minute of Guatemala, Peru was a more eye opening experience for me. We stayed in a convent called Hogar Immanuel, located in Zapallal, a sub section of Puente Piedra, the third largest slum in the world. Not only does this old convent house volunteers working at nearby schools, but it is also a girl’s orphanage (17 girls ages 4-20) and a kindergarten for children in the neighborhood. On one of the first nights that we were at the convent we were asked if we wanted to help tutor the girls living at the orphanage during their homework hour. Even though my Spanish is not the best, I jumped at this opportunity. That night I got to know some of the most loving children I have ever met. They immediately wanted to know all about why I was there, how old I was and all the places I had traveled around the world. I can’t tell you how hard it was to leave them at the end of the two weeks. To me, the experience of living right next door and constantly interacting with these girls was something I will cherish forever.

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Playing volleyball on the hill above the Convent

What sticks out to me the most when I think back to my trips is the sense of community that I felt wherever I went. On our last full day in Peru a group of us decided to trek up the giant hill behind the convent. After laboriously walking for 30 minutes up the steepest hill I have ever seen, we stumbled upon something I never would have found back home. On a narrow dusty street separated by a cleverly strung net, the hilltop neighborhood residents, young and old, were pitted against each other in a raucous, competitive game of volleyball. We were strangers, and clearly foreigners to them, yet they didn’t hesitate to invite us into the fun. I think back to that time on top of the hill a lot and how close I felt to those people regardless of the fact we had just met. Despite what little they physically had, they were some of the warmest people I have ever met: what they lacked in materialism they made up for in community.

As I sit here writing this blog post my time with TSC is coming to an end. In the fall I’ll be heading off to college to start my undergraduate experience, focusing on International Studies and Latin America. TSC has not only given me valuable leadership tools I will take with me into the future but also an understanding of what it truly means to be a global citizen. Getting involved was easily the best choice I made in my four years at Garfield and TSC will forever have a special place in my heart.

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Experiential Education for Teachers


ISEEN’s Executive Director Jess Barrie and I

Last week, I had one of the most powerful and inspiring experiences of my professional life. For ten years the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) has been holding January institutes for practitioners in the fields of Outdoor and Adventure, Service Learning, Sustainability, Leadership and Global Education. We share stories, best practices, student transformations, joys, challenges and triumphs in our experiential programs. Over the years, we continue to learn from each other, confident that the work we are doing provides very meaningful experiences for students. We are excited by the changes afoot in education: the move toward innovations such as project-based learning, Maker spaces, and design thinking reinforce what we have been doing for years. We long for more coherence between experiences in the field and experiences in the classroom, where students spend the majority of their time.

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Teaching my Global Education specialty group

For years the ISEEN board has been planning an institute for teachers, to offer them the opportunity to use experiential education “pedagogy and practice” in the classroom. Well, this year, they pulled it off, and it was truly amazing. Forty two teachers, five facilitators and three board members met on the campus of Santa Fe Preparatory School for 4 days of teaching and learning, creating new lessons and new ways to deliver content. Together we reviewed the pedagogical framework described by the Kolb Cycle and then had the opportunity to work out what it looks like in practice. Three discipline-specific groups (English, History and World Languages) each met for two days with a teacher-facilitator who routinely uses experiential education in the classroom. Each participant chose either Global Education or Service Learning to explore during the next two days.


The group on a hike up Sally’s Hill behind the school.

I had the privilege of facilitating the Global Education group, and it was exciting, challenging, exhausting and exhilarating! We began by investigating such questions as “What is global education?” “Why is it important?” “What is the relationship of global to local?” and “What daily classroom practices can I use to develop my students’ perspective of the world?” We discovered through our own experience how grounded students would feel if we use opening and closing activities to frame a class period.  We remembered the importance of physical movement to engage student learning. And laughter. Lots of laughter. By the end of our sessions, each teacher had new classroom practices in their “educator toolbox.” In addition, they returned home with a plan for either a lesson, a unit, a course, or a way to work with their department or school using experiential education. Bonus: we made new friends, ate delicious food, spent time hiking in the hills and walking around the town, and committed to supporting each other during the school year by sharing resources and holding each other accountable.

We all agreed it was one of the most exciting and inspiring professional development opportunities we have experienced. As an advisory board member to ISEEN, I am especially pleased that this institute, long in the making, was so successful. I dream of the day when experiential education pedagogy and practice are routine in all aspects of education, and these four days brought us a few steps closer to that vision.

Student Journey Series: Paloma Pineda


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 GW photo1education experiences. This week’s Student Journey post is written by Paloma Pineda, co-founder of Made in Africa, an organization aimed at using the growing apparel supply chain in West Africa to create jobs with livable wages for women.

My time in the Dominican Republic with the Lakeside GSL program was not my first experience outside of the US, but it was the first time that I had ever been expected to step outside my own culture. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the experience has directly shaped my choices and path ever since.

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Studying abroad in Paris

My strongest memories from Gualete, the small village that hosted our GSL program, are of very mundane moments. I remember sitting on the porch in the evening with my homestay sister, Yadhira, talking quietly together; watching the latest telenovelas while eating dinner with the family; laughing as the young girls in the family all tried out their latest dance moves. In many ways, the importance of these interactions came from their simplicity. I was simply attempting to engage in normal, everyday life in a place and culture different from my own.

There were many critical takeaways from my first GSL summer. I became aware of my own self, upbringing, and proclivities in an entirely new way – particularly around collective versus individualistic mindsets. I learned that I greatly prefer staying in a community for a while and building relationships as a means of exploring (as opposed to say, backpacking or city hopping). I saw that there is a profound difference between embracing and whole-heartedly living in a new place/culture versus retaining a mindset of constantly markinIMG_0205g out differences. Most importantly, I felt the deep sense of joy that comes with connecting meaningfully with those who, on the surface, share very little in common with you.

I have been incredibly lucky to have received opportunities to recreate this feeling of connection in many different places. During college summers, I used fellowships to live and work in Argentina, Ghana, Mali, and India. I also studied abroad in French universities for six months during my junior year. Within each context, I stayed with homestay families and/or developed strong relationships with local colleagues. Sometimes as I am walking down the street, a particular smell or sound will remind me of somewhere and I stand and close my eyes to savor the memory of being so entirely in that place for a period of time. To travel in this way has made me a more compassionate and humble person. It has shown me that despite disparate settings – from incredibly remote villages in Mali (where children had never seen a white person before) to the chic, modern art-filled apartment I shared with my homestay family in Paris –, the fundamentals of family, love, health, and opportunity rarely change.

As I write this, I am actualGW photo 3ly several months into living in Ghana, leading a new social enterprise called Made in Africa. A unifying theme of my time spent in developing countries was the need to create jobs in the formal sector, particularly for women. During college summers working on monitoring & evaluation for NGOs, I was frustrated by my inability to meaningfully move the needle. So I joined Bain & Co. following graduation, to accelerate my launch into social enterprise. After several years, I left Bain this past winter to co-start Made in Africa, which is focused on transforming the emerging apparel supply chain in West Africa to provide living wage jobs for women. I am learning so much every day, and continue to feel grateful for the global                                                                                 education opportunities and experiences that have led me to this point.

New Ideas About International Service

Being open to new ideas is important to me, and I love it when learning new things changes my perspective. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy being a member of the Impact Hub Seattle, because the community provides ample opportunities to expand my worldview. Last week, I attended an event there hosted bimagesy the Young Professionals International Network branch of the World Affairs Council. The event was a panel discussion of “Voluntourism,” and it was a lively exchange of ideas about the pros and cons of volunteering while traveling, student and family service learning trips, and how working in another country affects the traveler and the host.

I was especially impressed by an organization called Omprakash, and its founder, Willy Oppenheim. By what I am learning is an ever-more-frequent “coincidence” in my life, Willy and I have people in common — we went to the same college a generation apart — and have been meaning to meet for a couple of years now. Willy’s passion for his work was evident, but I was evend-logo more struck by the Omprakash model of using an online platform to match volunteers with organizations that need them, removing the middleman. By vetting the organizations and training volunteers, they destroy the common “pay a lot of money for the privilege of volunteering” model. I also love that they focus on a social justice mission and offer resources such as grant opportunities for volunteers, a donation platform for organizations, and college credit through the EdGE program. I got an extra testimonial from Awamaki, an organization in Peru I have served since its inception, whose Executive Director said their best (most thoughtful, well-prepared, hard-working) volunteers have come through Omprakash.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to learn about another organization at the Hub with a somewhat similar mission: Moving Worlds and the concept of “experteering.” Instead of going abroad to build a school when you have no building skills and the country you are about to visit has a job shortage, what if you looked at the 10696308_757699434320612_8674044576441419701_nskills you have and could match them to an organization that actually needs them? Moving Worlds helps individuals and company employees use skills like financial modeling, accounting, and impact assessment to help entrepreneurs get the help they need as they launch their businesses. My work in school service learning has taught me how challenging it can be to find meaningful, useful projects that “do no harm,” so I look forward to learning from these organizations.

Finally, my son sent me a link to an article describing a different way to help alleviate extreme poverty around the world: give cash. An organization based in Silicon Valley called GiveDirectly identifies individuals living in poverty and uses mobile banking to give them a year’s income, often around $1000. Read the article to learn about their methods and impact. Some analysts say they have been remarkably successful in a short period of time, and I am intrigued with the notion of giving enough that people can take care of basic needs and then invest in their future in a way that makes sense to them. There is so much respect implied in that action.

11001814_831777026912852_1041578684273294733_nMy brain is spinning with these new ideas and methods and I can’t wait to learn more about them. I will have the chance to engage others in these and other similar topics next week as I help facilitate ISEEN’s experiential education teacher workshop in Santa Fe. I welcome the advent of more active experience in the classroom — less sitting and absorbing — that I believe will be the next revolution in education. Re-thinking the way we do everything, including service to others, is a significant part of this kind of experiential pedagogy and practice.

Three Days in Victoria, B.C., Canada

As my sister who lived in Canada for many years used to say to me:

Despite what many people from the United States believe, Canada is a foreign country.

With my husband

With my husband

I had the chance to observe this statement in action on a recent visit to Victoria, B.C. I had a job at St. Michaels University School on Monday, May 25, so my husband and I decided to join the hordes and travel on the Victoria Clipper for Memorial Day weekend. The first thing to realize was that I would be working on a holiday, because of course, our Memorial Day is not Canada’s Memorial Day (that happened a week prior and is called Victoria Day, for those of you not in the know). From our first moments docking on Canadian shores to our last moments before we took off, we were delighted by many things that differentiate Canada from the U.S.

First of all, the money. Yes, we did need to change money and get used to an exchange rate. It used to be that the Canadian dollar was very close to the U.S. dollar; that is no longer the case, so we needed to convert in our heads whenever we saw prices listed. Fortunately for us, but not so much for the restaurants and coffee shops we frequented, the difference is in our favor. It was fun to see the beautiful bills (why is every other currency more attractive than ours?) and familiarize ourselves with the coins, including “loonies” and “toonies.” Another interesting thing about payment was that when we did use our credit card, everyone had small, hand-held “registers” we used to make our purchases. My auditor husband was particularly impressed with this progressive method which removes the most common way for merchants to commit fraud.

On the water

On the water

Our next wonderful surprise was a long walk along the waterfront, across the Johnson Street Bridge, and way out the north side of the Bay to Esquimalt. The walking trail, though quite urban and bordered by apartment buildings, also passed through Garry Oak forests and was dotted by small beaches (including one where we watched three otters cavort for some time), preserving a feeling of being close to nature. Interestingly, wheeled traffic — bikes, skateboards, roller blades — is prohibited, which lent a calmer, gentler feel to the experience than many of our city paths where we dodge the “wheelies.”

One of many plaques

One of many plaques

Another thing we noticed as we walked along: Canadians like plaques. They were everywhere, in parks, on benches, on buildings, on statues and artwork and along the path. Everything commemorates something or someone, or seeks to teach the wanderer something. We were properly edified through facts about explorers, First Nations people, environmentalists, artists, trees, beach erosion, and B.C. history.


Then there is the food. I know that pubs are catching on here — places where the family is welcome, food is hearty and delicious, and beer is house-made or at least local. But we ate at several and passed so many more, most with live music emanating from them, that it was definitely part of the culture there in a way that I loved and do not feel here: no pretense. Although we walked through the Empress Hotel and gawked at the ($65 per person!) high tea, we chose instead to visit Murchie’s for tea, also famous and fabulous and much more reasonable. In fact, we liked it so much the first day we made our way back for a second current scone and Murchie’s Medley tea before the boat left on Monday evening.

St. Michaels University School

On Monday I spent the day at St. Michaels University School, one of 26 in B.C. and only 90 in Canada (in stark contrast to 700 in Washington State and 1500 in the US). The nomenclature is different: Junior School is what we call Elementary School, Middle School is the same, and Senior School is what we call High School or Upper School. Other than that, the school felt much like any of the independent schools I have visited and/or worked in here in the U.S. Beautiful buildings, open space for students to roam and play in, a rigorous academic curriculum, smaller classes, a strong sports program, and a focus on character-building and emotional intelligence. In Canada, unlike the U.S., however, independent schools do receive some government funding and therefore need to adhere to the same standards as public schools. They are also connected to national and international programs through the Commonwealth such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award in which students can earn awards for excellence in service leadership. St. Michaels has a strong focus on service and a robust international program; I enjoyed meeting faculty, administrators and students who value experiential education in and out of the classroom, and who want to see it become an even more integral part of their school to reach even more students.

All in all, we had a thoroughly lovely time in Victoria, B.C., Canada. We returned home refreshed and stimulated by both the differences and similarities we experienced visiting our neighbors to the north. Let us continue to visit, learn from, and inspire each other.

Victoria, B.C.

Victoria, B.C.

Little Bee

I remember reading Little Bee, the novel by Chris Cleave, many years ago. I remember I loved it, that I couldn’t put it down and it really made me think. When I saw the excellent rendition of it by Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theatre last Friday, all the themes and the narrative grabbed me anew and threw me into another round of discovery.

51pWGanuqjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_For those of you not familiar with the story, Little Bee is a young Nigerian woman who met a British couple on a beach during wartime when Little Bee was fleeing her would-be captors and the couple were on a holiday trying to repair their damaged relationship. There is a horrifying violent encounter with soldiers which becomes a defining moment in both the couple’s and Little Bee’s life. Years later, they meet again in England and seek to repair the damage and find some way to connect. The novel is beautifully written, the story told in details that place the reader in each scene, and the play drew me in completely.

As the characters worked to find their way and make connections, I became one of them, asking myself the same questions that drove the cast, as adapter and director, Myra Platt, wrote in the liner notes: “How far would we go to help someone not of our culture? Whose lives have value? Who are we to tell someone they do not belong?” And I added a few of my own: “Why is it so hard to connect? What special role do women have in making the world a better place through our propensity to nurture connection? Why do we make it so hard for people seeking asylum to find it?”  The scenes in the detention center were especially troublesome, and made me think of the abuse happening in Nepali refugeeLB_Square camps after the recent earthquakes, those fleeing an untenable situation Myanmar finally finding “temporary” refuge in Indonesia and Malaysia, and a recent incident in a refugee and immigration center here in the Northwest.

As Little Bee fights to keep a positive attitude, she holds on to her belief in the basic goodness in human nature and works to understand her new situation. Laura, the British woman, examines the hell her life has become and seeks connection to some part of herself she can see reflected in Little Bee. Even as the women struggle, they find the desire to help each other, work together, and forge a new path is stronger than the forces that would tear them apart. Their relationship stands as a powerful example of the power of trust, of possibility, the opportunity to learn from each other and provide shelter when possible.

2015-04-27-1430166904-5864033-LittleBee_2015_Ulman_5-thumbI think about the times strangers have welcomed me during my travels, the times we made great efforts to learn about and understand each other. The hospitality shown me and what friendship with people from other cultures has meant to me makes me examine my own behavior here in the U.S. Am I as welcoming? When the opportunity has presented itself, I have opened my arms to embrace visitors, but have I reached out enough? How do I intend to extend the hand of friendship to others? How will I make my voice heard as I learn of atrocities committed in refugee and immigrant communities? How can I reconcile the fact that we are (almost all) descendants of immigrants, and yet we differentiate based on ethnicity, era and reason for immigration? How can we share the resources of time, money, space, and most importantly, friendship? I pledge to do better. Thank you, Little Bee, Laura, Chris Cleave, Myra Platt, and Book-It Repertory Theatre, for your inspiration.

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.