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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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.

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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!

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.

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Since its inception in 1992, December 3rd marks the observance of the United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Each year revolves around a different theme, and his year’s is particularly relevant to global education: “Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology.”

Over the years, advances in technology have vastly changed our ability to provide opportunities for international education without physically crossing borders. Virtual classrooms, open source technology, MOOCs, and other online platforms have allowed for many exciting developments in the field. For people living with various disabilities, however, these technologies have their limitations.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over a billion people in the world (roughly 15 percent of the global population) are living with some form of disability. This staggering statistic has me wondering how global educators can better serve students with disabilities, both at home and abroad.

Organizations like Mobility International USA (MIUSA) help students with mental and physical disabilities prepare for and participate in international programs all over the world. MIUSA also administers the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE), a project funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA), to provide free technical assistance and online resources for international education professionals and their students. The Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES) is committed to developing, promoting, and implementing universally designed accessible user interface technologies.

Here in Seattle, the public library is celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities with a screening of “Ray.” They’ll also feature demonstrations of computer and other assistive technology resources available at the library, including: talking computers, braille display systems, and hand-writing guides.

We would love to hear from you! Use the comment field below to let us know how what your community is doing to raise awareness for International Day of Persons with Disabilities, share a story, or contribute resources.