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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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.


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

One of our working walkings on Whidbey  Island!

One of our working walkings on Whidbey Island!

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

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

Vicki and me with our IDEO teammates at Impact Hub

With our IDEO team at Impact Hub

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

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

The New Orleans Experience

I just returned home from my trip to New Orleans with a group of 22 seniors and three adults from Trinity School in New York City. My mind is reeling to make sense of all the experiences we had, the people we met, and the issues we engaged with. Kaitlin’s previous post described the process of creating the experience; now I will say more about what it was like to be there.

The goals we created with Trinity School faculty were centered around big picture themes, and we wanted students, by the end of the experience to:

  • Understand the timeline and environmental, political, and cultural effects of Hurricane Katrina (pre, during, and post, including  issues related to wealth vs. poverty, self vs. other, oil industry, and community rebuilding efforts)
  • Explore the range of environmental issues still facing the Gulf Coast
  • Explore the city’s diverse cultural history and how different cultures have shaped the customs and traditions in modern day New Orleans
  • Analyze the city to city comparison between NYC and NOLA
  • Learn the overview of the city’s history (French rule, Spanish Rule, War of 2812, slavery and the slave revolt, Civil War, musical influences, pre- and post-Katrina)
  • Develop personal connections to the New Orleans community and make an impact through their service project(s)

Bayou Cleanup with LPBF

Our project was conceived as a week of environmental service learning with a focus on the Gulf region, pre- and post-hurricane Katrina. Normally, I like to work with one organization the entire length of a project to enable students to dig deeper into the issues, the groups we found were only able to host us a couple of days, so we chose more of a “smorgasbord” approach which had its challenges but also its perks. We learned about a variety of approaches to dealing with environmental issues facing people in the Gulf region, and each project was different enough to appeal to students in different ways. I have picked up my share of trash with groups over the years, but I had never catalogued it before our time spent with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF). LPBF works with the Sewage and Water Board of New Orleans to identify what types of trash is washing up into the newly created marshes at the mouth of the bayou. This helps them figure out where it is coming from and how to stop it. One person with a bag, one picking up trash, and one marking it on a clipboard (“three straws, ten pieces of plastic, six pieces of glass, one beer can, eight candy wrappers, one pencil,” etc.) made for some important teamwork.

Working at the Earth Lab at Groundwork New Orleans

Working at the Earth Lab at Groundwork New Orleans

When we moved into our work with Groundwork New Orleans, students were interested to note that that the two groups work in tandem on a number of projects that raise awareness while ameliorating the effects of disappearing land through sinkage and flooding, and working to stop the harmful human activities. Groundwork has two Earth Labs which they use to educate school groups about environmental issues and help them become stewards of the earth. In these, we helped beautify and call attention to one of the labs by painting a fence and signs to hang on it. We also created mosaics from donated recycled tiles to be used in a walkway. Their other project is on a center city street Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (referred to by locals at “OC Haley”). Once a booming black neighborhood, then left to deteriorate, the area is now coming back as the place for organizations helping change the city through good works. We weeded some rain gardens that help stem flooding, and then had the wonderful opportunity to meet with representatives from Bike Easy and Ride, two organizations working on transportation solutions in NOLA. We also ate at Cafe Reconcile, an organization that helps youth learn food service skills through job and social skill training in a restaurant that serves delicious local food.

Working with Jericho Road

Working on the vacant lot with Jericho Road

Our final service project was with Jericho Road, an organization that fights urban blight by beautifying vacant lots and engaging with communities about how to use them, whether for parks, urban gardens, or new homes. We covered a weedy lot with tarp and mulch to keep down weeds, and then painted and hung tires on a fence around a vacant lot that they hope will become a park one day. One of the best parts was meeting the energetic and committed young people who have chosen to work in the organizations we served. It was inspiring to see their dedication, passion, and hard work in the service of making life better for all.

Exhibit Be

Because our focus was social justice, we tried whenever possible to make our activities align with that overarching goal. Our tour of the French Quarter was with Hidden History Tours led by Mr. Leon Waters, a man intent on teaching the history of New Orleans from the point of view of the oppressed rather than the oppressor, and we learned some fascinating stories from him that changed many of our perspectives on certain events. When we visited a t-shirt shop and allowed each student to buy a shirt, we chose Dirty Coast because all of their messaging is about social causes and they donate a portion of their proceeds to organizations working in the area. We had two chances to visit the inspiring Exhibit Be, in Algiers, and hear the story of its inception from Brandon Odums, the artist who made it happen. We all left moved by the images and by the power of art to change lives.



Of course, a trip to New Orleans would not be complete without time in the French Quarter, listening to live music in the street — one of the students was even able to sit in and play his trumpet with a few of the bands! We attended a Sacred Music Festival, a St. Patrick’s Day parade, the National WWII Museum, the Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, and a concert at Preservation Hall. A Trinity graduate who is now a professor at Tulane gave us a private tour of the Middle American Research Institute, engaging the students with passion for his subject area and stories of his professional journey. Meals at restaurants, Po’Boy stands, and in the HandsOn New Orleans bunkhouse kitchen, games in the evening, and singalongs on the balcony rounded out our time together.

Overall, it was a whirlwind of experiences that I’m sure will take some time to sort out. The city is vibrant, alive, recovering, and thriving in many places. Ten years after Katrina there is much to be proud of, and much still to be done. I’m sure these high school seniors will not soon forget the places they went, people they met, activities they did, and issues they were exposed to. I believe we met our big picture goals, and I look forward to seeing what the post-trip evaluations uncover about their experience, how the time affected them, and what it will mean in the future, both for them and for Trinity School.

One students' personal t-shirt design after visiting Dirty Coast. The choice is yours.

One students’ personal t-shirt design after visiting Dirty Coast. The choice is yours!



Designing a Service-Learning Program in New Orleans

If you’ve been following Global Weeks on Facebook or Twitter, you probably know that one of our bigger projects has been designing a weeklong service-learning program in New Orleans for a group of high school seniors from Trinity School in New York City. After months of planning and preparing, the program is currently underway! Students are doing service with with Jericho Road Housing Initiative and GroundWork New Orleans, exploring the Hidden History of the 1811 Slave Revolt in the French Quarter, listening to jazz at Preservation Hall, and touring the National World War II Museum, among many other historical and cultural activities. You can expect a post about how the program went from Vicki’s perspective after the program wraps up, but I first wanted to share a bit about the design process.

The students after a debris cleanup at Bayou St. John

The students after a debris cleanup at Bayou St. John

We first wrote the contract to develop this program back in October when I started my SIT Graduate Institute practicum with Global Weeks. While the school boasts an impressive Global Travel Program, they have never offered a domestic service-learning program. Within the parameters of developing an environmentally-focused service program, we had a completely clean slate. For me, this was equal parts exciting and daunting. I was thrilled to have the creative freedom to build a program, and overwhelmed at where to begin.

While six months may seem like plenty of time to develop a weeklong program, we were actually a bit late to the game. This week is spring break for many students around the country, and many schools offer annual service trips to New Orleans. By October, many volunteer bunkhouses and service organizations were already booked solid for the spring of 2015. I can’t tell you how many inquiry calls ended with another organization scratched off our list of potential partners; had our search been limited to internet resources, we might have been in trouble. Fortunately, one of the many perks of Vicki’s 30 year career in global education is a wealth of connections in the field. We reached out to her professional networks, former students and colleagues who had lived, worked, or traveled in New Orleans, tapping into resources we otherwise would not have found.

Throughout the design process, this was Vicki's mindset: We Can Do It! (photo from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans)

Throughout the design process, this has been Vicki’s mindset: We Can Do It! (photo from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans)

We used backward design thinking to map out the big picture learning outcomes and develop measurable goals and objectives. In collaboration with the team at Trinity, we drafted the program description, mapped out the daily itinerary, and surveyed students about what they wanted out to learn and experience. This was all new for me. When I’ve developed programs in the past, I’ve always worked for the school or organization offering the program — I’ve understood the inner workings, policies, and culture. Consulting in this way was an iterative process, moving forward while also stepping back to reevaluate, continually checking in with the program goals to make sure the service and curricular activities were in alignment with the learning outcomes.

In January, we went on an exploratory trip to New Orleans and met many of the people we had connected with. They, in turn, connected us with more people, and we began to develop our own network of community partners. As we fine-tuned the schedule, we relied heavily in the relationships we had built. When we wanted to know whether or not a museum exhibit was worthwhile, weasked them. When we needed to find a driver, we asked them. When we wanted to figure out a way for the students to experience ExhibitBE, a collaborative graffiti art project at an abandoned apartment building on the West Bank, it turned out that one of our contacts was friends with the artist who made the entire installation possible. She was able to arrange a personal tour for the Trinity students — an opportunity we would have never had without her. Having “eyes on the ground,” so to speak, allowed us to vet organizations and activities that we didn’t have time to experience on the exploratory trip.

This is what most people see when they go to ExhibitBE: CLOSED.

This is what most people see when they go to ExhibitBE: CLOSED.

What I have loved about designing this program has been its collaborative nature.  As consultants, Vicki and I worked together to create the program from the ground up in collaboration with stakeholders from the school and New Orleans. We’ve been able to use our experience to help a school create a program they had the desire but not the capacity to build.

After this first year Trinity School plans to run the program annually over spring break, keeping what worked and adjusting as necessary to fit their school’s needs. In the end, the recipe for a successful program was a lot of research, a lot of reaching out, and a number of serendipitous encounters.


Stay tuned to the blog for Vicki’s post about her experience leading the New Orleans program!