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.
Growing 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.
Because 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 have 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.
Since 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.