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!

Student Journey Series: Khatsini Simani

Khatsini SimaniEach month, the Student Journeys Series will feature a guest blog post by a former student of Vicki’s. They’ll write about how their lives have been shaped through their global education experiences. This week’s Student Journey post is written by Khatsini Simani. Khatsini enjoys learning for the sake of learning, seeking knowledge about her own ethnic history, and making time for creative expression. She currently supports bike safety education in schools in the greater Seattle area at the Cascade Bicycle Club and is pursuing a degree in construction management. Something that excites her at the moment is the national Youth Bike Summit, an annual event where youth ages 14-24 will gather to explore what bicycling means to us and the future! Join Khatsini and Bike Works in Columbia City Feb 13-15.


Senegal, 2009


My first experience with global learning in the context of formal education was in Senegal, through a Global Service Learning program at Lakeside High School in 2009. This was the first time I had traveled outside of the U.S. with peers and at an age at which I could remember.

Although I wasn’t new to adapting to different environments (bussing from Rainier Valley to Lakeside School daily was itself a game of cultural Double Dutch), the trip to Senegal proved to be a pivotal moment in my life with a lasting impact.

Goree Island

Reflecting on Goree Island

When I think of my time in Senegal, the following memories come to mind: reflecting on the rocky coast of Gorée island; learning Wolof; sitting under a veiny Baobab tree with my host family while discussing the construction of race and our cultural norms; seeing, for the first time in my life, a sea of deep brown faces that looked similar to my own upon stepping off of the plane in Senegal; observing large French men smoking cigars in Thies; volunteering at a hospital’s backyard urban farm; building lasting friendships.

The smallest, most vivid details stay with me just as much as those which brought forth questions about identity, privilege and purpose.

Ten years ago I was a quirky and athletic introvert with a face half-hidden by glasses. Growing up in Rainier Valley, complex feelings of belonging to a community rich in diversity grew alongside a desire for physical and economic agency. Through books and late afternoon bike rides around the city, I’d imagine my way into different worlds.

With my bike at Cascade

Working with Cascade Bicycle Club

Today I find my world expanded through travel. The experiences I have, both locally and globally, that place me in unfamiliar spaces challenge me to grow and to interact differently with my environment. The more I experience, the more I find myself yearning for authenticity, seeking perspectives outside of my own or those in my immediate vicinity, and better appreciating the value of diversity.

Flying outside of the country gave me a new perspective of the U.S.—our values, norms, and unique past. Being largely immersed in a new culture caused me to critique the values I carried and to grapple with my perceptions of power, privilege and agency at a much larger magnitude than I had before.

KMS_ Senegal2

Senegal, 2009

We live in a world that connected in many ways, yet segregated and isolated in others. When I lived in the valley, my community was my block and city. Through travel and new cherished relationships, I began to envision myself as a part of a larger community and my network expanded.

Global education can reshape the idea of community and facilitate all types of learning. For a student to be placed in a situation where they are challenged to be outside of their comfort zone, is great preparation for real life, where syllabi often don’t exist and opportunities for growth are everywhere. Discomfort can cause a person to ask questions like: What values do I hold and why? What can I learn in situations of discomfort or uncertainty? How can service be mutually beneficial, whether it is local or global? With savvy facilitation, I believe education in a global setting can cultivate new ways of engaging, learning and shrinking the spaces between our many worlds.

Global Education in a Local Context

779f973c8590689ae4af87ca447468fcThis week we honored the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader, activist, preacher and hero whose actions, words and beliefs inspired millions of people when he was alive, and continue to do so today. One of my sons works in a public K-8 school in Denver as a playground and leadership coach for the national organization Playworks. When reflecting on the importance of honoring Dr. King with a national holiday, he asked himself the following question: is a day off the best way to honor Dr. King?

The question made me think. King fought hard for equal access to education for all children, regardless of race, class, or religion. He valued the kind of diversity that is still rare today, and believed that hope for the world lay in people of all types coming together and sharing their lives. Schools are places that can support that vision of unity, and Playworks is one organization that is working to move King’s dream forward. The Playworks coaches who bring the spirit of cooperation — solving problems through serious play, teamwork, and fun — to public schools all over the nation, therefore, spend their day “off” in other kinds of communal service projects. All around the MLK_IMAGEnation, they join people who honor Dr. King’s legacy by serving their communities, a movement that calls for a National Day of Service in place of a day off. Other people choose to assert their civil rights and honor Dr. King by taking part in marches and rallies for causes important to them. Some choose art as an expression of their respect, seeing movies like Selma or the plays about King’s time in history such as All the Way and The Great Society which recently played at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

These tributes and this time to reflect on what Dr. King stood for —  the importance of putting actions behind words — inspire me to think about how global education can be played out on a local level. I am asked this question often in my work: Why do we traipse all over the globe when there are so many issues to deal with close at hand?

The answer is that I do not see these things as mutually exclusive. We need active, engaged citizens at all levels. Although I will always advocate for the transformative power of meaningful experiences in other countries, I see equal value in working in your own neighborhood. Getting involved in local communities with a global focus is a wonderful way to expand your mind, learn about another culture, share your experience, and work together with other people in service of this planet we all share. All areas of the country are becoming increasingly global, providing excellent opportunities to explore the world within your city boundaries.

Here in Seattle, many people participated in the National Day of Service — including Mayor Murray (pictured doing trail work with the Nature Consortium)

Here in Seattle, for instance, there are a number of organizations working to have a global impact. We have huge organizations like the Gates Foundation, which takes on global health issues, as well as many small neighborhood organizations like the Refugee Women’s Alliance, which helps newcomers escape horrors in their home countries. Some choose to focus on youth education and leadership, like Global Visionaries and One World Now. Others, such as the Horn of Africa Foundation, serve particular cultural groups. There are also organizations that emphasize adult education such as the World Affairs Council and Global Washington, which host speakers, develop curriculum, and put on conferences.

Lakeside students during a service project at Makah Indian Reservation

Lakeside students during a service project at Makah Indian Reservation

Our schools, elementary, secondary, college and universities, public and private, are also wonderful resources for global-local connections. On any given day, you can hear a lecture, attend a performance, visit a museum, or take a class with a global focus. Universities bring visiting scholars who love meeting local people and sharing their culture, language and stories. The Humphrey Fellowship program at the University of Washington, is one such program. Last year, our family had the wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know public service professionals from Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt who were part of the program. Many universities across the country have comparable programs.

As violence erupts in many parts of the world due to tensions born of ignorance and bigotry such as the recent attacks in France and Nigeria, it becomes more and more important to get involved in your local-global community. Get to know your neighbors, listen to their stories and help out where you can. Each of these connections is an opportunity to increase understanding and inspire action. Make Dr. King proud.

Ferguson and Global Education

Ferguson Protest DCWhat do the uprisings about white police shooting black men have to do with global education? Everything. We don’t relate to what we don’t understand. Fifty years after desegregation, we are still largely a segregated society, in some geographical areas more than others. When we lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., our neighborhood and the schools my children attended were diverse ethnically and socioeconomically. Here in Seattle, Washington, where I live now, despite   that fact that I have vivid grade school memories of passing out leaflets to support an Open Housing initiative, our city is largely divided along racial lines. On the one hand, we have a very diverse city filled with people from all over the world, and on the other hand, depending on where you live, you might only see people of one ethnicity in your neighborhood. This arbitrary division leads to ignorance at best, and mistrust and hatred at worst.

10258054_670934492942013_2368045362965548353_nWhen it is possible to go about the day to day business of life without interacting with people from different walks of life, it is easy to stay inside your comfortable bubble. And we like easy, we like comfortable; let’s face it, taking in all the news about racism and violence and power and stalemate is not comfortable. But if we don’t step out into discomfort, if we don’t interact,  we don’t know the stories, the struggles, and the perspective; we can’t begin to open the door to understanding. If there’s one thing travel has taught me, it’s that people are the same, made up of the same hearts, minds, and blood coursing through their veins. However, our particular geography, language, culture, history, background, opportunity, and ethnicity distinguish us one from the other, give us the chance to step out of our own skin, reach across the barriers and seek to understand another’s opinion, perspective, and life. It seems to be to be ever rarer, even among white people, including the mostly white, mostly men who make up our elected officials, to talk “across the aisle” in order to understand each other’s points of view and work together for the common good. So if they have trouble, is it any wonder that people of different races are having difficulty?

MO07-6-25-002One criticism some people have about global education, especially when there is a service component, is that there are so many issues to work on here at home; why are we going halfway around the world? It is a valid point only if you see issues abroad and issues at home as separate entities, which I do not. A truly immersive experience in another culture requires entering the world of another; it changes hearts and minds forever. Shifting perspective can be easier when difference is thrust upon an outsider in another country, speaking a new language, far away from home where everything is unfamiliar. But once the shift happens overseas, all new encounters carry that empathetic thread, even those happening right across town. In my work with students over the years, I have watched this process unfold hundreds of times, and it gives me great joy. I know that many of those students who spent time overseas are marching in the streets today, working for social justice for all people. Though there’s never only one cause of their motivation, conversations I have had, posts I have read, and life choices I have witnessed confirm the connection between global experience and local action.

The following appeal is from a former student who has always stood for truth and justice; her views broadened and deepened after a high school project where she lived and worked in Senegal:

“Who will stand on the side of justice, if not my family, neighbor, friend, colleague… myself? Who will work to change unjust systems if not us? Who will determine that tomorrow is not “business as usual” if not us? ALL lives are equally valuable. I want to have faith that if any folks I knew made up that jury, they would stand on the side of justice. What if everyone could say that and it could be true? We need more spaces to gather, as people, to share our stories, to heal, to connect and to build a new way of relating to each other that is not based on fear, violence, or simply financial transactions… My heart is heavy for this family and all the others whose lives were taken by a hand that was supposed to protect.”