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. 

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.

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”