Magic

In leadership studies, we borrow psychology’s notion of a “holding environment”. With this, we talk about creating a container for learning and growth to occur.

These images greatly inform my understanding of my professional work. As an educator, I don’t ‘grow’ my students; I don’t ‘empower’ them. In fact, I offer that you can never actually empower another, as it is antithetical of the word itself. I rarely even impart a specific fact/idea/opinion. Okay, I might give my opinions, but never as “the way” to think about something.

Instead, I create space. I help build the conditions for students– and myself– to engage in deeper levels of understanding. I ask questions. A lot of questions. And I encourage people to consider their stories in light of the larger backdrop of values, culture, and the world.

My understanding of my work harkens back to the mission of the Women’s Center with whom I worked previously: to invite women [people] to find voice, develop skills for transformation, and understand who they are called to be.

And when this holding environment is just right, when the conditions fostered are ones that provide safety and trust, and students boldly step into the container accepting the invitation extended, magic happens. I use the word magic intentionally here, for nothing else captures the power of these moments.

Do you know what I am talking about? When there is a shift in the air and suddenly what is being offered speaks to the human experience in a way that we often glaze over? The feeling of looking around a circle (it’s always in circles, isn’t it?) and knowing that you are being allowed to see– really see­– the people around you.

I am talking about the experience of watching as someone unfolds into their own Immensity.

To me, the significance of this work does not end in the moment itself, nor does the impact remain on a personal level. When we feel the transformative power of community, we ourselves are transformed. We experience healing. And in that healing, are able to engage in our lives from a place of greater wholeness. We gaze out into the world with new eyes for what it could be and with a new sense of agency in our role in making it so.

These are all things so desperately needed in the face of our changing, uncertain, and suffering world. In many ways, these are the moments that define and affirm my work.

Our last full day in Thailand was simply full of these moments for me.

Throughout every unit, students work on a media project where they choose a question or area of interest that they want to explore further. With limited access to the Internet and electricity, the projects in Thailand took an inward focus and creative forms.

As a part of their study of Sustainable Agriculture, a prominent theme was our relationship to food. A group of women looked at cultural messages around food and the body with spoken word poetry to share their reflections. Another group used personal interviews to develop monologues illuminating the notion you are what you eat. Others shared poems about big agriculture and short stories about a growing openness to organic practices.

The other core theme was one that looked at how life in Huay Thong Ko changed our perception and ways of being. One brave woman did an interpretive dance contrasting the life of her mother in the States with the life of her mooga in her Karen homestay. Three of our men wrote personal pieces on how their experience in the village changed their perspectives of rural living and constructs of “developing” (links to the projects coming soon).

The power in all of this was in the way that the students stepped into a vulnerable space, bringing their personal journeys into their learning and evolving ideas. There was a clear movement from previous media projects, which had been largely an academic exercise, to a practice of using lived experience in the pursuit of change efforts.

The students stepped away from disembodied questions of “what do I think?” and took up the more challenging inquiry of “how does this inform the way that I live?”

I cried throughout the entire thing.

Because, in their courageous acts of sharing themselves, they affirmed their own worth and potential. And they invited others to consider the same.

To me, at the root of social injustice is a neglect to honor the Light and dignity within all living things. To counter this, I believe that we need spaces where we can be ourselves, discover ourselves. And we need people who will find the strength within to look in the mirror and share what they see. I feel so humbled to accompany students on the journey of doing precisely this– it really is nothing short of magical.

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The monkey and the owl

While I don’t know this from personal experience, it seems to me that the most difficult part of having children is letting go of them. By this I mean progressively giving them the space they need to develop personal autonomy (a sense of self); or, accepting that you cannot interfere in the natural development process, including when the process gets to questioning (if not rejecting) most everything you ever taught/gave. For any parents of college students who are reading this, I assure you that this is actually a healthy stage of their development.

 

And I should say that my parents handled this swimmingly (my 19 year-old self may not have said the same, as expected per the aforementioned process).

 

It is neat to now be at a place in life that sees myself as distinct from my parents (as opposed to the definition of self/values in opposition to them), while appreciating them in me as well.

 

Which brings me to this post.

 

As some of you know, I am quite infatuated with the notion of spirit animals, and I have long since self-identified as a monkey.

 

While traveling with a class last summer, I shared this fact and my professor protested, saying that I am an owl.

 

The reality is, I am both. My cohort friends tease me when they only see Owl Stacey for too long, insinuating she only belongs in the classroom. Come to think of it, they tease me when Monkey Stacey comes out as well, posturing that they must “brace themselves”.

 

In contrast to life at school, much of my interactions in Rwanda come from a place connected to Monkey Stacey. With the absence of language, abstract thought and reflection are a challenge to get across, where silly voices, ridiculous dancing, and general goofiness transcends culture and our language differences.

 

As I jaunted across the compound, making the kids laugh by shaking my hips, shrugging my shoulders, and bobbing my head to their radio music, it occurred to me how much Monkey Stacey is a mirror image of my father- particularly the Saturday morning variation from my childhood. With this discovery, I realized that Owl Stacey comes from my mother’s critical thinking skills, passion for learning, and diligent work ethic.

 

It made me laugh to think that, for a year, I discussed “the monkey and the owl” with friends but never traced their roots. And to see my parents’ touch on who I am- without my individuality feeling threatened- made me smile.

 

I love you, mom and dad.

My Story p. 2: International Education

As I embark (today!) for Rwanda and enter more formally into the field of international education, I am reflecting on my own experience abroad and how it shapes my perspective and approach. I am really excited to see what I learn about international ed and how my framework will shift and be formed in my next two roles.

Here is a snapshot of my journey thus far:

 1998-2006: Italy, France, Spain, Canada, China, Mexico, & Costa Rica

  • What: My grandparents take my sister and I on a trip every year. This is hugely transformative and a gift that I will never be able to thank them enough for.
  • So What: The trip that stands out most is our visit to China: we cruise the Yangtzi and see farming communities whose homes will be submerged once the dam project is finished. This opens my eyes to what is going on in the world, and the complexity of ethics (e.g. is it “okay” to displace thousands who have been living on the land for centuries to provide power to millions crammed in a city?).
  • Then What: I have more of a global perspective starting college and am ready for an adventure.

January – June 2008: Tanzania

  • What: I study with Houghton in Tanzania. Following the program, I stay with Living Water Children Center and teach English and Art, while also visiting my dear friends at Wild Hope International.
  • So What: This trip raises questions for me in terms of how to do development well. It also teaches me a lot about my own culture, and I return feeling pretty disillusioned with American culture.
  •  Then What: After the questions from Tanzania, I don’t know what to do with my interest in international work and I feel rather paralyzed by my awareness of my neo-colonial framework.

January 2012: El Salvador

  • What: I travel with the University of San Diego on their Romero Immersion Program. As an immersion trip, we visit with local people, learn about the history of their war, and the connection of it and current affairs to US Foreign Policy.
  • So What: I am inspired by a model that does not posit students as heroes, but as learners. I am re-engaged in international education as a potential career path.
  •  Then What: This trip brings a more concrete idea of the notion of social justice and informs my research and the rest of the time in my Masters program.

June 2012: Sri Lanka

  • What: I go with dear classmates from USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences to study Sarvodaya International’s community development model and the role of spirituality within it.
  • So What: I am inspired by an approach to development that looks beyond economics and am energized by a service-learning approach that is driven by local community members and done in partnership with them, as we share in a work party with the local community who planned and funded the project.
  • Then What: Both my interest in development and rural living is peaked through this time. I also am able to better integrate my cultural identity, moving away from the purely host-favored mentality of my previous experiences. Both of these pieces awakened in me my desire to focus on this area upon graduation.

June – August 2013: Rwanda (I leave in T-minus 30 minutes!)

September – April 2013: Six TBD Countries

As I maintain this blog throughout both of my trips, I hope to track my understanding of international education. I know that I cannot even fathom what is to come, and how I will learn, grow, and change over the next nine months. I look forward to journeying with students through their development and process, and will be attentive to my own as well, using this blog as a space to do some of that work.

New Job. New Blog.

Daloz Parks (2011) talks about the journey of emerging adults (me) as one of becoming at home in the universe. This is not a physical home, but a sense of place, begging the questions: Who am I? What is my purpose? Where do I find community? What makes me come alive?

Professionally, it is my role to journey with students as they ask these questions. In reality, I am going through a concurrent process.

My blog title is not about the classic movie that my parents could never get through without crying (I wonder as a quasi dog owner if I could today?), but rather a nod to this developmental task.

Right now, I am sitting in my hotel room with colleagues at training for my summer job. We had this brilliant moment where we were exchanging book recommendations on the history and present state of Africa, and I felt that sense of becoming that Daloz Parks alludes to.

I remember explaining to my friend and roommate on our trip to Sri Lanka last summer that I felt like development workers were more naturally “my people” than student affairs professionals. Don’t get me wrong- I have loved my time in student affairs. I have dear friends and treasured mentors in the field. I don’t know that I am finished with it. And I am certain that student development will be a part of my life and work. But, the conversations at SA conferences, SAchat, etc. do not light me up in the way that this book exchange did.

And I am thrilled to be spending some time on the things that make me feel most alive.

So I begin this blog with exciting news. I just accepted a position with Thinking Beyond Borders to co-instruct and mentor students during a global gap year program. As soon as I return from my time in Rwanda this summer (serving as an advisor with ThinkImpact), I will head to TBB training and depart early September.

This blog is my attempt to create a space to engage in public learning, to reflect, and to share my experiences with these two phenomenal positions and organizations. If I were to predict themes, they will be around power, development (human and community), education, and social justice, with the expected stories that come from cross-cultural exchange and travel.

But, the thing about adventures is that you can’t really predict them. So we will all just have to wait and see…

References:

Parks, S. D. (2011). Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Emerging Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith. New York, NY: Jossey-Bass.