Proud Alum

I’m always so proud of the great work the MVAllstars put on! (My former high school theater troupe.) Even in the midst of a pandemic and school closing, the show must go on!

Today has felt like a really long day for me going between meeting calls, classes, and studying for a midterm test tomorrow – I’ve been going fairly non-stop from 10am-8pm including a meeting during lunch. And after a long day of work, I was happy to then get to eat dinner and relax while watching the MVAllstars virtual production of Matilda the Musical.

I’ve been teaching dance classes once a week online and that’s had all sorts of challenges, so I can only imagine the amount of hard work everyone had to put into this project in order to pull off a full virtual musical. Super impressive work by the entire cast and crew. Truly a theatrical feat that will go down in MVAllstars history.

I’m honored to call myself an alum of such an adventurous and imaginative group that’s eager to face any challenge with open minds and willing hearts. Brava Allstars!

Too Much Choice

Today I realized a trend in my learning habits: I don’t do well with projects that give me too much choice.

You know, the projects that are super open-ended and students can pick “any topic” or, in my case with business classes, “any organization” to do their assignment on. I’m the kind of person that likes to weigh out all of my options before I make a decision. So when an assignment has hundreds of possible options to focus on, I just end up getting stressed and overwhelmed and usually end up procrastinating the decision until I inevitably have to make a last-minute decision I’m not happy with.

Clearly, this is a trend because when I think back to all of the assignments where I’ve had ample choice, every single one of them has caused me this stress and overwhelming feeling – the “Big History” project freshman year of high school, the civil rights project junior year of high school, my organizational behavior project last year, and right now my marketing assignment.

Now I’ll admit, I know not every student stresses these choices to the same extent I do. Some people are perfectly happy with just going along with the first thing they think of, but I also know I’m not alone in my frustration with these situations. And when I connected these dots, I also realized that my feelings actually correspond with what psychology tells us about choice: people tend to panic when given too many options. This is why any time you’re tasked with making a survey you’re told to not make too many questions or give too many answer choices. There’s a reason multiple-choice tests typically have 3-4 potential answers… The science says too many options and people won’t choose at all.

This makes me wonder, how might we find the balance between giving students choices in their learning without giving an overwhelming amount of choices to choose from?

Student choice is great, but it’s only great in moderation. We don’t want to paralyze students in effort to give them more choices in their learning.

For example with my marketing assignment that I’m currently working on, I would have loved if our professor said, “You are consulting for company X. You can choose any challenge/threat, target market, user need, etc. to focus on in your marketing strategy suggestions, but this is the company you are consulting for.” There is still plenty of room for choice and creativity in an assignment like this, but the slightly more focused prompt, just by giving the name of a company, would make this assignment feel so much less grand. Plus let’s face it, in the “real world” you get hired by a specific company, you don’t go around making up ideas for just any company you want – unless you have a very unique business model in your organization… I love this kind of project of identifying user needs and brainstorming ways to meet them, it’s essential design thinking just being called “marketing”, but I don’t get the purpose of working without first starting with a specific user. And we would still have to do plenty of research and problem identification work in order to respond to this assignment, but we wouldn’t have to waste time figuring out what company (user) we’re working for.

I urge teachers to consider the issue of giving too much choice when creating assignments because it’s such an unnecessary cause of school stress.

Research Papers

I’ve been working on this same research paper for over a year now. Our Engineers Without Borders team has been interested in the use of design thinking in the global WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) sector so we decided to do a literature review on the subject. Last spring we curated resources to review. Then over the summer, we reviewed those resources sorting by what seemed most relevant. Then in the fall, we got together our first full draft of the analysis work. We had experts give us feedback over the winter break, and now this spring we have been working on revisions. This process has taken a lot longer than we thought, but no one on our team has really done anything like this before so there has been a large learning curve. We are hoping to finally publish in the next few months or so even if it has to be an informal white-page kind of publication at first, (We’ve been working on getting funds to actually publish to an academic journal, but at this point, we believe it’s more important to just get the information out there than to wait to have the fundings for a more formal publish),  though I feel like I’ve been saying this for the past 6 months…

To be honest, I’m very ready to be done with this paper. It’s gotten to the point where I sometimes feel like I’ve re-read the same thing far too many times and just can’t think about it anymore, but I suppose that’s what the writing process is all about: writing and re-writing. Though the other thing that really bothers me every time I go to work on this project is just the general formatting of research papers.

From my perspective, there is a very small part of our population that really reads formal research reports, and it’s mostly just people actively in academia. Yet, most research studies have information that would be interesting and perhaps even beneficial for a much larger audience to be aware of, but these papers just aren’t in a very user-friendly medium. Research papers are long, use technical language to the point that almost feels like overkill, and are typically formatted in a way that’s uninviting to read (small, close together font with multiple columns all in black and white). When I have to look at research papers for school, I know that I never really want to read them – no matter how interesting the title makes the study sound – because they just look so intimidating. So every time I work on our paper I can’t help but wonder, “Is anyone really going to read this…?”

I just wonder if rather than writing a traditional research paper, if our work would be better received if we considered different modes of sharing our results. And I wonder this for all research. While it’s good to have documentation of the technical aspects of research papers, should a greater amount of time be spent on thinking about how to make that research more accessible rather than more “technically sound”?

Missing Schedules

Today was one of those days where I feel like I did a lot and yet nothing at all.

I have found that sometimes the combo of extra time and being aware of so many things that need to be done just creates disfunction and lots of circling between different projects. Today I worked a bit on a research paper, a bit on school assignments, a bit on choreography, a bit on conditioning, a bit on organizing old videos, a bit on a graduation thing for my sister, and a bit on my global leadership program work, but while I know I dabbled in a lot I didn’t complete anything which makes it feel weirdly not productive of a day even though I did so much.

I’ve always had this issue. I think it’s because I’m a very associative thinker so I make connections between different projects I’m doing and then it makes me want to work on that other project while the new idea is fresh in my head. I struggle to find a balance between working on a lot and working intensely on one thing.

I think there is value in working a little bit on a lot sometimes because it helps keep me stay engaged in working in general when the topic and medium change, versus getting bored with working on something and then feeling too burnt out to work on anything else. However, there can also be value in just sitting down and finishing one thing, because then it’s not constantly looming over you as something that still needs to be done and energy and happiness can come from the achievement of completing a task that needs to be done.

I miss having a bit more of a schedule dictated by someone other than just me because schedules can help manage this balance since more often than not there is a specific time to work on a specific project. This is why I like working in teams and constantly stay busy and involved, because with teams/clubs we have to make specific meeting times for everyone to be together and then I have a designated time to make sure certain work gets done rather than letting my mind wander on its own.

I knew I always liked to stay busy, but I think isolation has helped me realize how a big part of why I like staying busy is because of the structure it provides to my everyday life. I mean I love time every now and then to just go off on mental tangents and work on the weird projects you wouldn’t usually think about, but now 3.5 weeks of mental wandering makes me miss schedules and structure.

A True Break

Since this weekend is supposed to be Easter “Break,” I’ve decided to try and cut myself some slack and not focus so much on the idea that I have to use all of this extra time we’ve been given to always be super productive.

So, after the interview I conducted for my human development project, a brief call home with a little discussion about gymnastics, I then basically watched Netflix all day. And it was very relaxing.

I’m a busy person by nature. I always have been. Even way back in 4th grade I was playing on two soccer teams, competing in gymnastics, a Girl Scout, and playing the lead in the school theater production while making straight A’s in school. Since I’ve spent my entire life going from one activity to the next, I’ve grown used to the need to always feel like I’ve accomplished something by the end of the day.

But this need to be productive can be overwhelming in a situation like we’re in now where we have so much time that it seems foolish to not use the time to try and get tons of things done. I’ve been trying to get ahead in classes and draft papers; I’ve seemed to have a meeting almost every day for some project or another; even when I just do something like play the flute I never end up stopping until I have completely learned and recorded all of a four-part song. However, I’ve had several professors and seen several articles circulating around about how it can be a good thing to actually rest during this time and not stress about trying to have so many achievements.

So my goal for this weekend (though perhaps it’s paradoxical to call it that) is try and truly take a break. No meetings, no school work, no gym work, and I’m not even going to blog. I’ll post about how it went in two days. I’m a bit doubtful I’ll actually be able to last the weekend without doing anything productive, but I know it can be good for the mind to take a break and just be mindless sometimes so we’ll see how it goes.

 

Repeat

As week three of isolation comes to a close, I’ve started to find things to be very repetitive. It’s like someone turned a song on loop with how every day I do the same basic routine:

Wake up.

Eat breakfast.

Have a meeting with people in the States. (Today’s meeting was for Wish For WASH.)

Do some work based on that meeting. (Draft an email to our potential new partner.)

Lunch.

Video chat friends.

Passion project work. (This week focused on editing gymnastics music. Sometimes playing the flute or editing my old blog posts. )

Blog.

Dinner. (Maybe get fancy cooking something different.)

Watch Netflix.

Go to bed.

Repeat.

This repetitiveness is starting to make things feel quite tedious at times. Today I honestly really didn’t want to get out of bed for my meeting – in fact I skipped a general community meeting for educators I was going to attend and instead just went to my Wish For WASH meeting. Now it didn’t help that I couldn’t get to sleep until late and then was woken up early by mom calling because she needed something from me, so I was a bit extra tired, but also motivation can be hard to find when everything’s more or less the same every day.

I enjoy the ways I’ve been spending my days, but at the same time, I’m getting to the point where I really miss the spontaneity of life that comes from being around other people. Video chatting just really isn’t the same as being around people since in order to video chat both parties have to plan and agree to meet at a specific time – nothing spontaneous or adventurous about it. I miss just bumping into people or even seeing them because you both partake in the same activities and have to be around each other or having friends randomly show up to kidnap you for an adventure.

It’s hard to be excited by repetition. It’s also hard to find things to blog about when every day seems kind of the same as the one before.

 

Post-Quarantine Hope

I’ve officially been in New Zealand for 6 weeks, which is the same amount of total time I spent in Hungary last summer, and yet my two experiences studying abroad couldn’t feel more different.

Honestly, I feel like I’ve hardly seen/done anything here in New Zealand.

The only real exploring I did was during my first week when all we had was orientation, so afterward we were able to spend the rest of our time exploring the free museums and the botanical garden and the many festivals offered. Then school started and I was just trying to get acclimated to everything from the typical nature of starting new classes to the more New Zealand specific things like navigating my new school and figuring out how to sign up for tutorial sessions. Maybe I should’ve spent more time exploring and meeting people and less time stressing about school work and organizing my schedule.

By week two of school was when the US first started to cancel exchange programs which lead into the week of panic mode about trying to see if I could stay in the country and understanding all that entailed. And just when I finally got it all sorted out that I could stay in New Zealand, I had about half a week of semi calm and normalcy before we too went into lockdown mode. This leads to the last two weeks which I’ve spent in my room doing all sorts of random stuff from choreographing gymnastics routines to writing essays for an unknown and ever-changing deadline.

It’s amazing how time flys when you’re in a constant state of change and trying to solve for one complex situation after the next.

And now, nothing’s really changing. I’m just waiting. Waiting and occupying time. And somehow in a weird way, I feel like I keep getting more involved than I would have been had we not gone into lockdown mode. It seems projects from my past keep coming up now that we have time and all of my project teams have gone digital. So far three different teams that I wasn’t supposed to have any significant involvement with for the next year, one of which wasn’t even supposed to exist anymore, have all become part of my recent to-do list.

I’m not fully sure how I feel about this. In some ways, it’s nice to get to keep being involved with my old teams, but in other ways, I’m upset that I wasn’t able to find new groups here to get involved with instead. Only having three weeks of school before lockdown apparently isn’t enough time to really get involved with anything. This partly contributed to why I didn’t really get to know anyone actually from New Zealand and the people I did get close with were mostly exchange kids who have now had to go back to their home countries. It’s like I’m not really studying abroad at all because nothing has really changed besides my physical location and having slightly different syllabi than past semesters.

So my hope for post quarantine is that when I leave New Zealand, I actually feel like I’ve lived and studied here. I want to have stories about the places I saw and the people I met. Right now I don’t feel like I have those experiences, and I sincerely hope I don’t have to leave without them. And yet every day I wonder if that will really get to happen. I already know I’m going to be learning online the entire semester and I know, based on how other countries seem to be doing, the likelihood is that we will be asked to social distance longer. So who knows if I will get to do much of anything at all this semester, and I don’t yet know if I will get to stay for the second semester.  And yet, hope is all I can do so I guess that’s what I’ll keep on doing.

Roles and Responsibilities

It’s been a crazy break, more so than usual this year. And on top of all the traveling and family drama, it’s not really felt like much of a break when I’ve also had so many other things to do for various organizations and also trying to stay on top of other people so they get there work done.

I think my biggest struggle as a leader is navigating when is the appropriate time to put deadlines above responsibilities; the struggle of getting people to actually accept the leadership they’ve been given and do something with that responsibility.

Not sure if that is the best way to phrase it, but I find that I am always debating how long I should spend nagging team members to actually do the work they are responsible for being in charge of or if I should just do the work so that it actually gets done on time.

It’s only the third day of the year and this has already become a recurring problem and I’m not sure how to proceed at the moment. My last text to my team was literally, “It’s been days past the deadline and x & y still have not been completed. I honestly don’t know what to say at this point.” It doesn’t help my teammates grow as leaders and it puts unnecessary stress on me if I have to go through and still do the work in the end. Though at the same time, we can only push deadlines back so far and sometimes it’s simply a matter of the work just needs to get done.

So as we begin 2019 I ask, How might I encourage team members to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities? And how do I proceed if they choose not to?

Leaving with Action

Today was the last day of the International Seminar on Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership. It was a much more laid back and open space kind of day, which was honestly really great. It allowed everyone to make what they wanted out of the conference and have the conversations most meaningful to them.

During my first session, I ended up in an informal group that gathered together and started talking about the college application process. Two rising seniors were stressed about the process and therefore, myself and a few adults were giving tips about researching and applying to schools. This conversation made me realize I actually have a lot to share on the topic and reminded me that most students don’t have the amazing college councillors that I had who helped me navigate the process. Additionally, most students don’t have practice in talking about and essentially pitching themselves. Due to my blog writing, I had ample experience with talking about myself by the time I had to write those essays, but most students don’t have a blog and never really practice this skill in high school. Talking about yourself is a huge part of life because after college then comes job applications where it’s a similar process all over again. For that very reason, I wish more schools spent time talking about identifying key stories in your own life, and pitching your own story and knowing your strengths and skills that can be brought to the table in various situations.

These two students I was talking to come from learner-centered environments, and even there this process is stressful and these two believed they don’t have a story to tell. Let me tell you, these kids have incredible stories to tell and I only know parts of them, so it’s crazy for me to think that they don’t believe they have a story. It just goes to show that even great schools still have room to grow and that was a humbling experience today. Every student should feel like they have a story worth hearing and get the opportunity to practice telling it.

Later in the day I got to achieve my personal goal for this conference. I came to this conference really wanting to have a take away- an action step I could take in order to start moving beyond just talking and sharing with other communities and head towards working together on project work to advance the movement. Proud to say that I have my next project to start tackling. IMG_0930.JPG

Whenever I go to a conference there are multiple people who ask about how the community will stay connected. Then there end up being group chats and social media accounts created and they’re explosive with reflection for the first few weeks after the conference is over, but they fizzle out over time. Why? My assumption based on observation is that most forms of connection post-conference have been simply for the sake of connection/networking, but in order to sustain connections we must have a unified purpose that brings us back to the conversation wanting more.

I’m not yet sure what this purpose is; however, I’m excited to start working on figuring out how we can build upon the community by finding ways to connect with purpose. Three other young learners and I, started brainstorming potential designs for a website based on what menu items we wanted as possibilities for ways the community to connect. For example a blog to share out work in different environments, a directory to know who’s doing what kind of work, a jargon translator to serve as an explanation guide for all the different terms we like to use, a project space for people interested in partnering on projects, a monthly chat around essential topics, etc.

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Then we broke our work down into four areas: user feedback, research, “playing around”, and mission development. We hope to each spend the next month working in our areas to learn about what the community would want in a connection tool and figure out a game plan for the best tool to make these ideas a reality by playing with existing tools while experimenting with what building your own website would take resource wise.

IMG_7624.jpegThe key wonder I have right now though is: what already exists? There are a lot of groups that keep trying to create something very similar to this and yet don’t seem to be working for this or that reason, but why? I’m not sure entirely. I hope to find out and I have my assumptions based on personal experience. I’m happy to be leaving with a game plan but to help get further in our efforts, if you read this post and believe you know of sites or organization or groups or social media connections, etc that sound similar to this kind of work, I would love to see things in the comments to guide our upcoming research. (Even if I’m technically taking lead on user insight gathering, so I’d be happy to hear that too even before I get more focused questions to ask on the topic.)

Piling Up

(Somehow this never posted yesterday…)

It’s amazing how work seems to just pile up sometimes. There was so much I had planned to accomplish today and yet it seems I hardly achieved any of my goals. I made progress which is at least somewhat of a success, but it’s never a great feeling going to bed knowing how much you didn’t get done today means you have to figure out when you’re trying to do it tomorrow…

I’m chaperoning my siblings’ dance retreat this Thursday-Sunday and when I return I’m only home for a day before flying off to Vermont and then all over the north-east for pretty much the rest of summer. It’s crazy how June has practically come and gone already. I don’t know where the time went, but I know the work didn’t go far.

Later this week I will be done with my history class, will have published Trailblazer’s Issue 3, and have posted my 700th blog post if all goes according to plan. Some big milestones are ahead, so hopefully work can stop piling up and I can get my scheduling and goals aligned in a productive way.