Moving Forward

After 7.5 weeks of lockdown, in 3 hours New Zealand will officially move down to alert level 2!!! That mean restaurants, university spaces, museums, beaches, etc will all start reopening!

Classes are still online for the rest of the semester, we are still limited to not being in groups larger than 10, and we still will have requirements with tracking where we’ve been/who we’re in contact with, but this is so exciting!!!

Honestly, I’m having a hard time believing things are actually going to start returning to “normal.” It’s especially hard to imagine while I also keep hearing news about the US and the conversations around the likelihood that schools there will still remain online in the fall. Everyone I talk to keeps saying they’re so sorry for my situation and how they know this wasn’t the semester abroad I planned/hoped for, but to be honest, I’m grateful that I was abroad this semester of all semesters. I’m in one of the safest places on the planet right now and I have a chance to actually go back to school/life not online next semester. I wouldn’t trade a more “normal” semester here for being in the US right now…

The hardest part is that it’s definitely been lonely having been pretty much entirely isolated for 7.5 weeks. Technology is amazing and I can’t imagine having lived through this 10 years ago, but video chats can’t replace face-to-face interactions. And what really stinks is that even though starting tomorrow I can see people again, there really isn’t anyone for me to go celebrate with here. Most of my friends during those first few weeks were also international students, but they decided to return home. And my roommate is staying with her family rather than returning to the dorms since school is still online, so now it’s like I’m back to square one being the new kid trying to meet people but during a time where we’re still pretty restricted on actually being around people… It’ll be challenging for sure, and I’m feeling more than a bit uncomfy about the idea of readjusting yet again to a new normal (moved across the world, got switched to different housing and different roommate, had a week of site seeing, three weeks of classes, 4 weeks total lockdown, 3 weeks online classes and lockdown, now online classes with restrictions, and who knows what’s next… it’s been a year of lot’s of adjusting and I’m not exactly the best with constant change as I like patterns…) but overall I’m just feeling so grateful with the way things played out here.

It’s not over yet, but we’re moving in a good direction away from this pandemic.

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!

The Next Moment

Today was my little brother’s 14th birthday. It’s insane to think that he starts high school next year! I’m starting to actually be able to have adult level conversations with him and that’s a very odd thing, especially since he’s the “baby” of the family. (And I mean my entire extended family as well.)

Sometimes I feel like him getting older is what makes me most realize how old I am. Being a junior in college is a crazy time because, with potentially only one year left of school, it’s when you have to start thinking about what you want to do next and where you want to go for that matter. It seems like there are a lot more options at this point in life than there really ever has been before. There are also so many questions to ponder, like whether to go to grad school or look for a job, and then, of course, there is the question of what grad school or what job, and where in the country or even world might that school or job be, and how long in advance do you need to start prepping your application.

I wrote the other night about the struggle of having too many choices, and the idea of thinking about what comes next in life is definitely one of those paralyzing choices. People say to try and “live in the moment,” and not worry so much about the future, but when you think about it, nowadays if we aren’t constantly planning a year and a half ahead then it seems that it can easily become too late for some opportunities.

As early as middle school we’re taught to start thinking about the future. One of the first big choices I remember is choosing what language to study, and if you choose the “wrong” language class in middle school and want to switch your choice in high school then you have to start the new language a year behind. Middle school was also the first time we could skip a level of math, but if you weren’t selected to move ahead based on your 6th grade performance then it was significantly harder to ever reach AP Calculus BC if that was something you later were interested in doing. In high school, we start choosing some of our classes, and in 9th grade, we are told to think about our entire 4 years in order to make sure we’re able to schedule the classes we want. Then junior year is when the college process hits full swing with SATs and research so that by the summer you can start touring in order to then apply the following fall. Then in college, if you want to do an internship or study abroad, especially if you want to do more than one experience, you really have to come into school already thinking about what semester you will do these experiences otherwise you could end up in a situation where you want to study abroad but none of the classes you have left to take are offered overseas.

So you see, it’s really hard to think about “living in the moment” when the past 10 years have always been focused on thinking about the next moment. At this point, I imagine that there will always be a little voice in my head asking “what’s next?” Granted, this voice often pushes me into some truly amazing opportunities, so I’m not convinced I would actually want it to disappear, though it can also be a cause of anxiety when knowing the potential options are so vast.

A Grocery Adventure

Today I went outside for the first time in three and a half weeks. I finished all of my snacks and fruits/veggies, plus I’ve been really wanting to make cookies but haven’t had flour, so I figured it was time I finally went to the grocery store.

Really it was a very productive day overall. I woke up early and taught a dance class, took the garbage out for the first time since lockdown, sent some important emails in regards to my hopeful second semester abroad, attended a virtual info session with the Boston Consulting Group, then began my three and a half hour grocery run. It took so long because I had to go to two stores and one of them is 30 minutes away from my flat, and once I was there I had to wait in line outside of the store so they can make sure as few people as possible are inside at once. I kind of anticipated grocery shopping being a big endeavor which is partly why I’ve been putting it off all this time, and today proved me right.

But the wait time was worth it because tonight I made an amazing dinner! I made Hungarian chicken paprika with homemade pasta, and for dessert, I’m finally getting to make cookies!!

And now I’m officially exhausted but also so deeply satisfied from really doing something with my day. I kind of forgot how tiring it can be to actually go do something during the day. I’ve been keeping myself amused while indoors, but I think real adventures require leaving the house. It’s just a totally different experience when you have to make the decision to go out and you never know what twists and turns the rest of the world might throw at you.

Nothing particularly amazing happened today. I saw people not through a screen which was nice. I gave someone directions which made me feel like it’s almost setting in that I’m living here not just on vacation. I got to brainstorm some new recipes I want to try out. And I listened to more of an audio-book I had been listening to daily on my walks to school before lockdown. But sometimes the best part of an adventure is just knowing that you’re going out on a journey and enjoying that process.

Indoors is safe and can even be fun, but I can’t wait to get back into the world and have real adventure again.

Kia Ora

In the midst of my journey into the field of transformative education, there has been one country that just kept coming up as somewhere with some pretty cool stuff going on in education. Since high school, I’ve been hearing via Twitter, conference guest speakers, and other education blogs that New Zealand education is worth learning more about. And now I’m finally here to check it out for myself!

It’s been a week since I took off on my first of many planes to make it here to Wellington, New Zealand. I’d like to say the week has been glamours, but that would be a lie. Like all good adventures, there have already been some ups and downs. I almost missed every flight due to airport shenanigans. Renovations didn’t finish over the break on the house I’m supposed to be in so I’ve not been able to settle in yet as I wait to move out of my temporary flat. Oh! And the temporary residential hall I’m in had a fire in the common room on the second night, so we had to evacuate for several hours and only today have been allowed back in the room to collect our plates and forks we brought for the BBQ that was supposed to happen. (Everyone and everything is fine now.) I’m also not fully enrolled yet due to paperwork taking a long time to process, so I can’t log into the online portal to even just find out where my classes will be located next week which is very stressful. However, I’ve also met some awesome people, the school and campus seem amazing so far, and I’ve already done lots of exploring like hiking a mountain, interacting with museum exhibits, and training/looking for a job at a local gymnastics gym.

So overall I’d say I’m doing fine and rolling with the punches. I’m more than a little anxious about not being fully settled – from housing to enrollment – but I also know and have been reminding myself that I’ve done everything I’m supposed to and just need to be patient and wait at this point. (As hard and frustrating as that is…)

As the school year starts off I’m excited to see how NZ university compares to the US; so far one big difference just from orientation is the “party culture.” In the States, the idea of university kids partying tries to get ignored/ students are told “don’t do that”, but here it’s very much acknowledged in more of a “have fun, but be safe” kind of philosophy. Ie. orientation speakers (of all ages) will tell you Wellington has great bars and even mention a few favorites, but also remind you to go with friends you trust and take care of each other. During our first resident hall meeting, we were even told that the hall was hosting their own party where students are allowed to bring up to three drinks – that never happens in the States… Even as someone who is very much not a partier, it’s been interesting to see these little differences already just in orientation.

There has also been a huge emphasis on community which I love – not to say universities in the States don’t value community, but I think it’s been even more emphasized here then I remember from my days touring schools and attending orientation as a freshman. This entire week, “OWeek”, is packed full of social activities both for residential halls and the general student body with everything from hall chanting competitions, to city tours, to late-night concerts, to organized hikes, to Wellington themed movie nights. Plus the entire week, anytime someone has formally spoken, they have talked about getting to know the community in and outside of the university and encourage us to volunteer as a great way to be involved and give back.

I’m excited for studies to start, and I’m also excited to continue to explore this amazing, beautiful country. Some of my “bucket list” items so far include doing a night tour at Zealandia, seeing the glow worm cave, touring Hobbit Town, and doing site visits at a few innovative k-12 schools (I know – I’m a nerd for having this on my “bucket list” and I’m proud of it).

So one week out of thirty-six down and who knows what ups and downs will come next, but I’m looking forward to the adventures yet to come on this incredible journey! Kia ora New Zealand!

iNACOL Recap/Takeaways

Last week involved dozens of hours of learning and networking with thought leaders around the country working towards transforming the education system. While I reflected each night of the conference, I also decided this week to put together a presentation of some of the biggest trends and takeaways I noticed from the conference. The intent of this presentation is so that I can share highlights from the conference with the rest of the Trailblazers Production Team since I was the only member able to attend; however, I thought I would also share it publically if anyone else was curious about the happenings at iNACOl (at least from the sessions I attended).

iNACOL Day 2: Self-Reflection

Today was amazing! From the start of the day hearing from keynote speaker Derek Wenmoth from New Zealand who somehow made me even more excited to study abroad next year in that amazing country all the way to end of the night where I participated in some fantastic networking events, I was just in awe of this wonderful community.

This was a jam-packed day of learning and networking from 7am – 9pm, but I’m not going to go in detail about everything I did and learned. Instead, I’m going to try and consolidate my thoughts down to one key take away. Today that key take away was actually a self-reflection of starting to better visualize the path I’m headed on.

I’ve been passionate about transformative education since high school, but as I get older and closer to graduate I’m starting to get asked a lot more questions about “what’s next? what do you really want to do? where do you want to go with this?” Well, my method to planning for the future tends to go like this: I say yes to lots of things and get involved in lots of projects. Then I like to stand back and look for patterns/trends in the choices I’ve made to help determine what I’ve enjoyed, where I’ve made a difference, and how I would like to proceed in my learning journey.

Today I stood back and considered the choices I’ve been making in terms of sessions I choose to attend at conferences (this one and others included). The trend I’ve noticed is that I have a deep interest in professional development (including the onboarding process in particular) and research in the science of learning and teaching. Amongst all sorts of choices, I keep finding myself drawn to these two areas, so as of right now I believe that’s the direction I’d like to continue with in the future.

I see myself in both a research and practitioner role, so with that in mind, I’d like to continue my studies by doing graduate school work related to the science of learning and teaching but I’d also like to be active in the field growing professional development programs.

Some people question my desire to go into graduate school, often because they think I want to go just because of old cultural norms around needing higher credentials, but that is not the case for me. I want to go to grad school because I like to learn and I am fascinated by certain classes taught and research being conducted at this level of schooling. I am also very accepting of the idea that we learn by doing though, and that is why I also think it would be beneficial to work some after undergrad (perhaps 2 years or so) before going back for a masters degree, this way I could have a more informed view about what is actually needed in the field in terms of research.

I’m not set in stone with this plan, and I tend to be a person that just says yes when opportunities come my way and that is often how my path is most influenced, but getting the chance to think more deeply about this path of mine through self-reflection inspired by my morning sessions and networking practice at tonight’s community events was very helpful today.

Some times takeaways aren’t a particular conversation or quote or new idea, sometimes takeaways are about how the conversations, quotes, and ideas worked together to influence your own self-discovery. That was today for me and I’m grateful for that opportunity to grow as an individual.

iNACOL Day 0: The Pre-flection

I have officially landed and spent the day exploring Palm Springs and am so excited to be attending iNACOL Symposium starting tomorrow morning!

My professional goal is to become a social entrepreneur in the field of transformative education. I associate most of what I do in my personal, educational, and professional life back to this goal because of this driving passion to want all young learners to be able to experience education in a way that is learner-centered and has real-world impact. 

The iNACOL Symposium is an event I have been wanting to attend for several years now because it is known to be, “the flagship event for innovators, education leaders, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers advancing powerful, personalized, learner-centered experiences for students.”  While at this three-day international conference I will grow my professional network, get to share my unique perspective and experiences with education, and become further informed about the leading thoughts on a myriad of current challenges in the field. I am particularly excited to attend sessions on Human Capital, Leadership, Systems Transformation, Professional Learning and Development, and Whole Child Personalization/Social Emotional Learning amongst the total of 25 program strands available at this year’s convening. 

I’m excited to increase my knowledge about key aspects involved in my hopeful career field of transformative education by attending the sessions and workshops on topics I noted above. I’m also to be a co-creator of progress in education as I work with other practitioners to advance the communal pool of knowledge and ideas in the field. We will then all be able to take back these ideas and experiment with them in our own learning environments. Personally, I will be representing my magazine team, Trailblazers, while at the conference and will then prepare a recap presentation for the high schoolers I work with in order to provide a professional development opportunity for them as well. The real key to progress is not just working towards change, but also reflecting and sharing on experiences so that others can also benefit from new insights being made in the field; this is why it’s important to me to blog about my experience as well as summarize and share key insights with my magazine team after the experience. I plan to blog each night of the conference to make sure I’m adequately processing and reflecting on everything I’ll be learning. 

I can’t wait to get started tomorrow!

Life Update: Living in Budapest

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It’s amazing how one person talking for an hour can be so inspiring sometimes; the thing is if you don’t reflect and act upon what you learned it can be so easy for those inspiring messages to get forgotten.

William Benko reminded me today of the importance of having habits and strategies for how we tackle life. I’ve been well aware of this concept for years now, and yet, as evidence of my lack of blogging in the past few years, I think I’ve allowed myself too much slack with what were once my daily habits. So at the very least, I felt it was time for a life update on my blog because I’ve been having some amazing experiences the past few weeks and haven’t done the best job capturing and reflecting on them.

DSC_0510.JPGIt’s been about 2 weeks since I arrived in Budapest, 4 weeks since studying abroad, and 5 weeks since beginning the Leadership for Social Good program. Since I’ve gotten to Budapest I’ve also been interning with Teach For Hungary. (Part of our program is that each participant is partnered with an NGO in Budapest who we intern with for the 6 weeks we are here.)

Teach For Hungary follows similarly with the Teach For All model where the basic concept is to get professionals committed to a two-year fellowship working within schools as teachers and mentors to kids specifically in rural/small town areas. Teach For Hungary is very much in start-up mode at the moment, being only about a year old, and one of my primary roles has been to help the team as they work on developing their hiring and onboarding process for new full-time staff members and later working on how to recruit and train fellows. 

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It’s been fascinating learning about the education system here in Hungary and so far I’ve also really enjoyed my work which has included a lot of strategic planning and brainstorming. Even the location I’m in, the Innovation Lab of Central European University, is just so fitting for me. I’ve been amazed by how much of my work in the gymnastics world has been applicable; for example, I’m currently working on the online test and accompanying assessment tool for the hiring process and I’ve been able to apply lessons I learned from creating the gymnastics assessment tool for evaluating gymnasts looking to enter one of our invite programs. I’ve also noticed my background in design thinking coming in extremely useful as I’ve been asked to give lots of feedback since I’m a fresh pair of eyes for documents like the onboarding information. Most of my meetings thus far have begun with a “Like, Wish, Wonder” feedback protocol, and I even looked up my old Innovation Diploma application earlier this week as an example of a “choose your own adventure” technical skills/thought process assessment. It’s always fun to connect the dots between your seemingly different worlds and I’m excited to see what other connections I make as I continue to work with Teach For Hungary.

IMG_7169.jpgIn addition to my internship, most mornings I’m in class, though I’m sure many people wouldn’t think of it as “class” per say. We have class Monday-Thursday from 10-12ish (sometimes we start earlier sometimes we end later), and our typical week consists of two guest speakers, a group presentation/facilitating class deep dive into any topic we’ve discussed thus far, and one activity/field trip to places like the historic baths and largest synagogue. Our guest speakers so far have been great! Each one has a story about their involvement with Hungarian NGOs and so far everyone has had such powerful messages I couldn’t possibly go into detail about all of them.

IMG_9513.JPEGOne guest speaker, in particular, was from an organization called Bator Tabor. This is one of the most well known NGOs in Hungary, and in fact, it is one of the top 3 NGOs in terms of gaining public funding through Hungary’s special 1% law; this law allows for taxpayers to donate 1% of their tax money to an NGO of their choice from the approved list. Bator Tabor is a campsite for children with serious illnesses. They have an incredibly well-developed program and volunteer training process. What was especially cool is that last weekend we actually got to visit the campsite for our own leadership retreat! I love everyone in this program and it was great to work together to accomplish odd challenges like lifting everyone over a rope between two trees, climbing a rock wall and swinging between hanging tires, and a more complex archery session than I’ve ever done (including learning to shoot backward and off of a wooden horse).

IMG_3136.jpgIMG_3126.jpgAnd in terms of giving a full update, this wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how beautiful Budapest is and how much I’ve loved exploring the city! My friends and I have had a number of random photo shoots and trips to hunt down the best-baked goods and ice cream. I even attempted to make paprika chicken (a Hungarian traditional meal) in our apartment and it turned out surprisingly good. I had never before considered how stressful grocery stores could be when you can’t read any labels and the store set up just doesn’t seem to make sense at all. And to top it off I finally feel pretty comfortable with the public transportation system which knock on wood is true since I’m about to head off to figure out where my bus stop is to take an overnight ride to Munich for the weekend!

Every day’s a new adventure, and I’m excited to see what new discoveries I make in the next four weeks! I have also found that the sense of adventure and exploration has reminded many of us that we need to spend more time being explorers in our own communities because there are bound to be hundreds of things we’ve yet to discover even in our own backyard.

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When You’re Lost

Sometimes the greatest things are found when you aren’t looking for them.

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It’s hard to believe it’s only been two full days since I arrived in Prague because it feels like we’ve already done so much and know the area pretty well. I’ve gotten pretty efficient at using the metro and tram to get around and we’ve gotten to that point now where we are wanting the “non-tourist experience.” And what I’ve realized is that some of our best discoveries and adventures so far have been the times we’ve gotten “lost.”

IMG_2596-1.JPGOne time we legitamently got lost by taking a wrong turn at some point on the way to the Charles Bridge (I’m still not fully sure where exactly we went wrong, but we got there eventually). We had a great time though trying to figure out our way back without the use of phones or communication. And then we went on a hunt for the Lennon Wall and found some weird status instead where we met some other people we were able to follow to where we actually wanted to be.

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Then today we intentionally got “lost.” We wanted to go to a new part of town rather than always going over by the bridge (the one area we felt comfortable that we knew), so we just decided to go down a random new road. This road ended up leading us to find beautiful buildings, including a theater, and we even found a little street market with food and crafts and live music which was awesome! Not to mention we had some great ice cream along the walk.

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It’s truly great to just be an explorer sometimes with no real mission or direction, just excitement for whatever might come up along the journey. Not to mention, getting lost really made us think quite a bit. We had to use spatial awareness and memory for figuring out our way back; critical thinking to make the best decisions when there was little info to rely on; communication and leadership to make sure the person with the best idea was truly heard; we even had to embrace our creativity and kid spirit when we found ourself in an interactive toy store.

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So much fun and learning happened while just wondering around and getting lost and trying to get unlost that it made me realize that some of my favorite learning moments have been when I “got lost.” Like when you lose yourself in a good book or lose track of time because your so absorbed in the prototype your building, or when you lose your bias/preconceptions about a character in a show. I wonder what school would look like if we embraced getting lost.