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.

SparkHouse Preflection

SparkHouse 3 is finally here and I’m so excited!!!

When I think back to my first time at SparkHouse it’s amazing how much has changed. SparkHouse was where the first idea for Trailblazers came about. Now here I am two years and three e-magazine issues later as a Community Builder and a chaperone for 3 of high school members of the current Trailblazers production team!

Since SparkHouse I’ve also become so much more involved with Education Reimagined and the Education Transformation Movement at large. I’ve attended and mentored at several conferences around the country, participated in numerous calls/video/social media chats,  and even been able to teach a short-term high school course of my own. (Which was obviously un-traditional in nature.) Honestly, it wasn’t until talking to my roommate, who is a first-time learner at SparkHouse, that I realized the full extent of how many opportunities I’ve had since joining this community.

And now that I have become more involved, I’ve realized the importance of “preflecting” – reflecting before things being about my expectations, hopes, and goals for this experience – in order to have a greater take away after the gathering. So here it goes:

Expectations:

  • Great conversations around learner-centered education
  • A deeper connection to the language we use to describe the kind of work we do
  • Be inspired by the amazing work young learners are already doing and the new ideas they bring to the table

Hopes:

  • Members of Trailblazers will branch out and expand their networks
  • We’ll develop new ideas about ways that Trailblazers could contribute to the Education Transformation Movement
  • More young learners will step up and continue to grow their leadership capacities in this movement even beyond SparkHouse

Goals:

  • Have at least five new people sign up/express interest in contributing to Trailblazers
  • Reach 50 followers on Trailblazers social media
  • Find a new tool/activity/mindset that I can implement into my own leadership practices
  • Inspire other learners to become more involved in the community/movement to transform the education system

Unfitting Position

I often find myself in leadership positions I don’t feel qualified for. I have a problem saying no, so sometimes I step up simply because I know someone needs to and want to do my part to help.

Today I got an email which reminded me I agreed to help plan my second-year retreat for my scholarship program. This retreat is focused on our pillar of service, and I must be honest, I don’t consider myself to be a very service minded person which makes me feel a bit weird about planning a service retreat.

However, like any time I find myself in perhaps an unfitting role, I’m gonna do my best to rise to the challenge. Plus sometimes it’s good to be in seemingly unfitting positions because you can gain a new perspective and strengthen skills maybe you wouldn’t normally use.

 

Out of the Hole

I’ve had to take a bit over a week hiatus from blogging because life just happens sometimes.

My last blog post was published right before fall break. Right before my mom and I last minute decided to make the 8-hour drive to Indiana for the weekend. One of our gymnasts qualified as one of the top 100 nine-year-olds in the country, and that weekend in Indiana was the testing for all 300 eight, nine, and ten-year-olds to see who would be invited to the USA Gymnastics Camps run by national team coaches. Since we had no other specific plans, we decided it would be fun to go support her and see all of the other talented gymnasts for the weekend.

The thing is though, I had planned to spend that weekend working on essays for study abroad and finalizing my English video project.

So when plans changed and we went out of town, I ended up only getting about half the work I anticipated doing. Then all last week I was trying to play catch up. It’s amazing how a short week can still feel so long…

I only had three days of school and yet somehow we managed to be given more homework than usual which added to the stress. Then over this past weekend, my mom was out of town again for a wedding, so I went home to help my siblings get around and take care of our puppy. Therefore, once again I got very little work done which ended in one very stressful night topped off with losing my student ID and being very late getting back to my apartment.

And to be honest, I can’t blame my lack of work entirely on external circumstances. I probably could’ve made some wiser choices myself in order to try and be more efficient. I could’ve left my sister watching TV with the puppy and went to a different room to not be so distracted. I could’ve gone to bed earlier to not be as grumpy the following day. I could’ve not spent so long procrastinating by debating in the grocery store. I could’ve done lots of little things like that to have been more efficient this weekend, though it’s hard sometimes to get out of a bad rut.

My own mood probably made later situations seem worse then they were in reality as the unfortunate events continued to pile up.

Even today I woke up in a bad, stressed mood. I was already anxious about work because I was still playing catch up.

Last night though, when I was in a mad frenzy to finish a study abroad scholarship application, my bestie helped me power team editing this yucky 150-word short answer question. It was some of the best co-teaming writing workshopping I’ve experienced and we knocked it out! This 11pm get down to business moment reminded me that I just needed to dive into work and stop thinking about all the negative so much.

So when I woke up in a bad mood, I told myself it was a new week and I needed to move forward, and surprisingly the day started to turn around. I caught mostly up in CS, my student ID was found at the gym, I had two good meetings, and I even finished my video project in less time than expected. Thus I am finally able to blog again and do a little work on the book I’m attempting to write…

Attitude makes a bigger difference then we like to believe sometimes. When you’re feeling down, sometimes it takes a best friend to get you back down to business and work out of the hole.

 

Giving a S***: Design for a Better World (Final Report!)

Fall of my freshman year of college, I joined the Wish for WASH team at Georgia Tech. I showed up to the Engineers Without Boarders info session because I had remembered listening to one of the founders of Wish for WASH, Jasmine Burton, speak at my high school about the original design project she embarked on to create a low-cost toilet for a community in Zambia. When I heard that the team was going to be partnering with a local private school to lead a design thinking and sustainability class for high school students, I knew I needed to apply to be a part of this journey.

Joining this team was one of the best decisions I made all year!

I posted a lot about the process of creating and conducting this month-long “short-term” class at Paideia High School, and now I am excited to share our final report of the project!!! (As the lead for the education sub-team, I created a lot of the content for this write-up, so I’m overjoyed about how this turned out as well as the class itself! Also, I’m so grateful for all of the work the rest of the team put in– The class wouldn’t have been the same without everyone who helped along the way and I’ve never had a final report look so pretty!)

Overall I’m so proud of everything we accomplished and can’t wait for what adventures are in store for me next on this team.

(Click here to learn more about the Paideia class partnership, and other projects from Wish for WASH!)

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Forwarding the Movement as an Outsider

I was asked to write this article/blog post over the summer for a fellow learner-centered practitioner, though I’ll admit I’m not really sure what happened with it; however, I was thinking about it today and figured I could at least post it on my own blog!

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I graduated in 2017 from a recently turned learner-centered environment where I was fortunate to be highly involved in the process of transforming the school, but unfortunately higher ed is not so learner-centered. That was one of the biggest shell shock moments for me about entering college: going from a normal day involving working with clients from the CDC, City of Sandy Springs, and Chick-Fil-A to name a few, to a normal day now becoming sitting in long lectures and taking multiple-choice tests that make up 80% of your grade. As a learner now out of the k-12 system and in a non-learner-centered environment, I sometimes find myself feeling like an outsider in the Education Transformation Movement; however, as time passes I have come to realize that there are ample ways to forward the movement even as an “outsider.”

Despite moving into a less learner-centered environment, I always knew that I wanted to stay involved with this movement to transform education. I didn’t want to go into education as a major though because I believe part of the problem with our current education system is that we’re still teaching new teachers how to teach in a traditional way. Therefore, I’m studying Business Administration with a concentration in Leading and Managing Human Capital. I believe that if we think of schools as an innovative business it will help with the paradigm shift. I hope to learn more about change theory, risk management, social entrepreneurship, 21st-century leadership, and more to then apply that knowledge to help consult with schools trying to transform to a more learner-centered model.

Apart from my studies, I believe any educator wanting to transform the education system has a responsibility to stay connected with the larger national conversations happening on this topic – myself included. Being in college, it is harder to find opportunities to create change in my personal learning environment, but through social media, conferences, and writing articles I can still help effect change in other learning environments around the country.

I continue to stay involved with the national community primarily through Twitter and Slack conversations, attending conferences, blogging almost daily, and being Editor-in-Chief of Trailblazers, a student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement. I believe as a young learner who graduated from a learner-centered environment, I, in particular, have a unique perspective that needs to be shared. A few years ago I stated in a blog post, “When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, ‘Where’s the evidence of this working?’ but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working.” – The Life of Pinya This quote has kind of served as my north star for the past few years. People want to know about the evidence, so I need to share my stories to prove just how much learner-centered education is bettering the lives of all kinds of students.

Since going to college, I have realized just how much more prepared I am for the world due to my k-12 experiences in a learner-centered environment. I have a deeper sense of self and can articulate my passions and goals in a comprehensive way. I have gotten feedback from professors about how impressed they were with my ability to send professional emails even as just a freshman. I have had the initiative to set up dozens of interviews with advisors to help me figure out my major. I sincerely believe I wouldn’t have had any of these important life skills if it wasn’t for my learner-centered high school; in my experience, traditional schools don’t spend a ton, if any, time on educating students about things like self-awareness, goal setting, professional communication, and taking initiative.

My life has been bettered immensely due to my participation in a learner-centered school and I hope one day that all students get the opportunity to learn under a more innovative model of education. I stay involved in the world of education for the future of those students – the ones who may not even know there are other options of schooling available. I’d love to see higher ed change their ways too, but for now I choose to focus my efforts on k-12 where I have the most background knowledge, even if I’m not in a k-12 environment. I hope other learners, of all ages, can come to realize that your environment doesn’t determine the level of participation you can have in the Education Transformation Movement. It’s always possible to effect change; start by sharing your story.

Tired of Magicians

I’ve found that as I get older I discover random strong opinions that I didn’t realize were developing over the years. For example, I don’t like magicians.

Today we saw an illusionist’ magic show off-Broadway and as we watched I realized how bored I was, which made me realize how I always get bored at magic shows. It’s kind of unfortunate because I’m impressed to some degree by what magicians do and the time and effort it takes to get good at what they do; however, something about knowing that it’s really all a bunch of logic and mind tricks makes not enjoy the tricks much. I spend more time trying to figure out tricks then I care about the coolness of the tricks; then I get bored.

Honestly, I’d rather a show of someone showing me how they came up with weird illusions because we all know it’s fake anyway and it would be far more impressive in my mind to see the trick and then know how it works. I mean I’ve always thought it would be fun to be around while magicians help make theater and movie tech become really epic; that’s probably the best job a magician could have in my opinion but it involves sharing the secretes to tricks.

I realized also that I’ve been to a lot of professional magic shows which I didn’t think was abnormal until today when I stopped to think about it. Perhaps if I had seen less magic shows in my life I would find them more engaging because they would have more of a unique quality to them.

It’s an odd thing to have such a strong opinion on, but despite not liking magicians, I’m at least grateful for tonight’s illusionist amusing me with myself and my new self-discovery. Learn something new every day, and sometimes it’s about yourself.

A Goose on a Witch Hunt

Today I went on a wild goose chase. Or a witch hunt. Whichever metaphor you prefer really, I myself used both descriptions today, the point is I struggled to track down what I was looking for and had to travel across town to find it.

I love finding myself getting hooked into a really good book series. My standard of “really good book” means that I’m more likely to want to find a spot to sit and read for hours rather than go on Netflix. Additionally, I can find myself getting nauseous after trying to read while in a car, bus, etc., so if I even attempt to read until I simply can’t, then it’s really gotten me hooked. Recently, I’ve been reading “The Darkest Minds” series by Alexandra Bracken, and this series has hit both standards of “really good book” for me.

(Sidebar: It’s one of those “I actually don’t typically read education books…” moments where instead I’m reading a dystopian story about children who develop dangerous powers and how the government reacts to the situation poorly… Good read, sorry for my poor summary, and it’s being turned into a movie coming out in August!)

When I say “recently” I literally mean I started the series about a week ago and read the first two books in three days each, which for me, three days is pretty good for a 500-page book.

Today my mission was to find book three.

I wanted to go to a Barnes and Noble because I have a bunch of gift cards that I’ve just not used recently. (College finds a way of keeping you from doing too much “reading for fun”…) However, that meant going 30 blocks downtown and all weekend the subways were skipping most stops on the 1 Train due to construction, so I decided to wait until today to go on my adventure which meant anticipation all weekend long.

I walked down first to my favorite bagel shop in the world, then hopped on the train downtown (after finding it because I’ve not gotten on or off from that station in a while), to my surprise I found the bookstore with ease. However, after looking around for a while, because who really enjoys having to ask customer service to find a book for you, I finally asked a lady and discovered they were out of stock at this store! Then in my stupid judgement call of the day, I agreed with her idea to call the next closest Barnes and Nobel to see if they could hold the book for me.

This was a stupid judgment call because I forget that in NYC it’s not always about proximity. Just because one place is technically closer than another does not make it easier to get to. The bookstore the customer service lady called was across town on the East Side on the other side of Central Park. If I would’ve been thinking logically though, I should’ve checked the location downtown since that’s where I had to go by later in the day or if not I’ll definitely be close by to the store tomorrow.

Anyway, I already called the store, so I decided I had time to kill while my family was debating what our evening plans would be, so I went out on my adventure across town. I hardly ever go to the East Side (no particular reason, just no need), and I also hardly ever take the bus because the subways are often more efficient; therefore, this was a double adventure on uncharted territory, and I was impressed with how little stumbles there were after originally being at the wrong bus stop for ten minutes.

In the end, I found my book!

But then I realized, in all my work trying to figure out what store to go to and how to get there, I had forgotten that Columbia University is only a few short blocks away from my grandma’s apartment. And Columbia’s bookstore is a Barnes and Noble store… I could’ve had my book in 15 minutes (assuming it was in stock), and yet instead I ended up the silly goose on the hunt for a book kind of about witches.

While maybe I did some things out of the ordinary today, I don’t particularly feel like I learned much new or had some super impactful moment or met some incredible new person – nothing that makes you go “Oh wow the journey was really worth it, I’m so glad I mess up!” Because you know what, not every journey is remarkable. It seems like sometimes we tell only the remarkable stories, but sometimes life just happens and if you could’ve gone back and not made the mistake, you probably would’ve chosen to do so. Not every journey has to be life-changing, and I think that in itself is also something worth learning and remembering because otherwise, expectations might just be a little too high.

Honestly, it was a depressing moment to realize I could’ve saved three hours of my day, but sometimes we make decisions and just have to roll with the punches, go on the adventures, and make the most of the journey. Then hopefully next time we’ll have learned how to make our journey shorter.

There’s Always Theater

As much as I love it, I have never thought about a career in performing arts. It’s just never been something I could see myself doing. The realism in me knows it’s not the most stable or easy path to make it in, plus I have multiple family members in that business so I know what it’s really like. Not to mention, I just feel like there are other things I also want to do.

Despite all of this, I always seem to find myself in a theater as one of my mentors pointed out today. I’ve been to basically all of the productions my old school put on this year, performed in a few at college, and even just this weekend I’m helping with running the spotlight for my siblings’ dance show.

I just can’t seem to escape, and I don’t think I have a problem with that. The theater is great! You get to be crazy and serious, lyrical and sharp, witty and stupid, and everything in between. It’s a place to learn new skills and gain better practices for life, and the people you meet are often the most supportive and creative people who will push you beyond what you ever thought possible of yourself. It’s all just an amazing world that I’m glad to be able to stay a part of even as I grow older and move around more often.