RHS Science Teacher, Rowland and Einstein Fellow
Though the theme of this collaborative blog speaks to me and resonates with my own recent experiences, I struggle with drafting my first post. Picture me sitting at my table, pen tightly clenched in my hand with a pile of balled and tossed paper overwhelming a mesh metal wastebin. Revise that image for the 21st century to see me with eyes glazed in front of a screen scrolling through pages of abandoned sentences, incomplete paragraphs, and potential titles. You would not think that composing a travel log would cause me such angst considering I have been gifted with an amazing year of opportunities. As a combined Rowland Fellow, Einstein Fellow, and RISE chaperone, I have traversed the globe in hopes of finding techniques, learning content, and fostering relationships that might improve the educational product offered at Rutland High School.
My passport has been peppered with haphazard, randomly placed stamps from the customs officers in Greenland, Antarctica, New Zealand, Japan, Austria, and Peru. In less than 365 days, I have accumulated thousands of air miles, had my fill of pretzels, pressed through way too many security checkpoints, and watched hours worth of movies on a six inch TV screen no more than a meter from my face. But in between the chaos and stress of the airport terminals, I have had amazing experiences. I have unofficially become integrated into a new family in Rutland's sister city, slept in a tent next to a glacier, run my hands along Incan stonework, skipped (literally) around the South Pole, contemplated the rapid depletion of the earth's mineral resources, eaten whale, hiked mountains, relaxed in hot springs, ridden on a train with a dancing cat, hovered in a helicopter over a pod of orcas, and walked amongst an Adelie penguin colony. How can one suffer from writer's block with so many possible story lines with which to work?
It is true, I have had more than my fair share of adventures to retell. But I do not want to simply create a scrapbook just about me. Rather, I want to convey something about the magnitude and importance of these collective experiences. I want readers to leave feeling excited and open to unconventional ideas. I want to inspire a new generation of gregarious travelers willing to experience places and people that are unfamiliar. I want Americans to realize how lucky and privileged we are, and that with this comes responsibility. I want my students to see what an amazing planet we live on and begin to understand how fragile that perfection actually is. I want the words and stories and pictures and moments and anecdotes that I include on these pages to help shape thoughtful, engaged global citizens.
And so while I struggle with my writer's block, I will share a succinct list of takeaway lessons I learned during my time visiting each country. Think of these statements as teasers for future posts.
- Japan - We are all human. As foreign as character based language, eating with chopsticks, singing toilets, and sleeping on thin mats may seem, these are material variations. Our similarities far outnumber our differences, and if we are willing to open our homes to one another, than powerful connections can grow.
- Antarctica - Collaboration is possible regardless of heritage and history. On our southern most continent, scientists and citizens are able to accomplish what world leaders and politicians are unable to manage. The harsh conditions and binding peace treaties create a thriving international community.
- Austria - Resources are finite. At the European Geosciences Union meeting, there was considerable talk about the mounting pressure between increased demand and finite supply of the Earth's rarest metals. Technology advances, populations grow, and societies advance, but at a cost.
- Greenland - Change is inevitable. Regardless of political positioning, Greenland's ice sheet is shrinking and changing at unanticipated speeds. The challenge for scientists now is, trying to figure out what that means for our planet's future.
- New Zealand - Dining on fish and chips on the beach is good for the soul. It is so easy to be dragged along by the obligations and appointments of daily life, surrounded by screens, fluorescent lights and cubical dividers. We must not forget the simple pleasures of booming surf, salty air, colorful sunsets, and crispy breaded fish wrapped in paper.
- Peru - Our greatest challenge is poverty. Viewing impoverished mountain villagers from inside the air conditioned first class train, is both a metaphorical and physical window into the conditions many people suffer daily around the world. There are so many pressing problems facing humanity, but none can be solved without addressing the economic divides both within our own country as well as between nations.
The world is the ultimate global classroom and travel a truly personalized teacher. As educator, learner, and citizen combined, I seek opportunities to experience as much of planet earth as possible during my lifetime. I look forward to delving deeper into these meaty issues that I have encountered during this fellowship sabbatical. But for the moment, I will embrace my inner Kiwi and go for a hike with my dog while savoring my last few Viennese chocolates.