Last week, I went to Washington DC as a part of the Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) Fellowship. All fellows, which is over eighty teachers from all over the country spanning all K - 12 grades and content areas, attended the Global Education Symposium. Many of our breakout sessions were spent with the smaller group of people traveling to the same country.
I will be traveling to the Republic of Georgia with eleven other teachers. Other fellows will be traveling to Morocco, India, Philippines, Colombia, and Senegal. Meeting my travel partners was not what I expected. The symposium lasted less than two days and I thought we would spend some organized time getting to know one another. I quickly realized that organized “get-to-know-you” games or activities were unnecessary.
Meeting my travel cohort genuinely felt like seeing someone with whom you grew up or already had several shared experiences. Conversations seemed to move quickly through the typical name, place of living and teaching, the weather-there to the sarcastic teasing of old childhood or college friends. I was surprised how easy it was to feel completely comfortable with these “strangers.”
In some sense, I guess we did have the shared experiences of the rigorous online course last fall and our efforts to promote global education in our communities. This seemed enough to bond us instantly. It reminded me a great deal of many cross-cultural experiences I’ve had. I meet a person from a far off place (i.e. New Zealand or New Jersey, Morocco or Michigan) and in a short time despite the obvious differences or lack of time invested, we hit it off and become friends quickly. After meeting my travel partners, I’m even more excited about my trip to Georgia.
I am fascinated by different cultures. I find it interesting how over centuries our food, communication, religious rituals, and every other preference we call “normal” became normal. In my travels on five continents I have had my sense of “normal” challenged and confirmed. Sometimes I leave an experience wishing my culture placed a higher importance on relationships rather than efficiency. And other times, I feel proud that second chances and forgiveness are normal and commonplace in America.
I love the paradox of complexity and simplicity that travel reveals to the traveler. Though people from different cultures are very different in many ways, in many other ways they are the same. I am enamored by both what makes us different and similar. It keeps me from taking myself too seriously and inspires me to empathize with and love liberally those I am supposed to see as “them.”
This interest in the world and the people with who we share it led me to apply to the Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) Fellowship through the US State Department. I am honored to have been accepted into the program. Even if I hadn’t been, I would be so pleased that our State Dept. has such a program. It seeks to develop the skills needed for a better global community in teachers who can then help develop them in students. So far, it has been a great learning experience. After completing the first phase of the fellowship in the fall, an eight-week intensive online course, I head out for Washington DC this week for the second phase. I look forward to meeting the other TGC fellows and continuing this great learning experience.
I know I join all of the other fellows in eagerly awaiting the international field experience phase. In March, I will travel with 11 other teachers to the Republic of Georgia to meet yet another “normal” that is different from mine, but not. I can’t wait to see what the paradox looks like this time.
Stephen Blan teaches US History at Fort Worth Country Day in Fort Worth, TX and is a 2015 Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellow.