When I began the Global Citizen Year Fall Training at Stanford University just two weeks ago, I felt like I was turning onto a new page in my life—and that I would soon start inking a new chapter onto it. Fourteen days later, I’m certain that I could write a whole book with everything that I have learned, both about myself, and about others around me. While I can’t put into words all that I have experienced thus far, I can paint a portrait of what one day—today—was like for me.
On day fifteen, I feel truly like a part of the GCY family. I greet other Fellows with an enthusiastic hug and a smile, and can talk easily with everyone. I know who is probably playing the piano at 7 a.m., and who sleeps in until the last possible minute. I know how to reply if someone yells, “yo, yo, yo!” I can find my way through the seemingly endless sandstone arches of the Main Quad on the Stanford campus and arrive at our classroom without getting lost even once (it’s an accomplishment!).
The once-blank walls of our classroom are now plastered with posters entitled “community rules” and “How to Avoid Culcha Shock”. Everyone takes a seat and chats, sleeps, dances (really—someone often brings a guitar to class) until our morning session begins. One day last week we had a session about always presenting oneself as a ‘learner’: entering a situation with an open mind, ready to learn. Today our session on Teaching English as a Second Language began with a bit of a twist on this idea; Mr. Carlos Sosa from World Learning was at Stanford so we could learn how to teach. This notion seemed a bit strange to me, because I always was under the impression that teaching was something you just do, not learn how to do. “Teaching is a bit like parenting,” he began. “When you do it, you always think you’re going to be better.” We examined and compared the traits that make “good” teachers so effective (such as patience and eloquence) and “bad” teachers so much the opposite (arrogance and indifference), and I began to realize that teaching is so much more than just a job; it is a calling. I believe that while one can learn how to teach to an extent, true teachers are born and not made; they naturally exhibit patience, eloquence, and a host of other positive traits not only as they instruct in their discipline, but in their everyday lives as well. In our host countries, we will need every ounce of patience and optimism that we can muster as we not only attempt to learn the local language, but teach others how to speak English in return.
After this activity, Mr. Sosa launched unexpectedly into an immersive German lesson–he spoke only in German and those of us who knew none (all but two!) did our best to figure out what we were supposed to say or do. It was also completely interactive, since he wrote nearly nothing on the blackboard, but it was amazing how much I learned! I now know that “Ich heiβe Abigail” and can describe my family tree (mutter, fatter, schvester)! [On a side note, I apologize profusely to any German speakers reading this; since we never wrote anything down, I am completely making up the spelling of these words.] In our discussion of the lesson, we talked about what “helped” us to learn and also what “hindered” us. It was interesting to note that what “helped” some, such as having the entire lesson spoken to us in German, ended up “hindering” others because they use a different process for learning.
In the afternoon, we had a session about homesickness presented by two Stanford faculty members. While discussing the nature and meaning of “home”, my fellow Fellow Priyanka gave a definition that really resonated with me: “Home is something that you carry with you, rather than a place.” Especially during this year abroad, I think that each of us will go “home” (wherever or whatever that may be for each of us) when we feel unable to handle everything new going on around us. As we prepare to leave the country, I think I am beginning to see what I myself associate with home—cats, National Public Radio, peppermint tea, and a serene, hugging-a-teddy-bear feeling that is difficult to put to words. For me, at least, I found it really helpful to recognize homesickness as a natural part of the year ahead, and talking about it allowed me to see that I can accept the feeling and work on how to move past it rather than letting it bottle up inside.
Needless to say, every day at Fall Training is jam-packed with new information and learning that will help us in the coming year. We also have fun, though—during sessions and outside of them. In the evening on day fifteen we had a movie night, a volleyball game, a poetry reading, and a random hair-braiding/chatting/music jamming session. Having such a tight-knit community as we do here helps to ensure that the whole GCY class of 2012 is a united cohort rather than several factions based on our country placement. While it will be difficult to leave all of the Fellows travelling to Brazil and Senegal, I know that we will return with many stories and experiences to share!
At our evening poetry reading session, Lily, another Fellow, presented a quotation that I find really relevant to our upcoming departure; “A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” In the coming months, I hope to use everything I have learned from day fifteen and every day of training, and let myself take flight!