In today’s educational world, everyone has been trained to focus on outcomes and build curricula to ensure that student can achieve them.
However, with independent experiential learning programs such as GLA, we have the luxury of being able to focus on a wider set of outcomes, including intangible concepts such as self-discovery and personal growth.Since we don’t depend on government funding, we’re not tied to achievement tests and programs such as No Child Left Behind.
I usually reply with some factual information about how we want students to get a deeper understanding of social issues, human rights and personal leadership.But quickly I transition to a more unorthodox answer – “I don’t know”.
International educational programs are one of the best ways to literally lift a person out of one social context and drop them into a completely different one.This exposes the individual to massive amounts of potential learning opportunities and potential networking opportunities.In fact, the potential for a student to connect with a person, place or idea is so great, that almost every person I know who works on an international level can point to a specific moment in their personal history as an “activating event” that set them on a new life course towards a career in international affairs.
Currently, a thinker that exerts much influence over me is Nassim Nicholas Taleb.His book, The Black Swan, discusses the idea that most events that shape history are unexpected or unpredictable events.The events that statisticians can predict are already known and factored into society’s behavior and thus have little impact on it.However, unexpected events, unguided tinkering, and serendipitous connections can shape history in profound ways (9/11, stock market collapse, Mumbai attacks, creation of internet by accident, discovery of penicillin by accident, etc.).
On a personal level, the way to experience serious growth or activating events is to be open to the universe, open to the chaos of events, people, ideas that fill the universe around you.By simply exposing yourself with an open mind to all this, you may “accidentally” stumble upon an idea or person that “activates” you or propels your life in a new direction.
Study abroad and international work have been huge catalysts for these unforeseen events in my own life.In speaking engagements, I often tell the story of how I studied abroad for all the wrong reasons (to party) and it ended up changing my life.It started a chain reaction that led me to join the Peace Corps, which led me to start working in international education, which led me to meeting my wife in Brazil, etc…I never could have guessed that any of these events would have happened.Of course, if not for my activating event, it’s possible that Global Leadership Adventures would not exist today.
What should students obtain from our program? I don’t know.The possibilities are endless.Whether they gain a love for a new language, a social cause, a different cuisine, meet a mentor, become an advocate for a country or region – I don’t really care, I just hope that they take advantage of the sea of ideas and experiences available to them abroad.
In coming posts I’ll share examples of outcomes from our alumni – from new non-profits that were created to new directions in life that were chosen – not to mention the outcomes that we have yet to discover.