Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Tribute to my Grandmothers

Dear Mary Cook & Shirley Jordan, 

I remember telling you that I wanted to become a scuba diving instructor. This was not going to be just a small change of career and lifestyle. I wanted to leave one of the most prestigious International Schools in Asia in order to bum around on a beach and potentially spend all of my savings on my passion. I wanted to learn about restoring reefs and marine conservation as well as just generally work on being a better human being. I wanted to challenge myself and exist outside of my comfort zone for a while. I remember that you smiled .. the most sincere smile, and you told me that I had courageous spirit. You told me that you knew I could do anything I set my mind to and that I would accomplish amazing things if I followed my heart. You didn't just support me, you believed in me.

I remember telling you that I had been nominated and won the 'top server in Nova Scotia' award when I was 21 years old. I remember the look on your face and the admiration in your congratulatory words. If I close my eyes I can hear the pride in your voice. I love your expressions of joy.  

I remember reading you jokes and stories on the balconies of hotels in Jamaica when I was 8 years old. I remember you filming Christine and me singing Bon Jovi and Michael Jackson into broom handles on the porch of the white house. I remember tractor rides on the farm and you teaching us to play gin rummy. I remember giving you pedicures on the carpet in the greenroom in Burlington, camping, long road trips and folk festivals. I remember all the times you've celebrated my birthday with me and spoiled me rotten.

I don’t really remember telling you that I was moving to Hong Kong. Or the Cayman Islands or Colombia. Or Singapore or Bangkok. I think I don't remember these conversations because you never really made a big deal of it. You never said, “don’t go” You never tried to change my mind or provide reasons for me to stay in Canada. 

This Mother's Day, I want to thank you both. Thank you for for all the times you've spent anxiously pacing the Pearson International Airport arrivals hall, for all the Canada Post that you've sorted for me over the years, for all the comments filled with love and encouragement on my Facebook timeline (and many of my friends'), for all the big hugs and the kisses on the lips. For being true and compassionate and honest and incredible women. Thank you for modelling risk-taking, courage and resilience. Thank you both for being a testament to independence, ability and strength.

But a simple 'thank you' doesn't seem to suffice. We often only say thank you for the things that we are aware of. For all the things we've done together. The memories. Thank you is often for the things we see and feel and know. 

But then I think about all the things I don't know. What about all the times you've driven away from Pearson International departures with a heavy heart and a lump in your throat? What about the days, and often weeks,  which pass without Skype calls and updates from me in my adventures? What about all the times that I've filled your basement or basement locker with camping gear and folk festival junk at the end of an amazing Canadian summer, excited to head back to my country of residence so far away? What about the moments when you needed me? When you were sad or lonely or tired or sick? The truth is that I don’t know what those times are like for you.

But I can imagine. I imagine it feels like your heart is shattering into a million pieces every time one of us leaves.  I can imagine it sometimes feels cold and dark and scary to not hear from us for days and not know if we are safe or happy or healthy. I imagine there are times when you long for our closeness and company so badly that your whole body hurts. 

When I think about this, I want to apologize to you for creating such sadness and pain. Sometimes I want to apologize for not sending more postcards, for being far away on your birthday and Mother's Day, for not Skyping every week or replying to every wonderful email you send. And then I reconsider apologizing, because the reality is that I don’t have regrets. Ultimately, if I could live two lives, I'd love to be near you both and simultaneously off on this wild global adventure. But since I can’t, I won’t apologize for not being able to accomplish the impossible. Instead, on this Mother's Day I want to simply say, I love you.

I love you because you've never said “don’t go” (even if deep down you really wanted to). I love you for raising your children and grandchildren in a way that fuelled us with the strength and courage to explore the world and explore outside of our comfort zone. I love you for teaching us to work hard, to trust ourselves, to dream big, to invest in opportunity and to love deeply. I love you because you've helped us pass these qualities on to your great-grandchildren.

I love you for being adventurous - for using squat toilets in China and South Korea, ranchero troughs in Colombia, outhouses in National Parks and even just the side of the road, when necessary. I love you for being open and non-judgemental - for eating weird and strange foods, trying magic mushrooms on the beach and pot cookies at the finca. I love you for being brave - for holding your breath on windy bus rides or rocky boat trips, for patiently biting your tongue when you didn't know the local language, for camping in the wilderness and spending money on experiences instead of material things. I love you for being spontaneous - for the Mary Spielberg moments, the backyard parties, that time you both said "sure, we'll fly to Bali for your birthday, all the silly games we make you play, the tacky christmas tradition and for all the last minute changes of plans. 

I love you for visiting us in remote and foreign places. For learning about regions and cultures of the world you previously hadn’t paid attention to. For taking the time and spending the money to come and see our lives in these places. To see the lives we lead that are full of culture, art, travel, adventure, nature and joy. I love you for possessing the courage and humility it takes to acknowledge and appreciate all of what we do and not insist that the only good place for us to live is near you. Sometimes people say to me, “Oh, your grandmothers must be so sad having their children and grandchildren so far away.” And sometimes I want to respond that, “It's a product of their own encouragement. They raised us to be life long learners, to fight for what we believe in, and to care about the world more than just ourselves.” 

I love you for living this way and for passing it on to everyone in our family. Thank you for making it abundantly clear that no matter where we live, we are loved. I could never have asked for better grandmothers than you. I love you and I miss you. Every day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tip Of The Hat

So after almost 9 blissfully adventurous months of scuba diving and traveling - without a job, without a home, and mostly without a care in the world - I have pulled the emergency brake and done an incredibly fast manoeuvre in a new direction.

I accepted a job. I agreed to relocate. I made a massive commitment. All in the span of about 2 weeks. In the realm of my career experiences, I'm used to preparing for a new job over the span of about 8 months (recruitment to actual start date) and then having an relaxing and rejuvenating Canadian summer to mentally prepare. Packing, shipping, moving and setting up shop all take a tremendous amount of energy. What has unfolded over the past 2 weeks and led me to this new role, is a very different process than I'm used to. It is all new territory for me - unlike anything I've ever done in the past - and yet so clearly something I have always wanted to do.

My new job is with an organization called the JUMP! Foundation. My first JUMP! experience was at UWCSEA teacher orientation week back in August 2012, where we participated in a community building day for a staff of 60+ people. It was like adult camp - icebreakers, get-to-know-each-other challenges, team bonding and visioning for the year ahead. Some people liked this more than others, but overall I found it quite engaging and was particularly interested in JUMP!'s social entrepreneurship angle. JUMP! is a non-profit organization that has established JUMP! Development, using a percentage of its income from running programs in International Schools to provide similar experiences for youth in areas that have been affected by economic, environmental or social turmoil in countries where partner schools and organizations have extensive experience. Pretty cool. The facilitators who ran the JUMP! program for us on that day were all very inspiring and interesting people. Little did I know that later that year, I would work with JUMP! again on 2 occasions. Once for the GIN-SING Conference outdoor education middle school welcome event hosted at the Dairy Farm in Singapore and then again for a Grade 6 Community Day. My path continued to cross with different members of the JUMP! team well into my second year at UWCSEA. From a second staff orientation day, Junior JUMP! Facilitator training for some of my students, another Grade 6 Community Day and then to the EARCOS Teacher's Conference in March 2014, which connected me with JUMP!'s executive director, Justin Bedard. I told him I was taking the following year off from teaching and that I had a background in Outdoor and Experiential Education and the rest is history!

No. Just kidding. A lot of stuff happened between then and now. Mostly, I got to know some pretty amazing and courageous people in the Gili Islands of Indonesia. Oh, and in October and November I did a couple one-off leadership development programs as a JUMP! facilitator in schools in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. 

Back to this story. So a few weeks ago Justin asked me to consider applying for a very interesting role at JUMP! Recently, a new partnership has developed between JUMP! and an International School in Singapore with an aim of constructing a holistic Experiential Education Program, including curricular mapping, year-long lesson planning and off campus expeditions for Grades 6 through 12. This type of program building appeals to International Schools that do not have their own Outdoor Education department but would like to provide more than just "camp" experiences for their middle and senior grade levels. It also appeals to schools that strive to place value and emphasis on personal and community development, service learning, ecological literacy, sustainability education and global citizenship.

So off I went to Singapore to meet with the members of the school there and observe and help facilitate visioning stages of the project. The energy and enthusiasm for this project was high. Next, I followed the team up to Bangkok to continue my interview process, meet the Bangkok Hub members and see their working environment. A job offer was made after a community interview that included JUMP! team members in other countries via Skype. It was the first time I've ever been interviewed by an entire team of people. After a some emotional and careful deliberation, the week culminated with a signed contract on Friday. There promises to be a lot of learning and growth in the next few weeks and months, as the responsibilities of the role itself are not areas that I am particularly experienced or practiced in. As a Partnership Manager I will be based in Bangkok with some time spent on-site in Singapore. As well, there will be expedition planning throughout the South East Asia, conducting site inspections and building partnerships for the week-long expeditions that will run in the next academic year. Collaboratively, I will help hire a team of people to run each grade level program and manage and facilitate the relationships with teachers, administrators, service providers and organizations in numerous locations. I will travel to countries I have never been to, as well as revisit places that I know and love. I will meet amazing people and learn incredibly valuable skills. I will work with students and educators and global change-makers to explore a field of Education that I am passionate about, without a desk or a four-walled classroom (and without the luxury of an International School calendar).

After a tough week of decision-making and the start of accepting the major lifestyle changes to come, I am feeling pretty stoked about this new learning journey. A good friend and fellow OEE graduate responded yesterday with the following sentiment, "You really came into Outdoor Education from a different angle than everyone else I know, which is awesome!" 

So this is my tip of the hat to new adventures, taking risks and always learning. Wish me luck!