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Gina Instructor Intro

Greetings fellow educators!

My name is Gina and I am one of three instructors that will be accompanying you to Bolivia this summer.  Introductions are a hard thing! How to condense a complex life into a few paragraphs? But our time together will be filled with just that–the comings and goings of new people into our lives as we grapple to make sense of it. So here we go. No way to start but to start.

I grew up a city kid in San Francisco (I see you Bay Area folk!) I didn’t get out of the city much as a kid until I had the opportunity to begin volunteering at an outdoor education camp during high school. I met my first redwood tree at camp and thus met my muse. I took this love with me into college and majored in Biology at Reed College. At the same time, I continued working at the camp during the summer. When academia demanded more from me, I stopped working at camp and instead worked for the National Science Foundation. I spent a summer counting ferns in Puerto Rico (science!) and another summer counting grasses in the Sierra Nevadas (more science!) I wrote my senior thesis on invasive plants and fully expected to go to a PhD program for ecology. But first I wanted to go back to that first love.

After college, I spent a year and a half working at the outdoor education camp. The night before I was to take my GRE, I froze. I wasn’t nervous, I just wasn’t inspired. “What am I doing?” I wondered. “What is the question that I really want to study?” I didn’t know the answer, so I didn’t go to that test. I moved to Montana next and was a crew leader for the Montana Conservation Corps. After that, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia. After almost two years there, PC Bolivia was evacuated and I continued for another year of PC Ecuador. Towards the end of my time in Ecuador, a friend posted online, “I have the best job ever in Bolivia!” “I want the best job ever in Bolivia,” I muttered to myself as I clicked the Dragons link for the fist time. “Oh hell yeah,” I thought. “Sign me up for that.”

I worked three semesters of the Andes and Amazon course before I finally went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to receive a joint Masters in Environment and Resources and Agronomy. Three weeks after defending my thesis, I was back in Bolivia. I worked a semester and a summer course, biked my bike from WI back to CA, worked another semester and summer course duo, and then worked as the inaugural On-Site Director for the Princeton Bridge Year in Bolivia. After that amazing year, I moved back to the US, Trump was elected, and I eventually found and began my current job as the Senior Associate for Immersion Learning Programs at the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice here in Cambridge (I see you MA folk!)

But what does all that mean? [Y’all don’t have to write as long of an intro as I did. I’m the instructor. They make me do it. Y’all are teachers. I know you know.] In the cacophony of that litany of “things that Gina has done,” why even mention it? What is it that I want you to know? Here is my attempt at distillation:

  • One: I love science with a passion. I spent years identifying as a scientist and I still graph things when I want to make the argument that, for example, I think my current job needs to hire more program leaders. I’ll also use stats for this.
  • Two: But I am also the type that teaches towards confusion. During a workshop about the scientific method in Puerto Rico, a professor took us walking in the rain forest and said, “Look around! Ask questions! The basis of the scientific method is the question!” And I looked around at all the plants I had never seen before and thought, “I have no idea how to ask a good question right now.” I knew I needed context.
  • Three: One of the main reasons why I couldn’t just give myself over to my love of the redwoods and forest ecology was that it felt too removed from humanity. I tried to reason it to myself. Yes, yes, humans and oxygen and trees and carbon dioxide and ecosystems and ecosystem services and conservation and interdependency and all that, but…
  • Four: But it wasn’t enough. In Bolivia I found something new. There was an integration of life and natural resources that I hadn’t felt before–infrastructure and privilege had numbed me from this in my experience of the U.S. In Bolivia, water often didn’t run. When the crops didn’t grow, people knew. The cows were damn skinny during the dry summers.
  • Five: So I went back to study agronomy because my time in Bolivia taught me that agriculture is the biggest intersection there is between humanity and the environment. But, again, that problem of context reared its complicated head again. “How can I ask good questions about farming when I’ve never farmed?” I made friends with all types of folk and watched how we could all watch the same presentation with the same data and still come out with different interpretations. I finally had a question I found worthwhile: How do our identities affect how and what we learn?

But what does this all have to do with Bolivia and climate change?

We are all traveling to Bolivia looking for answers to different questions. These questions reflect what we think we know about the world and reflect the problems that we have tried to solve. We all use that same phrase “climate change” but in that phrase are the lives and deaths of all living things on this earth. It is the sky above us and the water beneath us. No one of our questions can encapsulate that entirety of that phrase. There are edges to our understanding that we won’t know until we journey there, together, helping each other out as we try to go deeper. Bolivia taught me that. It showed me things that I didn’t know and taught me new ways of being and learning. It restructured my relationship to the earth. It taught me about people and resilience, organizing and ancient knowledge. All of this is climate change. This and more.

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As our time approaches, we’ll be using the yak board for communication and updates. Please keep checking back here. It’ll help us all prepare.

I am so excited to be journeying back to Bolivia with y’all. Stephan and Ivan (my fellow instructors) are amazing. But I’ll let them introduce themselves. I have read your applications. Y’all are amazing. But I’ll let y’all introduce yourselves. And Bolivia? Well, she will introduce herself soon enough.

¡Jallalla!

Gina