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Photo by Emily Shahrzad Rahravan, Indonesia Semester.

Let’s Unknow Together – Instructor Introduction

“…[T]ravel, for many of us, is a quest for not just the unknown, but the unknowing.” —Pico Ayer

Dear GEBG Indonesia course participants,

I am honored to have the opportunity to introduce you to Indonesia and co-facilitate our collaborative exploration of international education.

But first, I have a few things to admit to you:

I am laughably inept at threshing rice. I can only dream of holding my breath long enough to descend into the shadowy depths of a coral reef and emerge a few minutes later with an eel on my spear. When I look at the ocean I cannot see tomorrow’s weather or intuit the location of today’s catch. I do not know the names of all the species that live around my home nor can I tell you—from my own observation alone—how climate change is affecting their lives.

In short, I must admit that there is a lot I do not know.

During my years of living and working abroad, the most valuable skill I’ve learned is one I wouldn’t include on my resume. That skill is unknowing. Moving across cultures provides us with the incredible opportunity to experience the freedom of not knowing, of not having to know. While what we know is still important, unknowing is requisite to learning in a completely unfamiliar place. As travelers willing to reside in a state of unknowing we can engage the world as the ideal student, questioning axioms and collecting data in a laboratory without boundaries.

I’ve come to see our work as international educators as the work of a guide not just to a foreign country but to the path of unknowing itself. We hold space for our students to explore their presumptions and the world that exists beyond them, to hear out new perspectives, to embrace mistakes. It can be embarrassing for anyone to admit that they don’t understand what others seem to take for granted. What’s more, most of us come from educational backgrounds where having the answer is a mark of intelligence while admitting that you don’t know can be seen as a failure. Students therefor struggle at first with the awkwardness of unknowing, of navigating an unfamiliar culture, of fumbling for words in a new language, of threshing their first (or second, or third…) basket of rice. With skillful guidance though this process however students develop the openness to learning that is required of compassionately engaged global citizens. And facilitating that process has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career.

I can’t wait to get to know each of you and experience the unknowing by your sides!

Best from Indonesia,

Matt

PS For a little more information about my work as an educator and digital storyteller check out my website.