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Photo by Emily Shahrzad Rahravan, Indonesia Semester.

{Personal} Climate Change

“That is what Camus meant when he said that “what gives value to travel is fear” – disruption, in other words, (or emancipation) from circumstance, and all the habits behind which we hide. And that is why many of us travel not in search of answers, but of better questions.” – Pico Iyer

I have just finished my first year as the Director of Global Studies at George Walton Academy and my last year of being in the classroom (a bittersweet decision). I have taught World History and European History for the last four years and teaching is my first love. I come from a bicultural family – my mother is Dutch and my father is American, and we embrace all of the diversity that that offers. My formative years were spent in the Netherlands, followed by some other brief stops but I have been living, studying, and teaching in the states for the last 15 years.

In 2005 I traveled with a group of my high school peers to build a house for a pastor in Juárez, Mexico. I departed for the trip as an idealist and in nine days underwent a complete deconstruction of everything I thought I knew. Never had I seen such poverty but felt such happiness. Never had I been confronted with such depravity but felt such compassion. The neighborhood we worked in was less than 2 miles from the U.S. border and at night, we could see the lit up signs for Target and Applebee’s. Occasionally the wind would blow in just the right direction and we catch a faint smell of familiar fryers – only to be tugged away by a group of giggling kids ready to play soccer with us. It seemed so unfair – they were so close to wealth and opportunity but may as well have been light years away.

My time there was without gimmicks – none of the familiarities of home, no safe space, nowhere to hid. We were just people connecting with other people – pure humanity – and I still consider it one of the most authentic times of my life. When I returned to my home I felt shame at the luxury that I had taken for granted and for a time tried to reject it. My mind didn’t know how to process what I had seen and I couldn’t help but feel angry at the perceived cruelty of our juxtaposed lives – all because of where we were born. That trip disrupted my life and forced me to confront some things that I would rather have ignored – not just in other countries but in myself. It made me want to get out of my comfort zone, to commit to a life of experience over assumption, and to always seek opportunities to lean into the unknown.

Speaking of the unknown, we have been prompted to address climate change, but I am no expert and certainly don’t want to make a fool out of myself on this public forum. So instead, I am reinterpreting it for the purposes of this introduction to be self-reflective – how education can serve as a catalyst for personal climate change. Learning “how to balance wisdom with compassion”, how to “import – and export – dreams with tenderness”, and how to “come into contact with more essential parts of ourselves”. How that will happen for me on this trip, no one knows … yet. (I do want to learn more about climate change, too!)

What I do know is that Pico Iyer’s article left me hungry for what we are going to encounter on this trip. For the inquiry. The wonder. The passion. The newness. The unknowing (great post Matt!). I am excited for the ways that I will be challenged and stretched on this trip and I am already grateful to each of you for the role you will play in that.