Studying Abroad Makes You Creative

CULTURAL IMMERSION ENHANCES HUMOR, INNOVATION

If you want to be creative, consider studying abroad. Researchers at the University of Florida, Gainesville, found that students who’d studied in Senegal, Spain, or wherever were more creative than those who had stayed home, reports Pacific Standard. Participants were tested on their reactions to unexpected questions—like how walking on air or having a different skin color would affect their lives.

The study measured creativity by the number of answers a student gave and how innovative or funny they were. Those who had left the country not only outperformed the US-only students, but also those who planned on going away—showing that students who study abroad aren’t just more creative by nature. “Cultural experiences from living abroad have wide-reaching benefits on students’ creativity,” the study authors wrote.

original story HERE

Blog Action Day 2011: Food

I realize that food is a tremendous source of inequity in the world … some folks have too much, some too little. However, I decided to write about the connections we share through food traditions.

Food is an important aspect of culture and connection. In our diverse household, we dye easter eggs and hide matzoh in the spring. We eat latkes and Christmas cookies in the winter. Food is an important part of our celebrations and a way to maintain a connection to our family’s diverse ethnic background.

When we travel the world, food allows us to explore other cultures … both for good and ill. I was adventurous, eating market-stall dumplings in Beijing, only to pay the price for several days after (eating undercooked meat!). We played it “safe” in  Egypt, ordering pizza from a very western hotel room service, only to find it was not any kind of pizza we had ever met. We’ve endured more traditional English breakfast sausages than can be counted …

But mostly the food adventures have been glorious. In Cairo, when I tried Turkish coffee for the first time, every waiter came out of the kitchen to see how I liked it. In Athens, my daughter and I ventured into a grocery store to buy olives and pistachio nuts – and then sat by the water at sunset eating one of the best meals we’d ever had. We sipped high cream tea with friends in Winchester, munched on croissants in the Dordogne, and sipped red wine in Rome.

Some of my favorite moments have come when my daughter realized as she ate noodles in China, or pasta in Italy, that we all share so many foods – but it’s a culture’s individualization through spices, sauces, and cooking styles, that make them unique. We are the same and we are different.

I pity Americans who visit another country and spend a moment in McDonald’s or Burger King. The whole point of traveling is to see someplace new, experience another culture – step out of your ordinary routine world for a little while. It will return, soon enough.

On Music Tours for Kids

When I was in high school (a long time ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I had the great privilege of participating in music tours organized by the school’s vocal and instrumental directors. Lucky enough to be based in London, these tours took us to Germany, Spain, Denmark … They are undoubtedly among my favorite teenage memories. I can’t tell you much about the performances, what we played, or where we played – my memories are of the social times with friends in hostels and on trains, searching for restaurants, and flirting with strangers. Important learning experiences for a teenager.

Fast forward many years … I just returned from a week in the UK where I organized a music tour for a group of students from the School of Rock. Several kids are seasoned world travelers, but many obtained their first passports for the trip. They performed 7 gigs in 7 days, were treated like “real” rock stars, and had the chance to see quite a few towns and cities in England – not to mention make friendships with local musicians and truly experience another culture.

The grou pays hommage to the Beatles at Abbey Road.

The group pays hommage to the Beatles at Abbey Road. The kids are flanked by music teachers extraordinaire: Jim Love and Eric York

It was a great experience for the kids (their travel blog here), and one I’m glad to have helped provide. I relied heavily on friends from the past who helped with coordination and logistics. But in the end, all I can do is sigh with admiration for Georgia and Richard Bassett – my music directors from high school who did this every year with over 100 kids and a full orchestra (yes, we traveled with tubas). Now that the exhaustion and jet lag have begun to wear off, I am left with true awe for their dedication to students.

Here’s to the teachers who make a difference in our lives ….

And PS – if anyone knows how to forward this to the Bassetts in England, I’d appreciate it.

Travel = Learning

From MSN’s The Invested Life:

An international vacation may seem like it’s too expensive and too much trouble, but heading outside the country can be an incredible experience for American families, especially those with teenage kids looking for an edge in the college application game.

Read the entire article here.

(Full disclosure: I am affiliated with Small World Travel quoted in the MSN article)

How much can you learn in a day?

I’ve been avidly following the White family’s round-the-world journey (6explorers.com). My latest favorite post is by teenage Alex, describing how she approaches bargaining in a Vietnamese market. It resonates with me as I reflect on work I’ve been doing with middle school teachers who insist their students just don’t understand measurement (a notoriously low score on PA’s state assessment).

Read Alex’s discussion of bargaining in which she describes the value of Vietnamese dong as compared to the US dollar and “tourist” vs “real” price (value) of the article she wants to purchase. If I were to align her experience to academic standards, I’d find connections in mathematics (measurement), social studies (economics), science (she describes the origin and quality of the silk), and language arts (communication, listening, speaking). Not only is she understanding the concepts, she’s applying them as well. (The know and do, the concepts and skills) She is gaining massive enduring understandings, not just in terms of economics, but in global cultural awareness.

And my analysis would be pretty “teachery” of me … rather, I like to think about the life skills she’s gaining: confidence, communication, worldliness. How well do you think she’ll do when she applies to college, to a job? Wouldn’t you want to hire hire someone with her confidence and skill?

What kind of price can you put on this form of education? Do yourself a favor and visit 6explorers.com.

(Full disclosure: I am affiliated with Small World Travel that planned the White family’s round-the-world journey)

Looking forward to 2011 …

So, it’s New Year’s Eve … time for reflection, time for planning. 2010 was a tumultuous year for me. Worked in a job I liked, but for someone I didn’t. Almost died in a car accident. Sort of recovered … visited the Galapagos Islands, and that helped. Went on a life changing trip to the Grand Canyon … and that helped me to recover completely and then some …

Realizing that life’s too short, I am revamping everything! I quit my predictable and safe full time job (eek!) and am now an independent educational consultant. I think my most exciting project is going to be acting as the Education Director for Small World Travel (a division of Brownell). This is a wonderful travel consultant group that focuses on family adventures. I will be developing curriculum for families that want to maximize the learning experience for their kids (and themselves) – even to the point of providing full year programs for round-the-world travelers that are schooling their children as they globe trot. Everyone who knows my passion for both education and travel will know that this is the perfect combination of my skills and interests.

Here’s a toast to an exciting 2011 … Hope everyone stays tuned to explore the world with me!

Water*

I really have taken water for granted. I drink a lot of it, love to swim … and intellectually I understand that many people don’t have access to clean water … but (typical for an American), I still take it for granted.

This past summer I had the opportunity to visit the Galapagos on the National Geographic Islander. It was an incredible experience – one of the most enjoyable learning opportunities I’ve had in a long time. We were sailing on water, surrounded by water, swimming and snorkeling on water – and learned just how critical clean water is to the survival of the diverse species living in the Galapagos.

Cory frolics with a playful sea lion off Espanola Island in the Galapagos

Cory frolics with a sea lion near Espanola Island

If that trip wasn’t cool enough, I was later invited to an all-female adventure rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Mind you, I’ve never been camping in my life and now I was contemplating four nights under the stars with a serious hike out the Bright Angel Trail to end the experience. Of course, I said yes.

The Colorado River ... serene and serious

The Colorado River ... serene and serious

My time in the Grand Canyon was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. (Check out my Grand Canyon blog posts here, here, here, here, here, and here). Along the way, I came to appreciate access to water like never before. The river was for drinking, for washing, for bathing, and yes, for urinating. The drinking and hand washing water had to be filtered using a complex but portable device. We were hiking and in the hot desert sun each day, so staying hydrated was a must. Hiking out the Bright Angel Trail was tough, and I made sure to stretch my water to last until the next source. The first sight of a sink with running, fresh water was a luxury – and I hope that I can continue to be more serious about my water use and take it less for granted.

So what about all of those people in the world without access to clean water? I am inspired by great thinkers like Michael Pritchard whose TED talk is nothing short of miraculous to me. I’m hoping that by sharing my experiences and his solutions, I can encourage a few folks to both conserve water and support efforts to get clean water to the people who need it most.

*This post is one of thousands participating in Blog Action Day. For more information, check out: blogactionday.change.org

Grand Canyon: hiking out the Bright Angel Trail

Last entry from my Grand Canyon journey:

The hike day started way too early. I was up at 2AM, but I think we all were. The room was a challenge – tiny and close, cooped up in bunk beds – especially hard as we were still used to the openness of the river.

About 4:30 we gave up all efforts at sleep and frantically packed up our belongings and lugged our duffels to the weigh station. We all made it under the 30lb limit, marked up our bags, and left them for the mule train. We headed to the canteen for breakfast and forced down some food. I tried my best to gulp some eggs and coffee.

We nervously gathered outside and received a briefing from Jason. The main point: go slow! And then we set off in the dark. We marched silently, single file, back to the Colorado River and crossed it at the silver suspension bridge, the official beginning of the Bright Angel Trail. It was a terrifying crossing for me since I suffer from vertigo – and it was my preview of things to come.

Setting off on the Bright Angel Trail

Setting off on the Bright Angel Trail

The first 2 miles were quick, mostly following the river. Then we turned inward to follow the trail and the going got a bit more challenging. Still, no dizzying heights yet, and I began to think that this wouldn’t be quite as hard as I had imagined. I tried hard to follow Michael’s advice to take it slow and enjoy the experience – no rush to the top. Then came a few tense moments as the trail steepened and the heights began to take my breath away. With a struggle, I made it to Indian Gardens at 5.2 miles … and over halfway to the top.

Onward and upward

Onward and upward

Then it got really rough. The trail wasn’t just steep – it was narrow and the drop was sheer. Vertigo drained my energy and made my heart race – not good when you’re trying to climb 10 miles and 4,300 feet. Jason found me and we chatted while walking. He gave me some strategies and became my outside buffer on the really steep trails.

Jason - hiking guide extraordinaire

Jason - hiking guide extraordinaire

Then we made it to the rest area 3 miles from the top. Surely I can go 3 more miles, I thought. But those last 3 miles represented over 2,000 feet of elevation and it became the most difficult mental challenge I think I’ve ever dealt with. The heights were dizzying and made my heart pound – even when standing still.

Jason was amazing, talking me through the tough parts, distracting me with information about the geology, and coaching me to slow down whenever I tried to walk faster. Periodically, he stopped me and showed me how I had just moved from one Canyon rock layer to the next. We progressed through the muav limestone to the redwall, the supai, and the cocino. At the mile-and-a-half point, I began to think I’d actually make it. The end was the steepest part of the climb with the sheerest drops – but what made it worse was passing the day “hikers” strolling the top mile of the trail. They were energetic and freshly washed. However, they had no idea what the Canyon looks like at the bottom. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the Canyon each year – but less than 1% go to the bottom. I was smug as I climbed to the top.

Eventually … like a miracle … I stepped over the rim. It was complete culture shock: tourists with cameras, children with ice ream. Jason asked if I was okay, vertigo-wise and when I said yes, we kicked it into high gear and raced for the hotel (inconveniently located at the top of a hill. Really? I just walked 10 miles up over 4,000 feet – where’s the shuttle?)

El Tovar

El Tovar

Jason and I reached the lawns of El Tovar to see a few members of our group lounging on the grass. Sam came up to give me a huge hug. “You did it!” Yes we did!

Sunset at the rim

Sunset at the rim

~~~

Fresh and clean at the airport the next day, we laughed and reflected while waiting for our flights to take us back home, back to reality. Ingrid asked me what I would be taking away from whole experience.

Two things really …

The first is about self-reliance. I can do more than I thought I could and I feel stronger and healthier for knowing that. The second, however, is about dependence. This activity would have been almost impossible (and not nearly as fun) without this incredible group of strong women willing to support each other so we could all accomplish tasks, overcome obstacles, and realize our potential. In the end – both self-reliance and dependance are critically important. It’s good to be strong and independent, but it’s also good (and more fun!) to ask for help and work together.

So … where will we go and what will we do next? That’s a story for another day …