April 5, 2011
I just spent two weeks with a community activist who organizes self-help groups for women in rural India, two courageous Pakistani women educators, an American cell biologist who leads improv workshops for scientists, two youth workers from Serbia, and two university-based teacher educators also from Serbia. The Institute’ International Class program is what brought these people together. They were in NYC for their second residency, which immersed them in the life of the Institute and the All Stars Project and the broader community of which these two organizations are a part. They had seminars, conversations and workshops, participated in ongoing events, observed social therapy groups, did some street organizing in Harlem, were guests at a donor reception, and were featured speakers at “International Conversation: Learning, Development and Performance around the World,” sponsored by the Global Outreach department of the All Stars UX. This event brought news of creative, important development work first hand to ordinary New Yorkers who rarely, if ever, get the chance to dialogue on culture and social change with people from other countries.
There are many wonderful things about these two weeks—being part of the learning and development of these particular people as they encounter so much that is new—and try to do it together; the memorable moments of shared “aha!”, humor and sadness; the work and play that goes into building new relationships. But what I woke up thinking about today was how our time together changed how I see what my colleagues and I do. And how great an experience that is—to have the opportunity to see and hear through others’ eyes and ears. To share your understanding of what you’re doing and its political and intellectual roots and hear your own words as you’ve never heard them before. To talk about an idea or concept or practice and experience others making new meaning (or no meaning) with it. To spend an hour with someone you have known and worked with for thirty years and get to know them all over again through the conversation they are having with people they have just met. To walk through spaces you walk through every day and notice things you’ve long forgotten were there. I realize that what’s so special about the International Class residency periods for me is that they’re an extended period of making the familiar strange.
That got me thinking about teaching/learning. Isn’t that what it’s all about?