Busyness Is Not A Badge Of Honor

No Stone Unturned

After devoting the vast majority of my writing and thinking to education-related issues and other publishing platforms in the past year or two, I’ve decided to revive the ‘Stew!

Out of curiosity, I used Medium to post my latest effort.  Thanks for reading!

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Wealth As Community, Time, and Freedom

No Stone Unturned

I’ll be the first one to admit it: I value financial security and material comfort, I save for retirement, and I sometimes worry about finances.

But after reading Ben Hewitt’s book Saved: How I Quit Worry About Money and Became the Richest Guy in the World, I’ve been inspired to blog.  Like Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy, the text challenged me to ponder just how unsustainable the modern paradigm of constant corporate and economic growth is, urging us to examine what it means to be wealthy.   Let’s consider community, time, and the freedom to think and act outside the realm of money as undervalued measures of wealth.

Community

Valuing wealth based on massive accumulating of material goods and services is a historical anomaly for most of the world’s inhabitants, yet it has become the norm. Hewitt writes:

Of course, the economic and social arrangements we know today have scant historical precedence, and it was not long ago that our investments were not primarily fiscal in nature. We invested in property, to be sure, but also in less tangible assets, like trust and community. We understood that we could not stand separate from others in our communities, nor from the natural world that provided the foundational essentials for day-to-day survival.  

If this doesn’t echo Wendell Berry, I’m not sure what does. Berry writes in The Agrarian Essays, “A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members – among them the need to need one another.”

Community membership offers measures of wealth, of course, that are vastly different than accumulation and six figure bank accounts. If you can trade handmade material goods or services with a neighbor, is that not a form of wealth? If you can strengthen relationships with others by borrowing tools, or counting on someone to feed your pets while away, is that not wealth? Hewitt contends that to be wealthy is to maintain interdependent relationships that allow us to skirt the impersonal transactions of corporate America.

Time

We are all offered 24 hours in a day. No more, no less, no matter our lot. I consider myself wealthy in this regard, despite the fact that I have a demanding job as a high school teacher. I take active steps to ensure I work efficiently and have ample time at home, hours spent bow-hunting in the woods, and time to simply be, to relax, to read, to write. Hewitt writes, “Given the egalitarian nature of time, not to mention its scarcity, the capacity to choose how we spend out time could be viewed as the ultimate expression of wealth.”

I thought about this quote the other day, as I sat in the school cafeteria for an extra three paid hours for parent-teacher conferences and department meetings. Most of my colleagues said they’d rather be with their families, pursuing a hobby, or simply choosing how to spend their time. I was in complete agreement.

Thinking/Freedom

Hewitt’s most interesting idea regarding the modern wealth paradigm of material consumption is that it can detract our ability to be more mindful about the world around us, to be critical thinkers, to be artists, to feel unburdened from thinking about bills and acquiring more stuff. Consider this: if you spend all of your time working to earn money, then worrying about how you’ll spend, invest, and save your money, how much time is left over to think about other things?

“We tend to think of freedom in the context of flesh and blood, but of course our thoughts can be shackled too…How often, I wonder, do we deny ourselves the pleasure of offering our gifts to others, be they intellectual, artistic, or of pure toil? I can’t afford that, we say, and we believe it…” Hewitt continues.

This post probably doesn’t do these ideas justice, but I’m hoping to hear from y’all.

Is someone wealthy who has a 4,000 square foot house but is a slave to their mortgage payment, having to work 60-hour weeks to make house payments and fill up every room with furniture and gadgets? Is someone wealthy if they have a huge nest egg, but hasn’t been able to–or chooses not to–pursue hobbies or take vacations? To what extent do you value the aforementioned ideas as wealth? Is the old maxim “time is money” problematic in any way to you?

Show Me Respect, Or Else!

No Stone Unturned, Room 137

A few weeks ago, two students showed up for English class a few minutes late–not the first time–and shuffled into their seats, smirking and tossing their backpacks to the floor. While I began to explain the lesson, a hand shot up from the back of the classroom.  “Mr. B, can I go to the bathroom?” He’d been in the room for two, maybe three minutes, and now he had audacity to request leaving.

quote-Albert-Camus-nothing-is-more-despicable-than-respect-based-88893

I glanced back with a scowl, feeling my heart thump a little louder than normal. Are you kidding me? I thought.  The same student just displayed a disregard for the start of class by being tardy. Given that we’d been discussing the idea of respect in the context of the book The Other Wes Moore, I fired back. “You’ll have to wait.  You realize how disrespectful it is to ask me after coming to class late?”

“How is it disrespectful?”  he responded without sarcasm. I took a breath, realizing that he perhaps had no clue why his action was disrespectful to me and our classroom time and space.  It was a teachable moment, and I regret missing the opportunity to have a productive conversation.

Many students have skewed notions of respect, largely fueled by pop culture, fear, and violence. Ask students what respect means, and you’ll likely get a thousand different answers.

Some will tell you it’s about fear and power. Think about the bully who trolls the hallways, puffing out his chest, bumping students with his shoulder, demanding respect. Respect based on fear, violence, and intimidation.

Some will tell you it’s all about making sure you acknowledge their presence, their being, regardless of their behavior. I think about times when I’ve asked challenging students to move seats to minimize their off-task behavior, and they openly state they don’t like being disrespected like that. What?!

Others, mostly our refugee students, will provide a definition of respect based on family status or age. One Cuban girl told me she has to respect all the elders in her family.

Yet few will actually give you a textbook definition of respect: admiring and recognizing people for positive qualities, abilities, or achievements. Or acknowledging the traditions or routines in an environment, not wanting to interfere or harm.

The following passage from the book, a story about two men with the same names and drastically different fates, seemed to have an impact on many students.  In the scene, one of the Wes Moores, now a cadet at a military academy, witnesses a fellow student command attention and deference based on qualities he’d never witnessed before back in his Bronx neighborhood:

“In spite of myself, I was impressed. I had never seen anything like that before. I had never seen a man, a peer, demand that much respect from his people. I had seen Shea demand respect in the neighborhood, but this was different. This was real respect, the kind you can’t beat or scare out of people. That’s when I started to understand that I was in a different environment. Not simply because I was in the middle of Pennsylvania instead of the Bronx or Baltimore. It was a different psychological environment, where my normal expectations were inverted, where leadership was honored and class clowns were ostracized.”

Wes Moore, like many students I deal with, need to be deliberately taught different modes of perceiving themselves and the world.  There is perhaps too much emphasis on academics in school, given the social-emotional deficits students bring to the table.  Is it more important to learn the periodic table or learn and practice real tolerance and respect?  How do you think you learned respect?  If you are a teacher or have/work with young people, what are you observations regarding respect?

Would You–Or Do You–Monitor Your Child’s Digital Activity?

No Stone Unturned, Techculture

In 1994, when I was 13 years old, I did what I suspect many 13 year-old boys might do.  I snuck into my younger sister’s room, found her colorfully-bound private journal, read it, dusted off my fingerprints, and smirked, knowing I now possessed information to get under her skin.  It seemed like the best way to torment my sister, who didn’t deserve the heckling that ensued after I teased her about a boy she clearly liked.  She’d devoted several pages to him in her journal.

Fast forward to 2013.  I’m not sure how many students keep a traditional journal, but many students use social media and the internet to broadcast their thoughts by the day, hour, and even minute.  Many students either don’t think their parents know what’s going on, or they think their parents are oblivious to belligerent online activity.  Many parents are.

Given this fact, to what extent should parents monitor, curtail, or even spy on their child’s cell phone or internet use?

I’m not a parent, but as a teacher, I’m completely aware of the innocent and nefarious ways kids and teenagers use their digital devices.  I’ve heard students talking about Snapchat, where they can take a picture of themselves then send it to a friend or acquaintance, with the file being supposedly self-destructing after 10 seconds.  You can imagine the type of photos some reckless and hormone-riddled teens send to each other.  Some students bully each other to the point of tragedy, described here by blogger Caitlin Kelly over at BroadsideThen there’s Twitter and Instagram, tools many teenagers use to supply the world with endless streams of narcissistic drivel, trash-talk, and “selfies.

On the other hand, students engage in positive online communities relating to their interests.  I’m thinking about my students who are self-described “nerds,” using social media to connect with other anime or gaming aficionados.  “

Here’s some hypothetical scenarios to consider:

  • Imagine you’re the parent of a 15 year-old boy and suspect drug-use, bullying, or other reckless behavior.  Your son has left for the afternoon to hang out with some friends at the bowling alley, and, surprisingly, he left his phone on the kitchen counter. Would you search through your his cell phone records or Twitter feed without he or she knowing it?  What would you do if you found incriminating evidence?
  • Imagine you’re the parent of a 13 year-old girl, and you’ve been in a year-long battle with her over how she dresses.  Despite your best efforts to keep her from dressing in what you deem as racy attire, you suspect her exhibitionist streak is manifesting itself online.  While she heads to living room to complete some algebra homework, you notice her laptop is open and the screen seems to show a picture that can’t be your daughter in a skimpy bathing suit.  Except that it is, and you sneak into her room and scroll down to find other photos more fit for a 21-year old aspiring model.  What do you do?
  • Your child has just received his driver’s license.  You require him to check in whenever he gets to his stated destination, but you’re suspicious that he isn’t always where he says he is.  You’re also aware of small GPS tracking devices that can be affixed to cars.  Do you install a device, to keep secret tabs on where your teen is headed, given his new freedom?

A couple years removed from college, I helped a former sociology professor with field research for her book.  I interviewed parents about their own surveillance.  After conducting and recording 8-10 extensive interviews, it became apparent that those parent-child dynamics based more on trust, versus spying and surveillance, seemed to spawn healthier relationships.  At the time, the ubiquity of cell phones was on the verge of manifesting itself, but the prevalence of digital tools in our lives wasn’t as intense as it is 8 or so years later.  There are certainly new challenges and considerations for parents, regarding the choices about access and surveillance.

As parents and would-be parents, I’m wondering how you might respond to the scenarios above.  Or do you–would you–not allow a teen to have his or her laptop?  How about cell phones–at what age should a child have a phone?  What restrictions or monitoring do you–or would you–employ?  

School Segregation Persists, But Not In Louisville

No Stone Unturned

If you’re a black public school student in Chicago, there’s a 70% chance you’re in an intensely segregated school (90%+ minority student body).  Similar trends occur for Latino students in Los Angeles.  Examine enrollments in many urban districts across the land and you’ll see similar trends suggesting that despite our country’s status as a melting pot, many of our public schools are more like one or two ingredient stews. 

chicago public school students

And according to The Civil Rights Project at UCLA, fifteen percent of black students and 14 percent of Latino students attend “apartheid schools” across the nation in which whites make up zero to 1 percent of the enrollment.  

There’s no law driving these numbers, but there is also little being done to remedy inequities, and The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss sums up the research: 

“Segregation in public schools has been linked to a number of problems that affect the achievement of minorities. Schools with a big majority of students who live in poverty have higher dropout rates, fewer experienced teachers and far less resources than schools with majorities of middle- and upper-class students. The studies note that expert teachers and advanced courses more common in predominantly white and/or wealthy schools help create educational advantages over minority segregated settings.”

If the above is true, then how come there aren’t more incentives for experienced teachers to teach in more segregated schools?  How come policy-wonks obsess over closing the achievement gap between white and minority students, yet most school systems accept these types of structural inequalities?  

Civic leaders and policy makers in Louisville, Kentucky, however, have long determined that we don’t want de facto segregation to rule the roost.  After all, we could have neighborhood schools that are intensely segregated by race and income.  We’re no different than many urban areas regarding housing and neighborhood demographics.

As school ended this afternoon in Louisville, thousands of public school students boarded buses to begin their journeys home.  For some, a simple five or ten minute drive delivered them to their stop.  For others, their trek included a transfer at a bus depot, and a much longer trip.  There are students who live in the predominantly black West End and attend schools in the lily-white eastern suburbs.  And vice-versa.

I grew up in Concord, NH, and I always attended my neighborhood public school.  It seemed like everybody did.  Bake sales, open houses, and other community events were big deals, and they were also relatively easy to get to.  More than 90% of my classmates were white, and I was oblivious and insulated from the challenges–both on a personal and systemic level–that plague our urban schools.

I honestly don’t know what would be better for our community.  We still have large achievement gaps.  We still have disproportionately high discipline problems with minority students.  We still have “schools within schools,” where tracking and AP courses result in classrooms segregated within our buildings.  Home and neighborhood influences still seems to exert greater sway over educational outcomes, despite the fact that many of our students, in theory, attend “better” schools due to busing.

I’d like to believe the busing has positive effects on the educational attainment–and also the personal growth–of our students.

Even if the academic effects are marginally positive, isn’t busing a good thing to help foster tough-to-measure human characteristics like tolerance? If you’re a single-parent in an impoverished part of the city, is it beneficial for your student to travel away from the neighborhood to attend school?  Does the busing lead to less neighborhood cohesion, as true neighborhood schools are generally diluted?  Do our students become more prepared for the “real world” thanks to exposure and interaction with those different from themselves?

Look forward to your thoughts.

Emphasizing the Gift of Attention

Techculture

Like most teachers, I’m a few weeks into the school year.   I’ve dealt with shifting rosters, a classroom change, opening-school paperwork, and trying to establish a positive, productive classroom culture. Though my classroom actions and procedures, I’ve implicitly and explicitly emphasized certain behaviors and values, like collaboration, being on time, and organization.

What’s new this year is an emphasis on attention.

Without teaching ourselves–and students–how to sustain thought and practice concentration, I’m wary all of our innovative technology applications in the classroom can become merely engagement gimmicks, distracting us and students from deeper thought needed to make meaningful connections and compose or read longer texts. I’ve previously written about the phenomenon in the context of digital versus “old-school” reading.

Can students learn effectively–and deeply–without being trained—or practicing—the art of sustained focus and thought?  Do we want classrooms to be places where digital tools and use are so ubiquitous that it’s difficult not to distract one’s self? It seems to be a disappearing skill for our young people, and while they might be clicking on hyperlinks left and right, Tweeting their friends, and completing a math assignment—all at the same time—I wonder how a generation of learners seemingly unable to pay attention will function.

But I’m not about to completely ban cell phones and discourage connectivity. Far from it.

I do allow students to use phones to access Schoology.com for classroom assignments and discussion boards. I do allow them to use the camera to take pictures for notes.  They may use dictionary and thesaurus apps, and they do have ample access to laptops and desktops.

It takes self-discipline–especially for struggling high school students, to avoid the constant pull of social media, music videos on YouTube, Twitter feeds, and other information streams.

However, we’re doing a disservice if we don’t teach students how to use the amazing technology tools out there.  In fact, to my amazement, only 4-5 out of my 80 students use Google Drive during an informal poll today.  Tomorrow’s lesson?  Explain how Google Drive helps my efficiency, productivity, and collaborative ability, then get them signed up, and share a document with a classmate.

Last year, I wrote about mindful use of technology, sharing these tips with the blogosphere.  I’ll do the same with students.

I’ll explain that I can’t write this blog post very well, for example, with 13 windows open while checking my phone for texts every two minutes. I’ll explain that while it’s great to compose 140 character messages in thirty seconds, it’s even better to write a 500-word blog post. I’ll  also admit that I feel the pull of digital distraction too, explaining that 20-25 minute focused bursts without multitasking is my preferred strategy for reading and writing.

It’s all the rage to supply all students with iPads or laptops, unleashing the power of technology tools for learning. We can’t forget what deeper learning entails, however, and whether or not our digital habits benefit academic growth.

So, can students learn effectively without disconnecting for meaningful periods of time?  How do you handle digital distraction in your own life?  Do you struggle staying productive?  If you are a teacher, do you allow cell phone use in the classroom?  Do you have a policy when and where phones are off-limits?  How do you enforce it?

Maintaining a Blogging Presence, Catalysts, and Inspiration

No Stone Unturned, Techculture

As much as I love being online, blogging, Tweeting, and the like, I don’t like how demanding it feels sometimes.  How, if I don’t write a captivating post or send out X number of Tweets, then I’m somehow falling behind.  How, if I don’t read and respond to some loyal Stew’ reader’s posts, then I’m giving them the short end of the stick.  How you might feel like you’re missing something if you’re not checking your Twitter feed.  Sometimes, I’m excited to publish a post–I just know it will resonate with readers–and then there is marginal response.

Blessed to have the opportunity to study in Europe this summer, I had plenty of time to observe, reflect, and gather "sparks" for new writing.

Blessed to have the opportunity to study in Europe this summer, I had plenty of time to observe, reflect, and gather “sparks” for new writing.

Maintaining a blog is a challenging endeavor, and I don’t recommend it if you’re not passionate about the writing process and discovery of new ideas.  The process of finding, refining, and revising my place in the real and digital world is what keeps me blogging.  If readers comment, great.  If readers don’t comment but I’ve enjoyed the process of composing a post, I’m cool with that.

For new bloggers out there, take heed: Melissa over at Freeing Imperfections blog has some solid realizations for new bloggers.  Here’s what she wishes she’d known when she began blogging.  Highlights include:

1. Blogging is not easy and it’s incredibly time-consuming – at first.

10. Not everyone will care that you have a blog. But if you care, the people who want to read your blog will follow.

14. Social media is good for blog growth. Before I started my blog, I thought being on it more would be a bad thing. Without social media, my blog would still be in the dark with no readers, reaching no one.

I’m conflicted, at times, over how much time I spend in front of a screen; this concern has appeared here and here and here in Mindful Stew.  Regarding Melissa’s point about social media, I don’t like to feel obligated to promote blog posts on Twitter or Facebook, but I do enjoy ensuing dialogue when folks leave comments.  It’s exciting to know that something you put out there strikes a chord with readers.  And now that I’ve dropped my number of posts to three or four a month, I try to be deliberate about publishing.

I want to write about what matters to me with a connection to more universal ideas and experience.  I want to write on Saturday mornings over several cups of coffee, and I want to write after experiencing an idea itch when I witness something out there in the world or online, whether it be a quote, a visit to the Farmer’s Market, or a news blurb.   I’m always fascinated by what great bloggers and writers out there like Caitlin KellyAnnie Murphy Paul, and Terry Heick encounter as catalysts for their own posts.

Soon, the school year will begin and I’ll have a deluge of new experiences and faces to provide sparks for reflection and analysis, and my own desire to balance digital and “analog” life will be put to the test.

I know I’ll have students who are constantly connected–many seemingly addicted–with their iPhones and Androids.  Part of me wants to tell them to disconnect, to observe the world around them and slow down their thinking, without mediating life through a screen. Another part of me knows it’s my job to help students navigate and use the digital world more productively.  

Although it’s not a new calendar year, the start of the school year marks a major shift for writing/blogging educators out there–we might have a ton to say, but finding time is tricky.  I look forward to continuing blogging on the ‘Stew, in addition to a blogging gig over at the Center for Teaching Quality.   Happy blogging, everyone.

What shifts have you experienced in maintaining your digital presence?  What tips would you give to beginning bloggers?  What are your “go-to” sites, experiences, or observations that often spark your own blog posts?

Should High School Students Have Jobs?

No Stone Unturned

Here’s a typical scenario that I’ve witnessed over and over again during the last several years as a high school teacher:

JP is an average student, receiving mostly B’s and C’s in school.  He wants to save up for a used car–perhaps a Honda Civic Coupe–and be able to pay for his iPhone bill. He doesn’t get an allowance from his parents or guardians, and he has very few connections to business owners, but he’s confident he can get a fast food job, since they’re always hiring. He gets a job at local fast food chain, signing up for 20 hours a week to start.

The problem is, JP decides to quit basketball, and stops coming to tutoring after school because he “has work.” In JP’s eyes, making money TRUMPS all extracurricular possibilities and improving his academic work. JP isn’t expected to help pay any bills at home, besides his phone bill, so he’s prioritized like many high school students do. Can’t live without the phone.

Each student who chooses to work has a unique set of circumstances. After ten+ years teaching, however, I believe very few high school students should choose to work during the school year. Would I recommend a student get a job instead of playing video games for hours on end after school? Probably. Would I tell a student he or she shouldn’t work to help keep the lights on at home? Nope.

firstjob_Large

I would, however, tell 9 out of 10 students to bypass that fast-food application and instead, join a team. Go to cooking club. Environmental club. Pep band. Whatever! Do opportunities to grow intellectually and emotionally through wholesome, non-work related activities trump any benefit the average student would receive working a minimum-wage job? I think so.

I’ve seen too many students come to school with baggy eyes, nodding off during first period because of a long work shift the previous afternoon or night. I’ve seen too many students fail to show up for tutoring after school–despite dropping grades–because of work. I’ve seen students quit cheerleading, football, and basketball in order to work.

On the other hand, I’ve seen what can happen if a student proactively decides to quit working in order to pursue new passions.  One student, who blossomed in my digital media class, struggled mightily at first to muster up the time and energy to do documentary work, toiling for long hours at White Castle. She helped pay the bills at home. But she eventually mustered up the courage to quit her job, realizing that giving herself more time for her newfound passion of photography and digital media work would pay more dividends than sweating grease.

She and another student started their own business within a year, but she doesn’t consider it work.

Admittedly, there are advantages to getting a part-time job. Gaining “real-world” experience and dealing with people, time management, and financial responsibility are possible byproducts from working. For some students who aren’t “good” at school, work gives them a sense of purpose.  And some students have to help pay the bills.

And I’ll also admit I never had to work, but I also never had my own car, nor did I have a cell phone. I worked various jobs during the summers: hauling furniture for a moving company, packaging rugs for shipment, and stacking pallets of beer during a graveyard shift.

Almost to a T, the most successful students from my high school class, if they had the choice, opted to participate in sports, music, and other extracurricular activities. Passionately. And it seemed to pay off regarding grades and, eventually, college and other post-secondary possibilities.

As a new school year creeps up, I’m crossing my fingers that our school will be able to connect with more disengaged students, whether it be with athletics, clubs, or other activities. In a roundabout way, I’m arguing for more opportunities and engagement in school, as high numbers of job-seeking teenagers might correlate to a high number of students fed up and bored with school.

Did you, or would you, encourage your child to get a part-time job during the school year?  Why or why not?  What am I missing in this argument? Why did or didn’t you work in high school?

Students, chime in too. What are you gaining or sacrificing while working?  Can you fit in work, school, and still get enough sleep?  Has your school work suffered because of work?  Why do you work?

Europe, 10 Years Later: In the Moment

No Stone Unturned

I strolled through the Vrijdagmarkt in Ghent, Belgium, last Sunday morning, still slightly hungover from a sprawling bike scavenger hunt through the city the previous day.  A veteran farmer with white hair and red, calloused hands hawked different breeds of laying hens to the city folks.  Sidewalk cafes slowly became magnets for those looking for caffeine, and the sun emerged from behind the great towers and cathedrals of Central Ghent–it’d be another warm day.

Like the last time I was in Europe, in 2003, I’ve traveled and studied this summer without a phone.  My mind feels much more at ease without the expectation of constant communication and instant response.  And as my sister noted to me in a written note, isn’t is somehow easier to be “in the now” when everything is new?

Yes, it is.

And whether we’re in a new country–I’d never been to Belgium–or within ten miles of our hometown, I’m reminded that one of the best ways to create mindfulness, to relax, and to be present is to observe.  To let, seek, or give a chance for the endless, amazing diversity of sensory experience to captivate you in different ways.

I’ve attempted to allow myself to be in the moment this summer: to hear the Wood Pigeons cooing in the 14th century courtyards of Lincoln College; to see the egalitarian cyclists of all shapes, colors, and sizes jockey for position on narrow Oxford streets busy with double decker busses; to taste braised pork cheeks cooked in brown beer sauce in a local restaurant in Ghent; to feel the vibrations of the oncoming trains at Paddington Station in London; to read and reread 16th century English Literature without the rhythms and demands of multitasking that can become commonplace during the teaching year.

Unlike when traveling alone in 2003, I felt like I had my voice this time around–10 years of life will give you that confidence.  I attempted to strike up conversation with anybody, anywhere, despite my utter lack of Flemish/Dutch language skill, the main reason how I ended up having such a glorious day in Ghent, interacting with bartenders, baristas, chefs and patrons, each taking a chance to scrawl on my tattered map pictured above.

Ghent residents are justifiably proud of their city; some say it’s the most underrated destination in Europe.  If you’re interested in history, food, and drink, as I am, put it on your list.  It’s not too expensive…yet.  

Here are some of my recommendations:  Cafe Labath and Simon Says are great cafes with welcoming staffs, head to De Lieve for great beer and authentic Belgian food, and check out The STAM Museum for fascinating civic history.  There is a huge pedestrianized area on the central part of the city, where I experienced a new take on a somewhat-familiar sight.

It nearly took my breath away walking into the Cathedral in Ghent.  10 years ago, as a 21-year old undergraduate “studying” abroad, I strolled into many of the great churches and cathedrals of Europe: La Sagrada Familia, Notre Dame, St. Peter’s Basilica, etc.   They were impressive buildings to me at the time, but I felt less awe.

My coursework this summer on literature during the English Reformation has refreshed my knowledge of the great Catholic and Protestant schism–all over Europe, the various churches and cathedrals tell the history through stained glass, altars, and other iconography (or lack of).  Catholicism won out in Ghent, but religious strife, among other factors, prevented the city from continued ascension towards status as one of Europe’s Great Cities (it was Europe’s second largest city behind Paris for several hundred years).

I’m completing this blog post after hearing a graduate school colleague, 40 years removed from literature study, discuss the experience of rereading classic texts after accumulating so many joys, sorrows, worries, and wonders over his adult life.  He’s been blown away by the power of the same words given his new perspective.  Based on just a few days away from studying in Oxford, I can relate.

Like revisiting art, travel at different points of our lives can spark different passions, interests, and memories, creating experiences rich in new ways. 

Can you be alone and content, in a new place, where cultural or language barriers might be an issue?  Are you willing to let your five senses take in as much as you can–without digital distraction–and not worry about what time or day it is?   Have you returned to a place/book and had a completely “new” experience?