Today, this question drives much of the research I do as a graduate student majoring in International and Comparative Education at Stanford. Five years ago, I lived this question as a VIA volunteer on Serangan Island, just off the coast of Bali.
I started VIA’s summer program with the intent to “do good” while “getting back to my roots,” my family is from Indonesia, but I was born and raised in America. While I was there, I struggled with a sense of belonging, I questioned previous mindsets about social change and developing countries, and I learned more about myself than I could have anticipated.
From the shores of Bali, I moved to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. I became a teacher at an intense charter school on the border of Texas and Mexico. For two years, teaching consumed my life as I encountered the reality of educational inequity every day. I taught World Cultures to an amazing group of 6th graders who were eager to wrap their minds around our big world.
During my last summer, I lived on a different border. I returned to Southeast Asia to the border between Thailand and Burma. While there, I learned how issues in education and border populations can be strikingly similar, and yet vastly contextually different at the same time. Although I understood Burma’s dire political, social, and economic situation in a distant, intellectual way, teaching at a Burmese school gave me a way to connect to the incredible people on the ground.
As my interest in international education grew, I would often find myself touching ground with that initial VIA experience. It was a pivotal moment of growth and perspective transformation, and it has fueled my passion in international education, social justice, and global citizenship. Today, I am less than two quarters away from graduation, and my to-do list includes conducting interviews and analyzing journals of young people who have just completed a year of service abroad. Did they experience pivotal moments of transformation? Will their experiences propel them in unanticipated directions? My research takes me full circle to a place I was five years ago, a place with VIA.