TGS was just the beginning…
In June 2014, I was sitting on a bus on my way to Arusha Airport, thinking about the journeys I had shared with everyone over the past four years while also thinking about what I expected to gain from university. Three months later, I joined the University of Cumbria, situated in a national park in the north of England, where I studied outdoor education. Fast forward three years to 2017, and I have just recently completed my Foundation Degree in Outdoor Education, and have decided to carry on and “top up,” as they call it here, in order to gain a full Bachelors of Arts in Outdoor Education.
As I reflected on my foundation experience at university, it seemed to be a waste of time compared to my TGS experience. At TGS, I felt I had already reached the summit of the highest mountain, and I mean that literally: Kilimanjaro. I thought I was on my descent back to reality afterward. But I was wrong, so very, very wrong. TGS was just the beginning, and my experiences there set me up for the crazy adventures I’ve had since.
I want to teach
At TGS, I often missed out on the outdoor adventures. Of course there were the occasional big trips out like the time we went rock climbing in Katoomba or to Goa for our sweet as canyoning trip. And who could forget our hike up to the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan! Yet, all the other times we were sat inside behind our computers with the notorious Pamoja, digital portfolio, and, of course, SPOT work. Regardless, I always wanted to be outdoors. I wanted an ‘in-tents’ experience. Reflecting back on all this, I realize that I want to get into some form of teaching that combines experiential learning and the outdoors.
Gijs on Mt. Kilimanjaro
That left only one option: my dissertation would be on teaching. More specifically, my dissertation would explore different teaching philosophies, program designs, and facilitation. Even beyond my TGS experience, I have found that being a teacher takes great skill, that it’s not for everyone and it’s easier said than done. I want to discover to what extent teachers make decisions and to what extent external influences (eg. cultural differences within the classroom, location, language, etc.) impact their decisions. So what better place to study this than with THINK Global School?
Back in the second week of January, I visited my old teachers and life advisor (that’s you, Reynolds). I primarily focused on researching curriculum design with Adam and Rowena as they are leading the team studies program with the Grade 10s. I gained a lot of useful information that week which I would love to share with you all, but it is, unfortunately, not ready to be shared yet. But what I can share with you was how surreal it was being back.
I use the word back because I never left. I mean, physically I have, but mentally I haven’t. I don’t think I ever will. TGS has created who I am today and that will always be a part of me. But let me tell you what happened when I came back: it was like nothing ever changed. When I went to interview Rowena and Adam, they were both very welcoming. I had some really great conversations with Rowena, as if we both had been at TGS at the same time, as if we were catching up. I also met the rest of the StudentLIFE crew, and I have to say, it was great — they were all welcoming. Maybe they felt inclined to welcome me, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I joined the onsite staff for dinner that night, and the thought that went through my head was “can I actually have a beer?” Yeah, I can. It was just weird. And knowing that feeling of mutual respect was there just shows that there still is a level of care. I still owe Matt four dollars, actually. To Matt: if you ever read this, thanks for lending me four dollars at that fancy boat restaurant. I’ll get you back.
One thing that was tough while I was back was trying to figure out where I stood within TGS. TGS is a unique family, but when I go back to visit in a few years time, goodness knows who will be there. Anyone I know? One thing I hope for all of us alumni is that we stay connected — as backpackers, couchsurfers, etc. I hope we always keep a couch, or room, or house free for one another. I would hide a pair of keys under a plant pot for the TGSers (even for future TGSers that I haven’t met yet) if they are ever in need of a place to stay. I always want to stay connected with my TGS people.
I don’t have my own place or my own plant pot yet, however. As of now, I have decided to travel the world and use every opportunity I have to go abroad. In my first year of university, I worked with the ministry of education in Vietnam. I shared my worldly experiences with experiential and place-based learning with my training cohorts while studying my bachelors in outdoor education. I assisted a pilot program in Vietnam that brought school children to a farming village just north of Hanoi. In this project I assisted the current staff on different team-building games and created documents which informed participants on rice cultivation in Vietnam. During the second year of my degree I worked at a local English primary school as a teaching assistant. I helped out the little ones (ages 3-5) as well as a bunch of 3rd and 4th graders. It was powerful to work in a classroom setting while paying attention to the behavior of the students. I held a study on the early years program and found that the students always looked forward to their ‘Forest Friday” outdoor sessions. It was hard for them to sit still. They wanted to explore, they wanted to see, touch, and smell everything they could get a hold of. And when they finally went outside on Friday, even then it was hard for them to focus on the tasks at hand. I learned that we’re all born to explore, and there is no truth to the nature vs nurture battle. I also traveled to Romania as part of a university module where we planned an expedition that consisted of at least three overnights. We backpacked around Romania making sure to incorporate outdoor adventures. We stayed in hostels, some kind Romanian man’s house, and an Airbnb in Brasov. After my encounter with TGS in Morocco, I prepared for my next trip to Canada.
Here is where the mountain continues to move uphill. TGS, and everything beyond,is reality: it’s what I get to call my life. It’s the story that I get to share. It’s what makes me stick out from the rest because of the decisions and risks that I have taken in my life.
This summer my job consists of leading a group of pretty cool international people around Ecuador. What makes this exciting is that I’m getting paid to do it! The company is Canadian, and I went to Toronto for a week of onsite training and met the team as well as all the other leaders that they have hired for trips around the world. The company’s mission is to educate the world through backpacking. They value taking local transportation and staying in local accommodation. They have four main focuses that myself and my co-leader (she’s cool) are encouraged to share with our participants: through cultural literacy, solidarity, environmental justice, and privilege/oppression, we will facilitate experiential learning and work with local companies to discuss these topics and plans of action.
Gijs will be heading back to Ecuador
While only a summer position, TGS has sparked something within me which has led me to teach others. It has ignited my lifelong interest to teach and to learn. After September 2017, I plan to go back to Aruba and work either as a Montessori teaching assistant or as an education conservation manager for the national park. I have also been offered a position at a university in England to further train in primary education with a specialization in modern foreign languages (Spanish), which I plan to defer and come back to a year later after gaining some valuable work experience.
Regardless of the adventures that lie ahead, I know one thing is true: I hope to host TGSers and alums no matter where I am in the world. You can all count on the fact that I will have a spare bed available to you, my TGS family, wherever I go. I also hope to pay Matt back.