This year's Forum on Education Abroad conference in Atlanta felt like it was over almost as soon as it started. Abbie and I arrived a day early to take advantage of a pre-conference workshop on digital storytelling in education abroad. The session ran from 8 to 5 and was intense. Time flew by, as it does when you are engrossed in meaningful work.
The session was team-taught by IE pros Doug Reilly and Thomas D'Agostino from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Joe Lambert from StoryCenter. Joe was a founder in the digital storytelling movement. It was wonderful to have all of them in the room, coaching us in our endeavor.
Before we arrived in Atlanta, the team sent us all an email with our homework-- find a compelling story we wanted to tell, location images to go with the story, and draft a 200-word script. This prep work, while not exactly what you want to do right before you scoot out of the office for a trip, was what made it possible to cram the 3-day workshop into a 1-day session. I started with an article I wrote for this blog. Abbie found a poem she wrote during her re-entry from study abroad in Spain.
The workshop started out with an intensive on digital storytelling principles and a few samples of the art form. We then moved to the story circle phase, where we pitched our script ideas and gave constructive feedback to one another. I cannot say enough about the value of this step. Sometimes we have the kernel of an idea but we don't feel confident about direction or the message we convey until we let others tell us what they are hearing. Having a safe space to do this, and reflecting on the elements of a good story, was a valuable and fun exercise.
As a professional, I write all the time, but rarely (if ever) do I write about deeply personal topics in an emotionally expressive way. Digital storytelling demands this. Somehow limiting our stories to 200 words is a magical formula. It's like poetry. This restriction taught us to be efficient and intentional in our art. You have to find ways to convey a message through thoughtful imagery, words, and tone when all you've got is 200 words. You learn where to cut and where to linger.
The software we used was called WeVideo. It's available free online if you want to try it in the basic version. I found it far more intuitive than iMovie or Moviemaker, but that is just me. It's an easy drag and drop system. You can layer sound and images as well as add in all the fancy effects like other video editing systems.
In the end the technology really takes a back seat to the story. I came into the workshop thinking we'd get a lot of technical training-- and we did learn new things like how different fade effects signal transition or conclusion and ways to layer music. Most of what I learned was how to dig inside myself to find a good story and work hard to shape it into something that draws others in.
At the end of our day we did a little screening party and it was so moving to not only see other people's personal stories, but to acknowledge how far they'd come when just a few hours ago we were in a circle hearing the initial pitches and giving feedback.
On Friday, Tom, Doug, and Joe had a Forum conference session that incorporated our work. They gave an overview of the process to a packed room. They showed a few of our films (Abbie and I made the cut), invited us to speak about how we see ourselves implementing the pedagogy on our campuses, and let us share how it felt to participate in the process. They even added our names to the slide-- so I guess it was not just a workshop but a backdoor to a Forum conference presentation.
It was a strange but rewarding feeling to be able to look around the room and see the response of people watching my story...to see their smiles or hear their gasps and side comments. It is unlike anything I have experienced. Normally when I am presenting my work I am standing in front of a room, too focused on delivery and nerves to really soak up more than a few faces in the crowd. This felt so much less threatening. I can't wait to try digital storytelling with my re-entry students and let them experience the same.
We only had a day so our end products were rough. I'm still a little embarrassed by mine and have so many tweaks I want to make to the images. And I'd love to add a music track. Abbie also feels that hers is just a start so I promised I'd share a disclaimer. She plans to add in more images after a trip to Spain this summer.
But you can at least get the idea of what is possible in a few hours if you let go of perfectionism and allow yourself to reflect on life's lessons:
Abbie's Digital Story
Kelly's Digital Story (adapted from this post)
Emerging Educator Spotlight Series
These short interviews feature Study Abroad Careers readers, allowing YOU to share your own career experiences with the community, whether it's a job search, graduate school, or an entrepreneurial journey.
Specializes in short-term faculty-led and service-learning programs to Colombia
Bachelor of Arts, Sociology, University of Montana
Emphasis in rural and environmental Issues
Graduate level coursework at SIT Graduate Institute, Service Leadership and Management
Emphasis on Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development
Q. What led you to the field of international education?
A. Probably my first experience with civic engagement as a teen in Heart Butte, Montana, really got me thinking outside of myself and exposed to different cultures. My own, unconventional short study abroad experience, sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez around the Baja Peninsula of Mexico, was my first exposure to experiential education and showed me that learning can occur outside of the classroom. My first international volunteer experience in Trujillo, Peru enabled me to start thinking globally and also more service oriented.
Q. Tell me a bit about your career path.
A. Right after my undergraduate degree, I found myself volunteering internationally in Trujillo, Peru in 2004. After my volunteer time ended, I began teaching ESL at Instituto Cultural Peruano Norteamericano, an institute with the mission of promoting cultural ties between Peru and the United States. I held that position for about 9 months before I left the institution and began giving private English lessons in a smaller nearby beach community.
I came back to the U.S. after 14 months in Peru and was hired to fill in for a teen service trip outfitter. We had one program in Peru and another program in the Dominican Republic. I then found myself hired as an ESL teacher at a non-profit International University in Denver, Colorado.
My most recent position was In-country Director/Volunteer Coordinator for a U.K.-based responsible travel company in Cusco, Peru. We placed travelers with internships and volunteer opportunities in areas such as environmental conservation, social work, marketing, and health and nutrition.
Q. What are you up to these days?
A. I'm in the preliminary stages of developing study abroad programs in Colombia. Through my contacts in Latin America, I’ll travel to the region in late May. First, I will be in Ecuador to attend a seminar on developing International Service-Learning curriculum. Then I’ll depart for Colombia to meet with potential partners, such as educators, NGO's, security experts, journalists, recreational outfitters/tour guides and a handful of other people I've been corresponding with for a long time.
Q. Why Colombia?
A. I'm starting small, with the single country (my place of birth), of Colombia, as I want to be able to dedicate all my efforts and energy to this single project. Colombia is such a unique country with so much to be taken in. I think when people think of South America and travel, perhaps they think of the more common destinations: Ecuador, Peru, Argentina. Or perhaps tend to lump all of South America together. Paint it all with a broad brush stroke; I know I did until I went on to live there later on in my life and really see, despite a lot of these countries sharing a common language of Spanish, just in fact how different they are. Colombia has long been mired in conflict and turmoil. And even today, with popular culture, it can't seem to shake it’s mysterious past. But big, very promising things are emerging in the country. From promising peace dialogues, to very large scale educational initiatives, Colombia is set to take off. Add on to that, just the culture, whether it be the Cafeteros (National Football Team) dancing at the matches, the archaeological sites, to pristine natural landscapes of the Andes Mountains to the Amazon, I feel Colombia is deserving to be discovered. I hope to help facilitate that, through my programs.
Q. What’s the hardest part of this journey? And what gives you energy?
A. The hardest part has been dealing with rejection even before things get underway. I don't believe there is one true template for this sort of thing, I mean there are certainly past models, but I believe there are always new ways to go ahead.
I love talking with other like-minded people who share excitement and passion for international education and meaningful travel. I love networking (in my own introverted way) and hearing about other's stories and paths to how they found their dream job. Growing professionally also gets me excited. I was recently part of a great professional development program called the Global Pro Institute. It really allowed to me to focus on just exactly how I wanted to work in this field of International Education.
I love traveling to remote communities in Latin America and speaking with people whom I may have never interacted with if I had not found myself in this career. I love connecting with students who have also had great study abroad or meaningful travel experiences.
Q. What has been your biggest professional risk?
A. I think my biggest professional risk is what I'm doing right now. That of developing these programs alone. We'll see if it pays off!
Q. What advice would you give to other aspiring international education entrepreneurs?
A. If you have the means to do it, then do it. Hopefully you've developed somewhat of a network/support system that can guide/mentor you along the way but be prepared to run into naysayers but stay the course. We're forever being told of what we can't do so we're not really sure of what we can do.
I'm a fan of asking people to explain things to me like I'm a four year old, because in a lot of ways, I am. I guess ultimately, don't be afraid to ask questions. People who don't ask questions and claim to know everything, make me nervous. As i get older and tend to perhaps take myself too seriously, I also really cherish the ability to take a step back, reassess and then approach things with a degree of innocence and child-like wonder.
My personal advice would be to really show your appreciation to your network and those who guided and acted as mentors for you along the way. I'd rather go just a bit overboard showing my appreciation to those who helped me along the way than to not acknowledge them enough. I've been VERY fortunate to have some great mentors/friends in my corner, and for that, I'm eternally grateful.