How do you sum up a year-long experience where you’ve worked with a team of others, traveled to multiple countries, and examined solutions to some of the biggest challenges in the world today? This is exactly what we asked the students in the i-Lab to do on September 13—in five minutes or less, in front of the entire Keough School.
Over the summer the i-Lab sent 23 Master of Global Affairs students, in 7 project teams, to 14 countries across 5 continents, to work with organizations on the frontlines. Upon their return to campus, we gathered in the i-Lab space to let students tell their stories, explain why their projects are so important to their partner organizations, and discuss what they learned in the field and the impact they hope to achieve.
Our students were, in short, extraordinary. Here is a brief recap of their projects and stories:
Thirty-three interviews, three focus groups, and eleven classroom observations later, the Enseña Chile team’s eight weeks in the field has come to a close. I write this from my host family’s house as my host dad watches rugby in the living room, both of us bundled in our jackets, as the house is nearly the same temperature as the winter air outside. As I sit down to write, I realize that I’ve barely had a second to myself to reflect on this experience; I’ve been too busy working and exploring Chile with family or friends. Despite the exhaustion, I feel incredibly fortunate for this busy yet fulfilling experience I’ve had here. As I think about what to write, I feel I should address three major things: Our project, of course, some things I’ve learned about education, and the thing for which I am most grateful—the people.
OUR MASTER’S PROJECT
To provide some context, Enseña Chile is an organization modeled after Teach for America in the U.S., and is part of the Teach for All network. This organization selects talented university students (who have not studied pedagogy) to spend two years as teachers in vulnerable schools across Chile. Our work, in particular, relates to a relatively new project, “Colegios que Aprenden” (“Schools that Learn,” in English), in which Enseña Chile hopes to create a consultancy model that helps schools achieve continuous improvement based on concrete evidence.
Therefore, our fieldwork is centered on the following question: How might schools achieve continuous improvement, using data and evidence, to enhance student learning? This is a broad and daunting question. Where would we start?
With the help of our dedicated and kind Chilean team members, Trinidad and Francisco, we began by visiting schools and talking to relevant stakeholders to learn about current feedback systems in Chilean schools.Based on our conversations and observations, we gathered ideas about how to improve these systems. We visited schools in three major cities: Valparaíso, Concepción, and Santiago (our home base) in order to gain perspective about distinctive regions in the 2,653-mile-long country. The interview questions changed throughout the process as we uncovered major themes or discovered new questions, and the Spanish became a little less daunting as I gained practice. I was delighted by the enthusiasm and openness of the teachers and school administrators who carved out anywhere from fifteen minutes to two hours to talk with us.
THE URGENCY OF EDUCATION
As was the case for some of our classmates in the master’s program, our team’s research didn’t require us to confront overly sensitive or urgent topics. Our questions were along the lines of, “What is your relationship like with other teachers?” or “How do you know that your students have learned the class material?” While these questions didn’t seem pressing, I was reminded in each interview of the fact that every student’s future depends on the quality of his or her education. From this I began to comprehend that this work should, indeed, be approached with a sense of urgency. Many of the schools where Enseña Chile teachers work have a high percentage of students from vulnerable communities. For many of these kids, when home doesn’t offer a safe, loving, or stable environment, school offers solace.As science teacher, Sebastián told me, “My priority [is] to construct a safe place for them…to form a family.” For these kids, ensuring—as soon as possible—that school is a place of caring and love, and that their education can give them the power to transform their own lives, is urgent. It’s urgent in Chile and around the world. For those of you from the U.S., I ask you to think about the impact of gun violence in our schools, for example. Where do we expect our children to learn if they feel unsafe at home and at school?
FROM FOREIGNER TO FRIEND
As interesting and challenging as this research has been, what is most imprinted in my memory are the people I’ve met here in Chile. Just the other day, Enseña Chile celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a day-long celebration. Teachers, school administrators, and funders from all over Chile gathered to converse and attend workshops. As I glanced around the auditorium at the event, I realized how many people Ikrom and I have had the fortune of meeting—teachers with whom we spent hours chatting in Concepción, a school administrator from Viña del Mar who invited us into her home, several mentors who let us spend the night in their apartments, and all the Enseña Chile team from Santiago. In two months, I went from feeling a foreigner to a friend. And when Enseña Chile uses their slogan “somos red,” (“we are a network,” in English), I feel that I am a small part of that human network.
After the second semester ended with lots of sentimental hugs and long-lasting goodbyes, I found myself immediately packing for travel to the capital of a long and narrow, yet incredibly beautiful country in South America: Chile. As a part of the Integration Lab (i-Lab), with my teammates Sonia and Nnadozie, I am working withEnseña Chile (eCh) to help implement their project “Colegios que Aprenden” (Schools that Learn). Two weeks before the start of our project, I am in Santiago to make final preparations for our field work and practice my Spanish.
ABOUT OUR GLOBAL PARTNER
Enseña Chile is an NGO that aims to prepare children for a meaningful future by providing quality educational opportunities for all students in Chile. They recruit talented teachers, based on merit and leadership, to work in schools across Chile. Their work reflects a commitment that all children in Chile, including those in low-income schools, have the ability to learn and the right to receive a quality education. A new business model, “Colegios que Aprenden”, which they established last year, assists teachers to improve their professional expertise, foster community and school-wide innovation, and enhance student learning.
Using Design Thinking, our Master of Global Affairs team will engage in classroom observations, interviews with school leaders, teachers and students, and a series of collaborative focus groups, and will develop a set of recommendations and prototypes to be deployed in Chilean schools. We are hopeful and excited that our two months in the field and further engagement with the organization will bear a result that is of a value for the children in Chile and beyond.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT CHILEAN SPANISH
Our project involves interviews and focus groups where the primary language of communication is Spanish. That’s why I’ve come to Chile early to take intensive Spanish classes—my first exposure to Spanish! While the rest of my classmates are enjoying a three-week post-semester holiday, I am enjoying my Spanish classes and my busy, yet never the same, schedule in Chile.My host tells me Chilean Spanish is the fastest and most complicated of Spanish accents in the world: my daily conversations with my host almost always challenge my textbook Spanish knowledge. I am hopeful my current hardship will turn me into a “seco”, meaning “skillful” in Chilean Spanish, in understanding any other Spanish accents.
MY FIRST MEETINGS
On Friday I visited the office of eCh in Santiago and had a meeting with Trinidad Montes, our coordinator at eCh. The meeting was very interesting and useful as Sonia joined through Skype to talk about the organizational and substantive aspects of our project. Trinidad introduced me to the incredibly inspiring eCh staff. The work was at its peak and teams were enthusiastically collaborating with each other.I was fortunate to meet Tomas Recart, the CEO of eCh and a dedicated educator whom I had only known through YouTube videos. His words of trust and excitement towards our team and the work we will be conducting instilled in me further motivation and passion. Meeting Tomas Vergara, our i-Lab liaison in Chile, who visited Notre Dame in March and worked with us in co-creating our project, was also a particular pleasure.
A PLACE I’VE COME TO LOVE
My busy schedule in Santiago still leaves enough time to visit Domingo Savio, the place I have come to love through the book Santiago’s Children,by my Keough School i-Lab Professor Steve Reifenberg. The house was previously a private orphanage, and is now being used as an educational center for kids. It is situated in one of poor neighborhoods in Santiago.
In Santiago’s Children, Professor Reifenberg talks about his experience working for Domingo Savio in the 1980s when he visited Chile right after the college, not knowing Spanish well. The stories described in the book are so authentic that they bring you into author’s life 35 years ago and make you see it from his eyes.How would you feel if you visited the place and the people you imagine of, having only read about it in the book? I felt very emotional and ecstatic after meeting Olga, who opened her home for orphans and children of low-income families.I found so much love and care in her eyes.In the meantime, Jorge, a teacher at Domingo Savio, showed me around and narrated the history of the place and how it looked before. As he described the way the rooms were divided and turned into bedrooms and living rooms for children, I would nod my head every time, subtly signaling that I knew about it.
All in all, this is just my first week in Santiago, but the city has already managed to capture my love and respect for its people.
This is not study abroad. It is a truly professional experience that involves student teams working closely with an NGO, think tank, institute, or nonprofit dedicated to addressing complex, large-scale problems. We call it the Global Partner Experience.
They’ve been preparing for over nine months with their global partners. Now it’s time to put planning into practice.