Interview

Cultivating Authentic Relationships in Classrooms Around the Globe

Interview with GLA Global Ambassador Grace Lee

Name: Grace Lee
Hometown:
 Springfield, VA
Grade in school: Junior
GLA program: Dominican Republic: Beachside Service Adventure (2016), Guatemala: Children of the Maya (2017)
Passion or dream: Cultivating authentic relationships and inspiring others to be globally minded

If you’ve ever met or talked with Grace Lee, you know that she authentically has the attributes of a connector. Her humor, openness and willingness to just sit down with you and chat are infectious qualities she brought to the table as a GLA ambassador this year. Grace inspired classmates and peers from her community to travel abroad, remains in touch with her program’s staff, and even flew from her hometown of Springfield to Minneapolis for her birthday, to visit her best friend from her GLA trip to the Dominican Republic.

Grace recently decided on pursuing the goal of becoming a fluent Spanish speaker within the next two years, so she can expand her network even further and continue to pursue her love for travel. As a current junior in high school, she’s applying for a two-year gap program between high school and college, that focuses on holistic, real-world learning. If accepted, she’ll live in British Columbia and Montezuma, Mexico for that time, studying marine biology and outdoor leadership, becoming even more integrated into the global community. Good luck, Grace!

“Each day I seek out new adventures and strive to go outside my comfort zone to better myself as a human being. I continue to pursue my love for travel by studying new regions. I look to connecting with people of other cultures for the most well-rounded education within our global community.”

This summer, Grace traveled to Guatemala with GLA, teaching in a classroom and learning about Maya culture. Here are some of her reflections:


What challenges did you overcome teaching in Guatemala?

“At first I was discouraged by the challenges of managing the classroom. The work I was doing didn't seem to make a difference in a school where hundreds of rowdy students in twenty-two classrooms had only four rotating teachers! But I stuck with my class and persisted. I tried different approaches, like teaching small groups or approaching individual students one at a time. Slowly I began to feel empowered by the opportunity to make lesson plans and tailor them to what the kids were engaged in.

I realized that it took going to each classroom a second or third time to make the initial impact. I think that’s when students started to really take notice—they realized that we came back. Especially with the younger kids, it was important for them to know someone was actually encouraging them and believed in them—enough to come back a second time. I remember those moments when I was able to get through and light a spark.”

Did your experience standing in front of a classroom help you gain confidence?

“My GLA experience definitely gave me confidence in taking leadership positions and making things happen. Before traveling, I avoided carrying on conversations with adults. I wouldn’t have thought to reach out to staff members and asked them to grab coffee—but that’s exactly what I did in order to start the Junior Economics Club at my high school. I gained confidence in doing something about the dreams I wanted to pursue, and carrying out more intellectual conversations.

Doing service-learning abroad also helped me expand and shift my desire of what I want to do with my life. It helped me find programs like the gap year I’m currently applying for, and in general broadening my horizons. I’ve learned that I want to study human issues and environmental issues with like-minded students, and gain a more global understanding of the world. There’s a lot more to life than just petty high school drama.”

What surprised you about the schooling system in Guatemala?

“Yes, I can definitely relate to issues of comparison and having to re-set expectations. The first time is wicked life-changing. I definitely struggled with comparing Guatemala to my first experience in the Dominican Republic—and I started to doubt my decision. But when I took a more open-minded approach, I remembered why I was there. I realized I would never be in Guatemala again, with all these people. Bringing my mindset back to what it was the first time I traveled let me have an amazing second experience.

If you want to be 100% engaged, NO PHONES. Don’t go on your phone at all. Once I completely disconnected from my life back home, I realized how important it was to truly, really live in the moment with no distraction. Also, even when you’re tired, engage all the time. Engage in the nightly seminars, the mentor sessions. Be engaged all the time.

Do you have advice for alumni who are going back for their second trip with GLA?

“Yes, I can definitely relate to issues of comparison and having to re-set expectations. The first time is wicked life-changing. I definitely struggled with comparing Guatemala to my first experience in the Dominican Republic—and I started to doubt my decision. But when I took a more open-minded approach, I remembered why I was there. I realized I would never be in Guatemala again, with all these people. Bringing my mindset back to what it was the first time I traveled let me have an amazing second experience.

If you want to be 100% engaged, NO PHONES. Don’t go on your phone at all. Once I completely disconnected from my life back home, I realized how important it was to truly, really live in the moment with no distraction. Also, even when you’re tired, engage all the time. Engage in the nightly seminars, the mentor sessions. Be engaged all the time.”