Adaptability and Flexibility

When I left the US as an educational technology professor, moving to 21st century skills was a hot topic. I found myself most connected to the “Life and Career Skills” section (http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework/266). This is because the words “flexible and adaptable” stand out for me. These words were prominent in my dissertation as I watched suburban upper class students struggle at first to adapt to the inner city culture and ways of knowing.  Moreover, it took some work on their part to be cognitively flexible about the nature of how teaching and learning happens. Their ability to step back and adjust their norms of thinking about the world, becoming conscious of their everyday practices and how they influenced their participation was emerged as critical to creating a successful learning experience in contexts that brought together people from different cultures and perspectives. This critical skill of being adaptable and flexible extends also to the ability to live in this world.

I forget the importance of these characteristics because for the most part I have embraced it and apply it in the learning environments that I design (I say help, because it is important to me that the youth with whom I work are part of that design). Despite trying to live this philosophy, there are times that I recognize my own struggles with adjusting and it sometimes takes a little work to be adaptable and flexible.

The majority of my students in Guatemala however, seem to have this skill of effortlessly crossing boundaries and adapting gracefully to new situations. Though the social distance across indigenous communities here is not drastic, there is an inherent and visible difference. Adaptability is necessary for our youth to work together and for our youth leaders to continue facilitating learning with USH.  Again, it is something that I see them do with poise. I have particular assumptions as to why this might be, which hopefully come through in the book that I am in the process of writing.

For now, my reflection is on how quickly I forget the importance of these after living here for nearly two years. I forget how different it is living and working here in Guatemala, how different this world is than the one from which I come. This reminder came to me after a recent visitor traveled to Guatemala to see me and help with the project. With this visit, I’m reminded that the ability to come to a third world country and do this work takes a certain character and disposition. And I mean the work, not the travel – although that has the potential to create an immense disequilibrium as well!

I’m reminded that living and working here requires:
– Fitness: I jump into on boats, climb on the back of trucks, and on an whisked away by buses…. I hike up steep inclines with three computers and other equipment on the front and back of my body and trek through the rural paths to the distant community homes. Thus, being in shape and/or having an adventurous spirit are one thing you definitely need to bring!

– Simplicity: Know that the comforts of life here are different. You won’t always have every food you crave, a hot shower, a car to come and go as you please, and other things that we take for granted!

– Laugh: You have to be able to be laughed at and to be able to laugh. Our ways of talking, dressing, and acting are new to my students. They often laugh at attempts at Spanish or Indigenous languages. They look at my funny sometimes when I do certain things.

– Patience: Time is different here. Expectations are different. Responsibilities are different.

– Persistence: just keeping after things here can be exhausting, until you let it go and realize that you have to just keep going!

As in my dissertation, I see that flexibility and adaptability might be hard to out rightly put into a curriculum. We hope that the innovative engagements in USH help to bring them out or in this case enhance them. These characteristics are critical to cross-cultural experiences and participation in the past, now, and in our ongoing future.