Surprise Post YAY!

To My Education,

My first memory of education didn’t occur in a traditional, formal sense of the word, like school. Instead, for me, it came about in a defiant act of rebellion against a far too early bedtime. Education for me, came in the form of hiding under the covers with a headlamp strapped to my head, determined to finish the final chapter in “Tuck Everlasting”, or to find out if the Ingalls family survived the harsh winter in “Little House on the Prairie “. Reading was my first teacher, and the amazing thing was that I had complete control over it. I choose to continue reading after my bedtime; I choose which books to read, and I made the decision to continue reading after school, when it wasn’t enforced. I had this enthusiasm to learn and discover that wasn’t yet tainted by the education system.

From first to eighth grade, I attended a Montessori based charter school, The River Valley Charter School. A Montessori school is usually differentiated from other schools because of its emphasis on respecting a student’s natural development. So, that development could be social, physical or academic, it is all about starting where the individual student is, and building up. To give you an idea of the environment of this school, there is a lot of crisscross-applesauce, we wear slippers instead of shoes, and the walls are painted bright, friendly colors. We learn math with hands-on methods, and we are pushed to eat lunch with new people each day to learn social skills. My classes got up to 24 students, and each classroom had three teachers at least, so one-on-ones were frequent and almost necessary to follow through with this type of education. My peers and I had individual learning plans, so my education started where I was. If I hadn’t fully grasped long division, I had one-on-one time with teachers until I was 100% ready. Being wrong didn’t mean failure; it meant you learned the material in a different way until you fully understood it. You couldn’t fail, because there wasn’t one type of success. Between the ages of 7 to 14, I was more motivated to learn than any other time in my life. I learned as much from my peers and self-motivated work as I did from the work my teachers provided. And reading became my teacher outside of school.

Traditionally at the River Valley Charter School, the 8th graders give a presentation right before they graduate. It is called a COL, Celebration of Learning. It is a unique opportunity to take a moment and look back at my past 14 years, and pick out the moments of learning that I felt had greatly influenced me. Whether the learning happened in school or at home, it allowed me to look at my education with a critical eye, and really look at why certain moments had stood out more than others. But when I became a 9th grader at Newburyport Public High School, I no longer had the option of picking and choosing what worked for me. I was now part of a larger group, with one form of success, and a format that I no longer fit into.

In “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Paulo Freire describes a type of teaching that he calls the “banking method”.  It is far too easy to relate this method of teaching to my high school education, a place where teachers know everything and students know nothing, and a system where the students who fit in and don’t question the system succeeded. It is where knowledge is given only to those who already posses a certain level of knowledge. High school was nothing like my Montessori education, the walls of my new school were all painted similar shades of white, shoes were a necessity, and it didn’t matter who we sat with at lunch, but it usually was the same people. In high school, there were rows of desks, and still only 24 students to a class, but now with one teacher instead of three. I no longer had that one-on-one time with my teachers, and being wrong meant you weren’t as smart. And if you weren’t as smart, than you couldn’t succeed, and if you didn’t fit into this system, you failed. I came into this system with the wrong mindset, or rather a mindset that would fail because of this “banking method” that was in place. I was scared to ask my teachers for help, worrying that I would say something st

It wasn’t until I graduated high school that I felt like I finally had complete control over my education. I could attend university, and I could choose a small school or a big school, a liberal arts school or a more focused program. Or, I could take complete and total control and take a gap year. It felt like a big deal for me to choose to spend a year traveling around the world instead of taking the traditional approach to education. But I guess I’ve just never been a fan of the traditional approach to education. I feel now like I really do have control. I have been taught how to question and how to say no to what I don’t agree with. I’m not sure what would have happened if I had gone straight from high school to university. I guess I would have had to find a way to succeed in a system that would have been far too easy for me to fail in. So I guess, Education, I am writing a letter to you to thank you for allowing me to see you in so many different lights. I was very lucky to have been able to experience education in such opposite extremes. For me to able to take a year off and study around the world was an immense privilege. I am excited to return in the spring and to continue learning, but I now feel like I can learn without the traditional education system in place. I can return to my original idea of education, but maybe this time I don’t need to hide under a blanket with a headlamp.

Sincerely yours,


The Three C’s of India: Curry, Chai and Chapati

Hello and HAPPY THANKSGIVING from India! It has almost been 3 weeks and still I am experiencing new smells, new foods, new colors and new sights each day. It is certainly a lot to take in. India is so insanely and completely INDIA. There is no other way to describe it. South Africa could have been a plethora of other places, but India is so distinctly India. Patrick, one of our amazing program leaders, dislikes using “culture shock” as a way to describe being in a completely new place, because it isn’t just one shock. It lasts for a long time; I am still receiving this “shock” and I can’t imagine feeling 100% comfortable here and not feeling that shock each day. Although it does add to the stressful seminars and overload on information, it is still amazing to be here. India is a pretty incredible place.

I moved into my homestay last week and am rooming with Ellie (who’s blog I will link below, she is a pretty amazing writer)(plus she has India survival tips, which are very handy and so so true). It has been so fun living with someone who I can goof off with one second, and have amazing conversations the next. We live with a host mom, dad and two younger siblings. Ananya is going on 15, and Vinayak is 10, and are living a 20-40 minute drive away from IDEX (depending on the time of day). IDEX is where we are located for seminars, and where we have lunch and where we hangout most days, also casually situated in the foothills of the Himalayas (which is a sentence I have yet to get tired of saying). But literally, the foothills. Like the mountains don’t even look that big because we are so close to them. It still would take about three days to reach the snow-covered tops, but to be this close to a mountain range I had only read about a few weeks ago is pretty mind-boggling.

I feel like the most exciting part of India, before we even got here, was the beautiful idea of Indian food. Which has yet to disappoint. From day one we have been stuffed to the brim with rice and veggies and beans and curry and potatoes and sauces that are so amazingly mouthwatering.  The two most constant food items have been chapati, and chai (also the two most used words in my vocabulary now). You know how you’re taught that your body is something like 90% water? Well my body is now 40% chai and 50% chapati. In case you didn’t know, “chai” is the Hindi word for tea (for a while in the beginning we kept saying “chai tea” which is basically saying “tea tea”). But it also names the most delicious black tea drink I have ever had. It is a beautiful mixture of ginger, milk, sugar and rainbows and happiness plus a few more ingredients I am forgetting. We are given chai when we wake up, when we are at IDEX for lunch, at “chai time” (3pm) and then again at home before dinner. If we happen to go someplace new and meet new people, we are offered chai before we say hello. BUT the amount of chapatis that I have consumed since arriving here is verging on dangerous. We have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and not just one or two. It’s more like five or six. Traditional Indian dinners are eaten with chapatis used as silverware, so really I am just trying to accept this new culture…! Or at least that is how I am justifying it!

Okay moving on from food because that was way too much…. It is just too good not to talk about!!

So, here in India, we are studying education. So far (and I know this is only our second country but still….) this has been the most challenging topic. We have been able to view our past educational experiences through new eyes, and have been able to highlight the negative and positive learning experiences we have had. A lot of our conversations have been talking about how much influence certain things have on who you are today. For instance, your socio-economic standing, socialization, nature vs. nurture etc… Education, I have come to realize, has been a constant in my life, and has had a huge influence on who I am today. Not only in school but also with my home life, and my friends, and the activities I have been involved in. I am who I am today because I have gotten such a wide range of an education. I feel like, at least in my childhood, I was taught how to question authority (teachers). Here in India, that is nonexistent. The teachers are the ones with all of the knowledge, and can never be wrong. We aren’t allowed to touch textbooks with our feet because they are next to God. A sense of power is very much so present each day. The headmaster (a male) at our school hits the children with stick when they do something incorrectly. The teachers (who happen to be all women) are as terrified as the children to speak up to the headmaster. It is not a system that I ever wanted to be a part of, but here I am teaching in this system.

We recently watched a movie called “Schooling the World”, as well as reading a speech called “To Hell with Good Intentions” (which I will link below). Both talked about being a more negative side of volunteer work. So much of Thinking Beyond Borders, and so much of my reasoning for joining this program, is that it is not a volunteer program. My initial reasoning was that I couldn’t do enough in five weeks to actually make an impact. After reading that article, volunteer work seems like a very westernized idea. But yet, here I am in India, teaching children and being called a volunteer, something I had intentionally avoided. Today we were told a quote by Robin Pendoley (the founder of TBB) and he said “The subject of study is often less important then the manner in which it is studied. Process teaches how to think, the potential the student has to be an actor, and an understanding of agency in deciding how to approach an issue and engage with other learners and citizens”. Basically the way we study something (or where, for instance, India) is more important than the actual topic of study (for us that would be education). Yes we are learning a lot about our own education and our future education, but we are also learning a lot (A LOT) about our values and morals and what we are willing to stand up for. Today, the headmaster hit 10 of the boys in the school where I work with a stick. For what reason, I am unsure. All I know is, that pit I get in my stomach means something. Am I willing to stand up and argue with a power hungry headmaster? As a woman in India, am I socially allowed to stand up to a man? Or should I stand up because I know that the women working beneath this headmaster are socially told not to, and because I am from the USA I should use my power for good? Or is it just my Western culture that believes hitting students is wrong, and I am imposing my beliefs?  OKAY I AM DONE. Just a little insight in what is going on inside of my head!

I hope this made a bit of sense..! But I do encourage you to consider what parts of your life so far have made you into the person you are today. I also encourage you to read the speech linked below, while keeping in mind that this is one person’s opinion, not the worlds (also Ellie’s blog, its pretty awesome).  (Ellie’s blog)  (Speech)



Hi! Here is a quick update on what’s been going on the past few days! First of all I am no longer in South Africa. For the next 5ish weeks I will be calling Palampur, India my home!

We arrived in here on Friday after 52 hours of travel. Yes. 52 hours. Which was a lot easier and way more fun then expected! We started with a quick morning flight to Johannesburg, SA and then flew to Ethiopia and landed at 8pm. After a 3 hour layover we finally flew to New Delhi (side note I had the window seat on this flight which means I got to see both the stars AND the sunrise. Pretty darn beautiful). We were in New Delhi from 10am until 11pm when we had an overnight train to Palampur. New Delhi was a bit of a whirlwind. It was a lot of noises, smells, colors and people all at once, but we got to meet up with another TBB group who had just arrived from Thailand. It was super super cool to talk to another group experiencing somewhat of the same things we are! So anyways, we had an overnight train ride from New Delhi to Palampur, and what a ride it was. In the cabin next to mine, there was a man handcuffed to the bed with three men surrounding him all carrying HUGE guns. Needless to say I slept through the whole train ride.

So now I am here! In Palampur, India with the Himalayas literally in our backyard. We move into our homestays on Monday, and get to be here for a light festival called Diwali. I will be teaching in a primary school here, English and math. It will be a challenge as we are split up into groups of two and given a classroom of 40 kids to teach! I will update this blog in a few weeks and fill in the unknown!

I hope all is well back home!! Sending love and good thoughts!


Hey hey hey! Long time no “see”! This is a long long long overdue blog post (you can thank my mother for this finally being up), that will cover far too much information in one blog!

The last time I wrote, I had yet to move in my homestay, I had yet to start my work project, my media project, or any seminars. I hadn’t had any exciting adventures, or met many people yet. Well folks, I have done all of the above. ** Sidenote In Plettenburg Bay, or at least where the TBB crew are staying, are in four townships. Kwano, Kransok, Kurland and New Horizons. Out of those four, only Kwano speaks Xhosa, all other townships speak Afrikaans. This can get into a whole racial divide between the colored (Afrikaans) and the blacks (Xhosa), which goes all the way back to when South Africa was colonialized by the Dutch. **

I will start with my Homestay:

Samantha (Sam) and I moved into our homestay on September 28th and are living in The Crags in a township called Kurland with a super awesome and welcoming family. Sam and I were lucky; we got to have a mom (Lien), aunt (Sarah), brother (Nathan) and sister (Daveria) all in the same house (As well as three dogs and a cat)! Neither one of us had a brother back home, so we were super excited! Unfortunately we only have ten days left in South Africa, and saying goodbye will be hard, but it was a fantastic first host family! It has been really nice having Sam as a roommate, we get along super well and its nice having someone to debrief the day with at night. Also we are both addicted to chocolate, and prefer going to bed at 7:30pm, so it just works out really nicely.

Work Project:

The work projects in South Africa have been very interesting so far. I started off with two weeks at a place called Masazame, with Noah (super awesome first work partner). Masazame is sort of hard to explain as a whole so I’ll break it down into two sections:

The shelter/school à a place where children, ages 4-18, can live if their home situations are not ideal. It also has a school in place for ages 4-6, for any children in the community. What is super cool about this school is that if parents can’t afford to pay for this school, they can volunteer or help out in some way. Basically get parents involved somehow in their children’s education.

The drop in center (where Noah and I worked) à this is a place for children ages 14-18 (but really any age) can come and hangout during the day. The kids who come here aren’t in school for a variety of reasons, they were expelled, suspended, or just simply don’t want to attend. Masazame drop in center provides a safe place to come with a roof over the kid’s heads, and two hot meals a day. The women who work there are amazing. Two of them are Xhosa, so Noah and I learned a ton about the Xhosa culture (you pronounce it “chosa” but the “X” is a clicking sound before…!) The last week that Noah and I were there, it was spring break for the surrounding schools. So there were triple the amount of kids there, and we had a lot of fun painting, and playing soccer, and climbing the shipping containers that surround the drop in center.

Now I am working in Kurland with a girl Julia, and we are basically shadowing two caregivers, Marie and Annie. They go house to house and check to make sure people are taking their medication, sit down with people to watch them take their medication, or take away the medication people haven’t taken. The majority of people we visit have either all or at least one of these diseases, TB, HIV/AIDS, or diabetes. But with one, usually comes another. More then not when visiting these homes, Marie and Annie are collecting the medication people refuse to take. The refusal of medicine is a super common practice here. Sometimes it is because people don’t want to accept the illness, sometimes it makes them feel worse before better, sometimes they feel it is doing nothing, but the most common it seems is because of money. When you are sick in South Africa, you receive a grant from the government. It is by no means enough to live off of; it is around R1200 (which is about $92). But people sometimes stop taking their medicine right when they are feeling better so they can receive the grant again. It is an interesting battle the caregivers have with these people. They can’t force them to take medication, even though a disease like TB is easily curable, and HIV/AIDS is preventable. They can only talk to them about the positives of taking medication and the cons of not.

Media Project:

In every country we live in, we create a media project surrounding a central question that you have had while living there. There are five groups in South Africa focusing on a variety of different topics, what is happiness, the influence of drugs with HIV/AIDS, and so many more. My group’s original question was “how does structural violence influence gender inequality in South Africa”. Boy have we learned a lot since first starting. We came into this project assuming gender inequality and that, like America, women were sick and tired of being oppressed because of their gender. Along the way we seemed to have forgotten that South Africa is different than America, the culture is different, the morals and ideals are different, what people are fighting for is completely different. I won’t give away what we came up with, you will have to watch the video, but needless to say we are learning a lot.


Everyday (when we aren’t working on media projects) we have seminars. Each seminar is based around a questions, and we have discussions, lessons, small group activates, and readings to do in order to draw conclusions. In most cases though, we just end with more questions. Today for instance, our question was “Why is it so difficult to prevent the spread of a preventable disease?”. Good stuff! The preventable disease we are talking about is HIV/AIDS, and we focused a lot on sex education and the stigma following it. We end seminars with filling out a notecard with “one” question we have from the seminar and “one” takeaway (its never just one). At the end of this gap year we will get back all of our notecards, so it will be super cool seeing how our questions have evolved.

It is super exciting knowing that I am learning here. In high school the learning was very much memorization and just learning enough to past the test. Here, I come away from each day with thousands of questions and new ideas that force me to use parts of my brain I never did in high school.

Exciting adventures!!!!:

I jumped off a bridge!!! Most likely by the time this goes up I will have also jumped out of a plane!!! This past weekend I went to Cape Town with nine other people as part of our IST (Individual Student Travel). This is just a chance for the students to travel alone (in groups of three or more) and to plan out a trip by ourselves. It was a super cool experience. We hiked Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, the latter at sunset, which I highly recommend; it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Our hostel was on Long Street, so we had prime access to restaurants and people watching. We went to Old Biscuit Mill, another high recommendation from me, it was basically a farmers market on steroids. The food there was incredible, and there were so many options that we just had to get it all. Which was totally worth it. Other than Cape Town, weekends are filled with hikes around Plettenburg Bay, and outings to the beach. Some days after work everyone will go into town and get ice cream and a waffle, or a coffee from Le Fournil (I’m basically a regular there, their americanos are amazing). Also side note, ice coffee here isn’t ice and coffee. Its ice, coffee ice cream, sugar and maybe some coffee. Its basically a coffee milkshake. No complaints here!

Food/Music (cause why not):

I’ll start with music cause its quick. It’s all American music. Everywhere. You have to force out the South African artists. So I did. Here is my current favorite Xhosa song “Buyelekhaya” by Nathi. It’s basically about the singer asking his father to come home after he left to get money to bring home. Its pretty easy to find online, its one of the first choices on YouTube.

The food here is not drastically unlike “American” food, but it is pretty different from the Patten/MacLeod household. We eat meat pretty much every night with rice and potatoes, and sometimes a green salad. The meat varies from lamb to mince to pork to fish to ox tail. Yes. Ox tail. Although someone in our group tried ox tongue, so I can’t complain. There is this paste thing called “pop” which is pretty popular here. It is a corn based (EVERYTHING IS MADE OUT OF CORN) rice sort of, but it has the consistency of super thick oatmeal. Its not too bad once the chutney is on it! My two favorites though are chicken flavored corn puffs and “vetkoek” aka fat cakes. So I am eating super well over here! The chicken flavored corn puffs are weird, but they taste just like chicken. Just. Like. Chicken. It’s super weird so it has to be good. The fat cakes are basically fried dough. Well okay, they are fried dough.. But like you make them into thick rectangular shaped pieces and put stew on the inside, or for breakfast you can put jam or butter. Either way, you can’t go wrong with fat cakes. (Yes mom, I am eating broccoli when I can. I may or may not be craving it…..)

If you couldn’t tell, I am having an absolutely incredible time. Even though I am getting to do some crazy cool stuff, it wouldn’t be the same without all the people either with this program, or whom we have gotten to meet here. We have made our own family within this group of 18, and it is a wonderful feeling knowing I can always rely on them for a hug or a laugh.

I am missing home, but knowing that I have so much more to learn has kept the homesickness at bay. I am super duper excited to travel to India in a few days, and to meet my new homestay family!

I will update my blog “now now” (ha!)

I hope all is “lakker” back home!

Goeie Naan!

South Africa!!!

Hello from South Africa!! After two weeks of running I finally have gotten a chance to sit down with some good internet and update my blog! It has definitely been a crazy past few weeks of group bonding and exciting adventures. We started off at Ingwe for the first 10 days, where we had seminars every day and got to go exploring a bit. We talked a lot about identity, and what made us who we are. As well as seminars based around the question, “What is Development?”., both types are difficult, and the program leaders push us to think in new ways about these topics.

The flight into South Africa was long, but we all got to watch movies and read books! The day after arriving we went on our first hike, the Salt River hike, which was beautiful!! The next day we went to Monkey Land, basically a few acres of land that are free for monkeys to roam about, and Birds of Eden, the same idea but for birds. We ended that day with our first round of Insanity! This is a workout video that we are trying to follow every day for the next seven months, it is super hard, but it feels so good to be active!

The next few days were filled with seminars with a few activates stuck in. We did an obstacle course of sorts with Ingwe, which involved jumping into a giant mud puddle! We also went to a place called Africanyon, where we wear wetsuits and follow these two guys (Tebzzz and B) into the woods and repel down rocks and zip line down waterfalls and jump off of rocks! While there they taught us a bit of their language, Xhosa (the “x” is a clicking sound followed by “cosa”).

We are learning a lot about the languages here, and about the different languages in the different townships. For instance the township I am staying in, The Crags, they speak Afrikaans, and don’t have a good relationship with those who speak Xhosa. Tomorrow Sam and I move into our home, which I am very excited about! It will be nice to have a home to go back to!

Thats all for now, I will try and keep everyone as updated as possible!!! I hope all is well back home!!


This is the first morning at Ingwe! We all got up early and did some yoga taught by Sarah, and heard the lions roaring next store!
This is the first morning at Ingwe! We all got up early and did some yoga taught by Sarah, and heard the lions roaring next store!

Salt River hike!!  Salt R

Monkeys!!!! They were so close!
Monkeys!!!! They were so close!

iver hike!

Gap Year!!

Hi!! For the next seven months I will be traveling with a program called Thinking Beyond Border, with the Global Gap Year program! We will be visiting six different countries, South Africa, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Ecuador and Peru, while learning about global issues such as public health, sustainable agriculture, natural resources and education. I am using this blog to update everyone back home on my adventures, the people I meet and the food I get to try! I am not sure how often I will have access to internet, but will update as often as I can!!

If you want to know more about Thinking Beyond Borders, check out the links down below!