It's been awhile since I last wrote here. Since then, much has transpired. I wrapped up my Fulbright project and embarked on an adventure with GAKKO, a "global educational collective that builds spaces, experiences and tools to reclaim the magic of learning". One of Gakko's initiatives are international, immersive, and interdisciplinary summer camps. I was a "sempai" at this camp. Sempai, meaning "people who were born before you" in Japanese, are the college-age or young professionals who design and facilitate these camps. The campers are called "kohai", which means "person who was born after you". In this case, the kohai are high school students from all around the world.
Because Gakko is based in Tokyo and San Francisco, we met in Tokyo for three weeks of camp prep. In creating these camps, there was a lot of influence of human-centered design, an approach to problem solving that "starts with the people you're designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs".
After Tokyo, we went to our respective camp locations (Romania, Chiba, and Bali) for two weeks of regional prep and then two weeks of camp. I was in the Bali camp. Wow, what an experience. The camp was then situated on the campus of the Green School, a world-renowned school focusing on sustainability that became popularized by the founder's, John Hardy, TED talk.
At the campsite, we were living in yurts and using compost toilets for bathrooms. The camp was a test of survival. Between three of our Gakko team members getting hemorrhagic dengue, one of the kohai being bitten by a green viper (one of the deadliest snakes in Bali), and too many cases of bali belly, Gakko was truly one for the books. On the bright side, it was incredibly resilience building, aka "if I can survive this summer in Bali then I can survive anything". I got close to my yurt mates (↑) who became my fellow "sisters of solace".
Despite the health hazards, there was magic. The enduring impact of Gakko is incredible. For the camp, I designed a workshop called "Privilege.", where I talked about how certain aspects of identity afford certain groups of people privilege over others. Then, I talked about the "privilege of representation" and how the design of monuments and memorials shape how we think about history. This privileged have the power to shape our collective memory in this regard. A few months after Gakko concluded, It was awesome to hear from several kohai, including one who wrote an essay about how this workshop changed how he thought about his Japanese male identity and another kohai who adapted the privilege walk activity for her Japanese classmates. In another activity I designed and facilitated called "Giving Envelopes", I encouraged the kohai to share what they were grateful to each other for throughout their camp experience via writing and shared my daily gratitude experience with them. I learned that after the camp ended, five of the kohai keep their own shared, virtual daily gratitude journal.
The interdisciplinary component of Gakko contributed to the magic. Within my sempai team, we created workshops on diverse topics ranging from "vernacular architecture" to "chiaroscuro and drawing on bamboo paper". Gakko encapsulates the "liberal arts" philosophy. Prior to Gakko, I never really thought about architecture beyond its aesthetic appeal. Now, hearing about my friends talk about the socio-political role of architecture (e.g. the way we build homes promotes the nuclear family as opposed to communal living) encourages me to think about the role of space and place in my everyday world.
Finally, a magical experience in Bali. We were staying at John Hardy's personal estate, Bambu Indah, after camp ended. Our last dinner there was held by the river where there were these beautiful pools of water. Throughout the pools there were walkways lined with candles and flower petals. It was raining and on the riverbank there was an "inflatable onigiri" or a massive, amorphous structure. We ended up dancing in the onigiri and swimming in the pools to the sound of raindrops and laughter. Simply magical.