Monday, November 21, 2011

Reflection on Leadership

Reflection on Leadership:
The Challenges of Change and What is Made Possible
This blog entry is a part of and a start to my final reflective, course-work integration paper for my Leading Organizational Change course at St. Kate’s.  It may seem a little self-indulgent to some, but I felt like it was worth posting.
When Arie and I found out that our Peace Corps service was going to be delayed by 6 months, I was devastated.  We had been working so hard on our paperwork – bugging people for references, ordering transcripts, making appointments to see doctors and dentists, running (well, actually biking and busing) all over the city to make things happen… We had been making plans and preparing ourselves for the inevitable goodbyes.  And then, we get the message that we have to wait longer.  NO!  I was upset and frustrated, especially because I had just been laid off by the Saint Paul Public Schools.  I had no job to go back to in September; my last day of work would be July, 19th.  What was I going to do?
As the strong feelings of upset diminished, I began to look at what might be possible within the new amount of time that was now available to us and me in particular.  As I began to put the pieces of my time together they began to fall into a perfect place.  I contacted St. Kate’s to see about re-enrolling back into the MAOL program (to learn more about MAOL click here).  I contacted my dear, dear friend Noelle (she gets 2 dears!) to see about working with her in Washington D.C. in the month of August. 
All that came to be after July 19th was nothing but further growth and self-development to enhance my Peace Corps service.  In July I enrolled in my first graduate class at St. Kate’s since winter of 2010: Cross-Cultural Perspectives in Leadership.  This class was led by Josef Mestenhauser – a man who has been a leader in International Education at the University of Minnesota since 1951.  He is a refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia, was a friend and colleague of Hubert H. Humphrey, is a multi-Fulbright scholar, and has studied and worked in Indonesia, Japan, the Czech Republic , and the Philippines to name just a few places.  I thought I understood culture well, but this course broke down the framework, ideas, thoughts, and observations in the field even more deeply that I have ever considered.
Following this course I then went and worked in Washington DC with two best friends (Noelle and Patrick! :).  We were leading orientations all month long for incoming high school exchange students from nearly 40 countries, many of them Muslim (during Ramadan!).  They were coming to study on the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange Study (YES) scholarship program (learn more about YES here) for the school year.  Working with these young people, the alumni of the program, and all of the other teachers and leaders was a not only a heart-warming experience, it was also one of the most exhilarating and life-changing moments of my career thus far.  I now have new friends all over the world. 
Back home in September it was time to start back at St. Kate’s.  This fall I have been taking two courses: Leading Organizational Change and International Trade and the Global Economy.  Never have two courses ever been so relevant to my path in the Peace Corps.  They are invaluable additions to my knowledge and skill set. 
Today as I reflect back on the past 6 months I can see how such a seemingly devastating set-back was really an opening of space to allow me to really create new and relevant possibilities for myself.  This is a path of leadership.  Leaders, especially during challenging times of change, must be able to face the challenges not only with courage, but also with creativity.  In a book from my Leading Org Change class, Guiding Change Journey: A Synergistic Approach to Organization Transformation by Rebecca Chan Allen, we explored the Archetypal Change Journey map.  This map explains that Leaders must first endure and then transcend trials and tribulations and the lowest place of dissolution in order to enter back into a space of discovery. This is the point of producing possibilities that hold great value.  Leaders must find what is possible in the most challenging of times.   
In reflection I understand now that this path that I am on, that both Arie and I are on, is not a path we can always dictate.  While the path ultimately guides us, we must also guide the path.  I am forever grateful for the fact that our Peace Corps service was delayed.  Had it not been, I would have missed out on some eternally valuable experiences that will only enhance my Peace Corps service.  Being delayed allows both Arie and I to spend more time with friends and family; it allows us to save more money and plan more thoroughly.  Being delayed allowed me to get 12 credits further into my MAOL degree, allowed me to be mentored and taught by some amazing professors, and allowed me to meet and lead some of the most amazing young people on this planet.  I am so thankful for this extra time and all that it has made possible for Arie and me.
Arie and Kate with YES students and alumni from:
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mali, Pakistan, and Palestine

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Countdown Time

Today is November 19th!  4 months from now, on March 19th, we will be leaving for...somewhere....  We think it might be Washington D.C. first for some initial training, but we are not sure until we are issued plane tickets.  We are already starting to say some goodbyes to a few people.  Most of our paperwork is complete - Arie just needs to get his Yellow Fever vaccine and we should be done.  We have been working on paperwork since June 2010!