The El Sistema Expedition

I’m Hannah, a third-year student from Memphis, Tennessee. I’m currently pursuing a Dual-Degree in Music Education in the Bienen School of Music and Social Policy in the School of Education and Social Policy, with minors in Arts Administration and Religious Studies. I’m incredibly thankful to have been chosen to receive this year’s Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant, and soon I will be traveling to eight different organizations in six different countries to study cultural approaches to music education pedagogy through a program called El Sistema. This past summer, I had the opportunity to conduct a case study on The People’s Music School, an El Sistema-inspired program here in Chicago. Since then, I have continued working with this organization as an administrative intern and am inspired each week by the impact that this program has had on the lives of thousands of children since its origination. While I never had the opportunity travel internationally before coming to Northwestern, I’ve had the chance to visit a handful of countries through different Northwestern programs over the last two years. I look forward to this new adventure and challenge of thirteen weeks circling the globe. This is my first blog (ever!), and I hope you enjoy this small glimpse into my research and travel experiences as I navigate six countries, thirteen different airports, and four different languages, all while meeting some incredible people along the way.

From an English Pub in a Filipino shopping mall:

Disclaimer: ‘Twas supposed to post this exactly week ago, but I didn’t. Oh well. Happy reading.

Just trying to keep things interesting here. Exactly two months in, folks! It’s day three in the Philippines—and I’m in love.

I’ve stuck with the mindset of “no expectations” throughout this trip. It’s prevented me losing morale when things don’t go as planned, freed me from worrying about what the next country will have in store, and so much more. That being said…I’m not going to lie. I had pretty high expectations for the Philippines—and my time thus far in country has far exceeded them.

Manila has been one of my “must visit cities” since I was pretty little. Everyone I’ve come in contact with throughout the last three days has been both incredibly helpful and kind. This has made what I thought to be an exhausting and draining last three weeks abroad seemingly painless. I am just so thrilled to be here.

Today was my first day with Ang Misyon, an organization founded in 2012 that aims to “promote and showcase the Philippines as a competitive and significant force on the global stage of Classical Performing Arts.” Ang Misyon does this by providing different pathways in the pursuit of excellence in Classical Music, striving to ignite social change and youth development primarily for underprivileged Filipino youth.

My Saturday was completely packed. I arrived at the regular Saturday rehearsal space at 8:30 this morning, and I didn’t wrap up my time there until nearly 6pm. My day, though, was likely the most inspiring of this trip yet.

Each Saturday, students in the Orchestra for Filipino Youth (OFY) and the Young Filipino’s Orchestra (YFO) travel from all across the Philippines—quite literally–for a day filled with rehearsal and fun. Nearly all the students commute at least an hour to come to the rehearsal space, and many two or three hours. I spoke with a teenage violinist this morning who hops on a boat at 5am each Saturday morning just to make the 10am downbeat for the string sectional. The students don’t mind, though. The soak up their day, taking advantage of every minute of rehearsal, sectionals, and time with friends.

Three interviews, three sectionals, and three rehearsals later, I write to you as I sip my craft brew from this English pub noted above. Throughout the next few days, I’ll be visiting another OFY rehearsal, in addition to several satellite organizations around the Philippines, also under Ang Misyon, through Sistema for Filipino Youth.

 

The pub manager just turned down the lights and cranked up the music in this joint, so I guess it’s time for me to wrap this up and get out of here. Thankful for:

  • 1) A tasty beer—it’s been all too long.
  • 2) The safe, secure feeling that hasn’t left me thus far in the Philippines—no place is completely safe. Whether I’m strolling through my small-town neighborhood or walking down Michigan Avenue, I know to always be aware of my surroundings. Naturally, though, throughout this whole travelling solo abroad thing, I’ve had to put up a huge guard in last two months. However, I feel much more at ease in my Metro Manila hotel, walking down the street, dining at local cafes, and roaming shopping malls. Don’t worry though, Meemaw—I’m still keeping my wallet close, my whistle closer, and my passport closest. 😉
  • 3) The teachers in middle and high school that both inspired and encouraged me to pursue music—you all know who you are. There have been many times throughout the past three years at Northwestern that I’ve questioned the ways in which I want music and education to manifest themselves in my future. The last two months, though, have been quite a reaffirming time in both my current major and long-term career goals.

From a coffee shop in New Delhi—but are you even surprised?

Greetings everyone! No, I didn’t fall off the face of the Earth. I’m ashamed to say that it’s been nearly a month since my last blog post. I could make up an exciting excuse for my absence—like that I got in a motorbike accident in Nairobi, contracted malaria in Kakamega, or nearly blew up my laptop while fidgeting with a wall socket in Delhi (that last one isn’t too far from the truth). However, all that’s to blame for the blog neglect is my laziness coupled with writer’s block and a less-than-mediocre Wi-Fi connection.

Since I’ve last posted, a lot has happened:

  1. – I worked with two terrific organizations in Nairobi—El Sistema Kenya and Ghetto Classics. Check out this link to read more about my time there.
    – I flew to Kakamega, a more rural place in western Kenya. There, I visited my host family from GESI 2016, cooked a ton with my host mom, caught up on some rest, and met up with old friends.
    – I hopped on two more planes and traveled from Nairobi to New Delhi.
    – I began class visits with Sangeet4All, a music organization in India that aims to provide young students with an adequate and culturally appropriate Indian classical music curriculum—more to come on this in my next post!

My dear friend, Faith, who put up with me throughout my stay in Nairobi!

My little friend Favourlyne–we hung out every day during my last trip to Kenya, and she’s now a big five-year-old!

My first solo crack at making chapati–it was quite the success

 

Eventful/funny/unfortunate list of things that’ve happened in the past four-ish weeks—because why not:
-Hung out with some cool giraffes at Giraffe Centre and baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
-Rode on the back of dozens of motorcycles to get to and from work in Nairobi (don’t tell my mom)
-Found my name brand malaria medication at a mall pharmacy…for a quarter of the price that I paid for it in the States
-Lived at a homestay just one block from the U.S. Embassy and two blocks away from the United Nations Office at Nairobi, the UN Headquarters in Africa
-Played with the Nairobi Philharmonic Orchestra (on violin—what a throwback)
-Went 6 days without washing my hair
-Caught up on the hottest Kenyan pop music that I’ve missed since my last visit two years ago
-Left my phone at café in Delhi, went home for three hours, came back to the café, and found my phone right where I’d left it
-Celebrated India’s Independence Day in my hotel room with a nice book, some mangos, and Domino’s pizza
-Rode a Tuk-Tuk through monsoon rains to get to site visit
-Drank about as much chai and coffee as I have water
-Definitely did not watch two entire seasons of my new favorite Netflix show
-Discovered my truly deep dependence on adequate Wi-Fi and cellular service

 

One more list (because why not) of things I’m thankful for:
-My mom, dad, and Meemaw—they’ve put up with almost daily Facetime calls, and all three have listened to me gush about this incredible trip, complain, and sometimes just ramble about nothing.
-Communicative friends—they’ve also put with my Facetime calls, meme tags, and continuous stream of annoying text messages. Thanks for staying in touch, because I see and appreciate you all.
-An Almighty God that’s granted me protection, energy, good health, grace, and so much more—seeing His kingdom at work in so many different corners of the Earth has truly been an awe-inspiring adventure.

From a corner booth at Kenyan coffee shop:

I’m officially one month into my travels—coined by many of classmates as “Hannah’s World Coffeeshop Tour”. While they’re not entirely wrong, I’ll have you all know that I’ve only been consuming about 20% of my normal caffeine intake. Small victories.

My plane landed in Kenya four days ago, and I cried. I’ve prided myself in having not cried this entire trip (aside from watching the fire scene in This is Us), but when we landed—I broke down. They weren’t tears of exhaustion, homesickness, or any of the like. Rather, they were tears of relief, joy, and excitement:
• Tears of relief because I’m three countries in to my six-country world tour—I’m 30 days into my trip, but it’s simultaneously felt like both the shortest and longest month of my life. London and Liverpool feel like months ago, but the bedroom of my Meemaw’s guestroom feels like yesterday.
• Tears of joy because I’m back to where it all began—my first trip outside of the States was the long 35-hour journey to Kenya. The time I spent here the summer of 2016 was easily the most difficult and the most rewarding two months of my life. I experienced happiness, heartache, homesickness and everything in between. Despite every challenge thrown my way that summer, I had a lot of triumphs: I built priceless relationships, grew more independent, and gained a more global perspective. Ultimately, I was bitten by the travel bug and haven’t been able to stay in the U.S. for more than a few months at a time ever since. Kenya sparked my interest in world travel, and I must credit this beautiful country for all of my world adventures ever since.
• Tears of excitement because, in one week, I will be returning to Kakamega, Kenya—there, I’ll visit the host family that took me in as one of their own for two months and take a trip to the NGO with which I interned and spent the bulk of my time. When I said my goodbyes two years ago, they were incredibly difficult. I assumed it would be at least a couple decades before I’d be able to return for a visit, but luckily, I was incorrect.

I’ll be here in Kenya for a little over three weeks, the longest of any country visit this summer. During this time, I will visit two different El Sistema organizations: El Sistema Kenya and Ghetto Classics. I began my time with El Sistema Kenya earlier this week. Founded by Karis Crawford in 2014, this budding organization serves primary school children in three different schools across Nairobi. On Monday, I visited where it all began for the organization—Kawangware Primary School. El Sistema Kenya, like many similar organizations across the world, aims to provide more than just a violin instruction. The teachers strive to develop the character of students through growth in leadership, teamwork, respect, self-expression, and more.

Students at Kawangware Primary rehearse “Cradle Song” during an after-school lesson.

Stay tuned for more updates on my time with El Sistema Kenya! Feeling extra thankful for:
1. Spotify—whether cranking out interview transcriptions or just jamming in my hotel room, I’ve done a lot of music listening so far this summer. I’ve developed what I believe to be the most perfect country music playlist in the existence of all playlists. It’s over seven hours long, and I’m not even a little ashamed.
2. Thomas George Whitehouse, III—you may or may not be getting a charge on the phone bill for my $7 call with Mama last night. I’m sorry.
3. This still-not-real-feeling opportunity—you know that feeling when you spend the night at a friend’s house for the first time, and you wake up frantically asking yourself “Where am I?” for like 15 seconds? I’ve had that feeling every day for the past 30. I wake up each morning, panic, remember where I am, and become engulfed in a wave of gratitude. I couldn’t have asked for a smoother month of adventure and growth, and I look forward to another 7 weeks.

From Skaramagas Refugee Camp:

Today’s my last day in Athens. I’m downright sad that I have to leave this place so soon, but I can easily say that I will be back sometime in the near future. No questions asked. As cliché as it sounds, there are not words to fully sum up my experience with El Sistema Greece. This organization is filled with incredible people doing incredible things.

Tonight, I depart for Kenya where I will spend the next 23 days. Tying loose ends on research notes and saying farewells to new friends has called for some late nights and early mornings—so it’s needless to say that I’m running on very little sleep.

***

It’s 7:15am. I’m in Doha. I’ve slept precisely 3.5 of the last 48 hours. For more profound thoughts regarding my time with El Sistema Greece, be on the lookout for my next World Ensemble article!

Pedagogy students from the Paris Conservatoire teaching a French song to the students of Skaramagas

 

Thankful for…

  1. 1. Ms. Pitman—in the 8th grade, I memorized the Greek alphabet to woo my Latin teacher–Ms. Pitman’s–boyfriend. While it obviously didn’t work, I can now somewhat make out Greek street signs, grocery store packaging, and bus stop names.
  2. 2. Bottled water—don’t get me wrong. I’m so very much opposed to purchasing bottled water in the States. Very much opposed. But after a terrible encounter with tap water earlier this week, I’ll be drinking bottled water until I return in September.
  3. 3. My health—was feeling pretty ill earlier this week. I had to miss Monday’s programming with ESG, only making me feel worse. However, I’ve gained back both strength and energy, and I’m looking forward to a happy and (hopefully) healthy rest of my trip!

From the balcony of my Greek Airbnb:

Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? Sweltering heat, mosquitos galore, and blistered feet—but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This past week in Greece has been quite the adventure. Honestly, it’s been the exact same kind of adventure I’d hoped for ten months ago when I began applying for this grant. One full of sweat, sunburned skin and some sleepless nights, but also full of profound personal development, intellectual growth and new friendships.

El Sistema Greece is doing some incredible things here in Athens. I understand that can be said for many organizations around the world, but what I’ve witnessed thus far throughout my visit with ESG has really been life changing. The mission of ESG is “to provide free music education to all children who have lived the experience of leaving their homes in search of a future.” The organization has worked with children in six núcleos—including three different refugee camps—for the last two years. ESG aims to give these children social and educational experiences in order to improve their lives in the refugee camps and beyond, while also striving to prepare children for their integration into Greek and European society as a whole.

There are currently more than 60,000 refugees in Greece—20,000 of which are children. The three camps that I’ve been visiting this week represent individuals from several nations, but I’ve most commonly worked with Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghani children. The average stay at the refugee camps is at least 1 year and 8 months. At this point, most of the refugees currently in Greece arrived after the 2016 EU-Turkey deal. As a result, these families can only apply for asylum in Greece; however, they may be denied and deported to Turkey, which is considered a “safe country” for those families. (If you’d like to learn more about these facts and figures, please reach out! I’d be happy to share with you what I’ve learned about the refugee crisis in Greece.)

With its first class held in November of 2016, El Sistema Greece is a relatively new organization. Today, ESG has 18 musicians that regularly teach around 250 children at 6 different sites. Throughout the week, I’ve observed 20 hours of classes filled with children ages 2-18. Here’s a list of some of the things that’ve stood out to me thus far:
-In the violin group classes, students have been playing their instruments anywhere from 5 months to 1 year. That being said, children in the advanced classes have made some -serious- progress in that one year. While the aims of ESG are obviously rooted in addressing social issues, ESG does not sacrifice the delivery of high-quality musical instruction.
-The suburb teaching techniques exhibited in the choir classes I’ve visited have been breathtaking. I’ve witnessed excellent pacing, seamless transitions, and learned some incredible educational strategies that I will most definitely be employing in my own teaching when I return to the States.
-Across the board, ESG strives to provide a musical experience that encompasses a variety of repertoire from all across the globe. Teaching songs from Mexico, Russia, Japan, India, and more—the choir classes expose children to a variety of tunes that not only develop their musicianship, but also widen their worldview.

Four girls in an advanced choir class learning the lyrics and tune to a new song from Mexico

To conclude, another list (I love lists) of things I’m thankful for:
1) Bug spray—lots of mosquitos in Greece.
2) Literally all of the people I’ve met this week—El Sistema Greece staff, visiting pedagogy students from Paris Conservatoire, Josephine the marketing volunteer, and many more. They’ve all transformed what I thought would be a quiet stay in Athens into a great deal of fun.
3) The unmatched privilege of being born in safe country—while there have been many instances throughout my recent years where I’ve questioned just how safe I am going to class or a night out on the town with friends, I can easily say that I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve genuinely feared for my life. I will not hop onto my soapbox on this Northwestern* blog, but I begin to fathom the hostility and resulted heartache that must lead people to pack up their families, entire lives, and seek refuge in an unknown land.

A mural found in one of the classrooms at the Apostoli núcleo

*If you look to the bottom right of your screen you can see that Northwestern doesn’t endorse any of my views anyway—so we’re all good.

From baggage claim at Athens International Airport:

I know what you’re thinking: “There’s no way that she can be writing this blog post from baggage claim. She’s making all of these locations up!” False. Downloading the Google Docs app to my iPhone has changed the game. Anyway, I’ve been standing here for thirty-two minutes, so I figured I’d exert my energy into something at least mildly productive.

While I expected my travels today to be relatively quick and painless—I was so wrong. Here’s a little travel advice for that I wish I’d known circa 12 hours ago:

  • Aegean Airlines actually weighs all of their carry-on bags. I’ve taken nearly one-hundred flights across about a dozen airlines in my short lifetime, and somehow, I’ve never come across an airline that actually. weighs. carry-on. bags. Evade the $97 fee that I faced for being 2 kilos over the maximum.
  • – Three-hour flights can turn into five-hour ones when an airline insists on weighing everyone’s carry-on items (but still doesn’t begin the boarding process until, what was supposed to be, twenty minutes before takeoff).
  • – Don’t eat the food on the Aegean flights. I generally hate airplane food, but having not eaten all day, I attempted to down a room temperature (or plane temperature) mush that was ultimately not worth the tummy ache.
  • – Expect to wait at least 45 minutes before the baggage claim belt even begins to distribute luggage. I should have grabbed a cup of coffee…or started this post half an hour ago.
  • This blog post is turning into a roast of Aegean Airlines. Yikes. If I were a Yelp person, they’d be in for quite the treat.

 

***

So, my bag came. Rather quickly compared to everyone else’s actually. And last night, after hopping on two wrong busses, I finally made it to the Airbnb where I’ll live for the next fifteen days.

I’ve now got a three-day weekend to spend exploring Athens, catch up on interview transcriptions, and document remaining field notes to my computer. On Monday, I’ll begin working with El Sistema Greece and their orchestra and choir programs across three different refugee camps. I’m very excited to get back in the field and learn more from this organization over the next two weeks!

Thankful for…
1) The fact that I got here safely—regardless of how annoyed/exhausted I was throughout that entire travel experience.
2) Modern day technology—being able to FaceTime and Skype my family several times throughout the last two weeks has made all inklings of homesickness disappear; being able to Google “nearest grocery store” or “Top 10 Cutest Coffee Shops in Athens” has really made this trip so much easier…and Instragram-able; being able to stream the entire first season of This is Us has made all this time alone feel much less lonely (but don’t worry Northwestern–I’m getting my work done first!).
3) Sunshine—while it’s over 100 degrees in Athens today, and I’ve been profusely sweating since I left my apartment this morning, my trip has been nothing but sunny thus far, and I wouldn’t want it any other way!

From a hellish hostel in Liverpool:

Imagine this: it’s 3:30am on a Monday morning. You’ve been lying in bed for five hours, but still haven’t managed to fall asleep. Why, you ask? Because your fifth-floor hostel room’s thermostat reads “30 C”, and the pub directly below your window has been blaring music since the late afternoon. Ever heard the dance remix of John Denver’s “Take me Home, Country Roads”? I hadn’t either until that morning.

After lying in a pool of literal sweat and tears that night, I caved and rented a hotel room for my remaining two days in Liverpool. While my budget hotel had some life changing air-conditioning, it didn’t have many other perks. So, like any college student on a budget, I’ve been returning to the Hellish Hostel each morning for free breakfast, lots of coffee, and speedy Wi-Fi.

 

A pretty street in downtown Liverpool, taken outside the not-so-hellish hotel

Here in Liverpool, I’ve been working with an organization called In Harmony. With four different sites across England, In Harmony strives to provide accessible music education to students in underprivileged areas. In Harmony Liverpool, in conjunction with the Liverpool Philharmonic, works in three different schools in a neighborhood called Everton. Over the last three days, I’ve had the opportunity to visit In Harmony Liverpool’s sites scattered throughout the neighborhood, chat with teachers and staff, observe lessons and rehearsals, and even do some teaching.

Many of the children involved with In Harmony Liverpool are preparing for their final orchestra concert this coming Sunday at Philharmonic Hall. Titled “Stars and Stripes” the concert features all American-inspired music in celebration of America’s birthday. While observing a rehearsal yesterday evening, I (introduced as a real-life American) was asked to discuss what the 4th of July is and why we celebrate it.

A bulletin board put up by teachers at a nursery that In Harmony-Liverpool serves

Tonight, I take the train for a four-hour ride back to London. Tomorrow, I fly to Greece. These last ten days have been a whirlwind of fun and excitement, sweat and exhaustion, and lots and lots of learning. I look forward, though, to the remaining seventy. Farewell, England!

My stay in England has left me feeling thankful for lots of things. Here are twice more than my usual three:

  • 1. Friends that fly to London to watch three musicals with you in one weekend—shout out to Tynan (who probably hasn’t read any of these blog posts).
  • 2. Organizations that have welcomed me with open arms—In Harmony has been filled with some of the nicest, most inspiring people I’ve met in a while. I’m filled with gratitude for such great hospitality that has been shown to me over the last few days, in addition to the whole Sistema community in England.
  • 3. Liverpool One Church—after spontaneously walking in for a Sunday nice service (at which I planned to sit in the back, talk to no one, and leave promptly after worship was over) I was greeted by some lovely gals who introduced me to numerous young adults and invited me out for pizza after the service!
  • 4. Air-conditioning—no explanation needed.
  • 5. The World Ensemble for reaching out to learn more about my summer adventures and publicize some of my writing in their biweekly newsletter. You can learn more about it here.
  • 6. The U.S. of A.—while I know it seems as though I leave the country every chance I get, I’ve got a big, big heart for the USA. I don’t get homesick often, but it’s hard not to feel a little lonely when I’m out of the country for the 4th.

From a bench on the second floor of the British Library:

I’m just a little over three days into my journey, and I’m filled with a whole slew of feelings. Here are three:

Jet lagged: I made the treacherous mistake on Monday of taking a nap when I arrived at my Airbnb. After sleeping for nearly six hours, I was up all night. And then the next night. And now it’s Wednesday. Luckily, I woke up relatively early this morning and should be back on track for the rest of my stay.

Revitalized: I had an interview over lunch today with the lovely Fiona Cunningham, CEO of Sistema England. For more than two hours, we discussed her El Sistema journey, the ins and outs of her organization, and the upcoming SEYO 2018 Residency that’s being hosted by Sistema England this August. This interview—the first of my summer research—reminded me of several things: why El Sistema is important, the hard work that goes into creating and upkeeping effective El Sistema programs, and the inspiring network of individuals that make up the El Sistema community.

Independent: If you know me, then you know that I’m quite the people person. However, over the last three days I’ve done just about everything by myself. Aside from striking up conversation in the supermarket line and asking my barista where the bathroom was located, I’ve had very little socialization or plain human interaction (aside from my interview with Fiona) since my arrival in London. While at times this has proved challenging for me, I’ve really gotten to think more about my own research, goals, and life aspirations.

Besides, there are a lot of perks to taking on London solo. I wanted sushi for lunch? I got sushi for lunch. I wanted to see a play at the Globe? I saw a play at the Globe. I want to take a cute picture in front of Big Ben? Too bad, because it’s currently under construction.

Tomorrow, I’m headed to Lucy McGuire’s Sistema organization, The Nucleo Project. I’m excited to finally get on the ground with students and teachers tomorrow, and I look forward to what the remaining week in England has in store!

Feeling thankful for:

  • 1. My navigational abilities—while all my friends know that I pride myself in being an expert at getting around Memphis or Chicagoland, I’ve really been challenged while trying to navigate an entirely new city, pushing my way onto those pretty, red double decker busses, and not getting hit by cars when crossing the street because they drive on the opposite side of the road here.
  • 2. Whoever created fish and chips—I tried them for the first time yesterday and would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to buy them again for dinner tonight (but I didn’t, because self-control…but I was close).
  • 3. All the free/cheap things to do in London—I’ve been to the British Library, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, Westminster Abbey, Old Spitalfields market, and so many other cool places over the last few days!

From the (very cluttered) guest bedroom in Meemaw’s house:

Don’t get me wrong, my grandmother’s home is generally free of clutter. Every square foot of the house is just about as tidy as can be—except her person clothing closet. (But don’t tell her I said that.) However, I’ve managed to make a mess of her guest room this week. Dozens of skirts and dresses, a twelve-week supply of toiletries, and almost every over-the-counter medication you can think of are scattered across the bed, floor, and both dressers.

Packing for this adventure has been quite an adventure in and of itself: How often will I have the chance to do laundry? Will I really read the three novels that I’m packing? Do they sell Dramamine in the Philippines? I’ve spent the week creating and referencing several unorganized packing lists, and I’ve been to Walmart more times than I’m comfortable sharing.

Today I will embark on a journey that I’ve been planning for over six months. While I’m beyond grateful for the special opportunity to travel all over the world, labelling the planning process “stressful” would be an absolute understatement. The pressure has taken a toll on my health, academics, and relationships. I’ve lost sleep, skipped some meals, and even missed an assignment (or four…). Although the work that I have put into planning this trip has at times felt endless, the day of departure has finally arrived. I’m eagerly awaiting the moment when I finally board the plane from Atlanta to London. I hope that these months of preparation, worry, and exhaustion will culminate into excitement, curiosity, and adventure.

My first stop: England. On the ground, I will be interviewing leaders of Sistema England in London as they continue to prepare for the Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra (SEYO) residency this coming August. At this event, hundreds of students and teachers from all over Europe will gather at the Birmingham Conservatoire for ten days of music making and networking. Also, while in England, I will be travelling to Liverpool for four days to visit In Harmony Liverpool—an El Sistema program frequently identified as one of the most important of its kind. There, I will observe programming, conduct interviews, and help out in any way that I can during my short visit.

As promised in my last post, here three more people/places/things that I’m thankful for:

  • 1. Sarah Bartolome and Eric Booth—two incredible mentors that have guided me through this entire process. Without them, I would not have even been awarded this opportunity, yet alone gotten through the last six months of planning it.
  • 2. Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) and the Bienen School of Music—through their additional generosity on top of my original grant, I was able to make this trip a reality.
  • 3. The unnamed big-box store in Millington, just a short ten-minute drive from my home—many trips and a couple of hundred dollars later, I’m completely packed and ready for the next three-ish months.

From a Norbucks booth mid-spring quarter:

It’s the end of April, but the windchill here in Evanston today still hasn’t managed to creep past a balmy 40 degrees. I’m in the midst of midterms, teaching practicums, the Waa-Mu show, and countless meetings that are all beginning to weigh me down. While burdened with the spring quarter struggle–that every Northwestern student knows all too well–the enthusiasm I have for my summer travel adventures only increases. It’s hard to believe that I’ll be abroad in just less than two months. It should go without saying that a trip of this duration takes some meticulous planning. I’ve applied for visas and received my shots. I’ve continued to work out housing plans and packing lists. I’ve finalized site visit dates and secured some interviews.

Since my last post, though, I reached quite a milestone in my newfound love of traveling: I flew internationally solo for the first time. This past spring break, I travelled to Jerusalem to visit an old friend and celebrate Easter. Over the course of my trip, we travelled throughout Israel to sightsee, visit her friends, and eat some tasty food. Though I was slightly anxious as I awaited my flight’s departure at O’Hare International, I ran into no trouble in Warsaw, Krakow, and Tel Aviv airports. By the time I arrived home after a long ten days, I was remarkably more comfortable and confident to take on whatever challenges may arise when I navigate thirteen new airports this summer.

Dipping my toes in the Mediterranean Sea

Sitting on the steps of the Church of Saint John the Baptist in Ein Karem

Since I’m terrible at wrapping up my thoughts, the rest of these blog post things will end with three things that I’m feeling especially thankful for:

1. The Circumnavigators Club of Chicago for making this entire trip possible

2. Northwestern University, a world-class university that gives me opportunities to travel and research issues that I’m passionate about

3. A loving family that’s not thrilled I’m traveling around the world alone, but fully supports my anyway