About finding my way – and taking the first steps to get moving

header-anna I started looking for volunteering projects involved in climate change and environment work and I came across RVA and its Climate Change Compliance program

"Know that if someone is not living bravely, 
they will resent your courage. 
If someone is unhappy, 
they will resent your joy. 
If someone is hiding from the truth, 
they will resent your honesty. 
Move on. Keep moving."

- Maggie Smith

All my life I have been a people pleaser – trying to make people happy or have people be proud of me has always been something I was gravitating towards, naturally, often times without realizing it. And with the career path I had decided to take on after finishing school I was well on my way towards that. Getting a degree in molecular biosciences and biochemistry, staying in academic research to get/pursue a PhD – ultimately, these were decisions that are deemed acknowledgeable and are highly appreciated by peers and parents alike, and that brought me lots of recognition, respect and pride for several years. Until I found myself in my mid-twenties, neither satisfied nor happy with my everyday work in the laboratory, and on top of that, frustrated with how things were going on the political stage in the world, especially in environment and climate related areas. I knew I needed to refocus, take a step back and take a hard look at my goals and ambitions and where they were taking me, and reevaluate how I wanted to spend my energies. 

Students and teachers at RVA

Students and teachers at RVA

The green garden

The green garden

This was when I started looking for volunteering projects involved in climate change and environment work, came across RVA and its Climate Change Compliance program and decided to disembark from my city-dwelling laboratory life in Austria onto something completely different: living in a tropical climate, immersed in the lushest nature I have ever seen, getting my hands dirty in the soil almost daily, growing food, studying, learning, observing, absorbing information and teaching at the same time.

Something that really stuck with me from my time at RVA is the school's Another Kind of School teaching concept that is also practiced in other Humana People to People projects all over the world. It showed me that successful learning can be structured so vastly different from how I experienced it all my academic career. All my life I was told all I had to know to succeed was written down in some textbook, and I just had to replicate that exact content in an exam to master a subject. But the real life skills, the ability to adapt and be flexible, the smarts to utilise whatever infrastructure, materials etc. is already there to get closer to a goal, this is what no textbook teaches us. I have started to grasp this during my time in the CCC program, but I have only really realised it fully reflecting back on the projects and seeing the methods used in the HPP projects. Grouping students into small study-groups which are then essentially self-taught on a specific topic is a valuable tool for all age groups, and having experienced that myself too I know how challenging, but also empowering and rewarding that process is. 

Coming back to the bigger group after working on a topic in small core groups and sharing the gathered knowledge for all to benefit from such a clever way to actually cover many different topics within a bigger group, while at the same time allowing the students to get involved with subjects they actually care about and are enthusiastic about.

Just recently, I read the introduction to the Climate Compliance Conference program again, and what struck me there now was sections mentioning "phenomena bigger than your own small everyday issues", and also the "become a climate activist" phrase. Reflecting back on my own journey over the time I spent in Saint Vincent, I realized that this essentially puts into word what I experienced. Devoting time to study and get involved in all the projects my team took part in on climate change shook me awake in a sense. It made me realise that I want to take an active part in trying to save our planet for the generations to come.

Looking back to personal notes I took in my journal as my intentions for the time at RVA, I see now how my focus shifted from wanting to do something for myself and my sanity (which was not benefitting from the career choices I always thought would make me happy) to wanting to contribute to making the world better for everybody, even in the smallest steps. In autumn 2018, I had written down that I wanted to broaden my horizons and soak up new information, and I did just that - but at the same time, I realized I did not only want to gain and gather knowledge for myself anymore, but instead, go out and do my humanely best to utilise that knowledge, share it, teach and get taught on how to work towards a better future, collectively.

So ironically, what initially started out as a journey to refocus on my own needs and boundaries turned into something bigger than I ever imagined. But it has also taught me to live bravely and full of joy, and it got me moving. And even if I do not know yet where this path will lead me, I will keep moving.
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