It Feels Like Home

August 9th, 2017   |   SIT Study Abroad

For International Education master’s degree student Jack Haskell, SIT Graduate Institute is the third stop on a tour of SIT-related organizations that started in high school.

Stop number one was the Experiment in International Living. The Experiment still continues the work it began in the 1930s, taking young Americans to live in other countries and foster peace through intercultural understanding. In the 1960s, the Experiment added Peace Corps training to its mission, and later, as World Learning, expanded to include undergraduate travel through SIT Study Abroad, and internationally focused master’s degrees through SIT Graduate Institute.

His 2006 Experiment trip to New Zealand was Jack’s first time outside the United States. “My grandmother saved up money while she was still alive to send all her grandkids outside of the country,” he explains.

The trip was not only his first exposure to another culture, but his first exposure to sustainable development work. “We were planting trees around a river to stop some of the erosion that was taking place,” he says. “We also went and visited glaciers and talked to people that were doing work around the glaciers.”

That experience, Jack explains, “set off a desire in me to travel, to dip in and out of different cultures, and to understand my relationship to my own culture better.”

A few years later, when he was a junior at St. Michael’s College in Vermont and wanted to study abroad for a semester. Jack chose SIT Study Abroad, and not simply because it was allied with the Experiment. SIT focuses on issues of global importance, and its programs take place in 30 countries, many of them developing countries. That appealed to him. “I didn’t want to go to France, to Spain, to any of the places people typically end up going. I had a friend who went to Bali with SIT and had amazing things to say.”

Jack combined his academic and musical interests – he’s a drummer – and studied with SIT in Ghana. Thanks to SIT’s strong local networks, he found himself not simply studying drumming, but participating in Ghanaian culture alongside a master drummer with whom he lived for several weeks. “Getting the opportunity to perform in traditional drumming ceremonies at funerals in Ghana was an experience that I was never expecting, and am incredibly grateful to have had,” Jack says.

But his interest in travel wasn’t sated by a semester abroad. After completing an education degree, he worked in Uganda for a couple of years, then returned to the United States, where he worked in Brooklyn as an ESL teacher.

When he decided to pursue more education, Jack discovered that SIT also boasted a respected master’s degree program in international education. He began his studies in January 2017 on SIT’s Vermont campus.

“The basic thread that runs through all three programs I’ve done is a deeply found respect for other cultures and providing an inclusive, meaningful experience,” says Jack. “It does feel like home for me intellectually – this is what I end up coming back to over and over again. It’s provided a wellspring of creativity for me and inspiration for what I want to do next.”

The flexibility and exploration he’s found possible at SIT have helped Jack discover a passion. “I want to do work involved with education around climate change mitigation and adaptation. The possibilities for what you want to pursue at SIT are endless.”

Those possibilities are brought to light, he says, by faculty and fellow students alike. “The teachers have been some of the most inspiring and intellectually motivating teachers that I’ve ever had in my life. I just got finished with a two-month course on climate change that pushed the discourse in the room to a higher level than I’d ever experienced. That was incredibly meaningful to me.”

Many of his fellow grad students, Jack says, have a great deal of experience in their field, and their knowledge adds to the learning for students who have less experience or come straight from undergraduate study. “The emphasis on group work is really important here. Working with people from a multitude of backgrounds, that are all operating from a different perspective, is incredibly valuable – that’s what you have to do when you go out into the world to work.”

This summer, Jack is teaching in Mexico and hopes to return there for the practicum phase of his SIT degree.

The whole SIT voyage, from high school to grad school, feels like a cohesive whole, he says. “It doesn’t feel like there’s been a break in the themes of learning, from the Experiment all the way on to the Graduate Institute. I’m grateful that I got to do all three. I feel better prepared for the position I’m in now, both professionally and academically, because I was able to do all three.

“It’s been changing my life for so long it feels normal.”