On Becoming An Experiential Learner

In this interview, Asha Knish, a 2014 Global Gap Year and Shattuck – St. Mary’s School alumna, discusses why grappling with a traditional education structure revealed a turning point in her personal and college career, and the role her gap year played.

What’s it been like since you got into college since your gap year?

After weighing my options, my future decision upon returning from my gap year was to attend Macalester College, located in St. Paul, MN. Last Fall, I started my classes, which were Creative Writing, Anthropology of Death and Dying, Pluralism & Unity (a TBB-esque course that explores different identities and the privileges and disadvantages that come with each), and Mandarin Chinese. I enjoyed them, but had a very difficult time being back in a behind-the-desk traditional learning setting. I have come to realize that I’m an experiential learner, and I don’t necessarily fit into the societal mold of a “college student”. During my gap year, I was so thrilled to be away from this traditional education structure, and before deciding on Macalester, was hesitant to be thrown back into it. That being said, though, you really can’t know until you try it out – so my toes had to get college-immersed.

In what ways are you taking ownership of your learning in college?

After coming home from TBB, I’ve become much more involved than I used to be in my community, working with various NGOs such as So How Are the Children, Ruth’s House, International Festival Faribault, Prairie’s Edge Humane Society, NC Little Hospice, and Fairview Hospice, subsequently learning about different facets of life I was not fully exposed to before, not to mention meeting amazing people. I also decided to take classes in non-traditional settings, having enlisted in writing classes at the Minnesota Zen Buddhist Center and The Loft, as I used to really enjoy writing before I felt my imagination hampered in the confines of traditional education. Not only have I felt more fulfilled taking this path right now, but it has allowed me to really reflect on what my purpose is and how to go about creating change, as well as the workings of non-profits.

Has your first-hand knowledge of cultural sensitivity been relevant in your endeavors?

Cultural sensitivity definitely has always had a place in my life as it started while attending international boarding school. My gap year in TBB expanded that even further. One such non-profit, So How Are the Children, works with children who have recently moved to my hometown as refugees from various countries in Northern Africa, and in order to see that they are getting the support (whether it be emotional, mental, or even just homework help) they need to adjust. Having a better understanding of the cultures these people are coming from helped me greatly with getting to know them better and helping to establish connections between us. Another example is with International Festival Faribault, which came about in order to ease racial tensions that have flared up in my hometown with the influx of different immigrant populations. Most of the racial conflict is based around misunderstandings of each other’s cultures and religious backgrounds, so having cultural sensitivity has moved mountains for me in that regard, and made me empathize with different people’s walks of life.

What is your major and do you know what you want to do for the rest of your time in college?

I have not selected a major as I am not currently in college because I am still healing from various medical problems. But, I have been looking a lot in the direction of possibly getting my LPN (licensed practical nurse) or attending EMT school in the future. During our unit in South Africa, I became interested in the issue of public health and HIV/AIDS, especially in the hospice setting, which inspired me to become a hospice volunteer upon returning to the States. I’d say that something medically minded is probably my next step.  I also currently have a job working in accounts payable, and so that is another path I am open to pursuing. Additionally, I have a far off dream of one day publishing a book of memoirs. But, for the here and now, I’m taking it slow and reminding myself to be at peace with the fact that I’ve never followed the traditional path of “education” in the past, so it doesn’t make much sense for me to start worrying about it now!

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