Beyond the Classroom – Digitally, Remotely & Glocally – Guts & Grace Abroad!

Beyond the Classroom: Digitally, Remotely & Glocally –  

Guts and Grace Abroad!

 ”All you need is guts and grace” is a fitting quote to anyone successful I’ve met working globally across the world. In some fashion or another, from the business to the educational sector, from non-profit to simply networking after work, those who step out of their comfort zone more often than not are generously rewarded. These are the inspirational characters.  When they are met with challenge or a roadblock, they tend to live by the saying, “there’s always another way to get where you’re going.”

For many around the world, it is not easy to reach out to someone you don’t know to ask for help for a school or professional opportunity. It’s hard to take a chance and apply to the program or company you don’t know much about, or travel to a country alone you’ve never been, even if it’s in return for the opportunity of a lifetime. But if you don’t go, you won’t know, right?

I am currently in Europe for a work trip I was able to put together through some of my summer client project work. I’ve been able to travel over land for much of it and cover some good ground and cultural exchanges while at it. I’ve traveled to Barcelona, through Eastern Europe and to Budapest to give a global communications training. Heading over to London to get back to Boston and then MIIS, while visiting a cousin, we discussed his experience working in the technology sector managing large global teams from various countries in Europe and Asia. We talked about some of the challenges of conducting businesses and global communications with so many foreign cultures, diverse expectations and perspectives. He asked me a good question. Why don’t sales teams at big global companies give cultural trainings to people like me who are moved overseas to work, in order to prepare them to work with different teams and clients from different backgrounds and cultures? He thought there could be a lot he could’ve been trained on ahead of time to help him acclimate and work more efficiently upon arrival to the new placement. Well to answer his question — they do. Many organizations and companies do provide cultural training before employees get transferred overseas or get sent out to work in the field. However, more often than not, after checking in with a friend who consults in this space — employees in the corporate sector have to specifically request this type of training. It is not usually compulsory. If it is mandatory, the training is often short-lived and maybe just includes some reading, compared to the months of preparation the state department or the weeks of training the non-profit sector might provide. In this conversation, my cousin and I talked about similar issues we focus on a lot in our MPA classes in terms of organizational sustainability and considerations when facilitating and fostering participatory management and effective leadership.

I think my cousin raises a good point. How come when I went to study abroad, they gave us a pretty in depth training at Semester at Sea before we docked at every foreign port to be successful in engaging in each country? Why couldn’t the same idea in international business be used as when I studied abroad in Australia or when I served for a couple years in Latin America through WorldTeach. It is interesting how these types of multi-cultural trainings happen less in the private sector, where there could be more resources to dedicate in the first place.

I believe a person has to have guts to do this type of global work in the first place. However with help from cultural training, what makes people succeed is the grace, diplomacy and meticulous understanding we need to use when working with our colleagues around the world. Training is necessary to inform this process. The grace is what helps a professional meet colleagues in the middle, build bridges (rather than break them), and ultimately allows people (and in the case of my cousin) “close the deal” or manage people successfully at work.

One organization I’ve been working with this summer, Connect-123, a global social enterprise that encourages students around the world to go beyond the study abroad experience, promotes guts and grace through global work experience. They offer tailored intern opportunities with civil society organizations and local entrepreneurs and businesses to contribute to the local culture, economic development and social impact they’re living in. In addition to this, they offer cultural and professional training to help interns acclimate when working in the foreign country. In return, the “beyond the classroom” reward is tenfold academically and personally, while participants of this program develop professionally on a global level.

From Latin America to Eastern Europe, NESsT, another organization I’m working with this summer, works tirelessly with social enterprises and businesses to sustain for profit and marketable opportunities to re-invest in their organization and achieve their mission. While NESsT fulfills their mission to help social enterprises, they also contribute to civil society and promote positive economic and environmental impact in their work. I’ve worked with their Latin American and Eastern Europe offices for the past 9 months and gotten to know them well and the sustainable social impact they are making in emerging markets. Boasting 13 different languages on their global team,  they all took a chance in their career to help the growing sector of social enterprise. They carve sustainable solutions out of international development opportunities daily. In doing so, they provide better livelihoods to hundreds of organizations and communities in emerging markets around the world. With a little guts and grace myself, this trip throughout Europe has been solo. During this trip, I’ve gotten to work with colleagues from NESsT in Budapest hailing from Romania, who also work with Slovakia, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Hungary on global communications and management solutions online.

How are you exhibiting guts and grace in your professional and personal life? How do you see innovation playing a part in this, if at all? Do you have good stories to share about others sticking their neck out and making a difference in their own careers, educational journey or to help others?

As I write, I remember how I took a boat, train, bus and plane to get me from Spain over to Budapest and then back to London to fly home. In my own guts and grace global journey, I’ve enjoyed keeping my eyes peeled for new and gutsy confidence and innovation along the way– and looking forward to sharing more later.

For now, the door is open. Stay bold and take hold of those opportunities; they are out there. They are not waiting on you, so why wait on them?

Shark Fins

I blogged earlier in the summer about California’s shark fin ban. Here are a few photos to illustrate: juvenile sharks, finless and a couple of really small fins to be dried and sold for soup…

I know these aren’t pretty pictures, but I think they’re important to share with the world.
A quick update on the bill: the bill is still in the Senate Appropriations committee, awaiting approval so it can move forward. Write to your state senators!

Sustainable Fishing


This is the second in a series of three blog posts about a two-week field experience I had in Baja California, Mexico this summer. 

I sometimes struggle to define the work that interests me. I know what it is, but I have to spin it differently depending on my audience:

“Conserve marine ecosystems and habitat.”

“Assist local artisanal fishermen in maintaining their livelihood.”

“Help communities secure exclusive rights to specific marine resources.”

“Find ways to incentivize fishermen to protect the coast and ocean.”

“Live in interesting coastal communities in developing countries.”

I’m learning though, that quite simply, I want to promote sustainable fishing. The phrase “sustainable fishing” involves that loaded and sometimes misused word, “sustainable”. My favorite definitions of sustainability specify the importance of a triple bottom line: people, profit and planet or a focus of the social, economic and environmental outcomes. I recently learned that the two Spanish words for sustainability—“sustentable” and “sostenible” initially had different definitions. One pointed towards the gentle use of a resource with an understanding that the resource would be used up. The other meant finding ways for people to thrive while utilizing their natural resources, but ensuring that the resource would be available for future generations. I prefer the second definition. I think our grandchildren should be able to know pristine coastal areas, healthy fish and thriving coral reefs.

Basically, my work is about finding ways to promote the social, economic and environmental well being of fishing communities.

Grupo Tortuguero has a project in Lopez Mateos that does just that. It was a treat to tag along with their team over almost two weeks to experience their work and offer some recommendations. The project, “PROMAR: Productos Marinos Sustentables SPR de RL” is a partnership between Grupo Tortuguero, the fishermen of five local fishing cooperatives and their wives. PROMAR is developing a program that promotes changes that should benefit the environment, the local economy and the community. The environment benefits because the fishermen will transfer their gear from gill nets to hook and line. This change will essentially eliminate bycatch and should increase the quality of the catch because only certain species will be targeted. The local economy profits because fishermen will immediately place their catch into coolers of ice (currently, catch sits on the boat, sometimes going bad due to the hot sun), then bring the catch to a collectively-owned air conditioned and sanitized processing center to be cleaned (currently, fish are cleaned on the beach). The sustainably caught, responsibly processed fish will be sold to gourmet seafood buyers in Cabo san Lucas via a coordinated transportation system that guarantees that the fish stays on ice the entire time. These buyers offer a much higher price that what is currently paid to fishermen for the fish caught my gill nets and cleaned on the beach. Finally, the community benefits because it involves women in the production. The fishermen’s wives are currently taking computer classes to learn basic skills on Microsoft Word and Excel. They are the managing partners of the program and also responsible for the processing of the fish. This partnership is unique and one of few in the world that so equally involves and benefits women in a traditionally male dominated sector. The distilled and lovely end goal of the PROMAR project is empowered families, protected ecosystems, conserved turtles, financial security.

PROMAR, as expected, is in the process of defining itself. I hosted a small workshop on building a successful cooperative. During the workshop, I described a cooperative organization as a living organism. Although a coop is comprised of individual members, it has its own identity and its own way of being in the world. I encouraged PROMAR’s members to consider their organization as a baby. A baby needs quality food, attention and care to grow to be a successful adult. As a child, it needs monitoring and guidance. My message to PROMAR was that as members, they are the parents of this baby. If they invest the proper time, energy and effort into organizing themselves well now, their “baby” will grow to be a very successful adult.

I am so excited to see how PROMAR grows!

Turtle Rodeo

This is the third in a series of three blog posts about a two-week field experience I had in Baja California, Mexico this summer

When Grupo Tortuguero’s director invited me to spend a couple of weeks in their field station, he mentioned that it would be a good time to come because they would be doing turtle rodeos and I could ride along. Sure, I’m always up for an adventure and I love being on the water. I packed a few Dramamine and some extra sunscreen, unsure of what to expect. A turtle rodeo involves exactly that—rodeoing turtles. Two boats scan the water in search of sea turtles that have come to hang out on the surface. Once a turtle is spotted, the boat carefully approaches from behind while the um, turtle cowboy, prepares himself. As soon as we were close to a turtle, the “cowboy” (frequently Grupo Tortuguero’s Science and Fisheries Director, Hoyt Peckham) leaps into the water, grabs hold of the turtle’s shell and wrangles it to the boat. A few people help lift it onto the boat for measurements and assessment. The wrangling part is the most exciting, but what comes next is most important.

A small damp rag is placed over the turtle’s face to help keep it calm. Hoyt and his team measure, weigh and tag the turtle. Then they remove barnacles from the turtle’s shell that, although natural, can harm the turtle by changing its hydrodynamics and causing harm to the shell. A small sample of skin and shell is taken so that the scientists can analyze isotopes to better understand the turtle’s diet. The turtle is then gently released and continues its day unharmed. The actual “rodeoing” part is quite challenging because the turtle is strong and frequently dives under the water. For that reason, my chance to “rodeo” came during the release of a turtle. I jumped into the water so that Hoyt and his team could pass me the turtle. I held onto it for a moment, then gently released it so that it could glide under the water. Yes, it was as fun and magical as you’d imagine.

Data from the turtle rodeos are used to help us better understand the turtle’s habitat needs and informs conservation efforts. A big thank you to Grupo Tortuguero for letting me come along on the rodeo!


Bycatch: The Real Deal

This is the first in a series of three blog posts about a two-week field experience I had with a local NGO, Grupo Tortuguero, in Baja California, Mexico this summer.


It stinks in the field station this morning. I stepped outside onto the street and it smells like dead fish out there too. Someone explained that the smell is from the tuna cannery down the street. Some days, too many fish are brought to the cannery than they can process. The solution: burn them down into fishmeal, which can be sold as an organic fertilizer.

A definition of bycatch: the unintentional catch of living organisms by fishing gear.

The work I do frequently includes considerations to deal with bycatch. I’ve read a lot of reports and seen numerous upsetting pictures of fish, birds and turtles entangled in nets. I brainstorm ways to assign fishing rights that encourage responsible fishing and methods to utilize fishermen as monitors of their own actions.

I care about these animals and the ecosystems they inhabit, but a caring based on something unseen is different than the care we have for something seen and experienced ourselves. No picture, video or report prepared me to experience instances of bycatch with my own eyes. My field experience in Baja California Sur was not designed to showcase instances of bycatch, however it did just that. The idea was for me learn about Grupo Tortuguero’s work in the community of Lopez Mateos (more on that later).

Sure, I already knew that:

 Worldwide, experts believe that fisheries bycatch is in the range of 27,000,000 metric tons.

24,000,0000 to 45,000,000 red snapper are caught as bycatch in Gulf of Mexico shrimp fisheries each year.

Researchers believe that between 1990 and 2008, 2.8 million sea turtles were trapped in nets as bycatch. (Six out of the seven species of sea turtles worldwide listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.)

It’s a shame to smell wasted tuna from the cannery. Another bycatch experience happened a few days ago. We were out on a turtle rodeo (definitely more on that later!) when we came across a ghost net. Ghost nets are simply lost or deserted nets that continue to capture and kill marine species. Our boat was tasked with pulling the net out of the ocean. Yards and yards of abandoned net were pulled out of the water with dozens of fish in various stages of decomposition caught in it. Large tuna, barracuda and snapper were pulled out of the net and tossed overboard along with lots of small fish and crabs I could not identify. The smell of the decomposing fish made even our experienced fisherman captain ill. A net left alone in the ocean always runs the risk of becoming untied from an anchor and being lost to unnecessarily capture marine animals.

Nets don’t have to be lost to cause harm. Yesterday I went out with a couple of fishermen to bring in three nets they’d left overnight. On the way out of the harbor I inquired about the type of fish we planned to fish. Flounder, they told me. Thirty minutes into constantly pulling a net into the boat, we encountered our first flounder. Until that point, they had been yanking dead rays, juvenile tuna, crabs and other fish out of the net. Over four hours with just three huge nets, I would guess that 80% of the animals were thrown to the very well-fed group of pelicans that hung out by our boat. 80% bycatch! Other fish were kept on board for consumption by the fishermen or to sell for a price much less than they get for flounder

While the fishermen were approaching the end of the second net I heard one of them say, “there’s something big here… what is it?” Then I saw “it” emerge out of the water: a juvenile green turtle—deeply tangled in the deadly net. Its eyes were closed, neck limp. It had died. In the net. That they left out last night. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. I choked back a couple of tears, closed my eyes and looked away from the turtle for a while. Then I snapped a picture because to do the work that I do, I don’t ever want to forget that moment. Later that day I recounted the story and my emotional response to Juan, one of Grupo Tortuguero’s biologists. Juan replied kindly and simply: “that’s why I do what I do.” Me too, Juan.

This community, along with thousands of others in the world depends on fishing for their livelihood. The fishermen are good people that are doing a job they’ve done for decades. It’s time to help them do it better. An 80% fish bycatch plus dead turtles for a few pounds of flounder is not acceptable. We need to help fishermen find better ways to fish. In the meantime, we can support sustainably caught fish and organizations like Grupo Tortuguero and EDF that work on small-scale fisheries. 

Lessons In The Greenhouse


Throughout the summer, our Agriculture Team spent a lot of time visiting the greenhouses we built last year in Poques and Pampacorral. Our ongoing goal is to understand how our alternative curriculum manifests itself outside of the designated greenhouse workdays. It has been interesting to learn about the innovative ways the information is transferred to younger students who do not work directly with Ruben.

In Pampacorral I was fortunate enough to experience one such approach. While working with Ruben and the  6th graders in the greenhouse, one of the teachers of a much younger group utilized the plants to teach an interactive, basic math lesson on the greenhouse whiteboard. Her approach highlighted the importance of familiarizing all the school’s students with at least the names of vegetables from a young age. Just pointing out the names of the vegetables and applying them in a lesson plan unrelated to basic cultivation and nutrition struck me as odd at first. Initially, I dismissed the lesson approach as insignificant.

In hindsight I see the genius in this approach: even a basic introduction at such a young age will make vegetable cultivation and consumption an accepted norm, something the younger students will expect to have at school in the coming years. This generation of students is growing up with a privilege that many of their parents and even the older greenhouse participants never had. I realized that the greenhouse is more than a vegetable growing structure. It is a tool to be used in innovative ways from a basic math tool to a laboratory for teaching technical growing techniques.

Basic project introduction like this lesson is the key to changing mindsets by instilling an early awareness of the importance of vegetable cultivation and consumption. It helps to speed up acceptance and buy in from a younger age than many of us had initially envisioned.  In the coming years these younger students will begin to learn the technical skills that may ultimately be utilized for community and regional expansion. Hopefully as this next generation of students grows up greenhouses will become a norm rather than an exciting and foreign concept at schools.  ~Kat

Leaving – But Not for Long

It’s starting to finally set in.  I have four days left in Bosnia.  Not only will I board a plane on Saturday and head to Munich and eventually land in San Francisco, but I also will leave behind my current home.  It is three months after I left California and I find myself at home and comfortable with life, as I know it here.  Bosnia has been wonderful to me and I don’t know if I am truly ready to leave.  Of course, I am ready to see my family, my boyfriend, and my friends, finish grad school, and return to my life.  But I know I will be leaving behind memories and experiences unlike any I have known before.

With two of the women who work in Srebrenica

With two of the women who work in Srebrenica

This summer has been exceptional.  I have learned more than I thought possible.  I learned how to get my point across with my limited Bosnian vocabulary and how to tailor my words to fit any situation.  I went from talking about whether or not I am tired or hungry to having full-blown conversations about the simplicity and beauty of life despite cultural barriers (one of my favorites was about the proportionality of a little person).  I learned how to discuss a carpet, the wool that one uses to make such a carpet, and the draft that Bosnians deeply fear.  I learned that I must never go outside with wet hair.  I made friends.  I connected with an ex-pat community and made great friends with the women working at BOSFAM.  I traveled to Eastern Bosnia, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Croatia, and Montenegro.  Most importantly, I learned the stories of the women who I have come to love.  I learned about their pain, their humility, and their strength.

Trying to get a picture with two of BOSFAM's most dedicated weavers

Trying to get a picture with two of BOSFAM's most dedicated weavers

I wonder if I can fully explain how I am feeling right now.  I will not miss hand washing my clothes or the daily mental drain of understanding the language.  I will miss drinking coffee twice a day and knowing how my presence affects these women.  There is something about the Balkans that has grabbed onto me and has not let go.  In my fourth trip to this region, I am definitely not finished.  From the food to the people to the language, I have fallen in love.  The Balkans will be in my heart permanently.

"One City, One Love" in Tuzla

"One City, One Love" in Tuzla

Who knows what the future will hold?  Thus far I continue to be surprised with the passing of each year.  Four years ago I never thought I would study abroad in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia.  Two years ago I never thought that I would spend my summer in Pittsburgh studying Croatian.  I certainly did not foresee coming back to Bosnia this summer for this peace fellowship.  As I pack my bags, I can’t help but wonder when I will pack them again.  All I know is that I have not said goodbye to Bosnia forever.

Packing up to head home

Packing up to head home