by Julia Shuster, M.A.
Growing up, my mother had a picture hanging in her bathroom. Every morning while getting ready for school and every evening drying off after my bath, I would gaze at the image. Before I could read, I would ask her to tell me what it said, over and over. Once able to read, I would contemplate the words, one by one, seeking their deeper meaning. The simple piece of art was not extremely valuable monetarily as she most likely procured it at one of the discount department stores she was known for rummaging through, but its priceless value was in the message it sent.
The picture had simple drawings of a moon and stars, surrounded by swirls, stating the text in fancy cursive, “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
As a child, I could not fathom how this could be true. I grew up in suburban Pittsburgh, sheltered by well appointed schools and many people who looked, talked and acted like me. While German language and heritage were always part of my daily routine, believing that a simple thing such as stepping on a plane for a few hours could completely change my life struck me as impossible. I decided I would have to see for myself. I guess you could say that, from an early age, I recognized that experience is the best teacher. Luckily at the age of 12, I was afforded the opportunity to come to my own conclusions of what this musing print meant. I did in fact learn that the words were true, and I credit this mystical piece of art in shaping my life.
After traveling abroad in my youth and in my teens, I found myself quite separated from my peers. Where in high school they were most concerned with the next big football game or who was throwing the next party, my mind was occupied with ponderings of other cultures, how they relate to me, and how I can make a difference in the world. I decided quickly that International Education was the route I wished to take. I studied German in college, moved to Berlin for the senior year of my undergraduate degree, and chose to stay for close to 7 more years, also gaining a Master’s degree in International Education, as well a husband who was born and raised in former socialist East Germany.
Fast forward many more years than I would like to admit, our family discovered Asheville and grew in size by 2 children and 3 cats. Although I have been here for a decent amount of time, I am still smitten by the Blue Ridge Mountains. I feel as if they possess a kind of elder wisdom and provide me with a warm embrace. These ancient mountains, the domain of the mighty Cherokee, the oldest and once highest in the world, offer many opportunities for recreation and mindfulness, but to me they now offer a jumping off point to reflect on my experiences around the globe while sharing new ones with SIGA youth.
From the moment I read the first few words on the SIGA website, I knew the school was for me. I had to be a part of it considering everything about the institution aligned with my personal applied pedagogies in education and with the upbringing I strive to provide my children, who have already traveled abroad multiple times at the tender ages of 5 and 8. My strong belief and professional background in experiential education, collaborative classrooms and inquisitive student-led learning was reflected in every aspect of SIGA. The SIGA mottos “To follow, to continue, to persist, and to pursue” and “Immerse, Collaborate and Craft a Better World” resonate deeply with me, and I am excited to be a part of this pioneering school. I can hardly wait to greet our first cohort of students, understand what their vision is and assist them in reaching their goals, both personal and academic.
As for the picture that was hanging in my mother’s bathroom, while older and slightly more yellowed, it hangs in my bathroom today. My children also gaze upon it daily, ask me what it means, and I speak to them about their experiences abroad, their father’s experiences growing up in a walled city, a free country, and now as a German expatriate. As our family grows to include the SIGA family, I embrace the opportunity to ebb and flow with our students’ interests and dreams, and I am thrilled to see how we all will delve into a world with endless possibilities, challenges to grow from, and experiences to expand our minds and hearts.
Multiple contributors will be posting on our blog to keep you posted on the development of SIGA!
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"Siga" in Spanish means keep going... continue forward... persist... and that's what we do!
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