That one time I went to Ghana…

So I just got home from an amazing week in Ghana… but before I give you the full play by play, I have to go back to a lazy day at the office this summer. On July 16th, this email came into my inbox:

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tldr: write a 300 word essay to be eligible to win a trip to Ghana.

Thankfully, I was pretty bored at work and therefore used that time to write that essay. Not sure I would have spent the time at home to do it if I were busy… here’s what I wrote:

I have always had a passion for improving the learning conditions of young girls. Prior to starting at MIT Sloan, I was the managing director of a non-profit organization, Girls in Tech Minneapolis. The goal was clear: increase the number of girls pursuing technology professions by increasing their access to education and strong female role models. Even though I am no longer involved in Girls in Tech, this topic continues to be something I feel strongly about and will continue with once I earn my MBA. Girls all over the world should have better, equal access to education. It is this passion that drives my desire to learn more about non-profit education abroad.

The increased popularity of cause marketing has also turned my attention to the 1-for-1 model of non-profits. I first heard of TOMS through Hanson’s Take the Walk tour, and have been interested in the model ever since. How can we encourage more affluent people to give to those who do not have the same? By participating in this once-in-a-lifetime learning experience in Ghana, I hope to learn ways to apply this model to future for-purpose driven initiatives.

Lastly, I know this opportunity will teach me so much. Beyond learning about education and non-profit work, I will see a first-hand account of how to start from scratch. Adam Braun created something that is truly changing lives. Through this inspiration, I know I can do the same.

I also love the impact CommonBond is making and would love the opportunity to connect further! I am also a lot of fun to travel with.

A week later I got a 7am phone call from CommonBond in NYC telling me I had been selected. Cue intense excitement.

[My essay was also published on their blog, which you can see here!]


Last Wednesday, I took a flight from BOS to Amsterdam solo. Once there, I met up with Natalie, a representative from Pencils of Promise (PoP); David, Michaela and Ali from CommonBond; and Jason and Eryn, the other winners. Looking back, it’s kind of funny because I wasn’t once concerned about traveling to Africa with 6 complete strangers.

Completely unrelated, here is a photo of an Amsterdam Airport Donut:

Good donut.
Good donut.

The next seven hours were filled with wine and movies… but nothing really worth mentioning here. We landed late on Thursday and went to bed soon after we checked in. Early thoughts? — Ghana is hot.

Friday morning we left Accra for Ho early. There, we were welcomed by a great group of students who had been in a PoP school since 2013. After a performance of a traditional dance and the recitation of a poem, we were each presented with beautiful pieces made personally for each of us. Within minutes, rain started pouring and the students went back to their classrooms. We then got to see the inside of a PoP classroom and to observe students learning. The great thing about PoP is that in addition to building sturdy structures for children to learn in, they continue to support each and every community through teaching training and onsite support.

IMG_1960In Ghana, the teachers are taught tools to support active classroom engagement. And by active, and I mean active. The kids sing, dance, and move around because that’s a part of their culture. Outside of recess, I don’t remember ever having that in elementary school.

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The junior high school was a different story. Currently, PoP only supports elementary education, due in part to their focus on literacy and obvious financial constraints. The junior high structure was over 20 years old and was in pretty bad shape. The mixture of rain and a “faulty roof” clearly impacted students’ learning experiences. Here, they are moving their desks so their books don’t get wet.

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I left this community with mixed emotions. On one hand, I was so inspired to meet such great children. At one point, a handwashing station tipped over and multiple boys jumped up to help put it back up. The students even show up early to sweep the classrooms – there is so much pride in learning. That isn’t something I’ve seen in the United States – children just ready to jump up and help. On the other hand, the conditions are pretty bad. I can understand not being able to learn when something as common as rain interferes.

Next, we went to a site that showed an example of the “before” environments. Can you imagine going to school here? Whether your answer is “yes” or “no”… it gets worse…

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On Saturday, we were honored to attend an inauguration ceremony. After a few speeches and being gifted a goat (literally), we got to see the before and after. Saying it is a stark contrast is an understatement.

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A “classroom” under a tree with just a black board and two benches
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The new PoP built school.

Even more touching was the way the children ran and cheered into the new school once the ribbon was cut. After both getting dance lessons from the kids and teaching them to nae nae, we went back to the hotel to drink some beer and tell some stories.

That night, we really got to know each other. Up until then I wasn’t sure if my style was gelling well, but after a few good stories I had at least a few of them on the dark side.

Sunday… just.. wow. We went to a community near Togo where there must have been over 100 community members on site helping build. With PoP, they provide supplies and skilled labor, but require the community to provide the unskilled labor. It both ensures that the community is committed to bringing in the new school and that it is something they truly want. To see 50 grown men giving up their Sunday to literally make 4000 cement blocks to construct a school… I was just in awe. I think football dominates Sundays in the United States.

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After that we got in a small taste of tourism when we went to a monkey sanctuary. We were told a beautiful story about the history of the land and how monkeys came to be as important as they are. Then we fed them and I nearly lost my shit.

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And all of a sudden, Monday was our last day. We visited a commnity where PoP is piloting e-readers. It was so cool to see a classroom full of students on e-readers in the middle of a village with minimal electricity. They were actually in the middle of a sexual education lesson when we began observing. It felt rather intrusive but also really neat that they are learning about that at a young age.

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I left Ghana with such great respect for both the people in the communities and the impact Pencils of Promise is making. The children and families I met have such a strong desire for education and bettering themselves. They are hardworking and kinder than I see most days. Because of this trip, I know I will be a life long supporter of PoP. Beyond that, I formed great relationships and learned about starting a company from a fantastic CEO. I believe I have an even better appreciation for education and am excited to discover how I can impact the next generation. I have a deep understanding of what some lives and cultures in Ghana look like, and I will continue to reflect on the ways life differs in the United States. I believe this experience has even influenced the way I will raise my own children some day. It was the trip of a lifetime and I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity. I’m pretty much pinching myself right now.


 

Update 10/23/2015: a version of this post was also published on the CommonBond blog.

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KT write home.

Last week, I was sitting at the Dallas Fort-Worth airport on my way home from a business trip. Two co-workers and I were sitting at a restaurant, grabbing a drink and bite to eat before boarding. I was finally able to find some postcards at the airport – there weren’t any at the hotel or gas station. Sitting with my cocktail, I finally began to write.

Joe likes it when I send him post cards. Even though I was only gone for a night, and I was writing it on the way home so I would most defintiely beat it back, I think it mades him know I’m thinking of him too. Especially on trips where I’m so busy we don’t even talk on the phone. Well, we also aren’t good at talking on the phone with each other, so that plays into it.

Anyway, I was sitting there writing when I began to feel a little silly. Am I the only one that writes a postcard home on every trip? Was I trying to hold onto a shred of childhood that no longer existed? What is work/life balance and am I a fool for shooting for it?

Shoyu

Earlier this week, a coworker sent our team an email with a picture of an ipad he stumbled upon. He was at the Minneapolis/St.Paul Airport and a new restaurant, Volante, which put ipads at every table, where you browse the menu and can surf the internet. Being in the digital signage/in-store digital technology field, I just had to check it out.

Good thing I had this trip coming up! My grandma and I met at the airport around 5:30pm for our 7:30 flight to Washington DC. This should have been ample time, however, we were at a gate smack dab across the airport from us. It would have been risky to try to make it there and back, and I didn’t want to drag my grandma on a goose chase. Luck would have it though, that once I sat down, the airline attendant announced our gate had changed. The route to the new gate brought us right past the new restaurant… score!

From the onset, it looked like a really neat place. Trendy/modern with the appropriate flare of technology. We grabbed a table, and a waitress said she would be right with us to show us how to work the ipad. I was a little put off that she assumed I didn’t know how to use it, but was also glad to have someone there to answer questions my grandma had in a more patient manor. It’s nearly impossible for me to understand what it is like growing up without technology.

After flipping through the menu, I got myself a small appetizer (chicken lettuce roll ups) and a Heineken and my grandma a glass of wine (I’m so serious, I have her drinking already!). I’m pretty sure it was an asian fusion type of restaurant. Then, to finalize the order, I had to select the tip amount and scan my card on the little reader next to me.

20 minutes later my food came out, and I had ask the waitress about the drinks. She scurried over to the bar and picked them up. I’m not sure how long they had been sitting there, but I absolutely hate it when I get my food before my beverage.

The food was actually pretty good, definitely a place I’d go to again. The atmosphere was a little difficult though – two minutes after placing the order, I shut my ipad off because the constant attract-loop was, well, attracting my attention. My grandma showed annoyance too, so I shut hers off as well. Ya’ll know I love my grandma, but this woman is kind of short. Beyond us being annoyed at the distraction, due to the ipads, I could only see her eyes from across the table. It didn’t help that they were portrait oriented and raised onto a stand. If I ever go back (and I’m sure I will) I’ll definitely sit at the bar, even if I am with someone else. I think that sitting next to, rather than across from, would make conversations a lot easier.

Other random thoughts:

  • The coolest part of the whole place? The outlet on the table that enabled me to USB charge my iphone while having dinner. I would eat that crap up if USB ports came standard other places. I always loose the adapters, so I usually need to plug it into a computer. Not anymore!
  • I didn’t like having to select the tip amount before I even placed my order. Had I known my drinks would arrive so late, I would not have tipped 18% (my options were 0, 15%, 18% and 20%).
  • I’d create the app differently, but over all, it was nice, intuitive, and responsive. No complaints about how it was created (ignoring the semi-annoying attract-loop).
  • The waitress never even came back after our food and drinks were served. It was kind of awkward, and not a place I would typically expect to tip.
  • Also, apparently the name of the place was Shoyu, thus the name of this post. Not sure if I went to a different place or what.
  • They emailed me the receipt, which was handy (and reminded me of the name of the place :) )

Luckily, I’m traveling two more weekends in the next month – maybe next time I’ll have better luck with the waitress and have a completely refreshed opinion of the place.

Goin’ home

I’m at the airport now, waiting for my flight back home. I’m so über excited to be going home. Last night I was feeling so homesick which was lame because I should have been focusing on having fun and saying goodbye to all the awesome people I met these last three weeks. Alas, I went to bed semi-early and then left hella-early for the airport.

It’s hard to explain, but I also just really hate goodbyes. For me, it was easier to be all like “oh, I miss Joe, I’m so excited to see Joe” rather than acknowledge that I will most likely never see many of these great people again. It was truly a fantastic experience and there are people that I will definitely need to stay in touch with.

And I’m done being a cheese-ball! Here are some random thoughts from the last few weeks…

So you know when you hear a voice, and it sounds so much like someone else you know that it instantly brings you back? I hate that. Well, I’d probably like it if the person sounded like Joe or something, but my professor from last week sounded exactly like a former male-acquaintance. Pretty much it gave me the hebegebees, and made me instantly annoyed. This didn’t encourage engagement in the class, sadly, but I learned a  lot nonetheless.

I finally booked my trip to DC with my grandma for this fall! I’m super excited for it for many reasons. First, I’ve never been on a trip that is just my grandma and I. I really like spending time with her so I think this will be lovely. Next, even though I’ve been to Washington, D.C, I’ve never had the opportunity to do the touristy type stuff. I want to be there without any serious time constraints so we can just explore, visit museums, see the sights, etc. I also like putting trip plans together so it a pretty fun project for me to work on :)

Last Wednesday was my corporate visit to Google. I was so excited going into it… maybe too excited. I didn’t know what exactly to expect, but I knew it was pretty much the most awesome thing that had ever happened to me. Two words that sum up the day? Overwhelming and intimidating. I think I expected it to be more… fun? Start up like? Goofy and amusing to be at, maybe? But the vibe I got was very different. I had to sign my NDA (so I need to be careful here!) but they didn’t really tell us anything top secret. We spoke with a woman for a bit and then there was a panel discussion. I got the feeling that not many people are good enough for the company… especially after the “come in at the bottom and pull your weight” lecture.

I get why she had to go over that… I really do, because as I recall this is exactly how I felt when I first started my job. I was like, holy crap, I worked hard for 4 years at Macalester to build my way up and now that’s all gone and I’m here again at the bottom. I sure didn’t fight it though. I bitched about it to Joe every now and again and eventually got over it once I started to be valued for what I brought to the table.

Overall, it was more pretentious that it needed to be. Coming in with an attitude of like “oh, you should feel honored to be here” isn’t good for anyone. The company needs employees just as much as people need jobs. This hasn’t really changed my love for them though… even if I couldn’t find anyone to sign my Android figurine.

To Chicago

I’m at the airport now waiting for my flight to O’Hare. I have a bit of a stomach ache this morning as I ate like a total fat kid at the park last night (and the bar after). It isn’t a hangover tummy ache though, because I didn’t drink a lot? I drank just like a normal person actually. I’m sipping a coffee now, that will help calm my nerves, right?

I’ve been promoted to first class for this flight. First, that means that I get to check both my bags for free (as opposed to only checking one for free). It also means that I get “priority” stamped on my bags and also on my ticket so I get all the cool people lines. Except, I’m a dipshit and went to the wrong security check point because they didn’t even have a priority line there.

My mom had a second surgery yesterday, still to correct things in her hand from her fall. She was very weird before going in, sending me cryptic text messages. She was convinced that she was dying. She doesn’t have surgery enough for me to really remember if she’s ben like this before, but she wanted to make sure she had all of her affairs in order. I’ve been instructed to pay off the loan she still has to her mom, and share the life insurance checks with Curt so he doesn’t have to work for the rest of his life.

I think I’ve mentioned before that my mom has a tendency to buy people off. Whether she feels guilty or just truly believes that personal relationships can be mended by money, I’ve always known the the more she wants to please, the more money slash gifts she gives. True to her nature then, I’ll probably be getting a stack of cash when she croaks. I’m of the philosophy that life insurance is to cover the costs of burial and help a family were there to be a decrease in income. What I mean to say is that I shouldn’t be counting the days till I get a sudden influx of money because she no longer supports me (which I’m not). Yet, I’m anticipating it happening, hopefully she doesn’t have a lot more debt than she alluded too.

I’m nervous for Booth. I think that is where a bit of my tummy ache is coming from too. It’s a pretty big deal, the school and all, and this will be an amazing three weeks of opportunity. I’ll meet tons of people and learn a lot- and that feels… intimidating maybe? I’m a little concerned that this dress I’m wearing for the flight is too low cut- it use to fit me differently when I was 50lbs heavier and now that I’ve lost a bit of my boobs, it shows a lot of chest. I was scrambling this morning though- I packed all my good stuff and forgot to leave something for me to wear today! Hopefully it doesn’t cause me to make a bad impression. Joe said I looked nice at least.

Note to self: Upset stomach + Coffee = bad idea. Yet, I continue to drink it. Even though I’m getting warm, from a combination of the nerves, the coffee, and having a warm computer on my lap.

Well, alright, I just heard there are three babies on the flight. Hopefully they are not in first class. Or, if they are, they are at least cute. Mresh, with me luck :)

Trip of love

So I absolutely love my team. And I had the best business trip ever. Actually, it wasn’t better than the last in terms of awesomeness from a work standpoint, but a lot of really cool things happened to me. First, I finally got an email from Stanford. Like I’ve said before, they have been playing hard to get with me and haven’t sent me anything since I got the confirmation email of “expressing interest”. I nearly shit myself because while I understand that getting an email is nothing like getting accepted, I am excited to have come this far. Also, it’s better than not being contacted at all.

I also got to drive by Stanford and sigh longingly. I fell in love with California to the max and now I’m absolutely sure that it’s where I want to be.

The next totally awesome part? I just found out that one of the companies that I will visit this summer at my Booth Program is Google. Yes, I said Google. Google in Chicago. I am so excited I could die. What if I don’t want to leave? I’d probably just have to move in there or something.

The lame part of my trip? All the airline delays. We were late as shit getting out of MSP (damn Delta!) and the flight then felt that much longer. I’m sitting at the airport again now and I’m very much hoping that shit shiznet gets out on time.

But why do I love my team you ask? Because they are awesome. Today I was hungover and said that I wish I could have taken home my leftovers from our vendor dinner last night because pasta is awesome for a hangover. My manager told me that I should have because I’m running the show mostly and that I need to remember to just do stuff and then stick to the “ask for forgiveness, not for permission” philosophy. It’s a good philosophy.

I also love them because I feel like they all appreciate and accept me for who I am. They don’t want me to change my sarcasm or put on a front because they think I’m awesomesauce already. This is something that I always value because, to be honest, it is rare. Like I’ve said before, people either love me or they don’t, but the truth is, the love is a lot harder to come across. So, High Five to my team. You guys are awesome(sauce).

Denver Airport

So my flight was originally scheduled to leave at 3:35. I actually received a call from Delta around noon saying that the flight was oversold and that I could have a $300 flight voucher if I volunteered to wait until tomorrow to fly out. I considered it thoroughly- tomorrow’s flight would be at 6:15am, getting back to MSP around 9. They wouldn’t throw in a free hotel room though, so I kindly declined their offer. I’m sure I could have stayed at Drew’s another night, but I really wanted to get home and get a good nights rest. I would have been okay staying in a hotel for the night though because I know that it would have been really relaxing and I could have gotten some writing and reading done.

On the way to the airport, however, I began to reconsider. It would be pretty baller to have a $300 flight voucher, especially with Joe and I considering a trip somewhere. Then, always being the thinker that I am, if instead Joe breaks up with me, it would totes be awesome to have a free flight somewhere to blow off the steam. I resolved that once I got to the airport I would check in at my gate to see if they still needed someone. Once I was actually at the airport and was able to whip out my sad face, it would be much easier to guilt them into a hotel room. To my surprise though, they just said I could have a flight on the 6:00pm flight, not even needing to spend the night. I definitely signed up for that, and they said they would let me know about 20 minutes before the flight if they still needed it.

2 hours later I am still sitting here (now sipping a drink in an airport bar), as the original 3:35 flight has been delayed until 5:27. Apparently they are trying to join a shit ton of flights into a smaller number, and I’m not sure when I’ll ever make it home. I had been reading my book (Driving with Dead People by Monica Holloway) for about an hour when the line continued to grow at the counter and the delay continued to extend. Either way I’ll be fine- I’ll get home tonight and sleep in my nice comfy bed (and get to work on time tomorrow!)- or I’ll get a nice trip out of the deal. I love these opportunities. Plus, I’m doing what I’d be doing at home anyway- drinking and writing (minus the candle, sadly).

My weekend with Drew was borderline lame. I was sick the entire weekend (Thanks Joe!), and didn’t feel like going out. Drew was bummed about that, which I can’t totally blame him for, but I also felt like I was out there to chill with him, and we could still do fun things even if we were at the house. Typically we just like to play games together anyway! I felt like crap (emotionally) though for feeling like crap, and also like crap because my friend was pissed about my crap. Basically it was a never ending crap circle with a few chocolate chip cookies in the mess- which Drew didn’t even wake me up for when he was making them!!! Does he forget who I am?!

It was still really nice to see him, but I also got the feeling that things weren’t quite the same. I don’t have any particular reason for this, but it was just kind of a vocally quiet weekend. Maybe it was just all my sickness and I’m being a silly monster.

Also, last night as I was being a lame face napping on the couch, I was feeling both happy and sad that I wasn’t back in Minneapolis with Joe. One, he was out at the Zombie Pub Crawl, which I oh-so-badly want to do (and am oh-so-sick of hearing about) so I was sad. But two, I probably would be have been a buzz kill so I was happy I wasn’t there. Still though, I was sick and just wanted to be with him and didn’t want to be feeling alone in CO. I was sad that I wasn’t getting as much attention as I had given him when he was sick. Really it was a rather silly feeling as I had just had the dream the night before that he was breaking up with me because I’m clingy. I blame SD (and numerous other men for this), but Joe continues to assure me that I’m okay.

Alas, I haven’t talked to him yet today, but that’s probably okay. In an effort to not be clingy (because of the dream), I should give more space- not bitch at him for not taking care of me enough… while I’m 700 miles away.

As a side note, I’m staring at a penny, heads-side-up on the floor about 8 feet from me. I kind of want to pick it up, but I’m also the type of person that goes and lies down her extra pennies for others to gather good luck, so I shall leave it. Not sure why exactly I shared this part.

Because everyone should go 19 months between blog posts…

So I’ve always been opposed to this whole “blog” thing… save my semester in NYC. It just seems rather pretentious for me to think that anyone would have an interest in what I have to say. Fact is, most don’t- and that’s awesome. Good reason not to care what anyone else says either.

So, what’s my reason for starting this again? I think I need a creative outlet. While the corporate life can be fascinating, my current role (or the work I’m putting into it), lacks the level of creativity needed to sustain my sanity.

Plus, I was at home sick all day and wasn’t able to connect my work laptop to my iPhone internet. Not being one to sit in bed for long, I decided to start a blog. Probably this will give me a good excuse to upgrade my gadgets- of course I need a new camera, and a new computer, and PhotoShop… I have a BLOG now!

Before blogging, I made some good treats. Well, I’m obviously using the word “good” loosely, but I made something nonetheless. I’ll call them haystacks, because I think that’s what normal people call them. Here was my improvised recipe:

    • 1 jumbo Kiss from Valentine’s Day maybe 2 years ago
    • 1 package of coconut

First, chop up the Kiss with a butcher knife. This aids in the melting. Next, melt the chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly. Once melted, add… some coconut. Stir. If it doesn’t seem thick enough, add some more. I kept adding until the brink of the coconut was no longer being covered by chocolate. This, my friend, was the mistake. Actually, it wasn’t the first mistake.

Mistakes

  1. Buying the wrong kind of coconut. I think the unsweetened would be better
  2. Not toasting the coconut in the oven. I think I remember reading this in a recipe a while back, but it didn’t dawn on me until I was already melting the chocolate
  3. Adding too much coconut

After adding all the coconut, I spooned it out onto wax paper. Here was the outcome:

My Haystacks

They didn’t suck… as one can assume from the number of them I’ve eaten. I’ll finish them off too- maybe even let Joe try one. However, they probably won’t be made again… at least without some updates.

vodka + sore throat ≠ happiness

I am sitting at the airport (O’Garas – drinking vodka-water with a cherry and lime) waiting for my flight to Denver, CO. I’m going to visit my bestie Drew, and I’m very excited. I haven’t seen him since I was out there in July, and it’s been way too long. This is all I have for now- maybe something exciting will happen here though and I’ll get to update this post! Hey-o