I love Christmas decorations! The vibrant magic they bring to this time of the year is so special and something to which I always look forward. Ever since I travelled to Germany for a student exchange and experienced a wonderful snow laden town with its windows lit up with the flickering of candles and shrouded in red and green, I’ve loved it!
Having said that, I must also qualify this with the fact that I don’t like the crappy tacky decoration people buy whilst shopping for their groceries and the sort of things people like to adorn themselves with at their work Christmas party. No, this is trash and I don’t like that in the slightest.
For me, Christmas decorations have depth and meaning. How does a decoration have depth and meaning I hear you yelling at your device?! Are you insane??? Well, possibly, but the jury’s still out on that one. Anyway, decorations, as with many other things people like to collect, derive meaning through the way in which you come to have them. If you did get all your decorations in aisle 17 next to the chips, dips and some plastic plates, then perhaps not, but if you’ve collected them from around the world, then they take on a whole different meaning.
A couple of years ago when I began travelling a lot more than I had ever done before, I started collecting Christmas decorations from all the places I visited. Since I didn’t want to waste money on pointless souvenirs that are great for five minutes, but once you’ve arrived home and shown everyone, it’s then put down and forgotten, often placed in a cupboard to gather dust. I have an entire collection of teaspoons and badges which has suffered this fate and is somewhere lost in the garage. However, unlike most souvenirs which suffer this fate, Christmas decorations appear each year! It might only be for a month, but for that month, all of those wonderful memories of travel and experiences you’ve had around the world, come flooding back.
For example, when I was in Japan a few years ago, it was really hard to find Christmas decorations. It’s not something the Japanese celebrate, but being a westerner, I was not deterred by their cultural indifference to this important festival that I thought they should have filling their stores and so was determined to find a Christmas decoration somewhere. I received many strange looks when trying to ask Japanese people without much English where I could buy Christmas decorations. What I thought would be an easy task, turned out not to be. I was told that the only place to find them would be in some western stores in the major cities. However, I wasn’t in a major city. They had snow, they should have Christmas decorations. It was like a pre-High King & Queen Narnia.
However, one day I decided to give skiing a break and went for a day trip to the seaside town of O, which is renowned for its seafood and glass blowing. Walking up and down the streets for hours, I finally came across this out of the way place where I had a delicious lunch of tempura prawns. Next to this restaurant, were a series of different glass blowing shops. After buying what I thought was a custard bun, which turned out to be an awful tasting black bean bun, I wandered through the glass shops, which had some astounding pieces of artwork as well as other beautiful and ornate glassware. Casually wandering through, looking at all the cool things I couldn’t afford, I came across a tiny shelf in one of the shops. It had about dozen tiny little glass objects in the shape of reindeer and a tiny Santa! I had finally discovered Christmas decorations in Japan!!!
Quickly buying them so no other sneaky westerner would take them before I could, although the chance of that was probably slim, I’d found some really cool decorations for home. For me however, it’s not the decoration itself. It’s the story that goes with it. When I see those little glass decorations, they not only look cool, but more importantly they remind me of my first adventure to Japan, which was planned and booked in about ten minutes whilst sitting on the front deck of a boat at work as we were in the process of reconnoitering a new outdoor trip. Another one I have is a wooden Santa from Breckenridge in Colorado. This was my first trip to the USA, when I was cooking for a snowboarding training school. One of the best days I had there was when Peak 10 opened and I was able to ski down chest-deep double black runs all day... it was awesome!
However, back to the decorations. The more I travel or the more experiences I have, the more I collect and when they’re all out each Christmas, they bring back wonderful memories which brings so much more meaning to this time of the year so. Next time you’re travelling or on an adventure, instead of buying a crappy souvenir pen or snow globe that will disappear into the abyss of your garage five minutes after you arrive home, buy a Christmas decoration, which you can put out every year that will bring back all the cool memories of the experiences you had when you first received it.
Have a Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year!
Once again, it's that time of the year! Suddenly, which means the day after Fathers’ Day in September, the shops fill up with Christmas decorations, chocolates and all sorts of other things ‘Christmassy’ on which people like to waste money. Whilst it’s always a little bit of shock to see Christmas things in the store so early, it doesn't take long for Christmas to actually creep up on us and we find ourselves wishing a Merry Christmas to just about any random person on the street, which can be both a good and bad thing, depending on how genuine you are about it.
I must admit I have mixed feelings about this time of year, as it should be a time of great joy and happiness. On the surface, it’s wonderful to wish people good tidings, treat people with a greater level of respect and say hello to people you ordinarily wouldn’t. However, ask yourself, are you being genuine with what you’re saying and doing, or are you just caught up in a cycle of pointless shallow greetings, parties and a manic argument ridden time with families that all ends on New Year’s Day when everyone breaks all those resolutions that they literally did nothing to achieve?
Many people just use this time of the year as an excuse to have parties and get drunk, something which is not really in the spirit of Christmas either. As work winds down, you're suddenly invited to lots of parties and events with people with whom you either don't spend much time, or more to the point, people with whom you don't want to spend time. When you're faced with this sort of situation, it's worth considering whether or not to go. Are you going because that's what is expected of you? Or are you going because you genuinely want to? If you're going because you're expected to, you’re really wasting your time and should really reconsider going. Instead, spend it with someone you actually care about. Often people can get caught up in the seemingly endless opportunities for Christmas gatherings, however, at the same time they fail to spend quality time with those who really matter.
On the positive side of things however, it signifies the end of what we would hope was a good year and a time to catch up with friends and family we haven’t seen in a long time, most likely last Christmas. I’ve caught myself doing the ‘Christmas’ catch up countless times and social media is such a great enabler for something so shallow. It really hit home last year, when I was going through my list of friends and by Facebook standards I don’t have that many, probably around 250 at a guess. (You can see how much I care about this number.) I do know most of my friends in ‘real life’, however, when I clicked on messenger to wish some friends a Merry Christmas, I saw my message from last Christmas glaring at me with distain. ‘Oh... Why has a year gone by and I haven’t even as much as said ‘Hey,’ let alone kept in touch in any meaningful way? One of the problems is that social media enables us to connect and disconnect with people in such a shallow way. We’re friends now, but we don’t need to talk anymore. However, I’m not here to social media bash. Well, not today!
Seeing a message that hadn’t been followed up on for a year started me thinking. Why wasn’t I staying in touch and should I be reconnecting? In some ways, it’s easy to say, no, the friendship isn’t that great and obviously everyone’s moved on, but I would suggest another answer. If I messaged everyone of my Facebook friends I would actually be being disingenuous as quite a few of them I don’t know at all, but that’s another matter and I don’t care much, because I’m never on there and I think Facebook is a toxic waste dump increasingly reliant on battering its users with a relentless number of pointless ads, rather than a platform that is helping humanity in a meaningful way. However, I digress.
Sending a Christmas message isn’t just a pointless waste of time. Even if you haven’t been close with one of your friends for some time, it’s a good excuse to reach out and say hello again. Our lives have become so manic, that often we don’t take the time just to say hello and focus on what’s really important in life and just as a hint, it’s not emptying your inbox.
This year, instead of just an online message that says something like, “Hi [insert name here], How have you been? Hope you have a wonderful Christmas! Best wishes for the new year!” write an actual Christmas card to each of those old friends with whom you want to reconnect. To this card however, add in an action plan, with an invite for coffee or dinner and be specific about it too, as vague plans of ‘sometime’ usually result in never! Think about it. What would you rather do? Would you rather go to a series of pointless Christmas functions with people you really don’t care about and watch them get drunk and embarrass themselves, or would you rather say no to all of that and use this precious and important time of the year to reconnect with someone in a meaningful way you should have taken the time to message a long time ago?
Today we find ourselves at an exciting time in history. The digital revolution has dramatically changed the world and continues to do so at a frantic pace. Unfortunately, many people haven’t yet realized the scope of what’s going on. We’re in the midst of the second greatest Renaissance in the history of the world! Never before have we seen such upheaval and rapid change than that of the digital age. However, before we explore how the digital age is swiftly destroying the effectiveness of our traditional education system, let’s look back at the last Renaissance which took roughly 300 years to run its course.
From the 14th Century onwards, a radical shift in thinking occurred in Europe. Rather than just mindlessly stabbing each other with swords, knowledge was emerging as power. This social and cultural ‘rebirth’ which started in Italy, was driven by powerful families such as the Medici who sought out ancient texts from Greece, Rome and the Middle East. From this came different ways of thinking and monumental shifts in Art and Culture that transformed the world. A form of education known as Humanism reintroduced philosophy, poetry and progressive thinking to a Europe that was still emerging from the dark ages. The result was that now, nation states had more intelligent and well-educated people who could crack a witty joke before stabbing you with their sword.
Unlike today, during the Renaissance, England was in the process of exiting Europe after the 100 Years War, Russia had a slightly aggressive foreign policy stance and there was conflict in the Middle East. It was a time when the world was flat, the sun revolved around the earth and the printing press had just been invented. The Chinese had already invented similar mass production printing approximately 600 years earlier, but we shouldn’t let the facts get in the way of a good European story!
Legendary artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo were busy sculpting and painting naked frescoes all over the Vatican. However, the Council of Trent in 1564, decided that nudity was shockingly unnatural and consequently employed another artist, Daniele da Volterra to take his paint brush to the shocking nudes and paint underpants on them, thus ending the constantly whispered sniggers of blushing visiting nuns.
Let’s now race ahead to the 18th and 19th centuries to the next period of massive upheaval, known as the Industrial Revolution. This was a time when Britannia ruled the waves, the Prussian government had just limited the working week for children to 51 hours and everyone was smart enough to realise that ‘clean coal’ was complete nonsense. Jobs were being lost to automation and children were far better at using new steam powered technology than their Luddite parents. From steam trains to ships and cotton mills, everything in England was being exponentially scaled up, including the mass production of education.
In 1833, the British Government passed the Factory Act, making it compulsory for children in factories to receive two hours of education a day. By 1880, it was compulsory for children up to the age of 10 to go to school and in 1902 a system of secondary schools was established. Thus the ‘modern’ education system was born most of which still remains in place today.
Born from the dark satanic mills of Industrial England, the world of 1902 is a far cry from the world of 2018! However, what’s both exciting and worrying at the same time is the fact that the world of 2030 can, and most likely will, be vastly different from today.
The first Renaissance took around 300 years to run its course. However, in the next 10 - 15 years, we face an enormous challenge as the digital tsunami of change bears down upon us! To be honest, teenagers being able to use snapchat to communicate has not been a huge leap for mankind. Despite the average teen’s ability to play with technological devices that have more processing power in them than the first moon landing, this has done little to prepare them for the change that’s upon us. According to a recent Four Corners report, over 5 million jobs will either disappear or be significantly restructured over the next 10 - 15 years, which is around 40% of the entire Australian workforce. We’re not talking 100 years. We’re not talking generational change over 50 years. We’re talking 10 Christmas’ dinners away and almost half the jobs in Australia will have permanently changed!
Where does that leave us as educators? To put it into a school context, for those of you who lead a K-12 school, the students who are now in Kindergarten will be graduating into a vastly different social and economic world. Businesses are automating every single process they can to reduce the need for and cost of human labour, as well as leveraging emerging technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) and robots that can learn. Consequently, many ‘white collar’ jobs are now disappearing.
How do we address the new reality that’s bearing down upon us faster than a handshaking, baby-kissing politician on election day? Do we A). stick some more computers and a robot in a classroom and hope a bit more eLearning ‘fixes’ it? Or B) radically shift our thinking and approach, to prepare staff and students for a rapidly changing world?
For me, the only answer is B). However, the radical shift, is basically not so radical after all and something which was originally suggested over 100 years ago by Kurt Hahn and John Dewey that learning through experience and reflection is the best educational approach to help prepare students for the challenges and complexities of life.
After watching the Four Corners episode, I decided to start my research project and learn how other experiential educators are addressing the tsunami of change. Since podcasts are trendy right now, what better way than to create a podcast about experiential education? Turns out, it’s a great way to meet interesting people and learn from their experiences.
Added to this, I love to try new things and it’s something I’ve always encouraged staff and students, to do! If we’re not living somewhat outside our comfort zones, we’re not living much at all. When I recently jumped in the deep end and created Xperiential Education (the podcast), it was not only a new experience, but a challenging one into which I had to put a lot of thought, time and energy to make it work. From this, a really valuable picture emerged of shifts in education, preparing students for an unknown future.
As an outdoor education teacher, the first episode was all about outdoor education and I travelled to New Zealand to Tihoi Venture School near Lake Taupo where I spoke with the Director Cyn Smith about their long-stay residential program for Year 10 boys. It’s a back to basics program without technology that focusses on relationships and social and emotional growth through experience and reflection. Conversely, the final interview I did with Glenys Thompson, Deputy Principal of the Australian Science & Mathematics School (ASMS) in Adelaide with its STEM focus, is heavily tech-based. However, the educational methodology for this program is essentially the same as the Tihoi Venture School’s back to basics program. Ultimately, the ASMS program is not about the technology itself, which is often a trap into which STEM programs fall. It’s all about learning and growth through experience and reflection and has produced some amazing outcomes for students.
From outdoor ed, to science, to art, to drama and ultimately to the workplace, I’ve found the core principles needed for our students to be successful in a world of constant change regardless of the environment are: critical thinking, problem solving, risk taking, adaptability and teamwork. The only way to effectively build and develop these skills is from within the students themselves through practical experiential education. Real experiences, creating authentic teachable moments, lead to reflective practices and growth within students.
Teachers who are still spoon feeding all the answers to their students to ensure they do well in exams, are failing their classes dismally. Although schools that approach education this way may get some great ‘headline’ marks for their glossy brochures, their graduating students will find it increasinly difficult to cope in a world 10 - 15 years from now that requires a flexible and adaptable skill-set that cannot be rote learnt. It has to be through interactions with others and experiences that involve levels of risk and potential for failure that students learn best.
From this, a couple of key questions for school leaders come to mind, “What are we preparing our students for?” and “How can we prepare them?”
The ‘let’s keep doing what we’ve always done’ approach is bound to fail on every level, as it did during the first Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. Let’s forget about those who don’t like change for the moment. They’re going to be left behind anyway. One of the most powerful drivers of our younger generation today is that of social justice. Millennials love a good cause, so why not leverage that in their education? The ASMS is doing exactly that, as they’ve structured their entire program around taking massive global social and economic issues that need addressing and empowering their students to develop practical solutions that leverage technology to create a better outcome for others in the world. Unless your students have that social and emotional context and skill set, this isn’t going to work well, but it’s exactly what’s needed to maximise the educational opportunities for students and prepare them for the challenges of the unknown future.
To help prepare your school, staff and students for those 10 short Christmases away and the seismic social and economic shift that’s happening around us, here’s a few suggestions:
1. If you don’t have an outdoor ed program, start one. The skills developed are the exact same critical thinking, adaptability and teamwork skills your students need to be successful in life. It also helps to build that elusive ‘resilience’ that everyone’s talking about these days.
2. Create some industry partnerships to allow students to work in businesses, social enterprises or community groups as part of an integrated, experiential education program. Many new jobs will be service-based and increasingly reliant on a person’s ability to socially interact with others. Create some authentic and mutually beneficial situations in which these interactions can occur.
3. Find ways to empower staff and students to adopt real causes and make a difference in the world. This sets the scene for a life of responsibility and consideration for others and will empower our students to shape this radically changing world with the values and moral compass they’ve been encouraged to build throughout their formative years at school.
However, the most important and the easiest thing to build into your school’s program is reflective practices.
“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” - John Dewy
The time spent on reviewing what worked, what didn’t and how to improve next time, is far more powerful than any other approach and is adaptable to any subject and situation. This allows students to take risks and fail, yet not be afraid of failure and that’s key to surviving and thriving in a world of constant change.
We’re now in the middle of the second renaissance or global rebirth, driven by the rapid changes in technology which are reshaping our world. Whilst our traditional education system still needs to be majorly overhauled to address this shift, we shouldn’t worry too much about the future. We have a generation of students who genuinely care about the world and we still have the ability to develop unique educational programs in our own schools which can develop the social and emotional skills needed for students to succeed in whatever they choose. We are living in the most exciting time in history and as educators, we can help shape a wonderful future for our students and the world no matter what happens in 5, 10, 20 or 100 years’ time!
For the adventurous rock climber, Mount Arapiles in Tooan State Park Victoria is an absolute must! This is a world class climbing spot and regarded as the best in Australia, attracting locals and international climbers alike. Four hours North West of Melbourne, the mountain range suddenly rises up out of the near dead-flat Wimmera plains, a stunning sight in itself, but wait till you get to the top!
The nearest regional centre to the Arapiles, is Horsham. Head west from there on the Wimmera Highway until you get to the small township of Natimuk. There’s a really good general store there for some basic last minute supplies. From there, you can’t miss the mountain range. It’s dramatic, stunning and rises up out of the Wimmera plains to dominate the landscape.
There are over 2,500 different routes to climb on this mountain, which provides a massive range of options for the beginner, right through to the advanced lead climber. Even though you’re bound to find other climbers around, there’s plenty of options from which to choose.
To get started, there’s a number of small, short climbs with easy road access and simple to setup top belays without having to lead climb up. These are perfect for the whole family, training the kids, or just bouldering to improve your own technique.
Further in, the mountain opens up into a massive collection of climbing routes for all skill levels and abilities. There’s an abundance of multi-pitch lead climbs up challenging rock faces, chimneys and stand-alone rock pillars. For less experienced climbers, guided climbs are available from the local area. For the experts, grab yourself a route map and get climbing!
The views from the top are stunning. The mountain is a stand-alone feature on the landscape, so all around you it drops down to the beautiful agricultural plains of Western Victoria as far as the eye can see.
There’s way too much to do here for just one day, so plan to make a trip of it. If you want to stay onsite, you must book camping in advance via the Parks Victoria Website. The camp ground has a great international atmosphere, with people from all over the world hanging out and taking on the variety of challenging rock faces. Whilst this is an all year round location, Summer here does get really hot, so from a risk point of view just keep that in mind.
If you love climbing, then this is by far the best place to do it in Australia!
• Sleeping Bags
• Sleeping Mat
• Gummy Bears (because you just can’t go wrong with them)
• Camping Stove
• Firewood (You're not allowed to collect wood from the site.)
• Insect Repellent
• Clothes for hot midday and cold nights
• Climbing Gear (helmet, ropes, harness, devices, shoes)
• First Aid Kit
Travel to the very edge of Kakadu National Park in Australia's remote Northern Territory, where you’ll discover ancient aboriginal artwork dating back tens of thousands of years. Not only will you see some of Australia's most remarkable rock paintings, but Kakadu National Park is a unique and stunning experience in itself.
Ubirr is deep in Kakadu National Park, which is one of Australia's most unique and beautiful national parks. The township, which consists of a general store offering take away Thai food, is a totally random outpost in an otherwise sparsely populated area. Ubirr is flanked by the East Alligator River (originally the crocodiles were mistaken for alligators, but when it was realised, the government didn’t want the expense of changing all the names on the maps, so it stuck). The East Alligator River is also the border to Arnhem Land, a traditional aboriginal territory, entry to which is strictly by invitation only.
To get there from Darwin, drive south along the Stuart Highway until you reach the Arnhem Highway. It’s then a 221km drive until you’re almost at Jabiru. Take the Ubirr Boarder Track. It’s sealed all the way to the border, so no worries if you don’t have a 4WD. The trail head is approximately 37km from Jabiru, which is also the last fuel stop. Advice for the drive: Do not drive at night. Between sunset and sunrise the proliferation of wildlife on the road is phenomenal and you shouldn’t drive at all in the dark.
Kakadu National Park is a wondrous landscape filled with an abundance of rare wildlife, including crocodiles. Make sure you avoid the temptation of wandering off to check out low-lying marshlands and stick strictly to the highway, as the risk of crocodile attack in this area is extremely high.
Arriving at Ubirr, there's clear well-signed tracks. The hike itself is not a particularly challenging one and is suitable for the whole family. It's relatively flat, with a single rocky peak to climb, giving you an amazing 360 degrees outlook right around the landscape. However, from a risk point of view, the heat is searing and there's precious little shade throughout the area, so make sure you have plenty of water.
Wandering along the dusty track, you soon come to the first of the stunning rock formations. The overhang, used as a shelter for aborigines in the past, has provided the perfect protection for the artwork, some of which date back around 20,000 years. Added to this, you can see how the landscape has changed over the millennia with some paintings located high up on the rock faces where once the ground was much higher, but as time weathered and eroded the softer parts of the land, the paintings crept down the wall. Many of these remain at eye level, so you can glimpse the amazing complexity of design.
There are different paintings throughout the area and something to take note of is the variation of what the art work depicts, depending on ice ages and periods of global warming, as the landscape dramatically changed. The pathway eventually takes you up to a stunning lookout. The awesome combination of remoteness, rare wildlife and ancient rock paintings makes this a wonderful and unique experience.
With outstretched arms the statue of Jesus (Cristo Rei) is a prominent and commanding landmark on the outskirts of Dili, capital city of the World’s youngest country, Timor Leste (East Timor). Built by the Indonesians to keep the predominantly Catholic population happy, hiking to the top of the mountain on which it stands is a great experience, giving you a bird’s eye view along the coast and over the city.
The walk starts at sea level from a car park at Cristo Rei Beach, East of Dili. The roads to the base of the walk are decent, but take a car, don't ride a bike as the roads can be quite dangerous due to the distinct lack of clear road rules and limited driver training. Opposite the car park, the rustic beach area has a few shelters which are prefect for a picnic lunch. The beach is popular with the locals, but don't expect too many waves as it's within a protected bay. The walk itself is an invigorating stair climb, dotted along the way with murals depicting the life of Christ. From the base you climb around 500 steps.
About three quarters of the way up there's a large amphitheatre where services are held on important occasions. From here, it's not far to the summit at which point you’ll find Jesus standing on top of a large globe and looking out towards Dili with his arms wide open. The views from here are stunning, as you have a commanding view right up and down the rugged coastline and over the city itself.
This is a bit different in some ways from what I usually talk about. However, at the same time it's exactly what I'm on about. I was watching a documentary on Twisted Sister the other night. For those of you who don't know who they are, they're a 70-80s glam rock band that took stage performance to the next level. Google them and watch some of their film clips. My two favourite songs are We’re not Gonna take it! And I Wanna Rock! There pretty cool film clips, especially if you don't like classrooms and psycho teachers!
Anyway, even though they’re not one of my favourite bands, they have such a fascinating history of adversity and rising to the challenges that were constantly thrown up in front of them. It shows how such drive and determination paid off, despite what seemed to be a world conspiring against them at every turn.
From the start, they were weird! A bunch of glam rockers dressed up in outrageous costumes and performing on the fringe of the rock scene. Unlike many performers today who think the only way to get their big break is through a contest, they played the pub scene in New York State. Despite everyone having rough and quiet beginnings, not knowing if anyone were going to show up to their performance, they quickly found a following of dedicated fans who followed them from venue to venue for each of their shows.
They became so popular in the live rock scene, they were selling out shows wherever they went. However, they could land a record deal. If they'd started today they could've recorded their own songs and have them playing on YouTube and ITunes within days. However, the world was a very different place in the 70s & 80s and getting heard by anyone in the music industry was tough. But they continued to play and do what they loved to do.
They got their big break where they were going to perform at the Palladium theatre. The show sold out in record time, but one of the band members collapsed and the performance had to be postponed. Instead of record executives who were originally booked in to see the big show, they got secretaries and assistants showing up the next time around. As a result, no record deal was struck. This went on and on. Then they finally managed to sign a deal, but the executive died of a heart attack on the way home. So that fell through. Then they signed a deal in the U.K. But the record company went bust and back home they were black listed by Atlantic Records who threatened to fire anyone who tried to sign them.
By this point most people would've given up. Generation Y certainly would have, but not Twisted Sister. They kept going and going and trying to find new ways of opening doors every time one slammed shut in their face. At one point they drove 56 hours across America to play a 29min show! Now that's determination!
This endless struggle would’ve destroyed most people and they probably would've given up and begun resentfully making coffee somewhere and claiming they could've been big, but the universe stopped them. Well Twisted Sister grabbed the universe and bent it to its will! Their big break finally came in England when they were doing a live show and did such an epic performance, they got the attention of a British Atlantic Records executive who signed them up for a record deal! Much to the disgust, it would appear of the head of Atlantic Records US, who had blocked an album deal for so long, obviously realising there was money to be made from this deal, he finally capitulated and with this deal their album went platinum!
This shows how being tenacious and persistent can pay off. If you truly believe in something, even when the odds are not only stacked against you, but people are actively working against you, if you stick to your guns and keep working towards your goal, you can achieve anything. If it doesn't work to start with, or if doors keep closing, instead of giving up in five minutes and blaming the world for stopping you, keep working on it. Keep knocking on doors. Keep coming back. Keep fighting to do what you love and despite the odds against you, if you stick with it, you can achieve some amazing things.
To get the full understanding of the roller coaster ride they had, watch the documentary We Are Twisted Sister. It really is an eye-opening journey of how what seemed a hopeless pursuit, ended in a platinum record deal and one of the greatest live performance rock acts in history.
I’ve always wanted to go to Vienna, attracted by the music, the architecture, the history and of course the gigantic pretzels. Recently, I had that chance and took a slow train from Zürich to Vienna. The almost 8 hour ride in itself was an interesting one, traveling along the Swiss countryside, through the tiny country of Lichtenstein and over the snow capped Austrian alps.
Going in winter other than the cold, it was dark by 4pm, which was another thing to get used to. It would feel so late, but not even be close to dinner time. This completely messes with your desire to eat!
In Vienna, I started my day with a bus ride around the city centre, just to get a bit of a handle on the layout before adventuring out into the city. What caught my attention right away was the stunning architecture and the prolific number of buildings of the same period. In many old cities, you get a few really amazing historic buildings. However, in Vienna, it’s absolutely covered in them. There’s nothing more stunning than seeing street after street of amazingly designed buildings and churches that have been well-maintained over centuries.
These classic stylings are contrasted with gritty punk style graffiti plastered over the underpasses and bridges around town as well as the stunning modern high rises bathed in glass. After a lap around town, I found myself at the Opera House. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go to the opera, but that’s definitely on my to do list for next time around. From the Opera House, my next stop was the Schönbrunn Palace. The moment I walked through the gates, I was stunned! This was the most impressive palace I’d ever seen.
The Schönbrunn Palace was built in the 17th Century and was designed by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and became the imperial palace for the Austrian kings who also had a successive reign as Holy Roman Emperor until the position and title was dissolved in 1806. Whilst I won’t go into all the historic details of the Holy Roman Empire and its emperors, needless to say, it was often a poison challis at odds and in conflict with the Pope and all his cronies. Such an important position however, require an important house and Schönbrunn is certainly a house suitable for an emperor. It was even nice enough for Napoleon in which to take up residence for a little bit when he was invading all of Europe. Had he stayed and not tried to invade Russia, the world might be very different today.
From the later Middle Ages, right through till the beginning of WWI, Austria was a military power house and one of the strongest central powers in Europe. However, it wasn’t just the military power for which Vienna was a hub. Due to the wealth that came with empire and trade, the Austrian emperors used a significant amount of this wealth to promote the arts. Mozart was a favourite of Empress Maria Theresa who discovered his talent and helped to promote it by putting him on a retainer. However, as you can see from the architecture throughout Vienna, art, design and culture have been a vitally important part of life in the city.
Inside the Palace itself, the walls, ceilings and floors are designed and painted in the most intricate and bold way. No doubt much of it was to impress guests coming to the Palace for functions, but regardless of the motives, it’s left an amazing legacy for the world. Without such patronage, countless musicians and artists would never have been able to follow their dreams. Instead they would have had to get boring awful jobs sweeping muck off the pavement, as flushing toilets had yet to be invented.
Since you weren’t allowed to take photos, you just have to go there yourself to see how stunning this Palace really is. The high ceilings, the grandeur of the dining rooms and bedrooms and the sheer scale of the structure is mind blowing. However, the room in which Mozart played his first concert is quite humble in comparison.
Outside the Palace, the gardens are extensive and you could spend a whole day just walking up and down the immaculately kept grounds. There’s even a zoo next door and some amazing greenhouses with exotic tropical and desert plants and wildlife.
Even though the Schönbrunn is the grandest of the palaces in Vienna, it’s actually just one of many. Although quite impractical as houses these days, various other palaces have been turned into museums and galleries which house some of the most stunning artworks I’ve ever seen. The Belvedere Palace (which is closer to the centre of Vienna) has an amazing art collection, including works by Klimt and Van Gogh. No matter how I describe these works, it will never do justice to actually seeing them yourself. This is really the key point to any place which has cultural experiences different from your own. Without going there and experiencing it for yourself, you can never truly understand the history, the lives that were lived and the amazing talent that artists, designers and musicians brought to the culture of a nation that has out lasted centuries of turmoil, war and everything else that goes with the human condition.
For me, I only scratched the surface of what Vienna had to offer, but if you want a truly unique and amazing experience of history, art and music, then Vienna is the place to go. It’s worth doing a bit of reading up beforehand to give you a greater picture and context of how and why Austria became such an important central power in Europe, but well worth the time as once you have this context, everything else makes far more sense.
I’m always amazed at people who can speak multiple languages. I mean two is awesome, but on my recent travels around Europe, I’ve run into so many people who speak 3-7+ languages and they transition from one to another so smoothly.
As a native English speakers, we tend to be rather lazy when it comes to learning other languages and rely on the fact that someone else has learnt English wherever we go. However, as I found in Japan, the further away from Tokyo, the less likely this is and you find yourself pointing at pictures on menus and smiling a lot.
Europe is quite different though, as it’s a rich mix of cultures and languages due to the open boarders of the EU and the fact that national boarders have been quite fluid for centuries due to trade and of course constant warfare between church and state and state and state and frequent incursions by barbarians, the French and the Germans.
Although I survived this trip without mentioning the war, being a Fawlty Towers fan, it’s always on the tip of my tongue when in hotels and when I did an exchange to Germany when I was still at school, I managed to unintentionally give my host family a present from Australia, which had the El Alamein Fountain on it, which was the battle in which my host’s father fought. Thankfully, it was taken as nice gift, rather than the Fawlty Towers faux pas that it was.
Over the past couple of months, I started refreshing my German in preparation for my trip. The ability to do this on your phone is tremendous, getting daily reminders to do my language session. However, the deeper I delved into the training, the more limited I found it to be. Other than some great reminders and the ability to learn new words, it doesn’t give you the training nor the real world practice needed to converse with native speakers.
As soon as I landed in Switzerland, I had to switch up my mind into German mode. (No, that doesn’t mean I wanted to annex the Sudetenland). It meant I had to focus on what was being said far more actively than I would normally in English. The concentration it took to pick up what was being said was also far greater than being able to flick through questions and match words on an app. As with most things digital, they’re a great help, but no substitute for real world interactions. Suddenly, you’re trying to communicate with people who are fluent and speak far quicker than an AI on any app.
However, despite this challenge, the immersion in the language and culture of the countries made it far easier to learn than playing on the phone. Being surrounded by native speakers, I pushed myself to speak German despite being uncertain of words. I constantly found myself saying half sentences, not quite knowing what a certain word was, or what to say next to complete the sentence. However, the easy option would have been to speak English and not bother, but where’s the fun in that?
Again, this is another fear that needs to be faced or comfort zone boundary that needs kicking down. Sure, it feels weird and awkward that you’re going to say the wrong thing in the wrong way, but hey, lots of people say the wrong thing in their native language. People are more forgiving when it’s your second one. Thankfully I didn’t ask anyone any stupid questions of which I’m aware!
Despite only spending a few days In Switzerland and Austria, I found myself picking up on so many different words, mannerisms and even slang in different regions. I could understand more about what was going on around me and even felt increasingly comfortable about speaking in German. If I’d taken the lazy and easy option, I would have learnt absolutely nothing.
If you’re learning a language, or want to, then the best way to get started is through some lessons combined with some sort of digital trainer. However, to truly gain a handle on the language, you really need to immerse yourself in every way possible by travelling to a native speaking country and only using that language to communicate. It might be challenging to begin with, but so rewarding when you do.
A short one this week, just to let you know that the Xperiential Education Podcast is Live!
The first two episodes are out and another will go live tomorrow! It’s been a wonderful educational experience for me traveling to meet the different educators and cover a huge range of topics and educational contexts. Please join us on this great journey for updates and some key links check out the website & twitter feed:
Web - www.xperiential.education
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/experientialeducationpodcast/
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If you’re running a cool experiential education program, please get in touch, I’m always searching for great new ideas for shows and exploring different techniques and strategies for experiential education.