I am nine days into a fifteen day “Frugal Innovation and Leadership Development” trip with 21 high school students representing 9 schools, and we are busting bubbles. Ironically, it is not because they have begun to question the India they are experiencing and that they are using terms like juxtaposition and corporate social responsibility; it is because today many had the courage to ask themselves, “How does India help me understand home?”
One of the greatest gifts of thoughtfully developed travel programming is a new lens through which to understand the complex social and economic relationships at home.
We educators often remind students that they live in a bubble. Usually this term is used to convey the privilege of those who seem to have easy accesses to both daily necessities and many luxuries. They are “safe in a bubble” and can ignore those who don’t have equal access; they are urged to pop their bubble and see the realities of life for others who may be within their sight but not their understanding. I would argue, however, that we need to reframe the bubble as a concept of insularity that prevents us from learning about and from one another. Instead of privileging highly resourced students further by offering them a “bubble” to keep or reject, we need to ensure that all students understand that a bubble simply prevents us from understanding others. All communities have bubbles, and all students need to learn tools to build relationships and work collaboratively instead of remaining in an insular space. The greatest bubble busted today: only rich people have access to bubbles.
India as a case study posited questions for our students that were universal in nature, and it was not hard to gently nudge them to map those questions onto their own daily lives. I suspect many will never forget India, but it may be because their memories of this trip include a new-found way of understanding and seeing “home,” not simply because they had access to a more nuanced understanding of a mysterious, colorful, spice-laden far-away land.
Innovation, it can be argued, occurs in the messy puddle of popped bubble boundaries. Social reform, I believe, begins in the angsty, confusing, guilt-ridden, angry at injustice, desperate for a way to break the cycle space we find beyond our respective bubbles. Whatever we call that moment, when we begin to see “the others” as essential participants in imagining a new idea, product, or way of life, we inevitably are moved to act. That action, in its most authentic form, is leadership.