We Learn Best When We’re Waiting “In Between”
Monday, August 26, 2019
The following post was written by Rachel Christensen, Assistant Director of USD's Center for Peace and Commerce, in April 2019 and later updated in August 2019.
Teaching In Between - Rachel Christensen | Ashoka U Big Idea Talks
Learning is just a series of border crossings.
Borders are everywhere, sometimes invisible. When we cross, we change our thought process. We start on one side and need to cross to the other. But often, we need to go back and forth, sometimes daily.
Think about all the borders you face in your life.
See, borders are just obstacles to overcome. They’re meant to be crossed. We’re not supposed to block them or hide behind them, but rather welcome people across.
There’s an international border a few miles from here. I know our first thought is often to our Southern Border, but I’m actually speaking of a coffee shop. At the corner of Fairmont and El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego, sits the Dojo Café.
The Dojo Cafe: A Place for Coffee, Designed for Border Crossings
Dojo Cafe Founders Tayari Shorter and Carlos McCray dreamt up this community watering hole. They brought life into this place where youth with barriers to employment are safe to come at 3 p.m., enter through the colorful fence, and explore their dreams and future in an emotionally safe and encouraging environment. It’s a gathering place where different generations can share smiles, coffee and experience.
I was drawn to the Dojo because it’s a place between two worlds. Carlos and Tayari are helping people cross from a world of "no, you can't" to a world of "yes, you can.”
See, the Dojo Café was designed for and by this community, so it acts as kind of a portal between the sometimes grim realities the people face at home, school and on the street, and the visions of success they have for their futures. This particular third space—neither home nor work nor school — is appropriately colorful, lively, and always full of music and laughter.
Carlos and Tayari teach customer service as human connection: how to have a conversation; how to have rich, reciprocal relationships. They live like they know learning is just a series of border crossings.
But Carlos and Tayari are good at this because they can remember crossing. Let’s look at Carlos, for example, long before he was a guide. He didn’t understand why he was in school or how history or math were going to benefit his life. He questioned it all. And ditched. And turned it into a game. In high school, he figured out how to get B’s so people could get off his back, then did the same in college and graduate school. Then he got a job in social work and realized people expected him to know things, even things about history and math. They expected him to know that there was a connection all along between education and real life, but he didn’t know how to cross.
How I Became a Borderlander, Myself, and What I Learned
For me, my new perspective came when I was in college here in San Diego.
I had crossed with my family as a small child, so I knew I was about 15 miles from the busiest international border crossing in the Western Hemisphere and I could not stay away.
In college, I started crossing almost weekly, with friends, family and classmates. New friends soon had me crossing to attend concerts or see a movie or simply eat tacos. Over four years of college, I crossed the border around 100 times, spending about 800 hours of my college life in Tijuana and about 200 hours in the wait to cross back.
See, coming back from Mexico to the United States takes a little longer than crossing from north to south. Although I imagine many of you don’t love waiting in long lines, I’ll tell you that actually this border wait was at first fun. I was with my friends, and we had lots to talk about and see. Over time, it became inconvenient, often standing between me and my plans back in San Diego, or making me late for birthday parties and final exams.
Nevertheless, something became clear over time. This pause, this waiting in between, was a great teacher. I was being educated in the in-between. I grew more in this waiting time — processing what had happened during my time in Mexico, and preparing for the crossing back — than any other single experience. And the greatest gift I gained, of course, was an ability to translate from one context to another, one language to another, one set of cultures to another. Translation became second nature, and I joined the over 100,000 people who cross every day, communing, shopping, visiting friends and family. I joined the ranks of the “borderlanders,” the people who live in not on one side or the other, but people who live in between- embracing a sort of “both-and” lifestyle.
How many times have you been in between?
How the Border Informs Social Innovation at the Kroc School
My experience of learning between Tijuana and San Diego became a metaphor for my life. I suppose it was natural that when I started working in higher education, I knew I had to teach students to be increasingly comfortable in their own in between.
My work at the University of San Diego is with student social entrepreneurs. I see my work teaching social innovation as a tool for various ends, not all of them resulting in a business startup. Essentially, I teach students to cross. Students are typically socialized in a world where the norm is to join an existing organization, and we invite them to consider a world of building something. They are raised to accept the world for what it is. Instead, we invite them to explore a world of creating a new future.
We believe in educating in the “in between”, We act as guides and model living more expansively. Introducing our students to lives and ways on the other sides adds spice and flavor to all of our lives. It challenges our beliefs about what is good and beautiful and best. The benefits of living in between borders are also insanely practical, making us and our students, better suited for the jobs and problems of the future.
Learning could be considered an everyday magic of crossing borders. Living in “the and”.
Be a border crosser, be a guide who can navigate different contexts, languages and cultures with grace and skill, and who can help others do the same. Make a lifestyle of bridging borders and boundaries. Educate at the border. Educate how to cross. Look back to see who might come with you next time. Once you start seeing borders, you can’t stop seeing borders, and once you start crossing them, you can’t stop.