Life Stories and Lessons About Life

In a previous post I described how participating students interviewed someone from their neighborhood aged 50 years or older (TAPPING INTO THE KNOWLEDGE AND PERSPECTIVES OF NEIGHBORS). In those interviews students gained a new perspective on their neighborhoods. They also learned about and from the life stories of those they interviewed.

Given that students were asked to find out how the person they interviewed came to be there, the conversations naturally elicited stories related to the person’s past. Echoing a major theme of the Out of Eden Walk, several of these stories involved movement or migration—for example, from Pakistan to India after Partition; from Russia to the United States via Israel; from Nigeria or India to East London; and from Hong Kong to Vancouver. Sometimes the border crossings were more local: from one East London neighborhood to another, for instance.

As Jessica mentioned in her post STORIES WE INHERIT, STORIES WE CREATE, a number of students picked up on their families’ migration histories when they were asked to connect themselves to a bigger human story. In this interviewing activity, which was completed several weeks earlier, some students discovered new aspects of their family’s past. Maggie from Massachusetts noted:
From this interview I learned a lot about my father and my neighborhood. I learned about the many places my father lived and I learned about the ethnicity changes within my neighborhood. It was really interesting to hear about his previous life and the different places he lived!

Maggie’s classmate Kalia, whose discussion of her family’s Hawaiian ancestry featured in Jessica’s blog, learned a great deal by talking to her uncle. One thing she learned was that someone who has known other parts of the world can find interest in the local: “It was kind of interesting hearing him talk about this subject because I haven’t really broken out of my shell to talk to my uncle before. It really tells me about how someone who’s lived such a glorious and experienced life can appreciate a small busy street”. Mollie, from Dagenham on the outskirts of London, spoke to her grandmother. Mollie drew a different life lesson: that people can remain fundamentally constant despite changes to their environments.
I learned from my Nan that the changes of this area she has seen some are the worst and some are for the better. But she has still remained the same woman she was, strong independent and loving the only thing changing for her is the house she lives in.

Meanwhile, Shinelle wrote movingly about her conversation with a gardener in a Mumbai Park during which she was impressed by his experiences and his understanding of the world around him:
Besides the obvious information about the advantages of India’s modern advances and the disadvantages of population, corruption, etc, i learned that wisdom and an education are two different things. You don’t HAVE to go college to gain knowledge about things that interest you. XXXX said that he has connected this knowledge with his surroundings and makes an effort to change his environment every day. He is so humble and quiet …
He wears plastic slippers and old clothes. I learned that i will never again judge people based on their education or by their appearance. Life is a greater teacher than any school or university and we must meet and ask questions of many people because everyone has a story to tell…

In an earlier post FELLOW TRAVELERS ON LIFE’S JOURNEY, I noted that young people are developmentally primed to consider their own lives, identities, and values. If this interviewing activity helped students to appreciate that they can learn a great deal by listening to the life stories of their elders then it my opinion it was very worthwhile.

One comment

  1. Paul Salopek · · Reply

    The students’ observations are very moving. Thanks, Liz.

    On Mon, Jul 8, 2013 at 6:51 PM, Walk to Learn

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