“Leaving our Edens”

Project Zero and Harvard University winds down over the holiday period and I and the rest of the team have been taking a bit of a break from all things Out of Eden Learn. However, we are really looking forward to entering a new phase of our journey as we welcome a new cohort of educators and students to our learning community later on in January. We will be sure to keep you informed of upcoming online information sessions.

In the meantime, for those of you who missed it, the Google+ Hangout organized by National Geographic on December 6 is available on their website here. Paul talks at some length about why he decided to undertake the Out of Eden Walk, how he prepared for it, and what the experience has been like for him thus far. He shared some memorable anecdotes, including the fact that at 120C in the desert his guide’s cell phone displayed the message “this device has reached its maximum operating temperature”. He also mentioned that he is still on his first pair of shoes and that he is particularly looking forward to walking through China, which he has never visited.

One of his traveling companions through Saudi Arabia, Ali al Harbi also joined in the conversation and had some moving things to say about the importance of the walk to him – though be warned that there were some connection difficulties down at his end.

Although it wasn’t really made clear during the Hangout, the 11th grade students from Crystal Lake, Illinois are participating in Out of Eden Learn (sadly, another Out of Eden Learn class from Canada had a last minute glitch and couldn’t make it to the conversation). Several of the things the students had to say spoke as much to their experience within our learning community as they did to their broader appreciation of Paul’s journalistic efforts.

One student noted that while he and his classmates usually learn through books, he was enjoying the opportunity to connect to the rest of the world and to learn about things that he doesn’t usually encounter.  Another student described how the Out of Eden Walk was taking her and her classmates out of their “comfort zones” and that having the chance to comment on other students’ posts was opening her eyes to similarities among her and other young people, be they from different states or countries.

One of her classmates added:

I was thinking about the name Out of Eden Walk. “Eden” is our comfort zone. On this journey called Out of Eden we walk out of ourselves and leave our inhibitions behind us. Paul, I’m sure as you were preparing you had second thoughts about doing this. It’s pretty cool that you are going out and actually doing this instead of staying behind and doing faster journalism that we are used to. One thing I’ve learned from this – we can never grow if we are stuck in our Eden … it’s very important for us to take that first step out of Eden and out of our comfort zone.

Paul was intrigued by this interpretation of his walk and noted that the themes of exile, identity, and human restlessness are central to his journey. He also observed that people can leave their “Edens” in very different ways – for example, through the arts or books or sports.  Later on, he returned to this theme in response to the following question received via Twitter: “What advice do you have for students to see beyond where they are living?”

Our horizons do shrink when we are in a rut don’t they? You have to be very awake. Doing what I’m doing is the easy way out. One thing that worked for me was reading. Books, good literature, words, stories exchanged with friends – you can pull yourself out of your daily existence through the words with others – they can take you any place your imagination wishes to go.

At the start of 2014 it might behoove all of us to try stepping out of our Edens and to connect with people and experiences we don’t normally run into in our everyday lives.  Participating in Out of Eden Learn offers one possible pathway – with the added advantage of fellow travelers and what Paul describes as the “wonderful sense of community” that is building up around his walk.

Happy New Year.

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