Undergraduate institution: Northeastern University
Undergraduate major and minor: Communication Studies, Sociology
Graduate studies (year, institution, degree):
2010, Bank Street College, Dual Masters in Early Childhood General and Special Education
Personal website: katefriedman.co
What have you been up to since attending Umbra?
After Umbra, I returned to Boston to finish my degree at Northeastern University. Then, I moved back to NYC, began running a summer camp, and then an after-school program. I realized how much education meant to me so I decided to get my Masters and begin teaching. I knew I wanted to affect big change in education so I set myself up to teach in a variety of settings around New York for about 10 years, but always kindergarten special education. This gave me a broad perspective and I learned much about how socio-economics affect school districts and just how unequal public school services can be. I began studying other educational philosophies and stumbled upon unschooling, which is the idea that everyone should make decisions about their own learning- what, when, and how they learn. One of the tenets is that no one should have the authority to tell you what is best for you to learn. This fascinated me, especially as someone who has always forged my own path. I found an environmental community in the forests of southern India that practices unschooling and I moved there to be the director of their NGO for a year. It was amazing. I met local families, became a fixture in nearby villages, and learned so much about humanity and how connected we all are. I also took up bicycle touring and have done some 1,000-mile trips all over the world.
How has studying abroad impacted your life both personally and professionally?
I was always a curious, open-minded person. Studying abroad at 19 years old changed my perspective about how similar humans are to each other in terms of communication and values, regardless of other background factors, including language. I also developed a fearlessness when it comes to traveling, hopping on trains, talking to strangers, and exploring a place like a local as well as a tourist. Living abroad also taught me how to maintain friendships from afar, both with my US friends and then with my international friends. I am more connected to the people who matter and not just the people I see everyday.
What are you doing now?
I am back in New York City, working with organizations that intersect education, the arts, and the environment. I teach in a graduate school program for teachers, write for educational blogs, run online video classes, and create educational programming for public schools using recycled materials to make art. I also give talks at conferences and to school students regarding traveling and volunteerism, taking a gap year or studying abroad, bicycle touring, and unschooling.
Are you still in touch with the friends you made in Perugia?
I kept in close touch with friends the few years after I returned to the States. Now we send periodic emails. Those friends will always have a special place in my life and I feel closer to them than many family members, even if we don’t communicate often. The bond we developed while away included so many life-affirming moments- separation and anxiety, feelings of otherness and connectedness, exploration and adventure, many philosophical discussions, and independence and fearlessness.
What is one piece of advice you would give to prospective students thinking of studying abroad?
Bring a minimal amount of stuff and leave space in your suitcase/backpack.
What is one piece of advice you would give to students studying abroad (during or after their experience)?
Reflect about this experience on a regular basis while you are away. I wrote a reflection email that I sent to my 20 closest friends and family members on a weekly basis while I was away. (My mom has since compiled these into a small book!) It is a way to stay connected to those you love and create a record, in time, of your feelings and experiences. It is really hard to write the same way after the fact. When I read my reflections, I can see how I learned and grew through each new experience or relationship. This is a priceless record of your journey. (And if you do it digitally, it does not take up space!)