The Momentum of Transitions

By Andrea Delorey

A herd of wild horses gallops across the alpine tundra at the base of Cotopaxi’s snow-covered cone.

We stop dead in our tracks, breaking our conversation, immersed in the sound of hooves atop the nearly frozen ground. They ran into the brisk Ecuadorian wind as stars broke through the falling darkness.

They were freedom in its purest form.

Back at our lodge, talk turns to our own upcoming transitions. Classes here at our international school in Quito will soon end and we’ll all depart Ecuador, each heading for a new chapter.

Those wild horses set against a volcano backdrop have become my image for transitions — freedom juxtaposed with a massive peak to climb. As I step into the role of Youth Director with No Barriers, I’m often reminded of that sight and the feeling it evoked.

The space of a new direction envelops us in such excitement for possibility, such freedom to create, and opportunity to tackle new challenges. In times of transition, though, I find it’s essential to reflect — examining our past path guides the one we are entering.

I grew up in your typical, isolated suburban environment. I concerned myself with little more than social interactions and whom I’d be hanging out with at the corner McDonald’s on Friday night.

We thought far too much about our immediate surroundings, our own circle and far too little about any sort of “bigger picture.”

Like many adolescents, we looked for sameness in a land bursting with diversity. We assumed there were existing barriers that segregated us. But thankfully, I moved through some of these walls of separation and self-absorption.

As a junior in college, I was compelled to study abroad. I had never left the United States, but decided to sell my bright yellow VW Beetle and bus tables all summer to fund the decision.

For the first time in my life I was a foreigner, the only American living on my floor in an international dorm in Germany. Negotiating this identity was tricky, but with daily glimpses into each other’s lives, my dorm mates and I uncovered our similarities while also growing to appreciate our differences.

Seven months later, I walked back onto campus with a passport stamped full of crossed borders and an expanded mindset. I wanted more.

A 1988 trip through Eastern Europe pushed my boundaries even further. I remember feeling a passion for civic education ignite under gray skies. I watched downcast eyes, endless lines for rotting food, guards with guns, and a pervasive fear of expression.

There were the tears of the young East Berliner, Erich, who escorted us back from a local pub to the Wall. He was desperate to escape the oppression of his homeland, but to follow in our footsteps would have meant certain death.

At that moment, the reality of my own freedom sank in. The quest to protect the rights we as Americans enjoy became a part of me, as did the sense of responsibility that this citizenship carries.

I had perspective, a new mindset and a mission. I embarked on a career in education to help others find the same.

Teaching social studies became the tool I used to invigorate young people — to break down barriers in order to create an understanding of the larger world, linking youth to the responsibilities of citizenship and helping them discover how to translate ideas into action.

But textbooks and lesson plans wouldn’t be enough. I realized I needed to help my students explore outside the classroom walls to truly connect them with their place in the world.

I developed my practice to include experiential learning and have been lucky to educate students in places such as New York City and South America. Back in the United States, I worked hard to develop curriculum and most recently worked as an assistant principal.

Leading the Youth team here at No Barriers gives me the best chance to help students across all abilities and backgrounds. And, as we look to grow our reach and impact, I know our team is in for a big transition.

But I feel the most enthusiasm at the base of the mountain. And I take heart in feeling the momentum of those wild horses pushing me further.