June 11, 2014

Year Here: Community Building Across Oceans

Experience is reciprocal in nature.

We invite others into our experiences and strive to become a part of their experiences in an authentic way. Through that process, we develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and gain a better sense of empathy for our fellows.

With understanding and empathy, we stand a better chance of making a difference in our communities. But making a difference is not the job of any one man or woman. It’s a task that depends on a thriving network of like-minded people who work together to inspire and improve their surroundings. It’s a simple philosophy, really: by encouraging others, we lead more impactful lives ourselves.

At Experience Institute, community building is a vital skill that we incorporate into much of our curriculum. Over the course of the program, students develop the ability to establish meaningful connections with others, to develop trust and convey authenticity, and to nurture their personal and professional networks as they continue on after the program.

Establishing and growing meaningful connections isn’t just important for our students, though. It’s important to Ei as an organization that’s determined to change a well-established landscape: higher education.

We’ve been saying that school is changing—and it’s evident now more than ever. As we’ve faced challenges and created new solutions throughout our first year, we’ve discovered that we’re not alone. There are other individuals and organizations like us, dedicated to making changes and doing good.

Across the pond, Year Here is a challenging post-graduate leadership program in the UK, a social enterprise just planting its feet. When founder Jack Graham became dissatisfied with his career in international development, he decided to make a change. After winning the Evening Standard’s Ideas for London competition, he kicked off Year Here’s pilot program.

Led by a small team and guided by a brilliant network of advisors, Year Here is a six month long program that combines real-world experience with a faculty of experts. Through Year Here, students “embark on a journey of frontline service, social innovation learning and self-directed creative and entrepreneurial projects – all with the aim of tackling the thorniest issues of our time.”

The organization aims to create leaders who empathize with their communities and are able to instigate social change through tangible actions. Like us, Year Here is an organization rooted in providing students with opportunities to gain real-world experience through affordable alternatives to traditional higher education.

It’s encouraging to see the landscape of higher education populated with hopeful, ambitious programs. We’re navigating a difficult terrain as we continue to figure out what it means to build a school from scratch. What sort of foundation do we build on? What materials should we use? What are our best resources?

That last question is perhaps the easiest to answer: we are our own best resources. Success, like experience, is reciprocal in nature—and vast in interpretation. If we continue to encourage others in our community, we can ensure that the cycle of inspiration and growth continues through us.

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