This weekend I was part of a group who spent the weekend immerse in nature, all being amazed by the natural wonders that Eastern North Carolina has to offer.
While participants were loaded with snacks for the 5 hour drive, cameras, binoculars the trip leader, Laura Domingo had a plan in mind. Not everybody had fancy cameras with telephoto lenses or “top of the shelf” binoculars. When the time came to admire nature her way to interpret was to say, “put your gear down and behold”.
This is something that she mentioned at the beginning of the trip, asked participants to slow down, do not stress about getting the perfect picture every time and “let it go”.
Giving people the directive to relax, do not stress, and enjoy the moment, gave all participants an opportunity to crete their own emotional connections.
While some interpreters get caught sharing their knowledge with factoids and scientific names, this was a powerful technique for participants to create their own meaning and connections.
How do let your participants make their own connections to the resource?
Wow! I feel like I blinked and we are already on our last month of training classes for the High School Intern Program! Since January, we have been training twenty wonderful, highly motivated students from all over the tri-county area. These twenty students were chosen from a pool of around a hundred applicants. Throughout the training classes, they have been tasked with team building activities, building a resume and a cover letter, learning basic biology and taxonomy, practicing interview skills, giving an oral presentation, and completing a large homework assignment. Their will to learn and motivation to succeed is so refreshing to me. Each training class has been unique and challenging in its own way. We have gone to Riverbanks Zoo, gone canoeing in a blackwater swamp, and gone crabbing in the salt marsh. After the training classes are over, only ten students will be chosen for a competitive, 8 week, paid summer job at the South Carolina Aquarium. It will be a difficult decision for us to make.
I am an Education Interpreter III at the SC Aquarium and I wear many different “hats” when it comes to my job. I can honestly say that hands down my favorite part of my job is leading the High School Intern Program with my partner in crime and co-worker, Marzio Gillis. It is extremely rewarding to be able to share my passion for the environment and marine biology with young people that are also interested in science and animals. It is so great to be able to have a small part in their career path and lead them towards bigger and better things for their future. All of the students that are in the grant funded program must qualify for free and reduced lunch. This gives underprivileged students who are interested in science a chance to get experience in this field. Nine times out of ten internships and experience in this field are only gained through volunteering. The fact that these kids can get experience and make money at the same time is extremely valuable to their future. Most of these kids need a job during the summer and cannot afford to get experience for free. Not only are we influencing their future career plans, but we are also sharpening their basic life skills which is imperative to their success later on in life. It is my honor to be able to lead this program and work closely with Marzio to help shape these student’s futures.
Questions are wonderful tools. I often use them to see if my students are getting a concept or to get them to think about something in a different way. However, my favorite use of a question is to open the door into another person’s life. Questions have a way of breaking that awkward silence. They allow us to make real connections to others and sometimes turn strangers into friends.
I recently met a park ranger from New Zealand who was on the set of The Lord of the Rings movies from day one. I love the books and movies, so it was great fun talking to him about the experience. I was full of questions. He happily provided answers. But I received more than information through our exchange. A bridge was built between us. We connected. And it all began with a question. What wonderful stories have we missed because we failed to ask a few questions?
In interpretation, questions are paramount. They help us to know people so we can relate to them and discover their interests. My wife, Lisa, is a master of asking questions. She can know more about someone in ten minutes of conversation than I will have found out in six months of knowing them. In fact, she was the one who taught me the phrase “The Art of the Question.” She highly values people, so even though it’s not a job requirement, she makes connections with people wherever she goes.
Lisa and I recently had an experience that reinforced the need to ask questions. We were visiting with a federal employee from California. Lisa and I had never met her so we both asked lots of questions. After about ten minutes of conversation, we learned a lot about California, Yosemite, and the drought they’ve recently experienced. We learned about her job history, her interests, and her professional accomplishments. We were happy to get to know her. But the sad thing? When we parted ways, that person knew absolutely nothing about us. Nothing. True connections can only be made through a profound interest in others. And expressing interest in others almost always begins with the art of the question.
Stories are central to our profession. I thought this sphere would be a cool space to highlight artful storytellers. I’ll start with Utah.
Many folks I talk to have never heard of the guy. I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for Ani DiFranco. You may have heard of her. She’s a musician and founded the independent record label Righteous Babe, a move that has afforded creative freedom. Well, two of her more than twenty records feature the stories of Utah Phillips. A resident of Nevada City, California, when he was alive, Utah collected stories all over the country from people often overlooked by society that he felt deserved a place in our cultural fabric. He mixed these storylines with accounts from his own life.
My favorite story weaves an encounter he had as a child facing the humiliation a family friend and his father experienced with racism and a narrative about his own involvement with international conflict. These events are told through the context of creating memories with his own son. You can listen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fClwusLryq4.
Working with themes of heroism, struggle, equality and independent thinking, Utah addressed American History in a style both unabashed and contemplative. He used humor to make points, not just for laughs. He put energy into seeking out individuals that were on the frontlines of events and movements that shaped a history we all share as Americans. That’s a lot of effort. His passion was undeniable. I find that level of dedication and skill inspiring.
Thanks Utah and thanks Ani. Thank you too to interpreters for all you do. The stories we weave connect people to the intrinsic value of our sites. That creates a magical feeling for those who get it. Discovery is powerful.