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Where are they now? Alumna Johanne Mellergaard

Johanne (Tribe 14, Denmark) is on an adventure, somewhere she would have never expected. A journey to design learning journeys, and to implement what she learned during the program at Knowmads Amsterdam last year. Where? Hanoi, Vietnam, where she is a part of the Knowmads Hanoi team.

We Skyped with her in November to ask a few questions about her voyage from traditional university in Denmark, to Knowmads in Amsterdam, to Knowmads in Hanoi.

What brought you to Knowmads?

Pursuing bachelor’s degree in communication and media in University, I felt like something was missing. I was in my last half-year of the degree, and was trying to see myself doing the master’s, and something wasn’t right; I just couldn’t imagine myself going through with it.

The heavy feeling of doing two more years of the same thing was accompanied by a feeling of needing something new: to be actually DOING something, and experimenting more, and being creative. I needed more learning by doing than I found at university, which is, of course as everyone knows, very much food for the brain. I found myself searching for something more, but not knowing what it was.

One night I couldn’t sleep because I was worrying about what I was going to do in a half-year when my bachelor’s was done. I found Knowmads online, and I had a weird feeling that it spoke to me. My first meeting with Knowmads, I was drawn to the learning journey. I knew I wanted to learn and grow, but in a different way than I could do at my current studies.

How did you end up in Hanoi?

During my time at Knowmads Amsterdam, I started really connecting with learning and education.

That was the thing that came back to me all the time in the beginning, that I had this burning, burning little thing inside of me when the discussion was about education and learning.

I found this spark at Knowmads, and during December, Guus was trying to poke me and saying “What about Knowmads Hanoi? Maybe they need some people there to collaborate with”.

I was like “No, I’ve just moved to Amsterdam,” and there was a lot going on, so I didn’t think too much about it then.

Then during the closing of my time at Knowmads I was thinking “What’s next, what’s now?”

I wanted to apply and explore everything I had learned.  Three options came up: stay in Amsterdam, go back to Denmark and try to figure out how to use my learnings there, or go traveling and take the Knowmads Hanoi possibility seriously.

From there, the plan started to develop. Connecting with the team in Hanoi, I had more and more of a feeling of “Okay, this is an opportunity to go in this direction, learn, and DO something in the field. If I don’t do it, I’m gonna look back at it in five years and say, ‘Why on earth did I not take this opportunity to go to Hanoi?’”

This is something I needed to do, and an opportunity that I might only get this time. In in the end, this was why I bought the ticket.

How was the transition from being a student to a facilitator?

During my time at Knowmads Amsterdam, I got some great opportunities to try out facilitation, something I had done a bit of before Knowmads, and it was something that really gave me energy. The transition from student to facilitator is rife with learnings. It’s really hard, and it’s really good.

Now I’m on the other side of the whole thing I just experienced in Amsterdam, trying to give people the same that I got. This was also really motivating to me, since I got a lot out of my own program. It’s learning how to do these learning journeys for others, and also being part of an organization and trying to develop it.

Somehow, I didn’t expect all the things that are involved, but it’s making me learn so much about organizational development and how to practice what you preach. That is for me a huge value, because that is integrity. If we can have an organization that practices all these things we want to invite others to take part in, that is extremely powerful. I find it interesting to explore that way of working: how to work within yourself and within the organization in the same way.

What skills did you develop at Knowmads that you’re using in your work in Hanoi?

A lot. I think of them as different levels.

There are so many skills from different workshops that surface when we’re doing different things. Right now, we’re doing Theory U and trying to incorporate that, along with elements from Deep Democracy, decision making, and circling; how to create a community, and how to create connection between people.

We use a lot of Art of Hosting, (we just had a training here as well). It’s about how to host a group, and the dynamics within the group.

Also on a personal level, coming to a place that is so different, and how to deal with change, and how to deal with the transition within myself as well. There’s a philosophy from our last workshop in Amsterdam about transition that has stuck in my mind: “Plan for an outcome but let go of attachment to the outcome.” I’ve been using it in my work; how to cope with the change that I meet, and practicing a variety of personal coping mechanisms:

What do I do when everything is too much? What is my outlet? Do I draw or write to reflect?

That is something I also learned the importance of at Knowmads Amsterdam, to reflect for myself personally.

Of course then I use all the facilitation tools I got at Knowmads Amsterdam, and the chances that I got to facilitate other people there.

Also I use NVC [Nonviolent Communication]; it’s to figure out how to come to this culture that is so different and actually be able to open up and work with people, and understand people within your work and also on a personal level.

And of course, you use it a lot because it’s the same DNA.

That was one of the craziest things, coming to a different world, and everything is different, but then you come into this place where you have a common language of everything, and it’s a common DNA, and you can understand everyone from Knowmads Hanoi on a deeper level instantly.

That is amazing to experience. Many things between Knowmads Amsterdam and Hanoi were different, but we can all connect as humans.

Johanne with her Tribe, Tribe 14, in Amsterdam










So I’ve very actively been using a lot of the things I’ve learned, from very basic skills like graphic facilitation to more personal stuff like how to deal with yourself when you’re in times of change.

What does your average day look like there?

I don’t think I have an average day. Every day looks different. That’s something I learn a lot from. Going to Amsterdam was also a step into uncertainty, but coming here and being a freelancer, coping with the risk of going into something you’re not sure how it will turn out, feels like the next level.

I’m doing different jobs in addition to Knowmads Hanoi, but within Knowmads Hanoi we’ve really been in a process of building a foundation, a common ground, and trying to look in the future: “What do we want to create [as an organization]?” There have been a lot of meetings and we’ve been using different strategies to come up with this structure that we want to use. Then we plan how we’re going to do workshops using the templates from Knowmads Amsterdam; identifying the purpose, needs, habits, and biggest takeaways.

So I don’t have an average day. Every week is different. It requires a lot of willingness to take risks and trust that it will bring us where we want to go. One thing I was afraid of before going to Amsterdam was being bored. I remember thinking “What jobs can I apply for?” and “What’s on the other side of this student life that was so safe and nice?” and I couldn’t really see myself on the other side of that. If I see my working life now, it’s true that it’s something else than boring–exciting—but it also comes with a lot of other things.

One of the things that I often think of is the illusion that I had that “if I do this-and-this educational path then I’ll end up with no worries, doing the same thing every day, and that’s good and that’s what it’s all about,” and then actually realizing “OMG, the learning journey doesn’t end”, and that you really must be open to new learning and growth and development afterwards as well.

And the thing is, if you’re serious about really creating your work, if you want to DO something, you also must put it out there for the world to see. No one comes to you to give you the tasks that must be done, so if you want to do something, you’re in the process from beginning to end. And in that process, you get creative, and that was one of the things I was seeking as well.

How do you feel stepping into post-Knowmads life?

The last thing that was said in the transition workshop, and I said it in my final presentation as well, was “Guys, fasten your seatbelts, because you have homework for life.” It doesn’t stop, you’re not finished, and you keep on learning and exploring for as long as you live.

Tribe 14 Christmas party – Knowmads Amsterdam

But I think the most important thing is that it’s something I really want to do. I still like doing online courses to dive into something, and that really comes from a place of motivation inside me, “Okay, I really want to be good at this, better at this,” and that joy of learning I found stays with me.

If I want to do something, I do something.

Taking the step to attend a school, whether in Amsterdam, Capetown, or Hanoi, where you’re not sure what you get out of it, and you don’t get a degree or a diploma that you can show to someone and they immediately know what you learned, means you’re really ready to take the chance: “Okay, I’m trusting my gut feeling that this is right for me, and I’m curious about this, and I’m going for it, and even if it means I’m letting go of my attachment to everything safe to jump into this new thing.”

The first step was Amsterdam, so I thought it wasn’t that bad; I can jump to Hanoi, and create something: my own life; my own job, and get better at what I’m curious about.

We wish Johanne all the best as she continues her journey to learn, teach, and inspire in creative new ways!

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