Tales from Klein Jasedow (and Other Learning Communities in Rural Europe) Part 1
This August, half of Tribe 15 and several Tribe 14 alumni embarked on a journey to Klein Jasedow, where they partook in a gathering of learning communities from all over rural Europe. To crystallize participants’ insights, the Erasmus+ Project “Learning Communities in Rural Europe” compiled participants’ journeys into one storybook, Learning Journeys: How to Become Oneself.
It’s about our search as humans for the perfect place to exist, to connect to ourselves, and to nurture our full potential. It is our intrinsic nature to always seek different experiences and perspective shifts; to really explore what it means to be a human with all of our needs and wants.
Our own Saskia, Tomás, Kurt, Amber, Marciano, and Anna-Liisa all had their journeys recorded. This here serves as a snapshot in time of the personal transformation that goes on within the Knowmads program.
Part 1 of this series features Saskia, Tomás, and Kurt.
Go here for Part 2, featuring Amber, Marciano, and Anna-Liisa.
Saskia: Thinking About Blossoming
A functioning society is where everybody blossoms in her or his own way like the trees and flowers in a wild forest. Modern society seems to be multioptional, but in fact it blocks off a lot what does not fit into given schemes. Society is not about hearing all voices; a lot is excluded, and can’t find a way to blossom.
I have to think of an conversation with my mother when we were driving in a car last week: She told me that she just lost her job and feels so tired of looking for a new one. She is 55, physically tired; she would love to be on a pension, but this is not possible yet.
“I have to look for a job immediately, otherwise the people around me will judge me as lazy or as a loser”, she was
So I asked her: “But who is it in fact who will judge you, can you give a name?”
She started thinking, and only when we went name by name she realized that there was nobody who would care if she would take a few weeks off before starting to work again Nobody was judging her but herself. This is how the norms of society work; you apply them by yourself in an unconscious fear.
But who is “society”? If you ever think that society expects this or that from you it may be only yourself.
It is a big subject to ask for the calling—Is it only one thing that calls me? People tend to think that if you don’t have something like this in your life—this one thing you really feel called to do—your life is not meaningful. I don’t think that it works like this—that suddenly you have this one insight about the meaning of your life and then there is confetti and a great applause.
At Knowmads we think about what we want to bring to the world, but today I am not closer to that question than at the beginning of my Knowmads-time. But I am closer to the feeling of who I am, how I am happy; how I can react in certain situations. This seems to me much more important than a specific goal for my life like “I have to open a candy shop in Amsterdam and there is the business plan.” There still can be a hole in the roof of the candy shop and then I have to fix it, I have to know how to cope with strange situations or with emotional challenges whatever my plan in life is.
It seems important not to think too much about life. I went to a nature quest recently, and the person guiding us gave us this metaphor: There is this flower striving towards the sun. If you ask the flower to think abut how it is growing, it will bend and scratch its head and forget about to look at the sun. So, the flower has a problem. People think too much instead of letting things happen how they are supposed to go. Maybe the essence of my call is to bridge different ways of
seeing things. I see a great value to create settings where people understand the value of more than one voice being heard or the importance of people seeing things differently. It is so precious to listen to what everybody has to say and to connect to nature, so that there will be a planet left, where we can have a society on.
Tomás: Embracing Not-Knowing
I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world. I was born in Buenos Aires in a big family of Italian descent. All my life I received a lot of love. My family didn’t struggle economically, so I had many opportunities and could travel a lot. I studied business administration and was convinced to find a good job after my studies.
One thing that really changed my life happened while I was working for the government in Buenos Aires in a program on social and urbanistic integration. Its aim was to integrate and develop “Villa 31”, the largest and most notorious informal settlement in Buenos Aires. This “villa miseria” or “slum” is located next to a thriving business district. For six years I walked along its boundaries and hoped that I wouldn’t get killed or robbed.
I started to work there by chance. In the beginning it was a three-month job. Afterwards I had planned to go Milan to study fashion design—How weird to think of it now! So I started to work on this program that is changing so many people’s lives.
There are 40 000 people living in Villa 31. They live in contexts and circumstances that are very different from mine, but I discovered that in essence, we are the same. When playing with children it was exactly the same as playing with my cousins. The differences come a bit later. I saw near-children and teenagers turned into zombies by drug abuse. I saw people vegetating in the streets. It was shocking. I always knew I was lucky, but I hadn’t known how lucky I really was. I have always been a social person but suddenly the miseries of other people had faces. This was a wake-up call!
So, I decided against going to Milan and continued working on the program for another year and a half. It was an amazing time. Although it was not my dream job, I was glad to do it.
In my time in university I thought it to be a normal thing to work for money, but in the Villa 31 I felt for the first time that I was really working for something larger than myself. This changed my view on work and economy. It is still a research trip for me to find a meaningful field to work. What are my main abilities? Can I specialize myself?
Through my uncle’s recommendation I learned about the alternative business school Knowmads in Amsterdam. I decided to go there to find more orientation and ask myself: What is important to me? What are my gifts? What do I want to bring into the world?
My best times were when I connected with other people. I always loved talking to people from different countries and backgrounds. I have always been awful at formal education. In school or college, I flunked every single subject except gym classes. But now that I am on a different way of learning, it feels so right, so natural. I feel safe and accepted. I never had that much difficulty in accepting who I was, but maybe that was because I had never given that much attention to who I really was. Now I am getting to know that guy better.
From what I learn these days, even more questions arise. The future is even darker than before. Not in the negative sense but in the sense of not knowing what will come. I really like that. In Buenos Aires, I went to theater classes for five years. And I found out that there are a lot of similarities between impro theater and alternative education, because the art is so personal, so subjective, that there is no right or wrong. Once you find something that is true-you, artistically, it is really nice. I want to improvise and listen to what is there. Even though I am having more doubts than ever before and the future is more dark and blurry than before, I am gaining confidence. Not because everything will be fine—I don’t know that—but because I am being true to myself.
In the next year I will travel a lot and try to make it in big cities in all parts of the world: try to find work and get to know new people. After having been to Klein Jasedow, this small rural community in Northeast Germany, it is also an option for me to visit some communities.
I love being in international communities with a lot of different people, but to spend time in the countryside together with people who are rooted at their place also has a special quality. In Klein Jasedow I could run barefoot all the time and liked to be in nature. Some things were unusual for me like compost toilets. I found it amazing how the community is organised, and how many things we do in workshops like holding hands in a circle before a meal is a natural part of daily life. It seems that the people here are really connected to their feelings, to each other and to nature, and they found a way to make a living that is meaningful to them.
I really felt free there. I could be myself, there was no judgement, no unspoken rules. The unspoken rule was “Be yourself”. I think this is an important thing for any place of learning, may it be in the countryside or in a big city.
Kurt: What Am I Doing Here?
I want to talk about my personal learning journey. I am a nomad and I am at Knowmads.
My personal learning journey started when I was ten. I was born in Romania during Communist
times. Life was pretty much as here in Klein Jasedow: We had animals, multiple generations living together; very strong family ties. I was lucky to have grown up in the countryside in a very caring and protected environment. However, we were a minority of Austrian descent in the Romania region Siebenbürgen who spoke a dialect that had not evolved for 300 years. Life in Romania was hard for us.
So my parents emigrated in 1988 when I was ten. I was taken out of a protected environment and
taken into a rough new reality, which was called Germany. We left with two suitcases, leaving behind houses, property, and possessions, and started from scratch again. I just noticed a few years ago that my parents had to navigate through a completely different environment.
Being in puberty back then I had a pretty hard time. My parents told me you need to go to school so you will have a better life than we had. That’s what I did. I went to school and university and got a well-paid job with an international company.
I left my parents at twenty-one and have lived in so many countries since then. My last station was Chicago in the United States where I was working for six years in a very strategic high position as an engineer for an international corporation.
Two days ago, we did an interesting exercise: Take three sheets of paper: yesterday, today and tomorrow. Then write stories on them and combine them. I put a few notes down without giving it much thought. The task was to find out the pivots, the points in time that made changes to your life. I realized there had been two such points.
I had a good friend in Berlin who just got married and had his first child. He just went back to a normal job from being a freelancer. He worked from his home office and the job was okay and very well paid. I thought: “Wow that’s a lot of money for staying at home and spending time with your family!”
Before I went back to the US, I went to two friends’ weddings in France and Spain. Before that, I spent a ten-day holiday in rural France. As I was sitting one night I thought: “What the f*ck am I doing?! I am working seventy hours a week, am living out of suitcases, without friends, family, and vacation when I could have a beautiful life in Europe!”
Two weeks later I quit my job and started to make a long list: I wanted to go to Asia, to South America, I want to go back to the Alps, and so on …
As life happens, it always turns out differently, I did not do a single thing from my list. Instead I went to Africa to work as a consultant in rural development. This was the second thing that opened my eyes. I asked myself: “What the hack is going on in this part of the world?!”
I was exposed to a lot of poverty, bribery, violence and death. And I saw how important knowledge was.
Returning back from Africa I wanted to set up my own company doing knowledge transfer between industrialized and third-world countries. For several reasons it did not work out.
So I went briefly back to the US where I volunteered in coaching. Having lunch with a colleague, she told me about Kaospilots. I was all enthusiastic.
She said: “You should try Knowmads!”
I checked out the website. There was a lot about entrepreneurship that resonated strongly with me. There was also a lot about self-development. I thought, “Self-development, what’s that for? I don’t need that!”
But the opposite was true. I scrapped all my business ideas and for me the most important thing at Knowmads turned out to be self-development. That is to say, I was struggling quite hard. I came from an environment where I used to have a say, my voice counted. All of a sudden I was out with those hippies, talking about feelings and emotions. After the first month, we had a pitching event where companies came in and presented themselves. I was sitting in the audience thinking, “What, I should work for free?! Are these guys crazy?!”
But then I realized that I had decided myself to leave my comfort zone and to look for connections and community rather than high payment and hierarchical structures.
There is a little story that illustrates the social aspect of Knowmads: Accommodation in Amsterdam is quite scarce and I am a very lazy person. So I waited until the very last day before I had to finally move out of my room. I then realized that I had to ask for help. I had never asked for anyone’s help. So we started a project called tribal coach surfing. The rules were: one night, one person, one coach, one coaching. That was how I got to know the 16 people from 11 countries of our Tribe. Finding a family and making a home is very important for me as I haven’t had a home for 25 years.
At Knowmads, I have embarked on a very good learning journey and gained a lot from alternative eduction. However, if someone told me conventional schools and universities suck, I would say I beg to differ. I believe both have a right to exist. It is important to have conventional and alternative ways of education and to integrate alternative values into conventional settings.
An important lesson from Knowmads is that the world is not black and white. One of the most impressive things ever was an exercise I did back in the US called perspective work: Tell me something about yourself which is not true. And once you told me that, I ask you to think twice and tell me what is true about it nonetheless. Because the closer you look you find what’s true about the things you think are not true.
It is good to be in a heterogenic pool of people because they trigger each other. And I know at Knowmads I trigger a lot of people. I learn from their feedback and at the same time I believe they are learning a lot about themselves through me.