Reflections on My Saybrook Experience
When I left my job to start out on my own, after 4.5 years of working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in underserved communities in Ghana, I knew I wanted to work with people. My experience working in these communities brought me closer to people in a different way. I was slowly able to relate to what their needs were, and I found that they were open to sharing on the same. I came to learn about their capacity to appreciate the gifts of life even in the midst of little material possessions. As in many situations, some of the people were not even aware of their unique gifts.
Usually, it did not take finances to teach in ways that created awareness and helped people to discover these many gifts of life. Taking the time to talk to or smile at someone, making them aware of an innate skill that they had, showing them how to effectively carry out a task, the benefits of eating right, appreciating an existing relationship, and simply respecting each other; these and other interactions improved their lives psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes financially.
When I started working on my own, I began to pay closer attention to the people in the city with whom I interacted and worked, and to how they compare with those in the underserved communities. I noticed that people in the city who possessed or had access to more material things also were less open about their needs. In contrast to the people in the underserved communities, the people in the city hardly had any time to appreciate the natural gifts around them, yet they had the yearning to appreciate the gifts that nature has to offer. In what seemed like two different conditions, I found a common thread; both groups had the capacity to appreciate the gifts of nature. My experience in the underserved communities taught me that the people who were not aware of these natural gifts could be opened up to them and they could be helped to see and appreciate them as such. The realization of this need – to help others identify and appreciate their gifts -- is what inspired and motivated me to seek professional training.
My passion for ensuring that any lessons learned would serve for the long term came with the realization that training alone usually is not the answer to individual or organizational challenges, even when such training is well received. In my search to go beyond training, I discovered the field of organization development (OD), a pathway of inquiry thathelped me understand organizations better, and opened a new world for me. It helped me to develop a stronger approach to training as well as to develop alternative interventions to support organizations.
As I followed my interest to delve further into OD, it led me to join an international organization of OD professionals and academics. From this platform, I got inspiration to search for opportunities for further education in helping individuals and organizations. In 2011, while I was attending a professional OD meeting, I found myself drawn to a member of the profession whose approaches to organizational interventions, as well as her interactions with others, were rather unique and effective. She was the first person to inform me about opportunities at Saybrook University where she had obtained her PhD in Organizational Systems.
After seeking more information from the Saybrook University website, my attraction to this learning opportunity grew and deepened. I was drawn to the University’s vision and mission, which is grounded in the humanistic approach. I was won over by the fact that, within this unconventional orientation to learning, students could design a programme best suited for their needs. It was ground breaking for me to find, even at the PhD learning level, an approach that saw each human being is unique and that sought to harness that uniqueness.
It was not only at the academic level that I was drawn to Saybrook, but at the spiritual level as well. A couple of years before I decided to attend Saybrook, I had short-listed my PhD institutional choices to two other institutions, but could not commit to either of them for no apparent reason. However, when I made the decision to join Saybrook University, it felt right and I experienced a sense of peace.
Certainly, I faced some challenges during the application process to Saybrook included retrieving, collecting, and collating documentation that was not computerized, postage hiccups, and unavailable funding for tuition. Yet, to my surprise and that of many who knew what I was up against, I was able to obtain the needed information from my country while the Saybrook admission process was expeditiously carried out. My admission into the Organizational Systems doctoral program at Saybrook was a realization of a long held dream and to say that I was excited would be an understatement.
As an international student from Ghana, when I boarded the plane to actualize this dream, the excitement gave way to trepidation. I asked myself several questions; Have I made the right choice to study outside Ghana instead of within? Should I have chosen a UK-based university instead of one based in the US? Do I have all that I need to be successful? What kind of people am I likely to meet? Will I be able to fit in? These are but a few of the questions I asked myself during the 14-hour journey from Accra to Amsterdam and then to Washington DC.
When I finally made my way to San Francisco for the Saybrook new student orientation and residential conference, I immediately felt like I was in the right place. As I walked into the hotel where the conference and orientation were to take place, the environment was serene, and the staff was friendly and willing to meet my requests even at the late hour when I arrived. The pleasant interactions I had with fellow student participants and faculty members put me at ease. The student orientation and residential conference, though unconventional for me, was innovative.
I started developing relationships and in the process got to appreciate myself better while working with the team at Saybrook. The sessions appealed to and acknowledged my humanness. The content of the sessions was thought-provoking and I was able to find myself in nature, a first for me. I also found in the sessions that there was a balance of minds, hearts, and nature .
While participating in an exercise on events that have impacted the world within the last 5 – 10 years, it occurred to me as a revelation that the major events identified, the economy and technology, all had similar impacts on Africa and the USA even though they are different continents. This learning brought home to me that I had the potential of being an agent of transformation.
I was most intrigued by the concept of sustainability,a concept that I have found difficult to relate to outside the context of environment and organizational systems. I am therefore interested in further investigating, during my stay at Saybrook, how sustainability can be related to and used to benefit human lives.
Based on my experiences thus far, Saybrook University seems to live up to its humanistic tradition, and being a member of this community makes me feel like I am among family. There is a distinct connection among the students, staff and faculty. We engage in invigorating discussions during meals and our after program, non-formal sessions are full of laughter. Those sessions draw us even closer to each other such that I do not really miss being away from home for the entire week.
I know without a doubt that Saybrook University was indeed the right choice for me.