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February 23, 2010 / Ben Chun

Middle East Education Through Technology

A few weeks ago, I was wondering what to do this summer. It’s my favorite time of year, not only because of the time off, but also for the length of the days. The photons. Yes, teacher pay is low but three months of vacation during prime Northern Hemisphere light are not to be overlooked. Nor should they be used to try to make more money — if you can at all help it. I see it like this: the job is rough psychologically. If you’re going to work year-round, pick something that pays better. But you love teaching. So take the time off. Regroup. I love the city and getting out of the city and the country and getting out of the country.

Just as I was pondering this, my friend Aaron Bornstein pinged me about MEET. He’s been trying to point this thing out to me for about a year now and I’ve been too overwhelmed to listen. But as if someone designed a program to align perfectly with my interests on both small and large scales, the more I looked into it, the more it seemed like the right thing. (Thanks, AB.) It will be almost exactly 10 years since I travelled extensively over land in the Mideast, a self-directed post-college Grand Tour of the Mediterranean’s eastern edges. I’d never had a full-time job when I took that trip at age 22.

Bsharri, Lebanon. Tomb of Kahlil Gibran.

Since then, I’ve done a bunch of professional programming in situations that I was prepared for in widely varying degrees. Big corporate teams, startups, legacy codebases, greenfield projects, middleware, reusable components, analytics, databases, web interfaces, mobile, all that stuff. Great experience. But at a certain point, the cognitive dissonance between me wielding essentially all the privilege that exists to make money by typing and clicking versus the vast and multiform global, regional, historical, and environmental problems that people face daily leaning on my unexplored sense of guilt was too much. That’s when I got into teaching, which I did for two years in a dysfunctional urban high-poverty charter school. Those two years taught me more and pushed me harder than I’d ever imagined. I’m a different person because of what happened there, and glad for it. I’m also glad to now work in a well-organized large district school. The infrastructure is in place to do some good and I feel the pressure to live up to it.

So if you’re a summer program looking for someone with industry experience and a teaching background to come do some computer science stuff in service of larger social goals, I’m the big blinking thing on your radar screen. And if you’re wanting to take me to an interesting place for the summer and handle a lot of the details so I can focus on connecting with students and doing that ancient but modern thing, I’m ready to sign up. Which is exactly what I just did today, after some interviews and getting a formal offer from MEET — committing six weeks of 2010’s photons to as good a plan as I’ve seen for bringing otherwise alienated people together deliberately to move in the direction of better. From when I got out of college to when I got out of the industry, I couldn’t get my head around potential connections between myself and potential solutions. But now, without forcing it, here’s a natural synthesis and a great way to wrap the decade. I couldn’t ask for better.

3 Comments

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  1. Dad / Feb 27 2010 9:51 am

    clap clap
    – and thanks too, AB

  2. Shalom Ormsby / Jun 17 2010 9:15 am

    Brilliant decision, Ben… and an inspiring one. I also did a long wanderjahr in my 20’s, which was life-changing. Your post is a great reminder that we can do this anytime, at any period in our lives, and that it can be made even better by being of service to others in the process.

    Thanks for sharing your inspiring story. The world feels a bit bigger, richer, and sweeter in this moment…

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