Consulting the Oracle at Delphi

In the ancient times in Greece, people would seek out answers to their questions or gain insight into their future by going to the Oracle at Delphi.  The Oracle named Pythia, was a priestess who entered a trance-like state after inhaling the ethylene fumes so she could speak prophesy of the god Apollo.  This oracle was so well-known and sought out that Delphi was considered the center of the world.

All throughout time, people seek out answers to their questions and grasp for what the future may bring.  Whether we search ourselves, seek out God, visit soothsayers, or call the psychic hotlines (are these still even in existence?  I could be dating myself here) people look to find answers.  Songs were wrote about it (  It is even evidenced by the way we conduct scientific research.

In the 1950-60’s the RAND corporation developed a method of research to forecast the impact of technology on warfare (Helmer, 1967).  They gathered a group of experts and had them identify and generate ideas on what would happen.  This method is frequently utilized when no previous consensus exists on a particular topic.  The Delphi approach is helpful to build a foundation of ideas and a place to start with research, if there is little to none.

Counselor researchers have used this Delphi approach to identify key competencies in supervision and research.  It has also historically been used to identify current and upcoming ethical issues in counseling.  These steps may seem elementary, especially when looking in hindsight.  It is far from being that simple, as I am learning.

I am beginning my dissertation exploring compassion through a Delphi approach.  But rather than going to someone else to seek the answers to my questions (although ironically I am by doing a Delphi study), I am the one to speak those answers. My research is unique.  In a way, I will be like a modern-day Pythia getting ready to climb upon my tripod to prepare to dole out oracular findings.  I am excited to embark on this discovery and wonder what all I will learn.

My path on this journey is led by my faith and my education.  Both have developed me into who I am today.  Like the Indigo Girls lyrics say – “there’s more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line”.  I simply hope the whole process will bring me closer to fine.


Considering Compassion

Empathy is defined as having the capacity to have awareness of, or understand, what another may have experienced, thought, or felt.  As a professional counselor, being empathetic to my clients – and now also my students – is an essential trait and skill I am continually working on enhancing.  But I wonder, is empathy enough?

Hearing and witnessing another person’s struggles and trials is what is called for as a counselor.  However, in the profession it calls for a bit more than just being empathetic.  It is our desire to help others navigate those ups and downs in life that gets more to the heart of what we do. That desire to do something about another hurting taps into our compassion.

I think that compassion is our empathy for others put into action.  I also think that compassion is a trait we all have and can strengthen it as a skill.  The quote from Desmond Tutu, a South African cleric and theologian Nobel Prize winner, alerts us that should we be compassionate to be prepared for action.  He further states that compassion is demanding.  This is such a truth. Compassion is a call of action to our passion to help others.

“Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!” ~ Desmond Tutu 

I hope that we can all consider compassion over only our empathy.  So many things in this world leave us battered and bruised, but compassion can help change things.  Compassion for others, as well as compassion for ourselves.  Be kind.  Be compassionate. Consider what compassion is to you.

My One Word…the late edition

Many years ago, I was introduced to the concept of My One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen through my then boyfriend (now husband) and his family through Port City Church in Wilmington, NC.  The idea is that you take some time to reflect on yourself, identify characteristics or aspects of who/what you would like to become, and pick one word that will give you focus for the whole year.

By selecting one word, you will be able to experience growth and change through focusing on one representation over the year.  It is sort of like very concentrated singular form of a New Year’s resolution, only with a more positive outlook on how this characteristic can impact every area of your life; rather than the usual list of “things” to do for improvement.  There is a bit more to it than just that, but it is the quick overview of it.  I’m not explaining it thoroughly, but Mike and Rachel do a wonderful job in their book (which I highly recommend!) and walk you through each step with great examples.   Click here to find out a bit more.

It also takes the Christian perspective of seeing how God works in your life by using your word as a lens.  Choosing a word, keeping it in front of you as a reminder, journaling about your process and reflections is an awesome experience.  I have witnessed some amazing growth when committing to this for the whole year.  For the past year or so, I have not had a word that has really held traction.  I’ve been in graduate school (again) and have been very much steeped in self-reflection and growth. Nevertheless, I’ve seen the development and God’s involvement.

In January, I did try to find a word for 2018.  I re-read the book, wrote down some words, prayed about them, thought about them, and then got super bogged down in school-work and teaching.  Quite honestly I never got peace and clarity about any of those potential words I identified before claiming my one.  However, I believe that my God is on-time, perfect time with His delivery and I have gotten that word now.

But a brief back story first.  As I said, I am in graduate school working on my doctoral (PhD) in counseling and am in my dissertation phase.  The start of this past school year (2017-2018) I initially was on track to work on my own research and graduate in May.  Early in the fall semester, I realized that I should not be on such a fast track and wanted to push my time line out until May 2019 as my anticipated graduation.  I had not had much traction on my research and writing, so this was a wise decision.  Around December-January, things started to work out with my first few chapters in my dissertation.  I had identified my topic, located some awesome instruments to measure some cool things about what I wanted to include in my research, and I had completed one of the difficult parts in my writing.  In April, everything about my dissertation fell apart.

When I was trying to gain permission to use the instruments in a way that would allow me to collect data in the most efficient way for both my potential participants and my study, I was denied.  The only way to use one of the instruments was in a way that would make it extremely difficult to connect data or would lead to participants dropping out or not participating due to the complex way they would have to share data with me.  My soul was crushed, but I persisted.  I maintained contact to see what all ways things could be worked out or changed, but I do not have that time/funding/resources/mental stamina for those paths in a dissertation.  I finally made the decision, along with my dissertation chair, to let that go and re-examine.  Without this one thing, my whole research fell flat and would not work the same with something else in place.  I realized that most likely I would have to start over.

A harsh realization at the end of April…especially now only having a year left on my targeted graduation.

Here is where I finally got my word.  Rather than freak out (which I would be prone to do in this situation), I pressed pause so I could finish out the remainder of my obligations for the semester and neatly “dumped” it into God’s hands.  I recall praying and almost just saying “Well, this is a big mess, so what are you going to have me do now?”.  Thankfully He answered and thankfully I listened.  The only response that came over my mind and soul was: COMPASSION.

So, I’m starting in May for 2018-2019 with my one word as Compassion.  I’m figuring out what all this means and how this connects with my next steps in my dissertation journey.  Maybe this will be that new topic.  Maybe it will mean for me to have more compassion towards myself.  Just maybe I needed more of a specific focus for the school year rather than the calendar year.  We will figure it out.  More to come on that I guess. 🙂

In the book there are two quotes that stand out for me:  “Change is possible, but focus is required.” Yep!  And the other one:  “The secret to concentration is elimination.”  Oh yes! Time for me to change my focus and concentrate on compassion.

Smartphones and Generations

Recently I read an article “Have smartphones destroyed a generation?” by Jean Twenge. An overview of some recent generational studies of the “iGen”, the generation born between 1995 and 2012, has revealed some interesting facts.  Some pretty good, like this generation of teenagers are more safe than those in the past or that the rates of teenage pregnancy is down.  Other facts are a little more startling.  It seems the iGen is less likely to spend time with others, are more depressed, and have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and plans.

Twenge states that this age group is a “lonely, dislocated generation”.  In the article, the teenagers are framed as still having the age-old issues of fitting in with others.  Even though the teens are not spending as much time together, the relentless documentation of their engagement in the outside world when they do venture out feeds the lonely feelings of those being left out. These factors, along with some others, are increasing depression within teens. It makes me sad to think about all of these youths who are missing out on living because they are mostly interacting with their electronic versions of their friends.

As I am preparing some lessons on teaching middle and late childhood development to master’s level counseling students, I recognize that many of these students have some similarities to the iGen.  Not in the higher depression or other factors, but have stronger ties to the internet and living in a more connected method.  Even with a broader age range of students at the graduate school level, there is still a big way we document our lives.

Perhaps previous generations who have walked along side the birth and rise of the internet and social media have gained some skills in balance.  Maybe not…as I can say that many from Generation X (my peeps), Gen Y, and the Millennials have felt the twinges of not being able to “keep up with Jones”.  Postings of outings, things being accomplished, and hashtags of our lives can still leave some adults feeling inadequate.  There is that feeling of some unknown pressure to do all of these super-cool things; to balance life, work, home, family, and social with ease and elegance.  Possibly, we have more willpower to be able to step away from the computer screen or put down the phone and interact with each other.

Ironically, I type all of this on my computer screen and will probably check in on social media before I go to bed.  Fortunately, I can say that I smell my dinner being cooked and I will have interaction with others during dinner.  I value the human interaction without the distractions of electronics.  I leave with one thought and a plea – if you are able, try to unplug and interact.  Not only just for you, but for those around you.  Do not be afraid to connect in real ways, rather than just virtual ways.

Homeward Bound

Alas! My travels in Sweden are coming to a close.  I enjoyed my final traditional dinner of meatballs, potatoes, lingnon berries, and pickled cucumbers last night at a dockside restaurant by the water in Stockholm.  It was lovely and yummy. Such a nice way to finish off the trip be for the chaos of the return home.

Currently I am sitting at the Arlanda airport terminal waiting on my flight for the first leg of our journey. I am glad to be going home, (as I miss my fur babies, my own bed, and free access to talk with my extended family!); however I will miss the family and friends here in Sweden. 

I will also miss hearing the language…but I will still work on learning more! Fika is coming with me! 

Returning home will take awhile.  Hopefully it will give me a little time to process all the travel and adventures I have had this month!

Tack sä mycket och adjö i nu! (Thanks so much and goodbye for now!)

Fika: More Than Just Coffee and Sweets

Fika is a Swedish tradition of taking time in the afternoon to share some coffee (kaffe), cookies (kokkar), and cakes (kaka…I think).  Fika is so much more than a simple coffee break. It is a reminder to take part of your afternoon to enjoy the company of others while sharing drink and food.

Since I have been part of the Olson family, fika has become part of my vocabulary.  It has been explained to me and I have shared in that tradition when I am with my in-laws.  Technically, I have done something similar with my own family when we have gathered for as far back as I remember. It was more or less referred to as “having coffee”. Additionally, I think that it is also quite similar to high tea that the British practice. 

Recently, I have had the honor and pleasure of having fika while in Sweden in a few settings.  The formal fikas were with lovely china teacups and so many homemade cookies baked with love and anticipation of our visit.  The informal fikas were with pastries or home-baked cakes with freshly made cream topped with strawberries.  One has been at a picnic table on the grounds of a castle where my husband’s 3x-grandfather worked.  We have even had fika in a charming courtyard cafe while visiting a southern seaside town.

Each fika has been shared with friends, family, and many stories of times long ago.  Every moment has been special and memorable.  It has also reminded me of “having coffee” long ago in my own past with beloved family members, shared with our traditional goodies and stories.

Fika is now linked in my mind with family.  Family can be the ones you are born into, the ones you are loved into, the friends whom become loved like family, and the people you share life experiences with to create bonds. I will take Fika with me back home in my heart.  This is a tradition, I’m pretty sure we will maintain in my family in the future.  Hopefully, it will be with some of the Swedish family cookie recipes I’m hoping to collect!

If I get them, I may just invite ya over for a US southern spin on fika! Skol!

Here I Go Again

In May I had an awesome experience as I traveled to Switzerland with my Global Perspective Program study-abroad fellowship.  It was my first trip to Europe. It was amazing and I learned so very much.  Now I am off again, heading to Sweden with some of my family.  This trip will not be filled with academic appointments and learning agendas, but I’m positive I will still be in learning mode!

We will be heading out towards Washington DC for our flight out. As I write, I am at the “far-farm” getting the fur babies settled and ready to meet their care-taker.  It was a wild adventure just traveling out to the farm an hour away…perhaps I will share that story later. I would rather not recount those moments just now. We did have a nice celebration dinner last night in honor of my husband’s completion of his step one medical exam (we are all glad that is over)!

A few more quiet moments for me to take a breath before I get geared up for the second round of pack up and travel. I am hoping to do a post or two as I go along if I have internet access.  It will be nice to collect two more country stamps on my passport – Iceland (where we have a layover) and Sweden.

And, yes for the record, I did look up the University of Stockholm. They have a counseling center!  If they were not on their summer break, I would have for sure reached out to meet and tour!

Let’s see where this adventure takes me!

Test Anxiety!

Being a PhD Candidate, I am no stranger to exams, tests, or other ways to measure teaching and learning.  In seeking my professional counselor’s license in North Carolina and my national counseling certificate, I had to take a very long, comprehensive exam that covered the major areas of studies for counseling professionals. Although that was now 10 years ago, I still recall those days (and weeks!) filled with anxiety surrounding my study schedule and the exam itself.  Add to that the anxiety over the implications of failing that exam. Plus, it was expensive.

Today, I sit on the sidelines.  Tomorrow, my beloved partner, who is a dedicated medical student, will take his Step One medical exam. In translation, this is a comprehensive exam that tests on the entire content of his two years in medical school thus far.  Similar to what I went through, however, it has added bonus and layers of pressure.  Not passing this exam, holds him back from beginning his third year of medical school. The third year allows the students to have rotations in hospital and other medical settings to experience the basic areas of medicine. It lets them start their supervised practice of medicine. Yep, a lot of pressure to pass.

The extra bonus that carries huge implications are the scoring results of the exam.  Results dictate both the immediate future, as well as potential career paths in medicine.  Wait,…what?!  Yes,the higher your scores, the more opportunities you have potential for and the lower the score the fewer. Talk about pressure!  So if anyone has dreams and aspirations of being a surgeon or neurologist, they must have an awesome score.  If the score is not as high, then plan B or even plan C may be their course of action.

As a person who does go to the doctor, I appreciate the fact that doctors and specialists need to know their stuff.  As a mental health care professional, I have concerns for those who have major text anxiety, may not test well, or are not able to manage their stress in the weeks/days leading up to the test.  What does this do for their mental health and well-being with so much pressure on the performance at this one moment in time?

My heart goes out to all of these medical students.  Not only do you have to pass, but you need to do as well as possible to keep your opportunities open.

All that said, I have seen the hours and hours of time invested in study questions, drills, and pouring over materials with microscopic vision. I have seen the zombie-like looks for those over-study sessions and next day ‘study hangovers’.  I have even seen a post-exam ‘vacant’ look that comes in the days afterward.  Soon, this will be over for this year’s lot.  It can’t happen fast enough, in my opinion.

I have the utmost confidence that my husband will do well. I am his biggest fan and cheerleader.  Also, I know the heart he has to help others.  He has studied long and hard.  He only has a few more short hours to review (and pray!) and then rest before his clock starts tomorrow for the exam. My thoughts, prayers, and heart go with him.

Then the 4-5 weeks of waiting for the results begins…

Global Perspectives Shared At the Swiss Embassy in Washington DC

Another exciting opportunity to gather with the VT and Swiss Global Perspectives Program (GPP) Cohort 2017 in Washington, DC to present about Higher Education as a Public Good.  It was great to be able to have most everyone attend our presentation at the Swiss Embassy on Friday, June 23rd. There were a few who were not in attendance, but were missed and remembered!

Throughout the entire trip, I have gained an overview of how higher education is set up in some European countries and how I compare or contrast this to my working knowledge of how higher education is set up in the USA. Personally, I see education as both a private and public good.  Private, in the fact that your education should be about increasing one’s own knowledge and understanding; yet, public because higher education as a whole should be for the betterment of the communities in which it serves.

Our GPP cohort was broken into three groups to discuss perspectives in the following areas:  Massification of Higher Education: Smart Solutions for Open Global Higher Education; Global Higher Education in the Post Truth Era: Importance of Fact Finding and Critical Thinking Skills; and Communicating Science in Global Higher Education.  Each group posed interesting thoughts and questions on ways for us to think both globally and forwardly.

We also heard the guest speaker, Dr. Mary Sue Coleman, President of Association of American Universities, give her thoughts on the current landscape of higher education. She charged us with being innovative, creative, and flexible in ways we teach students to apply and use knowledge.  Dr. Coleman stated that innovation and creativity can create new pathways for higher education in the global landscape.

Overall the meeting was powerful, enlightening, and served as a reminder of how we all face similar challenges no matter where we are in the world. As the GPP 2017 cohort “circled up” in our chairs one last time, we shared what we learned, what we wished were included, and a recommendation to help make the next trip better. Even though I may have some recommendations for things different, I do not wish one single experience was different. The trip has given me insight and caused me to think differently about me and the education system moving forward. So, perhaps, the trip was perfect. Perfect in that it allowed seamless things to happen, but also allowed for blips or imperfections that kept us all grounded.

No, I do not believe I would change a thing.  Except maybe I would have had one more gelato before I left…. 🙂

Thank you goes out to the Swiss Embassy for hosting us, and as always feeding us well! Thanks also to our Swiss cohort members for traveling our way for this meeting. May you have safe travels back to Switzerland!

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye

I am all packed up and waiting for my ride to the airport in Zurich. It is unbelievable that 18 days ago I started out on this journey. This learning adventure has been unforgettable.

When I made my first blog post about being selected, one of the EDCO and GGP Alumni reached out to me in a congratulatory message with a hint that this would be a life-changing experience. Indeed it has. I am hoping to take some time to reflect and continue to share about my trip once I return home.

It was sad to leave the GPP ’17 cohort a few days ago, but we’ve been keeping each other up to date on our continued travels or return and acclimating home. The few days spent with my traveling friends helped transition to a slower pace…barely. We still took in some sights and ate more foods.

Nevertheless, I am ready to get back home to my family. It will be great to sleep in my own bed after a long, hot shower. I am looking forward to the welcoming arms (and paws) of those I love.

Thank you to our host schools in Switzerland, France, and Italy. Thank you to the staff at the Steger Center in Riva San Vitale. Thank you to an old friend of a new friend that showed us around a few towns in Switzerland we did not see on our tour.

It has been my pleasure and I have learned a great deal. In the song that titles this post (from The Sound of Music) one line sums it up:

I leave and heave a heavy sigh goodbye.