Thursday 2 Apr, 2015

Go Do Something “Awesome” with Your Students

By Zach from EF

“Go do something awesome.”

It sounds like just as much of a marketing slogan as it does a motto to live by, right? But doing something awesome is perhaps exactly what we all need—that’s certainly the argument you’ll find in a recent Wall Street Journal article stating that the feeling of awe can heavily influence positive social behaviors and substantially impact how we view the world. Research shows that awe-experiences inspire us to be more empathetic and comfortable when connecting with the world around us.

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The article, written by Elizabeth Bernstein, explains that awe can be associated with a variety of experiences—often connected to nature, religion, music or sports. The feeling is an emotional response to what is happening around us, and researchers believe that it pushes us to see the world differently. Bernstein quotes Paul Piff, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of California, who says “Awe minimizes our individual identity and attunes us to things bigger than ourselves.”

As I read the article, I thought of an experience I had a few years back while visiting Barcelona. My friends and I had come across Santa Maria del Mar (Our Lady of the Sea) church in the city’s Gothic Quarter. From the outside it looks exactly like what you would imagine a medieval European church to look like. Inside, the church was stone grey, mostly unornamented, and barely illuminated by candles (a small amount of sunlight also came through the stained glass windows). But I was fixated on the church’s massive design and structure—it was simple, yet magnificent. To me it embodied fortitude and endurance, and in that moment I felt more connected to history than ever before.

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Bernstein also speaks with Dr. Dacher Keltner, Director of the Berkley Social Interaction Lab at the University of California. Keltner, who believes that we have on average about three awe moments per week, recently took 56 inner-city high school students on a rafting trip to see what impact it would have on their academic work. A week after their trip he reported that the students were more interested in developing a sense of global awareness and knowing what was happening outside of their own lives. As I finished reading, I thought about what those students may have felt when rafting. I thought more about my experience and wondered if they too looked at the trip as a special moment in their life.

Many of us, including myself, use the word “awesome” without even thinking about what it really means. But it’s not something we can just say, it’s something we need to feel. It doesn’t matter if it involves going to Spain or rafting on a river; in the end you need to get out there and do something awesome!

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Photo credit:
Four EF travellers in Switzerland: @samburgess17 via Instagram