Reflections on a Brazil Quest

Quest reflections

Christie Gordon & Gillian Levene

01 October 2015

In June 2015, a group of teachers from Upper Canada College attended a Quest in Brazil. Here, two of them reflect on what they learned…

Reflections from Christie Gordon, Grade one teacher

Our 4 days in São Paulo consisted of a series of ‘unconventional’ visits to enterprises, institutions and communities, where we met people in different contexts to gain new perspectives on life and leadership.

These visits were interspersed with workshops and reflection sessions, where we used the day’s experiences to share new insights with one another. We were given the opportunity beforehand to choose which excursions we wanted to participate in, based on our interests. This meant we were often split into 2 groups during the day.

The Quest also gave us opportunities to co-lead. This meant some of us were responsible for researching the day’s itinerary and organizing a thoughtful introduction and thank you at the end of the visit – as well as facilitated reflections with group members afterwards. Because it was a live program, the quality of each interaction was dependent on the quality of engagement and generosity of each of us. This was everyone’s responsibility. It made each visit unique and full of potential.

From touching down in São Paolo to taking off back home, we kept a fast pace. Oscillating between impoverished neighbourhoods and communities, to penthouse apartments and multi-billion dollar enterprises, our schedule was packed. We were given the opportunity to meet, observe and even take part in many different aspects of Brazilian everyday life. We met children and adults who were working in, and with, their communities to make positive changes. We were given a glimpse at water shortage issues, social inequalities, women in leadership, sustainability, homelessness and crime.

This high impact schedule gave us a lot of opportunity to see, experience and explore different issues and talk to different people. We also always had time to reflect and share with fellow trippers. This was most important to me because it helped me digest and make sense of my experiences, and helped me understand what everyone else took away for their day.

My time in Brazil truly was eye-opening, comfort zone-stretching and life-changing.

Reflections from Gillian Levene, English Teacher

Moments are fleeting, but when they’re rich they leave a palpable impression. Our trip was a runway of such prints, cementing the idea that we are all connected, in the most primal, complicated, challenging and truly stunning of ways. The experience gave rise to an awareness of something we all know (but that the business of the everyday tends to obscure – and even diminish). Every journey brought me into contact with voices and places unlike anything familiar to me. I became attuned to the very basic, but essential, duty we share as citizens and, especially, as teachers – to listen (and listen well) to the stories we share, what we show and decide to keep silent and hidden, and the countless ways we communicate with one another (in a glance, a change of tone, a gesture, a memory, or a redirection).

One particular moment that awoke this message occurred during our visit to a homeless shelter, where we were gifted with the opportunity to meet mothers, sons, leaders, friends, and colleagues. A world of individuals working every day, and in their own ways, to embody and show respect, have and give love, watch and respond to need.


In brief exchanges I met a young boy (a resident) and one of the building's caretakers, generous enough to stand for a photograph. The former's laughter, and his mischief and ability, stopped me in my tracks, thinking of our boys. The latter, whose intense pride shone light on the indelible beauty of the home – the mismatched shoes sitting on window sills, the graffiti colouring the walls. I am indebted to these myriad moments that distilled the silent links we share, and my sight is very much changed by these impressions: in my practice, in my understanding, in the cues I hear and signals I see. For this I am so thoroughly grateful, and will continue to look for ways to honour these shared lessons – not only with my students, but with peers whom I appreciate with a vigour and veracity that could not have been inspired in any other environment.