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Up Close & Personal: Part II

(This post is the third in a series which highlights our recent publication: About Our Institution: Federation EIL – Collective Histories, edited by Alvino Fantini.)

Recollections from Phyliss Ingersoll, daughter of Experiment founder, continued (click here for Part I): 

Phyllis Watt Ingersoll at the 80th Anniversary celebration of The Experiment on the campus of World Learning, 2013.

Right from the first, the Watt trips were taken seriously, not as a form of “school,” but as a different type of educational challenge — physically, mentally, and emotionally — and young people loved them! They had so much fun that it was surprising that the trips should also have had such a profound impact on their lives.

Never quite satisfied, Dad kept thinking, and he kept on evaluating these experiences with friends and participants: What other elements should be added to improve the chances of developing successful friendships abroad? Gradually, formulating and clarifying his ideas documented in the group leader’s handbook, the Experimenter’s handbook, and promotional materials, he identified several fundamental principles: selection, leadership, language and cultural preparation, homestay, group living, discussion, and evaluation.

By the late 1930s, The Experiment in International Living had become a small, successful student exchange organization. The advent of World War II made its purpose even more serious. Modeling itself after the United Nations, The Experiment eventually developed an international structure for sending and receiving Experimenters — a Federation of National Offices.

Annually, when they met, Dad led the Federation members through animated discussions to hard-won consensus, forging, and reforging the Experiment’s educational principles, never producing a single definitive statement or manifesto, but rather a constellation of ideas to be applied to specific situations.

Three statements of these principles appear in the introduction to Watt’s Intelligence Is Not Enough (1967, p. 3):

• People learn to live together by living together.

• The home is the greatest educational institution in the world.

• Success in living in a home abroad depends upon careful organization.

Responding to the demands of such programs as the Marshall Plan, the Peace Corps, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The Experiment’s principles, already in use for training in language and cultural understanding, were eventually applied to an even broader range of activities, both governmental and nongovernmental.

As we are all too well aware, the worldwide challenge of international understanding is still with us, but The Experiment in its many new forms around the world continues to reflect deeply about its mission as well as the principles and approaches on which its work is based. Donald Watt would be profoundly happy to see how his ideas have formed the basis for so many individuals who are learning, teaching, and working to form a better world.

~International Office, Federation EIL

Adapted from “A Search for Fundamental Principles,” Phyllis Watt Ingersoll; About Our Institution: Federation EIL – Collective Histories, edited by Alvino Fantini.

Reference Watt, Donald B. 1967. Intelligence Is Not Enough . Putney, Vermont: The Experiment Press

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