Combining communication and psychology – the knowledge of why people act the way they do, and the best way to communicate ideas – helped Denver Garrison as he traveled the globe teaching English

By Auriana Cook

Denver Garrison is no stranger to being on the go – perhaps more foreign to him is the concept of staying put. He moved around a lot as a kid, attending four different elementary schools and three middle schools. Now, Denver has been traveling abroad almost nonstop since 2012. For this reason, he gravitated to Marylhurst’s B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies, which allowed him to cultivate his own flexible online degree program. With only a few classes to go to complete his degree – which contains concentrations in communications, psychology and cultural studies – Denver reflected back on his adventures around the world, and how his Marylhurst journey is intertwined with them.

Denver Garrison, Class of 2016, Marylhurst UniversitySparking a traveler’s spirit

During his senior year of high school, Denver enrolled in an early college program through Portland Community College. After graduating from Tualatin High, Denver stayed at PCC to pursue a transfer degree. A pivotal moment which would foster a passion for world travel was when he signed up for a study abroad trip to Spain through PCC in 2012. On this trip, Denver took classes, visited the beach, learned to rollerblade and made countless new international friends.

After that program was done, he had two weeks before his flight. He remembers thinking, “Well. Let me pack up my backpack and go for a trip. Where? No idea! . . . I literally went to the bus station and asked, ‘where’s the cheapest bus going?'” This adventurous spirit took Denver on a brief tour of northern Spain, where he fell even more in love with the country.

When he returned home, Denver knew that he had to get back to Spain. “I looked for a way to do it and I found this program online as a TA in an English teaching classroom. I applied for the program and they accepted me, in 2013. So in September I flew over there to Barcelona. And then I took a boat over to the island, Menorca. I lived over there from September to June,” Denver says.

Marylhurst made sense

The first year of the English teaching program came to a close, and Denver returned home to the U.S. During this time, Denver’s mother, Rebecca Lockwood ’13, had already finished her degree in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on sustainability at Marylhurst. Denver – who had graduated from PCC the year before– says that his mother told him, “You can get your degree here! It’s a really good place, the classes are great, and the teachers are fantastic.”

Denver wasn’t immediately sold on Marylhurst. He explored his options at the big state schools before committing. However, he suspected that at a large state school, “you feel like another number. And I didn’t want to feel like just another number. You try to get help from somebody, and you feel like you’re at the DMV.”

Denver Garrison, Class of 2016, Marylhurst UniversityAnother factor in choosing Marylhurst was that Denver wanted to keep travelling, and the multitude of online classes that Marylhurst offers allowed him to do so.

So Denver applied to Marylhurst, and he re-applied for the English teaching program in Spain. He returned, this time to Zaragoza, in the fall of 2014. During this time, he started taking classes online at Marylhurst. He worked diligently over the following year in between his regular job and travels to the UK, Greece, Belgium and Albania, to name a few.

A new kind of virtual experience

Denver had taken online classes before, but the online environment at Marylhurst was more personal. “Going to online classes at PCC, there’s 30 or 40 people in a class . . . at Marylhurst, the class that had the most people was 15,” Denver says. He also stresses that Marylhurst’s online classes give all students an equal voice. “In a class, there’s a finite amount of time, say an hour – and if the teacher talks for a half an hour of that and three other students talk for ten minutes, that’s three students that get to talk. But in an online class, say there are ten people. Every person has to post something . . . you will have your say.”

Highlights and challenges

One stand-out online class that Denver took while in Belgium was called Compassion in Action. “It had me go find a way to volunteer time to be able to experience compassion – not to just read about it, not to just talk about it, but to experience it . . . I chose to use my language skills and donate my time to a local Belgian Esperanto company – La Verdaj Skoltoj, or The Green Scouts. They teach young people Esperanto in the forest . . . we bring them an appreciation for nature and for the language. I donated a full week of time . . . I think that was probably one of the best parts of my degree,” Denver reminisces.

Another highlight was participating in Marylhurst’s Study Abroad program in 2015. Since Denver was already abroad, it made sense for him to deviate from his online routine to join Meg Roland and her students for a week in London and two weeks in Rome. Denver says of the trip, “We had a great time in London and learned a lot with Meg Roland and applied a lot of things we had learned from the texts. We went to Rome after London and everyone was star-struck because of the city; it is a really different city than any I had ever been to. It truly amazed me how much the texts we read applied to the town and its real history.”

Denver Garrison, Class of 2016, Marylhurst UniversityAs much as Denver thrived in his classes, it wasn’t always easy to fit in his coursework. He says, “How I made it work was actually a lot of jury-rigging. When I look back, I honestly don’t see how I got honors at all.” Denver was often spread incredibly thin, between teaching classes and private lessons, a difficult commute, and his coursework. “There were also times when I was traveling when classes started, so I was able to do some work on the road from my phone, typing out all my responses and sending them from the Canvas application,” he says.

New opportunities and looking ahead

In May of 2016, Denver participated in the European Youth Event, a gathering where over 7500 youth learn about and discuss the future of Europe and the EU. Topics included Syrian immigration, Russian tensions, and sustainability. Denver describes a portion of the event focused on sustainability: “We were brought together to brainstorm ideas that would bring Europe to a state of being garbage-free by 2050. . . Some of the crazier ideas were: A plastic eating organism, edible plastics, a machine that separated the base materials of garbage and allowed you to resell these pieces to companies, and many more.” The group was then asked to present their ideas to one of the speakers in the Parliament. “He told us that some of our ideas were actually feasible, and that he’d like to present them to the Parliament in September.” Denver and another participant were approached and asked if they wanted to be the ones to present this material to the Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.

After graduating with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies at the end of summer 2016, Denver plans to pursuing TEFL certification in the fall. He expects to be relocated to a new country to teach in 2017. “I have my eye on a few countries to work in, and I hope to be able to see them all. My first goal is either China or South Korea. I have heard great things about both of them, and they are both interesting to me,” Denver says.

Denver Garrison with Hannah Garrison and Rebecca Lockwood, Marylhurst UniversityClearly, Denver’s plans continue to revolve around movement, travel and adventure. That said, strong family ties keep a portion of his heart in Oregon. He describes his mother as “the most amazing person I have had the pleasure of sharing my life with.” His sister Hannah is also a Marylhurst student, and the two siblings just walked together in the 2016 commencement ceremony. His brother, Cody, attends Charter College, and Denver plans to attend his graduation later in 2016.

Should Denver ever tire of travelling and wish to settle in Oregon, he already has a plan for how he’ll do this. Denver dreams of starting a camp in an Oregon forest. “This camp would be a language camp and would be able to teach languages to children in an immersion experience that would be much cheaper than sending your children to foreign countries,” Denver explains. He would focus on a range of languages, including Spanish, Esperanto, German, Chinese and Russian.

As for how he’ll apply what he has learned at Marylhurst, Denver explains that he already uses his degree on a daily basis. “Communication and psychology really are a fantastic interdisciplinary study combination. Combining the knowledge of why people act the way they do and the best way to communicate ideas should have been a combination already. I see myself using this in the classroom to deal with students, in foreign countries to help my communication, and in my general life to improve relationships.”

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