Daniel Langenthal

Outward Bound and back, and how I applied my Hornstein education along the way

Daniel LangenthalDaniel Langenthal, MA/MBA’04
Director of Experiential Learning and Teaching, Brandeis University

You’ve heard the saying, “We plan and G-d laughs.” If you’d suggested to me when I was a Hornstein/Heller student in 2000 that I’d be back at Brandeis in 2012 as the director of experiential learning and teaching, I would have laughed in disbelief. I had big plans when I arrived at Hornstein in 2000. I intended to start an Outward Bound program in the Middle East.

Students sometimes ask me to share my career path and explain the development of my interest in experiential education and intercultural awareness. I often talk about my foundational experiences. The first of which was being raised immersed in Spanish by my Guatemalan nanny Marta. I was in her care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until I was three years old. She lived in my room with me and when my parents were away she would take me to spend time with her family.

The second foundational experience was when my parents enrolled me in the Gilman School, an all-boys Protestant school in Baltimore where I was one of the few Jewish students in my class. There I learned how to mimic the ways of the dominant culture so well that my peers would say, “You don’t act like them”. The “them” in this case meant the Jews from my part of town. By this time I was fluent in three cultures.

My first forays into experiential education happened at this same school. This took the form of opportunities to participate in week-long outdoor education programs in grades five, six and seven. These experiences inspired me to participate in a one-month Outward Bound program in the backwoods of Maine. And that experience influenced me to choose to do my high school senior year experience interning at the Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound School in Baltimore. At that point it must have come as no surprise to anyone when I became an Outward Bound instructor in college working at the same program.

During college I took a year off to participate in Otzma, a year-long service program in Israel. I went on to attend Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva on a study abroad program, later make aliyah, serve in the Israeli Defense Forces and work as an outdoor guide for the Society of Protection of Nature in Israel.

As I was immersed in and inspired by the myriad cultures in Israel, I came to understand how conflicts often stem from a lack of understanding of the “other,” and how these conflicts could be approached through building trust, communication and shared goals, all fundamental principles of the Outward Bound philosophy. One of the most profound moments came at my graduation from boot camp. Many of my adoptive families came from all around the country to celebrate with me. Sitting around and eating together was a picture of Israeli diversity. I watched as preconceived notions of each other’s cultures began to disappear as they ate each other’s food and shared stories.

The combination of all of these formative experiences, from my childhood with Marta to living with Bedouin in the Negev desert, informed my decision to start an Outward Bound program in the Middle East. At the time there were no such programs in the region and I felt there was a strong need.

I returned to the United States in 1999 to pursue funding for my new program and was told by potential donors that I needed to learn more about my field and more about non-profit management. That’s when I discovered the Hornstein/Heller program. This was a perfect opportunity to get the training I needed. I realized I could learn about fundraising, non-profit management and leadership, all through the lens of my personal professional goals.

I also needed to get more training in outdoor education management, and through the Hornstein internship/fieldwork placement I had the opportunity to intern at the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Outdoor Education center in my first year in the program. While there I decided to pursue a master’s degree in outdoor education at UNH concurrently with my Hornstein/Heller degrees.

I began the Hornstein/Heller program in the summer of 2000, just before the beginning of the second intifada when peace in the region was still on the horizon. By the time I completed my first year, the landscape in the Middle East had shifted dramatically. I knew I needed to go back to the region and see how things had changed ,and how those changes would affect my ultimate goal of starting a nonprofit there.

The Hornstein/Heller fieldwork component gave me another opportunity to explore my career goals through a second internship at the Learning From Success Program based at the Joint Distribution Committee offices in Jerusalem.

After graduation in 2004, I did indeed return to Israel where I founded and directed Mabat, an organization that focuses on cross-cultural training for primarily Israeli university and college students.

Even though Israel is a very different setting for developing non-profits than it is here in the U.S., I was able to transfer key learning from my time in the Hornstein/Heller Program.

The Hornstein Program exists at the crossroads between an academic program and a professional program. It brings these worlds together through the support of faculty who are a mix of academics and professors of practice. I had classes with Israeli scholars, organizational development consultants, as well as researchers.

Most importantly, the Hornstein faculty supported my vision and helped me coalesce my thinking through mentorship, support and reflection. The final substantive experience project focused on our personal learning through the lens of the entire program and helped me bring the whole picture together.

Hornstein gave me the opportunity to seek out the types of experiences I needed to develop the skills and understanding that would inform my personal professional goals, and to learn that change is going to come, and when it does, how to handle it. It was a transformative experience. It’s what I believe education — formal and informal — should be about.

This piece by Daniel Langenthal was published in the Hornstein Program's Impact Newsletter, October 2017. If you would like to quote any part of this conversation, please attribute content to the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University and link to this page. All rights reserved.

“As I was immersed in and inspired by the myriad cultures in Israel, I came to understand how conflicts often stem from a lack of understanding of the “other,” and how these conflicts could be approached through building trust, communication and shared goals...”

Daniel Langenthal, MA/MBA’04