Study Abroad

Naman

In October, we lost someone so magnetic that he’s still pulling us together, even in death.  Someone so funny and kind that at his funeral we laughed (almost) as much as we cried.  Someone so good to the core that he was donating as much time and money as he could, without fanfare or pretense.  Someone who is the only person who would know what to say to during all of these raw times. I met Naman on my trip to the Dominican Republic in May and June of 2011.  He was on my team, Rojo, and immediately became the most distinctive person on the entire trip.  As many have said, everyone felt like he was their best friend on the trip, because he treated everyone like the most important person he had ever met.  As we rumbled in a hot van with too few cracked pleather seats around that wonderful island country, Naman was always there with a song, dance, or imitation to keep our spirits up.  He always took his work seriously, although he never saw it as work. Everyone grieves in their own way.  But for people like us, people who can’t sleep at night because we can’t stop thinking of injustice in the world, people who are no fun at parties because we keep talking about this great new NGO or social business we just learned about, passive or solitary grief is not for us.  We have to do something, we have to organize, mobilize, and funderize.  We have to do this not just because it’s who we are, but also because it’s who Naman... read more

The Global Experience

Whiny 18 year olds keep asking us, “What do you even do all day?!” (Just kidding on the whiney, they’re actually very thoughtful and a bunch of fun, and so far not getting into too much trouble.)  Well, every Thursday I TA a section of the Global Experience course, taught by Staci, an Asst Site Director.  Edlira, part of the ACT staff, and an adorable Albanian, is also a TA.  So far this means I send mass-emails and recieve questions every time I leave my room, and for good measure there are emails waiting when I’m back in my room. I also was up at 7am Tuesday, excorting students to their service-learning placement.  More on how that went later. TAing this class is one of the aspects of the job I was most excited about.  Ideally, I want to someday run/work for study abroad that fuses together cultural/political awareness with concrete social justice action.  To that end, I’m really enjoying the experiential (hands-on, discussion-based) pedagogy of the Global Experience class, as well as the culture, justice, and critical-thinking subject matter. This week’s assignment was a blog post on the role of education in creating citizens, the possibility of the American Dream, how discrimination and prejudice inhibit societal change, and which community issues are of greatest concern. Personally, I believe education is the way to create citizens.  Of course if you’re reading this blog, you will notice that I consider all kinds of things to constitute my education: classes, free lectures, film festivals, museum visits, outside reading, embassy visits, television shows (yes, I’m serious), live performance, travel, community service, and... read more
Group Travel: Recognition

Group Travel: Recognition

In light of my upcoming time in Greece with a group of 145 students, 11 other staff and myself, I’ve been thinking about what has made my past travel groups some of the best communities of which I have ever been a part.  The way we recognize the members of our community shows a lot about ourselves, and what we value. I’ve had some truly beautiful communities, like the Egypt and DR summer experiences, as well as the past spring’s Model NATO/Model Arab League travel teams.  I’m trying to draw from these good examples when I plan the activities and traditions I want to embed in this year’s N.U.in Greece program. At the end of our Benin trip, during our wonderful Memorial Day at a Lebanese hotel (read: a pool and American food) we had two great forms of recognition: superlatives and speeches.  The superlatives covered everything, from most afraid of bugs to to most prepared to most likely to eat cous cous again.  With write-ins and multiple winners, it was a laid-back way to reminisce.  After, we gave our speeches.  The day before, each of us had drawn a name out of a hat of someone else on the trip.  That night at dinner, starting randomly and following the chain of speeches back around, we each took a turn to rise and recognize the singular, spectacular achievements and contribution that person made to the group.  While this can be uncomfortable if the group stays sectioned off, it’s a nice way leave everyone feeling good about their time. When Esther was in Zambia, they passed a baton that had... read more

Group Travel: Reflection

Now that I’ve accepted a job leading a group of brave young travelers, I’ve been thinking back on my many, fabulous travel groups and what made them so great. Reflection is one of my favorite things, clearly.  I love writing, reading, thinking (blogging!) and discussing ad nauseum.  When I was in Egypt, the hours of conversation I shared with J9, Sheff, Iskandriyya, Goldilocks and others helped me grow exponentially.  It deepened my comprehension of Middle East and Egyptian culture, helped me work through my conflicted feelings of our daily experiences, and brought me to a better understanding of our own country.  Sharing my experiences out loud in a safe forum, while hearing from phenomenal, brilliant women whom I hope to emulate really made me get the most out of Egypt.  I honestly don’t think I would have learned as much or been as happy if it weren’t for those ladies and those conversations. It is conversations like those that are the basis for this blog.  Every time someone compliments the ideas here, I feel like that praise belongs equally to those aforementioned ladies, as well as to Marisa, Jordyn, Kate and Leif, to my roommates in Cuba, to the ballers that made up the DR Dialogue and to my capstone class, all of whom sparked great discussions and debates that I later share with all of you. I’m sure reflection is already a significant part of the N.U.in curriculum, especially considering there is a 1-credit course devoted to service-learning, introspection and their “Global Experience” as a whole.  However, I plan to make sure some of the best practices that... read more

Structure

This Dialogue has been reminding me more and more of the Egypt trip every day.  And it must be so, because people who aren’t here have been commenting that it seems like I feel the same way about this Dialogue as that one.  After Esther asked me about the trip that has had the most impact on me personally, I began thinking about it more directly.  I’ve loved all the travel in between, but this trip seems to align the ever-fickle planets of academics, leadership, location and group members. I love the books we read.  Why the Cocks Fight is maybe a little boorish and poorly written, but is nevertheless entirely necessary as it’s the only real history of the island of Hispaniola as a whole.  I can’t understand why there aren’t more books about this topic, and why the author (Michelle Wucker) didn’t arrange the book chronologically instead of thematically.  But alas, we are able to bypass so many basic overviews of DR/Haiti history when we are on site visits or in the field, and instead move on to deeper issues.  With Drown and The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (DR) and The Farming of the Bones and Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat (Haiti), we have been able to see the contemporary lives of Haitians and Dominicans at home and abroad, and just how important history, race, nationality and poverty have been to their lives.  I highly recommend all four of those books, and those two authors in general.  Nothing could make the 1937 massacre come to life as much as Farming of the... read more

Mata Revisited

This week I will be returning to Mata los Indios, the small batey in Monte Plata where I spent spring break, assessing poverty, digging a foundation and attempting to bring micro-finance to a poor, rural population.  As of when you read this, I will be on my way back to that place of no internet, bucket showers and crushed frogs.  I had been itching to get back since getting here, but now it seems like it is so suddenly upon me. Recently, we got the green light from Esperanza to continue moving toward micro-credit in Mata los Indios and the surrounding area.  I know we had been told before that it was a good chance we would have success, but being back in this country and not knowing the verdict had me itching.  Going into bateyes again with so many failed borrowers had me feeling a little hopeless, a little worried that nothing could ever change in Mata, even if we helped provide he intervention from Esperanza. Now that we’re returning to Mata, I feel like we all have a firmer grasp of what we’re doing, why and how.  We’ve seen people both better and worse off than those in Mata, those who have been able to succeed in improving from that standing and those who have failed.  Our survey-creation, -delivery and -evaluation skils have improved with experience. Right now I’m just looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and getting to work on my project’s business plan, so that maybe I can accelerate some assistance and learn a little in the process. Like this:Like... read more

Happiness and Poverty

People ask all the time if the poorest of the poor are happy.  Actually, they don’t.  ask me if the people of country x are happy, most likely without realizing where they fall on the poverty scale.  I’ve been learning to distinguish between incredibly similar levels of poverty, which at first glance are indistinguishable since they’re all so devastating compared to the America many of us live in.  When we think of poverty, it’s fast food and metal detectors in schools and no health insurance.  Poverty in a batey is no food all day, no high school diploma even if you manage to walk to a school 3 km away and no access to health care. The things we look for to distinguish amongst the levels of poverty: Tin roof vs. cement walls vs. wood How healthy the dogs are (are they pets or a nuisance?) distance in km to a clinic or school presence or absence of power lines, televisions, microwaves, washing machines etc the color of children’s hair, the presence or absence of pits in their teeth, their age as compared to their apparent height and weight distance from the closest city, paved road, or bus stop When we go visit the bateyes (which are current or former sugar plantation barracks, mostly inhabited by people somewhere in nationality limbo between Haitian and Dominican, and largely forgotten by the world) it’s often hard to process.  Kids come running and singing, or sometimes people spit at our feet.  There is an overwhelming sadness to seeing so many grown adults with no work all day and so many caved in... read more

I Got a Job!

For my final coop, I knew I wanted something international. This job will be leading Northeastern freshmen who were accepted to the January semester (Jan starts as we call them) on a fall semester abroad.  I will TA one of their classes, organize their service-learning projects, lead them on excursions, tutor when necessary, help with homesickness and culture shock, and make sure everyone makes it home alive. No, I don’t know where I’m going yet.  I could be sent to Australia, London, Costa Rica, or Thesaloniki, Greece.  Of course I prefer the developing nations, and the chance to be back in Latin America or the Mediterranean is amazing.  It doesn’t hurt that this position is well compensated, and I felt better about it when Sheff said she feels like it fits my niche well.  What exactly is that niche?  Well I think it’s something like educational, socially-minded travel. But I still had a lot of trouble with this one.  It all comes back to the conundrum I’ve been having for the last few years: there are a lot of subjects that interest me, and whenever I’m doing something that doesn’t directly help people, I feel guilty.  I feel like I’m slacking, like I’m a coward, like I’m taking the easy way out.  It doesn’t help that so many people told me they think it isn’t challenging enough, hard core enough for me.  Several people, after I told them I accepted the job, referred to it as babysitting.  (side note: I will never understand why people think it’s okay to bash your job to your face, but it happens all... read more

Starving Children

I hate the argument that you cannot let a child starve, that it is some sort of moral imperative. It is a logical fallacy. If you really believed that it is impossible, immoral and unacceptable to turn your back on a starving child, you wouldn’t be doing it constantly, millions of times over.  You would be selling all your stuff and feeding the millions of starving children all over the world with the money.  But we don’t, because that isn’t efficient, and that isn’t effective. What confuses me is that on a micro level, people suddenly see it as the only option.  Perhaps exploring other options, and fully examining the potential foibles and pitfalls of food aid is in order, rather than leaping into it. Feeding starving people is an emotionally driven action.  It’s personally satisfying, which is nice for you.  It provides a great hero moment; it makes you feel nice about reducing human suffering.  But are you actually reducing human suffering?  What about inciting food riots, putting locals out of business, or creating dependence?  To be clear, I’m not arguing for inaction.  I’m arguing in favor of thoughtfulness, of consideration, of logical decision making.  I agree that hunger is heartbreaking, and theoretically unacceptable.  But I don’t think the best way to stop it is to hand out cheeseburgers and sacks of American-grown corn all over the world, either. People always tell me they, “couldn’t sleep at night,” if they ignored that hungry child.  But that makes it about us, the outside observers, rather than about the child, and what they really need.  And who says the child... read more

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