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 interacting with new people.  I don’t understand the concept of compartmentalizing our lives so that ‘education’ is just during lectures and ‘work’ is a 9 to 5 chore and ‘happiness’ is on nights, weekends, and after we retire.  If you don’t enjoy your education, then learn about something else, or find a kind of teacher, whether it be a singer or a friend or a librarian.  If you don’t like your work, then find a way to be doing something else.

When it comes to the American Dream, I think we need to seriously edit the concept.  I’ve discussed before how I think that meritocracy is a myth, a bedtime story that capitalists tell their children so they can sleep at night and feel a little less ruthless about their days.  I don’t think we are all on equal footing, or that hard work is enough for everyone.  If you don’t believe me, look into the growing gap in wealth in this country, compare our working hours a year to other prosperous nations (eg France, UK), and check out how much discrimination takes place on the perceived ethnicity of names (that’s even before you get to skin color or institutionalized education discrimination.)  I think anyone who believes we all get a fair shake is either not paying attention or has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  And I stand by that, even as my fellow staff members preach stories of successful immigrants and the allegedly bountiful opportunities for homeless people in the States.

Discrimination and prejudice are at the heart of all obstacles to societal change.  I’m currently reading Half the Sky by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and they talk about the pattern of dehumanizing the other in order to be comfortable mistreating them.  This was the case with American Indians (Savages!), Africans who were brought over as slaves, and is now true about the millions of “low class” women around the world who are bought and sold as sex slaves.  If we truly believe that all people are equal and worthy, there is no reason to act unfairly.  A large part of the problem in this country is that we have skewed beliefs about our economic statuses.  Collectively, Americans believe that the rich people in this country are significantly less wealthy than they actually are, and at the same time hold the false belief that the poorest in this country have more capital than they truly do.  If we were honest and accurate about what is really occurring in this country, whether it’s discrimination in the education and hiring systems or the true wealth disparity, it would be much harder to stand in the way of welfare programs and effective methods of change.

As far as the greatest concern?  For me I have decided to focus my energies on the Girl Effect as well as experiential education abroad.  To me, it’s a mixture of efficacy, efficiency and my own interests/talents.  If I focus on something important that I’m not good at, I’ll be fairly useless.  Working with women, especially young girls (9-13) is highly eficient when it comes to producing sea change, since women have a greater effect on their community than men.  For example, in matriarchal societies, equality is high, whereas in patriarchal societies there is a high level of gender inequality.  Another example is that when women are educated, overall health of the family increases, the population decreases (since empowered women produce fewer children, but the same is not true of men), and there is less stress on the entire system.  While men are more likely to spend their additional income on booze, drugs, women and unnecessary goods, women are far more likely to invest the money in their children’s health and education, as well as into improving their overall status (eg a better house or expanding their business.)

As you can tell, I’m really jazzed about this class and can’t wait to hear from the students on Thursday and read all their blogs.  Enjoy your Tuesday!

9/11

I thought I would spend this past 9/11 like I spend it every year: listening to Bruce Springsteen’s album The Rising and watching The West Wing’s Isaac and Ishmael episode.  I’ve written about Isaac and Ishmael before, as a jumping off point for the discussion of who exactly this other is, and whether they really hate us.  I wonder if Aaron Sorkin would still write Josh (and the episode in general) the same way now.  At the time, I think we all felt pretty damn good about hating the other, acknowledging that there are people in the world hate Americans because we’re free and awesome and they don’t want people in their world to be like us, especially if those people are women and Jews.  Mostly, I wonder this because Josh is largely considered a representative of Sorkin himself, and because at this stage in the game, most educated people know that suicide bombers of all stripes are suicidal first and foremost, and their method is often an afterthought, or the product of intense coercion.  Also, I believe most intelligent people know in their hearts that the rest of the world isn’t this absurd freedom vacuum that we’ve painted it to be, and that most people of the world, while often different from us in many ways, don’t generally hate us much, if at all.

Sorry, it just always seems necessary to counter some of the weird that is our version of 9/11 with…something else.

I did listen to the Rising the week before, which is very much about us and our lives and who we are now because of 9/11.  I also watched United 93 the night before, which I think every person who feels effected by 9/11 should watch.   It was really quite beautiful and showed me things I never knew.  Perhaps it was because I was so young, or because I felt so overwhelmingly claustrophobic because of the constant crush of coverage that I shut it all out, but United 93 did for 9/11 what this USA Today article did for Columbine.Nevertheless, I did something very different on the day itself.

Aunt Sue Jaffe's custom-made guitar cake

In the morning, I went to the Art of the Americas wing in the new MFA, which was oddly appropriate.  It still felt weird, though, as if we should all be sitting around being sad, continuing to absorb stories so sad they seem fake.  After taking my dad to the MFA, eating some lunch in the outdoor courtyard, and stalling in the parking lot, we drove home.  I was surprised that when he saw cars lining our two-house street, he assumed the neighbors were having a party.  When he saw little Mathew with a soda and a football walking up to our house, he may have been suspicious but fell for Matthew’s expert fib.  It wasn’t until he spied the canopy and saw his younger brother driving up our driveway that he laughed, looked truly amazed, asked me, “Really?!” and gave me a hug.

photo courtesy of Warren Poor

We had pulled off a surprise birthday party for him, two weeks before his birthday and 24 hours before my departure for Greece for three months.  Friends he’s had since college were there, as well as most Harringtons and Murphys, and all of our neighbors.  Mexican food, sunshine, margaritas and a guitar-shaped cake made up my 10th anniversary of 9/11.  I didn’t know until that day that I would need them so much, that I would need to have something to do instead of crying in the car listening to the stories.

If the object of terrorism is to spread fear via indiscriminate acts of violence as a means of taking down a regime, than the very best way to combat terrorism is to remember without fear, discrimination or malice.  To honor those lost in a way that would make them proud, not way that would make them wonder what happened to us and to this country.  I think it is good to have something to do on that day, other than sitting around and speculating, crying in a paralyzed sort of way.  Some have turned this into a Day of Service, similar to MLK day, and that seems fitting.  I think it is healthy not to spend quite so much time talking about Osama bin Laden, regardless of whether the rhetoric is of the bravado, “git er done” variety or the self-righteous “killing is always bad,” type.  I think it makes us more whole when we turn off the weeks of 24 hour news coverage, and go outside to spend time with family and friends.

The Birthday Boy

The Funny Thing About Europe

…is that it has drinkable water and hot showers and everything you could want to buy.  There are crepes

Look at that beautiful bathroom! The water is even hot 🙂

and high prices, wi-fi and western food.  And still, it is not enough for some.

But then, it is still Greece, the modern-day Sick Man of Europe.  And as one econ professor always reminded us, Greece is only considered European as long as it suits the Great White West.  I feel funny just calling it Europe.  Now that Greece has become inconvenient (yet again), there are rumblings of amending the Schengen Agreement to allow the “temporary” removal of states, for the “protection of the integrity” of the alliance.  Sounds an awful lot like the precursor to Children of Men to me, especially the quotes in the FT article.  But still, I can’t wait to see what this means for all things NATO, EU, Eurozone and Schengen.  Not to mention to study abroad ramifications!

So there is that other part of Greece.  That part that has me missing Zamalek every day.  I see Cairo everywhere, and when I look out on my balcony I search for the minarets and nautical nightclubs that punctuate the Nile. My room and hotel even look like el fondoq flamenco, the hotel I called home for most of my six weeks there.

The boardwalk of Thessaloniki at night

Stray cats and dogs wander freely, though not in such great numbers (or as such a great nuisance) as in al Qahira.  But there is that dustiness that settles over everything, and the heft to most of the infrastructure that gives one the feeling that anything thin or aesthetically appealing would simply take too much time.  I find the same type of pasta that populates koshery, and (at least in our group) one never has to go far to find an Arab or hear in’shallah.

Unlike Cairo, I garner no one’s attention, the streets are not so overwhelmingly full by all demographics until 5am, and there is a general lack of worry for one’s safety. Of course, the late-night crowds (and their chronological breadth) are still impressive compared to the states, and meals are still late, it’s just nothing compared to Cairo.

For now, I’m, content to explore this city so reminiscent of Alexandria.  Little wonder:  it is named for The Great’s half-sister, and this Ottoman/Roman mix was no doubt an inspiration for Iskandriyya’s ambience.

Opening Week

Things have been slow on this blog because they’ve been fast in my life.  However busy I always thought

The view from my balcony. Yes, that's a condemned building

I was the first few days abroad, it’s nothing compared to running a study abroad program.  Add to that the various other engagements back home (writing and otherwise) that have been tugging at my brain, and it seems there’s been so little of me left for…well, for myself.

On the bright side, my little room is up high and has a balcony, and I don’t have a roommate.  While I hate falling asleep alone in my room (I miss you Jordyn!)  it is nice that everything is exactly how I leave it, and I never have to worry that it will bother anyone else.  OF course, this is a hotel, so there is maid service.  I try to stave them off, but they’re incredibly persistent and I don’t want the “do not disturb” sign to dissuade the guys on my floor.

Oh, right, Em and I are in charge of a floor of all guys.  I sometimes feel like Wendy leading around the Lost Boys, especially since the first thing any of them said to me was, “Hello, Lady!”  In a naïve way, not like a pushy, New York way. For the most part, all the students are pretty good.  They’re all wildly tardy (we are always 30 minutes to an hour late to everything), and generally ask us a million questions rather than ever look at their own schedules, but they’re kind and rather funny.

Roxanne, Kathy and myself, 1/4 of Team Greece

We’re still adrift here on team Greece, however.  We have yet to establish a schedule, or even some of our protocols, and we are generally a bit scattered, somehow falling off the treadmill before we even started.  To make matters worse, news from Boston is slow to nonexistent, often arriving via rumour mill.  I must say I’m generally pleased by everyone here in Greece, but rather flummoxed by the behavior of the collective entity that is the Boston office.

On the plus side, I’ve really loved getting to know my Greek coworkers.  Edlira lives here in the hotel with us and is constantly organizing everything,  helping me get on buses and ferry students, and teaching me Greek.  She is joined by Irini, Joanna and Julianne, all of whom are very sweet to me.  They rarely speak rapid-fire, incomprehensible Greek in front of me, and are beyond necessary for this job.  I’m looking forward to when the students have class everyday, affording the staff some time to get our ducks in a row, as well as some time to socialize.

I’ve taken almost no pictures because I’ve been so uncertain of our days, and even less certain of my autonomy during them.  I hope to remedy that soon.

HerCampusNU and Spreading the Word About the DR

Sometime last year, I read a few articles on HerCampus.com, a website dedicated to (and written by) college women all over the country.  Started by three Harvard women, it has an especially strong presence in the Boston area and a vibrant NU chapter.  Earlier this summer, in a fit of boredom, I investigated how to write for them and threw my name in the ring by applying online (which is a quick process, click here if you’re interested in writing for your school.)

One of my favorite photos from the article

While I have yet to meet all of the HerCampusNU ladies (with the exception of Christiana, who was with me in the DR this past summer), they’ve been incredibly welcoming and encouraging.  We communicate via email, googlegroup and facebook, and they’ve all been nothing but sweet.  I was surprised by how excited I was this morning to check out our first issue of this fall, but it looks awesome.  I was even more surprised to see that my article on thrifting in Boston was posted, since I had never written for them before and they have limited space.  To make my morning even better, a photo essay from Christiana and my time in the Dominican Republic was posted, including a link for donation and more information on our cause.

When I first looked at HerCampus, I’ll admit I thought it was going to be pretty superficial, all about boys and hookups and makeups and things that straight, white, upper-middle class girls like.  But as I explored, I found that they profile women entrepreneurs, and regularly post articles helping women spend more consciously, be more green in their daily lives, or get more involved on campus and in their community.  I’m pleased that there’s a place online where you don’t have to pick between being a clotheshorse and helping the environment, shopping and raising money for breast cancer, gossiping about boys and formulating your career.  Many spaces on the internet only care about presenting women one way, whether that be as shallow consumers or man-hating feminists, and neither portrayal is fair or accurate.

I’m really glad that HerCampus supports causes like Esperanza International and our time in the DR, and that we have the freedom to post on the issues that really matter to us, regardless of whether they’re about coordinating a handbag or (trying to) save the world.