Tag Archives: Coop

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.

A fraction of the students, posing above the city

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 been all over the world.  The idea is to recognize those who have been excellent (diligent, polite, optimistic, helpful, kind) but who have been lacking in attention thus far.  This original baton continues on, and you can track it at The Baton Lives Free.  In order to recreate the awesome of the baton but not have to continually hijack it, SEI has opted to create a new baton or set of batons for every trip.  They are passed from Professor and Esther, and from there they are awarded to students, by students.  Each student adds or alters the baton in some way.  For example, with our capstone baton, Kevin added a star to DR on the globe.  The baton can be anything–for our Dialogue, it was a star wand and a crown.  It’s interesting to see the meandering path of the baton, and the speeches for the next recipient are thoughtful and heartfelt.  People tend to pay more attention to their behavior, too, when they know they could be publicly awarded for it (or not).

Superlatives are a great way of ending your time in any type of group.  It’s important to make sure someone is in charge of it, although I would say not a student, as people sometimes vote for cruel or thoughtless superlatives.  We did these in Benin as well as the DR, and people got pretty rabid in the DR when we delayed announcements in an effort to add photos.  I noticed that the superlatives that mean the most are more creative than “best smile” or “best laugh”, and less obvious than whatever running jokes have been present from day one.

I’m looking forward to adapting these to our large group of 145 in Greece.  We’re going to need a lot of batons.  What methods of recognition have you seen in the past?  Do you have any ideas for how to recognize good behavior and create a strong sense of community in such a large group?

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 the time at NU with coops.)

I did, however, find some great comfort from an unlikely source.  The Global Poverty Impact groups that my friend Kevin started are interfaith conversations about equality, poverty, giving, eradicating poverty, why we care and the best way to help.  We also make small, permanent lifestyle changes in order to spend more thoughtfully and set aside some money to go towards a cause of our choosing.  I love how thought provoking this group is, how respectful and smart its members are, and the “Live Deliberately” ethos that I think anyone can get behind, regardless of their religious views.

But I digress.  Jen, a social entrepreneurship person and member of my capstone class, had great insight.

“Just think abut how many freshman you will be effecting.  You can teach them about all the opportunities they have to do good at Northeastern, and be a role model to them.”

It meant a lot to me to hear this from Jen, someone who has also struggled with how to combine socially-minded endeavors, earning money, furthering a career and getting the most out of Northeastern.  When I think about it that way, N.U.in still helps me with the mission I once (and still?) have:

I want to travel to parts of the world with injustice, spend my time there in a meaningful way, and learn their stories so I may tell them on their behalf.  If I can make people understand and care using the gift of my writing, I can catalyze more action than I ever could have accomplished as just one person.

At the time, I was assuming that fact-based fictional stories, plays, or screenplays would be my method.  I never even considered blogging or any sort of journalism, which now seems like such a silly omission.  If I can use service-learning, reflection and this time abroad (perhaps in a less-developed country) to instill an ethic of global awareness and helping others in a useful way, I can consider working for N.U.in a success, and progress toward my mission.  When I think about how much impact Julie Miller had on all of us in Benin, this seems attainable.  Because of her, we were more thoughtful, patient, cooperative, positive and open-minded individuals.

So I am genuinely excited about this job, and the possibilities it brings.

Choosing a New Place

When I first heard about the Benin trip, and how it had a one-week France component, I was a little bummed.  I had already been to france, I already had that stamp.  But I think a lot changed when I was in Cuba. As the trip got closer, I thought of paris as a comfort, as a home in so many ways.  As a breath of fresh air, the way a weekend at my parents’ house can be. 

Now, when I think of bangladesh, I don’t think oh! Now I can say I’ve been to asia.  I don’t think about all the great proximate countries and how to cram them in as cheap as possible.  I think about how hard it will be to experience my first truly blind foreign language experience.  I think about how ill probably be alone, and what will I do for housing.  I think about how they treat women, and wonder whether harassment is prevalent. 

When I think about the Dominican Republic, I think of the comforts of Spanish and familiar food.  I think of the proximity to Cuba and Haiti.  I think about how going there three times in a six month period will be such an asset.  Of course, I also hope there will be enough food, and that I wont get sick of spending so much time there.

I think a lot, too, about the choices I don’t make.  Latin america isn’t supposed to be my focus area.  Shouldn’t I be in Africa or the Middle East?  Shouldn’t, as a friend suggested, I be running back to Cairo?

This is where it gets dicey and where I get all Bell Jar.  Each place I choose is a million I don’t.   And of course, money is always a factor, and my career, and the strength of what I intend to do in this new place. 

How do you pick where you live, go on vacation or work?  For me, a co-op abroad will be all of those things, in its own way.

ONE

A few weekends ago, I was one of the volunteers at the U2 shows down at Gillette.  Greenpeace, Save Burma and the ONE Campaign were also there, which made for some nice camaraderie amongst the volunteers. 

It was an experience I will always remember and never trade, but in a way, it was so disheartening.  I spent the day out in the hot sun, approaching strangers and beseeching them to care about this woman with a strange name who lives so far away and is rarely on the news.  I was polite to people who were rude, I engaged with people who were argumentative and I tried not to piss anybody off.  I did my best to cram as many facts in as I could, once they agreed to sign and were finagling the clipboard. 

But after all that, Bono did more. 

He waved his magic wand and brought us all on stage with her face covering our own.  He sang the song he wrote for her, and played an informative text overlay on the jumbo tron.  He got the crowd of people, previously drunk or disinterested, to put on their own masks of her, and to care. 

But does the ONE campaign really hold up?  Or rather, does it stay true to its ideals?  Yes, it raises money.  But the premise is that we each only have one voice, and if we each raise that one voice, there will be a million voices all crying out for the same freedoms and protections.  But not all voices are equal.  There’s a reason Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle do the ONE ads, not me and my dad. 

It was an emotional weekend, and for the first time I truly felt like an activist.  But it put into perspective a few things, like how many hundreds of hours of photocopying and data entry balanced out the joy of being on stage with U2.  Or more importantly,  the fact that no matter how hard I worked, Bono could write a check and give a directive and do more for Daw ASSK than I ever could in a lifetime of activism. 

For Bono, it doesn’t matter that he’s not a politician.  He’s an average Irish guy with an amazing voice, great songwriting skills, and some really talented friends.  But he has made himself so relevent to the non-profit and activism world, as well as to popular culture, that governments listen to him.  Average people listen to him.  There’s a reason people signed my petition if I said Bono asked us to be here, Bono wrote Walk On about this woman, Bono supports us. 

What he says matters. 

Which brings me back to my high school dream: I should either be president, or Bob Dylan.

Activist

The weekend of September 20th was phenomonal.  In the words of my father, “Nobody is gonna believe us.”

September 20th is my dad’s birthday, and he and I spent it by collecting signatures for Amnesty all day and then watching U2 from the inner circle at night.  Oh, yeah, and we walked on stage.  With Bono.  It was more amazing than I thought it could have been, and the best free birthday present ever. 

The second night I went to Gillette with Alex, cuz my dad works for a living and that was an exhausting day.  So that means I spent two full days immersed in Amnesty and Save Burma and U2.  I actually got a bit jaded from seeing them so much, which was kind of weird.  But it was by all accounts an amazing weekend, and not just for the reasons you would think. 

The second night, I was legitimately choked up while walking on stage, Aung Sun Suu Kyi‘s face in front of my own.  I finally felt like I was really doing something worthwhile, and I had this little moment of oh, so this is my life now.  I’m a girl who does the solidarnosc fist and wears peacock feathers in her hair because they symbolize democracy in Burma.  I’m also the only one (besides Alex) who knows what CEDAW is and can properly explain our petition about it.  I kind of like being this person.  Hm.  I could totally be this person, for real life, not just for coop.  Hm. 

It was englightening to speak to the monks, both of whom were in their early 20s.  These are people who have given up the comforts of modern or family life for ascetism and service to their people.  I really enjoyed seeing people my age who were so committed to their faith and their country, and on such a different path from where I am. 

One of the monks had a digital SLR, his only luxury item.  He explained that it was not frivolous at all.  Since the warrant for his arrest was issued due to his part in the protests, he can’t go home.  Instead, he travels, taking pictures and telling his story, trying to save his country from afar.  The camera is just his way of doing the work he was called to do, adapting to this new circumstance. 

I’m no monk, but I’d like to think that my path isn’t as far from his as it first seems.  Because right now, I’m a professional activist.

Declaration of Intention

I had a blast writing this blog, and in egypt in general.  Originally, I started this one specifically for the trip, to be grandparent- and Bridgiebear-friendly as well as to calm the collective nerves of my family.  In the meantime though, I had lots to say (shocking) that had nothing to do with the trip, so I started a separate blog. 

At this point, the necessity of separating the two doesn’t really exist.  There’s nothing profane on either blog, and I don’t want this one to die.  Increasingly posts of one type are bleeding into the other, as the Egypt experience invairably colored everything I do.  I like wordpress far better (it shows me stats so I know how I’m doing; the other blog is on blogger) and I’ve already distributed this link to most of the people who matter in my life.  So I’m keeping this one and transferring the best of my other blog to here. 

So what will I write about now?  Well, I plan to continue travelling as well as learning about the Middle East, Arabic language and culture and international politics, so there will be some of that.  I’ve also assigned myself some homework (i’m on coop and miss school cuz i’m a nerd) and i’ll be keeping up with that here.  Basically, I don’t feel done with my research about women’s clothing.  I have started expanding the paper, and that will be reflected in various posts here. 

So I hope you keep reading–there will be plenty of stuff, new and old, coming down the pike!

Nahdet Mahrousa

We visited an incubator NGO (non-Governmental Organization) within Egypt, called Nahdet Mahrousa (Renaissance of Egypt) a few weeks ago.  The incubator selects possible projects and helps them turn into full-fledged, self-sustaining NGOs that are independent financially and otherwise. NM promotes better standards of health and education, as well as tolerance, employment, financial independence and dignity.  They’re a homegrown group of diverse Egyptians who wanted to help combat the infant mortality rates, high unemployment and brain drain that have been such a problem for Egypt.

NM provides legal assistance, research, HR, funding, branding and PR advice, training and project development ideas.  Some of the NGOs they have helped get off the ground include the Young Innovators Award (YIA), which awards Egyptian high schoolers with the funding to carry our their innovative ideas.  This is an attempt to promote more science and technology in Egypt, and often helps the students land jobs with companies that want to buy their innovations.  Another NGO hey helped create was CEDO, a group that has put career services offices in all the public universities of Egypt.  Previously, only wealthy students who could afford to go to private universities got the kind of career advice that comes standard with a college education in the US.  Now, students who never took a university-level english class can have help going over their resume, or preparing for an interview.

Marisa–you’d be so proud of me!  I networked my little tush off!  I got a few business cards and they said I can send my resume to them for the next coop cycle (sorry mom!).  It would be unpaid but phenomenal, and I absolutely need to find a way to get back here, so we’ll see how that goes.  I would absolutely LOVE to work with them, but so far my Arabic isn’t quite good enough.

What’s amazing is that NM just now (after five years) hired their first PR person for their own organization.  They explain their success (and constant interview requests) by saying that, “good news travels fast.”  I can’t help but thinking that wouldn’t exactly be the case in the US.  But then again, in a country where so few people are (effectively) tackling unspoken issues, a group that dedicates itself to just that must stand out.