Tag Archives: Paris

If I Wrote for Thought Catalogue, this is what it would look like

Paris is like that first love that will always hold your heart. You two can fall easily back into each other’s arms, where everything comes quickly, lasts long, and feels right.

Canada is like that guy from your hometown that you paw around every once in a while just to feel alive, or to remember how it felt when you were sixteen and everything you did with him was new and dangerous. You may go back every once in a while, but honestly sometimes you get more out of not even bothering.

Egypt is like your first time: different for everyone. But no matter how you found it, it will always have a grip on you. It will always make your pulse quicken and give your stomach a jolt like an electric shock. You may wander back when you’re not sure what else to do, and while it may welcome you back, it could just as easily chew you up and spit you out. You will always wonder what if, and Egypt will always be there to remind you and tempt you.

Benin is like a bad fling: been there, done that, no regrets and no returning. Unless it was for a really good reason…

Greece was like finally getting with the most popular guy in school and not really getting it. What’s all the fuss about? I was too tired and busy from the pursuit to even enjoy it. And anyway, shouldn’t he come to me?  Maybe someday it will be time for a reunion…

Cuba is that guy your mother wanted you about. Some call it abuse; others are jealous. Sometimes, those people are one and the same. He’s frustrating, mean, fickle and generally beyond human comprehension. He may depress you, confuse you, and even cheat on you, but he makes you feel like a queen. With him, you are a woman no one else ever see or creates in you. With him you are wild, free, fun, and young forever. You are powerful, flirtatious and just a wee bit dangerous. Anyone who tells you they’d rather be alone than by his side is lying or they don’t know what they’re missing.

For reference, this is Thought Catalogue.

What is Service-Learning

Sometimes I get so into what I’m doing that I put the horse WAY before the cart, and forget entirely about step one.  Sometimes even steps one through five, and I think I did that a wee bit with explaining this trip.  It wasn’t until I read a helpful e-mail from my confused father that I realized if he didn’t know what I was doing here, I don’t think anyone else could.  Most people are still wondering what the hell I’m doing in Africa, and where this Benin place is, anyhow, and what’s this service-learning I keep waxing philosophic about.

Service

Service is volunteering one’s time at an organization, be it related to your church, school, workplace or other community.

Learning

Learning is your typical class room education, with objectives, goals, lectures and homework.  Pretty straightforward.

Service-Learning

Obviously, this is a combination of the two.  It’s a great example of Northeastern’s philosophy of Experiential Education.  The field of education and type of service are related, and as the French say, il y a un rapport entre les deux.  The service is supposed to inform the learning, and vice versa.  Classroom discussions are enriched with anecdotes from the field, and volunteering is more useful because of the knowledge gained in the clasroom.

While this has typicaly been used in hands-on, service-oriented fields like Human Services (which is similar to and includes social work), sociology, etc, it has also been used in the medical field and with engineers.

Why is this trip Unique?

Generally, service-learning is localized to one’s community–our international setting is out of the ordinary.  The idea is that a person is helping their own community, where they understand the language, culture, geography, et cetera.  Also, service learning typically lasts for a semester, with students volunteering at their placement for a few hours each week.

The Logistics

Our group is broken up into 5 smaller groups, each of which works for three hours a day (9am to noon) with a local Beninois organization.  The groups are the same every day, and each group sticks with its own organization the entire time.  One group is working at a music school/recording studio that also has an AIDS clinic, another is an orphanage, a third group is working at our very own residence, the Songhai Center, the fourth is at a vocational school for women ages 10-20, and finally I am at a micro-enterprise of a group of women who pool their resources (time, money, childcare) to create four products to sell in the market.

The Schooling

We fit lectures in during afternoons, as well as site visits (like to UNESCO or the US Ambassador to Benin).  In France we had a week of language classes in the morning from 9am to noon, and we have been receiving reading assignments throughout the trip.  We have started picking topics for a research paper due after our return to the states, and we were also graded on our presentations to the Universite d’Abomey students in the city of Cotonou.  Finally, there is the capacity building project, which synthesizes our classroom knowledge about aid, NGOs and evaluating efficiency with our experience in the field with our organization where we volunteer.

Conclusion

I hope this offers you all a little clarity on why I’m here and what the program is all about.  Feel free to leave any questions in the comments!

Henri Navarre!

Henri Navarre, or Henri IV, is everywhere in Paris.  For those of you who are not obsessive history nerds/did not take AP Euro with Dr. Ryan, Henri Navarre was a Protestant nobleman from the Basque region, or Navarra/Navarre (of ETA fame) who eventually became the most beloved king of France.  During the Revolution when the people destroyed the statues on the pont (bridge) of the kings of France, Navarre’s was left untouched.

Henri's wife, La Reine Margot

Henri pragmatically switched religions as needed in order to be king, but stayed true to his Huguenot roots and eventually passed the Edict of Nantes, which ensured religious freedom for all in France.

Flowers laid at the site of Henri's assassination, on the 400th anniversary of his death

Henri’s name is now invoked for civil societies a la the rotary club, and there’s a large statue of him near Pont Neuf.  If you have the time, I highly recommend watching La Reine Margot to learn more about Navarre and the St. Batholomew’s Day Massacre of the Huguenots.

The plaque commemorating Navarre's death

Foto Friday: Les Citadines

Our kitchen. We also have a fridge, so we can cook our own food. I've been making my own breakfast and dinner.
My bedroom. Les Citadines is located in the very heart of Paris, within walking distance of the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, la Seine, and Centre Pompidou.
The view out my other bedroom window. Our classroom is a three minute walk from our door, and we're amidts a bustle of shops, creperies and street performers.
The Salle de Bains! So Western! Yay!
Our delicious potluck spread, prepared by Avi and his many sous-chefs.
Part of our group at dinner. Look at all that Dialogue love!

Traveler or Traitor?

Damn! Are we traitors? Un-American Commie sympathizers? Freedom Fry-eating liberal whackadoos? Or just misguided college kids?

In our discussion today, many people mentioned that they had received negative reactions to our trip.  They were called un-American or traitors, and chided for not volunteering at home, or treated as stupid for “wasting money” to volunteer abroad.  Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

  • Our trip is service-learning, and for credit.  It actually costs less than a regular summer semester at NU would, if you include housing, food and such.  I would also be taking classes regardless of whether I traveled this summer, so the argument that my program fees are better spent on aid/charity doesn’t quite work here.
  • Many of the people who say things like, “why aren’t you doing something about all the poverty at home?!” aren’t actually doing anything about it either
  • Service doesn’t have to be either/or.  Volunteering at home and abroad is not mutually exclusive
  • Experiences abroad can make us better volunteers/employees back home
  • Things will never be perfect at home, so by that logic we (as people, a community and a nation) should never help any other country, state, neighborhood or even family.  That sort of logic doesn’t help make the world a better place, and if you start applying it to the prioritization of issues it is a virtual spiral into inaction
  • It is no one else’s decision but my own to determine my priorities and my path in life.  In other words, buzz off!  This is my money, my credits, my scholarships, and my time.  I’ll put it where I think it can benefit me and others the most.

What do you think?  Are we wasting our time and our money by going abroad?  Should we be focusing on Roxbury, the Reading food pantry and other such local isssues?  Is it better to do something like go work on Katrina relief effort, or is that not okay until we’re done fixing Massachusetts?  Would my tuition money be better spent at some charity or relief organization while I stay at home?  Should we, as an imperialist nation (and human beings) feel obligated to help?  Is helping foreigners un-American?

Ignorant Traveler

That’s me right now. I feel strange going to Benin.  I’m not even sure how to pronounce it.

Here I am, researching oh so much about Ewan and Nicole...I mean, Benin.

We went to the embassy today, and it was great to meet the ambassador, but I was embarrassed.  I didn’t know the square footage or population size.  I already spoke French well, so I look and sound more prepared than I am.  I knew about some of the languages, but only because of Benin’s ties to Cuba and my mind’s sponge-like properties.

I feel very unprepared for this trip.  Part of that is great; I’m laid back and go with the flow.  I don’t need to know everything, to schedule everything, to be in charge of everything.  But part of that disgusts me. Some travellers discuss the virtues of going with a totally open mind, of being sure “not to over-research.”

Over research?  Is that even possible?  To me it just sounds like an excuse not to do your homework.

I’ve never been somewhere I knew so little about before.  And yet I remember saying that about Cuba.  I was rather prepared for the French exchange in high school, and I deifnitely know more about Egypt than is expected for an American.  But that doesn’t mean I was prepared enough.  In-country I was embarassed and frustrated by my poor Arabic skills, by the fact that I’d only taken one semester of formal Arabic.  I’m not used to not being the best at things like languages, to not knowing all the answers and to not always being right.

So maybe I’m never as prepared as I think.  There are always excuses: Arabic is hard, Cuba is soon, no one does research on Benin. But there are also millions of people who travel every year without studying the language, religion, geography, culture and economic situation of the destination before packing their bags.

Perhaps, its just time I let travel teach me that I don’t always have to be the best, and that being unsure (or heaven forbid: wrong!) is acceptable and even kind of interesting.

Bienvenue a Paris!

After eight hours in Logan and another eight on a plane due to volcanic ash-related re-routing, I’m finally in Paris!  Here’s a smattering of photos from our dinnertime stroll.

The view from my Apart'hotel (The Citadines) in 1ere Arrondissement, Paris
Saint Michel, near where we ate dinner and a short walk from our place.
The Seine at sunset.
Notre Dame Catedral
My new fox friend that I made at our restaurant tonight. He was perhaps the most normal aspect of the entire experience.