Friday, August 24, 2012

Rina's final blogs combined

Time to Leave
Now that I'm actually at the airport/ on the plane, I feel like I'm ready to go home.  My last day in CT was beautiful.  I woke up on a cloudy Saturday at Lion House, and Amariliz and I went, one last time, to the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock (an event only open on Saturdays for food-lovers and hipsters alike.)  They have everything there, from crepes and waffles, gyros and ostrich burgers, to pizza and pesto.  As we left, the sun came out and we took a minibus back to Observatory.  We shopped around on Lower Main Road, and spent the last of our Rand at Instangu Boutique.  We said our goodbyes to everyone we could, and packed our bags and ourselves into the cab.  I couldn't stop feeling like I'd forgotten something.  I kept thinking about all the things I didn't get to do, what I wished I had done, differently maybe or maybe not, and then a crazy, fast-forwarded reflection of the entire trip, or certain moments in time that stood out.  I loved thinking back to all the valuable interpersonal experiences I went through during my time here.  Once at the airport, I think about what's to come when I get home, and this summer.  How much I missed my family all of a sudden.  How I feel happy, even though I am leaving.  As much as I don't want to leave, the trip has to end at some point, unfortunately!  I know I will be back to ZA someday, hopefully soon.  I feel blessed to have been able to experience everything I did, and so very grateful.  No waterworks, no bawling my eyes out, just this feeling of peacefulness that is comforting me as I say goodbye to my Cape Town.  

Life back in the States
Being home isn't as terrible as I had imagined it being.  It's good to be home, and see my family and friends again.  But I miss Cape Town whenever I find myself looking for something to do around here (central Connecticut). 

It's weird when they ask me to talk about my trip... I ask them what aspect they'd like to hear about.  Just the "good stuff."  (All of it was the good stuff.)   Or they say; anything.  Too vague, I don't know where to start!  I love talking about my trip and the things I did, what life is like there, and all that I learned.   I could talk about it for days, but sometimes I find myself wishing I didn't talk about it at all.  I can't fully explain experiences, people or places to them, because they've never been there, so they will never be able to fully comprehend... skewing the story.  I feel like my pictures aren't good enough to illustrate what I'm trying to explain.  (Wish I took more pictures!) It's weird when people don't realize how much a semester abroad can affect you, because they have never spent a semester studying/volunteering in a different country (My entire family, and the majority of my friends).  It's worse realizing most people don't really want to hear what you experienced abroad, asking about the trip just to ask.  I'm much more aware of my surroundings, the differences, the things I've taken for granted I can really appreciate, and I try my best to keep the Capetonian in me alive.  

Being a Capetonian means 
-Looking and being smart-casual.  
-Slowing down to enjoy the simple and sometimes monotonous things/tasks of our day-to-day
-Acknowledging that we are all brothers and sisters, and helping one another
-Sincerely asking another person 'How are you?' or "Howzit?" as they say in CT
-Being unique
-Spreading love/warmth
-Hugs and Kisses!! 
-No worries
-Faith, hope, determination, motivation, perseverance
-Forward struggle
-Ubuntu (I am what I am because of who we all are) 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Brandi's reflections on what she learned

Brandi in Ocean View
To be completely honest, this semester changed my life. The race & gender course seriously opened my eyes to a whole new realm of not just thinking but new information I never even knew existed. Before this trip I kind of just accepted everything that was told me to. Now I have learned to not believe everything someone tells me and to always research things before I trust completely. I have learned to question assumptions but to not loose myself in the process and I have learned how easily people can jump on bandwagon of any kind.

My life choices…that’s so strange to think about because it seems so far away but in reality that’s so close! Well, my life choices have definitely been altered because of this trip. I think differently now. I feel more socially aware about issues like racism and sexism. Before this trip if someone made a racist joke I probably would have laughed and thought it was funny. But by being in your class and seeing first hand how racism affects people, I feel like I can stand up against it and tell people how seriously wrong it is. I have learned how even if something isn’t offensive to you, it could be to someone else. I have really learned a new perspective on people that I definitely know will affect whom I hang out with and what I do today, tomorrow and for the rest of my life. I think the biggest thing is that I have learned to open my eyes. Before I came on the trip I knew I didn’t have a lot figured out but I thought I knew a good amount about a lot of things. But boy did that change, especially by being in your class. I feel like I was so ignorant before I came on this trip but I am not angry at myself because of it but I now realize how important it is to stay informed. I have never been much for watching the news or keeping up with social issues but now I think it is so important to stay informed. Seriously, I know that I will stay informed when I go home and that will help me so much later on in life.

About my future career; being here in South Africa just emphasized exactly what I want to do with my life. Working at Christel House with the grade three children who come from nothing but work so hard just to live makes me even more passionate about working at The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp when I am older. I know that I want to travel and see the world and maybe even start a camp here in South Africa. I just want to help people and by experiencing all that I have here it has made me realize how possible it actually is to do that.
I have learned so much about race and gender that will definitely help me become a more informed global citizen. I now realize how important it is to talk about issues like race and gender because it is when we ignore issues that nothing gets solved and the cycle continues. We watched a video in class about how in the United States when people drive through places like Harlem we lock out doors and windows. It gives into the negative stereotype that all black people are bad. That is not okay. By watching videos provided us, and reading articles and discussing issues like this, I realize how prevelant these negative stereotypes are in our culture at home. I see how even before I came I even did some of those things we discussed because subconsciously I accepted many of the messages that are so prevalent in our culture. Now I want to break those stereotypes and I feel like I have the power (from our experiences here and the knowledge I have gained) to stand up to close friends and call them out on a racist remark or sexist comment. The talks we had about how women are portrayed in media and so many different areas blew my mind as well. I never realized how sexualized and degraded women are just in simple magaizines in the US and even on billboards here. I learned that by women calling each other ‘sluts’ and ‘bitches’ it only makes it okay for men to call us that too. Its disgusting when I think how often those terms are used on a daily basis at UConn, whether it’s a man calling a woman those things or even women calling each other that.
I feel like I have learned so much about so many issues that are right under my nose at home that I never would have known or realized by coming here. I think by opening my eyes to so many issues like race and gender I see how many more issues need to be addressed. I think everything I have learned makes me a more informed global citizen because even though I don’t know everything about the topics we covered in class I still know so much more then I did. And by even acknowledging that such things exist is the first step in making a change. I feel like I can make other people more aware to and assist them in becoming more aware.

Now here comes the big part- what I learned about myself. I know I have talked about this before but I think the biggest thing I learned was how to love myself. I learned that I really truly love myself and this is the first time in my life I can honestly say that. I wish I could say how it happened but I really can't pinpoint it on one specific event. I think it started at camp this past summer when I learned that there is more to life then surface level fake ideas that people so dearly cling onto because they don’t want to open their eyes and heart to things other then themselves. From working at camp with such incredible people and children I learned that it is possible to love every second of every day. From camp to coming on this trip, I feel like I have grown so much as a person. Not only am I more self aware, but also I am more aware about things happening right in front of me. I am more perceptive to sexist and racist remarks and I now see how there is so much more to a person then what you think you already know.
Like I said before though, the biggest thing I think I learned about myself is that I am okay. I know I am not perfect (definitely not perfect) but I am comfortable with myself. I think by learning to accept myself I have learned to accept other people even more and that is so important. I also have learned how important emotions truly are. Openly crying during some class discussion made me realize how important emotions and feelings really are. Its also important to me that I realized I am not alone on so many different things. Even though all of us may have wanted to scream at each other more often then once on this trip, I have learned patience and realized that someone may be going through a hard time at the moment. I think it is so important that I experienced everything I did here. I think coming into this trip with no expectations really made me see how important it is to stay open minded. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Theresa's reflections upon leaving Cape Town

Wrote this a while ago when all my feelings were still fresh but haven't had internet on my computer/memory stick to get it to an internet cafe, but here it is! 

Nellie & Theresa
Having left Cape Town over two weeks ago, it seems that some self-reflection and pause is necessary in order to truly understand the novelty, wonder and joy of my time (our time?) in Cape Town.  I am lucky that I have not ended my adventures in Africa; in fact, I still have much time left on this wondrous, diverse continent, with 3 months left in East Africa, first in Tanzania and then in Uganda.

At present, Nellie and I are staying with family friends in Arusha, Tanzania.  We are lucky enough to be in the shadow of another great mountain; Mt. Meru.  But with the semi-awkward timing of our trip, we have landed in the depths of Tanzania’s rainy season and the mountain has barely made its presence known.  Hiding behind a curtain of rain clouds and trees, Mt. Meru seems bashful and timid compared to Table Mountain. 

I miss the silhouette of Table Mountain, the omnipresence of dichotomy; the reminder that we are part of something bigger, a grand scheme, of some type of wonderful oneness with the earth and its creatures; but also the reminder of our individual insignificance, of our fragile transience, of being just a blip in the big bang of creation. 

In class and with my co-educators, we spent much time talking of the clean-cut relief that dichotomies can provide; bad and good, black and white, rich and poor.  We discussed on numerous occasions, the desire of Western culture, of our culture, to organize everything, so that we can have tidy, neat packages that can be presented to the masses.  But the more we talked through/about poverty, capitalism, feminism, racism, democracy, plutocracy, education, inequality, philosophy, generosity, greed, self-indulgence, appreciation, righteousness, religion, morality, community, individuality, the more we realized that we would come to a bypass (using Western standards).  That no easily deliverable, well packaged campaign stances came out of our conversations.  That after hours of charged debate, thoughtful pauses, confident stances and retracted statements; we had nothing to show for it, other than the empty bottles and cigarette butts strewn about our feet. 

Then came the difficult part.  Sitting on the porch, with Table Mountain and the stars for company, came the self-reflection, self-loathing, forgiveness, confusion, celebration.  The reaching into the depths of my humanity, my mind, my soul, and my heart. No longer having the solid ground of my thoughts, I had to find some peace within the chaos of my mind; a sole survivor in the shipwreck of my being. 

My time in Cape Town was truly wonderful.  My co-educators in Cape Town were inspiring, energetic and people I trust to take care of the world.  My teachers were knowledgeable, stimulating, and people I am thankful for having paved the way for younger activists to join the celebration of human rights.  I emerge from my time in Cape Town blessed with the gift of Table Mountain’s dichotomies, that due to the inherent limitations of being a sole person I cannot and will not solve the problems of the world; but also more importantly with the understanding and wholeness that comes knowing of our unity, of oneness, of ubuntu, that I cannot exist without the we, that my existence has no meaning without the existence of the soil, and the mountains, and the animals, and the air and the people who inhabit this wonderful earth. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kimmi learning from contrasts

Prior to leaving Cape Town reach co-educator wrote a paper in response to the following questions: How do you expect the experiences and knowledge gained this semester to influence your future career and life choices?; What have your learned about race and gender that you believe is important for you to know as you strive to become a more well informed global citizen?; What have you learned about yourself that you believe is important for you to know?  

Kimmi has agreed to post her answers as her final entry on this blog.

Over three and a half months I learned a lot through my internship, classes and experiences that I’ve had in South Africa. I expect the experiences and knowledge I gained this semester to influence my future career in many ways. I plan on becoming an elementary school teacher when I grow up. I think that through my internship I was able to learn more about the education system in South Africa and education in general. Here they tend to concentrate on more things such as stretching and doing exercises with the kids to increase their fine and gross motor skills that they do not concentrate on in the states. I have found that my teachers are a lot more open to their students about their private body parts and other topics such as drugs and alcohol. This may be different because of the type of school that Christel House is or may be part of the culture I’m not sure. It has been interesting to compare and contrast how they do things differently in the US versus South Africa though. It seems to me that both schools want to offer the best education to their students and work hard to do that. They just do that in different ways.

In the US they have taken out naptime and instead during that time the students are working hard in the classroom. In the states the teachers tend to push their students harder. I have learned from just observing the class certain techniques that my teacher uses in the classroom. For example, Miss Loren tends to use the students themselves when she is explaining a concept to them. One time she got Joshua (tallest boy in our class) and Sanele (smallest boy in our class) to stand in front of the class. She then asked the class who was taller and who was smaller. She told the class that Joshua was the tallest boy in the class and Sanele was the smallest boy in the class. She was teaching them the concept of small and large. I thought this was a creative and good way to teach it. It got the whole class engaged and the students liked being part of the exercise. Teaching techniques like this I will bring home to me and will use in the future when I am a teacher.
Miss Loren also taught me that you can discipline kids in different ways. In most of the classrooms that I have observed in the US the teachers use rewards methods to discipline the children such as the color chart and what not. In South Africa the teachers are stricter with the children and make them sit out or yell at them if they are misbehaving. This is a different approach to discipline and I have learned that both tend to work. At the beginning of the year like most teachers do Miss Loren and other teachers I have seen in the past have to lay down the rules in order for the students to respect them. You also have to be very patient and repetition is key. These are two constant things that I have seen in South Africa and the states that I will bring to my classroom in the future.

I have learned that you have to have a good balance between being too strict and showing your students how much you care and love them. Miss Loren at times will joke around with her kids and play with them. But the kids still know that she is the teacher and respect her as teacher. Whereas with me they seem to be a little bit confused at times see me more as a friend. This has been one of the challenges that I have had to face at Christel House to try to get the kids to respect me and see that I am equivalent to Miss Loren and Miss Alfreeda. I know that this will help me in the future when I become a teacher to learn how to control my class and get respect from my students.

As for life choices I have learned not to judge people just by looking at them. I have learned by living with sixteen other students naturally I formed first impressions and was not a fan of everyone at first. But throughout the three months I have started to get to know them more and more and have learned so much about and from each and every person. I know now that those first impressions I had on some people were not correct therefore I should not judge people just from one encounter with them. I need to take into account that you do not know what is going on within each person. You do not know what anyone is going through so with that knowledge I know that people have off days and significant things happen to people everyday that may shape the way they are acting that day. You cannot judge someone for not doing this or that because that person may just need time for themselves to reflect or may just need to rest because of something that has happened. I have also learned that even though some people may have done bad things like stolen your purse or laptop does not mean that they necessarily are a bad person. You do not know what type of situation they are in. You never know whether they are growing up on the streets and are hungry and have no money. Most of the time people in South Africa will steal because they are hungry and want food so they steal to sell your valuables. Most of the robbers have no intent to hurt you. It has also made me second guess about prisoners as well before I am ashamed at the way I looked at them like they were animals. Now I finally see that they are humans as well some may have something wrong with them but others may have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. You need to be more open towards people and be careful not to forget their backgrounds and where they are coming from. I have learned that you need to assume good intent and should not judge right away.

I have also learned that when I grow up I do not want to raise my kids by buying them gender specific toys or telling them not to run like a girl to try to encourage or motivate them to do better. I am going to try to not get the media to affect them and discourage them from trying to look like the people they see on TV or in the movies. I want the best for my kids and I want them to be open to people and different races. I want them to talk to me about race and become knowledgeable about the world and what is going on around us. I was ignorant about many things including race before I came on this trip. I do not want my kids to be ignorant but be aware and then hopefully they will spread the knowledge.

Through class I learned a lot about race and gender that I did not know in the past and other things that I knew already were reinforced. Some things I believe that are important are that racism still exists today! Many people tend to be oblivious to this because many people in the states do not like to talk about racism. I now see that it is important to talk to people about racism. I have learned from Brittany that it is better to recognize race, to see it, acknowledge it, and embrace it. She said that she wanted us to recognize that she was black and see how beautiful it is. She is right we shouldn't be shying away and we shouldn’t be ignoring that the fact that she is black because she is what she is and we should embrace it. Many people when describing others tend to feel awkward when they say she is black or Hispanic but what I have learned is that you shouldn’t because it is equivalent to saying he has brown hair or she has blue eyes. You should feel comfortable enough to recognize it and embrace it. This is important to know as I strive to become a well-informed global citizen because we should all be aware that we are different and celebrate our differences. It is important to know that we come from different backgrounds and each and every one of us is not going to be exactly the same. Many of us may find that we have certain things in common but we need to realize that we also have many differences. As a global citizen we need to make others aware that it is okay to be different. Our culture tends to think we need to be all alike and assimilate but our world would be a whole lot more boring if we were all the same. So why are we all striving to be the same? It beats me. But I know now that we need to learn to be open to talking to people about race and other differences and should embrace it and celebrate it instead of put others down for being or acting differently.

I have also learned that knowledge is key. Many do not know their basic human rights and do not realize that their human rights are being violated. All over the world we have this problem. I think it is important as a global citizen to make more and more people aware of their rights and encourage them to spread the knowledge. It is also important to recognize when others or your own rights are being violated and to do something about it. At times many people tend to just let it slip on by when they are being violated. In this sense we need to give others the knowledge so they will not be afraid to stand up for their rights. I know that I was guilty of letting things slip on by but now that I have the knowledge and know what my rights I will not let them slip again. I think by making others knowledgeable and giving them that confidence they need and this will help to get more and more people to stand up and work together to prevent others from violating human rights. I see now that every little bit counts and doing little things like that will make an impact. You need to start somewhere so this is where we can start by speaking up and saying something.

To be honest talking about myself and what I have learned on this trip is one of the hardest questions to answer. From being in South Africa I have learned that in the US the society and also my family has tended to put a lot of pressure on me to succeed and do well in school. I have always been put under pressure to get good grades and to make money since I was little. I got a job as soon as I was legal to work even a year younger (shh don’t tell). Society makes you think in a way that the only way you can be happy is if you have money and are able to buy and do nice things. What I have learned here is that is not where happiness comes from. I have learned that I have found joy by hiking, getting to know and hanging out with other people. I have learned about myself that I am very passionate about kids and love them to death. Kids are really what make me most happy. I will do anything for my Grade R kids and Ocean View kids. I have realized that this is why I want to become a teacher. I also really want to make an impact and want the kids to look back and remember me and hopefully what I have done has given them motivation to want to succeed and continue to study. After our last trip and tutoring session at Ocean View I have realized that I have made an impact on these kids. All the kids at Ocean View after were given the opportunity to write on the back of our certificates. The little boy I tutored and was close to, A-Jay, ended up writing that he loved me a lot and that he hoped that I loved him to. He said not to forget about him. This really hit me because I was worried this whole time that he would be the one forgetting about me. But in the end he was the one worrying that I would forget about him. He has improved so much and I have realized that I have impacted his life even if it is in a little way. I have motivated him to do well in school and now he is getting 90% in maths! I am so proud of him and cannot wait to keep in touch with him. I have realized that the same things in life that I may have not paid much attention to or thought did anything really do make a difference. Just by taking a few hours a week out of my time to go to Ocean View everyday Friday has helped these kids and has given them the confidence to succeed and do well. I am proud of each and every one of them. I have learned that I do have the power within me to help and tutor these kids. I am nurturing and caring and clearly it has showed through this tutoring but also at Christel House.

In the past I have had a hard time with confronting people and saying no. But now that I am in South Africa I have come a long way and actually have been confronting people about certain things that have been bothering me. I have learned to stand up for myself more and not let others take advantage of me. I have learned that at times I have been too nice and have grown to overcome confrontation and actually speak up. I have learned that now I have the knowledge to say something about race or when people’s rights are being violated.

I have learned that in the past I did tend to judge people and not like people because of the way that they acted towards me at first or how they looked. Now I realized how stupid that was because I was judging them before I even knew the. I have also learned that I tended to judge people I knew because they were mean to me or did not do this or that. Now I have realized that was stupid as well because I do not always know what people are going through. I cannot judge people because of one day they were in a bad mood.

I have also learned that I can empathize and sympathize with people. This was reinforced when I was tutoring the kids in Ocean View, my Grade R class and also conversations and instances I’ve had with people in the house. This is one quality that I know I have and always have had and I continue to keep it. I think it is a very important quality to have because it is easier to relate with others when I know what they are going through or can talk to them. I always try to be as approachable as possible and like it when people talk to me and vent to me. I like to be as helpful as possible. I have realized that at times I want to do everything and tend to overcommit. So here I have realized that I cannot and should prioritize things first. I cannot do everything or else I tend to get overwhelmed. So in the future I plan to do the things that are most important to me. I know that if I try to do everything I get too stressed out and tend to break down. This has shown me that I do need to set apart time for myself so that I can reflect and relax and gather my thoughts. I tend to be go go go all the time but I need to make time for myself and put myself first sometimes. 

Rebecca learned many valuable lessons

Prior to leaving Cape Town reach co-educator wrote a paper in response to the following questions: How do you expect the experiences and knowledge gained this semester to influence your future career and life choices?; What have your learned about race and gender that you believe is important for you to know as you strive to become a more well informed global citizen?; What have you learned about yourself that you believe is important for you to know?  

Rebecca has agreed to post her answers as her final entry on this blog.

Coming to Cape Town was a huge step in my life.  Ever since high school I have been pretty sure I want to be a high school teacher, and history was always my favorite subject so I could not fathom teaching any other subject.  Last year I had a small panic attack over whether I should really be a teacher.  It took me a couple of months and volunteering with a government housing project’s community’s center to really remember the reasons I wanted to be a teacher.  After being here all semester I still want to be a teacher, but I have realized that I may eventually want to get my doctorate and become a professor.   Being here has made me realize that I don’t have to pick one.  I can do both.  I definitely learned this from talking with Marita and the other people who are on this experience.  Being in a classroom all semester and having a positive relationship with the students, made me realize that while yes I still see myself as being a strict teacher one day, I know that I can have fun in the classroom also.  This will also hopefully influence the way I act at my summer job.  Over the summer I am a counselor at a YMCA day camp.  I believe I just got promoted to a group leader position, which gives me much more responsibility than last summer.  While I won’t loose my organized, strict approach (I have to pick up the other counselor’s slack a lot) I hope to use some of the more relaxed discipline techniques I picked up at Christel House. 
I am scared of almost everything.  It’s kind of the way I go about life.  Even though this may not appear to be so, I now feel confident in my ability to travel abroad more often without having mind-numbing fears the entire time.  I want to travel around the world: Europe, India, China, South America, you name it, I want to go.  I also want to see more of the United States.  For the longest time my grandparents lived in Florida so every year on our vacation we would travel to see them.  While I would never trade those times, I feel like now I have more mobility to see the rest of our country.  As a nation we are very diverse, and because I want to be a history teacher I want to be able to see the rest of the country that I will be spending a lot of my time educating about. 
One very important thing I have learned about not even race, but about ridding the world of racism, is that we cannot ignore race.  That will not make racism go away.  By ignoring it, we are simply neglecting to acknowledge the fact that we are different and that is not just ok, but great.  We can all learn so much if we simply realize that our differences can bring us together instead of pushing us apart.  The first time I realized this was when we visited Elowabeeni and Brittany & Erica shared their experience, which was so radically different from the rest of ours.  This was the start, but it took many more such discussions for me to become comfortable to talk about race with people who don’t have the same skin color as me. 

Another thing I learned, or experienced, about race is how uncomfortable it can be, being the only person of a skin color in the room.  I have ridden on buses to Khayletshia where I am one of three white people (the others are all on our trip), in a classroom all day where I am the only white person.  I used to think well as long as no one acts racist someone’s who black, Asian, Indian, etc. will not feel out of place.  Well fortunately I have learned how untrue that thought could be.  Being white attracts attention almost everywhere I go in Cape Town.  I can’t hide it, I am always noticed.  Yet I have always felt more comfortable when someone acknowledges my skin color instead of just pretending they don’t notice it because I know they do.  It’s definitely a life lesson to learn, especially since I want to be a teacher.
Another thing I have learned about is white privilege.  To me this was the missing piece of the puzzle when talking about the system of meritocracy.  In a social anthropology class I took I learned that meritocracy was a myth, yet it didn’t make sense because my Dad and his siblings had all risen from the lower class to the middle class.  Learning that race is the piece of the puzzle that makes the meritocracy a myth for so many people, really made sense to me. 
Learning about gender images etc. was a really enjoyable process for me and it didn’t make me uncomfortable like discussions of race.  I knew about gender inequalities before coming here.  I grew up in a family of extremely strong women, which is why this wasn’t all new information.  I liked seeing all the things that make me think I need make-up to look better, or wear push-up bras etc. Some things I still don’t mind, like looking pretty, what I mind is that the standards for beauty are so narrow: a pretty face, impossibly skinny body, big boobs, long hair, etc.  It’s all impossible for the average women.  I grew up in a household of extremely gorgeous women (by society’s standards) and I was always the ugly duckling.  My sister is much skinnier than I, my Mom thinks she’s fat, my aunt and her two daughters spend more time getting ready in one day than I would spend in an entire week.  It was really crushing to my self-esteem.  My parents would always tell me that what really mattered was how smart and talented I was, but I got an entirely different message when I would see my Mom looking in the mirror and being dissatisfied constantly, or when my sister was the one who always got the compliments about her beauty and how thin she was, but I was the second thought.  Spending time with my Dad’s family was always so much better because instead of just saying that the important things were being smart and talented, they actually were.  No one ever dressed all fancy or wore lots of make-up.  I always got books for presents because they read and really loved them.
I will not lie and say that I can completely erase the way I think about myself and body image, but I am more aware of what made me think this way.  Not only this but I promise now, my daughters (or sons even though I really want girls haha) will never see me criticizing my body because it is not fair that we make young girls in our society feel this way. This fits in more with how this trip has influenced my future, and this is probably the most important thing I have learned.  It took me until high school to have the confidence in myself I now have, and it took a really amazing guy friend to show me how pretty I really am, and not by society’s standards but mine.  I want my future offspring to see the beauty in everyone starting from the day they’re born. 

In connection with becoming a global citizen, I can easily see now how people all over the world have different standards of beauty, and if this is true than there is no one way to be beautiful.  Understanding this I realize just like race is socially constructed, so is beauty.  There may be some science to how symmetry is attractive to the human eye, but that doesn’t explain the image of big boobs, skinny body, big butt etc.  I was looking through trip pictures today, and I have stunning pictures of everyone.  These people all mean so much to me, and are so good, that I can’t imagine thinking of them as anything other than beautiful, and I want to apply this to the rest of my life. 
Another important thing I learned is how important it truly is to not judge others.  I used to say, “No I’m not judging you,” when really I was in my head I just wasn’t saying it.  Here I learned a great deal about so many different people and their lives, which I really have learned to not judge people.  It was a hard lesson to learn, but I am definitely getting better at it.  Also it is important to not judge people, or write them off because they are different than you.  I never would have made these amazing friends if I met them all at UCONN.  I would have missed out on so much if I had not been thrown together with them in another country. 
What I have learned about myself may be more difficult for me to write about.  I have seen how selfish and ignorant I was when I would complain about minorities receiving preference occasionally when it would come to college acceptance or scholarships.  This may be the most important lesson I have learned all semester, In order to make the world an equal, better, place those who have privilege need to give some of it up.  It’s a hard lesson to grapple with especially because being white, I am privileged and I have had struggles in my life so the idea of maybe having more of them is definitely not appealing, but it must be done.  I have also learned that I am much stronger than I ever thought.  I am strong enough to advocate for change, even if it is a quiet way, I am strong enough to stick out from the crowd, and I am strong enough to stick up for myself when someone treats me poorly instead of just ignoring it. 
This time in Cape Town has changed my life.  I cannot begin to put everything down on paper.  It all means so much to me and I would not change anything.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dan reflects on what he's learned

Prior to leaving Cape Town reach co-educator wrote a paper in response to the following questions: How do you expect the experiences and knowledge gained this semester to influence your future career and life choices?; What have your learned about race and gender that you believe is important for you to know as you strive to become a more well informed global citizen?; What have you learned about yourself that you believe is important for you to know?  

Dan has agreed to post his answers as his final entry on this blog.

Coming to Cape Town was one of the hardest things in my life to do. I have a feeling leaving from here will be just as hard. It took me a long time to settle into life here. For the first time in a long time I had an identity crisis, where I could not figure out where I fit into the group dynamic, or rather I could not figure out where I wanted to fit in. I struggled with this tremendously; I was not happy and more than once questioned my decision to come here. After all, I am so well grounded at UConn with a huge network of friends and acquaintances, plus a new girlfriend, it seemed silly to give up my last semester of that. Three and a half months later I could not be happier with my decision. South Africa is an amazing country that has opened my eyes to life I knew existed but had stayed away from. In Guatemala I was exposed first hand to what living in a developing community was like through a homestay program, but I feel Cape Town provided me a much greater appreciation to the affects of poverty and oppression on a specific segment of society. This appreciation came from hanging out with Bongi in Khayelitsha, from teaching at a school filled with “at-risk” students, from talking to locals that I met in my travels, and from the countless conversations I have had with John. These experiences have helped me become a more understanding and compassionate person towards my fellow human beings.

All of these experiences have ensured in me what I want to do with my life: something in the field of youth development. Okay, so maybe it is not that defined, but it is more defined than before my trip, and I will continue to use the experiences that are allowed to me based off of my time here to specify that desire. I have always known I wanted to “help” people, working with them, for them, but I was having a hard time narrowing that down. Being placed in what turned out to be a perfect internship allowed me the opportunity to test out teaching to see if it was something I wanted to do. Coming away from my time at City Mission Educational Services I have a definite direction of where I want my life to go from here.

Further, living in a house with sixteen other people has taught me a lot about myself in a way my internship and extracurricular activities could not. Aside from the afore mentioned struggle to fit in, I had to also constantly work on my relationships with so many different people at once. I have realized that I don’t function well when I’m frustrated, which again is something I had an idea about and now am sure about. This is something I really want to work on, as I will be frustrated at various points for the rest of my life and need to be able to manage it.

I would like to think I had a pretty good grasp on a variety of different social issues before coming on this trip. I have many very socially minded activist friends and have taken sociology classes such as White Racism and the Sociological Perspective on Poverty that have all opened my eyes to a variety of societal issues. Therefore, I did not have a profound life-altering realization of all the awful things that go on in this world like some of my fellow co-educators might have had. Instead, I learned from a more personal perspective what life is like as an oppressed person and what the effects of that oppression can be. I have learned to question things because more often than not it is not what it seems on the surface. This, however, comes into play on both sides, as I do not agree with all pieces of activism. This newfound perspective came as much from classroom lessons as it did from my internship and “activist projects,” as those were the places that I was most in tune with the life and happenings of others. These encounters were further developed through the various assigned class readings. What sticks out most in my mind of all of this is our recent lessons on what a “day in the life” of an oppressed person is like. That is something I have often times wondered about, so that lesson was incredibly eye opening.

 In regards to gender, the simple fact that I lived in a house with 14 women taught me a ton about what life is like in a male dominated society. People like Nellie and Theresa always kept me on my toes with what I was saying and how I was acting, again something I had been conscious of but what really driven home here. From class, the article and ensuing discussions we covered on sexist language (and for that matter racist language) was most meaningful to me. It took me a little while, and once again I’m not completely on board with everything, but I have a changed perspective on how such innocent and seemingly harmless words like “policeman” can actually completely change a person’s thinking.  I have started to monitor my language and catch/alter it whenever I slip up.