Sunday, June 9, 2013

News!! (Old and New)

I left off my last post desperately wanting to tell all about the changes that the wonderful experience of the Confluence and Cultures class and Soliya influenced in my life. However, I'm going to hold off for now because I have very exciting news that I have to share (to get somewhat caught up with this blog), and I'm running out of time to share it! I've known about this for a while, of course, but as I had gotten behind on blogging, I hadn't shared it yet.

Mike, the professor for my Confluence of Cultures class, has led a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula during the past several summers. This involves exploring ancient Mayan sites, but also teaching a short summer camp in the village of Yunku. He would have liked to have recruited the entire Confluence of Cultures class, but out of all of us, I was the only one who took the bate. So yes, after much planning, I will be traveling to the Yucatan with about 9 other students for the last two weeks of the month of June. We leave one week from today!

I could not be any more excited about this opportunity. As I am hoping to teach English as a foreign language abroad after graduation, this is going to provide invaluable experience, for one. Add to that the interaction with another culture (which I've discovered I absolutely adore), and this is just an ideal way to spend two weeks of the summer.

Of course, this is also involving a fair amount of work. I'm taking three classes that go along with the Yucatan program, Global Systems, Conversational Spanish, and an anthropology course on Mayan civilizations. On top of that, I'm taking Literary Theory and Criticism (yes, that is as thrilling as it sounds!) for my English major. So currently, I'm working away on school work.

On top of that, I have some more news (annnd this news is newer than the other). I just signed with AmeriCorps last week. I heard about this opportunity through the Center for Honors, Scholars, and Leaders at UNC, and as there were opportunities to serve at either the Boys and Girls Clubs of Weld County or the Global Refugee Center, of course I looked into them and applied. I had an interview the week before last and then signed on my birthday, June 5! Now, for those of you readers who don't know what that is, it's a governmental program that engages people in in community service work with the goal of "helping others and meeting critical needs in the community."

I will be working as an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Global Refugee Center in Greeley for the next year, and my first service day is actually tomorrow. Exciting!!! I will be writing more about the GRC and what exactly it is, but that's all for now.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Life Altering

We were to bring two 5 page papers with us to our first Confluence of Cultures class. One was to be over cultural background and the other over religious background. We sat in a circle in our classroom in the basement of the campus library, and as I ended up next to the professor, I had to share first. Now, I'm not a very outgoing person generally. I'm not awkwardly or painfully shy or anything, but I'm not the person to just open up. So what I shared was fairly limited. I didn't want to share any details at all with this small group of strangers. Little did I know, the sharing we did that first day would only be the tip of the iceberg. This class definitely pulled me out of my shell.

Words cannot describe the experience Confluence of Cultures offered me. I wish I could write every detail about it, but I'm pretty sure you don't want to read the quantity of a book in one post. But in short, it became far more than just a class. Granted, it was still very class-like in some ways. We had several books to read and papers to write during the semester. However, Mike, our professor, also brought in a personal element with several guest speakers and group discussions. Confluence of Cultures was a class to learn about Islam, Arabic countries, "the Middle East," culture, religion, etc. I truly cannot say what all I learned from this class. To sum it all up, this class seemed to me to be about personal discovery and reflection. This personal discovery and reflection for me was partly about religion, partly about nationality, but deeply about humanity, myself, and what social categories and their implication meant to me.

In addition to our in class meetings with the 10 of us and Mike, we had weekly Soliya meetings. Soliya is a web platform that connects students in the "Western world" with students in the "predominantly Muslim world" through video conferencing (think conference call crossed with Skype... or just look at the photo below lol). The first week of Soliya meetings, I had a Thursday meeting at 4:30 am. I basically rolled out of bed and turned my computer on. I have to say, I was very nervous. I was expecting arguments and awkward silences. Let me tell you, that was not the case at all. I had an amazing Soliya group from the very start! With 8 students and 2 facilitators from the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Tunisia, and Egypt who were Christian (of various types), Muslim, and Atheist, we had quite the mix. I know no other words to describe this experience but beautiful and insightful. Over the several more weeks my Soliya group met, we discussed everything from politics to religion to personal stories and everything in between. The two hours flew by every time we met, and from the moment the sessions ended, I began looking forward to the next.

I will discuss the thoughts this experience provoked and the changes it inspired much more in depth in my next post or two, but all in all, I have to say, my Confluence of Cultures class with its readings, discussions, guest speakers, videos, reflections, and Soliya component absolutely changed my life. I cannot say how thankful I am for this incredible experience. I never thought a college class could be so life altering, but this one, through the people I interacted with, was just that.

So for this experience I would like to express my undying and most sincere gratitude to:
Mike, Alessandro, Caity, Corey, Elleanna, Genesee, Ibrahim, Jim, Sarah, and Tracey (Confluence of Cultures class of brilliance)
and Jeanette, Ruaa, Amany, Barrett, Jenna, Jordy, Lili, Roca, and Samira (my Soliya group).
You 19 amazing people have changed my life forever <3