I remember thinking to myself, “I like genocide.” I mean not in a creepy way. I knew it was terrible and even more so now, but I knew I had always been interested in it. I had been to the Holocaust Museum twice, and both times I was moved tremendously. Honestly, that’s what I was looking for when I added this class at the last minute on Ecampus; to be moved. Something was lacking in the classes I had taken so far. I was learning, but mainly just for the test the next morning. The only reason I was interested in the classes I had taken was because they were going to look good on a resume. But even in reflection, I wondered how much I was really retaining in these classes, and how much they were really going to matter after I graduated. I wanted a class that would make me feel more than just test anxiety. So I clicked the “enroll” button hoping that this class would make the connection between the classroom and the world outside of it.
I remember meeting everyone at a DHall dinner before fall semester had ended. It was the first time I had given the class any thought since registering. I remember meeting Gina, a tiny whimsical freshman who could out eat a football player any day. She was impressive, and not because of her eating capabilities. I remember being a freshman. Upperclassman intimidated me and so did any course that was above a 100 level. And here was Gina, about to tackle a 300 level course not in her major, and with a group of strangers at least two years older than her. I was going to tackle the class with one of my closest friends, and a professor who I already knew was great. I was still nervous. I didn’t know the rest of the group. I didn’t know anything about the topic. And above all of that I was about to spend my spring break in Arizona with them, and not with my best friends somewhere a little farther south. How could I not be wary of it all? If Gina had any of the same concerns she didn’t show it. Like I said, the girl was impressive.
I remember the first few weeks of classes. It took some adjusting to. “Aaron” (calling him that was an adjustment in itself) kept apologizing for talking too much. That seemed weird since he was the professor and all. But he was sincerely sorry. He wanted us to discuss, and facilitate our own learning. It worked. Listening to my classmates interpretations of the readings was more than any lecture. I still remember specific readings that we looked at months ago. To my surprise it only took those first few weeks of class to feel “moved” like I hoping for. Every night we watched “God Grew Tired of Us” I left thinking about the life I live, how privileged I was, and how I needed to give back. Those feelings never left, and as spring break snuck up on me, those thoughts were the reason for my excitement and anxiety for the experience I was about to have.
I remember not knowing what to expect. I felt so vastly different from them. Our life experiences were nothing alike. How in the world would I related to these refugees? These thoughts made me anxious, because the one thing I wanted was to connect with them. In my mind it was finding a connection between each other that made service learning successful. Ironically the one thing I was worried about, was the most natural reoccurring event on the trip. Every person I met from waitresses, hiking guides, hostel hosts, and refugees, were amazing people and so easy to connect with. Meeting new people with different experiences was without a doubt my favorite part of the trip. Just listening to their stories and outlook on life was amazing.
I remember thinking maybe these connections were so easily made because I was looking for them in Arizona. As I got back into my daily routine at JMU I found it hard to adjust. I found myself getting frustrated with the complaints my friends and I had about schoolwork and other things we considered “hardships.” I was frustrated at the fact that the connections I felt with strangers in Arizona seemed more real than most of the ones I had ever had here. Then I took a look at myself. I don’t take the time here like I did in Arizona. I don’t openly talk with people I meet. I’m quicker to judge people based on there appearance. I get caught up in my daily schedule instead of taking the time to just spend time with people. The experiences I have are the outcome of my outlook and the way I expect experiences to happen. I think of Jany, Kuol, Sam, Koor, and the Gabes. I think of their unbelievable hardships and yet how they still look at life so positively, and accomplish so much because of it. It’s our outlook. It’s our self-thought. More than anything, it is this that determines what kind of experiences we have and what kind of impact we have on the world around us. Before this class/trip I didn’t think there was much I could do to make a difference in the world. But these Sudanese men changed my outlook, and because of that I will be forever grateful for what they did in my life. They have a story that needs to be heard, and I can do something about that.