by Samantha Blake
As our trip to Arizona quickly approaches, I think the pre-reflection can be looked at in two ways. Firstly, I think that the class in general has broadened my horizons and exposed me to a wealth of knowledge that I was previously unaware of. Because of this, I see this class in three parts; me before the class, before the trip and after the trip. Secondly, I think that the trip component will add to everything we’ve done in class in a way that I can’t even begin to acknowledge at this point. I think this understanding is how I am approaching the trip as a whole; I have no way to comprehend how I am going to react in certain situations and I am resisting trying to predict the outcome. I am extremely Type A, organized, assertive in nature, so this alone has been somewhat of a challenge for me thus far.
My entire life is based off stability and consistency; something that I do not share with those who have experienced in genocide. I have lived in the same house my entire life, I have had the same friends since the sandbox, and I live in an extremely homogeneous culture in Connecticut and have never thought of it as anything but normal. During my time in high school, we were obviously encouraged to participate in community service and volunteering; mostly for National Honors Society requirements. We would go to soup kitchens, food banks, visit the elderly, read to sick children; the staple activities for most high school students. When I came to college, I joined a sorority for mostly the social aspect but was somewhat invested in the philanthropic side as well. We raise a lot of money that does amazing things for cancer victims, survivors and research. By no means am I undermining that type of volunteerism because it certainly has a need and place in our society; however, I am now finding myself, at 21 years of age, uncovering an entirely new side of “service-learning”. The connection between being educated and actually doing something for change honestly never occurred to me before.
A year ago (almost to the day, March 5th) my brother approached my parents and I with his request to take a “gap” year between high school and college and travel to Africa. Obvious initial panic ensued and my parents were left feeling like they were somehow cursed with the “different kid”. As we all started to come to grips with the fact that this wasn’t a joke or a phase, all his friends were accepting college invitations to Ivy League schools, being awarded scholarships and being recruited for outstanding SAT scores. It is important to note that my brother and I were never close growing up. We are complete opposites in every facet of life, so when he boarded the plane for Africa in August, I was shocked that I was left hysterically crying at the airport. During his four months in Africa, my brother and I talked close to five times a week, usually over Skype, depending on the Internet connection. The distance between us made us closer than ever, and we he returned home in December our relationship was unrecognizable to what it had previously been. He originally influenced me to take the class, specifically stating, “You really can’t understand it till you’ve seen it, held it, lived it.” I think this alone pretty much sums my hopes for the trip.
Up until that point, I had accepted our lifestyle as normal. White privilege or a knapsack never really resonated with me. I thought of myself as a giving person, who was actively invested in making our community a better place. Since reading the articles, watching the movies and participating in class discussion, I find myself rethinking a lot of the things that have occurred throughout my life. My entire life I have been prepped for college, that’s just how it worked for everyone I was surrounded by. My graduating class consisted of 216 students; all but six of them were headed to college that following fall. Of the six, one of backpacking Europe for the semester, another was going to live with relatives in Russia; another was going to work for his dad’s Fortune 500 Company and skipping college all together. It kills me to say this, but we looked down on those kids, and I don’t blame my parents for being initially hesitant to be the parents of one of those kids. Ultimately, my home culture shaped me to accept what I thought was normal, not to challenge the system and certainly not to break outside of the box.
My time at JMU has not been much different. The community here is exceptionally nicer than that of a small town in Connecticut with a reflecting population of my high school; not much diversity. I joined a sorority, majored in Communications and basically followed the path that every one of my high school friends was doing at other universities. It wasn’t until this past fall that I started to challenge the system, started experimenting with thinking outside the box. This was obviously prompted by my brother’s departure and communicating to him while he was away. At this point, I feel extremely stupid that none of it occurred to me previously. Further, I feel even more stupid that it doesn’t occur to large majority of people I surround myself with. Coming to this conclusion has taken a great deal of self-honesty and humility because I thought all my “community service” was substituting for it.
Obviously, the films have impacted me the most. Graphics in general have more of an impact in general, but I think really being able to see and feel what other people have experienced really resonates with me. It leaves me wondering why I deserve the life that I live. I’m not overly religious but it makes me contemplate what “upper being” decides where we’re all born and what destiny lies ahead of us. Also, the article regarding what students get out of service-learning is how I “predict” my experience. I really think that I will get much more out of this trip than I give back.
In terms of the trip itself, I’m obviously nervous to be outside of my comfort zone. Again, I base my life in stability and consistency, so not being able to use those as a crutch will certainly lead to interesting conclusions. I’m also scared of how I will be judge by the people we interact with. Upon coming to the realization that much of my childhood was based in ignorance, I think of how I would judge me in their shoes; it’s not an overly nice picture. Finally, I am interested to discover what I/we can do upon returning that can make a significant impact. My brother has been honest about the fact that there is so much that needs to be done for so many people, you’re left with an overwhelming feeling that you have to drop your life to save them all. I want to find a way to make those changes realistic and applicable in our abilities.
Courage, a thirteen year old orphan, traveled with my brother to America over the holiday season. When I told him I was going on the trip, he made me promise that I would never find “an African that I fell more in love with than him.” I’m really excited to meet all the people we’ll be interacting with in Arizona, and while I did make a promise, I’m really hopeful that I will make good connections will those people.
Courage meeting Santa for the first time (December, 2012)