My journey through this course will begin with many questions, intrigue, and curiosity into the complex topic of genocide. To grasp such a deep and multifaceted concept such as genocide, can be a difficult and emotional expedition. We saw a glimpse into this complexity on the first day of class where I witnessed images and video testaments about the shear number of victims and lives lost from this type of tragedy. The stories of hardship and the journey of those who have suffered through the experiences of genocide have already been enlightening. However, before I even decided to enroll in this practicum I had already pondered the question, “What do I want to gain from this course and trip experience?” What I might have said 2 months ago and what I would say now are very different answers to the same question.
When I originally decided to take this course I wanted to get an experience of service and learn more about the particular issue that we would be focus on. Yet after only the first class, my perspective on what I hope to gain as a result of this course and trip to Phoenix has slightly changed. I don’t just want to gain an understanding or experience of service; I want to gain an understanding of those that I work with. I want to learn to empathize with the experiences of those in which I may not be fully capable of doing now. Learning about the Lost Boys 1,000 mile journey as well as their bravery and strength will be an inspiration that may ignite my willingness to make changes in my own life. Because of their stories I hope to gain a new perspective of my daily life. Something that I certainly struggle with is a lack of appreciation for the things, experiences, people, and opportunities that I am privileged enough to have in my life. Yet even though I cognitively recognize my good fortune, I do not exhibit my appreciation of these things nearly as much as I should. I think that by putting myself in the shoes of the Lost Boys I will gain a feeling of gratitude and respect of those relationships that I tend to take advantage of on a daily basis, like family. I anticipate a lot of strong and conflicting emotions, but I am hoping they will help me to better understand myself.
On the other side of the spectrum of gaining perspective, this course and trip also give my fellow participants and me the chance to learn about service and what service learning consists of. I genuinely believe that service and learning are intertwined to create a reciprocal relationship that cannot be pulled apart. Both the process of learning through service and using service as a guide for learning are bi-directional in volunteer work. It is difficult to do service by helping another, if an individual is not trained on how to help. Especially in focus groups, much like the Lost Boys of Sudan or a group of human trafficking survivors, it is important to know how to talk to the individuals that have gone through those experiences. There are certainly things that can be said and should not be said in conversation with those who have suffered hardships. However, it is difficult to know this information without prior education about the target group. This is something that I personally fear for the trip. How much disclosure is too much? What kinds of questions should I be asking? How do I appropriately empathize? These are all questions that I hope to answer before arriving in Phoenix.
Service, however can also be quite productive in the other regard. This is what I referred to when I said that I wanted to learn from the Lost Boys. I want to learn from the service we are providing as well. I do recognize that this type of learning is intrinsically different. Although it might be educational in terms of understanding genocide at a deeper level, I whole-heartedly believe that it will be even more educational about my own life. I fully expect to leave Arizona with a new perspective and belief about how service helps others and how it changes the volunteer.
That’s exactly what good service learning looks like. A reciprocal experience for the volunteer in which the prior education enriches the experience and the experience enriches educational growth. On the first day of class, Aaron said that, “This class will change your life.” I agree. I am completely on board with education piece because I know I will also receive a life-changing experience for myself. I am thrilled to come to new realizations and gain new perspectives on my daily experiences that I know I sometimes take for granted. I hope that I will not change who I am, but add new cognitions to my current belief system and views of the world. In turn, I hope I get the opportunity to change others in a positive way, and I hope their impact does the same for me.