Friday, November 22, 2013

Week 13: A Quiet Week

By Jenna Mattina and Lena Glickman

In a reflection we had at the beginning of the semester Caleb mentioned his frustration with the expectation that study abroad will “change your life.” Just because you are somewhere new does not mean you will automatically be changed—someone with a closed mind could travel the whole world without gaining wisdom. In turn, people often disregard the fact that you can be changed by even the smallest experiences—doing the dishes or going for a walk—if you are truly open to what that moment has to tell you. We have been thinking about this discussion this past week. In our second to last week of classes it is on everyone’s mind that our semester abroad is almost over. We have all been talking a lot about taking advantage of being here and living fully in the time we have left. For this blog we wanted to talk about what “living fully” looked like this week.

For History class Rebecca and Lena made a poster 
exploring parallels between the oppression and resistance 
of the San people and American Indians.

For me (Lena) feeling alive and fulfilled by my time abroad looks less grand than one might imagine. Finding a healthy balance between academic work and spending time in the city is not always easy, but this week I managed to really enjoy both. On the academic side, I got a lot out of our final history project and poster presentation, for which each of us chose and researched an aspect of racism and resistance in the United States and Southern Africa. Rebecca and I worked together on this project, exploring the historical and current racism that both the San people and American Indians face. We explored why people are racist and looked at our own position as perpetuators of racism, trying to acknowledge the pain in taking this in. We highlighted that an understanding of this history combats racist stereotypes and fuels resistance. I really liked working with Rebecca on this. It’s been a while since I have worked with someone on an academic project. At Oberlin, group work is far less prioritized than your individual abilities, but I find that the skills involved in working with someone—listening, compromising, sharing and building off of each other—are just as valuable. I also really appreciated the chance to see what my classmates had been working on. I learned about urban and educational segregation, black masculine identity and environmental (in)justice in Southern Africa and the United States (US). In general this semester I have gotten a lot out of being in an environment where we are constantly sharing and bouncing our ideas off each other, and I feel that I’ve learned a lot from everyone in this group.

Another satisfying experience I had this week was playing frisbee. In Zoo Park our frisbee immediately made us friends, and several people joined us. When we hit a parked car one too many times and were asked to leave (!) two guys we’d just met came with us to Parliament Gardens. Molly struck up a conversation with some kids who showed off their gymnastics as we tossed the frisbee. It was really beautiful there, and it was so nice to share space and connect with people without needing to talk. This minor, unplanned experience made me feel more a part of the city, more connected to the landscape and the people around me.

I (Jenna) found development class really interesting this week. This discussion focused around one of our readings for the week, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire [1]. We discussed how our economic and social privileges make all of us in the class oppressors. This seems like a disheartening label but it is accurate, based on the power dynamics that persist in the structures embedded in our society. We explored what social justice based roles we can take as oppressors. Many of us want to structure our futures around social justice work, but because we are oppressors it is difficult to do this without imposing our own ideas or working towards a falsified goal. Our privileges keep us from truly understanding an oppressive society that we greatly benefit from. This also means that when doing social justice work we need to be aware of and cautious in the approach that we take. We discussed that a practical approach would be to work towards making internal changes. Small day-to-day actions form a person and it seems that constantly improving yourself and learning is the best way to approach social justice work. Many middle and upper class Americans are brought up on the premise that they can achieve anything and change the world. Therefore, when approaching social justice work they operate individualistically and disregard their own position of privilege and the ways that they differ from the oppressed that they plan on helping. We discussed how a more practical and ultimately better approach would be to shift our mindsets towards understanding ourselves as part of a collective. Offering oneself up as support to movements headed by the oppressed is sometimes the best way a person can help. But we often get caught up in our own pride or selfish endeavours, which prevent us from doing this. I came away from the conversation feeling that trying to change my mindset and behaviour is ultimately the most important way to achieve positive social change—another reminder that it is the small, everyday things that can mean the most. 

The group of students ate at Fusion Restraunt
and enjoyed spending time together.
On Friday, the majority of our group went out to dinner at Fusion, a restaurant located down the street from where we live. It was nice to get out of the house and spend time with each other, since it has dawned on us that we will be leaving each other in two weeks. We all sat at a large table in the middle of the restaurant. The restaurant was very cozy and homely, and consisted of two small dining rooms. Our group took up at least half of the one room. While we all sat together, different conversations arose amongst us, allowing us to talk on a more intimate level. It really felt like a family dinner because of the tight knit community that we have built this semester. We have all become so close and know each other’s strange quirks, making time spent doing anything together really enjoyable.

This week was a quiet one, but it is experiences like these, perhaps not momentous but truly enriching, that have made this semester impactful and happy for both of us. We have enjoyed the balance between engaging academic work and discussions, being able to explore Windhoek, and getting to know each other. Though alone these experiences may seem simple, together they have added up to make our time in Namibia quite wonderful.


[1] Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. [New York]: Herder and Herder, 1970. 

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