Monday, May 12, 2014

Week 15: Challenging & Reflecting

By Desiree Swartz and Darcey Babikian

This week was full of bittersweet experiences as we embarked on our final week in Windhoek. There was plenty of time to fit in all of our last experiences, but we also made time for our integrative projects. These projects were a culmination of information on the topic of our choosing that incorporated religion, politics, development and history. The end of the integrative projects marked not only the end of Namibia, but the end of college for one, the end of junior year for most and the end of sophomore year for the rest. 

This study abroad experience through the Center for Global Education was centered on experiential learning and therefore there was much to reflect upon. The unique aspect of this trip was that learning occurred both in and out of the classroom. This gave us as students the opportunity for critical reflection, in depth evaluations of how we defined ourselves, and context within a global (Southern African) perspective. This meant a great deal of group reflections, which often came with improved awareness of the way in which actions create reactions. In reflection of the final week in Namibia we discussed several different issues we had noticed during our time both in Windhoek and while traveling around Namibia. Our integrative projects touched upon topics such as interracial dating, gender based violence, educational systems, dependency, colonization and apartheid. These very over-arching topics were a great avenue for exploring the ways we felt after spending four months in a different country. 

The first big thing that people talked about was the idea of privilege and how someone can address their privilege without undertaking guilt. We realized as a group that many of the speakers, museums, and locations that we visited were predominantly occupied by foreigners. Do you have to have privilege in order to learn about other countries’ histories or even your own? This was quite jarring because we realized that not everyone or even half of everyone in Namibia is fortunate enough to see as much of the country as we had. On our farms when talking with our host parents we realized that their Namibian context was a much smaller bubble then the one we had experienced although they are permanent residents of Namibia and we are only fleeting residents. 

Another large source of reflection was the economic disparities within Namibia. Although the wealth gap is so large within Namibia, we found it was fairly easy to ignore. Without the Center for Global Education it would be easily possible to only see what you “wanted” while in Namibia. This would include dining out at nice restaurants, exploring the sand dunes in Walvis Bay, and going out in Windhoek, to only name a few. Since we are part of an experiential program we were exposed to the resettlement communities throughout Namibia whenever we visited a new place. It was crazy how close the people living in complete luxury were to the people who are struggling to put food on the table. At times throughout the semester it would be easy to get caught up into our own activities and forget about the stark economic differences existing within our temporary home, Windhoek. When taking this into consideration it is quite interesting to think about how effortlessly it must be for those with wealth to retain wealth within Windhoek. It seems as if those who want to keep their wealth and let the gap continue to grow just turn the other cheek when it comes to the resettlement communities.

Our CGE Family
Much of the reflection that took place during our time in Southern Africa correlated with social issues within the United States as well. We realized as a group that sometimes social issues are difficult to see unless you remove yourself from the situation and reflect on your experiences. While being in Southern Africa and participating in a program called Nation Building, Globalization, and Decolonizing the Mind, it was easy to be consumed with talk about social issues. All of our classes focused and reflected on issues such as privilege, economics, and race and gender relations within Southern Africa. However, many of our classes also challenged us to reflect upon our lives back in the U.S. and how these issues may or may not still be present there. Having this opportunity to study abroad with the Center for Global Education really helped us to have a global perspective, challenge norms, and ask questions both about Southern Africa and about the U.S. 

While we need to realize that the opportunity to study in Southern Africa was in and of itself a privilege, it is still important to bring back the knowledge that we have gathered while here and break down the stereotypes and prejudices that family members or friends may have in regard to our experiences abroad. Collectively the group has taken the time to discuss the different ways in which studying abroad through CGE was both life changing for the best and the worst. While this program opened our eyes and caused us to be aware of the world around us, it has also forced us to be critical thinkers and to notice the “bad” within the world. This program was such a unique opportunity that will be impossible to fully portray to close family and friends, but in the end we will always be able to cherish these memories amongst the fifteen of us. Coming back we walk a fine line between using what we have learned to enhance our lives opposed to separating us from our pre-existing lives in the United States.

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.

1 comment:

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