Posted by & filed under Collaborators and Partners, From the Director, Staff Insights.

Laurie MulveyMy heart has been heavy these days given the escalation of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Because I teach a class that examines this conflict through virtual dialogues with individuals living in the region, I am deeply connected to people on both sides of the border. So every day I ache with the stories I hear about what is unfolding in their worlds. But this morning, I awoke to a tiny bright spot…but a bright spot nonetheless. The essay below was written by Shayna Friedman, one of the students in my class last semester. She is currently living in Israel. I am impressed by her courage in expressing this.
 
 

Shayna-Friedman-mediumMembers of the Reserve Service of the Israeli Defense Force are called back to duty, sirens sound throughout Israel, rockets and missiles rain down, Israeli citizens across the country run for cover in bomb shelters, and I remain aware and mindful of the devastating effects of attacks simultaneously striking the residents of Gaza.

 

This past spring I took an Israeli-Palestinian conflict course, directed by the organization World In Conversation. Each week my class would Skype with Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis in Israel to discuss the day-to-day lives of each people and to gain a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I took away from this class the ability to question each preconceived idea that I held in regards to the conflict and gained the tools necessary to understand that the best opinions are those that are formulated based on ones own personal experiences and conversations with those directly involved in the conflict.

 

Now visiting Israel for the 4th time and spending the past two and half months here, immersed in Israeli culture, I have observed and experienced for myself from an (often uncomfortable distance), the rising violence and danger in Israel as a result of the constant rockets being fired by Hamas militants. After weeks of escalating events, both Israelis and Palestinians have come to use violence and destruction as a wake up call to the other, making the statement that neither people will stand for the injustice they feel has been inflicted upon them.

 

Running to a miklat (bomb shelter) everyday for the past three days and living in the reality of the uncertain and ever-present danger has opened my eyes to both hatred and humanity in times of crisis.

 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict calls for citizens in each society to choose sides, and to reject whomever is seen as being the other. Therefore, in order to stifle the constant strain, members of society go along with the prevailing sentiment in the community which one resides to avoid rejection and to feel accepted as part of the in-group.

 

Throughout my course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I came to find that understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is based on the ability of a person to separate themselves from their biases and from the side, which that person would otherwise take. Instead focusing on listening and empathizing with the opposing view, and thereby acknowledging the reality in which the other side lives is key in understanding the other perspective.

 

I am aware that understanding the perspectives of others can only go so far in resurrecting a solution, for how can everyday civilians even begin to empathize with the other side, when society conditions each side to fear the other? The outright truth is that without open-mindedness and acceptance being omni-present in one’s society, the social stigma placed on an individual for rejecting the norm is just not worth going against the grain, only to receive backlash from ones friends and family. The reality of the matter is that it could be those people who are shunned by their communities and told to keep quiet with their non-conforming and innovative ideas that could be the people who are the ones capable of finding a resolution to this conflict. If only these people were supported instead of pushed away so that they are not to be heard by the masses, would they have the guts to speak out!

 

Echad, shteim, shalosh – three rockets strike Jerusalem, a mother cradles her small child, whispers of prayer fill the miklat, everyone wonders where the missile landed and if everyone is okay, other Israeli’s go about as normal, ignoring the sirens and missiles all together.

 

When there is immanent danger, it is the harsh reality that the average person is not interested in talking; they’re not interested in discussion, or working things out with their words. Rather the parties involved with the disagreement are interested instead in getting straight to the point and getting the message across to their enemy in the clearest way possible. However, it is only rational and clear communication that can and ever will be the resolution to solving any problem, as there is no problem that can’t be solved through dialogue, no matter how severe.

 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict deserves a real conversation that can only be had if each side is able and willing to make the difficult transition of separating themselves, if even for a moment from the us vs. them mentality. If and only if in every action and in every reaction that transpired between Israelis and Palestinians, each group imagined the validity of the other sides perspective, the way in which we went about resolving conflict would without a doubt be handled with more empathy and understanding.

 

The suffering and heartache felt by both Israelis and Palestinians cannot be reconciled by simply brushing off each casualty as the others’ misfortune. The blame game is futile when each side has been present for the pain and long-standing anguish that the other has endured.

 

Ultimately, pressures from society to view each group of people as the other, inhibits both groups of people from empathizing with real human beings on the other side of the conflict.

 

Through conversation and dialogue each side is given the opportunity to overcome this reality and for uninformed citizens to question and formulate their own opinions based on real experiences rather than ideas that society depicts of what truth is in the matter of the other.

 

Choosing a side in conflict allows for feelings of acceptance and alleviates the social stigma and social pressures that come from being considered as the outsider who cannot comprehend the gravity of the situation nor absorb what is going on.

 

It is the ill fortune that members of both Israeli and Palestinian societies find comfort in alienating not only each other but also those in their societies who seek to learn more about the conflict through understanding both sides. In doing so, this provides comfort to the alienator only, by feeding their nationalistic pride and faulty sense of self.

 

As human beings given the choice of free will, it is my hope that one day instead of choosing sides, we’ll choose each other.

 
 
Thank you, Shayna, for this insight. You can check out the original article here on The Times of Israel Blog.

Posted by & filed under Staff Insights.

colleen

Wednesdays are the days that we, WinC Facilitators, have open dialogue with each other. It’s a time that we are able to unpack our thoughts about how our personal experiences have shaped us, and a place where we can explore them together. This particular day, one of my fellow facilitators was expressing her hesitation in interrupting or cutting off black women in dialogue. She also stated that it was much easier for her to get along with black men, and so I asked what it was about black women that she felt perhaps uneasy about. She tried to respond but finally came to the conclusion of that she didn’t know and then another facilitator, a black man, said it’s because “b****** be crazy”. The room filled with subtle laughter. Wow was I offended, and I made it known by looking at the man and saying I was offended as I sat way back in my chair. I felt as though everyone was co-signing what the black man had said about black women. Although I know this black man pretty well, I still took offense because I knew the reaction everyone gave revealed many things that went unsaid when it comes to the black woman. It is hard to admit the stereotypes we hold about other people, and it is even harder to explore where we learned it and why we feel as we do. Unfortunately, this opportunity to unpack these stereotypes was quickly passed over as everyone else glazed over this event and started talking about other things.

The conversation continued, and I felt that the significance of that moment and the ways in which black women were viewed by society were swept under the rug once again. I, as a black woman, could not truly say how I felt for fear of fulfilling the lose-lose stereotype of the angry black woman. When we went back and finally addressed what had happened, some said they didn’t associate the stereotypes of black woman with me, and I thought that it would probably only take me yelling to be put into that category. No matter where I go, I am seen as a woman who has black skin and therefore am a black woman. These stereotypes put on black women such as always being angry, being assertive, and being loud, are universal, which makes fulfilling these stereotypes unavoidable when just simply being another human reacting to the world fulfills them.

Although these are the stereotypes that may be held against me, these are also ones I have tried distancing myself from. Through the distancing of myself from black culture and identifying as Eritrean only, I have co-signed the notion that those stereotypes do indeed occur in black women, just not my kind of black woman. It is hard for me to admit, but I hold these same stereotypes for other women who look JUST LIKE ME! This is another facet of being a black woman: trying to show that you are not the stereotypical black woman. We make these assumptions about ourselves too. I try to distance myself from the stereotypes placed on black women and African American women, but it turns out I am a perfect example.

As I reflect and try to unpack where and when my image of a black woman and this reflection of myself developed, I think back to my important childhood memories. I can remember having dreams of being able to “unveil” myself as a white girl with long, flowy, BLONDE hair. What I was, or AM, was just a facade. I was able to unzip and reveal a white girl instead of who I was in reality. That was my favorite dream.  I would try to fall asleep to the recreation of that dream and the different adventures I would be able to have being white. How old was I? Too young. Just like the young girls involved in the “Black or White Doll” experiment, I was completely aware of the skin I was in, but was taught that what I was not what the world or myself loved. We were choosing the dolls that looked nothing like ourselves to be the ones we considered “nicer and prettier.” I was that young girl choosing the white doll over my own reflection. But now, I must “accept” who I am, and for me that includes accepting the fact that the world still sees me as an inferior, mean, and ugly woman, just like how I used to see myself as a young girl. No matter how much someone will try to tell me that this is not true, you are asking me to “accept myself” Do white girls go through a phase of accepting themselves? I am actually curious to know if they must learn to “accept” the skin they are in.

The bottom line is that that conversation stirred up a lot of emotion within me because I was finally seeing what it really means to be a Black or African American woman in America. It hit me hard and I cried. It was a reality I was finally willing to accept; a different world that I previously turned away from was actually a part of myself that I was constantly rejecting. In order to not fit into stereotypes, I was hiding pieces of myself, always hiding some of my disagreements and thoughts on topics, all because I was afraid of the stereotypes. I also cannot say my fears are unreasonable because they are very real in the ways they affect how I am perceived from the moment I am seen. Even in times when I’ve been present and I expressed my opinions, the stereotypes were present as well.  In some cases, they were working against me. It’s frustrating to think that I have held back things consciously, but I am now aware and working towards being more self-aware. I have meditated on what the conversation shifted in me and about what it means to be an African/Black child of African immigrants. I will continue to think about this and am moving forward to showing, exploring and embracing who I am and may be.  Hopefully, I will have an answer soon, but something tells me that this will be a lifelong lesson in who I am as a person and as an African-American woman.

Posted by & filed under From the Director, News and Updates.

LauriePhotoForBlogI am honored to share the news that we just received a grant from Penn State’s Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) to initiate Phase One of a three-phase project that will use video conferencing paired with online learning modules to engage a global community of online learners in experiential, peer-facilitated learning.

What does that actually mean? :-)

Well, think about this: The key to the success of World in Conversation is effective facilitation. Simple enough. But facilitation is based on using a combination of “soft skills” that are nearly as difficult to teach as they are useful to people in every profession across the globe. A highly trained communicator who can facilitate conversations can manage both conflict and collaboration with equal deftness. This turns out to be essential to any dynamic and effective social group. However, as many of you know, this kind of training is labor intensive (emphasis on labor). At WinC, fully trained facilitators have gone through one semester of basic training, one semester of advanced training, and two semesters of a practicum that involves hundreds of hours of facilitating and dozens of hours of both live and recorded observation and feedback sessions from skilled coaches.

Not easy to produce in an online medium.COILHeaderBanner2

However, due to the demand for more facilitators everywhere we turn, we have an ambitious plan–to use our most creative minds to somehow build our training into an online platform, one that can be made available to an immensely diverse population of learners around the globe for free. The challenge of this task obviously centers on finding a way to make a dynamic, effective learning experience happen in a virtual environment. This challenge necessitates an innovative approach to not only retain learners where other mediums have failed, but also to implement true experiential learning virtually, to scale, and cross-culturally.

I said this was “ambitious,” right?

So the support from COIL will be a cornerstone in the design of the first phase of this immense undertaking where content will be developed around a knowledge-based understanding of each facilitation skill. This will serve as a building block for effectively developing Phases Two and Three of this project–where we dive into actual skills development. It sounds impossible. But I thought meaningful virtual dialogues would be impossible too. And I was so wrong about that!

So we’re on our way.

Thanks, COIL, for believing in us

Posted by & filed under Collaborators and Partners, Feature Friday.

Yangbo Wang

Who am I? Where am I from?  What do I do with my time?  What got me interested in World in Conversation? I turned these questions over and over in my mind, and it just went blank. Streams of memories of the past and consciousness of the present crowded at the door of my mind and tried to get in, but didn’t fit.

I stopped thinking about the questions for a while and began to read some of the other WinC blogs.  As words like conversation and dialogue repeatedly came to my attention, I couldn’t help but ask myself: when was it that I had my first conversation with a native English speaker? With this question, my mind floated back to a peaceful spring afternoon 22 years ago.

Back on the central plains of China, Hubei Province, “a fertile land of fish and rice”, I was attending a middle school in its capital city, Wuhan.

On the playground of a middle school, a Grade-7 class of about 50 students were having PE class. Before the merry boys and girls were aware of anything, the PE teacher came back with a piece of unexpectedly exciting news. “A group of foreign guests are here visiting our school. They would like to talk with our students.” We felt like we won the lottery because we had just happened to be having outdoor class on their route through the area! After that initial reaction, however, the following words inevitably caused some uneasiness among us: “We need to choose two of you as representatives.”  Although every one of us wanted to see the scene – much the way one would want to see a UFO – none of us had ever been face to face with a foreigner.  No one jumped out to claim his/herself as a representative, because we were not used to manifesting our desire too strongly and because we were nervous at the notion of meeting foreigners.  After a brief awkward exchange of opinions about whose English was better, another boy and I were chosen as the lucky dogs.

Memory of details filtered by time slowly came back to me. Soon I was alone in front of a silver-haired lady and three or four of her companions.

She said something to me, smiling warmly. I couldn’t understand a thing, feeling like a swelling red balloon, but I was somewhat comforted by her smile.

She kept on talking, smiling affectionately. I was quiet, but all of a sudden my ears were open.

“Do you like PE lesson?”

“Yes.” Hooray! I couldn’t believe we were talking in English.

“What do you do in PE classes?”

“We play volleyball, basketball.” I suppressed the excitement in my stomach and tried to retrieve those long big words I’d learned. Words like volleyball and basketball were big enough for language beginners like us.

“May I have a picture with you?”  This was a line from our English textbook! How did she know?!     “Yes, of course!” This time without any hesitation. Her companions all burst into bigger smiles and approvingly repeated my reply, one of them held up a camera.

In the conversation group about three yards away, the boy was  obviously was not much luckier than me. The boy kept nodding, shaking his head or staying quiet, from the beginning to the end. He never got a chance to utter a single word. Later, he reluctantly confessed that he couldn’t understand what the man had said.

I stood beside the lady. With a click, the moment was forever preserved on film and in my heart, the only two places available at that time.  In the following years, I sometimes remember this picture and I find myself vaguely wondering about where they may be now and if they are okay.

For quite some time after that amazing afternoon, I often got lost in the dream of conversing with foreigners again when my English was good enough for a real conversation.  Then I could get rid of the unsatisfying exam paper I had handed in to those guests. However, the opportunity never came and it gradually slipped into a corner of my mind, where it emerges occasionally with the same tangible, peaceful, spring sunlight on that day.

So many years back ago, I didn’t realize, as I do now after traveling half a globe to knock at WinC’s door, that conversation with people from other nations is more than possessing linguistic competence or giving good linguistic performance. Basically, it provides a window for both sides from different worlds to meet each other in the first place. It makes each other’s existence tangible. It gives possibility of further communication.

With the lady and her companions’ willingness to make a field trip to a Chinese local school, with their friendliness, with their patient talk with a shy Chinese child, these guests from afar, and I, and, if I may say, all my class, had already had a meaningful conversation.   Although I did not contribute much in terms of language, the seed of curiosity and expectation was sowed.

Maybe this also gives an answer to the question of why I had no intention to turn my back on that embarrassing experience as I did with poorly-scored exam papers. In fact, it was like a Skittle I could put into my mouth when I walked into the school that seemed a little plain most of the time.  It served as a source of inspiration for many years to come.  When I found work at World in Conversation, where I knew I could continue to be inspired, I couldn’t wait.  It was like a bag of Skittles that would never run out, I could keep taking candies and keep being inspired.

There might have been an invisible line that connected this happy experience to my later years of devoted to studying English and its related cultures. But I see a long journey that started from when I had my first special conversation, to where PennState is, which looks like the starting point of my next journey in exploring the magic world in conversation with all the members of WinC.

Posted by & filed under Staff Insights.

Alexa St. MartinMy journey with World in Conversation began with a simple question: “Are you ready for your life to change?” At the time I was slightly amused by the question; feeling skeptical despite my eagerness to move forward in the program. However, my amusement was quickly dismantled as I embarked on the most powerful and challenging journey I have experienced to this day. I understood that my life would change, very much, but I did not necessarily expect to change the lives of others (although I hoped to).

As a facilitator with WinC, I have heard a myriad of insightful, though-provoking, and enlightening ideas. I have also heard my fair share of frustratingly stereotypical comments, most of which leave me feeling unappreciated, unmotivated, and defeated. I find it all too easy to get down on myself, criticizing my facilitation skills when a conversation goes downhill. Yet I find it unnervingly difficult to give myself credit when a dialogue is clearly leaving an impact. I have left countless dialogues kicking myself, asking myself questions like, “Why am I even doing this?” and “Does this even really matter?” These questions were answered for me in a single, monumental moment on a busy street in State College.

It was a typical Saturday night in State College: the sun was still shining at 7 pm, thanks to the advent of Spring after a seemingly endless Winter. Due to the warmth and clear skies, the busy street of College Ave was littered with students celebrating on their porches. Horse-shoes, hackie sack, and red solo cups danced as far as the eye could see, surrounded by laughter and shrieks of excitement. As I walked along, I heard someone call my name from across the street. I looked back, seeing a girl about thirty feet away from me yelling my name from the porch she was occupying. I did not recognize her, but what she said to me will sit in my heart forever. “Alexa! Alexa, I was in one of your discussion groups. You changed my life, and I will never forget you as long as I live.” Immediately, I was paralyzed with shock. My chest became a heavy weight as I felt my heart beat against its walls. Tears welled in my eyes, fogging my vision. Tears fill my eyes even now as I recall the experience. I thanked her and walked away, unable to fully understand the impact of her words.

By the next block I was full on sobbing, holding up my group of friends as I found somewhere to sit. It was a while before I could form any sound other than guttural sobs, and even then I was without words as I let the situation sink in. I had affected someone’s life so profoundly they had felt inclined to yell at me from across the street, insisting I become aware of the impact I had on them.

Facilitating dialogue can be frustrating work – we all understand that at the center. It can be easy to want to give up and stop trying so hard. It is far too easy to feel like there is no point, and that we are wasting our emotional energy when others really do not want to be challenged or explore their beliefs. But I want to say to my fellow facilitators, if you ever find yourself wondering, “Am I making a difference?” I can assure you, the answer is yes.

Posted by & filed under Thought Blog.

Dr. Peggy Lorah has been a longstanding supporter for the Gender work that we do at world in conversation. Her insight, collaboration, and guidance have helped develop this initiative significantly in the past several years and we want to share with you her thoughts:


 

plorahEvery semester, I have the good fortune to spend a few hours with the staff and student facilitators who are part of the World in Conversation, specifically those doing the Gender Dialogues. The ways in which they engage students in meaningful discussions and reflections is work we all aspire to do. I have always believed that students want to talk about significant issues, whether the significance is personal or global. Through the World in Conversation, they are welcomed into that process, and they jump at the opportunity. The depth and breadth of discussions is impressive. Each time I am there, I see that students truly want to learn and grow and be challenged, and they want to challenge themselves. The World in Conversation invites students to struggle and to make meaning of their lived experiences, and this encourages them to claim agency for their thoughts, feeling, and actions. Students grapple with issues of difference, they learn to see and hear the nuances that make each person unique, and they learn to value the differences and similarities in us all. I believe the World in Conversation is transformative, and I am grateful that Penn State students have the opportunity to be part of this program.

 
Thank you, Dr. Lorah, for all that you do for the university. It is a better place for it!

Posted by & filed under Staff Insights.

JennyHave you ever attended a World in Conversation dialogue and had to sign a white sheet (or give a head-nod/thumbs-up for a virtual dialogue) giving your consent to record the session and wondered what was going to be done with that footage? Well I am one of a few people that watches it. Don’t worry, I probably don’t remember your name and if I ever did meet you, I would have no idea that it was you that said you never tell people that you almost died as a kid when your spleen ruptured (and I can see how you wouldn’t normally tell people that). We really do take confidentiality seriously. And at this time in the semester, I’ve watched so many of these hour-and-a-half-(plus)-long dialogues that they all start to run together.

I am watching them for coaching meetings that I hold with a third of our facilitation team in order to improve their facilitation skills. I usually hunker down in front of my computer, watching a dialogue on 1.5 speed (yes, it can be funny when your voices are sped up), furiously recording a time-stamp next to the first initial of one of the facilitators and what they said/did. By the end, I have a transcript composed solely of what the facilitators said. I also include, on occasion, a note of what the response to a question or statement was, and a few other observations, such as the fact that there was only one male in the room, that there is a big table in the middle of the room that no one moved, or that I really liked (or didn’t like) what happened at a specific moment.

I schedule meetings with facilitators and we talk about what kinds of groups they are facilitating. Everyone has facilitated a variety of the following: US Race Relations, Climate, Global, Commonwealth, Disability, Gender, and West-Meets-Middle-East. We talk about how the groups are going, what is challenging for them, what is going well, and what goals they have for the end of the semester.

Then, we might watch the film: a couple 2-5 minute clips. We talk about what facilitator’s notice when they watch themselves. It might be that they were not on the same page as their co-facilitator and that were each trying to figure out what the other was doing. Maybe the facilitator did super-intro trust building by finding something they had in common with absolutely everyone in the group. Maybe they notice that for some reason at this point in the conversation there is a significant shift in the topic and now instead of feeling it in the moment they can take a step away and look at what else was happening.

While it may seem like a lot of time spent for a couple short clips it is really helpful to watch film (both of others and yourself). It is insightful in how others are perceiving and responding to what you are doing and often times, seeing how others handle similar situations can inspire ideas of how facilitators can respond in the future. It also helps me when coaching to clearly and specifically communicate what was seen and what I see as an area of grow for the facilitator.

While coaching is a major reason I watch the recordings that we have, it is not the only reason I do it. I do a lot of work developing our “virtual” program which includes any dialogue that is facilitated via video-conference. I watch recordings just to get a feel for how our dialogues with China or with Afghanistan are going or to check up on our disability dialogues at Altoona. For most of the students I meet with, I have seen 2 or 3 recordings of them within the last month, facilitating different types of dialogues. This not only gives me a better picture of the facilitator’s overall facilitation and of the overall development of our virtual program, it also gives me a better idea of overall trends that are happening within our team. In a way the recordings allow me to zoom out and take a more holistic look at what is going on. Thanks for giving us your consent to do this!

Posted by & filed under News and Updates, Thought Blog.

WinC tee_TinyAct-WinC

Friends and followers,

At WinC, we have a lot of people who genuinely believe in our vision.  These people go above and beyond in order not only to aid in sustaining WinC, but to make sure that we can grow and expand as we continue to transform conflict into collaboration.  Our initiatives would be little more than wistful daydreams without these individuals’ constant trust and support to go forth and begin important conversations that, in turn, feed larger conversations between people and nations.

Our work is far-reaching and it has profound implications for the people who work within WinC as well as those who attend our dialogues. Despite being an organization whose mission encourages open communication through dialogue, our wonderful supporters have not yet been given an opportunity to join us in that mission and tell us about their experiences with WinC.  In order provide that opportunity, we are introducing a new feature called “Thought Blog” which will be short blurbs and single thoughts from the movers, shakers, and longtime supporters of World in Conversation – each weighing in on how they view WinC’s place in the world we all share from their particular vantage point.

Our first “Thought Blog” will be by advisory council member and Vice Provost for Educational Equity Dr. W. Terrell Jones:

 

Terrell JonesVice Provost for Educational EquityAs I think back on the history and contributions of what is now World in Conversation, I am very grateful to have had such a long relationship with WinC. When Sam first mentioned the idea of students talking to other students about issues of difference, I was excited and was on board immediately . You see, we have very few courses that attempt to address this issues and far too often the students in these electives are not the students who need to think about their beliefs and social learning. As Allport said many years ago, “prejudices are not so much taught as they are caught.” I am very pleased with the evolving and inclusive nature of the direction of WinC. You can’t just train or hire faculty to be like Sam and Laurie. I am sure it is their drive, vision and mission that makes this project so unique.

We look forward to being able to share insights from some of the individuals that make the profound work of facilitated dialogue possible, and a HUGE THANK YOU to Dr. Terrell Jones for his continued support throughout the years!

Posted by & filed under News and Updates, Staff Insights.

erik 2As the spring semester closes out and many are thinking about summer plans, my attention here at WinC has shifted to the selection process for our SOC119 Fall 14 TAs. After a semester filled with recruiting efforts, both in SOC119 and out of class, this semester we have had a total of 123 applicants. These students were interviewed over a four-day period, from April 4th to April 7th.  The interviews were filled with some very interesting conversations and those four days went by faster than expected. Currently, we are in the process of selecting 32 students who will compose our TA team in the fall. As in previous semester this decision is never an easy one. I am fortunate enough to be working with a great selection team that includes three SOC300 coaches who are Trent, Carly, and Rafaif. After an unprecedented second round of interviews we are ready to finalize the team today and send out our decisions. We plan on meeting with the 32 TAs this Thursday after the last day of Soc119. These selection process has been the most difficult one that I have been involved with. I am hopeful for what the future will bring to WinC and what these TAs could potentially bring to our center. As much as I love being involved with this decision making, I am thankful to be done with the selection process. It feels like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. It also allows me to reflect back and talk about my visit to Haiti.

Although my visit to Haiti was over spring break, I still carry the experience with me. I was fortunate enough to go to Haiti for a week to see firsthand the impact that the SOC119 Haiti Service-Learning Project is having on the people in Haiti. While I was there, I stayed at the Eucalyptus guest house that is run by the Jean Louis family. The most memorable experience I had in Haiti has to be going to the general hospital and providing meals for over 400 people, who, without that food, would have had anything else to eat. The night before we went to feed everyone at the hospital, we went to a church to cook with the youth of that church. They have made this an all-night cooking event, and I was honored to be a part of it. I will never forget the smiles on the faces of everyone involved in the cooking process. Although they themselves had no food to eat that night, they were just glad knowing that a hot meal would be served to those who were less fortunate than them. After hours of cooking, we packed two trucks and headed to the general hospital. The conditions at the hospital were not the best of conditions, but people were making due with what little they had. Everyone was glad to assist others and the sense of community that I felt in every other place was very much present at that hospital too. I will never forget the people and the smiles on their faces when we brought them food. I left Haiti feeling like I was leaving my home because, for the very short time that I was there, Haiti felt like home. I feel like we are often shown nothing but negative things about Haiti and its people. I did not feel like I was in danger at any point during my stay there. I felt like I was at home and everyone made me feel welcome. The culture is a beautiful culture and the people have a tremendous sense of community. They want to better themselves and, in the process, they want their country to prosper. They are working hard to completely recover from the devastating earthquake that hit. The process has been slow, but the will and determination is there.  I am hopeful to one day return and see Haiti, its economy and its people, in a better place.

Posted by & filed under Staff Insights.

SheffyThis past week I navigated internally about why I do this work. Why is this work inspiring? Why should it be inspiring? I reflect on these questions often so that I am in touch with myself when  work. And I want to share some of my reflections with you.

So why do I do this work?  When I say this work, I mean conversation. My work and our work is conversation. And, I do it because I have an instinctual desire to preserve what makes us human.

I can remember back to my last day of school in India, when I was in the 2nd grade.  The Father (principal) asked me what kind of doctor I wanted to be.  My grandfather and he were good friends and it was my grandfather’s deepest desire for my future: to have a doctor in the family. I didn’t have a response because I couldn’t envision a career for myself. I just knew I wanted to change the world I lived in: the extreme world of poverty, rape, and privilege. I had seen all three of these at a very early age. I wanted to change the humans of the world.

When I moved to the States and continued through grade school, high school, and even through college, I never felt the desire to have a certain job or career. My heart found solace in WinC and my work has allowed me to access my central desire and realize that it is not to change the world. It is to preserve what makes us human.

From my experiences, I have been able to generate the following opinions about what makes us human: what makes us human is that we all have the capacity to feel pain and pleasure equally. What makes us human is that there is a universal desire for belonging, food, and shelter. What makes us human is that our bodies are built to survive in such a profound way during extreme physical stress. Our human bodies also respond to stress emotionally. What makes us human is our ability to understand and to respond each other. This piece about being able to understand and respond is the key to preserving our humanity.

So what does conversation have to do with that last piece? From my seven years of work at WinC, I have come to believe that conversation is the tool that breaks down the wall of numbness and apathy. Living in a state of numbness and apathy, in my opinion, is being disconnected to the humanity within us. And this way of living is possible because the states of understanding and responsiveness are deactivated. That’s what makes conversation significant. I have witnessed strangers transform their understandings of one another because they were guided through a difficult dialogue. I have experienced my own switch of understanding and responsiveness turn on because of facilitated dialogue. WinC provides a physical and virtual  space to listen and to respond to what other human beings are thinking and experiencing. I believe that part of preserving our humanity is to activate our empathy and strengthen our emotional intelligence so that we can actively respond to each other.

Until someone tells me what it feels like to be a victim or a person of privilege in a certain situation, how do I know how to understand? How do I respond with empathy when I simply do not know? Conversations at WinC are inspiring because we allow for people from different cultures to practice what makes them human. At WinC, students are given the chance to see, hear, and understand the global community we are a part of. Students are given a chance to spark their own humanity with dialogue. How can this work be anything but inspiring?