Each year I have been a part of the UC community I have been able to take hold of incredible opportunities that have helped me to evolve as a student and as a person. As my third year of college has come to a close, I can say that this year has tested and tried me in many ways, but has really opened my eyes to all the possibilities within my reach.
I spent four months living in the North African country of Morocco during the fall semester of 2014. Living there was one of the hardest, but enlightening, experiences I have ever had in my life. Being that I am not religious and a feminist, living in an Islamic and extremely patriarchal society was very tough for me. There were outbursts and tears during my time away—definite homesickness—but the things I learned in that short time will last me a lifetime. I think that one of the most important things I could take away from the experience was that change has to come from within. Being in a country so different than my home, I wanted to change the way the society and the people functioned. I wanted the public sphere to be a place for women, I wanted men to realize that cat calling was dehumanizing and misogynistic, and I wanted things to generally work the way they did in America. But I came to understand that coming from somewhere else and pointing out problems or being a lone foreigner, yelling at the men degrading me on the street doesn’t change a culture. That culture, those people living it everyday, have to want the change. They have to cultivate the environment for that changes themselves.
Morocco wasn’t the only place that I saw this change from within theory to be true. I partook in WorkFest 2015 with a handful of my fellow honors students on spring break this year. We traveled to Southeastern Kentucky to lend a hand in rebuilding homes of the Appalachian people that lived there. Appalachia is a part of America very different from what most of us are familiar with—it’s a region that probably could be classified as third world if it really came down to it. The Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) that we were working with requires that people apply themselves to get their homes fixed and that they change their lifestyles in order to follow God (drugs are a large problem in the region) and commit themselves to Him and His word. So while CAP has requirements for the people that pursue their services, applications are voluntary. People must seek help; they must seek the change themselves.
From Morocco and Appalachia, I was also able to see happiness and comfort in ways of life that were unfamiliar to me. Cultural relativism is important whether it be from cultures across the globe or cultures in our back yard.
Appalachia specifically showed me a different side of American as it compares to the urban core that I live, work, and volunteer in. When we think of poverty, often times we think only of urban settings, but now I have seen how poverty can play out in a more rural setting, a setting that’s needs and people are often forgotten. While I prefer a metropolitan setting, it was enlightening to see such a different environment as realize that attention and services are needed in the mountains of America.
Also, as a quick side note, I ran my first 10k with my dad this spring! It was awesome because I had never ran a race before, but I trained pretty hard, and was able to complete the 6.2 miles in 55 minutes without stopping. Even better, it was the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, South Carolina, which draws over 40,000 people to run a year. So, not only did I run the race in under an hour, but I did so while bobbing and weaving around thousands of other runners. I was very proud of myself; it was a really cool, new experience that I worked really hard for!
This summer, I was able to obtain a TEFL certification, which now makes me qualified to teach English in foreign countries and to foreign learners here in America. I obtained this certification, hoping it would help me to achieve some of my future goals. Some of those goals include applying for City Year, an AmeriCorps program that would station me in an inner city school as a teaching assistant for a year, and/or applying for teaching jobs abroad—specific locations have yet to be determined in my mind. I have already started my City Year application, so hopefully I can get an offer! I have really solidified in my mind this year that I want to take a couple years off of school to gain some experience and make an impact before I go and get a Masters/professional degree.
Academically this year, I am hoping to obtain a research position with the Criminal Justice Department’s Undergraduate Research Experience as my field placement and final piece of my Criminal Justice experience here at UC. Other than that academic goal, my only other goal is to graduate with both my History and Criminal Justice degrees in the spring—which should go pretty smoothly. My advice to myself is just to stay calm and minimize my stress levels, with effort and patience, everything will work out well, maybe not as planned, but it will work out nevertheless.