Giorgie ALG20 Statement

As I understand, the details and outcomes of the Adventure Learning Grant (ALG) very, as the travel experience cannot be simplified to one or two simple foci — the learning process is one of synthesis. However, one of the driving forces influencing my interest in applying concerns my academic topics of study. I now work towards developing a concentration of various studies of migration and potentially storytelling. While many locations and time periods have known both refugees and the stories of those who cross borders, I decided to focus on current events in Lebanon in order to achieve depth of study. I continue to learn Middle Eastern histories, migration narratives, and the Arabic language, and believe that come summer 2020 my academic pursuits will point towards experiential learning as the next step.
While an academically relevant component is certainly present, I am also interested in the experiential learning opportunities of the ALG because I find exposure to other cultures to be a beautiful encounter and a valuable chance for self expansion. I yearn to understand beyond the Western culture and society that I was born into. I feel as though my perspective approaches a plateau in growth and the ALG would give me an opportunity to expand that I would not get otherwise.
After coming to the stark realization that I am unequivocally drawn to ideas, stories, and realities that both unite humans and create differences in different places of the world, I decided to focus on the Middle East and the histories and current instances of human movement and refugees. I have prepared for potentially travelling to the Middle East as well as potentially learning from communities in the United States by starting studies in Middle Eastern histories, the Arabic language, and current applicable articles. These studies cannot hope to reach an expert level before the grant. However,
the continuation of these studies rely on the eventual experience of travel and interaction. With the ALG, Mm academic interests would be informed by interactive learning, learning seeking to see human beings less as subjects of interests and more as other people. While students may realize this, it is difficult to internalize when a degree of distance separates and distorts versions of fact.
I indeed feel that travel is a valuable component of learning as a student and as a human, but this grant would also put me in an awkward position. Travelling to a place with vast demographic, cultural, and lingual differences — and being given money to do so— implies overwhelming and disproportionate privilege. Each community, and even each community member, has different opinions on the ways newcomers ought to behave, opinions formed by history, culture, and philosophies. An active listening practice developed throughout the occasions I have been granted the privilege of an invitation to a different community. This practice does allow for questions but the objective is to listen and determine if some questions have already been answered. I find this practice challenging, as it requires a considerable amount of self-discipline and awareness, but the progress I have made so far might help my experience in Lebanon, and my experience in Lebanon might improve my active listening.
Besides an active listening practice that I utilize not only in various new communities but also classroom settings, I have had other experiences with finding ways to learn. My two most recent projects concerned an EnviroWashington campaign to remove dams in the Lower Snake River and a volunteer opportunity with WWU Native American Student Union’s (NASU) 2019 Powwow. The EnviroWashington campaign had great meaning to me because it was a grassroots approach, collecting
public support to represent the environmental desires of Washingtonians. The campaign also researched alternative solutions that would render dams obsolete, as many residents are concerned about their economic status once the dams are removed. NASU’s 2019 Powwow was an amazing experience not only because the powwow was a beautiful event of recognition and arts, but I also had the chance get involved with the activities of the indigenous folk of this area — having lived in California until college, my experience was limited to a different Native community. Other important projects of note include volunteering with a USDA garden promoting food sovereignty in the Bay Area and aiding a family friend teaching who holds workshops teaching children about technology.
I see my experiences working with community members as more substantial preparation for the ALG, but travelling has taught me its own lessons. I have only travelled throughout America and Europe. This inherently offered a limited perspective on the world, but it raised important questions. As a ten year old, I saw people who looked like my family taken off trains at the Austrian-German borders. My father and grandmother acted as if those people deserved it, and I did not understand why. I also did not understand why in Italy, one of my homelands, Italians are incredibly racist towards some black people but celebratory of my dark skinned grandmother. A decade later, I understand that I witnessed how racism is not always just racism; it is charged, there are the “right” and “wrong” people of color, and these sentiments develop into internalized oppression. Racism joined with xenophobia and geography in this case, othering the black immigrant who came from the south by foot and boat while accepting the black visitor who came from the west by plane.
As I consider what experiences bring me to apply for this grant, I also consider the potentially limits I might experience as I travel. Two in particular concern me: first, I don’t know exactly how racially ambiguous females are treated in Lebanon. I might be able to navigate with a similar formula I use in the US, but that might not work. Second, while I have made contact with people in different parts of Lebanon and I have connections with a man who does refugee work in Beirut, I cannot actually predict what my impact will look like to refugees and refugee aid providers. I am travelling to learn, but I cannot just expect people who are preoccupied to make sacrifices for my learning. Finding a way to learn in a constructive way will certainly be a challenge, and finding opportunities that lie beyond my forecasted travel plans may limit my learning.