Below is a link to our groups final paper summarizing our experiences and research. Please let me know what you think!
Below is a link to our groups final paper summarizing our experiences and research. Please let me know what you think!
Four months ago, I had no idea what to expect from a newly formed Virginia Tech program called “Presidential Global Scholars.” I can now honestly say that it far exceed my thoughts, exceptions, and dreams! It has been a semester full of wonderful professors, incredible travel, and unforgettable experiences.
There were a few rough moments and a horrific tragedy, but Hokies have a unique way of staying strong, of building community, and of turning bad circumstances into the best they can be (given the current circumstances).
One of the BIGGEST things that I learned was how to “tell my story,” without worrying too much about how it may “look” to others. Studying sex trafficking in Europe was way outside of my comfort zone! I even had several people express concern about “how it might look to be ‘studying sex trafficking,'” but I quickly realized I did not care what others MIGHT think about such a topic, because sex trafficking is something that I strongly believe HAS to be STOPPED!
In the end, I found myself having a wonderful new group of friends, a better understanding of how the world works, and a great new perspective on life. I wish the Presidential Global Scholars program the best of luck and hope to help it out in anyway possible. 🙂
Professor Elisio Macamo, from the African Studies department of Basel University, recently told me “Sometimes the best way to help people, is not to hurt them.”
My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and laugh at this comment that was clearly beyond cliché. As Professor Macamo continued elaborating on this point all I could think about was that I truly had a passion for helping others and there was NOOOO way he was not going to convince me differently.
Five minutes later my entire thought structure was broken. I felt like all of my thoughts on development, humanitarian aid, and compassion for others had shifted slightly. But how? I had only met Professor Macamo a few minutes prior to our discussion, so how had I let him turn me upside-down so quickly?
He basically said something to the extent of, if you want someone to have a better life it would make sense to help them right? This is true, but only if what you are doing is actually helping them. However, a tremendous amount of people get hurt through development programs, humanitarian aid, and “compassion.” It must be something far beyond “helping people fix their problems,” if you ever actually want to solve any of the worlds problems.
So what does this mean? Every action has an reaction. It is as simple as that. If you buy a chocolate bar, it very well could have been produced by trafficked individuals, thus incentivizing the cycle of poor labor standards to continue. If the United States gives immediate food aid to Haiti it may help in the short term, but that action can also put local agri-businesses out of business which in return increases the local poverty rate. On the other hand, if we take no stance at all, this inaction can also have serious negative consequences as well (something that I have really learned by living in Switzerland for the past four months where neutrality is key to life).
An example of how inaction on an issue can be just as damaging (if not worse) can currently be seen in Syria. No matter if you believe the US should be involved in stopping this matter or not, almost everyone agrees that a country intentionally killing its our citizens is despicable, even if it does fall under the countries right to sovereignty. So the international communities inaction has the effect of “hurting” the people of Syria by letting them to continue to die every day that we, as a planet, just sit and watch.
So what is the solution? If we really focus on “not just helping people, but just not hurting people” then they will be able to better help themselves. People are, for the most part, willing to put in the hard work to better their surroundings if they know that what they are going to do is going to “make a difference.” Of course their are exceptions (like Syria to some extent), but it is the unnecessary harm that developed societies and their people put on less developed societies that seems to causes the most harm in this natural development process whether it is directly or indirectly, intended or accidental. If we switch our focus to just not hurting these other societies or people, not out of a selfish desire to only focus on our self’s, but out of a desire to do more than just “help” or to “just fix their problems” we can all share a much better world with a higher quality of life for everyone.
The way I now see it, thanks to Professor Macamo, is that not hurting people shows more compassion and dedication than the traditional sense of “helping people.” The only way to “not hurt others” with your day-to-day life is to be informed, care about yourself, your community, and the consequences of your actions. I know that I am no longer only going to focus on helping others, but take it one step farther and focus on “not hurting others” from now on and I challenge you to do the same!
Back in February I learned that just like the currency exchange rate, one can easily leave Morocco with much more than they went with.
On Thursday, February 8th (after sleeping on the airport floor), I left Milan-Malpensa Airport with Michael Morrison and Daniel Smalls heading for Marrakech, Morocco for our first of our two mini-spring breaks. The original plan was to go to Marrakech for two days and then move onto either Rabat or Casablanca for a night, before training to Tangier to cross the Straight of Gibraltar into Tarifa, Spain and then bus onward up to Seville in order to catch our flight back to Milan.
However, the trip did not turn out quite like the original plan (Travel Tip #1: Always be ready to be flexible when traveling internationally, especially in underdeveloped countries or regions), but it ended up still being fantastic!
After getting off of the airplane in Marrakech, I quickly realized how cold and dry the air was and that it smelled of a mixture of dust and various spices. Another near instant observation was how friendly, yet cautious everyone seemed to be when interacting with “Americans”.
After getting on the number 19 bus that took the group to the closes bus stop to the “Jamaa El-Fna” (also know as “the Fna), we headed through the utter chaos of the Fna and its weaving pedestrians, motorcycles, cars, trucks, donkeys, snake charmers, musicians, and shopping stands (at this point I found it very interesting to consistently watch Michael and Dan’s faces since it was the first developing country either of them had been to). Although I must say that for being in Africa, it was much more developed than I had expected, even though the rural outskirts of the city did seem much less developed than the Fna district.
As we walked through the crowded Fna staring at everything we passed with curiosity we noticed that the locals became curious as well. I will admit that we were probably pretty easy to pick out since we were three young, white males with English text on our clothing, carrying suitcases and backpacks through the streets turning our attention to almost everything in sight for at least a couple of seconds. We quickly learned that when the Moroccan people become curious they take that as a prime opportunity to sell something, anything! We had people trying to show us to our Riad (basically a traditional hostel) for a small fee, to sell us street-crafted food, traditional Moroccan clothing and goods, sunglasses, postcards, snakes, pictures with monkeys… They were trying ANYTHING that could possibly make them a dollar! It was a bit overwhelming at first, but easily controlled after the first hour or two in the city. The strategy that seemed to work the best was to wear sunglasses and ONLY use our peripheral vision, look slightly upset, and to walk with purpose. This worked especially well when we were in denser areas and there were weaker looking pray around (as bad as that sounds).
The streets were chaos! A narrow alleyway could at any point have hundreds of humans, motorcycles, cars, horse-drawn carriages, and various other roadblocks that had to carefully be maneuvered around to reduce the risk of being hassled by store owners or by getting hit by the irresponsible and almost always speeding motorcycles that plagued the city.
One afternoon Michael and I were walking around just exploring and found a small music shop that was owned by four brothers. As we explored the shop we knew that we had to bring Dan, our groups musician, back to the shop. So a few hours later, with Dan, we went back to the shop and once again started talking to the brothers who were extremely nice! After several minutes of looking though their shelves of drums, stringed instruments, and novelty instruments they offered to make tea for us, which we gladly accepted. We then spent the next couple hours jamming out on instruments and talking about the differences (and similarities) between Marrakesh and our hometowns. At the end of the evening Dan ended up buying a traditional Ghanaian instrument that slightly resembles a bass guitar and one of the brothers named Chafiq took us to his favorite local restaurant for dinner where we could get “real Moroccan food.”
This got me thinking …
We all knew Chafiq was a business man, and that by being nice to us his chances of a sell increased exponentially. However, we are now Skype friends and we have shared several e-mails full of pictures from our trip and kind regards. So at what point was this kindness his marketing strategy versus his sincere kindness/interest towards us? He had been taking English classes and said that talking to us helped him with that, but I guess this asks an even bigger question; what is friendship (I know that this question is much bigger than I can possibly answer in a couple hundred words, but it is still worth discussing)? How self-centered can friendship be, and still be a “true friend?” Even in the states this seems to be a colossal issue! So many people network for the sole purpose of self-interest, but where has the compassion of friendship gone, or did it ever leave? Is this just the nature of friendship and an acquaintance only turns into a “true friend” after the long process of developing mutual compassion and respect for each other? That is what I am currently leaning towards, but that means that most of the time that people become friends it is because they ask “what is in it for me to become this persons friend,” and find something worth while even if the product they desire is only knowledge. In Chafiq’s case, or anyone else’s in that matter, can they be blamed? If they are just trying to earn a dollar, whether they want to be friends or not (although, in this case I honestly think he did), to support their family; Is there anything wrong with that? These thoughts, over the past few days, has really changed they way I have been interacting with people, although I am not fully confident that it should…
What are your thoughts?
The other day in Bratislava, Slovakia (we went just for a day trip) Michael, Dad, and I were riding the public bus and started talking to the girl sitting beside me. We started out by asking her for a recommendation on a good restaurant near the city center. She ended up suggesting a Japanese place, after which we continued talking. After a couple of minutes of corny jokes, Dad asked her if she was a student and what she was studying. She giggled slightly.
“I am studying Japanese language” she said.
After a few more jokes someone asked her how she has decided to start studying Japanese and her answer was shocking. She said, “one day my father asked me what my plans for the day were and before I could respond he told me I was to start studying Japanese. So I did, and I have ever since.”
I could not understand this! Guessing by her age, her father probably grew up in a young post-World War 2 Czechoslovakia that was all about harsh control and “community”, but 20 years after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, and almost 70 years since World War 2; how could this be? Who was to blame for this, her dad, culture, or society? What effect had this philosophy had on an entire generation, almost 70 years since it was “main stream”? What was her dreams? What would she have chosen? How many more generations will this ideology still be a major influence?
This really hit me hard because of our research project on human trafficking. Even though she was not being trafficked, her freedom to choose her life path had been taken away. Sure, it was taken by her father (who hopefully had her best interest in mind) rather than a pimp, or slave owner, but it was still not in her hands. At what point does this become a serious crime against freedom?
Later in our conversation with this young lady, she went on to say that at first she had hated Japanese, but over time she really developed a love for it.
Was this really her passion? Or was it something she had just developed a respect for over time? Is there a difference? I guess I will never know her thoughts on the issue…
I may be over thinking this particular instance, and the work on our human trafficking project may have made me overly sensitive to womens ability to make decisions for themselves, but it is something to think about! Either way, I would love to hear everyone else’s thoughts, so please post a comment with what you think about the issue.
Yesterday, as part of the PGS program I was traveling through Naples, Italy and went to an ancient Roman theater on the edge of the city. There I had the opportunity to read the following poem on the main stage…
“The farmer cleaves the earth with his curved plough
This is his yearlong work, thus sustains
His homeland, thus his little grandchildren,
His herds and trusty bullocks. Never a Pause!
The seasons teem with fruits, the young of clocks,
Or sheaves of Ceres’s corn; they load the furrows
And burst and barns with produce. Then, come winter,
The olive press is busy; sleek with acorns
The pigs come home; the arbutes in the woods
And high on sunny terraces of rock
The mellow vintage ripens.” – Virgil
This was a pretty amazing moment of my day! Knowing that as a participant of this program, I was at least partially removed from my normal thoughts of agriculture production, education, and development, but that what I have been learning as part of this program is relevant to my future career and has proven to be full of wonderful experiences in general. I needed this reminder of how SPECTACULAR agriculture really is!!!
Riding on the train at 7:45 AM this morning with the locals as they commuted to work in Lugano was very interesting. I quickly noticed the quietness of the train, with the exception of our group. The Swiss people on the train were almost without exception reading a newspaper or very quietly looking out the window. After a few minutes on the train (about a 15 minute ride), I noticed a few Swiss start to stare at our group and begin to look slightly annoyed, I assume this was because the volume of our conversations and casual laughter.
Stepping off the train into Lugano was refreshing. The bustle of people moving and the crisp morning air was a refreshing way to begin a new adventure. We all met at the Cathedral of Lugano(also known as St. Lawrence Cathedral) which is perched high on top of Lugano (near the train station). A church has been at this location since 818, but was not converted into a cathedral until 1888. After taking a group picture and setting a meeting time and location, I was off in the city on my own.
Lugano is a city, about the size and population of Roanoke, Virginia, that the Romans settled back in the first century B.C. Lugano and Lake Lugano have always been very important in the region because of the lake and the several crucial Alpine passes that are so near. With this extreme importance came conflict. Since, the foundation of Lugano was set over two thousand years ago, many battles have been fought on its soils including soldiers from several different armies. In current times, Lugano is the third largest banking capital of Switzerland, with over 100 banking institutions, and is, as stated above, known for its tourism.
One of the first things that became obvious was that Lugano is not a normal Swiss city. Being the 9th largest city it Switzerland, it is also one of the main vacation spots in the country leading to the development of a tourist culture as well. At some points in the city the local culture and the culture that had been established for tourist seemed to fuse together into an unidentifiable product of commercialism and authenticity. Walking down another street I began to notice the window advertisements, way beyond my price range, showing fancy name brand watches, designer tobacco pipes, and diamond encrusted clothing. It seemed as if the town was compiled of almost only retail stores catering to the rich and the exclusive retired businessmen whom happened to be vacationing in Lugano . These luxury goods were also owned by most of the residents and workers who call Lugano home.
As I continued my walk, I found a pedestrian area, near via Piazza Alighieri Dante, which had a great view of a modern shopping mall. Intermixed with this background was also S. Antonio’s church, which was built out of dark red brick in 1633. I found this mixture of extremely modern polished steel and 17th century brick architecture to be fascinating and even found a small café to grab a cappuccino at, almost for the sole reason of having an excuse to just sit down and observe the local atmosphere and its people as they traveled to work, school, and to go shopping.
Interesting enough, contrary to the average American, the Swiss seemed to look happy, content, and in deep thought early in the morning. However, as the day went on this happy mood changed at a staggering speed, because by mid-morning a large percentage of the population that walked by seemed slightly annoyed, tired, and frustrated. I am not sure why this was, but this did start to happen as the when younger people started showing up on the streets. Even with this minor look of discontent, if they heard “buongiorno” (good morning in Italian) they would give a slight smile and return the favor. One can only guess that the business class may have mixed feelings about the next generation of Swiss? Or that the new reports released this morning did not look very positive for the Eurozone’s economic crisis?
Some more of my observations found that there also was a large population of older women in Lugano. They almost unexceptionally were wearing expensive looking full-length brown fur jackets and two to three inch heels walking around on cobble stone in groups of two or three. On the other hand, almost everyone else who was out was quietly walking in conservative blues and blacks with the occasional red scarf or maroon hat. Everyone, including the older ladies, moved at a relaxed faster pace until lunch time where people casually strolled the many piazzas in conversation with each other just as it has been done for hundreds of years. Around lunch, the air began to fill with the smell of sweet tobacco from different sections of the world. With Europe’s persistent fascination with tobacco, and smoking in general, I could not help to think what might have been the scene in Lugano in the early 1800’s at Virginia tobacco first made its way into what we now call southern Switzerland.
Today has been a wonderful experience and a neat journey. Sitting at the café enjoying life and enjoying the clean crisp air and wonderful mountains made me miss home, although this experience thus far as been nothing short of incredible! Can’t wait for more!
On Sunday, January 15th, was a day of Italian culture and adventure. As I traveled to Milan (Milano in Italian) on the train we went through Como, Italy (one of George Clooney’s residents) and continued to Milano. Upon arriving we toured some architecturally rich sections of both old and modern Milan and then proceeded to “Sforzesco Castle“. The castle was started in the 1300’s and has been an important Milanese monument since then serving as an important defense and cultural center. The castle is full of wonderful art, history, and gypsies… no seriously. The local scam was that the gypsies tried to tie a really cheap bracelet around your wrist for free after asking for a high-five, and then bugging you until you gave a “donation”. After carefully avoiding this for several minutes we left the castle and headed to a local antiques market, that operates on the weekends, which sells old books, paintings, and other memorabilia of times past.
Then I moved to the “Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II”, the second modern shopping mall in all of Europe. Built in 1865, it allowed the upper class to shop and gather all of their luxury products and services in one place. If you like going to the mall you can thank the developers of this historical Wal-Mart, because although it was the second of its kind it was the first to really catch on. Today, it houses stores like Gucci, McDonalds, Prada, and Swarovski.
Afterwards we went to the Milano Cathedral (also known as “Duomo di Milano”), which happens to be the forth largest cathedral in the world and took almost six centuries to complete. Just walking in the doors transforms ones perspective of Milan and the history of northern Italy. The immense size is astounding!
After visiting the Duomo di Milano, a few other people and I sat down at a street side café and just watched people walk by for nearly an hour. The amazing thing about this is that nearly everyone seemed happy!
The following morning we made the trip north to Bellinzona, Switzerland with the director of CESA (Center for European Studies and Architecture), Daniela.
There we toured “Castelgrande” and “Castel Montebello”, which since 2000 has been considered an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Castelgrande was phenomenal! Wonderfully preserved, the castelgrande (and the other two castles) is a main focal point in Bellinzona, even today since that are situated on a central hilltop. The castles were made at a critical travel point in-between three main passes between the alps. These passes were critical to travel and trade throughout the early history of Europe.
Afterwards, we traveled down into Bellinzona and ate went cross the small valley and then climbed up to the higher “Castel Montebello”. The view was even more spectacular, but the castle itself was about the same.
Both days were amazing and wonderfully informative about the region in which I am living for the next few months.
In the past 3 days, a lot has happened! I said goodbye to everyone at home, arrived in Zurich, Switzerland, completed 3 flights (by the way United airlines was horrible on 2 out of 3 of my flights and also lost my luggage), 4 train rides, and got moved into my new apartment in Riva San Vitale, (where I will be living for the next 3.5 months) and have already eaten my way weight in homemade pastas and fine cheeses.
Arriving in Zurich was much different that I was expecting. Having always been told that the Swiss people are very introverted, techonology-based, and strict, I was surprised to find Zurich was loud, somewhat flashy, and not near as cold as I expected. After meeting up with the rest of the group we headed off for the train station. The ride was beautiful and snowy at times. We transferred three times and eventually arrived in the small, but incredible town of Riva San Vitale. Then our group was given a tour of the villa Maderni (an elegant 3 story 18th century building) which is the home of Virginia Tech operations in Switzerland. I have to note that this building was the center of the Republic of Riva San Vitale, an extremely short-lived country that was declared in the early 19th century that lasted a mere 25 days before being overtaken by the Swiss-Germen authorities.
I then went to my apartment which is about a three minute walk away, through gorgeous narrow alley ways. After moving my stuff in, exploring for about forty-five minutes, and a wonderful traditional swiss dinner, a group of us then bought some fresh Gruyere cheese and played cards until midnight.
Today seemed to come quickly. As soon as we all arrived at the villa we started a couple hour long orientation and then had a spectacular pasta dish for lunch (which I had four servings of). Later today we plan to take a walking tour of Riva with Danielle, the director of The Virginia Tech Center for European Studies and Architecture and finish the day with a few more hours preparing for the rest of the semester.
More to come soon!