Camellia Travels the World: Sociology Research 101

January 10, 2020

Throughout the semester, each of us picks an aspect of Human Rights and conducts an individual research project with the guidance and help from our faculty and country coordination teams. The project is a qualitative sociology research, and it is very different from any other research that I have done in college. Besides literature review and online resources, we are asked to hold interviews with locals and professionals to learn more about specific cases in each country. And at the end of the semester, we share our work with each other. To tell you the truth, this is a very long journey and a hard one; step by step, I slowly developed my project and dived deep into my thoughts…

Firstly, I have to narrow my interests to one aspect of Human Rights that I am passionate about. After days of thinking, I started my project with “comparison of public and private schools,” analyzing quality of education in different countries. At the personal level, I see the difference between public and private education within my own family: my brother has always been educated in public school system in China, and I have been attending private schools in both China and the United States. On a national level, I notice the rise of private school system in China, and I am curious about the causes and the differences. Thus, I would like to learn about the education system across the world, and thus, reflect on my own case.

When I thought my topic was specific enough and was confident about my project, my professor posed many challenging questions. Out of all, the most critical issue is that it is obvious that private education is generally better than a public one; therefore, how could I make my project more unique and argumentative? Going beyond the evident inequalities regarding entrance to and the outcome of the education system, what do these differences imply? And how these differences affect the future of children?

With numerous questions in mind, I looked for the commonalities among three countries’ education system, and finally, I decided to address the inequality of language education in public and private schools. To be more precise, I focused on English learning in schools, because English has been used as an international language for communication and in academia, and thus, English learning becomes prevalent and significant for most parts of the world. I understand the importance of English, as I am a beneficiary of good language education.

 

During the final few weeks of the program, I spent hours at a café going through my notes and working on this project.

 

Yet, I still ran into a wall: how is English learning related to human rights? How can I justify the importance of language education when facing the call for language justice? Indeed, language justice is a human rights movement, fighting for equity of all languages and building multilingual spaces. I support the initiative, and I strongly believe there is no “superior language.” Then, why is language education so prevalent across the world? Is it just for global education and neoliberalism? Is there any other use of language education?

Again, I spent days at this bottleneck period, until I saw a video of Gayatri Spivak discussing English as a “tool of the masters”; by acquiring this tool, teachers can “make elite and subaltern meet.” She uses herself as an example, describing her role as an English teacher in India and how she and her students “defeated the English by loving the language.” Learning English is not an act of surrendering to the masters, but rising and speaking as the subalternity. At that moment, I finally found the connection for my research project: language learning is a tool utilized by people to demand and protect their human rights; it is to give them the power of speech and expression and let their voices be heard and understood on the world’s stage.

With this belief in mind, I argued that guaranteeing equitable language education in public education is to equip lower socioeconomic class and marginalized groups with a tool to rise to the stage with the elites, to articulate the violation of rights they have been in, and to protect human rights by themselves.

This is my first time doing a sociology research project, and as you can see, I had many moments of frustration and periods of stagnation. To me, this project has witnessed my progress, and I am very grateful for this opportunity to scrutinize one topic and develop my critical thinking and research skills.

All my thanks and love to this funky and funny, relaxed and resourceful professor that helped me throughout this semester.


Madelyn In TCI: Going Home

January 6, 2020

Well, today is my second day home. It’s strange. I don’t know how to put into words how much I miss my friends from this semester. Saying goodbye was so difficult. The morning of our departure I took a moment away from last minute packing and walked over to the conch wall. The conch wall is a little stone wall that goes along the edge of the cliff and has many sets of benches that overlook the ocean. It’s where we would go to be alone, thoughtful, or simply appreciate the ocean. It was the place where many deep, authentic conversations occurred, and where students would sit and play the guitar by themselves. Saying goodbye to that spot felt like saying goodbye to the center.

The Conch Wall

Before getting in the truck to head to the airport, we all signed out of the center for the last time, writing our hometowns as our destination, and leaving our time-in slot empty. When I saw that, I broke and my eyes started leaking, which created a chain effect of five other girls also crying and all of us laughing at ourselves.

Signing Out

Our first flight was just to get to Provo, the main island. It’s only 14 minutes in a very small plane. The entire time I stared out the window, watching the water, seeing the Salinas on the island and realizing I wouldn’t go running along them in the mornings to see flamingos anymore. It was so hard to wrap my brain around the fact that we were actually leaving, all of us going home and wouldn’t see each other for a very long time. The entire semester we had all been so present, focused only on what was happening in that moment and enjoying it as much as possible. It felt like it could never end, because none of us wanted to think about the end. We were on different planes to Provo, but all met up in that airport for a final goodbye. I had the first flight with two friends, going to Fort Lauderdale airport for a layover. The goodbye was full of tears and hugs. As much as it hurt to say goodbye to everybody, it was also so amazing to know that in such a brief period, we formed such intense connections and shared amazing experiences that made it so difficult to say goodbye. I think it would’ve been sadder to say goodbye if nobody really cared about it. We knew that we couldn’t have any regrets from the semester; we had done everything we wanted and lived a very intense, authentic lifestyle together. I still cried though, wishing it could last longer. Life just doesn’t work that way though.

When we got to Florida, I was very grateful for having two of my friends still with me. I had a 7-hour layover, and we were together for four of those hours, until both of them took different flights. I spent the rest of the time watching happy Christmas movies to cheer myself up. Landing in Philly airport was… cold. I spent the last 6 months in an eternal summer, where 75 degrees felt chilly. And suddenly it was 30 degrees and my breath made clouds of smoke outside. SO WEIRD! It was really fantastic to see my dad again and have the hour-long ride back home to catch up and tell him all of the fun stories from this semester! Even though it was 2 AM, the first thing I did when I got home was take a long, hot, freshwater shower, for the first time in 3 months. That was amazing, to feel entirely clean before going to bed. I’m going to miss my friends and the time I spent on that Caribbean island so much, but I am excited to see everybody again and hear all of the new adventures! I’m also excited to incorporate everything I learned there, particularly a sustainable lifestyle, into my present and future life. On to the next adventure!

The Last Sunset


Camellia Travels the World: Critical Bus Tour of Amman

January 6, 2020

A significant component of experiential learning is to explore and learn with our own senses, and then, reflect on our own emotions and thoughts. Thus, our local faculty organized a critical bus tour of Amman for us, as an experiential learning class of comparing and contrasting different neighborhoods and lifestyles.

Panorama of Amman from downtown. In the far back, you can find four enormous skyscrapers. Also, on the very right, you can see a Jordanian flag. This is the tallest flagpole of the world.

We hopped on the bus, going from 6th circle to downtown. In Amman, there are 8 circles on the main road, running from downtown to West Amman. We followed the circles and observed on the way. Amman is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; there are remains of sites from three or four thousand years ago. The downtown area is where one can find the Roman Theater, the Citadel, and King Abdullah Mosque. Thus, it has been the place of wealth for centuries. Yet, in modern eras, because of the government project of Western Amman development and the influx of immigrants and refugees, most rich people decided to migrate west. The migration and gentrification, thus, separated the rich and the poor geographically, forming a special zone of Abdoun to Shmesani and Abdali in West Amman, while pushing the East further east. This phenomenon reminds me of a Chinese proverb: “Thirty years the east of the river, thirty years the west of the river.” Amman is a perfect example showing how wealth moves from time to time.

Passing by the 5th circle, I could feel the luxurious ambiance. Indeed, the 5th circle has a nickname – “5-star hotel circle”; one can find Four Seasons and Sheraton standing across from each other, and other luxury hotel projects in process. The 4th circle is the government circle. However, the actual circle does not exist anymore; rather, it is replaced with high security to prevent protests. A little farther down south from the 4th circle is the Abdali project. The neoliberalism ideologies and Westernized development are pronounced in the district. It is a zone of international finance, supranational authority, and local state. We stopped at the Boulevard Mall, where we got to walk on our own and examine the space with our critical eye. It is an outdoor shopping center, with a running fountain resembling the Short Pump Mall in Richmond. Instead of critiquing the space, I rather felt comfortable walking in this space, seeing the familiar coffee shops and makeup brands, reading signs written in English instead of Arabic.

I could not, somehow, critique the space; thus, I turned the critical eye to analyze myself. I found myself feeling guilty to be so familiar with these spaces of exemption and privilege. I was guilty for living in these bubbles and enjoying them without further contemplation: by whom are these places built? Who gets to enjoy these places? Whose spaces are they occupying? What influences will they bring to other locals?  Furthermore, this resembles the Western way of luxury; is this what all people consider as dream homes?

The façade of apartments inside the Boulevard Mall. The ads on the side were revealing their interior luxury.

What’s more, when we went to East Amman, I saw the drastic disparities within a twenty-minute drive. Since 1948, millions of refugees rushed to Jordan for numerous reasons. In East Amman, they established settlements; yet, these houses made with clay were not as robust as they looked. In recent years, many collapsed, leaving dozens of lives crushed under the buildings and many more in danger. The former glory of downtown Amman has disappeared for years; what remains now, is the debris of refugee housing. Standing on top of a mall, I saw numerous houses empty and grounds abandoned. Where did the people go? I kept asking. Why did they leave this place? To me, these people are not pushed further east; they are pushed out of the equation of neoliberalism and capitalism.

This critical tour experience taught me not only the situation of Amman but the way of looking at any space. “Who is here? Who is missing? What does this imply?” Well, from now on, I need to practice scrutinizing places with these questions.


Madelyn In TCI: Sunset at Long Cay

January 3, 2020

Today is our last full day here (I swear I’m not freaking out about it). All morning was spent doing site and room clean-up, and maybe packing? We’re all in denial about leaving tomorrow, which is probably not very healthy. It’s been such an incredible time here and we’re all going to miss each other so much. Cleaning everything made me feel a bit better about it all, just because it gave my mind something else to focus on.

Sunrise

After lunch, we went on our long-promised trip to Long Cay. Long Cay is right in our view when we look out at the ocean from our center, and we’ve been excited to finally go there. They told us we would go to watch the sunset on the very last day of our trip, as long as we all were fairly well-behaved throughout the semester and didn’t do anything too atrocious. I’m not sure what would’ve constituted “too atrocious”, because we were all certainly menaces throughout the semester. We went out at 1:30, after lunch. There are many iguanas on the island who get fed by tourists, and so they are very friendly. When we started along the rocky path, one of them ran right at us, stopping about a foot away. If you’ve never seen an iguana run, you should definitely look it up – it’s a very strange movement that reminds me a bit of the way that Phoebe from Friends runs.

Long Cay has a high elevation and turns into cliffs on the far side. Standing along the edge was absolutely stunning, reminding me of New Zealand or Ireland. The limestone cliffs cut sharply down into the water, where waves beat against the rocks, spraying white foam into the air.

Long Cay Cliffs

My friends and I adventured around the cliffs, watching the water. There was a drastic gradient, with white and teal by the rocks. A bit farther out, there were patches of turquoise, indicating the sandy bottom. Other areas were dominated by dark blue waters that deepened to indigo in the distance. We watched a green turtle bobbing up and down on the waves for a long while, which was very cute. I stood on the edge of the cliff and spread my arms out to feel the wind, pretending I was an osprey. I could feel the spray from the ocean on my face. Even though I’ve not been looking forward to leaving, in that moment I couldn’t feel anything but happy.

Me On The Cliff

My Friends

Although it’s sad that the program is over, it feels so amazing that we did it!

When we got back on the boat, the sun was setting, casting a lavender glow over the clouds. A rain cloud was coming over South Caicos, casting a rainbow through half of the sky, while the full moon floated between the rainbow and the cliffs of Long Cay. It seemed as if South Caicos knew we were leaving, and gave us every bit of beauty it could offer for our last evening.


Camellia Travels the World: Himalayas High, Dead Sea Low

January 3, 2020

There are many ups and downs in the program, but the most dramatic one happened this week. A few days ago, I was appreciating the Himalayas right in front of my eyes, and this weekend, I was swimming in the Dead Sea, the low point on Earth. Yes, we have arrived in our last destination of this semester – Amman, Jordan.

On our first weekend, we took a group trip to the Dead Sea, which is an hour drive away from Amman. Because of the altitude difference, the Dead Sea is ten degrees warmer than Amman! Also, it was pouring in Amman when we got onto the bus, and then, it was sunny when we arrived at the Dead Sea (geography always surprises me)! We rushed out of the bus, heading straight into a resort. There are public beaches around the area, however, we were suggested to go to a private beach for a more pleasant experience (on the public beaches, there are crowds of Arab men, and thus, they are highly sensitive about women’s swim clothing).

View of the Dead Sea from the resort.

We walked down to the beach, everyone was so excited to jump in. The sand was smooth, but there were also rocks on the beach and seabed. I slowly dipped my toes into the water, carefully watching every step I took. Then, when I looked up, my friends were already sunbathing in the middle of the sea. Seeing everyone joyfully playing with the saltwater, I rushed and took a big step, and then suddenly, my feet could not touch the ground anymore!

There I floated, straight like a pencil in the water. To be honest, it felt so strange! I was scared to move, and so, Rafa, the fellow in our program, came to help me. She grabbed my hands, trying to turn me to float on my back. I slowly followed her lead, but it was so difficult to pull my legs up from the saltwater. Finally, two more friends came over and grabbed my thighs and brought them above the water. I was already disoriented by this point.

Dead Sea mud treatment! It was my first time to cover myself with mud, and it felt surprisingly great!

After I adjusted a little bit, Rafa held my hand and tried to lead me deeper into the Dead Sea. I tried to do a few strokes, but because I could not put my face down into the water, it was more challenging.  As I went farther from the beach, my fear came back to me, and then, I panicked! What if I drown in the Dead Sea? What if I cannot swim back to the shore?  What if I float all the way to the West Bank? I know, according to physics, no one will sink in the Dead Sea; but at that moment, science could not comfort me. It is like when people are walking on the glass bridge over a canyon; scientifically, we all know that the glass can support thousands of pounds, but we still imagine “what if it breaks?”

Anyway, I freaked out, making giant water splashes everywhere, and I felt even more insecure and out of control. Unfortunately, I got the saltwater into my eyes; and yes, it was so painful. I miraculously swam to the shallow seabed immediately and sprinted to my towel on the beach to wipe the salty tears pouring out of my eyes.

For the rest of the afternoon, I played in the shallow water, sunbathing on my back, while having one arm touching the ground. Even though I did not get to enjoy the magic of the Dead Sea like everyone else, it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

Disclaimer: please don’t be scared by my story, because I am a terrible swimmer!

It won’t be complete without a group photo at the sunset by the Dead Sea 🙂 


Madelyn In TCI: Black Spot Parasites

December 9, 2019

Time to talk about my research project here! There were many options of directed research, and I requested the one with my favorite professor here, even though it didn’t have a SCUBA component, only snorkel. Our project is analyzing how the presence and severity of a certain parasite that causes black spots on the body of its host might affect the Ocean Surgeonfish.

Field Work

The Ocean Surgeonfish eats a lot of algae on the coral reefs, which keeps the ecosystem healthy and allows the coral to grow further. But this parasite is one of those creepy ones that changes the behavior of its host. It basically hijacks the brain of the fish and makes it act very different. Our research is observing the Surgeonfish behavior and trying to determine a trend in the behavior changes of infected fish. We hypothesize that this parasite is causing the fish to behave more erratically and suppressing its anti-predator instincts, which would increase the likelihood of the fish getting eaten by an osprey, which is the next host of the parasite’s life cycle.

So, what does our actual field work look like? We go out every afternoon snorkeling for two hours and split up into buddy pairs. One of us videos the fish, while the other one records what the fish is doing exactly every 30 seconds when our timer goes off, and also records the number of bites every 30 seconds. We follow each fish for 10 minutes and record the number of black spots it has.

Recording Data

I really enjoy this type of field work because it forces me to focus on things that I typically wouldn’t notice. We are now well-acquainted with the typical behavior of the fish and notice when they do strange things. Then it’s easy to notice when the highly infected fish act strangely. We joke that they appear to be drunk, swimming erratically and running into rocks. We snorkel for about two hours each day collecting data, and usually by the end of it we’re all freezing cold and our hands are too numb to keep writing.

One day, after collecting behavioral data on many fish, we began to swim back to the boat. I dived down to swim along the sea grass upside down, looking up at the water surface. The change of perspective from doing this is always interesting- gazing at the waves distorting the sun rays that manage to filter through, I feel more as if I belong in this underwater reality. As I swam in this strange manner, I tilted my head back just a bit farther  to see where I was going, and realized that an eagle ray and I were swimming right towards each other!

A cute squid


Camellia Travels the World: Children and Youth First

December 5, 2019

On one of our last days in Nepal, we went to a very special school on the outskirts of Lalitpur. This school is called Life Vision Academy (LVA). As someone who is passionate about children’s education and quality of education, I found this place to be a safe haven for children.

LVA is a private boarding school for underprivileged children in Nepal. Some kids are from marginalized groups and lower castes, some are from remote areas that have no access to education, some have parents with economic challenges that cannot afford sending children to school. LVA caters to these families and offers them an opportunity for quality education.

Currently, there are 86 students in total, from pre-school to 10th grade (in Nepal, 10th grade is the end of secondary education). Each grade is about 8 to 10 students, though in 10th grade, there are only 4 students. Thanks to the small class sizes, all kids get the best care and attention from teachers. The children live in dorms with 6 didi (“elder sisters” in Nepali), have balanced diet plans, and most importantly, receive an excellent quality of education.

The Life Vision Academy in Lalitpur, Nepal. It is situated at the foot of a mountain. Thus, children often go on excursions to learn about the beauty of nature and get inspiration from nature. For example, they will look at caterpillars and learn that modern train structures is based on these tiny insects.

As we were walking into the school, many young children ran to meet us. “Hello!” I waved at a little boy in the Grade-1 classroom. “Hello,” he put down his toy and gave me a big smile, “nice to meet you!” Seeing his innocent face, I felt pure happiness from the bottom of my heart.

Radha came to guide us. She is one of the first graduates from LVA and has stayed to educate younger ones. Radha led us walking around the campus, visiting classrooms, dorms, the dining room, and patiently answered our endless questions. The classrooms were all set up differently and decorated creatively. Colorful posters were hanging on the walls, introducing different religions in the world. Radha introduced that every week, they have a competition of classroom decoration among all grades; this week’s theme was world religion. These children are from different religious backgrounds: Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. Thus, they learned from each other about different values and traditions in different religions.

On the pathway to dorms, there were some little squares of gardens. “These are gardens for different classes,” she explained, “we teach our kids how to care for plants.” At the back of the school building, we also found a small farm. The school has been growing vegetables itself to be more self-sustainable. All these aspects of learning beyond the traditional curriculum expand the horizon of school education.

Meet the school mascot – TIGON.

Finally, Haushala finished another busy day and came to meet us. She is the founder-director of Children & Youth First (CYF), an NGO that has been support LVA for over 10 years. We sat in the dining room, and she started recounting the story behind the foundation of CYF and its connection with LVA.

In 2008, Haushala and her friend were volunteering at an orphanage in Kathmandu. After working with the children for a couple months, they brought gifts for the kids, such as stationery, blankets, toys, etc. However, when they went back to visit the children, these gifts were nowhere to be found. The children told the two girls that the workers took away everything and said that it was all kept in closets. The girls realized that this orphanage is just another corrupt and exploitative institution. Immersed in fury, they contacted the local government to shut it down overnight and rescued all 14 young children. Suddenly, two 21-year-old young women with 14 homeless children, what should they do next?

They looked for schools that would be able to take the kids in, yet it seemed that everywhere was a dead end until they found LVA, a school founded in 1997 for underprivileged children. The founder Prema Zimba accepted the kids with open arms, under only one condition: Haushala has to provide food for the children. Thus, she founded Children & Youth First (CYF) and committed to fundraising for these children and others alike.

I quietly sat there listening to her incredible story, and then, I started reflecting on myself: as a 21-year-old young adult, would I ever have the courage to do what Haushala had done? I fantasize that I could be a hero like her; yet, the real answer is I don’t know. It is such great responsibility and dedication that even Haushala joked that as a 31-year-old woman now, she would probably have second thoughts in that situation. Well, the point of the story is not to hunt down abusive institutions or burn the system down, but to see how individuals and grassroots organizations can bring wonderful changes to people’s lives.

Throughout my program, I have been learning about and contemplating “Human Rights vs human rights”. And to be bluntly honest, I used to dream for a job at the United Nations, researching and making proposals to states to promote and protect Human Rights. In my mind, those giant international organizations were the ultimate resolutions for the world’s problems. Yet, after learning about many grassroots organizations like CYF, I started to see the ignored contribution from the bottom-up. CYF believes that every child has the right to quality education, thus, the organization dedicates itself to sustain and prosper LVA and directly works with young children. What if, I keep pondering, social change is more effective from the bottom-up? What if the people are the resolution instead? Or maybe, the institution and the people can work together to tackle human rights issues. Well, that is the question.

(To learn more about CYF, please check out: http://cyfnepal.org/ )


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