This year as a part of the NAFSA Annual Conference they are trying out a new feature and asking people to read several International Educator articles related to Peace, Justice, and Sustainability and begin a conversation before the conference as part of the Conference Reader Program. The idea is that Peace and Justice is a big theme of this year's conference and the conference planners and chairs want to get people to think about this topic prior to arrival in St. Louis so the conversations in St. Louis can be more through and in-depth.
Like most of us I have read these International Educator articles before but it is good to refresh my memory on theme. After reading these articles, I was extremely impressed by the interaction and engagement of the students who participated in the various programs. The projects themselves were impressive but what really caught my attention was the student planning that went into the various projects as well as the student impact. By student impact I, obviously, mean the impact seeing genocide first hand has on a student, but also the impact that an American student has on a student who has known nothing other than death and violence for most of their life.
The transformative effective of these types of experiences is extremely pronounced as is the psychological impact. I remember the impact my study abroad experience had on me and I can only imagine what the added impact would be in a situation where the mission is to bring peace and justice into a place where someone could have grown up knowing anything but.
I know I have mentioned impact about one hundred times in this blog but that is truly the word that comes to mind the most when reading these articles. Of course, there is an impact on the students who visit these communities, in both positive and negative ways. There is also an impact on the communities they visit by demonstrating what it is like to come from a relatively peaceful environment and to live in a land where you don't have to fit to live. Finally, there is a continued impact every day following the day the group leaves the host country. Due to the fact that every person the student, and for that matter the trip leaders, encounter, will also be impacted by their experience since the thoughts, attitudes, perceptions, and so much more will have been adapted and changed by their experience that everything they come in contact with will feel the impact of this experience. This is also the same for the people the group came in contact with in the host community. They will hopefully remember what it was like to interact with students/people from a peaceful society and can learn from that.
In that end it is not only about the impact but also about reminding and imparting the notion of not being afraid to jump outside of your comfort zone. So many great things can happen.
What has been an experience in your life that has taken you out of your comfort zone and what has been the impact it has had on you and those around you?
I hope to see you in St. Louis.
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