First Semester Surprises

As I approach the last week of classes of my first semester, I want to reflect on some of the ways that my program has been different than I expected.

First of all, King’s College is a much more diverse place than I imagined. It makes sense—London is, after all, closer to Budapest than Ann Arbor is to the town I grew up in—but in the first few days I was overwhelmed by the amount of different languages and accents I heard. Half of my program is from overseas.

That said, there is also a surprising amount of Michigan here. In my first few days on campus, I met one classmate from Lansing, one who had gone to Wayne State, and one who had grandparents in Ann Arbor. A few weeks later, the Primark—think of a cross between Target and Kohl’s—had a wall full of Michigan gear. Hats, sweatshirts, beanies, all showing off the block M. No other schools, just Michigan. A man on the tube struck up a conversation, and it turned out he had graduated from Ross just a few years ago. Last year one of my professors was in Ann Arbor for a conference. And several bars have Founder’s All Day IPA on tap.

Every class I’m in is a seminar, something I’m very unaccustomed to as an engineering student. The point of the class is usually not to teach us a specific fact or idea, but rather to work together to illuminate and unpack the aspects of the books that interest us as a class. This requires a totally different kind of preparation and study—instead of just memorizing the material, we have to question it, dig into it, complicate it. And nobody ever knows where the discussion is going to go, least of all the seminar leader. I often feel like a kid who’s gotten his hands on his parents’ car keys and gone for a joyride without knowing how to steer.

One thing that really blindsided me about the program is that it’s not always primarily focused on books. In my class on the Arab Spring, we read several novels and some poems, but we also looked at blogs, films, social media posts, paintings, and music videos. Furthermore, our class discussions tend to reach beyond questions of literary technique and form to things like economics, politics, international relations, and human rights.

Despite this breadth of focus, people also focus on sometimes ridiculously specialized topics in their research. Have you ever wondered about the history of specific German words? Or the influence of radical Italian politics in 20th-century India? Or the influence that Classical mythology has had on Caribbean fiction? Then comparative literature might be the field for you.

Although it can be so specialized, there are moments of incredible connection. For instance, what do Glenn Gould, Luciano Visconti, Richard Strauss, and Dante have in common? According to Edward Said (and one of my instructors), it’s lateness—that is, an approach to artistic creation based on internal contradiction and refusal of conventional form. It’s these surprising and insightful moments that make this area of study worth it.

 

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Season of Migration to the North

Apologies for the delay in updating the blog—too much has been happening in and out of classes for me to make the time to write it all down. Over the next couple of weeks, though, expect to hear a lot about what’s been going on. Here’s a little bit about a trip I took to Edinburgh:

As the semester continued, as each week I would finish my assigned hundreds of pages of readings just to start the next weeks, as the weather got colder and rainier, as I realized just how much there is to learn about comparative literature, I found myself spending less and less time outside the circuit of my flat, campus, and the library. Although I loved London, and still do, the city was losing its shine. Although London’s parks are numerous and beautiful, it’s hard to enter a state of serene contemplation when behind the sight of trees you can see construction cranes, behind the sounds of rustling leaves you can hear jackhammers, and behind the fragrance of flowers you can smell the ever-present city odor of exhaust, garbage, and cigarette smoke.

All of these are reasons why I found myself sitting backwards on a train bound for Edinburgh, Scotland. A quick aside about the trains in the U.K.: they’re incredible. Everywhere I’ve lived in the US I’ve felt a deep, primal need for a car, but here a car is almost a liability, when trains can get you anywhere you want to go faster, without traffic, and free to enjoy the incredible seaside views.

Edinburgh is one of the few places I’ve been that actually took my breath away on the moment of arrival. I felt like the lead in a coming-of-age movie; I could feel the camera, low, angled upward at my face as I climbed the last few steps, catch my reaction then pan around and up to reveal: an enormous medieval castle! On a sheer rock cliff, right in the middle of town! And below it, a shockingly green park deep in the valley! Behind it, the twisting streets and majestic buildings of an ancient capital city! And in the distance (yet still within walking distance) a looming, brooding dormant volcanic peak: Arthur’s seat!

Edinburgh had sights enough to keep me busy for days, but the thing that I enjoyed the most was the atmosphere, the sense of community that London only ever achieves partially. This was most evident at the Royal Oak, a tiny local pub, no bigger than my flat, which hosted musicians every night. I went there multiple times, and each time I saw some of the same people. The musicians were seated at a table right in the middle of the crowd, and at one point passed a guitar around so that myself and the other patrons could play songs of our own. I still haven’t found a place like this in London, and I’m not sure I ever will. Check out Ciaran McGhee, who I caught on two of the nights I spent there, for a taste of what it was like.

British cuisine is an easy target, so I won’t get into describing the details of defining dishes like beans on toast (exactly what it sounds like), fish and chips (the world’s most glorified fast food), or mushy peas (which actually sound somehow worse than they taste). One of those easy punchlines was, until this trip, haggis. It’s a traditional Scottish dish made of sheep heart, liver, and lungs, mixed with oats, and cooked inside the animal’s stomach. Having recently gone pescatarian, I wasn’t sure I would even try it during my trip, but curiosity, and the justification that all rules are off during vacations, got the better of me. I found myself using that justification over and over again that weekend—as long as you kept your mind on the taste, haggis is quite good.

When I got on my train back home, I felt renewed. Refreshed by the sea breeze that whips across Arthur’s Seat, inspired to my studies by the 200-ft monument to the writer Walter Scott, and full to the bursting from all the haggis. I sped—sitting backwards again—towards London, but in the dark it almost felt like I was being pulled forwards, out into the highlands, outer islands, and beyond. I hope I’m luck enough to return someday.

Paul Reggentin: An Introduction

Hi, this is Paul. I’m one of the Roger M. Jones Fellows this year. Along with Sonia, I’m studying in London. I’m taking an MA course in Comparative Literature from King’s College London, which starts tomorrow. Here’s a quick update on my first week in London.

The first thing I did in London was fall asleep. I set a 30-minute alarm; when that woke me up, I set another, and, after that, another. In total, a 90 minute nap.

In my defense, I had just been on a red-eye flight from Orlando, a flight on which I was the only person not a member of a family fresh off of a week at Disney World. Out of the many dozens of children on that flight, some were happy to be returning home, some were sad to be leaving Disney, some were excited to be on an airplane, some were bored to be on an airplane with nothing to do, and some had to use the bathroom, but all were expressing their feelings clearly. I was also seated one row in front of two infants.

It’s a weak excuse, sure. It’s hard for me to justify doing the one thing I can do anywhere in the world in a city that offers any number of things I can’t do anywhere else. But eventually I did get out of bed and into the city.

The first thing I noticed, which looks foolish now that I type it out, is that London is a really big place. Not only is it big, it’s sprawling. There’s no organization to the streets whatsoever. They make abrupt turns, split, merge, become suddenly one-way, and, in addition to all that, none of them are pointed in the same direction. As a mere pedestrian in the middle of such chaos, I am nearly always disoriented. One benefit of the constant confusion, though, is that I’ve wandered down many interesting streets with many interesting names. Names like Garlick Hill, Threadneedle Street, Limeburner Lane, Puddle Dock. Just outside the financial district, I found a series of streets named Milk Street, Wood Street, Cloth Street, and Oat Lane, which I learned had retained their names since they served as medieval markets selling those goods.

I found myself tripping over history many times throughout the week. Entering an art museum on a quiet square one afternoon, I spotted a sign reading “Roman Amphitheater: Basement”. Down two flights of stairs were, in fact, the foundations of the amphitheater from the era when London was a Roman colony. I also ran across one of the few remaining buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, the gravesite of Daniel Defoe, the house where Samuel Johnson composed the first English dictionary, and, just behind a massive glass-and-steel bank headquarters, a section of the city wall built by the Romans.

Every place in this city is hiding generations of history. I can’t wait to spend a year both uncovering the past and working towards my future.

Curious updates, nuanced feelings from Barcelona

Dear friends,

I hope you’re all reading this post in good company, or good spirits. I’m writing you from Barcelona, Spain, where I’m spending the last bit of vacation before I return to London to pack my things up and head home for a couple of weeks. I am, however, leaving a significant amount of items and clothes in London, as I plan on returning to the city, or at least this part of the world, in one year’s time. The goal for my future is to start a PhD in the fall of 2019, preferably at a UK or German institution, combining philosophy, health, international development, and migration (a bit wide-ranging, but I’ll find a way to make it work). I also hope to continue a career in music outside of my work and studies, and I see the European region being really conducive to fitting my combined interests well.

As for the next year, I’ve been able to secure funding for a research project in San Salvador, El Salvador. I will be working at a human rights organisation, Cristosal, conducting (or moreover learning how to conduct) a research project to study health access for internally displaced peoples, those who are displaced by ongoing violence (domestic, police, gang, etc.) in the city. This opportunity has worked out perfectly, for I can combine what I’ve learned from theory in political philosophy and ethics into a practical setting. I see El Salvador as a place where human rights do not exists only for the elite liberal thinker to ponder upon, but instead for the people to utilise out of pure necessity. This project will last about ten months.

I’m not sure when I’ll be turning this blog over, but it will be soon. As such, I’ve created a new blog on my own site, so you can follow writings that may be similar to what I’ve written here at: https://curiouschroniclesest2018.wordpress.com. It took me a while to come up with the title, The Curious Chronicles, but I think this is a good way to show that my writings will tell not only a story but try to offer insights (perhaps even philosophical insights) into my experiences as I reflect on what I’ve been through and what I will have been currently going through. I’m sure that ample thoughts will be bubbling up from inside even months after I leave London, especially if those thoughts are instigated and poked by the raw and experiential times that I may be having in San Salvador.

Although sharing my location on social media is a bit dangerous, I see the potential benefits of meeting up with friends as weighing out any unforeseen risk. Hence, I’ll be in SE Michigan (Detroit, Ann Arbor) from the 25th through the 28th of September, so if anyone would like to meet up for a coffee, tea, food, walk, chat, etc., I will be around.

* * *

Just to start on some final reflections (it’s a bit difficult to form valid, fully-formed thoughts whilst traveling), I can’t help but feel a growing sense of necessity to poke around any ideas I find within my mind, to not let them sit too comfortably in any fold of my brain, such that they gather dust from sitting solid in my mind for too long. If anything, my studies have taught me how to dig, and have given me quite a large and agile spade with which I can do so.

In reading a bit of Nancy Scheper-Hughes (the epilogue from the end of her book, Death Without Weeping), she spent some time talking about her husband and the type of person he was. He worked as a social worker, and Nancy an anthropologist. A line that struck me from NSH was how she noted (please forgive my less-than-accurate paraphrasing) that her husband simply did not have the skeptical attitude or imperative for justice that was necessary for an anthropologist to have. Although I can’t really manage the nuance that NSH had, I must say that she did a wonderful job of showing that the lack of this imperative for justice that her husband lacked was not a bad thing. Rather, she was simply saying that he was better at being with people who were going through rough times, and helping them through, where NSH was taking these experiences and turning them into larger issues that required someone fight to change them.

This line struck me because I think I feel the same sense or requirement for justice that NSH felt as an anthropologist. I’m not sure how this sense will manifest itself in my later life, but I have no doubt that the path I’m on will lead me towards taking this sense of justice forward into practice.

With that being said, I think I’m going to leave the post here for the moment. The sun is out in Barcelona and I’ve got little time to enjoy it, so I’m off to be outside for a little while 🙂

Hopefully I’ll get one more post in before I can turn the blog over, and make sure to check out my new blog (still under construction, but the link will remain the same) if you want to continue to follow my travels / studies!

Much peace,
Jeffrey

Spill-over Thoughts on Death, Camp Kesem, and Cancer

Dear friends,

I’ve just finished an essay for my Illness module, and I chose to write about death. Specifically, I tried to answer the question, “Is death tyrannical?”

This question was inspired by a short fable written by Nick Bostrom, called The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, where Bostrom writes mainly about how he views ageing to be the fictional dragon-tyrant of his story. I took the metaphor a little further and asked myself if death itself could be tyrannical. I thought I would have enough space within the word limit to work in most of my thoughts, however I was surprised as to how little space I ended up having. Hence, I had some spill-over thoughts that didn’t make it into my essay, but I thought were worth sharing.

I won’t bore you with what I ended up writing on for the actual essay, but there was one topic I wanted to write about for which I couldn’t find a good spot, and that is my time with Camp Kesem. I have written about camp in an older post, but I don’t think I devoted too much time to explaining the matter. In short, so you don’t have to go back to that post, Camp Kesem is a student-run organisation that provides a week-long summer camp for kids whose parents have been affected by cancer. The kids go free to camp, and the counselors raise the money necessary to put on a fun-filled week of camp. We use this time to let the kids get away from their lives at home, to be the centre of attention, and to give them a second family to turn to in good times and in bad. A fun little quirk about this camp is the fact that we all go by fake names – my name’s Spice, and there are names ranging from Gumbo, to Private Hurley, to High Ballistic Squid, to Snoopy, and Bud… We just like to have fun, I guess.

Naturally with a camp hosting kids who have all had to experience cancer in their lives, it’s not uncommon for a camper to have lost one or both of her parents to this malady. These kids have to deal with death at an age when they have absolutely no reason nor necessity to think about what death means to them. This forced encounter with mortality is but a nightmare for some kids, especially when they’re old enough to have been able to fully, autonomously loved their parents, yet young enough to not know why they only come home to one parent after school. Perhaps it may be that all they can feel is sadness, and when that sadness is not justified in any way, but only hurts so deeply as what a lost loved one can cause, this child may feel total agony.

In Bostrom’s fable, there comes a time when a little boy shows up at a town hall meeting, where the meeting is in place to discuss what the society should do with the dragon-tyrant who keeps killing people daily. Some say that the dragon should stay, because having the dragon (ageing) in this society is an unfortunate yet necessary, defining part of humanity. But the boy has a different opinion, as shown in this excerpt:

~~

“I want my granny back,” said the boy.

“Did the dragon take your granny away?”

“Yes,” the boy said, tears welling up in his large frightened eyes. “Granny promised that she would teach me how to bake gingerbread cookies for Christmas. She said that we would make a little house out of gingerbread and little gingerbread men that would live in it. Then those people in white clothes came and took Granny away to the dragon… The dragon is bad and it eats people… I want my Granny back!”

~~

Oftentimes, we may feel angry at death because it may be so cruelly ripping away our loved ones from our lives, when we mean to make plans with them, when we hope for a future together. This is so utterly painful, especially when those who death takes from us have not completed what we believe to be the proper ‘shape’ of a life (e.g. when a child outlives her parents).

As is the state of biomedicine, we don’t have yet the technology that can stave off death forever. Hence we have to come up with some way to console ourselves in learning how to cope with this inevitability. Some turn to religion, others to philosophy, some simply turn to a community such as Camp Kesem.

In the middle of the week at camp, we have a day that’s called “Empowerment,” where the campers and counselors alike get to share their experiences with cancer. This day tends to lead to a lot of self-reflection, bonding, and shed tears. Of course, if a family member dies, we are totally justified in missing them, in crying over them, in being angry or emotional as to why they may have had to leave our lives early. Death of a family member terribly, utterly sucks. (There’s no place for an elegant word in the former sentence.)

I was trying to figure out, then, how to find some sort of good in death, or some sort of way to lift anyone up who has lost a parent, grandparent, or other loved one to cancer. Where is the good in death? Perhaps, I thought, when death is inevitable, it allows us to cherish who we’re with for the time we’re with them. But when they leave us, we feel a giant void in our lives that should be filled by one person only, who cannot ever come back to fill that void.

When mourning the loss of a loved one, we look for them, and they are nowhere to be (physically) found. However, we forget to look in one of the most important places we could look, which is inside ourselves. Genetically speaking, we are literally half of each of our parents, but moreover, we forget that we are, in some aspect, a representation and embodiment of what came before us. Our parents are as much a part of us as we are a part of them (as hard as that may be for some readers to realise or believe). So at Empowerment, I felt compelled to remind my fellow campers and counselors alike – that no matter how much we miss our parents, they’re still with us, within ourselves.

Here’s where I believe the tyranny of death doesn’t reach: after death, humans tend to show up in other things around them (this sounds creepy but it shouldn’t), whether it be a piece of music they composed, something they wrote, or, most importantly, their kin and their friends. The beautifully innate social nature of humans tends to be exemplified in death, and I believe that this is at least some sort of good, some sort of freedom, that we can find through experiencing death in our lives.

Why El Salvador?

Dear Friends,

I hope you are all enjoying this holiday season – I’ve made it to the States and will be here, spending time with family until I come back to London for New Year’s Eve. My time in the US was first spent with a couple days in Ann Arbor, with a necessary trip back to my old coffee shop to see old friends and co-workers.

I’ve been back in the States for a week and a few days so far, and it’s definitely an odd feeling returning to the US after making the UK feel like home. I love seeing my family, especially being able to hold the new baby in the family (Uncle x2 with baby Amelia!). As you might have been able to quite obviously tell, I’ve been a bit behind on the posts – we’re given our essay assignments for after classes end and before the next term starts. Alas, I should have started earlier, but I’ve managed to stay on track with four essays due soon. Two down, two to go!

What I do want to address, though, is a piece of news that came to know a day after I had come back to the US. I was spending a bit of time at the old parish I used to go to, St. Mary Student Parish, speaking to some friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. To give some back story, one of my main pieces of involvement at this church was participating in what SMSP called their alternative spring break (ASB) program. This program consisted of about eleven trips that (probably obviously) occurred over our spring break, all of which involved some type of service. These trips were seen as “alternative,” to, say, going home for the week or spending time abroad or down south basking in the warmth and sunlight that Michigan (really) lacks in the wintertime.

One of the sites that SMSP usually has people go to is in El Salvador, with an organisation called CRISPAZ. This organisation was set up mainly to establish a relationship between the United States and El Salvador in the name of solidarity. Without delving too much into Salvadoran history, it’s worth saying that the US-backed Salvadoran military managed to kill, maim, and massacre many innocent people in El Salvador in the 1980s. Hence, the mission of CRISPAZ is to tell the story of El Salvador to those not from the country by teaching about recent Salvadoran history, then to basically have foreigners meet various groups in El Salvador who work towards furthering human rights and solidarity within and outside of the country.

The trip to El Salvador was cut for this year. I’ve asked around and have received various reasons regarding why the trip was cut, ranging from “there weren’t enough people” to “the country is too dangerous.” (Side note: if you hear the “danger” excuse about any Latin American country, I would questions these sorts of claims. Perhaps another post can be devoted as to why I may use this sort of caution.)

Regardless of the answer, I think this decision was a deep mistake. I’ve been lucky enough to go on a couple different international volunteering trips in the past – I’ve been to the Dominican Republic (DR) and El Salvador on these trips, and have spent about ten weeks outside of this working with various internships in the DR and Haiti. All of the international trips that SMSP has have their individual merits, and I wouldn’t be in the place and mind-set that I am had I not been to the DR and El Salvador. However, I do think that, if one trip should remain while the others go, is should be El Salvador. Why? Because in El Salvador, we look more into why (largely) white Americans like to go down to Latin America to do “God’s work” and “help those less fortunate.” From my personal experience, both the trips to Nicaragua and the DR are dangerous in the fact that they don’t really address the dangers of voluntourism (as it’s affectionately called) and the massively detrimental effects this practice can have on the people involved in this matter.

I don’t want to slander the other trips that SMSP holds, but I do want to show that El Salvador’s effect has been utterly essential to my understanding of international relations between the US and Latin American countries. Without my time in El Salvador, the experiences that I had in the DR and Haiti would not have carried as much weight with me as they do today.

Here’s the difficulty with El Salvador: when you come back from the trip, the conversations go like this:

Interested family friend who is mildly interested in what you’re up to: “What’d you do in El Salvador? Were you helping the poor? Did you see a lot of poverty there?”

Me: “I mean, sure, I saw poverty, but more clearly, I learned about the storied past of El Salvador. I was also really surprised to learn about US involvement in this country, something I surely didn’t learn about in my history classes in school…”

Family friend: “Oh, okay.. so.. what did you do? Did you build a house, or..?”

Me: “No, there are plenty of Salvadorans who can build a house, or do any other sort of labour that may be needed in El Salvador. But have you heard of liberation theology?”

Perhaps a piece of my writing from soon after I arrived back from the trip could help explain. This is an excerpt from a letter that I wrote to family and friends who helped me out with funding to go to El Salvador, and exhibits what I felt about the worth of this trip upon returning.

~~~~~~

I am attempting to describe an idea, a motive, a truth that can’t be done justice with only words. An experience in El Salvador happened to me last week, and I really do think this trip has been pivotal but I just don’t know to where I’m pivoting at the moment. I’ve learned so much, being among a people so shaken and torn by a past so devastating that even their youth are experiencing PTSD from a war they did not experience first-hand.

This impact has left me feeling in a state of numbness, something like the feeling adrenaline gives after one has broken a bone. I know something is broken, that it should be hurting so incredibly badly but all I feel is a blanket of numbness in place of the pain. What’s broken is my heart, part of my soul. I’m waiting for the moment when the adrenaline ceases, when I can really encounter the pain of a broken heart – I happily await this moment.

The time taken to break my heart was filled with meeting Salvadorans of storied backgrounds. We met a representative from Cofamide, an organization that works for finding those who have “been lost” on the way to the United States from El Salvador (“been lost” refers now to the act of someone “being lost,” a.k.a. being displaced by the Mexican or Salvadoran government and killed or sent to jail). We met artisans who described their story by what they make with their hands, filling blank canvases with hope, which many times manifests itself via the face of Monseñor Oscar Romero, the substances integral to Salvadoran agriculture, like corn stalks, or flowers of the Salvadoran backcountry. We lived with families in a rural community, Guarjila, working to share our lives in solidarity and learn of the torment they had to endure in the compo (countryside), in which too many atrocities were committed against these people. We took the time to see that among the many innocent lives lost, thirteen of those belonged to six Jesuits, four American nuns, a mother and her daughter who were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the assassination of Oscar Romero.

I want to describe more of what we did and experienced, but your time is most valuable, and my descriptions would be more meaningful in conversation than through prose. We were, however, exposed to a truth so disastrous to our minds that we will be forever broken by what we’ve heard – Rosa holding her near-dying sister in her arms amidst a massacre of her people in the Sumpul River, children being tossed up in the air and more abruptly being taken out of that air by gunshots ensuing from a military soldier’s gun, a perfectly planted exploding bullet hitting the heart of Oscar Romero directly after he finishes proclaiming the truth that was so hard to hear for the haves but was gospel for the have-nots, religious sisters being raped, killed and left by the roadside by the Salvadoran military – embedded in all of these occurrences is a hard truth we all must face, the truth of a broken world that lies right under our noses.

This point I’ve reached upon returning to this trip is very much worth your contribution, and I do appreciate what you’ve done for me. The money you’ve donated to this trip is an act of love, care, peace, and solidarity. I know it’s hard to read what I’ve written, but these few events that I’ve chosen to slightly describe to you (also knowing that they are not exhaustive – surely there are more atrocities worth being told) are only for you to fell how much my heart has been broken.

Something is stirring in my soul and I can’t name it at this moment. Looking to a brighter side of my trip, I felt such a strong connection to Oscar Romero, a man elected as archbishop of San Salvador (the capital city of El Salvador), who was elected to this position because he was seen as easily persuadable. However, after one of his close friends, Rutilio Grande (a Jesuit priest), and two Salvadorans were assassinated on their way back from the compo, Oscar Romero was instilled with a drive to fight for the people of El Salvador, against the oppression and injustice that was being doled out by the Salvadoran government. Oscar Romero fought for his people with the peace, justice, and love – he was given the power to speak a truth that nobody wanted to hear, willing enough to give his life for this truth. I hope to pray more about this and delve deeper into why I felt such a strong connection to this man, soon to be saint.

I want to leave you with a story, given by Sister Peggy on our last full day in El Salvador. Sister Peggy came to El Salvador during their war to be with the people of the countryside in a town called Suchitoto. This town was well-organized (by the Salvadoran women, mind you), and had gained knowledge that the Salvadoran military was on their way to conduct, presumably, another massacre of The People. All those in Suchitoto dropped whatever was at hand and gathered in the bed of a sand truck to haul out of town and run away from the military. The driver of the sand truck ended up taking a wrong turn, causing the sand truck to topple over.

After these people scattered into the surrounding area, away from the overturned truck, Sister Peggy ended up in a tall grass field with two other Salvadoran women, one of which had a new-born with her and for the sake of breastfeeding her child, had brought along a bag of tortillas for sustenance. That night the woman with the new-born wanted to share her tortillas with Sister Peggy and the other woman, but they both wanted her to keep the tortillas so she could keep breastfeeding her new-born. However, this woman told them no,

“Tonight, we share our food

and tomorrow, we share our hunger.”

This is true solidarity, friends. The head of CRISPAZ, the organization that facilitated our trip to El Salvador, described one of the aims of these immersion trips. These words describe what I feel, what I have experienced and what is surely to come in the future:

“Surely, we hope this trip has done at least three things for you. The first – that your heart

is broken. Second – that you have learned how to fall in love all over again. And third –

that you are ruined for life.”

True, true, and true. Friends, I will have more to tell you in the future, and I really do look forward to where life takes me – I trust that I can find the truth and work to find that truth for others, exposing the truth in the name of justice. I hope this letter finds you in peace and love, but also with an agitation to use the beautiful works this world has to offer in repairing all that is broken in our world.

~~~~

And with that, I will conclude this post. The main point to take away from this post is that decisions are to be made with proper foresight, enough inquiry into as many possible points of view, and, most importantly, one’s decisions should be justified. I’ve been learning a lot in my philosophy classes lately, and one of the take-home messages from a favourite class of mine is that whatever position we hold, we must be able to justify that position. If we uphold a weak justification, we cannot simply expect to let others believe in our position (and subsequent decision making).

This trip to El Salvador truly kicked my life path in a different direction, and I highly doubt that I would be here today had I not learned about this little country when I did. I am incredibly disappointed in the decision to prevent others from experiencing El Salvador, and I do hope that those in leadership positions at SMSP will thoughtfully reconsider their decision.

***

I’ll try and get some more writing out to you in the next week. I hope you all are having a wonderful time in this holiday season!

Final Post & Goodbyes

Hi everyone!

 

This is my final post for the Roger Jones Fellowship.  This year has been a whirlwind and I can’t believe it’s over already.  I’ve seen so many amazing things this year and had such a life-changing time I’m not sure how to write about it.  I’m writing this post from a layover in Providence, RI on my way to Baltimore, and I can’t help but remember posting my first blog last September from the airport in Minneapolis, MN.  I suddenly remember very specific details from that day, but at the same time it feels like it occurred years and years ago.

 

I remember constantly feeling so busy at LSE with so many readings and papers to keep up with, that it was a strange mix of sad and freeing to push submit on my dissertation – the last document I had to upload.  I’m sure I’ll keep up with philosophy as a hobby throughout my lifetime, though perhaps not at the pace I became accustomed to this year.

 

I had a strangely surreal experience in the last week.  Though I’ve been frantically finishing my edits on my philosophy dissertation and figuring out how to fit all my shoes into my already stuffed suitcases, I took some time to aimlessly wander London, one of my favorite pass times.  I ended up walking down a lot of streets I remember from last fall, and made a stop at the British museum and the natural history museum, as I did my first week in London last fall.

 

museum

This is me at the Natural History Museum wearing my favorite pants.

 

Although I’m sad to be leaving London, I do so with a new destination – Baltimore – in my sights, and with concrete plans to come back to Europe in the future.

 

I can’t wait to see what the next 5 years in Baltimore bring as I start a chemical engineering Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins!  I never know what to say when people ask me how I think studying philosophy for a year will affect my work as a researcher — I’m not sure it’s a change I’ll notice consciously or will be able to describe well, but I’m absolutely sure that I’m a more thoughtful and skeptical person than I was a year ago, and I hope also better at constructing an argument.

 

Lastly, I’d like to wish the best of luck to Jeffrey, who’s starting a philosophy program at UCL in just a few weeks!

 

 

Cheers!

Ashley