I have really enjoyed this week in class. All of the reading material has been interesting, and I have enjoyed hearing everyone discuss their opinions on doing good abroad. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that the best way to help abroad is to invest in human capital abroad. Whether this is through donating money to an international organization or using your specific skill set abroad, this is the best and most efficient way to help abroad. I am baffled by the stories told in class like the one with the sleeping workers while the Americans were building the house. Also, the orphanages abroad where many of the children are not orphans, and they are preying on the money of people who are only trying to help. While I believe that it is important to help others, it must be done in a smart way. Before participating in any volunteer program abroad, I will do my research.
Also, I was shocked when the “Voluntourism” article that we read described volunteering at an orphanage in Africa to be “sexy.” This only reinforces the fact that many who go abroad to volunteer are doing it for themselves, not those who they are supposed to be helping. It is fine to do volunteer work abroad for self-fulfillment, but it is also important that we do not exploit a foreign culture or damage their economy. As far as I’m concerned, if I ever go abroad to volunteer, it will be for others and not myself. I’m sure that I will accumulate some sort of personal fulfillment along the way, but it will not be my main goal.
I agree with Peter Singer’s argument, for the most part. While I do feel obligated to help those in need, I do not agree with the way that Singer justified his desire to help others. Singer treated giving to those in need almost as if it were a competition. More specifically, I do not believe that Peter Singer is an altruistic giver in the least, despite his claims about the importance of “altruistic giving.” He placed different values on donating money, time, or another asset, such as an organ. I believe that if one wants to donate something specific, or to a specific cause, that should be valued. Whether that reflects altruism, or not, should not be at Peter Singer’s discretion. As far as I’m concerned, any giving is a good deed. I also believe that people who are in a position where they are able to give, should give. This is regardless of one’s motivation to do so. Whether one’s donation is in time, money, organs, etc., it is something of value. I also believe that it is important to donate resources locally, rather than abroad. While solving global issues is something of great importance, it is important that a happy medium is found between the two. There are many instances of poverty, homelessness, and hunger much closer to home than one might typically think. It is important that we not only support those in need abroad, but also in our own communities.
Honestly, my main concern for study abroad is the language barrier. However, the terms “study abroad” and “global engagement” stir all sorts of excitement and nerves. The past few weeks in class have been focusing on cultural barriers and have made me think of a lot of barriers that I had not considered threatening to my study abroad experience. Going back to when the international students came to speak to our class about their experience, many of them said that they had felt that their countries had been stereotyped. I worry about this, and having to defend myself and my country. Another concern that I have, especially when considering to go on a university exchange (a program that is unaffiliated with OU) is that I will be too far away from my support system. Living abroad will be so much fun — when everything is smooth sailing. However, especially initially, I worry about feeling alone. With time, I’m sure that I will be able to find a new support system in my friend and peers abroad. Before I leave for my host country, I plan to study the culture so that I can minimize the cultural errors/misunderstandings/flaws that I commit. There are so many tiny details that are culturally relevant in different places. From eye contact, to patterns on clothing, I do not ever want to communicate the wrong message because of a simple misunderstanding. I’m sure that some research about the customs in my host country will be helpful in mitigating this concern.
Last Wednesday was the make-up matching party for OU Cousins, a campus organization that pairs international students with students from the United States and hosts a variety of events to attend with your “cousin.” Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the regular matching party. There was, however, a second opportunity to be matched with a cousin at a Bingo Night. I attended this event and immediately became friends with a girl named Christina from Peru. She is here for the semester, and says that she has enjoyed her time at OU so far. Christina and I decided to be “cousins,” but immediately found that there were tons of other American girls that did not have international student matches. Thus, we quickly expanded our cousinship. By the end of the Bingo Night, I had 5 new cousins (one being international, the rest being from Oklahoma). I am so excited to be able to hang out with my family! We are planning to eat dinner at Pepe Delgados next week. How exciting!
In all honesty, I have had little experience being the “other” or the “outsider.” I have lived the entirety of my life in Norman, Oklahoma in a middle-class family. While I have traveled abroad several times, I have only slightly ever felt as an “outsider.” While on my summer exchange to Spain two summers ago, I was the only American visiting the town in which I was staying. For some of the people that I met there, I was the only American that they had ever personally interacted with. While I did feel like an “outsider” in this scenario, these people also strove to make me feel welcome. As I have little experience being the “outsider,” I wonder what my experience abroad will be like. Will I have a similar feeling of being an “outsider,” or will it be a different experience that is somehow worse? Although feeling excluded and like an “other” is a frightening possibility, it somehow does not concern me much. I hope that by respecting the culture of the country that I choose to visit, I will gain the comfort of not being an “other,” or at least not being treated like one.
Recently, I spoke with an upperclassman that had studied abroad the previous year. He told me that before his semester exchange, he had always wanted to live abroad at some point in his life. After his exchange, however, he had changed his mind. He said that although he felt comfortable in his exchange country, he never felt as if it were home. Specifically, he described that he would always feel like an “outsider” anywhere outside of the United States. I wonder if I will have the same sentiment after returning from my semester-long study abroad experience. This is something that I have been thinking on for the past week or so.