It seems like not that long ago we were all in the classroom anxiously checking airfare prices. How much we have learned and how far we’ve come is incredible. Throughout these past four weeks on the ground in Sardinia, I was a student of course in the traditional sense, but also learning from experiences and finding out more about myself and my beliefs as we all grappled with how what we have been experiencing here fit into our own lives. Here, I will outline with you some of the biggest revelations I have gained throughout this study abroad in hopes to provide a wider picture of the holistic learning we have been encountering.
Privilege: In our readings we learned about Allan Johnson’s idea of privilege in terms of power and oppression. One of the most striking things for me was his idea that you must have so much privilege in this world if you think that difference is a problem (Johnson, 2006). I found myself often checking my privilege when people would complain about the heat, or the walk to class, about not being able to understand the language, about the wifi not working. I found myself wondering if this discourse is talked about among the general public in Alghero, as many of our interviews evidenced xenophobia.
Trauma: I heard many traumatic stories. One of the residents at Vel Mari last night told me about how you keep your money in your shoes, so that way if you have to run away or if you are kidnapped, you at least have some money with you. When he was kidnapped, he broke the sole of his shoes, stuffed the 800 euro he had to his name in the sole, and sewed it back up. When he made it to Libya and was preparing for a boat to Europe, he had to rip open his shoes and hand over every euro to his name. This was in casual conversation. Those who shared their stories with us on more personal levels and as a presentation of who they are and where they came from sparked many triggers of traumatic pasts. But these people don’t need to be defined by their tragic stories. A lot of the people I spoke with are optimistic, outgoing, and have incredible vision for their futures. I of all people should know that trauma isn’t the same for everyone, and recognizing someone’s past is important because it tells you how they got to where they are today, but focusing on the present and future is far more valuable in recognizing them as equals rather than charity cases.
Invisibility: The first time I started to recognize this was our second day of lecture at the University of Sassari (Alghero), when none of us could hear each other and it was difficult to understand our Italian professors and guest lecturers, even though they were speaking English. It made me realize how much struggle International Students at UW must be going through when classes are taught not even in their first language. I began to appreciate and recognize the challenges they face, as I had never heard any complaints about language barriers at UW. Another parallel with invisibility was obvious with working with the Roma community. My interview group was public opinion, and every time we asked questions, Roma people were never brought up. Both on our part, we failed to ask further about what people thought about this community, but also, no one paid attention to the migrant people who have been living among each other for years - focusing instead on the new influx of people coming to Alghero. The fact that they have such rooted history here, and the general public opinion of Roma is sub-human, they would have had something to say, but instead, they are forgotten about until brought up and negative connotations arise.
Vulnerability: As people shared their stories with me, I recognized their amazing vulnerability they shared with me, which helped me realize the human experience. I recently have learned to embrace vulnerability, taking off my armor - what I call my smile, that protects me from feeling too much, from sharing too much, from uncomfortability and from portraying stereotypes of a hormonal young woman who thinks with her emotions instead of her brain. My smile was a symbol of my strength and resiliency and when I was recently told I didn’t have to put on a smile, I was given the chance to be human, to be vulnerable, and be real with those around me. Although I still smile, and choose joy, I look forward to welcoming vulnerability as I can use both to make a difference in others, just as others have done with me.
Being Yourself: I like to think that I have grown a lot from this trip. Specifically through independence, and conquering fears. My biggest fear for a long time was missing out on something fun, but now I’m listening to my body and what it needs. I take the time to sleep, even if my friends are going out, time to sit and reflect on my own, to play on the playground at Merenderia when I need to be silly and to sing when my heart needs a boost. I have been learning to chase the sun on my own accord. In practice of this, I broke boundaries in body positivity, running around topless in a storm - not feeling embarrassment or like I needed to suck in for photo opps next to my skinny friends. I have learned to maintain a sense of positivity, feeding off the energy of everything and everyone around you.
I struggle with words to end this post. We have gained so much more from this experience, even if it was a little chaotic, but taking every moment of frustration and moments of solace as experiences to learn from. We may not have physically changed anything for anyone here in Alghero, but we have done so much for ourselves. We have overcome boundaries and gained new perspectives, all of which we will carry with us back to Seattle and into our personal and professional lives. Endless thanks to all who helped us along the way, your investment in us is worth it, and you will see just how much you and the rest of the world will profit in the future. Stay tuned.