Traveling has made me more reflective about my own society. I set out for Somaliland in 2010 with a hearty dose of “save the world” syndrome – I am a Tufts grad after all – and proceeded to do my small part to enhance the education of students in the Horn of Africa, Yemen, Lebanon, and India. Inevitably, teaching (especially teaching social studies, which was my specialty) forces the teacher to engage with local social and political issues.
I flew to Somaliland eager to impart enlightened values and democratic skills. Upon hitting the classroom, the weight of my responsibility to the young people in my charge came crashing down. I had no right to imperialize their minds. I worked hard to present many viewpoints, give them space to guide classroom discussions, and train them to think critically and question all sources – even me. I feel good about my work at Abaarso Tech and LESBG, but I’ll always believe that my students would have been better served by a local teacher with the same training. (Of course, such people are largely nonexistent or more competitively employed in those places. I hope to see that change.)
The more time I spent trying to “save the world” abroad, the more I felt like it wasn’t my job. The seed of this idea implanted in me: I must apply myself to the problems of my own society. There are many reasons for this.
- I want to shape my home community into something I feel proud of and happy in.
- I have a responsibility to pay forward the staggering privileges I have enjoyed as an American citizen. As a member of the most powerful nation in the world, I must do my part to ensure we exercise our power responsibly.
- Only in the context of my own society do I feel free to pursue my own vision of progressive change.
To all the people across the world who welcomed me into their communities and gave me a sense of purpose, THANK YOU. My resume says “Teacher” and “Instructor” but in reality, I learned more than I taught.
The challenge now is to find a sense of purpose here in the US. Several months in, I remain overwhelmingly occupied by making a living, begging for my husband’s visa paperwork to be expedited, and just staying sane. A lot of people say to me this is enough – more than enough – for somebody in my situation to handle. That’s a kind sentiment. But it’s not enough for me. I feel socially unmoored and totally lacking an outlet to contribute in a meaningful way.
Hopefully, admitting this in writing will light the fire I need under my butt to get me moving in the right direction!