Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Why UTD doesn't totally suck

Ever since I've been at UTD I've been wondering what in the hell I'm doing there. These people are not my people - these subjects are not my subjects. It seems like everyone is made up of whatever conservative Republicans are made up of and I've never fit in. I stand out like a sore thumb in my classes; not because I'm necessarily different from everyone else but more because my opinions seem to differ so greatly from the opinions of the other students.

One semester a professor asked everyone who had some kind of religious faith to raise their hands. Only a few people raised their hands and that wasn't good enough for the prof so he berated people until they raised their hands. I refused to raise my hand and I refused to admit that I had a religious faith. He told me I was ridiculous and was just being difficult because everybody had some sort of faith. I told him that I really didn't and he accused me of being closed-minded and lacking in life experience.

Another time there was a discussion in a different class regarding same-sex marriage. I tried to convey my ideas on the subject and the professor shut me down and refused to let me talk. There were several other people in the room that wanted to hear my opinions and they asked the professor to let me talk but he just changed the subject because clearly, "This isn't getting us anywhere."

A few semesters ago I was accused of plagiarizing a case brief I had written for a Constitutional Law course because "there is no way a junior in college is able to brief a case at that level of writing," even though at that point I had been a paralegal for several years. I had to go through hell and high water to prove my innocence and, of course, this happened right smack-dab during finals. You can imagine how difficult it was for me to stay focused on finals when in my off-time I was meeting with the university attorney to tell her my side of the story and also to refuse to give her names of other "known" cheaters. Eventually I was cleared of all charges, but of course that decision came down right before I took the final in that class and my prof ended up giving me an "F" on the final. I'll never know for sure if I earned that "F" or if he was just irritated that I didn't get kicked out of school for being too skilled in his class.

I have had two professors give me extremely low grades on tests, not because I didn't know the information but because I gave too much information. I spoke privately with both of them and they both said the same thing: "Obviously you know the material but I didn't ask for extra information and therefore I cannot give you a grade for any of the information." Huh. And here I thought college was actually about learning stuff. Heaven forbid a student actually know and be able to synthesize more than is required.

There are countless other examples of my woes but the point is that UTD totally sucked.

Until last semester. Last semester my college experience opened up in ways I had never imagined. Not only was I in a research methodology class that required me to write a semi-serious research paper, but I was also in a class with one of the United State's human rights experts. Little did I know that those two classes would change not only my college experience but my entire life as well.

My research paper asked, "Why do countries with more people have more human rights violations than countries with less people?" While the answer might seem fairly obvious, it's really not. There are a myriad of reasons why the above question is accurate and even more reasons why it's completely inaccurate. I won't bore with all of those details at this time but I will say that the research really opened a door for me. Not only was I conversing through email with two of the U.S's human rights experts but I was also in contact with a professor at the University of Bahrain. He read my blog entries on human trafficking and we started an email dialogue. I was finally excited about being at UTD.

That being said, the research was really interesting but even more than that, it was depressing. Bone-crushing, heart hurting, head aching, sleepless nights, bad dreams depressing. Reading personal accounts of what people had and were experiencing around the globe was very difficult. Reading and hearing about how certain governments have perpetuated gross human rights violations while the rest of the world stands by doing nothing is one of the hardest truths that I have personally had to come to terms with. In my head I am constantly asking "Why?" and "How can we continue letting this happen?" or "Why won't somebody do something?"

And then one day last December it occurred to me that I can't expect "somebody" to "do something" if I myself was unwilling to "do something." But what can I do? I'm nobody. I have no special talents or skills and I'm just one person. What can one person possibly do to help curb the violence and discord in the world?

Not much, right? Wrong. There are tons of things I can do. I can research what I'm spending my money on so that I don't help to further the cause of rebel groups around the world who are killing, raping, torturing, disappearing, and/or enslaving the masses. But is that enough? Is it enough to only purchase chocolate that has the "Fair Trade" symbol on it so that I'm not helping rebel African groups enslave children to harvest their crops? Is it enough that I am willing to give homeless people whatever cash I have on me so that maybe they can get through one more night? Is it enough to make David's life harder because I refuse to wear a diamond engagement ring even if it has been certified as not being a blood diamond? Is it enough to continue researching and writing my paper so that other political scientists will be able to use whatever I find out so that they can build upon my research much like I'm building on their's? What could ever possibly be enough??

In December I got to the point where I was sad so much of the time. I couldn't continue living my life as I had before, knowing the things I had learned. It was no longer good enough for me to just live my happy little life of comfort when I know there are people right here in this country and all across the world who aren't as lucky as I am. But what do I have to offer? I'm not important or rich. I don't speak any other languages. I have no experience working with or for non-profits and therefore, in the midst of all these negatives, what do I have?

Oooo, I have a computer. I went to google.com and typed in "Volunteer Dallas" with the hope that something would jump out at me. I had no idea what I wanted to do but I hoped it would involve women and children in some way because those two groups have always been important to me. The first site on the search page was Volunteer Match. I perused the volunteering opportunities and requested information from about five or six different organizations. One happened to be Catholic Charities and they were specifically looking for people to teach English to immigrants. I thought, "Now that's something I can do!" I don't speak any other languages but I speak English well enough to teach other people the basics. After all, I've been speaking it for thirty-one-ish years now!

I emailed back and forth with the coordinator for a few weeks and then I decided to go for it. I went to an orientation where I found out that the DFW Catholic Charities deal mostly with refugees and asylees rather than immigrants. I couldn't believe my luck! Not only would I be volunteering, but what I would be volunteering to do was going to help refugees from the moment they arrive in the U.S.! Needless to say, I was simultaneously excited and terrified.

For the next several weeks, Catholic Charities went to work trying to find out whatever they could about me. They spoke with friends, family, and former employees. They did background checks on me. Who knows for sure what else they checked but apparently, there was nothing too seedy in my past because they still wanted me!

I went to a training session a few weeks ago and learned the basics. I learned how to say, "Hello, my name is Holly" in Farsi, (even though I've already forgotten how to say it.) I learned some basic teaching techniques. The staff provided me and the other volunteers with lesson plans and ideas to help us get started.

My next step was to go to dinner with one of the coordinators in order to get some books and the key to the classroom. After that, I was ready to go. I was going to teach English to people that wanted to learn it. I had no idea who, if anyone, would show up at my class time and if they did show up, I had no idea if they would speak any English or if they knew how to read or write or anything at all. I literally knew nothing about the people I would be teaching.

When I got to the apartment building where the classroom is, there were a few women waiting for me. After getting a crazy key situation settled with the apartment manager's office, we went into our classroom and tried to figure out how to turn the lights on. We sat down at a table and I started the process of trying to figure out, A) What the hell am I doing here?, B) Why did I ever think I could do this?, and C) Is it too late to back out?

I can't really explain what happened next but once I was calm, I was able to communicate with the women. They were young - late teens to early 20's. We talked for a while about America and the country they left. We talked about how secure America is and how nice it is to have police available to help citizens. We talked about how they had to leave their schooling behind and they really hoped they would be able to continue it here. We talked about many things that morning. We did a little bit of "actual" teaching/learning, but mostly we just talked.

We didn't talk about why they were in America. I might not ever know why they're in America, and I'm okay with that. Whatever they had to go through to get here is none of my business unless they want to make it my business and was probably so terrible that they won't be able to talk about it for quite awhile, if ever. You don't just get granted refugee status for nothing. Maybe sometime in the future I'll write about everything that goes into being granted refugee or asylee status.

So how does this relate to me not enjoying UTD? Well, for one thing, I doubt I ever would've gotten so interested in human rights if I hadn't come to this school. In concert with that is the fact that had I not been given the chance to learn about human rights, I probably would not have gotten involved with Catholic Charities. Had I not gotten involved with Catholic Charities I would never have known about the people living right here in the same city as me that came from far, far away to escape some untold hell.

Almost every day I realize how lucky I am to be an American. I realize how lucky I am to have the right to type stuff like this on a blog that is not controlled or restricted by the government. Every day I am thankful because I have so much good in my life. Every day I realize that there is someone out there in the world who would give almost anything to be able to have the life that I do. And I can blame it all on UTD.


Anonymous said...

Is it enough to make David's life harder because I refuse to wear a diamond engagement ring even if it has been certified as not being a blood diamond?

Don't you mean "make his life EASIER"?

SerenitySprings said...

You would think, wouldn't you. But I bet you'd be surprised just how hard it is to find a ring that doesn't have any diamonds on it.

fictionfiend said...

Have I told you lately how awesome you are?
You're a good person, Holly. I'm proud of you for volunteering, and for sticking it out.

Sorry. I was having a moment of nice. It won't happen again. :-)

Anonymous said...

(I know that diamond-free rings were not really the point of your OP but anyway...)

I'm not really sure what you mean Zales.com, as a random example, has 82. You can also go for the fake or man made. Although I guess that is kinda like wearing fake fur.

Now, if you are expecting something with a gemstone, that is a little tricky. They usually stick on a few tiny accent diamonds. A custom jeweler would probably be the way to go there.

This is of course assuming that you are expecting an engagement ring at all which is quite optional. I did not receive an engagement ring but my marriage is still legally valid.

SerenitySprings said...

Thanks for the info. We as a couple decided that an engagement ring would be appropriate for us. We have gone shopping a couple of times to no avail, as most jewelery stores carry diamond rings or rings with other stones surrounded by diamonds.

Addie said...

wow - Holly the refugee thing is awesome... did you only do it once, or will you get to do it again?

ha - out of the whole post, we are all most concerned with the ring... didnt know what colors you liked, so here are some options...






geez, I hope that was helpful and not just filling up your comment space