Where I fit in the box of crayons....

Do you ever get that feeling like there's more out there? That's the feeling that brought me to beyond borders. The global community is growing, and I have not yet become a part of it. I want to be a contributing citizen to the global community through participation and action. Over the years, I have developed an appreciation for diversity and difference, and look for other ways that people are doing things. There’s a whole world out there beyond our North American perspective that has the potential to change the way I see things, and to change my life. Gahndi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I think we should not only find the change within ourselves, but also take part in the change we want to see in the world. I hope that Beyond Borders will offer a medium in which I can be the change I want to see in the world, and also take part in that change.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Comfort in Opposites

"So it seems to me that you two are polar opposites of each other. there are two ways of looking at this: the first way is that being opposite is a source of tension in relationships and that it has and always will cause friction and upset. The second way of looking at it is that opposites attract. You see your differences as a positive thing and they help to balance each of you. Felix, which view do you take?"
"I tend to take the former..."
"And Denise?"
"Most definitely the latter!"
Case. In. Point !

Everybody, meet Felix! Felix is sometimes my other half, and sometimes my better half, but always my opposite. Felix is my other full time job.

(I was going to write you a post about Cultural Competencies, and then about being Canadian, but for some reason this felt like it needed to happen.)

A little bit about Felix: Felix is an early 1970s baby (I'm an early 1980s baby). He grew up in Winnipeg immersed in strong Chinese culture. He did a BA in commerce and economics at the University of Manitoba and then picked up and moved to Toronto to join the Bay st rat race. Felix goes to work in a suit, for an investment firm and supports the very political, economic, and social infrastructures that I have rebelled against all my life. Felix is a Green/Gold with a high need for structure, order and procedure. He respects authority, he is emotionally controlled and needs (alone) time to process, think, and reflect. Felix scores a 2/7 on the extrovert scale (I hope that I am properly highlighting the polarity of Felix and I). Felix and I will mark our 5 year anniversary while I am in the Ukraine - I'm not always positive exactly how we've made it this far (it surprises the h*ll outta him). regardless of our opposites, it is with felix that I feel most comfortable.

I have been writing my blog since October 2009 and February 27 2010 was the first time Felix visited it!! I have learned not to mistake that for non-support, but I think that it has been his way of ignoring the inevitable (through this have had a revelation)I'm leaving him for 4 months!!!!

I think that the excitement of going had distracted me from the realities of leaving!

Leaving is one of the most serious side effects of embarking on such a journey.
The most important things that I am leaving behind are Felix, and our "boys" Quixo and Juda (I would be remiss if I didn't include the cat, Mangia, as well; he'd get upset with me, and probably pee on something to spite me). These are the things (my partner, our relationship and our "children") I look to in order to recharge, get support and grow strength. The reality of leaving them behind has not set in as of yet, but the concept of it makes my skin crawl a little bit.

How do I seek comfort in something so discomforting?

I am reminded of Rigoberta Menchu who was forced to flee her native land, but yet it was this move away that enabled her to be changed, and in turn affect change. Lara will tell you that one does not have to travel the world to make a difference in it, and I agree, whole heartedly. I am not only looking to make a contribution and a difference, I am going to the Ukraine, first and foremost, in search of a different perspective on the global village, one that does not shine through a western lens.

As Canadians, as Capitalists, as Consumers (CCC), we have constructed our own interpretation of the world, and how it does, and should work. I think that the the grass roots movers and shakers (revolutionaries, if you will) who are affecting the most change are the ones that are able to divorce this westernized CCC lens and see things differently. I want to see things differently - not to be called a revolutionary (hahahahah), but to enable myself to affect the most change possible both at home (in Canada) as well as within the global village.

How does this relate to Felix?! Felix represents, for me, all of the things, and the comfort I am leaving behind. What am I leaving behind? I'm leaving behind my partner, and the boys, our house, my car, my native tongue, my friends, my community, my support system and safety net. I am leaving behind the comforts of "home". In my interview for Beyond Borders I used the new buzz line for interdisciplinary education: "I am comfortable being uncomfortable" thinking that I knew what it meant. I think that this experience is going to add an indescribable layer to the idea of being "uncomfortable" (are we ever really uncomfortable in our cushy western lives?!). I will concede that I am comfortable with idea of being uncomfortable, but I would like to amend my initial statement and have it read " I am terrified of learning what uncomfortable really feels like, but I am up for the challenge."

Oh and by the way, Felix doesn't know how to cook, like at all, so can somebody check on him now and again......?


Friday, February 26, 2010

Strength in Numbers... 1 is a number, right?!

I sing better as a chorister, rather than a soloist. I'm much better at crazy-eights than I am at solitaire. Tennis is WAY better than wall ball. I don't own an ipod, but I attend tons of concerts. I enjoy reading... the same books as my friends. When I talk to myself, I also answer. I talk on the phone while I pee... I am a social creature that feeds off the energy of others. I've explained that I am an extrovert, but I think it goes beyond just that - I am a community seeker, and a community creator: I can not function without community; My strengths as a student, as a professional, as a human being, shrivel up and die if I feel isolated, alienated and alone. One of my mottoes has always been "I can do ANYTHING, if you're standing next to me"

I was originally opposed to the idea of going to the Ukraine. Then Tina was offered the same placement and I was convinced: I could do anything as long as she was there with me. the prospect of traveling with Tina was multi faceted: Tina is in the same program as I am in (Sexuality Marriage and Family), with similar interests (Social Development Studies), she is a Beyond Borders classmate so we share the time and space process, she is my academic colleague, she has been my business partner all the way through Cookies with a Cause, a great baking partner, but most importantly, I wouldn't hesitate to call Tina one of my Best friends. As such, it was a cheap sales trick using our friendship to sell me on the Ukraine: I could have been offered a one way ticket into a tribe of starving cannibals, and the deal would have been sweeter with her there with me - *erm* not that I'd want you to get eaten or anything, I'm just saying... (this song just popped into my head - mainly verse 2[WWIII] and 3[Grandcentral station] ). But it worked, Tina and I were going to the Ukraine!

One of the strengths of our friendship is our ability to have blunt, open and honest conversations. On one of these occasions we got to talking about the trip and some of our mixed feelings about it. In our open and honest fashion, it came out that this may not be the best time for Tina to be traveling (this belongs to Tina; see her blog for her latest posting…). Things came unraveled pretty quickly – within 24 hours Tina’s decision was made and I’ve once again been caught in the Beyond Borders cyclone: in May, I will be traveling to the Ukraine alone…

Wwwwwwwwait, wait a second, alone? Like by myself? No one else is going to be with me? no… no, impossible… But strength in numbers….. right?
really? seriously? But… I… umm…

Once again I thought I had it all figured out, and have to reassess and begin the process again.

I am a bit of a fatalist. I believe that there are no such things as mistakes. There’s a lyric from a song call “fortuosity” from the 1967 film “The Happiest Millionaire” and the Lyric goes “sometimes castles fall to the ground, that’s where four leaf clovers are found”. From this seemingly unfortunate event emerges the four leaf clover; a wonderful learning opportunity: From this experience I will be forced to learn the strength in numbers; not just any number, but the strength of a specific number: the number One

I can feign optimism as much as I’d like, the fact still remains (huge and glaring in fact) I’m scared. Halfway across the world, away from my community: no choir and I’m stuck with solitaire, wall ball and an ipod. I can’t even create community because no body will understand me (my one small blessing is no squat toilettes)! January 14 I talked about fear, and finally overcoming my fear of the Ukraine. My fear and terror is back – with a vengeance. I’m ok, and I’m dealing, for now. The test will be when I get on the plane and go. I’m glad that I am reflecting on this fear now, because I am really interested to look back at this during my trip and afterwards to see how I dealt with something so unbelievably foreign to me….

Wanna come to the Ukraine with me?!?!?! puh… puh… puh… Pllllease?!?!


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I've found the vein!!

Last week I promised I would say more about my new job...
Officially I have been hired on as the Youth Progects Manager working with two community development organizations: Phoenix Community Works Foundation and RAFT (Resources and Assets For Transformation). In this role I will be building a youth centred program that seeks to support youth in getting involved in the (global) community through social action for social change. My vision for the program is that we foster a sense of community and social conscience in the youth of today. Through this program, I hope to mentor youth and enable them to employ their strengths and interests to build healthy, sustainable and just communities through engaging in community initiatives and social actions which support local organizations. I will be building this program on a part time basis until I leave for the Ukraine, and then after grant writing, and secure funding, it will be a full time job for me. (yipee!)

That in and of itself is amazing, but that’s not all, believe it or not! Phoenix and RAFT are housed in the coolest place in the world: the Center for Social Innovation (CSI) which is a dynamic space in downtown Toronto. Their mission is to spark and support new ideas that are tackling the social, environmental, economic and cultural challenges we face today. They have created the type of environment that social innovation needs to thrive. This place is a mecca for community development and social innovation. CSI is home base for over 100 different organizations from grass roots organizations to full fledged social enterprises (the david suzuki foundation, the hoop factory, bikes without borders, canadian centre for pollution prevention etc.).

The building is set up as open concept office space that promotes collaboration and out of the box thinking. They have yoga classes through the week, community mixers, a communal salad bar 2x each week where everyone brings 2 ingredients and shares with others, they have a living wall (picture to left), a green roof, and there are even NAP ROOMS!!!!! There is a hum – the hum of good things happening; it is exhilarating just walking INTO the building.

What this all means: I have tapped into a diamond vein! I have spent the last 6 years in university taking core samples and exploring what lies beneath the surface. I have generally excelled at the things I have taken on, but not all of them were the right "fit" - I had not yet found my diamond. I think that one of the reasons that I am hyper involved, and have a voracious appetite for getting involved is my way of searching for that "fit". I have scratched the surface and finally found a rich reservoir beneath.

I entered the Sexuality, Marriage and Family program thinking that I was going to end up in the University of Guelph Couple and Family therapy program to wind up as a family therapist (I should have known those plans would change). Along the way some one asked me to reconsider this idea. She could see in me a highly developed sense of community, and a commitment to social justice and social action and thought that the family therapy program would kill that part of me. I didn't agree with her at first, and have come to realize that I thrive in a community setting (case in point: I have written about communities, and the importance of, on more than one occasion in my previous blogs), and need that community piece in order to feel fulfilled.

Finding the right "fit" is essentially finding that diamond - a wonderful experience - an experience I have now been fortunate to have twice this year, the first was deciding that I could manage going to the Ukraine, and then realizing that it was the perfect opportunity for me, and the second is this new job.

I think that we all want to make a difference in the world in our own way, and finding an avenue or opportunity which will best facilitate our efforts ensures that were are making the biggest possible impact. I am excited and invigorated by all of the things I am finding that fit with the way I would like to move in our global community, and am certainly looking forward to charting the difference in myself and the world around me.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

“Action expresses priorities.” - Gandhi

Do you order your daily responsibilities according to personal priority criteria? I certainly do. I have always thought the determining what is, and is not, a priority was a subjective process, and up to the discretion of each individual – I have learned that others do not feel the same way.

Here’s where I’m at: True to my blue nature, I have, once again, packed my life full of activities and responsibilities: I am taking a full course load, working 18 hours for the government, singing in a charity choir, volunteering 1.5 days a week at Lucy Mc Cormick, and another 3 hours at Youth without Shelter. I'm baking non stop again, commuting to Waterloo from Toronto everyday, and managing my household which recently has come to include an 18yr old (!). As if that wasn't enough, I went in to what I thought was a job interview on Tuesday morning only to find myself on the first day of my absolute dream job (more on that next week). Essentially, every minute of every day is scheduled. Please do not think that I am complaining. I take full ownership for the state of my schedule; I just wanted you to know what it looks like.

I have a fairly packed schedule. Sometimes, negotiating and navigating priorities can be challenging, but I always do my best to make sure that I can satisfy all of the demands on me and my time. Most of the time, people and organizations are accommodating and flexible – except for one: school. (And thus begins my rant)

I often hear from professors that I need to “set my priorities” and “not take on so much that I lose sight of my priorities”. [Actually, my blood pressure went up a little bit just writing these two horribly presumptuous and condescending remarks.] The assumption made by these professors is that my education (more specifically readings, course work and class participation) is my priority, and that everything else comes after. On the contrary, I say, on the contrary! In fact, if I was going to rank my responsibilities, I would have to say that the artificiality, and tediousness, of the banking model education system makes it dead last on my list of priorities.

I have a view of education, and specifically the institution of education, that is in line with the problem posing model that Paulo Freire puts forth in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. At the core of my belief is the idea that education should support the existence in reality and not become a reality unto itself. The world of academia has lost sight of its actual purpose and has taken on the status of an alternate reality – in fact, I would argue that some academics believe the world of academia to be the only reality.
I have a real problem with this view because I always seem to be caught in the middle of the two worlds.

Freire says “thought has meaning only when generated by action upon the world” which I think should be the foundational principal of the institution of education. I think that a fundamental part of all education should either be born from action upon the world, or applied through action upon the world, rather than having knowledge exist in a vacuum, never to have an impact on the greater global community. to remove the action from the education, the institution is alienating any true meaning from the process. As Freire puts it “the teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static compartmentalized and predictable” and goes on to say that this way of education is “disconnected from totality”. By assuming, and enforcing, that course related responsibilities should be a priority in each student’s life the education system is denying every student the opportunity of real life experiences that add depth and meaning change to experiences. Universities especially should allow people the space they need to access and support their life through education in whichever way is most meaningful to them where teachers “trust people and their creativity” and are “partners of the students”. I believe that this would create a system where people would come out with a richer, fuller education that is more applicable to the work outside academia.

I think of the dialogical experiences and the educational models of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato that encouraged deep free thinking and compare it to our narrow minded and ultimately oppressive system. The institution of education had developed a vested interest in making sure students do things their way. I am a little disenchanted because I think that the system has become hyper-consumerized and has lost its status as the place for free, unbridled thought.

Gandhi said “Action expresses priorities.” My priorities are healthy communities, happy people and just action; none of which are realized by sitting in a desk downloading information. I express my priorities in the things i do outside of academia. I’m gonna hit the next person that asks me to “set my priorities”!

Thanks for reading my rant!