Why Intentional International Experiences Matter

Check out a blog post by our Hospitality Manager, Sophia Randolph. You can see the full text below or read it here.

Why Intentional International Experiences Matter

Traveling the streets of Haiti is an exercise in infinite hope. Navigating is quite the feat, particularly if not on foot. The dust, the smells of burning trash, potholes, and street vendors combine to create chaos. One never knows when a checkpoint will have brought public transportation to a humid halt. Navigating the unknown requires hope and flexibility, mental and physical dexterity. So when the large white United Nations vehicles, manned by armed “peacekeepers,” make their way down a street, the effect is tangible. It is not the image of an integrated international relations effort. This marks a stark contrast with how I maneuver the streets of Haiti. I too am white and as I walk by, people of all ages shout “blan,” meaning foreigner. But then I stop and purchase vegetables. And those who see this transaction take place in Haitian Creole know I am not the typical blan. The commentary changes: “that blan speaks creole.” I become the recipient of quizzical rather than resentful stares. When I get into the back of a tap-tap, a common form of public transportation, and don’t let the driver over-charge me, I gain respect. I’m a blan still, but I occasionally receive the high praise of “Haitian blan.”

In this scenario I represent a more productive way of engaging with international relations. I embody an alternative narrative. It is this alternative narrative that I hope to promote and encourage through my continued involvement with the world. I’m very excited to be leading a trip to Haiti for college students this January because it is an opportunity to help incite or solidify this realization in others at an integral time in our lives. As we consider our next steps in the world it will be very helpful to have experience outside our comfort zone and to think critically about our role in the world.

Reflection, description, analysis, and communication of experience combine to create what I’ve come to know as processing. In order to learn from the countless interactions and experiences we have on a daily basis, we must process them. Interacting in meaningful ways requires cognizance of the intricacies of the world. This approach has defined my engagement in varied global contexts. My experiences abroad have served to highlight how poignant social issues are and the acute necessity for social emotional training in myriad spheres. Every day, on my way to university in the Dominican Republic, I walked through a haphazard shanty town and saw barefoot children playing with plastic bag kites. When I heard my host mother talk about this place as full of lazy people who did not care for children, I was struck by the need for a more comprehensive education system, one that promotes an understanding of society from many viewpoints. Leaders need to be deeply invested in the well-being of a community and its individuals from a holistic outlook. I hope to continue engaging with community-based development efforts for the next few years of my life before applying my skills on a broader scale, so systematic change and sustainable development can become a reality.

I recognize the ironies in international relations – the absurdity of a large white truck keeping the peace in dusty Haiti – and I hope to be a part of a community of leaders that redefines international relations. I bring to my communities a capacity to process and a relentless and even restless desire to promote the benefits of being an informed blan – a humble foreigner, an empathetic ambassador – and a leader who mitigates conflict and promotes collaboration based on sensitivity and knowledge in order to effect meaningful and positive change.