A year at Clark from my eyes

What a year has passed by!!!

The year has ended in a blink of an eye. Everything flew by so fast. For a whole year, I have learned and met a lot of people. Thanks to them, I became more attached to Clark, my second home. Clark has handed me a chance to experience so many new things. In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where I am from, all year round is summer. The weather is always hot and humid. In Clark or Worcester, every season is so different, and I can feel that every time I walk out of my dorm.

My story began in the summer when I first arrived at Clark during Orientation. The weather is nice and hot, but not as hot as Vietnam’s. My peer advisors and the people I met at Clark were so friendly; they guided me in every way I needed to get adapted to a new place, which is so far away from home. I was lost at first, and never knew where I belong to until I met some people who would later become my best friends.

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The photo was taken during the first week of Orientation

Before school started, I took a ride around Worcester with two new people I made friend with. We rode to City Hall and the area around. Worcester is old and historic, which clarifies the fact of being near Boston, one of the oldest cities in the United States that witnessed many revolutions. Worcester draws a picture of an old city on the way to innovation. There are sites under construction around, but the majority of the buildings wear an antique reddish color of the bricks. I was surprised and a little disappointed when I compared those sites with other scenes filmed at nice cities from some Hollywood movies I have watched all my life. The reality is different.

However, I did not spend much time on thinking about it as classes began. I was occupied with homework and clubs. Every start demanded effort to become used to the routine of going to classes, clubs, and even school. I made more friends, and we did many activities together. Time flew as the wind blows when fall came and went, leaving my friends and I special holidays so that we had time to understand each other more. We planned on trips together to New York and Boston on Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. The times outside school strengthened our relationships when we experienced new things together. To some of us coming from Asian countries, snow is something really special because we have never seen this before. Like children, we played with snow and built snowmen. However, somewhere in my deep soul, I felt a tingle of sadness as this time is for family gathering. I started to miss home, and friends are people I sought during those times.

With some snow showers at the beginning of the year followed by rainy days, spring has come to this land bringing new promises. Work at school became less stressful as I got used to the way Clark worked during the fall semester. I was more active in class and hung out more often with friends. I might have done more things, but to what I remember now, Spree Day was another amazing day as it marked the end of this school year. It was great to have a day off and the school turned into a recreational park with inflatable games, food, and music.

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Then, finals came and we never had much time to play until our last exam finished. It‘s too fast!

It all ended in the same place it started. I said goodbye to my friend and this year at Clark at this summer. My whole year is like a full cup filled with both joy and sadness. Everyone took a different route in the summer, but we understand that “All good things must come to an end”. However, in our heart, we know that it is just a beginning of our long distance relationship with Facebook and Skype and we will soon reunite.

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I saw my friend off when she was about to took off to the airport 

– Anh

All photos were provided by the author.

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Weekdays in Worcester

Anh earlier posed the question: “How do you spend the weekend?” in her first piece on our blog. In this post, I pose you another question: How do you spend the weekday?!

I’ll tell you mine. I spend it on the Clark campus, usually running around between Jefferson, JC, the gym, and the library. With my relationship with the cold (we don’t get along well), I try my best to minimize my trips from here to there. You’ll find it hard to make me leave home once I’ve settled in.

Although I had set a goal for myself since first year to push beyond the gates of Clark, success proved harder to obtain than expected. Many events and opportunities are shared through the LEEP or Innovation and Entrepreneurship department emails, but I hardly make it to any. With the International Gala happening one week and the Variant Dance show the next weekend, I was almost not sure if I would make it to the talk by Muhammad Yunus on Tuesday, April 5th.

But life had been feeling a little dry, and I thought why not? If not now, then when? And so I somehow worked it out and found a ride to Mechanics Hall in the evening of April 5th.

For those of you who don’t know him, Muhammad Yunus is the founder of the globally acclaimed Grameen Bank (“Village Bank”) in Bangladesh. He pioneered the idea of micro-finance through reaching out to small villages and offering small loans to poor communities. For this project, Yunus received various awards and prizes, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Why, you might ask, would a Nobel Laureate come speak in Worcester? I was wondering the same thing. It turns out that our friend Becker College is opening up a branch of Muhammad Yunus’s Yunus Social Business Center at its campus. This Center will be the first of its kind in the United States, and the fifteenth in the world. Yunus’s visit serves as a celebration of the opening of the Center’s doors.

Meeting global leaders, for me, has always been exciting. It’s exciting to put a human presence to a name, to realize that the accomplishments that seem out of the world were brought by another human being with a brain and a heart just like anyone else’s. His story itself was very inspirational. The bank had started when he, a professor in a university in Bangladesh, felt frustrated at the disconnect between the discipline of economics and the reality of poverty around him. It was specifically the famine in 1974 that pushed him to make small loans to families from low-income communities. This, then, grew into the bank. His story includes various points of obstacles, and how he overcame it with creativity.

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(Photo by author)

The end of his talk brought all of us to stand up and applaud him for his work. Despite that cheery mood, the Q&A session brought about some critical thoughts. I myself wished he would have spoken more about the role of the government, and how his model could create better forms of governance. At the beginning of the talk, he had noted that social business is necessary to combat government failures. However, I am skeptical that business alone can solve our society’s problems.

After the talk, I looked up some criticisms that Yunus and his micro-finance models have received. An article by The Guardian published back in 2011 referenced a study that essentially concluded that “the enthusiasm for micro finance has been rooted in the myth of the heroic individual entrepreneur, the rags to riches fairytales, Dick Whittington style.”  Indeed, various points during Yunus’s speech were so well told that I felt like I was listening to a self-discovery story rather than learning about a solution to a major world problem. It was almost too optimistic and simplistic, the way he glided over the limitations of his solution. The plot flew with no interruptions. Human ingenuity could solve everything.

Yet while I am inclined to disclaim his solution, I can’t. While this judgment may mean little, his presence seemed kind and well-intentioned. Can you really judge a person for trying? I mean, at least they’re doing something!

I am again reminded of how challenging convention and being critical all the time can be depressing and limiting. That day, I was outside the iron gates – I might as well let myself be fooled and optimistic for some time.

In her post, Anh talked about how weekends can get boring if you only stay on campus. Well, the mind can get trapped if you only spend weekdays on campus, too. Just a little change in scenario and crowd here and there can be quite rejuvenating.

In fact, once you get started, it’s almost hard to stop. On Thursday April 14th, I headed to the DCU Center for the Worcester Woman’s Leadership Conference. As usual, I could almost hear the skeptic go off in my head as I learned that one of the keynote speakers had worked at Fox News. Yet her words were so inspiring, and resonated with me in a way I hadn’t been for a while (Check out Mel Robbins’ How to stop screwing yourself TEDx talk). I then allowed myself to forget the politics and enjoy the moment.

It made me think that you really can’t rationalize everything. Not everything is supposed to be debated, to be argued, to be criticized. Many times, it’s best just to feel and empathize.

After all, that’s how you have hope.

-Charis

(Cover image by author)

17-8-15

Memories and places, identities and spaces. Do you
only know ‘here’ for what happened and ‘there’
for those eventful occasions? Are you
creating, as you’re remembering, a you
nonexistent without moments?

And do you change when these moments are torn apart?
Like, what if ‘here’ exploded midsummer
Limbs, organs, and lives, all a scatter
Of losses, so close. You know it was only
30 minutes that gave you cover.

‘Here’ is no longer just the ‘here’ you knew,
where everything met. From travelers
to teenagers to hard workers,
From roads and streets to motorcycles and buildings,
Capitalism and religion, poverty and luxury,

Where strangers walk shoulder-to-shoulder,
rushing locals stopping to say prayers
to the Shrine, whose dancers
are covered in scents of incense and sights of gold.

‘Here’ was sacred and anything but bloody
Anything but risky
Anything but scary.

And it seems odd that you take a while to connect
‘here’ to ‘there’. Even when ‘there’ hits front page
almost everyday, it never seems as relevant
as when the hosts of your memories
are quite literally threatened, eroded,
Attacked.

‘You’ start to forget the moments without violence
The dawns without tragic news, the dusks without sirens
fade away as though they never existed. Defiance
seems pathetic, reckless,
useless.

Because ‘we’, after all, will never be satisfied
With anything less than everything. ‘We’
were born to fight these inevitable wars. ‘We’
are nothing more than human nature.

And ‘you’ can only contemplate alone a world where ‘there’
and ‘here’ weren’t manifestations of the ‘you’
that spawned violence
everywhere.

————————
I wrote this as a reflection on the Bangkok bombing that happened this summer. I was moved to do so when I walked past the site last week, and realized I feel the need to rush through one of my favorite parts of walking home.

– Charis

How Columbian student’s Dangerous Space could be truly dangerous

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As universities across the U.K. roll out policies instituting safe spaces on campus, which enforce rules against any form of speech that is intolerant and insensitive, students have taken a hostile stance against them. Viewed as shutting down debate, dialogue, and discourse on topics of identity, beliefs, and culture, students have taken to the streets to push back against this institutional development.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic pond, students in the U.S. have adopted a similar attitude towards institutional designs to establish safe zones. This is the story of Columbia University junior Adam Shapiro. In an op-ed piece run by the Columbian Spectator, the flagship publication of the university, Adam said that college is both a space and time intended to nurture critical thought and reflection, not blind faith and dogmatism. He said that what drew him to Columbia was the liberal culture that prized free speech and rational thought above all – a kind of culture that would host Iran’s then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denied the Holocaust and questioned the existence of gay citizens in his country. While Shapiro maintains that no one should ever feel physically unsafe or subject to hate speech, a completely frank and open culture better counters bigotry while ensuring that all value systems are tested by all. It is this belief that led him to ignore a flyer that was slipped under his door inviting him to declare his room a safe space and instead put up a notice announcing it to be a ‘dangerous space’.

To begin, I must establish that I am a firm proponent of open dialogue and discourse. I believe that a free marketplace of ideas will serve us well, if it is truly free and fair by all. I acknowledge the power of rationality in changing views. But, like any other creation of the human mind, rational thought and discourse contain their own flaws. Allow me to illustrate why Adam Shapiro’s ‘dangerous space’, though perhaps well intended, is far more dangerous than he may realize.

“We need dangerous spaces where bad ideas can die and good ones can flourish” is what Adam expects of these spaces. The question that begs to be asked is who is to distinguish between bad and good? The history of humanity is a gargantuan textbook of examples demonstrating that we have struggled to understand and adjust to differences. In a society in which the majority outweigh the minority, and the crescendo of the vociferous extremists can prevail upon the silent moderates, violence can reign unchecked. One could argue that universities are structurally and culturally different and do not represent the dynamics of society, but here we run into that age-old predicament of generalizing our mythic expectations of a place of esoteric learning and the nature of an exceptional few to the masses, who tend to remain quiet and unaware. Universities in their natural state do represent society, for modern education does not always translate to social awareness. If one were to analyze any social justice movement, it is evident that stigmatized groups were never handed rights from the ether. Neither were they won through debate and discourse alone. Rather, these groups made their voices heard, and became a thorn in the side of institutions, thereby prompting structural change. Mainstream public opinion was perhaps the last to change. The suffragette movement and the LGBTQ+ movement stand as prime examples. If we were to consider the latter, when the first homophile movement was chartered at (ironically) Columbia University in 1967, the Columbian Spectator was overwhelmed with complaints by students deriding the institution’s decision to acknowledge a gay rights movement. These problems plague us to the present day, from the controversy that gripped all of Dartmouth in 2013 to the homophobia and transphobia that exists in college sports culture.

We must wonder, why do colleges buckle under pressure and institute such policies? Is it not to safeguard the personhood of those who have been victimized for far too long? My concern with dangerous spaces is that, despite the best of intentions, they can be subverted to cause more harm than good. When spaces do not contain any rules or safeguards, then the law of the jungle prevails. How do we break past the barriers that the victimized have erected due to years of oppression, if they know that they are offered no protection? How do we encourage those who live in the margins, the closets, and shadows to step into these circles and be authentic? How do we deal with those stubborn few who refuse to accept differences, who now are given free license to hurt and mar? How do we prevent celebrity status and social influence from granting some voices more power than others? There is a grave danger in these dangerous spaces for the voice of diversity to be stifled and only the mainstream rhetoric to be heard. For the sake of argument, let us disregard all of these concerns and assume a foolproof system that ensures that all are heard, and equally. What if the majority decide, through pure reason, that the minority is wrong? Does this mean that the identities, beliefs, values, and culture of a minority must fall prey to the whims of the collective? Even democracy, the bastion of collective rule, strives to avoid the trap of majoritarianism by instituting minority rights.

What is the alternative, you may ask? Embrace safe spaces is my response. Safe spaces and rational discourse are not mutually exclusive. In fact, we should do all that is in our power to facilitate discussion and debate within safe spaces, on the understanding that certain voices cannot be stifled. And this does not mean that everyone should be or will be well informed and in full agreement. These spaces should be a testing ground where we are unafraid to make mistakes in order to learn, and unafraid to disagree in order to realize that different does not mean danger. While imperfect, these spaces have the most potential to foster a culture of reason in its purest form, impervious to human failings.

-Themal

Reflection: One of our own goes abroad

Where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes

tree home

In this period of our lives, many of us are moving from place to place. Some travel thousands of miles from where they were born to join us here at Clark. Others of us, including myself, embark on journeys abroad to stay for long periods, study foreign places, and join other communities. We make ties in so many locations as we travel and move through life, but what happens once we have been to all of these places and create bonds to people and to communities all over the country and world? Where can we call home? Our parents’ houses? Our dorm rooms? Our first apartments? That town we lived in during study abroad? Our state? Our Country?

I suppose that they are all home in a way. They are all places that we feel we belong, places where we can find community, and places that we have spent a length of time. Home can be different for all of us, even though we are all living in the same place. What does home mean to you?

As globalization and the internet speed up the pace of life and make the planet seem so much smaller, but there are still of course large cultural differences no matter where we go that aren’t what we are accustomed to at “home”. Once those quirks and intricacies of a culture are experienced and appreciated can we feel at home in another place.

So, as I embark on this new adventure on my semester abroad, I wish everyone at one of my homes, Clark University, a semester full of happiness and adventurous learning.

– Annalise Kukor