14 July 2007

If I had to describe myself:

I believe in social justice and the importance of social welfare. This is a direct result of my background in academia - focusing on sociology and religious studies; my religion; and my personal experiences with various disenfranchised groups. Through traveling and meeting people from various parts of the world, I have gained a deep value for learning about and from other cultures. I know that I am privileged. I also know that I have many talents and gifts that I feel I can contribute to the world around me, and in a more dynamic way in places where resources are scarce. I am obsessed with learning. I want to eventually go into the field of education, but I desire to first have more world/life experience.

I would like to give up ties to academia and my intellectual identity; I'd like to learn to relate personally to people without necessarily a relationship or connection based on cognitive understanding. I want to learn what people's needs are and how they can be met on a global scale. Academia is a place where we exchange ideas with one another. The American University has been an institution that encourages extensive debate and discussion about various, often controversial, issues in our society. We constantly analyze and asses the who and the what and the how. But even that reaches a point of saturation. We find ourselves repeating arguments that cannot be further developed within the context of this intellectual community. I desire to apply the ideas I've developed in the real world. I am dissatisfied with just talking. Frustrated with academia. I want to commit to something bigger. I want to see who I am away from my cultural distraction and discover my identity based on what I can let go of and what I cannot live without.

I was really moved by my experience both in Turkey and with Turkish people in Germany. In Berlin, the second largest population of Turkish people outside of Turkey, they are marginalized; and frankly, no one has anything good to say about them. That was really hard for me because it just is so unfair how the Germans, and all of us for that matter, have this distorted image of what Islam and its values are. Several times, I would have to challenge my students to think beyond the stereotype that "Muslim men beat their wives and their culture upholds that practice." It was really painful to see how the western world judges peoples we don't understand, because we don't care enough to learn from them. My best friend had a Sufi Muslim host mom, and they would sit for hours talking about religion. He would say "Jesus" and she would say "Allah" and they would just meet each other on this plane of understanding and love. Her practice of discipline and calm compassion really challenged me to rethink my own images of faith manifested in my life.

I think most people see international volunteering as "us helping the world"; but I really see it as me learning from the world. Particularly places in the world I would/could not really encounter and engage with otherwise. I want to use the skills and gifts I have to contribute to something bigger than myself and my limited community. So many truths are lost in cultural translation and I want my life to reflect a possible synthesis of seemingly binary worlds. Like Queen Noor al Hussein of Jordan's Memoir Leap of Faith, I want to provide a way of communicating, sharing, and understanding for different peoples - drawing from similarities and virtues to find a common ground of compassion.

We talk a lot about the simple life. We live in a world where we stack up achievement upon achievement, climbing multiple ladders without stopping to think what building the ladder is leaning on or leading towards. I would really appreciate, even though I know it will be monumentally difficult, that kind of slowing down and listening to the world around me.

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