A Black Woman runs in Haifa

October 10, 2009 at 2:45 PM

A Black Woman runs in Haifa

 

Moyagaye Bedward QC ’10 and James Stellar

 

Moya is an honors student and track athlete at Queens College who has several majors and a few minors in the social sciences.  She is looking to go to graduate school and more importantly she is looking at how to define herself in terms of those future studies on the basis of her ongoing college experience.  When we talked, it was clear to me that one of those experiences was an abroad course she took over the Winter. What makes the experience even more interesting is how her own heritage as an African-American woman was part of the impact of being in a new place with a new perspective, even given that she grew up in the highly diverse borough of Queens, NY.

 

I went on a study abroad program to Israel for three weeks during January 2009. I was there with a very diverse group of people, which consisted of two religious Jews, an Asian woman, an Indian man, and two black women, one of which was myself. We spent three weeks touring Israel and one of the places we visited was Haifa. Haifa is by far the most amazing place I visited in Israel. It is calm, relaxing, and most importantly tension free. It was the perfect place for me to release some of the tension of the previous semester, and I took full advantage of the environment. I ran through the streets of Haifa every morning for eight days one of which was up the steepest hill in that city, the hill that runs in the middle of the Ba’hai shrine. The was fresh and I felt invigorated.

 

What was it like to run in the streets of Haifa every day?  Did people react to you by your appearance?  What were your internal reactions?

 

When I first went there, I thought that I was the only black person in Haifa. Being out and running made this feeling more obvious.  I also observed that the black people at the Ba’hai shrine tended to be performing the more menial jobs. This was a surprise to me as growing up in Queens, NY, I did not really notice my race.  When I was in Jerusalem I also noticed how close were the different ethnic groups but how far apart they were in terms of social interaction.

 

What did you bring back to Queens College from this experience?

 

When I came back, I brought back a person (me) who wanted to change the world.  I saw how ignorance of the other can turn into pure hate.  I was determined to use my own ethnicity as part of the device to explore this issue, so I switched my topic from writing about the Political Science/History/Philosophy (my three majors) of Israel as a focus of a passionate Diaspora to writing about that in regard to my background. I plan to now write about how some students in America, even at my own College, are from African backgrounds but are really not engaged in the ongoing struggle for proper development of the African countries.  That thesis project is currently underway.

 

The first point we want to make is that students often need to get out of the classroom to be able to see things that are invisible on campus.  Why?  They are looking not only with the cognitive apparatus that masters curriculum and courses, but they are also looking with their emotions and instincts that can really only be activated by experience.  We do not mean to say that passionate professors cannot touch students in this way.  They can.  But there is big world out there that can do it too.  Real life experiences tear away what can be a shallowness of a text book education, and those experiences can then feed back into the academy to make a student a passionate consumer of what the academy has to offer – in this case an undergraduate thesis and one that will take a good deal of time.

 

The second point is that we all really think through our emotions and instincts as well as through our more dry cognitive apparatus.  The first book cited in this blog is about that kind of processing – what Antonio Damasio calls the “body wellness sense” that was missing in a patient with a specific area of brain damage that also preserved the cognitive memory and analytic ability.  It takes both kinds of intelligence to think critically, have wisdom, be creative.  This combination makes a poem a poem, or at least a good one.  If the thesis that emerges from this year is really creative and powerful it will be because of both operations working together, one from the classroom, one from experience.  This is what higher education wants for its students and what the country and the world needs.

 

Moya remembers telling the Honors Program director after she returned that she thought more brown students should study abroad.

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5 Comments

5 Responses to “A Black Woman runs in Haifa”

  1. Cassidy Carlson says:

    I really enjoyed reading this op-ed. I loved the theme of running and how this allowed you to see more of the surrounding area.

  2. Jim says:

    Cassidy,
    Thanks. I wonder if as a student who has done co-op and as an economist in training you could give us your reaction to the “other lobe thinking” that we argue underlies the reaction to her experiences? Do you see a parallel to the process where by people come to judge something is valuable? Maybe this is a reach to far.
    -Jim

  3. Dawn Anderson says:

    This was pleasant to read. Ms. Bedward’s decision to change her project is an example of students returning from abroad with new perspectives, new focus and a determination to make a difference based on a new reality shaped by their experiences abroad. It appears that she switched from just writing a paper that would satisfy major requirements to wanting to explore a problem she has identified in her community. That is the part of self-efficacy.

  4. Swapna Rao says:

    It’s amazing how much a hands-on experience can influence you, and oftentimes open your mind to other possibilities about yourself and your own career path.

  5. jessica says:

    I particularly enjoyed this article because I too am an African America female but of Haitian descent and have studied abroad. I lived in Antigua for about a year and a half to complete the basic sciences portion of medical school and now I am doing clinical potion in the US. Being a bio major at Northeastern, I didn’t really have time to (although I probably could have) studied abroad so I decided to do so in medical school. My experience had some similarities and some differences when compared to Moya’s experience. I can definitely appreciate the idea of students learning outside of the classroom and venture out to foreign countries and interact with so many different cultures. I could never have asked for a better experience. It gave me a new found confidence to know that I was able to make connections with people who looked like me but lived completely different life styles and had limited resources. One of the main differences between Moya and my experience is that I was able to witness my Indian, African American (non Caribbean descent) and Caucasian colleagues get taken advantage of. Not to say that Antiguans are racists, but I did notice that I would get some privileges being that my family is from the Caribbean too. Again, the whole experiences had ups and downs, but I would never change or replace it because I would never be able to learn about this culture from a book. So I would definitely encourage others to step out the box and take advantage of all the opportunities out in the world!

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