Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Beyond Stereotypes: Changing Perspectives after an Academic Exchange

Find the other testimonies from this article in the January 2019 issue of Ink Magazine!

Five students from Externado de Colombia University travelled to Detroit, Michigan, in the United States from July 7th to 15th 2018, as they got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: a full scholarship to attend the Ralph Bunch Summer Institute at Wayne State University. This allowed them to enhance their knowledge about the challenges faced at community level concerning pressing issues such as high levels of poverty and racial division, among others, in this American Midwest city. Through the summer program Building Peace upon War, an initiative from the Faculty of Finance, Government, and International Relations, Externado de Colombia University won the highly competitive grant from the State Department - 100,000 Strong in the Americas - making this a reality. In exchange, seven students from our counterpart in the United States attended our summer program, likewise fully funded, and having the chance to know the dilemmas faced by Colombian society. They were able to see how the implementation of the peace agreement reached in La Habana is unfolding, amid deep political divisions. Their academic experience was complemented by a field visit to the Llanos Orientales. Here are the testimonies of students from Externado de Colombia University who attended Wayne State University and vice-versa. We couldn’t be prouder of them!

From left to right: J. Alexis Chacón Gallego, Daiyana Chaparro Pedraza, Jonathan Infante, Estefanía Gómez Guzmán and Cristian David Bastidas Correa, of the Summer program Building Peace Upon War. Photo Credit: Cristian David Bastidas Correa

Daiyana Chaparro Pedraza
Eighth semester FIGRI student
Universidad Externado de Colombia

I am really interested in the history of the civil rights movement and how it changed the way people think about each other. The opportunity to go to the United States, and while being there listen to Americans and attend conferences at the Ralph Bunch Summer Institute in Wayne State University, enabled me to get a better understanding of the way issues like racism, discrimination, and violence - physical as well as symbolic - are present not only in ‘developing countries’, as usually categorized, but also in ‘developed’ ones. For me, the main aspect I learned is that you gain a different perspective when you go to a community and talk to their residents, instead of reading about it in a book.

Marsalis Jolley
Fourth year Urban Studies and Psychology student
Wayne State University

Last summer I was fortunate enough to participate in a study abroad program alongside Dr. Sharon Lean and several others. We were to study the conflict and peace negotiations happening in Colombia. I enrolled in the course having no prior knowledge of the country and conditions but coming out, I feel that I gained a unique perspective. While abroad we met many unique characters, some of which included ex-rebel members, victims of conflict, government officials and students working to improve their community. While there, too, I was encouraged to pursue my own academic interests and compare knowledge. These experiences have made an everlasting impact on my work. I hope that others would seek out opportunities to study abroad.

Estefanía Gómez Guzmán
Eighth semester Tourism Management student
Universidad Externado de Colombia

I will define this amazing experience at the Ralph Bunch Summer Institute in Wayne State University with one word: Resilience. African Americans in the United States instilled in us a way to reconcile after being discriminated against and subjected to violence, by showing us the power of forgiveness. In Colombia many people have suffered in the context of the armed conflict, and we can see the human rights violations and International Humanitarian Law infractions that resulted from it. As a result, people lost confidence in their institutions, even including the government, which reached a peace agreement to end military confrontation. Societies face the issue of forgiveness, as we all do as individuals. After all, our values are put to the test in order to prove if we have what it takes to be peacemakers. At present, I would say, we need to foster the ability to create better relationships within society, otherwise we will repeat the same mistakes of the past.

Marangelis Rosado
Fourth year Political Science, minor in Latin American Studies, student
Wayne State University

My experience in Bogotá, Colombia, was one I will never forget. Before my trip, the only time I had heard of Colombia was in regards to Pablo Escobar, but I did not have much knowledge to offer to the conversation. Now, I am able to speak about the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program that Colombia’s government has worked towards, in order to bring peace to the conflict that overwhelmed the country during and after the war. This is something I was able to witness with my own eyes in Meta, Colombia, where we met ex-combatants that had reintegrated into society.  Along with this, I now have knowledge of the history behind the growth of the drug trade and how its prosperity provoked a need among the government to intervene with peace instead of more conflict. Most importantly, my trip to Colombia taught me of the hospitable, humble, and intelligent students of Externado de Colombia, friends that I am forever grateful to. I wish you all and Colombia nothing but the best. 

Jonathan Infante Cardozo
Fourth year Law School student
Universidad Externado de Colombia

I used to think that the United States was a country where all the people were boring, serious, and classist. Soon after arriving there, I realized that the people at Wayne State University, while attending the Ralph Bunch Summer Institute, were extremely kind: professors, students, friends, and members of the community in general, as every day they were very helpful. I was able to learn about the contentious issue of race in Detroit, and how the community developed a neighborhood to overcome the problem of discrimination with parks, activities, and social work. I witnessed the problem of the police force within the community, and how they managed to deal with it through the inclusion and the participation of other actors.

Ashi Arora
Fourth year Science, major in Public Health, student, with an undergraduate certification in Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Wayne State University

During the Spring/Summer semester of 2018, I came across the opportunity to study abroad in Colombia in a political science course comparing the challenges of peace and reconciliation in the Colombian conflict and the race conflict in Detroit. While in Colombia, after learning from government leaders and well-established researchers, we travelled to a rural part of the country to meet with victims and ex-combatants of the Colombian conflict. By understanding Colombian life in the context of war, we were equipped with a new understanding that traditional lectures and readings could not provide. In both Detroit and Colombia, after periods of high tension and violence, there still exists negative peace - the presence of structural violence in the absence of physical violence. Learning from Colombia’s peace accord in sustainably breaking down structural violence, I have taken away lessons to implement into my efforts within Detroit. From my experiences locally in Detroit and internationally, I have appreciated the value of direct interaction with the communities we serve. Drawing parallels between Detroit and Colombia’s turbulent history, I have learned how conflict among groups of people shape their identities for generations to come, subsequently shaping these groups of people’s access to quality healthcare. For the course, I constructed a final paper exploring the history of the conflicts in Detroit and Colombia, comparing Colombia’s reintegration program for ex-combatants to Detroit’s organizations that serve the homeless and impoverished, and outlining lessons from Colombia’s model that can be applied within Detroit. Throughout my medical career, I will share this sense of urgency in interacting with the community directly, understanding that the decisions patients make are constrained by the choices they have. 

No comments:

Post a Comment