Thursday, December 29, 2011

[Required Reading] CGE and Reciprocity: Recent Explorations

I was fortunate to study abroad and away for nearly half of my college career, with comprehensive academic programs that combined service-learning and community engagement in meaningful and memorable ways. I spent a semester in Namibia and South Africa with Augsburg College's Center for Global Education with their "Nation Building, Globalization, and Decolonizing the Mind," program, and was pleased to see that their Fall 2011 newsletter included some research about the reciprocity that can result from these types of exchange programs. Check out the brief below and see how we can, indeed, be better together!

CGE and Reciprocity: Recent Explorations

Contributors: Ann Lutterman-Aguilar and Suyen Barahona Cuan

Reciprocity is a term used widely here at the Center for Global Education, and it is one that is gaining attention in the wider world of international education. We are pleased to see a growth in understanding about the actual exchange of benefit and harm that can occur when groups of North Americans travel to and live in another country or community.

Ann-Lutterman Aguilar’s Findings on Reciprocity in Mexico

Since reciprocity is a key element to our programming, it has been a significant asset to our organization. Ann Lutterman-Aguilar, site director in Mexico, has data from her doctoral research (see professional involvement section of Annual Report) that assists us in better understanding the exchanges we are making with communities in Mexico. While Ann’s research is primarily about vocation, a critical aspect of her research explores the question, “Do only U.S. students benefit from programs, or do Mexican community partners benefit as well? In other words, does reciprocity truly exist?” Ann’s research included data gathered from 105 Mexican community partners who answered questionnaires and participated in focus groups and in-depth interviews. The Mexican participants included members of host families, long- term guest speakers, and internship supervisors. The findings demonstrated that Mexican partners do indeed believe there is reciprocity existing in the intercultural encounters with U.S. students. Specifically, participants reported significant increases in their appreciation for and understanding of many forms of diversity, including greater appreciation for racial, religious, and sexual diversity. Another important impact of the intercultural encounters identified by Mexican participants was the overcoming of internalized classism and/or racism and discovering the value of their own voices.

The CGE-Mexico team has adopted David Fox’s classification of two primary types of reciprocity within international education:1) direct, or “specific reciprocity,” which involves “giving back directly to those who have served them,” and 2) indirect or “generalized reciprocity,” in which the host community “believes that someone or some group, be they from the host community or not, will benefit from what participants contribute to society someday.”1 This is what some refer to as the “pay-it-forward” form of reciprocity—it doesn’t directly benefit the community, but the community trusts that participants will take positive action in the future as a result of the experience. This sentiment is highlighted by the fact that research participants praised the programs’ emphasis on social analysis and contrasted it with programs that “seem to be more interested in moving foreigners to feel compassion and provide charity to the poor.” For example, Nahua spiritual leader Ignacio “Nacho” Torres Ramírez said: “The students get to know us in person and feel and experience closeness with an Indigenous community. They also directly experience our spirituality, our cosmovision, and our lives first hand…these encounters help fight racism and classism and create the solidarity rather than charity because people can’t walk away from these relationships just saying, “What cute Indigenous people, what a lovely culture, what pretty clothing.”

Reciprocity Panel at CGE All-Staff Meetings

Three participants from Ann’s research contributed to a panel presentation on reciprocity at CGE’s biannual staff meetings in July (see highlights section of Annual Report):

Victoria Maria de León Alvarado from the faith-based women's group Luz y Libertad, a group that has met with many of our students and participants over the course of several years.

Juliana García Quintanilla from the Independent Human Rights Commission of the State of Morelos (CIDHM). She has served as both a speaker and internship supervisor. CIDHM has been involved with CGE-Mexico since its founding.

Rosario Bello Escorcia, who grew up in a host family and is now a Spanish teacher at UNIVERSAL, the language school that hosts our students.

During the panel, Rosario shared that CGE experiences helped her learn a great deal about identity and stereotypes, particularly her stereotypes about people from the United States. She had always perceived U.S. citizens to be rich, but then students began to arrive and they spoke about their lives, many of which had been lived in poverty. Rosario also shared this story with Ann and the panel, which demonstrates Ann’s findings about internalized racism: “When I was sixteen years old, one of the students who lived with my family asked me what ethnic group or tribe I belonged to. I said, ‘No, I’m not Indigenous. I am Mestiza; my grandfather was Spanish.’ I was very angry and offended at first. But the student wouldn’t stop talking. She said, ‘But you look more Indigenous than mixed-race.’ So I began to look at myself, and eventually…I began to feel proud of who I am and not hide it. I began to accept my Indigenous heritage and learn more about the history of my people ... That conversation changed me because it started me on the path to acceptance of my own identity.”

Victoria spoke at length about how meeting with students taught her that her voice is valued. Over time, the gratitude and praise offered by the students built her confidence, and this is a significant benefit to her personhood and to her work. Juliana’s contribution to the panel was offering the advice that CGE should create more time during exchanges to further enhance the reciprocity. The panel was an excellent way for the entire organization to better understand what reciprocity is in the words of those with whom we share the exchange.

Other Sites: Reciprocity in El Sontule Community

In addition to Ann’s research, our other sites have explored more closely how reciprocity exists in their context. One example is the relationship between CGE in Nicaragua and the El Sontule community, located within the Miraflor Nature Reserve. CGE-Nicaragua has been working with the community for over ten years. Program participants stay in the homes of members of the New Dawn women’s cooperative. They are hosted as part of a rural-ecotourism project, where they learn about crops and the process of producing organic coffee.

CGE students and travelers also have the opportunity to hear the stories of these women, whose community and cooperative experienced counterrevolutionary attacks during the Sandanista Revolution. The women of the cooperative say that some of the benefits of the relationship with CGE have been: They shared their personal stories with visitors, including stories of violence and suffering and in this process they have been able to heal their wounds and overcome some of their fears. Similar to some of the comments made by our partners in Mexico, the women express that before they began hosting our groups they were shy about hosting foreigners because they felt they did not have important personal stories. By hosting CGE groups, the women have gained more confidence speaking in public and are also aware of the impact that they have on others. There is now a sense of pride and empowerment and higher levels of self- esteem. Another important result of the relationship has been the establishment of the scholarship fund to help sons and daughters of the women pursue an undergraduate degree. The funds come primarily from CGE travel seminar participants or students.

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