Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I'm sorry, can you hold? I have Palestine on the line...

Today I was able to participate in a truly unique opportunity. About a month ago, I was asked by one of my professors from last term if I'd be interested in participating in a pilot program the Sociology program is starting up, in an attempt to create a academic bridge between Goldsmiths and academics in Palestinian universities. The test program is joining with fellow masters students and PhD students at Goldsmiths (most have ties with the Soc. program) and having three video conferences with masters students in Palestine. The intention in the beginning is to open up a line of communication, for Goldsmiths students to interact with Palestinian students and learn more about their experience studying under occupation as well as an opportunity to get non-Western perspectives on similar areas of research and such. The hope is also to provide the university with academic resources that they don't have access to (lectures, journals, etc.) due to travel restrictions. Today was the first meeting. Even though the topic was "getting to know you," I was still extremely anxious. First of all, I know nothing of Palestine. The smatterings of images in my head are from headlines I would hear on NPR occasionally. Secondly, I find I still get extremely anxious before times of interacting with my academic peers. I feel really inadequate and ignorant, which actually was the very reason I chose to participate. This was something I would be completely unprepared for, and would stretch me.
It was a fascinating experience, we had some time to hear from the students themselves about the challenges they face in order to study at the university (checkpoints, military raids, power shortages, working full time to survive). Even through the camera, you could hear and see the passion they had for their studies, and they were just as interested in hearing about our fields of interest as well. In some ways, we did get a small taste of what it would be like, for our connection was broken more than once, due to power cuts.
It is really fun to be a part of the beginnings of something that could be extremely powerful. The Goldsmiths staff who have been involved in this from the beginning have really high hopes for what this academic "exchange" can look like. For me, I am always intrigued in how opportunities for cross-cultural discourse can be developed. I am eager to see what emerges from this beginning. And it is pretty fun to be able to say, "Yeah, I was talking to Palestine today...."


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