June 12, 2014

Found out that I received the Davis Grant.


Spring quarter begins.


Planning Davis Project for Peace while balancing a busy schedule at I-House and surviving Econ class at SSA.


Finish finals.


Arrive home on Tuesday, June 10.


Leave for Russia tomorrow, Friday, June 13, 2014.

The past few months have truly seemed like a handful of blinks and I honestly don’t know how so much was packed in between them. Friday June 13, 2014 has been etched in my brain (not because I’m superstitious) as the day I would leave for Russia and that day is literally just around the corner. Most things are, surprisingly, in order and all I have left to do is pack up a few things and get ready for a crazy awesome summer!

In some ways, I don’t think the adventure I am about to embark on has really hit me yet. Like I mentioned above, time really flew the last quarter and my brain is still trying to catch up. It was so convenient to plan this project during the busiest season of my job and my toughest quarter so far (one word: Econ).  Hopefully you were able to catch the sarcasm in that last line. Organizing this project has not been an easy task for many reasons: coordinating with camp directors in Russia, working with my budget, compiling a curriculum for my class, getting my visa, shipping items abroad…to name a few. Thankfully, I had the support of my family, friends, advisor and fellow American embarking on this trip, Gwynn Powell, and I-House staff to keep me sane during the process. Even when I might have been complaining about how tired and stressed I was, I never lost sight of how blessed I am to have the opportunity to even have the grant. I always told people that using $10,000 on a project I am passionate about is a good problem to have!

One of the main questions I am asked about my trip (right after people remove the look of pure shock from their face when I mention I am going to Russia for the summer and ask why I want to go there), is where in Russia am I going. Instead of me trying to explain, I’ll rely on my friends Wikipedia and Britannica to give a brief history of Mari El (see the links below).

Encyclopedia Britannica (Mari El, Russia)

Wikipedia (Mari El, Russia)

Now you know as much as I did when I went to Mari El almost 3 years ago to the day. Congrats!

A big point I feel that I should mention about my project is the fact that I was invited by the directors of Camp Lesnaya Skazka to come back and teach my class. After taking a course this past quarter on international social welfare programs, I am more sensitive and aware of how many organizations and countries try to “impose” and “force” others to conform to their viewpoint or just assume their way is better. If I did not have my previous experience at the camp and didn’t feel I was qualified or welcomed back, I would never have applied for the grant. It is mainly because I am a former counselor that I feel my project can be successful; instead of learning about diversity from a stranger, campers will learn from their old friend Shauna. I don’t underestimate how big of a deal this is and the possible impact it can have for the kids and counselors at camp, and don’t take my role as a diversity awareness teacher lightly. How fortunate am I to be able to play a part in changing the way a camp thinks about the world around them? Come to think of it, that’s one of the reasons I came to grad school!

Like I mentioned earlier, I am almost done with getting everything together for the trip. The only thing I wish I had more time for (other than spending more time with my family and sleeping for a week) is studying Russian. Knowing Russian wasn’t a requirement to attend the trip I went on 3 years ago and I learned a little bit when I was at camp, but I have forgotten much of what I learned.  I have been trying to “re-learn” Russian over the past few days and, shocker, my brain is not working at its optimal level. My friends and campers were kind, gracious, and patient with my poor Russian skills last time and I will have to rely on those qualities again.  Honestly, I think they enjoy laughing at my horrible pronunciation too much to even care about my ignorance. But I am determined to learn and learn I shall!

On the flight back to Atlanta a few days ago, I reflected (like all good social workers do) on how blessed I am to have several “homes” around the world. To me, home is where you have people who love and care about you as much as you do about them. Chicago is now a home for me and three years ago, I discovered that a tiny republic in the middle of Russia was another place I considered home. In Russian culture, it is common to leave a small article or trinket that belongs to you (such as a hair clip, pen, or jacket) at a friend’s house as a promise that you will come back to visit, since you have to come back and get what you left behind. In 2011, I left pieces of my heart at Camp Lesnaya Skazka, so, in keeping with tradition, I must go back.

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