Remembering a Genocide: A Monumental Educational Trip to Turkey and Armenia

It was the last day of traveling. We had begun the morning in Istanbul with a typically decadent breakfast buffet of bread, cheese, olives, and tomatoes. The 14 of us – UC Irvine students, faculty, and administrators – continued with a tour of the old city Sultanahmet, its ancient walls filled by three thousand years of empires and republics.

Now we were at our final destination: the Hrant Dink Foundation. Here, we talked and had copper-colored çay with Rober Koptaş, newspaper editor, and Delar Dink, daughter of Hrant Dink, Turk-Armenian and former Agos editor who was assassinated by a Turkish nationalist. Our visit included a stop at the site of Dink’s untimely 2007 death, marked by a plaque in the sidewalk. The foundation has carried on Hrant Dink’s mission, including hosting dialogue programs between Turks and Armenians.

Dialogue. This word had followed us on the two-week tour through the South Caucasus countries of Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia where we studied the genocide of 1915. A dictionary would define “dialogue” as an “exchange of ideas” and “discussion … aimed at resolution.” But our many conversations never reached a resolution and were unsettling, uprooting generations of pain in our own group.

Was peaceful resolution ever possible? Was justice within reach? Continue reading

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New Beginnings and Adventures: The Impactful First Few Weeks at Cal State LA

It’s now the midpoint of the fall semester at Cal State LA. But as anyone who works at universities knows, this is the fullest time of the year: orientations, commencement, and welcome-back events. While the end of the spring term is a season of bittersweet goodbyes, the beginning of the fall is marked by the elation and anxiety of the new.

What beautiful chaos.

I highlight these new beginnings and adventures by featuring three people in my life whose study-abroad orbits are fundamental parts of my fall semester: Karyos Tyus, who is currently abroad; Alesia Miles, who has recently returned; and Dr. Leonor Vazquez, who is about to leave.

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Why I Believe that Difficult Roads Lead to Beautiful Destinations: A Story of a Yosemite Hike

Yosemite had been on fire since July. Now it had reopened, yet its riverbank was still dotted with dozens of fires like a grove of neglected campfires. My friends and I silently drove past the entrance. Were we really going to hike in this?

A Breakthrough Beginning

April 12, 2018, was a remarkable day.

After three years of unsuccessfully entering the Mt Whitney and Half Dome lotteries, I opened my email to see the opening phrase “In regards to your Lottery Application.”

We were one of the fewer than 20% of applicants who were going to hike Half Dome.

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Waiting to Belong: Thoughts on the Immigrant Experience.

“Citizenship to me is more than a piece of paper. Citizenship is also about character. I am an American. We’re just waiting for our country to recognize it.” – Jose Antonio Vargas

I have been a nomad since childhood. Thanks to my own privilege – dual citizenship at birth; international travel experience as a child; the ability to afford to study abroad – I lived on visas in five different countries. Even when I landed in Canada, where I am a citizen, it felt like a stopover, not a homecoming.

Unsurprisingly, in my early adult years I immediately identified with other “Third Culture Kids,” people like me who were raised in countries other than their our passport country. I also aspired to the nomadic life as documented in sites like the blog And Then We Moved To …, the hashtag movement #vanlife, and the memoir Mother Tongue: My Family’s Globe-Trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic, and Sing in Spanish. But the last few years I’ve identified less with being a nomad, more with being an immigrant. Continue reading

Is Travel a Political Act? I Absolutely Think So.

It was early autumn, and the locals told me that I had arrived just before the seasons shifted and the rains arrived. I wouldn’t have known it. Taking a swim didn’t help either. At an uncomfortable 30°C (86°F), the salty Red Sea provided no relief from the 35°C (95°F) breeze. Air conditioning was rare. I lethargically waited under the ceiling fan for the sun to set. Why had I decided to visit Eritrea?

Months earlier, while planning a six-month round-the-world trip, my friend and I looked at a map of Asia and Africa and compromised. Both of us wanted to go to Ghana and India. But we had bought the limited-mileage ticket, and visiting both countries meant we wouldn’t be able to visit Europe. We compromised: if we were going to India, we could also go to an African country, but only if it was in the north. And now we were sitting in the heat, wondering why we were apparently the only foreigners in the country who weren’t working for the U.N.

The evening, however, brought happy activity. As the sun set, a call to prayer rang out from the local minaret. Families ordered tea and cakes at the local hotel restaurant. Music played on the radio. A wedding party began to sing and dance in the streets against the bullet-ridden walls and bombed mosque domes, reminders of a decade-old war with Ethiopia. Continue reading

Are We Promoting Study Abroad as Tourism?

Recently, a colleague asked me, in reference to students who had already traveled widely – children of expatriate businesspeople; religious students who had completed missionary trips – “How do you convince them to study abroad?”

Similarly, some students offhandedly tell me, when I ask them why they don’t study abroad, “I want to travel, but maybe I’ll do it later when I have enough money.”

At the heart of those statements lies one assumption: That there is no difference between other types of travel and study abroad. That assumption is understandable. It is also false.

What, in fact, is the difference between other types of travel and study abroad?

There are many answers. “Academics” comes to mind (after all, “study” is in the name).  So does helping “students realize that different cultures have different expectations and value”; in 2006, John Barbour, a professor of religion at St. Olaf College, wrote poignantly about this in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

To wrestle with the moral ambiguity of tourism — and of our educational programs — is vitally important. One outcome of traveling should be to develop an uneasy conscience and a critical self-consciousness about our practices when we go abroad.”

Yet the field of study abroad continues to resemble the field of tourism. Tonight, I opened Instagram and searched for university study abroad offices. I also searched for study abroad program providers. What I found: they were indistinguishable. Where was the necessary wrestling with “moral ambiguity of tourism”? Continue reading

Traveling Without a Passport: The World in Our Backyard.

I have been living in the United States for just over 10 years. That’s 10 consecutive years. In other words, I’ve now lived in the U.S. longer than I’ve lived in any other country (previous record: 8 years in Kenya). Though I happily anticipated my move to California in 2006 to begin my Master’s degree, I fashioned myself a world traveler and California felt stifling. International flights were much costlier than I had ever paid in my globetrotting adult life and road-tripping necessitated owning a car, an object I saw as an anchor. The happiest version of myself included perpetually living around the world with little to hold me or my bank account down.

Recently, I sold my car after putting in over 200,000 miles of fuel-efficient driving to 13 states – the entire West and Southwest – and two countries (Mexico and Canada). What I had seen as an anchor had freed me in a way no airplane ticket could have. There was so much to see that I realized I had been reductive in my earlier views on travel. The world had always been there, waiting for me in a supermarket, a language class, a house of worship, or on the road. All I had to do was look. Continue reading