27 May 2017: Knights Impact sailing for home

I can’t believe it’s almost over! Today has been a mellow day—luckily, because tomorrow morning will be a bit of a rush. We had Fathom cohort meetings in the morning where we learned about the total impact of our activities this past week and the overall total since Fathom started sailing last April. That was exciting. It’s easy to feel like one person can only do so much, but seeing the totals tells you that the effect of all those small individual efforts is cumulative in a powerful way. The only big question mark is the future of Fathom.

My students had lots of comments and opinions about Fathom’s marketing and decision-making when we got together for our final MGA cohort meeting just a couple of hours ago. I had prepared some traditional reflection questions—“what did you learn,” etc.—and got good answers to those, as expected, but also a more freewheeling discussion. Students know other students; they understand how to reach their peers and what’s needed to create student buy-in. They gave me detailed feedback about where they felt Fathom had fallen short and about what I and my colleagues could do to keep Knights Impact successful and growing. I have my marching orders for the fall semester for sure!

As for the impact travel experience, they were most impressed by the openness and welcoming attitude of the Dominican people. That topic came up over and over again in our discussion. Yesterday I told someone I met (a faculty member at another university) that I like to have a grand unifying theory of everything. My grand unifying theory about my students’ experience in the DR is that it’s all too easy to fear and mistrust the wider world. Because so many of them are working hard and spreading themselves thin to meet daily needs and advance their goals, having resources (of any kind) left over to extend to others can be difficult. And because Americans do tend to be very private (at least by Dominican standards), it’s unsurprising that they’d assume everyone is similar. As a private person, I was hesitant to enter strangers’ homes, not because I was afraid but because doing so felt disrespectful. I tried not to gawk around, take tons of pictures, or wander from room to room uninvited. Some of my fellow travelers did not share that approach; some also (I learned from the students today) were frank to the point of insult about the neighborhoods where we were working in Puerto Plata—that is, the word “ghetto” was used. One student said she’d never have gone into those neighborhoods if she’d had to decide to do so based on the feedback from some of the people we talked to. But the residents were willing to invite us in, let us use their bathrooms, share the fruit they’d grown, and work next to us (Fathom value: alongsidedness!) to improve their lives. And luckily my student is methodical about trying everything for herself and making up her own mind. I am glad they are learning about the diversity of the world and, just as importantly, about its openness. Learning to be careful is good but it can turn into a kind of paranoia if you are constantly told to be careful but never exposed to anything new to be careful about. Finding out firsthand that it is possible to be too careful, then, is a great lesson.

At the end of the meeting, the students were sweet enough to thank me for organizing the program and giving them the opportunity, but I told them to give themselves the credit. I’m an experienced traveler now; I grew up believing that travel was possible and desirable for me; I flew on a plane for the first time at 9 months, spent 3 weeks away from home when I was 13 and loved it, and went overseas for the first time at 22. I didn’t go through what some of them are going through now, getting their first taste of travel after (in some cases) nearly 3 decades of life and a background that never encouraged them to go far from home. Just boarding the ship is a breakthrough for them in a way that no travel has ever quite been for me.

The end of our meeting signaled the end of our official activities. The students probably went off for an afternoon beverage and I am having a “mango fizz” (mango juice, ginger ale, lime, and mint: delicious, try one) in my favorite spot, the Crow’s Nest. I need to pack my bag but I’m waiting till after dinner when my cabin will be cooler.

By this time tomorrow we will be almost back to Macon. Is it possible?


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