Questions, questions, questions: the more I think the less I know

As those of you who are following this blog are aware of by now, our course is essentially a reaction to the current voluntourism industry and the harms that it perpetuates. In light of this, we are trying to approach our experiences in a critical and self-aware way. I believe that our group does have a heightened sense of self-awareness that is evident throughout this blog, and I am consistently grateful for the support of my classmates throughout my experiences.

That said, there is a persistent question at the back of my mind – is it enough? What is the use of self-reflexivity if, at the end of the day, we are still engaging in short term volunteer placements that realistically require qualifications that most of us do not have? Is our group different than the average voluntourism group, in any tangible way? Vaila’s blog post addresses some of the questions, and it’s been very helpful to talk through these issues with her and everyone else, although I am still unsure of where I stand. Speaking solely for myself, I can say that my preparations at home were insufficient for my placement, despite seeming adequate before we arrived. Even with only a few days remaining in my placement, I am still not a teacher and no amount of self-reflection will make me one. Perhaps, as Vaila suggests in her blog, I am still able to fill a niche need simply by being an English speaker, and perhaps I am being helpful. However, I’ll probably never know the ripple effects of my actions. Maybe I’ll have only changed myself – I’m certainly learning a lot here. This is an often cited benefit voluntourism – personal growth of the volunteer. However, this doesn’t sit well with me – is it fair of me to depend upon others for my own self-edification when I am purportedly here to help others?

Beyond these questions, I am also wondering how to gauge whether our self-reflection is effective enough. Before arriving, we discussed potential “blind spots” that we all possess due to our cultural upbringing and our identity as cultural beings. Again, I am endlessly grateful for my classmates for reminding me of these blind spots. But what of those blind spots that are so deeply engrained that we, as a group, miss them entirely? How do we know what actions and reactions are appropriate and not, given our short time here? And how can we effectively foster cultural exchange, given cultural and linguistic barriers?

We are getting to a point in the class where I had expected to be finding more answers. However, as each day goes by I am simply left with more and more questions and the more I think the less I know. In class, we’ve discussed sitting in unknowing – asking questions and letting them go unanswered, rather than jumping to conclusions. So here I am, sitting in the unknown – its not a comfortable place be, but I’m trying it out.

-Claire

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