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Imagine Africa Field Trip Reflection: Healing & an Unforgettable Experience

couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

I have three words: What. A. Week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There are so many things that I want to blog about but I will stick to my incredible experience at the Imagine Africa Exhibit at the UPenn Museum.  I’ll do it in two parts:

Part I: I really enjoyed the field trip with the high school teenagers—I don’t think the trip would have been the same without them. My favorite part of the museum was the exhibit that allowed us to “create” Africa or, better yet, to reveal the many “stories” of Africa. Aside from the fact that the exhibit was limiting because you could only “imagine” Africa with the images/words/media clips available, I felt empowered. I felt empowered in the sense that I had the ability to determine whether or not I wanted Africa to be described as “beautiful” vs. “Unique” or “Modern” vs. “Rural.” Of course, Africa can embody both components but having a say in what Africa meant to me instead of having someone impose their views on Africa, particularly in education settings, on me was a powerful moment. My group happened to have the word, “healing.” And although, initially, we thought that there was no healing in the world, or very little, seeing the high school sophomores excited at the chance to define Africa and to make meaning out of her history was healing happening right before my eyes.

Part II: Just when I thought the trip could not get any better, I met Christian, the most, and let me stress theeee most, brilliant kid I have ever met in my life. During lunch, I walked in the cafeteria and was greeted by huge stacks of pizza (yum) on a table beside a young, nonchalant-looking boy. I didn't think much of the fact that he was sitting alone beside the stacks of pizza. I figured he was just trying to get first dibs on the pizza—I would have done the same thing had I moved faster through the crowd of hungry Bryn Mawr and high school students. But anyway, after much bustling around to get pizza, napkins, and drinks for Caroline, Jenny and myself, I sat down with them and noticed that the same kid at the pizza table had now moved to our table. He was quiet.  We all said nothing so we ate…quietly. Then it got awkward….so…..”Hey, what’s your name?” I asked. At last I decided it was best to acknowledge him and, plus, my curiosity got the best of me. After many “Huh?”s on my end, I finally understood that his name was Christian.

To make a long story short, I found out, through his therapist (who is from Liberia btw! He shared a lot of great info about Africa’s history with me and Jenny), that Christian is autistic. He explained to me, much of it throughout the course of the day, that autistic children, for the most part, are not social and sometimes have trouble communicating verbally. He also explained to me that in a lot of cases autistic children are incredibly intelligent and Christian was no exception. And so, again, my curiosity got the best of me and I began making conversation with Christian. “What do you like to do?” Where are you from?” “How old are you?” “What are your hobbies?” It didn’t seem like I was asking the right questions because he just stared at me and tried his hardest to answer my questions. But then, after being informed by his therapist, when I asked, “Do you like history?” I had opened up a vault of knowledge and the rest was history—I became attached to Christian.

He told me so much that I didn’t know! The history of Pennsylvania, who William Penn was (yes, I had no clue...haha-.-), the Vietnam War, the geography of Africa and its ethnic make-up,  World War I and II, the Iraq War, Greek history/mythology, Ancient China history—it was endless! My God, he was a walking encyclopedia O.O!

We spent the remainder of the trip together (me, jenny, the therapist) following Christian around as he explored the entire museum and engaging with him at every opportunity. When the day ended, I was extremely bummed not only because my new friendship with both Christian and the gentleman from Liberia was coming to an end but also because I got to thinking about what someone like Christian symbolized in the context of literacy. Although I would like to elaborate on these questions/realizations, I understand that this post is already long enough so here they are:

  1. How can schools or society in general accommodate individuals like Christian who are very knowledgeable but are unable to communicate effectively through literacy? Thus, is there a distinction between knowledge and its tool, literacy? Is one more powerful/important than the other?
  2. The therapist described his commitment to Christian as “trying to get him to become social and to become ‘normal.’” In relation to the ongoing debate about technology/social media in the classroom, is Christian, who spends hours on the computer reading history, a prime example of how technology is an effective tool? Or is he a prime example of how social media interactions, or perhaps too much social media interaction, get in the way of us acquiring knowledge?

I don’t have the answers but I think it would be beneficial to have this discussion in the classroom—perhaps there are groups of people, other than races, that we are not acknowledging when we have these deep debates in the classroom. I feel like we should think outside of ourselves, our discourse or w.e., more when we talk/blog/tweet about relevant issues in the classroom. Until then, I will continue to reflect on this wonderful experience and the gifted teen who will forever remain in my memeory.

P.S. Shout out to Jenny and Caroline for contributing to this experience!:D


alesnick's picture

Thank you

for this wonderful post: so rich in meaning, in connection (relational and scholarly), and appreciation.  Now, a question: what made it easier for you to stretch for these connections than it was to connect with the literacies of the market women Mary spoke of?  Interaction seems key here.

couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

I must have missed this

I must have missed this question before but I can definitely answer it now. Well, imagine that you had not gone to Ghana and I did. Would you be able to connect deeply to the country and its people by hearing my reflection of the trip? I do not think so. Your interaction is limited with the country because you have to go through me to learn about Ghana.

The same applies to Mary's talk. First of all, I think a powerpoint is an ineffective tool for teaching when it is bombarded with so many words and I have to listen to the speaker at the same time. Secondly, I was disconnected because I had no personal context for what she was talking about. I am happy to say that now I do! Although we are talking about two different countries, I saw firsthand how women were experts in the market and I have tangible experiences-- the women making shirts for us, the large number of women in the Dalun market selling items, the women selling items in the roads or on the sidewalk.

I think Mary's lecture would have been great after we came back. I know I would have been excited to listen knowing that I could use observations to contribute to the conversation. So yes, interaction, personal interaction, is key.