Monday, July 7, 2014

Day 1: Life is Full of Contradictions

I awoke nervous and excited today as classes were set to begin. Along with my floormates decided to wake up early to avoid the morning rush of students that were headed to breakfast. Unfortunately, this aspiration turned into a disappointment as we were forced to wait in an enormous line before being able to enter our dining commons. This inconvenience however, gave us all an opportunity to be able to express our excitement for beginning our classes. What I enjoyed most from my floormates was the variety of classes that they participated in, which ranged from Social Justice to Physics to Biomedical Sciences. Each individual had different interest but remarkably, we were all able to get along with each other perfectly. We all, through different variations, possessed qualities that connected us as a group. As we ate breakfast we continued to converse about what we each expected to get out of the program and our anticipation for what of our courses would be like.

After breakfast we headed back to the Quad, from where we were supposed to congregate with our respective classes. It was interesting to see the variety of students that I would be getting to know much closer in the coming weeks. Once attendance was taken and everyone was accounted for, we proceeded on our walk to the Social Justice Academy building. Remarkably it was considerably close to the Quad, meaning that in the coming weeks I would have more time in the morning to get ready and eat breakfast.
As we entered the classroom and all sat down, I was treated to an immense shock. Unlike most classes I have been in, Professor Lamas (whom prefers we call him Andy) began the class with a lecture on who possessed the knowledge in a classroom. Contrary to most immediate answers, he began explaining and elaborating upon the fact that students also had knowledge through their own personal experiences and beliefs. In addition, he also related this scenario to a global stage in which in a society, those who posses knowledge are the ones who possess the power and are in charge of the government. However, in some countries those without knowledge manifest those who are below the poverty line and are reliant on the knowledgeable to educate them. After that, he had everyone go up to the large chalkboard at the front of the class to write either a question, phrase or word that we would either enjoy to discuss about or felt great inquiry over, as well as anything we would bring into the Social Justice course. Personally I found this manner of introducing the class very innovative and unique. I have never seen a teacher begin by asking his students, what they wanted to learn about or that instead of just the teacher being an educator, all students in the class also were one as well. The next portion consisted of embodying one's inner force, which involved various meditative and soothing movements called Qi-gong. The concept was to channel ones energy and clear the mind of unnecessary concepts. Through doing this we learned one very interesting aspect of the morning session. "Now" is an idea that is most often associated with the present. However, the definition and the parameters of what "now" can represent are infinite and stretch not only from the present and onward, but everything from the past to the never ending future. As we continued to learn more about the overview of the class, it really made me think of a question Andy posed to us, "what is Justice". That was a question that, for me, culminated a variety of different aspects of life. Justice, as I believe it, revolves around equality, equity and open-minded. Regardless of one's own personal beliefs, one should always be open to others perspectives and points of view and should treat these in the same manner as we would treat our own personal thoughts. Another major issue we covered were different perspectives and interpretations of what contradictions are. For example the quote, "One cannot say of  something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time" (Aristotle), was presented to the class for interpretation. In culmination, we all found this idea to be to restrictive and definitive for the scope of what contradiction encompasses as it specifies that contradictions cannot fathomably exist within the same sentence. As a counter point, Andy introduced us to a quote from Plato in which he went against Aristotle and stated that everything always contains a contradiction. He added upon this by saying "do not make perfect, an enemy of the good". Both statements produced the idea that everything is contradictory. At the end of the session, we concluded by analyzing common themes present in the two readings we had to finish prior to the course, through various YouTube videos. Many of these expressed various concepts that both readings presented but what really surprised me was Andy's teaching method. Instead of sticking to conventional mediums of teaching, such as textbooks or even lectures, he preferred a more hands-on method of teaching which really made the class much more interactive and interesting.
During lunch, I was once again presented with a similar issue from breakfast. There were far to many students resulting in long lines to wait in. To accommodate our disposition, a friend of mine, Carlos Mckight decided upon buying food from a local street vendor. Since arriving in Philadelphia, I had constantly been told about the wide variety of exquisite food selections, but I had yet to be able to try it. Surprisingly, the food we bought was exceptionally good and by far surpassed the standards I had initially set. While we ate I got to know Carlos a little bit more. We both were in the Social Justice course but what really caught my attention was his passion for the subject. He was a firm believer in equality and reducing racial segregation. I learned that he was from Washington D.C and had a profound passion for majoring in Law in the future.
When lunch was over, we gathered once again in the center of the Quad to be escorted once more to our class. For our second session, we began the class with something also very unique. As a class we were divided into eight separate group each headed by one of the teacher's assistants. My TA was named Sara and she was an immigrant from Croatia who had taken Andy's class the previous semester. In our session I was grouped five other students and we began with a few short introductions as to who we were and why we had chosen this course. Many of them presented life stories that had impacted them in a way that caused them to seek to achieve social justice, while others were strong believers in reform and for social equality and equity. As we continued on through our discussion we began talking about the affects of social cliques within high schools and how that essentially manifests into a real-world scenario. The discussion was invigorating with discussion bouncing around the table, everyone presenting their own personal opinions without fear of judgment. After around two hours, we headed back to the class schedule were we were informed of few of the upcoming events. When class ended, we headed over to the local Penn bookstore to pick up three books that we would be reading through out the first part of the three weeks. The selection consisted of a very diverse and multicultural assortment. The first book we would need to finish reading was Earth Democracy by Vandana Shiva with dealt primarily with environmental justice in a sense.
In the evening, we finally had orientation. There they discussed various rules we had already become familiar from our two and a half days of living at Penn. They consisted of the home area boundaries, or rather the are in which we were restricted to moving around, as well as basic behavioral regulations. We were updated in brief of some of the events we could plan to experience in the upcoming weeks. After various speeches from the heads of the program and the leaders of the residential area, we were set free to take a walk along the perimeter of the home area. This was intended so we could learn which areas we could not go to. When the walk concluded, we dispersed into our respective RC's in order to have our first group meeting. At our first session, our RC, Jordan, essentially applauded the bond we had formed between each other. In less than just two days we had developed such a close connection that we were already devising plans for outings, organizing how we could all watch the World Cup finals together on Sunday and devising various means of always being connected with each other. He stated that we were among the best and most united groups out of the program. He told us that we could come to him about any issues that we experienced and that as long as we provided him with our 100%, he would put in 120%. I really like my RC. He is passionate, inspirational and an overall good person. The way he successfully banded a group of ten complete strangers and turned them into the closest of friends in a single day truly astonishes me.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed my first day, it was both educational and a positive foreshadowing of the experiences that are yet to come. I greatly look forward to meeting new people and learning as much as I possibly can from such a brilliant professor.

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