Monday, July 21, 2014

Day 15: "The Beginning of the End"

Well the countdown has officially begun. Everyday that passes is another day closer to departure day and the end to such a life changing experience. It will be hard to leave UPenn behind, not only because of the amazing friends I have made here, but also because of the environment that frames my social justice class. Passion is infused into every lesson and everyone possess the same dedication to learning. Contrary to the atmosphere at my school, I am able to speak my mind and express my opinions without fear of being reproached. These are aspects of the class that I will greatly miss, but hope to be able to integrate in some way into my school when I return.

Shifting focus back onto to my actual day. The morning session was particularly interesting considering we were once again expanding the boundaries of a traditional learning experience. Prepared for us were discussions over four major topics that are prominent in the current society: Labor, Education, Environment and Journalism/ Feminism. Out of the these four subjects, we had the ability to attend three that most interested us.

I began with labor, because it something that I find particularly interesting. To enhance our understanding over the subject, we had a guest speaker come in to provide their personal experiences with the issue. Her name was Sadia, and she worked as a server at a restaurant at the Philadelphia airport. She talked about the struggles non-contracted employees face and how easily they can be terminated without a legitimate reason. She also gave examples from her own experiences. As a server, her manager was very short fused and in one occasion he attempted to fire her merely because he was in a bad mood. This was the catalyst for her to integrate into the unionization movement. Sadia explained how she became involved with the organizing group known as POWER. Progressively she became integrated with this organization and it permitted her to be able to unionize her workplace and achieve greater benefits for workers. 

Next on my list was the topic I feel the most passionate about, education. The session began with a brief introduction of Luna, one of the teaching fellows. She described her experiences of her educational background, from a poor elementary school to a prestigious high school and then UPenn. To give back to her roots, she joined the group known as "Teach for America", which takes college students to teach at low income schools. However, the most inspirational exert of the discussion came from Wanda, another teaching fellow. She recounted the hardships she faced growing up poor and attending the worst public schools in all of Philadelphia to making something out of herself and obtaining an education from UPenn. To emphasis her struggles, she described her pre-college experiences, as a nightmare. A victim of systematic oppression, few options laid before her, but she managed to make the most of her situation and achieve a better life. However, she continuously stressed the point that the school system in many ways sets students, who come from low income or colored communities, for failure. This point was really shocking to me as I began to look deeper into every issue that I imagined was wrong with the educational system, not only in California, but also the nation as a whole. As I reflected, I became angered that so many young intellectuals in terrible schools could be restricted from achieving anything great in life merely because of the school they live in.

After, I headed over to the environmental lesson. Headed by Daina, a Maypalm activist, she was a fervent supporter of protection of our ecosystem. She brought up the point of "Environment Justice", which refers to the term of defending the area where we live, work and play. The most intriguing part of the conversation revolved around the issue of the climate crisis. She explained various causes of the shifting temperatures, such as burning oil or coal. The discussion ended with an analysis of pressing climate impacts on our home communities. For me this was manifested in the form of the major drought that has befallen most of California.

The evening session was the highlight of my day. We were privileged to have the guest speaker, Julija Zubac, whom was a student of Andy and a UPenn alumni. She was a teacher from Los Angeles, so I was able to establish a connection with her as she had experience with the California school system. Her discussion was centered around student movements in education. In order to emphasis the point of youth participation in educational movements, she gave us examples from all over the world, where students were taking a stand to fight for their educational rights. Amongst these were Santiago, Chile and Rome, Italy where the educational system is much more rigid compared to that of the U.S. It really dawned upon me the issue of education in modern society. We are expected to become the generation that will lead the world to greater things, yet we are not given the tools to prepare us for such an environment. Only those who posses money are able to obtain the skills necessary to prosper, regardless of their qualifications.

In the evening, we were gathered together to attend a brief informational session hosted by the dean of admissions for undergraduates. For me this was an priceless opportunity. He began the discussion by explaining that he could not give us an accurate representation of a student who was guaranteed admittance into UPenn. However, he did explain a lot about how to choose a school that would accurately fit us. Rather base our options on prestige, we should focus our efforts to finding a school that fit in with our style of learning and living. For example, a student born and raised in a rural area, might find it hard to attend school in an urban area. It all depends on personal preference, but regardless the school must fit us. In addition to that, he explained that the best trick for writing college essays, was finding something in particular that interested you about the school and that caused you to have a strong interest in it. The key was to be original and unique as no two students would apply for identical reasons. I found his insight to the college ambiance and the college application process very helpful as soon I will have to begin applying to schools.

Overall this day was very inspiring and eye-opening. Being the first day of my last week here, it felt like it really set the tone for the days that are to come. That regardless of the fact that our time here is running short, each day will continue to inspire and alter who I am and how I think until the very end.

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