Alison Horton, our Mosaic Scholarship winner and BRAC volunteer left for Bangladesh on June 1. She has begun to acclimate to life in Bangladesh and has only just seen what her six weeks abroad will offer her. She will be updating us as time progresses about what she is doing and what she is learning. Here is what she has had to say so far:
In addition to the personal and professional growth I anticipate through this experience, I am also eager to share my experiences back home. In these weeks leading up to my departure, I find myself answering a similar pattern of questions from friends, family, and strangers alike. When mailing out my visa forms, the local post office worker questioned my plans: “Bangladesh? I didn’t even know Americans were allowed there.” My doctor, when administering the immunizations I had requested, asked if I knew the country was Muslim and “may not be kind to American travelers.” People wondered what I would eat, where I would stay, if I would have running water, etc. My grandmother suggested I fill my suitcase with food so that I wouldn’t starve. I have welcomed these conversations, and love sharing my expectations, curiosities, and plans. While attempting to reassure my loved ones that I will stay safe and healthy, I know that it will be upon my return that my words will have the most impact.
This is not to say that I don’t expect obstacles, frustrations, and difficulties while abroad. Undoubtedly, I will struggle with the language barrier. I’m sure I will feel ill from new foods on more than one occasion. At times I will be uncomfortable, homesick, and culture-shocked. But I feel these are small prices to pay for the incredible experiences I will have and people I will meet. I am so eager to connect with the amazing Bangladeshi people, respect and admire them, form lasting relationships, learn from their culture, and report all my glorious experiences back home.
I do not blame my family and friends for being concerned about my well-being this summer, as unfortunate stereotypes and assumptions regarding both the developing world and the Muslim culture are wide-spread and out of control in our society. I just hope that my positive experience can serve as one small force against such hateful assumptions.
It is exactly this sentiment that drew me to the mission of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors (AUA). Founded on the idea that American citizens have the power to improve our relationship with the Muslim world through personal works of service, AUA seeks to support volunteers traveling to Muslim-majority countries. I plan to forge meaningful relationships across deep cultural divides, and do my small part to form connection and understanding across difference. AUA has provided me with the financial resources to make this trip possible, as well as much support in documenting and sharing my experiences through pictures, video, and blogging. I feel very strongly about AUA’s mission, and I am so grateful and honored to serve as an Unofficial Ambassador. I may spend my summer in this monsoon climate sweaty, sunburned, and soaked, and I truly cannot wait!