We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
By Virginia Cady
Communications and Social Media Intern
On Wednesday our volunteers met with Kate Otto, founder of Everyday Ambassadors, in a special webinar (https://sas.elluminate.com/site/external/jwsdetect/playback.jnlp?psid=2013-05-22.0942.M.E120731C32DD1D0064B2B72F0D61CE.vcr&sid=2011454) on effective blog writing to assist them in documenting their experiences abroad this summer. Kate gave tips corresponding to the four different kinds of blog posts our volunteers will be writing: pre-departure, first in-country, second in-country and post-trip.
For the pre-departure post Otto emphasized the need for focus. As she pointed out, people don’t have enough time or attention to read through every reason why you want to go on a trip. If you pick one reason and focus on that your readers are much more likely to absorb what you have to say, and it’s a good way to undergo some personal reflection as well. Take a minute to write down all the reasons you’re going on this trip, and then choose the one you think is most important. Who knows you might be surprised by what that reason ends up being!
For the first in-country post, Otto noted that humility is crucial. When you first go abroad, or anywhere new for that matter, it is very easy to focus on the bad, what’s wrong in the community. This leads to a desire to fix everything as if no work has been done. However this is not realistic. You are not the first volunteer in this place and you most certainly won’t be the last. Therefore a level of respect for the volunteers who have come before you and the people dealing with these problems on a daily basis is a must. As AUA Director Ben Orbach noted, you must know your own limits and respect the local leaders in order to obtain an understanding for the situation of the community you are in. After all as the saying goes, you can never truly understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes.
In the second in-country post Otto stressed the need for empathy. She encouraged our volunteers to delve deep into the thoughts of the people they will interact with. Key questions are what do the people in the community really think about you and your work? Otto said that putting yourself in their shoes enables you to write more clearly in order to avoid accidentally misrepresenting what you want to convey about your experiences. She gave a good example; think of it this way, if someone was writing about you and the struggles in your daily life and community, how would you want to be portrayed?
Lastly, in the post-trip post Otto acknowledged the need for patience on two levels. The first level is patience with yourself, you will not understand everything about your trip right away, it may take months or even years to grasp the significance or meaning of an experience or conversation. On the other hand, you must be patient with others who did not go on the trip with you when you describe your experiences to them. Often it is difficult to convey the significance of something, assuming those you are talking to are willing to listen to you talk about your trip beyond the pictures and basic descriptions. As someone who has experienced this difficulty, I can guarantee that you may not even realize the significance of an experience you had until you talk with others about your trip.
Overall, Otto conveyed the need to present your blog posts as parts of a story. Include information about details and relationships. Describe conversations or experiences, not just your impressions. And above all, remember that as an unofficial ambassador it is your job not only to help people abroad, but to communicate with people back home about your experiences once you return. After all, what’s the point of going on a trip if you don’t talk about it once you return? Sharing is caring, and our volunteers are going to have a lot to share!