Tag Archives: masters degree

My Inspiration Wears a Little League Jersey

Well, my master’s classes are in full swing and I’m not exactly off to a fabulous start. Admitting that is hard for me, because I’m a type-A personality who had a 4.0 GPA in undergrad. People warned me that taking online classes can be a lot harder than actually going to class unless you’re extremely organized and on top of things. Generally, I am. But I’m a lot better with paper and pens than I am with a double-password access online classroom with instructions in electronic format in a few different places. Find the library on campus? No problem. Find the library online? Well, now. That is a different story.

So here I am, looking at ten articles that I have to read and use to write a discussion paper and post online for the class to read by… well, by last Sunday. I guess tomorrow’s deadline for the unit meant the unit closes then for further discussion, not that the reflection is due then. That is something really I wish I figured out before today. I guess now that I know, I won’t be making that mistake again.

I’m sitting here with my pen and paper, feeling a little discouraged about my abilities to pull this off. School has always been my strength, and now I don’t feel so sure that I can be good at this online school thing. Besides, everyone else in my cohort has a lot more experience than I do. And let’s not fail to mention the fact that this is University of London, and I’m American. Will I be able to remember to spell “analyzing” as “analysing” with an “s?” Or put my quote marks on the inside of my punctuation? Am I supposed to do ‘ or ” for quotes? Will I get marked down for spelling things American-style?

In the middle of this stream of self-doubt, an image breaks in:

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

These kids are so inspiring. Every afternoon, they come from Dutch, French, and English schools to Player Development Program for further help with reading and math. It’s really hard for a lot of them. Being bilingual or trilingual makes learning to read really, really tough. Some of them are in sixth grade and struggle to read very basic English kid’s books. But they don’t give up, they don’t let embarrassment stop them, and they keep pushing to get better and work up from where they are.

I’ve seen Spanish-speaking kids learn English in two months. I’ve seen kids who struggle with reading and writing spend as long as needed to compose a thank-you letter. I’ve seen kids sit, study, and sound out long words in until they could read the whole book.

To me, writing a short summary of Curious George is not hard. Reading 16 pages doesn’t drain me. Conjugating and pronouncing verbs takes no mental energy. But it does for them, and I would say that they have to work a lot harder to get it right than I’ll have to for my master’s degree. Does it discourage them? Sometimes. Does it deter them? No, it doesn’t.

If a seven-year-old can learn to distinguish vowel names and sounds in French, English, and Spanish, I can learn to use “s” and “u” the British way. If a twelve-year-old can have the courage to learn English as he goes during baseball practice, I can have the courage to post my late work where everyone can see, have a positive, non-defeatist attitude, and do better next time. If a nine-year old can have the humility to do sight-word flash cards in front of his friends, then I can have the humility to admit I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m willing to do what it takes to improve.

You know, the kids at SXM Player Development Program think that they’re learning a lot from me. I guess they are. But I think I’m actually learning more from them. God knew what he was doing when he put me into their world. There’s a lot of determination, courage, and hard work going on at those blue picnic tables. There’s a lot to be inspired and encouraged by. There’s a lot to look at and think, “that’s how I want to be.” I know that if they can work hard and never throw in the towel, so can I.

So I’m going to wipe away these tears of frustration, go back to that online library, and find that PDF e-book that’s hiding from me. I’m going to write my best paper, and I’m going to turn it in even if everyone can see that I’m late. And tomorrow, I’m going to do better. And I’m going to do it with those kids as my inspiration and my encouragement.

First Day of School (Again)

“So, what grade are you in?” the well-meaning youth pastor asked me, intending to invite me to high-school group. Ah, the familiar curse of eternal youthfulness. I smiled and explained that I’m actually in my twenties, swallowing the urge to snidely reply, “Seventeenth.”

Today, I can truly say that I am indeed in seventeenth grade; or, as it is better known, the first year of my master’s degree. Today is my first day of school, and I feel just like I did when I started my first day of kindergarten.

IMG_3499.JPG

Part of the reason that I’m so excited to start school again is that it does not involve any math this time. Can I get a hallelujah? The other part is that I get to study something that I enjoy and that I see as significantly impactful to the world. I’m earning an MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies from the University of London International. The training will equip me to work with refugees, NGOs, and governments to be a part of the solution for people experiencing forced migration.

I don’t have a lot of experience working with refugees (a few days of volunteering at refugee events in Phoenix, a summer in East Africa, and many conversations with friends and family who have been displaced), but I’ve seen enough overseas and in my own hometown to show me the reality of the refugee situation and the great need for more workers in the refugee protection field.

DSC02435
Photo Source: Rwandajournal

 

It’s a hard field in many ways, because you’re working with humans and not hard facts. This is one time when I do think math would be easier, because you either have the right answer or you don’t. Not so when you’re working with refugees. Often their wellbeing depends on what you do, there’s not one right answer when it comes to handling victims of conflict, and it’s often easier to see the right choice in retrospect. Just look at the knots that the Syrian refugee crises has put so many governments into. The U.S. is completely divided on how to handle the potential influx of immigrants. Europe is learning how to accept the change that a new population will bring. NGOs are working to protect people who have nowhere to go, and wicked people are doing everything they can to take advantage of their vulnerability. Somewhere in that mess, there are refugee experts working hard to make sure the displaced people are protected and resettled. It’s messy, it’s painful, and it’s amazing. I want to be in the middle of the chaos and the hurt and be a part of the solution.

I used to always ask God why I was born in a safe, privileged place. Why me, when so many people who are better than I am are born into places of suffering?  I eventually stopped asking Him why and started asking what. I don’t know if we’ll ever come up with an answer as to why God lets some people have more privileged lives than others. But I do think He gives us a very clear answer about what we can do with the opportunities we have. Sometime during my college days at Arizona Christian University, I heard a chapel speaker or a professor talk about pressing into places of pain. And it clicked with me. I can use my relatively painless existence to enter places of pain and suffering and “bring heaven down to places of Hell on earth,” as writer Palmer Chinchen puts it. That’s what I really want to do with my degree. I want to learn how to work at the highest level to alleviate that suffering as quickly as possible. I want to bring the messy warmth of humanity to the coldness of political policy. But most of all, I want to learn how I can enter into someone’s place of suffering and walk with them to the end.

To be honest, I don’t know what that looks like or feels like yet. I’m just sitting here at my kitchen table with my dog at my feet, first online assignment of my first class completed and an empty teacup next to me. I can’t image the realities of the things I’ll be studying over the next few weeks. I can’t picture what my life will look like in ten years when I finally get to get my hands dirty and do some real work with real issues and real people in East Africa. All I know is that for the next two years of my life, I’ll progress in my education, one step at a time, toward that unknown place. All I can do today is the task set in front of me.

It’s the first school day of many.