As I headed back to Ecuador I felt overcome by all the inevitable worries and hesitations that come with international travel. Was I personally prepared enough and, more importantly, had I properly prepared the group I was taking? How would this experience be different from the last time, and what do I do if it’s worse? Do I have my passport? To ease any anxiety about these questions we can skip to the end of the program, and I’ll go ahead and tell you it was incredibly successful. Okay, now time to go back to the beginning.
To lead an Alternative Service Experience (ASE), one must go through a multi-faceted leadership training. This training does several things: it educates the participants on a variety of social justice issues, teaches us how to lead successful and meaningful reflections, and acts as guidance as we plan an entire program for participating students. Most notably, these training classes substantially impacted the way I viewed service and a variety of social justice issues. I can remember reading the article “To Hell with Good Intentions” for homework for class. Following this reading, in true ASE fashion, we discussed and reflected on the article. There were varying opinions on the dialogue, but the overall consensus was that our intentions, while pure, did not mask the ugly fact that our acts of service can have a negative impact on the very communities we hope to help. Prior to this class I had heard of the topic of the article, the White Savior Complex, but I had never discussed it with such intensity. I left this conversation feeling defeated. I remember raising the questions, so what do we do? How do we help when it feels like our help can only hurt? The ASE class and the time I spent on my program truly provided clarity to this question. I realized that while intentions have some validity, the goodwill of intentions does not mitigate the impact it has. But these intentions do provide a basis for beginning the process of helping. Intentions propel participants forward to create positive change, and with the proper education and right intentions it is possible to work with a community and create a positive impact.
As a global studies major I intend to work abroad or with people of different cultures, and ASE has shown me ways to do so in a non-harmful way. The topics of White Savior Complex and Intent versus Impact are discussed in many of my global studies classes as my peers and I seek to help the global community. While ASE does not provide answers to every question, it creates a space for dialogue, understanding, and growth which can then be implemented into my classes. ASE has served to further confirm my decision to work with the international community. I feel empowered to create effective change, and to do so through a noninvasive method. I am excited for the base ASE has given me as I head into the next phase of my education and into my career.
As I reflect back on my involvement with ASE, I am incredibly thankful for the lessons, love, and friendships I have acquired during my time. From Emily, my co-leader, who has pushed me intellectually and provided me with an incredible friendship, to the growth I have received from our classes, I am incredibly thankful for all the benefits ASE has afforded me. As I transition from college to whatever comes next, the system of thinking, learning, and exploring that I learned from ASE will help with my transition to becoming an active citizen.