Goals for Community Engagement in Dispersion – Julianne Esteves ’22

Personally, the usual transition from the summer to the fall semester at Holy Cross has brought about a mix of nerves, excitement, and nostalgia. I would feel nervous as I began challenging courses, excited to reunite the Holy Cross community, and nostalgic to confront the reality that a summer filled with longer days, beautiful weather, and family time has come to an end. The transition from Summer 2020 to Fall 2020 was no exception for these feelings. I found that these feelings were actually magnified, and feelings of sorrow, disappointment, and loneliness surfaced once I found out that I would be remote for the semester. As a Community-Based Learning (CBL) Intern, my proximity to Worcester and my fellow classmates is vitally important, yet would not be possible this semester in the customary ways. Despite having some negative feelings about this different format, I quickly realized that I could not let uncertainties and things beyond my control dictate how I would be present during this distinct semester. I understand that my time at Holy Cross is limited, so I could not let this semester mean any less than the other semesters I have had on campus. In this reflection, I outline some of the goals and hopes I have as I begin my community engagement experiences.  

I was extremely happy to find out that many of the CBL courses would be offered this semester, which meant that virtual classroom reflection sessions would occur and many of the other opportunities within the Donelan Office would be offered. The brand-new Civitas website has been a vital source in helping me find ways to remain active in the Worcester community as well as in my hometown. I encourage current students to check out the Civitas website for ways that they can volunteer or participate in other programs through the Donelan Office.  

Typically, I have volunteered at a different CBL site each semester since I have wanted to learn about as many organizations in Worcester and the various populations of people with whom they are working. For this semester, I am excited to connect with Girl’s CHOICE, a tutoring and mentorship program designed to empower at-risk middle and high school girls to achieve their aspirations. While I may be assisting them with their daily homework assignments, I wish to go beyond this work to form a lasting connection by finding common interests between us and participating in fun activities together. I want to be particularly attentive to and intentional with the girls’ time because I realize that most of their days will be spent at home, on their screens. Thus, I am eager to find other creative ways to build this relationship. There are numerous online games that we could play together, or perhaps we could have our own mini-book club centered around girl’s empowerment to read and reflect upon together. I have a fond love of cooking and baking, so I would love to do a virtual cooking demonstration in which my mentee and I could create something together and share cooking tips and tricks along the way. I am looking forward to our conversations together that could provide both me and the girls with hope during this extremely difficult time. 

Beyond Girl’s CHOICE, I am eager to take advantage of the numerous other opportunities within the Donelan Office, the Office for Multicultural Education, and the Chaplains’ Office. Often when I am on campus, I can only devote time to one community partner, and my days are quickly filled with coursework, meetings, and extracurriculars. However, now with some newfound time being at home, I would like to participate in a new array of programs or other activities organized by numerous communities. For example, I would love to participate in a virtual 10,000 step challenge hosted by the Nativity School of Worcester. It is important to realize that many of these organizations are serving communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and perhaps now is the time I apply for a Marshall Grant to be able to support an organization that needs additional resources to help them through this transition. 

As students learning how to be people for and with others, it is our responsibility to answer that call now more than ever. Fulfilling that call might take some hard work, some discomfort, or even some mistakes. But, I hope that beyond those feelings of doubt or discomfort, meaningful relationships, small moments of joy, and a hope-filled attitude may arise. As I move forward with the rest of the semester and begin my community engagement, I hold on to this quote by Joan Chittister, OSB: “A life of value is not a series of great things well done; it is a series of small things consciously done.” 

“Community Engagement in Amman, Jordan,” Emma Davison ’21

Despite months of planning and my seemingly confident disposition at the time, my heart was racing as my plane landed in Jordan this past fall. The uncertainty of what was to come was both invigorating and terrifying. Seeking a greater sense of calm, I found comfort in gratitude as I recognized that the opportunities I sought for so long were suddenly the moments I was living. 

My life in the Shmeisani neighborhood of Amman stood in what felt like complete contrast to my home life. A different language, different food, different media, different traditions. The unfamiliarity of my surroundings complimented my curious nature and I was filled with questions. As my fascinations mounted, I became acutely aware of how brief my time in Amman would truly be. A semester in this country would in no way make every intricacy of the culture clear, and so I sought relationships and experiences that would extend beyond my limited time. 

Jordanians are welcoming to a degree I have never experienced. It seemed as though every friend of my host family, shop owner, taxi driver, or stranger sitting across from me in the University cafeteria so quickly offered to host me for maqluba (a traditional dish that I never grew tired of). Invitations were sincere and always followed up on until I found myself at someone new’s dinner table, a new friend to endure my many questions. One friendship I am particularly grateful for is the one I made through the community engagement component of my program. After deciding to be an English language tutor for a student at the University of Jordan, I was partnered with Heba Fawwaz. 

Heba lives in a neighborhood of Amman that is walking distance from the one I stayed in. She is twenty-one as well, the oldest of eight children, and responsible for everything I know about pop culture in Jordan. My community engagement activity was deeply reciprocal; I helped Heba with her English coursework and she corrected the countless Arabic grammar mistakes I would make in my explanations. The two of us hit it off and began finding time to meet outside of our scheduled two-hour lessons. I met Heba’s friends, we explored parts of the city I had yet to uncover, and she invited me into her home to meet her many siblings on a night she was tasked with babysitting. Each time we met I had endless new questions about her life in Amman, and she matched my curiosity with questions about America. Her main outlet into American culture prior to our friendship, I found, was watching the show Friends in secret (her father didn’t approve of its content). 

Heba and I live quite different realities and hold different beliefs on a number of things. At the same time, we were both twenty-one-year-old girls living in the same city for this brief semester. The opportunity to build a friendship such as ours was rare and we worked to understand one another and revel in what made us different. We traded family recipes, favorite movies, and fashion advice. She would ask about the different braids I wore in my hair and I would ask about each new patterned fabric of her hijab. We often discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as Heba’s family is ethnically Palestinian, and I got a deeper look into the complexity of the relgious and cultural implications of the situation. She asked me about Christianity, and I was able to explain what the Jesuit tradition has meant in my life. 

My friendship with Heba is something that lasts beyond my semester abroad. I believe experiential learning should be cyclical and reciprocal: I approached our friendship knowing all I was taught in the Community Based Learning office, in Pax Christi meetings, and in Holy Cross courses. I, now, carry all that I experienced through my new friendship with me and am able to bring this experience back to Holy Cross. Heba’s and my shared love for hearing about the other’s lived experiences made our friendship so full and, in turn, we each have an entirely new understanding of what it means to be a twenty-one year old girl today.