Wednesday, April 1, 2009


So I promise this one will be short!

I feel so blessed to be surrounded by friends and family that have supported me from day one in this adventure. I can not say thank you enough to those who have been by my side from the get-go; those who have donated both financially and given me advice for this project. I also feel like the St Jerome’s University and community do so much to help make this project a feasible option for us. It is so obvious that Scott, Joanne, Elyse and Lisa are constantly striving to ensure that each of us have the best experience we can by preparing us 8 months in advance of the big move. They have been such a wonderful support to all of us. I see such sincerity in their involvement in the program, which is something not often found on a university campus.

So THANKYOU to everyone who has helped me prepare for my experience in Botswana. This includes all my fellow BB’ers, Joanne, Scott, Elyse, Lisa, Mary-Bee, Marie-Eve, Wagma, everyone who donated to SJU on my behalf (this couldn’t have been possible without you guys!), my friends, professors and anyone else who I’m forgetting. Also, thanks to my parents who have been more than supportive. This experience has been an emotional ride for them and I am very lucky to know they have my back in this whole thing. Even though my Mom is more than worried about my trip, she continues to stand by my side and encourage my involvement with Beyond Borders. I truly feel fortunate for being accepted into this program and being able to share my experiences thus far with you all.

Good luck to everyone on their move and I look forward to hearing your stories at reintegration!


Matt Fox

Criticisms/Recommendations (or lack there of)

I really don’t have much to criticize about the Beyond Borders program or any recommendations I could make, but I feel like this blog will be beneficial for anyone who is considering the Beyond Borders program.

There’s no doubt that there were frustrations over the 8 months. Things come up, as they do in any program, where we might have received conflicting information, or where instructions and timelines weren’t given in the best way. Also, many people found the cost of Beyond Borders to be a burden... and rightly so; having to pay to be involved in a program that is going to involve loosing 4 months of full-time paid work, paying for vaccines and physicals and insurance, etc, is a big issue for students. Trying to fundraise the additional $2000 can feel very overwhelming!

However, with the above being mentioned, I sincerely recommend that none of those things be changed. Each of these struggles and frustrations that we felt in the program, I think, served a much greater purpose than to simply be annoying at the time.

Some of the logistics in the Beyond Borders program could be tidied up a bit, but the fact is that when we make our move to our developing country, things are likely going to be 10 times more disorganized and chaotic. If we were to have these 8 months perfectly planned out and structured, we would all go into shock after our first week volunteering. Moreover, in life, we can’t expect every instruction to be neatly typed, folded and handed over to us; sometimes we need to learn how to take initiative for doing our own research and problem solving.

Not to be rude, but I feel like we all need to refrain from complaining about the cost of the program and fundraising. At the end of the day, it is important for us to recognize that St. Jerome’s University has subsidized an enormous amount of money to make the Beyond Borders program much more affordable. To do this sort of adventure independently, you would be spending upwards of $7000, so I think spending $1200 + fundraising is something we should be celebrating...not criticizing. I also feel that in our society, spending money on something adds value to it. It’s natural to appreciate and take care of something better if you have put your own money, blood, sweat and tears into it than if it was handed out to you. The fundraising aspect gives you a reason to get out and broadcast what you’re doing to family and friends. Honestly, if it weren’t for this aspect, there are at least 50 people that wouldn’t have known I was even doing this, and hence, I wouldn’t have affected them in any positive way. (going back to my blog about being the change you want to see and the ripple effect)

My only advice and recommendation really goes out to anyone who is interested in doing the Beyond Borders Program. The importance of going into the program with an open mind is something I can not stress enough. You need to be able to love the program for both its strengths and weaknesses, and be able to learn from each. You need to be aware that you don’t know everything and if you just let yourself, there is so much to be learned. This comes largely from the ability to take advantage of every opportunity you see that might help you try/learn something new, no matter how small or insignificant. You also need to let yourself be a little vulnerable and open up to others in the program; they will be your best support as you work your way through the 8 months. And lastly, be prepared that the program comes with a financial responsibility on your part. I included this point because I feel it is important, but I would like to stress that this should not be the make-or-break point of joining. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often. 10 years down the road you are not going to remember spending $2000 to be in the BB program, but you most certainly will remember all of the amazing times and lessons you learned!

Last 8 Months: Reflection

If you look on the Beyond Borders website, you will find on the Program Requirements page the term Intellectual Training. This portion of the program is where “Participants receive academic and practical training to prepare them for their immersion experience, to facilitate mutual relations locally, and to help participants reflect on their term abroad”. Probably due to lack of space and time, this description doesn’t come CLOSE to describing what this component is all about. I will try to sum up the strengths and benefits that come with our intellectual training in a list of things I have learned from/I am thankful for/I loved about – my “intellectual training”:

1. Diversity is sweet! Through BB, I had the chance to meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests. Since the courses were designed in an “open-mic” manner where everyone was encouraged to speak their mind, share their doubts, mention concerns and discuss world issues, class was just as much about learning the ‘material’ as it was about bonding with each other. UW is a huge school with hundreds of different programs and it is so easy to stick to the faculty and friends you already have. Without BB, my path would have never crossed with many of the others in the class. With our differences, I feel like our discussions were that much more relevant. We all have a goal of putting our education to a responsible use, however our reasons, opinions, challenges, fears, etc are shaped by our individual interests, experiences and more, making the opportunity to learn something that much more available.

2. Authentic approach to Education. Being introduced to Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed and his philosophies on education has been life changing. Reading this novel has had an impact on many of the other participants in the Beyond Borders program as well; we often joke about our new-found ability to connect everything back to Freire. The more significant part, though, is that I feel both Scott and Joanne worked hard to implement Freire’s “authentic approach” to education in how the BB courses were structured. In the Fall 2008 course, I recall talking about Freire and not grasping its significance. Once I began to compare my BB class to some of my other courses, however, the consequence of Friere’s teachings continued to shine week after week. From this, I have learned the value of a professor who is dedicated to three things: their field of expertise, sharing their knowledge, and most importantly, helping students (through dialogue and demonstrating an appreciation for the student) get excited and motivated to actively understand the material. Out of ANY course I have taken, including a “Math in Education” course, the lessons I have learned from Scott and Joanne have taught me more about the teacher I want to be in the future and the way I want to run my classes. They have taught me the importance of dialogue and communication between the teacher and student. I have applied Friere’s methodologies while tutoring this term and the results have been amazing for both my students and me. I have learned that Freire is relevant to all subjects including math, and it has re-ignited my desire for a future in education!

3. Service Learning at its Best. The second course in the BB program is structured very differently from any other university class that I know of. Its main premise was for us to take the theory and material that we had learned in the previous course and be able to see it in the works in our community. It not only taught me the importance of taking responsibility for my community and how I can play a part in the development of social programs, but I also learned about reflection, which is an important skill I lacked previously.To be honest, at the beginning of this course, I was more than sceptical of the design. While I was excited to volunteer at TWC, I didn’t expect to see our ‘ethics teachings’ in practice. Also, I was definitely dreading this whole blogging thing. Now, three months later, I have found a new appreciation for reflection and critical analysis of the world around me. Besides the fact that I hate my writing abilities and even find my self dosing off while trying to edit my posts, blogging has really encouraged me to think about things and draw connections between theory, reality, my opinions, things I read and see and hear. At the beginning of the term, I was looking for things to blog about, but soon I found things coming to me to be analyzed... things I might otherwise have just looked over and quickly dismissed. In my opinion, this is exactly what service-learning is all about and what makes it such an effective tool in education. It forces you to actively learn as well as question/challenge theory and “the way it really is”. I am grateful for being a part of this program as it has challenged me to think outside the mathematical mindset where everything has a solution, relationships can be formulated and the future can be predicted. While I haven’t perfected it yet, I am now realizing that not everything is cause --> effect --> solution --> solved.

And so it ends! ... well sort of

As this term moves into its final stage with the last day of lectures and final exams, I find myself dealing with emotions of severe bitter-sweetness. While I couldn’t be more excited to finish exams, get myself to Pearson International, catch all my connecting flights and finally arrive in Botswana, this last week also marks the end of the Beyond Border campus courses/hangouts. I could go on and on about all of my excitements and anticipations for the next 4 months, but I’d like to leave this blog to discuss the significance that the last 8 months have had on my life.

It seems rather surprising to me that 8 months of school could really have such an impact on many aspects of my life including personal philosophies, goals, friendships, motivations and more. I feel that the combination of the Ethics course I took last term with the Justice, Peace and Development course this term has been the most meaningful pair of courses I have taken in university thus far (and probably will ever take).

In an attempt to keep this blog from getting too long and boring, I have split it into 3 sections: one outlining the most influential parts of the past 8 months, one part on criticisms/recommendations, and I’ll finish with a “Thank-you” blog, recognizing those who have supported my journey and development.

So thanks to everyone for reading and commenting along the way – especially to those who might have challenged what I wrote or encouraged me to look at the given topic in a new light. Also, the next time I blog, it will be from Botswana – so please keep reading and watching for photos!

Peace all,