The Middle East is currently not on many Americans’ minds as a destination for tourism. In fact it is more often seen as a place to be avoided. The events of the 20th and 21st centuries continues to suggest—weakly or potently depending on your perspective—that East and West are culturally incompatible, which is why I got incredulous looks when I said I would be studying abroad there and fervent questioning on my safety and family’s opinion on my traveling decisions.
Why did I decide to study abroad in Jordan, whose Northern neighbor, Syria, is currently in a horrible civil war? Stating my major normally answered people’s questions about my study location and dissipated their subconscious questions of my mental faculties, for I am a Peace and Conflict Studies major. Ok, maybe they still thought I was a crazy idealist for wanting to do peacemaking, but they understood why the Middle East. However, this did not explain why I needed to study abroad.
The hope and aim of peacemaking is reconciliation between conflicting persons or groups. Peace ought not to be consider as only the negation of conflict. Peace is not the pause button on war nor the gasp of air before diving into water. To simply stop fighting does not mean the issue of the conflict have actually been settled; it is only in reconciliation that we peel back the actions to the root of why they were carried out. Many times what we find is ugly, for humanity is not a noble species. Our causes are often not just for our actions in war or conflict. Still I press into the messiness of humanity in the hope of reconciliation because isn’t this the promise of my faith? To be reconciled self to God and self to other. Is not God’s history of salvation one bent on the desperate pursuit of the Creator to be reconciled with His creation?
Studying abroad is the act of reconciling oneself to a foreign culture. It causes us to stop and watch, to open ourselves up to new understandings of the world before we begin to embrace the new culture. To not attempt this while traveling is to pass through the country without affecting the locals meaningfully and to not be affected by them in return.
By Schuyler Pals, class of ’17