Out of the Classroom, Still in Missoula (and loving it)

In High School, I studied abroad in Peru for a month of the summer of 2012. The experience was breathtaking. I learned more Spanish in a single month than I ever could have in the classroom, my understanding of other cultures and the U.S. expanded and I found greater confidence in myself. I joined GLI three years ago because I wanted to study abroad again. The essence of a study abroad experience is in its challenge to understand another culture and foreign environment and so I couldn’t imagine discovering that kind of experience here in the United States, let alone Missoula. And yet, I chose to fulfill my Out of Classroom experience right here in Missoula and feel that I have learned more about the world and myself than expected. I am working with Congolese refugees relocated here last September, helping them direct their own short films under the New Neighbors Project. This month two of those refugee directed films and the feature-length documentary of the project as a whole premieres (check the New Neighbors Project Facebook page or website, newneighborsmedia.org, for details) at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival!

The experience has pushed me to grow emotionally and professionally. Working within the nuances of a different cultural mindset requires an open heart, forgiveness and patience. Working with trauma requires empathy, but clear boundaries. My technical skills have improved and I’ve gained confidence in my abilities after working with a team of established filmmakers. I feel equipped to address my global theme, Social Inequality and Human Rights, beyond the scope of the New Neighbors Project. My challenge against Social Inequality and Human Rights is to think globally and act locally. I can see the positive impact this project is having on the refugee crisis and I see positive changes for the Missoula community. I met once a week with one of the directors to talk film and help with the camera, but I also helped him develop his English, practice driving (he passed the driver’s ed test on the first try!) and explore the city and community of Missoula. In this exchange I’ve acquired the tangible skills of some Swahili and French conversation and the recipes for ugali and sweet breads. Most importantly I’ve learned how to navigate the tricky ground of mistranslated conversations, informed consent and transparency in how to admit failure and celebrate success.

I want to encourage other students to complete their Out of the Classroom experience here in Missoula. The refugees need a lot of help and resources, but the call to action has seen an increase in programs and projects (like New Neighbors) that is strengthening our community and pushing us all to grow as a support network. This project has a huge production team and works closely with multiple organizations in Missoula to provide a well-rounded support network to the refugees. I am confident that there is just as much effort put towards other global issues like Climate Change and poverty at the local level here. After all, there are more than 1,200 registered local non-profits in Missoula. The director I work most closely with told me the other day that “Missoula is my home now”. I cannot express how strongly his words affect me. I am proud of Missoula and feel strength in this community to tackle global issues, one day at a time.

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