Learned lesson: never underestimate things in Missoula.

Arusa Panyakotkaew, Professional Fellow in Civic Engagement Exchange Program

As titled in the subject, I had the first lesson from the morning walk from Comfort Inn to the Mansfield Center: WEAR ENOUGH LAYERS TO KEEP WARM IN WINDY AND DARK LATE-SEVEN-A.M. MORNING! It was obvious that many of us underestimated the morning weather, so we did not bring scarf, had and gloves with us. This is probably because we never get to be outside this early, and that we thought that our bodies had already adjusted to the local weather. In fact, we have not, and this clearly revealed that we underestimated Missoula’s Fall. Well, at least, it is very true to Amm, Candy and me.

Today, the fellow friends and I gathered together at the Mansfield Center to check-in and share experiences during the past few days of their uniquely customized fellowship program, and of course, to attend the lectures! Having heard the stories through their lens — of how much they have been enthused about the work of the people whom they have met is refreshing and energizing. I am certain that the lesson learned will be integrated to our work to benefit the communities in our home countries in one way or another.

After the check-in session, I felt as if we were brought back to school with the three lectures about U.S. Government and its political components, fundraising, and American cultural values. They sound simple, and could be boring like other general foundmental subjects. However, the speakers including Dr. Muste, Ms. Hay Patrick, and Dr. Shearer were successful in keeping all of us engaged throughout lectures. What I have observed — and it is what I really like — is the style of teaching that encourages us to question, and share our experiences prior to and during our fellowship program here.

My favorite part of the day turned out to be the lecture on American cultural values which I found less attractive at first. The session started with Dr. Shearer asking us to list what we know about America prior to our visit. 30 different items were listed ranged from mundane thing as fast food to the great political ideology like democracy. After that, Dr. Shearer presented to us his list, which I must say, is very well conceptualized. He terms it "Markers of U.S. Culture and Society" which include "collective identity" and "personal choice". I was literally struck by the way this lecture was constructed. It was very critical, but simplified at the same time.

I am particularly interested in how "land" — as one of the markers — is conceptualized as "collective identity." Dr. Shearer gave an example of how the federal government reserves certain area in the U.S. for, what they call, recreational purposes, to create the sense of ownership among the U.S. citizens. Though I am sure if we had more time for the session, we would be able to discuss further about how this marker of collective identity have excluded access to lands among the native Americans. The concept of land grabbing in my home country, or termed in the way that I was familiar with when I was in graduate school studying Sociology and Anthropology is "state territorialization." Whatever the term might be, the fact that I tend view it in a negative light, rather than seeing it as shared identity might be because such incidents in the country mostly led to exclusion of less privileged groups of population to serve the purpose of the more privileged groups of population. However, my claim is just very general idea, and there are details from cases to cases.

Given such reflection, the lecture is very reflective. Until now, I am still thinking about those terms, and feeling like digging into papers in order to understand more about the idea of land as collective identity in the U.S. (I have learned interesting points to prep myself for the meeting with the representatives from the federated tribal nation!) Having said that, I meant to say that I underestimated this lecture, about American cultural values which turned out to be thought-provoking and a good foundation for future knowledge acquisition.

Tomorrow, I will keep myself warm enough to get through the windy cold morning walk to campus. I will also open my mind and be wide awake in learning from whatever will be delivered in the lecture!


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