Karim Khamisa, a third-year standing political science student, writes about how the Alternative Spring Break program is helping him understand the different cultures and struggles of people around the world.

My name is Karim Khamisa, and I am a third-year standing political science major from Edmonton, AB. This year I am participating the in the ASB Mexico trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico.

In my first year, I met an upper year student who worked for the SEO and informed me of the ASB opportunities on our campus. They assisted me in getting my application completed and submitted. I was selected that year to be a team lead for the ASB Ottawa trip where we visited an elementary school that had a large population of non-Canadian students. We did arts and crafts with them in hopes of assisting them in building an identity that would help them find their place within the Canadian Society; a foundation that would tell them it is okay to be different and that Canada has an accepting, not just tolerating, culture. I was really excited with the opportunity since I was active with many volunteering opportunities back home but now found myself in an environment where I knew almost no one or any of the opportunities and possibilities that were available for Carleton University students.

Something I have not done in my life yet is volunteer my time abroad. I have done a little traveling and sightseeing in a few different countries, but that is the extent of my international experience.  A concept that has recently been coming to the forefront of international conversations is the idea of a global citizen- a citizen of the world. Globalization is making the world a smaller place and the individual is gaining more power to be able to institute widespread change. However, one needs to be knowledgeable about the world in order to understand what kind of change one wants to make. It is experiences like the ASB program that facilitates the creation of global citizens while at the same time creating change.

The most challenging aspect of the ASB program is, in my opinion, being able to become a follower. Arguably anyone participating in the ASB program is a community leader, but, in the words of Aristotle, “he who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” It is too easy to enter a less privileged environment and tell them how you are going to help them. But because we aren’t from that region, we have not experienced the pure challenges of the area that need addressing. For this reason we must ask them what it is they need and submit ourselves to following their lead in accomplishing their goals.

The aspect of the program that excites me the most is being able to challenge my cultural competency. Over my years at Carleton University I have been fortunate enough to gain experience around the idea of cultural competence, but it has all been based within Canada. Since the concept of cultural competency was introduced to me, I have not been able to travel anywhere to put my cultural competence to the test. I personally believe that one can never call themselves a master in cultural competency as a result of how diverse the world is, but the tools to be aware and accepting of different cultures can be gained and used. The reason this excites me the most is because at our most recent pre-departure session we were shown a video that discussed the idea of a single sided stories. It brought to light the fact that many of the stories we hear regarding different societies are not told by those individuals and often lack information and consideration of the regions they are referring too. Some of the comments made ignited an emotional fire within me that made me do some personal questioning, including how I would be able to handle going somewhere else that I have only read about with an open enough mind to challenge my preexisting judgments of it.

With all that being said, I am eagerly awaiting the next steps of our process including departure and the program debrief once we return.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage everyone that has any interest in volunteering, learning, serving, and/or personally growing, no matter how big or small that inclination might be, to get involved with the ASB program. I can confidently say that it will provide tools that are essential for success in a diverse society – both for individual growth and experience interacting with people of diverse backgrounds.

Submitted by Karim Khamisa, a third-year political science student.

To learn more about Alternative Spring Break, visit carleton.ca/asb


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