Why We Went to Costa Rica

McLean County Diversity Project   c/o Jeffrey A. Schwartz   PO Box 58   Downs, IL  61736

All content is © Copyright 2012 McLean County Diversity Project

There is an old rule of etiquette that can be traced all the way back to the 1840's: "never discuss religion or politics in general company". I have found that these kinds of ingrained societal rules may deter most people, but never the Diversity Project.
Three years ago, we broke the first half of this rule when we dove into "The Diversity of Religion".
I suppose it was only a matter of time before we tackled the second half.
Feeling confident in our abilities to calmly and openly discuss sensitive topics, I was shocked at the tension in the room at our first few interactions studying "The Diversity of Politics" this year. Even as a senior veteran scholar, I found myself struggling to keep an open mind.
The problem was not that I was completely ignorant of the issues at hand; the problem was that I thought I already knew enough.
I was familiar with the common stereotypes of each major party, but quickly learned that "politics" was not something that fit neatly into the boxes I had already established.
"Republican""Democrat""Libertarian""Tea Party" - these are not one-size-fits-all labels to be applied, but just a few of the terms that we have become familiar with as we attempt to make sense of the diverse viewpoints and beliefs we each have.
As we experienced at the annual East Bay Camp retreat, even the definition of "politics" is not as clear as we had thought. Our definitions ranged from the very concrete: "allocation of money, power, and resources", to the more abstract: "a discussion of how society should or shouldn't be changed".
This year, we have just begun to understand the integral role of politics in the media, morality, history, religion, education, economics, and so many more facets of our everyday lives. I know that as I move forward, I will continue to explore and question where opinions and ideas about politics come from, because a single year's study is merely the beginning of my growth.
As this project year comes to a close, our final endeavor will present many of the same challenges we have faced throughout the year, while unearthing new ones
Challenges for which we could never fully prepare.
In the same way that we each carried preconceived ideas of what "politics" implied to our interactions this year, we each have a specific mindset as the Project prepares to travel out of the country - for the first time.
Some of us, most of us, are worried about the language barrier. Others may be concerned about trying new foods. Maybe just flying on a plane is enough to put you out of your comfort zone.
Yet this discomfort and uncertainty is exactly what drives us forward, what has always driven us forward.
This trip will be one of the most challenging that we have ever experienced. We will look past what we think we know and expect, instead allowing ourselves to learn from each person we meet and each moment we experience, to better understand others and ourselves .
We are going to Costa Rica to get out of our comfort zones. We will be 3,344 miles from our normal lives and I hope that over the course of the coming seven day trip we feel every bit out of our element. Because, it is in this state that we most acutely feel the joy that comes from forming new friendships and strengthening present ones, understand the relief that comes from being able to easily communicate with one another, and experience sheer amazement as we begin to contemplate how the world can be at once so large and so incredibly small.
We worked hard to understand politics in an effort to break down the social barriers that prevent the type of sharing, collaboration, and understanding that is necessary for moving forward in today's society.
Our trip to Costa Rica is going to break down these barriers on a whole new level as we immerse ourselves in an entirely foreign culture and volunteer to help others we have just met...not to mention, hike up the side of an active volcano.
In the words of our fearless leader, this will be MONGO HUGE.
This will be unforgettable.

- Megan Helms
Senior Veteran Scholar
McLean County Diversity Project

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