Month: February 2011

Reflections on the 30 Mosques Project

Aman Ali from 30 mosques

I received an email from Aman Ali, co-founder of the 30 mosques project. He shared the following note from a college sophomore in North Carolina who saw his 30 mosques in 30 days presentation:

“Dear Aman and Bassam:  I attended Aman’s presentation at “X” University the other night to, I must admit, merely fulfill a requirement for a class. I am a lifelong Christian and I hate to say I don’t know much about Islam. To say I was enlightened by your presentation would be an understatement. I was profoundly moved by the experiences you shared with my fellow students, citizens, and me. I hope I get a chance to see one or both of you speak again, because the hour and half I spent hearing about 30 Mosques in 30 Days was absolutely worth failing a quiz the next day. Keep up the good work, and if you haven’t already, I hope you get the chance to visit my hometown, Milwaukee.”

Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq are two young guys who had an idea: Visit 30 mosques in 30 states in 30 days over Ramadan 2010.  They looked for funding, rented a car and mapped out a plan. They made some calls, sent some emails, packed up the car and hit the road. They had no idea what to expect, but were ready for an adventure.

Bassam Tariq presenting in Prague, Czech Republic

I met up with them on day six of their journey, interviewed them and blogged about it. During those thirty days last summer, I checked their blog, daily, to learn more about the people that they were meeting along the way. Aman and Bassam became teachers to me and thousands around the world as they racked up the miles, slept on couches across the country, and broke fast with strangers who quickly became friends. CNN caught wind of their trip and joined them on the road for two days. And when “30 mosques” ended up on the home page of CNN, Aman and Bassam just keep “truckin’ on” in their humble fashion.

I met up again recently with Aman when he presented at a local college (solo on this occasion.) His audience this time was primarily from the campus’ Muslim Student Association.  After his presentation (see a 2 minute clip below), I spoke with some of the young people in the audience. Some had heard about 30 mosques, others had no clue what the project was before that night.  But this audience did have something in common – they were overjoyed to hear a presentation that allowed them to swell with pride. The students were truly astonished by what Aman shared about the history and diversity of Muslims in the United States. Several expressed to me how frustrating it is been to have to regularly defend their religion. Aman’s presentation gave them a reminder that is was okay to feel proud.  It was more than okay – it confirmed that there was much to be proud of! They had been eager for meaningful dialogue that did not include having to defend Islam, and the 30 mosques project provided it.

After a recent 30 mosques presentation in the mid-west (US), I received the following feedback from the the college’s Global Opportunities office:

“It was awesome Missy!  The students, staff and faculty who attended were very touched by their presentation. I’m still reflecting on their experiences and I feel a great sense of hope that I haven’t had in a long time. Some of my colleagues want to keep in touch with them, follow their work and even visit them some day in New York!”

I remembered why I created the Melibee speaking series after meeting Aman and Bassam: It was because I felt inspired by their project and wanted to share it with others.

As an educator that spent many years behind a desk on a college campus, I know how many hours it takes to meet and exceed all of your students’ needs, let alone find motivating speakers that will challenge your students to think about their role in the world AND who will make them want to learn more about a subject.  I wanted to find speakers who would move students (and faculty/staff) to put their smart phones away for 90 minutes because they would be so truly engaged by what they were hearing.

Why? Because they would be inspired. Inspired enough to not care about their email and Facebook for a whole ninety minutes.

As I reflect on the 30 mosques project, I am so grateful to Aman and Bassam for their adventurous spirits, their humble dispositions, their generosity (they will be volunteering for two days at the model UN in NYC), and for reminding me how much young people have to offer to those of us behind a desk each day. This project has offered the gift of inspiration, and it comes through the hearts of two Muslim New Yorkers – two guys who write for a living but took a month off for a really cool road trip. Needless to say, these two were raised by parents who supported their kids’ goals and dreams, one mosque at a time.

Please enjoy this clip of Aman talking about his visit to the mosque in Ross, North Dakota:

Aman Ali from 30 Mosques – 2 minute Presentation from Melibee Global on Vimeo.

Here is more information about their visit to Ross, North Dakota from Day 22 of their 30 day journey.

Aman and Bassam are available to speak from March – July 2010 (in the US and abroad.)  They are also able to present in the NYC area during the week of September 11, 2011. (Note: They are not “9/11 speakers,” as the events of that day are not what sparked them to create 30mosques.) Aman and Bassam are not sure yet if they will present after September 2011. If you’re interested in booking Aman and Bassam for a presentation, please email me at [email protected] or via the contact form.  Other inspiring Melibee speakers can be found here.

Reflections on the Amanda Knox/Meredith Kercher Case (February 2011)

Amanda Knox, Original artwork by Hiroshi Mizuno

Tonight, I watched Lifetime Channel’s version of the Amanda Knox conviction. As an international educator, I felt I needed to watch this movie. As a journalist, I have tried to keep my opinion out of my writing.  I have tried to instead focus on what this case has meant for study abroad.

For study abroad, I believe this case should have meant a huge wake up call.  I am repeatedly surprised by how few of my colleagues agree. I have been told on more than one occasion that our role is simply to inform students that local laws preside. But should our job also include giving them a sense of what the local laws could mean in their lives abroad by providing more specific detail?  Is it our responsibility, morally and ethically, to spend quality time explaining the local laws and illustrating the gaps between local laws and that of the home country? Should we also be communicating with parents/guardians about how we would need to work together with clear action steps during times of crises?

Or do we say “not my job.”

Please let me be clear here:  I am not pointing fingers at anyone in this particular case.  I haven’t contacted Ms. Knox’s home school to ask them what they did/didn’t do.  That isn’t the point. Instead, I am here to raise questions about how we, as professionals, might operate in our field and to encourage discussion.

And this case, in my opinion, deserves a lot more discussion.

What happened to Ms. Knox in Italy is something we should ALL be concerned about.  It should have raised a serious discussion about pre-departure information and emergency planning in study abroad.

Let’s face it – At the end of the day, do you want to be sitting in front of the TV and see Hayden Pannetiere playing one of YOUR study abroad students on Lifetime’s Monday night movie?

I sure don’t.

At this juncture, I can’t share my opinion about what I think happened.  Perhaps in the future, but not at this time. Those who know me as a friend and close colleague do know my feelings about the case and will vouch for me when I do eventually write about it.

For now, I can share this: I strongly believe that our field should be talking about what prevents us from talking with our students, in much more detail, about the realities of what can happen in a different legal system.

So, I’ll ask again: How has your campus changed its policies/processes related to emergency and safety planning as a result of the Amanda Knox case? If the answer is “my campus hasn’t,” what would you like to see your campus do differently?

For those of you who want to answer but are afraid of being “identified,” I will simply say that you can comment on this blog anonymously.  Your name will not appear on my website and I will not know who you are, nor will any of our readers.

I invite your feedback.  In fact, I crave a hearty discussion about this case.  I challenge you to have one with me.

(NOTE:  I am referring to the question above – How has your campus changed its policies/processes related to emergency and safety planning as a result of the Amanda Knox case? If the answer is “my campus hasn’t,” what would you like to see your campus do differently? I am NOT asking you to have a hearty discussion about whether or not Amanda Knox killed Meredith Kercher.  She was convicted of doing so and the case is under appeal.  If you want to debate her guilt or innocence, this is NOT the site to do so at – there are plenty of other sites for that, so please visit them instead.)

In closing, I wish peace to all of those involved in this horrific case.  Needless to say, may Meredith Kercher, a reportedly delightful young woman from England who was studying abroad in Italy and brutally murdered, rest in peace.

New Zealand Earthquake and Study Abroad

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the South Island of New Zealand in the early afternoon, local time.

Ideally, you will have an established and practiced emergency plan in place that you can follow. If you do, your phones are ringing and your emails are zipping across the world as you read this, and you should feel confident in your ability to handle this crisis.

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Melibee Global Update

Coming up on Melibee Global:

* Part 2 of Carrie Wagner's interview. Carrie is the author of Village Wisdom. (Here is part 1 for those who haven't seen it yet.)

* Commentary on the Amanda Knox case. A controversial movie about the case will air on Monday, February 21st on Lifetime channel in the US. It will also be followed by a documentary about the case. I'll once again explore how this impacts study abroad.

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Update on Colby College China Issue

In my original post about the alleged incident in Colby's faculty led program to China, I had mentioned that would report back once I had a reply to my message to Colby College's President's office. Yesterday, after calling again, I received a call back from Sally Baker, Vice President and Secretary of the College, who is handling press requests regarding the alleged incident in China.

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“Vlog” Video Blog 1: Feedback on Colby College in China

This past week, I received several emails about the Colby College incident in China and therefore want to share the dialogue that took place ‘behind the scenes’ at Melibee.

This is the first time I’m “vlogging,” so please let me know if this format should be used periodically. Apologizes for the “extreme close up” also! When I filmed it, there was a lot more space around my head. (Ah, technology – I am learning, slowly but surely!)

UPDATE/CORRECTION (February 17, 2011):  Per Brian Whalen, the Forum’s Incident Database Project would capture incidents of significance of this type, but none have been reported so far. The Forum will issue an annual report at the end of the summer, but they are in the process of collecting monthly data and continue to sign up institutions and programs that are reporting.  The report will be issued on an annual basis.

Interview with Carrie Wagner, Author of Village Wisdom (Part 1)

I didn't realize, until I met Carrie Wagner to interview her about her book "Village Wisdom: Immersed in Uganda, Inspired by Job, Changed for Life," that I have been following Carrie's international career for nearly two decades. While Carrie was in Uganda, I was a graduate intern in Lugano, Switzerland along with Carrie's childhood friend, Bonnie. Bonnie would receive Carrie's letters and would share stories about her friend's time in Uganda with Habitat for Humanity International.

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Colby Study Abroad Professor Resigns After Alleged Inappropriate Behavior

Tenured Professor of Economics at Colby College (USA), Philip H. Brown, resigned in late January 2011 after evidence surfaced that he had taken semi-nude photos of at least one female study abroad student. He allegedly took the photos via a hidden bathroom camera while on a "Jan Plan" winter session course in China. The study abroad students had been blogging from a shared lap top during the trip and accidentally discovered the photos after losing a blog posting and searching for it in the computer's "garbage bin."

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Spirituality Abroad: One Man’s Journey

Traveling for the purpose of spiritual enlightenment is a long-established rite of passage for many young people. During the height of the hippie movement in the 1960s and 1970s, young American travelers often voyaged East through Europe to India and other countries, seeking spiritual enlightenment and answers to their questions. Often their search included using illicit drugs and experimenting in unique ways, but all had one attribute in common – they were seeking their "truth." They wanted to, as Henry David Thoreau once said (and the Dead Poets Society repeated), “suck the marrow out of life.”

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Children, Cairo and Connecticut – Eight Years Later

The year was 2003 and I was working at the world's largest international relocation company. At the time it was called Cendant Mobility - today it is called Cartus. I had left a career in international education to pursue one in international relocation and human resource consulting, but as a native New Yorker, I was still reeling from 9/11, wondering what could I do to make this planet we temporarily occupy a more understanding and caring place.

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