The Big Questions

Ana Gvozdic - Ecuador


September 3, 2016

There was one idea that really stood out to me as I was listening to the opening speech by Abby Falik, the CEO and Founder of Global Citizen Year, during our Pre-Departure training in the Redwoods Alliance, California. She told us about her interpretation of the New Year’s resolutions. Every year she finds a question, which she explores during the year. I found this really intriguing and thought that it would be great to have questions in mind while entering my bridge year. However, I knew that there would be no sense in trying to come up with something on the spot. As our Pre-Departure Training went on, we moved to Stanford University, where we had the privilege of listening to many influential speakers such as Premal Shah, the co-founder of Kiva, or Jennifer Dulski, the president of Change.org. We talked about the importance of listening to the stories of others and understanding the difference between actions that feel good vs those that do “real good” when it comes to international development (followed by a very interesting discussion about Toms shoes and their controversial influence on the African continent). We also contemplated our responsibility in the world. All of these sessions lead to two big questions I want to carry on with me during my bridge year.

The first question has to do with my ability to validate, and not just understand, other people’s ways of living. I have learned quite some time ago how important it is to look at many different factors, such as the historical context, the economic situation and the culture, when meeting people and trying to understand them, whether it is for analyzing the causes of poverty in a society or something as “small” as understanding why some people really like carrying their country’s flag. Although I could understand the people to the best of my ability by reading about their culture, talking with them and actively participating in their everyday life, I cannot perfectly satisfy myself with this understanding that I gain because I know that when it comes to values and beliefs, which I hold closely to my heart, I still consider my opinion to be the better one. For an example, I am aware of the fact that certain aspects of the Bosnian culture are sexist, and I can understand where that sexism comes from and how it is reinforced; however, I still get annoyed when I hear sexist remarks, notice sexist behavior or simply feel the pressure to adhere to gender roles. This reaction obviously comes from my belief that my feminist opinion is the better one, and even though I understand the other opinions, I do not approve of them or consider them valid. This, to me, seems to be a major problem and an obstacle in building a better world, and I think it is also apparent in the current political events such as the USA elections or Brexit, where many of the issues, in my opinion, arise from the gap between the “educated elite” and those who are actually suffering the most. I would like to reach a point where I do not just understand, but also accept the coexistence of different views and opinions, though it feels so difficult when I notice that someone’s opinions perpetuate sexism, racism, nationalism and many other –isms that hurt so many people in the world, including my loved ones. The reason why I think gaining this ability would be so crucial is because it seems to me that as long as people are so distant, convinced that their truth is the only right truth, that their way of living is the only right way of living, the only one leading to a better world – we won’t be able to reach that better world. As long as we are trying to convince the others to live our way, we won’t be getting far. As long as we speak from a higher position, we won’t be creating a just world. This is why I really like the idea of an immersion program like Global Citizen Year for which my gut feeling tells me that once I enter my host community and establish connections with the people, I won’t be able to just understand their worldview, but I will also manage to love them – including the parts of their identity I do not agree with – and hopefully validate what they are and what they stand for. I am not really sure how this will actually lead to better outcomes in a tangible sense (and if I knew I wouldn’t really need to go to Ecuador, right?), but I definitely want to try it out – and I will keep you updated!

The second question that I want to take with me is the question of my responsibility in the world. I have already started thinking about this a lot as I was choosing my career plans while applying for universities, and I have noticed a major struggle within me. Although I am very passionate about reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, more specifically in terms of the educational system, which in my opinion is a continuation of the war through different means, I also know that I am passionate about many other things in more faraway places, e.g. the garment industry in south-east Asia. I blame this internal conflict primarily on UWC, which made even the furthest places of the world very close to my heart. I have already mentioned in my previous post the issue of the “white-savior complex”, which definitely made me look critically at myself and my desire to get involved with some of the issues that I really care about, so now I always try to question the quality of my potential contribution. I have also been thinking a lot about representation of the marginalized people, and how difficult it is to find a line between using your privilege to give someone a voice vs trying to “fight someone else’s battle” and dragging the movement down with your own ignorance. All of these thoughts narrow down to the question of my identity – am I Mostarian, Bosnian, European, a Global Citizen? I often feel like I have a responsibility to go back to Mostar and try to improve the situation there, because I recognize my education both inside and outside of Mostar as a major advantage. On the other hand, my passion for other things makes me want to work in other places and other fields, where I might not necessarily be the local expert, but I wonder if my passion and extensive education would be enough? All of this thinking sometimes makes me question if my responsibility in the world maybe isn’t to try to make it better because I get so scared that I will make it worse as a result of my unskilled attempts. However, I try not to get discouraged too much, and I hope to explore the possibility of an identity of a global citizen during this Global Citizen Year, as well as to examine the role of allies or foreigners in different struggles, their potential contributions or the lack thereof.

Once again, I am incredibly happy about the things that I learned even before the actual immersion part of my bridge year has started. I don’t necessarily think that I will have answers to these questions by the end of my bridge year; however, I think that merely having these questions in mind already makes me more competent consiering my future career aspirations, and simply a better person.

Ana Gvozdic