What I Learned On My Service And Justice Experience

What I Learned On My Service And Justice Experience

How being the "token freshman" is shaping my college experience.

I go to college only about 45 minutes from home. If I want to see my family, I can. So, when my first fall break came around I took the opportunity to go somewhere a little farther away for a change.

During freshman orientation, I heard that Villanova has "Service and Justice Experiences" over fall break through Campus Ministry. Figuring "why not?" I applied without putting too much thought into it. I told my mom I was applying, but that my chances of being chosen weren't great so I would probably be home for break anyway.

Luckily for me, only a few weeks later I received a cryptic, gif-infested email which informed me I was selected for a SJE, and I needed to go to the first meeting to learn the location of my endeavor and to "awkwardly bond while sitting around in a circle." When I attended that first meeting, I had little clue what a huge impact this trip would have on my first semester.

Just like that, I learned I was going on an international service trip to Costa Rica - and it was only a few weeks away!

I was the only freshman in the group, and am honestly still getting use to college as a whole. However, I just sort of jumped in feet first, and definitely didn't regret that decision!

Over fall break, myself and fourteen others ventured to Mastatal, Costa Rica in partnership with Ecoteach, an organization which provides students with hands-on conservation opportunities in the rainforest. We lived on a sustainable ranch called Rancho Mastatal, where we were able to learn about permaculture, natural building, fermentation and other practices integral to a sustainable lifestyle.

The bounty of knowledge and experiences I gained in just one week was incredible. The most impactful facet of the entire endeavor, however, was definitely the people.

There we several different groups of people I got to know throughout the experience, and each gave me a little more perspective into myself.

First, were the people of the ranch. Rancho Mastatal hosts a number of people from all over the world each year who wish to gain insight into what it means to live a permaculture lifestyle - one in which land and people coexist in a mutually-beneficial relationship. Some stay for a year, some for three months, and others dedicate their lives to this project. In doing so, they bestow a wealth of knowledge in each and every person who comes to volunteer. Each night before dinner, they all join hands and give thanks for each success of the day. These people are not indulgent, but rather endlessly give to their environment, yet they still take time each and every day to be thankful for the positives.

The people of Mastatal had much to teach as well. Mastatal is a small rural community in Costa Rica, just seven miles from the Pacific Coast. With only about a hundred and fifty inhabitants, the people of Mastatal have an extremely close bond, both with their environment and one another.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay with a host family for two days of my trip, getting an opportunity to practice my nonexistent Spanish skills and to immerse myself in the rich culture. The people of the community had a lot to teach, for I found they were content with everything they had and didn't need much to be happy.

At one point, our guides Marcos and Jenny were asked where their dream home would be, and they stated that they already live in it - a mindset that greatly reflects the people of the region.

Finally, the other Villanovans with whom I embarked on this journey had a lot to teach me as a well. As the only freshman, and the only person who was new to the college experience, I got a chance to glimpse the future, as well as make new friends I never would have met otherwise.

Thanks to my Service and Justice Experience, I was able to meet people who I know will continue to shape my college experience, both from near and from afar.

Cover Image Credit: Emily Scheuring

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I Visited The "Shameless" Houses And Here's Why You Shouldn't

Glamorizing a less-than-ideal way to live.

After five hours of driving, hearing the GPS say "Turn right onto South Homan Avenue" was a blessing. My eyes peeled to the side of the road, viciously looking for what I have been driving so long for, when finally, I see it: the house from Shameless.

Shameless is a hit TV show produced by Showtime. It takes place in modern-day Southside, Chicago. The plot, while straying at times, largely revolves around the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. While a majority of the show is filmed offsite in a studio in Los Angeles, many outside scenes are filmed in Southside and the houses of the Gallagher's and side-characters are very much based on real houses.

We walked down the street, stopped in front of the two houses, took pictures and admired seeing the house in real life. It was a surreal experience and I felt out-of-place like I didn't belong there. As we prepared to leave (and see other spots from the show), a man came strolling down on his bicycle and asked how we were doing.

"Great! How are you?"

It fell silent as the man stopped in front of the Gallagher house, opened the gate, parked his bike and entered his home. We left a donation on his front porch, got back to the car and took off.

As we took the drive to downtown Chicago, something didn't sit right with me. While it was exciting to have this experience, I began to feel a sense of guilt or wrongdoing. After discussing it with my friends, I came to a sudden realization: No one should visit the "Gallagher" house.

The plot largely revolves the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. It represents what Southside is like for so many residents. While TV shows always dramatize reality, I realized coming to this house was an exploitation of their conditions. It's entertaining to see Frank's shenanigans on TV, the emotional roller coasters characters endure and the outlandish things they have to do to survive. I didn't come here to help better their conditions, immerse myself in what their reality is or even for the donation I left: I came here for my entertainment.

Southside, Chicago is notoriously dangerous. The thefts, murders and other crimes committed on the show are not a far-fetched fantasy for many of the residents, it's a brutal reality. It's a scary way to live. Besides the Milkovich home, all the houses typically seen by tourists are occupied by homeowners. It's not a corporation or a small museum -- it's their actual property. I don't know how many visitors these homes get per day, week, month or year. Still, these homeowners have to see frequent visitors at any hour of the day, interfering with their lives. In my view, coming to their homes and taking pictures of them is a silent way of glamorizing the cycle of poverty. It's a silent way of saying we find joy in their almost unlivable conditions.

The conceit of the show is not the issue. TV shows have a way of romanticizing very negative things all the time. The issue at hand is that several visitors are privileged enough to live in a higher quality of life.

I myself experienced the desire and excitement to see the houses. I came for the experience but left with a lesson. I understand that tourism will continue to the homes of these individuals and I am aware that my grievances may not be shared with everyone -- however, I think it's important to take a step back and think about if this were your life. Would you want hundreds, potentially thousands, of people coming to your house? Would you want people to find entertainment in your lifestyle, good and bad?

I understand the experience, excitement, and fun the trip can be. While I recommend skipping the houses altogether and just head downtown, it's most important to remember to be respectful to those very individuals whose lives have been affected so deeply by Shameless.

Cover Image Credit: itsfilmedthere.com

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Space Force Or Space Ploy?

What if the the announcement to create a sixth branch of the US Military is a powerful ploy.


The US President Trump announced recently his decision to create a sixth branch of the military and hinted at calling it "…Space Force…" adding that "...it is vital that our military maintains its dominance and competitive advantage in that domain..." Ultimately the president's order on Monday seemingly mandates the Pentagon to begin drawing up plans for this new branch, though a Congressional vote is required to make it official. "Establishing a service branch requires congressional action…" as noted by Rep. Michael R. Turner who chairs for the House of armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces.

Let us not forget back in 2007, China demonstrated their Anti-Satellite (ASAT) system by destroying one of their own aging weather satellites. The United States could not ignore the implications and realization of it’s space assets vulnerabilities.It is arguable that with China’s established space program Strategic Support Force (SSF) in 2015, tasked with space and cyber operations could be a major cause to this shift in the United States. But, let us not also forget that in 2015, the U.S. Congress passed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which allows United States citizens to own space and asteroid resources as private property. What happens if these legally purchased and or owned sections of space are threatened? There must be a governing body to protect these interstellar investments.

But, is this recent and boastful act but the president a clever economical ploy from a noted clever business man? While the world is in estranged toil, China arming up and buying up natural resources like there is no tomorrow and angry over recent declaration of new sanctions; Russia is in a Cold War with the USA, again; The Middle East still isn't really all that fixed, who would have guessed that; and North Korean still at a standstill though things seem to be leaning towards the positive. Could this not be a cleaver ploy to divert the world's attention? Perhaps postponing a all out conflict, in traditional since. In creating a sixth branch of the military and pushing it forward in full swing it's not hard to believe that the rest of the world's major players would fall-suite right quick.

In doing so it would create a massive space race, the likes of which no one has ever seen. Who will control the space around our planet! This recent announcement may very well send the world into a different kind of war. As countries begin to pool their warfare resources towards their space programs and defense. Depleting their resources and man power, ultimately straining their economies, diverting them from possible trade war or open war here on the ground. But who knows. Arguments and turmoil over what exactly the Space Force is expected to do are likely going to be part of political debate for decades to come. All we know for sure is that even though President Donald Trump says he is creating a sixth branch of the military he needs congress to vote it in. Only time will tell as we move forward in the coming months.

Cover Image Credit: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JqshWc3vcPg

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