Hoya Paxa

A New Diplomacy: Engaging and Understanding Culture and Religion

The Berkley Center’s devotion to connecting and understanding nuanced and diverse human experiences through cultural engagement and understanding has been eye-opening. I had never thought to approach diversity in such a way, yet looking back, I cannot see a more appropriate, effective way of fostering communication and camaraderie.

It was during the past two summers in Beirut, Lebanon when I realized the importance of this approach. I travelled to Lebanon to both work and visit family and was greeted with a stark duality: the beauty of a country and its people marred by horrible crises. Yes, my trips were replete with amazing mezze and beautiful beaches. They were also marked by a major refugee crisis and increasing security concerns (which ended up cutting my trip short in 2014). Whether witnessing hastily put-together refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley in northeastern Lebanon or hundreds of refugees camped on the sidewalks throughout Beirut, it was clear that international and domestic mechanisms were failing refugee populations.

This chaos has created a multitude of negative externalities that are affecting the governmental efficacy of Lebanon, strengthening religious fanaticism—particularly in places where social services are scarce—and disallowing future generations the benefits of education, shelter, and normalcy.

After this experience, it became clear a new solution was needed, one the Berkley Center understands as untraditional and independent, one that leverages the center’s unique position to affect change through support and empathy building, all within the lens of culture and religion.

The Doyle Fellowship, for me, is an opportunity to put my ideas and beliefs into action. The center’s resources and connections are invaluable, yet it is the likeminded people who posses the drive and willingness to create bridges of understanding and engagement. The center’s participation in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge is a testament to that commitment. As students, we posses the unique benefit of bridging the relationships of professors and policymakers of today’s generation with the students and youth of tomorrow’s generation. This capacity affords us opportunities to meaningfully engage an important aspect of culture and religion: education. Education has the ability to turn those negative externalities mentioned above into positive ones. The  affectivity of student engagement through education is paramount to both this project and to the propagation of this new kind of diplomacy; I am blessed to be a part of it.

 
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