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Friday, January 7, 2011

As I Organize Files

Friday evening and still I sit in my campus office. Nicole is going out with her co-workers after they punch out, so no hurry to get back to the apartment. Today I finished grading research papers and then took some time to put files in order. In the process, I realized that I have amassed a decent amount of research data during my first four months in Beirut. Margaret (my colleague back at my home institution in the U.S.) and I have taught our linked writing courses and assembled electronic datbases of the literacy narratives/profiles our students wrote--we already have one lecture scheduled to discuss the research, so the analysis of that student work starts immediately. Also, I've observed about 36 hours of Night School, the student-run literacy program, and interviewed all but six of the student-volunteers who teach the courses. I've also interviewed the administrator who directs the Civic Engagement initiative and gathered various in-house and public documents (audits, articles, etc.) connected to the service learning atmosphere here. I've gathered mission statements of sixteen student organizations that have as part or all of their mission doing volunteer, advocacy, or activist work. In the coming months, I plan to continue observing Night School, interview the remaining student-teachers, gather the rest of the organization mission statements and talk to the respective leaders of those groups about their work, and continue trying to understanding the culture of civic engagement on this campus. One of the themes that has been especially interesting, so far, has been the complicated and ambivalent attitudes of students toward sectarianism. Some of the service work and advocacy that happens here is relatively independent of party or sect, but much has some connection to broader Lebanese politics (e.g., a student organization sponsored by a political party). By looking at mission statements and other documents and talking to as many people as possible, I'm trying to understand these issues.

Last night, the family of another one of Nicole's co-workers invited us to a very nice dinner party at their home in Babda, a suburb of Beirut. We had a great time and appreciate the hospitality and warmth that is ubiquitous in Lebanon. I don't think we ate dinner until well after 10:00, which is not uncommon for such gatherings.

Tomorrow, Nicole and I are spending our first day tutoring kids from one of the refugee camps in town who are preparing for SATs. We're both hoping to learn more about the Palestinian situation in the country; what we've learned so far has been quite distressing.

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