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It arrived in a plain-looking envelope.
I had no idea what the envelope held or whether or not it was important. When I opened it, though, I was surprised to find my very first passport, dark blue and just a little smaller than my hand. I yelped in excitement. With this passport, I would travel to South Africa, a trip I hoped would shape the rest of my life.
I traveled to South Africa this summer as part of LSA Professor Nesha Haniff’s Pedagogy of Action Program, where we visited three cities: Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. There, my professor, other students, and I talked to a number of different communities about HIV and AIDS, using a module—basically a simplified lecture—that people could take and use to explain HIV and AIDS to their family, friends, and coworkers. Sharing the module with community members was a process of constant adjustment because many of the community members had had different experiences with people who have or have had HIV or AIDS, all of which seemed to have made a lasting impression on them.
Almost every week we changed locations, and in each new city it felt like we were starting over again. But in each new place I was learning to trust not only that I could effectively share our message, but also that the community would take something useful from our time together.
Trust became very important to me. During my trip, one quote from the Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire kept going through my mind: “They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the indispensible precondition for revolutionary change.” I had to trust myself to be open to everything this experience had to offer—learning everything I could from my time teaching and from talking to the people my professor had connections with in South Africa.
I also experienced many different forms of art in South Africa, particularly dance. Our group created and participated in multiple dance pieces as a way to thank our South African partners. Learning and participating in dance took discipline, but it also pushed me to see the beauty in movement and collaboration. And I saw these same qualities in the city of Johannesburg.
Now that I have returned home, I recognize the changes that occurred within me. I learned so much about myself, I think more critically, and I am open to appreciating—and trusting—communities that I have never been in before. Just as importantly, I know how to responsibly engage with a community that is not my own. As I return to the life of a busy college student, I still take time to slow down, to reflect, and to really get to know the people around me.
Every so often I look at my passport and think of how it started my long walk to freedom.
A second-year student at U-M, Candice Miller is a student leader in the Michigan Community Scholars Program. She is from River Rouge, Michigan.