Alexandra Scalise

International Experience Country:
Cohort Year:
Home Institution:

Washington & Jefferson College

Heinz Programming Area:
International Experience Summary:

As a Vira Heinz Scholarship recipient, Alexandra traveled to Berlin, Germany for 6.5 weeks. Throughout her trip, Alexandra took courses that engaged in German history, politics, and the language. These classes not only helped her better understand the language, but also took her through a timeline of Germany’s very rich history. In this course, she visited the many museums and memorials that the city had to offer while learning how German citizens remember their past. These museums weren't ones that just had her read information, but rather had her understanding what it felt like to be in Germany during the given time periods. Her main interest and final project during her stay revolved around the former East German culture, politics, and history with a focus on how the country remembers it today. She studied the tactics of the former Soviet government, while looking at it from a former East German point of view. To do this, she used the first hand resources around her. For example, she visited many museums that gave an insight on the past by showing artifacts and real life accounts and interviewed people who were citizens themselves. These citizens were everyday citizens she could sit in the park with and talk to. This is where most of her experiences in Germany stemmed from. This, in turn, helped her to establish new connections and learn about Germany from a new standpoint. Alex also had the opportunity to visit popular sites such as the parliament building, a former Stasi prison, one of Europe’s largest synagogues, and one of Europe’s oldest Jewish cemeteries. During her visit at the synagogue, she engaged in a conversation with a holocaust victim and had the opportunity to attend a Jewish service. Here she learned of a firsthand account from the tragic past and the consequences today as the victim poured his heart out. These sites gave her a real life feeling of the past. In her free time, she enjoyed traveling through the city on the U-bahn while simply watching how an everyday German went about his or her life. She also took advantage of trying new foods on every street corner. Alex lived with three German families in an apartment building, a popular lifestyle in Germany known as “shared housing” or “flat share.” Here she ate dinner with them almost every night and shared many evenings speaking only German with their seven year old daughter. She even learned how to make potato bug families with her while speaking solely in German. Alex was able to grasp an understanding of what it means to be a “Berliner,” attain her goal of having casual conversations in German, and form many bonds with family and friends. 

Community Engagement Experience Summary:

CEE Title: Shatter the Silence: A Human Library on Sexual Assault

At the end of November 2017, the Washington & Jefferson cohort consisting of Alexandra Scalise, Danielle Shellgren, and Tara O'Toole, held an event that discussed sexual assault on their campus. They labeled this event, "Shatter the Silence: A Human Library on Sexual Assault." This event was meant to step away from the statistics of sexual assault and really present the victims and their stories. The concept of the human library was to share survivors' stories. During the CEE, the members of the cohort designed it so that it had a relaxed environment filled with support. First, there were ten letters presented to the audience around the room. These letters were handwritten and told the stories of the survivors who decided to share their stories. Next, there were three speakers who spoke to the crowd about their experiences, one of which was a member of the cohort herself. The idea was to battle against the silence that hangs over W&J. Nobody wants to speak about sexual assault or even acknowledge it. Another aspect that was worked into the event was a section where clothes were hung to represent the items of clothing worn by the victims during their sexual assault experience. These clothes had a powerful voice in their own because the victims were able to point them out and tell people what they were wearing at the exact moment they were taken advantage of. After the speakers spoke and the letters were read, there was an option for the audience to reflect on what they had heard and read. There were five pieces of paper on each table that had questions about sexual assault written on them. Here, people were able to have a supportive discussion about sexual assault and reflect on the event itself. Students began to develop ideas on how to shatter the silence even more and empower the women affected. There also stood a table where students could write supportive letters or notes to the victims to let them know that they are supported and they are being thought of. This CEE was a chance for the students to engage in the topic in a way never before seen on the campus. Many students even stopped at the advocates against sexual assault table to learn how to become an advocate. In conclusion, the audience was motivated to raise awareness against sexual assault both on campus, and globally.