Skylar Houck

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Chatham University

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International Experience Summary:

Skylar spent two months in the historic town of Boudha, Nepal learning about Buddhism at the Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery. Her Buddhist Studies class was split into four parts: A Western-style lecture session on Buddhist history, lectures from a Buddhist monk on traditional texts, guided meditation sessions with a Buddhist Khenpo, and a twelve-day meditation retreat at the holy site of the Asura Cave. The course allowed Skylar to recognize differences between Western perceptions of Buddhism and traditional Buddhist thought. While studying Buddhist literature and putting her studies into practice, she realized how Western society has morphed the arts of yoga and meditation into something that separates them from their Buddhist roots. In Nepal, Skylar also visited many historical landmarks and Buddhist holy sites such as Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple), Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Namo Buddha, Kopan Monastery, and so much more. Originally knowing nothing about these sites or Buddhism in general, Skylar was able to take a deep dive into the history and importance of the holy landmarks and learn from monks and nuns about what Buddhism means to them. Her studies also enabled Skylar to meet the famous Buddhist figure Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and learn about the cultural formalities of introducing oneself to such a high-ranking teacher. Being in Nepal also made Skylar much more aware of the extent of the poverty plaguing the nation; she would like to implore others to use their privilege to advocate for the homeless street children in developing nations such as Nepal.

Community Engagement Experience Summary:

CEE Title: The Elephant in the Room: Cultural Constructions of Class

The Chatham University 2019 cohort’s CEE, titled “The Elephant in the Room: Cultural Constructions of Class,” focused on issues of poverty and homelessness at home and abroad. Students educated the audience on class issues in Nepal, a developing nation; Spain, a nation of moderate wealth; and Germany, a nation known for being financially stable. Poverty as well as state and local initiatives to overcome poverty in the respective nations were also analyzed. Initiatives ranged from combatting human trafficking in Nepal to funding homeless people’s magazines in Germany. Following these presentations that sought to give the audience a more globalized view of poverty, a guest speaker from the nonprofit First Food and Friends came to speak about more localized poverty issues. He spoke about what financially privileged people could do to help struggling populations, especially during the winter. The most meaningful assistance was said to be food and warm clothing donations as well as volunteerism. The event ended with a privilege walk and subsequent roundtable discussions. The privilege walk activity had participants line up along a starting line and take either a step forward or backwards if the class-related questions applied to them. The people who ended behind the line were less privileged than the ones in front of the line, and by the end of the activity, people stood in various spots, displaying the spectrum of class status. During the roundtable discussions, the CEE facilitators asked questions about how the privilege walk made people feel. Participants also discussed ideas on how to advocate for impoverished people on campus and what we could do to make those individuals feel a stronger sense of belonging.