Morgan Mahdavi

JE 2007

Kalamazoo College 2014

Morgan MahdaviMorgan Mahdavi is Program Coordinator for the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. She is a 2014 graduate of Kalamazoo, where she earned a B.A. in Anthropology and Sociology. While at Kalamazoo, Morgan participated in the Philadelphia study-away program at the Philadelphia Center. There, she interned at Project HOME, whose mission is to empower individuals to break the cycle of homelessness through affordable housing, education, employment, and health care. In 2012, while studying abroad at the University of Nairobi in Kenya,she partnered with the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy (KGSA), a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged young women by providing free secondary education, artistic programming, and athletic opportunities. At KGSA, Morgan taught a sex education course and conducted an independent research project on the effects of such education in helping young Kenyan girls living in poverty stay in school. Pursuing her interest in youth health education, Morgan worked with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo in their SMART Girls program. The program provides health and life skills to young girls ages 6-16; Morgan's work focused on teen dating violence prevention programming.

 ”It’s hard to pin-point the exact moment that ignited my spirit for adventure. There were so many factors along that way that contributed: I know having the multi-cultural parents I do and growing up in such a socially conscious community definitely laid the ground work. But when I really reflect back, at least in terms of my conscious spirit, I can confidently say it began with Journey East. Prior to tenth grade, I had notions of the larger world and had been fortunate enough  to have traveled to some faraway places--including France and the Dominican Republic--at  a young age.  Journey East, however, was more than just a cultural awakening for me. It was an educational revolution, an exposure to a new form of learning and living. I have always struggled in the classroom; I'd had a hard time sitting for hours on end and taking notes during lectures;  I struggle with memorization and have recently discovered that I may be mildly dyslexic which creates and has created a tremendous obstacle. Journey East is very similar to the experiential education model of education, which has provided me with some of the most important and influential experiences of my life. The hands-on, interactive, collaborative nature of Journey East allowed me to grow in ways I have been unable to develop in the strict, standard setting. Whether it was in Production Workshop at L&G or playing soccer with students at a school in Chongqing, I was introduced to a myriad of new possibilities for growth and improvement. And the most amazing thing for me as a 16 year old was that I didn’t hate learning this way. Over the course of our time in China and the whole Journey East experience, I got a taste of what it felt like to be learning in an engaging and rewarding way. At the same time, China exposed me to some of the hard injustices of the world. I saw inequality, poverty, disease and neglect in ways that made my heart tired and my eyes hurt. I remember at one high school we visited, a girl who’d name I can’t even remember now, gave me her necklace saying it was the only one she had, that her mother has given it to her before she passed and that she wanted me to have it so I wouldn’t forget her. This stung, that I had been afforded so much, to tour her country and live in a fantasy world for a month while she was giving me the one piece of jewelry she owned in a gesture that six years later, no longer has a face or name. My experience in China also awoke my thirst for social justice and a more equal world.

Since 2007, I have been fortunate enough to continue on this path, jumping from opportunity to experience to adventure back home, all the while growing and expanding in a constant quest for new knowledge and the fight for equality. Journey East directly fed into my next experience as it was recommended to me by a Journey East alum and Tom wrote my recommendation letter. In 2009, I once branched from the traditional educational path and went to Ladakh, India for the final semester of my high school career with the program Vermont Intercultural Semesters (VIS). My experience in Ladakh was one of the happiest in my life and once again reminded me the value of questioning the educational norm and the importance of finding what works best for me. In both VIS and Journey East, I did my final project about education in that country I visited which has continued to be a theme in my life in pursuit of social justice.

After the eye-opening experiences with both VIS and Journey East, I decided before college that it was time for me to take some time off of school. I went to live in Senegal for seven months and volunteer in a medical center for street children. My experience in Senegal, coupled with my decision to pursue a degree in Anthropology and Sociology with a concentration in African Studies at Kalamazoo College as well as my 6 month study abroad experience early this year, have lead me to, what I hope, the path of developmental work in Sub-Saharan Africa. Just before I wrote this, I bought my plane ticket back to Senegal for a month this summer with the money granted to me and a friend by National Geographic to return to do a photojournalism piece on the street children we worked with. It is amazing to me the opportunities and possibilities that have been opened to me through the networks and friends I have made through my travels. My life sometimes feels like it’s spiraling off into space, away from what is expected of me or from what all my friends are doing. I have chosen to pursue a more mobile, less stable path, at least for the next few years and I couldn’t be more excited. With each new experience, each new place, new person, new memory, my spirit of adventure grows bigger and hungrier, that spark that was ignited during Journey East has grown into a full flame and continues to push me to do new things and reach new limits. I can sincerely say that if it were not for Journey East, I would not be where I am today, physically and mentally. I think Journey East is an absolutely crucial opportunity for high school students.”