Monday, July 11, 2011

Day One of World Religions Class

As I have said before, trying to fall asleep in a foreign environment is not the easiest thing to accomplish. In my opinion, the beds are not uncomfortable and they are nice in size, but attempting to find that perfect spot to fall asleep in is quite a challenge. Not to mention our A/C making quite a fuss with loud clanks and bangs sometime very early in the morning.

Breakfast starts at 8 AM, and our proctor leader likes us to head down together, and eat breakfast together as a way to stay bonded throughout the session. Breakfast was buffet style with potatoes, eggs, and cereals, and some danishes and fruit as well. It’s good to try a little bit of everything so that you can decide what you like and what you don’t like for the rest of the program. I didn’t particularly care too much for the eggs, but the breakfast potatoes were pretty good.

The first block of class (yes there are two sessions of class) starts at 9 AM and lasts until noon. Kye, Julia, and I walked together in our World Religions group, following the Teacher’s Assistant so we wouldn’t get lost. Our professor is Doctor David Dunn, who recently got his PhD. As a way to introduce ourselves, a ball with questions written on them was thrown around the room, and whatever question your right thumb landed on, was the one you had to answer. I had the question of, “if you could add a rule to the 10 Commandments, what would it be?” I pondered for a bit, and replied with the answer “to eat well”. I suppose food was still on my mind after a filling breakfast.

So today in class, we mostly focused on three items. One was the lack of awareness of other cultures. We discussed a somewhat recent incident of a plane that emergency landed, because they suspected a teenage boy of carrying an explosive on the plane, when actually, he was praying with holy scriptures that come in these boxes, and you place one box on your head and one on your arm. Apparently the boy was Jewish, and the religious material he was using was called tefillin. The pilot and crew flipped out and had bomb sniffing dogs, TSA, and more at the plane when it emergency landed.

The second discussion was about extremist religions and non-extremist religions. The class divided into groups, and we headed to a computer lab to research our separate topics. Julia, a friend in my proctor group, and I had the topic of Buddhist monks. We found out that the common perception that Buddhist monks are perfect, non-violent, and vegetarian/animal lovers, was completely false. We researched that monks condemn certain types of violence, but do have some exceptions. For instance, if a Buddhist monk feels that their beliefs are being threatened, they believe it necessary to fight these forces of evil. Also, the act or murder in a certain way, called “liberation”, is also not condemned by Buddhist monks, because they believe they are killing in an act of compassion to free the soul from the demon, have them released of ignorance, and reborn to a higher being. Now, this is not to say that monks go around doing this sort of violence, but it shows that they are not exactly the pacifists, we all believe them to be. We also read an article about monks carrying guns more frequently now, to protect themselves. For years, monks have been attacked, and they feel that carrying guns is necessary as a means of self defense. When this information was published, many readers were outraged by this material. So all in all, our group found out that many refuse to believe in the possibility of a change in the belief of a religion, or that these monk who are supposed to be pacifist religious people, actually aren’t. These Buddhist monks react to violence coming upon them the same way that you or I possibly would. We decided that MOST Buddhist monks are considered not to be extremists. Other sects that were researched were Zionists, the RSS of India, and Aryans. I found all of these topics to be very interesting.

The third discussion was about how propaganda can spread creating negative stereotypes and generalizations about religions. We listened to a broadcast of This American Life on NPR, which focused on the persecution of an American-Muslim family due to the spreading of propaganda in the elementary school system after the 9/11 attack. The school district enforced a book to be read that made false or extreme assumptions and attacks about Muslims and their relationship to Americans. The story was depressing and frustrated all of us in the class that such ignorance could affect that family, and many others, in such a negative way.

After class we have study hall. It lasts for about an hour, and most of the time, teachers will assign homework that can probably be completed in that section. We were assigned reading from a book called The World’s Wisdom, which contains sacred texts of world religions. We read out of the Torah, and our assignment was to write a reflection on the readings.

Now the cool thing about the VSA program is that it’s sort of like a camp, in the sense that they plan many activities for everyone. They have these sessions called Arete, where everyone has an activity assigned to them for the week, like acting, art, juggling, and fencing. I took a jump roping course, which might sound like a mediocre activity, but it was actually pretty entertaining. They brought in some jump roping professionals who taught us the basics. They said by the end of this course that we would be able to do some cool tricks like doing a push-up while double-dutching.

During the hour of free time after the Arete class, Julia, Kye, and I did some laundry. We got a few curious stares from students, since to them, it’s only day one, but for us, it’s day 6.

Dinner was a choice between chicken, quiche, and burgers. I had chicken, potatoes, and a salad (I’m trying to eat a salad once or twice a day to hopefully stay healthy), and an enormous slab of chocolate cake (which kind of contradicts the previous attempt to stay healthy, but at least I’m making some sort of effort).

The absolute best part of the day was this night’s recreational activity. Every night there is a different one that you can sign up for, but for tonight, there was a mandatory scavenger hunt for every house. For you Harry Potter fans, every student can win points for their house just like in Hogwarts. We were given hints to find proctors hidden across the entire campus. We used our combined wits as a proctor group, and just pure luck, with finding the hidden proctors. We received a card, and all cards at the end would be collected, and points will be posted tomorrow morning. Now although this was a fun and creative activity, it would have been better if it wasn’t over a hundred degrees outside, and we were running around to fit the time limit.

The night ended with a proctor meeting, where we talked about tomorrow’s events, as well as musicals, Harry Potter, and our highs and lows of the day. What a great first day!


  1. Aiyana,

    I sure hope someone whips out the camera when you get to doing the one handed push in the middle of the double dutch. I might even pay to watch that one.

    Your class sounds really exciting, Aiyana. This is one of those classes I'd love to take. I'm pretty knowledgeable about different religions and I'm certainly opinionated so the conversation would be lively.

    I'm sure that my imagination is running wild but as I read about Vanderbilt and this program I keep thinking about some youth camp somewhat akin to a disciplinary camp. The facility is walled in; you're not allowed to leave the campus; everything you do is monitored; you're escorted everywhere; everything is structured. All we need are the uniforms and the sadistic guards (proctors).

    As long as you're having a good time and learning, too.

  2. I didn't care too much for the eggs either. One accurate description that I heard in my dining hall was that they looked, felt, and tasted like sponges.

    Did you like the style of "This American Life"? It happens to be one of my favorite podcasts.

    I love reading your blog! Keep having fun.