This past weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering with BASS, a student run organization in Smith-Steeb that coordinates events every week sometimes multiple in a week for the residents to take part in. Over the weekend however, they planned a weekend for Sibs and Kids weekend where siblings of current Ohio State students enjoyed various fun activities hosted by the University, on Saturday March 6th. The event that BASS put on was a miniature carnival with various inflatable games from Super Games. It was truly something special to get to see how excited all of the young children were to be outside on such a beautiful day at a college campus. There was never a time that seemed to go slow nor a frown in sight. Everyone there including the parents were having a wonderful time and some even joined in a few of the games. Seeing everyone at the event with such high spirits was heart warming because around this time of year especially things can start to get dreary as everyone crams for finals. Though it was fun seeing all of the excitement, I also volunteered for a few hours. While at the event I rotated between two shifts, first working the snack table, and second the prizes. Throughout the duration of the event I was in charge of making snow cones and popcorn bags as if it were a real carnival with carnival type foods. As for helping out with the prizes, I went around and encouraged everyone at the event including volunteers, to put enter their names into a random raffle. There were 25 gift cards being raffled off and the chances of winning were pretty high! One thing that I noticed while at the event was that the people seemed happier when they were just running around outside and playing on the inflatable games than they did waiting to hear if they won a prize. I found that really interesting because nowadays it feels as if the world is constantly becoming more greedy; but these children showed me that the possibility of winning a gift card wasn’t nearly as fun as playing with dogs and socializing with everyone around you.
Volunteering with BASS for Sibs and Kids weekend reminded me when I volunteered for YWCA through my business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi. Through AKPsi we coordinated a similar miniature carnival for the children. At that carnival we didn’t have the big inflatable games or gift cards, instead we had fish toss games, basketball, face painting, and various other activities. Though we did have raffle tickets for some of the activities at this carnival also, one thing that both carnivals had in common was the fact that the children were happier just playing the games and hanging out with one another than they were waiting to see what prizes there were. I’m not sure if that’s because they didn’t like the prizes being offered or because they were simply just more excited to be present in the moment; but either way, both were amazing volunteer opportunities that showed me how much more important it is to be with those around you than it is to seek out materialistic pleasures.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a student run organization which brings in speakers to give various Tedx talks. On November 27th a few of my fellow scholars and I sat in on the Tedx called, “Red Light: Breaking the Cycle of Human Trafficking”. The program included various speakers some of which were victims of human trafficking, and others who have studied and researched the “cycle” of human trafficking. The presentation began with a rapid fire of devastating facts related to the number of women that are involved in prostitution. The two facts that stuck out the most to me were that 62% of women get involved in prostitution before their 18th birthday, and 1/3 of women participate in it before they’re 15. After they had run through all of their statistics, an immediate sense of shock was felt across the crowd. This shock made me realize how overlooked this issue truly is. It’s because of people like Vanessa Perkins, a victim that went through Catch Court who are bringing awareness to the issue. Perkins was the first to share her story and the most shocking to me. Most pimps/bosses of human trafficking target particular people that they feel are easy to lure in. In Perkins’ case, her pimp befriended her by buying her dope to keep her from getting dope sick, giving her a home, food, and a most importantly what she thought was a friend. After a few weeks of him “pampering” her, he then told her that he owned her; his wish became her command. Not only was Vanessa Perkins a victim of human trafficking, but she was also abused by both her clients and her bosses. To close out her story, Perkins left the crowd with one thing, she wanted everyone to know that pimps are not stupid, they know what they’re doing and exactly how to do it, they are smart. Her story hit me the hardest because her lack of self-respect stemmed from sexual abuse from the time she was 4 all the way until she turned 12, her family overlooked what was happening, and let her believe that she was to blame for what had happened. These combined sparked her craving for drugs and alcohol which she quickly became dependent on and later made her a perfect target for a sex slave. Perkins’ story wasn’t all bad, through a program known as Catch Court, she was able to hit the reset button and start over with a clean slate to make a new life for herself. Catch Court offered her support through a mentor program, and also surrounded her with fellow victims that could all truly understand what each one had been through. Their program is run through three steps: acceptance, structure, and transformation. Acceptance through this program comes from the mentor and the fellow survivors who form a family for the victim to be a part of. Next is structure, this is the part of the program that encourages every participant to stay committed to the process. Last is transformation, transformation is the moment that a woman can, “…transform her life from one of exploitation to one of personal freedom”. Not only did the program make its audience more aware of the issue, it also demonstrated ways that the cycle can be broken and both men and women who are victims of this can heal. The most interesting part of the presentation for me instead of the actual TedTalk video was the live speakers standing just a few feet in front of me. It was an amazing thing to see so many victims that have reinvented their lives and are now working to help others.
For the IA Academic Event, I attended one that was hosted by my floor RAs on October 24th in Smith-Steeb to help us prepare for midterms. We watched a TEDx called, “After watching this, your brain will not be the same” by Lara Boyd. She begins the video by talking about the evolution of the brain and our understanding of it. Boyd focuses most of her video on how the brain functions and how we retain knowledge.
Until about 25 years ago it was believed that the only changes that happen to the brain after puberty are negative. Studies, however; began to show the amount of reorganization in the adult brain that positively impact one’s life. Changes are not limited by age, in fact they happen nonstop. Neuroplasticity is the key to all the changes that happen. Brian functions are triggered through chemical signaling through neurons which supports short term memory and short term improvement. Additionally, the brain can change the connections between neurons which changes the physical structure altering long term memory and improvement. Boyd gives an example to help explain each of these changes. She describes a situation where one is first learning how to play the piano, and with each additional practice session, he or she seems to be getting better and better, until that person then thinks, “they finally got it.” Until they come back the next day and all the improvements from the day before are lost. Boyd explains the science behind why this happens. She said that in the short term, your brain can increase the chemical signaling between your neurons, but in the long run your brain is not able to change as fast. Because long run changes take time, what one accomplishes/does in the short term is not learning, understanding something in the long term supports short term learning.
The last way that your brain can change to support learning is to alter its function. As you use a certain region of the brain it becomes more excitable and is easier to use again in the future. Then, as your brain has these areas that increase their excitability the brain then changes how and when they are activated. This correlates to learning, because whole networks of brain activity are shifting and changing. Neuroplasticity is supported by chemical, structural, and functional changes which occur across the entirety of the brain and often at the same time.
Boyd then explores what limits and facilitates neuroplasticity. She focuses on the relationship between neuroplasticity and strokes. It is incredibly difficult to develop the brain after a stroke, the net result of this is the leading cause of mental disability of adults in the world. The best driver of neuroplastic change in one’s brain is behavior. The issue with this is that the amount of practice needed is both large and expensive. In addition to the time commitment and expense associated with neuroplasticity, is that the patterns of neuroplasticity are highly variable between people. One of the main points that Boyd makes is that there is no drug that will make you learn better than practice, the best way to succeed in learning is by putting in the work. Her research has shown that increased struggle and difficulty has led to more learning and greater structural change within the brain.
Overall Boyd’s video was both educational and informative because she explained the ways in which people learn and how our brains process and retain information. Some of the discussion was focused on brain therapy after suffering from a stroke; however, I found the changes that the brain undergoes to be the most interesting part of the discussion. After watching the video, I can now apply her understanding of knowledge retention to my studies. By trying to cram information I am only putting myself at a disadvantage, because the best way to learn is through repetition and practice which are both long term ways of studying. This long-term method has a direct correlation to her discussion of structural changes within the brain and how these changes have the most impact on the way one learns.
Today (September 23rd in Smith-Steeb) I had the pleasure of making cards for an art installation that will be presented in a Columbus school. The school is for refugee students between the grades 7-10. While the students are enrolled, they learn more about the American school system and the English language. Though we haven’t discussed the refugee crisis in class, one of the First Year Success Series Seminars that I participated in was focused on immigration and allowing citizens from other countries to seek refuge in the United States. I thought about that seminar while making cards to be hung on the installation for the refugees because while their situations are often talked about, the emotional stress that they are under is often overlooked. For example, in our FYSS discussion we never stopped to consider the feelings and emotions of these people who are often times alone in a foreign environment with little to no guidance. This service event made me realize how important it is to recognize the mental impact that being a refugee or immigrant has on someone. For many of the refugees at this school, they come alone and frequently ask the school’s leaders why their families aren’t allowed to come and why they aren’t wanted here. It is because of this that I chose to focus all of the cards I made on uplifting messages that emphasize the message of self-worth and acceptance.
This event allowed me to grow personally, because it increased my awareness of those around me. Although I wasn’t able to directly interact with the refugees I had time to reflect on the experiences that I can only imagine they have had. The hardships that these students have faced are swept under the rug when in reality they should be at the fore-front of the news. Some would argue that they should just be thankful for the opportunity to live in the United States; however, would you be thankful if you fled a country where you felt you didn’t fit in and were then placed into a country that didn’t want you there and made those feelings abundantly clear? The ignorance of society is the first issue that must be addressed when discussing refugee and immigration policy, if Americans were more educated on the crises happening in various countries around the world, I would hope that as a nation we could be more welcoming and accepting of those seeking protection.
Additionally, I couldn’t help but think about the phrase, “treat others the way you wish to be treated,” rather than treating people in need of shelter as outcasts that don’t belong here, we should welcome them with open arms. Karma goes a long way and nobody can predict the future. If something were to happen in the United States leaving us as the ones seeking refuge, I would hope that people in other nations would be willing to take us in. People’s opinions on refugee status would completely change if they were the ones looking for a new home.
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