Syracuse University

Four SU London students successfully complete ‘Journey of Understanding’

"I realized that nothing was black and white."

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SU London students Chu Wu, Sierra Spechler, Aaron Frank, and Allison Gendreau recently returned to London after taking part in a Journey of Understanding hosted by the Encompass Trust in Wales. The four served as the only American representatives in a diverse group of participants hailing from Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Wu, an anthropology major, Spechler, an anthropology and international relations major, Frank, a television, radio, and film major, and Gendreau, a child psychology and family studies major, spent 10 days together with 20 other young people (ages 16-23) from the US, UK, Indonesia, Israel, and Palestinian Territories.

Through a combination of intense physical challenges, team-building exercises and group discussions, participants address complex issues such as: stereotypes, identity, cultural heritage and ethnic conflict. The last day of the program is spent in London making presentations to local schools.

The Journey of Understanding program was created by Encompass Trust www.encompasstrust.org, an organization founded in the wake of the Bali terrorist bombings of 2002. The family of one of the victims—Daniel Braden—felt that as long as people are able to dehumanize the faith or culture of an ‘Other’, events like the one that killed Dan would continue to occur. Encompass currently runs two Journeys of Understanding per year in addition to their other local programming.

 “I have never met a group of more passionate, sincere, honest, inquisitive and bright individuals who care so much about each other, their communities and their causes,” said Gendreau. “I can't really wrap my head around the fact that it's really over and I don't know when I'm going to see these truly inspirational people again. I worry for their safety in these times of instability and war. It seems so foolish returning to my flat where my biggest concerns are papers and school work when I've spent the last week trying to change the world in such a small but important way and others are returning home with barely a glimmer of hope to bring peace to their countries in their lifetime.”

“[The Journey] is a tiny interaction in the scale of what is happening, true, but then that's what we are about,” said Meredith Hyde, Director of the SU London program, “We make something possible for a student, with the faith that they will build on it.”

The Encompass Journey is open to SU London students each semester, as Syracuse University and Encompass Trust have an official partnership. The next Journey of Understanding is set for March 2013.