What started out as an interest in free lunch and a stimulating conversation blossomed into something much more significant. At CERRU, I learned the value of diversity, how to be a leader, and how to facilitate cross-cultural exchange. These skills have definitely helped me since graduation, both domestically as a graduate student at Georgetown University, as well as abroad as a Fulbright grantee in Taiwan.
Diversity, Dialogue and Exchange
While attending Queens College, I developed a greater appreciation for diversity. Although I grew up in a multiethnic neighborhood, CERRU pushed me to move past the simple satisfaction of just seeing diverse groups on campus, to wanting to engage with, learn from, and discuss socioeconomic, political, cultural and religious topics with these groups. As a CERRU Dialogue Fellow, I made friends with those who identified as Hispanic, Caribbean, Black, White, Asian-American, European, US citizen, immigrant, undocumented, LGBTQ, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, orthodox, moderate, observant—and every sort of combination in between. Using the skills emphasized through CERRU trainings (such as intensive listening), I learned more about Islam, Judaism, and Middle Eastern culture through my classmates, than from any book during undergrad. I think this is CERRU’s most noteworthy objective: providing an opportunity for people of different backgrounds—including ethnicities, faiths, cultures, and sexual orientations—to learn about each other including the various perspectives we hold on critical issues.
After graduating in 2015, I was given the incredible opportunity to live on the opposite side of the world. As a Fulbright student grantee, I was selected to serve as an English Teaching Assistant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Although my primary duty was to teach English to primary school students, my ultimate goal was to share the diversity and culture of the United States with the people of Taiwan. This was a perfect opportunity to serve as a cultural ambassador and build on my cross-cultural skills that I developed in CERRU. So, this is exactly what I ended up doing. Upon arriving in Taiwan, I quickly immersed myself in the culture. I started learning Mandarin, and listened intently as colleagues, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances shared customs, historical narratives, and political positions. I tried new dishes that looked incredibly delicious, as well as some ones that looked and smelled incredibly suspicious (if you get a chance, I suggest trying Stinky Tofu). At the same time, I shared and my own perspectives and experiences, especially regarding being a Black American in Asia and the United States. I engaged Taiwanese locals about American stereotypes, and explained US cultures and traditions, including our seemingly inexplicable fascination over guns, and why we find sweet, cinnamon flavored desserts like pumpkin pie enjoyable. The foundation I built at Queens College, including the desire and ability to learn, listen and understand people from different cultures, was made manifest as I interacted with Taiwanese locals on a daily basis.
At CERRU, I remember that as Fellows, we tried to address the important issues of the day— including faith and doubt, Arab-Israeli conflict, decriminalization of marijuana and public education. Our goal was to provide an outlet for people of diverse backgrounds to explore these issues, share different perspectives, and work towards ideas and solutions.
However, after the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in Staten Island, New York and Ferguson, Missouri, when I turned to Queens for an outlet to express emotions of outrage, confusion and sympathy on the subject of police brutality—I only found silence. Knowing CERRU staff and members would back me every step of the way, I organized an impromptu discussion on US race relations and policy brutality in the main cafeteria. I was scared, nervous, and worried that no one would show up, but we all understood the importance of the issue at hand, and the crucial moment in our history. We understood that students and faculty of all backgrounds could learn from each other and create innovative solutions to prevent future tragedies. Plus, many students just needed a space to just talk and decompress. What we achieved as a group was powerful; here in a mundane college cafeteria, students of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds were engaged in a positive, uplifting, and peaceful discussion of utmost importance.
Two years later, although far away from Queens and CERRU, I am still trying to make a difference. Two months ago, I joined another Georgetown graduate student in leading a march from campus to the White House for criminal justice reform, as well as justice for black lives unjustly taken away by the hands of law enforcement.
As an advocate for social justice, I intend to continue using the power of effective dialogue to push our country to affirm its highest values. Just as others have supported and inspired me to action, I hope my story will galvanize other scared, nervous, and wavering students toward action, and to become agents of change.
Queens and Beyond
Now, I am a first-year graduate student at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program. I did not always plan to be here; in fact, during undergrad I intended to go to law school afterwards. Nevertheless, at CERRU I learned how to think not just locally, but globally. As we focused on issues that cut across the diversities on campus, my interest in international affairs only grew, planting seeds of what was to come. It was during my time at CERRU where I learned and practiced skills of mediation, conflict management, and resolution. These truths that I explored as a Facilitator looking to bridge peaceful dialogue, are the exact topics I would unknowingly go on to study (right now), and ultimately center my future career around.
Upon graduation, as a 2016 Sate Department Rangel Fellow, I am on track to become a US Foreign Service Officer in 2018. As a diplomat, I intend to draw upon the cross-cultural, leadership skills that I picked up as a Dialogue Fellow and Facilitator. I expect that my experiences at CERRU will be consequential to any future successes I may have while representing the United States overseas. My hope for CERRU is that students will continue to join have a lasting impact both at Queens College, as well as the larger global community.
By Carlsky Belizaire,
Master of Science in Foreign Service ’18
Charles B. Rangel Fellow ’16