You Are Where You Go by Caitlyn Lubas

You Are Where You Go

By Caitlyn Lubas

Reviewed by Hank Bitten

A Traveler’s Coming of Age Journey through 70 Countries and 7 Continents During College

My first visit, at age ten, to the Rivoli Theatre on Main Street in Paterson was to see the Jules Vernes movie Around the World in 80 Days.  My knowledge of the world at age ten was limited to a globe, map of the world, and pictures in Life magazine. In 1957, travel was still mostly by propeller powered airplanes.  The turbulence made travel by air bumpy, there were frequent fueling stops, and pressurized cabins were just being installed.

The movie opened my eyes to places in Africa, Asia, and South America that were new to me.  The scenes of the physical geography of place were amazing and my exposure to culture motivated me to study anthropology years later at N.Y.U.  The book, All I Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum is another reminder of the influence of teachers and their lessons.  When we engage students in thinking, we are nurturing more than historical content, disciplinary concepts, or skill sets. When students think about what they are learning, the brain redirects knowledge from their eyes to their hearts.  This is how visual memory deepens and changes lives.

Caitlyn Lubas was my student and took my class on the Global Economy at Indian Hills High School. The wisdom and insights in her book, is a reminder of the influence that teachers have in the lessons they teach – especially in social studies.

“Before travel, my worldview was like an old radio tuned into a channel that was only producing static-uninformed and lacking any key message.  Each unique experience abroad allowed me to tune into a clearer signal of what the world is really like-dynamic, vibrant, and enlightening.” (page 5)

Caitlyn’s experience at New York University was transformative. As a high school student Caitlyn communicated with other teenagers from a variety of countries developing an international network of social capital. Through social media, video channels, and books, she was able to talk with different people about culture, issues, family, and school. In high school, we traveled to Europe and provided opportunities for meeting students from Japan, Germany, and Denmark in our study of global business, the environment, and human rights. In the first chapter of her book, she provides tips on how to make a decision that prioritizes travel as a tutorial for the academic literacy needed for every 21st century student. The globalization of education has become an essential component of academic literacy in understanding the common values and experiences we share, the relationship between the individual and the state, and our responsibility to protect our planet. As I was reading Caitlyn’s book, I was reminded that I have students working on six continents (Denmark, Uganda, Ukraine, Switzerland, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Israel, etc.) and others who talk with people in other countries every day. Caitlyn’s book has relevance because it provides a cultural and visible connection to places and people.

I was able to identify with her personal stories about her visits to many places in Europe, although I found some of her insights and information to be new and interesting.  Her chapter on Vietnam, Laos, Japan, and Singapore offered unique perspectives to me regarding her leg injury in Vietnam, cubicle hostel with pod beds in Japan, self-discovery of people and scenery in Laos, and uncomfortable encounters of a young Asian girl having dinner with an older man in Singapore, even though the man was her father.  I learned about new perspectives of culture, traveling in inclement weather, coping with Google translator, and navigating the Mekong River. Teachers should be reminded that their teaching of geography involves more than place or name recognition as holidays, street culture, food, beliefs, and gender roles are equally important. When traveling inside another culture, our behaviors and attitudes are observable.Caitlyn discovered that she was the outsider.

This was very evident in the chapter on the Middle East and her experiences in Jordan, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi.  I remember when New York University developed this global education program and what I learned from Professor of History David L. Lewis as the program was evolving and taking shape in 2008-10. The unique experience of NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Singapore is how students experienced the diversity of a global community. I had two students graduate from this academic opportunity.  When Caitlyn stepped off the plane and entered one of the most luxurious and spacious airport terminals on the planet, she sat alone in a taxi in shorts and quickly stood out in an environment of long garments and face coverings.

Abu Dhabi

In my high school Global Issues class, we partnered with Keio Academy in Purchase, NY for an overnight stay in a dormitory based Japanese high school.  We attended classes in Japanese, played Japanese style dodge ball, and discussed international issues. For my Bergen County students, this was their first experience immersed in a new culture and paired with a student they had only been introduced to through emails and letters. Caitlyn was my student and experienced this as a freshman.  Now, at NYU, her roommates were from three different countries and cultures. However, they shared a common interest in travel and adventure.

I learned more in this chapter on the Middle East about how our eyes communicate messages to our brains than in the other chapters. Reading about Caitlyn’s observations of her independence in New York City with her new understanding of how young girls in Abu Dhabi and the Middle East feel liberated as their long garments conceal their sexuality and feminism from public observation and comment.

I also learned that the familiar TV monitor on the back of the seat on the airplane includes an arrow pointing to the east for Islamic prayers during the day.  Her experiences with food, visiting a Bedouin community, the demographic diversity of Dubai and other cities, and the inaccuracy of the stereotypes portrayed in the American media and classrooms are valuable lessons for everyone who reads her book.  The familiar phrase of the book, All I Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten, might be rephrased by “All I Really Need to Know about People, I Learned in My Global Classroom in College.”

The chapter on Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi) gives the reader a perspective of time and place by returning to the Bronze Age or perhaps the last century of the Neolithic Age. This is the birth of civilization and we are taken back in time to life on the safari before asphalt roads and power lines. This is the world of the Maasai, the open sky of the Serengeti plains, and swarms of insects.  It is a place without Wi-Fi connectivity, stocked shelves of supermarkets, and the traffic on urban highways and city streets. In our teaching of geography we neglect, or intentionally avoid, the experiences of millions of people who have no experience with flush toilets, access to hot water for washing hands or drinking from a faucet.  It is worth the read because it is from the perspective of a youthful college student!

If your time is limited to reading only one chapter, it would have to be Caitlyn’s experience of traveling across the Drake Passage to Antarctica for a camping trip, without the campfires. The journey begins shortly after the December solstice when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. Her experience of being immersed in total sunshine with brilliant images on the white snow and icebergs. However, it is the challenges of protecting the environment without leaving any human or carbon footprints, digging ditches to make a bed for protection against the fiercest winds and coldest temperatures on the planet, and learning how to excrete bodily fluids and solids during a blizzard.  Antarctica is a beautiful landscape of white and perhaps the only place on the planet where the sounds of silence are heard…or not heard.

The book is readable for middle and high school students and adults. It is her personal reflection about life, traveling alone, and experiencing culture and the harshness of geography. Teachers who value perspectives will want to include Caitlyn’s!

Teaching About Crimea

Ryan Ciaccio
Rider University

For most students social studies may never be the most exciting topic in this day and age, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to engage them with new material. It seems that most of the content in European and World History classes focuses on broad themes over a significant amount of time. Issues like the French Revolution and imperialism take up large portions of curricula, and there is little time left to look into more specific events that could be just as valuable in affecting the learning experience of students. In my middle and high school experience Russia and the states it governed before and during the Soviet era were rarely ever touched upon. By giving students the opportunity to examine the history of Crimea and its relationship to Russia they could learn about the impact a relatively small area could still have on a nation’s sense of history.

            Crimea is a peninsula along the northern coast of the Black Sea in Eastern Europe, roughly 200 miles from where the 2014 Olympic games took place, and is home to a variety of multi-ethnic groups. Currently the area is under Russian authority but the relationship Russia has with Crimea has not always been clear. To put it mildly, Crimea has a rich history and has bounced around in terms of who governs the territory a multitude of times. In 2014, Russia forcibly took back the Crimea under the direction of President Vladimir Putin, an event that sparked widespread criticism in the Western press for a few years. Students normally would have no understanding of an event like this and why Russia would take such swift action. However, by explaining the significance Crimea has in the hearts of Russian people, students gain the ability to make their own observations on the situation and other events down the road.

            The Crimean Tatar Khanate, a break off from the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan’s empire was a predominate power for nearly 300 years in European affairs, but even most secondary level students have never heard anything about it. They were vastly successful in trading goods with Italians and raided Russia for years without any consequences. The Khanate existed under the authority of the Ottoman Empire until Russia went to war against the Ottomans in 1768 and subsequently defeated them six years later. The 1774 Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardzhi did not immediately hand over the Crimean Tatar Khanate to Russia, but rather gave them a chance for independence. The independence would be short lived however.

            Catherine II, the Tsarina of the Russian state upon the signing of Kuchuk-Kainardzhi, took the opportunity of the Crimean Tatar Khanate’s independence to place a ruler of her choosing on the throne. It may be confusing for students to see how a state could be independent but still have their ruler chosen from the outside. However, the ruler Catherine II chose was Sahin Giray, a well-educated Muslim man who descended from the Giray dynasty that had ruled over the area for prior centuries. Catherine thought she gave Crimea the best shot it could have at independence by picking Giray, however he could not keep stability among the various groups of people living under his reign. Crimean independence lasted a brief nine years before it was time for big brother Russia to step back in the picture again.

            In 1783 Russia officially annexed the territory known as the Crimea. Alan Fisher, a historian from Michigan State University, asserts that “It was only after every possible means of establishing Sahin Giray as an autocratic and independent sovereign had been exhausted that Catherine carried out “the final solution” to the Tatar Problem” (Fisher, 1967). Of course, the “final solution” that Fisher was alluding to is that Russia takes over predominant control and authority of Crimea. It is important for students to have the background on the time that Crimea was not under Russian authority to see that maybe there was a slight chance for independence prior to Catherine the Great’s annexation.

            Students should also get to see how important the Crimea was to the Russian state as a whole to further explain their annexation effort. While traveling through the Crimea in 1787 Catherine referred to the area as “Paradise on Earth” (Schonle, 2001). Catherine was enthralled by the beauty of the peninsula and made it an effort to rebuild the war-torn parts of Crimea into Russia’s own personal Garden of Eden. This wasn’t an effort overtly forced on the Crimean people because she enlisted the help of the local nobles and princes in reforming the land.

            One major area of study for world history students at the secondary level is the Enlightenment. They could connect that to the Crimean issue as well. Catherine the Great considered herself a significant contributor the Enlightenment and wrote over hundreds of pieces and exchanged correspondence with great minds of the period like Voltaire. The Enlightenment connects with Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 1783 because it was considered (still is by some) to be an act of enlightened despotism. Was Catherine trying to do what she thought was generally right for the people of the Crimea or was she acting in her own self-interests? These are the kinds of procedural knowledge questions that force students to think critically about issues and come up with their own responses.

            Studying a specific area rather than a large general theme allows students the opportunity to examine cultural aspects that are too often overlooked. The Crimea became so enriched in the hearts of Russians for a number of religious and nationalistic claims. Vladimir, a Kyivan Prince was supposedly baptised around Crimea in the area of Chersonesos. This notion was later supported by the touring of the Crimea and respects paid to these sights by Tsar Alexander I (Kozelsky, 2014). Russians also have strong ties to the Crimean peninsula because of Sevastopol, the largest city. In a 2014 address Vladimir Putin stated “This is also Sevastopol-a legendary city with an outstanding history, a fortress that serves as the birthplace of Russia’s black sea fleet” (Putin 2014). Sevastopol is home to Russia’s main fleet along the Black Sea as Putin stated, so they feel a sense of pride in knowing that this area belongs to them.

            Knowing how valuable the Crimea is to the people of Russia is important for students to understand because they’ll see the effect losing a meaningful territory can have. In February of 1954 the colorful Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was concerned with the heavy amount of suffering placed on the people of Ukraine by World War II. He took it upon himself to gift the territory of Crimea to the Ukraine as a penance for their sacrifices. Although authority was transferred to Ukraine, Russians still accessed the Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol and most citizens consider themselves part of the Russian state. There was no real need for Russians to get involved until 2014 when massive protests over a corrupt regime under Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych emerged. In February of 2014 “little green men” or disguised Russian soldiers infiltrated Crimea and forcibly seized the territory back as their own. The swift re-annexation of the Crimea can seem harsh, but referendums were put out that consistently approved of Russian authority in Crimea. These kinds of quick turbulent political events can be hard to grasp without a detailed background.

            So where does this leave Crimea today and why is it important for students to have the opportunity to learn about it in a social studies classroom? Russia has split Crimea into two separate entities consisting of the Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol. Investments in schools and hospitals and the creation of the world’s second longest bridge have all been started in the time since re-annexation. The five-year anniversary of the re-annexation will be approaching within the next few months (February 2019). This means that the event will probably pick up speed in the media again and give students background on current events that tie in to history.

Studying the Crimea can be difficult because of the many shifts in leadership that occurred over the past few centuries, however it is worth the effort to take on a difficult task to challenge students to form their own opinions. I would love to have a class and teach them about the rich history of a smaller part of a much broader region because it’s something even most historians could overlook. Teaching students about the Crimea gives them insight into a rich history, geographical issues, culture, and aids in the development of their critical thinking skills.

References

Address by the President of the Russian Federation. (2014). Retrieved from http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/20603

Fisher, A.W. (1967). “Sahin Giray, the Reformer Khan, and the Russian Annexation of the Crimea.” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas.

Kozelsky, M. (2014). “Religion and the Crisis in Ukraine.” International Study for the Study of the Christian Church.

Schonle, A. (2001). “Garden of Empire:  Catherine’s Appropriation of the Crimea.” Slavic Review.