Bridging Realms

When I first think of peace, words like harmony, justice, and tranquility instantly come to mind.  Some say that there cannot be peace without war.  Peacebuilding, when I first heard the term to be honest, seemed fluffy, like something people do who are put on a pedestal and look down on others, or even like a puppeteer with his marionettes controlling the play from high above the protagonists.  However, I know that these analogies are wrong and that there is so much more to it.  I’m looking forward to this year’s Summer Peacebuilding Program (SPP) for myriad reasons, to set my own mental record straight, to delve into the nuances, and to learn how to incorporate Peacebuilding into the International Development career I so desire.  Prior to coming to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS), I worked as an Economic Development Volunteer in the Peace Corps in rural coastal Peru.  My background has always included a love of international studies, travel, and learning about foreign cultures from the inside out.  Though I started a career in international banking, I reached a pivotal moment when I knew I was destined to follow a different path.  Throughout my Peace Corps experience, I discovered a love of integration and wanting to understand why people acted the way they did, through different cultural lenses, religious backgrounds, and biases. What drove me to participate in the SPP was a combination of reasons.  In any career in any field, conflict or dispute resolution is an integral skill…because conflicts and disputes are omnipresent.  Upon learning further about the program beyond my initial reactions, I found the ability of Peacebuilding to bridge multiple fields across realms within and outside of the development arena absolutely fascinating, and I could see it being very useful in my hopeful future pursuits.  On the very first day of the program, we were taught that conflict is a good thing.  We were told to view it as an opportunity for change; because truthfully, there cannot be change without conflict.  Change should rightly involve a change in attitudes as well as behavior, and the field of behavior change fascinates me – ideally, I’d like to further investigate this in such a way that would positively impact the realm of wildlife conservation and animal welfare, but it’s all linked.  Sentient beings (people & animals alike) and the environment, etc. all have a role to play.  The sooner we can all learn that, the sooner everyone can work together, the sooner Peacebuilding will have a sustainable and everlasting effect.

Blog 1. Expectations and reflections at the beginning of the program.

The biggest question on my mind as I drove down to Monterey on Sunday afternoon from the Bay Area was what the balance of theory to practice would be in this program. I feared too much theory, because I find that practice and simulation build confidence in me – I see myself actually doing something – whereas reading too much about it without doing anything physically tends to sap my confidence – could I actually do this in real life? Me? Actually?

It was interesting to hear Pushpa say on Sunday that her concern is making sure there’s enoughtheory. I do want to know the basis and justification for what we’re doing, but I do want some opportunities to see what I’m made of. As someone with chronically low confidence, I greatly benefit from seeing myself in action and realizing that yes, I can do this. Unfortunately, I seem to need to see the proof of my own competence again and again.

Why am I here? The short answer is that I’m here because of a class last semester with Pushpa called storytelling for change. In this class, I happened to read one article from the optional reading list that Pushpa provided, and this article was about “chosen trauma,” which is trauma that is passed down through generations, and contrary to what its name implies, is not intentionally acquired. I realized that something along those lines had happened to me.

For this class, we were also required to write a personal story about our area of passion and where it came from in our lives in response to some prompts. In writing my story in response to the prompts, I at first wrote about my passion for working with immigrants and refugees and looked to my college education for the roots of my interest in other cultures and language to explain my passion. Pushpa asked me to dig deeper. I looked deeper, and I saw my family’s trauma history. Suddenly, everything made sense: my interest in refugees but also the fact that I always read the articles about prisons and imprisoned people in the New York Times; the fact that I thought about foster children and “at-risk” youth with a sort of longing and curiosity to get involved, but not the confidence to do so; my summer interpreting at an organization in Baltimore called Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma. The common thread, I realized, was trauma – trauma was frequently a part of the life experiences of each of these groups. And suddenly I saw my own life as a string of explorations with healing modalities – yoga teacher training, meditation retreats, craniosacral therapy, somatic experiencing, boxing training, etc., etc., to deal with an understand the difficulties I experienced.

But I’m also a very lonely person. I think that’s why I never really wanted to become a therapist, even though I often considered it, and still do. I just don’t want to sit in my own private office by myself and see people one at a time. That would only increase the sense of isolation. I want to be in community, with community. I want to feel like I belong somewhere. That’s why I want to do my work, trauma healing, in communities. That’s where peacebuilding comes in. Of course, I doubt I have enough experience and training to actually help anyone else resolve their trauma at this point. But at least I can get involved with organizations that do what I am interested in and see where it leads me.

The standard narrative for someone in my position would be how much I have to offer and how much I want to help. But that’s not a narrative I can write. Two weekends ago I went to a weekend program called Risk of the Self. It’s part of a community and program that works with white people to explore white conditioning and structural violence in the US. One thing we noticed over this weekend was how many of us had learned, as children, to suppress our feelings of having needs. We learned to not express our needs and to instead try to meet them by ourselves, or to push them aside, out of fear of being “needy,” disliked, pushed away, or disappointed by others not understanding us or being unwilling to help. That program helped clarify for me that I need to be honest about what I’m seeking and why I’m seeking it. I am seeking connection, belonging, and to be part of something bigger than myself. Perhaps I will travel the world and discover that I’m actually running away from some part of myself, or that everything I am seeking, I already possess. But until that happens, I have to keep seeking.


I was 16 when I created my first Gmail account with the handle that read “amanda4peace.” I know it sounds silly, but I truly believe that email handle started launching me towards a life in pursuit of peace (whatever that means). In my 16-year-old mind, I’m sure I linked the word “peace” with being a “cool, hippie chick,” but the word “peace” has come to mean so much more to me in my adulthood than the simple, trendy label it was to me in my youth. It all began with the questions that came in around my email handle – “Why would you choose  amanda4peace? What are you doing for peace?” and all the other questions that would float in from judgy, high schoolers. Well, that caused me to begin to ask those questions to myself. Peace had to be more than what the cool music I listened to said about it, and it had to be more than the feeling you were supposed to get when you smoked weed. “What even is peace?” “What did peace mean to me?” “Why was I attracted to stories of conflict and genocide in places of the world I had never heard of?” “How did I feel about conflict occurring in the world that I knew?” “What did I think I could do about it?” Well these questions led me to research and discover the Peace Corps (it had the word “Peace” in it so that meant I would automatically love it, right?) during my junior year of high school, and I wrote a blog on my Myspace page, declaring my intention to join the Peace Corps one day. I didn’t realize then and there that I’d forget all about that plan completely, until one day in the far future, I would find myself falling in line with the destiny that I had I set out for myself, when I would apply and be accepted as a volunteer for Peace Corps Malawi.

Anyone that knows the work of Peace Corps Volunteers realizes that we aren’t necessarily doing explicit peacebuilding work, but this is not where the power of the Peace Corps lies. The Peace Corps is powerful due to its structure of supporting its volunteers to build relationships with host country nationals, and to support them in integration efforts in order to create strong bonds, which in turn, support community development. Of course, there’s a diplomatic reason for all of that, but let’s focus on my reason for wanting to do the Peace Corps. I love people. I love building relationships with people. I love hearing people’s stories and I love telling my story. I love communicating in a shared tongue and I love working through challenges with a team of people. The Peace Corps sounded appealing to me originally because of the ability to label myself as a “Peace Corps Volunteer” (a better option than to just be a cool, peaceful hippie chick) and the opportunity to live in a new country, but it ended up helping me discover my inner passions, skills and abilities in building relationships with a variety of different types of people. The Peace Corps is the reason I consequently found myself as a graduate student at the Middlebury Institute, which in turn, helped me discover the field of Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding. Or, I should say, helped move me along down the path towards my proper destiny.

I have done more personal development and self-growth this year than was even possible during my Peace Corps service (and let me tell you, there is A LOT of time to reflect and grow when you’re in the Peace Corps). I suppose that leads me to my expectations of the Summer Peacebuilding Program. I expect to grow, to reflect, to challenge myself, and to sculpt out important aspects of myself for my professional and personal life. I expect to make connections and build relationships with peers, colleagues, and experts in the field. I expect to have some difficult dialogues and I expect to feel a lot of emotion as I am pushed to evaluate my values and beliefs. I expect to feel highs and lows and everything in-between as I go through this. I expect to dig deep and to process some of my own conflicts and connect them to various external conflicts. I expect to gain even more knowledge and perspective, building off the foundation that I have begun building during my first year of graduate school.

What Led Me to the Summer Peacebuilding Program

During my undergraduate years, I majored in Global Studies with a focus in the humanities, as well as the Chinese language. I knew that I wanted to attend graduate school, and to make use of my passion working in intercultural settings that value unity without uniformity. As I looked at schools across the country for a program that could take me across the world, I felt another of my core values—service to something greater than oneself—needed to be addressed in communities I’d worked with in within Michigan. I chose to commit a year of service with an AmeriCorps program in Detroit allowing me to work as a full-time tutor and mentor in a high school, and then middle/elementary school when I committed to another year. In this role I sought a greater impact by getting to know people in the community and building relationships. I often found myself in the role of preventing, responding to, and attempting to ease tensions that flared up among students. Having a network of relationships and having some context of my students’ lives beyond school was hugely beneficial in my role. This experience, as well as the act of having forgone graduate school for 2 years to feel more connected to my own values, really had an impact on the focus I would then put on my search for graduate programs.

I decided to come to MIIS for a great number of reasons that made it the right fit for me, among them was that there was an opportunity to focus on conflict resolution and social justice. Through the classes I’ve taken on campus in Monterey, as well as my peacebuilding program experience in Gujarat, India, I have gained inspiration to work toward social justice utilizing the lenses of conflict transformation. Viewing conflict as an opportunity to truly transform structures that have led to power imbalances, religious turmoil, or systemic oppression gives me hope when I become engulfed in the news of such structures throughout the world. My hope in taking the Summer Peacebuilding Program is that I deepen my understanding and ability to utilize the theories and tools relevant to the field of conflict resolution and gain a stronger sense of where I can go after MIIS that will allow me to put some of them into practice.