By Moe Khan
There are many parts to my stretch experience that i would like to highlight. But i think one important aspect that i did not get to highlight in any other piece of work submitted towards my stretch is the preparation of my stretch experience and how I knew it was the right one for me and what I had to go through to ensure that it would become a reality. My stretch experience started as wishful thinking and trying to fulfill my dream of visiting the holy land, Palestine. When I heard about what was required of the stretch, I immediately started to look for programs that would fit the PLLC criteria in Palestine and found the perfect opportunity in the University of An-Najah in Nablus, West Bank. Being a political science major, my interest in Palestine only grew with years. When the opportunity first arose, I was hesitant to approach it knowing that it might be dangerous and it could just not get complete. However, PLLC encouraged me to stretch beyond my comfort zone and go to Palestine. Plus, by being a lead instructor for master students, I would be implementing every aspect of leadership skills I studied in year one of the college. But this trip could not be possible without crossing some thresholds first.
Being of Middle Eastern descent, I had to accept that I may not be allowed into Israel as their border guards have a tough history of racial profiling and denying entry based on ethnicity/religion. So before i could even properly plan for my stretch in the West Bank, i had to prepare for a backup, which i also completed in the month before my departure to Palestine. My trip to Palestine was planned for July and I had May and June in my hometown of Fort McMurray to ensure I get 200 hours completed before going.
Even though I was working full-time, I was able to find a stretch experience that would take me out of my comfort zone and ensure I was meeting the requirements. I had never done urban gardening before but I was given the opportunity when a colleague of mine asked me to help her reinitiate a non-profit that had dwindled down after the forest fire last year. It was called Socially Active Youth and I was given the chance to lead their community garden program for youth. This was particularly interesting as I had to include indigenous perspectives on urban gardening in each session we had, therefore I was able to network in the Fort McKay First Nations and bring that perspective to the youth. I also had to set up the activity in a way that once I leave, the youth continue to do urban gardening.
I personally was given a variety of topics to focus on but I chose gardening as I believed that by teaching kids to take care of the plants and harvest from earth, they can truly understand how much we rely on our planet and how to nurture the underpinnings of society. Not only that but by including the indigenous voices on Urban Gardening, the kids were taught to develop a relationship with the land. In a world that is rapidly becoming more and more specialized and where food is going to be a sacristy soon, this was a very important skill to teach the new generation and foster their growth and experience. I really enjoyed this part of my stretch and was very happy that I got to explore this new perspective.
Before that, I had to spend a lot of time preparing for the trip to Palestine. After finding out that I had been accepted by my stretch organizers, I had to prepare for a lesson plan to teach in Palestine. I would be teaching to Masters students who had little experience in English so I could not come up with a topic that was too simple yet could also be explained with simple English. As a political science student, I naturally was inclined towards teaching a political course. I asked one of my professors to help me start an introductory course to Canadian politics that would use simple language. It worked out very well and within 5 weeks of constant meetings, I created a course that I was proud of and that I could present to the students in Palestine.
In addition, I had to do everything in my power to ensure my entry to Palestine. VP Furgerson-Pell set me up with an international lawyer, Sol Rohlinger, who had been to Israel many times to help me determine how to pass through the border without any problems. Sol was extremely helpful in getting me the right information so I could be prepared to the best of my ability. He recommended I get letters from Principle Campbell and VP Furgerson-Pell that would be justifying my visit to the West Bank and reassure the border guards that I would be visiting for solely academic purposes. In addition, he also recommended I print my resume and get another reference letter from a teacher that would also reassure my personality.
In the moment of truth, the letters turned out to help me so much at the border as they made my entry possible. The guards were definitely hesitant to believe my story until I presented the letters from PLLC and my resume, indicating this was an academic trip.
Reading through this, I know you might be wondering why I chose to share these stories and not my actual stretch. I wanted to present the realities of finding a meaningful stretch and the challenges that came up while doing it. I started doing my stretch in February with the course preparation and continued it until August. The stretch experience is not meant to be easy and you must accept many different outcomes that may result in the stretch not being able to go as you planned. However, that makes it all the more exciting. Once you’re done, you will be able to look back at it and be proud of how you handled the situation.