About my project

Posted by stephanie on Jun 4th, 2008
2008
Jun 4

Mission Statement

As the 2008-2009 Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellow, I will be traveling to diverse countries throughout the world to explore what freedom means on an international, regional, country, community, and individual level. Throughout my year of travel, my approach to discovering what freedom means in an international context will involve independent travel and observation, interviewing and shadowing individuals in academic, non-profit, religious, journalistic, corporate, and governmental sectors, and working with organizations concerned with issues such as democracy, women’s rights, human rights, the environment, economics, international development, free press, and free speech. I will observe how factors such as rural and urban environments, socio-economic differences, immigration, gender, and occupation affect conceptions of freedom. I hope to learn how freedom is conceptualized, to learn how freedom is promoted and what pressing concerns about freedom exist around the globe.

Through a comparative analysis of international conceptions of freedom, I seek to expand my own perspective of what freedom means, as well as the perspectives of others who will be following my progress. My goal is not to spread American ideals of freedom to foreign lands, but to instead learn what different countries and cultures have to say about freedom, and by understanding what freedom means to different populations, finding pro-active ways to help those in developing nations to promote and obtain those freedoms.

My Proposal

Please note: This is my original proposal submitted for the application process. As with all long term projects, it is impossible to envision that it will encompass at the outset. For this reason, modification of plans in inevitable. In particular, due to the Olympics and difficulty in obtaining visas to China, I will be omitting China from itinerary at this time. Also, due to financial considerations, my exploration of freedom in America will be limited to a few key locations including Boston and New York.

On December 10, 2008, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is celebrating its 60th anniversary, making 2008 an important year to explore how far our world has come in ensuring the freedoms and rights guaranteed to its global citizenship in this landmark document. As stated in the preamble, UDHR was established as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms…” It is in this spirit I want to travel across the world to see in what ways individuals and organs of society are indeed educating and promoting the idea of freedom internationally. But the question remains, what does freedom mean and how does this meaning change across the globe?

Freedom. The very word alone has the ability to stir the passions of men and women. Wars are fought for freedom, revolutions are begun because people feel they are losing their freedoms, people sacrifice their lives to protect freedom. America has taken on the role in the world as the “guardian of freedom,” but even in our own country freedom has different meanings to people. With the support of the Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship, I will travel to diverse countries to understand what freedom means on an international, regional, country, community, and individual level. At the end of my trip I do not anticipate having a clear definition of what freedom is, but from my travels I hope to flesh out a broader definition of what freedom can mean for the global community.

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My approach to discovering what freedom means in an international context would involve independent travel and observation, interviewing and shadowing individuals in academic, non-profit, religious, journalistic, corporate, and governmental sectors, and working with organizations concerned with issues such as democracy, women’s rights, human rights, the environment, economics, development, free press, and free speech. I will work in the countries along with volunteers in different capacities to become immersed into the culture as much as possible instead of simply being a casual observer. The most important part of my project would be engaging with citizens of the countries to see what freedom means to them in their every day lives, but before I do that, I believe that I have to spend time working with them in order to gain trust to get the most honest answers possible. Understanding the context in which the societies are operating is important to discovering in what ways they do and do not find freedom. I realize that in some countries the language barrier could provide challenges to communicating ideas of freedom. That is why observation is an important aspect of my proposal. In addition, I am also interested in the perspectives of Americans and others who may not be natives but have lived in the countries that I am traveling to for years. They would have valuable insight into differences between the ideas of freedom in their native countries and their adopted lands. By working with diverse organizations I hope to find common areas of agreement on what freedom is, but I also want to see each organization’s unique take on freedom. By approaching the subject of freedom holistically, my intention is to learn how freedom is conceptualized in an international context in an effort to learn the best ways to promote freedom in countries and what the most pressing freedoms are needed in countries at the moment.

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The first phase of my travels would begin in the United States. Before trying to determine what freedom means in an international context, I want to see how the concept of freedom varies in “the Land of the Free.” I will accomplish this by traveling to diverse parts of the country, looking at the various ways freedom is construed because of factors such as living in rural or urban environment, socio-economic differences, ethnic heritage, gender, as well as how Native American populations view freedom in America. In my time spent traveling throughout America I also want to visit the United Nations headquarters in New York. As an international organization concerned with international law, international security, economic development, social progress and human rights, issues I believe will be important in discovering international conceptions of freedom, I hope to gain a better understanding of what is being done globally to promote improvements in these areas and the ways this could shape how freedom is perceived.

The next phase of my journey would involve an international exploration of the concept of freedom. My hope is to travel to diverse countries to get a true idea of how conceptions of freedom converge and diverge across the globe. The areas of the world I am particularly interested in traveling to are Asia, Africa, and Latin America, with the countries of China, India, Thailand, South Africa, Venezuela, Brazil, and Nicaragua being of special interest. My choice of countries has been influenced by Freedom House’s annual ratings of freedom in all countries of the world, based on political and civil liberties, however, my pursuit to understand what freedom means is not limited to politics. I want to travel to a mixture of countries considered Free, Partly Free, and Not Free. In the international leg of my trip, as in the domestic phase, I will try to understand how factors such as rural and urban environments, socio-economic differences, views of immigrants, gender, and occupation affect concepts of freedom. Throughout my travels, I will try to be as unbiased as possible in regards to my own views of what freedom means. I will be open to my encounters in different parts of the world and learn from various international conceptions of freedom.

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The goal of my project is to get people to think about what freedom means to them. In our country the idea of freedom is far too often taken for granted. By traveling to countries that are not free by conventional standards, I want to see in what ways the people living there are striving for and fighting for what freedom means to them. I also want to travel to countries that are considered free, such as the United States, but interview and engage with different segments of the population, looking at socio-economic, regional, gender, and ethnic differences and how such factors affect perceptions of freedom.

My own fascination with the idea of freedom began when I worked on my high school newspaper. Seeing free speech in action made me a proponent of our country’s First Amendment and the freedoms given to us through the Bill of Rights, and since then I have been a passionate proponent of civil liberties. For me, the idea of freedom is largely based on governmental guarantees of freedom and the vigilant pursuit of protecting these rights. However, I believe my perspective on freedom as a middle-class, female, American, Caucasian, Vanderbilt student is different than someone coming from a dissimilar background. But, the difference may not be as great as I think which is why I hope to explore international conceptions of freedom with the support of the Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship. Through a comparative analysis of international conceptions of freedom, I hope to expand my own perspective of what freedom means as well as the perspectives of others who will be following my progress. My goal is not to spread American ideals of freedom to foreign lands, but to instead learn what different countries and cultures have to say about freedom.