Year of Graduation: 2011
Major: Comparative Literature
Home region/country: Los Angeles, California
Previous Education: Santa Monica High School
Clubs/Organizations on Campus: Brandeis Al-Quds Partnership Fellow, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, WOW Fellow
“I’d just like to continue being in places that make me feel alive, and continue having conversations and contributing however I can.”
While traveling, learning, and working over the course of her Brandeis career, Holly Devon has certainly pursued her passions successfully. Beginning her freshman year, her application and subsequent acceptance to the Brandeis Al-Quds University Partnership program triggered a series of travel experiences both powerful and exciting. She describes how “I just kind of like to get in there, mix it up with whatever opportunities I have. Literature is my passion, intellectually, amongst a lot of others – I’m a very typical Brandeis liberal arts student, I take a little of everything each semester – but I’d just like to continue being in places that make me feel alive, and continue having conversations and contribute however I can.”
Her adventures are certainly reflective of this, having traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem with the Al-Quds University Partnership, to Kenya with an Oxford volunteer program, to France for study abroad, and to Argentina with a WOW fellowship. The Al-Quds University trip started her involvement with Brandeis and the opportunities therein, and she described it as “just a really humbling experience, really powerful, really hard, scary, but I felt really glad that I did that.”
From there, her summer expeditions became more non-governmental organization focused: she worked with NGOs in both Africa and Latin America, about which she says “comparing the [the two] was also really interesting.” Possessing strong convictions of the necessity for respect on the part of the volunteers for the people being helped as well as on the part of the people for themselves, she describes how she “felt sickened a lot of the time [in Africa] because there was this sort of expectation, in a way, that we were supposed to impart our cultural knowledge on to them. It was kind of paternalistic … there are a lot of problems in Africa that don’t have to do with the obvious – AIDS, poverty, war – I think there’s a lot of it also going on that we neglect to see how important it is that people feel like they have something to offer.”
She emphasizes the importance of respect; saying that what makes the difference is “how you think of it, and how respectful you are.” This emphasis on respect is reflected in her experiences with Confluir, a local NGO in Argentina devoted to acting as a legal and local intermediary between the people of the communities and the NGOs in the region. She describes how it was “also engaged in a larger conversation about poverty and education,” with a markedly greater sense of self-sufficiency and self-respect.
At the same time, it proved to be a challenge to her greater level of immersion into the community and culture. “I’ve never been in a position like that before, where I really felt I had to just trust people around me,” she says. “I didn’t really know anything about my surroundings, I was just trying to kind of plug in and work with them and do anything I could.”
She describes these opportunities as some of the most powerful in her life, and hopes to continue this encountering of new cultures and places this summer, potentially returning to Al-Quds University to foster more inter-student relationships between that university and ours. Whatever her future holds, it will surely be filled with more powerful experiences and conversations, helping and making her feel alive.
For more information about the Al Quds University/Brandeis University Partnership, please click here.