Logan Varker is currently an International and Global Studies major and Spanish minor at UNC-Greensboro, and he participated in the September 2018 Forage Center Coastal Promise field exercise. Logan aspires to be an English teaching assistant through the Fulbright program after he graduates in 2020 and eventually become a professional English teacher abroad. He is preparing for a semester of studying abroad in Spain in the Spring of 2020 ,where he will identify community needs and service sites for his prospective Fulbright scholarship. Here, he reflects on his experiences in conversation with Forage Center administrative specialist Catherine Cousar.
Q: What led you to attend the Coastal Promise exercise?
A: My mother had participated and role-played for a number of years.
Q: How did experiencing the Coastal Promise exercise as a participant impact you?
A: The experience showed me how vulnerable an experience group work is, especially in the humanitarian aid sector. When we walked in, we were all separate, and we had our own expertise and ideas about how things should be done. However, as we progressed through the exercise, we found a number of failures when we ignored each other in favor of how we saw the problem and its solution. When we walked out, we were all a single group, because we had learned to set our egos aside. We had accepted that vulnerability was a necessary component of team-building, and we had developed a genuine sense of empathy for each other. Personally, this was really valuable, because it helped me manage social anxiety, it helped me be braver, and it taught me how to manage fear and stress.
Q: Can you recall something about the exercise that has helped you in your studies?
A: The exercise really taught me to hold firm to the values and capabilities of my organization when entering into a disaster scenario. One of the most challenging moments for me was being asked for aid that we weren't prepared to give, and so I had to say no to someone in need. I think this is idealism meeting the hard edge of reality, and it was a moment in which I had to be an active agent in a very tense situation, but it taught me how to keep a clear head through it all and to rely on my team for support. In contrast, the most relieving moment was when a teammate jumped in and backed me up. I didn't even have to signal for help. We had known each other enough, and had gone through the process of trusting each other, that he could read the situation. I think that's one of the greatest parts of the scenario: learning that being vulnerable is not synonymous with weakness, that it is a requisite part of genuine relationships and effective teams.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: I'm studying abroad in Toledo, Spain this coming Spring, where I want to find a good service location to return for as a Fulbright English Teacher Assistant! If I get the assistantship, I would like to remain abroad for as long as possible, teaching English where I can, for as long as I can. I'd also like to get my master's in philosophy abroad and work as a university professor in the far future!