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Chris McMurry: Celebrating Her Heritage Through Irish Dance

When not studying at USF, freshman sociology major Chris McMurry performs Irish jigs at local fairs and festivals, celebrating her culture and making new friends. Photo by Photo Courtesy of Chris McMurry

With all the different cultures that can be found on campus from all around the globe, one student knows how to celebrate her culture—it’s in her genes. Chris McMurry, freshman sociology major, has been dancing the Irish jig from the beginning of her freshman year of high school. In turn this has led her to appreciate her heritage, being more than 50-percent Irish. Her dancing has also led her to become involved with Renaissance Faires and playing the accordion. It just shows how one good thing can open up many doors.

Having grown up in Oakland, California, she has been coming into the city of San Francisco for dance classes and competitions since she first began Irish dancing. She describes her urge to dance as “completely random” and explains that it was the “first thing she wanted to do on her own.” In fact, it became one of her reasons for coming to the University of San Francisco. Also, she said, “I wanted to be in the Bay area and I liked a small school with small classes.”

McMurry’s first dance school was the Raven Valley School of Dance in Davis. While improving she progressed to the dance school of Cumann Rince Naisiunta, or CRN, and the prestigious McBride School of Irish Dance. CRN’s policy is to support and protect the Irish dancing tradition. At McBride, McMurry competed up to primary champion and soon became bored with competition and went to the Celtic Dance Ensemble, which also falls under the CRN. This past fall McMurry proved her worth as an Irish dancer in her first national competition. McMurry received first place in all her dances, which included the “Reel,” “Trouble Jig,” and the “Hornpipe.”

Through a Scottish and Irish dance and music troupe, Siamsa le Cheile, McMurry finds herself performing at different venues all across northern California, such as Celtic festivals and renaissance faires. They usually dance about twenty dances per show and are one of the only troupes to perform Irish and Highland dances. McMurry recognizes this troupe as her extended family. With multiple dance performances accomplished, she stands as the Irish sub-director for the troupe. Along with dancing for the troupe, McMurry wears the traditional renaissance garb. She has also has been practicing the accordion for over a year now in order to play with some of the other members of the troupe who play English, French, Spanish, Irish, and Middle Eastern music together.

Siamsa le Cheile describes itself as practicing “the traditional music and dance of Scotland and Ireland, and we all share a love of traditional Gaelic culture. We try to pass on our love of the arts and traditional folk cultures through our performance.”

Senior Anita Buitrago Interns For Mission Community Council

photo by Cass Krughoff/Foghorn

photo by Cass Krughoff/Foghorn

The Mission District is a neighborhood home to artistic murals and cultural cuisine, a direct contrast to the established homelessness and street crimes for which it is also known. Mission resident and USF senior Anita Buitrago is well accustomed to the colorful culture and violent downsides of the neighborhood, but was never aware of the daily contributions made to improve community life until she landed an internship that opened her eyes to her own backyard.

Buitrago acquired the opportunity early in the spring semester to intern for the Mission Community Council (MiCoCo), an umbrella organization for 25 Mission community organizations that work together to offer programs to families, youth, working residents, immigrants and the Latino community. As an intern, she is assigned various tasks updating and emailing weekly newsletters, updating the organization’s website anything that improves the fluidity of MiCoCo’s operations.

“It’s not a typical office job where you sit at your computer all day,” Buitrago said. “We go to meetings and do different things,” including attending and supporting MiCoCo’s weekly meetings to provide community members information and hold forums on neighborhood concerns.

Within MiCoCo’s building, programs are offered that help people find jobs, provide students with after-school programs, hold classes to learn English or attain one’s GED, and even provide an accessible computer lab to the community. Encountering community members on a daily basis, Buitrago said, makes her have a different perspective on the neighborhood she grew up in.

“I lived there my whole life but I was never involved with the community because I felt like I was sheltered,” she said, “and I’ve noticed before that there’s a lot of gang violence, but the Mission nowadays is lot more justified…its a different community.”

The main reason Buitrago decided to intern for MiCoCo was because it directly helps the community in which she grew up in. “It’s where I live, and now that I’m older I’m getting to know the real, positive things that are going on in the neighborhood.”

But acquiring the job was somewhat unintentional, she said. With only retail and office experience under her belt, she applied to a couple of internships, not knowing whether she would receive a response from any of them. When MiCoCo contacted her, she said it was somewhat of a surprise.

“I was really interested just because it involves the community,” she said, “to make good connections within my neighborhood.” And the experience thus far has been a rewarding one, she said, exposing her to political issues that she was not aware of before.

“Now that I’m a part of it, I know now that’s what I wanted to do,” she said, “get that [political] experience.”

One of MiCoCo’s projects that Buitrago helped put together was the “One Mission Peace March” on Jan. 28, a rally intended to spread messages of love and peace to Mission youth by advocating non-violence as a way of life in the community. It also highlighted the efforts of organizations to prevent crime, as well their fight against the Mayor’s Office for cutting the funding to programs that serve the youth in the Mission. “I was on the committee looking up facts for the youth,” Buitrago said, referring to the poster signs that displayed youth and crime facts that rally participants hold. “Whenever they needed help I helped them, making calls or faxes,” she said.

The internship above all has given her networking opportunities, the chance to meet other people and find out their life stories, and find out what they went through to get where they are now. “The people I work with, they really love what they do,” she said, “having this job reminds me to keep in mind that, if I’m not happy with what I’m doing, then why do it at all? But I’ve learned that I really love what I do.”

To find more information on MiCoCo, visit: http://www.micocosf.org/

Student Profile: Freshman Kathryn Butera Studied Abroad in Panama, Noted Cultural, Gender Differences

Kathryn Butera hopes to return to Latin America to study.  Photo by Chelsea Sterling/Foghorn

Kathryn Butera hopes to return to Latin America to study. Photo by Chelsea Sterling/Foghorn

Living in a foreign country? Showering from a bucket? Eating cow tongue? None of these experiences have stopped freshman Kathryn Butera from enjoying her senior year of high school while studying abroad in Panama. This world traveler managed to put the culture shock aside and soak in the Panamanian way of life, developing a passion for Latin American culture that she has now brought to USF.

Butera is an International Studies and Latin American Studies major, a member of the Martín Baro Scholar Program, and a member of the humanities honors program. Originally she is from Eugene, Oregon, where she got involved in a study abroad program through American Field Services.

The move this year from Eugene to San Francisco was nothing compared to the move from Eugene to Panama last fall. Butera speaks almost entirely positively about her time in Changuinola (a city in Bocas Del Toro, a Panamanian province), but does admit to having her fair share of hardships.

Upon arriving in Panama, Butera quickly learned that her high school Spanish education had left her far from fluent. For the first several months she recounts having a hard time communicating with her host family and other locals, admitting that she would “agree to everything” she was asked, because often times she had no idea what people were saying. This trick worked relatively well, but led to some surprises.

Butera said, “One time I agreed to eat cow tongue without knowing it!” After the first few months, she picked up the language and now considers herself nearly fluent. The food was very different from American cuisine because, as a less developed country, Panama has fewer resources and less ability to support a large food industry. Butera, however, had very few complaints.

One of the biggest culture shocks for Butera was the lack of running water. Flooding in many regions of Panama disrupts the entire country’s water circulation and oftentimes no water would run to her host family’s house. “I would literally shower out of a bucket,” she said. Even if there was running water, she would have to go outside and use a faucet outside of the house to get it.

The program was not just about cultural immersion. Butera also went to school for the nine months she was out of the States at the Bilingual Institute. The school, however, was predominantly made up of Spanish speakers, most of which were from Europe.

Butera was also struck by the cultural norms about family and women’s roles in Latin America. “In Panama, family is everything,” Butera said. “Your parents’ word is the final word.” Butera speculates that the significance of family loyalty may be because Panama is a “less trusting environment.”

Although Butera appreciated the emphasis on family values, she had problems with the expectations her host family had of women. She describes Panamanian culture as much more sexist than American culture. For example, because she is female, she was often not allowed to go out at night with her friends and was expected to perform more household duties. Most nights she was required to be home by 5 PM, which she describes as a huge change from her 2 AM curfew back in Oregon.

By the end of the year, though, Butera was incredibly sad to leave the country. She said it was the, “best experience of my life” and that coming home was much harder than going there. Her time in Panama greatly influenced her choice in major at USF and she has grown increasingly more fascinated with Latin American culture. She hopes to study abroad again, possibly in Panama (where her boyfriend lives), but is open to almost any opportunity to travel to Latin America.

Butera encourages all students, regardless of their year or financial ability, to try to study abroad. She represents the great diversity and enthusiasm that manifests itself in much of the USF student body.

Profile: Ivana Rosas, Globally Minded Senior

Senior Ivana Rosas speaks three languages and has traveled to Europe and Central America during her career at USF.  Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn

Senior Ivana Rosas speaks three languages and has traveled to Europe and Central America during her career at USF. Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn

Through study abroad opportunities and service learning trips, senior Ivana Rosas has seen many countries including Nicaragua, El Salvador, and France. Rosas, an international studies major focusing on the environment and development, considers herself a citizen of the world.

Born in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Rosas’ family moved to Los Angeles when she was five years old. Her family returned to Venezuela frequently and of these visits she remembers, “I would spend time with my cousins, aunts and uncles. We would celebrate birthdays. I had my first communion there.” Adjusting to her new life and learning English was not difficult for Rosas. She said, “I was in an ESL kindergarten class. My teacher spoke in English all the time. I don’t have recollections of [learning English] being really hard.” At her parents’ insistence, Rosas spoke only in Spanish at home so she could maintain her native language. Today she listens to music in Spanish and also speaks with her parents and cousins in Venezuela to keep her Spanish sharp.

Rosas studied French in high school and continued to take courses at USF. In the spring of 2008, she studied for a semester at the Catholic Institute of Paris in France. By the end of the semester, she was fluent. Rosas now speaks three languages and is learning a fourth: Portugese.

Of the study abroad experience, she said “I really enjoyed feeling like a foreigner and being completely lost to my surroundings, regaining a sense of self, making my own niche in a different society and discovering what it means to be a global citizen.”

Through a liberation theology course, Rosas was offered the opportunity to travel to El Salvador to observe firsthand how liberation theology was affecting communities.  Within a few months of this trip, Rosas again boarded a plane for Central America. Last summer as part of a service learning based project, Rosas interned at the Foundation for Sustainable Development in Nicaragua. She worked with a women’s environmentalist group that sells products made from recycled paper, specifically working on marketing and internal management. “The knowledge I gained was how to do more with community organizing and questioning what is development and taking it further by asking what is sustainable development especially in “third world” countries,” Rosas said.

After she graduates in December, Rosas plans to continue her work at the Global Women’s Fund, where she is part of a team that receives fund proposals from different organizations, like the Central America Women’s Fund.  After taking a year off, she plans to apply to graduate school to study urban planning or architecture. She said, “Studying space is so interesting and the relationship that humans have with space and their surroundings, both manmade and natural.”

Rosas holds her world traveling experiences very dear and strives to maintain her global citizenship, which to her means “being aware that while we may have our own identities be they multicultural or not, we are all responsible for our own existence and we have to be aware of and respect others’ right to exist as well.”

Profile: Sophomore Gabriel Avina Has Multicultural Upbringing

Gabriel Avina.  Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn

Gabriel Avina. Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn

It’s not every day that one meets a person who has traveled extensively or has lived outside of the United States, except, that is, if you are from San Francisco. Gabriel Avina, a sophomore and Asian studies major, knows how important and how different cultures can be, having spent most of his life living in Asia.

As a six-month-old infant, Avina’s family moved away from New York where Avina was born and settled down in Bhutan, or “mountain country” as Avina calls it. Bhutan is located high up in the Himalayas and surrounded by the countries China, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Bhutan, “land of the thunder dragon,”  opened its doors to technology and the beginnings of democracy in 2007. Bhutan shares the same culture as Tibet and practices Buddhism.

Avina had to move because his father worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and was often relocated.  Now Avina’s mother works as a jewelry designer and his father works for Microsoft. After living in Bhutan for four years, the family then moved to Laos for another four years, and finally Thailand for eight years. Rather than feeling unsettled, Avina calls his upbringing a, “wonderful experience—I’ve got a lot of perspective on life since I have lived in various countries amongst unique cultures. That’s why I’m probably taking Asian Studies right now, because I have a good understanding of other cultures because of my upbringing.”

However, even though understanding a multitude of diverse cultures, places, and people were intriguing for Avina, he did admit that moving around was difficult at times. In fact, he admitted that, “It’s hard not knowing anyone for more than five years. I’ve met a lot of people that I’ve lost contact with.” Regardless, Avina plans to do a lot more traveling, to places such as Asia, Southeast Asia, India, and France.

When asked how he felt when he first arrived back in the United States, and California for that matter, his answer was “culture shocked.” He went on to explain that he had visited it a couple times before, but he did not understand a lot of the references. Furthermore, he said that more of his emotions were based on missing home rather than concentrating on where he now saw himself. Avina said, “People overseas are much more informed and kids are more culturally aware and tolerant. Here, politics are much more internal.”

Instead of becoming familiar with Hollywood enchantment, he was familiar with a far more unique magic. Growing up in Thailand, he encountered a lot of folklore. Stories of yeti sightings and magical forest and mountain spirits surround Avina’s childhood. As in the culture, one is respectful of all that is around, plants and animals alike.

Candace Stevenson wrote to congress members to change earthquake safety policies after her father Joseph Stevenson (also shown) was fatally injured in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.  Photo Courtesy of Candace Stevenson

Candace Stevenson wrote to congress members to change earthquake safety policies after her father Joseph Stevenson (also shown) was fatally injured in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo Courtesy of Candace Stevenson

For a college experience, Avina describes San Francisco as open-minded and “fresh.” He said, “There was no where else I could really come after where I’ve been.” For all those who are considering study abroad, Avina’s message is simple, “Travel is important, especially when you are growing up. Experiencing other countries leads to a much broader perspective on the world.”

Profile: Senior Raises Funds For Latin American Children

Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn

Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn

After traveling to Lima, Peru with the University Ministry’s Arrupe Immersion Program in the spring of 2008, and witnessing firsthand the struggles that street children face, senior Hannah Mora has singlehandedly organized her own drive to donate funds to an emergency shelter built to house rescued victims. The shelter is an international project created by the Not For Sale Campaign.

Through Not For Sale, a movement devoted to ending modern-day slavery and resolving social justice issues, Mora is independently acquiring donations for Veronica’s House, a refuge that provides immediate needs such as food, clothing, and housing to victims of Lima, Peru’s bustling streets.

Although it is Mora’s second time obtaining donations, once in the Spring of 2009 and now the beginning of Fall 2009, she hopes to encourage 100 people to donate $5 a month, to secure at least $500 every month to Veronica’s House, she said. Mora generated about $700 last year, exceeding her $500 goal, which was then on a one-time basis when she asked family and friends to donate to the cause. This time around, Mora anticipates that people in the USF community, along with her Southern California church and former high school, can donate on a monthly basis.

Mora came up with the idea of giving back to the children she met during her immersion trip after almost a full year had passed. Around spring break in 2009, Mora reflected on her trip, yearning to revisit the street children that befriended her. “I wasn’t able to go to Peru again,” she said, so she thought of a way that would allow her to make a financial contribution instead. Her mission was simple: find 100 people to donate $5 each, which she found was an economic-friendly amount that wouldn’t burn a hole in people’s pockets.

Signing up for the trip, “you don’t know what you’re getting into,” she said. As a sophomore, Mora came across the application for the immersion trip by simply spending time in the University Ministry office. Trips were offered for Nicaragua and Africa, but Mora said, “Peru stood out because we would be working with kids.”

The Arrupe Immersion program in Peru is designed to give light on the various shelters that protect street children, and to educate USF students on the tribulations and opportunities of working with the children.

After a select group of 10 were chosen, bi-monthly meetings were held leading up to the trip, to inform the group about the politics, culture, and other broad information on Peru.

Upon arrival, Mora said one of the first things the group did was meet with street children at a beach, about 40 youths from ages 12 to mid-20s. The street children shared their individual stories, which were “very personal and heartbreaking,” Mora said, “a very effective way to introduce us to the trip.” Before meeting them, Mora said she had never seen anything like that; “being around poverty and homelessness, it wasn’t relatable to me, but I went there and became friends with them.” Meeting the street children gave a face to homelessness, she said. Mora noticed that some street children even had scars on their bodies, to fend off police who wanted to hurt them.

Afterwards, two children conducted a tour of Lima, told “through their eyes,” Mora said. “Not a typical tourist vacation you would expect.”

To Mora’s surprise, some street children depended on prostitution and stealing food, while others found their own unique way to make money. One of the boys Mora met, Ruben, would make and sell bracelets to get by, she said.

“When I came back, I changed my lifestyle and felt guilty about the way I was living, what I spent my money on,” Mora said, “I retold the kid’s stories and experiences to friends and family.”

By the next spring break, Mora approached Kique Bazan, Director of Social Justice and Community Action for the University Ministry and the co-founder of Not For Sale, to see what he thought about her proposal of raising funds on her own and sending the donations to Lima’s street children. At the time, Veronica’s House was a work in progress, but Bazan informed Mora that the project would be a good place to send the money. Bazan directed her to Not For Sale, so she could send out letters to family and friends, and encourage them to spread the word to their family and friends, Mora said.

Mora’s intention was to raise the money by the time the University Ministry headed back on their next immersion trip to Peru, but she fell short of her deadline. The $700 she raised solely through her network of family and friends took about a month to complete, and by that time Spring Break had passed.

Mora then gave her donations directly through the Not For Sale, and 100 percent of the proceeds went towards Veronica’s House. As an additional gift, Mora provided a collage of pictures of all the people who donated, so the children in Peru could directly see their sponsors.

Veronica’s House opened in July 2009, in which Not For Sale helped fundraise $89,294 to purchase the land and house, but the house itself is still under the construction. Four rescued girls have a permanent residence at the shelter, but every so often, new youths are brought in consistently.

The project was an effort driven by Not For Sale and Peru’s “modern day abolitionist,” Lucy, whom Mora met during her visit. Lucy founded Generación, an organization that offers prevention and aftercare programs designed to foster life skills, including the emergency shelter, Veronica’s House.

Now that Mora is on her second cycle of raising funds, Bazan helped create Mora’s own webpage under Not For Sale, where people can make online donations. Bazan also made Mora ambassador of the project, and she has taken steps by presenting the drive to her classes and her hometown church, and informing her high school through their newsletters.

Mora said she is uncertain how long this second drive will last, because it’s a monthly effort made on behalf of the people she reaches out to.  For now, Not For Sale keeps tracks of the total amount raised, and Mora will find out the total once her drive ends.

Projecting into the future, Mora will continue to do the campaign “as long as they need me to,” she said, “even if that means I [can no longer] be ambassador.” Mora said it is something she is dedicated to, so she will maintain her involvement as long as she can. “It’s something I think is important and it’s a story I tell people all the time,” she said.

In March, the University Ministry will take some 13 students on another trip to Lima, Peru, to meet former street children again and learn what life has been like through their eyes. “It’s easier to vocalize once you’ve seen for yourself what’s going on.” Mora said.

Mora is majoring in theology and religious studies and minoring in Catholic social thought. “I want to continue spending my time volunteering with organizations centered on social justice, specifically Not For Sale, which has provided me with the tools and opportunities to participate in such efforts as these,” she said.

Over a short time, the immersion trip Mora innocently stumbled across has made a significant impression on her life. “It continues to be an important part of what made me who I am,” she said, “and even though it’s only been two years, I still have friends that I want to give back to.”

To donate to Mora’s cause, click here.