I found out that being a political science student helps when explaining why someone would take a class on Human Trafficking and Prostitution. That is to say I have enough knowledge and background on politics to explain that I planned on studying abroad in this particular field primarily to understand the phenomenon without the glitter or glam. I cannot say however that people that I told were not dramatic, especially after explaining how my course included a study tour to Sweden to meet with social workers and police authorities and also a tour of the local red light district in Copenhagen. The
attention being drawn to the issue by politicians around the world and media often gave the people I told at the home the idea that what I was doing was either incredibly dangerous or incredibly useless.
Wading the waters of political science and international relations often involves intense analysis of different sides of an issue while also accepting the fact that every topic in politics has multiple layers, multiple causes and almost impossible solutions. Needless to say, most people whom I encountered before leaving for Europe often went running in the other direction after saying the word "politics." Other times, saying the word "exploitation" was enough to miraculously silence an entire room of coworkers who all suddenly felt the urge to return back to their cubicles. And therein lies the problem.
The topic of Human Trafficking is something I have been closely studying months before I even stepped foot into my summer course in Denmark. Sifting through information and research has been a constant battle, but running into apathy or ignorance from people about the topic made studying the topic a campaign. So finding a class focused on political, social, economic and psychological strategies to combat trafficking of human beings to be exploited was like hitting the
jackpot. Except it was better.
My class was a fair size of twelve students, most of whom were from the Midwest or East Coast of the United States but were all generally interested and sincere in the topic. The first day was crammed with basic information and a quick reading of the Declaration of Human Rights in order to understand the issue itself from a political aspect as well as from a human rights and gender identity perspective. To better illustrate the issue, my teacher showed a film based on the true story of a girl trafficked from Romania to Sweden to be sexually exploited as a prostitute. The feeling after watching the film was a lot like finding out about the hole in the ozone layer. As a class our eyes were opened to a world far from the comfort of American universities and apple pie. The next two weeks were equally as overwhelming, yet I could see around me an effect and impact being made not only on the individuals in my classroom but also an impact on the street.
I was fortunate enough to listen to and speak with guest lecturers who choose to work in the trenches of human rights work and who work as the hands and feet of the different government agencies or non-profit organizations that employ them. The experience of being able to speak with these individuals helped me gain a better understanding not only of the problem, but also the attempts being made at helping victims out of dire situations. These moments in particular were to be the ones I would take back with me to the U.S. to prove that despite the complexity of the problem, progress is still being made. And by progress, I mean political legislation has become real action, even if incrementally.
A three week crash course in a complicated human rights topic was honestly not enough to satisfy my urge to know more and to do more, but I know this is just a jumping off point. Before leaving the states, I was only vaguely aware of the topic as it related to the political science textbooks and fancy research papers. Now I feel like I cannot only better explain the issue to people in general but that I can say that I had to go half way around the world just to make sure something was being done. That kind of reassurance is another motivation to keep learning and helping other people become aware of the complexities of world politics and human trafficking.
Class of 2010
Political Science major (International Relations concentration)