- MONDAY POST - 'Outside' Alum Reflects on "Foreign Spaces"

Before traveling there, Spain was a shape on a map; a strange polygon that resembles an upside down hand waving softly. I would look at that tiny space hanging in the Atlantic Ocean and try to imagine myself living there for a full five months. I wanted to taste the spicy, foreign culture that I did not yet know, where the rhythms and sounds of the language were not my mother tongue. What I expected was influenced from guide books and films, often very romanticized, portrayals of old cultural stereotypes where women in spotted flamenco gowns danced to the beat of a forgotten century.

In retrospect, my preparations for studying abroad and getting ready for my first Inside-Out course were rather similar.  I remembered opening my “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted” email from Professor Shaul Cohen, being so excited I almost couldn’t breathe. Then the reality struck that I would be spending a large chunk of my next term in prison. I knew nothing about prisons; I had never even driven by the Oregon State Penitentiary. What happened behind the locked bars of the ‘inside’ was a foreign language; the daily life of prisoners an unknown cultural code. With Google I searched images of the Oregon State Penitentiary and tried to imagine our class pushing open the heavy glass doors and filing into tight hallways.  Similar to my ideas of Spain, a lot of what I new about this unknown before was based on movies and TV. Like maybe I’d get to meet D’Angelo and Avon Barksdale from The Wire while I was there.

In ways, Inside-Out is a lot like traveling. Just like at the airport, to enter OSP our class cruised through metal detectors and ID checkpoints. While traveling and participating in Inside-Out you are putting yourself in another space of the unknown—from what is comfortable to what is potentially uncomfortable. To where the rulebook is written but you don’t have a copy.

While I was in Spain, and through Inside Out, the reality exceeded my expectations. I got to connect with other students on profound levels that I never predicted—learning from people whom I never would have met if we didn’t share this foreign ‘space.’ As the months went by in Spain my mouth became more comfortable to the textures of español. I started to know people in the city. And at OSP, climbing the stairs to the education room in the 4th floor where our ‘inside’ classmates waited eagerly seemed like a regular college experience. Bit by bit things became less foreign and more like home.

Now both of those experiences have reached closure. It just makes me sad that Spain, thousands of miles away from my Eugene apartment is accessible with a plane ticket. Whereas the students inside at in the Oregon State Penitentiary, only two hours north by car I will never have the chance to see again.  Sometimes foreign travel is actually more close to home.

- Meredith

Former 'Outside' Student

University of Oregon