“Are you going to be a do-gooder or a difference-maker?” When Kendall Weaver, a Wofford College junior from Lexington, S.C., was first asked this question by a mentor, it seemed to stand in contrast to the question of “How will you change the world?” that she had heard often during her first days at college. As the 36th Presidential International Scholar, Weaver hopes to learn how to answer both questions through her research on Western aid in Middle Eastern countries.
As the Presidential International Scholar, Weaver will travel to Palestine after spending the fall semester in Amman, Jordan, with the School for International Training. She will conduct her research on how aid organizations’ mission statements, donors and structures frame their work with Palestinian and Syrian refugees. By examining the day-to-day decisions made in aid organizations, Weaver hopes to wrestle with the broader question of “What is help?”
“Every major religion has charity as one of its main pillars, yet so often ‘doing good’ becomes about us ‘feeling good,’” says Weaver, whose coursework in community-based learning inspired her to ask difficult questions about her own understanding of compassion. “I had to ask myself what ‘help’ is and what the ‘right way’ to help someone is. There are a lot of critiques of aid work and our failure to maintain the human dignity of those in need, so figuring out the answers to these questions has been crucial to my own beliefs about charity.”
An international affairs major and sociology and anthropology minor, Weaver joined the college’s Middle Eastern and North African Studies Program after falling in love with Arab culture through her study of the Arabic language during her first year. She is excited to practice these language skills through the immersive experience the scholarship provides.
When Weaver found out that she had been named the Presidential International Scholar, she immediately turned to the Wofford community for support.
“My Arabic professor, Dr. Youness Mountaki, changed our syllabus and textbook for the spring semester so that I could study the dialect spoken in Jordan and Palestine. Dr. Rachel Vanderhill, Dr. Courtney Dorroll and Dr. Alysa Handelsman have all offered support, patience and encouragement as I have juggled classes and papers alongside planning for this experience.” In addition to gratitude to her professors, Weaver appreciates past Presidential International Scholars and Wofford President Nayef Samhat, who have helped her prepare and understand the heart behind this program.
“Kendall has a passion for engaging the world and finding ways to understand and address complex problems,” says Samhat. “She is thoughtful, driven, inquisitive and will surely make an impact on the lives of everyone she meets and on our community of learners when she returns to share her research.”
The Wofford College Presidential International Scholar is a program that annually selects “the student most likely to make a difference in the future” to conduct independent research in a non-traditional location. The scholar, selected by the president of the college, is a student with exceptional potential to benefit humankind, passion for service learning and a globally minded intellectual curiosity.