AFIL International Awareness Project: Book Club

International Leadership
Challenge Project
Maggie Beecher and Gus Blessing
The project was a 4 session book club based on the book “Travels
with Myself ” by Tahir Shah. The participants were current Texas
A&M students who are passionate about international affairs and
interested in cultural awareness. The event was hosted in the MSC
Forsyth Galleries.
The two purposes of this project were to encourage friendships
between local and international Texas A&M students and to promote
dialogue in a focused but casual and intimate atmosphere.
Thinking and Creating Stage
The first stage involved thinking and creating the project idea.
Although there were some initial setbacks, this stage proved
rewarding and we optimistically moved towards the
preparation stage of the project.
This stage highlighted the importance of compromise and
specificity. Through compromise, we achieved a general
concept of our project. Later, we specified our project to the
concrete idea of a book club that would be a tangible way to
achieve our most conceptual goals.
Case Study
Many concerns associated with book,
and we had to consider all possibilities.
Some concerns included: short story
versus textbook, continuous theme or
individual stories, conceptual
international relations themes versus
concrete examples
The short story was picked for specific
reasons. The amount of reading would
be significantly smaller, the distribution
was made electronic, represents
international culture well, short stories
could be different each week yet adhere to
the larger theme of the sessions
Planning and Preparation Stage
The steps we took to prepare and plan the actual implementation of the project included:
Selecting and obtaining copy of text used for discussions.
Creating a Facebook group and distributing text electronically to participants
Contacting the MSC Forsyth Galleries and scheduling times for our book club usage.
Contacting friends, former and current AFIL students, MSC FLI, ISA, and Business
Honors program to inform others of our project and how to be invovled
Creating questions regarding readings ready to promote discussion among participants
Book Club Sessions
The first session topic was preserving cultural heritage.
The story we featured was about a man who, in
collaboration with the Qatari government, is collecting
art and historical artifacts for a museum in Qatar. His
work focuses especially on works pertaining to the history
and heritage of Islam. Some of the areas of conversation
included whether cultural history is important, how to
balance preserving cultural heritage with investing in
future generations as well as the differences in the
importance of philanthropy and wealth in cultures. Our
guests spoke to their experiences with Chinese culture,
Nicaraguan culture, and German culture.
The Week Two topic was cultural concepts of friendship,
particularly the differences between Eastern and Western
World ideas of friendship. The story we used was about an
author who moved from London to Morocco, and, after some
difficulty overcoming differences, became close friends with a
local man. The topics of conversation included concepts of
loyalty and reciprocity in different cultures, cultural ideas of
altruism (some cultures value this idea of selflessness, others
emphasis repaying one's debts of gratitude).
The third week discussed the story of how the author
left his home city of London to move to Morocco. The
discussion centered around concepts of home, and the
difference between the connection we feel to our
ancestral homes and the geographic place of our births.
Our final session, week four, talked about the
author’s friendship with a local man who was a
stamp collector. The local man was elderly,
and he passed away after a short but
enlightening friendship with the author. In this
session we talked about personal and cultural
beliefs about the meaning of life, as well as
cultural reactions to sadness and tragedy.
In evaluating this project in its entirety, we believe it has been a
success. It has involved an international component through reading
and discussing international culture. It impacted Texas A&M
students, albeit a small group. Additionally, the project has the
quality of being sustainable into the future. The project succeeded in
all three major components detailed in the instructions.
We had consistent participation throughout the four sessions, which
facilitated deeper conversations as the program progressed. The
stories we used often provoked different reactions from different
people, and inspired dialogue about cultural values learned both from
family life and from international travel.
Sustainability and Ways to
Without a doubt, this project is
sustainable. The project could be
renewed every year if that be the desire
of future AFIL students. Additionally,
this project is sustainable because it
can be improved and can be refocused
in a different direction.
For example, instead of discussing
international culture, a future book
club could discuss international
religion specifically or international
perspectives on raising children.
Ways to Improve
 Contact more organizations
sooner. This will help with the
initial attendance concerns.
 Involve the international
perspective in dialogue, not just
 Find ways to increase attendance
while maintaining integrity of
small group feel and expression