CREST 2019 Introduction
From April to September 2019, three undergraduate students from the Department of Anthropology, at the University of Toronto University, Canada underwent an immersive learning experience at the Centre for Research and Social Transformation (CREST) in Kerala, India. From May to late June, undergraduate student Annika Olsen undertook this internship alongside master’s student Amanda Harvey-Sánchez. From July to late August, Amber (Xinyang) Ye and Tabitha Oni together joined CREST to learn about the institution and facilitate positive experiences for the students. CREST provides skills training for Dalit (former untouchable) and Adivasi (tribal) youth who continue to suffer from stigma and social exclusion, despite a legal regime that endeavours to protect them. During their time at CREST, the interns learned how social exclusion locally operates and how it is institutionally navigated. At the same time, they each underwent inter-cultural learning experiences with the students, organizing activities to help develop the trainees’ confidence and communication skills. The following reflection posts written by the 2019 interns provide insight into how their experiences in Kerala have helped them to better understand the interconnections between education, identity and social mobility.
Kerala Interns 2019 – Blog Reflections Assignment
By Annika Olsen
Space and gender
During my time at CREST, most students proudly stated that Kerala does not face any grave social inequality when it comes to caste. Yet, at the same time, CREST is an organization that was specifically founded to assist students with lower caste backgrounds to leverage social mobility through developing skills such as English. Here, I will discuss a topic that the students daily acknowledged while I was an intern for CREST: Gender and moral policing.
“We cannot act but we can look” one of the students Sheetal giggled next to me as we watch another student try to track down “the man with the grey shirt”, one of the store employees that she had a crush on. We were sitting on a bench in a garden centre that opened a few kilometers away from the school. None of the students have seen a centre like this before so after class I was invited to join them to go and explore the store. Several students joined in on the teasing as the hunt for the man with the grey shirt continue. As the girl gives up and joins both me and Sheetal on the bench, I remember an earlier conversation about her boyfriend. As I address this, she turns to me with shrug stating, “just enjoying view.”
This is one example I encountered where female students were resisting certain gender roles, especially when it came to the expression of their sexuality. The female students would often tease each other about having multiple boyfriends, staying up until late to talk with boys and dating. Interestingly, this expression was very specifically contained within the community of the CREST students’ private spheres, except for the small garden incident. When I was asking about a picture of one of the male students holding Sheetal in a bridal sari that was posted on a Whatsapp group, she very clearly stated that her parents would never be allowed to see a picture of her doing this, as it is considered inappropriate. This statement was met with general nods around the room.
During a discussion, one female student at CREST passionately spoke about how CREST formed a space for her to express herself. She described how at home, she would not be able to speak about issues such as her period, which would be considered taboo. As she phrased it: “At home they don’t think like that. They say I am bad girl.” For her CREST became a safe space to express and challenge some of the expectations that she faces in her community, or she states there is more freedom.
Why is this notable? The batch that I was interning with in the summer of 2019 was made up of 33 female students and only 7 males. Consequently, women’s empowerment became dominant on the agenda during group conversations. Both moral policing and correct behaviour were challenged on a daily basis through jokes, plays and even in class. During a theatre workshop which took place in the third week that I was there one girl even brought up for discussion the choice not to marry at all, a choice that is frowned upon because, she elaborated, it would indicate promiscuity to the community. CREST therefore creates a platform to discuss issues outside of communal pressures and judgment, where it creates a specific spatial and temporal context to allow for reflection on gender.
The Forest dweller as a tool in the political formation of the Adivasi
In my second month in Kerala, I spent 10 days in Wayanad district exploring the marginalization of indigenous populations, also known as Adivasi, living in the district. The majority of Adivasi in Kerala live in this district. Amanda, a UofT master student doing her thesis on Adivasi youth, and I visited several locations to learn about the issues that Adivasi’s are facing. It was during this trip that we met with C.K. Janu, an Adivasi activist who fights for Adivasi land rights.
The Adivasi movement faces extreme tensions as it is trying to fight a romanticized image of the indigenous life in harmony with nature as well as the image of the uncivilized unmodern forest dweller. However, the Adivasi community is extremely heterogenous in their livelihoods as well as socio-economic status (Steur, 2017) and have faced different forms of marginalization in Kerala. The largest communities, the Paniya and Adiyas, were slave workers for landlords in the 14th and 15th century and were landless before the British colonial administration acknowledged the full land proprietary rights of these landlords in 1816. Other communities, such as Kurichiya and Kuruma, engaged in paddy cultivation on communal land and, through informal agreements with the landlords, could continue to engage in their agricultural practices (Steur 2017). The Kurichiya and Kuruma often still hold joint land ownership and have become middle-class citizens.
When speaking to a physics professor at a college near Sultan Battery, he admitted that in his nine years of teaching at university the reservation seats were always filled with Kurichiya and Kuruma students. However, when speaking about the restoration of dispossessed land, the professor also noted that the Kurichiya and Kuruma were the most affected, since both the Paniya and Adiya were bonded labourers. This dispossession took place between 1940-1970 where migrants from different parts of Kerala moved into Wayanad district to work often on borrowed land, that eventually the government legally transferred to them through the passing of the land act in 1969 (Steur 2017). Therefore, in legal debates involving Tribal culture and land claims, it is just the landowning groups in Kerala to which non-Adivasi activists normally refer.
During our discussion, C.K. Janu explained how used the term Adivasi to reunite landless and landowning communities, so to create space for the social mobilization of these marginalized Wayanad communities. In 2003, the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha led by C.K. Janu, a political movement mobilizing predominantly landless tribal communities, conducted a land occupation at Muthanga National Wildlife sanctuary (Steur 2017). The government was about to privatize the Sanctuary, which would have resulted in the communities being evacuated, so Janu explained that they occupied the land by building bamboo huts on it. Although the communities living in Muthanga are landless, the struggle was about repossession of recognized Adivasi land. This is unusual since activists for such landless communities do not always engage in land occupation to re-establish lost land rights. Rather, they often participate in the struggle in order to claim new cultivable land, which does not necessarily have to be situated in a forest (Steur 2017). However, Janu explained that they found ancestral art carved in the trees, suggesting that it was once in fact owned by the Adivasi community. This form of occupation allowed for the unification of organizations in support of both restoration and establishment of land rights under one umbrella of Adivasi Activism in Kerala. However, in making this argument, she also relocated Adivasi identity back into the forest.
Meeting C.K. Janu was a highlight of my trip; we spent half the day at her house, built on the land for which she agitated in the nineties. In her recounting of the Muthanga agitation, she acknowledged the heritage involving life in the forest, recognizing it as a unifying practice. For her, embracing a romanticized forest dwelling imagery helps mobilize people in support of the landless Adivasi drive to re-occupy ancestral land. They utilized the forest welling identity to gain support from NGOs in order to legally battle dislocation from their own land. In doing so, they have to submit to a romanticized definition of underdevelopment.
By Tabitha Oni
The “c” word: unpacking CRESTIAN space, a crucial site confronting social exclusion and stereotypes
While the Kerala model of development was aimed at the “equitable redistribution of resources and extension of public services” for citizens in Kerala, lower caste populations like Dalits and Adivasis were left behind in the pursuit of sustainability and development (Devika, 2010, p. 801).This has transpired into professional, governmental, and educational sectors in Indian society to be highly biased against low-caste populations, as their narratives are historically rooted in backwardness and subservience (Nampoothiri, 2013).
CREST serves as a crucial site for people from Dalit and Adivasi backgrounds, as it equips them to craft personalities and identities that better allow them to compete in India’s global competitive market. Throughout their five months at CREST, students are pushed outside of their comfort zones academically, professionally and personally. This transpired into early mornings, late nights and hefty amounts of debates, presentations, study sessions and projects.
An immense amount of respect is given to faculty members at every moment of interaction. When teachers step into the classroom, students stand up from their seat as a sign of respect and also address faculty with the title “Sir” or “Aunty” after their first name (e.g. Vinod Sir). Initially, I was puzzled because in Canada, students do not address professors in this way or at least respect is performed in a different manner. I asked the students why they stood up for faculty members, and they explained that it was rooted in the Sanskrit phrase, ‘Matha Pitha Guru Daivam’ which directly translates into Mother Father Teacher God. In Indian society, mothers and fathers trust teachers to lead their children to God and the path of enlightenment. Faculty members also reciprocate this respect by ensuring that students are taught in a positive, constructive and uplifting manner. Faculty members have immense faith in their students as they know each one has the capacity to improve and excel, so they keep students on their toes with new, challenging and innovative ways of learning employable skills.
The interaction between students is one that is embedded in strong bonds and friendship. They support and encourage each other by asserting a positive energy in their classroom. Whenever students present or speak up in class, they applaud and praise one another as they recognize the amount of courage needed to participate and perform outsides one’s comfort zone. The atmosphere at CREST is one filled with determination and purpose. Students fill the classrooms early in the morning and late after class practising for presentations and studying for exams. They understand that the only way they can forge a brighter future is to use education as a weapon to dismantle societal stereotypes allotted to people from their caste. While all students are friends with each other, during official class time, they treat each other professionally and formally. During lunch and outside of CREST, they shed the formality and unleash a fun and expressive side to them. I elaborate further on this friendship in the third section.
The “f” word: unpacking the double role of FRIEND and FACULTY at CREST
My assigned role as an intern was one that was constantly negotiated; one moment I was considered a friend but another moment I was considered a faculty member. This role was not rigid, as it shifted from one to the other depending on the different spaces and contexts I found myself in. When my role shifted to a faculty member, I evaluated student presentations giving constructive feedback about how to better articulate and express themselves in front of an audience.
I led sessions with students centered upon personality and self-actualization development to improve their confidence, professionalism, leadership and communication skills. A week after the students arrived, I delivered a presentation focused upon confidence and three ways to achieve it during their time at CREST and beyond. I developed an exercise that was centered upon an introspective self-reflection, as each student reflected upon areas that they would like to be confident in and how they can achieve this during their five months at CREST.
While the hostel was a space of informality and freedom, through meaningful conversations with the women, a lot of them expressed wanting to improve in various areas such as confidence, grammar, public speaking, communication, goal setting, motivation and more. After CREST hours, I stayed up late with the women and engaged in one-on-one tutorials with them in their chosen areas. It was clear to me that these women were determined to be successful and that was evident through their hard work and perseverance.
The “s” word: Unpacking the concept of SISTERHOOD in CREST
Sisterhood is defined as “the affection, loyalty, support, solidarity, and bond that women feel for other women who they have something in common with” (“Sisterhood definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary”, n.d.). During my short but rewarding time at CREST, I came to term this sisterhood, “CRESTIAN sisterhood”. In such a short span of time, the women had created a strong sense of identity rooted in sisterhood, a sisterhood that would carry them through good and bad times at CREST. It was refreshing to see authentic friendships developed without any intrinsic motives in mind, they genuinely cared for one another.
The hostel housed thirty-four effervescent young women with big dreams, aspirations, challenges and ambitions. Though each woman held a different dream, there was an immense amount of support, love, compassion, vulnerability and generosity extended to each one of them. There was no sense of exclusivity or cliques in the “CRESTIAN sisterhood”, each person was part of the larger group working together harmoniously. Each and every woman at CREST, welcomed me into this sisterhood with open arms, some even calling me “little sister” as I was one of the youngest in the hostel. Throughout my time at CREST, I was constantly reminded that strong bonds could be created in spite of language and cultural differences.
Every waking moment, the hostel was filled with symphonic voices flowing into one another like a sweet melody. While CREST campus was a space of formality and professionalism, the hostel was a space of informality, goofiness and endless laughs. The women moved very freely, unchallenged and spontaneously. This was a space where women could speak to one another in Malayalam (local language of Kerala), their mother tongue. The women were more expressive in their words and actions when speaking Malayalam and it was clear that they felt more comfortable. We spent late nights talking and engaging in meaningful conversations about life, love, aspirations and ambitions. Often six or more of us squeezed onto a single bed laughing and being unapologetically ourselves. The emotional depth of my connections with all the woman rendered me “a vulnerable observer, a compassionate witness, friend, sister and a true ally” (Tillman, 2015, p. 7). The hostel was a space of vulnerability, as many of the women shared their deepest insecurities and challenges with me. These moments of vulnerability were not one-sided, since I shared my deepest insecurities and challenges with them as well. Through these exchanges, we were able to understand the lived experiences of one another.
From late night deep conversations about life and love, group study sessions, dance parties, karaoke sessions, mock presentation sessions, chapati (Indian flat-bread) making sessions, beauty sessions, tears, laughter, and everything in between, the month I spent with my thirty-four sisters will forever be etched in my heart! Through utilizing friendship ethnography, I was able to truly understand appreciate the lived experiences of my sisters at CREST.
Devika, J. (2010). Egalitarian Developmentalism, Communist Mobilization, and the Question of Caste in Kerala State, India. The Journal of Asian Studies, 69(3), 799-820.
Douglas, K., & Carless, D. (2012). Membership, Golf and a Story about Anna and Me: Reflections on Research in Elite Sport. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 13(1), 27-33.
Nampoothiri, D. D. (2013). Confronting Social Exclusion: A Critical Review of the CREST Experience. In Beyond Inclusion (pp. 264-300). Routledge India.
Owton, H., & Allen-Collinson, J. (2014). Close But Not Too Close: Friendship as Method (ology) in Ethnographic Research Encounters. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 43(3), 283-305.
Sisterhood Definition and Meaning | Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved 20 August 2019, from https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/sisterhood
Tillmann, L. M. (2015). Friendship as Method. In In Solidarity: Friendship, Family, and Activism Beyond Gay and Straight. New York: Routledge.
The 32ND CREST Batch Yearbook Project: Collaboration and Inspiration
Traditional ethnographic fieldwork centered upon a paradigm that separated the researcher from their subjects of research on the basis that interpersonal relationships would: (i) “bias the research”, (ii) “disturb the natural setting”, and/or (iii) “contaminate the results” (Owton & Allen-Collinson, 2014 p. 1, Douglas & Carless, 2012 p. 28). This view tacitly encourages impersonality and formality between research subjects and ethnographers. During my time at CREST, I did not take on the role of an impersonal ethnographer. I utilized “friendship ethnography”, which merges traditional fieldwork methods (participant observation, interviews) with friendship building practices, including conversation, everyday involvement, compassion, generosity, and ‘hanging out’ (Stevenson & Lathom, 2017). Such “friendship ethnography” does not portray ethnographic subjects as an impersonal “other.” Rather, it is deeply interested in the lived experiences of their subjects. I followed this position that research subjects are more than just people that give us an insight into their lives; they are people with dreams, struggles, and ambitions.
This yearbook encapsulates the life changing time I spent with CREST students. Through meaningful conversations and one-on-one interactions with students, I was offered a glimpse into their lived experiences and aspirations in navigating life as young Adivasis (indigenous) and Dalits–identity categories in India that refer to those who have been historically marginalized. I was inspired by how ambitious, effervescent, studious and terrific these students were. To me, this was more than just an internship; it birthed real and authentic moments that will stay with me forever. Hence, I was inspired to capture the students’ personalities and their ambitions into a tangible collection of memories that they can look back on, even after their time at CREST. This yearbook is a collaborative piece, pulling together my work as the editor/creator with the student’s work as they talk about their dreams and aspirations. It is centered mainly upon the student’s goals and aspirations, while also showcasing the strong bonds and friendships developed amongst the students as well. At the same time, this yearbook also touches upon the work of the CREST director, staff and interns. This is the first yearbook in CRESTS’ history and I am privileged to be able to take part in the creation of a tangible piece. I hope that I or other students who participate in this internship can continue this tradition.
Douglas, K., & Carless, D. (2012). Membership, Golf and a Story about Anna and Me:Reflections on Research in Elite Sport. Qualitative Methods in Psychology Bulletin, 13(1), 27-33.
Owton, H., & Allen-Collinson, J. (2014). Close But Not Too Close: Friendship as Metho (ology) in Ethnographic Research Encounters. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 43(3), 283- 305.
Stevenson, A., & Lawthom, R. (2017). How We Know Each Other. Exploring the Bonds of Friendship Using Friendship Ethnography and Visual Ethnography. Anthro Vision.Vaneasa Online Journal, (5.1)
By Amber (Xinyang) Ye
Relating through Consumption
As an intern at CREST, I was lucky to work with the 32nd batch of CREST students at the beginning of their 5-month program titled Post Graduate Certificate Course for Professional Development. My interactions with CREST students mainly took place outside of the classroom in casual settings. Through these interactions, I gleaned some insights into these students’ life and aspirations. One of the interesting aspects of my observations was the students’ consumption habits. Knowing that these students are from historically marginalized SC/ST/OBC communities, I expected that many of them were experiencing financial difficulty. I was curious to see how it would translate into their hospitality and lifestyle as individuals aspiring for social mobility. At CREST, I realized that the students did make non-essential purchases despite being frugal in everyday life; among these consumptions, some were already imbedded in the lifestyle of certain individuals, while others could be interpreted as acts of hospitality in my presence.
I felt the hospitality of many CREST students every day at the hostel—the students made sure I ate every meal and often brought me snacks to share. At grocery stores or local bakeries, they often insisted on buying traditional items for me to try. These acts of hospitality led us to spend time together around tea and snacks: it became a mini ritual. Sometimes, these social occasions extended into a story-making or debating session; other times it became part of a weekend outing. These were symbolic interactions where the students were the host and I was the foreign guest, more so than their intern. The students seemed to take pride in these purchases even though the basic food and tea were provided in the hostel. These consumptions, therefore, served a significant social function that expressed communal care and cultural pride.
However, I realized that this is not naturally a part of their daily habits. From what I saw, these students, by themselves, went on walks for weekend activities without making any purchases. They were exploring nature, bantering, taking pictures, and singing Malayalam songs to bond with each other. But in my presence, material goods were almost always part of the picture. Knowing I am an anthropology student, they might also have wished to present their culture as welcoming and their home state (Kerala) as abundant.
My relationship with a few other CREST students differed significantly. Outside of the tea and snack scenes, I connected with some other individuals, who later became my main sources of support in the field. My one-on-one interactions with these students were more personal and congenial, different from the ones that were mainly based on hospitality. These conversations also often involved non-necessary material consumptions; but instead of local goods, these items seemed more like symbols of aspiration.
For example, one conversation was about a CREST student’s professional-looking clothing and her preference for high-quality apparel. Another conversation, about career aspirations and East Asian media, took place at a Western-style café as I happened to accompany the student on her trip of getting a chicken burger. These consumption habits seemed to be embedded in these individuals’ lifestyles already, as opposed to existing only in my presence. These individuals were not only more comfortable with spending on themselves but also with the idea of being my friend. I don’t think this is just a matter of relative financial privilege because these students also had relatively more life experiences—they were older than many other CREST students, they each had a coherent life narrative that they shared, and they were comfortable spending time by themselves even in the highly-communal space of the CREST hostel. Relationships with these individuals appealed to me in a way that the ones based on hospitality didn’t, and consumption styles were a part of that differentiation I took note of.
Besides material consumption, I also got to observe the students’ media consumption practices. Comparing to material goods, online media like Youtube or streaming sites often seem more accessible for people with lower socioeconomic status. Coming from China where a large population of young people desire Western media (movies, shows, etc.) but are denied access, I was surprised to see that, at CREST, most students do not take an interest in “outside” media that are readily accessible. This phenomenon might have to do with the implicit internet/media regulations in Kerala and the students’ social life which do not necessitate the desire. They might also stem from India’s history of state formation and economic development that were different from China’s, from which I drew my own comparison.
The disparity among CREST students’ financial background and personal experience had probably affected my distinctions of these two types of students, though they were all categorized as Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, or Other Backward Classes in the current Indian legal classifications. During my brief time at CREST, I wasn’t able to investigate deeper, but I became cautious about the fact that, as a foreign visitor, I might have been drawn to those whose consumption style was closer to my own. This obscured my role as a supposedly neutral intern and observer. Overall, though just one aspect of my observations and experience at CREST, consumption was an important thread through which I was able to grasp some of the emotions, identities, and desires of my interlocutors.
Ambivalence around Stigma in the Context of CREST during the flood
On the way to Sarovaram Biopark, the water got deeper. Friends from CREST and I were standing on the curb with water to our shins, staring out to the main junction where buses, rickshaws, and motorbikes sliced through the waves. Staring at my feet, I saw the crosswalk lines blurred by water current and floating leaves. It felt surreal—it was dangerously easy to fetishize scenes like this and overlooking the complex, on-going impacts of the deluge.
In August, before and during the period of heavy rain and severe flood in Northern Kerala, I noticed the ambivalent, inexplicit expression of concern from students at CREST. The recent climate irregularities have undoubtedly intensified the existing social inequality, worsening the fiscal and emotional burden of students from SC/ST communities whose familial livelihoods (often agricultural) are likely at risk. But in moments like this, in the water with my new CREST friends, I could not put a finger on their emotional states. Facing varying degrees of dispossession, forced (or restricted) movements, and other family concerns intensified by extreme weather, the students were still expected to focus on themselves, continuing their learning at CREST. As long as the instructors could get to campus, the students had to attend lectures and work on professional development projects, as if self-improvement is the only answer to the adversities in life.
As a visitor, an intern trying to learn more about these individuals at CREST, I searched for “social information” (Goffman)—signs, symbols of their social status, expressions that “give away” their real life experiences. I felt guilty probing as their intern, but what further puzzled me was the blurring of information—if there were signs to be gathered, the students were probably actively concealing them, trying to “pass” as the generic, non-marginalized citizen, in front of the eyes of the foreigner (ibid.).
CREST is, no doubt, a normative space. From dress code and uniform to communal scheduling and living, CREST is an example of a holistic institution common in collective societies like India or China. The institution’s normalizing apparatus is realized through discourses that framed these 40 individuals as a group, subjected to a shared trajectory of self-renewal and development. Simultaneously, however, CREST instructors encourage the students to come up with their own unique personal narratives that would set them apart from the crowd, making them stand out in the competitive neoliberal job market.
This contradiction breeds the need of “passing” and inventing a new, coherent personal identity. In the frequent practices of doing “self-introductions” at CREST, students are asked to tell their stories, motivations, and ambitions in a memorable, “elevator pitch” kind of way. Many of them used anecdotes from past extracurriculars, but almost none of them integrated their hometowns and family backgrounds into these personal narratives. Unspoken, the topic of personal/family backgrounds seemed to be sensitive, as if a tacit understanding. This was once broken by Sanjit,* who briefly addressed his complicated family responsibilities; but that was under pressure from the instructor who probed for details and asked why he gave up cricket and became who he is today—the whole process, in front of the entire group, was by no means natural or comfortable.
This instructor later led an activity that concluded in a strong, explicit statement: all our problems, shortcomings, adversities, are “excuses” we make for ourselves. The goal of this activity was to allow students to “put down any baggage” that “mentally” hinder their success; but in my reflection, it was precisely an education for stigma management (Goffman). The new identities they had to form at CREST mostly exclude past “failures,” responsibilities, or any aspects of their social identities that connect to their SC/ST status. This new identity, while accepted by some, was difficult for others who had never imagined an alternative, “entrepreneurial” self (Bröckling). This identity creation is also arguably part of the CREST curriculum that aims to build the “capacity to aspire” (Appadurai), to create new, imaginable aspirations and updated self-concepts.
All of these institutional efforts at CREST made stigma management apparent and unavoidable, especially in their daily interactions with “outsiders” like me. Many CREST students, being proud hosts, were enthusiastic “teachers” at the hostel, telling me about Indian politics, history, and traditions. They perhaps assumed I had no background knowledge of their marginalized ST/SC identities. Facing the foreigner, most students were eager to show me their best sides, their proud possessions, their embodied traditions—not stories of dispossession, vulnerability, or anything that remotely links to the “stigma” of contested caste identities.
These students were also taught to internalize their adversities as part of their own personal “inadequacies.” The theories of social inequality—the historical and continued processes that actively produces and reinforces social imbalance (Sen)—were left out entirely from the CREST curriculum. Some CREST students, the labeled victims of these processes, were uncritical of their patriotic sentiments, seemingly unaware that impoverishment and marginalization are actually inseparable from the ideological national unity and progress.
Stigma management, therefore, was very much implied and embedded in the institutional setup of CREST. Whether through communications class or personality development sessions, students at CREST are trained to pass as non-marginalized, fully-integrated citizen with coherent, confident, and entrepreneurial self-concepts.
I want to take one more look at the scene of the flood: facing danger, uncertainty, and loss, the stigma management became further tightened. The vulnerabilities of marginalized social groups were rendered increasingly visible; students were calling their families, and news media were reporting situations from many of their hometowns. Differentiated reactions to the flood would give away the “social information” of one’s family, trade, properties—parts of an identity that were generally dismissed in the context of CREST. With the increased “risk of the exposure,” the students often avoided discussing loss or concern, sharing mostly positive aspects of the relief efforts or family updates. Under the darkening clouds, these CREST girls—as cheery, proud ambassadors of the land—were asking me about the climate in my country, inviting me into their optimistic, cosmopolitan banter in the midst of destruction.