Meghan Muldoon: The well-being of yourself is ultimately found in the well-being of everyone around you
|Date:||28 December 2021|
Meghan Muldoon is an Assistant Professor Sustainable Tourism at Campus Fryslân. After graduating from the Master’s in Planning and Development Meghan worked with the UN in East Africa and later undertook further trips in the region. She was impressed with the impact of local initiatives and with that inspiration Meghan came back to academia to pursue her research and teaching. Learn more about Meghan’s path, the role of Ubuntu philosophy in her life, and some interesting aspects of MSc. Tourism, Geography and Planning.
Local communities creating opportunities
After my Master’s I worked with the UN in East Africa for a very brief period of time. It was a long time ago but I really didn’t like what I saw - the way that programmes were delivered and evaluated and even the fact that I was there without a clear idea of what was going on. It was an example of that top-down approach to change. And then after that experience I had an opportunity to go on a trip to Sierra-Leone and I saw a lot of white UN vans there again, but I also saw a lot of people creating livelihoods for themselves through tourism. Where there wasn’t any international investment or any other infrastructure, people were taking it on upon themselves to create tourism opportunities that benefited their communities. I was really inspired by that so I ended up going back to school and focusing my PhD on the intersection of tourism and poverty and how those play out in multiple ways.
Drawn to Africa
I’m very drawn to Africa, because that was sort of my first global work experience, that really transformed the way I understood North-South relations. I did my PhD research in South Africa and I’ve had such positive experiences and I’ve learned so much from people who generously took their time to explain to me what was going on. I do love being in Africa and I tend to base my work on the region in both feminist perspectives and also post-colonial theories, particularly with an emphasis on decolonization.
“You pick up little quirks and treats”
It has been a long time since I have been anywhere, obviously because of covid and various things but I have certainly developed a real love of trying anything new, for instance in terms of food. And then, one thing that has really stuck with me after my trip in South Africa, where I was for several months and lived with a black African family is this concept of Ubuntu. And I only understand it really imperfectly, I don’t think I can really understand it, only to the extent that it is possible from the Eurocentric perspective. It is translated as “I am because we are” or in other word “my being and my soul and my well-being is rooted in the well-being of everyone around me”. So you invest in people in your community and it’s an investment ultimately in yourself. You can’t be healthy and well and successful unless everyone around you is as well. Coming from such an individualistic society like America it took a long time for me to kind of wrap my head around it and I’m still learning, but I try to take that to my classroom, research and my personal life. The well-being of yourself is ultimately found in the well-being of everyone around you.
I try to be as dialogical as possible, my students will tell you that I don’t really like standing up in front and talking for the entire lecture period. I think students have really good ideas, and I think students understand better when they are able to explain concepts to one another and work through problems and look for information themselves. So I tend to minimize the amount of time I spend lecturing and maximize the amount of time that students can spend speaking to one another and looking for solutions to problems. And then just coming up with the creative activities to do in the classroom to help students remember their takeaways rather than just fill in their notebooks.
Students of MSc. Tourism, Geography Governance
Ultimately people who are attracted to this programme are hopeful and optimistic, they have an absolute belief in the power of people to change. Globally we are in a sort of a really critical tipping point in terms of our own survival. I think our students understand that and are truly inspired and motivated to take a leadership role in sort of altering the course of where we are headed. Our students are extremely critical and I think that they often live their lives according to their values in a lot of ways.
Thought-provoking field trips
In the first semester I taught Tourism, Culture and Sustainability, where we also have a module on dark tourism. Broadly it is also where I focus my PhD research, which was on township tourism. We obviously were not able to travel to South Africa but we arranged with a friend of mine that he would do a virtual tour of a township for us. It was a fun activity, intended to bring out multiple layers of critical thought. Firstly, it gave students an opportunity to reflect on the role of tourism in spaces of poverty, and then on another layer to contemplate on the role that a virtual tour could have in teaching people in the North about spaces of poverty in the South without necessarily imposing our physical bodies on their landscape. And finally, it has of course also helped the community in South Africa to get little income from tourism, which they quite heavily rely on, and which has obviously been really restricted in South Africa in the past couple of years. And then more recently our Master’s students went on a real tour to the Wadden Sea where they visited multiple locations Holwerd aan Zee which has proposed a very ambitious tourism-development site, we went for a bit of a mud walk, into the dikes and to Harlingen brewery. All of this just to see how multiple stakeholders come together in these complex environments, where they are fragile ecologically and really culture steeped in tradition. And how these different stakeholders are trying to collaborate and mobilize within tourism economies.
In the free time
I’m trying to get to know Leeuwarden and the area, and meet some people. I have joined a running club and I am actually not a very good runner, so I’m trying to learn how to run. I’m trying to get some exercise despite the darkness. I walk my dog quite a bit. Back home I would go kayaking, camping and biking. I go biking here every day obviously, but it is different and I sometimes miss the nature aspect. At the same time, being in such a culturally and historically rich place compared to my own country I’m really looking forward to getting to visit some museums and art and music performances. And then when I go home in summer I will get in my boat and that way I will have a good balance between the two.