A Brief Introduction

Since I’ll be writing this blog for a while, I should probably briefly introduce myself. As can be easily inferred from my URL, my name is Noah Bridges. I’m from Clinton, Mississippi and I’m currently a freshman at OU. As this blog indicates, I’m interested in studying abroad. As much as I’d like to say that’s all you need to know about me, I should expand on these ideas and describe myself a little more. As far as my academic interests are concerned, I love math, and most things related to math. I’m currently majoring in industrial and systems engineering, with the intent to minor in math. Just to briefly discuss my hobbies, I enjoy reading all kinds of books, but especially science fiction, such as Frank Herbert’s Dune series, and classic literature from the 19th and 20th centuries. Besides reading, I’m also a big fan of napping, watching Netflix, and eating; all common loves of most college students. But my passion is CrossFit. I’ve done CrossFit for five years, since I was 14 years old, and I have been coaching at various gyms for almost two years. Currently I work at Koda CrossFit Norman, and I probably spend more time there than anywhere besides my dorm room.

However, since the primary purpose of this blog is to chronicle my journeys abroad, I’ll talk about why I want to study abroad. It all goes back to the summer of 2013, when a German student stayed with my family over the summer holidays. He wasn’t an exchange student exactly – my dad and his father worked together on some projects, and Konstantin wanted to visit the U.S. As a result, he ended up staying with us for the summer of 2013 and part of the summer of 2014. This was my first legitimate exposure to someone from another country, and it was a great experience. We had a great time, discovering a mutual love of great hamburgers (and food in general) and indulging in lazy afternoons by my grandparents’ pool, among many other fun activities. But more importantly, we traveled through large swaths of the country that I had never before seen, such as the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Because of this incredible experience with Konstantin, it launched a desire to study abroad. This has remained to the present, and next fall my plan is to spend a semester in Italy, at OU’s campus in Arezzo. Hopefully, if circumstances work out, I’ll be able to visit Konstantin and his family while I’m in Europe.

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One Year Ago

As finals week is coming to an end and Christmas break is just around the corner, I suddenly miss my life in South Korea. Thoughts of Korea fill my thoughts when I’m tired of studying. Although university life in Korea is about the same as life here at OU, I felt happier and more excited to finish the school year there. Maybe it was because I was going back to the United States for the winter or maybe because I was so stressed with school that I just wanted to be done. Either way, I was happy when school finally ended.
But, with the end of school and me returning home came goodbyes that I didn’t want to say. I didn’t make a lot of friends during my fall semester at SNU, but I had become close with those who lived in my hostel. From my Korean mom and dad to my French sister Mandy and Malaysian sister, Hui, I didn’t want to say goodbye because I was unsure if I would see them again. It was especially hard saying goodbye to Hui as she was also going back to her country. Since I was coming back to Korea in February, I would see my Korean parents again, but with her, I was unsure when we would meet again. That goodbye was hard, but I promised her that when I was done with spring semester, I would visit her in Malaysia. And, I did. We had lots of fun catching up and doing our favorite thing together, eating! Now, although she is in Australia, I still contact her from time to time to see how she’s doing.

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Mandy, Hui, and I eating at Gwangjang Market!

It’s amazing to me how quickly time flies. It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I was in a different country living a very different life. It was colder and windier, but I still went out every day to explore and to meet my friends. I miss Korea a lot and I hope to be back soon. I want to go for vacation rather than study because I can fully enjoy my time without worrying about grades.

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Japanese Club FA17

Japanese club was really fun this semester. They put on a lot of events and I went to most of them like our movie nights, potluck, and others. We are thinking about adding a kanji club as well for students for are interested in learning more about it. I think that it’s really cool and hope that it takes off. A lot of the older students in the club are going to be graduating soon so next semester I want to go to the club even more often.  It was nice to meet all the exchange students and the new students who have started learning Japanese. It reminds of how much I’ve learned since last year. I can’t wait for the events that we’re going to have next semester. I’m really excited. Hopefully, more of my classmates will come to the club.I want to get a lot of practice before I go study abroad.

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Zimbabwe: Dawn of a new Era?

One of the coolest events that I got to attend this year was a discussion on the political future of Zimbabwe after the recent resigning of decade-long president Mugabe. Mugabe, who had been a part of the revolution and had been a face for free-Zimbabwe had, during his years as president, commit horrible atrocities as his regime became more and more powerful. He only resigned after being essentially forced out of office by a military coup, but the enactors of this coup, in my opinion, do not present much hope for a more democratic Zimbabwe. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new president, has a history of violence. He was Mugabe’s right hand man for years and had a primary role in Gukurahundi massacres of over 20,000 Ndebele, an ethnic minority in the country.

This discussion was doubly interesting because it was directed primarily by students, specifically Zimbabwean students. They laid out the whole political background of the coup and gave their own opinions on the coup, the future, and the ZANU-PF, the leading political party in Zimbabwe. They all had very different opinions but had great reasonings behind all of their arguments. This discussion was a privilege to be a part of, therefore, because I got to learn a lot about a significant international event and also because it demonstrated an exemplary way to discuss politics. Although the majority of speakers did not agree with each other, they were all willing to listen respectfully and agree to disagree at the end of the day. They were all friends, despite their differences. I think this is a lesson we could all stand to learn.

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Jake Goes to the Networking Fair

I am always so impressed by the events that the College of International Studies is able to put on. Despite their relatively small size as compared to other academic units on campus, CIS makes an awesome use of their alumni and resources to put together great programming for students. More specifically, I really enjoyed the Networking Fair that the College put on this semester, not because I’m necessarily interested in an international career after I graduate, but more because I enjoyed seeing all the stuff that my classmates are doing through the international organizations that they’re a part of.

For example, I learned that James is working with Syrian refugees to connect them with Arabic language learners so that the refugees get paid and the Arabic student is able to speak with a native speaker and gain valuable practice. I learned about The Dragonfly Home in OKC, where OU students and alumni are working to help victims of human trafficking in the OKC area, and are planing to open a shelter in 2018. I met with students who are working for the State Department and other governmental agencies, and even though I’m not interested in working for the Trump administration in any capacity whatsoever, it was really amazing to hear about the work that they’ve gotten to do as a part of that program. I also heard from some of OU’s institutions… I had our Career Services advisor check over my resume and ask for some tips about upcoming interviews, met with the Pre-Law advisor and chatted a bit about the best time to take the LSAT, and chatted with Katie about potentially doing a dual MA/JD program wherever I end up for law school. Certainly one of the most useful international events that I attended this semester.

IAC and Parliament

This semester, I had the distinct pleasure of running a campaign for Student Body President/Vice-President along with my best friend, and it was utterly exhausting. Day in and day out, the only thing that really got us through the drudgery of the entire process were the students, and there was no better group to visit than the International Advisory Committee. Headed up by Vanessa and I’s good friend Bob, we got to give our presentation to leaders of the international students groups on campus, but then we also got to stick around to hear how governance works in nations across the globe. We heard from students that lived in countries ruled by a single political party, those that had very limited government, and those that had a parliamentary style democracy (which is far and away my favorite kind of government).

During these conversations, I started to wonder what the Untied States would look like under different forms of government. I fear that we’re going to find out far sooner than perhaps we had hoped what living under a despot is like, but imagining the United States as a parliamentary democracy, like the one found in Britain, I think would alleviate a lot of our stresses as a nation. Parliamentary democracies allow for a plural government instead of a necessarily bi-partisan ruling structure, which removes a lot of what I perceive to be the challenges preventing American government from moving forward. A lot more people will feel like they have their interests represented when the contests are not winner-take-all and loser-lose-all. Parliaments force compromise, because it is incredibly rare that you have one party so in control of Parliament that they are able to seize the majorities they need to pass legislation effectively. I also talked to a Canadian student and was shocked at the power that the Prime Minister of Canada has. As he put it, “Justin Trudeau has the power that Donald Trump wishes he could have.” Trudeau has incredibly broad authority to spend money and put policy into place without necessarily the consent of the legislative body, which I found to be fascinating.

Also makes me wonder who the most powerful people in the world really are. Trump certainly has an incredible amount of hard power, but is someone with less hard power but more access to that hard power better than someone with more power but less access? I’m sure IR theorists have contemplated this, but as someone who hasn’t studied theory too much, I can’t really come to a conclusion. Either way, the point of the story is that, be it government on a school-wide or nation-wide level, I find public institutions to be utterly fascinating, and I really enjoyed getting to spend time with the IAC.

Arabic Talent Show!

The University of Oklahoma’s Arabic program always ends the semester with a talent show, where students at all levels of the language can perform, display their advancements, and enjoy (free) food and entertainment. It’s a fun way to end the stressful week before Dead Week and spend time with the language that you (hopefully) love dearly. As with every semester, I had a small role in the talent show. Although, unlike previous years, I did not perform with the Belly Dancing Club. Instead, I helped make a video that showcased the dialectal and cultural differences between Darija (Moroccan) and Masri (Egyptian) Arabic. Specifically, my portion of the video highlighted the differences in their gestures, which make almost no sense to anyone outside of the dialect, and the resulting misunderstandings.

 

However, this year’s talent show also featured poetry readings, singing, videos, and skits. As always, one of my favorite parts of the night is watching the belly dancers perform, because it’s such a fun experience to see all of their hard work and how the audience reacts to them. There were also a lot of fun skits, including a Masri (Egyptian) Arabic one that had a few light jabs at our university’s main rival, the University of Texas.

 

Despite all of the entertainment, one of the best things about the talent show is realizing how far your Arabic has progressed. I remember my very first talent show, where I had no idea what was happening and I lived or died by the quality of the video subtitles. This year, I was able to follow along and translate different sections of the show to my friends who did not know any Arabic. It just helped me realize how much of the language I know now, which is an extremely rewarding and encouraging experience.

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A is for Arab

This semester, the University of Oklahoma was lucky enough to host a powerful display called “A is for Arab.” It was erected in the Bizzell Memorial Library, on its lower level 1. The exhibit featured five main panels, boasting titles like “D is for Desert,” “H is for Harem,” and “V is for Villain.” The images aimed to expose Arab stereotypes that are common in the United States, ranging from the notion that all Arabs live in the desert and ride camels to the idea that Arab women are either covered from head-to-toe or belong to a harem. Specifically, the exhibit drew on examples from comics and old movies; however, more modern material, such as Disney’s Aladdin, was also included for furthering negative stereotypes.

Although, the display offered a glimmer of hope amongst the sea of misconceptions. The exhibit also highlights positive developments in the field of Arab representation in the above mediums. One of these is a comic called “The 99” (التسعة وتسعون), which features superheroes with powers and abilities based on the 99 attributes of Allah. Importantly, the comic depicts its characters as well-rounded, fully-realized individuals; unlike many other portrayals of Arabs in comics. The exhibit also has a panel detailing the exposure of Arab stereotypes, including short descriptions of influential books (“Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11”) and documentaries (“Reel Bad Arabs”). Overall, it was an incredibly powerful and important exhibit, and it displayed a lot of vital issues that are typically overlooked today.

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Pasko Sa Nayon

Last week, to support one of my friends, I attended the Filipino Student Association’s Cultural Night called Pasko Sa Nayon. The phrase means “Christmas in the village” in Filipino, and the event was a celebration of the Filipino culture through food, songs, and a really interesting traditional dance called tinikling.

Tinikling is one of the oldest and most popular folk dances originating in the Philippines, and is recognized as the Philippine national dance. It means “bamboo dance” in English, and is performed with two large bamboo poles that are clapped together rhythmically as dancers hop and maneuver between them. There are various stories as to the origin of the dance, one of which being that the Leyte people did it as an imitation of the tikling bird’s unique movements as it hops and walks between grass stems and tree branches, and that the dance’s name came from the name of the bird. Another story tells of the Philippine people working in the fields under the Spaniards. According to LIHKA.org, when workers were slow, they would be sent out of the paddies for punishment. They were forced to stand between two bamboo poles cut from the grove, sometimes with thorns sticking from their segments. The poles were then clapped together to beat the natives’ feet. By jumping when the bamboo sticks were apart, the natives tried to escape this cruel form of punishment. From there it is said that tinikling evolved into the art form that it is today.

It is a really cool and fun-looking dance, and is very clearly a source of pride and unique part of the Filipino culture. I’ll attach a link below to a video of the dance; the OU students who did it during Culture Night were not quite as talented as these people, but it was still quite impressive.

I am very glad I attended Pasko Sa Nayon; I really enjoyed seeing a new facet of the Filipino culture, and definitely want to try tinikling now. Maybe with bubble wrap around my ankles, just in case…

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About Me

Hi all,

I’m Gabrielle Williams, and I’m a first year psychology major. I moved to Oklahoma from Texas to attend OU, but before high school I lived in Georgia for over a decade. I have one sibling, my older sister, who is currently in New York attending Colombia. My mom recently moved to Tampa for work.

I enjoy reading very much. It’s one of my favorite activities. My favorite genre is dystopian or science fiction. I love dogs. I’ve only traveled beyond the United States once, when I went to the Bahamas on a family vacation. I’ve taken a few years of Spanish in high school, and I would love to travel around Latin America. I didn’t know anyone in Oklahoma prior to moving here for school, but I chose OU  over the universities in Texas for its National Merit Scholarship.

I look forward to studying abroad as a Global Engagement Fellow, and I hope to hear some great accounts of the experiences of my fellow GEFs abroad.

🙂

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