Daily Life in South Africa

The University of Oklahoma’s university exchange partner in South Africa is the University of Pretoria. Located in Hatfield, Pretoria, UP’s main campus is like OU’s in many ways–comparable size, similar classroom and office buildings, same through-campus transportation methods.

UP, however, has an enclosed campus. A fence runs around the campus’s entire perimeter with guarded turnstiles for pedestrians and gates for cars. Students, faculty, and staff must use their identification cards and fingerprints to access the campus.

This is evidence of the high crime rate in South Africa–something to consider when thinking of going there–but Hatfield is one of the safest neighborhoods in Pretoria. I had no problems walking among campus, my residence, and local stores by myself during the day. After dark, my friends and I walked together to restaurants and clubs without issue.

UP assigns most exchange students housing in Tuksdorp, one of the univeristy’s off-campus postgraduate residences. They reserve limited spaces, though, so some students end up in other international housing or non-university accommodations. This was not the case for me, but it is a reason to submit application materials as soon as possible.

A community of differing small houses enclosed by a fence, Tuksdorp is quaint and cozy. It has a free laundry room, computer lab and TV lounge, and pool. Exchange students of the same gender are grouped together. Each resident has their own room with a sink and access to a shared toilet and bathroom. Each house floor has a fully-equipped kitchen. A housekeeper comes every week day to clean the communal areas.

Living in Tuksdorp was a great experience for me. My floor housed eight girls–two Dutch, two German, two Mexican, one Chinese, and one American (me!). We ate, studied, relaxed, and traveled together and with exchange students from other floors and houses. Having everyone so physically close made it easier for us to connect and grow friendships.

I walked most places on a day-to-day basis. The Hatfield Plaza, about two blocks from Tuksdorp, provides a grocery store, phone services, clothing stores, and even doctors’ offices. That same stretch of road has multiple American fast food chains–McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC–but several local restaurants are close as well as numerous bars and clubs, if you’re into that.

If I wanted to go farther, Uber is an affordable safe option in South Africa. A Gautrain station is also located just another block past Hatfield Plaza. The rail goes from Hatfield to Johannesburg. It’s a good option for traveling to and from the airport, Pretoria’s city center, and Joburg’s various neighborhoods. For trips, we rented cars or flew.

San José ➸ Fortuna

This morning we woke up to the natural light from the huge window in our room. It was beautiful! We ate breakfast at the hotel (eggs, beans, rice, typical “Tico” breakfast), then headed to the zip lining place. Zip lining as super fun. It was a huge course and there were like 14 cables that we got to cross. It was great!

After the zip line, we ate lunch at a little place. I had beans, rice, a plantain, steak, and potatoes. I also had a mango / strawberry smoothie. It was delicious. I should’ve taken a picture.

After lunch, we headed to the Volcano Arenal National Park. It was about a hour and a half long hike through the jungle. I didn’t take many pictures, but we saw some cool animals including a money and a toucan. It was really interesting and good to get some exercise. We headed back to the hotel and are here for the night.

Some cool trees in the jungle. This tree was huge.

The journey down the hill is so scary and seemingly unsafe, we decided to get some foods to prepare at the hotel from the store. I snagged some peanut butter. I can’t complain!!

Costa Rica – Día Uno

Pretty flowers in San José

Today is our first full day in Costa Rica!

After we arrived last night, we had dinner at a Tapas bar and went to Walmart. We also took about an hour long bus ride to an local arts festival. When we arrived at the festival, all of the music was over. There was, however, a boxing match going on. It was an adventure.

This morning, we got up early to drive from San Jose to Fortuna. We went to a sustainable farm for a tour and lunch. Everything in the lunch was produced at the farm. The tour was also very interesting. We got to try several fruits / leaves / plants. Our guide painted my face with some Turmeric (I hope it comes off lol)!?!

Turmeric on my face. Update – it came off!

After the farm, we headed to our next hotel. To get to the hotel, which is basically on the top of a mountain, we had to take our HUGE tour bus up a HUGE hill. It was quite spooky. I cannot describe to you how large our bus was and how small / curvy the road was. I was honestly surprised that we even attempted to make it up the hill. Somehow, we made it. The hotel is fabulous. We all have little cabins on the top of this huge mountain.

We went to dinner at a delicious Italian restaurant and journeyed up the mountain back to our hotel. On the way up, the bus started smoking. Somehow, we made it up once again!

After dinner, we played card games and hung out. It’s always a good time with these peeps! I’m looking forward to the next few days.

I’m obsessed with all of the flowers here!

Russian Stephen Hawking

In light of the great physics-theorist’s death on March 14, I turned to Russian news to understand how other countries might have captured the memory of this brilliant man. The article I read is copied below, from Russia Today Online. The article begins with a brief biographical description, mentioning his Cambridge education, inspirational legacy for other physicists, and impressive work in the field of theoretical physics, but focuses on his television appearances, cartoon voice-overs, and live skits, sharing many facts I did not know about Hawking’s public presence, nor would have expected of a space genius.

Stephen Hawking appeared in the 26th episode of the 6th season of “Star Trek: Next Generation,” alongside the likenesses of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. He was an idol for the young start-up scientists of the TV series, “The Big Bang Theory,” even making three personal appearances on separate seasons of the show. Hawking provided the voice for his own cartoon character’s appearance in “The Simpsons” and “Futurama.” Hawking even appeared in a live Monty Python sketch in 2014, making fun at his own disability. The article points out his uniqueness in willingly providing fodder for jokes at his own disability, as he views himself with a great deal of irony. While he was not able to act as the villain in a James Bond movie, as he had wished, he starred as a villain in a Jaguar commercial in 2016. As articles in America and Russia prove, Stephen Hawking will be missed in the realms of theoretical physics and television.



The Cyber Offense-Defense Balance and Why Technology is Both Cool and Terrifying

On March 8 I attended an event for OU’s annual IAS Symposium. This year’s topic was global cyber trends and I went to a lecture entitled “What is the Cyber Offense-Defense Balance?” that was given by Rebecca Slayton, a professor at Cornell.

I don’t know very much about global cyber trends and had no idea what the cyber offense-defense balance even was when I sat down for the lecture, so I learned a lot in the hour and fifteen minutes I was there. Dr. Slayton began by outlining the conventional wisdom, which is that offense has the upper hand in cyberspace. Basically, first-mover advantages and the cost of attacking vs. defending favors the offensive in cyber operations. She then addressed the minority view, the cyber defense advantage, and proceeded to assert that in reality neither of these are true but that we are simply asking the wrong question. What we should be asking is “under what circumstances do cyber operations favor offense rather than defense?” The cyber offense-defense balance, according to Slayton, is shaped not only by technology but also by the complexity of adversaries’ goals relative to their skills and organizational capacity. In other words, a potential offensive advantage must be defined in relation to specific adversaries with specific goals, in conjunction with skills and organizational context.

In cyber operations, both the offense and the defense want to maximize payoff versus cost. This payoff is shaped by the goals of each adversary and subjective value of their operation. For example, cyber offense is valuable for countries or actors who value covert operations or action at a distance, who don’t have other means of attack, and who have adversaries who rely heavily on cyberspace. Cyber defense is valuable for actors who depend on cyberspace. The cost of cyber operations is more difficult to measure because cyber weapons have very different costs than physical ones. Each code design can only be reused until it is discovered, and costs are dominated by research, development, and testing rather than materials and production as physical weapons are. Maintenance costs are also huge in the software lifecycle.

The lecture also covered the consequences of cyber operations. The example that Dr. Slayton used was Stuxnet, a US-Israeli attack on an Iranian uranium enrichment facility. Over the at least 4 year development period ending with discovery in 2010, hackers took control of the facility’s computers and periodically sped up the centrifuges to damaging speeds without the scientists’ awareness. The costs due to loss of production and centrifuges was estimated to be near 7 million, and the non-monetary payoffs for the offense came in the form of damaged morale, excessive security, and resulting organizational inefficiencies. The perceived value of Stuxnet appears to be 2 orders of magnitude greater than its costs for the US and Israel. Although this may be true, the cost of offense exceeded that of defense and the blowback was that it strengthened the resolve of Iran nuclear power and that Iran was able to use the attack to learn about cyber weapons. Slayton’s final takeaway was that there is no offense-defense balance because cyberspace is not uniform (kind of a cop-out given the title of her lecture, I know).

Overall I thought the lecture was very interesting. As the importance of technology worldwide continues to increase, there are many adaptations we need to make and precautions we need to take, and as the definition of war changes with new developments it is likely that this topic will only become more prevalent in our society.



The Evolution of Hip-Hop

The Evolution of Hip-Hop

This essay was written for the Expository Writing program class “Poets 2 Rockstars.” It was published in Brainstorm vol. VIII (2016). Brainstorm is the University of Oklahoma Expository Writing Program’s journal of student writing.  All Expo students are invited to submit an essay from their Expository Writing class for possible inclusion in Brainstorm.  At the end of each term, a selection committee will choose 3-5 of these submissions and invite the authors to revise their essays for publication.

Hip-hop, as a cultural force, has grown to mirror the culture it lives in and represents a narrative that had never been represented before in America. Rap, one of the five elements of hip-hop culture defined by Afrika Bambaataa (Aubry) that involves rhyming over a beat, has been highly controversial. One subgenre of rap known as “gangsta” rap still comes under fire today for its hyper-masculine lyrics involving violence, drugs, alcohol, money, and misogyny. The epitome of the “gangsta” rapper was Tupac Shakur (1971–1996), whose poignant and authentic portrayal of life on the streets in the Bronx and Brooklyn earned him unprecedented fame and whose scandalous personal life led to quite a bit of controversy. Tupac’s take on “gangsta” rap defined the hip-hop music industry and popularized the genre with American audiences. Tupac’s music expressed “realness,” an idea prevalent within hip-hop that artists must stay authentic and “true to oneself” (Williams 4). Tupac’s music was also special in the way that audiences could identify with it, especially those who grew up in similarly low-status conditions. This group of listeners, though, was very focused in comparison with the wider audience of hip-hop listeners from all races and backgrounds. Tupac had listeners who enjoyed and sympathized with his music and lyrics, yet they never lived in situations from which they could directly relate to his lived experience. Recently, hip-hop’s sound has been evolving and changing to reflect a different attitude in America. The idea of authenticity plays a large role for hip-hop fans, and, as times have begun to change, the idea of “realness” has been challenged. What constitutes authentic hip-hop, and what does this portrayal mean in terms of hip-hop’s cultural force? The answer lies within the audience—as listeners recognize authenticity, we define the impact that hip-hop artists make and the influence they have on the genre.

Russian Table

Russian Table has been revamped. Don’t worry, there is still the classic чай (tea) from the самовар (samovar) and VERY Russian пироги (pies, a.k.a. pizza from the Domino’s down the street). There is still a diverse mix of students from differing Russian levels, enhancing everybody’s experience outside of class. Now, Russian Table includes not only a discussion of the language we all love, but a huge cultural aspect centered around all Slavic nationalities that keeps attendees coming back for more. Thanks to Rachick, last Wednesday, we learned many fun facts about Russian politics, the fall of the Soviet Union, and Serbian and Georgian identities! Here are a few to share:

-At the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia made the national language Georgian for a time, banning all others, including Russian. While many citizens could communicate in Georgian, this was restrictive for many, as Russian may have been their first language, or simply because it took away their rights to speak in languages they loved. This restriction did not last.

-There are many tribes that live in Serbia, in the Far East of the Russian country. While, now, many most likely speak at least a little bit of Russian, they all have their own unique languages without any Slavic origins. It is theorized that these peoples migrated from North America, originally mixing with the Native American tribes, across the ice bridge connecting Russia to Alaska before settling in Siberia.

-Putin used to be the right-hand man of Yeltsin, former Russian President, from 1996-1999. Yeltsin, however, was an alcoholic and resigned in 1999, at which point Putin took over. Now, Putin and Medvedev have been alternating between President and Prime Minister for almost 20 years.

I would highly recommend anyone to come visit us at Русский столь, Wednesdays at 5 pm in Kaufman 221B, and share some пироги!



I’ve got cages falling around me like the ice I used to love from the skies back home. You make one plan and that falls through and you just think, well that’s okay, I’m good at improvising, this is just an excuse to do something new, and then all of a sudden you’ve got inches of ice on your branches and you can’t move or else you’ll snap with sounds like gunshots. They’re everywhere. I don’t know if anyone out there is reading this, but the cages and the ice, they’re everywhere.

Everywhere I look I just see miles and miles of myself sitting in an office in a city with smog and four lane interstates and not a single genuine smile as far as the eye can see. I see myself five years down the road still saying “I’ll go see the world when I’m older, when I have more money saved up, when I pay off my student loans, when I when I when I when I when I” and it all sounds like bull shit. It’s all bull shit. You start growing up and they start asking you what you want to be and you say you don’t know so they tell you that you’re smart and talented and that you can do anything in the world you set your mind to. So you do, you set your mind to something. And you continue to grow up and the thing you set your mind to doesn’t work out and you’ve got one option, only one, and you know that it won’t even make you happy but you do it anyway because that’s all you’ve got and then suddenly you’re 60 and suffering from high blood pressure because you never stopped being anxious since you turned 21. And the whole while you keep thinking “but I’m smart and I’m talented and they said the whole world was in front of me” but you’re still stuck in the same fucking place you’ve been for years.

If I don’t share this on FB I know that no one will read this, and they will continue to believe that I will make something great out of my life. But I am just one in seven billion. And I am all dried up. I’ve stopped falling asleep at night, I don’t think I’ve slept since December. When I close my eyes all I see are my mom’s broken heart, the dead guy from the Canyon, Norway without me, and my own loneliness. And none of those are things that I can fix.

The world lied to all of us. It made itself seem bigger and brighter and more accessible, assuming that growing up and coming of age would dull our imaginations enough to keep ourselves trapped in safe, career driven lives. I don’t want a career, I want a mission and a dream and a lifestyle that promotes holistic well-being, not just wasting time until I die. Nobody here seems to realize that we are all just going to die someday and none of this matters. The more I face failure and mediocrity the more I begin to think that God or Yahweh or Allah or Creator or whoever the fuck had the brilliant idea to put seven billion people on one planet just to suffer from boredom doesn’t actually care about me. I’ve lost my life force, my Creator, my sculptor. He’s gone and I’m collecting dust here on the shelf.

If you’re reading this, I’m stuck. Like, the cement is starting to set, stuck. Like, nail polish on the carpet, stuck. Like, the sword in the stone, stuck. Stuck. And I can’t accept average, but I have no options for vibrant greatness. I can’t even flow when I write anymore, it’s turned to choppy sentences with no resonance, no depth. Just words, empty empty words. Anyone who ever expected greatness from me was wrong. I’m sorry I can’t live up to the expectation, believe me, I bear the weight of my own mediocrity more than you will ever know.

This isn’t a cry for help, it’s just a confirmation of what I know deep within my heart. I know I am better than this, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, I’m better than this, I’m trying, but I just can’t keep up the facade. I’m sorry.

Until next time,

H. Asfeldt