Back toward the beginning of the semester, I attended the first event of OU’s Iranian Student Assocation with my Persian-American friend.
It consisted of a mixer to break the ice and a Persian meal. Afterwards there was some Persian dancing but I unfortunately had to leave early. The mixer put me with a group of international students and their significant others. It became clear to me that most Persian students on the OU campus come from Iran to get a degree in petroleum engineering. Even though I wasn’t Persian and I didn’t speak Farsi, everyone was talkative and friendly with me.
The meal was delicious, and the company was great as well! This event left a wonderful impression about Iranian hospitality.
Serving the Persian meal
To fit with today’s post, here’s an Iranian pop song:
I was enjoying a venti sweetened soy iced coffee while poring over Arabic verbs when I heard it. People were conversing in French. I make it a habit to expand my circle of francophone friends and acquaintances by approaching almost everyone I hear speaking French. (I’m nowhere near strong enough in Arabic yet to start doing this. Plus, the issue of dialect complicates this practice immensely.) The question was how I should approach them. Two young people, university students I presumed, were seated at a table next to me studying, chatting, and drinking coffee. I noticed the girl had an Arabic book. Boom. That was my in. Anyone crazy enough to also take Arabic had to be pretty cool. “You’re taking Arabic?” I said in French. I’ve noticed that French people are generally confused when you approach them in French. They seem to think they’re incognito- as if they weren’t just speaking a foreign language and don’t have an indescribable European air about them. We spoke in French and she told me she’s from Clermont and that she attends Blaise-Pascal University- which is where I hope to study abroad next year! The girl about which I am speaking is Fanny. She was incredibly complimentary about my French, which was nice of her because my brain has been in Arabic mode for the past week. We exchanged Facebook information and then she left to meet her friend. As I sat at my table and stared at my study materials reflecting on the encounter I felt glad that I approached her. I have trouble approaching strangers and my language skills deteriorate when I’m nervous; however, I just had a wonderful chance experience with a French girl who is also learning Arabic from the city I plan to visit, all because I decided to talk to her.
It’s officially December now, one of my favorite times of year because Christmas is upon us. To me, Christmas means time spent with family and fun family traditions. This year, it means even more to me because I get to see my friends from home, some of whom I haven’t seen since August when I moved out. Every year for Christmas, my family cooks a huge dinner and we all eat together and talk and catch up. After dinner we exchange presents and play board games and cards, usually in huge, loud tournaments. I love getting to spend time with my family and sharing a great meal together.
I decided to learn more about different holiday traditions around the world in celebration of the winter holiday season.
Many cultures, it turns out, have large group and family meals to commemorate and celebrate their holidays. In Italy, they celebrate Natale, their version of Christmas, with food and festivities all the way from December 24th to January 6th. I have celebrated Christmas in Mexico three times now, and in my experience in the state of Jalisco, Christmas is a time of great celebration and family unity. Along the beach, different groups and friends build massive sand sculptures for the community and the church and religion play a prominent role. Many other countries also celebrate other holidays and religious traditions this time of year: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and more. Each country, region, and religion celebrates a little differently, but I think all parts of the world value family time and we should do the same this time of year and always.
This semester has absolutely flown by. Even if some weeks seemed like they would never end, here we are 16 weeks later and many many hours of studying later and we made it. It has been hard in many unexpected ways but I feel like I am better for it in many ways. Adjusting to life in dorms, sharing a room with an almost stranger, becoming fully responsible for my decisions, and more; college has changed my life in so many ways. I don’t think I am a different person than when I first showed up. I still make the same dumb jokes and eat too much ice cream. I do feel like in many ways, though, my outlook on life has changed. I think a lot of people have this expectation that college is the best time in life, but what they don’t say (or maybe don’t realize) is that you have to work to make it that way.
I think this semester has shown me how much work has to go in to everything in life. Up until now, my dreams and career aspirations have seemed far away; more like abstract ideas than real things. Now, though, they seem real and closer than ever. While that is amazing, it’s also kind of terrifying. Now I have to constantly push myself to work towards achieving these goals. This has brought a lot of reflection and late night thinking, but now, as the semester comes to a close, I feel more certain than ever of my career path and life goals. I am so excited to serve others as a doctor. I hope to make a difference in my career and in my life; with my family and even with complete strangers; here and far away. I haven’t ironed out the details yet, it’s still too early to tell what will happen for sure, but I feel like I am taking steps in the right direction and that has been encouraging.
As the final component to wrap up my semester long class Becoming Globally Engaged, I am assembling my digital story, a multimedia assignment meant to share the story of some international or internationally inspired experience I have had. I have chosen to focus my digital story on a comparison of cuisine and perspectives on food around the world. Specifically, I am comparing my experiences in Southern Mexico to the experiences described in the Dutch documentary on French patisserie “Kings of Pastry”.
Typically I am not entirely fond of technology and multimedia based projects. I think in many instances traditional modes of communication like standard writing and reading can serve the purpose just as effectively and sometimes, more simply without the added bells and whistles and distractions. However, I can see how the format of digital storytelling through videos and images would be conducive to sharing about our international experiences which will no doubt have numerous accompanying pictures. The end product is engaging and quick in a way an essay typically is not and more and more that is what our society is shifting towards.
So far I feel like my project is coming along well and I am making good progress as the deadlines near. I think the most difficult part will be finding pictures that add to the project instead of just filling space. I feel as though I have made a strong audio component for the project with a clear point and helpful details and support. Now I just have to pay special attention to finding images that strengthen my story and clear up potential points of confusion.
In response to in-class discussions and presentations on international service and volunteering:
I have never been on an international volunteer trip before, though I have had some exposure to the voluntourism and international volunteerism system through friends and church groups who have participated. I donate to groups such as these and every year I give to a project called Operation Christmas Child which collects boxes filled with gifts and personal hygiene products to be sent to orphanages and schools around the world. While I’m sure Peter Singer wouldn’t declare it the most worthwhile use of my money and my time, I enjoy picking out what to put in the box and assembling them and collecting other donated boxes to send away, and I know somewhere there are children who enjoy getting the gifts. I know I’m not changing the world through the project and I know I’m not even saving anyone’s life, though there are so many to be saved. If giving were strictly a matter of economics and numbers, I would be failing completely. Still I feel in spite of all this, there is good coming from my donations and I am happy to continue giving to these causes.
My goal in giving in the future is to find a problem I am passionate about, even if it is not considered the direst need to serve, and to spend at least a portion of my life working towards that. While I do not plan on spending a large chunk of time abroad volunteering in college during my study abroad trips, I do hope to discover this issue that I can be passionate about and make a meaningful contribution to over the course of my life. As an aspiring doctor, perhaps this cause will be bringing healthcare services to underserved populations around the world, maybe it will be educating people in rural areas about different preventative measures for good health, maybe it will be something totally unrelated to healthcare. Whatever it is that life brings me, I hope to be inspired and driven to make a difference, even if it is not technically the “most efficient use” of my time or money.
In class this week we watched a TED talk given by philanthropist Peter Singer about charitable giving. He argued that given our relative privilege and wealth as westerners, we should feel obligated to give to less developed countries and that we should try to do so in the most effective way possible, with the most lives saved per dollar donated. In class, we had an organized debate over whether or not his arguments were valid and many students brought up a variety of important things to consider.
Those arguing in favor of his views mainly pointed out the overwhelming poverty in the world and the immense benefits Americans and others in more economically developed countries could have if they just gave a small portion of their income, supporting his view on giving as economical and intelligent. Those arguing against him pointed out the problems with saving children in underdeveloped countries without first addressing inherent problems in the political systems and infrastructure in the places they live. They also did not support giving as an obligation and instead argued that it should only be done as a choice and otherwise it is not giving, but, rather, a tax, making it something different altogether.
There is no arguing that charity, especially well planned and effectively executed charity, can make a profound difference in the world. Personally, however, I tend to agree with the views of those arguing against Singer. I do not think giving should be obligatory, though I do think it should be encouraged. I also think some root problems need to be addressed in less developed countries before we can make progress on other fronts there like healthcare. Governments need to be regulated and monitored so that corruption is limited, infrastructure to deal with issues like clean water supply and healthy and responsible waste management systems needs to be put into place, and educational systems need to implemented or at least systems to teach people useful skills that can continue to support them need to be started. If we are just giving money to save people from diseases to keep them in a world where they have limited access to clean water, walk to alongside rotting, potentially disease spreading waste, and learn no valuable, marketable skills it would seem the system of giving would not be particularly effective after all.
While these views are potentially controversial, I am not saying that charitable giving or volunteer work is for naught and in fact I fully support it. I just think it is important to recognize some of the underlying problems at play that limit success on other fronts and to act on them first before we begin looking at charities based solely on their dollars spent to lives saved ratios.
This past week in class has given me a lot to consider in terms of safety and health while abroad; raising the question of how I should plan to take care of myself physically and emotionally, and reminding me about my naivety about the world. While I think those are valuable things to think of and plan for before going abroad, and definitely something to be aware of, I think, personally, that my biggest fear about going abroad is that I will be overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar things associated with going to a new place with no one or a small number of people who know you and living in a new way.
I sort of got to experience what that type of situation is like with my transition to college this fall. I now live 8+ hours away from my family, my boyfriend, and my friends from high school. I have been taking all new classes, living in a new setting, getting accustomed to new levels of freedom and responsibility, all while trying to make new friends here. It has been difficult but manageable, and, even if I am not necessarily happy here all the time, I would say I am at least content. I have begun to find ways to balance all the parts of my life and I have gotten to know the people here better. Really, the main thing I have learned is to have patience and persistence. I think while this doesn’t entirely calm my fears about studying abroad it certainly helps. If I can do this here, I can do it anywhere. If I just keep this in mind and try to push myself to get out of my comfort zone while I’m abroad it will work out and there’s no way to see if I can do it except just to do it.
There are also a number of small safety and planning things I am unsure of, but I think working with the OU Study Abroad office will solve those problems and help me feel more prepared to go abroad.
Studying abroad is something I have always known I wanted to do. And while that might lead you to believe I have some sort of solid, detailed plan now that I am a freshman and it’s starting to become a reality, that would be far from the truth. In reality, there are so many incredible opportunities abroad to choose from that I can’t pick.
When I originally applied to be a Global Engagement Fellow, I wanted to do a summer in Western Europe and a semester in Spain. While that might be the most practical option- it would give me flexibility in the summer to see a wide variety of places and language experience in the semester, I am not sure it would be the best use of this once in a life opportunity I have in front of me with study abroad. While I want to continue to travel the world throughout my entire life, I am starting to realize this may be the best time in my life to check the craziest and most exotic places off my travel list, while I am still young, adventurous, and able to be relatively flexible with my travel. Later in life, I will probably have a job and a family and a million reasons to stay home in the U.S. and, while I hope that never stops me from travelling, realistically, I know it will limit me in some ways. That doesn’t change the fact that I want to experience the city life in South America or explore Scandinavia, Russia, and Istanbul, though. I still want to go backpacking like a typical college student, I want to stay in a hostel, I want to eat foods I can’t pronounce, and I want to meet people who haven’t the slightest clue what life in America is like.
I think any study abroad experience, even if it is just a couple weeks in Mexico or something relatively small like that, would be as eye-opening, fun, and adventurous as I made it. I am not worried I will not enjoy my trips abroad, I just hope I don’t waste this wonderful opportunity in front of me. Because it will only come once so I need to make the absolute most of it.
Even though I’ve only been out of my house for a little over a month now, it still feels like so much has changed. I can already see my perspectives on the world starting to change. I am reading the news more often, I am starting to form certain opinions and starting to question old ones, I feel like I’m starting to understand how little of the world I know about and how small of a piece of the puzzle I represent. There might have been a time where that seemed scary to me but, lately, it feels liberating. This week, especially with the panels and videos from international students, I have gotten a glimpse into the wonderful culture that lays out in the world for me to discover and experience and I am so excited at the opportunities I have to explore it.
For so much of our lives, we are taught about the differences between ourselves and other cultures and we see different countries through the polarizing and often distorted lens of American media. We see the wars in other countries and their economic and political meltdowns but we don’t see their social victories, their culture, or their people. Similarly, even the foreign students admitted to a number of stereotypes in their home countries about other regions. I think overall if countries were more aware of the struggles as well as the successes in other parts of the world, the whole world would be better off. While that sounds daunting, I think it is pretty easily addressed through improved media coverage, a push in schools for more foreign language education, and more of a push for global travel and exploration. Even though a repeated message this week was that Americans are ignorant of other cultures and not aware of global events, overall I left the week with a sense of hope for the future of global relations because I realized all of the problems international students had faced with Americans were fixable. If we all just keep an open mind and a keen curiosity for the ways of the world everywhere, in no time at all we will find we share innumerable connections with people all around the world.