Experiences: Japan #1

I have been coming up blank in trying to think of interesting international topic to talk about in these blogs recently, but I think I may have struck upon an idea. I have had the good fortune of having traveled extensively before I came to OU. I have traveled most frequently to Japan and am most interested in going there again. I first went to Japan when I was a baby and stayed there for around 9 months. My mother taught English to Japanese students in Tokyo. I remember next to nothing of this time, but obviously something stuck with me and developed the love for travelling and the love of Japan that has stayed for 18 years. I eventually went back to Japan twice, and I hope to talk about some of my experiences in later blogs.

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Tea and Coffee tasting

This experience has easily been one of my favorite international events that I have been to so far. It was held in Hester Hall and was made up of two acts: starting off was a demonstration of how to make Persian Tea, followed by a brief description of Brazilian coffee. Both were great, but I have to say that the Persian Tea stole the show. It pains me to admit as much since I am a devoted coffee-holic, but I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to say this was some of the best tea I have ever had. The simple ingredients were juxtaposed with the care and attention devoted to making the tea. All in all, I am very grateful that I was given this opportunity and only wish I could have a set of the glassware used in the demonstration.

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Confusion NA WA

Last Tuesday I went to see Nigerian filmmaker Kenneth Gyang’s critically acclaimed film, Confusion Na Wa. The following day I went to a discussion about the film in Hester Hall. I thought that the film was very interesting, and it revealed many of the contemporary issues of Nigeria. I hadn’t previously known much about Nigeria, so I found it very educational to hear Kenneth Gyang talk about his country and how he used his film to provide social commentary about some of the big issues. I also thought it was interesting how Kenneth’s film broke out of traditional Nollywood style to feature a plot that focused on the meaninglessness of the world instead of an obvious moral. The film was also very comical, with notable references to Disney’s The Lion King throughout. Overall, both events were really great.

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New Semester, New Start

Hello all! I’m afraid I’m now woefully behind on keeping this blog updated. As it turns out, lacking a class to keep me posting every week has led this blog to fall on the back burner for me. However, I’m ready to get back up on the horse and start off the new semester with some updates about my life!

I have now officially been accepted to study abroad in Oxford, England this summer with the Honors College here at OU and I could not be more excited. I have been an anglophile for the majority of my life, and I have wanted to go on the Honors at Oxford trip ever since I toured OU my junior year of high school. Finally, that dream is becoming a reality (thanks in large part due to the Global Fellowship Program!). The trip is only a few months away, and I am already itching to be up there exploring with my fellow OU students. It’s going to be a great time!

In other study abroad news, I am still planning on going to study in Spain the spring semester of my sophomore year, but I still have yet to decide on which program I would like to experience. This will be determined largely by what major I choose, which will be decided by the time we enroll this semester (which is just about a month away). Stay tuned to see if I pick international business, biology, or public affairs and administration (a diverse group, I know. I can see my future going in many different directions, and as a result, it has been hard to narrow things down, but I’ll be making a decision very soon!).

To conclude this all-over-the-place post, there are several very exciting things coming up for me, and I can’t wait to experience them (as well as to document them for you to enjoy)! This semester is already flying by- no one was lying to me when they said college goes by quickly. I so apologize for the cliché, but time really does fly when you’re having fun.

“Discuss a book or film that has recently changed your perspective of the world.”

This past Fall, we had a final project in my Becoming Globally engaged class concerning either our previous travels of the world or a piece of film or literature that made us see the world differently. As a Global Engagement Fellow, it is important not to see ourselves as apart from the rest of the world, but as a part of it. I created a short video over the topic of a very recently published book by the Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg, called The Underground Girls of Kabul. The following is my transcript of the video:
”  Inequality between men and women in the modern world is not unknown. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, a practice known as Bacha Posh, which translates to “dressed up like a boy” in Dari, further intensifies the divide. It is a tradition which has lasted for centuries, and occurs when wives are unable to bear a son to inherit the family name. Families without sons are seen as weak in society, and many parents raise their youngest daughters as boys to spare them embarrassment. Once the girls reach puberty, they are transitioned back into society as females so that they may be married. Many people are aware that bacha posh are girls dressed as boys, but as a practice deeply embedded in the culture, it is universally understood and unquestioned. 
As children, bacha posh are extended freedoms in society that they would not know if they were viewed as girls. These females escort their sisters in public as male relatives, work to provide for the family, and play sports with other boys in public. Thus, the bacha posh experience a life that they would never have known if they were raised as their true gender. Unfortunately, these girls often wish they were never given the opportunity, because once they must transition back, they are stripped of basic rights to which they grew accustomed living as males. After such large amounts of psychological distress, many attempt suicide.
The practice of bacha posh is a custom which must be stopped in order to achieve greater gender equality in the world. In no society should a woman’s value be based on her ability to bear sons, and children should be able to experience freedom no matter their gender. Currently, several human rights campaigns rage over the subject, but as a tradition deeply rooted in culture, there is no end to the bacha posh in sight. “
Reading this book and learning more about a practice in the world most people have never heard about helped me realize a few things about myself and the world. The first, which is something I have actually known for a long time, is that I am an avid supporter of gender equality. I am angered by differences in the way men and women are treated in my own society, which is supposedly one of the most advanced in the world, but I am absolutely livid with the inequity in countries where women are considered personal property. I want to lend a gracious hand in stopping this thought process around the world. 
The second is the fact that there are practices and things in this world which simply cannot be known by only scratching the surface. This seems pretty obvious, but when I showed the video to the class and some visitors, including the Dean of the College of International Studies, not a single person present had heard of the Bacha Posh. I shouldn’t have been too surprised, I had never heard about it before I read the book, but it was still upsetting.
In order to leave the world a better place than we find it, we must go beneath the surface of society. We must seek out the good and the bad, and see what we can do to make the bad go away and make the good better. As travelers, we must be weary of how our cultural perspective may simply be different from the one we are visiting, but we should also always, always be informed and seek out the whole truth. In this way, we can take steps to make positive changes in the world
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OU THUNDERCOUSINS

On February 19th, I went with the student group OU Cousins to watch the OKC Thunder play against the Dallas Mavericks. I had a great time getting to know my Japanese Cousin and friend Mizuki better on the bus ride there and back as well as at the game itself.

I had never been to a Thunder game before, so the experience was almost as new to me as it was to Mizuki! The stadium was a happy chaotic mess, with loud and intense basketball fans packing the seats and walkways. Mizuki and I are not even big fans of basketball, but the excitement was contagious! Of course it also helped that the Thunder were victorious, winning out over the Mavs 104-89.

At the game, I got to tell Mizuki all about how the OKC Thunder have positively affected the state. She really liked the fact that the players are like a family, and take care of each other and love the community. Sometimes, because of the fact that the US is the melting pot of the world, I think it’s hard for foreign citizens to understand the American culture. Some would even argue that the country doesn’t really have a culture! Although it is far different and nowhere near as specific as the culture of most countries, I believe it has a culture all its own. It is simply very wide, and instead of being rooted in old traditions, is rooted in different people of various backgrounds working together for a common goal.

Mizuki also shared some aspects of Japanese culture with me. In Japan, every year there is a huge job-hunting season for new graduates, and it can be incredibly stressful for people to land full-time jobs. This mass-hiring ritual occurs every December, and young adults searching for jobs may send in over a hundred applications, go to various job presentations, and attend interviews with tens of potential employers. The pressure in Japan is very high to land a good job right out of school, because rarely does an employee leave or change companies in their working lifetime.

Mizuki is hoping to graduate after one more semester at her University in Hiroshima when she leaves OU, so she will be experiencing the anxiety of the new class of job-hunters this year. In fact, she is already pretty stressed and worried about the situation. However, I know that she will be successful!

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Secretary Gates Dinner

When Secretary Gates began speaking, I was struck by how open and honest his manner was. Along with his wonderful sense of humor, his blunt and obviously caring demeanor was clearly visible, unlike the personalities of many others in the political field, who rely on circumlocution and smoke and mirror tactics to win heart. His comparison between the age groups of those in the military and those of college students really struck me and made his actions seem more understandable and valiant.

I found his discussion of the similarities between Bush and Obama incredibly interesting. His perspective on the Bush administration is unique, in that he worked for Bush during the “easy years.” Bush had already involved the US in the Afghan and the Iraqi war – in Gate’s words: Bush had made his bed, and was prepared and content to lie in it. However, with Obama, Gates dealt with a large ideological shift, as Obama preferred to deal with domestic political issues, an approach that Gates did not seem to agree with. He specifically stated that Obama tried to foster a sense of “coming home,” and nation- building, which he equated with the budget cuts in intelligence and defense spending. He argued that other countries would perceive this as US withdrawal, and would make the country appear weaker in the eyes of the world. He advised that the US stay militarily ready in order to maintain the image of being a world military power.

His take on current events was thought provoking, although I did not agree with some of the comments he made about the situation in the Middle East. His view on Russia was quite obviously influenced by his experiences during the Cold War, and I thought that he made quite a few very valid points, particularly about Putin being a man of the past. I thought his discussion of China could have been more thorough, but the situation is such that, as he himself stated, how China behaves is almost entirely dependent on how the United States treats it. Perhaps the most important point that he made through the entire night was his talk about college education. As a student, I thought what he said was spot-on. We are paying for the past and neglecting our future. Many of the recent graduates are dealing with huge amounts of debt and are forced to take jobs that would keep them under-employed, hurting our own economy.

Overall, the night was an intriguing opportunity to hear an expert in the field speak candidly and I am incredibly grateful to have been able to take advantage of it.

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Oklahoma Weather

This post will be a two parter! First, I shall complain/report on the odd weather that takes place in Oklahoma. All this week, it has been bitterly cold. Today, however, has been nice. It’s cold, but not too cold. My roommate shared that it will be warmer this weekend. If the weather could stop being so crazy, I’d be fine with that.

But this has me thinking…
What will the weather be like in Italy?

I shall do some research over the weekend, and post past weather trends for Italy.

Then, when I actually go to Italy, I will report on the weather!

On a side note, I had the opportunity to donate/voluenteer for the blood drive today!

Until next time,
Alexis Hall

LOVE

OU recently added this piece of art our to our visitor center. I thought it was interesting and want to share it with my corner of the Internet! I attached two articles that discuss the new project. This piece has me excited about studying abroad and seeing all of the art. I can’t wait to go to Italy and see all of the history of arts and sciences there.
Until next time,
Alexis

image

http://robertindiana.com/works/love-2/

http://www.ou.edu/content/web/news_events/articles/news_2015/lovesculpture.html

Reflection #5

Thinking back, what “culture shocks” did you experience while transitioning from high school to college life? What were some of the hardest moments? The most rewarding? How do you think those experiences will help prepare you for your study abroad?

walker tower

The biggest culture shock was the change of living arrangements. I went from living with my parents and two siblings and having my own room to sharing a room with a complete stranger. From having home cooked meals every night to walking to the caf and eating semi-decent food.

The hardest thing was adjusting to the first couple of weeks of being in Norman. I rushed a sorority, so I arrived a week and a half before most of the other people. Even if I hadn’t pledged a sorority, I wouldn’t have regretted moving to campus early. It gave me the opportunity to adjust to campus living without the hordes of other freshman. It also led me to my best friends.

I will experience something similar when studying abroad. Odds are that I will not know anyone participating in the program. I will be living in a new country, surrounded by people who are not native English speakers. I will be forced to make new friends and go through the same experience that I went through earlier this year. Having these experiences will help prepare me for the changes I will encounter while abroad.