I’m Wealthy Beyond Imagination

From my journal, a month after returning from Tanzania: I showered two days in a row this week.  This is nothing too notable for me normally, except it’s the first time I’ve done that since May.  In Tanzania, my roommate Sarah and I agreed from the beginning to shower every other day and not on the same days.  Our host family never asked us to; they were well off relative to most other host families.  We could tell because they had hot water during the evenings and a flush toilet instead of a squatty potty.  I remember asking Sarah whether she thought it was difficult for them to afford hosting students.  We knew that they never would have told us even if hosting us was a financial burden to them.  Regardless, we strove to be conscientious of the water and electricity we used just in case. One memory sticks clearly in my mind, though…  a memory at the market in Arusha the first time Baba (“Dad” in Swahili) took us to Pizza Point.  We had just finished some shopping at a local market where Baba’s cousin sells her crafts.  We got in the car to head back to the restaurant for a nice dinner, still ecstatic about our finds at the market– souvenirs for ourselves and our friends at home.  It was then that our host brother asked us whether we found the prices in Tanzania to be high.  We told him we did not; after all, spending anything more that $10 for even a nice wooden carving or painting was high in Tanzania.  He seemed embarrassed as he told us that their family finds the prices to be very high.  We tried to cover, saying it was only because American prices are much higher, or because the exchange rate was so good, but truthfully, that was not the case.  Yes, both of those things were true, but the full truth includes much more.  The fact is that we see those prices as low because they are such a small fraction of what we have. If I ever felt remorse for the years I spent considering my family “average” on the income scale, it was this moment.  Knowing the lights will come on when I hit the switch is a luxury I take for granted all too often.  I can start dinner on the stove without fear that the power will be cut soon and I will have to switch to charcoal.  I can shower for an extra minute or two without concern that my water bill will be too high to afford.  Even when I am a “broke college student”, I am wealthy beyond imagination.  My experiences in Tanzania led me to reexamine my budget, and I can confidently say that while my perception of the value of money hasn’t changed, my idea of where it belongs has, and it doesn’t belong in my hands.  I am blessed to bless others, and my host family teaches me that lesson again every time I think of them.

I’m in Korea!

What have I been doing this summer? I am currently spending a much-too-short month in Daegu, South Korea at Kyungpook National University’s Global Summer School with 27 other students from all over the world. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for ages and it hasn’t disappointed. Forgive me for taking so long to post here, I’ve been really enjoying my time here. I’ll spend a little time in this blog talking about Korean culture in general, and in the next post I’ll try to talk more specifically about the Global Summer School and my class.

I should preface this blog post by telling you something: I’m not a complete newbie to Korean culture. I’ve been listening to Korean pop music for several years now, and I have been sucked into the world of Korean dramas. Neither of these things has been particularly beneficial to my time management, but they have been a part of my life all the same. Of course, consuming the pop culture of a country by way of a computer screen does not give anything close to the complete picture of a culture. I am not claiming that I am an expert in Korean culture, but I did come to Korea with quite a few expectations. Some of these expectations were justified, and some of them were not.

There’s so much to say I don’t really know where to start, but the foodie in me is demanding that I tell you that Korean food is, as expected, delicious. I can’t tell you how many times my mouth has watered looking at the food on the screen in Korean dramas, and now I finally get to eat that food myself. It doesn’t matter whether it’s traditional Korean dishes, or the Korean take on other types of cuisine like Chinese food or pizza—it’s all good. I’ll be honest: Kyungpook’s cafeteria is a little disappointing, but I’m also being honest when I say that I’ve never eaten at a cafeteria that wasn’t at least a little disappointing. Cafeteria food aside, Korea has been a culinary adventure that hasn’t hurt my pocket too much, as many restaurants are quite cheap compared to the U.S. Last night I only paid 3,000 won (a little less than $3) after splitting a meal with 4 other girls, but I was completely full. I could go on and on about the food, but I won’t waste your time, so I’ll just put a few pictures below. (Bear with me and just be glad I haven’t spammed Instagram or Facebook with these photos.)


Korean barbecue: samgyeopsal (pork belly)


Fried chicken, Korean style


Italian food in Korea


A variation on bingsoo (Korean shaved ice dessert) called seolbing, using frozen milk instead of shaved ice. This one’s chocolate if you couldn’t tell


Chinese food, Korean style (left to right: jjajangmyeon/black bean sauce noodles, tangsooyook/sweet and sour fried pork, jjamppong/spicy seafood noodle soup)



Samgyetang (chicken ginseng soup)


There are countless things I could talk about, but I’d like to focus a little more closely on one particular topic: Korean fashion. I am interested in fashion in general and I have found it very interesting to see what people my age are wearing here and compare it to the U.S. and Oklahoma.

First of all, students at KNU dress much better than OU students. Of course there are exceptions, but this is the case on the whole. It’s the cold, hard truth. I’ll admit that that I myself have often become victim to the ease of rolling out of bed and pulling on athletic shorts or leggings and a big t-shirt to go to class. For some girls at OU this is a uniform, and the guys don’t dress much better. Korean students, however, tend to dress much nicer and look more put together. Dressy casual seems to be the norm here.

However, there is a catch. I can’t remember who said it, but someone in the program described it perfectly when they said “Korean students dress well, but they all look like they bought their clothes at the same store.” I saw countless variations on the same few outfits everyday. When there’s a trend in Korea, it is a trend: Waiting at a crosswalk around school on any given day, it felt like half of the girls were wearing white strappy sandals, and every other person was wearing a horizontal striped shirt. I saw a dress I liked in 3 different stores downtown, and gave up and bought it at the third store. Here’s a Korean college student dress code:

Boys: If you are feeling fancy, wear a button down shirt. Don’t be afraid to go for an interesting pattern or color because it won’t be construed as effeminate as it might be in the U.S. A polo shirt is also fine, or a t-shirt with a graphic design or some nonsensical English or STRIPES (!!). Accompany this with slim cut jeans, slacks, or shorts. Don’t worry about showing too much thigh here, because shorter shorts on men are not seen as effeminate in Korea. If you’re feeling lazy, wearing athletic clothes is fine. You will still look cool as long as all articles of clothing are either Nike or Adidas brand.

Girls: You have some more variety here, but certain types of clothing are more common. A cute blouse will do, or a t-shirt with some random English or STRIPES (!!). Pants can be slim cut or more of a boyfriend fit. One pieces, overalls, and loose summer dresses with short hemlines are also in style. Wearing skirts and dresses with heels for school is not considered overdressing. You should probably wear those same white strappy sandals that everyone else is wearing, but if you’re short you might opt for a higher heel.


One variation on the ubiquitous white sandals


These are tongue-in-cheek generalizations, and plenty of exceptions can be found. There are stores with more unique clothing, and I see people who have a more original style dotted about the streets. But trends seem to take a stronger hold in Korea than they do in the U.S., and people seem to feel less of a need to set themselves apart with their style. Perhaps this stems from the more collectivist ideologies of East Asia, where individualism does not reign supreme like it does in Western countries. In the U.S. people often feel the need to express their individuality in every aspect of their life, and worry about standing out and seeming different. I remember feeling annoyed in high school when I saw someone wearing a sweater I owned.

But is expressing your individuality that important? I have found myself wondering this while spending time in Korea. Although they may not be as immediately apparent, there are plenty of other ways to be different besides the clothes you put on your body. If you like the clothes you are wearing and think you look good, does it matter if the girl next to you is wearing the same thing? Just because you are wearing the same clothes as someone else doesn’t mean you are the same person. Many Koreans wear similar clothing, that’s true, but I’ve seen very few people my age here wearing something I thought was ugly or unfashionable.

I haven’t figured out exactly how I feel about this yet. To play the devil’s advocate, it is also true that the clothes you wear are one of the first things people notice about you, making it a great medium for expressing who you are. If you are wearing the same things as everyone else, what are you saying about yourself? Sorry, I’ve asked a lot of questions and haven’t provided answers. But these are some of the things I’ve been thinking about while in Korea, and this is just one tiny facet of Korean culture. Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot. See you later!


The Sands of the Hourglass

I can’t believe it’s been a over a month since I returned from China. It doesn’t feel that long. At the same time, my summer is almost up–25% of my time in college has disappeared, running like sand from an hourglass. It can’t have gone by that fast, can it? My time as a teenager is almost up. My time in college will quickly follow. Life passes so fast that it’s really a wonder anyone can ever manage to be bored. And yet, I’m guilty of it too. I’ve wasted time being bored before. It’s folly. Every second, every grain of sand, is precious. I’m starting to understand that.

Despite my worries that I’ve wasted my time, this past year has really been incredibly productive. If you’ve been following my journeys, you know about China and the Enactus National Expo. You’ve traveled through memory palaces of Cordoba and seen the flying silks of Bangladesh Night 2015. Whether you can tell or not, I’m not the same person who began this blog almost a year ago. That girl was, at once, both supremely overconfident and extraordinarily insecure. She worried so much about what people thought of her. She didn’t know what she wanted to be or how hard she could work for something she loved. I’m not saying I’ve finished the journey to become the best me, but I have taken a few steps forward. I’ve traveled far enough, at least, that I can see a difference in who I am versus who I was.

The last thing I should mention in this moment of quiet reflection is my friends. I have significantly more amazing friends than I usually recognize. I just found out one of my good friends from high school is going to Yale. How awesome is that? It’s not all about getting into fancy schools though. One of my friends is studying Chinese in Shanghai, the beautiful city I left just a month and a half ago. I also have friends from college who graduated at the end of the school year. They’re moving on. Some are going to grad school (one is even going to William and Mary!) while others are finding jobs. Such is life. When this stage in my life ends and my hourglass if flipped, I don’t know where I’ll go. I suppose the mystery is half the fun. I also don’t know who will be beside me. Even if my next stage in life is one I must walk alone, I know that the friendships I’ve built are real. Even if we lose contact, those people helped make me into who I am today. For that, I am grateful. I wish the very best for all of my friends who are beginning a new stage in their journeys. I wish the same for you, whoever you are, and wherever you’re going. You’ve followed me thus far, and so I count you a friend. I hope you’ll join me as I begin my Sophomore year. I wonder where I’ll go and who I’ll meet. In a month it will begin. I’ll be back on the road. I’m not worried though; I’ve always felt most at home on the road and at the little inn that awaits me in Norman.

Independent Study

I knew when I moved on from the dormitory halls at UCC with their organized activities put together by the professors who came over with us to the far larger city feeling of staying in Dublin with only my best friend things would have a change of pace if nothing else.  And while the experiences I had in Dublin were surreal to say the least (a subject for another blog post on another day) what I discovered overall while in Dublin the week after my official study abroad experience ended was mostly that what I had come to expect of the smaller parts of Ireland were also true of the larger; the themes I had discovered in the countryside, in the history, in the poetry, and in the small towns were expanded upon populously and voluminously by the capitol city. The things that have stuck out to me as thematically resonant throughout Ireland, whether taught to me by Dr.s Cusack and Ehrhardt or noticed on my own, were a layered history, a sense of community that extended far beyond neighborly courtesy, and an overall attitude of openmindedness in a sense in which we do not use the word in the States.  The Irish people were always open to talk and to help, no matter the circumstances.  People began conversations with you over breakfast, bus drivers kept track of where people were going and made sure they got off at the right stops, and everyone, from museum guards to street performers, were happy to help you find a good restaurant or talk to you about the music playing over the speakers.  There is a prevailing sense of kindness in Ireland that comes from a terribly tragic history.  On an island so small a sense of community is almost inevitable, and when that community has been so thoroughly tested and tried, century after century, there is an enduring sense that we must be kind to those around us since we don’t know what they’re going through.  The people of Ireland were what truly impressed me, their broad and intelligent view of the world has altered the way I look at all countries, my own included, forever.

Back Home

So I made it. 7 weeks, 6 cities, 2 countries, and 20 flavors of gelato later, and I’m back home. Weirdly, it feels like I never left. I saw so much though, and feel like I learned a lot- about myself, my friends, and the world.
Things I’ll miss: walking everywhere, the comfort/community in Arezzo, new adventures, new friends, time to explore on my own, mozzarella, climbing on ancient aqueducts, winery days, and, of course, gelato.
Things I won’t miss: zero A/C (though Americans definitely don’t have it right on this either- we way overuse it), loud city noise coming in through the screenless windows which are open because no A/C, and saltless bread

Barcelona was probably my favorite city to visit, but Arezzo was so amazing to live in. I feel like I really found at least some semblance of a home in Italy and it was a great way to experience Italian culture. Because it was an OU study center, there was a weird pull between staying in my comfort zone with the OU group and branching out to experience Italy, but I think I balanced that decently. Travelling on my own afterwards helped with that. But anyway, Arezzo was great. Shoutout to Sergio at Bar Stefano- tell him hi if you’re ever there, he’s the best.
Rome was an amazing experience, too. It’s sometimes hard to even appreciate the history, architecture, and artwork because there’s just so much of it. I found myself becoming apathetic at times to it, but I just had to remind myself to really appreciate everything around me. It was definitely a once in a lifetime type experience.
Cinque Terre (or as much of it as we saw- which was Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Corniglia)- was so much fun. It was really intense with all the hiking given the heat but it was completely worth it. The cliff diving and the swimming were so much fun. It was such a memorable weekend.
I didn’t love Siena but that may have just been due to a subpar hostel. The cathedral there was beautiful, though.
Our day trip in Florence was just okay also. None the less, I learned so much and experienced an incredible amount of new things everywhere we went. Even mundane, day to day things sometimes seemed new. At times, it was overwhelming, and I had to push myself, but that ended up being a big part of the experience. I feel a lot more capable now, like a real adult or at least as close as I want to be for now. I think travelling on my own for the 5 days following the program were mainly to credit for that.

As for what I learned about the culture, Spaniards have this great thing every day where they walk around from about 5 until 6:30 to socialize, stroll, and enjoy their evenings. Catalunyans have serious pride in their could be nation- currently they are still a part of Spain, but they want that to change with a vote for independence. Their food wasn’t my favorite and they’re really big on seafood. The city is pretty laid back though, but modern and productive at the same time. I felt like they had a nice balance of new and old and productive and relaxing. I liked that.
Italians’ defining feature, I’d say is their sense of community and inclusion, and their machismo. The sense of community means they are a social culture with long meals and big gatherings. The machismo means they have great pride in what they do and make- from their food to their cities to basically anything else. They are loud and proud but welcoming and compassionate.
Each country certainly has its struggles, though. While I was abroad, Greece was teetering on leaving the euro zone and migrants/refugees were pouring in to Italy from Northern Africa. This certainly was causing tension in the country and it exposed an ugly streak of racism and prejudice in the country. That was interesting to me to see because I feel like there is a perception that American race relations are uniquely bad, but clearly other countries still struggle with their own strains of it. In France and Germany, and many other countries I’m sure, there is a lot of prejudice against hijabis and Muslims in general, for instance. That is not to say that Americans should not continue the press for equal rights and equal treatment for everyone regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, etc., but it was interesting to see we are certainly not alone in our problems.
Also, it was troubling to see how far ahead the Italians (and, presumably the rest of Europe) are in eco-friendly and green technology and renewable energy. We really need to get our stuff together on that front, and that was apparent.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip and a fantastic experience. It taught me a lot about myself and it showed me what I am capable of. I learned a lot about other cultures, I saw so many new things, and I met great people. It was a wonderful opportunity and I can’t wait for my semester abroad.

Journey to Tanzania 2015

I have much more to say about the Journey to Tanzania than I can adequately share in one post like this, but for the time being, I will sum it up as best I can while more details will have to come out from my pictures and in the posts to follow.  For now, all I can say is WOW.  Tanzania, you are so much more than I ever could have imagined.  The CIA World Factbook taught me statistics; you showed me faces, let me hold their hands, gave me a family, and allowed me to see that you are endlessly more complex than any research could have prepared me for.IMG_3265 For the first two weeks of our trip, we took classes with OU professors in Social Work and Social Justice while learning basic Kiswahili from instructors at the school in Arusha.  This was also the part of the trip where we spent the most time with our host families. Life in Usa River, the suburb of Arusha, was different from family to family, but I think we can all say we are beyond grateful for the experience.  We learned easily as much from our families as we did in class each day.  It was an invaluable experience that I will never forget! IMG_3390 We took a “field trip”for our safari over the weekend between our two weeks of class.  This once again will require a separate post just to describe the overwhelming beauty that is the Ngorongoro crater.  We were sad to leave, but happy to be reunited with our host families at the end!  IMG_3562 Following the conclusion of our classes, we began our travels to Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.  In Zanzibar, we got to go snorkeling, see tortoises five times older than ourselves, tour Stone Town and a spice farm, and eat food from an incredible street market that opened up just after sunset each night for those who had been fasting for Ramadan.  After a couple short days, we took a rocky ferry over to Dar, the business capital of Tanzania, for tours of agencies relating to our coursework, exploring, and a little more beach time.  Though we could never have a full picture of Tanzania, spending time in each of the four locations– Usa River, Arusha, Dar, and Zanzibar– really opened our eyes to the diversity which exists. within this great country IMG_3883 At the conclusion of our time in Dar, we headed back to Arusha by bus to begin the goodbyes with our families, but only after one last field trip to the base of Kilimanjaro to hike and see waterfalls.  After a fun celebration, we went back to our host families’ houses for one last night together before parting ways.  As expected, the trip went way too quickly and the goodbyes brought many tears from the students and families alike.  The relationships we got to build were by far the most rewarding part of the trip, and I will cherish these people and my memories of their welcoming spirit forever!IMG_4107

Proposals, Privilege, and Purpose

Late post // Written 6/15/2015 I am in Tanzania, and my heart is heavy.  I knew this moment would come for me as it has for so many in the past.  After a  night involving marriage proposals from men who were no more than strangers, looking for nothing with regard to love and everything with regard to a better life, I’m stuck wondering why I don’t have to think about that when considering who I marry.  Through no choice of our own, these men were born in a land far away with few resources to help them along the way, while I have never been in need of the basic necessities and still have the chance to better my situation every day.  I was born in the U.S.A., the “Land of Opportunity”, while millions– billions– look wistfully at this place that I have called home for 19 years. I like to think that I’ve worked hard, that I’ve earned at least most of what has come to me, but the truth of it is, this is privilege.  I live in a country of greatness thanks to the hard-working generations here before me.  I am so close to so many Tanzanians who have worked harder than I likely ever will have to, who would give anything to be where I am in life.  To call my situation anything but privilege is a slap in the face to my new friends here on the other side of the world.  I am blessed with more than I knew I had, and it overwhelms me.  After seeing this disparity that exists, I am left searching more fervently than ever for my purpose.   I don’t know what it is, but I know it is to help people.  That’s the only way I know how to accept what I have been given– to give it back.  Whether that means selling all that I have and moving, or taking a good job in the States and giving abundantly, or somewhere in between, I do not know.  All I know is that I cannot come away from this place and continue to live life as usual.