Highs and Lows

Easter Break has started! Yay!!!! (Slightly more than) Two weeks of complete freedom! If you ignore the work I have due as soon as we get back. But I’ve already done most of it, and I’m ready for my next adventure. In two days I leave for my trip to Edinburgh, Scotland and Dublin, Ireland with some international friends I’ve met here at Hertfordshire. But I’ve already had a couple adventures over break! Last Friday I went to a place called Go Ape, a tree top forest adventure with “zip wires, Tarzan swings, rope ladders, and a variety of obstacles and crossings” and some great views. image If you’re ever in the UK I highly recommend it. Ignoring the fact that I am actually quite scared of heights, it was one of the best times I’ve had in a long time. I had one (small) panic attack and I only screamed once. I actually got to a point where I hit a roof on being scared; there was just no room left for me to be more frightened. It was amazing! I really want to go again! My favorite parts where the zip lines (once I got past the whole jumping-off-the-platform bit), but the worst was definitely the Tarzan swings. You had to free fall before the rope would catch you. (You can totally hear one of the employees yelling “Well done Margaret” after Brooke convinces me to jump)
  So I enjoyed that way more than I thought I would. And then, two days ago, I got to see Les Miserables live for the first time at the Queen’s Theater in London. I’d seen the movie several times, but the stage performance was a thousand times better. I cried at least five times during the show – which is a good thing for a show that’s literally called “wretched.” Getting to London and back was an adventure though. Somehow I got a ticked for Essex instead of Piccadilly Circus, and I’m still not quite sure how that happened. From swinging through trees to sobbing in darkened theaters, this has definitely been a “Spring” break to remember, in the best way!

The Predominant Voice

Here at OU and many other large universities, the political, academic, and legal authority is held by many different groups of people, but who, precisely, should have the final say in issues regarding the following topics?

  • Hiring faculty
  • Creating/revising curriculum
  • Deciding undergraduate admission
  • Determining faculty workload
  • Making tenure decisions
  • Dealing with student misconduct

And ultimately, what voices should predominate the political and academic governance structure of a college? The administration of the university seems to hold most of the authority, and the decisions of this group of people are typically honored above others, but in regard to the specific topics listed above, aren’t there certain people who should be overseeing them?

With regard to hiring faculty, the respective colleges (College of Arts & Science/College of Engineering/etc.) should have the final say and should be given most of the authority in selecting, interviewing, and evaluating candidates. Let’s say that an impressive prospective faculty member is applying for a position in the Price College of Business. Who better to evaluate this person than the administrators and other faculty members within the Price College of Business? They are familiar with the expectations and successes of the college, and they will be working with this new person, so their opinions are most important.

When it comes to creating and revising curriculum, again, the individual colleges should be in charge of this, particularly the professors/instructors. They are the ones teaching day after day, interacting with and hearing the opinions of countless students, and they will ultimately know what is most effective and what will lead to academic success.

For deciding undergraduate admissions, the university administration is best capable of doing this. While evaluating learning patterns and identifying effective teaching methods comes more easily to individual colleges and their faculty members, deciding who to actually admit to the university is a decision best left with neutral administration. They have the university’s general statistics regarding previous years’ enrollment, student satisfaction, and they typically have more resources with which to use in determining who will thrive at the university and who will not.

In determining faculty workload and tenure decisions, the individual colleges and the university provost should have control. Individual colleges can allocate work to its faculty members, and when it comes to tenure, these faculty members will be evaluated (by the college under which they are employed) and this suggestion will be either accepted or declined by the provost.

Lastly, in dealing with student misconduct, the administration should have ultimate power. As this is a more general issue, it should be dealt with by a group of people that is relatively unaffiliated with specific branches of the university. If an issue arises specifically within one of the specific colleges (Someone plagiarizing within The College of Architecture, for instance), that college should be given the right to address an issue before sending it on to administration.

In terms of who should have ultimate authority, or whose voices should predominate, it is difficult to say. As evidenced above, there are many facets of a university that are best dealt with by only certain groups of people, and it seems as though there is not one particular person or group that should have more authority. My final thought is simply that people with little experience in higher education should not be given a lot of decision-making power. With little in their lives to reference and a lack of understanding (I firmly believe that lack of experience leads to lack of understanding), they cannot possibly know how to properly navigate the complexities of a university.

Compassion

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”
-Albert Einstein

I really love this quote about global engagement because it encourages incorporating compassion into our lives and spreading it wherever we go. I believe that when traveling abroad, I may not be able to communicate verbally with everyone I meet. However, how we treat people based on our body language and actions can sometimes say more than words. I am still capable of being respectful and kind without speaking. I believe that world would be a far better place if people had more compassion for each other and did not focus solely on their own needs, wants and desires. I have always found the ultimate joy when I am serving someone else rather than pursuing what I believe will bring me contentment. The compassionate approach that Einstein describes could drastically alter the world we live in and has the potential to bring about peace.

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Travel: Szia Budapest!

Budapest and Prague had always been places I’d love to visit and I made it a priority to see them while I’m studying abroad. I managed to convince my friend Jill to go with me during a week-long break.

The trip began on a Sunday morning with our departure point of course being Clermont-Ferrand. We decided to take a bus all the way from France to Hungary as this seemed like the least expensive option. The bus ride was… interesting. We used the company “Eurolines” and I honestly would not recommend doing the same unless you love adventure. We drove around France for around 7 hours until we ended up in Lyon (which is usually a 2 ½ hour direct trip). Once we’d reached the bus station in Lyon an employee approached us and asked where we were headed. We proudly told him we were headed to Budapest and subsequently learned that we had to get off the bus. Apparently we had a layover in Lyon that we didn’t know about. The ticket office was closed so there was no one to ask which bus we needed to take next. I called the company and they told me that this would be our last bus change and after this our route would be direct. Okay, no big deal. We waited for 30 minutes and the office finally opened. There we got a boarding pass for our next bus. After 30 more minutes of waiting our bus was supposed to leave in a few minutes but was nowhere to be found. We asked the drivers of the waiting busses (we had to ask in English as none of them spoke French) and they didn’t know where our bus was. Our bus finally arrived and we were off!

Somewhere along the way we met Grandma. At one of the stops a man boarded with an elderly woman. She had trouble walking and she seemed to be at least 90 years old. Jill offered her seat to the man who refused, saying that he was simply helping his mother who was travelling alone. An hour or so later the woman offered Jill some mint candy. I was peeling an orange and I decided to give it to the woman. We eventually started talking with her and she was really nice; the only problem was that she was speaking a foreign language and understood no English at all.  We decided to adopt her as our grandma and watched over her for the rest of the trip. We had another changeover in Strasbourg so we took Grandma’s bags and helped her off the bus. While we were waiting we decided to figure out what language she was speaking. We flashed “Hello” at her in several different languages with the Google Translate app but no cigar. Finally thanks to lots of hand gestures she said something resembling Macedonia and we decided she was in fact Macedonian. The word Vienna sounds similar in Macedonian and so we knew she needed to get off at the Vienna stop. When we reached Vienna we were sad to see her go, but it was pretty cool to make a new Grandma.

On the final leg of the journey to Budapest we were both exhausted and were getting a little delirious. This wasn’t helped by the fact that we were constantly being awoken for passport checks as we traversed various borders. As we left Bratislava and entered into Hungary the bus driver put on a movie. Much to our dismay the movie was The Pink Panther 2…in Hungarian. The whole experience was kind of funny because the woman seated in front of us was washing her hair with body spray, her son was guffawing at the movie (though he didn’t speak Hungarian), and I was going in and out of consciousness from sheer exhaustion.

We finally made it to Budapest after a 27 hour bus ride. First on our agenda was obtaining money we could actually use. We found an ATM after asking for directions in Hungarian/English (Jo Napót! ATM?). Then we bought metro passes from a man who kept laughing at us. We took the metro to the stopped listed on the hostel-given directions and after a short walk we had arrived! The hostel owner was amazing and gave us directions to an authentic Hungarian restaurant after ensuring we had everything we needed. We ate an AWESOME lunch of goulash and pasta and learned how to say thank you in Hungarian. We spent our first day exploring the city on foot and orienting ourselves in the beautiful city.

metro passes! made it to the hostel yum! jill with the food me with the food

The next day we had a free breakfast at the hostel where we met some lovely girls. We planned to meet up later with our new friend Larissa from Holland. We took the metro to the Hungarian National Museum where we figured we could learn a little bit more about Hungarian history. WOW. The museum was so much fun! We learned so much and the artifacts on display were presented in such a neat way. After the museum we were running a little late for our meeting with Larissa so we grabbed some pizza from Pizza King. I’m a bit of a pizza enthusiast and I can say this was the best pizza I’ve ever had. We got pepperoni pizza with corn (it sounds gross, I know) and it was delicious! Two pieces of pizza and a can of Pepsi cost less than 2 euros!

the big bridge the crest of the city overlooking the city breakfast at the hostel in front of the Hungarian National Museum corn pizza

We met Larissa across the bridge and explored the area around Buda castle and an old cathedral. There were men holding falcons and Larissa got her photo taken with a huge fountain! Jill and I decided to take a walking tour which started at 2pm so we had to catch a bus to the meeting point. We got on the bus and almost immediately after the bus filled with a group of at least 30 older women. There wasn’t enough room to move at all! Naturally, my mom called me as I’m squeezed between old Hungarian women, so I told her I didn’t have time to talk.

the falcons selfie the city during a rainstorm on the bus full of old people

We made it to the walking tour on time. It was led by two Hungarian girls who explained the history of the cathedral, the parliament building, and countless landmarks. They gave us lots of info about the modern history of Hungary, which was wonderful as the info was coming from locals. Once we got back to the hostel we were pretty tired! We took showers and napped a bit. During our absence some Turkish guy had moved into the adjacent room. That night they invited us to eat soup with them in the private kitchenette of our apartment. After dinner we went out with Larissa and the Turkish guys, Mücahit (sock buddies) and Canpolat, who are studying abroad in Poland. We had an awesome time and ended the night with some kebabs of course! We got home rather late and ended up sleeping for only about 30 minutes before leaving the hostel at 5 am to catch our bus to Prague!

the cathedral inside the cathedral oh hey Ronald Reagan? in front of parliament casual enjoying Budapest nightlife selfie with mucahit

The Problem with Fancy-Sounding Majors, El Baile de Latin, y Brunch

There’s going to be an overarching theme with this blog post (and fun pictures) as there was with my most recent one which was about voicing one’s opinion, but this one might be a bit more in-your-face about it.


I’m an astrophysics major and have found that, on the whole, telling people my actual major adversely affects me.

There are several interesting possibilities which can occur which reveal much about their personality:

1. They immediately start playing defense–I have interpreted this to mean that they become insecure and don’t wish to talk to me.

This is the least desirable option, as I would love to continue chatting with and getting to know you. Please, please don’t assume that I am some arrogant smartypants that thinks you’re an idiot. For these kinds of people, I want to pound into their heads to kindly remind that certain types of intelligence play much more than others into everyday life. In all reality, I’m likely in awe by their ability to communicate effectively without first reciting what to say in their head. Calculus may come (relatively) easily to me, but double integrals in polar coordinates won’t help me barter and avoid being swindled.

More often than not, I have been unsuccessful in bringing them back to being comfortable enough to maintain a conversation.

2. They put me down–I have interpreted this to mean that I intimidate them and they want to maintain “power” in the conversation. Naturally, this approach makes me feel defensive, but this is probably not the kind of person that I wish to chat with. It’s not that I wish to maintain “power”  in the conversation, or (how I personally view) the ability to steer the conversation to new topics/interrupt without consequences/share his, her, their opinion without being questioned.

I wish to keep the power in equilibrium between us two, so for the people who must be the alpha, I allow them to say their spiel, let their words slide more or less off of me, and I move on.

3. They don’t care–this can range from complete apathy to a piqued interest. While indifference is not something that people generally wish to play towards, I have found that it’s better than the alternatives.

I have considered lying to them and saying a more general major such as Computer Science (something which I’m seriously considering).


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Second Languages and Studying Abroad

Growing up in Oklahoma, Spanish has always been “the second language of choice” at every school I’ve attended and visited through my public education. I took nine semesters of Spanish through middle and high school, and I had something of a knack for it. That being said, I am well aware that being able to make ‘A’s on most conjugation worksheets in a high school Spanish IV class and actually talking to a native speaker are two totally different issues.
The first real encounter I ever had where I actually had to use my Spanish went about as awkwardly as possible. My sophomore year of high school I was walking down the beach on South Padre Island with my little sister Emily and younger cousin Ruby, both of whom were freshmen. At some point, an older, shirtless man approached us speaking in Spanish. “Sacan un foto?” he asked, making a “clicking a camera” gesture with his hands. Having had barely two years of Spanish at this point – but still two more years than either Emily or Ruby – I kind of panicked. My brain saw a fifty-something man in swim trunks approaching my sister and my cousin (both of whom were showing a lot of skin in the south Texas heat) and saying “take a picture.” I froze. Every conjugation worksheet I’d ever done had not prepared me for on-the-fly translation by ear, and I failed to remember “sacan” meant “you all take.” He wanted us to take his picture; I thought he wanted a picture of us.
Emily and Ruby looked at me; I stared at the guy for a second and stepped forward to put myself between him and my family. He repeated himself, and this time I actually thought all the way through what he was saying. After that it was fine: I understood this time, and I happily (and a bit apologetically) took the picture for him. I took two things away from that experience: verbs are crucial to understanding, and I really needed to get out and use my Spanish if I wanted to get anywhere with it.
I could barely handle translating three words of kindergarten-level Spanish outside the classroom my first time around, and while I’ve improved since then I still can’t maintain any real conversation for long. I mix up words, fail at grammar, and use the wrong conjugation all the time. I can only imagine what it is like to have to speak in a second (or third, or fourth…) language all the time. Even with several more years of experience than I have, going to school in another country, taking classes in a foreign language… I can hardly wrap my mind around how difficult and terrifying that must be. But it must also be amazing.
Last Christmas I got to spend some time with a high school exchange student from Germany. I met Johanna when we went to see my cousin for the holidays, and I got to talk to her about what her experience was like up to that point. Much of her description was as I expected. She had around six years of classroom English, but it still took her several weeks to stop translating English and to adjust to hearing, speaking, and eventually thinking English. But what I didn’t anticipate was that she missed hearing German. She said that adjusting to using English wasn’t as hard as adjusting to a complete absence of her native language.
Speaking only through others’ experience and my own guesses, I imagine that is what a lot of OU international students go through. Along with the culture shock, having to use a second language constantly, and everything else that makes studying abroad scary comes an absence of the little things that you never miss until they aren’t around, like the rhythm of your native language. Buying food, shampoo, and toilet paper, taking classes, and ordering pizza in a different language seem terrifying and exciting at the same time, but I don’t think I can do much other than speculate until I go abroad myself.

International Thoughts

I recently watched two TEDTalks that concerned diplomacy and national borders. In his Independent Diplomat talk, Carne Ross talked about his experience as a UK diplomat who specialized in the Middle East. He realized during his time working for the government and the UN; when dealing with countries suffering from internal conflict, these organizations failed to effectively communicate with the people, the government, or rebels (depending on the situation). The UN would make security and political recommendations or decisions without proper input from the people that would be directly affected by it.

 After trying many avenues to rectify this situation, he started his own non-profit. This organization, Independent Diplomat, is dedicated to giving diplomatic advice to groups or governments with little experience in diplomatic relations. He also focuses on getting the UN and these conflicting groups together discuss each party’s desired outcome. While he admits that his approach to increasing communication and understanding on both sides has a small chance of overall success, he argues that it is preferred to the alternative.

I found Ross’s TEDTalk and his non-profit idea very interesting. While many countries around the world are suffering from internal conflict, I never thought about how some of these groups, including governments, had little to no diplomatic experience and no way to effectively communicate to other parties or outside organizations. While I unfortunately have to agree with Ross about his chances of causing success, I think that this is a significant step towards opening up communication with the hopes of ending internal conflicts.

The other TEDTalk I saw was Parag Khanna’s Mapping the Future of Countries. He argues that many of the political boundaries that we see on the map are misleading. He exemplifies this idea through China’s relations with neighboring nations.

While in recent years China’s political borders have not changed, China’s influence and economic control has grown. In Mongolia, Chinese companies control a majority of the mines, shipping the minerals back to China. China has also increased in presence in Russia. With many Russians moving towards the western part of the country, many Chinese workers have crossed the border into Russia, inhabiting the regions abandoned by Russians moving west.The Chinese have set up bazaars and their own health facilities, slowly taking over the lumber industry in the region and sending it back to China. While the political boundaries for these countries has not been impacted, China has increased its economic presence and influence in these nations without any violence.

He takes this idea to nonindependent or conflicted groups, such as the Kurds in Iraq. Unlike in centuries past, having a presence in a region does not mean control. While the Kurds have a majority population and a military in the Kurdistan region, they are not independent of Iraq. If the Kurds gained control of the pipelines that run through their borders, they have the ability to establish economic freedom. Khanna’s main argument is that infrastructure and economics are the most important factors when considering a nation’s area of control, not simply the political borders. It is these factors that will eventually pave the way for a borderless world.