Redbud Valley Nature Preserve

Well, I’ve officially been back in the States for 10 days. I’m holding off on writing a “coming back” post because I don’t think I’ve completely processed everything that’s happened in the last four months, and honestly, I don’t know if I ever will. The past ten days have been a little crazy–I’ve applied for jobs, been to interviews, been hired, filled out paperwork, hugged about a thousand people, watched my sister and two good friends graduate, and about a billion other things. They’ve been really good, though, and I think home is the place I’m supposed to be this summer.

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starting a new adventure

I think being away for a semester really allowed me to appreciate how beautiful Oklahoma really is. There are no large thousand-year-old churches or grand works of Renaissance art, but there are beautiful plains with thousands of wildflowers and forests full of squirrels and singing birds. There are museums and parks and nature preserves that capture the unique beauty that can only be found in Oklahoma. This summer, I hope to visit these places and write about them as a way to remind myself that each part of the world is worthy of being noticed, not just those that are far away or exotic.

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Today I visited Redbud Valley Nature Preserve with my mom and sisters. It’s an area of land that has been untouched, preserved as a habitat for native Oklahoma birds, mammals, flowers, and other wildlife, a place to see what the land looked like before industrialization.

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There’s a sign at the entrance to the park that instructs visitors to “hike, daydream, bird watch, visit with a naturalist, sketch, photograph butterflies, relax, study the wildflowers, forget things, look for fossils, remember things, sit, stare, listen… do all these things and more. There are a multitude of possibilities – invent some of your own.” It’s the perfect place to take a break from reality and just be for awhile.

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The cool part about Redbud Valley is that it is home to several diverse ecosystems. One trail winds through a forest, another leads through a grassland prairie, and a third requires climbing through a bluff trail: three different homes for many different kinds of plants and animals. The forest trail is perfect on hotter days because the trees provide shade from the sun, while the bluff trail is better for rainy days because the overhanging rocks provide shelter (the rocks do get a little slippery, though, so make sure to be careful!).

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It’s always fun to go with other people and just enjoy the scenery and each others’ company. More eyes also mean more opportunities to spot cool bugs and animals! If you’re near Catoosa, Oklahoma and find yourself wanting to escape from city or suburban life, you should definitely drive down to Redbud Valley for a day. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is completely free to the public. You should take advantage of this hidden treasure and experience some of the beauty Oklahoma has to offer!

Reflection: PR Publications

This week I was asked to:

  1. Learn how to use Adobe Photoshop through Lynda.
  2. Learn how to use Adobe InDesign through Lynda.
  3. Complete a newspaper markup assignment.
  4. Complete a typesetting assignment.

When I looked at what I was being asked to do, it was overwhelming. Learning to use a new computer program is always a bit daunting to me, but it tends to pay off in the end. I have wanted to learn how to use these programs previously, so I was motivated to figure out the basics of Photoshop and InDesign. This helped me to look at the bigger picture instead of focusing on the amount of effort I would have to exert.

Considering what I was asked to do, I think I did a great job of completing these objectives. Although it was a long process to sit through hours of Lynda tutorial videos and try to implement the demonstrated skills independently, using Adobe Photoshop and InDesign is now much simpler. Additionally, I am familiar with the typical terms associated with a layout and how to build one on my own. Towards the end, I was impressed with my abilities. I think that I reacted this way because I have looked at Adobe Creative Suite as a sort of scary monster that I would eventually have to face. Now that I’ve faced this monster at its simplest level, I am confident in my ability to progress.

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Newspaper Markup: PR Publications

The Advertiser.
The Advertiser.

For the newspaper markup assignment, I used a copy of The Advertiser. The Advertiser is a newspaper from a small town in Missouri, so I think that has something to do with the lack of features on the front page. Either way, this assignment helped familiarize me with standard layout features.

 

Glass half empty

Sometimes you can make the best of a situation. And sometimes, unfortunately, you can’t.

On Monday evening I said goodbye to some great friends. Except that, since I didn’t want to say goodbye or leave at all, I ended up pushing back my exit until 3:30 am (that was my second mistake. My first was not already being packed.) We said “see you soon” instead of goodbye. I hope that I will see them soon, because I started missing them the second I left.

So at three thirty in the morning I walk back to my flat, finish packing, and take a shower. This brings us to 6:30am, where I check out of my flat and walk to the bus stop. No I did not get any sleep. At 7:40 am I board my bus to the airport (which was 10 minutes late) and spend the next two and a half hours in very cramped conditions, worrying about the state of my souvenir shot glasses. I got to the airport, checked in and got myself lunch while I waited for my flight to board.

The flight boards and takes off half an hour late. I get to my layover and spend the next hour waiting at my gate, but that flight is also delayed an hour. We finally get in the air, heading toward Denver, but there is a lot of bad weather in the area and a ton of turbulence on the plane. We land (safely) in Denver an hour and a half later than we were supposed to. That, combined with customs and security, meant that I missed my connection to OKC. So I was put on the next flight out. At 11:20 am the next day. It was 8:30 pm at that point. The icing on the cake? Since the delay was weather related and not because of the airline, they didn’t put me up in a hotel.

On the bright side I now have the “Slept in an Airport Terminal” life achievement.

Fifteen hours later, I boarded my flight to OKC and an hour after that I finally made it home. In total, it was about 38 hours from the time I left my flat in Hatfield to when I got to my house in Oklahoma City.

Even with all my delays and lengthy layovers, the worst part was definitely saying goodbye to the friends I made at the University of Hertfordshire. Hopefully we will see each other soon, like we all said.

But I guess it just depends on your definition of “soon.”

My Exciting Expat Experience

Three years ago arriving in Cambodia with only three months of Khmer language training proved to be quite a learning experience. Every day I was hearing new words which seemed completely foreign to me. I took the time to write the unfamiliar words down in my pocket-sized notebook in order to look up the meaning later. I went through my notebook multiple times every day in order to consistently enhance my arsenal of new words and phrases which could be drawn upon in my daily experiences in the market, on the streets, or in the homes of my friends. The method seemed fruitful as I was constantly engaged in conversations hungry to learn new words. Despite the excitement I had for learning, the first few months proved to be exhausting due to my constant focus and determination to understand the new language. As much as I enjoyed the challenge of learning the new language I also desperately looked forward to the times when I could sit, relax, and listen to a conversation in my native language, English.

 

In the midst of one of these moments of mental relaxation I quickly became pricked by the ever so familiar pain of not understanding a crucial word in the conversation. I listened to my friends use the same unfamiliar word over and over again in an attempt to decipher the meaning. I was getting frustrated in my unsuccessful attempt to understand the subject of the conversation taking place despite the fact that they were speaking in English. I finally got to the point where I just couldn’t handle it anymore! I blurted out, “What the heck is an Expat?” The other foreigners looked at me and simply said, “You know, an Ex-patriot.” I shamefully told them that I had no idea what either an expat or expatriate were. They informed me that expats were all around me. They gave me the run-down on the stereotypically expat character traits and I quickly understand the people they were talking about.

 

In Cambodia expats were everywhere. Their reasons for being there ranged from trying to find “happiness” to trying to find a wife. Many American war veterans pursue a future in Cambodia where they can live like kings off of their meager retirement benefits. Other foreigners like the prospect of living in a country where rules and laws are practically non-existent. Indeed the stereotypical expat lifestyle is frowned upon by both the local people as well as the citizens of the expat’s home country. Despite this however my experience with expats has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve seen expats dedicated to helping make their new home better. I’ve seen effective teachers, principals, business men, and non-profit administrators truly make a positive impact in their local community. Some expats even learn the local language and prefer to hang out with their native neighbors as opposed to their expat friends. They are proud of their new culture and embrace it with open arms.

 

I am excited and eager to report that I have joined the ranks of the expatriates this summer. I am working for the Cambodian Job Foundation as an intern in hopes to further my knowledge and expertise in the world of non-profits and NGO’s. I am committed to becoming the expat that fits the later description which I described. I hope to assimilate into my neighborhood and community as I represent America and the University of Oklahoma in Cambodia!

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Limping into the Last Few Weeks

So, before I start, you all should check out my last few blog posts. I just got around to putting them up because of WiFi and exam problems, but they’re all there in their inadequate glory. It’s worth checking out to at least have some context for the next few posts coming up, but then again that’s a lot of trouble to take for my various ramblings.

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Random pictures of life in Baloney (because why not)

Anyways, so much changed here in Bologna right after I wrote the preceding post about my first exam. The day after I wrote that, I got the shock of my life: ANOTHER exam, which I had not begun studying for in the slightest, was coming up on the 20th, meaning I had under 48 hours to learn an entire class and convince a professor who quite literally wrote some of the books for the test that I halfway knew what I was talking about. Yeah, I felt pretty stupid, a feeling I’m getting quite used to on this side of the ocean. I thought I had a lot more time to finish (and begin) studying, but it turned out the professor had a conference the next week and she wouldn’t be in Bologna any day before I left for home. This situation being entirely my fault seeing as I had months to prepare, I accepted the challenge as a man with nothing to lose. My finest hour was upon me, and all my years of all-nighters and making up speeches the day of would have to bring me victory. The next few days were a blur filled with highlighters and delivery pizza while I sprinted through my textbook. When the day came, I was still terribly unprepared and unsure, but by some miracle I did NOT deserve I actually passed the thing, and with a fairly decent score to boot. Maybe it was some big lump of good karma I’d forgotten about finally coming around, or maybe I actually did know what I was talking about more than I thought. Nevertheless, I walked out of that exam with a crazy grin on my face and sunshine in my heart, and I’m still happy for it.

Now that that ordeal was over, I was left with a huge hole in my schedule. I didn’t have another exam coming up, and so the last weeks were totally free and clear right up until I had to leave. Traveling is now the order of the day, and I’ve got a million places to go before I leave. I’m a free man and the rest of the world is awaiting my presence, no matter how pretentious it is. I’ll leave an update on my travels at the end of this week; I’ve got Venice, Ferrara, and Rimini coming up at the very least, and maybe another place or two. For now, I’m going to enjoy every bit of laziness I can and squeeze the last drops that I can out of being in this perfect country.

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Oral Exams are Actually Kinda Tough: A Memoir

(Note: This post was intended to be posted Wednesday, May 18th)

In retrospect, surprisingly little of note has happened in Bologna since I last posted, at least in regards to this blog. I’ve mostly been studying and hanging with my newfound friends, but there’s not really much to share here that anyone gives much of a care about and/or that I really should be sharing with the public. BUT I did finally take my first real exam here in Bologna, and it ended up being every bit as difficult as I had imagined.

I’ve long since chronicled in this blog the fact that I was woefully unprepared to speak Italian all the time, and while I’ve improved mightily in conversation, my first oral exam was an eye-opener. It’s never really done in the States, but here in Italy most of the exams end up just being a conversation with the teacher about various points of the course to show that you’ve actually paid attention/read the books. While normally this wouldn’t phase me much, and I would actually prefer that back in the States seeing as the final takes only about 15 minutes, this task is made infinitely more difficult by the fact that the exams are held entirely in Italian. I knew that going in, of course, but what I didn’t realize going in was that I wouldn’t really know how to speak Italian quite well enough. My latest exam was on Contemporary and Modern African History and took a lot of vocabulary I didn’t have a proper grasp on. I studied my butt off before the exam with a whole week of locking myself into my room and reading those books cover to cover. Still, come the day of the exam, I was terribly nervous and it showed. I went into the exam stumbling over my words like a crying toddler and it just kept going downhill, until my absolute angel of a professor asked if I would prefer to do the exam in English. I felt pretty stupid, but I said yes, and the rest of the exam went like a breeze. I learned a really valuable lesson for future exams though: not only would I have to study the actual material, but I’m going to have to do some vocabulary studying too. I refuse to take another exam in English even if I fail it because it was pretty embarrassing. I’ve got a Psych exam coming up with a professor that I think doesn’t speak any English so I’m going to have to shape up for sure. After that, it’s smooth sailing till I get back home as far as I can see. This whole trip has been one realization of my own idiocy after another, and I’m glad for it. I hope that the Study Abroad Idiot never actually finds his feet because I’ve been very much so enjoying trying to figure things out along the way here. Anyways, till next time True Believers; I’m sure I’ll be back to write about another dumb mistake I made very soon.

 

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Finger Food Festival Bologna, aka The Carnival of Shame

(Note: This post was originally intended to be posted April 23rd)

People of Oklahoma. Or wherever you’re originally from. It doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this post other than to artificially create drama. I have a painful secret to share, and this was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to write, but here is my confession.

Every year, Bologna holds a huge festival dedicated to food trucks and weird international foods in a piazza outside the center, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to extend my knowledge of world food and have a peachy keen time doing it. My friend and I took the trek outside the walls and were greeted with a large ring of different stands: a stand that contained what HAD to be a meter-wide pot of paella, various Italian dessert places, a tripe stand (one weird food I can’t quite seem to get my head around), and loads of others. I was as gleeful as a vegan at gluten-free organic sustainable cruelty-free locally sourced clean-energy driven juice bar when faced with all my choices… and then I saw it.

Jack’s BBQ Pit.

Now see, this is where the shame comes in, because when faced with the plethora of wonderful options at this festival, what did I do?

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A Portrait of Exchange Student Sin

I went full-on Ugly American stereotype and got the barbecue, and it was SO UNBELIEVABLY WORTH IT. Fully breaking at the thought of real American fatty food after such a long time, I got the brisket sandwich and it was everything I could’ve ever dreamed of. Honestly, thinking back now, I’m not even that guilty, because that was the only thing I missed about the States at the time. I’d seen my family, I got to speak English with some friends, I lived in an amazing apartment filled with cheap wine: I wanted for naught but the sweet taste of real American barbecue. The opportunities at this festival were completely wasted and I loved it. Thankfully there’s a million other chances for authentic food in Bologna so I don’t feel too bad. After satisfying my shameful craving, I listened to the oddly enjoyable Italian reggae-funk band that was playing at the festival for a bit and got some sweets from some of the other stands. Overall, it really was a great time, and I got to see a little more of the food culture here in Italy and the world in general (emphasis on “see”). There’s plenty more time for real international stuff later, but for now, I’m intensely glad that I got to have a real taste of home.

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Reaction to the Belgium Attacks

Note: This post was originally written April 5th

Okay, I don’t want to get overly political on this blog, but I really felt I had to say something about the various terrorist attacks that went on in March, and in particular the world’s reaction to them. Seeing the media react and events unfold from this side of the ocean has been truly eye-opening, as I was able to see the reaction outside of the particular biases of the American media. I have to say, I’m pretty disappointed.

There were 4 notable terrorist attacks in the past month (as far as I’m aware): One bus bombing in Ankara, Turkey, followed quickly by an attack in Istanbul, Turkey, the multiple coordinated attacks in Brussels, Belgium, and a suicide bombing of a hospital in Lahore, Pakistan. The total death counts from each are as follows:

Ankara: 37

Istanbul: 4

Brussels: 32

Lahore: 72

Obviously, these were all massive tragedies, but can you take a guess at which attack got the most media attention? Which attack spawned a hashtag, and so many people sending prayers and thoughts to the people who died? Which attack created far more outrage and xenophobia and hate? You guessed it, the only one to occur in Western Europe in a predominantly white country, the attack in Brussels. On the other hand, 41 people die in Turkey in the space of a week, and an entire hospital explodes in Pakistan, and seemingly no one blinks an eye in the States? It’s a shocking and uncomfortable realization for me personally, as I have to admit, in the past I have rarely given a thought to terrorist attacks in traditionally Muslim countries, but when Paris went up in flames I was just as quick to jump to attention. However, here in Italy, the reaction to the contemporary terror attacks was far more equal; people generally gave more attention to Brussels because it is quite literally closer to home, but there weren’t legions of young social justice warriors posting #JeSuisBrussels and ignoring Turkey and Pakistan. I don’t mean to say I have a problem with posting a supportive status on social media, though simply posting a message to assuage one’s conscience is an empty gesture in my mind. I’m just disappointed at the disproportionate reactions across the world and especially at home. Cities lit up and world leaders cried out in support of Brussels, but no one seemed to give a damn about the other side of the world. I’m a bit saddened and disillusioned after this month, but that doesn’t mean that we as Americans can’t improve. Maybe next time, we should turn our eyes and our sympathies towards tragedies outside of the scope of our disquietingly limited views, and hopefully become more empathetic to the world because of it.

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