NISO Experience

Before the semester began I got to help out with the New International Student Orientation (NISO) Experience! It was pretty cool actually! The event itself was called Crimson Connection, and I got to see how all of it played out.

We started a day or two before orientation with training and getting the information packets together for the students. We also got our team names for the day; mine (the most awesome team) was Team National Weather Center!

So the day of Crimson Connection arrives and I help all the students get registered and send them up to the involvement fair. Then it was a long day of presentations and important information for them, and lots of answering questions and giving directions for me. But it was still a lot of fun.

I think the best part of this experience was getting to help out new students the same way I had people to help me during my study abroads. Traveling to a new country can be incredibly nerve-wracking, especially if it is the first time you’ve gone or you go by yourself. It was really incredible to be there to help ease the transition for some of those students. I hope they all have a great semester!

Pre-Departure Thoughts

My classes in Melbourne do not start until February, so I’ve been spending the past few weeks relaxing and decompressing after the most stressful semester of my college experience. In my freshman year, I did not believe the upperclassmen who told me that it would only get harder, but as the days go on, I realize that it’s true. The difficulty of classes increases, along with the expectations, and there is less and less free time. Reflecting on the past few semesters, a question comes to mind: will this pattern continue into my study abroad?

I’m in my third year, but in Australia, I will take mostly second year units because the course structures are so different. In Australia, a course isn’t a class, a class is a unit. Course means degree plan, or something similar to major. There isn’t a dead week, but there is a “Swot Vac,” or preparation holidays: students get a week off to study before finals. Finals span over a month, rather than just a week. Courses can take anywhere from 3-6 years, while degrees in the US usually take 4 years. At the same time, degrees that can only be attained at a graduate level in the US, such as medicine and law, are done in undergraduate studies in Australia.

I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around all of the differences, but I know I’ll be adapt pretty well once I’m there. Once I get there, I’ll be living on campus in the Halls of Residence, which will be a throwback to freshman year. This time, however, I’ll have my own room, but I’ll share a bathroom with the rest of the floor, and I’ll have a kitchen to share too! I cook my own meals, but I don’t know how much I’ll be cooking once I get there because I don’t want to invest too much in cooking supplies and spend time that I could spend exploring the city on cooking. I’m trying to plan out my time there, but I know that once I get there, things will change according to the situation. I’m just very eager to get there :)

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Kyoto 1.22.17

My Dearest Friend,

My first semester here at Ritsumeikan has finally ended. The last of my tests have been taken and papers turned in. I now have two months to relax and explore Japan before my second semester begins.

This semester was difficult and full of new experiences for me. It has been my first time living abroad, my first time living for a significant period of time without access to a car, and my first long-term experience with a language barrier. I’ve met people from all over the world who speak every language I can imagine. They come from so many backgrounds and are working toward a myriad of futures. Honestly, it makes me feel small. I’ve seen and done so little compared to most of these people. I’m trying to learn Japanese as my second language, I’ve only been to three countries in the world, and I’m already in my twenties. I have friends here who worked abroad in high school. It makes me wonder how much I missed on account of being born in America.

Don’t get me wrong, I love America. I grew up there, and it’s my home. However, it’s not perfect. The rest of the world seems so far away and insignificant as a child in the US, but it’s not. The world is a vast and marvelous place and has much to teach us, both as individuals and as a country. Many of the issues that are tearing apart America have found various resolutions in other countries. Instead of fighting about what ifs, why don’t we look at the outcomes? As Americans, we like to look at the rest of the world as if it was still in the 18th century. We talk about freedom and our unique place in the world. Yes, we are still a great country wielding a lot of power. But where the rest of the world has seen great progress in the last 200 years, we keep looking back at “the glory days.” I love the foundation of our country and the ideals of our nation. But the world is not the same place as it was when we were founded, and it’s naïve to act like nothing has changed.

When I left America to come to Japan, I didn’t know much about the rest of the world. I thought I did, but I was wrong. I still know very little, but I know some things. And the biggest thing I’ve learned is that while the US has an incredibly strong military, we are not the only important players in the world. We don’t know everything, and in a lot of areas, we’re falling behind our peers. So instead of arguing about the precise meaning of a centuries old document, can we agree to open our eyes and start doing something? I’ve met so many people here who would not go to America if you paid them, not with the way our country functions right now. And I can’t really blame them. But it is my country, and I won’t abandon it, not if I can help it.

My friend, please try to learn something from my experiences here. I know it’s hard to see clearly from inside, but try. We have to do something, and we can’t all get up and spend a year abroad. All we can do is try to bring that global awareness back with us in our suitcases and share it. I miss you dearly. Hopefully I’ll see you soon.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

Capoeira & Me

January 12th, 2017

That Rochina Capoeira lesson was really, really cool to me. In the beginning I was really embarrassed and nervous. The first warm-up was running for Pete’s sake—that’s one of the only things I have never been able to do, especially without my lift! But as we went on through the lesson and even afterwards after the five of us relished in our secret fun that everyone missed out on, I was wildly impressed with not just Capoeira and its history, but how it was being used in neglected communities like Rochina. The thing that stood out the most to me was how quickly one of the Capoeira leaders stepped in to help me after I managed to communicate that my leg was janky. I cannot remember his name, but a guy came over and individually stretched me. We stretched our arms, wiggled our hips, and worked on balance—all in compensation for me not being able to do the first usual warm-up routine.

That means something. Those Capoeira instructors are accustomed to helping people at all different skill-sets and levels of ability be able to learn Capoeira in a way they are able to by adapting to their own body’s individual abilities. Take me, for example. I couldn’t run, I have never been able to. I was so bad at kicking and whatnot because I have poor balance. I couldn’t even do a cartwheel #1 Because I was really scared and #2 Because I haven’t done one in probably over a decade. And that’s saying something because I’m only eighteen! They didn’t care at all. In fact, regardless of how horribly I executed a move or completely missed one of the parts of the routine, they would still high-five me and cheer me on. And so would Emily! I’m going to go ahead and include Emily in this bit because she taught gymnastics since she was twelve. She knows what it is like to handle kids, let alone people in general, who are trying to learn and develop new skills. It is incredible how encouraging they are. They were dealing with a touristy white girl who looks as able-bodied as possible. Instead of trying to get me to perform at their expectations, which many sports do, they instead met me where I am. Even when we would break into the big circle where everyone got to highlight what they were good at, they made sure the skills I was going to show off were what I could do. I moved my little energy ball around like a champ, squatting like a master and keeping hyper-focus on the tiny orb sandwiched between my palms. Instead of asking me to do cartwheels like Emily and mega-kicks like John, they took me for what I am.

It was obvious that they didn’t just do that with me, though. There was a little boy, he couldn’t have been older than two, whose name was Phillip. Phillip looked like he had, in a blunt way to put it, something wrong with him. His eyes were too far apart to be normal and his face was a little distorted in other aspects. They treated him like they treated me, with a little extra attention and care. The instructors would take any opportunity to let me and Phillip highlight the fact that although we are different, we are still capable of doing anything, maybe just in a little bit of a different way. Four fierce five all discussed after the fact how we immediately felt as if we were welcomed into the Capoeira community with open arms. It is incredible what that Capoeira class is doing, even if on a small level. They are not only providing an alternative for kids to direct energy into a healthy, wholesome medium (instead of joining the trafficking community), but they are doing it in a way that is all-inclusive and non-competitive. Capoeira is also uber-cool because there is no age or even skill division. That is something I talked about in detail with my father. In our relatively large Capoeira class there was the Maestro, probably in his fifties or older who has mastered the dance/fighting activity, to people like me, a total novice in the field who I just having the time of her life slinging her body around and sweating her eyeballs out.Capoeira was way-cool for so many reasons. That is definitely one of the most memorable experiences from the trip.

Home & Reflection

January 11th, 2017

It’s officially the end. I’m at home coughing by brains out, praying I would herniate another disk because of it, heating the bejeebies out of my wildly congested ear, typing away with a TV on and a MacBook Pro on my lap, a sweater on my body, heat on in my big-ass house, with a peeling chest making me reminisce to the morning I dove under the waves all day long. Looking back on my time in Rio, it felt like one of the most real times in my life, but now feels like such a haze. I am so thankful that I took the crap ton of pictures that I did. With them, I am able to stitch together my experience to remind myself that what I now feel was an incredible dream was actually a piece of my reality. Of course the conversations have already dulled, but that’s the beauty of photography. It sparks feelings, and even more surprisingly revitalizes memories. Take my photos of Sugar Loaf for example. There is a huge difference between going to Sugar Loaf versus remembering the interactions you had there. My pictures help me remember the hour long conversation our group had about Greek life on OU’s campus and the jokes Daryl and I were already having about being soooo sunburned. I have pictures of the up-and-coming photographer, Alex, letting me photograph him for a change. I have one shot of him taking a suuuuper up-close shot of some tree in the Botanical Gardens on one of the first days of our trip. That jogs my memory into recalling all the times he came up to me with a mediocre shot of a boat or a plant he was thrilled to show everyone about—I definitely remember those days. I told him about the Rule of Thirds and looking beyond the thing or idea that caught your eye to add a little bit more context, using your environment to frame your own idea to guide the view through your thoughts. But I don’t think he was catching on. Haha!

I’m also starting to notice, soooo late in the game, that my journal entries are not particularly reflective on what actually happened during my time in Rio, but what those experiences made me think about and feel. Like the Selaron steps? Those tiles made me feel so freaking tired. I loved realizing how much I appreciated the art of Rio. All of that graffiti ALL OVER THE CITY was absolutely incredible. It was also pretty shocking. In a city so full of disrespect, I still cannot believe how none of the graffiti was graffitied over each other. There weren’t even gang tags over the graffiti. It was art that was so surprisingly respected! And it was GORGEOUS! I never even took photos of any of it, there was absolutely no way to capture not only the art but all of the ironic respect that the graffiti represented. How is it that in a society where a huge fraction of the people are so horrifically ignored that an art form, which degrades other art structures (architecture), is so abundant and accepted by not only the public, but other artists?! That baffles me!!

One of my other favorite things about Rio was definitely the Capoeira that we not only watched in Rochina, but took part in with a lesson in one of Rochina’s big community complexes. It was the day of the African history walking tour with Syd (where the information was great but Syd was scary). That was our second to last day in Rio, and when you combine a week of non-stop go-go-going, a woman who scared the bejeebies out of you, and constant 100 degree temperatures with a scorching sun, only four of us went with Caren back into Rochina. It was me, John, Emily, and Alex. Emily used to be a gymnast so she kicked serious butt, John is John and dominated with all of his martial arts study, and then Alex was….well Alex with his hyper-fast metabolism and skinny body that could do whatever it wanted. Then there was me. Ha! The struggle started with my shoes having to come off because of the matts we were practicing on—then the first warm up was running, without my lift in. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do anything! But immediately a guy came over and worked with me individually, substituting moves for me when I couldn’t run or jump like the rest of them.

Looking’ Back

January 10th, 2017

I’m back at home in Ardmore, Oklahoma. I’m huddling inside not because of the blistering sun and sweltering heat I had become so accustomed to, but because I have come down with a gnarly cold. My left ear still hasn’t popped after a three plane flights, a Muscinex, and half a day of heating it—I can’t hear out of it at all any more. Haha! This cold all started the last day I was in Rio. It was one of my favorite, too.

It all started with me sprinting down out of my three-tiered bunk bed (after Kelsy got sick and we switched) because of the wicked diarrhea I was having for the first time on the trip. What irony! I stumbled into class seven minutes late for the first time in my life, accompanied with Emily and Kelsy who were either waiting for me before walking to class or just taking a long time eating, and noticed that not everybody was ready. People were just casually chatting, going to the bathroom, and filling up their water bottles and the like. I finally understood Brazilian time on the last day of class. Nobody really cared if something happened right on time. I was only seven minutes late that morning butI felt so disrespectful and like a total failure—and I was even having the worst stomach cramps since my childhood belly problems. I shamefully scuffled up to Erika and quietly apologized for my tardiness and explained my bowel problems. She was so understanding that she didn’t even focus on my lateness but just felt bad for my mischievous belly! Thank you for your kindness!!

We had a ying-yang class of emotion and seriousness that swirled around because the pressure of our last day all together. We may never, and probably will never, be together again. Even though Caren is coming to Norman in a few weeks, not everyone will be able to come, I am sure! We will all have to get back to real life. Our time in Rio was great—I’m already showing everyone I recapping my adventure to my new Capoeira moves and recounting my obliviousness about the open-air drug market I walked through without noticing a single baggie of weed or handgun strapped to the hip of a red eyed adolescent. I can only imagine what everyone else finding out to be the most memorable of their trip! In addition to the mounting sadness and the impending marathon traveling to another hemisphere, we had to finish off our last marathon class, too. That is something I really appreciated the entire trip, our class was almost never in class. I loved that. It made me realize how much learning there is outside of the normalized, traditional “classroom experience.” While I’m recapping to my friends and family the highlights of my adventure, I’m finding myself telling the stories of my time in Rio, not just what we learned in class. Even more interestingly, even when I’m talking about what exactly we discussed in class, I am explaining it through the fieldtrips we took.

For example, today I went to my hairdresser, it’s the day after I got back. He’s  a pretty cool dude who is relatively updated with some of the Brazilian happenings because of the Olympics. He is especially up to date because his kids were swimmers—he knew “all about” the favela that butted up against that particular section of the Olympic park. He told me about some swim fanatics he knew that got to go to watch Phelps rock the swimming world…and how they complained about how “staying in the slums to watch the Olympics was so expensive.” What? #1 He talked about the favela like it should never have been there and #2 When did outsiders get to stay in the favelas like they were hotels?! I definitely didn’t set him straight because I’m not a favela expert or anything, but I did go through and talk about how negatively the Olympics impacted not only the favelas but all of the country. Sure I could recount what I read in books like The Spectacular Favela, Encountering Poverty, or Dancing with the Devil in the City of God, but I’m already figuring out how much more impactful my experiences were than I thought they were going to be. It’s like someone knew how incredibly amazing this trip was going to be!