Belgium/Luxembourg Trip & Orientation Course

I can’t believe it’s already the last day of April! Things have gone by so quickly, and so much has happened. Here’s a quick overview of what has been going on since my last post.

After spending a month in Ghana, my sister and I went on a short trip in Europe as a vacation of sorts before my semester in Germany. Our first destination was the beautiful city of Brussels in Belgium. It was there that I learned about the two different languages that are spoken in the country. Dutch is spoken in the north, while French is spoken in the south. The area around the capital is officially bilingual, but I found that French was the more common language. After a few days in the capital, we headed to Ghent in the north. The highlight of this leg of the trip was riding bikes throughout the city. The freedom of biking while passing impressive historical monuments like the Gravensteen at almost every corner is something I will never forget.

The next stop after spending almost a week in Belgium was Luxembourg. We didn’t have a lot of time so we decided to visit the capital, Luxembourg City. The area surrounding the hostel we stayed at was breathtaking, and our breath was literally taken away each time we hiked up and down the steep sidewalks scattered throughout the city. The distinct image ingrained in my mind is an old fortress wall in front of us and a towering bridge stretching across the other side of the valley. Below there is a skateboard park that serves as a stark contrast to the antique buildings and roads nearby in the city center.

The next leg of the trip was from Luxembourg City to Aachen, Germany. To reach Aachen, we had to first travel through Belgium once again, and then take another train from Liège to reach our final destination. Aachen sits near the border tripoint of German, Belgium, and the Netherlands. I really enjoyed the fact that a 20-minute bus ride from the city center could take us to the border with the Netherlands. The city itself was really beautiful, and it was a relief to finally only hear one language (German!). Up to this point, we had always been in an area where multiple languages are spoken*.

The small trip from Aachen to Bochum lasted a few hours. I was extremely excited to finally get to know the city I had done so much research on before. After arriving in Bochum and resting for a few days, I began my official orientation course at the Ruhr University of Bochum. Over the next three weeks I had the opportunity to participate in a German language course as well as many other excursions throughout the surrounding Ruhr region during the evenings and weekends. My personal favorite was probably the Zeche (coal mine) Zollverein in the nearby city of Essen. As a Mechanical Engineering student, the machines that we learned about were fascinating to me. I had never thought so much about all that goes on inside a coal mine!

This blog post is getting pretty long, so I’ll talk about my trips to other European countries and the first few weeks of classes in a separate post. Be prepared to hear back from me in the next week or two!

* In Ghent (Flanders) there is technically only one official language, but Dutch speakers are very fluent in English so you’ll hear both from natives.

Where else?

I’m in Melbourne currently. Over mid semester, I saw Brisbane, Gold Coast, Noosa, and Byron Bay, and the trip was maybe the most fun I’ve had on study abroad so far. At the very beginning of the semester, I took a trip along the Great Ocean Road, and that was also such a memorable time. These experiences lead me to wonder: where to next?

I have some time off in my exam month, and considering different places that I could visit. I would love to go to New Zealand, Tasmania, and still haven’t been to Sydney yet. However, as the semester wraps up, it seems like everyone has their own different travel plans, and another group trip does not appear to be likely. I might have to go solo this time.

I’ve never travelled anywhere alone before: I’ve travelled in a group, or had people waiting for me at the destination. I toyed with the idea when I studied in Spain, but it didn’t really pan out. The idea is kind of daunting because of both the dangers of traveling alone as a girl, and the feelings of loneliness it might inspire. Once in Barcelona, I was with a group of people who wanted to go to the beach, while I, ever the art history nerd, wanted to see Parque Guell. We went our separate ways, and while I do not regret going on my own to see what ended up being the highlight of my Barcelona trip, I do remember feeling a bit isolated while I was there. It felt like everyone else around me had someone to take selfies with, while I wandered around alone, with no one to share the amazing sculptures and sights with. In the end, the group I was traveling with decided they wanted to see Parque Guell as well, and sprinting up the steps to go to the park before it closed is something I remember fondly today.

I don’t want that feeling to put a damper on my trip to a city, however, and I don’t want my impression of the city to be tinted with the fact that I was alone when I was there. Many travel blogs, on the other hand, claim that traveling alone is an incredibly fulfilling experience, that really shows you the meaning of independence. Some even go so far as to call it “liberating.” It makes sense; some of my most treasured time is the time that I spent alone, walking around a city and getting to know it for myself, without feeling distracted by other people.

My travel plans are so uncertain right now, but I haven’t ruled out the option of traveling by myself around Oceania. I’ll take the proper precautions, and check in with people periodically so that my friends and family know where I am; it seems silly to miss out on going to a new place just because other people aren’t going there.


I Have Missed You.

Tonight was the night. I have talked about it for months, have based life-long plans on it, and even managed to convince my parents that three minors and spending a year abroad is a good idea because of it.

I had my first true encounter with Arabic!

This evening I went to the Arabic Flagship Talent Show. I truly had no idea or expectation (other than thinking “You know what, I might actually understand something!”–a definitely delusioned thought in hindsight) about the night before walking in. I was way more than pleasantly surprised!

However, I do have to preface this post a little. My first encounter with Arabic included me being so completely lost that I laughed when everyone else in the room laughed because they actually understood the jokes (5% percent of the time) or praying for English subtitles (95% of the time). About ten minutes after included people explaining the references to me, as well. Poor Maha–now I know why she is so lonely and doesn’t like falafels. But I definitely laughed at the Oklahoma weather video. Tornado jokes are pretty much universally understand by any native Okie–the hilarity of Oklahoma weather has no language barrier!

I do definitely remember being wildly intimated at points, though. Sitting in a big room filled with belly-laughing people, missing punch lines, and trying to explain  that I literally know one word of Arabic, “no,” (because I deduced it contextually after ten videos) makes me a little nervous about how the heck I’ll actually learn this language.

I’ve had people ask me, many times over, in the past several months with wide-eyes and slightly dropped-jaws “Why are you wanting to learn Arabic? Isn’t that going to be so hard for you?” And every time I was more than excited to defend my potential third language and brush the worry-warts off my shoulders. But tonight made me realize how much is in store for me with Arabic. It’s wildly thrilling, but actually a little terrifying for the first time so far. And I haven’t even started yet!

But while I was typing up that last little paragraph filled with my first inklings of nerves and fears, one thought popped into my head that helped restore some faith in myself (it’s definitely about the fearless woman who started this whole journey for me).

Jaci, you better come back to hear me say my first words in Arabic to you (after mutually freaking out about reuniting for about five minutes):

"لقد غاب لك."

EAA: Come Back with a Vengeance

Hello folks, it’s been a good long while.

To begin, this semester has kicked me in the butt. Never again will I take three 5-hour classes thinking all will be well–I’ll known what terror and stress is in store! But that’s besides the point for this post.

I feel as though I have surely shirked my GEF responsibilities this semester. All though I have kept up with my requirements, I do really miss posting every week about the roller coaster ride of a time college life is. My classes have eaten up much more time this semester than last, so the crazy, over-involved, stressed-out-of-my-mind-because-I’m-doing-too-much self has faded away a bit. Whoohoo! I’ll take my victories where I can get them! However, there was one thing this semester I was wildly looking forward to.

After coming back from Rio de Janeiro, I applied and got accepted into a little study-abroad advocate-type program, called Education Abroad Ambassadors, that focuses most intensely on educating students and spreading the word about OU’s opportunities for studying abroad.

Unfortunately, not a ton panned out in this group for me. I loved and lived for what EAA stands for (not the acronym [Which OU has taught me most to love. They are just so convenient!]), but the few meetings we had and the big plans to get us “seasoned study abroad vets” on the prowl to enlighten OU about the wonders of studying abroad just never really came to life as much as I anticipated.

Our meetings were full of hope and our schedule seemed packed to the brim in the beginning. Us Latin American study abroad-ers diligently plotted on how to steel away the semi-delusioned Arezzo-bound kids (but I’m being a little hypocritical, I might be going there this summer with PLC!), but I think that this just might have been the start for the EAA. I thoroughly hope that EAA comes back with a vengeance next semester and that the majority of the events aren’t during PLC anymore (done with PLC after the Italy trip, so that’s a sure-fire yes), because this program is too important and potentially wildly impactful to let slip under the rug.

It is mind boggling to me how so many people still don’t know how accessible studying abroad really is here at OU–believe me, I sat those folks down for a long talk. (This honestly did happen on multiple occasions throughout this semester. Ha!) So maybe I was an Education Abroad Ambassador with and without the formal group. The world just deserves to know how AWESOME studying abroad is!

*especially in Rio*


Ministry Training (ACMNP) and a Return to the Beginning

This weekend I attended the national training conference for A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP) up in the Rockies of Colorado. I had the utmost pleasure of meeting my ministry team to the Grand Canyon for the first time and I already feel myself falling in love with our dysfunction. During our free time, I set out to hike on my own and was quickly engulfed by four other ministry members who refused to let me find the freedom in solidarity I thought I was chasing. We summited a peak that was supposed to take two hours, so naturally, we did it in one. The second we set out at that boisterous pace, huffing and puffing, I thought about the palaces I had been summiting just months early and realized “this is a piece of cake” even though my sensitive sinus cavity screamed with the change in altitude. Mind over matter is not just a mantra used for the weak who capture our pity. When we reached the top, someone, I don’t remember who, said, “you guys just want to read and chill?” and that’s how I knew I found my people. I threw up a hammock between some rigid pines and fell into a Spanish story of love and mystery and regret while the sky dusted it’s icy blessing onto my head.

We had hiked the first mountain that ever captured my undivided attention some 8 years ago. I remember how that peak flirted with my competitive side and how the bigger, older, stronger boys won me over to loving the dynamic landscape by daring me to sprint down the mountainside with them. They must have seen that subtle flicker in my eyes of someone who is never satisfied and whispered, “let’s go” before going full force with the pull of gravity. And me in all baby-of-the-family mindedness had the nerve to think I could keep up with them. I was right. When we reached the bottom eons before the rest of the group they all turned around to me and laughed, not at me, but in surprise. One of the boys leaned over to me and said “keep flying, kid”. At the time, I might not have known what he meant, but I think my heart kept that promise anyways. I remember how we parted ways from there and never shared a moment of depth again. I remember how one of them died a few years later and how that was my first clue into the fact that death doesn’t see in the spectrum of age but rather in the black and white of “yes or no”. I hope he thought about flying down that hillside when he laid his head back for the very last time.

My ministry team kept things slow on our way down that old familiar peak and even though I was grateful they had chosen me to go along at all, I realized I have a thing or two to teach them this summer about choosing to go fast simply for the sake of going fast. About speed for the sake of speed. About flying for the sake of flying. But, we had just met so I kept my mouth shut like I always do and hoped it would be enough just to write it down later.

My team makes a lot of sense to me and I’m not really sure why. I suppose it’s because their quirkiness seeped through their cracks just enough to not make me feel incessantly uncomfortable in my own skin like I do with most new people. I felt that I didn’t have to keep my mummy wrappings on so tight, that I could loosen them up enough to breathe even though a bit of weird and dark and sarcastic and spacey slipped out. Heaven help them the day I cut the wrappings off in full this summer.

We learned many things about how to do effective ministry in a national park and throughout it all God spoke to me and said, “this is what you’ve been looking for” and I believe Him. I believe Him in that He sent me to the place of my roots in Christianity to tell me that this season of my life isn’t an escape like nearly every other season has been. He sang Job 5:8-11 to me all weekend long saying “little thorn bush of mine, it’s high time you realize you’ve got flowers coming alongside your thorns and they will make each other beautiful. stop acting like you were meant to scare everyone away”. I realized that I am the earth He has been pouring rain on and that this period of sunshine – hot, dusty, desert sunshine – will go hand in hand with that rain and make flowers pop up on my skin previously thought to be barren.

I am still hopelessly afraid of that canyon; I keep having dreams that he reaches up and swallows me whole. I think it stems from the fact that I haven’t been able to place my hands and forehead upon this type of land yet to ask it for forgiveness and permission. I’m worried he will speak to me in a language the mountains never used. I’m worried I’ll like it more. All I know is that I fully plan on standing on that rim with my guitar singing songs yet unwritten into his open palms and hopefully, he will believe that I mean good.

I’m overly excited to get the summer started, to be back with my team, to be back surrounded by Christians who treat the earth as a sacred place and not a servant. I’m ready to be challenged and lonely and swallowed and completely whole in a place where most people aren’t. I want to get lost in it all, I think I already am.

Crítica Cinematográfica


Vivir es fácil con ojos cerrados fue dirigida por David Trueba, y se estrenó por el año 2013. La historia del viaje a Almería de Juan Carrión Gañan y dos jóvenes rebeldes en 1966 todavía tiene relevancia en el siglo XXI. Aunque Vivir es fácil con ojos cerrados está enfocada en la determinación fuerte de los soñadores, la película está más enfocada en el tema de la apertura española. Porque de la gran cantidad de las referencias históricas en la película, propongo que el cuento de Vivir es fácil con ojos cerrados sigue ser relevante porque de la amenaza constante de gobiernos autoritarios.

Los años 60 eran un periodo formativo para España. En ese tiempo, todavía había una dictadura debajo de un hombre quien quería dedicar todo el país a sus creencias tradicionales; Este político autoritario se llamaba Francisco Franco, y, como un dictador, mantenía poder del país desde la guerra civil, que terminé en el año 1939. Porque la economía del país estaba luchando tener dinero suficiente en los años 50, la “apertura” de España comenzó de permitir la entrada de turistas occidentales (y, ulteriormente, de ideas occidentales) al país en 1953. La película Vivir es fácil con ojos cerrados relata la historia verdadera de un maestro de edad media que viajaba a Almería para intentar conocer John Lennon de Los Beatles. La película examina los inicios de la apertura, el evento que representa un ligero cambio de opinión del dictador sobre las influencias del mundo afuera. También en esta época, España unió con la Unión Europea. Aunque esta relación revivida era más para adquirir asistencia militaría, las ideas y cultura pop de los EE.UU. empezó influenciar el país.

El título de la película española, Vivir es fácil con ojos cerrados, fue sacado de la letra de la canción “Strawberry Fields Forever” por Los Beatles. Se inspira en la historia real de Juan Carrión Gañán: un profesor de inglés que viajó a Almería en 1966 para intentar a conocer Lennon mientras que estaba rodeando la película Cómo gané la guerra allí. David Trueba, el director, también ha dirigido seis otros films, que incluye Madrid, 1987 (2011), La silla de Fernando (2006) y Obra Maestra (2000). Él ha trabajado adicionalmente como un guionista para seis películas diferentes; a veces Trueba incluso ser actor (desde 1992-2004).

Para entender las complicaciones de su viaje en ese período, es importante para imaginar los aspectos verdaderos de las experiencias de Juan Carrión Gañán (cuyo nombre era cambiado ser Antonio en la película). Antonio usó las canciones de Los Beatles en su aula para enseñar inglés. Decidió, después de saber que John Lennon estaba en Almería rodeando una película, que vaya a intentar a conocerle. En camino, Antonio encontró Belén, quién no quería a mantenerse escondida – una situación creada por su familia porque tenían vergüenza de la chica embarazada, muy joven, y sin marido. Belén y Antonio continuaban en la ruta, y encontraron un chaval de 16 años, Juanjo, que se ha fugado porque de un argumento con su padre (quién quería que él corta su pelo). Él quería seguir creciendo su pelo para aparecer como uno de Los Beatles o los Rolling Stones, pero su padre lo desaprobaba. Cuando llegaron a Almería, intentaron ir al sitio donde estaban rodeando. Porque de la ayuda de unos nuevos amigos, unos días después, Antonio conoció a John Lennon. Más tarde en el film, se reveló que él grabó una parte de una nueva canción para Antonio: “Strawberry Fields Forever”.



Publicado por Neal Moses Rosendorf, el artículo describe los esfuerzos de Francisco Franco para revitalizar la economía española por el turísmo occidental. Rosendorf también hace el argumento que el rodaje de películas americanas ayudaba para promover el turismo en España. Este punto de vista destaca el contento de la reflección de la película en problemas políticas, económicas, y culturales del tiempo. Adicionalmente, Justin Hart depicta en su artículo los detalles finos de los cambios despacios en España – el comenzó de que era la apertura.

Porque de la gran cantidad de las referencias históricas en la película, el cuento de Vivir es fácil con ojos cerrados sigue ser relevante porque de la amenaza constante de gobiernos autoritarios. El film era muy popular en España en 2013, posiblemente porque la memoria de la dictadura es tan fresca en la memoria. Está mostrado cuando Antonio encuentra Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), el joven de dieciséis años que se escapa de su casa para evitar la opresión de su padre muy tradicional. Una otra reflección de la imposición de los ideales de Franco es la historia de la personaje Belén (Natalia de Molina). Una joven de veintiún años, estaba embarazada cuando quería escapar la opresión de valores tradicionales, también. En general, las referencias históricas de Vivir es fácil con ojos cerrados muestran la relevancia de la influencia de políticos en el pasado y hoy en día.




Lista de referencias

Hart, Justin. “Franco Sells Spain to America: Hollywood, Tourism, and Public Relations as

Postwar Spanish Soft Power.” Journal of American History, vol. 101, no. 4, Mar.2015,

  1. 1313-1314. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1093/ja hist/jav064.

Rosendorf, Neal Moses. “Be El Caudillo’s Guest: The Franco Regime’s Quest for

Rehabilitation and Dollars After World War II via the Promotion of U.S. Tourism

to Spain.” Diplomatic History, vol. 30, no. 3, June 2006, pp. 367-407.

EBSCOhost, doj:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2006.00560.x.

Wanderlust and Nostalgia

Almost exactly one year ago today, I left my beloved Alcalá de Henares and headed home. It was the end of a magnificent and life-altering four month stay, and though I was excited to reunite with family and friends, I was devastated to leave. These seem like very dramatic words, and they are, but it’s difficult for me to avoid bold terms when describing this particular adventure of mine. I had been dreaming of studying abroad in Spain and living with a host family for YEARS before I did it, and when the time finally came to actually get on a plane and go live the dream, I was terrified. It seemed like an insane leap of faith, and I was not at all confident that it would be as awesome as I’d been dreaming it would.

However, faithful readers of the blog (if any exist!) will know that I faced my fears, got on the plane, and lived the dream. And it really was like living a dream – during that semester, I saw incredible places, met incredible people, and created memories that I will forever cherish. It is one of my accomplishments that I’m most proud of. I realize that seems odd – getting to live in Europe and travel the continent for four months in a country that values siestas doesn’t sound particularly difficult. However, in going, I overcame a great deal of personal trepidation and reached way outside of my comfort zone. I crossed the ocean, made friends, took challenging classes during which I debated interesting current events and learned a great deal, all in Spanish, built a relationship with my host family, also in Spanish, made great friends, became a more capable traveler, and got a great deal bolder and more confident.

My time in Spain was a time filled with learning. The joy of the trip was interspersed with mistakes and stress. To say that every moment was enjoyable would be a lie, but to say that every moment was valuable is the complete truth. Studying abroad taught me so much, about the world around me and about myself. I fell in love with the city of Alcalá and the country of Spain, and it all still feels as though it happened yesterday.

Ever since I returned, I’ve felt periodic pangs of missing Alcalá, but this semester has been particularly hard. Many times, I look at the calendar and think, “This time last year, I was roaming the medina in Rabat (Morocco).” “This time last year I was watching the sun set over La Alhambra while I listened to beautiful music and was engulfed in dancing and merriment.” “This time last year I was exploring the Sunday market in Madrid.” I absolutely love my life in Norman, but it’s impossible for me not to miss the grand and glittering adventure that was my semester in Spain.

What all this boils down to is that I’m itching to go back. A large part of me wants to continue to branch out and see more of the world that I haven’t yet, but another large part aches to return to my second home in Spain. I would love to get to hug my host mom, eat tortilla and drink some tinto in Indalo, to paddle across the lake in el Parque Retiro, and to get to revisit all the places that are so close to my heart.

Sadly, my days studying abroad may be over, but there is a silver lining – graduation is coming soon, and once I get a job and start saving, I can begin to save and scheme my way back to Alcalá. If anyone is reading this who hasn’t studied abroad yet, please do me a favor and seriously consider it. Everyone who has studied abroad sings its praises, and they are absolutely telling the truth. Go, explore, learn, and don’t be surprised when you come home and immediately want to go back.

Latin Americanist Lunch: “Twenty-Five Years of Favela Tourism: Continuities, Changes, and Challenges”


After attending Professor Jamie Alves’ talk on racial discrimination and the ‘Zone of Nonbeing’, I was very intrigued to learn more about Brazil. Favela’s have garnered a lot of media attention from features in movies and television shows, to photos of children gazing from the Favela’s at the fireworks illuminating the sky during the closing ceremony of the Olympic games. I find the fascination with Favelas, which is simply a Portuguese term for slum, to be intriguing and I wanted to understand how tourism was affecting this community.

Professor Bianca Freire-Medeiros is a native of Sao Paolo, Brazil, and although she did not grow up in the Favela’s she has witnessed their evolution into a tourist attraction and what that means for those living in these slums. Typically, Favelas are inhabited by poorer Afro-Brazilians and drugs and crime tend to run rampant. However, there is an extreme juxtaposition of how Favela’s are, and how they are portrayed in the media. For example, there are ‘Favela Chic’ clubs in Europe which romanticizes this slums into blissful environments filled with smiles, laughter, and of course Carnival. To make matters worse, Favela inspired chairs can be sold for £6,000, highlighting the disparity between those who actually live in the Favelas’ and others who are glorifying it as a new travel ‘experience’.

During the end of the presentation Professor Freire-Medeiros took several questions and there was one that allowed Professor Freire-Medeiros to solidify her point. One of the students mentioned that he was from Peru and when he went to visit Brazil he went and took a Favela tour because he wanted to understand why they were so special, and what made them different from the slums of his country. He revealed to us that the Favelas of Brazil, where no different from the slums of Peru, increasing his confusion in their growing popularity. To this Professor Freire-Medeiros respectively questioned him on why he even needed to see the Favela’s in the first place, they are just people like you and I, sure some of them are poor but they still live, they still engage in activities. She challenged us to break this stigma of enhancing the Favelas to be seen as ‘other’ or ‘superior’ let people live, and stop treating ordinary situations, as chances for us to investigate or explore ‘the unknown lives of the poor’.

This presentation was unique and informative, detailing the exploitative nature of Favela tourism and why it needs to end. My only questions for Professor Freire-Medeiros are: 1.) how can we dispel the curiosity surrounding the Favelas without leaving a negative impact on the market created by Brazilian citizens? And 2.) What are signs that indicate a new community, or group is about to be used as a display prop, and how can we counteract this measure once we recognize it is happening?