Comparative Academic Culture

One aspect of culture that is under constant discussion amongst students on study abroad is comparative academics. With people coming from all over the world to study together, one thing you can guarantee they have in common is schoolwork—but it’s amazing how differently different countries (even countries next door to one another) handle the same […]

The Estonian Landscape

When my advisor recommended I consider studying in Estonia, she showed me some pictures of the university and said, “Other than that it’s pretty grim. Lots of old Soviet block buildings and I mean it’s desolate but you can travel!” My first impression of the country seemed to confirm what she had warned me about. […]

On Trump’s NATO diplomacy

Today I’m writing about another interaction our President has had with international leaders because it seems like drama is created every time.

Trump attended the meeting of NATO Leaders yesterday and critics are having a field day regarding his behavior and mannerisms. He was reported as being very cold and aggressive towards members – and there is a video of Trump shoving the PM of Montenegro. Overall many people are classifying these as extremely embarrassing for the US. I agree with them on that aspect. I understand he is trying to crack down on NATO members but there’s no reason not to still be diplomatic. We still want positive relationships with these countries and the U.S. is currently operating under the assumption that we are too powerful to be made an enemy. I don’t think this is the way to make any political friends though, which is extremely important in our current global climate.
I’m also extremely curious to see how the US’s relationship with Russia and Saudi Arabia plays out. I don’t want to see us giving out exceptions or turning a blind eye to human rights violations. Religious intolerance, oppression of women, girls, and the LGBTQ community, and decriminalizing domestic violence are just some offenses on a long list. I understand the importance of good relationships with such influential countries but I hope we don’t prioritize economics or the military over the rights and lives of people in these countries.
I think that many people do agree with Trump on pressuring other NATO countries to increase their financial contributions. Records show that the US has been disproportionately paying for all of the NATO operations and only 5 countries met the 2% (of gdp) promise. My ICDG group discussed last semester how the US could be using their disproportionate contribution as political leverage. I’m hoping that we will still be able to maintain positive, cooperative relationships with these countries and I’m curious to see where the world will go from here.

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On Trump’s visit with the Pope

I was definitely watching when President Trump and his family went to meet Pope Francis yesterday. While there are many interpretations of how the meeting went, there is no doubt that Pope Francis called Trump our on at least one issue: climate change. He gave Trump a copy of ‘Laudato Si” which he wrote about the importance of science and politics in aiding the environment. I was so amused and thoroughly appreciated Pope Francis’s shade.
I know that Trump and the Pope also have extremely different ideas on immigration. Trump obviously wants to implement very strict immigration and border policies to help keep potentially dangerous people or illegal immigrants out of the US. However the Catholic view centers around love for our fellow humans and charity to people in need. There are so many people who are in need of a home, especially in the middle east. The issue is that so many people let fear guide their actions. Fear festers and turns into defense, which isn’t necessarily bad: terrorism is a real threat and being cautious is wise. However, this fear turns into a fear of larger communities, of Muslims, of people of middle eastern descent. People develop fear of immigrants (illegal or otherwise) taking their jobs. Pope Francis has, multiple times, encouraged countries to be understanding and accepting and to operate from a place of compassion and not fear. So obviously this meeting with Trump, who ran his campaign principally on fear, is extremely important. Pope Francis is a leader and an icon for Catholics across the world. Personally, I love the role he has played in rejuvenating the church and communicating to the world the true messages of our faith.
While the Pope did throw some shade, they said that they talked about working towards international peace and I honestly and truly hope so. Maybe at least, Trump will learn a little more about climate change.

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Language and Religion

This month I attended a lunch with guest speaker Dr. Muhammad S. Eissa on Language and Religion. Surprisingly, I had never given much thought to the intersections of the two. Dr. Eissa talked about how the Arabic language is so frequently associated with Islam and how that affects non-Muslim Arabic speakers and Muslims who don’t speak Arabic. It was extremely fascinating to analyze. I did not know a lot of the history of the Arabic language or how it has changed and evolved geographically. Dr. Eissa emphasized how the Arabic language helped people connect to Islamic scripture, traditions, and cultures.

My roommate, who is Jewish, also related to that and she is currently studying Hebrew. These were the languages that the scriptures were written (or heard) in and so learning the language helps people connect.

I started thinking about Christianity and the lack of any identifying language. I’m Catholic so Latin is very important historically as masses used to be entirely in Latin. I think Latin is very beautiful, but it wasn’t the original language of Jesus or the disciples; it was adopted because of the influence of the Roman empire on the church. In fact, as time progressed, Latin almost became a barrier between the people and the church teachings. People couldn’t understand what was being said at masses because most people were uneducated. It was finally changes in the 20th century because the Pope wanted people to be able to develop personal relationships with God. I think this is pretty cool though I still love hearing Latin songs or chants at masses.

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ICDG: Discussing the Controversial French Election

In my ICDG group, we discussed the French Election after discovering that Marine LePen has made it to the final round. This is so telling of the current political climate in the western world: we are seeing a resurgence of nationalism. Many people think that if she is elected, resulting in France leaving the European Union, that more and more countries would follow and the EU would become obsolete. For me, that prospect is very weird considering it’s all I’ve known or grown up with, but the organization itself is relatively young.

Brexit happened and then Trump and now there is another possibility for another global conservative to take power. One member said that one of the biggest reasons France wants to leave the EU is so that they do not have to follow their border regulations. This is a response to the increase in refugees that are trying to come into various European countries and to the increase in terrorism. France has notably experienced significant terrorist attacks in the last few years so it’s understandable that they have become increasingly protectionist. I’m very concern though because it seems like she is leading her campaign on fear and that can be very destructive for communities.

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Note: Since writing this, Édouard Philippe beat out le Pen for office. I’m very interested in watching how the relationship between France and the US evolves because Philippe has openly criticized Trump.

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Arabic Flagship Talent Show

This month I went to the Arabic Flagship Talent Show. I was very much looking forward to it and I had many friends who were studying Arabic that I knew were going to be there.

The dancing by the Belly Dancing Club was absolutely amazing and it was very interesting to see the contrasting styles of the two dances they performed. The first dance used finger cymbals in their dance and involved many girls and the second dance used sticks. They were two different traditional styles of dancing and the girls had amazing performances.

The poetry was also incredible. One of the girls wrote a poem that she read in English, Arabic, and Vietnamese. I was extremely impressed by her words but more by the power that the poem had when it was in other languages. I couldn’t understand any of the words but the rhythm and tone of her speaking really helped communicate the meaning of her poem.

Overall I enjoyed the talent show (and the food was delicious). However, I didn’t realize that the majority of the talent show would be class projects from different Arabic. I don’t speak Arabic and so many of the skits and videos I couldn’t understand. I got to see a lot of my friends in the videos though so I still enjoyed them and some of them were very funny! But since I’m not studying Arabic a lot of things were lost on me. I will probably go again next year though! I had a great time!

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Prelude and Arrival

 

PRELUDE

            I left for my next Great Unknown a little over a week ago, last Thursday to be exact. It already feels like years ago. Boxes and backpacks and loose socks flew around my car while I flew down several interstates and highways towards a future I didn’t know how to expect. My first stop was in Rapid City, South Dakota. I passed through the Badlands on the way there and was, as always, struck by how an earthly monument that soft could have lasted all these years. It’s tan and orange humps rose up out of the prairie grass, casting shadows in the sun and dust clouds when stepped on. I stayed with a family friend who hospitality has never once failed me and I decided that if I ever move back home, I’ll choose West over East.

The next day, after becoming overly concerned about dangerous weather, I left at 7AM and passed through Nebraska, a land that appeared to me like something from a Celtic dream. Rolling hills, unrelenting fog, and subtle rain amplified the greenery of those pastures and it took no time for me to hit “play” next to Celtic Woman on Spotify. I stopped in Denver, CO for the next few days. That Friday, I visited the ACMNP office and was given a bit of direction on where to go for good atmosphere and mediocre coffee and then followed those directions to a place whose name I have already forgotten. It was a small house remade into a coffee shop. I couldn’t connect to the WiFi and was thus forced to finish writing a piece I started a month ago, the last time I was in Denver. A friend from OK drove up to see me and the person I was staying with. Even though the time was short, it was a good reminder of things that are to come and it helped me breathe a little easier when I think three months in advance.

I drove though a snowstorm in the Rockies that Sunday and I have never gripped 10 and 2 so hard in my life. My steering wheel still has not forgiven me. I thought about the men in my life who have driven me up and down roads like that before and I immediately appreciated the things they have sacrificed for me so much more (Dad, I’m talking about you). I eventually made it through and was blessed by a beautiful double rainbow of Las Mesas in Colorado. I think that was The Earth’s way of telling me that I can be present in one place without abandoning another.

 

I camped in the dead night of Utah with odd high school memories haunting me, and the pepper spray right by my pillow. When I woke up that morning and stepped outside of my tent, all I could do was smile. There I was, alone, finally experiencing The Desert. I drove the ten minutes to the entrance of Arches National Park and entered the loop with three liters of water, two cliff bars, no agenda, and a subtle feeling of contentment. I spent all day running around a landscape I have never before seen. Huge red stone towers rose up out of the flat earth all around me. It was as if giant beasts had been laid to rest right there and, in their resistance, had reached their claws out of their graves and left horizontal rake marks down the sides of their tombstones. The stone there crumbled easily if you weren’t careful. I took a primitive path and climbed as much as I could, especially the parts where nobody else was. The arches rose like huge bridges above me, bridgesover tunnels of open sky. You could look through them and see for miles. Several older tourists made comments like “where’s your boyfriend, sweetie? You shouldn’t be traveling all alone,” and “Don’t climb that: you’ll get hurt! You better wait for your dad”. I held my tongue but raged internally that one reason it was dangerous for me to travel alone was because people like them permit a system to persist where Female is equivalent to Weak and adventure is reserved for those who don’t have responsibilities like a husband, a house, and kids. I know they meant well, but meaning well isn’t enough anymore.

I continued on the loop to the Delicate Arch trail and hiked up a blazing hot, open desert rock slab. When I got to the top I was underwhelmed by the Arch but was overwhelmed by how far I could see and how beautifully desolate everything looked. I was sitting on top of short rock tower when a Saudi Arabian man about my age approached me and said “Wow! You are such brave girl, the bravest in my life, my friend with me is a scaredy boy and will not climb anything with me. Let us go take pictures! I will take the best picture for you.” I followed him around the area and hopped up on anything he wanted a picture from and he would always remark “Wow you are such brave girl.” It was a nice confidence boost. After I was done there, I went into the backcountry in order to scope out a secluded place to take a back tattoo photo. Taking one’s clothes off in any government owned area is always a risky idea. Eventually I worked my self-timer magic and took off at a run back down. When I got to the bottom of the trail some ladies asked me “Why are you running?”

“I’m already a quarter of the way through my life and if I don’t run everywhere, I will never have enough time to see and do and be everything that I want to see and do and be,” I wanted to say.

“It’s faster,” I said.

Driving out of Arches was almost painful, and I promised that graveyard I would return. I bought a bagel and a beer on the way back to my campsite. I hiked to a ‘watering hole’ to cool down and did some free bouldering over the deeper end. That night, I drank my beer and tried to write a song before laying down to rest in my tent for a very, VERY windy night.

When I awoke, it was my last day of travel.

I crossed Utah into Arizona and was introduced to even more deserty desert than what surrounded Moab. I saw empty cactus and shrubbery filled red land for miles. The occasional house made me think of No Country For Old Men and I wondered what kind of hardship it takes for someone to choose to remain in that desolation forever. I suppose the solitude would be kind of nice. The second I saw the sign for “Grand Canyon South Rim” my heart leaned up into sternum and I clenched my jaw for a while. I felt him coming half an hour before I saw him. It was as if the gravity of this place was pulling me in and in and in and in. I drove through the Kaibab National Forest and I got checked in at my place of employment and I moved into my room and I met up with some of my friends and we got lunch and I told them I hadn’t yet seen the Canyon and they said “follow us” and I did and then suddenly, there it was.

 

ARRIVAL

 

I have a theory about how the Canyon was made. Way back when, before iPhones and cars and electricity and even the wheel existed, the Canyon was not as much The Grand Canyon as it was just a canyon. Don’t get me wrong, it was still striking, just not at the scale it is now. Those who would see it would stand at the edge for the very first time and gasp and find that the view, though subtle, would took their breath away. The canyon, in all it’s stillness and color, would reach up behind every new unsuspecting witness and pluck their breath right from out of their lungs, and use it to fill himself. Over the years, many people that came, when they first saw him, would find it hard to breathe, would find that the functioning of their eyes had taken over every other aspect of their body. The Canyon used that air, all those millions of gasps, to fill himself up deeper and deeper, wider and wider, until he changed from a canyon to The Canyon to The Grand Canyon. All that space you see between the side you stand on and the side 21 miles away is made up of the wonder and awe and respect of generations of humans realizing that they are nothing but a piece of dust, floating on the winds of the earth’s orbit.

When I stood at that edge for the very first time, I found that the view took my breath away. It still does, even as I sit here typing this. Several of my other team members said that they cried when they saw him, but I just stood there and stopped breathing, willing that giant in front of me to never let my lungs inflate again.

I’ve been running in and out of him for the past few days, taking my time to get to know the curvature of his skin and the dryness of his innards. The forests on his edges have wooed me and the elk that wander them make me happy to think that after all these years of abuse, The Earth will still win. I hope there are others out there rooting for her.

After my first real day of work today I am realizing that I don’t have as much time to fall in love with this giant as I thought. I came here to take my time and to write down all the noise inside of my head and to wander down the trail heads of his heart and (hopefully) hear him say that the things I create are good, that my presence is good, but I think I’ll have to speed up my plan. Needing money to live puts a bit of a damper on freedom. Maybe someday it won’t. I’ll take what I can get for now, and that’s a whole lot more than most people. If you haven’t been outside yet today (walking to your car doesn’t count), go outside and close your eyes and forget about mankind. Breathe in the sunshine or the rainclouds or the night sky and know that you deserve wholeness just as much as this earth does. She’s waiting to help you find it, She’s hoping you’ll help her find it too.

Wondering About Next Year

I was wondering what to write about in these next few posts, but I figured writing about my possibles decisions could help me make a decision. So I will be the first person in my family to ever study abroad and I honestly know nothing about it. I do not know the process, I do not know what papers I need to get or how I am going to pay for any extra fees because I am paying my way through college. I am looking into either the University of Reading or Hertfordshire for my semester abroad. Both are super close to London — about a twenty minute train ride away — and I have always wanted to visit London so both are great choices. I know a few people that have studied in Hertfordshire, but there are more pre-equated classes in Reading. Both are wonderful choices — it honestly just depends on what the adviser tells me when I get back to university. At least I am beginning to narrow down my choices — this way I can start to focus on the smaller, more important things, like visas and accommodation fees. :/

Latino Flavor

On March 11, I was able to attend Latino Flavor! I got to experience Hispanic culture through food and entertainment. The food was AMAZING!!!!!!!!!! I thought I had great Hispanic food, but this was the best! It was great to learn about the different food and cultures of Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico and Columbia! The music we heard was so fun and authentic, I loved it! They also had cotton candy, which helped add attention haha! Overall it was a great event and I hope they have it again next year!

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