The First Week of Classes

Classes started last Monday, and I can already tell that this semester is going to be a bit of an adventure. For one, the classes are not scheduled at regular time intervals. At OU, classes are always at the same time on set days of the week, like 3:00-4:15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But here, my classes are scheduled at random times on random days, like 10:00 on Mondays and 1:00 on Tuesdays. The meeting time or place can also change for a week randomly. That means that my schedule is a lot harder to remember.

Probably the part that is most different about classes here is that the final is always worth at least 85% of your grade. That is slightly terrifying to me, especially since I’m going to have a month between when classes end and when finals start. I really don’t understand why they would put Christmas break in the middle of their semester! That means I have to be studying and worrying about finals instead of actually having a relaxing break.

It is nice that I won’t have so much graded homework though. At first I was concerned that we wouldn’t have any homework at all, which would be bad for me since I rely on the homework to actually learn the material. But it turns out that they just make the vast majority of the homework optional. There are one or two assignments that are actually graded, but the rest you just do on your own and check your answers when the key is sent out. That is actually kind of nice. Less pressure to make the homework perfect. I do wish the final wasn’t worth quite as much though.

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Arriving in England

I arrived in England two Sundays ago, and I spent all of last week getting acclimated to the new city and culture. Probably the greatest difference I have noticed between England and America is that everything in England is way smaller. The roads are tiny, the cars are tiny, the stores are tiny, even my room is tiny.

The drive from the airport to the university was an hour long, and during the entire drive, I saw a total of five trucks, including commercial ones. Coming from Kansas/Oklahoma where you are guaranteed to see at least five trucks at just one intersection, that was pretty strange. I was also amused to see that there were one-way bridges with stoplights at either end to allow two-way traffic to pass. There are actually places like that in the city too.

The tiny stores are a bit annoying, but I can appreciate them too. The fact that they are small means that you have to go to a different store depending on what you want to buy. You buy your pots and pans at the hardware store, your food at the grocery store, and your shampoo at the pharmacy. There is definitely nothing like Walmart around here.

There is also not a large selection of merchandise either. In America, the shampoo aisle has probably a hundred different types of shampoo to choose from. At the little pharmacy down the street, there were about ten options to choose from. Even the “huge” grocery store was rather limited. But it’s not all bad. The fact that they are small means the quality of what they do have is much better than what I am used to. There is a wonderful little fruit store (dangerously) close to where I am staying. I bought three pears for one pound (about $1.25), and they were the most delicious pears I have ever eaten. The juice was literally dripping out of the fruit when I took a bite. I could definitely get used to paying so little for such great quality.

Scotland!

So, it has been almost a month since I have arrived at Scotland. As the plane was descending into Glasgow, the most beautiful landscape appeared out of the tiny airplane window. There were mountains covered in lush green trees with crystal blue lochs in the valley. Fun fact: there is only one lake in Scotland, but there are over 31,000 lochs. An immediate difference that I noticed is the language. Yes, American and Scottish people both speak English with different accents, but I did not realize just how different Glaswegian (the Scots dialect that is spoken in Glasgow). The first time a native Glaswegian spoke to me, I truly could not understand a word he was speaking. It sounded like a completely different language. When they speak, they drop so many letters in the words and use so much slang to the point where I just stand there and nod pretending I understand the conversation. Even now, I can only understand a few words that they are speaking and most of the meaning is lost to me. Hopefully by the end of the semester, I will be able to understand Glaswegian better.

I’m currently living in a 12 person flat in student accommodations.  At least in the U.S., the word “flat” is considered the same thing as an “apartment”. And when most people hear the word “apartment”, they image a housing accommodation with a few bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, and living space at minimum. When I first arrived at my flat after a long airplane flight, I was shocked to discover that the “flat” was simply a typical dorm with an additional kitchen. There is a long hallway with 12 single bedrooms and then a kitchen in the middle. Unfortunately, due to being “fire hazard”, we are unable to put in additional furniture. There is a good mix of international students in our flat: 3 from Australia, 1 from New Zealand, 1 from Quebec, Canada, 1 from Azerbaijan, and the rest from the U.S.

Uni has been an interesting experience. The first week was a hectic adventure trying to get classes approved and finding classes. Unlike in the U.S. where classes are at a set time and location usually either on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule or a Tuesday, Thursday schedule, at the University of Glasgow, class times and location change on a daily and weekly basis. For example, my Gaelic class meets in a museum one day and then in the medical school another day. And for other classes, we may meet in the mornings on some days, but on other days we meet in the afternoons. I had the hardest time finding classes that didn’t have time conflicts with each other. This is most likely due to the fact that there isn’t really a general education requirement here and non-exchange students typically only take courses for their major. There is a greater emphasis on self-learning here than in the U.S. Back at my home university, there would typically be homework due daily or weekly, but at Glasgow for most of my classes there is just two term papers due and a long list of “suggested reading” to do on our own time.

University of Glasgow 

University of Glasgow

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To Choose: Touring Auschwitz-Birkenau

These past three days, I have had the privilege to tour both the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camps and Oskar Schindler’s Factory in Krakow, Poland.

Ever since touring the infamous concentration camps, I have been struggling with how to put the experience into words. after all, how does one describe walking on the same stretches of land where millions of people were violently mistreated and murdered?

Prior to my visit, I expected the tour to be primarily educational and, of course, a bit eerie. But, nonetheless, I expected it to first and foremost an opportunity to learn more about the horrors that the Nazi Regime brought to Poland between 1939 and 1945. An opportunity to pay my respects to the dead, to honor their memory, and then to return home and continue about my visit.

In the most basic sense, I suppose that it was a rather informational occasion. However, to describe it as such would be a terrible understatement.

Auschwitz and Birkenau are utterly chilling — haunting in a way that I had never experienced before, and never expect to experience again. Upon entering the Auschwitz camp, my guide explained that nearly 1,100,000 lives were taken there within the span of four years. She explained that the few who survived only did so after enduring unimaginable torture — both physical and mental.

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She relayed one survivor’s remark that he wished he had died in the cattle cars — among family and friends — as opposed to enduring the torturous pain of watching everyone he knew be murdered before his eyes, wondering if he would be next.  My guide explained that this man has no surviving relatives; his entire family was murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, and all that I could think was that the last time he saw his family — his mother and father and three siblings — he was standing in the very same place that I was.

He was 18 at the time. Only three years younger than I am now. That man — that boy — spent his college years in a concentration camp, while I have spent mine living in luxury…attending a top university, going out with friends on the weekends, eating Sunday dinner with my family each week, and now traveling around Europe without any fear that my friends and family may not be there when I get home.

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At the same time,  I couldn’t help but think of the startling similarities that we see between the United States today and the early days of the Nazi and Fascist regimes of the past. Of course, this is not to say that I believe we are on the verge of World War III, or that the present administration would ever go so far as to advocate for any form of cruelty that could match the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.

However, as I walked through the doorway to one of the many blocks where prisoners were kept, and saw before me the wise words of George Santayana:

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

I was immediately reminded of the fear and the hatred and the division that first enabled a man like Adolf Hitler to rise to power, amass such an army, and exterminate over 6 million people.

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I do not believe I am being an alarmist when I say that I see many of these same characteristics reflected in American society today.

I see Democrats and Republicans more polarized than ever. I see more and more of our politicians moving towards extremism, and I see more and more of my fellow citizens becoming so enraged with “the establishment” that they would rather put their faith in alt-right candidates like Donald Trump or, alternatively, in far-left candidates like Bernie Sanders than in our government itself.

Whether this is a problem of our democratic system, our politicians, or the electorate itself is a debate for another day. However, the fact remains the same: our country is rapidly polarizing.

We throw around mantras like “Make America Great Again” without knowing (or caring) that Hitler used the very same phrase — “Make Germany Great Again” — to instill a sense of violent nationalism in his followers. A sense of nationalism that preyed on their fears, and utilized their hate and division to ultimately drive them to violence

I see more and more hatred between my fellow Americans — whether it be on social media or on the House and Senate floors. I see more and more minority groups being demonized for America’s social, political, and economic problems over which they have no power to correct and little power to influence.

I hear our top politicians referring to blacks and immigrants and Muslims and the elite with the same aggressive tones that past leaders like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini referred to Jews, gypsies, and their respective political establishments.

I see these things, and I am afraid for my country. I am afraid of the road we may soon go down — a road marred with hate and discord and hostility.

I am afraid.

However, my fear is not the sort to effectuate paralysis. No, my fear is the sort that drives one to action. I believe with the utmost conviction that I am not alone in this fear, and I know for certain that I am not alone in my desire to act.

I have seen first hand the fear — and the subsequent action — of my fellow Americans over the past two years as we have taken to the streets to advocate for what we believe in and to demand that our voices be heard.

From our collective fear has emerged a sense of togetherness — of shared activism — and it has given me a renewed hope.

This reminds me of another thing that my guide explained during my tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

After being asked about what could have possibly motivated Hitler to such violent cruelty towards Jews — could it have been that he was rejected from art school in Vienna by Jews? or could he have just been raised to despise the religion? — the guide merely shrugged and explained simply that there are all sorts of rumors and myths and musings about Hitler’s motivations, but ultimately Hitler was one.

Hitler was one.

“What about his followers?” she went on to ask us. what of the hundreds of thousands of people who, blinded by their hatred and fear, bought into his extremist ideology without question?

Moreover, what of those who looked on in silence as millions of human beings were being massacred? What of those that saw, and heard, and did nothing?

Adolf Hitler was undoubtedly an abhorrently vile and cruel and insolent man, but he did not single-handedly commit mass genocide.

It was the people.

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This sentiment reminded me of another quote. My favorite quote, in fact. First expressed by a German pastor named Martin Niemoller who only actively opposed Adolf Hitler after he himself was personally affected by Nazi violence:

First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 There is a lot to learn from his words. However, first and foremost, I think that it is a clear warning of the dangers of indifference. Of inaction. Of seeing injustice, and doing nothing to correct it.

Just as the people were the driving force behind the Holocaust, they could have just as easily been the damning opposition against it.

What it came down to was individual choices. And, unfortunately, too many people chose wrong. However, we are now in the fortuitous position to learn from their examples — to take note of their mistakes, and consciously choose not to repeat them.

And there is a certain power in that. the power of Choice.

Today, I visited another monument. The legacy of another man. A better man. A man by the name of Oskar Schindler.

Anyone who has seen the film Schindler’s List is familiar with his legacy, but this museum in his honor brought to my attention something that I had previously neglected to realize.

All of the lives that Oskar Schindler was able to save. All of the cruelty that he was able to prevent. Everything he did hinged on a single choice: would he continue to support the Nazis and act in his own best interest, or would he risk it all — put everything on the line — to save the innocent?

Oskar Schindler was one man. One man that made one choice and saved hundreds.

In his museum there is a quote — a quote that has been echoing in my head since I very first read it:

“For some, war leaves no choice.

For others, it makes choosing a must.

A small gesture can yield irreversible consequences.

it can either save a life,

or ruin it.”

This quote is represented in an art exhibition entitled the Room Of Choices at the Schindler Museum, in which it is transcribed in over forty different languages:

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May we never repeat the mistakes of our past. May we remember them, and learn from them, and choose a different path for our future. May we choose it, and may we fight for it. Tirelessly.

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OU Cousins Matching Party (9/19/18)

Yesterday was an exciting day because I finally got to experience OU Cousin again; this year with a new International Student. The matching process was so fun, as we got to socialize with a lot of the international students and eat ice cream. After talking to many students, my eye was set on a girl named Charlie, although her real name is in Chinese. She’s from China and she loves sports, like myself. I was so excited to match with her, and I can not wait until we hangout more. This is going to be a fun year (:

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My First Few Weeks Abroad

Bonjour from Limoges! I left home on August 24th, so I’ve been in Europe for just short of a month. Before coming to France, I spent a week traveling with my best friend (another Global Engagement Fellow!), Hennessey. We flew into Amsterdam together and made the best of four rainy days eating lots of good food and going museum hopping. During a brief period of sunshine, we rented bikes and rode around the canals, an experience that left Henn with a sizeable thigh bruise from a minor collision.

From Amsterdam, we took a train to Brussels, where we stayed in a very cheap (and highly flawed) AirBnB. On our first night out, we were surprised to find that almost no restaurants served food on weeknights. When I went into one establishment and asked if they were serving dinner, the host said yes, “but no food, only beer.” Our few days in Brussels were marked by many struggles with finding food and using public transportation. We never ate dinner before 9 pm, and I was averaging about 20,000 steps a day. Still, we saw some wonderful things, including the Palais du Justice, which made Hennessey cry, and the Royal Museums of art.

The highlight of our time in Belgium was a day trip to Bruges, a city that seems to just be famous for being cute. We spent most of the day wandering the streets, looking at the beautiful architecture and eating chocolate. The weather was perfect, and I think I’ll remember the day forever.

After that, Hennessey and I went our separate ways– I got a train to Germany to visit some relatives, and she boarded a plane to Amaan, Jordan, where she is studying for the semester. I spent three lovely days with my Aunts Marita and Marlies and Uncle Werner in Aachen. We had only met once previously, but I could tell that we were family. My Aunt Marita reminds me so much of my mom, and we even look alike (rosy cheeks run in the family!).

Finally, I took a 15 hour bus ride from Aachen to Limoges, where I arrived on September 4th. The first couple weeks have been both more difficult and happier than I expected them to be, but I think this is the start of a wonderful semester!

 

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A summer of travel

This summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to do a lot of traveling. In May, I visited New York City, Toronto, and Montreal for two weeks with a friend I’ve known since middle school, as well as friends who were exchange students at OU. Before leaving, I was interested to see how it would go, if we would make good travel buddies or if there might be some conflict. I was actually surprised how little trouble we had; although we did some things all together, at other times we naturally split up into smaller groups when we wanted to see different things. It was such a fun trip, and it was definitely interesting to compare the three cities as we went to one after another. New York and Toronto were both cities full of exciting things to do, see, and of course eat, as well as people from all different places and walks of life. However, Toronto kind of felt like the younger, cleaner version of New York, with nicer people. Although New York has a certain magic about it with its grittiness and history, I couldn’t help but think Toronto would be a nicer place to live if I had to choose. Nevertheless, both had their own charms and I definitely hope I can return someday (hopefully sooner rather than later) to explore them even more. You could certainly live in both cities for your entire life and still discover new things to see and do. I would also love to go back to Montreal one day. Entering the old part of the city was like stepping into a small piece of Europe, albeit a rather touristy piece. The rest of the city felt like a regular large North American city, which is not a bad thing. With a thriving young and hip community, there were many roads covered in beautiful street art and full of attractive coffeeshops and restaurants.

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From June to July, I traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania to visit my friend Migle who was my roommate during my study abroad in South Korea. I stayed with Migle and her family for a month, and there’s no way I could possibly write about all of the things we did. Not only did we explore Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, we also went to the seaside and stayed in a yacht at the Curonian Spit, which separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic sea. We visited the small town my ancestors came from, Moletai, and we traveled across the border to visit Riga and Tallinn, the capitals of Latvia and Estonia. I went at the perfect time, because I was able to experience both the Midsummer’s Festival/St. Jonas’ Day and the Lithuania Song and Dance Festival. The latter would normally not have occurred this year, but was held specially for the Lithuanian Independence 100 Year Anniversary. Traveling with a local is such a rewarding experience, because you see and do things that you would just not even know to look for if you are touring by yourself. Migle and I also traveled together in Korea, so we already knew we made excellent travel partners because we are interested in seeing the same kind of things. We visited pretty coffeeshops ranging from sleek industrial styles to “soviet chic” style, we explored traditional open-air markets as well as modern shopping malls.  Staying at a local’s house and getting to eat home-cooked food is also a luxury when you are traveling, especially when your friend’s mom is such an excellent cook–I know from personal experience. As much as I loved studying abroad in Korea, not having access to a kitchen or home-cooked food 99% of the time could get tiring. I may write another post later to discuss more about some aspects of my travel in Lithuania, because there is just so much to write.IMG_0245IMG_0403Processed with MOLDIVIMG_0395IMG_0805IMG_0972IMG_1059

In Toronto, Montreal, and Vilnius, there was a certain aspect that gave me a strange feeling as a Jewish person. Both of the cities had thriving Jewish communities in the not-so-distant past. Vilnius in particular used to be called the Jerusalem of the North or the Jerusalem of Lithuania because its Jewish population was so large before World War II. Right before World War II, Jews accounted for 30% of Vilnius’s population. Following World War II, the Lithuanian Jewish population was nearly decimated. Very few Jews now live there, and the Great Synagogue there has been replaced by an elementary school that my friend attended because it was a five minute walk from her home (although the school is now closed, as well.) I took a “Jewish Vilnius” walking tour and while fascinating, it was also saddening to realize that a huge, thriving community that used to live right in and around my friend’s neighborhood had been essentially destroyed.

Montreal and Toronto’s Jewish communities are doing much better than Vilnius’s, but it was strange to realize that the artsy, hipster areas that my friends and I were having fun exploring used to be the Jewish neighborhood of the city. Although I loved the existing atmosphere of those areas, I couldn’t help but feel a little remorseful that much of the Jewish culture in those areas were lost. I wondered what it would have been like to visit when those neighborhoods were still home to a large Jewish community. I was, however, also inspired by signs of efforts to celebrate the Jewish community, such as the Shalom Montreal exhibit at the McCord Museum, or efforts to restore and respect the memory of the Jewish community, such as the current excavations of the yard of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius. Of course in New York City as well there is a huge Jewish population, but during my trip my most significant encounter with Jewish New Yorker culture was eating at the very touristy, very overpriced Katz’s Deli. Hopefully next time I go to New York I can explore the Jewish culture there more fully.

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OU Cousins and the State Fair

This semester, my OU Cousin is a lovely girl named Seunghye. Although we never got the chance to meet while I was there, she is from Kyungpook National University, the school at which I studied abroad in Daegu, South Korea from 2016 to 2017. We got in touch through a mutual friend from KNU when Seunghye came to study at OU. Seunghye has a very bright personality and it was very easy to get close to her, even though I can be a bit shy when I first meet people. We talk together in both English and Korean so we can both practice our language skills, although Seunghye is so good at English it doesn’t seem like she needs much practice.

On Saturday, I went with Seunghye and some other exchange students from KNU to the State Fair. To be honest, it was not as exciting as I remembered it being when I was younger. I have very fond memories of going to the State Fair with my friends in middle school and high school, eating the heart attack-inducing fried food and riding the rides. I guess after I got a bit older and realized how dangerous the rides were (since they made to be broken down and put back together frequently), some of the magic of the fair disappeared. Nevertheless, it is still fun to take exchange students to the fair so they can get a piece of American and Oklahoman culture. Even though we didn’t ride the rides, the atmosphere was quite exciting and the food was…well, it’s unique. Many of the foods they sell there you can’t get anywhere else. We tried the fried oreos and the Indian taco. We also tried several samples of locally-made products, such as wine, coffee, and candy. We also did some people-watching and talked about the Oklahoman accent and Southern dialect of American English, since many fair-goers had Oklahoman accents. Even though it was quite hot, it was still fun since we were there together.

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Arab-Israel Conflict, Where to Now? A group discussion with Dr. Lewental

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On September 6th, I attended a conversation and group discussion with Dr. Gershon Lewental about the present state of the Arab-Israeli Conflict and its future. In the past, I have taken a course with Dr. Lewental about Israeli culture and film that I thoroughly enjoyed. I have not been able to take one of his classes since then, so I wanted to attend this event to hear from him. In addition, as a Jewish person I always feel like I should be more educated about the Arab-Israeli conflict than I am. Despite having learned about it multiple times, because of its complexity the details quickly get fuzzy. I also went to this event to educate myself more about this issue.

An interesting point that Dr. Lewental made about the current state of the conflict is that the biggest change in recent years did not actually occur in Israel or Palestine. The biggest change was the establishment of the Trump administration in the U.S. Like with many other issues, Donald Trump’s rash and uneducated statements and actions, such as his decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, have led to unfortunate consequences in Israel. His decision to move the U.S. embassy gives the impression that Jerusalem is a part of the Jewish state and only the Jewish state, which is a conflict-creating move given Jerusalem’s importance to all three of the Abrahamic religions. Trump has given the more extreme members of Israel’s right wing party, which is currently in power, a sense of security. This means that the right wind party is shifting further away from the center.

In July, Israel enacted the “nation-state bill”, which while in reality does nothing, has a significant symbolic meaning. The bill says that Israel is a Zionist state of the Jewish people, which was obviously already the case, but it does not emphasize protections or equality for minorities. The rhetoric effect of this bill is that it provides support for the political far-right, and demotes Arab minorities in Israel as a group. This has resulted in protest rallies among the Druze and Arab Muslims. The Druze were the first to file a petition with the court against the law because they saw it as an attack on them and their ethnic bond with the Jews.

With these events that have had a negative effect on the Arab-Israeli conflict in mind, Dr. Lewental stressed the necessity for both Israeli and Palestinian politicians to be more proactive about improving relations. The problem, he explained, was that it is beneficial for these politicians to maintain the status quo instead of pushing for peace. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu does not subscribe to a particular ideology; rather, he does what is necessary to maintain support so he can stay in power. Right now, this means pandering to the far right. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian state and the Palestinian National Authority, also wants to retain his office, so he has been undermining any potential successor. He has been in power for much longer than he was supposed to be, so his death will likely lead to internal conflict in Palestine over who will replace him. The situation is essentially at a standstill as both of these politicians simply try to do what is necessary to maintain their own personal power, instead of considering what is best for their people. Dr. Lewental said that the political left in Israel need to find a more charismatic figure for their party and make more efforts to persuade the Israeli public that the country does in fact have a “partner for peace” in Palestine.

Overall, the talk was fascinating but not exactly uplifting or hopeful. Although it is a complex subject about which I do not feel comfortable making any predictions, I hope that in the future politicians on both sides of the conflict will be more enthusiastic about coming to a compromise and a solution.

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Naples, Pompeii, and Capri!!!

Ciao a tutti!

I’m currently studying abroad at the OU campus in Arezzo, Italy for the fall semester. For our third week into the semester, the entire program took a weekend trip to Naples, Pompeii, and Capri! Leaving Arezzo early on Friday morning, we were able to arrive to our first stop in Pompeii by around noon. We explored the ruins of the city of Pompeii and were able to learn a lot about the history with the help of our incredible professors. In Pompeii we visited buildings and areas which once functioned as the city’s Forum, houses of citizens, an amphitheater, and temples. My favorite part of the ancient city was ironically the beautiful view of Mount Vesuvius in the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

For the second day of our trip we visited the gorgeous island of Capri. By taking a ferry from Naples, we were able to make it to the island in only an hour. Once we arrived we quickly switched from the giant ferry to a boat which was going to give us a tour around the island. On the tour we got to see caves, beaches, and the numerous million-dollar houses and yachts of Capri. My favorite part of the tour being the quick swim we were able to take in the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. My least favorite part being the seasickness of course. Nevertheless, the tour was incredible and afterwards we were able spend the remainder of the day on our own. Me and my friends decided to split a taxi and make our way up to the town of Anacapri. There we shopped, ate a delicious meal, and got gelato of course! Anacapri was perfect. The architecture was stunning, and the environment was peaceful. After adventuring through the town, we decided to take a chair lift to the highest point in Capri. There we were able to enjoy the most spectacular views of the sea, the beaches and the horizon.

 

 

 

The weekend trip to Naples, Capri, and Pompeii was an amazing experience. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to these destinations!!