Thoughts on Studying Abroad as a Fine Arts Major

Studying abroad is one of the most incredible opportunities that students having during their time at a university. These programs offer a window into another world; they combine the rigor of academic work with the exploration of incredible countries and cultures. They allow students to challenge themselves as global citizens and expand their understanding of what it means to live and learn in different ways.

Although there are many amazing study abroad programs out there, one area that I believe is sorely lacking is programs for fine arts majors. Because much of what we do as artists is performance based, it is very difficult to go long periods of time without continuing to practice and refine our craft. On the path toward working in a professional performing industry time is very valuable, and taking even a few weeks or a month off to study abroad, much less a semester, is often not feasible. We need specific programs to help us advance our training, and these seem to be much more rare than study programs for other majors or the general student body.

I believe artists are the perfect candidates for going abroad, and that experiencing life in other places can greatly expand their desire and ability to create art. Speaking from personal experience, traveling to other countries has been deeply inspiring and has helped me grow in my understanding and appreciation of the human experience, which is what we seek to exemplify and exaggerate in our crafts.
I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad in Barcelona through a dance program sponsored by the OU College of Fine Arts. This is one of the few programs that this college offers, and is currently the only one involving a performing art. I have friends studying performing arts at other universities who have run into similar scenarios; some may have one or two limited options, while others do not have any study abroad programs available to them. Because what we do is so specific and intensely focused, we need training of relatively equivalent rigor no matter where we are in the world. Finding this is often so much of a challenge that fine arts majors discount it as a possibility. It is my hope that in the future, more programs will be developed and offered for these majors, and that more young, aspiring artists will have the ability to sing, dance, and experience the magic of art around the globe.

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“I ask no favors for my gender”

In this excerpt by bell hooks, a fundamental problem within feminism is addressed and answered: what is Feminism? Feminism has a very polarizing connotation, which causes many people to shy away from the movement and its aims. hooks explains the circular reasoning that surrounds the undefined nature of Feminism, and how this vagueness is actually detrimental to Feminism itself. 

Feminism, sometimes “women’s liberation”, is seen by many as a movement that hopes to advance women to equal standing with men (238). This is the most common understanding of the movement’s objective, and it is probably the reason why many people shy away from the word and movement. It was once an accepted fact that women were inferior to men. Some people still hold that men and women are inherently different and internalized the sexism of our society without truly recognizing the repercussions of their thoughts. Feminist movements led by privileged white women have already seen much success in the past, as inequality gap between white men and white women are smaller than say, the gap between a black woman and a white man. The intersectionality of women has created complexities in feminism over the years, as women of color, LGBTQ+ women, transgender women,  low-income women, and all other women have felt unwelcome in general feminist places. 

Without a central, solidifying definition of feminism, the movement is politically weakened. Without a definition, feminism has no identity and it has no substance. People can attack feminism without understanding the ideas that it champions, and those defending feminism do not have a solid base to stand upon. When someone says that they are not a feminist because they have a boyfriend and do not hate men, no one can fully convince them differently because there is no conspicuous objective that explains what feminism is. Feminism is equal pay for all peoples no matter what identity they hold. Feminism is the dismantling of societal norms and ideas that are damaging to certain identities. Feminism is the amplification of the voices of the people who typically go unheard. Feminism is a solution to problems of inequality. The cause of this inequality is sexist oppression. 

The answer to a lack of a central feminist objective, according to hooks is defining feminism as “a movement to end sexist oppression” (240). I agree with hooks and believe that this definition is apt. Sexist oppression extends to cover all the injustice that affects all peoples, regardless of sex and gender, race, socioeconomic status, and others that Feminism stands to disrupt and address. This definition creates a space in which anyone can be a feminist, while still giving substance and meaning to the movement. 

I believe that in today’s society, we are getting closer to universally understanding the meaning of feminism. The #MeToo Movement allowed women to be vulnerable and open about experiences with sexual violence. While the shared experiences are anything but joyful, the shared fears and stories have brought women closer in a twisted central experience that is perpetuated by sexual oppression. Feminism and society have not become complementary quite yet, but I think that social movements such as these are opening the door for ALL women to feel included in a single definition of feminism.

Literature Cited

Hooks, Bell. “Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression.” pp. 238–240.,

       mcc.osu.edu/posts/documents/sexism-bhooks.pdf.

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At least they tried

What I am about to show you all is one of my favorite pictures I have taken thus far here in Valencia. As we all know, many foreign countries try to use English to give an appearance of being hip of chic, but it doesn’t always turn out the best. At a store in one of the metro stops in Valencia, I found this beautiful fusion of good intentions and horrible execution that makes me bust for laughing every time I see it. For you viewing pleasure: Don’t Fogert Me.

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Jamón Ibérico

Spaniards are obsessed with Iberian ham. It’s a type of cured ham traditional to Spain and Portugal, and it’s a very common appetizer or tapa at many restaurants. It’s also very common to see jamón ibérico sold in stores. Not, however, in little happy containers or plastic packets. No. Instead, the Spaniards sell Iberian ham by the leg. And they sell a lot of it. One of the strangest sights I’ve seen in Spain, and one that continues to shock me every time I go to the super market, is the sight of a whole wall or section covered in dried and cured pig legs. What this has to say about the strength of Spanish constitution, I do not know, but it at least goes to show that we in the US are not nearly as accustomed to seeing such large, intact pieces of our food just dangling on the wall for anyone to see. But despite its strange appearance, I have found Spanish food to be particularly appetizing, especially the traditional rice dishes from Valencia like Paella Valenciana and Arroz al horno (arròs al forn).

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A dose of Spanish controversy

For a country that is so seemingly tied with the idea of Bull-fighting, las corridas (as they are called in Spanish) are source of a lot of controversy. And I almost went to one. But really, I have found that I, and a lot of other Americans, are extremely uninformed about what really happens in the Corridas. It’s much more than just swinging a cape, shouting olé, and wearing shiny clothes. It’s a bloodsport in every sense of the term. They torture the bulls to the point of death by stabbing them repeatedly with spears that stick in its back, and then, it what is a called faena, the matador takes a sword and stabs the bull through the back and into the heart. However, the torero is not always accurate, occasionally puncturing the lung, causing the bull to drown in its own blood before being stabbed again until it dies. The more I learned, the less I wanted to go. I eventually took the ticket price as a loss, because I knew I couldn’t watch something so horrific. But I learned a lot about Spanish culture, history, and current controversy as well as a lot about myself that day.

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International Thanksgiving

Sometimes, it pays to make friends from all over. One of the best times I had with my friends here in Valencia was when we decided to pay homage to one of my beloved American holidays, Thanksgiving. Although the rest of the people didn’t know a lot about the holiday, we all worked hard to put on a great dinner and learn about some traditional food and practices from the other countries. At our dinner, we had people from Italy, Germany, the US, the UK, and Spain with pasta, sangria, fried chicken, taco salad, and a strange yet delicious potato and broccoli dish from Germany. And, although the food was great, the best part was by far the company. I’ve made friends from all over Europe, and spending time with them creates the best memories that I hope to never forget.

Image may contain: 10 people, including Jenelle Segars, people smiling, people sitting, table, indoor and food

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When in Rome…

One of the greatest experiences I had this semester was getting to spend a week in Rome with one of my best friends, Lucy Kates. Honestly, so much happened in such a short amount of time, it would be impossible to recount all of the crazy memories. But it should suffice to say that it is a week I will remember for a long time. I was pooped on by a bird, constantly mistaken for Lucy’s husband, fascinated by our Vatican tour guide Margarita, astounded by the immense size of the city and all of the monuments within, and completely exhausted by the time I returned to Valencia.

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The Wasp

One of the most unforgettable experiences I have inside of a Spanish classroom took place one day because of a tiny insect floating at the back of a large room. We are about 45 minutes into Dialectología y sociolingüística españolas, a class which is supposed to last for 2 hours, and my professor Adrian stops his lecture dead in his tracks. He points to a tiny dot far in the back of the room and asks the class, “that little insect falling in and out of the lights back there, is that a wasp?” One of the students, closer to the wasp, says, “yes, I think it is.” Without any further ado, Adrian stands up, says “I have a large fear of wasps. Class is over,” picks up all his stuff, and slinks out of the classroom. I and the other students look at each other in amazement, sure that this was some kind of odd joke. But no. Adrian fled the room, and even the floor. Never before have I been so bewildered leaving a class an hour and fifteen minutes early.

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And Just Like That

And just like that, our work was coming to a close. Frankly, I considered the project to be pretty much complete the previous day, once we wrapped up the survey, but this discussion day was easily my most involved discussion of the three. Because we had four men show up to participate in the survey, we also wanted to include them in the discussion, and luckily we had the resources to facilitate a conversation that with all of the males. George, Joffrey, and I were given the script and ran a discussion that I expected to take only an hour or two, since there weren’t nearly as many participants in our group as there were in the groups of women. However, we were actually the last group to finish, which probably says just as much about our inexperience when it comes to facilitating discussions as it does about the volume of conversation. I was very curious as to why these men had chosen to seek membership in a female-oriented group, and while their responses weren’t to be included in the report, they will hopefully help the team if the decision is eventually made to include men in the project. As one might expect, the men shared many concerns with the women we spoke with, but they amplified their desires for vocational training more than I felt I had heard in the female discussion groups. They had a lot to share, and while I don’t think the conversation was nearly as fluid as those facilitated by the professors, I hope that useful information was gleaned from what we recorded.

Later in the afternoon, Joffrey took me and George out for drinks, and we visited a compound that reminded me a lot of St. Monica’s. As it turned out, it was founded and run by the Camboni brothers, who were responsible for the construction of St. Monica’s as well. After a few hours of wonderful conversation, Joffrey gave us a ride to the Iron Donkey. He also asked why we were going to the Iron Donkey, an American restaurant, two days before returning to the States. I couldn’t provide a good answer, because I had no idea that it was American food. And it wasn’t all that great, either, although I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t foolishly shocked my system with two massive cheese quesadillas after two weeks of abstaining from dairy. But honestly, in hindsight I would’ve avoided the American restaurant not because of the food, but because of the other American people we interacted with. A medical mission team showed up halfway through our meal and immediately went full “Fellow White People” on us. Oblivious to their surroundings, the adult leaders of the group loudly expressed their shock at just how poor Ugandans are and how miserable their lives seem. I was not impressed.

And just like that, our time in Uganda comes to an end, for now.

I’m heading home, I’m almost there.

Privilege

Our group discussion in Atiak was the first to mention climate change as a major concern. Many of the women were farmers, and they were adamant that recent harvests were being decimated by excessive exposure to sun. I did not expect such a concern to be raised, but I am glad that it was. As weather patterns continue to become more extreme, many of the poorest regions of the world will be the first to suffer. Rising sea levels will devastate countries like Bangladesh, which is a low-lying, densely populated coastal nation. And as the women of Atiak explained to us, their livelihoods and food sources are being threatened by extreme heat and solar exposure long before most Americans will feel the direct consequences of anthropogenic climate change. And to make matters worse, rural Ugandans contribute exponentially less to greenhouse gas emissions than residents of western nations, yet they suffer disproportionately. Furthermore, the people of Atiak are at the mercy of world leaders like Trump who see climate change as a non-issue, a total fabrication, or a necessary evil in the pursuit of progress. I fear for our neighbors in the Global South.

The Atiak Massacre Survivors have seen much more action from NGOs than the residents of Unyama, but few outsiders opted to see the recovery of Atiak through. I can’t help but wonder if the organizations that flooded Atiak to collect information and interviews visited solely for the purpose of capturing compelling stories that would secure grants and raise money for their cause. If this was the case, then surely the people of Atiak deserved some sort of compensation for their role, and for the emotional and mental toll inflicted by the forced recounting of the scarring details. Unfortunately, according to the women we spoke with, no such compensation came their way. They feel forgotten, strewn aside. I know that our team plans to return to Atiak later in the year, but I have no doubt that some of the women we met with are expecting more of the same from us. I hope that we are able to secure the funding to make multiple return trips and provide the people of Atiak with useful reports and a sense of closure.

The Sisters of the Sacred Heart hosted a celebration for the opening of a new primary school just down the road from where we conducted our research in Atiak, so once we wrapped up our work, we hopped in the vans and high-tailed it to the party. We arrived at the tail end of the program, which was running about an hour behind schedule. A few officials gave long-winded speeches, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear these men give credit to Sister Rosemary for her role in the project. However, I was less pleased by the classist and racial divisions that were highlighted by the organization of the event. Our group of white Americans was seated in the main tent, right by the Sisters, despite the fact that we showed up late and had no hand in orchestrating the project or the party. Meanwhile, hundreds of other attendees were relegated behind us under what little shade was available. Notably, not one of them was white. I wasn’t fully aware of the disparity, though, until an older, African gentleman attempted to sit under our tent, only to be promptly kicked out. I suddenly felt very uncomfortable with the cameras and speakers that kept focusing on us, so I got up and found another seat. Lupe asked me about this experience after dinner, which led to a rather tense discussion among the group. I appreciated the points that my peers brought up, but I firmly believe that Jesus would have invited the poorest, most downtrodden members of the community to sit next to him at the table, rather than forcing them to watch from the outskirts.

I guess parties just aren’t my scene.

Speaking into the worst mike to ever grace the Earth