“Singing in Fear: Female Vocalists and Cultural Securitization in Iran”

Last week, I attended the lecture “Singing in Fear: Female Vocalists and Cultural Securitization in Iran” by Dr. Nahid Siamdoust. It dealt with Iranian female singers and strict prohibition of women singing in public in Iran, and how women have found ways to challenge or circumvent these prohibitions. In the years after the Iranian Revolution, women were barred from singing publicly. Dr. Siamdoust explained that the reasoning behind this decision was that the religious authorities in Iran thought that the female voice might incite pleasure or inspire lust.
There were certain settings were women could sing publicly, such as in a choir even solo to all-female crowds, but the female artists Dr. Siamdoust interviewed felt that their works were not respected or appreciated in this context. Another option female artists had was to travel abroad and give solo concerts and this is what many women have done, following the example of a prominent Iranian female singer.
From what I understood, Iran seems willing to tolerate women singing solo if they judge the context to be appropriate, such as the solo female voice in the intro to a television program that Dr. Siamdoust showed us. However, the problem with using the word ‘appropriate’ is that it can be open to any kind of interpretation and varies widely from person to person. There have been guidelines put out in an attempt to clear things up, but the situation remains unclear. Although there is often social stigma or possible governmental harassment, today, women keep singing, whether at home, on social media, or abroad.


Mundo Lingo

One of the most difficult things for me studying here in New Zealand has been finding ways to speak and listen to Spanish. The country’s official languages are Maori and NZSL, the predominantly spoken language is English, and my international friends seem to speak every language under the sun besides Spanish. If I wanted to use French, German, Portuguese, Dutch, Finnish, or Italian I would have no trouble finding someone to chat with. But for whatever reason there are far fewer students at Victoria from Latin America or Spain, and I have yet to connect with any of them unfortunately.

After the first month of having my only exposure to Spanish be through my Spotify playlists and Casa de papel on Netflix (which is SUCH a good show by the way), I met a girl named Parminder through the NZSL Club on campus. She also shares my love for learning languages, and she introduced me to an event called Mundo Lingo. Mundo Lingo is a weekly social meetup for people who are multilingual or are learning another language. It’s held at one of the bars in the city and everyone who shows up gets flag stickers when they arrive: the first for your home country and native language, then each subsequent one for other languages you speak from best to worst in terms of ability. Then, once you have your flags, you just jump in; once you find someone else who speaks one of your languages, you strike up a conversation and see where things go from there. Since my first time going, I’ve been to Mundo Lingo every single week I’ve been in town, and most weeks I go twice. I’ve met Chileans, Colombians, Mexicans, Kiwis, Brazilians, a Chinese girl, and an English guy who all speak fluent or near-fluent Spanish. I’ve also started bringing my other international friends and through them I’ve met even more people who speak even more languages.

It is such a cool and fun event, and I really wish we had something like it in Oklahoma. As a now-regular at Mundo Lingo I see a lot of the same faces every week and have gotten to know so many new people in this city. Even better than that, I’ve begun seeing the people from Mundo Lingo at restaurants and on the streets and even just randomly on hikes in the middle of nowhere on a random Sunday afternoon… it has been one of the most ideal ways for me to meet new people and practice my Spanish (et un petit peu de français) with other people who are just as passionate as I am about learning and speaking languages. It’s definitely one of the things I’m going to miss most about being here; Mundo Lingo has events in both Auckland and Wellington, eight cities in Europe and Asia, six in Latin America, and one in New York City… but none anywhere near Norman, Oklahoma.

I’m already considering getting in touch with some people back home and trying to set up Mundo Lingo or a similar language meetup event in OKC. I’d even drive to a bigger city like Dallas if it means I can continue going to things like this on a regular basis. I think the concept has amazing potential to connect people all over the globe and encourage language learning and culture sharing among both local and international people who have come together to live in a city–and it’s FREE! This kind of event is exactly what fuels my passion for languages and cultures, and every time I speak to someone new it reminds me of how unique and wonderful people can be.

International Pancake Night, or “Pancake my eyes off of you”

It is now the end of September, which means I have been in New Zealand for over 2 months now. I expected to be pretty homesick by now, or at least still feel a little bit like a stranger in this country, but I am actually feeling well-settled and really happy here. One of the things that has made my transition so easy and truly made Wellington feel like home is the group of people I’ve shared it with. Most of my friends are other international students, and we’re a hodge podge of languages, cultures, and personalities that shouldn’t work as well as it does, but for whatever reason fits together perfectly. Since all my friends are from different countries, I get exposed to a lot of different ideas, sayings, perspectives, and–especially significant for today–foods.

New Zealand doesn’t really have a “cuisine” to its name, so most of the food I’ve eaten has been international anyways: Italian, Malaysian, American, Mexican, British, Thai, and even Spanish restaurants have setups across the country. But I’m exposed even further to international cuisine because my friends and I share meals frequently and we love making dinners and having potlucks together. Recently, the group I traveled with to the South Island all got together and had a potluck pancake night. Each of us made pancakes from our respective countries, and it was so cool (and tasty) to try all of the different dishes that everyone thinks of when they hear the word “pancake”.

There was another girl from the U.S. in the group, so I let her make the tried and true, sweet, fluffy North American breakfast cakes with maple syrup and I chose instead to make latkes, or potato pancakes. Latkes are a savory, fried, grated potato and onion mixture that are similar to hashbrowns but have a smoother texture. We also had other savory pancakes, like Brazilian ones made with a thin, salty crepe-like batter that is filled with bean and meat chili. Along with those we had Dutch pancakes, which were kind of in between savory and sweet; the batter was relatively neutral, and Thijs cooked them with cheese, apples, and/or bacon that he placed in the batter right after he poured it so that they were cooked into the middle of the pancake. My German friend made Russian pancakes, called blini, because he has a Russian grandmother that made them for him at home. Blini are sweet and somewhere in between the thickness of a crepe and that of an American pancake. I found out that in Hong Kong, people eat pancakes similar to the ones we have in the US, just with different toppings, and our two resident Fins made a huge sweet sheet cake-like pancake in the oven that was both delicious and surprisingly easy to make.

We all had a really fun time hanging out and tasting each others’ pancakes, and by the end of the night we were all stuffed so full we almost had to roll ourselves home. I’ve always loved how food can connect people and represent a town, region, or country’s culture, and pancake night was a unique opportunity for my friends and I to share a bit more of that with each other.

La Noche Mexicana y Oaxaca

These past two weeks have been one of the best experiences of my life. Those who know me know that I am a very energetic person who loves to live life to the fullest, and these weeks have truly been living. Mexico’s Independence Day is currently today, but the weeks leading up to it have been extremely fun. My university, UPAEP, had a celebration for Independence Day called La Noche Mexicana where there was so much food and dancing. I saw many of my international friends and Mexican friends there which was super exciting. I was even learning more Cumbia. The night was young and vibrant celebrating their Independence Day. It’s interesting to see that people still think it’s Cinco de Mayo, but it’s actually not, so it made me happy to be a part of the true Independence Day. Also this past weekend we went to Oaxaca to celebrate Independence Day. The streets were live and full of energy. Many people wore the colors of the flag, red, white, and green. We danced the night away counting down to midnight for the celebration. The day before we created Alebrihes, which are handmade arts that take days and weeks to carve and paint. It was so fun to get an opportunity like that. Ultimately, Mexico has been a blast and will continue to be incredible.


ASA: Game Night

This year I am on the executive board of the Arab Student Association, and this past Tuesday we held our first event of the semester: a night featuring games from across the Arab world! These included tawla, the Arab version of Backgammon, dominoes, cards, and several physical games led by other ASA members.
No cultural event is complete without food, and there was a spread of hummus, pita chips, dates, and almonds for attendees to snack on as they made their way from country to country through participation in the games native to them. Tea and Arabic coffee are also staples of ASA events, and I got to see the process of how Arabic coffee is made as one of the other board members prepared it during setup (it involves a really cool little pot).
There was also live music that featured several iconic instruments native to the Arab world: the oud, which is a string instrument that looks somewhat similar to a guitar, and the tabla, which is a small drum used to create the rhythmic base of much Arab music. I took a class called Middle Eastern music several semesters ago where I learned about these instruments among many others, and the opportunity see them performed live and truly get a feel for the vibrant sounds they produce is amazing.


Studying Abroad? Helpful Apps

One of the gifts of modern technology is the ways it changes travel. Here is a list of the apps I used (very) frequently while studying abroad. From messaging to travel and navigation, these applications helped make traveling in other countries a much smoother experience.

  • VRN Ticket (the local transportation schedule and tickets)
  • Deutsche Bahn Navigator (as a student, DB provides discounts on their Bahn25 and 50 cards that make traveling much cheaper)
  • FlixBus (the best of budget travel)
  • Student Universe (best for longer flights)
  • Omio (overall best for figuring out whether bus, train, or plane is cheapest/fastest)
  • SkyScanner ( keeps an eye out for really cheap flights)
Trip Planning/ Navigating
  • Visit a City (gives an overview of what to see in the city)
  • Booking.com
  • Hostel world
  • Rick Steves Audio Europe (didn’t use that often, but gives lots of history)
  • Mapy.com (good hiking trails)
  • MarcoPolo (Great for communicating with family in a completely different time zone)
  • WhatsApp ( just a must. It’s the communication method of choice)
  • Skype (calling on Wifi)
  • Zoom (conference calls)
  • Google Translate
  • If you need a bank account in Germany, the online company N26 was reccomended to us. It’s completely digital, so also an app.