Accents

The way someone speaks tells a lot about a person. Where you were raised, how you learned, your geographic or cultural background. But not who you are or what you can do.

Accent is a stereotype that is either overlooked and ignored or blatantly addressed, and in either case, our precognitions of a person based on their voice and speech can make or break a social relationship.

I was always afraid growing up of picking up a West Virginian accent. Those in my class from southern or more rural counties were always made fun of for asking for a “pin” instead of a “pen” or “crown” rather than a “cray-on”, and of course being from the “Boonies” was a badge of shame (at least early on).

British accents are smart, Spanish accents are sexy, Australian accents are audacious, New York accents are rude. With variation.

Of course none of these are true, but one of the challenges of more community diversification. I know I tend to lose the ability to perceive the more minute factors in the modulation of a person’s voice when that voice or its accent is new or unfamiliar, and it is a conscious effort for me to understand the meanings that person is giving through their speech.

But the reality is that accent remains a primary factor in peoples’ initial perceptions of one another, and I’ve heard stories of friends whose accents have caused them or their family trouble, from not getting jobs to being labeled a foreigner or non-citizen. And I am likewise going to be judged for the accent I surely have in any other language I attempt.

The fact that I’ve worried so much about this used to be kind of embarrassing, but I realize more and more the benefit of such awareness.

I’ll continue to think about this and do my research, but for now it’s just a thought.

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Hillel Big Event

At the Big Event this year (the biggest organized community service event at OU), the ICDG team and I worked in the Hillel, the University’s center for Jewish life, in the kitchen. It was excellent timing for us, as the week prior had been Passover, for which the entire kitchen had been basically replaced: all dishware was different, countertops had been covered in aluminum foil, and everything scrubbed head-to-toe, so as to not come into contact with any remnant of leavened bread. It was our job to clean everything again, re-replace the dishware, remove the foil, scrub the place, and return the kitchen to its original (kosher) condition, keeping meat and dairy containers separate (labelled with either red or blue).

Later we were treated with kosher and Passover friendly lasagna and peanut-brittle-like crackers as one of the directors answered for us any of our bizarre questions about Jewish culinary life and traditions while describing the history and reasons behind the practices. I was somewhat surprised to find out that many of the reasons behind what grains are allowed during Passover depended solely on where that group of Jews resided when the rules were written down. Russian Jews had different foods available than Middle Eastern Jews, and that difference in custom is traceable.

This made me further think about what those near me can and cannot eat. One of my roommates grew up in an at least mildly Hindu family, and so is generally restricted meat wise from pork and beef and usually just eats chicken to be safe. Another has a tree nut allergy. And I’ve known many people who are lactose intolerant or can’t eat gluten or are vegetarian.

I’m going to have to diversify my recipe library to take these new discoveries into account!

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Language Via Music

One of the best ways for me to learn the flow and cadence of a language is to listen to and sing along with its music. I’ve noticed that Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose and Yves Montand with Sous le Ciel de Paris have greatly pushed my understanding of the French language. Memorizing song lyrics is a more enjoyable way t expand vocabulary. Media is also ripe with slang and contractions, especially in works more contemporary, that you wouldn’t get from a textbook.

Accents are much easier to pick up as a rule when singing. I notice that Americans can sing in  British accents for more classical vocal work, and many English or Australian singers would be indistinguishable from a born-and-bred American. Or maybe the accents are just less noticeable. In either case, I can hear the way it’s supposed to sound in the song.

Another thing I pick up though is a bit of the culture, whether it’s a street address or another name for bread. This really helps me appreciate just what I’m learning. Instead of it being work, it really does become leisure.

One of my German professors this past semester taught this way, too. By giving us this song or that from one of the later decades of the 20th century, then having us translate it or review it comprehensively. This was a great way to get introduced to honestly practical learning resources, with little mental effort on my part as compared to memorizing long lists of vocabulary and grammatical structures. Instead, I think, “Ah, like in the song!” And then I understand!

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Arrezo for Language Majors and Minors

Thinking on it, one major factor of my coming to OU was the advertisement of the Arezzo Program. The University of Oklahoma, of course, has one of its now three (at the time it was the only one) primary non-USAmerican study centers in Arezzo, Italy. A beautiful renovated monastery for a campus in a location with access Idyllic and ideal for study abroad.

At least, I thought this until I mentioned it to one of my language professors, who expressed his qualms with the programs. OU classes taught by OU professors sounds brilliant! But for someone studying languages, cultures, and international affairs, this appeal may not be as potent as for a major in engineering, chemistry, or business. Consider that most of the people on campus will be American, and almost all will be speaking English. As far as immersion goes (cultural/lingual), this isn’t, and for me, immersion is necessary.

Of course, one thought leads to another, and the spiralling domino effect took hold in my mind, sending me into another miniature existential crisis. I thought, If not for this program, what does Arezzo have to offer me? Do I actually want to study in Italy, too? The outcome: I’ll not be studying in Arezzo, and likely also not in Italy. My thought there is that diversifying my experience would be of great benefit to me in almost every way. East Asia is looking more and more promising. And as usual, this opens more questions than it closes. Just a thought, though.

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Novena to Santo Niño

Every January in my home town of Charleston, West Virginia, the large Filipino community in the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston gathers in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to celebrate the Novena to the Santo Niño, a nine-day prayer to the “Holy Child,” the young Jesus. The tradition originates in the Philippines, where Spanish colonists introduced the native population to Catholicism, later taking hold as the dominant religion of the archipelago. As the one story goes, the original statue (Santo Niño de Cebú) that is venerated in the prayer was found in a box after a fire caused by conflict between natives and Spaniards left most of the city destroyed, the only surviving relic. Some claimed it was found by fishermen, others that it had been there since ancient times, but general historical conjecture describes the .3 meter tall wooden child as a gift from the Spaniard Magellan. It remains the oldest surviving Christian relic in the Philippines.

The prayer itself involves praises, supplication, chant, and a veneration of the Eucharist, the central aspect of Catholicism. The people gather around the statue dressed ornately in crown, orb, scepter, and robes before the altar and go through the rhythmic prayers one by one.

Of course, no celebration is complete without food. Families from various parishes throughout West Virginia make a pilgrimage to the Basilica, which is the National Shrine to the Santo Niño bringing home-cooked Filipino dishes to share, and the final celebration ends with a procession of the statue. When the statue returns to its original position in the shrine, one man yells out: “Viva Santo Niño!” To which the crowd vividly responds, “Viva!

My family is Catholic and, though we are not Filipino, has attended the celebration since I can remember. The robes, incense, and organ all bring back memories of a much simpler time for me, and getting to attend one of the evening celebration when I returned this January from school was very centering, peaceful, and nostalgic.

The blend of West European and Southeast Asian cultures is perhaps the remnant of a rough colonial history, but shines today as a unique and beautiful aspect of many people’s lives, including mine.

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Diwali Night 2014

My friend Ankitha bought tickets online for Diwali Night, the festival of lights, this past November. Her friend who was going to go had another engagement, so she asked if I wanted to go. Naturally, I hopped right aboard. We dressed nicely, and she wore a Sari, as many other attendees did, among other various traditional clothes. The line to get in was long, but we didn’t worry. Events like this are usually bound to be delayed, she said. In fact, we ended up waiting nearly half an hour once we got our seats inside the Reynolds Performing Arts Center. A lot of the people from my floor (Couch 3, the International Floor) were also going. Ram was going for the food, because “once you’ve been to one Diwali Night, you’ve been to them all.” We met Matt and Omar on the way over and they sat next to us in the auditorium.

 

After a rather long introduction from one of the associated professors (we got the feeling he was stalling for them to get ready), the performances began. “Fables of an Indian Love Story” told through dance that love can overcome evil. We witnessed a truly beautiful mix of traditional and modern dance with some exceptionally talented artists, as well as ornate costumes and a lovely story. Our hosts did a thorough job of making sure we were “in the light” as far as the story and traditions went.

 

Afterwards we trekked to the Sam Noble Museum (a long walk for sure) to the dinner that naturally followed. And among the deserts was a particularly good shredded carrot dish. I ate it. I loved it. I suppose more than the event itself, though, which was a great time and experience, I remember being more connected with all of my friends there. Would very highly recommend (if you don’t mind a bit of a wait!).

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Interview with Pabel Vivanco

Pabel Vivanco, President of the Peruvian Students Association.

I interviewed Pabel on the 29th of April in the evening for a class of mine on the topic of leadership. He came to the dorms to be interviewed and to play card games with some of his friends. Pabel is a Senior International Studies major and a transfer student, in addition to being a very involved international student and United World College graduate/ Davis scholar.  I thought this unique perspective could prove enlightening, and I was not disappointed.

The first question I asked Pabel was, “What is a leader to you?” His response was that a leader is not the one we commonly think of as being the first to do something, to start a movement or action. Rather, this person is crazy. The real leader is the second person, who sees something good and makes something out of it. He sees a leader as not the visionary or the abstract thinker, but the person that can put ideas into practice.

“Would you consider yourself a leader?” I asked him next. To this he responded, “I’m the crazy person.” Leaders are overrated, he said, and in an organization everybody plays a role. In an organization everyone is the leader, and every member should be able and necessary to participate and add to the experience of every other person.

At this, I asked him whether he expected things, therefore, from other people, and what those expectations were, if anything. Being committed, he said, was the most important thing for a member. Compromise is essential. This doesn’t mean valuing someone else’s time, or even respecting it, but honoring it. If you say you will be somewhere, you must be there, because not being there would place more value on your own time, and dishonor theirs.

I asked Pabel, how did you come to be in the place you are, both in the situation and position? He said after thinking a bit that where he is now is due to “50% personality, 50% luck, or maybe since I found my faith in God and Jesus, purpose.” He went on, saying that 5 years ago you wouldn’t bet a penny on him. Now, “I’m a senior and I’m passionate about my country.” He does what he does in his organization as “Not something I’m stressed about. I’m just doing it for the satisfaction” of presenting his culture and country and connecting to that which he thinks he lost a while ago, but has found anew. The starting of the Peruvian Student Association has allowed pabel to “Connect with the part of me that I was not connected with. There are some words you don’t say even with other Latin Americans in Spanish,” he said about the distinct cultural connections he has with those of his home country. The accent, the clothing, it is all important to him now that he’s found it.

In the end I asked Pabel if there was any advice he would like to give future or current leaders. He mentioned education, but eventually turned around to action. “If you have a chance to do something, and you and nervous about doing it, do it.” Don’t hold back, he said, making the most of the time you have here and now.

I learned a great deal about the was Pabel sees the world through this interview, and speaking with him more later have me an insight into his life and what brought him here to OU. I think his is a view shared by many United World College students, though it is always a variation on a theme. And I entirely agree with his stance on leadership, and I too believe that leadership is not a title, but a lifestyle, and even to call it leadership does a disservice. It is not enough to organize and beurocratize, though these are often necessary, but to engage with anything you do, in school or organizations or life generally. As he said, we are some of the privileges fraction of a percent who are exposed to culture and are able to change out worldview based on this, so it is important to understand that this is the time to act in everything we do.

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Eve of Nations

“Imagine” was the title of the 45th annual International Advisory Committee’s Eve of Nations. And it was everywhere. Advertised lamp posts, plugged at info sessions, posted in hallways, and set up at a booth in the Union for a week or two prior. And I bought it. Well, actually a friend of mine bought it (i.e. two tickets at the booth where students were selling them, and I paid her back).

On the evening of April 17th 2015, we made the pilgrimage to the Lloyd Nobel Center, where we found quite a line (we discovered that the line was for people purchasing tickets at the door and that we could go straight in, but only after much confusion and a good bit of waiting).

Yet for all the hype about this long-standing event, I came out of the Lloyd Noble center that night feeling very… underwhelmed. What we saw there didn’t seem to be “Oklahoma’s largest cultural event” as described. In fact, having experienced the United World’s Culture Night not two weeks prior, I expected a real spectacle. I was not, however, culturally blown away.

 

But before I begin my fist-shaking, it is quite worth noting that most of the acts were genuine, interesting, and well-performed by student groups and outsiders (including several dance troupes, the Arashi Taiko Japanese drummers, a Native American dancer, and many appearances by the United World).

 

Unfortunately, the issues I had with the experience as a whole outweighed these good parts. Perhaps my experience was skewed by both the build-up prior and my experiences with other international showcases, but in any case, my grievances:

 

The Venue.

The Lloyd Noble Center is an 11,562-seat arena. Eve of Nations had at most a few hundred attendees. When I go to a cultural event, I intend to get the atmosphere of the experience not only from the stage and presenters, but also from my fellow audience members. We were so spread out, I may as well have been streaming the event online in my dorm. Even in the front row of the area in which we were allowed to sit, we were (if my perception of distance isn’t way off) several hundred feet away from the action, making it reasonably difficult to see and thus harder to enjoy. From what I heard of some friends afterwards who were willing to pay for dinner, too, or came by a ticket otherwise (Some organizations were giving them out, including OU Cousins) about a fourth of those sitting in the dinner-is-served area were facing away from the stage. And I don’t know how much the organizers paid to rent that place or if it was donated, but an $8 entrance fee to sit several hundred feet from anything happening and having the commotion of an eating audience in-between was not worthwhile.

 

The Simultaneous Dinner

Dinner and a Show! Lovely, right? Well, for $20, I think I might have done better. Those who got dinner (mediocre, said a couple of my friends afterwards) were seated more closely – a big plus. But those who didn’t? We got to watch everyone else eat. It felt very… I think “plebeian” describes my sentiments accurately. There was even a pretty gate between the audiences, to keep the social classes properly separated.

I joke, of course, but the sentiment remains. While a good idea, it simply didn’t work out.

 

The Program

As far as program material goes, the IAC did not deliver. If I had come for the full spectacle I could have expected from the location alone, I would have been quite disappointed. Each act was good, but they didn’t really flow or mesh, and the dancing was made into a competition, rather than simple expressive and entertaining performance. That and the paper programs handed out were both confusing and inaccurate (though the graphics were pretty). As far as the material from the United World goes, they did a much more condensed version than at Culture Night, and the fashion show I’d mostly seen. The fashion show itself was too long and suffered severe technical problems (mostly timing with a prepared video slide show).

Now, I did high school theatre: I’ve seen much worse. But it was still enough to throw me out of immersion, and when it comes to something like a barely visible fashion show, keeping my attention is already a feat.

 

Now, I wouldn’t complain so much without offering solutions, and the ones I have are (in my opinion) rather simple ones.

  1. Do the show in a smaller auditorium, in the Union or elsewhere on campus to cut on price, decrease distance for students, and add a more close-up and personal atmosphere. Simpler is almost always better.
  2. Make the dinner a separate event or put it elsewhere after the show, or else put everyone in the same general area, a section for dining and one for viewing. I don’t want to be a second-class citizen just because I didn’t want the food.
  3. Either practice the show’s patterns more as a group (understandably very difficult) or leave room for flexibility and error. So many punctuality problems could have been avoided by replacing the video slide show with a manually operated one in real-time. Meshing performances is again helpful, but difficult. And my opinion: culture is not a competition. Apples and oranges rule here.
  4. As a side, if an event is not all it’s cracked up to be, don’t say it is. Advertise, sure, but disappointment does not breed continued success. Nor does “tradition” sustain a show.

 

All-in-all, my fullest praise to the performers and the idea of the event, but its execution left some things to be desired. If Eve of Nations wants to retain its current audience and draw new viewers, it should take some hints from the United World and its culture night.

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OU Cousins, Part II

First semester, Cousins was a full success. It went as planned (by them, not as I had anticipated) and nothing really out of character seemed to happen.

 

Second semester was a different story. As usual, 18 hours of classes plus who-knows-what-else caught up to me and I entirely missed out on the Cousins matching. But I ended up getting involved anyway.

 

I was taking a class, Understanding the Global Community (which I would highly recommend, personally), and sat next to a guy pretty regularly who later introduced himself as Sung-Chan (but wanted me just to call him Sung).

 

At one point he came into class with a box of chocolates. They were of a brand called Ritter Sport, which, as a rule, is sparse yet existent in America, but prominent in Germany. I hadn’t really noticed at the time that he had been gone for a couple of weeks (I didn’t know him well at all), and had been travelling in Germany. He offered me one.

 

And let me say, Ritter Sport is one of my favorites. I think he was surprised that I recognized it, and we talked about it. I told him of my family in Germany, he told me about his trip there and his studies here.

 

Sung-Chan was from Taiwan, studying in America for a semester, but not really for the credit as much as the experience. This allowed him, I suppose, to take Understanding the Global Community, and thus for me to meet him.

 

A little about Sung personally: He’s constantly smiling. I don’t know a time that he didn’t greet me with a bright, wide grin. And he’s always thanking, even for the littlest things.

 

We greeted each other and talked often thereafter. I soon learned that he too was involved in Cousins, and that his Cousin had lost contact or fallen out, or I don’t know what. We thought, this can work. (comment: when I say Cousin, I mean OU Cousin. A little weird)

 

We ended up doing many things together over the semester, most of which involved us just chatting for a while, but also included events, Cousins or otherwise. At one point I showed him my humble dorm, and he invited me for dinner at his apartment in traditions. There I met again George, from France, the Cousin of my friend Gary whom I’d met the last semester at a Cousins board game night, and Sung’s roommate.

 

I’ll say: Sung is an excellent cook. He made Miso soup (my first experience with that) and fried dumplings. Then he had me try these strange sour dried fruits. The packaging was all in Chinese, so I had no clue what they were, and he didn’t know their name in English. But the distinctive feel of the hard seed pit inside quickly tipped me off that they were a variety of plum. He told me about how his family worshipped (if that’s the right word?) their ancestors; this really had me captivated, and was my first direct and personal exposure to this kind of belief, among other things. I really enjoyed my time with him (and several of his friends), and I think we learned and grew a lot from each other.

 

 

Just to further advertise for Ritter Sport (no, I don’t work for them), they have a really nice website: http://www.ritter-sport.de/en/

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Essay on Diversity, Part III: Reflection

This final section is an analysis of the previous two, and a final personal reflection on the event.

 

Part 3: Reflection

 

The controversial “Affirmative Action” seems, based on these articles as evidence and the demand for diversity by groups represented at the Price Town Hall Meeting, to be an acceptable solution to the problem of a lack of diversity on campus, but it can only go so far. It is our job, each one, as students at the University and as citizens of our respective areas to reach out to those who are different to make them feel welcome and unified with the group as a whole. It only takes a few to be the connectors and reach out to those who feel like outsiders.

 

It is also necessary for not just a few of us to be able to listen and understand others and the problems they face from day to day. Something I really picked up from the Town Hall Meeting is that we often need to just take a break and come together as a community to discuss, tell, and listen. Events like the Town Hall meeting encourage people to speak out in a safe and accepting environment.The only way some problems become known, such as those many revealed in the meeting, is by being outright stated by those experiencing them. Something our society generally lacks is a willingness to discuss and reason out our problems with one another, at least as I have seen it. Instead of addressing issues, we sweep them aside to be dealt with when something bursts like the SAE video, and only then do we come out and start talking about our problems together. A problem that arises that I think is essential to understanding discrimination against Native Americans specifically on campus and in broader society is that an underrepresentation of Native Americans or an isolation from broader society disallows their opinions to be heard. A byproduct of this becomes a presumed understanding of their culture without basis and a subsequent misinterpretation of how these people are able to interact with the rest of society.

 

It is, on the other hand, just as important, if not more so, to be open to the words of those speaking and to try to understand them from their viewpoint. The personal relationships built with people of diversity logically always outweigh a few passing acquaintances, and helps to not just have a wide variety of viewpoints and methods of discourse and problem-solving, but also to have a deep and broad understanding of the ways others think, in order that we might think in that way ourselves.

 

It really struck me when I heard our Native American Students speak. I always thought there was something fishy about our calling ourselves the “Sooners,” that is, the cheaters who ran before those who played by the rules and claimed the land with the “boom.” But this view was entirely exclusive of the Native Americans who had been here for god-knows-how-long before any of this had been conceived, and I never would have noticed this had I not had it pointed specifically out to me. This viewpoint I had never considered ended up radically altering my view of the university, its culture, and the history surrounding the position we are all in today. There is so much I will never know and could never come close to understanding about the way we live in this world together, but it is just this that we have to try to do.

 

It surprises me to find out things like this. I know it shouldn’t, but every time I discover a new side of an issue, it does surprise me. Little bits of racism like this happen all around us, all day, every day in the people with whom we interact. And no one ever notices until it’s been pointed out. I think it is vitally important, therefore, to keep looking for problems to fix, little by little. The more we broaden our understanding of those around us, the better off we all become. One thing I can say for sure: for better or for worse, I’ll think twice before responding to a shout of “Boomer!”

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