Please get involved. I know you aren’t doing enough. It is not enough to talk about politics with friends and family, discuss events with classmates or colleagues, or post on social media from time to time. No. You must organize or participate in peaceful protests, volunteer as a poll worker, vote, actively register new voters, write personalized letters to your local representative, continue to sign petitions, and increase your knowledge base. By this I mean, keep learning about the issues, and don’t let yourself be deterred. Read books, watch documentaries, ask questions, and be sure to not only historically contextualize what you see today but also remember to look at today’s events from different perspectives that question if you see that just and equitable society that you want to live in. It’s important now as well as in the future to keep asking whose interests do certain decisions, statements, policies, etc. serve.
The assassination by the U.S. of Iran’s most powerful general, Qasem Soleimani, has caused an escalation in tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Amidst the conflict, Iraq has been caught in the middle with the U.S. having attacked Iran by bombing Iraq (Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike), then Iran having attacked the U.S (Iran attacked U.S. bases in Iraq). by bombing Iraq. In the days following the attacks, the international community has distanced themselves from the assassination order and urged restraint.
For context, tensions have been rising since the beginning of the Trump administration. The administration moved to cut off Iran’s oil exports, pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, and imposed oppressive sanctions. Although President Trump and Iran have released statements to stop the escalation and avoid a military response, Iran’s proxy threat (their goal is to force the U.S. and western forces out of the Middle East for good by any means necessary) will be a concern for the U.S. moving forward.
In reading the international news headlines, there is a lack of direct scrutiny by the international community to this day on China’s Uighur crisis. Just last year, the United Nations reported that 1 million Uighur or more were being held in brutal “re-education” detention camps. Yet, nothing has changed.
The Chinese government has been aiming to change Uighur Muslims’ political thinking, erase their belief in Islam, and ultimately reshape their identities via torture, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrest and detention, gang rapes, systemic sexual assaults, and murder. There has been a Human Rights Watch Report attesting to these facts, satellite image evidence, and several testimonies from escapees.
Although some countries condemned Chinas’s human rights abuses, the momentum to raise concerns or follow through with economic sanctions to put pressure on China has not lasted. The international community’s response could instead be likened to reluctance and hesitance to criticize Beijing publicly.
How much is the international community willing to ignore if the group being religiously persecuted is Muslims and not Christians? And to what extent is the international community willing to turn a blind eye to one of the worst human rights crises of modern times due to our economic ties to China?
Islamaphobia is an epidemic, and the international community has a bad case of it. The international community needs to be an outspoken critic of religious persecution regarding Muslims, as they do other religions. No government should be able to tell people what religion to practice or persecute those who don’t comply.
As a new international group to join, I tried going to the French club. Although the times they settled on having the club meetings ended up being at times I had class, I was glad to attend while I could. I hope to go again in the Spring so that I can continue practicing French. Ever since I got the opportunity to study abroad in Clermont-Ferrand, France for a semester, I realized the difficulty of maintaining language fluency. Being a part of the French club allows me to have conversations as I once did in Clermont-Ferrand. I miss the ability to speak French every day, as that was the best way to not only learn the language but maintain it.
On October 23, 2019, Master Tijan Dorwana, a renowned gyil artist, captivated everyone in the Pitman Recital Hall with a traditional African xylophone performance. He intertwined stories of his homeland with both traditional and original songs to provide the audience with an insight into the history and culture of Northern Ghana. This hour of storytelling through music was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Between classes, I kept returning to the South Oval so that I could go to Confucius Institute Day. I remember my first memory of the day during my Freshman year. I was so in awe of all the delicious food, talented performers, and the overall organization of the tables you could visit to learn from (e.g. craft tables). This year was no different, and I’m happy that we have this day on campus.
The Confucious Insitute represents the partnership OU has with Beijing Normal University. It often puts together events to promote Chinese culture and is an example of how the international groups on campus make OU great.
While in Edinburgh, I visited the Royal Mile, Old Town, and spotted the sights where JK Rowling is speculated to have drawn inspiration from for the Harry Potter books.
Both perfectly overcast and small enough not get lost in with professional bagpipe players populating every street corner, Edinburgh indeed had a certain magic to it.
Located at the end of the Royal Mile, I started to climb up Arthur’s Seat, the remains of an extinct volcano that last erupted 350 million years ago. Some claims say Arthur’s Seat may have been where King Arthur’s legendary castle in Camelot was located whereas others say the name stems from Gaelic to mean “height of Arrows” that may have evolved into Archer’s seat then Arthur’s Seat.
There was a single dirt trail that gradually increased in incline until I reached Arthur’s Seat. It was the same path that led the descent back down. At its highest point, I saw Edinburgh Castle and ultimately a panoramic view of Edinburgh. The winds caught high speeds at Arthur’s Seat, but since it was the summer in Scotland, the temperature was in the 50s-60s.
All in a Day’s worth
Since I was staying in Dublin, I booked a day excursion so that I could see Galway and the Cliffs of Moher.
Although I was only in Galway, a harbor city located on Ireland’s west coast, for only an hour, I loved it. You could walk the streets where Irish folk musicians and dancers would entertain. You could explore the seemingly endless supply of traditional pubs and shops. You could observe some of the city’s maintenance of medieval city walls. On this bus tour, I even met a Study Abroad advisor Ally and a couple from Texas. It was interesting to see other Americans abroad, as for most of the semester, the amount of Americans in Clermont-Ferrand were sparse.
Cliffs of Moher
Next, I was off to the Cliffs of Moher– Ireland’s most visited attraction, and of course the site of the caves used in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. For some context, ‘Mothar’ (meaning ‘the ruin of a fort’ in old Gaelic) was a ruined fort razed during the Napoleonic Wars (in the early 1800s) to make a signal tower at Hag’s Head. Hag’s Head, located at the southern point of the Cliffs, was strategic because of its peculiar rock formation. The rock formation resembles a woman’s head looking out to sea, thus providing a useful vantage over much of the cliffs.
Walking some of the 5 miles (or 8km as the crow flies) that the Cliffs stretched upon, I could only describe seeing the Cliffs of Moher as witnessing pure beauty unfold before me.
The Cliffs of Moher’s highest point reaches 702 feet (214 m). So it was no surprise that I could see collections of islands and mountains in the distance. Though, I must caution that if you plan to visit the Cliffs, not to get too close to the edge. The Tragic Reality of Deaths at the Cliffs of Moher puts into perspective the dangers that coexist with the breathtaking nature of the Cliffs.
The Irish adore Barack Obama
On the walking tour, I learned about Irish history and their fascination with former President Barack Obama. Obama had only come to Ireland for a day, but 12 hours was all it took. Unsurprisingly, Obama’s ancestry, like most Americans, had been traced back to Ireland. So he traveled up to his distant Irish cousin to share a pint of Guinness.
But this trip would live on beyond the day Obama spent there. On the ride back to Dublin from the Moher cliffs, the day excursion I took stopped at the Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall who dub themselves the ancestral home of Barack Obama.
The Plaza had authentic Irish food, Michelle and Barack Obama cardboard cutouts, and a museum dedicated to Obama’s visit (complete with the glass of Guinness he drank out of). Finally, my understanding of Ireland’s fascination with Obama had come full circle. Obama, like previously adored US presidents with Irish ancestral roots like JFK and Bill Clinton, were symbols of a Democratic party, strong with immigrant party ideals. But, do those other presidents have such a glorious folk song written about them by the Irish themselves: There’s No One As Irish As Barack O’Bama?
Howth was a cool opportunity to see a bustling fishing village. While there, I walked the Howth Cliff Walk Loop where I saw Howth Summit and Bailey lighthouse. Then I ended the visit with the best fish and chips I’d ever had in a nearby park where several people were doing the same. Just watch out for seabirds like this European herring gull. Albeit being a delight to see, these birds will steal your fish and chips if given the opportunity.
Getting Around All this Time
As a final word, I got the LEAP visitor card when I arrived in Dublin. The LEAP visitor card includes unlimited travel on the DART (train), Dublin Bus, Airlink (to and from the airport), Commuter Rail, Luas, and Go-Ahead Ireland routes in Dublin. The LEAP visitor card is an excellent option if you prefer not to rent a car.
Landing in Amsterdam, I was surprised to learn that navigating was reasonably straightforward. I knew what to do, and getting lost was a thing of the past.
We took a canal cruise, walking tour, and time to eat their famous dutch pancakes (and fries)! To do something out of the ordinary, we bought tickets for the Amsterdam Dungeon.
The Amsterdam Dungeon provided a fun way to learn about a city’s dark past. The guide took the group through a series of rooms where strange characters exhibited what it would be like in that time in history for that city in a scarily fun manner.