Every year, the College of International Studies hosts Eve of Nations, the largest event for the International Advisory Committee of the year. Eve of Nations is an awesome event with catering, a fashion show, and a multitude of dance performances that all honor and celebrate the cultures of other countries. I got an insider view of Eve of Nations, as I worked with the International Programming office as an intern this semester, so I helped with the background planning, set up, execution, and debrief of the event. The night of, I sold tickets for the first part of the show, but was finished in time to watch part of the fashion show and the dance performances. The students involved were mesmerizing, with their energy and enthusiasm for their cultures. The fashion show was jaw-dropping, with so many different unique exhibitions of cultural dress. Even better were the dance performances, which allowed the international organizations to showcase their talent through sharing their cultural background with the audience. From the Japanese Student Association’s traditional river dance to the India Student Association’s electric modern Bollywood-Hip Hop mashup, the dancers and the audience were captivated by an energy of celebration and joy as they shared an experience honoring the great diversity of the world we live in.
College has been a wonderful experience thus far, due to my great friends, engaging classes, and my involvement with on-campus organizations. One of my favorite clubs is Model United Nations, which has been a crucial part of my experience this semester. Whereas last semester we had only the middle school conference to plan for and run, this semester we had our own collegiate-level conference to attend and a high school conference to host.
On Tuesday, February 21st, I got in a car with three other people I barely knew to drive 8 hours to St. Louis, MO, where the Midwest Model United Nations conference was held. I was intimidated by the drive and the conference, both of which were completely new experiences to me. However, that trip turned out to be one of the highlights of my freshman year. I got to represent France to the United Nations committee on Trade and Development and work with other college students from around the country (and around to world) to create innovative solutions to economic issues. The conference was heavily collaborative, and most of the students in my committee compromised and worked together to draft practical (practice) legislation that could benefit many countries involved. We ended up drafting two resolutions, one introducing a framework of accountability for corporate social responsibility and another increasing development in rural areas to allow access to global markets. In addition to the awesome professional experience I gained from working with these driven, intelligent students, I made many long-lasting friendships. I still have the contact information of many of my committee members, who are spread around the country attending many different colleges. I’m good friends with one of the people from our car ride, and really close friends with another. The trip was a little tricky to coordinate with class and homework, but infinitely worth it for the fun I had and the friends I made.
Upon returning from St. Louis, we began to prepare for the high school conference in March. I was assigned to co-chair a general assembly on weapons proliferation with a few good friends. We wrote a topic guide and prepared the room, and the conference began. As a someone who has experienced a high school conference as a high school student, it was a really unique and wonderful experience to be on the flip side. This time, instead of being the one debating and writing, I was the one guiding and editing. It was very rewarding to give the knowledge I gained through my years in high school to the students and help them to write great resolutions. I was a little concerned about the ability of high school students to focus and perform at a high level, but those kids far exceeded my expectations. From the first caucus to adjourning the conference, they were engaged and excited about the work they were doing, which made chairing a fun and rewarding experience.
I joined OU Model UN looking to continue to have fun with conferences and to make friends. I had no idea the extent to which I would grow to love the club and the people in it. I have made amazing, close friends and have had unforgettable experiences. What started as an extracurricular activity has become a staple of my life in college. Next year, I’m excited to get even more involved in OU Model UN with the great friends I’ve made by acting as Vice President. I can’t wait to continue to enrich my own skills and those of others. Until next year, Model UN!
In high school, I did not have many life-changing experiences. I mostly had my head down and did whatever I was told to do to get good grades, build my resume, or get into college. However, one of the few really influential things I did was join Model UN. I joined without a real understanding of what Model UN is or what it means. MUN is a mock conference of the United Nations where high schools or colleges represent different countries to committees. For example, my sophomore year was the first year of my involvement, and I represented Iraq to the World Intellectual Property Organization. I wrote resolutions and caucused and quickly became 1. generally overwhelmed, and 2. completely in love.
Coming to college, I knew that I wanted to continue my involvement in Model UN, as it is one of the driving forces for my interest in a career in the field of international relations. So, bright-eyed, I joined the club and eagerly showed up to the first meeting. It was definitely a shock that not many people came to the first meeting. Anchorage high schools and UAA (University of Alaska Anchorage) have a very robust Model UN program that hundreds of students participate in each year, so it was definitely discouraging to see only a few people come to the first meeting, and even less continue to come to meetings. However, the people that have stuck with it are just as passionate as me about MUN, and it has been an awesome community to be involved in.
A few weeks ago, we hosted the Midwest Model UN Conference for local middle school students. I didn’t really know how to prepare, if at all, so I just went to the forum building, ready to wing it. It was the first time I have been on the administrative side (monitoring the students and leading the meeting rather than debating resolutions and caucusing). It was a shift in perspective, and it was so rewarding to see the middle school kids passionately but respectfully debate their opinions on international issues. I even got to lead the committee meeting for the second session, so I stood up at the front of the room and instructed the kids on what we were doing and what the proper procedure for various actions was. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to leading another committee in March when we host the high school conference.
In the mean time, we are preparing for our own collegiate-level conference February 22nd to 25th. We’re going to St. Louis for the Midwest Model United Nations conference. This week we signed up for committees, and my first choice was the Women, Peace, and Security session of the Security Council and my second choice is the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees) because I have a special passion for refugee issues and have represented India to the UNHCR in the past. This year we’re representing France, so we’re looking forward to a busy and heated conference, especially in regards to refugee issues. I’m beyond excited to road trip with these wonderful people to St. Louis and experience what I love at a whole new level.
Academically, I tend to struggle with open-ended assignments. I much prefer a set structure and guided questions that I can answer and expand on, and interpretive questions and assignments make me uneasy. However, just because they are difficult for me doesn’t make them any less valuable or important to my education. In fact, throughout high school and now college, many of the most memorable and important assignments I have done have been introspective and broad. It was no different with the digital story; at first, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities and had no idea what story to tell. With time and reflection, I eventually sat down to write my script, and it practically wrote itself. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t completely relevant to all people, but it is honest and earnest and an accurate reflection of my metacognition and worldview. As such, I am pretty happy with the way it has turned out so far. I think I show a wide range of emotions and shed light on an often implicit bias in the world today.
I am also really excited to share part of my Grandma’s story with the class, as she is one of the people I most love and admire in this world. It was really special to me to reminisce about my time with her, especially considering that I still visit her once a week when I’m home and now haven’t seen her in person for about three months. Even though the digital story is an academic assignment, it also allowed me to put my personal emotions and personality into it, which I really enjoy.
Finally, I had the privilege of visiting Germany with my mom last year, so since my story is also about Germany, I thought it would be really cool to include those photos in the video. I’m super excited about them because I think they really show the beauty, practicality, and urbanity of Berlin and Germany more generally. They also have quite a bit of emotion attached to them because that trip was a major highlight in my life and many of the photos are of me and my mother or me and one of my best friends, Franzi Otto.
The only concern I have at this point is changing the monotony of all the pictures with a video, which I don’t have at this point. This weekend, however, I plan to FaceTime my grandmother both to see her and chat with her over Thanksgiving and to get a clip of her demeanor and voice to include in my video.
I am so thankful for the Global Engagement Fellowship program for many reasons. I have found such an amazing community of fellow students, professors, and advisors; I have gained access to classes and discussions that are challenging and fulfilling; and I have financial support to make my dream of studying abroad feasible. Another reason I am so grateful to have been afforded this opportunity is because of it’s usefulness in both educating myself in the field I would like to work in and as an accomplishment I can be proud of.
I have a few different ideas for my career path. The first main interest that I can see myself turning into a path I’d like to take for life is psychology, whether educational, personality, or clinical. I am very interested in researching psychological disorders, especially more severe disorders such as bipolar or schizophrenia. If I decide to take this career path, I would really like to be able to study and research all over the world to diversify my studies and really get a broad and more accurate picture of mental health issues around the world. My experience in GEF will give me a chance to apply to the Fulbright program, in which I would love to conduct a research project on mental health and the psychology of guilt in Germany.
Another passion of mine that I would love to pursue in a professional setting is international affairs and conflict resolution. One of the most influential experiences I have had, both in high school and college, is Model United Nations. I am especially passionate about refugees and the UNHCR, but would love to be involved in international affairs at any level. I think the GEF program will allow me to become more knowledgeable in this area and to test out the field of conflict resolution and diplomacy to make sure that the reality of the career matches what I want out of it.
Finally, I would be really interested in putting these two seemingly dichotomous interests together to study cross-cultural communication. I am very interested in psychology in a more macro-level context with the perspective of international cultural differences.
While I am so grateful for this program and its many benefits, I also hope to actively take full advantage of these. The other day I went to the College of International Studies Career Prep and Networking Fair. I met a lot of great people and received some helpful resources to start putting my career goals into action and am so excited to apply for an internship with CIS, an internship with the State Department, and look into the Peace Corps. I’m so excited to do my research and begin looking forward to my future!
What do you think of the discussion we’ve had on the importance – and the challenges – of trying to do good abroad? Does it impact the goals you have for your own international travels?
I, like many other people, often get caught up in the flurry of my life and all my worries and joys, and forget about my relative position in life. I also, like many others, sometimes receive a wake-up call that makes me want to go into the world and lift everyone out of poverty, and build wells, and learn from incredible people around the world. Unfortunately, I, like many others, often fail to translate this shock and deep compassion into action. I have my brief moment of feeling righteously indignant, then go back to my relatively comfortable, safe, privileged life. However, this time, with the help of my professors and classmates, I hope to break that cycle of inaction and actually put my feelings and perspectives towards good use. I’m not saying I’m going to buy a plane ticket tomorrow and go build a school in Malawi, but I am saying that I’m committing myself to either spending time and money aiding with issues here in Norman, or supporting others who are doing good abroad. I’m simply saying that this time, I’m not going to let that righteous indignation peter out, I’m going to make practical use of it that can hopefully make an impact in one way or another by dedicating a number of hours each month to helping solve issues within our community here in Norman and then expanding that once I go abroad.
Even if altruism isn’t necessarily as effective as possible, I think there’s always value in having compassion and kindness for others, especially if the people wanting to help are listening to the people who want to be helped. In this regard, I completely agree with the Ted talk we watched on catering aid to the desires of the people rather than imposing what we think they want on them. I also think it’s a good middle ground to participate in helping others in ways you enjoy. As such, whether here or abroad, I’d love to teach English or help in the school systems, because I’m passionate about helping students succeed. I would also love to work more generally with human rights through, hopefully, working with non-governmental organizations such as the United Nations. I would love to work resolutions that implement broad, shallow change because that’s what I am most dedicated to and excited about. In this way, even though I might not be as effective as possible, I would be able to help others while also fulfilling my personal goals and desires. As far as working/ traveling abroad, I would love to teach English while abroad. As I will probably be spending a semester in Germany, I will have the unique opportunity to work with Syrian refugees, as there are over 1 million Syrian refugees in Germany today. I would love to help in the refugee camps however I can. I would especially be interested in teaching the Syrian refugees English and/or German. I have no way of knowing if this is a desire of Syrians in Germany, but I have watched a video about how many Syrians would like to integrate into German society and apps that help them get jobs, find housing, and learn German, so I think there’s some demand for help in these areas.
Even though I have a few moral doubts about Peter Singer’s suggestions on motivation and even methods of giving, I truly believe that the heart of what he’s saying is true: we, as fellow human beings, have a moral responsibility to aid others if they ask for it.
Effective altruism, which Singer discusses a lot in his Ted talk, is an interesting concept that, I think, can help lead to a much greater impact on communities who need and want help with their struggles. Instead of giving money or time to organizations that are proven to be less effective, a little research can help people who want to get involved to find more efficient and impactful organizations to sponsor. In the end, if a person is committed to aiding others, any good impact is great, but if their impact can reach even further, why not? I personally feel that since I lead a very privileged and sheltered life, that it is a moral obligation for me to support development and alleviation of poverty, starvation, and hunger however I can.
However, although I agree with Peter Singer in theory, I disagree with him slightly in practice. Singer made a clear statement that really struck me: effective altruism is important because it “combines both the heart and the heart.” I agree whole-heartedly that both emotional and rational thinking should be incorporated into efforts to aid others. Without both, a person could end up doing more harm than good. However, in my opinion, Singer continues to account for the head, but fails to continue to account for the heart. He argues that in order to truly be an effective altruist, one has to devote themselves to the most effective, and only the most effective, path, which I disagree with. Rather than choosing a career path or way to give aid that is completely effective but gives no personal enjoyment or passion, I think a person, including myself, should take their talents, passions, and skills and put them to use in aiding others. Rather than going to school to become a banker so I can give huge sums of money to organizations, I believe that I can have enough of an impact by going to school to learn how to help people who struggle with mental illness. I think in order to be the most “effective” altruist, a person should balance their own desires and abilities with effective and far-reaching projects and organizations.
Secondly, Singer argues that effective altruism can become the basis for self-esteem and has the potential to fix all emotional problems. I think this view is problematic, because it frames giving as an escape route, as a cure-all, and as a form of salvation, and as my mom always says, “Ciera, there is a lot of power simply in the way you mentally frame a situation.” Though giving is a good, morally upright thing to do, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling fulfilled by it, no one should base their whole identity and wage all their problems against altruism. I believe that as with the act of giving, balance is the key to motivation behind giving. Instead of becoming the cornerstone of life and identity, I think giving should be another aspect of life, along with career, relationships, family, etc. It also sets up a challenge to long-term sustainability of giving, because if someone believes that giving to a charity or organization can “cure” their depression, or fix their self esteem issues, or whatever else it may be, they are destined to discover that that is not the case, that altruism is healthy and good, but no magic potion.
So, what does this mean for me? I have to be honest, I am a relatively selfish person. I have a lot of empathy for others, but have a disconnect between these feelings and my actions, so this discussion has really reminded me that people appreciate being understood and heard, but they also appreciate food, and medicine, and a bed to sleep on. With that being said, I also want to be realistic and make sure that I keep the balance that I personally believe is so important, especially so as to not burn out on giving. I don’t know the exact form it will take, but I tentatively would like to pledge a certain amount of my income to a proven effective charity that I have a personal connection with, and continue to support them throughout my career and life, to use my head and my heart to make a difference where it is needed and desired.
In general, I’m concerned about loneliness and adjusting to a new place, new time, and new people. I already have a hard time with change, so I’m definitely concerned with the strength of my emotional capacity. However, there are many resources available to me to ensure that I am able to function and thrive in my new environment.
First, I already take advantage of the counseling and medication services here at OU, and plan to, with the help of these services, carry over my care to wherever I end up abroad. With a solid base of care, I’ll be able to work on my own mental and emotional health. The other resource I have that I can apply abroad is self-care. With the knowledge that healthy eating and exercise, journalling, and adequate sleep are essential to a healthy emotional and mental state. Finally, I also plan to apply realistic goal-setting to make sure I’m trying my best, but also allowing myself space to relax and take care of myself.
Another concern I have with study abroad is practicing my German. I typically have a hard time challenging myself to utilize my German abroad, especially since Germans tend to be more fluent in English than Americans are in German. However, with the understanding that I’m human and mistakes are alright, I can make a concerted effort to converse with employees of stores, train stations, and local people. I plan to immerse myself in German and try my absolute best to use it as much as possible and be forgiving of my own mistakes.
Last Friday night, I had the privilege of attending International Prom, which was sponsored by the International Advisory Committee. I had several dates; some of the lunch bunch got together to get ready and attend the dance together, and I also brought two of my good friends from my floor. It was one of the funnest nights of my college experience so far and I’m so glad I got to go, and thankful to the IAC for giving us this awesome opportunity (also shout out to Olivia and the rest of the volunteers that made the night so fun). On the other hand, it was also an invaluable experience that illustrated culture and cultural exchange to me in a more personal and different way than I had previously encountered.
One of the most important aspects of prom is the music played during the dance. When we first walked in, there was an amazing song playing that, with a little research, we found out was by Sardokie, a rapper from Ghana who often raps in his first language, Twi. Throughout the night, there was a successful mix of American, Spanish, French, African, etc. music that melded both the typical prom experience with the international focus.
Another important aspect is the clothing. Many people were dressed up for the dance, in many different ways. Some girls had traditional prom dresses, some had more casual short dresses, some had head coverings or headbands. Many boys had suits and ties on, one man had a traditional tunic and head covering, one man even had a kilt on. Every person I saw looked comfortable and content in their own self, whether that took the form of American dress or another cultural dress.
The underlying epiphany that I had at the international prom is that the International Advisory Committee managed to execute an event that beautifully melds American culture with that of many of the international students we have here at OU. Rather than focusing only on one or the other, both cultures were acknowledged and respected. From music and dress, to the crowning of Prom King and Prom Queen, to the people break dancing and proudly demonstrating their own cultural dance, the international students got to experience a typical American prom, and the American students got to engage with other cultures in a fun and social context that I am so glad I got to be a part of.
Before I came to college, I was warned by lovingly concerned friends and relatives that I was probably going to start out the semester on a high of excitement and hit a wall of homesickness about a month or so in. I tried to prepare myself for this experience, but for whatever reason, the process I went through was the inverse. At the beginning of the semester, I was literally sick with worry, loneliness, and homesickness. It was only at about the one-month mark that I started to really enjoy myself and live in the moment, truly having the fun, carefree college experience I so desperately wanted. It was largely due to my friends that I was able to hit the turning point and start to thrive in college. I am so thankful for the friends I have been able to make, through various avenues. Every day, a bunch of Global Engagement freshman and I go to lunch and hang out. They have been such a constant source of happiness, enjoyment, and stability, in my life, and I’m so thankful for them.
As far as academics, which are my primary concern, I have struggled a little bit with the difference in infrastructure between high school and college. I never really had to do much homework or studying in high school because we had class every day, so it has been an adjustment to learn how to teach myself some of the material and get through long reading assignments. Overall I have been able to adapt to college expectations and perform relatively well, which was a major concern I had coming into university.
My goal for the rest of the semester and year is to not become complacent. I want to continue to be engaged and think critically about my international relations classes, clubs, and events. I also want to stretch my world views and shift my paradigms, and to be open to having these ideas and beliefs change. Finally, I want to become more outgoing and driven, especially as it pertains to my German. I’m working on reaching out to people more and striking up conversations, in German and in English, and I want to renew my commitment to this life goal and skill development.