OU Cousins

It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving…

so I’m taking some down time to reflect on what I’ve been thankful for this semester at OU (and simultaneously tackle some long-procrastinated to-do’s). Apart from stellar professors and my internship, I am thankful for OU Cousins for introducing me to my French pal, Emeline.

Emeline is an exchange student from Rennes, France. We met via OU Cousins and decided to make it OrgSync official so that I could practice my French with her, but we soon learned that the French language was not the only thing we held in common! It turns out we both love kiddos, queso (I introduced her to this lovely cheesy dip, by the way), and Frank Sinatra. We are both equally curious about each other’s culture, and our conversations often return to questions like “What about this? Do you guys have this in your culture?” and “Please tell me this isn’t an American stereotype in France.”

I’ve showed Emeline some of the best cuisine Norman has to offer, attended an OKC Thunder game with her, carved pumpkins, and feasted on some free Thanksgiving food thanks to OU Cousins! I love that she is so willing to experience, taste, and encounter every free event OU has to offer, even if they are cheesy or not her cup of tea. Having a cousin that is so ready to make the best of her experience makes my job pretty easy (and fun)!

Luckily, Emeline will not leave until the end of spring semester, but even so, I hope to study abroad in France. She even offered to let me room with her in Rennes if I choose to study there! It’s crazy to think that this casual club involvement has helped me forage a friendship to be the foundation of my future time abroad.

“Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe”

On May 2, I attended a lecture by Dr. Reinhard Heinisch from the University of Salzburg. As a renowned scholar of European politics, he offered a diverse and interesting account of the highly publicized phenomenon of once-fringe populist parties gaining considerable traction throughout Europe.

I’m familiar with right-wing populists parties such as the French National Front, UKIP, the Freedom Party and Alternative for Germany (along with their often humorous leaders), but Dr. Heinisch brought up a fascinating point that I did not know: several of these new parties are not right-wing and some are even far-left. This connected to his larger argument that while the media paints these parties as a connected occurrence and of similar agendas, they each possess key differences from one another. He gave six categories generally associated with the far-right (nativism, ethnocentricism, racism, heterophobia, religocentrism, and antisemetisim) and gave numerical figures for each party that reflecting their presence. The scores were all across the board. Dr. Heinisch basically wanted to prevent clumping these parties together as ideologically identical.

Despite their ideological diversity, these parties tend to share similar organization and methods. They all: “call into question liberal democracy, break rules and taboos, and preach nationalism.” They hate globalization (hence the latter characteristic). They tend to single out a group or occurrence on which to blame society’s ills. They are often represented by one, charismatic leader (although they are actually more complex behind-the-scenes). And most insidiously, they changes their ideologies to match the voters– which is why Dr. Heinisch referred to the “populist chameleon.” I also found it interesting how the parties followed regional trends. Western European parties are far-right and target immigrants and Islam as scapegoats. Eastern European parties blame Roma groups and the “liberal West.” Lastly, Southern European parties are leftits.

To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Heinisch’s lecture. His first-hand experiences as an Austrian professor definitely shone through to make it all the more interesting. I have yet to attend a CIS lecture that didn’t leave me feeling more intrigued and informed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GEF Social Media Board Continued

This semester Sarah, Moriah, and I kept up with the GEF Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook. However, this time around was a bit fragmented due to Jaci’s departure. Despite that, we still brainstormed some pretty stellar ideas and met with challenges, as well.

Style vs. Substance?

So, this is something that I’ve debated on for awhile, regarding my own personal social media especially. While the goals and outreach differ for an organization’s account vs. one’s personal account, the power of look is undeniable in both. When mindlessly scrolling through my feed, a photo’s bold colors or a flyer’s spunky font tend to draw me in and then I consider the content. Variety, too, is an important factor in what makes a feed effective and eye-catching. It would be easy to fill our Instagram (I’m solely focusing on this platform because it is, in my opinion, the most visual) with only the text-heavy posters advertising various IAS events. While it’s great to spread the word and help out Fellows looking for International Events, I think that this limited approach would diminish the potential of our ‘gram. Which is why I want to start photographing the people and proceedings of these events, along with other the other faces of our program, to humanize & personalize our presence on social media! ALSO, TRAVEL PHOTOS LOOK AMAZING. SO Fellows, please please please send them our way!!!!

 Hear me, Hear me! (and please respond, too)

Arguably the greatest challenge running the GEF social media is getting feedback and engagement from other Fellows. This program values communication as a tool for global fluency and connection. Obviously, open communication and socialization with those we meet abroad is key– but something that is sometimes overlooked is the importance of communication at home as a part of this global awareness. Jaci intended for us to initiate and facilitate friendly debates on the Facebook page over relevant international articles. I think that if these online exchanges were to take off, we could each really expand our repertoire of knowledge and perspectives. For example, while I keep up with European politics, I know nothing about global health or scientific research in, say, the horn of Africa. The beautiful thing about this program is that its members cover a wide array of majors and interests– and we gotta share them with each other! Unfortunately, we tried two or three times to post an article with a following blurb expressing our own opinion and a discussion question, but never received much response. Not that I blame people; my schedule during the semester can be a grind and sometimes all of my brain-power is drained by classes and choir and what to make for dinner. I’m hoping that with a little persistence and even more Fellows in the fall, online discussions will take off.

“Ukraine- Still Looking Westward?”

I’ve always been fascinated by the history of Soviet Union, and while Russia makes the nightly news every-so-often (and more frequently lately), I personally don’t know much about the state of its former satellite countries. But on March 8 I attended a CIS event titled “Ukraine- Still Looking Westward? Relations with the EU, the United States and NATO” where speaker Volodymyr Dubovyk from Mechnikov National University, Ukraine offered some insight into Eastern European nation.

Professor Dubovyk, a native Ukrainian, started out by highlighting February 20th, 2014 as a key date in Ukrainian government; on that day members of Parliament voted to remove the current president in response to violent protests that broke out months earlier after the government passed Anti-Protest laws. While admitting the event’s shocking significance, Dubovyk took the tone of a seasoned veteran and shrugged it off as yet another marker in the “continual fight for Ukrainian independence.” While it’s true that Ukraine has been officially sovereign for 25 years now, its kinks are far from being worked out and political pressure, internal and external, makes it difficult for the government to settle on one, clear path. The country lacks government experience. It is in dire need of external aid. And fighting internal corruption is not an easy task for a government still in adolescence.

Clearly, Ukraine needs the counsel and cooperation of external allies to settle its internal problems. These external allies consist of both supranational bodies like the EU, UN, and NATO and individual nations. Dubovyk first dived into Ukraine’s relationship with the EU:

the European Union

While Ukraine is not a member of the EU, their communication began in 1993. However, a major milestone occurred just 12 hours before writing this: the EU approved visa-free travel for Ukrainians within Europe. Two months ago Dubovyk mentioned the possibility of this decision, but expressed skepticism because of the mounting anti-immigrant sentiment within Europe. sidenote: maybe procrastinating this blogpost was the smart thing to do??? The EU’s decision is by no means a sign of impending membership, but it is a step in the right direction for those leaders in Ukraine pushing for European integration. While the EU currently assists Ukraine some in creating and implementing reforms and even works with their public and NGOs, EU membership would offer economic advantages and a stronghold against the ever-present Russian threat. But unfortunately, the EU’s dissatisfaction with former Ukranian president, Yanokovich, and widespread Euroskepticism that’s keeping it from acting boldly mean that Ukrainian membership is indefinate. Dubovyk’s retelling of a common joke pretty much sums it up:

‘When will Turkey be part of the EU?’

‘Never.’

‘And Ukraine?’

‘After Turkey.’

NATO

Ukraine’s communication with NATO began with the 1994 Partnership for Peace. The question of membership, though, is similar to that with the EU– there are no concrete signs or steps regarding when. However, the public is pretty split about the issue while elites remain optimistic. Playing into the question of membership is the larger conflict with Russia. Trump’s presidency has further muddled things– so far there have only been mixed signals from the White House.

 

 

Macron’s Triumph: A Victory for More Than Just France

This past Sunday, May 7, witnessed a much-needed victory in world news. France’s centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron took over 2/3s of the nation’s vote, securing his place as its next leader. Perhaps the collective sigh at seeing the results was less for Macron himself, though, and more in reaction to dodging a major bullet. I try to steer clear of political statements online, but I will not hesitate to oppose Marine Le Pen and the harmful messages sent by her far-right populist party, the National Front. Her election to the presidency would have been a death sentence for the European Union and a stepping stone for the countless other populist parties sprouting across Europe, many spewing hateful rhetoric and abusing the fear of their supporters. Le Pen’s militant nationalism and supposed wish to ban headscarves are repelling enough alone, but it’s her painfully direct link to one of the most incendiary figures in recent European politics that gives me the creeps. Jean-Marie Le Pen, father to our dear Marine, helped found the party in the 1970’s. He publicly criticized the French national football team for “having too many players of color” (more than once), denied the Holocaust, and has literally been convicted six times for his xenophobic and racist speech. Needless to say, Jean-Marie’s record is far from clean, and his blood link to Marine is evident (thankfully Marine’s opinions aren’t quite as awful as her father’s– although perhaps she simply lacks the audacity to share them).

With all these cons stacked against Le Pen it’s clear why news outlets and politicians weighed the French election as a matter of international concern. Still, though, I was surprised at seeing the number of Tweets and Facebook articles being shared by my peers on social media regarding the matter. “10 reasons why I’ll never vote for Hillary Clinton” or anti-Trump memes just became part of the social media landscape leading up to the U.S. election last fall, but major occurrences like the migrant crisis and Brexit didn’t seem to break much ground on millennial profiles. So, why now? Why the French presidential election? The average 20 year old on Twitter who’s neither French nor interested in politics would likely not be drawn to the event– it wasn’t violent or glamorous. I would argue, though, that its similarities to our last election had Americans anxiously holding their breath for either a setback or validation of the ideals shared by Le Pen and Trump. I’m not saying that the two matched each other to a tee on every policy, idea, and method, but for Americans left confused and distraught by their own election, this offered the closest thing to a “re-trial” of populism, nativism, and exclusionary politics. And perhaps images of joyous Frenchmen (of all ages, genders, and ethnicities might I add) waving their flag outside the Louvre gives hope to us Americans praying for our own version of the festivities four years from now.

 

photo from global.handelsblatt.com

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CIS Forum on Democracy

On February 23, I attended the “Forum on Democracy” hosted by the College of International Studies. The event aimed to open up a dialogue on the present state of our democracy and possible threats to it– namely, our current President Donald Trump and his administration. While the planned panelists and their topics (titled “Checks and Balances: Robust or Fragile?”, “The Trump Presidency in Perspective: Autocrats and Populists in Latin America,” and “Corruption and Kleptocracy”) proved fascinating and worthwhile, it was the ten minutes of open-mike time before that shocked audience and panelists alike and ultimately painted a picture of true democracy in action.

Every University faculty member that I’ve experienced has taught or led free from bias. As proponents for free, independent thought, their political leanings must not play a part in educating students; however, their profession does not ban them from speaking out in other platforms, especially on issues as potent as those at the time of the panel (less than a month had passed since Trump’s controversial executive order and reactions to “fake news” flooded the media). It was clear by the very nature of the panel and its topics that those gathered to speak were concerned by, if not critical of, Trump’s actions. Throughout the opening remarks, though, they remained polite, restrained, and anything but accusatory– they even omitted the names of the leader(s) in question.

So it was a great shock when a graduate student from the audience took to the mic with a pre-written denunciation of the panel’s tone and intention. Professors scribbling down notes stilled their frantic movements and slouched undergrads titled their heads as the man in front labeled the event as “reactionary and leftist.” Rigid bias, and not a true concern for our democracy, fueled the CIS event, he claimed. He elaborated– “Why is this panel choosing to focus solely on the actions of our newly elected president without giving mention to candidate Hillary Clinton’s abuses of power?” “Trump’s recent actions remained within the legal framework and painting them as some threat to our constitutional democracy is reactionary and excessive.” He spoke for at least five minutes but his message was simple: what the College was doing here was neither open-minded nor out of any real urgency and he did not agree with its stance.

Here is my mental play-by-play from the sidelines: WOW this guy is bold. And NO I do not agree that Trump’s blatant disregard for facts shows no cause for concern. Neither do I see his travel ban, reeking of Islamophobia and big business, as “no big deal.” And I truly think that any gathering praising education, vigilance, and the sharing of ideas holds value for those willing to listen, regardless of its place on the political spectrum. Basically I did not share the same thoughts as our bold volunteer. Nevertheless, I was not angry at him for bringing up these points. His opposing opinions galvanized my own and made me grateful for the beautiful thing that is dissent. For dissent, although uncomfortable, lies at the foundation of the sacred concept that CIS sought to preserve through this event: democracy. The fact that this man could stand up in a room full of people that probably did not take his side and speak his mind just proves how special our nation is and how fiercely we should defend its principles. On a smaller scale, the confrontation filled me with pride at the openness and diversity of thought allowed at our school. And according to Provost Kyle Harper, democracy thrives on places of education such as the University of Oklahoma.

Toussaint and a Tragic Clash of Cultures

 

 (click on image above to access the link to the article)

I was scrolling through some articles on the New York Times website, and this one, “The Boy, the Ambassador and the Deadly Encounter on the Road,” written by Helene Cooper, was particularly compelling. The tragic story of six-year-old Toussaint, who was struck by one of fourteen S.U.V.’s escorting a UN ambassador to a nearby refugee camp earlier this year, is full of cultural contrasts, valuable insights, and questions of impressions.

Examples of village life in Mokong, Cameroon give the reader an honest image: “The women carrying their onions to market atop their heads step aside when a car approaches. The occasional stray cow ambles down the center, chased by local herders. The men with logs balance jerkily, while an entire family wobbles precariously by on one bicycle.” You get the idea that life here is rural, and yes, there is poverty, but Cooper’s description is not doused in pity or sadness.

Toussaint Birwe, thoughtful, curious, fascinated with insects, reminds me of my little brother at age six. The fondness his parents and grandmothers have for him sounds like my own family. And his dedication to an older, taller boy at school? Well, we were all there once.

Cooper’s descriptions of family life in Mokong make it seem relatable, especially in contrast to the Americans. “Gleaming white sport utility vehicles” and the “American Navy SEALs… [with] automatic weapons in their arms and bandannas covering their faces” blaze through the road leading to a refugee camp nearby. For many residents of Mokong, this is their only impression of us. In this article, my fellow Americans look more like inaccessible and all-powerful gods, like high-tech executives in a sci-fi movie. This interesting clash of cultures opens up all kinds of questions about the lasting impressions each group takes away from each other.

Of course, the American motorcade had no choice but to amass the security that it did. Their close proximity to a recent terror attack and their nationality itself were threats (another gem of this article was how informative it was about security and the local risk factors). I found this tidbit particularly interesting:

But the Islamic group has struck villages closer to the border and the Sambisa Forest, where American military officials believe most of the fighters have been hiding.Two weeks before Ms. Power’s convoy came through, Boko Haram kidnapped three children from Maroua, the capital of Cameroon’s Far North.

To the villagers in Mokong, that assault was a distant twenty miles away. To the United States security officials escorting the convoy, that attack was far too close for comfort. That difference in perception says much about African and American cultures, and the varying tolerances each has for risk.

And of course, the tragic centerpiece of this tale is little Toussaint’s death. It’s hard to discern if there is any blame to place– it happened so fast, the driver was in a rush for security reasons, Toussaint was small and should not have run into the road like he did. It would have been difficult to avoid and no one meant for it to happen. Nonetheless, anger and grief were unavoidable, especially given the immediate response. The American convey had no choice but to keep moving so as not to become a terrorist target. It left villagers confused and enraged, and definitely not in favor of their American visitors. The Americans did what they could by later returning to the village to express their sorrow and promise reparations to the family, which consisted of “$1,700 in cash; two cows; sacks of flour, rice, salt, sugar and onions; and cartons of soap and oil” along with a well outside their home. I would like to know about other cases of civilian deaths abroad as a result of the American government– how is the compensation determined? Is it a fair value? What happens if American negligence is proven?

The accident in Mokong was senseless, somber and the damage it did to Cameroonians ‘ perceptions of our country and, not to mention, the Biwre family is beyond repair. Cooper did a good job of showcasing the emotions of the villagers, while not being overly critical of the American convoy (which expressed authentic grief). Her thorough account allows readers to form their own takeaways of an incident not necessarily denouncing of the American convoy, but unfortunate in nature. I am glad that a worthwhile piece, rich in emotion, honesty, and lessons, was dedicated to Toussaint amidst so many other urgent and large scale tragedies around the world. I highly recommend this article.

 

source: The New York Times

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TED Talk: Ann Morgan

In this TED Talk Video, Ann Morgan shared her year-long journey reading a book from every country in world. Impressive right? It was her realization that she was missing out on the large majority of our world’s stories that motivated her:

“Pretty much all the titles on [my bookshelves] were by British or North American authors, and there was almost nothing in translation. Discovering this massive, cultural blind spot in my reading came as quite a shock. And when I thought about it, it seemed like a real shame. I knew there had to be lots of amazing stories out there by writers working in languages other than English.”

I believe her predicament is one shared by most of us. Looking back at Literature classes in middle and high school, “the classics” consisted of primarily Western authors. Through these stories I experienced American and European life throughout the ages, but I almost never got a taste of life outside our English-speaking bubble. Even now, I tend to gravitate more towards what is easily available or popular here, which is almost always by a Western author (I’m currently reading Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, it’s pretty British).

Morgan recognizes that the literary industry does not make it easy to read our way throughout the world– in England, only about 4.5% of work published are in translation. Even the most voracious readers, those who’ve had a Barnes & Noble membership since birth and almost always check out the maximum amount at the library, may find a dismaying uniformity in the content of their bookshelves.

So, Morgan looked outside herself for some international recommendations. And although most of us lack a large and diverse online audience, we probably know a friend or a friend of a friend who can point us in the right direction.

It turns out, if you want to read the world, if you want to encounter it with an open mind, the world will help you.

Friends, fellow-readers, and even complete strangers took to Morgan’s plea for help; they eagerly procured and translated stories that Morgan could have never found on her own. And these stories, full of foreign ideas and places and values, took Morgan on a journey nearly as exciting and valuable as traveling the world itself. They expanded her views, took her outside of herself, and most importantly, told “the tale of the potential human beings have to work together.”

Although it pales in scope to Ann Morgan’s feat, I hope to join Jaci’s reading group within the Honors College next year, and through that, discover more foreign books for a more well-rounded literary repertoire.

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I Was a NISO Peer Mentor, This is What I Learned

This semester I explored a new international group on campus when I applied to serve as a NISO Peer Mentor. NISO, the New International Student Orientation, hosts Crimson Connection, workshops, Game Nights, and other social events aimed at easing the cultural transition for the university’s international students. Throughout the semester, I kept up with my small group that I was first assigned in August!

NISO was great–I met new friends, interacted with people from almost every continent, and gained some new insights about studying abroad in the US, which interestingly, opened my eyes to things I will have to consider once I leave here, like:

PUBLIC TRANSPORT WILL BE MY BEST FRIEND

We’ve discussed this some before in my GEF class last fall, but my international students revived this fear of mine. I grew up taking a car everywhere, only switching it up for “Ride Your Bike to School Day” maybe once a year (that’s a strong maybe). I’ve never had to consider bus fare, or bus routes, and the closest thing I’ve gotten to a subway is the monorail at Disney World. I got a lot of questions from my students about bus routes, especially the best ones to take to grocery stores and other necessities. I had students from dense metropolitan areas and rural areas, yet they were all seasoned veterans in the public transport world. So, if they still had some figuring out to do regarding routes, how much of a struggle will I have when I’m having to figure out the whole system?? The only consolation is that I’ve started irrationally worrying now, so that maybe by the time I go abroad I will have read a copy of “Public Transportation for Dummies” or a detailed WikiHow :-).

GET CELL PHONE PLAN

Okay, so this isn’t something I’m nearly as worried about (you don’t need a phone number to take pictures!!) but I suppose it is important enough to remind myself of here.

STUDENTS FROM SIMILAR CULTURES/COUNTRIES TEND TO STICK TOGETHER

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Especially if you’re about to navigate a new language, and need some friends that you can be 100% comfortable around. I just hope that I can be brave enough to talk to non-American foreign students, and then even local French students (gasp!) Thinking about seeking a friend group abroad has made me appreciate what NISO does, I hope that us Peer Mentors did a good job of presenting ourselves as friendly, casual equals, and not inaccessible because we’re in our home country, already secure with other friends and activities. I also hope that schools abroad strive to assimilate their international students like we do!

EVOLVE FROM BEING A TOURIST

Our world has so many awe-inspiring, historic chapels, museums, and landscapes. All riddled with mass-produced gift-shop items and paid tours. And those are awesome, and I’m totally gonna do all of them and take the same pictures as everyone else and not regret any of it. But spending time with my students got me imagining what it must be like to attend the University of Oklahoma as an international student. I love my home state, I do, but there’s no Eiffel Tower or Sistine Chapel or ancient streets you can navigate by foot. I wondered “Why would these students, who are already so well traveled, who have already seen so many iconic “travel destinations,” come to Oklahoma? Are there that many great tourist spots?”

Maybe not, but my students expressed excitement about things like intramural sports, Greek life, and football games– things that aren’t tourist-y and surface level, but things that are intrinsic to our college experience. They were here for the academic and social opportunities that differed from those of their home country, not just the red-bricked splendor of campus. When I was little I wanted to go to France to see quaint countryside homes and eat baguettes and take pictures of the Arc de Triomphe. But the narrative of study abroad that I’ve gained just from opportunities on campus has matured my own, convinced me to work towards a more challenging, and more enriching experience.

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BREXIT: A Question of British Identity

About a month ago, I attended a lecture by English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton titled “Brexit and the Future of the European Idea.” Other than a basic definition of the term, I lacked an understanding of the profound legal and economic repercussions that the UK’s monumental vote to leave the EU would mean. Furthermore, I never asked the deeper question of what Brexit said about the people of the UK, and how it would shape their relations with each other and the rest of the world.

Sir Scruton could have pursued a number of facets to narrow in on, but he immediately made this lecture one about PEOPLE. “The Brexit vote was a question of British identity,” he claimed. More so than politics or trade, Brits’ ideas of tradition, sovereignty, and globalization fueled their vote June 23rd. And which side one fell on was in large part due to your social position and age, with the divide between “the cosmopolitan elite and ordinary working class people.”

Sir Scruton took us back to what proved the seeds of the European Union, the European Council of 1949, to better understand how national identity played the leading role in 2016’s referendum. Post WWII, war-ravaged European nations sought economic stability and, more importantly, insurance that this would not happen again. The creation of multiple organizations and governing bodies ensued, aimed at integrating industries and reinforcing democracy. But it wasn’t until 1993 that the European Union as we know it became the official umbrella organization uniting the previous creations and establishing the euro as the uniform currency.

So where did the tensions arise? Well, for one, the UK and the EU’s conceptions of justice conflict. The UK uses common law while the EU uses concrete law. Then, there’s the disparity in immigration. According to migrationwatchuk.org, net migration to the UK was 327,000 in March 2016. And although Hungary, Germany, and Italy receive the majority of immigrants, the UK’s fair-share had some of its citizens questioning the EU’s enforced migration rules. Next, the EU treaty possesses major leverage within British law-making, and does not allow much room for change. All three of these issues boil down to how the UK sees itself fitting into the rest of Europe. Does the UK fit into the “European Identity”? Does a European Identity even exist? Should and can the UK, which is already a melting pot, continue to accept large numbers of refugees along with legislation that anchors them to a European network?

Scruton remained unbiased throughout the lecture, giving little indication of where he stood on the Brexit result; however, he concluded with these words, which shed a little light on his position towards towards global ties in our increasingly global world:

We should be cosmopolitans and respect other cultures, being champions for more countries than just our own.