Different state of mind

A lesson I learned in Ireland: you can't escape your own head.

As much as you may wish that the presence of fresh baguettes or drizzling rain or cafes on every corner will free you of worry and woe, the truth is that it may - and probably will - not. I had this mindset. A change of scenery does you good, they say. And though this is certainly true for those who are simply bored of their well-traveled circumstances, it is not for those whose discomfort arises from their own inner demons. Maybe I didn't realize it till I was on the plane. Or till I laid in bed for three days straight during winter study week, surviving on biscuits and water.

This new bedroom, this new city, this "new me" (I had chosen a brand-new nickname with which to call myself) was not doing the trick. I still had the same negative thoughts as before, the same self-punishing mental tendencies. Just in a new place.

The world - in its purest sense, as a malformed sphere on which to exist - can't save you. Moving away and coming back nine months later helped me realize what I really needed to thrive. Motivation, companionship, sunshine. Talking out my thoughts on forums such as these (I'm bad at keeping a journal), decorating my room with everything that represents me (I couldn't accumulate stuff abroad - that would be silly), going for late night drives with an epic soundtrack (I didn't have a car in Ireland).

Distancing myself from what I thought were causes of my restlessness and lack of motivation also left me stranded from the very things that made me happy. And I was left a little bit broken, of my own doing. I suppose the lesson here is to firstly, count your blessings and secondly, realize that being in a new place will change you - just perhaps not in the way you expected or hoped for. Which is not to say you shouldn't do it; quite the contrary. Leaving parts of myself behind in Oklahoma meant I learned more about myself abroad than I thought I could've. And those parts were still waiting for me when I returned, ready to be pieced back together to make me whole again.

invASIAN Showcase

April 26 had quite the night in store for myself and my friend Janella. We didn't know much about the invASIAN showcase before attending, but were excited to find out more. Boy, did this event deliver!

Janella and I walked in to already-screaming crowds of people, all cheering for their buddies and evidently well-known members of this community. The atmosphere in Meacham Auditorium was infectious and bursting with energy. The event is held annually in order to give Asian-American students on campus the chance to show off their talents, and it certainly did that. In addition, the event came just days before the start of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which runs through May.

Both Janella and I agreed that of all the acts we saw, our favorite was a dance routine held as a combo performance between members of two of the Asian-American sororities and fraternities on campus, Phi Delta Alpha & Tau Kappa Omega. The girls started off the show with an awesome routine, which was followed by the guys' response routine. We expected a dance battle; what we actually got was a third part of the performance where the two groups came together and danced once again.

I learned at this event that the Asian-American community on campus is much more active than I had even realized, and the amount of talent present in its members was really amazing to witness.  I will certainly attend in future years to get another taste of the excitement and enthusiasm the event is full of.

International Involvement: Baccano

My semester has been brightened by an Italian touch.

First off, my Intermediate Italian Continued course is full of amazing people, and each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is made one hundred times more fun by our banter.

Secondly, I've gotten more heavily involved in Baccano, our campus's Italian conversation club. Out of curiosity, I attended its organizational meeting at the very start of the semester. The group of us, along with Dr. Daniela Busciglio, brainstormed ideas for events we could host. Movie nights, coffee meetups, bake sales, soccer tournaments, you name it! This group of guys and gals is so enthusiastic about Italian language and culture - it's absolutely infectious. What began as a simple interest in learning a beautiful-sounding language has grown into a love for what that language represents: the culture of a passionate, loving people.

Two events stand out to me as being especially exciting.

The first was our second Caffe e Conversazione for the semester. Anyone with any level of Italian who was interested could come to Crimson & Whipped Cream and chat away with other like-minded people. Along with some people from my own Italian class, I met several fun new folks and had awesome conversation about everything from our favorite foods to our romantic gossip - all in Italian. I remember thinking, this is real language learning. Not memorizing long lists of vocabulary you may never use, but rather putting all of it into practice and forcing yourself to think, speak, and breathe the language. Throwing yourself into the deep end and chatting away, drawing on the collective knowledge when you reach a roadblock or can't quite articulate a thought. It's embarrassing and scary and wholly thrilling.

The second event was quite exciting - the documentary filmmaker Fred Kuwornu came to OU for a day to speak. His films seek to enact social change, which creates an interesting middle ground between art and activism. Although I was not able to make it to his talk, I did attend the meet & greet and later accompanied Dr. Busciglio and Mr. Kuwornu to dinner, where I was able to ask millions of questions about his life's work.

I'm grateful to Baccano for providing opportunities for me to step out of my comfort zone and learn outside of the classroom. I can only expect my involvement to become more exciting over the coming weeks and semesters!

Professor Mustafa Bahran: The Yemeni Conundrum

Prior to attending the lecture given by Professor Mustafa Bahran on February 28th, I knew shamefully little about either the history of the country or the presently ongoing conflict. As was mentioned in the lecture, Western media tends to forget about this nation’s revolution amidst the larger players in the Arab Spring – namely, Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria. However, Yemen is not a country to be forgotten. Professor Bahran gave his audience a sweeping yet thorough history of this ancient nation, reminding (or informing) us all of the rich culture to be found in Yemen.

The conflict in Yemen seems extremely complicated, with many intertwined actors. No one entity involved is entirely without agenda, and seeming enemies are often in each other’s pockets. Although the typical war is certainly complicated, this one in particular involves numerous factions that are not entirely separable – nor is there a clear division of right from wrong in terms of different actors’ motivations for violence. The sheer amount of confusion to simply comprehend and categorize the participants makes understanding the war extremely difficult. And this is before we even begin to factor in the wider context and analyze how the economic, social, and political state of Yemen could have shaped the war into the seemingly hopeless conflict it is today.

The lecture made its audience think. Not only did Professor Bahran include a plethora of facts and vital details in his analysis of the war, but he did not hold back the expression of his own emotional investment in the conflict’s outcome. Having lost a brother-in-law in the violence, Professor Bahran certainly succeeded in portraying the urgency with which he and other Yemenis hope for a quick resolution. This added emotion turned what could have been a purely academic lecture into a call to action and a push for all of us to become invested in peace.

Look Beyond Yourself

This semester, I decided to step out of the comfort of my own sheltered existence. For years, I was obsessed with Europe - my homeland, my calling, the place where one can walk around any city and experience a million marvels of architecture and culture in a single day.

To be frank, I never felt the urge to venture beyond, to experience or learn much about the rest of the world. It felt so unfamiliar - and foreignness is scary. I dove into my high-school level world history and human geography courses, reveling in the beauty of historical and socioeconomic trends. It was all very academic. Genghis Khan did such and such, killed a bunch of people. History from a distance - these people didn't feel much like people. Their story was a collective one, and thus abstracted beyond emotion.

Enter the course Arab Spring. Already I was intensely invested, because my sister had lived in Egypt in the year before and the year after the 2011 revolution. Her normal updates at the time morphed into reassurances that she hadn't been in the metro when security forces let off tear gas, that she had stayed in her apartment while a protest went on in the square just a few meters below. My own blood's tangential involvement meant I was more personally invested in the outcome of the history being set in motion. I followed closely on social media, watched in horror as I saw photos of bloodied protesters and read about their struggles to take back control of their own beloved country.

And, this semester, I decided to jump back in academically. The class 'Arab Spring,' taught by Dr. Joshua Landis, utilizes all sorts of perspectives with which to see this important period in Middle Eastern history. Viewing the events through economic, historic, social, and personal lenses (the result of reading academic journals, memoir-like books authored by seasoned journalists, and first-person accounts alike) weaves a series of frames into one larger story of the struggle of a people. Perhaps it is the addition of social media as a crucial narrator for the revolutions, a medium through which the very people involved can offer their thoughts, unfiltered. Or the fact that it is people my age who are putting their lives at risk to overthrow the propagators of autocracy and oppression. But the course has resulted in a strange amalgamation of academic study and personal investment in the future of the region.

I encourage us all to look beyond - if all you check each day is your social media feeds, make an effort to also read the news. And if you read the news, follow social media feeds that put another layer onto the often tragic but sometimes faceless events that occur everyday around us. Become invested in knowing your world. And when a chance comes for you to change it, do your part.

Letters

An archaic form of communication, it’s charming nonetheless. Somehow, opening a Snapchat never quite measures up to the pleasant surprise of receiving a handwritten letter in the mail. Torn at the corner, slightly muddied, and stamped multiple times over with details of its journey, this flimsy envelope and its precious contents went through so much more to find itself in your mailbox. No puppy ears filters, no instantaneous reply.

A letter is free of time, free of anxiety. You send it off and wait. And if you’re lucky, a reply will find its way to you in a month or so. Freed from the worries of the modern age – why hasn’t he opened the snapchat I sent? Why didn’t she reply? She saw my message an hour ago – is she angry at me or just forgot to send one back?

With a letter, there are no accusations or fears. Almost as a diary entry, I scribble down my thoughts for as long as they come, wipe off the ring of moisture from my coffee cup, fold it up, and stuff it into an envelope. Collecting my thoughts for a month or so allows for a long and winding tale of life as it happened, which is often more interesting than watching it live on social media. The intense and personal bits are reserved for this much more intimate form of communication.

No back-and-forth messages to work out a good time to Skype, since time differences and busy schedules alike may mean this happens all too late. Instead, a promise to keep up this common thread of conversation, even if months separate replies.

In an excessively connected world, sometimes the old ways are the best.

Ireland: A Reflection, an adequate amount of time later

I was ready to leave when I did. I needed a change of scenery – again.

But, just as all of us truly believe that our lives are not a cliche, it just took time to miss what was gone. And now I really do.

I’ve started having dreams, recalling things about the place I left. An academic year is no short time (at least while it’s passing), and in those nine months I experienced plenty of material for my brain to pull from during sleep.

The first were dreams in first-person perspective, as if I had a Go-Pro on my head while I walked. I retraced the steps from my house near the university all the way into town, stopping at my friend Morgan’s house to pop my head into her window and say hello. The river gleamed even on this gloomy day, the clouds casting their reflection with what little sunlight could be spared. Headphones in, I strolled to the beat until I reached the bookstore, ready to peruse Waterstones’ latest offerings. And then it stops.

I wake up and I’m back in Norman. No river. No real chance of a stroll into town, and far fewer cafes to choose from. No sipping on a cappuccino and watching the rain fall.

The very things that made me most upset (“It’s too dark during winter!” “Why does it rain so very often…?” “It’s such a hassle to catch a flight onto the continent.”) are the things I really miss. The gloom. The rain. The cheap Ryanair flights.

My friends. (They didn’t make me upset)

I don’t regret the experience, and I don’t regret coming back. But the reality is, you leave a little piece of yourself wherever you go. And I left quite a bigger chunk in Ireland.

International Organization: Informed Citizens Discussion Groups

For my international organization this semester, I decided to try something different. I went online. With an infuriatingly busy semester ahead of me, I knew that to be able to be involved, I’d have to be clever.

The choice of platform was obvious: everyone’s on Facebook, right? I had heard of the Informed Citizens Discussion Groups and had friends who’d enjoyed the club, so that was where I decided to get involved. What followed was a semester of very interesting social media engagement.

The Informed Citizens Discussion Groups page is an… interesting place. Full of students with opinions all across the spectrum, it held a deep intrigue for me. Here was a way to become politically and internationally involved like never before – reading news articles regularly and interacting with people to trade thoughts about current events. The obvious focus of the semester was the US election, but there were articles posted about international events as well.

Each time someone made a post referencing some recent event, a multitude of people would stream to the comments section and offer their piece. Opinions were shouted (as much as that can be done on the Internet). Arguments broke out. Petty comments abounded. Sarcastic comics were even drawn and shared. I laughed, I frowned, I learned. Consuming this media along with my morning browse of various social networks forced me to be informed about my own world.

I would argue this Internet-based involvement is somehow an even deeper connection than would be being involved in some university clubs. Many meet rarely or gradually shut out newcomers to be a sort of elite crew. Informed Citizens Discussion Groups does the opposite – come one, come all, and contribute any opinion you dare – as long as you can handle the response.

Music from Syria and Beyond

The evening of October 1st was a pretty magical one. For just the cost of a cup of coffee, my friend Sadaf and I were able to attend a beautiful concert unlike anything I had seen (or rather, heard) before.

The concert was extraordinarily simple, featuring just two performers: Kenan Adnawi on the oud and Tareq Rantisi on percussion. What followed was a two hour period of listening and contemplating.

Music has been a huge part of my life since before my birth – I remember the sounds of Peter Gabriel and Lighthouse Family filling the house. But somehow, even with a father who received his bachelor’s at a university in Saudi Arabia and a sister who has collectively spent over two years studying in different parts of the Middle East, I had never listened to any music of that region (save some Egyptian rap my sister sent me videos of on occasion). Therefore it was pretty incredible for my first concert in this genre to feature two very talented musicians from the region.

Although I can’t recall the names of the individual songs, their sound stays with me. The highlight was the moment the two musicians transitioned from original pieces to traditional Syrian songs, and members of the audience began to sing along. Music was meant to be shared this way – not in silence, but in togetherness, either with emotions flooding our heads or the words themselves spilling from our mouths, to share in the awe as one.

Stories: Middle East and North Africa

A few Fridays ago, I took a well-deserved break from real life and headed over to Second Wind for a dose of story time.

The first event of its kind, this “open mic” afternoon opened my eyes a bit more to a region that I’m shamefully unfamiliar with. Although the Middle East was the focus of six years of higher educational study for my eldest sister, I have never seen this place, nor heard an actual conversation in Arabic or Persian or any other language of the area. And, despite being close friends with a wonderful gal of Iranian descent, I have no clue what Tehran or any other city in her home country looks or feels like.

Living in a country with such close ties (good or bad) with this region, I should be more aware. Thankfully, this event was one of my first steps to decidedly become more aware.

Over a huge box of Hurt’s Donuts, an ever-growing group of Global Engagement Fellows shared stories. One tale of a hair-collecting famed potter left us all in fits of (slightly uncomfortable and nervous) laughter. Arabic majors and monolinguists alike shared memories of their feelings of discomfort as they navigated new cultures and customs. My friend Sadaf (ushered on by myself) told us about her first months in the United States after emigrating here – such a huge move begun at an already difficult time in a teen girl’s life, and to a country whose language she didn’t speak!

I was pleased with the discourse we shared at this coffee hour. Although I found certain opinions (especially sweepingly generalized and negative ones) to be unfounded or unsubstantiated, the overall tone was a positive one. Here is a region of the world which many (including certain American politicians) have gone to great lengths to vilify and demonize. This is not to say that instability and conflict does not exist in this part of the world – we know that to be true. But this was also once the Cradle of Civilization, as many a high school history teacher drilled into our heads. Developers of modern mathematics were nurtured here. We cannot forget the history, nor the culture and the people who remain.

Conversations like these could be the start of developing a more thorough understanding of our fellow humans just an ocean away.