Reading Autobiography

Some of my earliest memories are of my parents reading to me right before I was tucked into bed each night. I was blessed to have been the first-born child of a teacher who believed that a love for reading was the gateway to a love for learning, so I was read to on a regular basis until I was old enough to begin reading on my own. My favorite book when I was younger was Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, so I begged my parents to read it to me almost every night. Other favorites included The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.

Once my siblings were born, my parents had less time to read aloud to me, so I began to read simple books on my own. My elementary school teachers read aloud to me for the first few years of school; my third grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, sticks out especially in my memories for her “famous” reading style. She would read in a way that made the characters and the scene come alive and allow you to forget for a moment that you were sitting on an itchy carpet square in a windowless room. A few of my favorite books from Mrs. Davis’ class were The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and the books from The Boxcar Children series. There weren’t many books I didn’t enjoy reading as a child because I would read any book I could get my hands on. The only one I can remember not enjoying was To Kill a Mockingbird, but only because the first time I tried to read it I was in the fourth grade and didn’t understand its significance or meaning.

Reading has always been extremely important to me, even forming some of my earliest memories. Ironically enough, my mom would take away the book I was reading for a day as a form of punishment because it elicited more of a change in my behavior than did spanking or grounding. I remember reading a book every other day in the sixth grade because I would sit and wait for two hours every day with my mom as my sister underwent extensive physical therapy, and reading was my only form of entertainment. Curling up with a good book is still my activity of choice when I have a free hour, and the love for reading instilled by my parents and teachers has not diminished with time.

Leaving Security, Choosing Joy

Wow. I don’t even know where to start this post, honestly.

Maybe with Proverbs 16:9. “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” How true this is. And how good this is.

Since I was 16, my plans were to graduate with a nursing degree and come out of college with a solid career that would give me good pay, good hours, and a good job security. As a nurse, I would make a lot of money and not really have to worry about the future. It was my security blanket.

So I ignored the still, small voice that reminded me that I hate the smell of hospitals. Ignored the quiver in my stomach every time someone talked about blood. Struggled and cried my way through the science classes that I knew deep down were not my passion. Put on a brave smiling face and told everyone that nursing was my passion because I was afraid to admit that I was only choosing this path out of a fear of the unknown. Submitted my application to nursing school and rejoiced over my acceptance letter because it was my ticket to a life of comfort and security. Or so I thought.

It’s funny how your decisions will eventually catch up with you.

As I was driving around the campus of the OKC Health Sciences center after meeting with my enrollment advisor, I had the moment. You know, the moment when everything catches up with you and you realize you’ve made a ginormous mistake? The moment when the tears come faster than your brain realizes what’s happening and you spend 45 minutes driving the same loop because your heart and your brain and your spirit are all saying something different? The moment when the truth shines through and you stop and wonder why you’ve been lying to yourself for the past five years? Yep, it was that moment.

I realized that the passions that the Lord had placed in my heart were not for nursing. It was my own fleshly passions for comfort, security, and a clear life path that had driven me to pursue this path. I hate blood. I hate hospitals. I hate vomit. I hate needles. I’m not good at comforting sick and hurting people. I have no desire to spend two years studying pharmacology and how to give an IV or a shot. (It honestly feels good to confess this after years and years of pretending that I liked it.) It’s crazy how a desire for pleasure and comfort can be used by the enemy to bring so many lies and so much deception until it’s hard to distinguish what is true and what is not.

But the light has finally come on. The truth has finally come out. I’ve talked with my parents and with other people whose judgement I trust who have helped me to see truth and to pursue it in my life. I’m still working on letting go of the pride that has kept me wrapped up in the identity of a nursing student for so long. I’m still working on facing the fear of an uncertain future that comes with changing a plan I’ve held onto for five years. But I know that no matter what happens, the Lord will determine my steps.

So I’m majoring in Spanish. Basically the opposite of nursing, there’s no real secure or certain path that follows graduating with a degree in Spanish. What I do know, though, is that the Lord has given me a desire to communicate with people, a desire to make them feel comfortable and safe and loved. He has given me the ability to learn languages and to use them. He has been so gracious in tenderly guiding me towards the path that will give me joy rather than security, because in the end, He, not my career or my major, is my only security. I don’t have to know what I’m doing after graduation (or even what I’m doing tomorrow) because He already knows. And his plan is infinitely more beautiful and unique and glorifying than my plan could ever be.

So I’m trusting. I’m letting go of pride. I’m letting go of my identity. I’m pursuing the passions that He’s placed inside of me because they are there for a reason. I’m letting go of fear of the future, of the fear of other people’s judgement, and of a fear of failure and instead believing that He will make my life beautiful and pleasing to Him.

Praise the Lord for freedom. Praise Him for truth. Don’t allow a desire for comfort or security to smother the truth about who you are and what you were made to do. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Live the life He made you to live, because that life is the only life that can truly satisfy.

A Year Later

Well, it’s been almost exactly a year since I’ve returned from Italy, which doesn’t seem possible. Many of the friends I made on the trip are graduating next week, so this might be the last week we’ll all be able to get together and talk about our experiences. One of my favorite parts about studying abroad at an OU program is that we are all still in the same area and can meet up frequently to talk about our experiences when it seems like no one else understands. My time in Italy sometimes feels like a distant dream but at other times feels like it just ended yesterday. I still get pangs of a feeling almost like homesickness when I hear someone speaking in Italian or have a glass of good wine with friends. I get a little sad when I see my friends posts from their time abroad and sometimes look up flights to Europe just for fun. The hardest thing for me is having to stay in Oklahoma, where Florence and Rome aren’t just a train ride away. My advice to everyone about to finish up their time abroad is to take as many videos as possible. Video your trip from your home to your favorite coffee shop. Video the street you walk down every day. Video your friends, the train, your home, anything, because they’ll be really comforting when you’re stuck in the hundred degree heat of Southern Oklahoma. It’s hard to come back, but also necessary because you won’t fully understand and be able to appreciate your time abroad until you’re back.

OU Cousins

College is a really neat time because there are people from all over the world all around you. Instead of having to travel to another place to meet people from other parts of the world, you can just walk around campus. OU does a really great job of helping the international students and the local students to get to know each other and create a space for international discussion. One of the ways OU does this is through the OU Cousins program, which pairs an international student with an American student for a semester or a year. OU Cousins hosts events throughout the year such as the OU Cousins barbecue so that students can spend time with their Cousins and learn more about their respective cultures and just spend time with them as a friend. You can request a cousin from a certain country or region of the world, but I honestly think it’s so much more fun to just let them pair you with someone from anywhere. My OU Cousin is from Saudi Arabia and she has opened my eyes to a part of the world that I have never experienced before. It’s not required that you go to the OU Cousins events to be a member of the program, but I would highly recommend going to them because your cousin might introduce you to some of her friends and vice versa, expanding both of your circles and helping you to meet more people from all over the world. This is honestly one of my favorite programs at OU, and my college experience wouldn’t be what it is without it!

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The Spanish Club

One of my favorite things about the university experience is that there’s a place for everyone. No matter what your studying or what groups you identify with, you’re bound to find a place where you belong. I love the Spanish club at OU because it brings together people who would otherwise never come into contact with each other. The members of the Spanish club share a love for the Spanish language and all of the cultures that are associated with it, which really allows us to quickly find a common ground and s place to belong. Almost all of the members of the Spanish club are either majoring or minoring in Spanish and are passionate about the language. It’s really fun to watch people discuss the language and have a time outside of the classroom to share their feelings and thoughts and plans for the future concerning Spanish. The Spanish club offers meetings once a month (which usually include snacks) that are a really chill time to meet other students at OU who share the same interests as you! There are usually once-a-semester events, such as the Dia de Los Muertos event last semester, that are open to the community. If you’re looking for a place where you can connect with other people who love the Spanish language, definitely check out the Spanish club!

Karnatak Music and Bharatanatyam Dance Concert

As part of the Masala World Music Concert Series, the University of Oklahoma hosted a Karnatak Music and Bharatanatyam Dance concert that featured singer and dancer Lavanya Raghuraman and mrdangamist Poovalur Sriji. The first half of the concert featured several different songs in different styles, melodic modes, and rhythmic cycles, while the second half featured different styles of Indian dance. Some of the songs that were performed were written by Dr. S. Ramanathan, the grandfather of Lavanya Raghuraman, which made the concert a very personal and emotional one unlike any I’ve ever attended. The soundscape was very unique because while the singing and the drumming were live, the rest of the instrumental music was recorded, and the same pitch was used for each of the live songs. Another part of the soundscape was the soft tapping of hands on legs as members of the audience kept the tala with Lavanya Raghuraman.

The first half of the concert was a showcase of classical Karnatak music in several different genres which praise different Hindu deities. Matthew Allen Harp writes that these songs to the gods were written for both spiritual and political reasons: “This one particular manifestation of Hindu deity was to take on the character of a master metaphor for…the Indian nationalist movement as a whole” (74). The primary focus of the songs was not the mrdangam (except for a brief solo piece), but rather the voice, which demonstrated what Amanda Weidman called, “the ‘fundamentally vocal’ character of Indian music” (6). The most interesting part of the vocal performance for me was the brief pauses Lavanya Raghuraman would take between each song to explain its significance. She dedicated the entire performance to her grandfather, Dr. S. Ramanathan, who she spoke very high praise of throughout the perfmroance. This, interestingly, brought to mind a quote from Weidman’s work on gender and the voice in which she writes that “after a few words about the greatness of her father” a prominent Indian vocalist began to speak about her own work (111).

The second half of the concert again featured Lavanya Raghuraman dancing in the Bharatanatyam style of dance. It was interesting to watch this dance after learning about its origins in the Devadasis earlier this week in class because while the dance was set to religious music, it was taken out of its original context of Indian temples and made to be more of a performance than a religious act. Author Richard Schechner writes in a chapter of his book on performance studies about this phenomenon of Indian dance being taken out of its original context and used as a performance in the act of what he calls “reframing” (84). It is really amazing to be able to experience other cultures and their music and dance traditions without having to leave Norman, but it is also unfortunate that these acts have to be reframed so that they are no longer viewed in their original context.

Casa Hogar Getsemani

Over spring break, I was blessed to have the opportunity to serve at Casa Hogar Getsemani, a children’s home in Morelos, Mexico. I went with a team of thirteen–six women and seven men–to cook meals for the children at the home during the week so we could give the house parents a vacation of their own. The men travelled each day to the nearby town of Allende to build an outdoor tabernacle for Pastor Oscar, whose family and church we have grown close to in the past four years of making these trips. It is always such a joy to be in the presence of people who are so in love with the Lord and who really see each moment as an opportunity to bring him glory. I’m always so overwhelmed by the love of the kids at the home and the genuine joy they have in whatever they’re doing. It’s hard to put a trip like this into words, so I’m going to share some of the pictures to (hopefully) give you a glimpse of what I was blessed to experience this week.

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a selfie with baby Danny 
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Daniél
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montando en caballo 
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playing on the playground
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more selfies 
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coming in after playtime 
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Jessica y Danny 
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taking a break 
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working on the tabernacle 
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“real vanilla ice cream is yellow” 
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close to being finished 
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the peacocks 
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another one of baby Danny 
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riding in the tractor 
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the food is so good I could honestly cry 
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an albino peacock (how cool is that??)
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elote en un vaso 
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Victor and his chalk art 
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more chalk art 
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“you are the most beautiful of all the planet. I love you 100”
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Victor y Rocio 
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playing futbol 

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my walk every morning 
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my backdoor neighbors 
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the people who started it all 
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some of my other backdoor neighbors 
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honestly can’t describe the impact these people have had on my life and how grateful I am to them for it 
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I didn’t know there was a Taco bell sauce hotter than hot but there you have it 
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my sister being cute 
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my sister braiding Jessica’s hair on the trampoline
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where I spent 90% of my time (and loved every minute)
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can’t get over how beautiful it is 
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another kitchen pic ? 

Nowruz Persian Music Festival

The Nowruz Persian Music Festival was an event in the Masala World Music Series sponsored by the University of Oklahoma to highlight music from some of the lesser-known areas of the world. I attended the concert performed by a Båmdåd ensemble, which included traditional Persian instruments such as the oud, the santour, and the daf. The concert took place in Sharp Concert Hall in Catlett Music Center, which is a purposefully very hi-fi space, designed so that the listener is focused on the sound of the performance. There are several smaller sounds, though, such as a person coughing or a program rustling that make it a bit more lo-fi; the older woman sitting next to me sang along to the music at times, which added nicely to the soundscape of the concert. Other elements I noticed in the soundscape included quiet murmuring behind me in a language I couldn’t understand and the quiet tapping of feet next to me.

I thought the most interesting aspect of the concert for me was the cultural divide between those who were attending the concert to hear the music that is familiar to them and reminds them of their past or their home and those who were attending for a class, as a professor, or as a sponsor of the event. It reminded me a bit of Scrugg’s article “Come on in North Side, You’re Just in Time”, because there was a sort of ethnic divide between the audience which determined how they listened. There was also a bit of a language divide: I understood none of what was sang, so I felt I couldn’t appreciate the music as much as the older woman next to me who knew most of the words and sang along. Along with these, there was a cultural divide, because this was the music that many attending had heard all of their life or found a piece of shared experience in, whereas I, who had never experienced Persian music before, felt no such connection.

This didn’t prevent me from enjoying the music, though. I thought it was a spectacular performance that exposed me to an aspect of a culture that I am very unfamiliar with. I think my favorite part of the concert was watching the deep connection that each performer had with the music that was visible through their head and body movements as well as their facial expressions. I also really appreciated the quiet singing that came from the woman sitting next to me, who clapped with tears in her eyes after the performance. I’m really appreciative of the university’s efforts to promote music and culture from all around the world, because it allows us as students to see the world, even if just for an hour or two, from a slightly different perspective. I’m really looking forward to attending the other concerts that are a part of this series! 

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Advice for Everyone Going Abroad Next Semester

This time last year, I was preparing to go to Italy for a semester. I was feeling so many emotions–fear, excitement, anticipation–and I was so ready to embark on a new adventure. In honor of that, here is my advice for everyone going abroad next semester.

  • You will be terrified, and that’s okay.
  • Bring more money than you think you’ll need.
  • Black clothes, especially in Europe, are a necessity.
  • Download the DuoLingo app if you aren’t a speaker of the language you’re about to immerse yourself in.
  • Spend a lot of time with family and friends before you go.
  • Make sure to buy a journal.
  • A good, sturdy purse or bag will be your best friend.
  • So will a good travel backpack.
  • Start booking side trips and adventures now–it’s a lot cheaper a few months in advance.
  • Don’t be afraid to stay in hostels.
  • Write down a list of goals for yourself now and hang it up in your room when you arrive.
  • Have a backup debit or credit card for emergencies.
  • Don’t bring a ton of clothes–you can buy some really cool ones during your semester abroad and use those to fill your suitcase on the way back.
  • Get ready to be pushed to your limits and grow in a new and unexpected way.
  • Accept the slowed-down pace of life outside of the states.
  • You’ll probably have a little FOMO when you’re over there because you miss your friends. But remember, you’re in another country, having the time of your life.
  • Breathe. Especially while you’re deciding what to pack.
  • Get ready to experience the best semester of your life!

Nadia Villafuertes

One of the things I love the most about OU is the wide range of international events that are offered by the different colleges on campus. This fall, the OU Humanities Forum invited Nadia Villafuerte, a Mexican author, to come and host a creative writing workshop. Afterword, she and my professor, Dr. Julie Ward, held a bilingual reading in the library of “Cajita Feliz.” In my Spanish Literature and Culture class, we read a chapter from her book Barcos en Houston entitled “Chica Cosmo.” It’s the story of a young woman who is trying to reach Juarez, Mexico but has to betray a fellow immigrant in order to do so. Villafuerte now lives in NYC and is a professor at NYU, where she is working on her next novel. Her work has been chosen to be part of an anthology of Spanish works, which is incredible considering that she has only been published for about ten years.

I love that OU promotes such an international environment. Both of my Spanish professors this semester update us regularly on new international events on campus, and one of them offers extra credit if we attend. There are so many events on campus that it’s impossible to attend all of them, but it’s important to make an effort to be internationally involved and informed because our society is becoming more and more global. Listening to authors and speakers from other parts of the world is an amazing way to learn more about their culture, their language, and about how they see the world, so if you have the opportunity to attend events like this one, you definitely should!