Salamanca, Spain

So I finally made it. After a year of paperwork, bureaucracy, and luck, I finally made it to Spain. A little over one week has passes, so I wanted to reflect on all that has happened since I believe the first week sets the tone for the rest of the trip. The three main points I want to hit are my home-stay, my group, and my city.

First, the home-stay was sold to me as this incredible experience that provides unparalleled integration. That may be true, but they neglected to tell me how excruciatingly difficult it is when neither the host and hosted speak the same language. The first couple days were difficult, but I am slowly beginning to relax, and my elementary Spanish is starting to surface. On the bright side, my host mother is very patient and helpful when it comes to communication.

Next, this study abroad was facilitated through ISA, a third party liaison, so there are 11 people in my group from all over the country. We are mostly comprised of upperclassmen and women. I am one of three boys on the trip, but this seems to hold true for all other study abroad programs that I have seen. Everyone gets along, but there are some noticeable fractures among the group already. People are beginning to pair off and do their own thing, while other people in our group think we should all be together whenever we have free time. I believe we should all venture off to find our own way while maintaining contact with our immediate program. Aside from that, petty drama is beginning to occur more frequently, but I know this is unavoidable. So far, everything is just fine.

Finally, the city itself, Salamanca, is completely breathtaking. This city is completely different from any other place I have been in Europe. The streets are immaculate, the people are kind (but rarely speak English), and the architecture is awesome. Something distinct that I have noticed is that all of the older buildings, such as churches and the main cathedral, are made of sandstone. This gives the city a nice golden hue, and the buildings seem to glow during sunrise and sunset. Furthermore, the city is extremely affordable, and there is just about any shop anyone would need.

All in all I’m extremely happy with this program, and I can’t wait for whats to come.

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Notre Dame

A couple days ago, the Notre Dame caught fire and resulted in the ceiling and spire burning down and collapsing in on itself. The fire spread quickly through all forms of social media to catch the hearts of the international community. As one of the most famous historical sites in the world, this event was a tragedy that cannot be properly restored. It stood the test of time, but time caught up during its latest renovation project. The aftermath is devastating, but the entire event could have been prevented.

According the WSJ, as early as 2013 the building was known, and noticeably, to be dilapidated. In 2013, two men were hired to install lightning rods on the Cathedral and reported that the building was in extremely poor shape. The roof was rotting, and the spire was extremely rusty. These two men were then hired to attempt restoration, but they were not professionals and quickly quit the project. Now, because of poor planning, the original roof and spire are gone.

However, the rest of the Cathedral remains unharmed; including the copper statues adorning the spire. Also, the world has rallied around this cause and have already raised close to $1 billion to aid the restoration.

This shows how quickly results can be obtained, and how close the world really is. Although, did there need to be a catastrophe for people to care?

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US Foreign Policy Transition

Since the dawn of Donald Trump as our current president, there was been a missive shift in US foreign policy. Donald Trump has followed the rest of the western world into nationalism and isolationism. Examples of this include the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, restructuring of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the continuous critiques of treaties with other countries. This is unique feature for the US since we are the acting global hegemon of the world at the moment. We are the most powerful and influential country in the world at the moment and have held that title since the end of World War Two, but an article published by CQ researcher believes that there may be a shift in the global order due to Trumps shift in foreign policy.

China is the new rising star in the global community. China is becoming more powerful and more present because of their focus and investment internationally. Due to the withdrawal and restructuring currently in US policy, China is now able to become a leader in many institutions that the US used to head. This includes the Paris Climate Accord and the TPP. China now has these two major institutions under their leadership, so they are spreading their sphere of influence and power. They are also heavily investing in developing countries to extract natural resources and are in the midst of unveiling their Belt and Road initiative.

China is quickly climbing the ranks to become the next hegemon, and if the US follows their current trajectory there is a serious chance that China will eclipse the US.

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SASA Field Trip

My most recent escapade with SASA was my trip to what was regarded as the best Indian food restaurant in Oklahoma. I will prelude this post by saying that I am not the best judge of Indian food, as I do not have a history of being an avid connoisseur. I deeply love Indian cuisine, but when I told some of the members what my favorite restaurant in Tulsa was, they scoffed and berated it.

This restaurant is a hole in the wall in an obscure part of Oklahoma City that I have never been before. As veterans, the people with whom I accompanied ordered hours earlier so the food would be ready the time we arrived. I feel sorry for the people who go here for the first time and wait 3 hours for their food to come out of the kitchen.

Upon entering, I was immediately smacked in the face by the perfume of naan and butter chicken (this was our course). Eyes wide, mouth watering; I impatiently waited to voraciously attack the food in front of me. Par usual, I watched how my other friends dug into the gravy and chicken with the naan, then supplementing their makeshift spoons with rice. I followed suit.

My first bite intensely packed with flavor. The gravy was smooth and savory, and the chicken was tender and well-seasoned. I was in culinary nirvana. Then something unexpected happened about a couple minutes into eating. I was immediately engulfed in fire. I turned red and began sweating. My friends said that they ordered it a little less spicy than usual, but I’m not sure that’s the case. If it is the case, then I don’t think I could have been able to handle the usual. It was one of the spiciest foods I have ever eaten.

I don’t want to dissuade people from experiencing new things because they might be spicy but be cautious of unexpected journeys. All I can say is that I will be returning. This time fortified by my previous experience.

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Global Engagement Day

This Global Engagement Day I had the opportunity to attend a study abroad mental health seminar. Studying abroad is hard on the entire body and even harder on the mind. Mental health abroad encompasses more then just culture shock. When people study abroad there are always highs and always lows, but they come more frequently than what we are used to. We need to be able to identify when we need a moment or some help to ensure that the study abroad experience stays positive.

I have studied abroad before, so I was happy that I could contribute to the conversation by giving my mental health testament. When I was abroad, I didn’t experience culture shock, or even reverse culture shock as much as the other participants. Although, I did have to learn to cope with seemingly non-stop stimulation and abrupt series of intense boredom. Once I managed to get a grasp on the pace of the trip, I began to enjoy it more and more.

Not everyone experiences study abroad the same, so everyone will have to manage their needs accordingly, but something everyone can do is help others’ around you. Offer to hang out with other people or go grab a bite just to talk some. To you it may just be a quiet lunch, but to someone else it could change the trajectory of their trip.

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Worldwide Muslim Crises

Today, I attended a talk put on by the Muslim Student Association that covered the Muslim crises in Myanmar and western China. What began as a lecture from the President of the association, ended with the entirety of the audience captivated and somber from a first hand account of these atrocities.

This presentation focused on two ethnic minority Muslim groups: The Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uyghurs in China. First, the Rohingya are currently being persecuted by Myanmar’s militaristic government. This includes daily killings, rape, and destruction of villages. Since 2017, more than 400,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring countries to avoid these senseless acts.

The Uyghurs are in a similar situation. They are being persecuted by the Chinese government. They are being forced into modern day concentration camps to denounce and/or criticize their religion and learn modern Chinese culture. It doesn’t take much to be taken to these camps. Some actions include owning too many knives, eating before sunrise during Ramadan, telling people not to sin, and abstaining from cigarettes and/or alcohol.

I have already known of these actions were happening through popular media and from past classes, but they invited a guest speaker that made these events more personal.

Brother Bughra, as he was introduced, is a Uyghur Norman resident that grew up in the Xinjiang province of China. He captivated the entire audience with his first hand experience and activism with this crisis. He recalled having his cousins, niece, and nephew put into these camps. His niece and nephew made it out, but his cousins have been transported from the camps to prison, and not to be heard from again. He has not been in contact with his family since May of 2016; the last time he called his mother to make sure she was safe. If he contacts them, then he risks putting his family in danger.

Words cannot describe how somber his speech was. In an audience of around 15 people, his message resonated. This was personal to him, and only a story to me. I felt as if the entire campus should have been there to listen and feel how this directly affected him, and how badly he wanted action taken. I feel as if this is how people always perceive inexcusable action. It is only a story until someone shares there feeling with you.

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SASA Dinner

This semester my friend Dhaval and I attended a SASA dinner at Shivam’s apartment. There, many members attended to make, or watch other people make, butter chicken. Personally, I attempted to help, but when 10 people are vying for 1 measuring cup I tend to stay out of the way.

I have never eaten butter chicken before, and had no idea what to expect. Everyone seemed pretty enthused and ready for the meal, so I believed that I would probably enjoy it.

New smells were all around the kitchen, but everyone else seemed familiar with it. I, alone, was experiencing something new. About 2 hours go by and the dish is finally ready. After eating my first bite I came to the realization that Indian food is my new favorite taste genre. It helped that they toned down the spiciness.

All in all, I was very pleased with the dish, and hope to experience more South Asian cuisine in the very near future.

-John Moore

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China Trade Propaganda

The trade tensions between China and the United States are everywhere in the news. These and those tariffs are rising, while those and these tariffs are falling. We are provided a seemingly full coverage of what is happening with these trade negotiations, but the Chinese reporting transparency is more opaque.

The Wall Street Journal reported that there is a truce between China and the United States, but it does not detail that the truce is only to last 90 days before another meeting.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is using the state controlled media to spin this recent development as a win for China and to garnish his popularity. Since Mao Zedong, the leader of the cultural revolution, Xi Jinping is the largest user of propaganda; sort of a censorship renaissance. He untilizes this strategy to mask his aggressive policy that may be received as unpopular. As far as he is concerned, he intends to preserve his comparison to Winnie the Pooh.

United States citizens would be absolutely outraged by any censorship or spinning done by the media, but, to the Chinese people, this is a norm. Two of the world’s largest superpowers are in the middle of a trade war and one side is ill-informed on what is happening.

This is an egregious abuse of power from Xi Jinping, but his authority and power grow by the day.

-John Moore

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Chinese Intellectual Property Theft in Tulsa, OK

China has gained attention for their ambitious ‘Made in China 2025’ project, which aims to bring China to the forefront of world superpowers through a massive technological jump. Although, United States media has reported that this jump is aided by intellectual property theft from foreign countries and companies.

Recently, there was a case of intellectual property theft by a Chinese citizen in the small town of Bartlesville, OK. Bartlesville is just north of my hometown; Tulsa.

The Chinese citizen was charged and detained for stealing intellectual property from the Phillips 66 research center where he was employed. Phillips 66 is a prominent Oil and Gas (energy) company know around the entire world. The IP that was stolen has something to do with high capacity batteries, and the case states that the stolen information is worth over $1 billion USD.

It just so happend that energy is one of the main target sectors for the Made in China 2025 project. I speculate that this theft was orchestrated to enhance China’s energy development.

Further evidence provided by the FBI is a job offer and payment from a Chinese company for information linked to this case.

There is no offical ruling yet.

-John Moore

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Persian Poetry Night

Today, I attended the University of Oklahoma’s 3rd annual Persian poetry night. One of my good friends is the Vice President of the Persian club, so he invited me to come out to eat and learn something about Persian culture. Previously, I had absolutely no knowledge about Persian culture other than it comes from somewhere in the Middle East.

Regarding the event itself, I was astonished by the events turnout, and so was the Vice President. They did not anticipate such a large amount of people attending the event, so the food swiftly ran out. Luckily, I was able to fill my plate with an assortment of what was offered. There was chicken, beef or lamb (or a combination), what appeared to be Persian potato salad, and other items that I can’t explain. The explanations do not matter,  all that is important is that my taste buds were delighted with a plethora of new tastes and sensations.

Apart from the delicacies was the poetry. Poems from famous Persian Poets were recited in Farsi and English from heritage and non-heritage students. After their recitation, the participants gave an analysis of the poem. I have never been exposed to Farsi, but it is a beautiful language that, to me, sounded similar to Arabic. There were poems that were about responsible drinking, enjoying the world instead of analyzing it’s faults, and remaining humble.

I will definitely attend the event next time it is offered, and I recommend that others attend too.

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