Missile Strikes Against Syria

The United States, Britain, and France launched a missile attack on chemical weapons facilities in Syria this month. More than 100 missiles were launched in the attack. While officials have claimed the strikes took out the heart of President al-Assad’s chemical weapons program, they admitted that it is incredibly likely the Syrian government retained some degree of ability to commit chemical attacks against its own people. At least 3 people were injured in the strikes according to a statement by the Syrian military. Some are skeptical that these strikes will have any lasting impact in the region. They believe that much like the strikes of last year, this month’s strikes will only succeed for a limited time to deter the Syrian government from using chemical weapons.


Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)

The closing session of the Commission on the Status of Women was held this March.  Negotiations regarding the international status of women have declined.  This is largely due to changes in the language of the final outcome document throughout the negotiation process. The formal commitments to improve women’s lives have become increasingly less inclusive because conflicting delegations have debated the language of the document. Several of the featured speakers at the CSW this year commented on how steps should be taken to make the Commission more inclusive. Many advocates are barred entry from the CSW due to the expense of traveling to the US and the need for English language proficiency in order to partcipiate in the Commission. However, speakers emphasized that despite its pitfalls, the CSW is an excellent opportunity to engage international leaders in the process of improving the lives of women and girls worldwide.  Several speakers commented on how it is sometimes easier for them to get their message in front of their governments’ officials at CSW in New York than in their respective countries, where their letters and proposals are often stymied by bureaucracy.


Survival Arabic

During one of the global engagement day sessions, a guest speaker provided instruction on some basic words and phrases in Arabic, as well as some of the differences in regional dialects. Arabic is a gendered language, so words vary depending on who you are addressing. For instance, “kayfak” would mean “How are you?” if addressing a male, but “kayfik” is the female equivalent. “Ahlan”, however, means “hello” and works for all genders. Interestingly, “Ahwa” can mean both “coffee” and “coffee shop” in Egypt, but other Arabic-speaking countries use “Qhwa” instead of “Ahwa”. The guest speaker was very passionate about the language, but she impressed upon us that Arabic takes many devoted hours of study to learn. Students who want to learn the language will really need to participate in activities and watch lots of things in Arabic. She mentioned that many phrases in Egyptian Arabic come from movie references, which is another reason it is important to watch plenty of films and TV shows in Arabic to improve your language acquisition.

Some travel abroad tips I learned in this session that were unrelated to the study of Arabic but still extremely helpful were tips about navigating foreign cities and advice for finding transportation. The guest speaker for the French section of the session informed us that if we download a Google map to our phones, we can still use the map for navigation even without internet access, which is extremely helpful since many students have difficulty getting internet access abroad. She also went over some basic tips on how to read a metro map, which is helpful not only for students planning to travel to France, but for students who want to go anywhere in Europe since many European countries have heavily-used public transportation systems. One of the most interesting parts of her lecture for me was her explanation of “Blablacar”. I had never heard of this service, but apparently it is somewhat similar to Uber. You look on the app to see if a driver is headed somewhere you want to go, and then you pay them a small fee to take you with them. I thought that could be a very helpful resource for students who want to do some exploring on their weekends abroad.


Capoeira Workshop on Campus

One of my favorite international events I’ve attended this school year has been the capoeira workshop. An instructor who studied capoeira in England and currently teaches capoiera in Oklahoma City was brought in to conduct the workshop. He taught some basic capoeira moves, but we were also instructed on the history of capoeira. According to the instructor, capoeiristas (those who practice capoeira) are associated with white clothing because they used to practice capoeira on Sundays after church. The most skilled capoeiristas were able to participate in the roda without dirtying their Sunday clothes. This tradition of practicing after church also plays into capoeira technique. The weight of the body is often balanced on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, or the head, so that the rest of the body never comes in contact with the ground. This helped keep the clothes clean when capoeira was practiced in earlier times.

The most enjoyable part of the workshop for me was the opportunity to play the instruments associated with capoeira. The students in attendance were able to take turns learning how to play a pandeiro, which is a tambourine-like instrument, as well as the berimbau, which looks similar to a bow. It is a long wooden tube with a string attached. It is played by plucking the string while holding a small stone against the string to control the tone of the instrument. The weight of the entire instrument is balanced on the pinky, which makes it a bit difficult for beginners to learn. The instructor recommended practicing in small intervals to avoid causing injury until the muscles in the fingers are strong enough to support the berimbau.


Independent Study Informational Session

For students looking for greater independence and flexibility in their travel abroad experience, independent study may be the best option. This will require a greater degree of diligence on the student’s part because he or she will need to be driven to do research and seek out opportunities outside OU’s established programs. Students should still make an appointment with the study abroad advisor for their region of interest, but they will have greater flexibility in being able to travel and explore. In contrast, many of OU’s programs are more structured and activities are scheduled for you in advance, including weekend events. Even if you choose not to do one of OU’s traditional programs, you can possibly still apply GEF and other study abroad scholarships, such as the airfare scholarship, to your independent study experience. It is also wise to look for scholarships within your particular program or through the institution you plan to study with abroad. You will need to pay for insurance to cover any potential healthcare needs abroad. Even if you are studying independently, you will have access to the director of risk management and all of OU’s other safety resources abroad.

If you are interested in independent study, it’s a good idea to talk to others who have done a similar program and research potential travel warnings and safety concerns. You should also register with the State Department and make sure the nearest consulate knows where you are and how to reach you. OU offers pre-departure orientations where students who’ve completed one of the five traditional program types are invited to attend and talk to students who are about to travel abroad. Even if you are doing an independent study program, it may still be helpful to attend one of these sessions to get an idea of steps you need to take before traveling abroad. Yet another reason why talking to other students who’ve been abroad and done similar programs to the one you’re interested in is that when you present your proposal for independent study to the study abroad office, it may be easier to get approval if you know of someone who’s done the program or been to the region.

One concern students who do independent study may have is how their credits will transfer to their OU transcript. Student who choose to pursue independent study will need to negotiate their credits, so they’re advised to talk to professors in their department about what courses they can receive credit for abroad. Knowing other students who have done a program similar to yours and having a faculty member on your side before you leave the states can ease the haggling process when it comes to getting credits transferred.


Capoeira Club

Capoeira is a Brazilian art combining music, dance and martial arts. OU is blessed with a student organization that teaches and practices capoeira on Saturdays from about 1:15-2:20 in Sarkeys Fitness Center. Amanda Minks, who teaches a perspectives course here at OU on Latin American Music and Politics, attends and participates in the club meetings. Students are not required to attend every single Saturday session, and the club leaders are very understanding of scheduling difficulties and course work overload. This is an excellent organization to join if you are interested in learning more about Brazilian culture or if you simply enjoy being active. We are taught capoeira moves while listening to the music associated with the art form and toward the end of each session we get to participate in a roda, which is essentially an opportunity to combat an opponent while the rest of the group forms a circle around you. If this description has just scared you out of your wits, have no fear. Capoeira is more of a game than a true fight. We practice a playful, beginner-friendly style of capoeira moves in the roda, and participants rarely ever actually make contact with one another. For instance, the kicks we learn are designed to pass over or in front of one’s opponent, not actually touch the opponent or cause damage. New members are always welcome, so please feel free to take advantage of this opportunity to get involved in a student organization on campus. Hope to see some fellow GEFs in attendance! 🙂


About Me

Hi all,

I’m Gabrielle Williams, and I’m a first year psychology major. I moved to Oklahoma from Texas to attend OU, but before high school I lived in Georgia for over a decade. I have one sibling, my older sister, who is currently in New York attending Colombia. My mom recently moved to Tampa for work.

I enjoy reading very much. It’s one of my favorite activities. My favorite genre is dystopian or science fiction. I love dogs. I’ve only traveled beyond the United States once, when I went to the Bahamas on a family vacation. I’ve taken a few years of Spanish in high school, and I would love to travel around Latin America. I didn’t know anyone in Oklahoma prior to moving here for school, but I chose OU  over the universities in Texas for its National Merit Scholarship.

I look forward to studying abroad as a Global Engagement Fellow, and I hope to hear some great accounts of the experiences of my fellow GEFs abroad.



Crisis in Syria

The ongoing conflict in Syria is a major issue. Over a quarter of a million Syrians have been killed, and more than 11 million have fled their homes in the wake of battles between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, militants opposing Assad, and jihadist factions. Though the origins of the crisis occurred over 6 years ago with pro-democracy protests, the unrest in Syria has continued to escalate and affect the current population. People called for President Assad to step down after government forces opened fire on civilians at protests, and even at a funeral, killing several people who had been peacefully protesting for greater democracy. The conflict evolved into a civil war when the war between factions supporting and opposing Assad’s regime escalated into a battle between the Sunni majority and the Shia Alawite minority. The chaos bred by the fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels has allowed the Islamic State to gain land in Syria. The UN claims that all the factions involved in the crisis have committed war crimes, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians. Millions of Syrians, mainly women and children, have fled the conflict in their home country. However, this influx of migrants into neighboring countries and into Europe has led to political unrest in the countries hosting Syrian refugees as arguments break out over the burden of supporting so many refugees. For those that remain in Syria, the outlook is bleak, as the multiple factions involved in the conflict have refused to allow humanitarian aid agencies to access civilians. The crisis in Syria is a major international concern because it has produced an incredibly large refugee movement that rivals almost any other in recent history.


Ebola in Sierra Leone: A Humanitarian Crisis in Historical Perspective Dr. Paul Richards

I attended a lecture by Dr. Richards that explored the difference in approach between forest edge communities in Sierra Leone and foreign humanitarian intervention organizations when addressing the Ebola outbreak of 2014.

Forest edge Sierra Leonean indigenous groups historically showed a stronger tendency toward self-reliance and cultural autonomy. It may not be coincidental that when Ebola began among one of these groups, the Kissi, there was strong local mobilization to defeat the disease. Their history of self-reliance encouraged the tribe to turn inwards to address Ebola. Although the Ebola outbreak peaked in November of 2014, the Kissi tribe managed to significantly reduce its cases of Ebola from August 2014 forward with effective quarantine practices. Their containment strategies began long before WHO declared concern. Ebola was declining when international humanitarian help arrived, and the outbreak had ended completely in some places, especially in the eastern forest regions. Locals used containment strategies such as burning bridges between villages to prevent spreading the disease through travel. They also warned villagers against contact with the bodily fluid of their ill family members, despite cultural norms of constant contact with the ill to encourage recovery. Tribes also mobilized volunteer burial teams that respected local traditions, unlike international teams that didn’t acknowledge the local rituals and struggled with the terrain. Although the international humanitarian response was well-intended, locals were sometimes denied resources while millions were invested in metropolitan Ebola treatment centers and cemeteries located far from the affected communities. This top down approach was less effective than some of the local efforts. The key lesson for humanitarianism is to listen to marginalized groups and empower them in advance of disasters while remaining open to local ideas and initiatives.


Ebola Community Care Centres in Sierra Leone: Esther Mokuwa’s Presentation

I attended a presentation by Esther Mokuwa that explored the effectiveness of community care centers during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

During Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak, community care centers, or CCCs, were favored over Ebola treatment centers, or ETCs that were funded and staffed by international humanitarian organizations. The CCCs were a local network of treatment centers in villages, staffed by villagers. Their proximity and local staff made villagers feel comfortable seeking treatment at CCCs. The British government sent teams to villages with live Ebola cases to evaluate the CCCs, and investigators found that CCCs decreased the epidemic by 30%. The ETCs took so long to process tests and were so crowded that villagers would not let people with fevers go to ETCs in case they had a less severe illness such as malaria, fearing exposure to crowded ETCs could increase their chances of contracting Ebola. CCCs, on the other hand, did very quick blood tests and were more transparent with their medical procedures, which increased the degree of acceptance of CCCs. ETCs were scandalously expensive and treated mainly international patients while CCCs used local materials and staffed from the huge pool of unemployed nurses who were qualified but had yet to receive a position due to inefficient bureaucracy. As a result, CCCs were cheaper, more efficient, and more effective than ETCs because they were well-accepted by the community. Sierra Leoneans were also very concerned with burial practices. Because the government emphasized safe burial, many teams put bodies in bags and pushed corpses with sticks into their graves. This greatly upset the locals, causing the government to begin emphasizing respectful burial.