International Group

International Group: ICDG

My international group I chose to join this year was the informed citizen discussion group offered by the honors college. In ICDG, we get together once a week and discuss. The range of topics discussed is vast, but mostly revolves around current events, political chaos, leadership of countries, and major global issues. Generally, the point of the group is to come away with a better understanding of what is happening in the world after hearing the opinions of various people on a set of topics.

Every time I attend an ICDG meeting, I am amazed. While occasionally it’s the tragic events being discussed that amaze me, mostly it is the people I am discussing them with who truly astound me. The caliber of students involved in these groups is highly impressive as the typical person who joins ICDG is joining because they have a genuine interest in being educated on world events as well as on how to improve the world.

Although I like to share my opinions, my favorite part of being in ICDG is to listen to the brilliant things all my group members have to say. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that we can learn volumes and increase our intelligence by earnestly listening to what others have to say rather than constantly competing to be the loudest voice in the room. As a result of being surrounded by people who obtain unique and innovative ideas concerning the world we live in, I have expanded and enhanced my own point of view and level of understanding when it comes to many issues.

One topic that was particularly popular to discuss this past semester was the presidential race, as it is the main event being aired on most news stations. While I quickly got burnt out on hearing the merry go round of statements by the various candidates running in the race, ICDG renewed my interest in the race for a different reason. Many of my group members specialized in government and exposing the various hidden facets of our political system which remain largely obscure to the general public. As a result of the numerous discussions we had on the hypothetical possibilities concerning the presidential race, I learned a myriad of new things about the loopholes and surprising laws that outline the process of electing presidents in the US.

This is just one example of the ways that ICDG has enriched by understanding of the environment in which I live and the laws which bolster it. ICDG has challenged me to individually pursue information on topics that interest me when I am not taught about them in my basic education. It also challenged me to take a frank look at my personal views and reflect on why I believed in them so fervently, because I was faced with convincing, passionate arguments from people who held opposing views. In general, ICDG pushes you to become a more informed, mature, effective citizen and I am lucky to have been affected by the special people who participated in my group.

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Fulbright Info Session

International Event #4: Fulbright Info Session

As a GEF, we are told that it is mandatory to apply to Fulbright during our senior year. Ever since I was first introduced to the idea of Fulbright, I have been fascinated by it and eager to learn more as its essence remained fairly vague to me. Thankfully, an information session on Fulbright, led by a recent Fulbright grant recipient, was offered.

At the info session, the discussion leader went over the main points of the Fulbright application process. Surprisingly, she told us that it was not a lengthy application. In fact, the challenge of applying to Fulbright is to make yourself look as impressive as possible in a very small amount of words. The program she got accepted to was a research grant in Israel which is also the location she studied abroad in during her time as an undergrad.

She gave us a great deal of helpful advice. One thing she suggested was networking and reaching out to the professors at the college in the foreign country you are hoping to study. She built a relationship with a professor in Israel who was willing to aid her with her research, and having him vouch for her and support her was extremely helpful to the success of her application. Another important piece of advice that she gave was to make sure your proposal detailing what you want to do with your Fulbright grant, demonstrates why it is imperative that you be in that specific location in order to successfully conduct your research. She advised that it would be smart to tie your proposal to something that would also help improve the community in which you will be living for a year.

One thing I find immensely attractive about Fulbright is the opportunity to connect and impact the community you live in. It is not only offered, but encouraged that you become involved with the people and the customs of the place you are studying in. Being exposed to a culture is one thing, but being immersed in it is another. Allowing yourself to become completely open to accepting and learning from a culture different from your own allows you to grow in ways you never could by living carefully within the comfort of your own culture.

I am particularly interested in pursuing a creative writing Fulbright award in Ireland as it is a place I feel tethered to since my heritage is deeply rooted in Ireland. After attending the info session, I now understand the importance of extensively researching the country you want to go to as well as forming a cohesive, doable plan as to what you will do once you get there. I know I have a lot to think about over these next few years, but I am glad I am aware that I should start now.

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Latin Americanist Lunch

International Event #3: Latin American Lunch

I have a deep interest in all things Latin America, so much so that I am planning to spend my semester abroad in a Latin American country. Naturally, when I heard about the Latin Americanist lunch being held in Hester Hall, I jumped at the chance to learn more about this vastly interesting culture. The talk was administered by Raphael Folson, Associate Professor of History, who was presenting on his book, “The Yaquis and the Empire: Violence, Spanish Imperial Power and Native Resilience in Colonial Mexico.” Although I had previously been completely ignorant to this subject, by the end of the talk I was fascinated by this new facet of history I had been exposed to. Here is a brief summary of what I learned about the fascinating Yaquis:

The Yaquis are a native group of Sonora, Mexico that are well known both inside and outside of Mexico. They have a couple incorrect stereotypes attached to them. One is a result of the writings of mystical anthropologist, Carlos Castaneda, who convinced people that the Yaqui way of life was based off of drug use. The second incorrect assumption about Yaquis is that they are cast as completely rejecting the modern way of life.

Professor Folson set the scene to better understand the Yaquis by describing the atmosphere of Mexico during the colonial period. Mexico had trouble being a unified nation, because the subgroups of the regions did not understand that they needed to “be a Mexican first.” The ideology of particularistic identities was deeply problematic and cast barriers against mass unification. The infrastructure of the country was the other major problem. The Yaquis were fortunate enough to live on some of the most valuable land of the region because it was highly fertile. Their land was viewed as a paradise and the people who lived on it were extremely well off and healthy. Others started to covet their fortune and accused the Yaquis of not exploiting the land correctly.

As a result, the Spanish attempted a genocide against the Yaquis who resisted them fiercely and beat them in battle. In a strange turn of events, the Yaquis decided they wanted to make friends with the Spanish afterwards, and they became the Spaniards’ greatest allies. The Spaniards realized they needed to gain the native peoples’ trust to survive after their attempt to follow in Cortez’ footsteps failed. In turn, the Yaquis studied the Jesuit/ Catholic culture of the Spanish.

The most interesting custom that I learned regarding the Yaquis, was their practice of exchanging children voluntarily in order to build a firm alliance. Yaqui children were given to the Spanish as gifts, and were seen as students of the Christian faith, and hostages. The captive children were adopted into new families and were fully integrated into the foreign culture. In return, the Yaquis received goods from the Spanish and their promise to help them fight against enemies. This Yaqui practice symbolized the end of a conflict, a sign of good will, and a statement of dominance. Overall, I was profoundly engrossed by the Yaquis and their unfamiliar customs, and I am glad I got to attend such an insightful talk.

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Latino Flavor

 

International Event #2: Latino Flavor

When I arrived at the scene of the cultural event, Latino Flavor, I knew I had stumbled upon a good time. I assumed my place at the back of a long line extending far out the door of the entrance to the event. People who were complete strangers were jovially chatting back and forth in line picking up on strings of overheard conversations. One guy who I had never met before handed me all of his extra voucher tickets, just because it was a kind thing to do. I smiled to myself as I realized that everything I was observing was so very unique to the Latin American culture.

Once I finally entered the venue, I discovered that the food had been so popular that most of it was already gone by the time I got there. The menu included an extensive list of Spanish and Latino recipes. Some of my favorite foods were the specialty cookies with caramel in the middle, as well as the tasty, flaky Columbian empanadas. Once I had collected my plate of food, I saw that the communal atmosphere I had witnessed in line had continued inside the event. Numerous different groups of people were sharing tables with one and other, so I joined a table of strangers as I had ventured over to the event alone. They were a friendly group and they welcomed me with effortless kindness.

The room was decorated colorfully, the Latino cultural influence evident. The center pieces on the tables were placed over patterned place mats and featured bamboo figurines and paper machete flowers. Signs around the room featured photographs of the beautiful landscapes of various Latin American countries. One of my favorite decorations was the giant flower wreath over the door of the entrance into the ball room where the event was being held. The bright, vibrant flowers welcomed the newcomers into a world of energy and color. The lime green shirts of the Latino Flavor staff also added a comedic touch to the atmosphere as they featured a pun that read “Como te llama?” with a picture of an actual lama on the back.

The main entertainment of the event was the live music and dancing on the central stage. The first act I saw was a band that played guitars and drums, and the lead singer sang beautiful Spanish lyrics song after song. Another act was a duet of a little girl and her mother who danced sweetly to the notes of instrumental music as they twirled in their patterned skirts. One of my favorite acts consisted of a group of girls in colorful yellow, pink and green sparkly leotards with puffy sleeves and tutu type skirts, and sparkly golden heels. With full hair and makeup done, they performed traditional style dance numbers. The crowd clapped along to the catchy beat and watched, enthralled by the dazzling performance.

Latino Flavor was a wonderful event that allowed me a reprieve from the monotony of being exposed to only one culture for a long period of time. As I left the event, I left with a smile on my face and I felt lighter. The lively energy, contagious laughter, and various languages flying across the room stayed within me for the rest of the day. Latino Flavor allowed me to escape into another culture for the day, without ever leaving OU’s campus.

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The Life You Can Save

International Event #1: Honors Reading Group

Over the first half of spring semester, I joined a group to read and discuss a book called “The Life You Can Save,” by Peter Singer. It was a new experience for me as I usually read fictional books as opposed to non fiction. It was also an interesting ordeal because the content of the book challenged me. It forced me to question the comfortable lifestyle I live and the truthfulness behind my assumed morality. If I was living my life by feigning ignorance when it came to the millions of people on our planet living in poverty, how moral was I really?

On the first day of our discussion group, our group moderator warned us that Singer’s writings might make us uncomfortable – and she was right. Nevertheless, this reading group taught me that sometimes it’s a positive thing to have your values and moral compass questioned. Serious, frank self reflection is how we further develop our goals to improve the world, and it is how we form our definition of what it means to live a good and meaningful life.

Although we may each feel small and useless in the face of global issues like poverty, we have more power as individuals than we know. Whether it be donating money or time, there is something we can all be doing to help with massive global issues. There is a reason the book is titled the LIFE you can save. If we think one step at a time and start out with the goal of saving just one person, then the task at hand seems more doable, less daunting. Singer’s approach of starting small to eventually make a big impact, helps us to chip away at the issue of global poverty and make real progress, rather than stare it in the face wide-eyed, our hands hanging useless at our sides.

For me, being a part of this reading group had a direct impact on my goals and way of thinking. Although I don’t feel that I am in a good place to donate sums monetarily, I would like to get involved with non profit organizations that I can donate my time and skill set to. Ideally, I would like to volunteer at a nonprofit that promotes literacy and writing skills to children. I believe that improving the education of young people is the way to stop global poverty in the long run. Eventually, I would like to help nonprofits on an organizational level with my experience as a professional writing and international studies major. In particular, grant writing is something I am very interested in pursuing. Overall, “The Life You Can Save” is a powerful piece of literature that has enormous potential to challenge and change the lives of its readers. I recommend it to anyone who is not afraid to have their eyes opened.

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Packing for Study Abroad

One thing that is imperative to successfully traveling, aside from making sure your luggage actually reaches your destination, is making sure you packed correctly.

My first mistake in packing for my European study abroad trip, was assuming that summer was universal. While the temperatures were rising in Norman, Oklahoma it was dumping rain in London – not exactly summer weather. After doing some research, it turns out that seasons are timed differently all over the world! – Obviously.

Here is a rundown of what is going to happen if you do not do your research on your location and pack like I did:

1)         You will think sandals are acceptable footwear, and everyone will stare at your feet: Apparently, in Europe, it is the general consensus of the people to exclusively wear closed toe shoes. This is both a stylistic choice, and a practical one as the frequent rain makes bare toes cold and wet. I know this, because I actually thought my toes were going to freeze off while seeing the Buckingham Palace in the rain. The Europeans will notice how much your feet don’t fit in, and they will dart rude looks at you to make sure you know you don’t fit in too.

2)         If you fail to bring a warm sweater of jacket, you will end up dropping major money on buying one in Europe: Via my lack of a warm jacket, I spent about a week of shivering and teeth chattering in London all while swearing my thin blazer was more than enough. My stubborn streak didn’t last long and I caved, buying a coat for much more expensive of a price than I would have paid at home. Also, that purchase really dug into my food budget.

3)         If you pack bright colored clothing, everyone will know you’re an American tourist: In Europe, people dress much classier and sophisticated. Bright colors are not in. Europeans are all about the dark colors and earth tones. So pack your grays, blacks, and navy’s, because if you pack oranges and pinks and yellows – you will look like a ridiculous peacock who doesn’t belong. However, if your goal is not to look like a local, then by all means, pack your neons.

4)         If you make all the above mistakes you will realize you only have three acceptable shirts and you will wear them the entire trip: Only wearing three outfits for a month is a seriously gross habit, and makes you feel gross as well. Your clothes will get wrinkly, smelly and tired looking. There will even come a moment when they start to fell like part of you. A lack in variety of outfits is also terrible for picture taking.

So, do yourself a favor and don’t pack like I did — research the weather, research the locals, and most of all be practical in your wardrobe choices.

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ICDG

This semester I joined an informed citizen discussion group as an extracurricular through the honors college. The purpose of this group was to help keep students up to date on current events for the US and the world. We would also read through the stories in the magazine, The Economist, as a group, and get free copies to take home. While initially I didn’t know what to expect from this group, it became one of my favorite parts of the semester.

One of the best things about ICDG is that you always know there is someone in the group who is smarter than you regarding certain subjects. This spread of expertise helped bring different perspectives and understandings to current events that I had not previously entertained. Whether it be ISIS attacks, presidential debates, or racial tensions on college campuses, there was always a student who was well read on the subject and knew the details that the general public generally missed.

Another beneficial part of ICDG is that each student came to know about what was happening in the world through a myriad of different sources. It is common for people to only check one news site in particular based off of their beliefs and habits, so being exposed to a group who used diverse sources helped expand my understanding of the world. Suddenly, there wasn’t just one story regarding an event. There were multiple stories with multiple messages that allowed me to better assess the significance of what really happened once I had viewed the story from all sides.

I found ICDG to be especially relevant this semester, because we were able to dissect the presidential debates of both parties, leading up to the 2016 race. It was useful to have a sounding board to bounce ideas off of about each candidate and what they stood for. We would also decided after each debate who won in our eyes and why. This practice improved my analytical skills of political speeches as well as looking deeper into politicians past the superficial front they show the public.

Whether it be arguing over the effectiveness of the Mizzou protests, mocking dumb things politicians say, or making sense of the ISIS attacks in Paris, ICDG helped me to better understand the world. This group allowed me to expand my perspective on current events and get a better grasp for how to find the truth in news today.

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Canals and Conversations

One of the scariest things about traveling abroad is reaching out to meet new people and make friends with strangers. It can be terrifying to be the one to take a gamble and say hello first, because we are so comfortable simply existing within our already established group of friends from home. However, when you’re abroad, you will inevitably be without that group of friends and you will be challenged to leave your comfort zone and make new ones. In my opinion, the only thing scarier than meeting new people, is not meeting new people.

You only get out of traveling abroad as much as you put into it. A huge part of getting the most out of it is the people you meet and form relationships with. At some point, you need to cut away the safety net, and simply say hello. The people you meet could have amazing stories to tell, suggestions about the best places to visit in whatever foreign country you may be in, and best of all, they may become a friend and companion for the remainder of your trip.

For me, I experienced the beauty of meeting strangers during a sunny day in Amsterdam. My sister and I decided to spend the afternoon on a cruise of Amsterdam’s water canals. We squeezed into a booth seat with a good view and settled in for a leisurely ride.

Suddenly, a pair of girls around our age plopped into the booth across from us. We recognized them from our youth hostel earlier in the day and they came over to introduce themselves. We ended up becoming fast friends and bonded over where we were from in the US and why we were traveling abroad. Before they got off on their stop, we made plans to all go to dinner late that night.

After the girls got off, a young couple replaced them. They were from the US as well, and had just graduated college. We learned that they were engaged and were backpacking through Europe together for the summer before settling into their post graduate jobs back home. We talked for a long while, and even got to know the story of how they met. After giving us a couple suggestions for the rest of our trip, the couple got off the boat and said goodbye with a friendly wave.

For the following duration of the river ride, Rachel and I mingled with a couple other strangers, and when we finally got off at our stop, we felt happy. It’s easy to feel alone in a foreign country, and connecting with people throughout the day made Amsterdam’s environment seem instantly more friendly and fulfilling. I maintained the mantra of trying to meet new people throughout the rest of my travels, because almost always, making new friends enhanced my experience exponentially.

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Redefining Pancakes

Being a breakfast lover, I thought I knew every type of pancake there was. I had eaten chocolate chip, blueberry, and even cinnamon roll pancakes. So when I visited Amsterdam with my sister, Rachel, after my study abroad trip, we were extremely excited to visit Amsterdam’s infamous pancake houses.

We had been told by numerous acquaintances that trying the pancakes in Amsterdam was an absolute must. I didn’t see what could make a pancake so different just because it was made in another country, but nonetheless I was willing to try it and find out. Tasting foreign foods is one of my favorite parts of traveling. Sometimes it can end in a spout of gagging, but other times you can discover a new flavor that sends your taste buds reeling. In the case of Amsterdam’s pancakes, I had the latter experience.

One chilly morning, Rachel and I made our way to The Pancake House under gloomy skies. It was located on the corner of the plaza near our youth hostel, so we had just rolled out of bed, sleepy eyed and stomachs rumbling. We were sat inside the restaurant by a window and briskly handed a menu without much introduction from our waiter.

The menu was not what I expected. Instead of the normal pancake options I was accustomed to, there were lists of endless combinations of ingredients that often seemed like they didn’t even mix well together. Rachel and I looked at each other in confusion, starting to realize that these were not going to be your average pancakes.

We ended up deciding on a pancake that contained ham, cheese, and onion. We sipped on our coffees as we waited anxiously for our meals to arrive. Finally, the pancakes were brought out to us, piping hot exuding intoxicating aromas. The dish that was set in front of us hardly resembled a pancake, the only similarity being that it was circular. It looked more akin to the omelet family and was so big that it spilled over the edges of the plate, daring us to try to finish it.

Hesitantly, I dug my fork into the pancake, splitting open the hot, gooey center which emitted a puff of steam. I brought the fork up to my mouth and tossed the first bite of pancake into my mouth. My eyes shot wide open in euphoria at the first taste of the ingredients and the rest of the pancake was history. By the end of the meal, the savory pancake that I had been initially unsure about, had undoubtably risen to the top of my list of favorite foods.

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“I am München”

Over the summer, following my study abroad trip, I visited Munich, Germany with my sister Rachel. There were many things I loved about Munich, like its old churches, musical street performers, river surfing, and beer gardens. However, the reason this particular city has a lasting imprint on my mind is due to the startling and even disturbing first impression it made on me.

Upon arriving, Rachel and I disembarked the bus once we got to the stop that the youth hostel we were staying at was near. The bus had been underground, and when we emerged off of the escalator onto the streets of Munich, we were extremely disoriented. It was night time, and the darkness didn’t help with our sense of direction.

Aside from the darkness, we were surprised by the many groups of people hanging around on street corners, against buildings, or meandering the plaza. These people were sometimes shoeless, sometimes holding an object that suspiciously resembled a bottle of alcohol, and sometimes wearing very ratty clothes. Many of the lurkers were people of dark ethnicities, a stark contrast to the stereotypical white, blonde, blue-eyed German we were made to imagine when we think of Germany.

When the lurkers saw my sister and I with our large suitcases, obviously foreign, they began shouting phrases in our direction and even advancing towards us slowly. Nervous at the setting, Rachel and I began quickly walking away, although we did not know where we were going. Already lost, nervous and distressed within our first few minutes of arriving, Munich was not what we had anticipated.

Just when we were really starting to get worried, a German man riding by us on a bike, stepped hard on his breaks and hopped off his bike. He first tried a German phrase, and when that didn’t work, he switched over to broken English. We could tell it was laborious for him to attempt having a full conversation in our language but we appreciated it.

This man was the stereotypical German we had been socialized to expect. For some reason, he took it upon himself to act as our protector. He asked us what we were looking for and figured out what direction we needed to go on the map. Furthermore, he then insisted on walking us all the way to the door of our hostel to make sure we got there safely.

While this may sound like a case of creepy stranger-danger, it wasn’t. This man was genuinely concerned at the prospect of two young girls being lost and alone in this part of the city at night. He attempted to communicate his distress at the state of this section of Munich and continued repeating the same phrase over and over: “I am München.”

That is when I realized that the underlying racial tensions were still a dominant part of German society. This man wanted my sister and I to know that to him, the real Germany, consisted of people who looked and acted like him. In his eyes, the dark skinned people who hung out on street corners were not true Germans. This realization shocked me, and I still have not forgotten his ernest belief in what he was saying. Race in Germany is still very much a prominent cause for dissension.

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