Hello from sunny Alicante! I have been in Spain for three weeks now, but there are still days that I wake up and forget that I’m here—until I hear the sounds of Spanish from the streets below my window and remember that my dream of studying abroad is actually happening.
It’s been a roller coaster of a ride so far, between juggling classes, navigating the city, and meeting new friends, but it’s also been thrilling. I’m living with a host family and another exchange student from Japan. I love our dinners together where we talk about differences between our countries and Spain. In fact, meeting other international students has been one of the highlights of the trip so far. I have made friends from Montreal to Algiers, as well as several from right here in Alicante.
I’m thoroughly enjoying my classes at the University of Alicante. I am taking two linguistics classes, an Arabic class, and a translation class, so my language-loving heart is just loving it here. Plus, the gorgeous weather, stunning views, and Mediterranean architecture certainly makes each and every day here an exciting, new adventure.
I am so fortunate to call this city home for the next five or so months, and I can’t wait for all the adventures that lie ahead.
Protests began November 17 in France in response to President Macron’s announcement of an increase in fuel taxes. The protests have been deemed the “yellow vest” protests since many of the protestors are wearing yellow safety vests. The proposed fuel increase, which has since been tabled, was opposed most strongly by the rural population where the tax increase would be most felt.
The protests have become more widespread as the focus shifts to a more general protest against President Macron who many feel is out-of-touch with the ordinary people of France and acts on behalf of the wealthy.
Several people have died during the protests. According to NPR, three of those killed died in “traffic accidents caused by roadblocks set up by yellow vests” and another woman was killed after being struck in the face with a canister of tear gas. Hundreds more have been arrested. The protests have taken a violent turn. Some yellow vests claim that others have hijacked the protests and are corrupting the protests’ intentions.
The protests have been ongoing for more than four weeks. While numbers are increasing, there is no clear end to the protests in sight.
On October 7, 2018, Cameroon held presidential elections in which the current president, Paul Biya, won re-election. Biya has been in office since 1982. His re-election caused serious backlash and has escalated a growing divide between the anglophone and francophone regions of the country. Since 2016, Cameroon has experienced growing tensions between these two regions which, in addition to language differences, face major economic divides. The anglophone region is is in the minority, and many are protesting what they view as an unequal distribution of resources. Some are calling for a federal system to address the problem, while others are calling for independence and the formation of a new state called Ambazonia.
Election turnout was historically low — only 54%. And in English-speaking regions the turnout was only 10%, which can be explained by protests and escalating violence in those regions. As a result, some do not recognize the elections as valid.
Although this humanitarian crisis is not receiving much media attention, Cameroon will be a state to watch, especially with some reporters saying that the tensions between the regions are tipping the state toward civil war. Already the violence has caused the displacement of tens of thousands of Cameroonians.
For further reading, including a background on Cameroonian independence, please see below.
The Arabic Flagship Program hosted a new event this semester called the Ilham Fair. Ilham in Arabic means ‘inspiration.’ This fair was a large social event designed to share Arab culture with the OU community. There was live music, calligraphy, henna, games, and home-cooked dinner. The food was delicious. International students from around the Middle East cooked a massive feast for all of the participants, which was no small feat. I had delicious samosas, ate a lot of stuffed grape leaves, and I sampled koshari, a traditional Egyptian dish.
In addition to the yummy food, the live music was a real treat. One student provided the live music, and he seemed to be playing several instruments at once. I had never heard anything like it, but it really enhanced the atmosphere of the event.
I hope that the Ilham Fair becomes an annual tradition of the Arabic Flagship Program because I feel that it has a real possibility of growing each year and becoming a tradition that the Flagship can be proud of. I highly recommend that any student attend the Ilham Fair if it returns next year because it is a great introduction into Arab culture. Plus, what’s better than some free food and live music with friends?
As always, I attended the semesterly Arabic Talent Show hosted by the Arabic Flagship on November 30. It’s hard to believe, but this was the fifth talent show that I have attended. This year featured a number of videos from the beginning and intermediate classes as well as several live musical renditions, including one by the colloquial class. I always love attending the talent show because it is truly a great way to showcase all of the hard work that the classes and clubs have done over the summer.
I was especially proud of the fact that the Arabic Film Club submitted an entry this year. Our members wrote reviews of the films we watched over the semester, and these reviews were projected on the screen while everyone ate dinner. My favorite entry was by the Calligraphy Club, which only began this semester. Students submitted some of their best designs, and I was so impressed by the talent of the calligraphers who grew so much in such a short amount of time.
I love this semesterly tradition, and I feel that the quality of submissions continues to improve each semester.
For the second semester in a row, I moderated the Arabic Film Club. This semester we watched Caramel, Terrorism, and Kebab, Omar, Tickling Giants, and Emara. Each was good in their own unique way, which makes it difficult to pick a favorite. I must say, however, that I really appreciate Emara for its uniqueness and themes. It is an animated series available on Youtube about an Emirati girl who works in her family’s coffeeshop during the day and fights crime at night. It has important messages about bravery and feminism, and I hope that the creator adds the second season soon. I also really enjoyed Terrorism and Kebab, an Egyptian comedy from the 90s. This was the second time that I watched it, and I found that I enjoyed it much more this time around. I understood the language and the humor better, so I found the movie to be more enjoyable.
My favorite meeting was our screening of the documentary Tickling Giants, which we hosted along with the Egyptian club. Tickling Giants is the story of Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s first political satirist who had the most viewed show in the country’s history until censorship and intimidation forced the show to end. We catered food from Sisters restaurant — which was great — but I think the real draw was that we partnered with Egyptian Club and were able to grow our membership as a result.
Because I will study abroad in Spain next semester, I will have to take a break from the Arabic Film Club. I know the club has been left in good hands, and I am excited to see how it grows next semester.
Two of my friends and I went to the Asian Food Fair in the armory. It was pretty great. For just a few dollars, all-you-can-eat awesome food! The Asian American Student Association puts on the food festival every year to raise money for the philanthropy Holiday Head Start, which provides holiday meals for families in Norman.
I would highly recommend it to anyone!
This semester is the first semester in a long time that I am not taking a language class. I have took French classes for a couple years, and then I took three semesters of Latin. Language classes are a big commitment, and I was honestly pretty excited to not have one this semester, but as the semester went on, I found myself missing my languages!
I’m a letters major, and everyone in the letters department has to take two different foreign languages. So a lot of my classmates are still very involved with all the modern languages. Two of my classmates invited me to join them at the Modern Languages Fair in Kaufman. It was really fun! Japanese Club, French Club, Spanish Club, the Linguistics Club, and a few other groups were represented at the fair – and it was really refreshing to see so many passionate students who are dedicated to learning languages and making the world a little more connected.
This year I continued to participate in Spanish Club, as much as I can. My friend from Spanish Club and I went to OU’s Day of the Dead street festival at the Lloyd Noble Center on Sunday. It was so much fun! There was face-painting, great food trucks, live music, and even a petting zoo… Tons of people were dressed up in traditional festive clothes.
The coolest part was seeing the remembrance altars -ofrendas- covered with pictures and candles, and sugar skulls.
I couldn’t believe that an event like this was free, and I can’t believe that I didn’t go to this event in recent years. It was really fun to go with my friend who so graciously welcomed me to join Spanish Club, even though I was really late joining and I don’t know much Spanish.
This year, I applied to be on the review board for the Honors Undergraduate Research Journal (THURJ). I have been a long-time admirer of the journal and what it means for undergraduate students here at OU. It’s a great opportunity for undergraduates to get their research published. THURJ is awesome because honors students can publish research for any class, their theses, or independent research projects. So there is a ton of diversity in the research that gets submitted. As I review research papers this year, I hope to find research that will explore international areas of interest, generate empathy, and challenge our collective biases about what makes us so different.