Refugee Crisis in Europe

I also wrote this one for a class.

I attended “Journey to Europe: Perspectives on the Refugee Crisis,” which included a screening of the movie “4.1 miles” and a presentation by Dr. Smith, Dr. Raymond, and Stefanie Neumeier. The movie is a documentary that focuses on the struggles of one man to help safely bring families across the sea to the island of Lesbos. Even though the island is small and relatively poor, the native inhabitants still generally feel it is their responsibility to give aid to the desperate refugees who continue to arrive in vast amounts every day.

The main purpose of the presentation was to show that the vast majority of people seeking refuge in Europe are truly desperate victims of the tragedies of war. They are not lazy people who simply want to enjoy the pleasures of Europe, and they are not terrorists looking for an excuse to cross borders. These people risk their lives to escape their native countries, and none of the journey is easy. Furthermore, becoming an official refugee is not nearly as easy as it is popularly described. An individual must be outside his own country and be unable to return, and the country in which he seeks refuge must accept his refugee claim, which often does not actually happen. Surprisingly, the countries who accept the most refugees are not the rich and prosperous ones, but the poor, fragile ones who are at risk of falling into political and economic turmoil themselves. This situation may be caused in part by the citizens of the rich countries who fear that accepting refugees will downgrade their high society. However, this fear is in no way supported by the numerous studies which test it. In fact, the main source of violence is from natives against refugees and from refugees who are not well integrated into society. Thus, it is not the refugees who are the problem, but the natives who refuse to accept them.

The greatest insight I gained from the presentation was realizing the shear mass of the people who are trying to escape the violence of their home countries. It was also very interesting to hear a different perspective of the crisis from the one usually heard from the media. Although I do not follow the crisis regularly, the information I had generally heard previously mostly expressed the concerns of the Europeans who did not want to have to manage the arrival of so many refugees. Realizing that poorer countries – even those that can barely support their own native population – are forced to accept the refugees simply because the prosperous countries do not want to deal with them certainly offers a different view of the situation.

This problem clearly relates to power and inequality. The countries that have more power are able to refuse to accept the refugees because there are enough powerful people in the countries to keep it from happening. These powerful individuals likely believe that they are in some way better than the poor refugees who cannot seem to do anything for themselves. To them, the refugees are clearly coming to Europe to beg for help simply because they are too lazy to solve their problems on their own. The burden is then passed on to the “lesser” countries who accept the refugees either because the people can relate to their struggles and truly wish to help, or simply because they do not have the resources to keep the refugees from coming. Thus, there is a clear inequality between the refugees and the natives, and also between the rich and poor countries accepting refugees.

I cannot say that I entirely agree with all the points made by the presenters, but I certainly do not disagree with them either. There are always two sides to a debate, and it is generally impossible to know which side is actually correct. Certainly, it does not seem right that refugees are being stereotyped as lazy terrorists, and it does not seem right that the poorer countries are the ones who are forced to handle the burden when the richer ones clearly have better and more plentiful resources to share. However, if I were to attend a different presentation supporting the opposite position, they would likely have a plausible argument as well. Perhaps there really are instances where refugees are cheating the system for personal gain, and that is certainly a valid concern that needs to be considered. At the bottom line, the situation is not nearly as simple as either side would like it to be, so the problem can only be solved if both views are equally addressed.

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The Complexities of the Yemen Crisis

I wrote this as extra credit for one of my classes.

I attended “The Yemeni Conundrum: Who is who, dynamics, and the way out,” presented by the visiting physics professor Dr. Mustafa Bahran. He first explained the history of the conflict and offered several common explanations for why the conflict exists. The legitimate government is fighting a rebel group led by leaders of the former government. One theory says that the conflict arises from dissension between Muslim sects, as one group believes that they are entitled to lead because they are descendents of Mohammed while the other believes they are entitled by the vote of the people. Another theory says that it stems from a conflict of interest between the north and the south, as the south is rarely represented in the government, and the only southern official was recently forcibly removed from office. Yet another theory claims that it is simply a power struggle between the new, legitimate government and the old one that is not content with giving up its power.

Dr. Bahran believes it is really a combination of all these factors. However, the situation is not quite as simple as it may seem. He also claimed that the one thing the two groups have in common is that they include thieves and war lords. And beyond that, the groups supporting each position are also giving aid to the opposing side as well. Ultimately, leaders of both groups do not have any desire for the war to end because they are profiting from the war, so there will be no winners in the end except the crooks. Because of this, Dr. Bahran concluded that the only way the war will end is by some form of outside intervention, either by a global super power or by a divine power.

While the talk was certainly interesting, I had hoped that he would incorporate his physics background a bit more. Occasionally, he did relate the dynamics of the situation to physical dynamics, but he probably could have gone a bit further with the analogy. I would like to ask him how his academic background may have influenced his view of the situation in comparison to how the uneducated population of Yemen may view it. I also wonder how an outside global power could possibly help this situation when such intervention has generally proven to be more harmful than helpful in the past.

Eating Dim Sum with the Chinese Club

Two Saturdays ago, I went to Fung’s Kitchen in Oklahoma City with my roommate and a few people from Chinese Club. There were two of my roommate’s classmates plus two of her teachers and their families. When we got there, we set around a large table with a large turntable in the middle. Then the waiters and waitresses came over and offered us different dishes. If it was something we wanted, then we took the dish off the platter and they put it on our ticket. There was a lot of really good food. We were able to try shrimp dumplings, turnip cakes, sesame pork, pineapple buns, fried taro balls, roast duck, and even chicken feet. All the food was really good, and we all left completely stuffed. Again, I had the same problem as usual of not knowing what everyone else was saying, but I’m starting to get used to using my roommate as translator, so I didn’t mind, and I just enjoyed the delicious food.

Living in the Kraettli Apartments

As I mentioned in the last post, I live in Kraettli Apartments. Kraettli is the super old university apartment complex across from Traditions East. The apartments certainly don’t look very nice, but they actually aren’t that bad. The rent is extremely cheap (which is what I like!), and the apartments are actually really big. I am fortunate enough to live in one of the more updated buildings (meaning I actually have a double sink in the kitchen and the walls were painted semi-recently), so I can’t complain much considering the cost.

The funny thing is, not very many American students live here. My neighbor across from me is American, but I don’t think I have seen any other American students here. Most people who live here seem to either be from Asia or the Middle East. I have also seen a couple of French people around before, but I think they might actually live in Traditions East. My roommate suggested that the reason why so many Asian and Middle Eastern students live here might be because of the difference in currency value. Since their currencies are not worth as much as the dollar, it is probably a lot harder to afford housing. In contrast, Americans probably don’t want to live here because it isn’t very stylish. I personally don’t see why curb appeal is so important when rent is so cheap, but I guess other people have different priorities.

Because of the large percentage of international students here, I am always surrounded by other cultures. It is always an adventure using the laundry facility because people often use the washers and dryers for non-traditional purposes, and you always have to check that the washer or dryer you want to use is actually clean.

I can also often smell the awesome food people are cooking, and it always makes me want to go eat at a good, authentic Chinese restaurant. Sometimes, though, people burn the oil they are using, and then the whole area smells like smoke for several hours. Often times, people actually cook with their doors open so that all the smoke can get out without setting off the fire alarm. One of my neighbors does that quite frequently. I have also seen some rather interesting things setting out in the courtyard. Over the summer, someone had hung some sort of food out to dry, and I could have sworn it looked like intestines. Someone kept going out to check on it, and I could smell that they were cooking something inside. The drying stuff certainly looked gross to me, but apparently they were pretty excited to eat it.

Kraettli really has quite a unique culture compared to most apartment complexes. A lot of families live here (I know at least three of my neighbors have young kids), but there are also a lot of people living here who are around my age. Everyone living here has to be attending OU because it is university housing, but unlike other university housing, there seems to be pretty even mix between undergraduate and graduate students. My neighbor next to me seems to throw a lot of parties, but it is pretty quiet other than that. It also seems like there is a lot more interaction between residents than in normal apartments because of all the different events and get-togethers that are held. It truly is just like living in a mini international community.

Kraettli Fall Festival

Two weeks ago, Kraettli had a second fall festival. I live in the Kraettli apartments, so I decided I had might as well go and see what it was. I didn’t go to the first one (it was about a month ago), but my roommate did, and it seems like the two festivals were pretty much the exact same, so I’m not sure why they had another one. The only difference was that the second one was supposed to be internationally oriented. The funny thing is, I don’t think it was any more or less internationally focused than the first one. There was face painting, hot chocolate and coffee, and a “petting zoo” just like the first one.

What they called a petting zoo was very odd though. They had a bunch of different reptiles in tanks that you could touch, and they also randomly had a lemur, mini (baby?) kangaroo, and a giant snake you could hold. The lemur and kangaroo were pretty cool, but pretty much all the reptiles were just things you could see and buy at a pet store. They actually had a leopard gecko in one of the tanks, which I found amusing because I actually own a leopard gecko. I have to say that they are pretty cool little creatures, but they certainly aren’t exotic or anything.

I felt really bad for the reptiles though. The event was held outside, and it was rather chilly too, but there weren’t any heat lamps on the tanks. Knowing that most of the ones there were desert reptiles, I imagine that they did not appreciate the chilly atmosphere. The poor turtle kept running into the glass trying to get out, but the rest of the reptiles were just curled up in their cages and not doing much. At least they were in the sun, so maybe the heat from the sun was able to keep their tanks warm.

All in all, I have to say that I was quite disappointed by the event. It seemed to have a pretty good turnout, but there wasn’t really anything to do except look at the animals. And the only international part about it was that almost all the people who attended were international students, which I expected would be the case considering that most people who live in Kraettli are international students. At any rate, I didn’t end up staying very long because I didn’t know anyone there, and I didn’t like being out in the cold.

The Future of French Club

I am a part of the French Club on campus, or at least, what’s left of it. Apparently last year all the officers graduated, and there was not really anyone around to take on the leadership role and keep it going. But now, there is potential that we might be able to build it back up again. We have several people in charge now who seem very committed to growing the club, so hopefully something will come from that. Unfortunately, it seems to have kind of died off for this semester, and we have only actually had two or three meetings so far as I know, but that is still better than nothing, so hopefully it will build up again next semester. If I had the time, I suppose I could try to build it back up myself, but I neither have the time nor experience for that, so I guess all I can do is support those who are building it up, and perhaps someday it will flourish again like it used to.

Living with a Chinese Major

As I have mentioned before, my roommate is a Chinese major. She is incredibly awesome at speaking Chinese, and she is always interacting with the Chinese students on campus. Then when she’s back at the apartment, her love for Chinese starts to rub off on me. Again as I have mentioned before, I don’t know any Chinese whatsoever, and I don’t exactly plan to learn it any time soon, but I can definitely still appreciate the Chinese culture. For one, my roommate cooks some pretty amazing Chinese cuisine, and I always love trying her new recipes she gets from her Chinese friends. She has also been introducing me to Chinese music. Sometimes she’ll run a playlist of Chinese songs while we’re cooking, and I’ve started to be able to sing along to some of them, even though I don’t really know what they are saying.

However, there is one thing that “annoys” me about my roommate… I’m the one studying French, yet she still meets more people from France than I do! She came back from Chinese Club one day and told me that a guy from France had shown up because he wanted to learn Chinese. Go figure. Plus, there is a French girl in one of her classes. I have never actually spoken with anyone from France here before, so I have to say that I am pretty jealous of her for that!

Communication and Body Language

People communicate every day in a great variety of ways. Be it speech, or writing, or hand gestures, every language has a unique method of communication. But perhaps the most varied form between cultures is that of body language. Understanding these differences not only makes you able to communicate with those of other cultures more easily, it also allows you to understand the other cultures on a deeper level.

Perhaps the most widely recognized cultural use of body language is in Italian. To many, it appears that they practically talk with their hands. This habit can really be found in almost any language, but it is for some reason much more prevalent in Italian. Another well-known cultural use of body language which differs from that of Americans can be found in many Asian countries. This is the form of respect related to eye contact. In America and most European countries, it is a sign of respect to look the person you are speaking with in the eye. But in Asian countries, that action is actually extremely disrespectful and even contemptuous. This is a very good example of why it is extremely important to make sure you understand the customs of a culture before entering into it.

Americans, too, use body language in a distinctly unique way, although it is often much more subtle. This subtlety is known to Americans as the beautiful thing called “sarcasm.” Almost every foreign exchange student I have met has an extremely hard time understanding it, and even people who have lived in America all their lives have trouble with it too. That’s because successful sarcasm is accomplished largely through subtle changes in body language. A slight change in facial expression or body posture can mean the difference between a hearty joke and a cruel insult, and many great misunderstandings can ensue if the change is not noted by the recipient. What’s worse is that almost everyone uses sarcasm slightly differently. Some use a change in facial expression, others change body posture, others use different voice inflection, and still others don’t make any change at all. It’s no wonder that foreigners have such a hard time understanding how it works!

Despite the many varieties in the use of body language between cultures, there are some forms which remain virtually universal. For instance, if someone is having a conversation, and the other person crosses his arms and leans back in the chair, it is clear that the other person is in disagreement with what is being said, or is otherwise becoming more defensive in manner. Similarly, if you are speaking with someone and the other person begins tapping his foot or becomes restless, it is clear that he wishes to leave the conversation. Or if you are in the audience of a lecture or classical concert, and you lean forward in your seat while watching the speaker or performance, it is clear that you are fully engaged with what is on stage. Body languages such as these are identical, or at least very similar, across the globe and unite us together as one great global community.

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Goals for Abroad

Studying abroad is a great adventure, and a wonderfully intimidating one too. I have never left America before – in fact, I have only ever left the Midwest once. I have also never been on a plane, and I have never traveled any great distance without someone else in my company. Yes, going to a foreign country is a very scary thing indeed. And going to a foreign country that doesn’t speak my language is even scarier. Yet the adventurer inside me is just dying to go out and explore the world, so explore the world I will.

So, where will I go first? France. I can’t think of better way to begin my adventures than to go somewhere that does not speak English and to go entirely alone! Sound scary? Sure! Am I up for it? Of course! I have wanted to go to France for a very long time, so I am thrilled that I finally have the chance to go. Going to France will give me the opportunity to branch out and exercise my independence, and to stretch my communication skills. Honestly, the scariest part about going to France is the fact that I won’t always be around people who speak English. I am planning to go to the Vichy summer intensive French program, so I should hopefully still have some people around who speak English, but that is by no means guaranteed. And considering that I already have a hard time communicating in English, I am very worried about how I will possibly be able to communicate well in another language. But the experience will be good for me, and I know that I will certainly grow from it.

Why France? To study French of course. When I was little, my mom taught Spanish for a while, and both of my older siblings took Spanish in school. But I, in an effort to be different from my family, decided that I would rather learn French. That was honestly the only reason why I wanted to do it at first. My family learned Spanish, so I had to learn French because doing the same thing as everyone else would be boring. Then as I started learning French in high school, I realized that I had actually pick the right language to learn after all because French is a very common language to be spoken in the scientific fields, especially physics. After all, CERN (a giant particle accelerator… something that is super cool for physicists) is in Geneva, Switzerland, which both borders France and speaks French. So now I have two reasons for studying French: I can do something different from what my family did, and I can study a language that is useful in physics. It seems pretty perfect to me. Plus learning French has really helped with my communication skills in general. I am really not any good at expressing what I am trying to say in coherent sentences when I talk, and I am awful at thinking up answers on the spot. But somehow, learning another language has helped me overcome both problems, or at least to an extent. One of the most useful skills I have gained from learning another language is being able to “talking around the subject,” which basically means being able to describe what you are talking about even if you don’t know the word for it. Although I do use that in French quite often, I have found that I use it just as much in English as well. A lot of times while I am having a conversation, I will forget a certain word, so I have to “talk around it” until I remember what it is. It seems like a perfectly simple trick, but I never thought to use it before I started studying French.

Then where shall I go after that? England. In comparison to France, England seems like a much more comfortable place to study. For one, they (obviously) speak English there, which means that I will not have to try to overcome any language barrier. But going to England does present other challenges. I am planning to study there for a full academic year, which means that I will be away from home for far longer than I ever have before. On top of that, I will be studying at an actual English university (the University of Sheffield to be specific) with actual students from England. At least in France, I will be surrounded almost entirely by other international students, so I will be in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to knowing what to do. But when I am in England, almost all my classmates will be from England, so I will be the odd one out. That’s a little nerve wracking to me, knowing that I am going to be in an unfamiliar place and won’t necessarily be with other people in the same position as me. But the experience will be good for me, and I will again certainly learn from it. I suppose I will have to learn how to figure stuff out on my own eventually, so I might as well do it while I’m in a foreign country.

So why do I want to go to England so badly? Physics! Well, that and the fish and chips. Those are good too. But it’s mostly for the physics. I’ve already mentioned it quite a bit, but I really am extremely excited to be able to study in England. There will just be so much to learn, and so many new perspectives on the same topics I’ll have already been studying. Even though my trip is still a long way off, I am waiting in eager anticipation of what I might be able to accomplish there. If things work out the way I hope, and if I can really get some good connections through my professor who already graduated from there, then I should be able to do much more than the average exchange student could while I am there. What I really hope is that going abroad will improve my chances of being able to attend a good graduate school after college. It is a bit of a gamble because I am taking an extra year to graduate by studying abroad, but I am sure that the experience will be worth it. All in all, studying in England will be a wonderful opportunity for me to explore a new perspective, and that is what really matters to me.