I did it! I did the thing! Not one day too soon, I submitted my Fulbright application.
I selected the Binational Internship Fulbright Garcia-Robles in Mexico City to apply for. This was an easy choice because Spanish is the language I have studied throughout high school and college, and this program is tailored to business/international business majors (that’s me!).
After draft after draft of my personal statement, I finally was ready to submit for the campus deadline of September 15th. Shortly afterwards, I had my campus interview. It fell on a busy week of class, of course, but I wasn’t stressed– until I had to stay up late the night before and got very little sleep. I learned quickly when I got into the interview that no sleep + nerves means that Holly forgets how to speak Spanish entirely, in spite of years of study. I walked out of that interview feeling about two inches tall.
Thankfully, that interview was a practice for the real thing, and I know now that I need to sleep the night before, should I advance that far in the competition. I won’t know until January, and if I am selected, I won’t find that out until April. That timeline makes next year pretty hard to plan around, but I’m living life as if I’ll be moving to Houston next fall knowing there’s a slim chance I’ll be deferring my job offer to spend some time in Mexico City!
This month, I am participating in Dressember, which is a global campaign to raise awareness and funds to fight human trafficking. By wearing a dress every day, I am constantly reminded that upwards of 30 million people around the world are denied their freedom. Many times I am asked why I look nice that day, which is a great opportunity to bring up what I am doing and why.
The funds raised through Dressember go to three organizations: The A21 Campaign, International Justice Mission, and McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center. Each of these organizations works tirelessly to prevent trafficking, release victims, convict traffickers, and support local governments and law enforcement in eradicating human trafficking.
Even though I have known about human trafficking for many years, I am still learning of the ways in which I unconsciously have supported it over the years. For a disheartening look at just how prevalent child and forced labor is in our goods, check out this publication. I’m trying to be better, by avoiding stores that are known to use sweat shop labor and not buying natural diamonds (surpise! I got engaged!). Still, I am discouraged by the prevalence of this issue and know I have a long ways to go before I am able to say I don’t support human trafficking in any way.
Please check out my Dressember page here, and if you pray, I would love to have you join us in praying for the oppressed around the world!
This fall, I was part of the Diplomacy Lab project through the Department of Entrepreneurship. The Diplomacy Lab is a public-private partnership through the U.S. State Department to utilize university students and courses to increase innovation in solving foreign policy challenges. The State Department will post the project proposal, and university professors can apply to host the project.
Two professors from Entrepreneurship applied and were selected to supervise a project this semester, and it immediately piqued my interest when I learned of the topic. The objective was investigating how the State Department can increase employment in Pakistan’s Punjab region through entrepreneurship. I applied and became one of seven students working on the project.
We began the research by splitting into two teams and building entrepreneurial ecosystem canvases of the U.S. and of Pakistan to see if there were resources we had here that we could export. From there, we began benchmarking and forming our recommendations, and we spent the last two weeks typing a large document and building a website that shared our findings.
Entrepreneurship is not seen as a career option for many in Pakistan, as they want the prestige and security that comes from having a job with a regular paycheck and more stability. This is true of many in the U.S. as well, although our history of successful entrepreneurs does inspire many young people to follow that track.
The group of researchers were a blast to work with, and I tremendously enjoyed getting to know a couple more professors in my department at the same time! I learned a lot about entrepreneurship and consulting throughout this project, and I know it will benefit me as I go on to be a consultant in my future.
I am a part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at OU, which is a campus ministry under the larger umbrella of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. IFES has chapters in 160 countries, reaching over half a million students worldwide. To celebrate the work God is doing all over the world through IFES and to show our chapter how we can join them in prayer, we take part in International Student Day of Prayer each year.
This event begins on a Thursday night for us, during the time when we normally would meet for our Large Group Bible Study in Zarrow Hall. Instead, we have a carry-in potluck, where people bring dishes from all over the world. This is especially fun for many of our international students who get to bring something from home to share! We begin with the meal and fellowship, which is always a great time.
Afterwards, groups of students begin presenting on the IFES region that they researched. They share information about what countries have chapters, the culture of the country, and what the chapters’ specific prayer requests are. Some groups are able to bring in items from those countries, if they or someone they know has been. One of our InterVarsity chapters at OU focuses specifically on South Asian students, so they typically prepare a dance to perform at the event.
Overall, this event is a great time and a wonderful way to be reminded of God’s presence around the world!
Earlier this semester, I attended a lecture at the Honors College entitled “The Idea of an Immigrant,” where Dr. Allyson Shortle from the Political Science department presented the last few years of her research. Through primarily surveys, she has shown that an American’s perception of who an immigrant is (especially where they come from) can help us predict how they feel about immigration overall. For example, an American from Arizona who imagines the average immigrant to be European is more likely to vote against Arizona SB 1070 (a strict immigration law) than an American who views an immigrant as Central or South American.
The answers to some questions surprised me and showed me how little the average American knows about immigrants to the U.S. One survey question asked, “How much of the U.S. population is undocumented immigrants?” Responses ranged wildly, with some guessing up to 10%. The actual answer is somewhere closer to 0.19%. Another question asked, “Do you think all immigrants should be deported?” This question was not asking about undocumented immigrants specifically, but immigrants overall, and yet 20% of respondents said yes. To them, I recommend this NYT article on why exactly America needs immigrants.
The last aspect of this lecture that stood out to me was Dr. Shortle’s frequent use of the phrase “Racial Hierarchy”. Even though I know racism is pervasive and affects different groups at different rates, seeing and hearing it explained as a hierarchy with each region ordered was an eye-opening moment for me. It goes to show just how much work there is left to do in America before we are truly a nation accepting of diversity of all kinds.
The longer I’ve gone into the semester, the more I’ve missed Ecuador. Maybe it’s because the semester here got progressively harder and I was looking for an escape. Maybe it’s just part of the reverse culture shock, as the newness of the U.S. wears off again and I am once again feeling like I belong in at least three different places in this world. Whatever it is, I’ve been increasingly homesick for the place I knew and loved last semester. Here’s a small list of moments that brought it all flooding back:
- When my roommate made ceviche and patacones and I tasted it for the first time since I was at the coast in November
- When I tried to take the bus in Norman and it was soooo much worse than the buses in Quito
- Every time I would accidentally speak Spanish
- When my new friend Pabel told me I hugged like a Latina and it may have been the highest compliment I’ve ever received
- When finals week was actually hard this semester (okay, maybe those tears were for more than just missing Ecuador…)
- When the 7-year-old I babysat asked me if I knew where Ecuador was on the map pf South America and was astonished when I told him I went there
- When ordering pizza was so much easier in my first language when I knew my address and how to describe my home well
- When anyone would ask, “How was Ecuador?” and I’d have to spit something out in a socially acceptable amount of time that kind of covered the nearly five months I spent there
- When I got to spend a couple days in Barcelona and was once again surrounded by Spanish-speakers
- Now, as I’ve had Ecuadorian Christmas carols stuck in my head for an entire week for no apparent reason
It’s been a weird semester, with a lot more reverse culture shock than I ever anticipated, in spite of countless warnings. The first three weeks home with my family for Christmas were fine, but starting a new semester almost right away was tough, academically and personally. The best pieces of advice I have for dealing with it is just take it slow and talk it out. It takes time– there are still hard days for me after nearly five months. Talk to people who have come home before. They’ll get it, in a lot of ways, and it will make you feel less crazy. Hugs were also super helpful for me, though that’s as much my personality as it is an actual adjustment strategy. Overall, just be easy on yourself, as the process looks and feels different for everyone.
If you’re the friend of someone coming home from a long trip away, remember to go easy on them, too. Asking them one time how their extended trip was probably will feel kind of insulting. Instead, give them actual space to talk about their trip. It’s important. Listen when they tell stories. Ask questions. Ask them how they’re doing with the readjustment. For me, it was the biggest change I’d ever had to go through, and that took time and space to process. It’s 100% worth it to go, and I highly recommend it to everyone I talk to. Still, I wish I (and my friends) had known better how to help me readjust before I got to Norman and spent a couple solid weeks being a lot more sad and anxious than I needed to be.
I knew study abroad would have an impact on me in unimaginable ways. One of the most unexpected results, though, was the increase in empathy and understanding that I now feel I have with exchange students at OU. In Ecuador, it always meant the world to me when someone would go out of their way to speak to me, give me a ride, or ask me if I needed help in my classes. Just having friends was so meaningful to me, and I could not have gotten through my semester as well as I did without those friends. Because of that, I tried to make a point to befriend international and exchange students in my classes this semester.
I got to meet Jorge right away this semester because we initially had two classes together, both in the evenings. He’s from Colombia, which is a country that has been on my bucket list for a while. It also has a very similar culture to Ecuador, from where I had just returned, so we bonded over similar experiences. We got to do some fun things in Norman, like making ceviche and going to an open mic night at Second Wind. One of the highlights of the semester, though, was Jorge coming home with me for Easter!
We got to go roller skating, shoot a LOT of guns, hang out with my family, including lots of little cousins, at Easter, and go fishing, though pretty unsuccessfully. It was an awesome time, and I am so glad it worked out to have Jorge along! He’s going back to Colombia soon, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing him again someday, in the States, Colombia, or somewhere in between.
If you’ve met an international student, I would highly recommend being a friend to them while they’re here! It meant the world to me, and I know so many are looking for friends here in the States. Just offering to take them to Walmart, having them over to study together, or taking them home for a weekend can have a huge impact on both of your lives.
I got to be part of Tea Time once again this semester! This photo was taken after many already had to leave, so you can imagine how full this apartment was about 20 minutes before! Tea Time is a weekly hangout at an apartment near campus where international students and OU students gather together for chai, bonding, and lots of good laughs. We also do dinner and discussion events weekly and take students on trips like a weekend-long spring retreat, a spring break trip, and occasional day trips as well!
In order to gain a better understanding of the diverse experiences of Latin Americans and the OU organizations that serve them, I went to one of the Latin Americanist Lunches hosted by the Center for the Americas in the College of International Studies. Many students and professors in attendance were native Spanish speakers and were speaking Spanish before and after the presentation, which was both exciting and discouraging, because I feel I have not had very many chances to use my Spanish since returning from Ecuador just a few months ago.
This lunch was incredibly interesting to me, as it merged my interests in Latin America and international economic development. The speaker brought in was Dr. Bianca Freire-Medeiros, a native of Rio de Janeiro and currently a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The title of her program was “25 Years of Favela Tourism.” At the event, I learned that a favela is the Brazilian equivalent of what we in the United States would think of as slums. These are the areas with high crime rates, vast gaps in socioeconomic status, and, unfortunately, a higher percentage of black residents. Since approximately the Rio Summit in 1992, favela tourism has become increasingly popular and profitable. Throughout this UN Earth Summit, two cannons were pointed at the Rocinha favela as a flex of power over a region of the city deemed unsafe. Local government called this an act of racism and decried the event. Environmental activist organization Greenpeace at this time offered free trips to the Rocinha favela to show Summit attendees that much of the fear was unfounded. The popularity of these trips led others to begin offering them for a fee, and they continue to this day.
These favela tours in Brazil are only a small picture of the many ways that the first world glamorizes and profits off the lives of the poor in the third world. Latino students from tourist-heavy countries like México, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica already know this all too well. American tourists head to the white sand playas of their nations to stay in relatively cheap five-star resorts, while those who work in the hotel often stay in much more humble accommodations in a sector of the city kept out of sight from the tourists. For those families looking for better opportunities elsewhere, though, the situation does not get easier when they arrive to the United States.
This event was very interesting to me as it describes a phenomenon with which I am somewhat familiar (socioeconomic discrimination and segregation) in a country which I know honestly too little about. Unfortunately, this discrimination is all too prevalent in all corners of the world. This event reinforced in me the desire to work in some way in economic development as an adult. I’m still trying to figure out how that will look and where life will take me, but it’s something I know I want to do.
I’ve said it before, but it still stands true: I am so grateful to be part of a Christian community here on campus that puts love into action and works for social justice, both locally and abroad. Being in a community that not only prays for people (which is still super valuable), but also gets their hands dirty and invests in improving their life now– that’s invaluable. This semester, we once again had the opportunity to raise money during a week we call “Loose Change to Loosen Chains.” Throughout the week, we table in the Union and outside Dale Hall, collecting change for and spreading the word about an organization working to fight human trafficking. This week culminates with a speaker from the organization coming in place of our Thursday night large group Bible study and sharing about their work. It’s always a really powerful event, and we draw people from across walks of life on campus to unite around one common philosophy: you can’t put a price tag on a person, and everyone deserves freedom.
This year we partnered with the organization She is Safe. This non-profit works in eight countries or regions around the world to prevent and stop human trafficking. They do so through a four-step approach: first, identify the vulnerable and determine what makes them vulnerable. Is it lack of employment, education, extreme poverty, or a combination? Second, partner with local women, churches, and non-profits. With the support of these groups, She is Safe is able to cross cultural boundaries and garner support from local governments and other powerful decision-makers. Additionally, these groups are empowered by the training and support they receive, which is powerful since many women were victims of trafficking themselves. Third, She is Safe equips both Country Directors and local partners with the resources to see the success of the work so far and to share it with others to build a community of support. Finally, She is Safe works to evaluate the measures taken in an innovative and effective way to ensure progress that will last for many generations.
It was an honor to get to learn firsthand about their work around the globe from a leader who was herself a victim of trafficking. Too many times, there is a disconnect between those who want to help and the victims themselves. It was powerful to hear how Michele Rickett’s personal experiences moved her to action on behalf of girls everywhere. She is working not only to “save” them, but to empower them to become leaders and change agents themselves.