International Events: Khayyam Day by ICA

On Friday, April 22 I attended what is called ‘Khayyam Day’, a little celebration hosted by the Iranian Cultural Association at the University of Oklahoma to welcome the marble statue of 11th century Iranian philosopher, mathematician, poet and astronomer.

The two hour event included modern Iranian music, a renowned Persian calligrapher, a speech giving the history of the statue, and delicious Persian food.

There was a lot to say about Khayyam, a man who until that day I hadn’t any knowledge of. He was a great poet and philosopher, one who hated violence and sought self-enlightenment. The statue itself was created by a sculptor in the Lorestan Province of Iran, with marble from Iran itself. The statue took over 3 years to complete and find the marble for, because the master sculptor wanted it to be perfect and to represent the Iranian culture as much as possible.

The historian speaking emphasized how the statue like a symbol of a hand being extended to the American people, a hand seeking partners to be friends with Americans. The makers and senders of the statue wants the United States people and the world to understand that they too are like Khayyam, and hate violence. The speaker ended with a hope that that hand be extended back.

Now for the food:

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The food was both scary and exciting! On the top left are stuffed grape leaves, a dish familiar to me as they are one of my Armenian grandmothers favorites. Another familiar dish is baklava, a sweet pastry filled with simple syrup and walnuts. The pita bread was familiar as well.

Something that I had never tried before were tried dates. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had no idea how to eat them! So I resorted to eating around the seed… it was delicious and very gooey. The wafer cookie was familiar to me as well!

My favorite thing on the plate was the potato salad. It was a mashed potato mixture with peas, relish, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and olives. I wish I had gotten more it was so good!!!

Overall, it was exciting and intimidating to be exposed to a new culture like that. It makes me excited for my study abroad adventures in the future.

The speech and the statue made me think of what is happening on the international stage, how the globe is looking at Iran right now after the Iran nuclear deal a couple of months ago. It made me reflect how the government one lives under doesn’t represent the citizens, and of how around the world there are people who live under governments that do corrupt things, and in turn are given sanctions and restrictions that harm the people more than the rich government officials.

 

International Events: International Movie Night

In the first semester of the 2015-2016 school year, the Freshman Global Engagement Fellows all had a discussion about sharing their favorite international movies that had either inspired them, or they had simply enjoyed. We thought it would be a great idea to socialize and explore foreign cultures, and who doesn’t like a good movie?

After much planning, the international movie night was planned for January 29th, 2016 at a small local coffee shop in Norman called Gray Owl Coffee. It is a locally owned coffee shop that features made from scratch baked goods and almost gourmet coffee. They also sometimes play films on a projector on Friday nights.

The film we chose was called “Wadjda”, a film about a girl in Saudi Arabia who wishes desperately to ride a bike in a society where it is deemed improper for women to ride bikes or do other physical activities. The film was proposed by Global Engagement Fellow, Britt Leake, a student with a deep interest in Arabic studies. After the film he explained to me how it was actually a very special film, being very controversial and only approved for production by a progressive royalty member.

As the night rolled around and we finally got the sound on the projector working, we began watching the film.

A few things surprised me as I watched the film which, as an American, I hadn’t considered ever to be acceptable conduct. The reality of life in Saudi Arabia was something that I had never fully looked into.

The first of which is the way religion is tied in with school there. In Oklahoma, it is sometimes debated and criticized how at beginning of the day in public schools, there is a moment of silence after the pledge of allegiance to give students the opportunity to “meditate, pray or engage in other silent activities”, with heavy debates centered around the word, ‘pray’. Constitutionally, the public school system has no legal justification for using that word or enforcing a moment of silence, however Oklahoma is located in a demographically Christian area of the United States and is consequently more focused on religious ideologies.

However, in the film, there were instances in which the whole girl’s section was brought to meeting so that they could be told that no flowers or notes were allowed at school anymore so that the holiness could be maintained, as a boy and girl had been caught during recess. Frequently the little girls are told to go inside and be “proper women”, as there are male construction workers on a roof near by.

Wadjda herself enters a school Qur’an recitation contest in order to try and win money for the bike she wishes to purchase.  It seems as though the entire female population of the school attends the event, and when she wins and mentions she wants to buy a bike with her reward, the female mentor refuses to give her the prize money and instead decides to donate it to “their brothers in Palestine”.

The forcing of the females to cover up or else be deemed unclean, the school wide Qur’an recitation, the separation of the genders to maintain holiness and cleanliness, are all extremely foreign concepts to me. I am a woman who walks around in shorts and a t-shirt on casual days. I love sports, I love working out. The gyms I attend are frequently filled with men who see me working out in a tank top and shorts. It shocked me to see a culture so utterly different than my own in regards to how my gender is treated, and it made me consider the feminist movements in the United States and the reception they would receive in Saudi Arabia.

Another aspect that shocked me about the film is the conflict between Wadjda’s mother and father. The father is looking for his second wife, a perfectly normal and legal thing in Saudi Arabia. His wife is heartbroken by this, and yet her father cannot see any wrong-doing in his search for a second wife. In the United States, polygamy is illegal. In the film, the husband is searching for another wife as if it is the most natural thing in the world.

 

The strong contrast between United States and Saudi Arabian culture opened by eyes to how entirely different the world can be. Until now, of course I had imagined that there were cultures different than my own, but never had I truly considered on in which almost every aspect of my life would be considered either illegal or extremely looked down upon.

International Group: The WLT Bookclub, January Meeting

The World Literature Book Club is a book club on campus dedicated to exploring foreign literature to give us all a glance at what other cultures and countries have to offer. So far I have definitely enjoyed the break from my STEM major to sit down and analyze a book, something I enjoyed doing frequently in high school.

For winter break we were given a long novel to read called The Three-Body Problem, written by Chinese author Liu Cixin. It is the first book in a science fiction trilogy, and was awarded the Hugo Award in August of 2015. The story line is basically that of an alien invasion.

 

My general impression of the book is pure surprise. As an American, I hadn’t really considered that something such as a detailed science fiction novel that critiques government actions such as the Cultural Revolution could come out of China. I was under the false assumption that the Chinese government regulated the output of creative materials so heavily that nothing like this could ever be published. So when I read the first chapter and saw drastic criticism of the government’s actions as they killed scientists and spread communism, I was utterly surprised.

The book surprised me further as it went on to showcase a powerful female figure as one of the smartest and most successful scientists in the novel. Being a mostly patriarchal society like the United States, I wasn’t expecting this out of China either. I hadn’t realized that progressive tendencies exist there as well.

The discussion of the book led the dozen or so of us to dwell on the tedious scientific detail that the author placed into the book, and yet he managed to do so in way that kept the reader engaged. We came to the tentative conclusion that, *spoiler*, as the aliens come to Earth and essentially are just as bad as humans, the moral of the story is that another reality isn’t necessarily better than ours. Specifically from the Chinese author’s point of view, so criticizing the government and the humans in the beginning and leading to the main character to invite the aliens, we found that maybe his message to the Chinese people is, “despite how we may struggle in China, the ways of the West aren’t necessarily better”.

 

The Three-Body Problem definitely opened my eyes up to what the international literary community can offer.

 

 

Studying Abroad

Thinking of a decisive answer to the question, “Where do you want to study abroad?” is a very difficult thing to do. There are many multiple places in different areas of the world that I would like to travel to, including Germany, France, Tanzania, England, and some areas in Latin America. I also have an interest in traveling to places where I could interact with wildlife as much as possible.

This is why places like Tanzania, Australia, and Brazil are some places that I would be very interested in visiting. As someone who is very interested in the environment and how humans interact with it, visiting these places would give me a good opportunity to do just that. Aside from that, I also am very fond for history, particularly that of Europe. This is why I would also enjoy going to different places in Europe, to explore the thousand-year old cities in ancient cultures. Europe has a lot of history that the United States lacks, as the U.S. is such a young country.

When it comes to classes that I would like to take and things I would like to study, things like analyzing the old societies, while at the same time taking science classes would be ideal.

To become more culturally immersed, I plan to explore as much of the cuisine as possible. Cooking is a major hobby of mine; it is something I do to distress and stay healthy, and I’m passionate about exploring new flavors and trying things that aren’t available in the United States, where pop-culture has muddied the selection of foods to an Americanized fast food selection. Variation from these trends is expensive. Over seas? It’s normal.

Furthermore, I would also plan ahead to see what local events are taking place during my visit. From concerts to festivals to lectures, I would like to experience these things as an average citizen would, taking normal transit to get there, to eating food only available on the way. These things along with visiting places like supermarkets would help to give a less superficial experience to me.

I would say that OU has had an impact on where I would like to study. Before coming to OU, my plans were Euro-centric. I was interested mainly in going to Western Europe, places like England. Now, I feel more open to experiences far different than my ones at home. Before going to OU, I had never considered Tanzania as a place to study abroad. Now I look forward to the exotic experience, the wild life, and the culture shock.

Overall, what I hope to gain from a study abroad a new perspective, total cultural immersion, and a connection with the things Earth has to offer. This includes mountains, oceans, dessert. Every continent has it’s own geological value.

What has prevented me from making a final decision so far has simply been the struggle of where I want to go first.

Reflection for 12/10/2015

As one of the assignments for the Becoming Globally Engaged class, students are expected to respond to reflection prompts on a weekly basis. Here is the prompt and my response for the week of December 10, 2015.


Congratulations on being almost finished with your first semester at OU!! How do you feel it went (both in this class and overall?) What did you enjoy the most? The least? In what ways have you changed or grown since arriving at OU? How do you feel about that? What are your goals for next semester and the rest of your time at OU?

Being almost finished with my first semester of college is a strange feeling! It is both joyful and an ode to how quickly time passes. I never imagined how much my life would change in 18 weeks. There are things that I had planned that haven’t come to pass, challenges that I’ve faced and overcome that I never thought I would encounter, and friends and relationships that have been reinforced and made anew. For the most part, though, it went smoothly. I was able to find a job, finishing with mostly good grades, and have grown closer to myself.

In this class, I’ve been introduced to a lot of new and sometimes overwhelming things. I’ve learned that there a lot of different points of view in the world, numerous different stories to be told, and that there a sure of a heck a lot of steps involved in studying abroad. I’ve also had the pleasure of looking into many different options for studying abroad, and it has encouraged me to go somewhere I hadn’t thought I would. Not studying abroad this following summer is a bit scary, but ultimately it will give me time to save money and find myself.
Since arriving at OU, I’ve become more hardy and more patient. I’ve also become more comfortable in where my life is heading. Taking the initiative and talking to who I need to talk to to get things done has been a skill I’ve acquired this first semester. As a long time procrastinator, this semester has definitely taught me a lesson in getting things done. Going day to day, I’ve learned to simply grab a coffee and make myself a better person.

My goals for next semester, and more so the first semester of my sophomore year, are to become more involved. I really missed out on that at the beginning of this year as I thought that, coming from Norman, I wouldn’t need to reach out and socialize. My main goal is to become a better, kinder, more self-disciplined person.

Reflection for 12/3/2015

As one of the assignments for the Becoming Globally Engaged class, students are expected to respond to reflection prompts on a weekly basis. Here is the prompt and my response for the week of December 3, 2015.


How have you liked learning how to put together your digital story? What have you gotten out of Rachel’s visits? Do you think the knowledge you’re gaining is something you’ll use in the future?

The process of developing a digital story has been very significant and useful for me. I made a story about my past, and the past of my family. Being Armenian, I chose to tell a story of the Armenian Genocide, and how, because of where I live and what is beneficial to my country’s foreign policy, the genocide hasn’t been recognized.

Not only was it fun to use the software, but I also was able to gain a deeper knowledge of my ancestry and past. I enjoyed collecting all the pictures for my story, from asking family members for lost photos to researching a cause, the Armenian Genocide, and being able to put it all together to spread awareness, something that my own government won’t even do.

Out of Rachel’s visit I gained a bit of something different. Going on a tangent away from the theme of this reflection, I gained a bit of self confidence. My voice is something I do not enjoy hearing, and recording in front of Rachel was very hard. However, she’s a very nice woman and makes everyone feel like they’re both interesting and normal at the same time, and that helped me as I was telling a story that I felt was insignificant. When it came to editing the story and going through every tidbit of information, it was a sort of conditioning to be forced to hear my voice over and over again. Overall I gained a bit of confidence in both accepting my voice and feeling a bit of value in my own work.

The knowledge I’ve gained is definitely something I’ll use in the future. I’ve gained experience in using online software to create meaningful presentations as well as been able to catalogue and archive some meaningful information for my family. My grandma grew up in a world where creating a portfolio of one’s self, like we do on social media, wasn’t a common practice. The digital story project has given me the opportunity to do this for my grandma and learn how to properly contact people for information.

Reflection for 11/12/2015

As one of the assignments for the Becoming Globally Engaged class, students are expected to respond to reflection prompts on a weekly basis. Here is the prompt and my response for the week of November 12, 2015.


How do you hope to incorporate your experiences as a Global Engagement Fellow into your future career? How much of an impact do you think it will make? What will you do to maximize its impact?

As of yet, I’m completely torn between what I want to do with my future and what I want  my career to be. Although I’m deciding between such different fieldsmarine biology, premed,  or international studies, or nutrition???, I still hope to find a profession that will enable me to  connect and work globally. Being a Global Engagement Fellow is going to give me an enormous  amount of international experience, and I hope to use this to attract future employers and show  them that I may have a broader understanding of the global community. I feel as this has  potential to be an asset in future careers, wherever I end up.

However, to maximize the impact, I need to be as involved as I can. To me, this includes  looking for more on campus clubs to join, to attending more international events, learning  another language, and looking for internships I can have while I study abroad. Learning another  language, one of the requirements of being a Global Engagement Fellow, I think will increase  my success in future prospects and open up some opportunities that I wouldn’t be afforded if I  could only speak English.

There are a couple languages I hope to become proficient in, including German, Italian,  and Armenian. I also have interest in learning Arabic. I feel as though all of these can be of great  use in my future career.

If I were to pursue the career of biology, I would hope to utilize my Global Engagement  experience to help me while I am a field biologist, traveling to different places to study wildlife.  It would hopefully aid me in possibly being a field biologist for a global  or research  institute.

As for premed or nutrition prospects, I’ve often considered being a doctor without  borders, or possibly working for an organization that deals with human health globally. I could  use my experience as a lobal ngagement ellow to travel many places and gain experience  and understanding of other cultures. This would aid me immensely if I wanted to be a traveling doctor.

Reflection for 10/29/2015

As one of the assignments for the Becoming Globally Engaged class, students are expected to respond to reflection prompts on a weekly basis. Here is the prompt and my response for the week of October 29, 2015. This reflection was a bit different than the others, as it was used to have a debate in class and essentially decide which organization would receive a $100 and $20 donation from the Global Engagement organization.


Review the following four organizations. Which do you feel should receive a $100 donation? Why? You are expected to do some additional research into all 4 groups; their pages are hyperlinked below, and you’re also welcome to bring in additional research.

Cornerstone International, an Oklahoma-based development consulting firm that focuses on encouraging and promoting efficient, productive development efforts around the world.

Susan G. Komen,  an organization whose mission is “to save lives and end breast cancer forever by empowering others, ensuring quality care for all and investing in science to find the cures.”

Give Directly, a charity that sends money directly to the world’s extreme poor to spend however they need it – with no strings attached.

Against Malaria Foundation, which provides long-lasting insecticde-treated bed nets to help protect vulnerable populations from malaria.

When deciding which organization ought to receive a  donation, it ultimately came  down to the Give Directly organization and the Against Malaria Foundation. The Cornerstone  International, although intriguing and based in Oklahoma, works to help people begin and form  new organizations abroad. I personally believe that instead of working to create new  organizations that may potentially fail or be ineffective, people ought to donate to organizations  that already have been shown to be effective and are doing good. As for the Susan G. Komen  organization, I feel as though there are too many controversies and arguments surrounding the  organization. Furthermore, a company that huge is already going to have millions of donors  every year, and I feel as though a less represented company ought to receive the donation.

That is why my decision came down to the Give Directly organization. This organization  gives donated money directly to the people in need, allowing them to allocate the funds to  whatever they need most, whether it is food, clothing, water, or shelter needs. Following this  course of action, the charity accommodates for the ever changing needs that one in poverty might  face instead of providing aid and services for a cause the family may not even be troubled by.   W

While some sources such as Giving What We Can might claim that Give Directly is not  as effective as they say, I still would argue that this almost knit picking could be said about any  charity. I also believe that enabling people on the receiving end of donations to put the money  where they need it most is the best course of action and takes the risk away from a foreign  organization assuming what the needs of the people are. Poverty should not mean that one only  gets the help that charity organizations decide they deserve.

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Reflection for 10/22/2015

As one of the assignments for the Becoming Globally Engaged class, students are expected to respond to reflection prompts on a weekly basis. Here is the prompt and my response for the week of Oct 22, 2015.


What do you think of Peter Singer’s arguments? Do you feel obligated to help those in need? Why or why not? If so, what are you going to do about it? If not, how would you support your reasoning to someone who sided with Singer?

At face ­value, Peter Singer presents a very convincing argument filled with ethos-­based and yet  extremely pragmatic rhetoric. He hits on the sympathetic aspect of things, asking, “If you would  save a baby right in front of you, why not save a baby in another country?” Then he asks, “Why  provide 1 seeing­eye dog, when you could save thousands of blind people? He then goes on to  say and promote the idea that “All Lives are Equal”. and this is where I begin to disagree with his  arguments. Inherently in the string of belief that one ought to be utilitarian in their approach to  charity, lives become unequal. The lives that are essentially cheaper and more efficient to save  become the more valuable ones. Suddenly 10,000 lives in a country overseas become more  valuable than 5,000 lives in the United States, and if one only follows this logic, they will end up  totally avoiding a group of people who, in that case, have had the misfortune of being born in the  country with a currency equal to or more valuable than the American dollar. Essentially, taking a  utilitarian point of view on things means that the ends completely outweigh the means, and  when human lives are at hand, this becomes intrinsically immoral, no matter how pragmatic.

With that said, I do feel obligated to help those in need in that I feel that people ought to give  back to the societies in which they were raised. When I could buy a six dollar coffee from  Starbucks, I could also buy a t shirt for a child wearing rags, or a dinner for someone less  fortunate. Because of my religious beliefs, also, I feel that helping those in need is the right thing  to do and I do have a moral obligation to spread love and attempt to make the world a better  place.

I like the idea that it is possibly more beneficial to physically volunteer in one’s own society  while giving actual money to foreign ones, and that is the road I’ll take in my charity efforts.

Reflection for 10/8/2015

As one of the assignments for the Becoming Globally Engaged class, students are expected to respond to reflection prompts on a weekly basis. Here is the prompt and my response for the week of October 8, 2015.


 

What are your biggest fears or reservations about study abroad? What can you do to address them? How can we help?

My biggest fears and reservations about studying abroad are simply leaving the comfort  of the place I’ve grown up with. I have orman, klahoma under my belt I know the knooks  and crannies of the city, the people and how they act and respond to certain things, and where to  find almost anything I could think of. Being in the United States, there’s not much I’m afraid of  in the sense that I can always find a alart, a fast food restaurant, or a gas station. I know  that, for the most part, the police are trustworthy and help is plentiful.

Going to another country to live and function opens up so many questions and concerns  in that there are going to be things I simply do not know how to do. This is what scares me, not  knowing the land and the features of the city, or the general attitude and personality of the  people. There are things in America that I am afraid I will miss when I’m abroad. There are also  things that I’m afraid I am taking advantage of and will come to find do not exist globally.

Hearing stories from the past panelists about scary traffic situations, different  environments in restaurants, and figuring about public transit all give me a great amount of  anxiety as much as it brings me excitement. You can’t order a cold coffee in Italy?

All these things aside, my only option on the road to being globally engaged is, for lack  of better words, sucking up my spoiled American persona and learning to live and experience a  little. Regardless of how scary these things initially will be, it is part of experiencing the world  and growing as a person, and I will be enlightened by it.

Photo Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee#/media/File:A_small_cup_of_coffee.JPG