Mental Health and Study Abroad

At the University of Oklahoma there is a goal set by President Boren that fifty percent of students will study abroad. Although this goal has not been met, there are a large number of students who study abroad through the University. During my two study abroad journeys I was suffering both from anxiety and depression. A lot of people talk about the joy of study abroad and also the difficulties, but mental health seems pretty uncharted. Sure, we were given resources for if we were having trouble adjusting, but what about those of us suffering from long-term mental health disorders?

The problems I faced were a lot smaller during my first study abroad venture in Italy. There, I was given everything I needed to succeed: American friends, tours of the city by faculty and staff, many people looking out for my well being. I never once had an issue with my mental health. I never once called home crying.

Fast-forward a semester and I am in London for my second study abroad adventure. This one was different. Before going to London, I had been prescribed a new medication meant to supplement my anxiety meds. It really had no effect on me during the first few weeks. However, the program itself was enough to do me harm. The Summer School Program at the London School of Economics is one of the only study abroad programs where credits can be transferred back to Ivy League universities. That being said, the classes were intense with three weeks spent learning from top scholars of the school. I was prepared for another study abroad experience like the one I had in Arezzo: close friends and many Americans having fun and learning about culture.

I want to preface by saying that the LSE program was phenomenal. I learned so much and met new friends from around the world. I was able to learn how to survive on my own in a foreign country and large city. However, I was not ready for the toll the experience would take on my mental health.

The second week started with a trip to Paris where, as I described in an earlier post, my new medication caused a mental breakdown which included drinking, crying, vomiting, and being sexually assaulted. It was then that I realized I needed help. The next morning I texted a Canadian mental health hotline describing what had happened. I thought I needed to be in a mental institution. The study abroad experience did not help quell my ever increasing depression. I would walk down the street suffocating under the overwhelming feeling that I was not okay. I thought about jumping in front of cars and throwing myself off bridges. Even if pictures on social media proved otherwise, I didn’t feel normal.

With this came crushing guilt. I was at one of the best universities in the world in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. My parents had paid almost all of the $10,000 it took for me to have the experience. How could I be unhappy here? How could I be so ungrateful?

So I continued to stuff down the feelings. I was isolated and afraid, but I didn’t let it show. As the weeks went on, I lost friends who completed their classes and headed back to their respective countries. In the final weeks, I laid in bed for days on end, only getting up to use the restroom. I didn’t eat and slept for 12 hours at a time, sometimes more. I was taking my medication regularly, but nothing helped. This did not ruin my experience, but it opened my eyes to this issue that people do not really talk about.

There are so many students in this world that spend time abroad. This means that there are probably many students suffering from mental health problems that take those problems with them around the world. Depression does not stop when we begin our adventures. It will always be with us. This article is written not to criticize institutions for their lack of help for students with mental health issues. That is not reality. Most universities provide many resources for students like me. Alternatively, I am writing this to draw attention to the fact that studying abroad is not always glamorous. Despite what many people may post and share, there is difficulty, especially for those who have a mental health disorder. We may feel uncomfortable talking about it. We may only share the good stuff. We may feel guilt for time wasted abroad because of our disorder. But, other people can be there to help if they know the signs. Below are links to websites for people seeking help and for those who may not know the signs of depression:

Symptoms

Hotline

Thanks y’all for reading!

 

xoxo

Ivey

What’s in a game?

I’ve never been much of a sports fan or, for that matter, a sports player. This can be proven by my extensive childhood career of dance, theater, music, and any combination of the three. However, at a young age, I was tossed in, as every child is, to every sport imaginable just to see how I would fair. Would I be the next Serena Williams? Was I more of a Misty May Treanor? A soccer game at the age of 4 would prove that I was no sports star. My parents sat in lawn chairs on the soccer field under the beating sun just to see me sit on the field picking daisies and talking about horses with my other 4-year-old pal. This type of behavior continued as I got older. Walking during basketball, singing in the dugout – I just wasn’t meant to play sports.

This behavior would catch up with me in the form of ultimate frisbee nickname: “D-Picker” or daisy picker in long-form. It was not until high school that I really found a sport I loved (not to play myself of course). My father’s love of the University of Oklahoma football program had increased my interest in football throughout my life. As a young child I would poke fun at fans of our rival team, Oklahoma State, by calling them “OSU: Old Stinky Underwear.” At the time, I didn’t really understand how the game worked. I would hide when my dad’s friends came over to watch football games, listening to their commentary from afar. It was always a momentous occasion that required lots of Bud Light, Tostitos, and bean dip – typical American sustenance. One of my fondest memories is crying to my mother about falling in the toilet because, during one of the football gatherings, one of the guys forgot to put the toilet seat down. Still, as I matured, I understood more of how the game worked. Obviously I did not have the most thorough knowledge. I still sometimes would cheer with the rest of the onlookers at a game only to ask ten seconds later,”So what happened?” I also lacked knowledge of players and teams and ranks and sports news. My knowledge was limited to what I saw on the OU football field. I knew a touchdown when I saw one. I knew a first-down. I knew a field goal. I knew a win. Something that I did not realize until studying abroad, was the global interest in soccer – or, as I like to call it, the “real” football.

My first experience with football was at an Irish pub in Rome.

It was my first time in the city and a few students and I had decided to have a drink and see if we could catch the Oklahoma football game. The pub had a promise posted on their front door that they would stream any game available as long as you asked. I, for one, was not about to miss out on an OU football game if I could prevent it. So, we marched into the pub around 7pm that evening to find ourselves almost unable to enter. The pub was packed wall to wall with men and women large and small holding a pint in one hand and gesturing at the television screens with the other. The shouts we heard came in English, so, I assumed the game was English. Intrigued, my friends and I ended our night, after a failed OU football streaming attempt, watching both rugby and the end of the football game, screaming with the fans and laughing at how out of place we felt. After that day, I gained a new interest in football. I looked up information on some of the best players in the world (and yes I took a lot of time studying the perfect features of Cristiano Ronaldo). I began playing small indoor football games with the Italian children I tutored and asking them about the local team on which they played. Their eyes lit up when I talked about football. Even in broken English, I could understand how much they loved it. This fervor for the sport was not limited just to them. I saw the craze in every European city I visited: high-priced jerseys in shop windows, pub nights dedicated to games, children playing in the streets. This obsession followed me back to the United States where I began watching late night football and rugby through Sky Sports. There, I slowly began to understand the hype surrounding the sport. Football connects all nations in one universal game. The minor leagues bring small communities together which I learned at the Barnet football game in the Hive stadium during my time in London. Bigger leagues bring together whole cities. FIFA allows people from all over the world to feel a sense of national pride through sport. Even better is the ability that everyone, no matter their socioeconomic status, has to play football. All that’s needed is a ball and teams.

The sport circles the globe.

Yet, coming back to the states permanently (as far as I know) has lead to the disappearance of football in my life. Recently at dinner, I was excited about the USA vs Costa Rica game where we lost miserably. The people I was with were confused. “This is America,” they said. And they were right. The sport just is not as revered in the states. American football takes precedent. That does not mean that there are not pockets of fans. Go on Reddit and you’ll find a thread about soccer within the first five minutes. But the hype does not reach European levels as I experienced. Does it make me sad that football isn’t big in America? Yeah. It brings people together in a way that American football can’t. But that does not mean that I cannot enjoy it by myself. I plan on sharing with anyone who will listen about the joy that is “real” football. Maybe they will be able to enjoy it just as much as I do.

Depression is not an accessory

There is an Eiffel Tower keychain that sits on my bedside, a trinket from my most recent trip to Paris. It should be a reminder of fun, of sunshine, of flowers, of laughing with my best friend and eating escargot for the first time. It should remind me of my first time in Paris when I experienced the beauty of the city from the top of the Arc. It should bring back the smell of delicious baguettes and cheese from the Saturday market and the feel of the breeze off of the river.

Instead it bears a more grim memory.

I suffer from depression and anxiety, probably due to genetics as it runs through generations of my family. It is the most difficult barrier that I have to a normal life. Yet, despite the many struggles that I and many others in this world face due to depression, I have been floored by the recent glorification of mental health disorders through main stream media in shows like 13 Reasons Why and To The Bone. There is largely debate on whether these shows are doing the right thing by bringing attention to issues that are largely taboo in our society. Some writers have insisted that, by allowing younger people to watch these shows, they feel more comfortable talking about these issues with their parents or peers. This may be true for some. As a teenager, I read 13 Reasons Why and really loved it. It was truly a sad story about a girl named Hannah who told the backstory of her suicide by sending tapes to different people in her life who contributed to her suicide. However, as an adult I see it much differently. I understand the selfishness of the main character as she blames others for her suicide. I see how the plot focuses on an almost-revenge. Hannah died, but she is able to put the burden on others by blaming them for her own decision. The reality is that depression is much more complicated. It is a disease that seems to be simplified in these television shows. Depression is not a pretty girl that makes tapes and then kills herself. Depression is a journey with ugly consequences that will never be shown in popular media. It continues to be whittled down to its most basic form, suicide and tears – an accessory to draw in an audience.

Depression is not an accessory.

It is not something that can be experienced through watching a television show. It is not something that makes a show revolutionary. Depression is not always suicide. Depression is not merely sadness.

Depression is a disease. It eats away at your brain until you can’t fight back any longer. Depression is a cage – as much as you want to break free, there is no way out. Depression is vomiting in front of tourists under the Eiffel Tower because your new medication does not mix with wine. It is sobbing while screaming that you want to die as your best friend holds you back from running. It is laying in bed for days at a time with no shower, the smell of three-day-old bad breath and the feeling of tangled hair at the nape of your neck. It is losing friends because you cannot bear to speak or to see the light of day. Depression is drinking beyond memory and cutting beyond pain. Depression is failure. It is the numbness from buckets of medication. Depression is being in the most beautiful city on earth surrounded by millions yet feeling alone. It has good days and it has bad days. It is everything and nothing at the same time. It affects 350 million people on the planet yet it still comes with a stigma that is hard to break.

By allowing television shows to represent one person’s version of mental health disorder, we continue to perpetuate the idea that all depressed people are the same. All of us commit suicide. All of us are moody and constantly tragic. But the reality is so much more. Depression is not an accessory. Yes, it affects everyday life, but there are millions of people currently functioning day to day with the disease. There are so many of us that have had times where we almost took our own lives and yet there are some of us who have never tried. There are some of us who will never have to be on medication and there are some of us who take what seems like hundreds of pills each day. There are some of us that suffer and are not diagnosed and there are some of us who have known since we were young. There are great days where we can function on normal amounts of sleep and can laugh with our best friends. We can climb mountains. We can go to work and take care of our children and go on a date. Then there are times when the physical symptoms make putting a cup of coffee to our lips unbearable.

Television wants to make it seem like depression is the same for everyone. It wants death to seem like the only option.

I am here to defend those of us who do not fit that mold. I am here to say that depression is not the same for everyone. It goes so much deeper than a 14 episode show can allow a viewer to understand.

Depression is not an accessory. It is not always suicide. It is not always pretty. It is not always ugly. Depression is normality for some of us. And that should be defended.

Gearing Up for My Next Adventure

This summer I will be traveling to….

LONDON!!!!

I know. I know. I did Europe. So, why am I going back?

This summer I have been accepted to the London School of Economics summer program to study Genocide, Democracy Building, and Politics of International Development. This program is honestly a dream-come-true as I have never been to the United Kingdom before. In a blog post I wrote last year, I mentioned 21 things I wanted to do before I turned 21. Most of the things on the list I was able to complete. However, there were obviously things I was not able to finish in the short 365 day span and (as my birthday is next week) I don’t see them getting done any time soon. A lot of those yet-to-be-checked- off things can be completed in the good ole UK. So, without further ado, here is my:

London Bucket List

Sky Dive

maxresdefaultThis is something I was never able to complete due to insufficient funds (please give me money) and I have been wanting to do it for YEARS. Who’s to say that this year, 2017, won’t be my time?

Send a Message in a Bottle

message-in-a-bottle-1200Okay. This isn’t much of a London thing as it is just a thing in general. But the UK is surrounded by water, why shouldn’t I take advantage of that? Here’s to hoping my message in a bottle is picked up by someone who will actually read it.

Go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogwarts Express BW

Harry Potter World obviously isn’t in London. But you know what is? The studios where Harry Potter was filmed, the pub where J.K. wrote the books, and platform 9 and 3/4. I am expecting this summer to be an amalgamation of me realizing that the places I’m seeing have all been featured in a Harry Potter film.

Visit Scotland

crossraguel-abbey-bw2e

Something definitely on my weekend travel list is visit Scotland. Castles, greenery, ocean, hills – what more could a girl need? Hopefully, a few of the friends I make will want to take a train up to the land of pubs and beauty.

Now that I have my list, I’m ready to be on my way. Luckily, I won’t be leaving until halfway through June so I have plenty of time to add more things to do. Let me know in the comments if you have any must-dos for the British Isles.

 

XO

Forum on Democracy

Amid controversy about the travel ban by President Trump and then struck down by a Seattle court and later by two federal judges, the University of Okahoma hosted a “Forum on Democracy” which was headed by the College of International Studies. The Forum was a collection of individual academics and panelists speaking about a range of issues from corruption, populism, checks and balances, public schools, and many other topics. I was able to attend a talk by presenter Dr. Meta Carstarphen focusing on journalism and then the panel discussion afterwards. The journal consisted of Dr. Carstarphen, Rick Tepker (OU Law), Dr. Justin Wert (Political Science), and Dr. Waleed Mahdi (historian). What most interested me of all of the programming was the question and answer portion that was held directly after the panelists finished their talks. A nice young woman went up to the microphone and said, “I’m of the school of thought that there needs to be destruction before real change can be made…”

I’m not sure what she said after that because I tuned it out. I’m not one for anarchy, and this girl had already begun her sentence with a statement that was cause for concern. Apparently, the panelists felt the same way I did. Dr. Mahdi stepped up to answer her question. But then he began speaking about my generation of Americans. He spoke about growing up in Yemen surrounded by war. He talked about how, children that have grown into adults without having to experience conflicts, especially in places such as the United States that have a representative democracy, begin to forget the values of freedom and democracy because they do not know a time without it. They do not know real destruction. He spoke about how that ideology of destruction and then rebuilding is dangerous to the preservation of democracy. And, although what he said might have been hurtful to the girl brave enough to ask questions, I couldn’t help but side with him. There reason we learn about history in school is so that we will not repeat the atrocities of the past. However, there is a difference between reading about atrocities in a book and experiencing them first hand. If we do not emphasize the good that comes from our current system, then we will forget about what we have and long for destruction. This ideology is dangerous in the wrong hands. It can lead to civil wars and terrorism and pain. If we do not continue to educate people daily on why the United States runs on a democratic system (as flawed as it may be) then we will fall into the trap of allowing history to repeat itself.

 

Arabic Flagship Talent Show

I have been a member of the Arabic Flagship for about three years now. At this point, I have become acquainted with performing at the annual talent show. At the end of every spring semester, the talent show commemorates what each club has worked on throughout the year. Fortunately, I did not have to do a live singing or bellydance performance this year. My Egyptian colloquial class got together to create a wonderful rendition of “Arab’s Got Talent.” Attached is the video of our creation. For my talent portion, I sang “Akhbarak Eh.” I have performed this song before for a talent show, but never in this singing style. Watch the video to view my cringeworthy talent.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1fQ1Ny48Jsvb3ZPbHM0TmJLSmc/view?usp=sharing

The College Girl’s Guide To: Radical Right Populism

Populism. It’s not the study of popularity or a famous pimple popping compilation. It’s not anything fun at all actually. Some would say it’s a political ideology. Some would say it’s a mobilization mechanism. Others might call it a political style. One thing that populism truly is? On the rise in the West.

I first gained insight on populism during my time studying Fascism in Italy. A portion of my studies was focused upon researching women in radical right populist parties. Something I noticed from my work was that there are really no ways to compare populist parties that are gaining political traction. Many of them have different ideologies and issues that bind them. However, the leaders of these parties all have one thing in common: they are loud, outspoken, and target the common working man, the “forgotten people.”

To brush up on my knowledge of populism in the year 2017, I decided to attend “Into the Mainstream” a lesson on the radical right populism sweeping over the world. The talk was given by Reinhard Heinisch, a professor from the University of Salzburg. Although he specialized in Austrian studies, Dr. Heinisch gave excellent perspectives on how to categorize and understand populism. His lessons are as follows:

In the early 2000s, populism concentrated in two or three European countries, namely France. It gradually spread to rest of Europe in different manifestations. These days populism takes on two main looks:

  1. Parties that call principles of liberal democracies into question (checks and balances, judiciary, media, etc)
  2. Parties that break taboos, discriminate against political minority, nativist/nationalist

These parties tend to draw in young, male, blue-collar voters. These voters are susceptible to populist ideology because of the potential economic losses they see from immigrants taking their blue collar jobs. Furthermore, women are less likely to support these parties because of the anti-feminist language that the parties boast. However, this does not mean they are not without leadership. There are many populist parties that have female leaders, people like Marine Le Pen who just recently lost the French Presidential Election. These parties tend to prioritize security, whether that means protecting their nation from immigrants (Western Europe) or protecting themselves from radical Western ideals (Eastern Europe). Even more interesting to note, is that Russia is funding many of these movements in ways that it cannot support mainstream parties. These mainstream parties are too afraid of the repercussions that come with having Russia back them. However, populist parties are all about breaking taboos, not only in speech, but also in behavior.

The talk by Heinisch gave an overall picture of what populism looks like in the West. But each party is unique in its views and thus takes lots of research to understand. Because of that, I have linked some articles below that give further insight into the political issue that is radical right populism:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/11/europe/uk-election-labour-manifesto/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/populism-what-is-it-explained-rise-donald-trump-marine-le-pen-politics-economics-a7704196.html

 

The Impact of Study Abroad

As I write this final blog post, I am sitting on a train watching the sun set illuminate the Tuscan mountains as we fly by. This place is beautiful, not only because of the scenery, but also because of the memories I will forever share with this place. It’s all so bittersweet. It’s like the saying, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” And for every tear I have shed this past week and for the ones I know are to come in the spirit of nostalgia, there were many more laughs and tons more smiles. So, as hard as it is for me to write this post, here are all the ways studying abroad has made an impact in my life.

Friendship

A place is only as great as the people in it. That is what has made Italy so special for me. Every day I was able to wake up with endless possibilities about what Italian-ism I would learn that day all the while knowing that there was a support group of people there to back me up or scream at the top of my lungs with or binge watch Stranger Things. Those people I got scammed with in Paris, those people who were lost in Berlin with me at three in the morning. Those people who traversed a fun house in Amsterdam with me like children. Those are the people that made this place so special and noteworthy. It would not have been the same experience without them.

Thankfulness

I did not get here on my own. I realize fully that me being here is fully through God. He laid a path and he has a plan for what this will do to my life. He spoke to those people who gave me words of encouragement or funding to get me through the semester. Every night walking home from babysitting, I would just ponder over the amazing state of my life. I would wonder how God could make something as small as babysitting children have an impact on me. I would wonder how he could create such beautiful oceans and mountains and cityscapes. The most breath-taking moments I had were realizing how thankful I was to get to see the world. I am so grateful and humbled to have had this experience.

Ethnocentrism

I know this may come as a surprise to some people, but America just is not the best. Now, I’m not saying it’s horrible (that would be a polar opposite instead of a logical opposite – LSAT where you at?) but there is just such a big wide world out there with so many different great ideas. There are so many things I will miss from Europe that I just cannot get back home. That being said, there are so many things and people I missed from back home that I could never get in Europe. You win some and you lose some. My point being, open-mindedness is essential. It is so important to appreciate the world and different cultures for what they are. Comparison is the killer of progress. Near the beginning of this trip, I had a difficult time adjusting to Italian life because I kept thinking about life back home and wondering which I liked better. You know what? Neither place is best. I just had to accept Italy the way it is and I am so glad I did.

Be Present

We live in a finite world. Our lives are precious. Every second that passes is one more that we should be thankful to be on this gorgeous planet with incredible people. But we do not always see that because we grow complacent. I’m that way. There are so many times that I have stayed in bed all day just because I can. But that leaves me with one more day gone away from my very finite life. Study abroad gave me a timeline. I was given four months to explore Europe and learn more about myself. Something I learned in the very beginning of this journey is the importance of taking it slow. Instead of looking forward to the coming day, I was able to relax and just enjoy the present. I was able to take in my surroundings and get to know people and try new things.

Calling

The most nagging feelings I had while abroad was the suspension that I do not deserve any of this. I still wonder if I do. It is hard to feel comfortable being truly happy knowing that there are people out in this world starving or people who will never be able to afford going to college let alone study abroad. And maybe it is non-PC for me to feel guilty. I’m really not sure. But I do know that privilege got me here. That being said, the realization that my privilege plays an integral part in my life really made me understand that it is important to make a difference. Today I might be a broke college student, but tomorrow I could be a lawyer helping defend human rights or the mom of a child that was left without a home. The possibilities are endless. But knowing this privilege and seeing it in action, whether it was passing refugee families in the street or seeing men struggling to sell roses just to get by, really shows me that I cannot be complacent. I came to Italy to learn more about the world. Now I can go make a difference.

 

And that is all folks. My time in Arezzo has come to a close. To see more about my adventures, follow me on Instagram or give me an email shout out.

Arrivederci!

A Brief Description of Arezzo

Although Arezzo appears to be a small untouched Tuscan town, there is a rich history that makes the city what it is today. From the architecture to the art to the medieval and fascist history, many factors contribute to modern day Arezzo. This creation of Aretinian culture cannot be defined by a stereotype because every person is individual. However, the more one knows about the history of a city, the more one can integrate and understand the mores of its people.

img_9266

Arezzo has been ruled by many different groups: The Etruscans, Romans, Florentines, Medici and fascists to name a few. Throughout time, the city was built upon itself. This explains why the architecture throughout Arezzo varies from place to place. In one quarter you can find a Roman amphitheater, in another a medieval fortress and in yet another, fascist statues. This architecture is frozen in time and gives us a glimpse of what life was like in Arezzo at any given point. The presence of this architecture in everyday life is important to understanding the community. Architecture makes Arezzo stand out from different cities and reminds citizens that they are tied to the past. The history of the city permeates, not only architecture, but also, traditions. When I first came to Arezzo, all anyone could talk about was the Saracino Joust. After observing the pomp and pageantry of the event, I understand that it is the main bonding event for the city. Even though the quarters battle for the most points, everyone from Arezzo can share in parades and food and the joy of the event. Even more important are the historical ties. The event began in the Middle Ages as an actual battle training against the Turks. The event was reconstituted under Fascist rule to bring tourism to the city and promote Italian camaraderie.
This event is a part of a rich history that explains Tuscan life and Italian culture. Because Arezzo was on its own on top of a mountain, the city was ruled by particular groups for long periods of time. This seclusion from the rest of the Italian peninsula caused Tuscans and, more specifically, Aretinians to have a strong sense of local pride as opposed to Italian pride. Furthermore, the late unification of the province of Italy perpetuates further the variations in not only Italian regions, but also Italian cities. As expected, Italian cultural stereotypes cannot exist in a reality outside of movies and television. The differences among Italians from different regions proves that Italians have unique histories that shape who they are; they cannot be put into a simple one-size-fits-all box that stereotypes create. Needless to say, the Arezzo I expected before I arrived is not the Arezzo I have come to know and love. Even more interesting is the fact that Arezzo is so different from other cities that I have visited outside of Tuscany.
I have learned that every cultural norm in Arezzo is not the same throughout Italy, but that everything is attached to history. There is no mafia crime in Arezzo because of the history of wealth in the city. Citizens are learning English in droves due to the growing tourism industry fueled by architecture. Parents bring their children out late at night when they drink or visit with friends because the prominence of wine in Italy takes away the taboo of alcohol that would be present in the United States. In the recent past, Arezzo took in major economic gains from the gold business; this span of wealth gave the city a reputation for being the “new rich.” Americans I have talked to outside of the University do not appreciate the “new rich” lifestyle and attitudes. However, I have found Aretinians to be nothing but accommodating. Learning about the history and architechture of this city has opened my eyes to why the people of Arezzo have such a complete sense of culture.

Uncategorized