Winter Break in Colombia

Over Winter Break I had the fortune of going to Colombia for 2 weeks. I flew into Cartagena and spend a couple of days in the old town. It was the prettiest city I had every been to – and I’ve been to 27 countries. It was extremely colorful. The houses and streets were super dainty and cute, lively with flowers. On some of the streets there were murals, others had small triangular decorations hanging across them. There was also a cool fort you could go into with shops and street vendors. The food was pretty good, although I would have to say Panama still takes the crown for food. Since I speak Spanish, I was able to get around easily and haggle down prices.  From Cartagena we took a bus to Taganga, which is about 4 hours away. Taganga was a beach town famous for Scuba Diving. I went on 2 dives, my first ones after getting my Scuba Diving license over the summer.  It was only $50 USD! I met my scuba diving buddy at an outdoor restaurant – he randomly came up to us (group of 4 friends). His name  was Sam and he was Canadian. He told me about how he spent 8 months biking from North Carolina to Chile.

After Taganga we went to Medellin. We did a Pablo Escobar tour of one of his properties. We also went to this place with flooded hills that looked really cool. We climbed up this huge, huge, gigantic, big, massive rock called el penol to get a good view. We took a cable car up to a park at the top of Medellin called Parque Arvi and hiked around for a bit. At night we did a pub crawl with our hostel, it was super fun. The bars were somewhat small but had good dancing. One of the bars had a ball pit in it and people were diving in it. I had a blast until a British guy dove on top of me and I had a headache the next day. Another bar we went to was incredibly patriotic. They sang the Colombian national anthem at like 1 am and everyone was waving around flags shouting great things about Colombia. It was very interesting, there were alot of people dressed up in random costumes and the decorations were super over the top and eccentric. I danced on stage with a midget dressed up as Pablo Escobar.

Colombia was overall pretty nice and I felt very safe the entire time I was there. I even got to go paragliding which was for sure the highlight of my trip. The views from the air were absolutely stunning and we flew through a cloud which was incredible.  Tayrona National Park was also incredibly beautiful, but too crowded.20180106_115435 20180115_154430 20180106_145151 received_10210725067869909 20180107_110727 IMG_20180115_221916_307 Snapchat-62905416 received_10210688437274167 Screenshot_20180116-120544

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OU Cousins

OU Cousins is an organization on campus dedicated to cultural exchange between the international students and American students. There are events such as Bingo, Thunder games, and a BBQ where you can have fun experiences with your OU Cousin. My first year with OU cousins I had a girl from Bolivia and another year I had a girl from Asia. Although I became friends from the girl from Bolivia, I never heard any responses from my second OU Cousin unfortunately. When I went to the matching ceremony this year I wasn’t paired with anyone which was disappointing; it seems like there are always more Americans fighting to have an OU cousin than there are international students available. However, I have not let this deter me from being involved in the international community. I have a few Angolan friends that I always talk to (trying to speak with them in Portuguese) and I also unofficially attend a Portuguese class where I learn  both the language and some cultural aspects from the teacher who is native to Brazil.

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International Event: Building Partnership and Shared Society for Jews and Palestinians

The presenter talked about the importance and success of his Hand and Hand schools he started up in Israel to promote peaceful relations. In Israel, roughly 22% of the population is Palestinian-Arab, the rest being constituted mainly by Jews. There has been a history of strife between the groups that continues to this day and there is virtually complete separation between the Arabs and the Jews. Throughout Israel there are by De Facto Arab-only schools and Jewish-only schools, each only speaking Arab or Hebrew respectively. Lee Gordon is the co-founder of Hand in Hand, a network of integrated bilingual schools where Jews and Arabs are educated together. It is a model for peace education and a shared society that was implemented in a time where there is a complete lack of peace process. He began the schools by recruiting 35 kindergarteners but now there are over 1000 kids in 6 of the Hand in Hand schools. The schools are bilingual, emphasizing Arabic and Hebrew equally. The schools have become increasingly recognized for their academic superiority; the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem is the best junior high and high school in the city with a heavy advancement in the sciences. One of the biggest challenges in recruiting students for the schools was that people were often cynical, rather than racist. They didn’t think that Jewish and Arab students could co-exist well. The schools have also been faced with acts of violence. It has been vandalized several times, with hostile phrases like “death to the Arabs” spray-painted on it and has even been set on fire. Despite these bumps, it is evident by the soaring success of the schools that Gordons vision of seeing Jews and Arabs share a common society is becoming increasingly achievable.

I found it very intelligent and strategic of Lee Gordon to target the racial tensions using the education system. If kids grow up understanding that, despite differences between Arabs and Jews, they are both human and can coexist, then it will shape their mindset to be more tolerable of others. Adults are often firm in their beliefs and stubborn, while children can be more easily swayed by various influences. By erasing prejudice early on by educating the kids in the same setting and giving equal value to both groups, the kids will have a greater chance and desire to live at peace with each other.

One impactful moment from the Lunch and Learn was that a girl from Gaza expressed her utmost gratitude to Lee Gordon for building the schools. She relayed how all she remembered from Israel was tragedy and never expected to live to see the change from war but was extremely happy about the effort towards peace he had ventured for and the success of it. Her emotional commentary even brought a few tears to some of the audience. This reaction shows just how important efforts are to appease tensions between the religious groups, in this case by starting up schools that cater to both groups. Before the presentation I was completely oblivious to the scale of tensions between the Palestinian Arabs and Jews in Israel but am now aware of the need to take small steps with huge impact to achieve peace for the country. I find what Lee Gordon is doing to promote peaceful relations by educating the Arabs and Jews together a fantastic approach and very noble.

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International Event: IAS Symposium Keynote Lunch on Cyber Security

The IAS Symposium keynote speaker for the lunch was Ron Diebert. His presentation was over the Toronto-based Citizen Lab’s experiences with targeted digital attacks on civil society. He brought up a few case studies that highlighted Citizens Lab successful prevention of security breaches in people’s phones for example. Ahmed from the UAE, was targeted using a text message by the NSO, a foreign company that only sold their technology to governments only. Luckily, Ahmed forwarded it on to the Citizen Lab who then determined it was malicious and could have access to nearly everything, from Ahmed’s web searches to his whereabouts.

I assumed there was intelligence out there and a cyberwarfare going on, but the presentation confirmed this and provided a few more insights. For example, China gifted the African Union with a building but hid microphones in it. While this doesn’t mean China intended harm, it certainly shows that they want to keep tabs on other political entities that concern them. The coexistence of privacy and technology seems to be heading down a grim path.

One of the main things that kept popping into my head throughout the presentation was ‘What’s the point of even upping the security’? To me, the cyber security crisis seems exactly like the Security Dilemma discussed in class. One side bumps up their security and the other feels threatened so they in turn bump up theirs. It’s an endless cycle that eventually results in both sides developing weapons with incredible destructive potential. In this case, the weapon is digital technology. Every time cybersecurity is bumped up, hackers develop new ways and advances to get past the security so the cybersecurity gets bumped up again. While the defensive side seeks to protect people, if the intelligence somehow finds its way to the other side there will be counterproductive consequences. Personally, I find it not a far-fetched idea that technology would escalate on both sides to a point where the all of our technological systems from traffic lights to satellites, the internet, any radio connections, etc. can be infected with a virus with the click of a button and our society spirals into chaos because of our dependency on 1s and 0s.

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International Event – Myanmar: Rohingya Crisis

A couple of weeks ago I attended a very interesting and moving discourse on the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar.  The speaker was Matt Wells, who worked for the Human Rights Watch and was a senior crisis advisor for Amnesty International. His presentation was over the crisis in Myanmar regarding the genocide and of a minority population of Muslims, the Rohingyas, numbering about 1-2 million. He spoke about the atrocities that occurred from this ethnic cleansing, of the burning of homes and buildings, shooting of children, and merciless killing that drove the Rohingyas into Bangladesh. While numbers and statistics were necessary to show the gravity of the situation, hearing case studies from the victims themselves was a more potent way to understand the situation. Many of the pictures of the cases he himself interviewed were very graphic and moving, especially the one of Noor Nahar a woman with her scalped infant. These people were victims of systematic killing where the military did not distinguish between woman or man, child or adult, or actual threats vs the helpless.

The situation in Myanmar for the Muslim minority group is extremely critical and the crisis amounted to Apartheid, according the Amnesty International.  It still blows my mind why people can be so cruel to others who have not harmed them, solely because they are different.  I get the feeling that the casualties in the Rohingya crisis are often overlooked by Americans because the people are far removed from us; but if this genocide happened closer to home it would surely make headlines which is upsetting that the public knowledge of atrocities that occur is proportional to how involved the victims are with Americans.

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New Zealand

Although I haven’t been to New Zealand, I hope to go one day. I have seen pictures and it looks absolutely beautiful. New Zealand is composed of two main islands. The capital Wellington is on the north island. The whole country is about the size of Colorado. The South island is about 10,000 miles smaller than the north island. There are 7 international airports and the bus system is the best way to get around if you don’t have a car. Most new zealanders, 75% live on the north island so it is about 3 times more populated. There are about 40 million sheep in New Zealand so there is a lot of lamb for food. On the North island there are geothermal oddities, as well as other cool natural features including beaches and volcanos. The South Island is more rugged and has the Southern Alps. The most popular surfing beaches are in the North island, where they are mostly traditional looking white- sand beaches.  There are a ton of adventure sports in New Zealand like rafting, bungee jumping, jet boating, and zorbing. The people are said to be very nice and fun. I look forward to one day going to New Zealand! It would be great for my inner adventurer.

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Spanish Dinner Night

Another international event I went to this year was Spanish Dinner Night, organized by one of my friends from Spain. The dinner featured Paella, a big pan of rice and seafood. It was delicious! They also had bread with tomato stuff to put on it, and beans as well. We put on some Spanish music and had a great time. I had at least 4 plates. For desert there were these sopapilla time deals that looked like diabetes in a few bites. It was nice to have a meal themed from a certain country and I will probably have an Ecuadorian food night next semester.

I intend on studying abroad in Spain next year and am torn on which city to do it in. I loved Barcelona, but I think it might be too touristy to stay there for too long. I was highly considering Valencia, but they speak a form of Catalan and not true  Spanish. I would like to fully immerse myself in Spanish so I may do Madrid.

Spanish Dinner Night

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Day of the Dead

The second international event I went to this semester was the Day of the Dead festival last month. There were alot of food trucks. Some of them were pricey so I hopped in line for the dollar taco truck. It was about a 45 minute wait because everyone else had the same idea. It took place in Lloyd Noble and there were rides and tables selling cultural items. Alot of the people in attendance dressed up and had face paint on. There was a stage set up for music but when I was there there really wasn’t anyone playing, it mightv’e been  in between sets. The event seemed like it was well organized. I personally have had more fun at other international events like international board game nights.

Day of the Dead, or dia de los muertos, is a Mexican holiday. HASA had many student volunteers at the event.

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Peru

Over the summer I took a two week trip to Peru- I absolutely loved it! There is so much more to the country than just Machhu Picchu. A group of four of us flew into Lima and got a hostel for the night for about 10 bucks. Everything there is super cheap! Our taxi driver from the airport told us about Huacachina, an oasis town about four hours away. We decided to do a tour the very next morning with the driver, We woke up at the crack of dawn and the driver picked us up and drove us there. On the way there, the taxi driver didn’t have his registration up to date and got pulled over. He just bribed the cops to get out of the ticket and we were on our way again.  Huacachina was super fun – we went sandboarding and dune bugging! Sandboarding was actually alot easier than I thought it would be. We got to swim in the oasis and had some tasty food. The next night we took a night bus to Huaraz. Our bus broke down in the middle of the night. After getting it fixed on the side of the road we proceeded on our journey. However, I kid you not, it broke down another four times. What took 6 hours by car took us 10 by this bus. In Huaraz we did a super difficult hike to Laguna 69, an absolutely gorgeous glacier lake at 14,000 ft altitude. Naturally, I decided to swim in the freezing cold water. It was very very cold, but there was a Peruvian who got in with me. It also started slightly snowing/sleeting a tad when I was swimming in the glacier water. Laguna 69 was definately top 10  of the most gorgeous places I have every been!!

The next day we hiked to Pasturori Glacier. My friend and I went off the path, which apparently was a no no we found out later.  We were able to come face to face with it, I could touch it if I wanted to. Walking along the sheet of ice was a unique experience, I could hear the icicles dripping and the ice creaking.

The next day we hiked to laguna Churup which had really cool colored water. Afterwards we got a shuttle back to Lima. I have never been in a crazier ride!! This driver a) seemed like he was on some type of drug because he kept sniffling and acting kinda weird and b) definately liked making his tires squeel every turn. And believe me, this was a curvy road.  It was definately on on-your-toes-let’s-hope-we-don’t-die trip but we made good timing. My friend in the back actually started tearing up because of this drive.

We met up with some friends at the Lima airport and spent the night at the airport, the ground was hard and it was cold but at least we could use our backpacks as pillows. We flew from Lima to Cusco and explored Cusco the first day. We found a tour operator for the Salkantay trek and bartered ourselves a good deal. The next morning we met at the town square at 6 in the morning and watched in horror as the stray dogs attacked each other in a random fight.

We did the Salkantay trek to Machu Pichu, a 5 day trek. The first day was easy and we hiked to another lagoon that was also freaking gorgeous. We slept in subzero rated sleeping bags becuase, well it was about 0 degrees at night. But I have never seen a better night sky than the first night of the Salkantay trek. The stars were just so splendid and the sky so clear. The second day of the hike was super hard becuase of the high altitude, steep grade, and we were wearing backpacks carrying everything. We reached the top of the Salkantay Pass which was like 16,000 ft and it was snowing, we didn’t stay long for pics or anything because everyone was wet and shivering. On the way down to the next campsite my friend slipped on a rock and cut his knee, twisting his ankle in the process. When we got to him we saw people wrapping it up in sweaters and using walking poles to hold it straight. The Peruvians came back with a make shift stretcher which was some thick sticks and a sheet of corrugated aluminum. They hoisted Kyle onto it and it took 6 people to carry him down the slope. But Kyle was too heavy so they had to find a horse because it would have taken forever to get him to the campsite in the stretcher. The nearest medic was four hours by horse and another two by van. I had to walk briskly following the horse, Kyle, and the guide to the next campsite. I was already exhausted after hiking up the pass for hours and missing lunch but I was needed as a translator because Kyle didn’t know Spanish. What was cool though was that after the pass the scenery turned into the jungle. So basically I hiked in the snow and in the jungle in the same day. Hours later we arrived at the medic, they stitched his knee up and gave him an ankle brace. The next day we got lunch across the street from the hospital and a little girl threw banana peels at us. We met up with our friends and I continued the hike with them. The fifth day we woke up at 3 in the morning to climb stairs to Machu Pichu. Macchu Picchu was dope, but I personally think the rest of Peru is more awesome.

We also climbed rainbow mountain, a short trip from Cusco. The mountain was striped with different colors of sediments and was also at high altitude and a hard hike.  Our last day we spent in Lima, my friend and I learned how to surf. We got private lessons and rented gear for just $17! For some reason our surf instructor made us run around for 10 minutes in our wet suits and do exercises. Like Why. I thought there was some purpose to making us work out in a freaking wet suit but I really don’t think there was. Other than that surfing was cool and alot easier than I thought it would be! The surf instructors invited us to go out in Lima that night so we went. Since it was a Monday night it really wasn’t that great and my friend Morgan and I ended up running away from them. Like physically sprinting away for not really any reason, they weren’t creepy or anything. After running away we were lost in Lima at like 1 in the morning and found a police officer on a bike who ended up escorting us back to the hostel. I stayed up talking to the hostel receptionist till 3 in the morning when we had to leave for the airport. And then we flew back to the states.

Overall, Peru was hands down one of my favorite trips! It was gorgeous, had plenty to do, cheap, and just a really cool place. I would recommendIMG_1081[1] IMG_1083[1] IMG_1120[1] IMG_1219[1] IMG_1272[1] to anyone to go, (and not just for Machu Pichu).

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OU Cousins

This year I went to the OU Cousins matching party. I had an OU Cousin freshman year from Bolivia named Wara and was hoping I’d be able to get another one this semester. At the matching party everyone conversed with strangers, making new friends. I talked to some Germans for a while and had some popcorn. The event had a great turnout, which also came with a downside. There were many more Americans than international students, so not all of the Americans were able to get an OU Cousin. There were a few ice breakers, such as going around and signing squares for unique attributes. I didn’t meet my OU cousin at the matching party, but was later emailed with one. I tried to contact her but never heard back. Next semester there will be a new round of matching and I hope to get one that I can hang out with. The term OU Cousin is however, just a formality. I can spend time with international students outside of school programs like I did this previous weekend. I always like meeting internationals so when I come across one I always ask them about where they are from.

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