Florence American Cemetery

The World War II Memorial in Florence held a deep reverence in its air and respect hung around each gravestone like a cloth over a fallen soldier. The grounds of the memorial touch the heart of an American who had been away from home as sycamore trees and short cut grass shaded and covered the earth, reminders of home. Etched onto the walls of the memorial building were the thousands of names of men and women laid to rest on the property, thousands of miles away from home, but among other heroes they served along side. Inside the building, engraved in pieces is the beautiful eulogy given to the soldiers, nurses, and victims who died in the Italian Campaign. The Americans sought to free Italy from the power of oppressive forces, seeking freedom for all nations, and in turn gave up their own lives fighting for that cause.

The simple fact that this memorial exists and is so beautiful and reverently run by a native Italian shows the mutual respect humanity has for great sacrifice. Great men and women died in an effort to save an entire country from oppression, and that country, now free, seeks to give the honor earned to those brave men and women. Of course the lives lost will never be replaced, but thousands of families chose to have their children, brothers, sisters, cousins and whoever else buried across the ocean in the place they chose to die for. The love and heart for all of humanity, not just ourselves is shown in the beautiful memorial.

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Roma

Rome is such an odd city. You get out of the airport and drive though a small country side then an urban city. You go down tight streets and everywhere you look people dart around on motorcycles and on foot. Little shops pop up on both sides of the street and buildings rarely exceed four stories in this part of town. But then you go deeper into the city and you look to your right and The Coliseum shows up through building randomly on your left. It is truly as huge as you always thought it would be, but you always imagined it would be in the middle of a little village or surrounded by other ruins, not across the street from Zara.

You keep driving and as you struggle to tear your eyes off of the colossal ruins around you, you look forward to see more urban structures popping up on the sides of cobble stone streets, this time tall and strong looking. I guess when I thought of Rome I envisioned a Tuscan village surrounded by ruins and not a booming metropolis with modern buildings and people everywhere. But Rome has been a metropolis since the beginning of it’s history. The small village quickly became a huge city that regulated and controlled trade, so why would that have changed in a short three thousand years?

This is a very typical twenty-something American girl thing to say, but I had always dreamed of seeing the Trevi Fountain that I had seen in all the movies, particularly Lizzie McGuire. And although there were probably a thousand people there all taking pictures and it was a hot a sweaty day, the Trevi is easily one of the most magnificent sites I have ever seen. All the business and people simply melted away at the sight of the waterfalls and the statues. I loved Italy and all it beheld, but the Trevi has my heart.

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Ethnocentrism

This slightly continues on with the idea in the blog names ‘Responsibility’, but deals with the international issue Americans face of being slightly uncultured and highly ethnocentric. Ethnocentrism is defined as an ‘evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture’. Ethnocentrism isn’t a commonly known trait to have by the person who acts as if they do; however, the issues with the term can be felt none the less. We as Americans typically don’t understand why other cultures struggle in oppression or why they don’t just fix their issues themselves. But we are also operating under the idea that every culture has the same “American Dream” mentality as is so common in Western Culture. However, these ideals and our moral compass doesn’t always fit into the cultures across the world. Many people groups and indigenous peoples have had customs and traditions in their civilization that date farther back than even the founding of our country, yet somehow, we think that because they live differently than us, they are somehow wrong.

I believe a solid solution for this issue would be more traveling of individuals. Students, adults, children, who go out into the world seeking a new perspective, and for more than just a week or at a resort. Truly living and abiding in another culture, not just getting a taste, but learning to cook the whole meal. I believe the increase number of students studying abroad will help to alleviate the issue here in America and will help the world to see us not just as stuck up Americans, but as workers for peace and for the common good.

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Responsibility

What is our responsibility as Americans? This is a question that has been pondered since the founding of our great nation. The American Revolution was a founding not only of a brand new nation, but also of the idea that a people could start a new and throw off the chains of oppression. After the American Revolution, the next hundred and fifty years of world history were dedicated to the freeing of colonies and people groups all around the world, and even within our own nation. Humanity grew an obsession for the idea of freedom and the right to live as one please, unburdened by the regulations of a government they could not participate in. These ideas are attached firstly to the Western World, and in pieces and fragments to the rest.

So now, two hundred and forty-two years later, the world still looks to us for how to shape government and how to engage in wars and trials. Not only do they look to us for an example of how to do government, because Lord knows we aren’t perfect at that, but they look to us for how we choose to intervene in foreign affairs.

The question I ponder today is should we intervene in the communist climate of North Korea where we know there is oppression and devastating regulations, or should we merely watch from afar and only act if we ourselves are put in danger?

As we contemplate that and research that question further, I will leave you with this quote from Martin Niemöller:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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The Study Abroad Revelation

Learning about studying abroad has opened my eyes to the world (pun) of possibilities out there for a little Spanish and Pre-Med major who just wants to help change the world. When I started going on missions trips five years ago, I saw how much I could help in changing people across the globe’s lives, but never fully understood how much they could change mine. Yes, I could learn how to better love and saw the incredible kindness of people in Central America, but studying abroad is a very different ball game than serving abroad. Serving you are focused on just that, service. Studying abroad, you are learning how to live and coexist in a place you have never been. Going shopping, to school, hanging out with friends, all in a foreign environment that you have never seen before. Serving abroad you have a driven and connected purpose for being there; while studying abroad, you will have time to just relax and experience life in a foreign country a little bit more.

I don’t know if this counts as an international event blog post because it’s just about a study abroad meeting I had, but I learned so much about how the world could change me and my perspective, that I’ve decided it was worthy of a post.

I want to see the world and taste the flavors of culture, but I also want to go and make friends in new places that I have never been before.

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Global Engagement Day

Global Engagement Day was a day that left me full of thought and contemplation over how I regard and speak to people who are different than me. I have never considered how my unthoughtful, casual words might sting someone who hear little things on a daily basis. I learned about the word ‘micro-aggression’ that day, which was described as ‘a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority’. These micro-aggressions can take many forms, but they act like mosquito bites; one bite is annoying and might distract a little, but thirty bites is a ridiculous amount to deal with and would be very painful to experience. A person of color might experience an untold amount of micro-aggressions every day, and each word, look, or question is a little bite. The inflictor likely has no idea the negative impact his or her words is having on the person or how many similar things that person has experienced that day.

The most important way to counteract these micro-aggressions is to see a person first and foremost as just that, a person. No one is just the color of their skin or their ethnic background. These things are incredible and so vital to each person’s individualism and who they are, but focusing on just the difference between your looks and theirs and disregarding the fact that they are just another human can cause pain.

The students on Global Engagement Day spoke on these things and described how incredible it would be if people would be friends with them not just because they are international, but simply because they are fun to hang out with and talk to.

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United World College

This past year, I spent a great deal of time with and interacted with students who attended the United World College in high school. Now known as Davis Scholars at OU, these students live in the residential colleges and attend classes as students; only they have already experienced life away from home and their families (and their countries for that matter) for years.

In high school, students at the United World College leave their home country and their native tongue to study at a high school abroad, full of other students who have chosen the same education from various countries. This exposure gives them invaluable cultural knowledge and insight into how we are all alike in some ways, and how we are all different in others.

Many students while in high school and even more in college will study abroad or at least travel abroad with their families. However, during these trips the students will mostly engage with people from their own home and who understand their culture, because that is who they live and interact with. The unique thing about the United World College is that students are surrounded by people they have never met from countries they have never visited.

As students who has left the country on multiple occasions for brief periods of time, I cannot imagine the stress this puts on a young person, leading me to believe that these students have a strength and fortitude not known to many. These students will be world changers and peace makers, and we are blessed to know them and call them friends.

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Las mismas corazoñes

Cada vez que me he ido a Guatemala o El Salvador o Nicaragua, o incluso Los Estados Unidos, veo las corazoñes de los niños en todos las cosas que hacen.

I have left my home to travel abroad in Central America a total of seven times. Once to El Salvador, once to Nicaragua, and five times to the place I consider my other home where my heart truly flourishes, Guatemala. And each time I have left, I recognize one defining characteristic in all the children I meet. We may all come from different cultures, but we all have the same heart that wants to play and laugh and simply find joy.

I have spent a significant amount of time while abroad serving as a very crude translator so that my friends from my own high school could become friends with kids from these nations. I would help initiate conversations and get basic names and facts across, but I started to see after doing this for a number of years that in the end, that communication was really only vital not for friendship, but for making both groups more comfortable with each other. Once they reached an appropriate level of comfortability, they no longer needed me. They would run off and play soccer or we would teach them to play basketball or football. One of the favorite games to play goes like this: get two gringos to go to opposite sides of the room; one raises their hand and yells “REAL”, seconds later the other calls and yells “BARCE”. A fight will soon ensue as to which Spanish team truly is supreme, followed by the debate of Ronaldo versus Messi. This has happened every time without fail.

We all love to joke and talk mess and run around and have fun. No borders or languages or cultures really separate that.

Or at least that is what I have found.

More research to come.

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PLC with the Davis Scholars

Usually, PLC meetings consist of all one hundred or so of us eating dinner together in the caf and then adjourning up to Davenports for our weekly meeting where we listen to a speaker or hear about opportunities on campus. But the Davis Scholar week was different.

Instead of Davenports, we headed over to Jim Thorpe, and no one really knew what tonight was about except that we were meeting kids who were studying abroad at OU, a concept that was a little flipped in our minds, because who would want to come to the middle of Oklahoma for a study abroad when the whole world is waiting out there. Either way, we weren’t sure what to expect.

Foreign exchange students always strike me as so brave and courageous for leaving the homes they have always known and coming to a place completely strange to them. Forgoing their culture and their families for a higher education, and a stout education of a far off place and culture to whom they are strangers.

That was the night my Burr group, Son of Faith and Hope, met Sonom, a student from Nepal. Sonom is a kind man who is humble and full of humor. We later played a trivia game at our Christmas party involving information about the whole world and the vast cultures within it. Sonom was by far the most knowledgable in this subject, no matter the continent or country in question. I believe students who have experiences abroad gain both wisdom and knowledge that can aid them in all of life’s journeys.

 

 

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International Fair on the South Oval

My friends and I were just sitting in the President’s Leadership Class Office between classes with not a lot to do when someone came running in with a snack in their hand. A tasty little piece of baklava, a dish I knew to be traditionally Mediterranean. Now although we have many diverse bakeries in the states, to get traditional baklava can be a treat and I was curious to see where it had come from.

Excited at the prospect of free food, we all merrily skipped out of the office, walking quickly through the fall air, past the Bizzell Memorial Library and onto the south oval, where music could be heard through the wind. The music had a distinct flavor to it, not the general hype tunes that Soonerthon or Relay for Life might play to get people attracted to whatever they were auctioning off. No, this music was much more real and alive, and was most definitely from far away.

With our eyes pealed, searching for treats, I started to take in the tables around me, filled with posters and people, all representing different nations from the Middle East, a culture that was rather foreign to me considering my upbringing in a private school in the middle of Oklahoma. All the sights and sounds echoed in my mind after we had gotten our baclava and skipped back on our merry way to the PLC office.

All the people at the fair were so proud of their heritage and where they had come from and what they were now accomplishing. It made me wonder, what kind of heritage do I pass on and what does my culture really mean to me, outside of just the place I call home.

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