Implications of Brexit for Ireland

So a few weeks back for one of my international events I attended a lecture given by Adrian Farrell, the Consul General of Ireland for the American Southwest. Over a catered lunch from Panera (which was awesome for a broke college kid without a meal plan), he discussed the impact and implications Brexit has for Ireland and the Irish people.

The two key questions for Farrell revolve around Ireland and the Irish economy. Since Northern Ireland is a part of the UK, they are involved in Brexit even though the majority of the country voted to remain in the European Union. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have had a long and rocky history, and Brexit threatens to upend the current state of peace and reconciliation that the two countries have fought so long to achieve. The border between the two is currently fully open, with 260 major road crossings according to Farrell. And with the Republic of Ireland’s single-market economy (free movement of goods, people, etc.) and over $75 billion of trade each year, the reformation of a hard border separating them from Northern Ireland or the stoppage of trade with the UK would be devastating to Ireland’s economy. The Dublin-London air route is one of the busiest in the world, and up to 40% of Irish exports in areas like food and agriculture go to the UK. Farrell stressed that Brexit must not lead to the reformation of a hard border, and that Ireland must continue to be a trading nation regardless of the other outcomes of Brexit.

He also discussed the outlook of the Irish people surrounding the issue. After Brexit, Ireland will be the only English-speaking member of the EU, and they are already the only English-speaking member of the euro currency zone. Over 80% of the Irish population now agrees that Ireland should stay in the EU, and most of them believe that the EU needs to continue to reform. Farrell believes they should work harder to engage citizens in a direct democracy, and that structural funds, which are transferred to poorer states to help boost them, need to be strengthened, as well as believing a new Marshall Plan for Africa is needed.

Even with the areas that he said needed improvement, Farrell’s optimism and positive view of his country and the EU were very obvious. He discussed the impact of the Erasmus Program, which invests heavily in education and cross-border cooperation, and highlighted that 20% of people currently living in Ireland were born elsewhere. They also have a 6% unemployment rate that has been pretty steadily dropping.

Even though there are still many uncertainties with Brexit, and the March 29, 2019 date is fast approaching, the EU has shown remarkable solidarity in supporting Ireland and their continued peace with Northern Ireland. Farrell’s talk was one of the most hopeful and confident political discussions I have been privy to in a long time, and his portrayal of Ireland definitely convinced me that it needs to be moved up a few spots on my bucket list.

If you’re interested in reading more about Mr. Farrell or about the Erasmus Program, here are a couple of good links:

https://www.dfa.ie/irish-consulate/austin/about-us/consul-general/
https://esn.org/erasmus

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My Last Post

Wow. It is difficult for me to believe that I will be a graduate of this university in just under two weeks. It is so cliche to say it, but the time has legitimately gone by in what feels like the blink of an eye. If there are any new GEFs reading this, PLEASE make sure to enjoy your time at OU as much as you possibly can. It will be over before you know it!

When I was applying to OU, seeing the new Global Engagement Fellowship program was a big pro for this university in my eyes. Since I was in middle school, I’d dreamt of studying abroad, and it was wonderful to see a university that promoted study abroad so heavily. I was overjoyed to be selected for this program, and I have been so blessed with all of the wonderful experiences that have come out of it.

I still maintain that studying abroad was the best decision I made in college. It was both incredibly fun and incredibly challenging. It taught me to use a foreign language effectively, to be confident in my ability to navigate in unfamiliar situations and places, and to see the world in a different way. Again, this all sounds so cliche, but this cliche exists for a reason. Studying in another country really does change you for the better, and if you are at all interested, I urge you to apply. OU has TONS of study abroad scholarships that make it financially feasible.

Every day, the international community gets more and more connected. No one country can exist as an island anymore, even if it wants to. Because of this, I am so grateful to this program for encouraging me to learn as much about the international community as I possibly could. Now more than ever, this knowledge is vital, and I’m leaving OU knowing that I am a much better-educated and more well-rounded person than I came as.

The moral of this sentimental story is that OU is amazing, the Global Engagement Fellowship is amazing, and studying abroad is even better. I am still having trouble coming to terms with leaving, but I take comfort in the fact that sadness at leaving means that I got to experience something truly awesome. Thank you to Bushra, thank you to Jaci, and thank you to all of my fellow GEFs for making these last four years unforgettable!

My Last Global Engagement Day

Today I attended my very last Global Engagement Day, and it was a wonderful way to end my time as a GEF. Every year, fellows get together to lead panels on all sorts of things, from what to pack, to where to study abroad, to telling stories (a panel I participated in last year), to the talk I attended today: women, minorities, and LGBTQ+ students abroad.

As a straight, white woman, 1/3 of these descriptors apply to me, but I found it so valuable to hear the perspectives from everyone on the panel. It was fascinating, and times heartbreaking, and often empowering to hear fellow students tell the stories of how they lived and were treated in places outside the U.S. It’s no secret that our own country often doesn’t treat anyone in these three groups with kindness, but the fact remains that the United States is a fairly liberal country, while some that GEFs travel to (Morocco and Uganda were mentioned in the talks) are not.

It was interesting to hear where these students drew the line between standing up for themselves when they were being oppressed (overtly or covertly) and between staying quiet to avoid making too many waves. As one of them stated, “you’re not there to cause a culture war.” The idea of dressing much more conservatively, or of hiding homosexuality, in a country that basically requires it has always been interesting to me. On the one hand, it’s important to respect cultures you are a guest in. But on the other, shouldn’t you say something if you’re being catcalled, or you are admonished for your homosexuality or your style of dressing? Here in the U.S., we very much have a culture of speaking up (if you feel safe doing so) when you are not being respected. But the dynamic changes significantly when you study abroad.

Ultimately, I have the utmost respect for these students. To hear comments about yourself that make you bristle and to stay calm and respectful is a really admirable course of action. I think they all served as excellent cultural ambassadors for the United States, and I am proud to be a Global Engagement Fellow with them.

It was an excellent panel, and it made my last Global Engagement Day one for the books!

The Cyber Offense-Defense Balance and Why Technology is Both Cool and Terrifying

On March 8 I attended an event for OU’s annual IAS Symposium. This year’s topic was global cyber trends and I went to a lecture entitled “What is the Cyber Offense-Defense Balance?” that was given by Rebecca Slayton, a professor at Cornell.

I don’t know very much about global cyber trends and had no idea what the cyber offense-defense balance even was when I sat down for the lecture, so I learned a lot in the hour and fifteen minutes I was there. Dr. Slayton began by outlining the conventional wisdom, which is that offense has the upper hand in cyberspace. Basically, first-mover advantages and the cost of attacking vs. defending favors the offensive in cyber operations. She then addressed the minority view, the cyber defense advantage, and proceeded to assert that in reality neither of these are true but that we are simply asking the wrong question. What we should be asking is “under what circumstances do cyber operations favor offense rather than defense?” The cyber offense-defense balance, according to Slayton, is shaped not only by technology but also by the complexity of adversaries’ goals relative to their skills and organizational capacity. In other words, a potential offensive advantage must be defined in relation to specific adversaries with specific goals, in conjunction with skills and organizational context.

In cyber operations, both the offense and the defense want to maximize payoff versus cost. This payoff is shaped by the goals of each adversary and subjective value of their operation. For example, cyber offense is valuable for countries or actors who value covert operations or action at a distance, who don’t have other means of attack, and who have adversaries who rely heavily on cyberspace. Cyber defense is valuable for actors who depend on cyberspace. The cost of cyber operations is more difficult to measure because cyber weapons have very different costs than physical ones. Each code design can only be reused until it is discovered, and costs are dominated by research, development, and testing rather than materials and production as physical weapons are. Maintenance costs are also huge in the software lifecycle.

The lecture also covered the consequences of cyber operations. The example that Dr. Slayton used was Stuxnet, a US-Israeli attack on an Iranian uranium enrichment facility. Over the at least 4 year development period ending with discovery in 2010, hackers took control of the facility’s computers and periodically sped up the centrifuges to damaging speeds without the scientists’ awareness. The costs due to loss of production and centrifuges was estimated to be near 7 million, and the non-monetary payoffs for the offense came in the form of damaged morale, excessive security, and resulting organizational inefficiencies. The perceived value of Stuxnet appears to be 2 orders of magnitude greater than its costs for the US and Israel. Although this may be true, the cost of offense exceeded that of defense and the blowback was that it strengthened the resolve of Iran nuclear power and that Iran was able to use the attack to learn about cyber weapons. Slayton’s final takeaway was that there is no offense-defense balance because cyberspace is not uniform (kind of a cop-out given the title of her lecture, I know).

Overall I thought the lecture was very interesting. As the importance of technology worldwide continues to increase, there are many adaptations we need to make and precautions we need to take, and as the definition of war changes with new developments it is likely that this topic will only become more prevalent in our society.

 

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Exclusion or Inclusion? Disability and Community in Late Medieval France

I recently had the opportunity to leave my comfort zone a bit and attend a history of science lecture. Typically, the lectures that I attend are focused on current international events, so it was an exciting change of pace to attend an event focused more on history.

The talk I attended was given by Dr. Sasha Pfau, an associate professor from Hendrix College. I was not sure what exactly to expect from such a lecture, but I found myself quickly fascinated with Dr. Pfau’s research. Her study’s goal was to investigate the treatment of disability in Medieval France. Whenever I think about disability in the Middle Ages, I, like many people think of people locked away from society in mental institutions or shunned in leper colonies. During this talk, I was surprised to learn that this was often not the case.

Dr. Pfau found her evidence by pouring through thousands of pardon letters. These letters were written to the king of France by either convicted criminals or their families or friends requesting pardon. The king granted these pardons as a show of power; he was above the law, and excused people’s crimes in an attempt to flaunt it. Those seeking pardon worked with court scribes and paid a fee to write the letters, and if the king granted the pardon, they could pay extra to have it transcribed in the official books. These approved, transcribed pardons are all that survive, so today, we have no way of knowing how many pardons were approved or what an unapproved pardon looked like, but the letters give modern historians insight into ordinary life at the time.

Each letter included the story of the crime with a justification. It is these stories that Dr. Pfau was interested in; though the stories may have been embellished, they reflected plausible, normal events at the time. Thus, any treatment of disability that came up in the letters was likely indicative of how disability was regularly treated in those days. Dr. Pfau said that most letters did not contain any mention of disability; she had to read hundreds of letters to find what she was looking for. However, the letters she did come up with painted a picture of disability treatment that looks very different from my assumptions. From these letters, it is apparent that those living in late Medieval France included disabled people as members of society and practiced a great deal of familial care. Rather than casting the disabled out, they were brought into the fold and included as much as possible.

Her case studies varied from a disabled man who participated with his friends in a bar fight to a blind man who was killed by his wife for intentionally sabotaging her work. In each case, the disability was never the focus of the letter, but the reader could see that it was often treated very differently to what many have previously imagined. When the disabled were mistreated, it was due to their own negative actions, rather than their disabilities. Their families felt and upheld the responsibility to care for their disabled family members, and the disabled were as integrated into society as possible.

I was impressed with Dr. Pfau’s ability to make such a strong case for something so surprising to me, as well as her method of obtaining it. Before this talk, I had never heard of pardon letters, nor had I given much thought to the treatment of disability throughout history. The lecture was a fascinating reminder that often, dominant historical narratives are not accurate; they are shaped by biased historians choosing the version of history that they want to pass down. I learned some interesting things about Medieval France and had some of my preconceived notions of history shattered. It was a nice reminder that, while studying current events is immensely important, studying historical events can be equally so.

My Last Semester as a GEF Mentor

As this is my final semester at OU, it is my final semester as a mentor to younger Global Engagement Fellows. Serving as a mentor to some incredible fellows has been an honor for the past year and a half. So far, every new fellow that I’ve met has been incredible – they make it easy to be a mentor because they need very little help! But it has been amazing to be able to share my travel stories with people who can actually find them useful (it’s always nice to have a valid excuse to reminisce about my time studying abroad…). It is wonderful to listen to new fellows speak so passionately about study abroad plans and to hear about all of the awesome things they’ll get to do.

I’m always jealous when I hear about new programs and adventures – I’ve been back in the U.S. long enough that my time abroad occasionally feels like an incredibly pleasant dream, something that I remember but that happened to another person. I have grown up a great deal since that time – during the summer after I studied in Spain, I worked 6-7 8 hour days a week at two different jobs. The next summer, I was rewarded with an amazing 9-5 job that I will continue with after graduation. But I’m also planning a 3 week trip to Europe with my boyfriend after graduation to get another taste of life outside the U.S. and to show him around. I am so excited about the things happening in my life, but I will always miss my time living in Spain. Studying abroad is simply an experience like no other, and one that I hope every college student will try to take advantage of. It is so uniquely wonderful; you’ll never have another time like it.

For this reason, it makes me so happy that this Global Engagement Fellowship that started the year I came to OU is flourishing and attracting so many amazing members year after year. I am honored to be in the first graduating class of this fellowship. I hope I’ve done my small part in building a legacy that will live on for years at OU. GEF is an organization promoting international collaboration and cooperation, learning new languages, connecting people from different cultures, and educating yourself as much as possible on the world outside your home country. I have learned so much as a member of this organization, and I hope that I have helped to pass along some of that knowledge to my mentees. Being a global engagement fellow has been utterly wonderful. I am not yet ready for my time to be over, but I am so thrilled that other new fellows are going to get the chance to study abroad and have their own amazing experiences.

The Iran Nuclear Deal

Hello! It is difficult for me to believe that I’m now in my last semester at OU. As cheesy as it sounds, it really does seem like just yesterday that I was starting up this blog. I’m amazed at how much has happened in under four years – I’ve traveled to eight countries since then, had several awesome internships, developed passions I didn’t know that I had, and come up with a viable plan for my future. None of this means that I know what I’m doing yet, but I’ve had an amazing time finding my way.

Tonight, I had the immense pleasure of going to a talk by Dr. Trita Parsi at the Sam Noble Museum on the Iran nuclear deal. I’ve spoken before about how much I enjoy listening to experts discuss their fields, and tonight was no different. Dr. Parsi was eloquent, engaging, and extremely knowledgable, and I learned a great deal about the intricacies of the U.S.-Iran relationship over the last several decades. Dr. Parsi advised the Obama administration on the Iran nuclear talks and was also in conversations with Iranian officials. If anyone is an expert on this topic, it is this man.

He spoke of the historical roots of the relationship between Iran and the United States, and the complicated role that Israel played in the relationship. It was fascinating to hear about how things have changed over the years: in the 80s, Iran and Israel often worked together against common threats, such as Saddam Hussein and the USSR. However, in the early 90s, the USSR collapsed and the two countries became rivals. Iran refused to recognize Israel and the two countries no longer got along. The U.S. has gained and lost power of influence in the region over the years. As with all international disputes, the situation is complex with no clear solutions.

My two main takeaways from the talk are that effective diplomacy often requires creativity and that this creativity is often impossible without friends. During his time in office, President Obama imposed the harshest sanctions to date on Iran, crippling their economy for several years, in an attempt to get them to stop their nuclear program. These sanctions were only effective because Obama had international clout and got buy-in from many U.S. allies, who stopped buying Iranian oil. When Iran found ways to get around the sanctions, the U.S. then got creative, creating a secret channel to Iran through Oman in order to expedite nuclear talks.

Through this secret channel, American diplomats offered to let Iran keep a certain low number of centrifuges enriching uranium in exchange for their participation in the deal. The U.S. could not write down this offer for fear of upsetting its U.N. allies, who were still participating in the official nuclear talks, and Iran could not take a verbal agreement from the U.S. To get around this, the U.S. got the Sultan of Oman, a close ally to Iranian officials and to us, to personally deliver the offer. The Iranians could not refuse a personal offer from such a close friend lest they appear to be publicly distrusting an ally. Thus, the Iran nuclear deal was born. It would not have been possible without creativity and friends – unilaterally, the U.S. would have gotten nowhere.

In light of this, I am concerned with the U.S. government’s current treatment of diplomacy. An “America first” policy seems to serve only to alienate our closest allies. Additionally, many of our international embassies are currently without ambassadors. We appear to be ignoring attempts at diplomacy in a time when we need them the most; this talk proved that we NEED allies if we have any hope of solving our greatest international problems. During his talk, Dr. Parsi drew alarming parallels between talks with Iran over the last decade and the situation between the U.S. and North Korea now. If we are to look to our past and avoid the same mistakes, the government would do well to keep in mind that creative diplomacy and the curation of strong international friendships will likely be they key to an effective solution.

New Year, Worldwide

Happy New Year! Since it is the beginning of 2018 I thought it would be interesting to look at New Year’s traditions around the world.

 

Here in America we drink champagne and give each other kisses at midnight, but many countries have very different ideas of ringing in the new year. For example, in Spain it is customary to eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each chime of the clock, to bring luck. In certain parts of Scotland, people swing large fireballs over their heads in a tradition that is said to ward off evil spirits. In Denmark, broken glass is meant to be a sign of good fortune so people smash china and drop it on friends’ doorsteps to bring them good luck in the new year. People in Colombia and Ecuador make and burn puppets or scarecrows to symbolize leaving bad people or things in the past. Joya no kane is the traditional ceremony of bell-ringing in Japan that dates back to Buddhist beliefs, where the bells are rung 108 times to represent each of the worldly desires or sins. In Greece, hanging an onion in your front doorway signifies rebirth and regrowth. And on New Year’s in Germany, people eat filled donuts as part of their “Silvester” celebrations.

 

So as you can see, there are many different ways of celebrating the new year. Whether you were stuffing your mouth with grapes, breaking plates, toasting, or getting a New Year’s kiss, I hope you had a fun night and have a prosperous 2018.

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Pasko Sa Nayon

Last week, to support one of my friends, I attended the Filipino Student Association’s Cultural Night called Pasko Sa Nayon. The phrase means “Christmas in the village” in Filipino, and the event was a celebration of the Filipino culture through food, songs, and a really interesting traditional dance called tinikling.

Tinikling is one of the oldest and most popular folk dances originating in the Philippines, and is recognized as the Philippine national dance. It means “bamboo dance” in English, and is performed with two large bamboo poles that are clapped together rhythmically as dancers hop and maneuver between them. There are various stories as to the origin of the dance, one of which being that the Leyte people did it as an imitation of the tikling bird’s unique movements as it hops and walks between grass stems and tree branches, and that the dance’s name came from the name of the bird. Another story tells of the Philippine people working in the fields under the Spaniards. According to LIHKA.org, when workers were slow, they would be sent out of the paddies for punishment. They were forced to stand between two bamboo poles cut from the grove, sometimes with thorns sticking from their segments. The poles were then clapped together to beat the natives’ feet. By jumping when the bamboo sticks were apart, the natives tried to escape this cruel form of punishment. From there it is said that tinikling evolved into the art form that it is today.

It is a really cool and fun-looking dance, and is very clearly a source of pride and unique part of the Filipino culture. I’ll attach a link below to a video of the dance; the OU students who did it during Culture Night were not quite as talented as these people, but it was still quite impressive.

I am very glad I attended Pasko Sa Nayon; I really enjoyed seeing a new facet of the Filipino culture, and definitely want to try tinikling now. Maybe with bubble wrap around my ankles, just in case…

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ISIS/The Islamic State: Some Thoughts on What’s Happening Now

The rise and spread of ISIS* has made international news for more than three years now. This brutal, militant form of Sunni extremism quickly conquered large pieces of Iraq and Syria, and regional forces, with support from a coalition of 68 countries around the world, have been fighting to take back the territory ever since. Meanwhile, ISIS claimed responsibility for horrific terror attacks committed all over Europe and bleeding into the United States.

ISIS attracted many young people into its ranks both in the Middle East and in western countries. Surprisingly to many, ISIS actually attracted many well-educated, economically well-off youth in addition to more traditionally disenfranchised people. As its numbers and territory grew and its terror attacks became more frequent, ISIS inspired a great deal of fear throughout the world. Within areas controlled by ISIS, native people suffered greatly, and in the West, people feared more terror attacks and the organization spreading further.

For years, at least to me, it’s felt as though the international community has made little progress in taking ISIS down. ISIS would lose territory and then gain it back, all while continuing to commit terror attacks. However, there has been a recent turn of good fortune – the leaders of both Iraq and Iran have declared that ISIS has been militarily defeated in both Iraq and Syria. I am honestly skeptical of this; the news is new and in fights such as this, victories are seldom so clear-cut. However, ISIS’s loss of Mosul in July signaled the beginning of significant territorial losses for them, and for once, ISIS really does appear to be losing ground.

I am incredibly pleased that ISIS is retreating and that native Iraqis and Syrians are beginning to get their countries back. However, based on all of the research I’ve done this semester, I think it’s incredibly important that western powers who’ve been assisting regional forces in Iraq and Syria militarily to attempt to solve the root causes of terrorism, rather than just the symptoms. Military victory is fantastic, but because ISIS is just as much an ideology and a rallying cry for many who feel disenfranchised, I fear that military victories will be temporary. Western responses to terrorism often treat the symptoms of terrorism but fail to tackle the larger roots: economic inequality, ineffective and ill-thought-out foreign policy, and social unrest, to name a few. Admittedly, these issues will be significantly more difficult to tackle, but I think this makes them all the more important. Yes, we need to fight back against ISIS with military strength, but I think that we also need to fight back with ideas.

Obviously, I am but an undergraduate biology major with an interest in foreign policy. I fully recognize that my statements above are an oversimplification of these complex, multifaceted international events and issues. I by no means claim to be an authority here; I would simply like to start a conversation about these issues. I think that terrorism has many root causes, and work on tackling those, rather than fighting the fires that emerge as a result, has the potential to affect real, lasting change. The difficulty, of course, lies in figuring out how exactly to go about fighting those root causes.

*There are many names for this organization, and what is most widely accepted continues to change. Throughout this post, I’ve chosen to use ISIS for simplicity and because this term is widely recognizable to the American public.