That’s a Wrap, Freshman Year Edition

Well, I did it. I survived a year of dorm life, gen eds (chemistry, I’m looking at you), late nights and 5 AMs, procrastination on an Olympic level, and learning all sorts of new things. I talked to strangers, learned to row, got my car towed, j’ai appris un peu de français, and had more campus food than I could have ever wanted. Final grades haven’t come out yet, but I’m crossing my fingers for all As and have moved on to trying to figure out plans for this summer. I’m hoping to volunteer at one of the clinics in OKC and maybe use a little of my Spanish knowledge there, as well as getting a summer job with an actual income. I’ve finally got housing lined up for next semester along with 18 hours of classes that I’m equal parts excited about and terrified for. I’m still keeping my head above water and I honestly don’t think I would be happier anyplace else. So here’s to a somewhat successful first year (and hopefully 3 more to follow). I’ll try to update at least once or twice this summer when I get my plans figured out and get started working and/or if my mom follows through on her (semi-joking, I think) plans to whisk me away on vacation somewhere for a week or two because my dad “never takes her anywhere”. So good luck with wherever you are in your life, and thanks for catching a little glimpse of where I’m at in mine. 🙂

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Remand

  1. Remand ri-ˈmand (verb): to send (an accused) back into custody by court order (as pending trial) :  turn (a prisoner) over for continued detention : the sending of a prisoner or accused person back into custody (or sometimes admitting him or her to bail) to await trial or continuation of his or her trial
  2. Remand ri-ˈmand (noun): a powerful documentary that everyone should watch before they die

 

At the end of May, I attended a screening of the short documentary “Remand” with the OU College of Law as an international event.  The documentary was a beautifully executed, unsettling, and candid look at the injustice and abysmal conditions in the prison system of many countries. Remand takes its viewers into the prison system of Uganda through the eyes of an American lawyer Jim Gash, a group of law students from Pepperdine University, and Henry, an African boy placed on trial for two crimes he did not commit and forced to remain on remand for years.

The next part of this is going to be a summary/ things that I learned section, and will undoubtedly include spoilers, so this is your warning; if you need to, close your eyes and scroll to the end 🙂

Henry ended up on remand after his family was robbed by a herdsman who was later found by the mob, brought to Henry’s family’s house, and beaten to death. Henry, his father, and his brother were all arrested even though they asked the mob to show the man mercy and did not have any part in his killing. They were sent to Luzira Upper prison, a facility for prisoners who have committed serious offences. The prisoners there are split by the colors of their clothes: white for death row,  yellow for remand, and orange for the lifers. The amount of people in yellow in the film was overwhelming. Luzira Upper Prison, at the time Henry was there, held 3,000 inmates. It was built for 600. The overcrowding caused issues with sleeping, feeding, and meeting medical requirements, and the terrible system lead to many misplaced files and files losing their position in the order they were to be seen by the judges. Prisoners, under Uganda’s justice system, wait years for their day in court, though many want to confess to their crimes and even believe they deserve their sentence. These people had been convicted of crimes including rape, murder, treason, terrorism, and aggravated robbery/defilement. And Henry was among them, innocent.

While he was on remand, he was sent with some of the other prisoners to a work camp. The camp’s boss, Rose, ordered Henry to beat a young prisoner, and when he tried to show the boy mercy, was ordered to bury him alive. Henry and a few other prisoners, unable to disobey orders but still wanting to show him mercy, only buried him to the neck then freed him after a few hours. The next day, the young boy tried to escape the camp and Rose ordered 4 different prisoners to beat him. The boy was beaten 40 strokes with a stick and he died. Rose and Henry were charged with murder. When their case was brought to court, 1 lawyer was called to defend both Rose and Henry and none of the juveniles at the camp or Henry were allowed to testify, so even though Henry was completely innocent, he was convicted after the lawyer chose to defend Rose and blame him. But in May 2013, Jim Gash was given special permission to represent Henry as the first American to appear as an advocate in Ugandan court. After 2 years of work to prove his innocence, Henry was exonerated on June 19, 2015 and allowed to walk free.

Along with Jim’s work with Henry, he and the law students form Pepperdine who traveled to Uganda over their summer vacation in 2014 were paired with Ugandan lawyers and students to help solve cases and implement a plea bargaining system in Uganda. One  of the students, James Brown, said, “You’re hearing about the worst days of someone’s life and they’re taking you through it from when they woke up to when they went to bed, and it’s rough.” They began working through the 8,500 committed remands and motivating prisoners to plead guilty to manslaughter charges, which do not necessitate capital punishment, so they could get out of remand and begin serving their sentences. Their reform efforts worked, and in the summer of 2015, Uganda had its first national plea bargaining conference. The system credited all of the prisoners with their time on remand, leading some prisoners to be released. This plea bargaining system has allowed the courts to hear cases at 1/5 the cost of the remand system, and Uganda has already set the example for many other African countries that have begun to begin work towards implementing plea bargains with their help. The documentary ended by saying that Henry is now a medical student.

After the documentary, we were lucky enough to have a Q & A session with Jim Gash. He was very down to earth and his passion for his work was immediately visible. He has made 20 trips to Uganda since 2010 and has done amazing work there every time he goes. He told us that the waiting time for juveniles on remand has gone from 2 years to 6 months, and that the Ugandan system had been through over 7,000 plea bargains since they left. He will return sometime this month for a women and leadership conference, anti-trafficking work, and more prison trips. He and Henry have weekly Skype calls, and Henry wanted to call and talk with us after the documentary but it was around 4 a.m. in Uganda and his alarm didn’t wake him up in time unfortunately. He is in his third year of medical school studying to be a cardiologist, and the younger brother who was convicted with him has also been exonerated is now in law school.

 

I have a notebook with two pages full of notes and comments about the documentary; it was informative, gripping, frustrating, and heartwarming, and it reignited my desire to do work similar to the work that Jim Gaff does, but in a more medical or mission- focused setting rather than a law setting. I love seeing the amazing changes that can be made when people work together to solve problems. One of the best parts of the documentary for me was seeing the process the Americans took with the Ugandans to reform their system and implement plea bargaining. They came in to the situation with a focus on developing relationships and asking “What do you need and how can we help you accomplish it?” rather than “Here is what you need and we’re going to fix it our way because we’re more developed so we know better.” It was refreshing to see the Americans working with the Ugandans to find solutions that would actually work for them and to implement these solutions in such a way that Uganda could continue to improve its system after the Americans left.

I would 100% recommend this documentary to anyone and everyone, especially anyone with even a remote interest in law. Its commentary on the power of ideas and of people who are willing to work for each other leaves a lasting mark and proves that with just those two things we can make dramatic and enduring changes.

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OU Cousins Update/ Spanish Club?

So my international organizations for this year were a little unconventional. If you’ve been following, my OU Cousin Anita was supposed to go back to Taiwan after spending Christmas in Boston over the break. Instead, she ended up visiting an aunt in Canada, then came back to Oklahoma where she *heart eyes, clasps chest* met a boy. He was from Spain and they had met during the year when they were both filling out paperwork to apply to extend their study abroad term at OU. He got approved, but she did not and that seemed to be the end of it.

But since she was finished with all of the classes she needed for her degree and would just be going back and finding a job when she returned home, Anita decided to come back to Oklahoma and stay with some friends for a little while, then ended up in a fairytale romance with the Spanish boy and decided to stay even LONGER. We met up a while back to get food and she told me about him, showed me all of their cute pictures, and explained how she definitely hadn’t told her parents the reason why she was extending her stay again. A few days after we met up, she jetted off to Las Vegas, then the Grand Canyon, and then to Los Angeles. All of the pictures she sent me were amazing, and since I haven’t been to any of the places she got to travel to, I was quite envious as she told me about walking the strip in Vegas, taking in the sheer enormity of the Grand Canyon, and falling asleep on the beach in California. But my envy was in a way that was also full of excitement for her, and I am so glad she was able to have all of the amazing experiences she had while she was here. Anita is finally actually gone now (…I think), and I tried to text her a few weeks back but I think we may have to switch to email or Skype now that she’s off of her international phone plan. It was a happy surprise for me to get to see her one last time though, and I hope that I can have just as great of an experience next semester with OU Cousins.

I also joined and attended a meeting of the Spanish Club on campus, which turned out to be nothing like I expected. First of all, there was not a single word of Spanish spoken during the meeting. I was kind of under the impression that it would be a culture and conversation club, but I guess it’s more just culture. The meeting featured the University’s Diplomat in Residence, Rob Andrews. He is a Senior Foreign Service Officer who was assigned a term as the Diplomat in Residence for the Central Region of the US as well as being an adjunct professor at OU. He came and talked to the Spanish Club about career and internship opportunities with the US Department of State, specifically about becoming Consular Fellows. A Consular Fellow, for all of the non-foreign service experts out there, serves overseas in US embassies or consulates and carries out many of the same duties as Foreign Service Officers- interviewing visa/passport applicants, adjudicating (approving or denying) visa/passport applications, fielding questions from and providing protection for people in their specific country and the US, and other similar tasks- but in a 4-5 year non-career appointment rather than a long term job. Mr. Andrews described the major tasks and everyday duties of a Consular Fellow, the application process, and the 6 languages that the State Department is looking for (one of which, not-so-coincidentally, is Spanish). The presentation was super informative, and the job actually seemed really cool. If I wasn’t trying to get into medical school I would probably seriously consider applying for it. But the club itself wasn’t what I was expecting, and I didn’t have the time to attend another meeting to see what else Spanish club had to offer. I’m not sure if I will try it out again next year or try to find something a little different. The university has just started a model World Health Organization, and I’ve heard from a few people that the model UN group on campus is also a lot of fun. But I’ve got a whole summer between me and the next organization I decide to dip my toes into, so I’ll cross that proverbial bridge when I get there. For now I’m just content with my interesting, unconventional, and  unexpected first year of experiences with international organizations.

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Wanderlust and Nostalgia

Almost exactly one year ago today, I left my beloved Alcalá de Henares and headed home. It was the end of a magnificent and life-altering four month stay, and though I was excited to reunite with family and friends, I was devastated to leave. These seem like very dramatic words, and they are, but it’s difficult for me to avoid bold terms when describing this particular adventure of mine. I had been dreaming of studying abroad in Spain and living with a host family for YEARS before I did it, and when the time finally came to actually get on a plane and go live the dream, I was terrified. It seemed like an insane leap of faith, and I was not at all confident that it would be as awesome as I’d been dreaming it would.

However, faithful readers of the blog (if any exist!) will know that I faced my fears, got on the plane, and lived the dream. And it really was like living a dream – during that semester, I saw incredible places, met incredible people, and created memories that I will forever cherish. It is one of my accomplishments that I’m most proud of. I realize that seems odd – getting to live in Europe and travel the continent for four months in a country that values siestas doesn’t sound particularly difficult. However, in going, I overcame a great deal of personal trepidation and reached way outside of my comfort zone. I crossed the ocean, made friends, took challenging classes during which I debated interesting current events and learned a great deal, all in Spanish, built a relationship with my host family, also in Spanish, made great friends, became a more capable traveler, and got a great deal bolder and more confident.

My time in Spain was a time filled with learning. The joy of the trip was interspersed with mistakes and stress. To say that every moment was enjoyable would be a lie, but to say that every moment was valuable is the complete truth. Studying abroad taught me so much, about the world around me and about myself. I fell in love with the city of Alcalá and the country of Spain, and it all still feels as though it happened yesterday.

Ever since I returned, I’ve felt periodic pangs of missing Alcalá, but this semester has been particularly hard. Many times, I look at the calendar and think, “This time last year, I was roaming the medina in Rabat (Morocco).” “This time last year I was watching the sun set over La Alhambra while I listened to beautiful music and was engulfed in dancing and merriment.” “This time last year I was exploring the Sunday market in Madrid.” I absolutely love my life in Norman, but it’s impossible for me not to miss the grand and glittering adventure that was my semester in Spain.

What all this boils down to is that I’m itching to go back. A large part of me wants to continue to branch out and see more of the world that I haven’t yet, but another large part aches to return to my second home in Spain. I would love to get to hug my host mom, eat tortilla and drink some tinto in Indalo, to paddle across the lake in el Parque Retiro, and to get to revisit all the places that are so close to my heart.

Sadly, my days studying abroad may be over, but there is a silver lining – graduation is coming soon, and once I get a job and start saving, I can begin to save and scheme my way back to Alcalá. If anyone is reading this who hasn’t studied abroad yet, please do me a favor and seriously consider it. Everyone who has studied abroad sings its praises, and they are absolutely telling the truth. Go, explore, learn, and don’t be surprised when you come home and immediately want to go back.

Islamaphobia and the West

Throughout the past several months, I have been disheartened to see that the fear of Islam, and of its practitioners, seems to be getting stronger and stronger in the United States. We like to think of our country as a cultural melting pot, accepting of people from all races and religions. Anyone willing to work hard who dreams of a better start will be embraced. Except that they definitely won’t, especially not if they’re wearing a hijab, it seems.

In reality, Islam is quite similar to Christianity. In my eyes, the moral basis of both religions appears to be very similar, and the Qur’an contains much of the Bible within it. Much as Christianity considers itself to be a continuation of Judaism, Islam considers itself to be an extension and perfection of Christianity. All three of these religions are Abrahamic, and I believe that if you look their past practices and into their specific beliefs, you will find many similarities – I certainly have.

None of this is to say that two groups need to be similar in order to get along. Mutual respect should not hinge upon similarity. However, it does make it look to me as though Christians and Muslims have much more to commune about than to fight about. It feels as though it should be easy for the two groups to get along, considering how much they have in common.

And yet. So many Americans, many of them Christians, fear and are threatened by Islam. More and more lately, I’ve been pondering this and questioning why. Part of it, I’m sure, comes from the fact that people feel comfortable pitting another group against their own – you feel closer to your ingroup when you belittle an outgroup. However, I think that a lot of it comes from politicians and public figures playing up the fear of Islam in order to make themselves seem more powerful and to get themselves elected.

I’ve had several conversations with a professor of mine, and we both agree that there’s more here than even meets the eye. I do not believe by any means that these politicians are creating this fear of Islam in many Americans. I think that this fear has existed all along, and they are simply stirring it up. Mistrust of Islam runs very deep, and I would like to investigate how exactly it all began. Because of this, I have decided to conduct my honors research project next semester on the roots and contemporary manifestations of Islamaphobia in the west. I would love to educate others, and myself, on the fact that Islam should be respected, and not feared, and that Muslims are just as valuable a part of this American melting pot as everyone else.

With many good books and articles by talented, engaged people, I hope to get at the roots of this problem. Hopefully, armed with this new knowledge, I can put a good foot forward and start combating Islamaphobia in any way that I can.

Epcot: the World Showcase

Over this spring break, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Disney World with my family. It’s funny, because I pride myself on going off-the-beaten-path and taking care to experience more than just the touristy side of new places. I want to immerse myself in the real culture and to blend in, not to stand at-odds with the amazing places I visit. Walt Disney World, in all honestly, stands a little at-odds with these tendencies: as vacations go, it’s up there on the touristy scale.

However, despite it’s cheese factor, to me, Disney really is magical. For one thing, I’m a fairly high-stress person, and the opportunity to spend a week at Disney with my family and best friend meant getting to take a week off of responsibility and to just focus on fun. That’s rare for me. For another thing, I think there’s something admirable about a place dedicated entirely to bringing people joy. From the perfectly engineered details of the place to the friendly employees to the massive media presence that they whole place is founded upon, it’s clear that Disney is carrying out their mission well. It was an amazing week, and it gave me some wonderful memories.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’ve decided to ramble on about the wonders of Disney and what exactly this has to do with international events. We’re getting there! Because my favorite Disney park has always been Epcot, and my favorite part of Epcot has always been the World Showcase. If you haven’t been, the World Showcase is a long, circular walkway around a lake that features miniature versions of eleven countries from around the world. Each country’s area is themed to that country, filled with its cuisine, music, and even employees from that country. Walking through the showcase is like taking a mini trip around the world, all in a day. Obviously, it doesn’t beat experiencing these countries in real life, but there is something so cool about strolling from country to country and feeling immersed in so many exotic places so close together.

Some could, justifiably, argue that this showcase is guilty of reducing massive and diverse countries into a limited number of their most famous traits. This is true, but I like to think that Epcot is celebrating what makes each of the eleven countries they’ve chosen unique in the world. After having been to the U.K., Canada, France, Italy, and Morocco, I can honestly say that Disney does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of these places, and the fact that the employees in each country’s section are residents of that country makes it all the more awesome. Many people don’t have the means or opportunity to get to places like Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, but a trip to Epcot can help them better appreciate all of these places, as well as getting to meet people who’ve lived there.

One of my biggest passions has always been learning about other cultures and traveling to new cities and countries. I love my own culture, but I’ve always been hungry to experience others. To me, Epcot is the best of this – it gives people a taste of what lies outside the U.S. and celebrates foreign countries for being uniquely great. I like to think that Epcot inspires other people to love and celebrate the international community. I know it inspires me.

4.1 Miles: The Modern Refugee Crisis

Sorry for the radio silence! This semester has been a bit of a beating, but I’m learning some awesome things and staying busy! Tonight, I had the immense pleasure of attending a screening of the documentary “4.1 Miles” and the panel talk that followed. “4.1 Miles” is a documentary about the refugee crisis in Europe, focusing on an island in Greece that sits just 4.1 miles across the sea from Turkey. The main focus of the film is one Greek man who takes several trips by boat into the see each day to rescue refugees.

This film brought tears to my eyes. The refugee crisis is often on my mind, but as a westerner with little actual exposure to it, it’s often easy to forget just how horrific the crisis is, as awful as that sounds. While watching this film, it was impossible for me to feel anything but deep sadness: sadness for the refugees fleeing brutal civil wars and losing family members in the process, sadness for this Greek man who is bearing so much of the weight of this crisis on his shoulders, and sadness that my country, like many others, is so apathetic in the face of this tragedy.

The film took place mainly on the man’s boat during rescue missions. It was harrowing to watch the soaking and terrified refugees flood the boat, clinging their children to them, crying for people that had drowned. It was heart-wrenching watching the Greek man’s eyes fill with tears as he lamented the world’s lack of response in the face of this tragic situation.

The film left me, understandably, shaken, but the three speakers did a magnificent job of transitioning from the emotional to the more analytical side of the crisis in a way that was tactful and engaging. Dr. Mitchell Smith, Dr. Mark Raymond, and graduate student Stefanie Neumieir all spoke eloquently about different facets of the crisis. Dr. Smith outlined the fact that, in the West, this crisis is often framed as a security issue, rather than a humanitarian crisis. Populist politics shape peoples perceptions, and nationalists play to people’s fears. All of this means that people view refugees as threats, rather than human beings who need help. Dr. Smith also spoke to the EU’s values of peace, tolerance, and rule of law, and of helping refugees. Some EU member countries, such as Germany and Sweden, have taken these values to heart, but many others are avoiding helping.

Dr. Raymond spoke about the fact that in the past, there were no such things as tightly controlled borders. Immigrants to the US simply had to cross the border. Sometimes, he said, if things were really strict, some immigrants might have been asked their names. He gave an impassioned speech about the fact that the world is NOT sharing the burden of this crisis equally – the countries accepting the most immigrants are often the poorest countries who are least equipped to help them. Many rich countries sit by and let them bear the burden themselves. This apathetic attitude forgets the fact that if the extreme influx of refugees becomes too much for these fragile countries to take and they fall into chaos, the problem is further compounded. Wealthy countries have the ability to do so much more than they are doing, but we seem so often to turn a blind eye.

Ms. Neumieir spoke specifically about the reception of refugees in Germany. Under Angela Merkel, Germany has been the most accepting European country toward immigrants, but that even their generosity is straining. Most notably, she mentioned the fact that most violence related to refugees is actually violence AGAINST refugees. This number, of course, is rarely reported on – people are much more content to see refugees as the enemies.

It is hard to find the words to describe how moving this film was, and how inspired I now feel to do everything I can to help refugees. These are people fleeing for their lives, relying on the help of strangers, losing friends and family members on their journey to safety. And they are facing slamming doors everywhere they go. I refuse to be afraid of them, and I refuse to turn a blind eye simply because I am far from most of the action. I am a citizen of the world first and a citizen of the United States second. Refugees, from any country, race, or religion, are people who desperately need our help. I’m going to do my best to lobby hard for the United States to provide that help.

OU Forum on Democracy 2017

In February I attended a panel of OU’s Forum on Democracy, an international event held to answer the question “is democracy in danger here and abroad?” and provide various perspectives as to the state of democracy today and how to defend it, as well as to address the ways our new president has left us questioning its future. The speakers I had the chance to listen to gave enriching and informative presentations of their views on the state of democracy, and their comparisons of our nation to various others close to their fields of work were eye-opening for me.

The first panelist to speak was Dr. Mitchell Smith, who gave a talk titled “Checks and Balances: Robust or Fragile?” The panel began early so I missed the beginning of his talk, but for the part that I listened to he focused heavily on propaganda and the role of elected officials, especially in situations of protests, to acknowledge citizens’ concerns. Dr. Smith cited examples of people using fake sites and ads to project that protestors are being paid so that elected officials can ignore the passion that motivates citizens to protest.

The second panelist was Dr. Alan McPherson, who compared Trump to the autocrats and populists of Latin America. He began with defining autocracy as non-constitutional and stating that populists act outside the bounds of normal democratic behaviors, with populism itself being a result of inequality. He said that Trump exemplifies populist behaviors in that he is very charismatic; he seeks the attention of crowds and monopolizes on the media (with his endless stream of tweets), exudes male chauvinism, and is deeply divisive- he is an expert at finding enemies and inventing dragons to slay. From Trump’s presidency, Dr. McPherson said we can expect significant violence and oppression at home and abroad, which puts us in the same boat as Chile. Trump is also like Latin American leaders like Fidel Castro with his disregard for expertise, or like Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela in that he thinks his leadership can replace bureaucracy and only does what makes him look good. Dr. McPherson continued to emphasize that all of Trump’s actions as well as the populism in Latin American countries is due to inequality.

After Dr. McPherson gave his talk, Dr. Tassie Hirschfield came to the microphone to address corruption and kleptocracy. She prepared a slideshow with her presentation, and defined corruption as “illegal use of public office for private gain” and kleptocracy as “rule by thieves” or, “the most common form of office that no one wants”. Kleptocracy is brought about when non-elected leaders take power by force. She explained that increased “gangsterism” in the economy corrodes democratic governance and that a racketeer economy is incompatible with democracy. The example that Dr. Hirschfield employed for kleptocracy was Russia in the 1990s. Crime re-organized the post-Soviet economy as the banking and natural resource sectors were gangsterized. Afterwards, she asked the question “where are we?” in terms of danger of kleptocracy and corruption and showed us images from Transparency International, which included a “How Corrupt is Your Country” map. Then she brought up a slide titled “Things to watch for/protest”, which listed things like the repeal of Cardin-Lugar and other parts of Dodd-Frank, reckless deregulation of energy and banking that allow organized crime to invade or manipulate these essential industries, bank bust-outs and bail-ins (where banks go bankrupt but get to keep your money to bail themselves out), questionable sale of public assets, and looting/skimming public pensions under the guise of privatization, stabilization, or bankruptcy reform. But she also reassured the attendees of the Forum, reminding us that the U.S. has never had a czar or king, our institutions were built to support democracy but require citizen buy in and participation, and that foreign attempts to manipulate the executive branch can only work if done in secret but that the information “wants to be free”. In other words, we were founded on democratic principles and as long as they are maintained, we should be able to avoid the threat of kleptocracy.

The final panelist I listened to was Dr. Peter Gries. He, after listening to the other panelists, decided to digress from his original topic in order to address the assault on truth and its consequences coming out of China. He discussed the sustained widespread assault on free press coming out of the country and cited three main examples. First was the Korean War. There is a museum in China showing evidence of alleged American bacteriological warfare during the war- propaganda produced by the government accepted as fact by the people. Those who had seen it, when asked about it, said they could not trust America (exactly what the government wanted with their spread of false information). His second example was the Great Leap Forward. In the 1950s China wanted to catch up with Europe and the U.S., which led to a nationwide push led by chairman Mao Zedong. The assault on truth in this situation was within the country itself; Zedong was so insulated that while he heard that things were great, in the fields people were starving and the Leap was followed by a famine in which an estimated 30 to 60 million people died and widespread cannibalism occurred. The final example Dr. Gries gave was a personal anecdote of his time at Beijing University in the Spring of 1988. The Tiananmen Square Massacre occurred shortly after he left the university, and he was extremely worried about many of his friends there. But he was unable to get any valuable information because the Chinese government covered up the Massacre by broadcasting “trials” of counterrevolutionary protestors. The government continues to whitewash the entire situation, calling it simply the Tiananmen Square “Incident” if they speak of it at all and making no reference to the fact that millions of innocent civilians were murdered by the government. Chinese students today, with China’s heavy censorship blocking nearly all information about the massacre, know nothing of the true violence perpetrated due to the complete absence of free press in this example of the assault on truth.

Overall, I thought the Forum on Democracy was very engaging and I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. The differing perspectives and wide range of examples and comparisons from different regions brought forth by the professors were incredibly informative as well as being a prediction of where we could be heading under the Trump presidency. I would have liked to see each of the speakers interact more with potential positive effects of Trump being in power, because I am certain that there are possible benefits, but the general reaction is to highlight all the not-so-pleasant qualities he so proudly puts on display.

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New Semester, New President, and Other News

Well this post was supposed to happen sometime early in February but wow, things have been nuts. I figured my second semester would be easier than my first because I more or less know what I’m doing now and what to expect from this place. But I was sorely mistaken. With rowing being in season and my workload in class being about twice as much, I feel like I’ve just been playing catch-up for the past 3 months. But hey, I only have about 4 weeks to go, and then summer!

Short, sad anecdote regarding summer: I was supposed to spend a month in Spain over mid June/early July. I enrolled in a History of Jazz class to fulfill my Understanding Artistic Forms credit, and it was basically comparing American jazz music through its European and African ancestors with Flamenco music of Spain. The professor was awesome, the timing was great, I was going to get to stay with a host family (read: full immersion into the culture, lots of Spanish practice, and FOOD), and there were a bunch of super cool excursions planned. I applied, got accepted, did a happy dance, and paid the first third of my program fee. The professor called me the week before spring break and said that there were only 2 or 3 people enrolled in the class, but that he went every year and was definitely still going with whoever wanted to go as long as I was okay with it being a small group. I told him that group size was no problem for me, and we planned to meet after break to go over details with the other girl on campus that was signed up. Then, in the middle of break, I got the email. “Due to low enrollment, your program has been cancelled.” Sorry ’boutcha, we’re crushing your dreams in three lines of Times New Roman. So now I have no plan for my summer and still have to fit 2 study abroad trips around the MCAT and all of my other pre-med/biology/Spanish requirements. But there must have been a reason for it, and I’m sure my next trip will be even better. I mean, as long as I actually get to take it I suppose it will automatically be an improvement…

But back to the point. New semester has been crazy. And not just in terms of classes; Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20th and I could write a full post solely on the crazy things he has done since he’s been in office. The British government officially started the withdrawal process of Brexit, the Patriots won the Super Bowl, terrorist attacks abound, and protests have popped up worldwide over  issues from women’s and transgender rights in the US to demonstrations against Chile’s privatized pension system, Anti-Zuma protests in South Africa, protests in Russia, Hungary, Venezuela, and so many others. Plus, last year was the warmest year on record according to NASA, and the weather doesn’t seem to be breaking its string of anomalous behavior any time soon.

So things have been weird. But I’m just going to keep an eye out, keep going, and see where we go from here.

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Global Engagement Day: Study Abroad Story Time

Now that I have studied abroad twice, I was called to participate in a panel during Global Engagement Day! It’s only a little alarming to think that I’ve already made it here (we’re rounding out year three of this blog, which makes me feel old…) but an honor nonetheless. The panel I participated in was named Study Abroad Story Time, an informal panel of students who’ve been abroad mixed with students who have yet to go, swapping stories and advice. If there’s one thing I really love, especially now, it’s reminiscing about Spain. This panel was made for me!

Throughout my time abroad, I’ve generated more than a few transportation near-horror stories, and I told one or two on the panel. I had a great time listening to the stories of others – everyone has been so many amazing places, and several GEFs are incredibly gifted story tellers. And of course, I loved getting to share some of my tales from Spain and England. My favorite thing about the panel was actually the reactions I got to some of my stories. I had many great experiences in Spain, and one of the most unique was my time shadowing a resident in the emergency gynecology and obstetrics ward of the hospital in Alcalá. I’d forgotten quite how remarkable it was to get to see C-sections and babies be born in Spain until I got a stunned reaction to the story. I was feet from the king of Spain at one point. I had to wait to see the doctor until a criminal, flanked by two policeman, was finished in the one room in the free clinic. Getting to tell my crazy stories to others was a great reminder of how unique and amazing my experience was, and it made me ache to go back.

My other favorite part of the talk was getting to share my stories about my host family. I ended up being the only one at the table who had lived with a host family, and people were eager to hear about how it was. This was another element of my trip that I’d grown to take for granted – I forget that not everyone has the amazing opportunity to live with a sweet host mom and sister for four months in a cozy apartment in Madrid.

My travels have taken me to so many places and given me so many memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. Getting to spend a small part of my week sharing those sweet memories with other fellows was an absolute treat, and I can’t wait for more story-swapping next year!