4.1 Miles

I watched 4.1 Miles a few weeks ago, courtesy of the College of International Studies. Although it has faded somewhat recently in favor of the French election and the decisions of President Trump, the Syrian refugee crisis still populates the headlines as the international community argues over responsibility and delegation. 4.1 Miles focuses on a Greek Coast Guard captain responsible for fishing refugees from the water when their boat collapses. Far too often, smugglers will pack boats to the bursting and travel in terrible conditions. Almost every day the Coast Guard gets called out to rescue soaked refugees from overcrowded lifeboats. The documentary was very well done, but difficult to watch. As the panel discussed after the showing, the documentary did an excellent job humanizing the refugees. When discussing where these thousands and thousands of people are going, it is important to remember that they are indeed people.

African Issues (That Aren’t Hunger)

When people think about Africa, they tend to squish the entire continent into the single stereotype of a backward, hunger-torn place full of suffering and poverty. It is important for people, especially college students, to be more in touch with reality and there I appreciate the fact that OU hosts panels and events informing people on events in Africa as well as other parts of the world. The REMAND showing I wrote about was a great example, showing the efforts of a hard-working, developing nation. Another event I attended, much earlier this semester, was a panel discussing African immigration to the United States and sanitary systems in Africa.

Many Africans try to move to the United States but the process is very difficult. The process is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. Furthermore, there are fake U.S. Embassies that issue fake green cards, some of which operate for years undetected. The second half of the discussion was incredibly informative. In certain countries in Africa, toilets are difficult to come by. As a result, private citizens have started building these large bathrooms and charging a small fee to use them. It is an interesting contrast to the free bathrooms all over the U.S. However, the fact that there is money to be made does motive individual to construct these facilities, and it is better to have them and charge than not to have them at all.

Planning Ahead

Now that I have my summer study abroad planned and underway, I need to start thinking about my semester program. After looking over my degree requirements and talking to various advisors, I decided the best time for me to go will be next spring when I’m a sophomore. That way I will be able to recover after this summer before jumping into another country and I won’t have as much trouble finding classes to fit my requirements. This spring I’ve mainly been focusing on getting my German ducks in order, but the past few weeks I’ve been shopping for a semester program that will work for me. OU offers dozens and dozens of programs all over the world, but finding one that fits my specific needs is a little tricker than I had expected. The main difficulty I am struggling with is my need for math courses. Since I’m a math major, it would be extremely difficult to go a semester without taking any math and still stay on track for graduation. I don’t feel entirely comfortable taking math in another language, so I am limited to universities which offer math classes in English to international students. Most universities that I’ve looked at only offer certain classes to international students and technical subjects are not usually among them. Universities tend to offer the humanities and social sciences over straight STEM subjects. That being said, I do have a few promising programs bookmarked, so stay tuned to see how those turn out. 🙂

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REMAND: A Legal Crisis

For one of my classes this semester I went down to the OU law building south of the dorms to attend a showing of REMAND, a documentary about the ongoing reform of the Ugandan legal system. Since the adoption of their new constitution, Ugandans have been trying to develop their government to be as efficient and productive as possible. In order to properly organize their legal system, the Ugandan government turned to U.S. lawyers and professors who offered to host Ugandan lawyers in the U.S. and show them first-hand how the U.S. legal system worked. After observing this system, the Ugandan lawyers were able to go back and implement parts of our system that worked for them. One idea that was suggested by U.S. students attending a legal conference in Uganda was the introduction of plea-bargaining into the Ugandan system. According to Ugandan law, after a criminal was arrested but before he was tried in court, he needed to be kept in prison. However, the court system was overwhelmed by its caseload and prisoners could wait six or seven years in prison for their trial. Even children who were accused of a charge could be imprisoned for years in terrible conditions. The backlog in the courts resulted in an overcrowded prison system. The documentary showed over three thousand men being kept in a facility designed for six hundred. I found it very interesting that in this specific case, U.S. lawyers were able to help implement certain aspects of the U.S. legal system, such as plea-bargaining, without coercing Uganda to imitate us entirely. I find too often that humanitarian efforts attempt to make others just like us, even if that’s not what’s best for them.

OU Cousins’ BBQ

Two weeks ago I was able to attend the OU Cousins’ BBQ, the group’s big annual celebration. OU Cousins focuses on helping students feel at home here in Oklahoma and to cap off the year they host a stereotypical American get-together, a BBQ. Buses full of students shuttled U.S. and international students alike to a ranch some 15 or so minutes from Norman. There they were greeted by cowboy hats and red and blue bandanas to help everyone get in the spirit. After filling out name tags with names and countries, students got in line for traditional BBQ fare: brisket, fried chicken, baked beans, potato salad, and brownies. Long tables were set up on the dirt floor of the barn and a live band played covers of well-known country songs in the corner. After dinner, students were called out onto the floor to participate in country dancing. I must admit, even being from the States, the whole experience was a little overwhelming. BBQ food and country music, and ranches are a part of my life and not remarkable on their own. However, this BBQ brought everything together into one, over-the-top event. It was fun and I understand why OU Cousins chooses to host this particular event, but I do wonder how it was perceived by the international students. Many of them seemed to enjoy it but others remained at the tables, looking as though they felt terribly out of place. It was amusing to realize that this gathering, with cowboy hats and country music and fried chicken, was a legitimate stereotype that other countries had about some Americans. It makes me wonder what stereotypes I’ve heard about other countries that are as incredibly niche and exaggerated as the ones at the BBQ.

Summer in Stuttgart

Hey, guys!

It’s been a while but I have some exciting updates! After months of forms, waiting, more forms, tons of web research, and three thousand signatures, I’ll be spending this summer in Stuttgart, Germany! I may have exaggerated the process a little bit, it’s just hard to be patient when you’re excited. 🙂 Anyway, Stuttgart is in southern Germany and I will be heading out in only a little over a week, which is crazy to think about.

In Stuttgart, I will be taking intensive German classes to build on my two semesters here at OU, as well as a course on international business. The international business class looks particularly interesting since it includes expeditions. Stuttgart is known as the home of the automobile and houses the headquarters of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. To my understanding, my business class will analyze the operations of these companies and take field trips to their headquarters. Classes are every day but we get out early on Fridays which means it will be easy to explore Stuttgart and the surrounding areas. I am going as an exchange student through the University of Stuttgart and they are placing me with a host family for the duration of my stay. I’ve emailed them a little bit to arrange a few details, but I’m excited to get to know them this summer. I will be the fifth exchange student they’ve hosted but the first from the United States.

A major reason that I came to OU was the availability and accessibility of study abroad programs, but now that it’s coming up, I can’t help but be a little nervous. I’ve never left the States before and spending weeks by myself in a different country is a little daunting. Fortunately, I will have my host family and the University of Stuttgart to help me adapt and I can’t wait to overcome my trepidations and enjoy the first of many adventures to come!

United What Colleges?

There are international boarding schools which offer International Baccalaureate Diploma programs, primarily taught in English, located all around the world, under the banner of United World Colleges (UWC). Well known individuals such as Prince Charles and Nelson Mandela have served as the organization’s president. The system has over a dozen schools and over 50,000 alumni from more than 181 countries. And still, I had never heard of United World Colleges before I came to OU.

Once I arrived here I began making friends, and it turns out a lot of those friends were UWC students. Some were in my government class, some were in my calculus class, some were friends with the girl I met during the midnight Target event at the beginning of the year. On Thursdays, I would eat lunch with students from different countries including Egypt, Ukraine, India, and Paraguay, who were united by their common experience in UWC schools. Their perspectives in conversation have taught me a great deal about how different international viewpoints are from those of many US citizens. I could discuss our conversations at length but in this post, I would rather focus on one small curiosity I learned from international students.

Walking back to the dorms, I was discussing an upcoming test with one of my classmates, a UWC student from Bosnia and Herzegovina. He mentioned that he was “going to revise” for the exam. I was confused. He elaborated and I realized that he used “revise” in the way I would use “review”. I “review” the material for the exam, while he “revises” his knowledge of it. It was a strange turn of phrase for me, I had never heard such a statement before. I shrugged my shoulders and moved on, forgetting about it until a few weeks later when my German teacher used the same phrase when encouraging us to study for an upcoming quiz. My German teacher this semester is a Fulbright from Austria, a native German speaker fluent in English. I asked her about it after class, but she also claimed a similar meaning. I am still amazed that two different people, with different native language, ten years apart in age, would use both use an English word in a way I had never heard it used. Granted, I cannot claim to have heard every turn of phrase in the English language, but as a native speaker and an avid reader, I am quite surprised. Perhaps it is due to the region where I was raised, or perhaps it is a strange quirk that comes from learning English. I am very interested in finding out.

Study Abroad for STEM

I came to the University of Oklahoma with two broad goals to shape my path. Firstly, I wanted to pursue a Bachelors of Science in Mathematics. Secondly, I wanted to study abroad through the Global Engagement Fellowship. For the first goal, I had spent hours perusing degree sheets, taking online quizzes, and researching careers in order to find the one specific major that seemed the best fit. As for the second, I browsed OU’s study abroad page, read through the dozens of programs available, and dreamed of all the different places I could travel. I didn’t pick a particular place. The GEF program was not restricted by major and OU was keen giving everyone the opportunity to study abroad. As a result, I didn’t look closely at where I would go until shortly before the school year began.

As I dug into the details of my major, and OU’s study abroad programs, I began to realize that my path would be far from traditional. Put simply, there are very few math majors at OU. And almost no one goes abroad to study math. I took Latin throughout high school and thus my options for the near future are limited to programs which offer English courses. The GEF program requires two trips abroad. These are generally fulfilled by a summer and a semester abroad. The summer program is relatively straightforward; I am currently in the process of applying for a six-week intensive language program in Stuttgart, Germany this summer. The semester is a bit more tricky.

Several hours color coding spreadsheets and digging through gen ed requirements yielded two and a half potential options. The first option is to go wherever I want. If I arrange the rest of my classes just right, I could take a semester of electives, without worrying about degree requirements. This means the only restriction on my choice would be language barriers. I must admit, I find this option incredibly tempting. However, such a choice would limit my options in other semesters. I wouldn’t have the freedom to take a random interesting course without worrying about getting knocked off track. The second option would be to take an applicable math course abroad. This is a far more difficult task. I would have to find a program which offered undergraduate mathematics in English, find a math course which I need for my major, and get the math department to pre-equate the course for me. This shrinks my options drastically. So far, the two most promising programs I have found are in Austria and Romania. My developing German skills would be useful in Austria, while Romania would be far more different from Stuttgart. The half option I mentioned would be buckle down and develop basic fluency in German. Then I could go to any university exchange in Germany or Austria, as well as a few universities in other countries, and take math in German.

My problem is hardly unique, most STEM majors struggle to balance the demands of their studies with the draw of study abroad. Several take advantage of summer programs, others sift through options relentlessly to make one work with their classes, and some even choose to take a fifth year. Looking back into OU’s history, President Boren has made tremendous strides in the university’s study abroad offerings. If I recall the number correctly, one in three OU students studies abroad. That is an amazing statistic and one of the reasons DBo is so fiercely admired and loved. Looking into the future, a fantastic space for growth would be more study abroad options that work with STEM majors. OU has no control over other universities, but perhaps within our own study centers, we could create opportunity for these technical students who need this broader outlook and world experience as much as, if not more than the rest of the students here.

My Experience with OU Cousins

“The OU Cousins program was created in 1996 by President and Mrs. David Boren as a way of developing understanding, friendship, and unity among U.S., International, and exchange students at the University of Oklahoma.”

As part of the GEF program, we are expected to participate in an international group on campus every semester. Like many of my friends, I chose to join OU Cousins. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, OU Cousins matches US students with international students studying at OU. Once students have been matched, the group hosts regular events to facilitate friendship and bonding between the students and encourages “cousins” to socialize outside of the events.

Even before I applied to OU, I was excited to participate in this program. My best friend from high school is a grade above me, and during her freshman year of college she many friends among the international students at her university. Over Thanksgiving break during my senior year of high school, she brought five of them home with her, introducing them to Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and showing them around St. Louis.

Seeing her interact with these college students from China, Japan, and Brazil was fantastic. They shared their knowledge of their home, and she explained our strange American ways and quirks of the English language. In the picture above, we were ice skating at a seasonal rink and one of the girls asked if this was “gliding”. I was surprised by how difficult it was to define the term, to explain “gliding”. Primarily because of that break, I went into my first semester at college excited to be matched with my international cousin and to spend time with them throughout the semester.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned. I signed up and went to the matching party, nervous and enthusiastic. The first thing I noticed was the ratio between US students and international students was terribly skewed. As the groups intermingled, every international student had a cluster of US students around them, and there were some groups of just US students chatting together to pass the time. Furthermore, in the small amount of time, it was difficult for students to find a cousin they clicked with. I know a few people who get along with their cousins amazingly, but I also know several who do not.

My cousin and I were matched primarily by chance. We spent a lot of time together at the beginning of the semester, but our interests and personalities are so different that it is a struggle to make conversation. We often ended up eating or studying together in silence. As time went on, we drifted and now only see each other occasionally.

It pains me that this is my experience with OU Cousins. I think the program is a wonderful idea, and I have personally seen a lot of good come from it. However, the way the matching process is organized now there are many students who are rushed through and find themselves paired with a cousin with whom they have nothing in common. OU has a great organization on their hands, but OU Cousins needs to learn how to prevent its participants from falling through the cracks.

Music: A Capsule of Culture

At the beginning of October, I went as a guest of the Honors College to a Syrian music concert hosted in Sharp Concert Hall here on campus. There were two musicians, Kenan Adnawi, who played the oud, and Tareq Rantisi, who played percussion. While I have seen an oud in person, as well as depicted in media and entertainment, this was my first time hearing one played in person.
It was nothing short of amazing.
At first, it reminded me of the stereotypical Middle-Eastern music you hear in movies and TV shows, that short song played to transition our adventurers from their western local to a place more “foreign”. As I kept listening, however, I realized two things. First, Hollywood soundtracks fall far short in comparison. Second, I understand why such music is used to set the scene. Sitting there, in an auditorium chair in the middle of Oklahoma, USA, I was both entranced and transported. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. The skill with which the musicians handled their instruments was apparent, even though their manner of playing was unique in my eyes. Mr. Adnawi tuned his oud anew for every song, and sometimes in the middle of a song. Mr. Rantisi, the percussionist, wore an ankle of bells, which he did not shake, but which would shiver and ring ever so quietly from the vibrations of his playing. The passion of both musicians was undeniable. Mr. Adnawi grew up in Syria and would give the title of every song, along with a short explanation of the meaning behind the title and behind the piece itself.
I am sad to say that I probably would have walked away from the concert, having enjoyed it but giving it no more thought, were it not for a song played near the end. As usual, Mr. Adnawi announced the title, and this time, he welcomed the audience to sing along. The reaction was near palpable. I was sitting in the balcony section, off to the side but still close to the stage. Below me, most of the audience was clustered in the first five or six rows, with the rest scattered around the auditorium. When this particular song was announced, a wave of excitement rippled through those first few rows. This was not a song he had written, but a classic, one well know. It irks me that I am unable to recall the title, I would have loved to learn more about the piece. As the song flowed forth, those rows clapped with the rhythm and sang along where they could. I could not recognize the language, although I would guess Arabic. Some knew more words than others, but most would join in for the chorus at least. It was strange to see a group of strangers, united in their appreciation for one song, a song that rang with tradition and history. Furthermore, it was strange to realize that I could not relate it to a potential example in American culture. A group of US students might unite in Europe after turning on “Cha Cha Slide” or some similar piece of pop culture, but that is hardly comparable. Aside from “The Star Spangled Banner” and the like, what music carries the culture of the United States? A few hundred years from now, will parents play today’s pop and rap and country for their children to connect them with the past? What will be the US’ musical legacy?