Today was my last day in Aarhus.
I can’t believe how time flew by.
I passed with a 7/12 on my final oral examination for Viking Age Scandinavia, and I can honestly say I deserved a 4.
I am so glad that I chose this program over an OU program because it was fun being the only American in my entire class. We had about 45 students, and most of them were Danish. We had two Canadians, two Australians, a Singaporean, and me the American. I was afraid for the first few days that Danes were really closed off like I had heard a few people say and I wouldn’t get to know any of them, because they talked amongst themselves in Danish as soon as we reached a break in lecture. However, a few Danes reached out to the international students and then more and more Danish students were reaching out to us. Danish people are really obsessed with their “hygge” or coziness, and some of them find hygge in reading books by the fire or going out with friends for coffee or beer. What I love most about the Danish people I met was their humor and kindness. They made me feel at home, and I will always have a place for Denmark in my heart.


What I learned in Europe so Far

  • I felt that some French people did not necessarily want to speak English, even if they were able to. They are French, they are in France, and they would rather speak French. Since I was traveling with my parents, we sometimes spoke Chinese. I felt that when we did, people were not as upset that we didn’t speak French but were happy that we at least spoke English.
  • It’s a small world. I talked with some Indian New Zealanders in Paris for about 10 minutes, then three days later I ran into them in London as they were getting on a bus I was leaving.
  • It’s much easier to be present in the moment when you don’t have any cellular data and normally suffer a bit of a snapchat addiction.
  • In David Foster Wallace’s speech “This is Water,” he says that culture is all around us but we don’t notice it much. I do know that America has a culture and has customs, but I think it is easier to notice them when you experience a culture that is different than America’s. I’ve now realized how enthusiastic, outgoing, and loud us Americans are compared to Danes.
  • Travel is not an itch you can scratch and have it disappear. Traveling to new places makes the desire to travel to even more places burn even brighter.
  • Religion isn’t so much just a religion. Sometimes it’s more of a culture. I’ve met Catholics who never attend mass and don’t believe in hell. I’ve met Lutherans who don’t believe in God. There are barely any Mormons in Aarhus, and I suspect that a part of that is because how irreligious most people are, but many people religiously smoke and drink. The tour guide in Copenhagen said people drank an average of 80 liters per year there.
  • I thought I was different in Oklahoma since there are not  many Chinese people. But in my class here in Aarhus, I am the only American. I am one of two STEM students. (The other one is an engineering student from Singapore, and was the only other Asian funnily enough.) Most people there are Danish, blonde, and study prehistoric archeology. One Dane kindly pointed out that there was a Canadian in the class as well, but I am fairly sure that he lives 30  hours away from Oklahoma. I like being the only Chinese, the only pre-med, and the only American. It helped me feel how the United States really is only 5% of the world’s population. It’s hard to realize that when I’ve grown up in the US my whole life.

Said’s Orientalism Through the “Clash of Civilizations” and Reel Bad Arabs

When Edward Said published his work on orientalism in the 1970s it served as kind of a shocking wake up call to the familiar and comfortable way academics around the world had been viewing the Arab World and the Middle East for the better part of the last couple of centuries. Today it is hard to image to find any kind of academic work on this region of the world that doesn’t make some mention of the term orientalism, or at least the ideas behind Said’s definition of orientalism. In the introduction to his work Edward Said mentions several key characteristics of orientalism; though these characteristics are many, and in some cases overlapping there are four of these characteristic that stand out: the geopolitical/ geographic nature of orientalism, the concept of a binary otherness, the uneven exchange of power, and the interests of the modern political-intellectual state. The characteristics of Said’s orientalism are evident in the work of Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” and in the documentary Reel Bad Arabs by Jack Shaheen.
One of the first characteristics that Said points out in his efforts to define orientalism is the fact that the very name of orientalism comes from the geographic term of the colonial era for the east as the orient. As the very name of the term has such a strong tie to a geographical awareness it is no wonder the term itself has much to do with geography. In Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” the main argument is the fact that an armageddon will arise from a great clash of civilizations along cultural lines, yet Huntington himself defines these “cultures” in very geographical terms such as “Western” or “Latin American” civilizations. While the Middle East is presumably defined under the flag of an Islamic civilization the rhetoric and pervasiveness of the ideas of orientalism bring to mind a the world of the Middle East. In Huntington’s work geography as a characteristic of orientalism may not seem abundantly clear it is certainly more clear in terms of Shaheen’s documentary. In Reel Bad Arabs there is an entire section of the documentary devoted to what Shaheen calls the idea of “Arabland;” according to him “Arabland” is the geography of a vast stretching desert that is nearly always presented in films as the harsh homeland of the Arabs. The homogeny of this image, and the unrealistic nature of this hegemony is a clear representation of geography as a characteristic of orientalism as Said discusses it. Orientalism is a process of hegemony and simplification, and simplifying the whole range of geography found in the Arab world to a simple never ending desert exemplifies this characteristic of orientalism perfectly.
The orientalist constant desire for simplification lends itself to another characteristic of orientalism that Said discusses. The uneven exchange of power between the east and the west is most evident in the fact that orientalism strips the “other” from being able to speak and define themselves. This uneven power balance is most clearly seen I think in the realm of stereotypes and generalizations. Shaheen explores this idea throughly through the the ideas of the sexually belly dancing women, the creepy leacherous Arab men always after the white women, and the more modern identity of the terrorist. All of these identities exemplify this uneven exchange of power as they are clearly representative of the other’s inability to define themselves. The idea of the other being unable to define themselves is also evident throughout Huntington’s piece as he makes great sweeping generalization about people and places, cherry picking the facts that fit his narrative while the viewpoint of the other remains silent. This uneven exchange of power is important in understanding the scope and effect of the orientalist narrative; perhaps if the characteristic didn’t exist orientalism would have never become as pervasive as it is today.
A third characteristic of Said’s definition of orientalism revolves around the concept of the binary us vs. them; that is to say the idea of an “other.” Personally I think this is the most important aspect of understanding orientalism as it is this idea that creates the self-perpetuating paradigm of orientalism that makes it such a hard social idea to overcome. The human fear of the other is a well documented thing throughout history, and in my opinion Huntington is a master of capturing that fear and legitimizing it in academic terms. Huntington’s paper quiet literally predicts the end of time, and in his world the question “Which side are you on?” becomes synonyms with the question of “What are you?” He then goes on to say that “what” one is “is a given that cannot be changed.” This idea exemplifies otherness and prevents the “other” from ever hoping to leave this category. Otherness is also discussed in Shaheen’s work as he discusses several films that come back to the point that these other Arabs will always be different than us, and even the children are programmed in a way to be different than the west. These ideas of otherness play off fear. It is a fundamental characteristic of orientalism that is important to understand in the greater quest to understand what exactly orientalism is.
A final characteristic of orientalism is the modern intellectual- political fascination surrounding the term. This fascination is something that is well documented in Shaheen’s documentary through the examination of the connection between Hollywood and Washington. There is no doubt that several of the movies he presented had strong political messages that as Said put it have less to do with the Arab world and more to do with our world. Huntington is also an example of the power of this current interest. One could argue his work would not have gotten nearly so much attention had it not catered to the political scene in Washington. In a way Huntington’s argument simplified a complex issue into term that fit what Washington wanted to hear; therefore, it got a level of acceptance that might have never occurred had it gone against the views of powerful politicians. The intellectual and political world has a great deal of influence, and it is for this reason Said classifies it as a characteristic of orientalism.
Orientalism is term that seeks to simplify, to put issues into simple binary term; the ideas of orientalism have been embraced throughout society again and again, yet there is hope as long as it is recognized when it appears. Said’s characteristics of geography, uneven power, otherness, and an understanding of the role of the modern intellectual and political situation define orientalism so that it might be better recognized. The work of Shaheen provides support for Said’s argument of orientalism, and Huntington exemplifies this term. In the future, as long we can recognize orientalism for what it is there is hope me can move beyond the binary.


The Arab American Story Through Film

In films The Baby Doll Night and Amreeka, directors Adel Adeeb and Cherien Dabis offer both Arab and Arab American perspective of America. These perspective interact with the ideas of otherness, American exceptionalism, and what it means to be Arab American. Although these two films are quiet different cinematically, they present similar views of America through their different characters. Although they presents the topics in different ways, both films highlight the struggles of being classified as an other, discuss the story of American exceptionalism with regards to the war in Iraq, and what it means to be Arab American.
Both films throughly engage with the issue of otherness in a similar fashion. The concept of otherness caters to the binary definitions of an us versus them mentality; it is a term that dehumanizes and separates the us -in this case America- from the other – in this case both Arab Americans and Arabs. The concept of otherness in both films represents a kind boundary that must be overcome in order for the characters to achieve some kind of peace. In the film, Amreeka, this concept of otherness can be seen through the characterization of Fadi. Fadi is a Palestinian who has recently moved to America with his mother and now lives with his aunt’s family. Despite the fact that Fadi is eager to embrace a new Arab American identity, he is constantly faced with the struggles of being labeled as “other” particularly in school. This concept of other begins with his wardrobe as his cousin immediately dismisses his clothes as too FOB or fresh of the boat, and continues as he is bullied and harassed at school despite his best efforts to overcome this brand of other that has been placed on him. In the end of the film, he is seen as embracing and overcoming this term by refusing to fit into the binaries that otherness has placed on him. In the film The Baby Doll Night, otherness is dealt with similarly as a term though the circumstances are quiet different. The film takes place in the Arab world, and the viewer finds that despite this fact the concept of otherness is still a major issue of the film. I would argue in this film the concept of otherness does not center on a single chapter, but rather a more general examination of the relationship between the Arab world and America in response to the question that General Peter keeps asking which is “Why do the hate us?” I think that the director of the film was trying to make several arguments with this question, but Sarah’s understanding of the situation as America having always viewed Arabs as the dehumanized others provides the viewer with a greater understanding of otherness in this piece. Similarly to Amreeka, otherness is a brand that strips one of the power to decide and forces one to live within the binary. Sarah realizes that until both Arabs and Americans learn to place such terms aside there will be no peace. Both films engage with the concept of otherness as a binary cage that pits the us against the them and show the viewer that this binary must be overcome for peace of any kind to be achieved.
Although the perspectives of American exceptionalism with regard to the war in Iraq are presented very differently in these two films, I would argue that the directors strove to present similar messages. The film The Baby Doll Night dealt a lot more with the Iraqi war than Amreeka yet both managed to discusses the influence of American exceptionalism in this conflict. In Amreeka, this discussion was presented as just that, a class room discussion in Fadi’s social sciences class in high school. In this environment the voice of America exceptionalism was presented predominantly through a student in the class room whose brother was fighting in Iraq, while the rejection of this idea was voiced by Fadi’s cousin Selma. In the discussion, the idea of American exceptionalism comes out through the male student’s claim that his bother is over there fighting to give the Iraqi people freedom which caters to the exceptionalist concept that America has a responsibility to spread democracy across the world. Selma rejects this claim as the voice of the other stating that if the student truly believes that he is blind to the realities of the world. Although presented in a much more gruesome reality, The Baby Doll Night offers a similar perspective. In this film, the viewer sees the cost of American exceptionalism in the bloody reality of the Iraqi war. The message regarding the destructive and naive nature of American exceptionalism in this film can be understood through an interaction that Awadin has with a Iraqi taxi driver. The driver says that no, the Arab people didn’t love Suddam Hussien, but when he was in charge he understood things the Americans never even considered, and when he was in charge there wasn’t the bloody war they were living through in the film. On the other hand there is General Peter who serves as the voice of American exceptionalism in the film; he repeatedly argues that the Americans are fighting to bring democracy which he sees as an American duty. Although different, both of these films give the viewer the message that American exceptionalism, particularly in the Iraqi war, is a dangerous nativity that is put onto the American people who either can’t or won’t see the true cost of this idea.
A final similarity between these two films can be seen in the examination of what it means to be an Arab American. Amreeka deals a lot with this idea, particularly with the characterization of Raghda who has been living as an Arab American for fifteen years at the start of the film. Raghda is presented as extremely homesick and melancholy sick of her live in America and longing to return to Palestine. She has idealized her former live in Palestine and routinely makes trips to the Arab markets in an effort to feel connected with her home land. Although Amreeka also offers other perspectives on what it means to be an Arab American the characterization provides one strong similarity between the two films. In The Baby Doll Night, the story of Layla Corrie represents a similar perspective of what it means to be an Arab American. Layla is a news correspondent who is sympathetic to the cause of the Palestine in the Arab-Israeli conflict; in the film, she is run over by an Israeli tank. Although these two character might not seem similar at first, they present a similar message on what it means to be an Arab American. In these two cases, the Arab American identity is synonymous with destruction. In Raghda’s case this destruction is one of happiness and belonging, and in the case of Layla this destruction is one of life in its entirety. Although these are two very different stories, I would argue the directors’ messages were similar in both, there can be a successful Arab American story, Housam in The Baby Doll Night and Muna in Amreeka, but there can also be destruction and sorrow. In this way, both of these films presented similar perspectives on what it means to be Arab American.
The films The Baby Doll Night and Amreeka are two very different films that follow different story lines, yet they present similar messages and critiques regarding the concept of otherness, the story of American exceptionalism in the Iraqi war, and what it means to be an Arab America. Through characters such as Sarah, Awadin, and General Peter, or Fadi, Raghda, and Selma these two films leave the viewer with different emotions, but strong similar messages. The use of these different perspectives to provide similar conclusions makes a strong argument for the universality of these concepts.


Arabic Talent Show 2k17!

This years Arabic Talent Show was a great display of talent amongst all of the students in OU’s Arabic Program. I really enjoyed the various videos that represented different classes and levels of Arabic. Humor was apart of nearly every video and the audience certainly reflected that with the roaring laughter that filled the room. My personal favorite was skit titled The New Student by the Arabic Drama Club. It featured the famous Moha from Al-kitaab and brought in mixture of Oklahoman and Egyptian Humor. What was particularly satisfying was the food at the event. The chicken and rice filled my stomach allowing me sit perfectly stuffed throughout the night. I finished off the evening with some baklawa and tea that was a flavor I had never experienced before. I hope to be apart of next year’s talent show. I will be continuing my Arabic studies this summer and hopefully will return to campus with fresh and new skills that will contribute to the success of the Arabic department!!


Panel Discussion on Environmental Inequality

The panel discussion on, “Food and Water Activism in Global Asia,” brought together activists of various disciplines to weave together their approach towards solving inequality. Despite the diverse interests of the panels members, they shared agreement on how to increase environmental equality. The general consensus involved increasing education about environmental issues so that ordinary people can help start grassroots efforts to promote positive change.

Environmental policy will not come from the top echelons of society, but require mass social change from the common folk. In order to achieve this, the process of approving policy must include the people it will receive the bulk of the impact. One panelists from China highlighted how groups of ordinary Chinese have been effective at organizing and having their demands met. Re-asserting, and sometimes inventing, their right to participate in the decision making process, these groups have been able to avoid being subjected to dangerous ecological outcomes. Also, large companies such as Apple that patronize polluting factories have been held accountable by Chinese environmental groups. Apple was sent several letters informing the Cupertino Headquarters that its factories were major sources of pollution. At first, the tech company thought the letters coming from these organizations was a hoax, and refused to recognize the claims. Apple asked itself “How could China have active environmental groups?” The letters were eventually authenticated and Apple took steps to correct its pollutive policies. Other panelists admired the activism of the Chinese and suggested that Americans need to become more sensitive to environmental issues. Using the Chinese as an example, a cultural transformation, where citizens en masse demand environmental accountability, would be the ideal state for America.

Indigenous tribes can be seen as model for long term social change. American’s tribal communities have viewed the destruction of the environment as a part of their tribal history. Tribes, thinking in generations, want options that will protect their land currently and also for the future. The harmful impact that extractive industries have had on indigenous life culturally, politically, and environmentally, has greatly inhibited their upward mobility. Therefore, they are particularly keen at revealing the harmful aspects of profit seeking environmental policies.

Sandy Nguyen, a Vietnamese fisherman advocate from Louisiana, described her experience educating fisherman about benefits that they would normally not known about. After the BP oil spill, itinerant fisherman communities were left devastated. Uninsured, poor, and lacking basic english skills, they had little opportunity to restore their primary source of income. She acted as a liaison between the state and the fisherman. Through Nguyen’s work, fishermen were able to gain access to benefits that restored their lifestyle. Without her contribution, BP would not have felt pressured to compensate the fishing communities for their losses. Nguyen, Making decisions based on “being there” experiences was advocated by each member. Inviting politicians to the fishing communities, humanized the result of lackluster environmental policy.

The structures that promote inequality include the unfair distribution of resources. Whether it be land, water, or fossil fuels, there is a selfish protection of theses resources. Often times, according to Canadian filmmaker Gary Marcuse, “the profits are privatized and the problems are socialized.” The benefits received by natural resources are not spread about fairly, and the negative byproducts are spread throughout masses. They argue that people benefitting from unjust environmental policy are the very people who play a major role in its development.

Ultimately, I agreed with much of what the panel discussed. Inspiring grass roots efforts to bring about change is necessary. This is achieved through educating the masses of the problems, but more importantly, the rights they have to correct it. A cultural transformation of environmental awareness will help etch away at the massive structures that perpetuate environmental inequality.


Journey to Europe: Experts Reflection on the Refugee Crisis

The event opened up with an oscar nominated short film about the tumultuous 4.1 mile journey that 600,000 refugees made in 2015-1016 from Turkey to Lesbos. The Greek coastguard captain heroically rescued refugees stranded in the violent sea. The documentary let the scenes speak. It was powerful and especially taxing when small children were seen dead from having drowned. After the film, there was a presentation and discussion.

Germany has learned from its Turkish population that came to the country largely in the 1970’s as guest workers. The lackluster of adequate integration policy made it incredibly difficult for Turks to become full members of German society. There are second and third generation Turks who still struggle with the German Language. In order to prevent what happened then, the German government now funds an extensive array of language, professional, and culture courses with the goal of developing productive refugee/ citizens who can contribute to German society.

Interestingly, refugee crime rates do not exceed that of native Germans. If and when a crime is committed by an asylum seeker, it is sensationalized and this fuels the rhetoric from people opposed to Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy. Politically motivated attacks on refugees are far higher. Revisiting integration, the speaker found that integration is paramount to avoid crime/radicalization. When people (refugee or not) do not feel like full members of society they become marginalized and eventually parallel societies sprout. Some of the countries with the largest refugee populations in the world are often deprived of the resources to take care of them. Also, they are not always politically stable and with a large refugee population. These countries include, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. This is why other western countries need to take a stand and look at Germany as an example.

This was a great program and the discussion was particularly revealing. I hope more events like this are held next year.


The Rise of Populism in Europe

Dr. Reinhard Heinisch’s lecture on the rise of populism in Europe, highlighted the sources of populists movements and how it they differed from country to country. Conventional thought would have never predicted populist movements in prosperous western European countries such as Britain and Germany. Many scholars thought that populism was a rare phenomena that was evident in France and a few other eastern European countries. The recent wave of populism can be attributed to several issues, including Globalism. Especially in western Europe, citizens have not been able to feel the fruits of a global economy which in turn intensifies their resentment towards the current economic system.

Heinisch also described the common characteristics of populist movements which include appeals to the “common sense”, nativists movements, and a call for political and social reform. The refugee crisis that has become a continent wide issue, has helped fuel populist parties and their goals of reducing immigration. In France, a country that contains Europe’s largest muslim population, Marie Le Pen has gained remarkable momentum. Her success it reflected at many a French who believe that french culture and life is threatened by such an influx of foreigners.

The campaign techniques of these movements have been able to recruit followers. Heinisch displayed political ads/posters that attempt to send a message about social decay due to foreigners or national sovereignty due to globalization. These campaigns dog-whistle especially to young men who also make up these movements most staunch supporters. Regardless, of the sustainability of these movements, they will remain a political force to reckon with for the near future.


Randy Goodman: A Photographic Life

For Randy Goodman, photography has provided more than photo shoots. Armed with her camera she has dedicated her professional life to documenting revolutionary movements. During her remarkable career she has been the eyes for America in some of the world’s most sensitive conflicts. In college, she was invited to Iran with an American delegation to photograph. She fell in love with Iran and its people. Little did she know that she would soon be on center stage of world politics.

In 1979, she was at the heart Iranian hostage crisis. At the height of the crisis she was re-invited back to Iran, along with one other american reporter, because the Iranian student group trusted that their work accurately depicted them. She went along with with a delegation of 50 American students of diverse backgrounds requested specifically by the Iranian student group. The idea was that they would be able to inform their respective communities of the true nature of Iranians. Both the Americans and the Iranians found common ground and understood each other. Randy Goodman saw this as the special aspect of the crisis.

Interestingly, some of the documents that were shredded by the embassy staff during the takeover, were reassembled by the Iranians and distributed to showcase the true-face of American policy towards Iran. Mrs. Goodman had kept some of the publications and when she tried to bring them back into the United States they were confiscated. Fascinatingly, she successfully sued the CIA and was able to get the books back along with some of her photos.

Randy Goodman’s ultimate goal was to portray Iranians the way she saw them. Friends, students, and just people wanting to be recognized. She was often frustrated at the media blackout back in the states and the stereotypes it perpetuated. Her work is a testament to seeking the truth and how hard it can be to tell it.


Latin Americanist Lunch: Favela Tourism

Recently I attended the final Latin Americanist Lunch of the semester. The guest speaker was Bianca Freire-Medeiros, a professor and writer from Sao Paulo, Brazil. She gave a presentation titled “Twenty-five Years of Favela Tourism: Continuities, Changes, and Challenges.” I was interested in learning more about this topic, as I had read The Spectacular Favela in my “Understanding the Global Community” class last year. The book explored favelas as a spectacle for the rest of the world, and explained the history of tourism in Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil.

Freire-Medeiros also focused her talk on Rocinha, as this was allegedly the first favela to be marketed as a tourist attraction. It is located in southern Rio, and is home to around 70,000 people. She explained how dangerous and unglamorous favelas are, and then explained how they are portrayed in the media.

In reality, violence and crime runs rampant in favelas. In fact, gangs are such a staple of favelas that they form a type of informal government. Gangs take care of mail delivery and trash collection, trying to gain the trust and support of residents in their territory. Ironically, police are often extremely corrupt, and generally distrusted. I remember watching a documentary last year about gangs in favelas. It highlighted the police as violent and susceptible to bribery, while showing the gangs as peace-keepers.

Apparently, this drama is what attracts tourists to the favelas and allows tourism companies to exist there. Especially with the Olympic Games and World Cup taking place in Rio, there has recently been a huge rise in tourism. It is not unusual to see groups of tourists, armed with cameras, riding in brand new Jeep Wranglers down favela streets. The favela way of life is incredibly romanticized by tourism companies, which paint an unrealistic picture of the slums. Many of the tourists are excited by the “danger” of venturing into a favela. Tour guides capitalize on this, frequently telling visitors to keep their heads down and move quickly and quietly when they are on foot.

Freire-Medeiros also mentioned the romanticizing of favelas in popular media. She played clips from several rap songs that make reference to favelas as exciting, cool places, and showed us the website for a clothing line that markets “favela” style clothing. Apparently there is a ritzy bar in Paris called “Favela Chic.” With this kind of advertising, all the tourism industry has to do is set up camp in Rio and wait for the customers to pour in.

However, favela tourism isn’t black-and-white. While it is largely resented by residents, in some cases it helps them. Freire-Medeiros explained that sometimes favela residents open their own tours, offering an “authentic experience.” This helps them to make a living, even though it does come at the expense of their neighbors.

Still, it can be widely agreed that favela tourism is exploitive and a negative phenomenon. At the end of her presentation, Freire-Medeiros asked us to brainstorm ways to put an end to this industry. No definitive answers were given. I think that a great deal of interest in favelas comes from its mention in popular media, and that if this disappears then public interest will gradually fade. But this is easier said than done—where there is money to be made, business will thrive. And unfortunately, favelas are clearly a lucrative attraction.