Eve of Nations (1/3 International Events)

Eve of Nations

I had heard about Eve of Nations since before I had attended OU. I put it on my calendar this year and decided that nothing would prevent me from going. When the time came, even though I had no friends to go with me, I bought a dinner ticket. The day of, I wore a cute dress with polka dots and headed for the Loyd Noble Center. The food was intended to be inspired by various other countries. I didn’t mind it, but couscous is not my thing at all.

At my table, there were three other students from three other parts of the world: France, the UAE, and China. We settled into conversation as they were all in their first semester at OU. The girl from France was only staying for a semester while the other two were going to be at the university for the full four years. I loved hearing about how their semesters were going, the student from China and I had a good laugh about there being nothing in Western Oklahoma (where I’m from).

The performances were beautiful. Several brought tears to my eyes as with each moment my heart completely fell in love with the country and culture being presented to me. I have so many places left to travel, I’ve just begun my adventures. I shed those tears though during the Latin American presentation, as the song the Brazilian students played was one I had spend many nights dancing away to with my friends. Our world is beautiful and diverse, it’s a shame some will never experience that.

I was also reminded, though, that even among friends and people of like-mindedness we can find problematic themes. Some of the jokes and comedy made by the MCs was painful. There were several times the male MC mispronounced the name of something on purpose or joked about a word in another language actually saying something it sounded like in English, there was also a joke that sexualized the Colombians students. While there was no foul intention there, it was a reminder we all need work and all have a long ways to go in our work of globalization.

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NISO: You Got a Friend in Me

My international group this semester has been NISO. That’s New International Student Orientation. I was driven to become a peer mentor for NISO because returning from my own study abroad experience, I decided I was in the perfect place to be able to help students as they took on their own abroad adventure.
I was paired with a veteran NISO peer mentor and we were given a lovely group of students to work with. The students were from eight different countries. We kept them up to date on events, held dinner parties, and spent time getting to know them. I tried to reach out to students each week to see what was going on in their lives and how their semester was going. It got difficult when I got busy and stressed. I spent less time with my group in person, but tried to make it a point to reach out on social media.
My best moments included small conversations. I loved the chance to talk with the students when they had cultural questions about, “Is this normal?” because I’ve been there and I was able to help answer their question and calm their concerns, because yes we do things differently here and that guy saying that was definitely flirting with you.
I hope to continue this experience next year. My intention is to be bolder and better connected to my group with activities better planned and make deeper connections with my international friends. I love seeing my web of connections grow. Hearing their stories pushes me on as I look forward to my next adventure, which is hopefully just around the corner.

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Thankful, Thankful

Thanksgiving was a hard time to be away from my family. I come from a family where holidays are a big deal. My roommates and I planned a Thanksgiving dinner and extended the invitation to all our local friends (and our proffessor) to come and partake in their first Thanksgiving. From the moment I woke up that morning, though, I felt it in the pit of my stomach. I was homesick-bad.
I wanted to start my apple pie, but realized I didn’t have a pie pan. So, I turned the oven on and started the bread for stuffing. I let my roommates know the oven was on and I was going to walmart. I got to walmart and started to pick up a few other things as well. Then I started the hunt for a pie pan. In the entire walmart, there was not one. I searched myself, I asked for help…nothing. I ended up buying a round cake pan, but as I walked out of the Walmart to call my uber, tears rolled down my face.

My Uber driver picked me up. He was taken aback by my current state and reached into his glove box where he produced a lollipop. He handed it to me and told me he hoped it helped. When he dropped me off, my building guard was also confused at the big tears rolling down my face. “I’m okay,” I told him as he helped me get my purchases loaded onto the elevator.

When I walked back into the kitchen my silent tears turned into ugly sobs. My roommate embraced me. “I want to go home.” I told her. But there was work to be done.

I got busy in the kitchen. There was stuffing to make, and turkey to be cooked, desserts to be crafted. As the kitchen began to smell delicious and I lost myself in my favorite hobby, the homesickness was a dull roar in the background. It only resurfaced shortly before dinner when my family facetimed me from their table where everyone said hello, but it was quickly put aside as I needed to set up and begin hosting.

Overall my apartment entertained eleven local friends. Each one was in awe at the presentation. They took photos which were found on their instagrams and snapchat stories. Everyone commented, “This is my first Thanksgiving.” When we sat around the table, we all said something we were thankful for in a mix of Spanish and English. The overarching theme was the same: new friends, new places, new experiences.

A silence fell over the crowd as everyone dug into their plates. It was only interrupted by a request for someone to pass something, more drink, and the affirmation that someone was enjoying their food. As hostess and cook, my heart was full. The evening went on. The wine and conversation flowed. Our house was full of the love and laughter that summed up my semester abroad.

I knew then that when I leave this place there will always be a piece of me homesick for here.

And I am thankful.

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No Language Needed

Arts are an incredible thing. They transcend barriers of language, age, and culture. They give us a way to communicate that everyone can understand if they listen.

I have been attending quite a few artistic events while here in Puebla. I have gone to recitals of dance and music, museums, and art galleries. I have soaked in the arts in every way I could and each time I am caught up by how beautiful it is that we may not speak the same language, but we can all listen to one and other in a different way.

Mexican culture is full of music, dance, and art just like all other cultures. It is showcased by an underlying tone of bravery in the face of trial and a desire to live life loudly and boldly. This can be seen in the colors and sounds which will catch your attention on every street corner.

When people perform, no matter if they are from your home country or not, no matter if you speak their language or not, you can feel as if you are on the same page simply by watching them. It is in the way the pianist twinkles the keys, the way the artist used that color in that spot, and the expression on the face of the dancer as she lands her final move.

I would encourage everyone travelling to make time in their schedule to experience the arts of the country they’re in. It is a way to see the heart of the people. You can walk away with a better understanding when you take time to listen with your own heart. Get off the beaten path and see the street performer, notice the art district, go to the gallery opening, stop in for the recital at a local college. It will show you more than you knew possible.

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Hey Cinderella

In honor of Halloween, I figured I’d talk about how studying abroad makes me feel like a princess.

I could take this post a lot of directions, but for now I think a conversation I had with one of my flatmates best describes it. I was explaining how I was planning on missing a class later in the week because I had plans to experience part of the city. She called it punk and I laughed. “I don’t really know who I am sometimes,” I chuckled, “I would never do this in the states.”

That’s true. In the states, back home, I am much more responsible. I am more uptight. I wake up, study, go to the activities that look good on my resume, do homework, shower, go to bed. Hopefully, I eat somewhere in there if I remember to do so. Weekends, I catch up on work and sleep. I spend time with family and friends doing the same tired old things. I am not necessarily fun. I am not spontaneous.

Here in Puebla, I have become a second, better, version of myself. I (like to believe I) am fun, spontaneous, adventurous. I laugh more and worry less. Sometimes I skip class to try a new restaurant or see a new sight. I stay up late because tacos taste better at 3 AM. I start conversations with uber drivers even though I know that I am probably going to make a fool of myself. On the weekends, I go dancing even though I know I can’t dance. Homework is important, but experiences are more so. I try foods like cactus and crickets. I kiss the boy. I wear that thing in a way I’ve always wanted to, but never had the courage to.

Yet, as we move into the last full month of my study abroad experience, I feel like I am Cinderella and my midnight is approaching. And when I go home, I fear that the carriage turns back into a pumpkin, the dress becomes tattered, and I end up with only one shoe but there will be no Prince Charming chasing after me. I know, though, that since I have experienced this life, gotten out of the every day dust and seen in the light of a new country the things I can be, that I can work to embrace this person when I return home.

I have fallen in love with who I am. I like this Cinderella version of myself. I believe she’s here to stay.

Study abroad and get your own Cinderella moment, because I assure you that it is absolutely life changing.

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The City, Country, and Colonial Mouse

By mouse, I really just mean experience. October has been a whirlwind (again, it’s a reoccurring theme in study abroad I have found). We took THREE weekend trips back to back. We went to a very country side view of Mexico in La Preciosita- an amazing indigenous community where I hiked up several mountains on trails made for goats and ate a pear straight off a tree around 7 AM, after hiking up one of those mountains. Mexico City gave us a view of the city, a warm welcoming one where I may have found myself walking down the street and making friends with a gay couple who were testament to CDMX being more progressive than where we are staying currently. The sites in CDMX, such as the ballet and museums, gave me a taste of lovely culture but the fact that the sheer amount of people there caused what should have been 15 minute car rides to take over an hour left me very, very glad that our program is in Puebla. Finally, we found ourselves last weekend in Cuetzalan a colonial town with cobbled streets and lots of walking uphill, which left me out of breath because it’s a town located in the mountains with even higher elevation than Puebla. We spent the first day in Tosepan learning about the cooperative ran by the locals who worked to give themselves a chance at a better life by capitalizing on community. The story was inspiring and to see their adaptation to incorporate ecotourism was educational. I also finally tried mole-plot twist, I wasn’t a fan. In the evening, we experienced a temazcal, a sweat bath with spiritual and physical healing implications. We all, in swim suits, gathered in a dark clay oven as a local man created steam with water and herbs while chanting and at some points playing various indigenous music pieces. We were only in there for 45 minutes, a short time for the fact most people stay in the bath for 2 hours, but I found the whole thing overwhelming. It was hard to breathe and see while in there, and I’m not one for meditation. When I’m supposed to be clearing my mind and cleansing my soul my anxiety likes to kick in and I spent the majority of the time wanting to climb out of the place, but forced myself to stay because I didn’t want to be the one to ruin everyone’s experience because I needed to interrupt the process. It didn’t make it better that after it was over the man who led it douses you with cold water and I have a strong aversion against cold water.  Once it was over and I was warm again, though, I was glad I had taken that experience in the name of culture. You won’t find me doing it again, though. The final day there was ruined by rain, so we just came directly home.

Seeing all these sides of Mexico has reminded me how diverse and beautiful this country is. It has also given me a deeper love and appreciation for this country that has so quickly become my second home. It hasn’t been all glitz and glamor, there have been times I just wanted to go back to my apartment (especially last weekend when it was raining and we were stuck in a very horrible hotel that smelled of mildew and weren’t getting to see the caves). But every step has been worth it.

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September Recap

Today is technically October first, but for my last September blog post I want to make a wrap up of the month that was an absolute whirlwind.

The first of the month was my birthday. I turned twenty in Mexico, on a Friday. A major perk of our program is that we don’t have classes on Fridays. My sweet OU family planned a birthday party at our professor’s house. OU programs have a major great thing in that you really develop a relationship with your classmates and your professor-plus Armando. Seriously, come to Puebla y’all. After dinner, we went for drinks and to ride the largest ferris wheel in North America. The view was incredible. You could see for miles.

The next week I experienced my first earthquake. I was by myself in my apartment watching a movie. In fact, I was actually drifting to sleep when my bed moved and the first thing I thought was someone was sitting on my bed. I woke completely up in a panic. I noticed I could hear my shower door rattling. I didn’t know what was going on. My Western Oklahoma brain thought perhaps it was the wind from the hurricane that was supposed to be blowing in. Yet, I knew it couldn’t be because I walked to the kitchen and could see the sink faucet swaying and the water in our jug sloshing. I became aware of the fact that the ground was moving. I felt the window pane rattling in the living room. It took a long time to occur to me- this is my first earthquake. When it was over, everyone was accounted for and safe. Armando took us for ice cream.

Then, there was Independance day, which is something I considered myself so lucky to be here for. We spent it with our local friends. The first night was partying, fireworks, and a trip to cholula. The second was a traditional dinner party with friends. Also that weekend we were evacuated from our apartment because of a gas leak.

The next weekend we returned the favor and hosted an American dinner party. We had our local friends over for lemon chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, salad, and sweet tea. For dessert, I made homemade chocolate chip cookies.  We also taught them the line dance to Copperhead Road. Our Mexican friends thought our food was good, yet it lacked spices.

Then there was the next earthquake, which started while I was on the fifth floor. This one was much closer to us, the strength of it made it hard to walk as we tried to evacuate the building. Doors were swinging and slamming. The first one happened behind me and I thought the building was collapsing. That one so close to the last one left us rattled. I still get nervous anytime I think the building is moving even just a little bit.

And in between all those things were plenty of small amazing adventures. From laughs with my roommates to restaurants, clubs and house parties, stories that we will tell everyone and stories we won’t tell anyone else… September was full. It was incredible. I can’t wait to see what October holds.

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Language Barrier

I am not dumb. I by no means am saying I am ever the most intelligent person in the room, but I like to believe I’m a good conversationalist. I pride myself in being warm and inviting. Being in Mexico has been hard. Being in the hospital with incredibly intelligent people has been difficult. Some of them have cast me off as dumb, some talk to me, when I ask them to repeat it because it was just a little too fast they laugh and go off to talk about the “gringa”. There are a few who are patient. They allow me to stumble over my words and offer helpful suggestions when I get stuck. There are some with whom I have began a language exchange: they talk to me in their growing English and I talk back in my growing Spanish.

It has been frustrating to be left looking dumb or uninterested. I am desperately interested. I desperately want to participate in the rapid banter that happens around me. I am getting there, but I am not there yet.

This experience has also opened my eyes to the experience of those who go to America and experience the same. It has drawn my compassion for those who are in my classes struggling to keep up. I can’t wait to go home and embrace these people to let them know that I know it is hard, I know it is frustrating, but if they need practice, I am there.

I knew that learning a language would be difficult. I knew immersing myself in a language would be even more challenging. I am grateful for it. I am thankful I am here. I will continue to meet the challenge that is learning a language head on.

I would encourage the same of anyone else. Take the challenge. Be prepared to be frustrated. Some days you will wonder why you started and then others you will have a (mostly) full conversation with your Uber driver and you will know why you started. Learning a new language opens up a world of possibility. It changes your brain and makes you a better person overall.

So seriously.. do it.

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Let’s Talk About Homesickness

There’s a disease that follows adventures. It isn’t one we like to talk about directly either. Somehow, by admitting it, perhaps we are making ourselves look like bad global citizens or travelers. Because it is swept under the rug and forces each person to deal with it in silence instead of solidarity, we do not realize how often it occurs no matter if it is your first or your fiftieth trip.

I’m talking about homesickness. It’s a complicated issue that takes many, many forms and can look different for each person each time. Sometimes it shows up as feeling alone-even in a city of four million or more people and with good friends always down for a chat or an adventure. It can be anger at just about everything from the fact your roommate left you to take the trash out..again or at the city in general because why must everyone drive so absurdly? It can be tears, yelling, stomach aches, locking yourself in your room to watch Netflix, or spending more time facetiming home than experiencing the things around you.

As complex as it is- the things that solve it can be even more varied. For some it is a call home- a quick chat with your baby sister who wants to walk you around the house. Other solutions may be ice cream, a familiar homemade meal, getting out and about to remember why you chose to come to the city, a hardy laugh with your friends, or a journaling session. Some may need a day to reset by themselves; others may want to talk it out with friends.

For me, as I begin my third week in Puebla, it has taken most of the forms I have mentioned. It comes in waves. Sometimes it happens so strongly I feel it will consume me, other times it is a quick bite of pain. The most random things seem to bring it on: little girls in princess costumes that remind me of my sister, teenagers in a hoodie my brother owns, seeing the company my father works for pasted on the side of something in the supermarket, the hardest times are when nothing at all happens and it begins to sink in that I miss home.

I love it here. I do. But just as much as I love it, I miss home. That is okay. That is natural. I take it on, I allow myself to feel it and deal with it in whatever way I need to, and then I get back soaking in every minute of this experience that I will get to take back to my home. I will go home different that I came. Some day, not too long after I leave I assume, I will begin to feel a homesickness for this place too. It will be a temporary home, but I know it will be a home that deeply impacts my life.

There is no specific time you must be traveling to experience it. There is no way that it must manifest to be true homesickness. There is no one thing you must do to make yourself feel better. You are not weak for feeling it. It does not make you any less of an adventurer, because no matter how strong the wanderlust is, eventually you will feel the ache for familiarity. Embrace it, work through it, and venture on.

My First Week

Hola!
I write from Puebla, Mexico. I have spent a week and a day here. It’s strange, though, because I feel like it has been both longer and shorter. The overarching theme has been:

Just go with it.

This has been a big adjustment for me as everyone seems to be relaxed and not really concerned about anything. I arrived a week later than my fellow adventurers and before even getting here I was in touch with the international advisor about what I would need to do my first few days to make up for what I missed. “We can talk about it when you get here,” she told me. The Sunday before I was due to arrive, I emailed her again and asked when a good time to come into her office would be. She never answered, so even though I wasn’t due for class until 1:30 I went in fairly early the next morning. When I introduced myself, she warmly greeted me then said, “I don’t really have time right now, come back around 4.” I went back around 4 and she handed me a few things, explained some stuff that would need to be done, and then said of some other things, “I’m not really sure when we’ll get it done, but I’ll be in touch.” For someone such as myself who is very Type A and obsessed with my planner, this was stressful!

To add to this, Mexico runs on polychronic time. I didn’t know what that meant at first. My roommates explained it that where in America we run on monochronic time- if your meeting is at 3:00 you get there by 2:45 and might possibly be considered rude if you show up exactly at 3:00. Whereas, if you’re meeting with someone in polychronic world at 3:00, then 5-15 minutes late is the usual. Even classes here start about 10 minutes late. No one is ever in a real hurry and deadlines or arranged times are fluid. Once you adjust, it can be nice, but for an anxious person like myself who is often 30 minutes early it is frustrating.

Off the cultural approach to just go with it, being a student in a foreign country where your language skills aren’t the strongest you pretty much have to take that approach too. We still don’t have a washer and dryer- Just go with it. We didn’t have hot water until tonight-Just go with it. Myself, nor my roommates, know what the waiter is saying- Nod your head, smile, and go with it. Have absolutely no idea how to properly get an extremely heavy five gallon jug of water onto the water spout, so you end up spilling it everywhere and everyone has to donate a towel to the clean up process- Laugh it off and go with it. That last one definitely did not happen about two hours before I wrote this post, no way.

The first week of studying abroad has challenged me to learn that theme. It has reminded me to sit back and enjoy the views- seriously, one day I had lunch in my apartment by myself and just spent the entire time staring out at the expansive city below me- because I am currently in the middle of a once in a lifetime adventure, so honestly, I’m just going with it.

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