Costa Rica and Being Adaptable

Having spent a full semester abroad in South Korea and having studied Spanish for many years I felt very well prepared for my five week stay in Costa Rica this summer. However, there were several differences that became very apparent about two weeks into the trip. Although I’ve lived in dorms before, I’ve been living alone for over a year now, and the adjustment back to the cramped but cozy home-stay with eight other college girls from all over the country definitely took some getting used to. I found it difficult to bind with people that I knew I’d only be around for a month, which was starkly different to some of the friendships I forged during my semester trip. However, I adapted and tried to spend this trip in the moment, leaving behind some of my regular anxieties and habits.

Aside from adapting to my new living situation, I had to adapt to a change in plans for my trip in general. There was an unfortunate mix-up with my plane tickets to San Jose, which resulted in a much tighter budget than I was initially planning for. I was still able to go on all the excursions provided by the program and my Environmental Sustainability class, but it did mean I had to limit my travel and spending as much as possible. I found the cheapest places to have lunch around campus (which wasn’t difficult, nor was the quality wanting) and I opted out of several weekend trips that would have been hundreds of dollars more. However, I found many affordable alternatives. I got to explore downtown San Jose and all of the bustling museums, markets, and restaurants. One of my favorite days of my trip was spent simply challenging myself to find as many new things as I (safely) could.

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International Students and Gun Ranges? An Astounding Mixture

Recently, I was sitting waiting for my International Business class to start and chatting with some of the other students in the class. I really enjoy this class, because over half of the students are international students, and so I get to make new friends from around the world and learn a lot. I am never disappointed by the things that I learn, but rather, intensely intrigued. This day was no different.

A new friend of mine, Pierre, and I were having a conversation about his experiences thus far in the States. I always like to ask my new international friends questions about their time here, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I really do learn a lot from simple questions. During one of these revealing question-and-answers, Pierre revealed to me that he had recently gone to the gun range.

“Really?” I asked, a bit astonished, and confused, and maybe even with a hint of distaste. Guns are a hot-button topic in the US all the time, especially considering the sheer number of children that are murdered every year in their own classrooms by their own classmates. Can you tell how I feel about guns?

My relationship with guns is tenuous. My family owns several guns. I’ve shot several guns. I understand why people want them and why people think they need them…. but I also believe that in the big picture, guns are completely unnecessary deadly weapons. The most rational argument for guns is that people want them for hunting. Personally, I find hunting distasteful as well, but I see the worth in it to control animal populations, as well as for those people who must hunt for food. Trophy and pure sport hunters, however, disgust me. However, even though I understand why humans hunt (when it is with pure intentions, anyway) and how it can be good for the whole, I disagree with the use of guns for hunting. If you want to hunt something, unleash your wild, instinctual side and use a bow and arrow. Guns make it far too easy. The world would be a better place without guns, yet, I know that such a thing will never happen.

Please excuse my rant, but also notice that I kept it within this blog post for your reading pleasure. If you want to have a chat sometime and hear my entire opinion (who wouldn’t want that?), hit me up sometime.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming: International students like going to gun ranges to shoot guns. It’s something that is on several of their lists to do in America…. Because guns are hard to come by in most other places. They are either heavily regulated or completely illegal. In fact, I can confidently guess that most international students who attend OU never shot a gun before they arrived in the states. Many of them probably remain that way, but several of them head to the gun range, pay a couple of bucks, and sink some shots into a flimsy piece of paper a couple of yards away.

For some reason, this news startled me, and I’m still thinking about it. I can’t believe that something us red-blooded Americans hear about and have access to every day, and something we can use however we please, is like an exciting toy to foreign people. They want to try it out and see what it is like to hold deadly force in their own hands. I understand that guns can be fun to handle, and it can be exciting to hit your target perfectly, but otherwise, I really don’t see the appeal. Disclaimer: I’m 100% not judging international students for wanting to shoot guns. It’s a novel activity that they’ve never done in their lives and may never do again, by all means, we should allow them to do so in a safe and controlled environment. I’m still simply perplexed by the idea that international students want to go to shooting ranges. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Other than more rants in my head, I think I’ll end this blog post here, for the sake of brevity and intrigue.

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The Enormous Event

This semester has been a semester of lasts. It was my last Spring as an undergraduate student, and therefore, I will never get to experience all the springtime activities that I know and love here at OU. It’s a bittersweet feeling, and I also missed one spring at OU while I was away studying abroad, and missed all my favorite events that semester as well. I would never trade my semester in Graz for anything, but I would do quite a lot to go back and be able to relive my days OU’s annual day of philanthropy, the Big Event. Luckily, I can cherish the memories of my last one, where OU Cousins volunteered at Cross Bridge Community Church in OKC.

The day of Big Event starts bright and early on the North Oval on campus, where thousands of students gather in their respective huddles to go out and serve the community. Speakers blast popular music to get the crowd pumped up, a few speakers give some encouraging words, and within a few minutes, the crowd disperses to make an impact at hundreds of different locations.

In my tenure with OU Cousins, I was used to going to the Whinery Family Farm, but I love a change of scenery, and it doesn’t really matter when you get to help those in need, and help we did.

When we arrived at our volunteer location, Cross Bridge Church was in dire need of tuning up, and OU Cousins took on the challenge valiantly. We cleaned the basement of dust and trash, hauling off unwanted everything from cardboard to an old furnace. Next, we headed outside into the bitter cold to paint the outside of the church, the ramp and the stairs leading up to it. The leaders at the church were so kind—they knew with the combination of cold and wind, we were freezing out fingers off, and they gifted us with gloves to help get the job done. By the end of the morning, the church was in tip-top shape, and all it took was a couple of gallons of paint and about 20 OU Cousins.

Some people might question whether or not The Big Event is an international activity. Besides the fact that it is something I do with OU Cousins, it is also something that crosses international lines and builds bridges between diverse cultures. Even with all the variances in the human condition, there are many things that bring us all together. Volunteering and helping out our communities is perhaps one of the most important of those many things. Compassion for others is something that has no national language, and no agenda (although, unfortunately, some volunteering does have ulterior motives, but that’s a blog post for another time). This event may be a very small action compared to problems and goings-on in the rest of the world, but its impact is vast. I guess that’s why we call it The Big Event.

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LGBTQ+ Abroad

It can be both inspiring and heartbreaking to read about LGBTQ+ equality around the world, especially in our current global climate. News stories jump between the legalization of gay marriage in Australia and the almost doubling of LGBTQ homicides in the U.S.  I’ve been reading reports from Amnesty International and the [U.S.] National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.  Digesting the data is difficult due to fear and associated violence.

“The world is reaping the terrifying consequences of hate-filled rhetoric that threatens to normalize massive discrimination against marginalized groups, Amnesty International warned today [February 22, 2018] as it launched its annual global assessment of human rights.” Amnesty International

Over 50 LGBTQ individuals were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in 2017, a rise of about 86% from 2016, according to a new report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. https://avp.org/ncavp/

 

I’ve marched in the OKC Pride Parade for years and can share the event is usually a glittery weekend of peaceful demonstrations. Oklahomans who are LGBTQ+ or allies and supporters might want to attend the OKC Pride Parade in late June.  https://okcpride.org/index.html#home

 

 If readers are of Jewish decent and want to travel to experience a Pride parade, the LGBTQ Tel Aviv Pride events are also in June each year and are very affordable, nearly free, due to donations and sponsors.  Although many countries in the Middle East have long standing anti-gay laws and customs, Israel is the most advanced country in the region in terms of LGBTQ rights & community activism. They visit Masada, the Dead Sea & the Western Wall.  https://www.birthrightisrael.com/

https://www.gaytelavivguide.com/template/default.aspx?PageId=16

 Although in the U.S. LGBTQ+ is commonly used, in the Amnesty International uses LGBTI+.

Amnesty International’s annual report:

https://www.amnestyusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/POL1067002018ENGLISH.pdf

Australia legalized gay marriage in December 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/07/world/australia/gay-marriage-same-sex.html

Anti-LGBTQ homicides almost doubled in 2017.  https://avp.org/ncavp/

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Cultural Adaptation and Post Study-Abroad Deppression

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A few weeks ago was the Dalgubul Lantern Festival hosted by the Daegu Buddhism Association and Colorful Dalgubul Lantern Festival Committee. The night sky is filled with golden lanterns. Families and friends celebrate the Buddha’s birthday in a peaceful and lovely tradition. I miss many things about South Korea, the friends I made while studying there, and my freedom to explore and travel. There are many articles about cultural adaption and post-study abroad depression. Education Abroad offers an event in the fall semester called “You’re Oklahome” and helps students with the transition back to Norman. The fall semester was okay, but the winter was bit rougher.

Upon return to the U.S. I once again could read the headlines of political drama, university classes began again, and I rejoined many campus clubs. I’ve experienced many highs and lows of cultural transition and adaptation. It was great to be home again. I’d missed my parents, brother, and grandparents very much. After a great semester of being back, things lost that luster of newness again. I lost a lot of sleep this semester and felt very differently about my life in general. Below are some great tips from an article written by Alisa Tank in January 2018 for GoAbroad dot com.

“10 Tips for When You’re Feeling Depressed After Studying Abroad” are:

  1. Go for a walk. [While abroad we walked a lot, exploring and experiencing new things. Walking around Campus Corner or Norman Art Walk/2nd Fridays can capture the same spirit.]
  2. Go out with friends. [One favorite is to go out for Korean food with other students who studied abroad in South Korea.]
  3. Read the news. [I can argue against this, since the news can be so depressing sometimes.]
  4. Look for support. [Goddard offers counseling for students at affordable rates if needed. 325-4441]
  5. Find a new hobby.  [I think taking new university classes meets this task.]
  6. Keep your skills up. [I’ve continued to sing with the Crimson Chords a Capella group.]
  7. Take up a cause. [I joined an environmental group.]
  8. Reflect on what you’ve learned. [GEF blogs are great for this.]
  9. Plan your next trip. [I’m heading to Costa Rica in July!]
  10. When all else fails – watch cute animal videos.  [It really says this, check the article out!]

https://www.goabroad.com/articles/study-abroad/post-study-abroad-depression

Most adorable kittens ever!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=685elao-zvs

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North Korean Denuclearization Negotiations

In March, President Trump agreed to meet with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un to discuss nuclear disarmament and economic sanctions; he believed the invitation is due to his media pressure and stronger sanctions.  This event is big news, because no other U.S. presidents accepted similar invitations.  News agencies are spending a lot of time analyzing the intentions and all the possible outcomes, to no purpose.  The spin and speculation are kindling for endless political discourse.

More interesting is the important role South Korea played and will continue to play.  One of the better articles is from The New Yorker’s Robin Wright. She clearly states the invitation came through South Korean channels.  https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trump-accepts-north-koreas-audacious-invitation-but-then-what  “The invitation was relayed by a South Korean delegation that met with Kim earlier this week and then travelled to Washington.” Wright acknowledged Chung Eui-yong, the national-security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivered the message and is trying to coordinate what might be an historic meeting.  She wrote the talks might even be hosted in South Korea.  Wright offers a brief but brilliant summary of the nuclear talks between North Korea and the U.S. over the last 30 years.

I feel the victory belongs to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has been in office less than one year; it was an especially busy year since his country hosted the Winter Olympics in February.  President Moon Jae-in talked with North Korea and allowed them to participate in the athletic competitions and send hundreds of cheerleaders.  This opening led to more dialog, which resulted Kim Jong Un’s invitation to President Trump.

I studied abroad in South Korea last spring semester during the presidential election, so I was able to learn a bit about President Moon Jae-in first hand.  He was a human rights lawyer, then later was the Chief of Staff for former South Korean president Roh Moo Hyun.  He campaigned to end political corruption and to focus on making South Korea a proud country again. He has a reputation for being open to talks with North Korea.  “Moon’s Democratic Party prefers the “Sunshine Policy,” a catch-more-flies-with-honey strategy that promotes dialogue as well as cultural and economic exchange to improve relations.” https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2017/05/south-korea-presidential-election/525942/   “Rather than meet threat with threat, Moon said during his presidential campaign he hopes to “embrace the North Korean people to achieve peaceful reunification one day.”  President Moon’s new administration oversaw a peaceful Winter Olympic celebration and opened the door for two complex countries to discuss limits on their nuclear weapons and normalizations of trade.  Hopefully the momentum and optimism will last for longer than a few months.

In closing, here’s a humorous spin on South Korea inviting North Korea to the Olympics.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QokyEHOxfPU

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Getting a Gilman

Socioeconomic boundaries are drawn in high school.  Some students get new cars when they turn sixteen. Others don’t. Some students take Advanced Placement (AP) classes and can afford the hundreds of dollars in exam fees. Others can’t.  Some seniors will have professional photographers, new clothes, graduation regalia, prom dresses/suits readily available, and maybe even a senior trip abroad. Others won’t. I was one of the people who usually couldn’t afford a lot of luxuries. This division would continue in college, if it were not for the scholarships that gave me access to a higher education I might not have been able to afford. One Scholarship in particular is the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program.

“The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to our national security and economic competitiveness…It is open to U.S. citizen undergraduate students who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university to participate in study and intern abroad programs worldwide.”

In retrospect, my senior year felt buried in writing scholarship applications between my classes and extra-curricular activities.  In fact, this is how I began a part of the GEF program.  This writing experience came in handy when I applied for the Gilman Scholarship. There are two required essays for this scholarship. Luckily the guidelines are relatively open.  The first encourages students to explain how difficult it is to fit a study abroad program into requirements for our majors and minors.  Creativity is encouraged!

“Be creative. Remember that this is a competitive scholarship program and the selection panelists’ only chance to get to know you is through your essay. The essays are your chance to tell the selection panelists about yourself and your decision to study abroad. It is important to develop an original and creative Follow-on Service Project. The most competitive applications are those that have interesting and original essays.”

Fortunately, my application was approved.  Friends asked me for tips, so here they are:

  1. Go somewhere different.  I studied abroad in South Korea, for example.
  2. Tell a short childhood story in a few sentences which describes how you face adversity.  Living far away from friends and family can be challenging; they want to know that you can handle it.
  3. Explain the ‘opportunity cost’ of studying abroad. For example, while abroad U.S. students cannot work a part-time job since we do not have a work visa. Reference your wages from an average semester and note this is a loss of income.  If you have an apartment lease, then add this amount, unless you can find someone to sublet while you are away.

Being genuine in your writing style is important. The committee must read hundreds of essays, so be memorable in a sincere way. https://www.iie.org/Programs/Gilman-Scholarship-Program

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Malta

I chose to go to the country of Malta with a few good friends of mine as my first international trip since arriving in Italy. We took the late night train into Rome and then waited around for our flight that was leaving early the next day. The flight itself wasn’t too long as Malta is a quick hop from the island of Sicily anyway. When we arrived we were picked up by our British Air BNB host and he drove us to our apartment we would be staying in for the weekend. It was a nice apartment, close to a little breakfast place where we went to the next day.

Highlights of the trip include seeing the capitol, going on a cruise to a hidden bay, and exploring the beach side. My favorite thing would have to be the cruise as it was such a sunny day. It took us to a smaller island and we swam in incredibly blue water. It was awesome!

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Rome

Another city I had the pleasure of visiting was Rome with the full class. It was about a 3 hours commute from Arezzo so naturally when I got there I was very hungry. I went with some friends of mine to get a sandwich and then we caught back up with the main group. We got to walk by some incredible fountains on the way to our first of a few destinations.

The coliseum was of course a stop for us while we were in the city. The only thing is that we were not able to get into it! It was a very busy day that day and the staff would not be able to handle a group as large as ours and so we decided to leave as opposed to leaving some of our members out.

We then went to the old forum which used to be considered the true center of the empire. Every city in the empire was measured from that central point using a soldier’s stride as a unit of measurement. It was impressive to behold to say the least as it was a wide expanse in a crowded city.

Finally, the last thing we say as a full group was the famed pantheon. It was the largest semi dome structure at the time of antiquity and still has the open ceiling today. We had to leave shortly after because they a pray service was starting but we still got a good look at the inside.

I went with a friend of mine to the Trevi fountain and it was gorgeous. We threw some coins in and then went back to the station to get back to Arezzo!

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Naples and Pompeii

The first thing I need to say about Naples is that it is a crazy town. The reason I say this is because the Napoli residents do not have a tendency to obey the traffic laws.  So when I leave the central train station and start crossing the streets, I feel like I’m taking my life into my own hands.  My Air BNB wasn’t too far away so I was able to get off the streets pretty quickly.

While I was in Naples, I knew I wanted to do two things: have pizza and visit the close-by city of Pompeii. Through some online research I’d learned that a lot of the artifacts from the city had been moved to museums in Naples. So I went to the biggest one.

The museum was having a music festival of sorts at the time so the lower floors were quite crowded while the upper floors were not. There were beautiful mosaics and sculptures from the Roman times and I really got a kick out of them.

The next day I went to the city of Pompeii. It took about 40 minutes by train but the time flew right by.  The local station was quite a walk from the actual historical area but I managed to find it okay. I must say I was very impressed with the city. After paying admission, I was allowed to walk through it and go into most of the shells of the buildings. I heard a nearby tour guide tell his group that the most dangerous part of the city was at the intersection of the two main roads because of the rain. Apparently, since the old city had no drainage system, all the water went into the roads and down the hills. Any unsuspecting tourist might get sucked away (which would be scary).

At the end of the day I came back and had pizza at a restaurant near my Air BNB. It was very thin with a lot of seafood. It was unusual but I really enjoyed it!

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