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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X-Culture

This semester as a part of my international business class, I took part in a global business project known as X-Culture. Essentially, it is a program wherein participating students from various international business classes in universities around the world are randomly assigned into teams and given a challenge from one of several real-life businesses. Over a period of 8 weeks, each team conducts various market research for their given challenge and brings it all together in a final, pristine report. At the end of each week, there were certain deliverables due, as well as peer evaluations in order to keep each student on track and actively working toward the end goal.
The object of X-Culture is not only to write a report for a company, but more importantly, to teach students how to collaborate with colleagues from across languages and cultures. The final report is submitted in English, but most participants are not native English speakers.
Coordinating within an international team can be very challenging, for several reasons. The most noteworthy may be having to successfully communicate across time zones, but it is far more than that. People communicate and work differently depending on their home culture, for example, some cultures are very direct communicators, while others approach things from a more indirect angle. Some cultures are very time-oriented, while others do not adhere strictly to time. These, as well as other differences, are the real takeaways from such a project.
My international team consisted of five members, who came from the US (two of us were Americans), Colombia, France, and Malaysia. Our team chose a product called CaptiVoice, which is a comprehensive text-to-speech and reading support tool created by Charmtech Labs here in the US. CaptiVoice is a great product that can be incorporated by individuals as well as across institutions, and their challenge was to select a new market and develop an entry strategy.
I won’t go into our report, because it was tedious to write and a pretty boring final product (although it was quite good), because as I mentioned earlier, that wasn’t the most important part.
The best part of X culture is that I learned how to work in a legitimate international team. I had to manage my time around the time zones of my partners, and I had to wake up at ungodly hours to have skype meetings so we could all stay on track.
I helped people who were not confident in their English to see that they were actually very good at English, and I got to see their English improve in a very short period of time.
Best of all, I made new friends without ever meeting them in person. And I might never meet them in person, but I hope that some day, I get the opportunity.
X culture was something fantastic that I did this semester, and it was a ton of work, but it was all very worth it. I’m so glad my professor decided to include it in our class.
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OU Cousins BBQ… the last one

Well, the title says it all. My absolute favorite OU Cousins event of every year is done, and sadly, it will be my last as a student. I know I’ll always be welcome in the future, but it was the last one that I will ever help fully plan and execute. As you can probably tell, I’m a very sentimental person.

I’m sure I have said some variant of this every spring when the BBQ comes around, but I find the Cousins BBQ to be extremely important for all international cousins in attendance. It is an event where our hundreds of students are fully embraced by a loving Oklahoma family, and is probably the only opportunity for them to do so during their time here.

The longer I’ve been a student at OU, and especially when I was studying in Graz, I realized that many of our international students at OU live in a sort of echo chamber. OU campus is an enormous place, and it is very easy for our international students to get comfortable with other students from their home countries or other international students and stay there. Many of them rarely leave campus, because they have basically every thing they need there.

Part of me wishes that we could have the BBQ earlier in the year so that the students who stick to OU campus can see the other opportunities that Norman and Oklahoma have to offer, but I recognize that logistically, it simply wouldn’t work.

One of the biggest challenges for international students remains that it’s often difficult for them to make friends with our American students. The United States can be very intimidating, let alone Americans themselves. We’re loud, we’re talkative, and we often aren’t aware of or don’t understand the intricacies of other cultures–although I know firsthand that many of us try our hardest. All of these things make it difficult for international students to approach Americans, and also for Americans to approach international students.

All of these things, as well as many more, are why the OU Cousins BBQ is so important to our international students, and also why it is so important to me.

The BBQ was a great success, as it always is. The food was amazing, the band was rocking, and the company astounding. I will never forget it.

 

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Global Engagement Day 2018: LGBT/Women/Minority Panel

Even though I only got to attend one of the events of Global Engagement Day this year, I still call it a success!

The session I attended was a informal round-table panel of sorts, wherein several LGBT/Women/Minority students who studied abroad in rather conservative countries discussed their experiences.

I have personal experience as an LGBT person in a conservative country, Tanzania, and many things the panelists said reflected my own thoughts and feelings.

Their stories were personal, insightful, and wise.

The first speaker, a gay man and a friend of mine, spoke about his time living and studying in several conservative countries, wherein he had to take the journey back into the closet to keep himself safe. Personally, the closet is something that I am able to step into and out of fairly easily, but for many people, their LGBT status is more obvious than others. People who meet me don’t know about my status until I explicitly say something, and it is not free information that I am willing to share with everyone.

What’s important to do in a conservative country is to find a supportive community, if one exists, or find support from friends and family back home. I think it can be surprising to people, but even in the most conservative of countries, supportive communities can be found.

When one is not surrounded by that community, we must unfortunately hold back from our true selves. It isn’t fair, but we as LGBT Americans can’t afford to start a culture war if we want to appreciate and live in certain cultures. Unfortunately, in certain situations, the best way to avoid offending people and to avoid conflict in general is to hold back.

Other speakers spoke of race and ethnicity, gender, body size, and invisible disabilities. If I wrote down everything that I found to be thought-provoking, it would be far too long of a blog post.

Ultimately, I wrote down some short thoughts that thought were important–and seeing as I am a poor blogger, I will simply write them in bullets below.

-You will be tested in ways you can’t prepare for when studying abroad, even if you think you can’t be more prepared. Flexibility is key.

-Unfortunately, sexual harassment is a worldwide phenomenon, and it is worse in some countries than it is in others. Women often must protect themselves in ways that we wish we didn’t have to, but that is just the state of the world.

-Be bold in communicating your needs while abroad–safety and security are of utmost importance.

-When you become a representative of your country, you must be very careful to pick and choose what you think is most important, and what will be acceptable in that country.

-No culture is monolithic, and preconceived notions are not always true. Some people and some cultures will surprise you in the best of ways.

In conclusion, it was a great panel, and it made me think of a great many important topics and ideas.

 

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