What $5.7 Billion Could Buy

One of the low points of this year has been the ongoing conflict over the Mexican border wall and immigration policy. This has lead to even more violence, tragedy, and tension to a political climate already in turmoil. We’re currently under a government shutdown over Trump’s “plan” for a border wall/fence. So what could the estimated $5.7 billion dollars that is being asked for this project be directed to that could actually make something positive?

  • Fix Flint Michigan’s water pipes 103 times over
  • Cover the dental insurance of 15 million Americans for a year
  • Install solar panels on 200,000 homes (which last for 20 years)
  • Keep Wikipedia running for 228 years

And many economists estimate that the wall would cost much more than 5.7 billion.


GEF Panel

This semester I had the opportunity to join a panel of other fellows as guest speakers for Bushra Asif’s global engagement class. I’m very grateful for this organization and eager to share my experiences from my two trips abroad, so I was glad to join the discussion.

Studying abroad in general can be a somewhat stressful experience, but it can open your eyes and broaden your horizons in so many ways. My study abroad trip in South Korea was a whirlwind of new experiences and new friends to share them with. For many of these students it may be there first time leaving the country or just being away from home in their life. It was a heartening experience to answer their questions and assuage some of their worries.

I also found the other panelists remarks to very insightful and interesting. The differences in some of our experiences were evident, but there were some surprising and sometimes humorous through-lines that we found during the discussion.


CEA Panels

This semester I attended two events hosted by CEA to help inform students about their programs and resources prior to their trips. Having just traveled with them for my month long summer trip to Costa Rica, I was able to offer up some first hand experience.

The first was more casual and took place in the Bird’s Nest at Blackbird restaurant. Several students came with questions for the CEA representatives and the post-trip students present. It was wonderful to answer peoples questions and share some of my experiences abroad to help prepare others for their own journeys.

The second event was held in Price Hall as a larger lunch QandA that was more focused on gaining and maintaining internships while abroad, which I did during my semester in Korea at KNU. This featured a panel of students being lead by a CEA moderator.


The Continuing Rohingya Crisis

For decades, the government of Myanmar has pursued discriminatory policies against the population of Rohingya Muslims located in the western portions of the country. The country is predominantly Buddhist, meaning that the general population seemingly has no empathy with those suffering from the military’s actions. 

Once heralded as a great humanitarian by some, Aung San Suu Kyi, the president of Myanmar, is now unanimously condemned as being apathetic to the plight of her citizens. Since 2015, the villages of the Rohingya have been burned and a great many of them have fled to Bangladesh to escape the persecution. While she is getting much of the flak for her country’s actions, much of the blame should be assigned to her generals who act with near impunity. It is possible that she feels some allegiance to them (other than the fact that there are from the same country) as their 2011 coup is  what removed the post of prime minister. This means that as president, Kyi is both the head of state as well as the head of government. This grants her enormous power. It is akin to a U.S.  president being both head of the executive branch as well as speaker of the house. The only political force more powerful than she is perhaps the military. 

Regardless, Kyi has a moral obligation to do her part to stop the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims. It is not as if she is powerless to stop the crisis from happening. She can either be called weak or complicit and honestly, perhaps both. 


Thoughts on Brexit and May Surviving No-Confidence Vote

Very recently Teresa May, Great Britain’s current prime minister, was going to propose her Brexit deal that would be the result of years of negotiations with the EU. Unfortunately for her, it became very obvious that the deal would not have the required votes to pass with some demanding a hard Brexit while others desiring as soft a Brexit as humanly possible. Since May’s deal would please no one, she canceled the vote. This triggered a no-confidence vote over her leadership of the Conservative Party which she subsequently won 200 to 117. This is a decent margin but it is still concerning that so many of her own party were willing to throw her out of the leadership position.

The question now facing Britain’s parliament is where to go from here. They could decide to try the vote on May’s Brexit deal but again, it is unlikely that such a deal would pass successfully. An alternative approach would be to reenter negotiations with the EU but it is clear that they are unwilling to make things easier for the nation trying to leave it. Of course, this situation is good for those few who demand a complete break from the European Union with few continuing ties. A hard Brexit coming from a no-deal scenario would be beneficial to those on the far-right who are willing to do anything to ensure that Brexit goes through. 

This is an uncertain time for the country as Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, is considering bringing forth a no-confidence vote for May’s entire administration before Brexit is set to occur. This would likely send the government into chaos as a new prime minister would only have a few short months to bring forth an entirely new Brexit deal. Scary times.


Presidential International Travel Fellowship

I’ve heard about OU’s various study abroad opportunists and the various scholarships, including President David L. Boren’s ‘airline ticket’ scholarship, for many years. This is because I’m lucky enough that my Mom has worked at OU since I was about four years old. In fall of my senior year of high school as I completed the OU common app and my first FAFSA, we found out that I was eligible for Pell Grant. This award meant I’d more than likely receive the “Presidential International Travel Fellowship” [PITF]. It was a comforting realization to know the President of my university promised to help me live in a foreign country, if I was brave enough to do it. More so for the fact that without my myriad of scholarships I wouldn’t have been able to even if I wanted.

But then my positive opinion of OU was challenged. The spring I graduated from high school, OU students were recorded singing an awful racist song about hanging people from trees; the video went viral on social media. Very soon after this happened I received a special letter from President David L. Boren asking me to understand this was not what OU stood for and that the OU family was founded on diversity and inclusion. I kept this letter with my acceptance packet because although it could not erase what happened, it did convince me President Boren was dedicated to students of all nations, religions, races, and orientations.

In fall of my sophomore year I applied for and received the PITF to go to South Korea for the next semester. Once the decision was made, it only took a few weeks to get the scholarship check. I used the money to buy my airline ticket, just as we’d planned so long ago. My semester in South Korea was amazing. I learned a little Korean language, Korean history and culture, but I also experienced being a racial minority for the first time along with several other cultural challenges. After studying abroad, I have friends who study at universities all over the U.S. and the world.

It’s my senior year at OU now. Looking back my semester in South Korea is definitely a high point, but I also reflect very fondly on President David L. Boren’s impact on my academic life. He valued students and protected their diversity as much as he could. He also helped make it possible for me to live abroad in a country very different than my own. The PITF made studying abroad almost a requirement in my Mom’s eyes. It was my ticket to a new place and the opportunity to grow.


Costa Rica Weekend Trips

1st weekend

My first weekend in Costa Rica we got to visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest. We went on a night hike and saw vipers, sloths, and some other indigenous wildlife including stickbugs and a tarantula. The park has a complex ecosystem which is home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds, insects, and plants, including many endangered species. In the morning we trekked up to the hanging bridges, which were absolutely breath taking. But the most impressive creatures were the Howler monkeys. Being able to see them up close was amazing. They were also incredibly loud and their bellowing seemed to carry for miles. Afterwards, we explored the Biological Reserve and went on a chocolate and coffee tour. Our group got to make chocolate from the raw materials and see how the entire process worked. It was probably the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted. The hotel was very nice, along with our other accommodations. It was fantastic way to spend the weekend in mid-July.

2nd weekend

Tamarindo beach weekend! Although there are surfers, sport fishermen, and divers, Tamarindo has a small town vibe. I was very excited to tour the Guanacaste beaches, which are nesting grounds for leatherback turtles and other species. However, strep throat, fever, and pain interfered on the first day. Our team leader found a doctor to come to the hotel for me. Very quickly I had a diagnosis and prescription. After a full day of sleep and medicaation, I was able to venture out to the turtle habitats and get some sun sitting on the shoreline. The sand comes in so many colors there: white, gold, gray, black and even pink.

3rd weekend

I studied Sustainable Development and Environmental Awareness at Veritas University. This private college very small, only about 2,000 students, and approximately 500 of them are international. Veritas offers a range of courses in fields like architecture, business, cultural studies, environmental science, health sciences, and zoology, and it’s located in the Zapote District of San José. My class took a field trip to an organic farm called El Tablazo Finca Agroecologica. We got to make lunch with fresh produce. The chief goals of El Tablazo are the conservation and protection of natural resources, the practical application of sustainable agriculture, and the implementation of integrated ecological and organic farm processes. They have a database of customers managed via whatsapp for weekly delivery of vegetables. https://www.facebook.com/fincaeltablazo/ The professor also organized a weekend trip to Cirenas [Center for Investigation of Social and Natural Resources] nature refuge very near the coast which was absolutely gorgeous and included a beach clean up event and night patrols along the beaches to collect and care for the incoming nesting turtles and taking their eggs to a nursery where they would be safe from poachers, which are currently a big issue in the area. http://cirenas.org/


Persian Poetry Night

About 3 weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the annual Persian Poetry being held in Farzaneh Hall with Ms. Alavi. It was held on Friday from 6-8pm in the David Boren Lounge and it was a time for the students in Persian language classes to share some poems they found interesting and then translate them for us and explain their deeper meaning. I sadly arrived a bit later than most people so I only really caught the back half of the event. One of the poems I remember (which I later found)was by the poet Gibran Kahlil. It goes “Between what is said and not meant/ And what is meant and not said/ Most of love is lost.” I remembered this poem for twp very important reasons: because it was quite short but it also packed a lot of meaning into just the few words it had. It helps demonstrate how people in the Middle East view love and it is entertaining to western audiences as well.Since we can relate to it and discuss it, we are more inclined to read it which can make us want to delve deeper into the world of Arabian poetry. Something I did not get the chance to ask the presenter of the poem was how she had come across it? Had it been recommended to her or did she go looking for something like it? I don’t suppose it really matters as it is clear that she enjoyed reciting it to us in Persian and it helps expand her love of that culture.


Palestine Walks Book Group

I have just realized that despite my book group ending some weeks ago, I have not been able to properly write a blog post about it yet. The book we read was Palestine Walks by Raja Shehadeh. I chose to be a part of this reading group as it was a book that covered an international topic that was interesting to me. Since I live in the U.S., I often hear about the conflict between Israel and Palestine from the Israeli standpoint. The U.S. (especially under the Trump administration) backs Israel over Palestine most of the time so justification for that policy is what is often debated. In his book, Shehadeh guides the reader through his time living in the West Bank and what it is like to ave so much Israeli influence over him. The biggest idea I personally got from the book is that Israel is not facing enough international push-back for its settlement policies and that it should be condemned more often for its actions than it currently is. The reasoning for this is that Israel is effectively trying to integrate the entirety of the West Bank into its territory. This is sneaky behavior and not something that should be ignored.

Part of the reason as to why the U.S. does not condemn the Israeli government is because Evangelical Christians are huge backers of the country. They believe that the Jewish people must have complete dominance over the biblical land of Israel in order for the second coming to happen. This leads them to support the expulsion or assimilation of the Palestinian citizens in the West Bank. Personally, I think this is somewhat shortsighted, perhaps because I am not an Evangelical Christian.   


WHO Panel

While I was at the WHO conference in Oklahoma City, we listened to a panel on the nature of public health in Oklahoma and across the world as a whole. This was after the initial committee meetings but before we convened for lunch so we had already had had some experience with how important it was to debate things in a public setting in order to get everyone on the same page. I had personally spent much of the past several hours being very belligerent as I attempted to properly portray Malaysia as a country with a religious bent that didn’t want anything “obscene” to show up in the resolution they would be signing on to.

The panel started out with how important health was around the world as it effects everyone and everything they do. It affects countries, people, and businesses all in ways we never seem to truly consider. From there, it spread to education and how it is important to have a well-educated population who can make correct decisions on their own. Naturally, all the panelists agreed that it was a bad idea for the state of Oklahoma to underfund education like they had as it will lead to bad things in the future. This is a point I agree with. It did get a bit political at the end as it was suggested that the rise in political polarization (stemming from certain figures in the federal government) was contributing to our unwillingness to debate health possibilities in a way that was free on falsehoods. Overall, I thought it was a fascinating panel as everyone on it was able to bring a unique take on what may be the best way forward to deal with these issues.