Almost Graduation

In honor of graduation being 25 days away, I thought I’d make a post about things I’m grateful for that Global Engagement provided me throughout my college experience.

  1. First and foremost, I am grateful for the financial scholarship that the GEF program provided in order to allow me to realize my dreams of studying abroad in college. Without that financial assistance, I never would have been able to afford travel on my own, especially twice, to both Germany and Italy. Knowing as a freshman that I would have the help I needed to travel allowed me to start planning early and compare my options for where I wanted to go.
  2. I am thankful for the community that the GEF class first semester freshman year established for me as an out-of-state college student and the tone it set for my college years that inspired me to stay globally connected. I loved having several familiar faces from that class across campus that I could connect with about our global interests, activities on campus, and just how college was going, in general.
  3. Although I tended to go to events and be involved with cultural groups that I already held previous interest in, such as those related to Slavic cultures, I appreciate the wide range of cultural and globally-oriented groups and activities that were available, which provides opportunity to learn something new and become even more connected to the differences of people across the globe. Especially at the yearly Global Engagement Day, I loved hearing anecdotes from others that also studied abroad but in areas very physically and culturally different than where I traveled to, because it offered new perspectives on the world. In a way, this was a small glimpse into visiting these places for myself, without actually doing so.
  4. Lastly, I am thankful that I had another motivator, besides my own interests, in remaining connected to campus activities and seeking out fresh perspectives on cultural differences. Being a double major, a part-time student employee, and maintaining a social life through school, it would have been more difficult to continue global involvement once schoolwork and other responsibilities started piling up. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the Global Engagement Fellowship program throughout my college experience and will always treasure the opportunities and global perspectives this program provided me!

 

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Global Engagement Day – Mental Health Abroad

So many things go into preparing for a trip abroad. What language do they speak in the foreign country? How do I exchange my currency? What classes will I take? Will my phone work? Besides many of these obvious logistical concerns, it is important not to forget to ask ourselves, how will I take care of my mental health while abroad and cope with the social and personal challenges of adapting to a new environment? At Global Engagement Day, Scott Miller, an OU Counselor who often talks with students that have/will/are currently studying abroad about mental health issues, discussed some potential difficulties OU student-travellers may face before, during, and after a study abroad exchange and tips to countering them.

Miller’s initial advice when faced with any sort of change is to tackle managing the three basics: exercise, diet, and sleep, the last of which he believes is of the utmost importance to overall well-being. In the majority of situations in which we feel stressed, the root cause can somehow be linked to fatigue or lack of restful sleep, even in familiar environments. Managing this component of health can often be the most difficult, especially upon arriving in a foreign country, because travelling often means crossing time zones and hitting the ground running, hoping to take full advantage of every moment abroad. On the other hand, Miller points out that physical exercise can usually be easier in countries besides America, where walking to destinations is more common, as opposed to driving everywhere. This frequent walking can also help initial adjustments in that it forces a recognition of surroundings and helps us orient ourselves, addressing emotions of being overwhelmed. Thirdly, a foreign diet can be tricky to adjust to when we are accustomed to our own way of eating and knowing where to easily access the foods we prefer. Language barriers suddenly make something that is very simple in our native language 10 times more stressful. In addition, the foods we like may be nowhere to be found in the foreign culture and, potentially, the foods simply appear unappetizing because they are different.

Even with proper management of these basics, fears of social isolation, anxiety, stress, or mental fatigue are normal and inevitable, to some extent, at some stage of the study abroad experience. Firstly, it is important to recognize that you are under no obligation to be close friends with those on the same program as you. The only expectation is that you are kind and not intentionally exclusive, as you would want another to treat you, but simply engaged in the moment. This relieves much of the added social pressures that come with meeting new people while also adjusting to a new place. Secondly, it is critical to diversify your emotional support group. Seek connections in those on the trip with you, OU staff and faculty, loved ones at home, and new people you meet in the foreign country. In addition to this point, Miller recommends blogging or journaling as a way to, not only process your own personal experience, but also to easily share your perceptions with those back at home, eager to know about your trip. Thirdly, Miller advises not to approach to experience of study abroad as essentially “life-changing,” in the sense that it is necessary to acknowledge that any personal attributes or issues you face at home, they will travel with you. In other words, if you are introvert at OU, you will continue to be an introvert abroad. This is okay, as long as you do not romanticize the study abroad program and set false expectations that will ultimately lead to disappointment. In order to combat some of these challenges, he advocates for the use of meditation, with or without phone apps, to calm major worries and spend time in self-reflection. In his opinion, study abroad experiences offer the quickest opportunity to learn tremendous things about one’s self, more so than in any other uncomfortable situation.

Despite emotional challenges presented by a foreign environment, fears of either social isolation or burnout, or difficulties in managing aspects of our lives as intrinsic as sleep, exercise, and diet, the proper mindset and approach will alleviate a great burden of these issues in all phases of study abroad. In summary, it is essential that we give ourselves grace and confidence and approach our emotions with patience and curiosity, no matter the situation, in order to effectively manage our mental health, at home and abroad. To end the talk on a high note, Miller offered a quote he had seen: “Why do you go away? So you can return. So you can see what you left, but with a new perspective.”

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Mayakovskii Laughs (Russian 1975 film)

Based on a play entitled “Bedbug” by the Russian writer Mayakovskii, this Soviet comedy is the strangest film I have ever watched. Its artistic style is very varied and unique, with clips of live actors, sometimes very informal, as if one is watching the real-time filming of the production, sometimes very close-up and always in strange, 70s-esque costumes. At other times, the film is animated, depicting a lucid color scheme that makes one think (along with the explicit representations of marijuana use) that drugs had to have been involved to create such vibrant and “trippy” images. Most uniquely, animation and live action often meet simultaneously on-screen, making the production, at the least, fun to watch and different than the norm.

As a cultural product of its time, the film takes Mayakovskii’s literature as a historical pretense for the storyboard, morphing the plot to fit its own message.  While the original play follows a man in the worker’s party, who marries a bourgeoisie woman, and the political implications of this union in a science-fiction setting, where individuals can be cryogenically restored in the future, this modern film ends with this same man in a dream, in which many references to Western culture are depicted, such as drinking in excess, capitalism, music culture, and the drug and hippie lifestyle, in an effort to advocate against such a lifestyle. While the visual production is drastically different than its textual inspiration, it was nonetheless unique to watch and analyze, if not entirely successful with its intentions.

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Aelita (Russian 1924 film)

Аэлита, or the name of the Queen of Mars in this Soviet silent film, shows Russian society on Earth after the Civil War and a socialist Martian Society, which a pair of Soviet scientists are attempting to visit, following a strange telegraph received from the modernized and eccentric space community. Intermingled with the science fiction aspects of this film is, of course, drama pertaining to love. The Queen of Mars watches one of the scientists through a very advanced, kept-secret Martian telescope and falls in love, while the scientist himself worries about the infidelity of his wife. He kills his wife, disguises himself as his scientist-partner to evade capture who had previously fled the country, and takes his rocket to Mars.

When the scientist reaches Mars, he finds that they are not truly socialist but led by an authoritarian group of Elders and the common people are treated as slaves and many are kept in refrigerators, much like today’s science fiction novels’ concept of cryo-preservation.  He leads an uprising among the people, falls in love with the flighty Aelita, and only when we start to see images of his wife in place of the Queen of Mars (as he does also) do we realize this whole journey (as well as the scientist’s revenge upon his jealousy) is just a dream. He returns to Earth, where his wife is still alive and still loyal, and decides that Russian society needs his labor more than those in outer space and he goes to work as a manager on a construction site, giving up his dreams of Mars. This film reflects a society that is both dreaming of science fiction fantasies and also recognizing the work that needs to be done in their own world to create an ideal socialist society where the only issues are those of the heart.

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Cosmic Voyage (Russian 1936 film)

In my Russian capstone class this semester, the theme of our literature and film-viewing is science fiction. I think it’s particularly fascinating to watch old science fiction films and read this genre of literature from the early 20th century, not only to compare to modern-day science and what truly came to be in the realm of science, but also because science fiction is a genre of dreams and fantasy, so such published works reflect the goals and visions of the future of a cultural society for that time period.

The film Космический Рейс (Cosmic Voyage) is a Soviet black and white silent film, released in 1936 but set ten years in the future and documenting what was imagined to be the first moon landing. Many aspects of the film, from a current perspective, appear very revolutionary for its time, such as anti-gravity (which simultaneously appears very comedic, since the actors fly across the screen in their weightlessness in a way that, as we now know, physics does not operate on the moon), the situation of not having enough fuel or oxygen to survive long on the moon or make a return trip to Earth (a feature that appears often in current films), and the concept of communication between the astronauts on the moon and those still on Earth. The film becomes interesting (and less realistic) concerning the characters that complete the first landing, but involves a happy ending and lots of drama in between. All in all, this film reflects a country’s desire to forge the final frontier, which was eventually realized.

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Russian Research

Next semester I will be completing my Honors Research in a Russian topic, in order to complete my Honors requirements and to incorporate more Russian content into my undergraduate studies, before beginning my Pharmacy Graduate Degree Program. Below I outline several topics of interest for this semester-long project, into which I plan to incorporate both cultural and scientific aspects in my research, again tying together my Russian and Biochemistry backgrounds.

  1. “Maternity hospitals,” in English, or “Родильный дом,” in Russian, were established by the Tsar Nicholas II in 1897 in order to keep women from having birth on the streets. Therefore, while they were helpful and provide more care and sanitation, they also brought the stigma upon women who had children in hospitals that they were poor or low-class. The more tasteful alternative, and the option available only to the rich and the royal, was to give birth with the help from a midwife at home. This concept of birthing hospitals was expanded upon during the period of Soviet Russia and an extensive infrastructure for greater maternal healthcare was established.
  2. There are several well-known Russian writers that also had backgrounds in medical training.  Of authors I have already read, this title includes Anton Chekhov and Mikhail Bulgakov, whose lifespans overlap for the last ten years of the 19th century. With this topic, I would like to compare and contrast the differences in medical training between these two men and how that affected each of their writing works. Then I would like to compare their works with those of a more modern Russian writer-doctor, such as of Leonid Tsypkin, who wrote in the mid-20th century. While I think it would be very interesting to analyze the way that science affected the writings of these men, I foresee that this project could also provide fascinating speculations on how their writings portrayed science to the general people.
  3. Film throughout the Soviet period would be a vast topic to cover, and would necessarily include an in-depth discussion on the widespread censorship of the time. With the topic of films, I am considering delving into science-fiction works, being critical of what these imply of scientific understanding and public impressions of the period.
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Russian Holiday Season

Now that fall has truly hit, Halloween has recently passed, Thanksgiving is on the brain, and Christmas shopping is looming imminently, I wanted to do a quick post on Russian holidays that are around our “holiday season” in America. Obviously, Thanksgiving is a solely American holiday, but that does not exclude feasts from Russian festivities.

November 4 is Russian Unity Day, a day commemorating the riddance of Polish occupation of Moscow in 1612. This holiday was celebrated for many years, until 1917, when the Russian Revolution took precedence in celebrations. More recently, in 2005, the memory of the former holiday has been reignited and the day is celebrated with flags, parades, fireworks, songs, speeches, a day off of work, and other forms of entertainment.

November 25 is the Russian Mother’s Day, although women and mothers are more generally celebrated with greater pomp on International Women’s Day, which is March 8, with flowers, chocolates, cards, and other gifts, similar to an American Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day.

Throughout the entire year, Russia also recognizes several days honoring national servicemen on local and national levels. For example, there are Air Force, Ground Force, and Naval Recognition Days, on August 12, October 1, and November 27, respectively. However, there are also Cultural Worker, Medical Worker, and Advertisement Industry Worker Recognition Days, on March 25, the 3rd Sunday of June, and October 23, respectively.

Russian Orthodox religion follows the Gregorian calendar, so while they celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it simply falls on a different day. Christmas in America is celebrated on December 25, but it is recognized on January 7 in Russia.

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OU Day of the Dead Festival

This past Sunday I went to the OU Day of the Dead Festival held at Lloyd Noble Center, an event I have been meaning to go to for the past four years. There was live stage music, booths of art and vendors, food trucks, rides, and face painting, most of which was free! My favorite part was seeing the art exhibited along the booth row, including paintings, sculptures of skulls, and so much beautiful, colorful jewelry. There was even a woman creating a black and white charcoal still-life of a skull and roses, which was just really cool and realistic. It seemed like all the little ones at the Festival were having a blast, getting to ride carnival rides for free and having their faces painted. The musical entertainment during the time that I was there was a female singer, and although I do not speak Spanish, I loved her voice and songs. I also thought it was pretty neat that a lot of festival-goers came in traditional dresses, and I even saw some peoples’ dogs wearing colorful capes and enjoying the excitement!

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Tulsa’s Oktoberfest

This weekend I went to the Oktoberfest in Tulsa, Oklahoma, named one of the top five Oktoberfest Festivals of the U.S., hoping to enjoy some bittersweet nostalgia about my recent trip to Deutschland and get a little reminding taste of such a rich culture with great food and drink. While it was a fun time, and I think could be an eye-opening experience for those who have not visited Germany, it was, personally, a let-down.  In retrospect, I’m not sure how I had expected a weekend event in the middle of the States could stand up to my 6-week study abroad. Of course, the beer was great, but I had very high expectations for the food, music, and atmosphere. There were the typical German bratwursts, which were lacking in authentic German taste, and hand-cut French fries, which were thin and greasy, unlike the thick fries in Germany that didn’t need any grease to taste as wonderful as they did. Needless to say, my Oktoberfest dinner lacked a certain home-made German meal touch. Obviously, the festival grounds of Tulsa, so slick and mushy from the rain that event-goers traipsed along wooden pallet boards and straw, was nothing like the green beauty I was accustomed to seeing walking the vineyard hills of Stuttgart. Much of the music was pre-recorded or not even German at all, and the live polka band started playing the same songs over again after about twenty minutes. Overall, I had a good time and it seemed everyone else in attendance did, as well, but this event made me appreciate even more the opportunity I had to truly immerse myself in another culture, an experience that cannot be wholly replicated in a different atmosphere.

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Chinese Buddhism in the Age of Science: 1920s

Erik Hammerstrom, from Pacific Lutheran University, presented a talk in three parts: possibilities for the relationship of Buddhism and science, the history that led to the juxtaposition of the two ideologies, and the resulting relationship. I will summarize what I learned from his discussion following this same outline.

In the first place, it is important to acknowledge that science and Buddhism are large, complex ideologies, each spanning great lengths of time, and there are, of course, going to be specific exceptions to the generalizations that could be concluded from a one hour presentation. Initially, Hammerstrom presented Jose Cabezon’s model, which includes three possible outcomes for the joining of science and religion: 1) conflict/ambivalence (such as is typically found in the U.S. today, that religion and science are distinctly different and opposing), 2) compatibility/identity (they are one and the same, simply defined differently, such that Buddhism is a flavor of science), and 3) complementarity (both religion and science have their own individual goals, and may work together in instances to support one another while upholding each one’s own claims, inevitably this is the most complicated of the three. A modern day example is the neuroscience study of what happens physiologically when people religiously meditate).

Major shocks to Chinese government, identity, and globalism in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, including its semi-colonial status, played a large role in bringing close Buddhism and religion. Both the war on opium and other, larger-profile wars with Russia and Japan, in addition to a semi-colonial government, in which foreign entities held entire control of major trade locales, caused a crises for China in its identity, confidence, and understanding of the world on a global scale. In order to combat this disorientation, a sudden, concentrated embrace of modern science took place, and a widespread intellectual conversation of, “What is truth? What is science?” took hold. This could happen only in this democratic, moment in history of calm, between the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and the civil war in the 40s. This movement led to an increased interest in technology, science, and, especially, textbook translations. The majority of translations included philosophical works, but also some with hard science focus. This shift in identity from Confucianism to secular altered the education system that had been in place for millennia. Students even began studying abroad in Japan and U.S., places that strongly embraced ideas of science and modernity, equated simultaneously with Western-ness and power. Hammerstrom pointed out that the key to remember about Chinese ideas of science in the 20s was it was just that – an idea. Scholars were not practicing lab science, but merely engaging in heavy discussion of its theory. The term “Kexue,” or science, could be seen everywhere and tacked on to many phrases. At this same time, many anti-religious movements were popping up in China, incorporating the “one or the other” rhetoric initiated by the Enlightenment period. Science became important to Buddhists because of its widespread place in conversation and the more personal attacks of anti-religion, including Buddhism, by utilizing science as anti-rhetoric.

For his research, Hammerstrom relied mostly on Buddhist pulp publications from the 1920s, generally from laymen, but including several clergy and one female poet. Of these, a well-known writer, Taixu, was prolific.  Buddhism adhered to the concept that there is no absolute knowledge; rather, information is relative and there does not exist one truth. To Buddhism, science is based on the premise that there is exists absoluteness, which is the source of their doubt in science. Buddhists believe that “knowledge is subjective”. While this may sound as though it adheres to Cabezon’s “conflict,” Buddhism in the 20s tried to find ways to follow more of a “identity” path. Buddhists saw that, like science, their beliefs were based upon cause and effect. Buddhism’s only sources of accepted authority were inference and direct experience (meditation), rather than a God, as many other religions, Further, Buddhists took as proof for their alignment with science that Buddha “recognized” microorganisms through meditation, in “knowing things very small and very large,” and observed astronomy because he “knew of many worlds.” Overall, Buddhists adhered to an “identity” relationship with science, as defined by Cabezon.

I did not previously have very much knowledge on the history of Buddhism, China, nor especially, the relationship between science and Buddhism, and am glad to have attended such an informative event outside of my areas of study!

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