War and Peace

This semester the Russian Club hosted a three night event in Kaufman Hall airing the entire film series of War and Peace, originally written by Leo Tolstoy. We watched the 1996-1967 series version, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. Of course, this version was spoken in Russian and French with English subtitles and just over 7 hours long, hence the 3 night event. Prior to this event, I read the entire War and Peace, translated into English, for the Tolstoy class.

For those unfamiliar with War and Peace, it is a juxtaposition of history and narrative, difficult to name as a novel or text in a specific genre, published starting in 1865. It is broken into four volumes and two epilogues, and further broken into chapters. It is told with the focus of characters belonging to five noble, important Russian families. At the surface level, it tells the history of the French invasion of Russia, the effects on Russian society by Napoleon’s power, and society’s inner dramatic workings during this time. Upon deeper examination, there are many critical points for the reader to interpret.

Most noticeably, Tolstoy implements an aspect of dualism throughout the entire text. Obviously, from the title, there is a clash and consideration of the contrast between war and peace. Initially, readers imagine war to be on the front and peace to be in the drawing room. However, many men find inner peace, their calling, or the meaning of life while in marching ranks and more havoc is wreaked in their lives while at the mercy of gossip circles and charming women back at home. There is an aspect of dualism in the two styles the book is presented in: history and narrative. Some parts of history and narrative are blended together. For example, Napoleon was a genuine historical figure that now receives a personal, narrative side in War and Peace. The descriptions of balls and society life that seem like an intriguing fairytale are simultaneously a record of peoples’ lifestyles of this era. However, for most of the text, narrative sections and historical sections are simply fragmented and placed alongside one another with no smooth transition, almost the same way they would have been in real life: war goes on while the people at home continue living. A third element of dualism involves the pairing up of different characters, much like a “character foil” we all know so well. The actions, views, and emotions of the best friends Pierre Bezukhov, the illegimate son of a count that inherits all, becomes rich, struggles with understanding his own moral code, and falls in love with a girl that is as decisive as she likes to change her mind, and Andrei Bolkonsky, an independent military man that is burnt out from his arrogance, stuck in a rut, nearly dies multiple times, falls in love with the same woman as Pierre, and finally discovers his meaning of life, are comparable for the purposes of religious value and moral value comparisons. Through all of the characters actions and responses, values and emotions, ups and downs, weaknesses and growths, Tolstoy urges the reader to consider many deep importances of life while also bringing to light a humanistic side of the history of this period.

The movie itself felt very different than the text. Many scenes were strange, in comparison to the movies today and the way that I imagined the scenes in my head. They were prolonged for minutes at a time with little to no speech with focus on one or two characters’ facial expressions. Parts of the screen would be blurred out, like a vignette, in order to draw watchers’ attention to a certain focus. I think that this was the equivalent to Tolstoy’s lengthy descriptions of a particular character’s feelings and imagery in a certain scene and simply translated to screen in a way I was unfamiliar with.


Italian Jousting and OU Football

During OU’s Italy week, which included informational events about our study abroad center in Arezzo, biscotti talks, a pasta making class, Italian ice, and a reenactment of a joust tournament, I attended the session comparing Italian jousting and OU football and found it fascinating! First of all, I honestly knew very little of jousting going in to the event, and thought knights ran AT each other with the lances. Second of all, I have only just last year learned how football even works, so I thought it would be interesting to compare the two sports and learn more about each.

Jousting is just as crucial of a cultural and social aspect in Arezzo as football is in Norman. People buy tickets, wear the colors of their favorite rider, cheer like crazy, and form a wild attachment to the outcome of the tournament. In modern times, riders charge towards a target and points are awarded according to where the lance hits the target. Today’s jousting tournaments are a lot less violent than they used to be and more about remembering a tradition and maintaining cultural and social unity than aggression and battle. The jousting tournaments in Italy, especially in Arezzo, are a big deal and highly recommended.

Here is the joust we watched! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBzOuygf2KA


What Trump and Putin have in common

Russians are very interested in the American election every year, but this year in particular. Why? Donald Trump. This year is exceptionally newsworthy for politics because a real estate tycoon/businessman/TV-star is running for the Republican nomination – and this once seemed like a joke to everyone. Yet, he is now the presumptive nominee.

This is sometimes talked about with certain concerns here at home. However, in Russia it could mean more positive things, especially for their economy. Trump and Putin are said to have several thing in common like their directness, tendency to make deals to suit interests, confidence, divergence from the mainstream, and country pride. As Trump said soon after announcing his campaign, he would have a better relationship with Putin than Obama does because of these characteristics. It is important to consider political candidates’ foreign policies, especially with the current superpowers, like Russia.

Here are the articles I referenced:




Russian Club

It’s my dream that more people fall in love with the Russian language and culture as I have. The OU Russian Department is so small and I think more people need to give what seems to be a difficult language a better chance! This year, we did not have enough involvement to get Dobro Slovo, the Russian Honor Society, started up here, and I can’t wait until next year when we hopefully have more involvement to do so. The things you can do with Russian are really so much fun. My favorite things we do with Russian are watching news clips and TV dramas in Russian that give insights to life and culture in Slavic language-speaking countries. I think at the start of next year, we need to work harder to recruit more members so that we can have even more exciting events!


Indonesia and the UN

On Thursday, April 22nd the UN symposium was held in Zarrow Hall, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. I attended the afternoon lecture about Indonesia, formerly known as the East Indies, presented by Purdue University’s Jennifer Foray.

A lot of pivotal moments in history happen due to behind-the-scenes work from people or committees that are less recognized. Foray pointed out that such a turning point was the raising of the Indonesian flag outside the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 28, 1950. Up until 1949, Indonesia was the “crown of the Dutch empire,” and had yet to partake in the long, complicated process of decolonization. While much attention and grandeur is brought about from the image of Indonesian’s rising flag, it is fascinating to understand the preceding struggle to gain power on an unequal playing field. Foray’s emphasis was on how the United Nations and several key delegation members were essential in the decolonization of Indonesia and subsequent colonized entities.

During WWII, Dutch officials that usually lived in and controlled the East Indies were in London. In their absence, Indonesian nationalists formed a government and declared themselves to be independent. Neither the Netherlands, nor the UN, recognized their sovereignty. Concurrently in the United States, and American Jeanne Mintz worked in the Dutch propaganda office in New York, studying Indonesia. She soon left her employment with the Dutch, worked on a book, and self-taught further about the East Indies. She was a key player to the delegation ultimately allowing Indonesia to fight for independence because she knew the inner workings of Dutch power and was well-versed about Indonesia. Although Indonesia was given “observer” status to the UN in 1947 and discussion was started about their independence, larger powers decided the situation did not threaten them and the case was closed. However, in 1949, it was brought to attention that the Netherlands consistently violated a ceasefire agreement in Indonesia and countries at the UN table recognized that the situation was reminiscent of colonial war. Indonesian delegates made their way to New York, and under lead by Ambassador Sutan Sjahrir, eventually discussed their situation and were granted independence. Indonesia was the first country emerging from colonial rule to be allowed to sit at the UN table and present their case. Later, more countries would follow Indonesia’s lead.

There were several insights I gained from this presentation that astounded me, revolving around the subtle moves by the large, imperials powers to enforce control in the UN relationships. First of all, I did not know that countries recently under different ruling or still not considered sovereign nations were only part of the UN as trial members and were not given seats at the UN table. A few of these countries included India, Belarus, and the Philippines. This was like the large powers were allowing new countries to observe, but not participate in, international dealings officially. Secondly, these imperial powers stuck together. In large decisions that determined the power allocated to other, smaller entities, many of the imperial powers sided with one another and made it harder for small nations to have a say. Lastly, I found out that the large countries often resorted to petty measures to keep control. For example, when the Indonesian nationalist delegates arrived in New York, they were not allowed to literally speak their opinions, even though they were present at the Security Council meeting. Instead, it was suggested that they write down what they had to say or communicate through a single delegate from another, recognized country. All in all, large countries took advantage of smaller nations by utilizing their size or power to make UN contributions unequal between countries.

I learned that there is often a complicated backstory to any historical event that is less recognized or considered behind-the-scenes but leads to many other consequences in international dealings and relationships. Many people may know that Indonesia was officially part of the UN in 1949 and held a flag-raising ceremony on September 28, 1950. Many may even know that the Indonesian Revolution took place from 1947-1949 in the absence of Dutch officials because of WWII. However, it is generally unknown how complex of a process decolonization really was and the essential roles played by Jeanne Mintz and Sutan Sjahrir. The acceptance of not-yet-sovereign Indonesia at the UN table was the first time such an event happened and the foundation for other nations in similar situations.



Russian Club

The international group I chose to be involved in this year is Russian Club, since I am a Russian major. We are a small group and have just a few events every semester, such as a movie night about once a month where we watch a movie heavy in Russian history and/or culture with English subtitles. I posted about our first movie night earlier this year. Our fundraising event this semester was a baked goods sale in Kaufman Hall, and prior to this we ordered club shirts. Hopefully, we do more events next semester.


Study Abroad Plans

The most important thing to me, when it comes to study abroad, is to accomplish two things during my time at OU:

  1. travel to a Russian speaking location for an intensive language experience so that I may become fluent
  2. go somewhere else that’s on my bucket list, just for fun

In order to accomplish my first goal, I have already applied for Russian summer CLS. If I do not get this scholarship, I will continue to apply for it every summer because it is a great opportunity. I really enjoyed and benefitted from participating in NSLI-Y last summer, a similar U.S. Department of State funded program for youth. Assuming all goes as hoped for, I will spend this coming summer abroad studying Russian. Then to accomplish my second goal, I have always wanted to travel to Italy, so I’d like to spend a semester (probably spring of my Junior year) in Arezzo.

If CLS is not an option for me, I would like to go to Arezzo next summer (after sophomore year) and take a semester to study at the Nevsky College in St. Petersburg. I have been to St. Petersburg before and absolutely love the city. In addition, I have a few friends I could visit while there. The exchange program with Nevsky is very appealing to me because I would be taking classes in Russian – this would be very challenging, but useful.


29.10.2015 Reflection

I think the Against Malaria Foundation should receive a $100 donation. First of all, the outcome of its efforts follow the ideal of Peter Singer in that the most lives are being saved for the least amount of money out of the four organizations. It solves a very easy problem in that malaria can almost entirely be avoided if people that live in areas with malarial mosquitoes slept under a medicated net. Because these mosquitoes only bite during the hours that people sleep, this is a preventable problem. According to the Foundation’s website, every $3 net saves two people for 4 years. This means it could only cost $180 to keep a whole family free of malaria for their lifetime. This is like instead of going to Starbucks three times one year, I saved a whole family for 4 years from malaria. This is very cheap and simple. I prefer this Foundation to Cornerstone or Give Directly because Cornerstone is very broad and Give Directly gives hard cash, while Against Malaria has a specific goal. This prevents customers from using money less responsibly or efficiently because they are receiving an actual product that will improve their lives. I also prefer this Foundation to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation because, again, it is very clear exactly where the money is going. The Komen Foundation does a lot, which is very good, and all of what they do is admirable and necessary, such as their research, support, publicity, and advocacy. However, it takes a lot of money to do all of these things so it comes back down to Singer’s mindset of helping the most amount of people possible, which can be accomplished by giving the $100 to the Against Malaria Foundation so that we can give 66 people anti-malaria nets for 4 years.


22.10.2015 Reflection

I think it’s hard to choose between the concept of helping say 1000 people in a developing country versus 50 Americans, simply because the American dollar is worth more there and can, therefore, make a difference in more peoples’ lives. I think there needs to be a balance between utilitarianism and situational ethics so that we try to maximize the number of people we help as well as fight for a cause we truly connect with, like Singer suggests, even if it isn’t maximally financially efficient. I agree with him in that we need to look globally, not only locally, to give to those in need and that helping the most number of people is most efficient because all lives are equal. However, I don’t think helping someone right in front of you (i.e. the drowning baby) is the same thing as helping someone overseas who you’ll never see by sending financial support. I don’t think that is the right way to convince people to look globally because they are not the same situation. At least for me, I am not as satisfied helping others if it is just money and especially if I can’t place exactly where my donation is going. I feel better when the help is hands-on and visible, like volunteer work. To me, time is worth more than money.


15.10.2015 Reflection

I think it is interesting to hear about diversity abroad because here I am usually in the majority. I think it is good for me to hear about these issues because I am used to them not being a problem, but it is important to be aware that some people here and especially abroad feel like outsiders in this way and that in certain situations, I may feel like that when travelling. Personally, I do not have any fears about studying abroad because I intend to, for the most part, study abroad in Europe; more specifically, I want to study in Russia and Russian-speaking countries, where the majority of the population is white and I could generally blend in. I do not have any religious concerns because I simply tend to stay out of that scene. To avoid any gender-initiated conflicts I think I will always want to move around based on the buddy system and walk with confidence so that I can avoid being targeted as a promiscuous or vulnerable female. The factor that does worry me a little is that of the current relationship between Russia and America and Russia’s military involvement in other countries. This puts a strain on border crossing and travel as well as the general public’s opinion of Americans, which could be a safety concern while abroad. I will address these concerns by looking at the whole situation before I decide where exactly to travel to and how I will be accommodated. If it is too unsafe, I won’t go there. If it is safe enough to travel then I will just be wary to not present myself immediately as American, as I would even if there weren’t as strained as a relationship that there is now.