Nostalgia for my Other Languages

Unfortunately, with my schedule being how it was this semester, I wasn’t able to continue learning Arabic. My scheduling did not line up at all with the classes offered and so now I’ve missed out. I can already feel what little Arabic I had a handle on slipping away, which is very disappointing. There’s just so much stuff to work on with Italian and Chemistry that it is unrealistic to expect myself to study a language as difficult as Arabic in the background. The same goes for what Swahili I learned over study abroad this last summer. By the end of the trip, I had a good handle on basic conversation, but now I don’t think I could pull it off nearly as well. I still remember scattered words, but nothing concrete. Learning a language that you really like and then watching it leave your brain is a really tough thing to do. I just wish I had more time so I could hold on to what I have. My biggest hope for these languages is the Peace Corps. I am going to request an Arabic-speaking country, like Morocco or Egypt, and Tanzania, so either way I get to practice one of these languages. Maybe some of it will come back as I have to speak it every day, and that will put me at an advantage. The only problem then would be holding onto my Italian! Man, this language stuff really is difficult.


Baccano President In Absentia

Not gonna lie, no matter how prepared I was to be the President of Baccano this semester, I really messed up. I was not prepared for the amount of responsibility and particularly time that it would require. I thought I had it all in the bag near the start of the semester, but then I had to go back to work to pay the rent. That really took a ton of my time, and Baccano started slipping away from me. Unfortunately, between school, work, and trying not to die of starvation, Baccano was fairly low on the priority list. I wish I had had a lot more time for it, however. This was a pretty key semester for growing the club and I somewhat dropped the ball. On the other hand, however, I was there more towards the end of the semester. The beginning almost broke me, but I survived and ended up becoming more involved again. Luckily, my advisers are excellent, and I had some strong other members around to pick up my slack. I guess, then, that I did okay, seeing as I had helped get good people in the club in the past few years, so they could help out when I wasn’t able to. Either way, I am very much so looking forward to next semester, because I will have a lot more time on my hands to really help. That way, I can take the role of President on the way I should have in the past.


Peace Corps Prep Puzzles

For the Peace Corps Prep program, one of the requirements is to do some volunteer work kin your particular sector. Initially, I decided to work in a lab on campus helping with research into steel corrosion in water. I figured that that had something to do with environmental work at least. After doing this for a while during the semester, however, I’ve found that I was really just trying to avoid doing real volunteer work, which I was a bit ashamed of. Now that I’ve been honest with myself, I am looking for a real volunteer opportunity to do next semester. I should never have avoided helping out, even if it was a time and career issue. Those were just rationalizations to make it okay to skip out on real volunteering, which is not at ALL the spirit of the Peace Corps. Anyways, I am trying to do better next semester, and am looking for a place I can volunteer. Unfortunately, I really don’t know anything about volunteer work around Norman besides the big event. If anyone has any suggestions, please comment them! I will finally have more time next semester, and I don’t want to spend it just playing video games the whole time instead of doing something valuable. Also, the time spent at research was definitely not totally wasted. I found out about the WaTER center at OU, which deals with water technologies in developing countries. This is perfect for my Peace Corps ideas, and I decided to take a class based on it. So in the end, as long as I can find somewhere to volunteer, I’ll have gotten multiple good things out of this experience, even if they weren’t what I expected.


Tavola Italiana e Briscola Event

This year we decided to do something new with our Caffe e Conversazione events and spice it up a bit. Instead of just having everyone sit around the table and awkwardly chat, we decided to introduce some Italian card games into the mix. In years past, it almost always ended up with the strongest students telling stories or talking non-stop, and then the teachers that showed up would be interrogating the less skilled students. It made it hard for new people to feel truly welcome when so many better students were around. Now, with the Italian card games, it gives all the students a safer space to chat in peace. We would split the groups up into younger students and older students who could talk more fluently with each other. In the end, we had a lot more people come and participate by the last event. Students like me, who’ve done this whole Italian thing for a while, would talk with either the foreign exchange students or the teachers while the other kids got to chat among themselves. Plus, the card games are pretty fun, even if they are very odd by American standards. However, even with the card games, it is difficult to get the younger students to try out new stuff in conversation. They are just so shy and lack the self-confidence to try out new words and phrases. I think all language learners face similar challenges, so I will just have to work on a better way to encourage the students to practice.


Karaoke Italiano Una Volta in Più!

Every semester, Baccano goes to Michaelangelo’s to do Italian Karaoke, and it was a smashing success just like every semester. This time, however, we had about twice as many people as normal, which was very encouraging! It was an absolute blast to sing with all of the students involved. Many new kids got together with the professors to try out some Italian songs which was also very good to see. Before, it was normally just me and few of the other professors singing because everyone was too scared. This time, we had even first-semester students getting up and trying it out! Also, we had some of the Italian exchange students come this year. I made a very good friend in one of them, who is sticking around next semester. Hopefully I can keep in touch with him and make sure my conversational Italian keeps improving! We started around 7:30, and we were still full of people until the place closed around 9:30. Afterwards, many of us older students went out to celebrate with professors, which is a great way to get to know all the teachers. The foreign language students came along as well which was just fantastic. During the “afterparty”, I was able to convince a new student to study abroad in Bologna like I did back in the day. I was so excited to share that experience with him and I really encourage everyone to take a look into it. Overall, I was extremely pleased with the success of the event, and so glad I came up with the idea a few years ago. Here’s to looking forward to the next one!


Preparing for Tanzania

Welp, the time has finally come to actually GO to Tanzania. I’ve been talking about it for literally a year now and I can’t wait. Although, I have to admit, I don’t feel like I’m well-prepared for it at all. I’ve been continuing to learn Swahili, but with finals and junk I kind of fell out of it. I can still say the basic words and stuff, but I’m going to have to do some serious remedial work if I want to be useful at all on the trip. That being said, I’m the only one going who actually tried to study it ahead of time, so at least I’ll still be one of the best ones! Also, I didn’t realize quite how differently I was going to have to pack and prep for this trip than for my ones in the past. How dumb am I? I’m going to a whole new continent and I thought it was just going to be the same thing as going to Western Europe. Either way, I’m going to have to be prepared, so check in this summer to see if I make it out okay!
Another thing I’m VERY pumped about is that I’m going to be doing a few weeks of traveling in Europe and seeing old friends. It’s a huge opportunity funded by a few lucky breaks I had this semester and I just can’t wait. I’m going to see old roommates in Paris and London, my best friend in Leida, and I’m returning to Bologna before I head out to Tanzania. It’s going to be so excellent to see them again after all this time. It makes this summer trip just that much more exciting, and I can’t wait to share the things I do with everyone on this blog. Till next time!


Peace Corps Prep

I wanted to take some time to use this blog for a bit of a plug, just in case anyone’s out there listening. Recently, OU began a program called Peace Corps Prep, and it’s a very exciting possibility. The Peace Corps has started giving out certificates in its various sectors, like Environment and Health, to help applicants’ chances of getting in. That’s a big deal, because its SUPER competitive to get into the Peace Corps. There are 4 different requirements you have to fulfill, involving studying a language, have some leadership experience, doing some volunteer work in your sector, and adding some extra coursework that works with your sector. For the most part, its really not that difficult; depending on your major and the sector you want a certificate in, a lot of the times you can get that requirement done just through your major studies. The other areas are pretty easy to follow through with as well. It’s a super valuable program and its really new, so now’s the time to get started on it. Sarah Griswold with the IAS program is the head of it if you’re interested.

On a personal note, this comes at a fantastic time for me, because I’ve recently decided to go into the Peace Corps directly after graduation. There’s a ton of cool benefits to it, including scholarships for grad school and preference on federal job applications, and I’m not sure I want to jump right back into school after spending five years in undergrad. I’m working on the Environment certificate as we speak. I’m excited to see where it takes me (hopefully Morocco). Okay, there ends my little plug, but hopefully one of you checks it out and follows through, because the Peace Corps is an excellent option for GEFs like us.


Cyber-Physical Social Systems and Why Self-Driving Cars Are a Little Scary

For the IAS Global Cyber Security Symposium, I attended Dr. Mohebbi’s lecture on cyber-physical social systems, which is a complicated term describing the theory of combining technology and civil engineering to improve infrastructure. There are a lot of ways that computers can help us in daily life, but the interface between physical and technological systems has not been thoroughly explored for a few reasons. Dr. Mohebbi gave a few examples of such systems and gave a comprehensive overview of what such systems would mean for the world, and it ended up being a very interesting lecture.

Before listening to this lecture, I only knew about one use for this idea: self-driving cars. Obviously, it is a revolutionary idea, and Dr. Mohebbi used it as the central point of her presentation, seeing as she studies it in her work. However, I had no idea the depth of problems that come along with such an idea. First off, the amount of personal data the system would need to properly function is staggering. Tracking a vehicle’s location at all times is a thorny issue not only in practice, but from an ethical perspective. Secondly, these types of systems are generally very vulnerable to attack, from either physical or cyber-attacks. Also, as these systems are difficult to model, collecting data to properly create these systems is a difficult proposition. Such systems are often judged based on resilience, which is a combination of protection from attacks and the ability to both recover from and continue to function during an attack. Overall, the insights provided by Dr. Mohebbi provided a lot more clarity on why I still must pay attention while I drive my car instead of having a computer do it for me.

All jokes aside, cyber-physical social systems have some deep implications for the world going forward. This idea could apply to diverse types of systems: utilities and infrastructure, economic function, and most frighteningly, military applications. Cooperation between countries would be a high-risk high-reward situation, but if it worked, it could help create an incredibly efficient and well-networked world.

As I said before, this talk was a surprisingly insightful look into current research into cyber-physical systems. Dr. Mohebbi was thorough and well-informed, and she also touched on the moral implications. She was worried about the privacy of individuals if these systems were used, which is something I completely agree with. The more of these types of systems there are, the more citizen data would be necessary for a state to implement them. Information like that could be used well or to control and intimidate the citizens of a state. In the end, research into this will move forward whether there are possible issues, but I am glad to know that the academics on the ground floor are thinking of such issues while they are doing their work.


The Inter-American Human Rights System

A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture of Dr. Morais de Sa e Silva on The Inter-American Convention on Human Rights (IACHR) and how the Inter-American system functions with regards to human rights. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the second hour of the lecture, but the first half was an insightful look into the actual meaning of human rights and how the Inter-American system functions. The discussion began with a general overview of what a human right is and how the term “human rights” is defined, before getting into exactly how the Inter-American system functioned. The Tribunal and Court were discussed, as well as the history of the convention, especially which countries didn’t participate. I was also able to listen to how the Court hears cases and how they differ in power from the Tribunal before I had to leave.
For the most part, I was totally surprised by this event. I didn’t know before hearing Dr. Morais talk that the issue was so complex. I suppose I assumed that more rights were universal than they really are, and I definitely didn’t realize how difficult it would be to clearly define them. The fact that some consensus has been reached at all on an international scale is incredible. I also found it interesting that the United States didn’t recognize the court’s influence because of state sovereignty issues. With the whole overview of the Inter-American system and its functions, the talk was a fantastic look into the increasingly tangled world of IGOs, NGOs, and human rights.


Right-Wing Germany and the Rise of the AfD

Recently, I went to a speech on conservatism in Germany today. Dr. Schapkow’s discussion of the rising conservatism and populism among the German population dealt with an intriguing and timely topic, one that has far-reaching consequences. In his speech, Dr. Schapkow gave a brief history of German politics following WWII, specifically dealing with the divide between East and West Germany and how that changed German political ideals. The East Germans, having learned a twisted history of the Holocaust through the USSR and dealing with economic hardship following its fall, developed a more nationalist-focused consciousness and a resistance to immigration than the West.

Today, that consciousness is embodied by the AfD (Alles für Deuschtland, or All for Germany), a heavily anti-immigration and nationalist party that focuses on the anger of the German working due to feelings of “losing out” economically due to globalization and the flood of refugees. Dr. Schapkow detailed how the AfD is growing across both West and East Germany. His focus was on how the anti-Islamization ideals of the AfD and their spread will have a major impact on German and world politics in the coming years. Put broadly, the rise of nationalism in Germany is both paralleled by and will have major ramifications for the growth of populism across Europe, and even in the United States.

Personally, I found this lecture to be a well-thought out and impactful warning about the wave of populism sweeping the world. He commented on how nationalism has not been studied heavily following the Cold War, much like how Sovietology fell off after 1991. Such widespread nationalism has led to some of the most devastating events in Western history, most notably the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich through the idea of “Das Volk”, or The People”. Worryingly, this idea has been resurrected by the AfD, and history unfortunately shows us how such ideas can lead countries to horrible places. The lack of study on this idea could be devastating in the coming years, and his call to study it further certainly rang true.

As for Dr. Schapkow’s personal views on the subject, he and I saw nearly eye-to-eye on almost everything. His worry and disdain for the politics of the AfD rang true with my thoughts towards support for Trump and his “America First” policy, and I saw a lot of parallels between our countries’ political climates. His disdain, however, was tempered by the understanding that simply deriding these people for having hateful views would never work; rather, those of us on the other side need to start a dialogue and try to understand their views. This struck a chord with me because there do not seem to be many people in America today who want to cooperate. Unfortunately, such cooperation is going to be the only way to bridge the divide seen in modern American politics.

Overall, this lecture was an excellent overview of current German politics and clarified how nationalism has affected Germany so far. I am even more convinced of the fact that the world needs to further investigate the dangers of populism, while simultaneously trying harder to understand and solve the reasons for its resurgence. Studying nationalism will only become more important in the future and discussions like this one will be critical to stop it from spiraling out of control once more.