International Group: Foreign Film Club

This semester, I was a part of the student-run foreign film club. The majority of us in the club are Global Engagement Fellows, so our meetings are a good way for us to stay connected and learn about study abroad opportunities as well as international events on campus. Unfortunately, we were unable to meet very often this semester due to all of us taking on very heavy work loads, but our time together was still beneficial. I particularly enjoyed the movie we watched early on in the semester titled The Kite Runner. The movie is about the life of a young boy and his friendship in Afghanistan during the tumultuous events that led up to the exodus of Afghan refugees and the Taliban regime. The primary language was Dari, the variety of Persian used in Afghanistan, but there was also some phrases in English, Urdu, and Arabic as well as English subtitles. I won’t spoil the movie for anyone, but I highly recommend the film and you may want to bring some tissues as a few of us cried a little bit.

Hopefully next semester, the Foreign Film Club can meet more often as we have all been anticipating watching a Brazilian movie in the near future. The medium of cinema is the perfect way for those of us on campus who are interested in international topics to learn in a very natural and simple way about different cultures from every  corner of the globe. Additionally, each of us in the club have our own specialized knowledge of different regions, so we can often educate each other about aspects of certain regions and their cultures that may not be evident in the films. The Foreign Film Club has been one of the highlights of my semester, and I am excited to see how the club grown next year.

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International Event: Forum on Immigration Policies

On February 1st, I attended the forum about immigration policies sponsored by CIS.  People in the audience wrote  questions on a piece of paper to ask the members of the panel; and naturally, many of the questions revolved around the recent policies implemented by the Trump administration. I would like to engage critically with the material covered in the forum, but I cannot do so without first addressing the overwhelming sense of sadness and fear that permeated the room. Everyone in the auditorium felt the same uneasiness for the days to come.

Regardless, the questions asked in the forum pertained to logistical factors such as the potential effects on F-1 visas and OPT processes. To these types of questions, the panel responded by assuring students that in-country processing has not been affected—yet. There were also questions regarding the potential expansion of the executive ban to which the panel could not deny the possibility, they could only say that it has not been extended—yet. Finally, someone asked the question on everyone’s minds: why did Trump choose these countries? An IAS professor in attendance responded by saying that the Trump administration was dipping their toes in the water, so to speak, and trying to see how much they could get away with. If that is the case, then I’m afraid what the cannon-ball will look like.

The panel was well-constructed and informative.  I felt that all the members were knowledgeable, and it was heartening to hear how the OU community is supporting and protecting their international community. However, there are still those lingering feelings of uneasiness that will not dissipate until students can stop asking the question “If I leave the country to visit my family, can I come back?”

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International Event: Into the Mainstream

On May 2nd, I attended the event titled “Into the Mainstream” which was a presentation on the rise of populism in Europe by Dr. Reinhard Heinisch, professor and chair of Austrian Comparative Politics at the University of Salzburg. This lecture was particularly intriguing given the current elections going on in European nations and the elections in the U.S. last fall. Dr. Heinisch’s insights into populism as a movement were eye-opening. All over Europe, these extreme parties are gaining wild popularity against all odds. However, Dr. Heinisch described this movement of populism primarily as an ideology that appeals to large groups of people through various strategies. They typically attempt to appeal to nationalist sentiments within a country and borrow ideas from both the political left and right. The parallels of these strategies, which have been implemented for decades in Europe and Latin America, and the strategies implemented by the Trump campaign during the elections were striking.

Although these parallels were obvious, Dr. Heinisch focused on how the populism varies in different regions of Europe and even in neighboring countries. These differences explain how populism is able to evolve and suggests that these movements are here to stay as legitimate political parties. In addition, he explained how populism and extreme parties are able to appeal to large groups of people even when they use provocative rhetoric on sensitive topics. Dr. Heinisch is obviously an expert in his field and I particularly enjoyed how he did not speculate too much, but rather based his opinions on facts and carefully selected data.

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9th Reflection

“How do you feel [your semester] went? What did you enjoy the most? The least? In what ways have you changed or grown since arriving at OU? How do you feel about that? What are your goals for the next semester and the rest of your time at OU?”

My first semester was awful and wonderful, surprising and comfortable, exhausting and worth it. I think my first semester was a little rough at times as I took a few classes intended for sophomores and juniors, so I did not get much sleep and I developed an unhealthy addiction to coffee. But, after having (almost) survived, I think it was all worth it. Even though I occasionally felt like I was dying and I questioned why I was paying an institution of higher learning to torture me, I also made some of my best memories in these past few months (as cheesy as that sounds). I also made a lot of close friends very quickly, even after a few weeks of classes it felt like I had known them my whole life. Maybe there is something about being tortured that really brings people close together. So essentially college is like summer camp, it’s miserable with mosquitoes bites and the hot sun beating down on your back, and yet once it’s over you only remember the good memories and the friends you made and so you decide to go back summer after summer.

Since I arrived at OU, I have definitely learned a lot about people. Coming from California, the culture in Oklahoma is about as different as it can get, so initially it was difficult to get over all the differences that I encountered. Once I made that adjustment and I realized that people are just different in the various regions of the US, I found that I was able to reflect a lot more on my own behavior and how I interact with people in comparison with other in-state students. These differences were extremely interesting to think about as I had never realized them before leaving California.

Next semester I also hope to survive and make it to the end. Additionally, I hope to get my plans for my summer study abroad trip to Chile finalized and I hope to start planning my semester in South Korea. Although this semester was challenging, next semester is going to be even more difficult, but it’s very important that I work hard so that I can study abroad without having to add an extra year onto my degree track. As for the rest of my time at OU, I hope to continue meeting interesting people and searching for as many opportunities as possible so that I can get the most out of my four (and hopefully not 5) years here at OU.

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Honors Reading Group with Jaci and Genevieve

This semester I chose to be a part of an honors reading group led by Jaci (the Global Engagement Fellowship director) and Genevieve (the Arabic flagship assistant director). The particular reading group I was a part of covered two books about the current state of refugees particularly from the Middle East. Although the Honors College offers many different reading groups that cover a wide range of topics, I chose to be a part of Jaci and Genevieve’s group because I felt that given their level of expertise on the subject, I assumed I would be able to at least learn something. And I was extremely correct in that assumption! Coming in to the group, I knew almost nothing about the current political status in Middle East aside from what American media has always portrayed; and the sorts of things the media shows are incredibly unhelpful and don’t really educate anyone on what’s really going on. The media has a tendency to only focus on one or two events, so it is extremely easy to miss the big picture. And I was definitely missing the big picture.

If you consider how much there is to learn about the Middle East, I still know almost nothing. The history is too rich and deep, and I’m fairly certain that I could take a class or a whole bevy of classes on Middle East relations and politics and still feel rather clueless. However, the discussions we held during our reading group meetings gave me the opportunity to ask questions and draw comparisons between things that I know and understand and things that are literally completely foreign to me. The most important thing I learned is that perspective is everything. Often times, when we don’t fully understand an issue, we have the tendency to oversimplify the matter because we are on the outside. From an outsiders perspective, everything seems simple. A non-American could look at our education system and say “why don’t you just make college free or less expensive” and as lovely as that sounds, most Americans would understand that it’s just not going to be that simple. Similarly, it is much easier to look at tensions in the Middle East and come up with a band-aid solution that will solve all the world’s problems-but it’s just not that simple.

As I mentioned multiple times, I was quite clueless coming into the group, but honestly being clueless is the first step in learning anything. So although it feels uncomfortable at times to be clueless, learning is all about becoming comfortable being uncomfortable (as my high school volleyball coach would say over and over and over…). The more you practice being in a slightly uncomfortable situation, the more comfortable you will feel being uncomfortable and the more likely you are to go out and try new things that you have never experienced before, if that makes any sense at all. I imagine going abroad will be an extremely comparable situation. There will be uncomfortable moments, awkward moments, but if you never have these experiences, are you really going to learn? So in the future I hope to always keep my eye open for chances to practice being comfortable in uncomfortable situations and I look forward to the next reading group led by Jaci.

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Spanish Conversation Hour: 2nd International Event

A few weeks ago I attended the Spanish conversation hour held every Thursday by the Spanish department here at OU. The whole purpose of the event is to allow people who are either native Spanish speakers or those that are currently studying Spanish practice their language skills in a relaxed environment. I really like the idea of the conversation hour, because I have taken many Spanish classes, but the only way to really improve is to practice and to want to practice. All too often, people don’t enjoy learning languages because they find that they aren’t at a conversational level, and therefor their knowledge of the language is essentially useless. But one can never reach that conversational level without practicing and making many awkward mistakes in order to improve.

The conversation hour provides a safe learning environment where students can make mistakes and practice speaking about things that truly interests them. The event felt much more free and open than most classrooms as it was held in a room with tables facing each other and the conversation was geared towards more natural topics than those that are usually forced upon students for their first few years of language classes. I really can only discuss my age and my favorite color for so long before it becomes uninteresting. During the hour, the conversation was geared towards getting to know one another and asking about each other’s weeks. After a few minutes, they started the presentations. Each week, one person from the conversation hour presents on a topic that truly interests them and they can use a power point presentation or any sort of visual aid they like. Since the presenter chooses a topic that they are passionate about, and they subsequently have a lot of knowledge on the subject, the conversation flows naturally after the presentation and it was easy to think of questions or connecting topics that I was curious about. I would recommend that anyone in an intermediate to advanced level Spanish course consider attending a conversation hour to learn how to speak conversationally in a relaxed and fun environment.

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8th Reflection

“How have you liked learning how to put together your digital story? What have you gotten out of Rachel’s visits? Do you think the knowledge you’re gaining is something you’ll use in the future?”

Over the past few weeks I have been attempting to create my digital story with the help of Rachel. Although the whole creative process of coming up with the digital story hasn’t really been my thing, the video-making software and Rachel’s class visits have been tremendously helpful. After playing around with the editing features and listening to Rachel’s advice, I found that putting my digital story together has been a relatively painless process. Without Rachel’s help, I probably would have felt extremely lost as I have never had to make a video project before. I am also grateful that Rachel was able to record our voice overs, because I would have been completely and utterly lost as to how to go about recording that.

I have learned a lot about the video-making process in these past few weeks and I feel confident that I can now put together a video that has a least a little quality to it. However, I don’t think I will ever have to make a video like this ever again. Most engineering classes prefer the use of PowerPoints and don’t emphasize the sorts of skills needed to make videos. I still think the skills I have learned in the past few weeks are good skills to have, even if I don’t necessarily ever use them. Hopefully as my video comes together, I will feel even more comfortable with the software and be able to apply what I have learned to other projects in the future.

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7th Reflection

“How is your digital story coming together so far? Do you have any questions or concerns? Anything you’re really excited about?”

Jaci’s class requires each student to create a digital story as the final project. For my digital story, it wasn’t very easy to come up with an idea at first. I haven’t ever been abroad, and I don’t really have any life-changing stories to tell where everything changed in one moment. After I thought about it for a while, I was finally able to think of a story I could tell that would fit the criteria of the project and reflected some sort of change I had experienced in my life. I won’t give away what my project is about, since it isn’t exactly finished, but I feel satisfied with what I came up with.

Last week I recorded my voice-over for the project, and by some small miracle I managed to get it right the first time, so I did not have to rerecord a million times like I thought I might. Now my task for this week is to search for visual materials I can use to show my story. I hope to get a lot of footage while I am at home for the holidays so that I don’t have to go through the process of citing all of the images I use. I am slightly concerned about using the video editing software, as I know absolutely nothing about video editing. However, the last few class hours have been helpful in teaching all of us how to use the software and it seems relatively user-friendly, so hopefully I won’t have any major catastrophes happen when I compile all my materials together.

I am sure the digital story will turn out fine, it may just take me a while to figure out how to create the effects that I want. I am excited to see everyone else’s videos and what story they decided to tell. Overall, the whole process of making the video has been relatively painless so far (except for some procrastinating on my part) and I hope it will continue to be painless as all that’s really left is to throw all the components together and make it presentable enough to show in front of the class.

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6th Reflection

“How do you hope to incorporate your experiences as a Global Engagement Fellow into your future career? How much of an impact do you think it will make? What will you do to maximize its impact?”

An engineering degree from any university hold a tremendous amount of value in the modern job market. However, the degree alone is never going to be sufficient for employers. Many of the brightest minds in the world chose to pursue a career in engineering, so it is up to each student, myself included, to ask the question “what makes me different and what can I do to stand out?” International experiences are some of the most valuable experiences an applicant can have when searching for a job. In an increasingly global economy, the field of engineering needs people who have both the technical knowledge necessary for the job and the international relations experience required in order for a company to thrive on a global scale.

My experiences as a Global Engagement Fellow will give me the experiences that employers want, but are not used to seeing on engineering resumes. I hope to find a career path that will allow me to use everything I have and will learn in the Global Engagement Fellowship in an engineering field that interests me. In order to maximize the impact the Global Engagement Fellowship will have on my career, I need to continue practicing my foreign language skills until I feel comfortable operating in that language in a business setting, rather than a casual setting.

The experiences I will gain abroad will give me the skills I need to succeed as an engineer as well. When studying abroad, your view on the world is broadened and you learn decision making and problem solving skills. Theses skills will allow me to be a more flexible person and give me the ability to work in diverse groups of people who may all have differing opinions from my own. Hopefully, I will continue to think about maximizing the potential benefits I will gain once I graduate from college and start looking for a job.

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Mid-Semester Meeting- “Jaci Will Fix Your Life”

Last week I met with Jaci bright and early to discuss my current progress as well as my future plans as a member of the Global Engagement Fellowship. I always enjoy my meetings with Jaci, because to be completely honest, the study abroad process can be an extremely overwhelming one; but somehow Jaci always seems to know every possible option available and which ones would be best for me. Once she gives you a plethora of options, she can tell you who you need to talk to, how much it’s going to cost you, where’s the best place to grab some lunch, and your mother’s maiden name. Because of her reputation as the ultimate problem solver of all life issues that could ever possibly occur, the freshman GEF class has created the slogan “Jaci will fix your life.” The woman is a miracle worker, and I’m not just saying that because she’s going to read this post, she is truly one of the most valuable resources I have found on campus.

Now that I’ve established all the wonderful things that Jaci can do, it will make more sense when I say that I scheduled not one but TWO mid-semester meetings with her so that she could essentially fix my life. During my first attempt at a mid-semester meeting, we chatted about how my classes were going and my plans for my final project in the UCOL Becoming Globally Engaged class. Naturally, when she asked about my plans for study abroad, I informed her that I had a plan and a good one at that. I had already met with the study abroad adviser for GEF’s and I had spent many hours researching how to move classes around in the extremely unforgiving mechanical engineering major that I have chosen. So I had a plan: South Korea for the spring semester of my sophomore year and the Journey to Peru program for the summer after South Korea. So I thought I had it figured out: I asked Jaci what she thought about the Journey to Peru program, because I did have some reservations about it. She paused. Then she explained to me that the Journey to Peru program would be an amazing experience, but that it tends to be for people who need more structure in their study abroad experience and that it depended on what I wanted out my experience whether the Journey program would be a good fit or not. So the first mid-semester meeting ended: I listened to Jaci’s opinion and resolved that I would think about it some more on my own.

The next week I thought a lot about what exactly I wanted. My thought processes tend to move extremely fast when I’m trying to make decisions, and I really dislike taking longer than two hours to make any significant life choices (not including trying to determine what to eat for breakfast, because that can occasionally take some time). By the time the weekend had passed, I knew that the Journey to Peru program was not for me. Since I can speak and understand Spanish at a decent level and I’m extremely interested in Latin American culture, I knew that spending three weeks traveling around the country and not really immersing myself in the culture and language would leave me unsatisfied and my previous Spanish teachers may have even disowned me. Now that I knew what I didn’t want, I had to figure out what I was going to do, because I had no clue. I did my own research on the fabulous study abroad website for OU and searched for programs in Latin America that would work for me and what I wanted out of the experience. I found nothing. Either the program was too short, or they did not offer a course with a high enough Spanish level, or it was not even in Latin America. Naturally, my next step was to call two of my best friends from back home in California and they were such kind human beings and listened to me ramble for about an hour so that I could sort out my own thoughts. Then I called my most consistent source of wisdom: my mother. She did in fact give me wisdom, but not necessarily any answers. She said I had to figure it out on my own or else I really would be unsatisfied.

So I called in the big guns: it was time to schedule my second mid-semester meeting with Jaci. We decided to meet after the UCOL class, and I admitted that my life was a mess and needed fixing, but I had aced an interview with my Spanish professor the day before and I had listened to some Salsa music so I was feeling good and determined to figure things out. Jaci listened to me talk about what I was thinking and what I wanted on our walk to her office and by the time we reached her building she had given me at least three options. But finally as I sat in Jaci’s office, we found the ONE. We found the perfect program with upper division Spanish classes, a decent length of time, an immersive experience, AND it’s in Latin America. So I actually figured it out (or rather Jaci did): now this summer I will be going to Chile for five weeks and I couldn’t be more excited. I know my friends and my mother are all extremely happy they don’t have to listen to my life crisis any more. Maybe they should send Jaci a fruit basket.

Note: I’m terribly sorry for how long and rambling this whole post has been even though it only covered the span of about four days. Hopefully this post was at least entertaining or gave some insight into the awesomeness of Jaci.

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