Hera Seoul Fashion Week 2018

Seoul is undoubtedly a city with a unique sense of identity. The vibrant energy of the younger generation is particularly noticeable. The creativity I have seen in Seoul has never been more prominent than when I visited Seoul Fashion Week. The event was held in Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which is commonly referred to as the DDP. The plaza itself was designed by Zaha Hadid and stands as an impressive testament to Seoul’s modern and innovative approach to design and functionality. The plaza is home to a countless number of events held in Seoul and serves as a hub for the cutting-edge.


Although I did not attend any of the fashion shows, I was still able to see a lot of inspiring and unique fashion. My friends and I were extremely pleased with the coffee and ice cream samples given away as well as the number of people who randomly ask to take your photo. One photographer who took my photo said he was making a documentary on Korean fashion, so who knows? Perhaps I will end up in a random documentary in the near future. We also saw some stern-faced models who appeared to be posing for cover photo of some sort. Generally, I would say the fashion was distinct from fashion in the United States. The colors were rather muted and based on earth tones and I found that the symmetry of the outfits was designed to elongate features differently that what you might see in New York City. The makeup on the models was focused more on a clean line and was less dramatic than most fashion icons in the States.

Although I am not a fashion expert, I really enjoyed seeing the creativity that people put into their own self-expression. I respected how many young people were there dressing against traditional social norms and deviating from pop culture in a way that was refreshing to see. Despite the fact that Korea is an extremely technologically advanced and modern country, I have noticed that in Korean culture, the opinion of others matters quite a lot in comparison to the United States. It is not necessarily a bad aspect of society, it is simply different. But I think it can put pressure on young people at times to meet the standards set by their own peers. Here it is common to always dress nice for class and wear makeup every day, whereas in the United States I often walk around in a t-shirt and jeans, bare-faced, and with my hair tied back. But the Seoul Fashion Week proved that self-expression is still encouraged, and in fact fashionable around the world.


On a slightly different topic, I saw my first snow fall when I attended Seoul Fashion Week! Thankfully it did not delay any of the shows scheduled that day, and it was truly a memorable experience seeing my first snowfall in Korea. According to my Korean friends, snowfall in late March is uncommon, so I suppose I witnessed a small miracle.

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Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁)

At Seoul National University, there is a program for international exchange students called “SNU Buddy”. The program matches groups of exchange students with Korean “buddies” who want to help foreigners adjust to life in Korea as well as introduce and explain aspects of Korean culture. This program has so far been extremely helpful and has given me the opportunity to explore Seoul with other students. The Group plans many activities and excursions into the city on weekends, so my calendar has been full since the day I arrived.

This past month, I visited Gyeongbokgung Palace with my Buddy Group. Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest of the five palaces in Seoul built during the Joseon Period in Korean history. The palace was originally constructed in 1395, but was rebuilt after a fire burned the site. Post-restoration, the palace endured damage once again during the Japanese Colonial Period in Korea in the 20th century. Since then, officials have worked to fully restore Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Entrance to the palace is free if visitors wear Korean Hanbok, the traditional attire associated with the Joseon Period. Prior to entering the palace, the Korean buddies took us to a hanbok rental shop where we picked could pick out our attire. The Hanbok ranged from linen material with simple lines, to elaborate skirts with gold detailing. In Korean history, the more simple hanbok was worn by peasants and common people while the more elaborate outfits were made for royalty and high ranking officials. Generally, longer sleeves denoted a higher social status as shorter sleeves were more suitable for the working-class.

After selecting our hanbok, we walked to the palace and entered the main gate towering over the cars on the busy street below. Unfortunately, we did not arrive early enough to catch the changing of the guard, but perhaps I will go again sometime just to experience that. As we entered the gates, the main palace buildings came into view and were hard to look away from. The sheer size of the structures was extremely impressive. The mountains in the background were hardly visible behind the massive sloping roofs and the ornate pillars which supported them.

I was particularly fascinated with the roofs and ceilings in the palace. After our visit, I learned that the entire palace was constructed without the use of metal nails. Instead, pieces of wood were carved to fit the adjacent pieces perfect, then the roof was assembled much like a jigsaw puzzle. The detailing on the roof and ceiling is then a very impressive feat and must have required a lot of skill to achieve.

Although we visited during late winter, the grounds were kept nicely and there was a beautiful pond nestled next to the twisting alleyways of the palace network. Exploring the grounds was fascinating and I really enjoyed the architecture, the gemstone colors, and taking photos with my group in our fashionable hanbok. I highly recommend anyone who goes to Seoul to visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace and spend a considerable amount of time appreciating the history of the site. I do advise that people go earlier in the day to avoid the crowds; and don’t forget to explore nearby Insadong to eat some delicious hotteok (my absolute favorite food in Korea).

 

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President Trump and Jerusalem

Regardless of your political stance or opinions regarding the United States government, it is hard not to talk about President Donald Trump when discussing international affairs these days. Just a few weeks ago, President Trump made the monumental decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been a topic of debate for centuries. Although the issue is complicated, it boils down to the dispute of ownership over Jerusalem. Both Israel and Palestine have held claims that they historically have rights over Jerusalem. Since the mid-1900s, the general global policy held by most countries with interests in the Middle East has been to leave the negotiations over Jerusalem to the Israelis and Palestinians.

By making this decision, President Donald Trump has broken the long standing policy which dictated that the United States remained a peace keeper in the situation and did not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, nor did the United States deny it. But now, President Trump has placed the United States in a new position, taking the side of Israel by recognizing the capital. Some say this decision will only serve to further escalate tension between Israel and Palestine and inflate additional issues in the Middle East related to this conflict. Regardless of how the United States will be affected by this decision, the biggest concern is the safety of Israeli and Palestinian lives which may now be at risk due to the action of a foreign power changing a policy that has been in place for over fifty years.

Additionally, the move seems to be confusing political experts on the issue. Some are completely opposed to the move saying that it will incite unnecessary violence. Others say it may not be the worst decision in the world, but the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital was not framed in the best way to serve the United States interests in the region. The general consensus is that the move by President Trump will most likely not result in a peace agreement, but will serve to inflame the already precarious and complex situation. The idea that even the experts are baffled as to the motives of President Trump gives me even less confidence in the situation. I am not sure what benefits the United States could gain from this decision, but I suppose only time will tell if the situations worsens, improves or remains stagnant. Regardless of the outcome, it is clear that for better or for worse, President Trump has no intentions of maintaining prior understandings in the global community or of playing the role of peacekeeper solely for the sake of, well, peacekeeping.

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Tension Between North Korea and the US

I am going to be completely honest, I live in a bubble. I used to be an informed citizen, and then I went to college. Suddenly, reading the news in any way shape or form fell to the bottom of my list filled with exams to study for, assignments, and work. As an engineering major, I don’t take any classes where the professor would feel the need to discuss current events. So unless people are talking about it or it directly affects my friends, I don’t know much about what is going on in the world. With that being said, as the news has spread that I am going to South Korea next semester, I’ve found that people have very surprising comments. People have expressed their concern and asked “Is it safe?”

Never once in my decision to go to South Korea did I ever ask myself, “Is it safe?” The thought never even crossed my mind. I mean sure, there’s the threat of North Korea, but is anywhere in the world truly safe? Not really, in my opinion. There is always risk involved, that is just the nature of life. But if I am unconcerned, the school is unconcerned, my study abroad advisors are unconcerned, then why am I getting questioned about the safety of my choice?

I did some research and actually read a newspaper (online mind you) for the first time in who knows how long. I found an article in The New York Times that at the very least had some potential answers to the questions that have me baffled and genuinely confused. The article titled “Trump’s Scare Tactics on North Korea Scare Us”, insinuates that the buzz over the tension with North Korea is largely created by President Trump’s promises of diffusing the North Korean conflict situation with the use of brute strength. Many people doubt the viability of that plan and say that North Korea will not respond positively to any physical prodding initiated by the United States.

It is hard to say what might happen and I am in no way a military or political expert, but I certainly think asking “what if” is one of the quickest ways to regret your decisions. Safety is of course a priority, but I do not feel threatened in any way or scared. And it seems like no one who is responsible for my study abroad experience is concerned either. Hopefully the situation doesn’t escalate quickly and no miscommunication occurs that could threaten the already tense situation. But I feel confident in my decision and I feel completely safe thanks to the OU study abroad office, my insurance coverage, and my university in South Korea.

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The Angolan Cultural Night- Event #2 Fall 2017

This Fall I had the honor of participating in the Angolan Cultural Night. Once again, I did not really seek out this opportunity, but I was asked to walk for their fashion show and I decided it would be a fun opportunity. Many other members of the International Advisory Committee Executive team also participated, which made it a fun experience. From MC’ing to performing and volunteering, we all wanted to give back to the organization that has given so much to IAC. I was impressed with the executive committee for the Angolan Student Association and how they executed the event. They maintained a common theme throughout that made the event feel organized and cohesive. The week before The Angolan Cultural Night, the organization also put on a Kuduro workshop to teach people the popular dance form called Kuduro. I was unfortunately unable to attend as I was at the Indian Student Association’s Diwali Night event, but I really enjoyed the idea of first teaching people in a hands-on environment.

The title “Angolan Cultural Night” pretty much explains the event. There were performances in numerous medians which showcase both modern and historical Angolan Culture as well as the Portuguese language. I was preparing for the fashion show, so I did not get the opportunity to watch the whole show, but there was a few singing performances, a poetry recitation, and of course dancing. For my part, I was given clothes to wear with colorful patterns and bright ruffles. All I had to do was walk out, twirl, and walk back which I felt was within my capabilities. The other performances on the other hand showcased the talent of the students associated with the Angolan Student Association. I don’t think I could ever dance like the performers did, and even if I could I doubt it would seems so effortless and energetic.

 

The very last performance was a group dance and towards the finale, people from the audience came up to the stage and started dancing. The scene was reminiscent of the culture of the international community. All you need to have a good time is some music, some friends, and good food to celebrate the diversity of cultures. Seeing the Angolan Cultural Night makes me excited to see what their executive board will bring to their Eve of Nation performance. Historically, the Angolan Student Association has been one of the most active and competitive groups to perform at Eve of Nations. Their performances are always dynamic and extremely vibrant. You simply cannot watch their dances and performances without wanting to get up and dance yourself. The event was truly inspiring and I feel that it motivated people to try new things and experience the unknown while paying homage to cultural roots and history.

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Diwali Night- Event #1 Fall 2017

This Fall I danced in the India Student Association’s annual Diwali Night. I danced last Spring in their India Night performance and it was such a wonderful experience. This semester I did not really seek out the opportunity, but I was asked to dance again and it was hard to refuse. Originally, I was going to dance with my friends from the Spring performance, but we decided to combine two dance groups into one in order to have a larger group of people on stage. Although I have zero talent for dancing (especially choreographed dancing) the environment for the performance is always fun and I found it wasn’t too difficult to catch on. I also appreciated that my friends translated some of the lyrics to the song so the choreography would make more sense to those of us that did not understand.

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights that is commonly celebrated all over India. It is largely recognized as one of India’s biggest festival. The celebration typically includes lighting lots of  candles and diyas during the festival time. I really enjoyed learning what the festival meant to each of my friends and celebrating with them like they have celebrated American holidays with me. Hopefully someday I’ll get to visit India during Diwali and I think that would be a spectacular experience.

The event is put on in the Reynold’s Performing Arts Center in Holmberg Hall. The performances were a mix of classical Indian dancing and more modern choreography inspired by Indian culture. The event was totally student run, but you would think it was a professional show by the caliber of the performances, precise staging and coordinated lighting. Some of the performers started practicing over a month before the event and the level of choreography that goes into all of the performances never ceases to amaze me. I’m not sure how India Student Association has so many talented choreographers, but it seems as natural as breathing for them and it makes their shows truly spectacular to watch and a joy to participate in.

The ticket for the performance includes an Indian buffet after the event, which is always a highlight of the India Student Association events for me. The audience for the event was a decent mix of students and members of the community. I think that India Student Association does a really good job of involving the community outside of OU’s campus in their cultural events. As a member of the International Advisory Committee, I also got to see a little bit of the planning process that went into the event. India Student Association’s level of advertisement and promotion was perhaps the best I’ve seen all semester. They used raffle tickets and their other events to promote and sell tickets. They also did a really wonderful job at getting sponsorship to help fund the event.

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International Advisory Committee-Fall 2017

This semester I was on the Executive Committee for the International Advisory Committee (IAC). I’ve been a part of IAC now for a year and a half, but this semester I decided to take on a leadership role and was elected at the end of the spring semester to the position of Sub-Committee Chair. I ran for the Sub-C chair because I myself was a sub-C just last year and the memories and friends I made was priceless. Maybe my opinion is a bit biased, but I truly believe that IAC is a key component to bringing together the international community together here at OU. IAC is an umbrella organization that houses the other international student organizations from various regions of the world. The diversity of IAC reflects the spirit of the international community on campus. Students from all regions of the world join together to put on events that point out our commonalities as well as teach each other about our distinct cultures.

The Executive Committee collaborates with our Sub-Committee members, Core Volunteers, and International Student Organizations to create events that are open to all members of the OU community. We have four main events throughout the year. The first is International Prom where we rent out the ballroom in the Union for one night. The prom is complete with a DJ, lighting, decorations, and a photobooth. We showcase music from all over the world and people dress up like the quintessential American high school prom. However, I’m confident that the International Prom is consistently more interesting than my high school proms, and I organized those as well, so the comparison is relatively fair.

Our second event in the fall is the International Bazaar. This event is meant to showcase all of our International Student Organizations and invite people to come explore the cultures of the world. We place tables on the South Oval and start early in the morning. Each organization can reserve a few tables and showcase their own culture in whichever way they choose. Most organizations decorate their table and sell or give away food and items that are specific to their country.

The third event happens in the spring and it’s called Mr. and Miss International. This event gives students the chance to represent their countries in a pageant competition that includes a fashion show, talent portion, and short answer questions. The final and fourth event is our largest event and it is the largest cultural performance in the state of Oklahoma. The event is called Eve of Nations and it’s so massive that we’ve started planning already a whole semester in advance.

Although I’m excited to study abroad in South Korea next semester, I cannot deny the fact that I will miss IAC and everyone in it. My life here would simply not be the same if I hadn’t met the incredible people I have met this past year and a half and it is all thanks to IAC. Although I’ll be far away, I will still be actively helping IAC in any way I can and I plan to continue my involvement when I return. I encourage everyone, international and American, to get involved in IAC. Attend our events, apply to be a Sub-C or Core Volunteer, or walk in our Eve of Nation fashion show to represent your country!

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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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