We’re not in Kansas Anymore

A lot of people talk about the culture shock they experience when they leave their home country. It can be depressing, confusing and frustrating to integrate into another culture. The food is different, the people may look different, you aren’t familiar with the language, and even small things will just not be the same. Suddenly, things that you thought you knew how to do would become a challenge, like riding a bus or buying food. This can be exciting and scary. You’ll learn new things but you may also miss that sense of familiarity.

However, when I arrived in Korea, I was shocked by the lack of shock. Everything was cool and new sure, but not as different as I thought. I remember thinking that when I landed. It’s just a big city, like every other big city, and I am comfortable in that setting. Then I thought back two years earlier when I moved from California to Oklahoma. I experienced more culture shock moving to a different state than I did flying halfway across the world. Perhaps it’s because everything was just off enough to create a sense that I just barely didn’t belong. In Korea, it was clear and expected that I would be the foreigner standing out. But I never expected to feel like a stranger in my own country.

When I arrived, I felt a disconnect with the students I met. They were nice and lovely, but our experiences were so vastly different from each other. I found the food to be disappointing, the weather was dreary, and I just felt out of place for quite some time. I made friends with international students because I felt like I had more in common with them. We liked the same foods, had similar outlooks on life, and enjoyed traveling. I found it difficult to see the perspectives of other American students. Thankfully my roommate was from California as well and we would often talk about how different life was here and how we felt like we weren’t even in the same country. For example, around the same time, Trump was elected President and I had no clue people actually supported him. Everyone in California thought his campaign was a joke to get publicity. I’d also never seen so many churches in my life or been asked so many personal questions about my beliefs. Everything made more sense and became more confusing at the same time.

I still feel gloomy when it gets cold and wet, I really think the food is a disappointment, and I think people’s accents are kind of funny. I still don’t understand people’s outlooks on life and how they seem to still know the same people since elementary school. I will probably never stop complaining about how people drive. But eventually I adjusted and I wouldn’t have chosen to go anywhere else. I’ve made some very good friends, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll always be a weird California person at heart but that doesn’t mean I can’t peacefully live elsewhere. Sometimes it’s good to leave your home and learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable because that is when you’ll grow the most and develop a strong sense of who you are and who you want to be.

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Education in Korea

I spent my Spring semester in Seoul, South Korea a year ago. I attended the top university in the country, Seoul National University. In this post, I’d like to talk about some of the differences I noticed in the educational system while I was there. First I have to make a disclaimer because I only took courses in English and generally these courses aren’t as difficult as courses taught in Korean.

I never visited any elementary or high schools while I was there, but my Korean friends told me that it is pretty strict. Children have long school days and often participate in after school tutoring or additional English lessons. High school is by far the most difficult education they go through. A lot of pressure is placed on students to perform well and get high scores on their final tests to get into a good college. Many of my Korean friends said college was like a party compared to their high school days.

In the US, high school and elementary school are not even remotely difficult compared to college. You have assignments and exams, but it is much easier to succeed in high school versus college. In American college there are an endless list of assignments and sometimes you can study for a test and still get a low score. I’m not sure I ever studied in high school. I’ve spoken to international students here at OU that agree. There’s just a lot to balance in college and a lot to accomplish in four years in order to graduate and succeed.

From my perspective, I found college in Korea to be very different. The most prominent difference was the amount of work you had to complete in a semester. I never once had a homework assignment in Korea. For each class I just had one or two exams and the final exam. Some of my courses replaced exams with essays instead. In any given week at OU, I’ll have two homework assignments, two lab reports, and a quiz. Now, this could be a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, I had loads of free time to enjoy my life in Korea. On the other hand, you really have to study for those exams.

The other clear difference was that in Korea, they read. Even in my engineering class, the exam was taken exactly from the book. You would go into the library and see students pouring over thick textbooks reading and highlighting passages. One of my friends had an exam with fill in the blank questions that were meant to be word for word from a biology textbook. In the US, our college education in focused less on theory and more on application. I might own a copy of my textbook, but I only open it to look at the problems listed in the back of the chapter. I’ve never read a textbook. Our exams are based on being able to solve problems or synthesize answers, not reiterate something we read. I found it very interesting because all of us international students who weren’t from Asia had a really hard time with all the memorizing. I certainly can not read a chapter in a book and remember it word for word. However, the Korean students have been doing this their whole lives, so they found it much easier.

It was interesting to see the different teaching styles and approaches. Any time you try switching to another country’s education system, it’s going to be a bit challenging because you’re jumping in at an awkward time. I also think it was interesting having foreign teachers who had to adopt the Korean style of education. I for one am glad I only had to read textbooks for one semester.

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Eve of Nations – Event #2 Spring 2019

Every Spring, the International Advisory Committee hosts the annual Eve of Nations. Eve of Nations is the largest multi-cultural event in Oklahoma. It is held in Lloyd Noble on a huge stage. Various international student organizations put together performances and compete to win the show. In addition to the first place title and the runner up title, there’s an award for the most active student organization, the best upcoming student organization, and the crowd favorite. You can also purchase a dinner ticket and there are tables set up on the floor where we put on an international themed dinner. The dinner is always a highlight for people, we even had churros this year. In addition to the competition aspect, the real purpose of Eve of Nations is to showcase culture from around the world and promote diversity and unity between all groups of people on campus. The event this year was truly beautiful and served as a symbol of acceptance for all people and a celebration of our differences and similarities.

As the Judicial Chair of IAC, I was in charge of obtaining the judges for the event. It was an honor to speak with our judges and have them at our show. I also provided the judges with their rubrics and scoring sheets. On my own laptop, I had an excel spread sheet prepared to calculate the votes backstage. I set up a link to a survey for the crowd to vote for their favorites. The crowd vote accounted for up to 5 points of the overall score. Once I had the results, I wrote them down on a sheet and provided them to the President to announce the winners.

The show went without a hitch and consisted of a fashion show portion, the competing performances and guest performances. For the fashion show, various people can sign up to walk across stage with their traditional attire on and a sash with their country name on it. I would highly recommend people sign up to represent! You get to pick the music you want to walk across stage in so some people have fun with it and dance. The competing performances consisted of International Student Groups housed under IAC who were in good standing with us for the year. It is always fun to see the friendly competitive spirit that carries from year to year. There were some group performances as well. These performances were diverse. Some were student organizations who had not remained in good standing or dance groups across campus.

I look forward to Eve of Nations each year. I am beyond excited to continue to see it grow bigger and better each year. I have enjoyed both of the Eve of Nations that I helped plan, but the event is truly huge. It is incredible what the Executive Committee pulls off each year. Even though I played a minor role this year, it was still exhausting. I look forward to finally getting to see Eve of Nations from a relaxing seat in the audience next year.

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India Night – Event #1 Spring 2019

In the Spring, OU’s India Student Association puts on a collection of performances called India Night to celebrate Indian Culture. I always enjoy attending the India Student Association events because they are so lively and colorful. Truly you cannot leave without a big smile on your face. I think one of my favorite aspects of India Night is the diversity of dance. Some performances are centered around classical Indian dance styles, while others choreograph to contemporary music but add a certain Bollywood-like twist. And of course it simply would not be a celebration without amazing and vibrant costumes in all colors. The event was totally student run, but you would think it was a professional show by the caliber of the performances and precise staging.

The India Student Association’s events are unique in another aspect. Their events draw in people from the community outside of just OU students. In the audience, you will see families with small children, older couples, students– you might even see one of your professors or TA’s enjoying the show. The diversity is incredible for their shows and there is no other organization on campus that brings in such a vast range of people.

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. Everyday students put countless hours and pull late nights to make this event possible out of their passion for the event and their organization. Don’t forget to bring your friends and go to the Indian food buffet following the event! The dinner is included in the price of the ticket and it’s a great way to end the night.

I personally have danced in a few of the Indian Student Association’s shows and I had a great time! Usually they post on their Facebook page when they are looking for additional dancers. You don’t need to have any dancing talent whatsoever. The choreography is very easy to pick up on and everyone is willing to help you out. Everyone is welcome to dance and it’s a fun experience to get out of your comfort zone and make memories with your friends. I look forward to attending India Night and Diwali Night again in my last year at OU.

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International Advisory Committee – Spring 2019

In the Spring semester, I continued in my role as the Judicial Chair of IAC. IAC is an umbrella organization that houses the other international student organizations from various regions of the world. IAC is structured like a government. It is often dubbed “the SGA of the International Community”. IAC is comprised of an Executive Board with a Sub-Committee of volunteers, the body of International Student Organizations, and the Judicial Board. My role as the Judicial Board Chair is to ensure the constitution is upheld and take care of all matters pertaining to voting both in IAC elections and for events where the general public can vote. 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.

In the Spring, the Executive Committee hosts Mr. and Ms. International and Eve of Nations, the largest multi-cultural event in Oklahoma.  Mr. and Ms. International is a pageant show where participants have the opportunity to showcase their culture and their talents to compete for the title of Mr. and Ms. International. The winners are given the honor of representing the international community in the homecoming parade and in other events around campus. Eve of Nations is a huge event held in Lloyd Noble. This was the 49th annual Eve of Nations and we could not have been more pleased with the outcome.

I was quite busy in my role as the Judicial Chair this semester. For Mr. and Ms. International, I was in charge of obtaining the judges to score the pageant. I was also in charge of figuring out how to include the crowd vote in the total score calculations. For Eve of Nations, I was once again in charge of obtaining the judges and the scoring process, but I will speak more about that in a later post. At the end of the semester, I chaired the General Body Elections. In this election, we welcomed in the new Executive Committee by a simple majority vote of the General Body. We had a wonderful turnout and I am excited to see what the new team will bring to the table. The next Eve of Nations will  be particularly exciting because it is the 50th annual Eve of Nations.

IAC has had such an impact on my life and has definitely broadened my horizons. My life here would simply not be the same if I hadn’t met the incredible people I have gotten to know in IAC. 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! In my role as the Judicial Chair, I’ve also learned more about how to organize people, remain impartial, and interpret the constitution. It’s been pretty fun being the voice of the law. 

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Skincare in Korea

Reflecting on my time in Korea is one of my favorite pastimes. Especially after returning to the States, I remembered a lot more differences I had experienced during my semester there. One of the things Korea is most famous for is it’s top of the line skincare. Every block in Seoul had at least three skincare stores open and ready to sell to the masses. The obsession continued with advertisements of K-pop stars advertising new products from the most popular skincare lines all over the country. If you take a trip to Gangnam, the most expensive neighborhood in Seoul, you can see the countless numbers of plastic surgery clinics lining the road.

The skincare and cosmetic market in Korea is supported by the Korean culture. There is even a “10 step skincare routine” many Korean women swear by and follow religiously to achieve the perfect porcelain skin. Korean people begin their dedication to healthy, beautiful skin at a young age. From what I heard, parents start teaching their kids about moisturizing and protecting their skin from the sun around the time they learn to brush their own teeth.

Although I remember my mother slathering sunscreen on me as a child, she always was more concerned about skin cancer. In Korea, the skin is protected from the sun more to preserve wrinkle-free, porcelain skin that is coveted in Korean society. Instead of self-tanning products, they have whitening products for the skin. Just before summer, each cosmetic store had sales on sunscreen with huge amounts of SPF and supposed whitening properties. K-pop stars are often idolized for their flawless skin, clear skin.

Skincare is certainly high-quality and affordable. It’s also not entirely uncommon for parents to gift plastic surgery to their daughters on their 16th birthday to get double eyelids. This plastic surgery is also quite affordable compared to western standards. The Korean beauty standards are vastly different from those in the west and were interesting to learn about. Although they may seem extreme, there are certainly standards in the west that people take very seriously as well, such as idolizing tan skin or certain body types. Seeing old pieces of literature from Korea a few hundred years ago was also interesting as it reinforced the beauty ideals of long dark hair and very pale skin. Although certain things such as double eyelids most certainly were adopted from western cultures. Regardless, Korean skincare products were fun to learn about and test out.

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It’s a Small World After All

After my semester in Korea I had six weeks until my flight back to the US. With six weeks on my hands, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. Some of my friends I had studied with had plans to go to Japan. But I thought “No I want to do something different”. I could’ve very easily stayed in Korea, which I had fallen in love with at that point. But I though “No I spent too much money on a flight to see just one country”.  So with no other appealing options, I remember hesitantly googling “Women traveling solo”. From then on there was no going back. In six weeks I traveled to four countries, stayed in 8 different accommodations, took 9 flights and saw more of the world than many people do their whole lives all with a single Nike backpack strapped to my back.

It was the most unforgettable summer of my life. The value of traveling alone is indescribable. For six weeks not a single person knew who I was. I was just a person passing by. I spent a lot of time alone, but an equal amount of time making friends with complete strangers. The things I saw were so vibrant and amazing, I really don’t have words to describe them. But at the end of the trip I realized that I learned the most from the people I met along the way, both locals and travelers. There is a strange commonality that exists between those who love to travel.

The whole backpacking experience is entirely unique and requires a lot of patience. There are some days you just don’t want to get out of bed, and others you travel across an entire country. Every day you wake up and have to decide for yourself what you will do that day, which is a bigger responsibility than it may sound. As much as I wish I could go into details about what I did, saw, and experienced I just cannot begin to describe it. In addition to that, there’s something very appealing about having an entire summer worth of experiences to myself. Bits and pieces were shared with individuals who are now back in their home countries all across the world, but the whole story from start to finish is something only I know and I think that’s very special.

I would encourage everyone to take a solo trip at some point in their life. Whether you need a refresher or are looking to experience as much as possible abroad, traveling alone gives you a freedom to choose your experiences and go with the flow. Backpacking is preferable of course so you can also experience a minimalist lifestyle for a bit, but either way it really develops you. Some people are intimidated by the idea of traveling alone, but there really are safe ways to go about it. I wouldn’t change my experiences for the world, and I think people would come to see the value of solo travel if they’d give it a chance, even if it’s just a day trip one town over.

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International Bazaar-Event #2 Fall 2018

Every Fall semester the International Bazaar is held on the South Oval. This year it was held earlier in the semester than usual to avoid the Oklahoma winter weather. Each international student organization has their own table which they can decorate to represent their culture. The tables are set up early in the morning in a semi-circular formation to encourage people to stop by on their way to classes. The organizations can choose to sell food, set up games for people to play, and display things that are symbols of their culture. We create a playlist with music from all around the world which encourages people to dance and have fun.

The purpose of this event is representation. The International Bazaar encourages students at OU to learn about different cultures and also serves as a showcase for the international student organizations. People often don’t realize how significant the population of international students are. So this event is a great way to get them all together and allow the OU community to appreciate just how far people have come to attend the University of Oklahoma.  In addition, the International Bazaar allows the organizations to promote their own events on campus.

I really like how this year the International Advisory Committee (IAC) really encouraged the learning aspect of this event by giving away trivia prizes. Students could get a pamphlet from the IAC table and then take it around to all the other organizations. Each table would have trivia questions pertaining to their own country or region. They would ask questions like “What is the capital of China?” or “What language is spoken in Oman?”. If you answered the question right, then you got a stamp! After collecting a certain number of stamps you could get a gift card prize from IAC and walk away with a much broader knowledge base.

The international bazaar gives a sense of belonging to the international community on campus. Often times students feel like there is a disconnect between international and American students– a social separation. But this event provides the opportunity for everyone to come together and enjoy some good food and good music in the sunshine while learning from each other. It always brings a lot of joy and a welcome break from the monotony of the academic week. So next Fall, take a break and forget about your worries for a bit at the International Bazaar.

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International Advisory Committee- Fall 2018

Upon returning from Korea this Fall, I planned on focusing on my academics and work since junior year in mechanical engineering is extremely busy. However, I became aware that the International Advisory Committee (IAC) had a an opening for the Judicial Chair position and was having a hard time filling it. I have been a part of IAC now for all three years of my time at OU, so I simply could not stay away.  IAC is an umbrella organization that houses the other international student organizations from various regions of the world. IAC is structured like a government. It is often dubbed “the SGA of the International Community”. IAC is comprised of an Executive Board with a Sub-Committee of volunteers, the body of International Student Organizations, and the Judicial Board. My role as the Judicial Board Chair is to ensure the constitution is upheld and take care of all matters pertaining to voting both in IAC elections and for events where the general public can vote. 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. Our Fall events include the International Prom where International Students can experience the quintessential American prom experience. 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 other Fall event is the International Bazaar where the International Student Organizations get the chance to promote their organizations and culture on the South Oval for a day for all students to experience. 

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. The winners of the pageant then go on to represent the international community in the homecoming parade the following academic year. 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 we traditionally stick to these four main events, IAC continuously strives to find new avenues to better the international community and increase awareness on campus. 

IAC has had such an impact on my life and has definitely broadened my horizons. My life here would simply not be the same if I hadn’t met the incredible people I have gotten to know in IAC. 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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Diwali Night-Event #1 Fall 2018

Every Fall OU’s India Student Association puts on a performance to celebrate Diwali. This is the third year I have attended the Diwali event and I always look forward to seeing the performances each time. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights that is commonly celebrated all over India. It is largely recognized as one of India’s largest festivals. The celebration typically includes lighting lots of  candles and diyas during the festival time which represent the light conquering darkness.

The event was held in the Union Molly Shi Ballroom. The performances were a mix of classical Indian dancing and more modern choreography inspired by Indian culture. The music ranges from Bollywood style pop songs to live acoustic numbers. And of course it simply would not be a Diwali celebration without amazing and vibrant costumes in all colors. The event was totally student run, but you would think it was a professional show by the caliber of the performances and precise staging.

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. Everyday students put countless hours and pull late nights to make this event possible out of their passion for the event and their organization. 

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. This year there was even a guest performance by a group from a college in Oklahoma City. The India Student Association puts this event on every year to create an avenue to celebrate this traditional holiday as well as share their culture with the rest of campus who may not be as familiar with Indian culture. 

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