Miss and Mr. International OU

As a GEF, I’m required to attend 2 international events per semester. When I found out that some of my friends were participating in the Miss/Mr. International OU pageant, I knew I had to make an effort to attend! I rushed to the Union after finishing an exam so that I could watch my friends compete. There were students from many different countries, studying varied topics, with interesting talents.
The thing I like most about this contest is that it is based more on personality than on appearance. If you manage to captivate the audience with a charismatic or funny personality, you can be the winner! I particularly remember that Mr. International OU was extremely funny- a UWC Davis scholar from Panama, he captured the attention of the audience with his winning personality.


Sister Studies Abroad

I recently learned that my younger sister, Rachel, will study abroad in Italy next semester through her school, Spring Hill. She has never been abroad before ad doesn’t even possess a passport! This led me to think about some of the things I wish I’d known before studying/travelling abroad for the first time (and second and third and fourth… times). Having previously served on a student panel for students who plan to study abroad in South Korea, I feel fairly well-equipped to give tips about studying abroad. However, I haven’t been to Italy, which I’m sure has nuances of its own.

For my sister, who will be travelling with a group of students from her university, some of whom have travelled extensively and plan to stay in nice hotels (compared to my solo-hostelling), I just hope that she makes sure to meet plenty of locals, exploring Bologna and immersing herself in Italian culture. I was really happy when I heard that she plans to study a bit of Italian before she goes, as this will help her to forge new connections more easily with local people. She is unafraid of trying new things and is ready to jump into new experiences—the most important quality to have when studying abroad. I’m sure she’ll have a life-changing experience, and I can’t wait to travel with her in the future!


Winter Travels- Copenhagen and Holland

After spending Christmas and New Year’s in Norway, I made my way to Copenhagen for a 1-day layover. I stayed at Copenhagen Downtown Hostel, which allowed me to walk around the city to all of the places I wanted to see. I was able to walk to the Tivoli Gardens, Nyhavn, and the National Museum of Denmark, learning a bit more about Denmark with each place I wandered to. Unfortunately, it rained quite heavily so I wasn’t able to bike or wander further, but the time I spent at the National Museum taught me a lot about Denmark’s history that I hadn’t known previously. My hostel served a delicious breakfast of smorrebrod, open-face sandwiches on dark, dense bread, similar to that which I’d been enjoying in Norway. I met a few people at the hostel and ate breakfast with them, including a girl travelling alone from Australia! She was headed to a different city, but it was comforting to eat breakfast with someone of similar outlook. After my day exploring, I made my way back to the airport to fly to Amsterdam!

I spent 10 days in the Netherlands, split between hosteling in Amsterdam and staying with my friend and former OU exchange student, Hester, near her university in Utrecht. I stayed at the Flying Pig Uptown Hostel, a well-known hostel with a friendly environment and good location—as this would be my first time in the Netherlands I mostly wanted to see the museums and meet people at the hostel! I arrived during the evening on my first day, so I stayed in the hostel and chatted with some of the others who’d just arrived—some from Scotland, Australia, and some Americans just finishing their semesters abroad in Europe. The next day, I planned to go on a walking tour sponsored by the hostel so that I could learn more about Dutch history and see some of the main sight where I might like to return later. It was a chilly and tiring 4 hours of walking, but well-worth my time. I took in the sights—canals, bicycles, beautiful tall buildings. I learned a lot about Netherland’s proud and not-so proud history, its massive trading empire, and the ways it took advantage of many people to grow to such wealth. I also saw some tall houses which had begun to tilt to one side and learned that the buildings were built tall and narrow in a row so that people could pay less taxes.

After a few more days exploring Amsterdam and making new friends, I met my friend Hester, first in Amsterdam to eat at her favorite Japanese ramen shop, and then to make our way back to Utrecht. Utrecht was possible even more beautiful than Amsterdam—some call it the more beautiful canal city in all of Europe. While Amsterdam gives a feel of Dutch culture, it is a very international city. Utrecht, on the other hand, is quintessentially Dutch—with cozy restaurants to take respite from the cold. For someone like me who is easily lost, the Dom Tower serves as an easy marker in the skyline. After arriving, we visited an outdoor market selling cheeses and various things and bought ourselves warm stroopwafles—delicious on the cold, wintry day. I spent the next few days visiting Hester, hanging out in Utrecht, fighting off a flu bug, and meeting another former OU exchange student.


Fulbright and the Future

Planning for the future can be scary, especially because I’m not sure which direction my life will take me. Looking into which Fulbright program I would like to apply, I struggled to decide whether I should focus my search on Latin America, where I would be able to improve my Spanish skills but would only be able to do research rather than earn a master’s degree, or on Europe, where there are programs in which I could earn a master’s degree. Because I’m planning to graduate in the Fall 2018 semester, this adds another layer of difficulty, as most programs begin in August or September.

I initially decided to apply to the Chile Science Initiative, where I would perform a 9-month research project and be affiliated with a research professor in a Chilean University. It seemed perfect, as this program was set to begin in March after I graduate. However, as I began reaching out to professors in Chile, I realized how little real research experience I’ve had. I then decided to consider other options while still working on my Chile application.

When I started researching programs in Europe, I stumbled upon a master’s degree program at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland in which I could pursue a degree in Chemical Engineering for Water Treatment—the exact area in which I hope to be working and researching. This program will begin in August 2019, giving me the chance the work a coop or internship during the Spring after I graduate. I am very excited about this opportunity and will be working on ways to optimize my application. This summer I’ll be doing research regarding water purification using Moringa-functionalized sand filters through an REU program at Penn State, which is a good step toward pursuing this M.S.


On Travel and the Unexpected: Journey to Norway

As I write, I’m sitting in bed in Norway while my friend works at an elderly home. I am without my suitcase and waiting for the sun to rise for the few hours it will. I’m warm and comfortable and there is a full fridge, cabinet of alcohol, and an Xbox upstairs.
After finals, I said goodbye to many of my one-semester exchange friends at OU and then headed out for a journey of my own—to celebrate Christmas in Norway with my roommate, one of my closest friends. What was planned to be a 24 hour travel stretched to 4 days due to inclement weather, engine problems, and more. The first problem began at the airport in OKC—our flight to Atlanta was delayed so much that we would have little possibility of making our connection to Amsterdam. Running as fast as we could, we still couldn’t make it. Two hours on the phone and three hours in line later left us with a strange rebooking, due to Delta’s overbookings through Atlanta airport—the next morning we’d fly to Seattle to catch a direct flight to Amsterdam. We spent a complimentary night at the Holiday Inn and arrived at the airport the next morning, ready to continue but already quite exhausted. The flight boarded about 20 minutes late, but we were assured that we’d still make the connection. However, once onboard, we were informed that there was an indicator light on and that the plane would pull back to the gate for a maintenance inspection. We now were running too late to make the connection, on a plane ready to fly across the entire country. We had no way of getting off of the plane and had to sit through the six hour flight—delighted at least that there were movies. After landing, we talked to more Delta staff, who rebooked us on the next day’s flights (there was only one per day out of Seattle), but were denied a hotel room until we talked to the desk upstairs, where we were given a room at the Hilton and some food vouchers. What better way to celebrate this predicament than spending all the vouchers on lobster tail and champagne at the Hilton? Worn out but quite comfortable in the Hilton’s plush beds, we prepared for the long day of travel ahead—a 10 hour flight to Amsterdam, three hours waiting in the airport, 2 hours flight to Bergen, 3 hours boat ride, and then a bus to Flekke. After all of this, when we landed at Bergen, my bags had not arrived and still haven’t been delivered, meaning many Christmas gifts for my friend’s family are MIA. BUT I am comfortable, safe, and surrounded by good people, beautiful nature, and a pitch black sky: I suppose the lesson learned is to stay calm but to be adamant when talking to airline companies, to be thankful if traveling with a companion, and to be ever-awed by the world around oneself no matter the circumstances with which you came to be there.

Spring SK Exchange Orientation

Because I studied abroad last spring in South Korea, I was asked to attend the discussion portion of the orientation to share some pointers and advice with students who will be studying in South Korea next spring. This type of event would have been infinitely helpful to me before I set off, but at that time, Korean students were asked to attend instead. I thought long and hard about what advice I might be able to give to these students, especially ones who would attend their semester at Kyungpook National University.

The students had countless questions and were bouncing with excitement—it made me wish I could go back and relive my semester abroad. I advised them on what was worth bringing, on types of medicines to bring or buy there, on the best ways to manage finances, and on the best places to go shopping. We talked about varying aspects of Korean culture—the hierarchy system, drinking culture, and student life. I encouraged them to get involved, to at least try to learn a bit of the language, and to be open to whatever experiences may come their way. When looking at these students and at the exchange friends I’ve made at OU, one of the best pieces of advice I could give is to never say NO without at least considering all options. Living life to the fullest is the best part of college and of studying abroad, so being flexible is utterly important! I wish them all best of luck on their semester and will live vicariously through them as I stalk them on Facebook ^^

KCC Class

Because I was studying abroad in Korea last spring, I hadn’t yet been able to get involved in the Korean Conversation Club. I hoped to join so that I could practice and learn more Korean, meet American and Korean students interested in Korean culture, and to expand my international experience while at OU. KCC decided to hold multiple events as well as language classes on Wednesday evenings, which worked well for me because my classes ended right as the meetings began.

Along with a few friends from my study abroad and some new friends, I tested into the Advanced level courses. I was struggling to keep up but appreciated the challenge of such a unique language. As I was taking Spanish this semester after a 2 year break, I was struggling to keep separate Spanish from Korean, at times struggling in either course to recall the correct word. I hope to continue to improve both languages, as Spanish is useful but Korean is important and interesting to me. I will always feel connected to Korea, having many friends there and having grown so much during my semester is there. I’m excited to start KCC classes anew next semester and to try my best to make more like-minded friends!

KCC Chuseok Party

In South Korea, families celebrate Chuseok, a type of mid-Autumn harvest festival, to celebrate and thank their ancestors. The festival brings families together, from great distances, and lasts for three days, complete with delicious food and memorial services. In Korea, roads out of Seoul become jammed with traffic—people trying to go visit their hometowns. Women traditionally prepare the food, and this time allows grandmothers to share wisdom and advice with their granddaughters, whom they might not see often if they live far away, with many families having moved to Seoul from the countryside. Families typically celebrate the ancestors of the paternal line.

At the KCC Chuseok party, we began with learning about Chuseok and the traditions associated with it. After, we enjoyed some traditional food which is usually served on that day. Then, we tried to make song pyun, the traditional rice cake dessert served at Chuseok. It is said that girls who make pretty song pyun will have pretty daughters. In that case, my daughters will be ugly! It was quite difficult. Finally, we played some games and got to know the other KCC members better. Much fun was had by all, even if the song pyun and games were challenging! Sharing cultural holidays such as Korean Chuseok or American Thanksgiving really helps to bring everyone together and begin a socio-cultural discourse over similarities and differences, allowing for better understanding and sensitivity.

OU Cousins, Fall 2017

Each year, the OU Cousins program matches international and American students in order to promote the sharing of cultures and the building of friendship that … borders. I’ve been a member and Cousin since I started at OU, with cousins from Latvia and South Korea. This year, I decided to match with one of my Korean friends. She already had two cousins, but I am worried that my courses are quite demanding, so it seemed appropriate in case I didn’t have much time. She is Haesol from South Korea and studies at the same university where I’ve studied abroad in the past. She has a bright personality, and I had met her by chance while waiting for the bus.

Last semester, she was quite busy, as was I, so we met once for dinner, a few times at parties, and just randomly when we saw each other around campus. We ate dinner with another of her American cousins at Coriander Café and enjoyed conversing about different things—adjusting to life at OU (her other cousin is a Freshman), Korean vs. American culture, and campus life. I hope to spend more time with her next semester and hope she is enjoying her winter break!!


Couchsurfing in Jeju Island

Jeju Island, also known as “Island of the Gods,” is a popular vacation destination for Koreans and tourists alike. It was one place I regretted not visiting during my summer in Korea the previous year, so I made it a priority during my semester abroad. During a slow day at our internship, my friend who worked there with me suggested it thinking it was a crazy idea. Her surprise when I immediately responded “Sure!” was followed by searching for cheap plane tickets and scouring Couchsurfing for a worthy host. We planned to go for three nights and four days immediately following finals week—while I was planning on staying around in Korea for a few weeks, she planned to go back home to Russia.

On Couchsurfing, we found a good candidate for our free housing—Solomon was an American teacher living in Jeju who also spoke Korean. My friend contacted him and it turned out he would be attending an Ultimate Frisbee Weekend Tournament on the bottom coast of Jeju along with a bunch of other expats. My friend and I agreed that this would be a unique experience and that Solomon seemed like a reputable host because he had hundreds of positive reviews from many different people of all nationalities.

A month later, Polina and I flew to Jeju, not sure what to expect. We hoped that the rainy season would hold off for us so that we could have at least one beach day. We made our way from the airport to the other side of the island where we would meet Solomon. We waited near the entrance of a fancy hotel—Palace or Princess or something of the sort. He pulled up in a sturdy, adventurous-looking SUV along with one of his Frisbee-playing friends. He took us directly to a huge party at a crazy western-style bar. The night included jumprope, ball pits, and bucket coctails and we met people from all over the world!

The next day, we went to watch a bit of ultimate Frisbee. After, Solomon brought us and some of his friends to a secret waterfall oasis—although the waterfall wasn’t quite rushing yet, it was a beautiful and serene place where we relaxed in the sun.

The next day, Solomon had to go back to work so we attempted to go to some of Jeju’s popular tourist sites. However, the pouring rain brought us back home for boardgames instead. The weather was better the next day, but I was unprepared. I had left my bikini at the house and had to purchase a pair of boy’s swimming trunks and a t-shirt from 7-11. It turned out to be a sunny beach day, with Polina and I getting very burnt. We relaxed that evening and prepared to leave Jeju the next day.

One last attraction was left to tour the next day—Loveland, a sexual sculpture park which completely went against many of the notions I had about Korea’s conservative nature. There were some very “interesting” sculptures, and the park hosted guests of all ages.

Later that day, Polina and I flew back to Daegu to pick up our things. I would soon move on to Seoul, and she would return home to Russia.