Staying Engaged

One of my resolutions for 2018 is to find ways to stay engaged when I graduate. At OU, staying globally has been relatively easy (required, even), as I am roommates with international students, friends with many, and there is a multitude of events that I can attend to broaden my global fluency. As an engineering major, global engagement is not often stressed even though it is a vital skill in our fourth globalize game world. After attending my friend Dani’s IAS graduation in December, I made the resolution to visit at least one new country each year, if possible. I thought it was cute that IAS graduates were given luggage tags—I still don’t have one, so every time I travel I’m putting my belongings at risk!

If I’m able to do a master’s degree abroad, this will be fairly simple. However, if I end up moving to a new city and finding a job, it might be fairly difficult. If I can’t manage to travel, I hope to stay engaged by meeting people from around the world, practicing the languages I’ve studied and maybe learning new ones, and keeping up-to-date on world news and such. Being a Global Engagement Fellow at OU, in the inaugural class, has further cemented my need to keep a broad worldview, making friends from around the world, and to be a lifelong learner. I’m sure that my global engagement will not end at OU, instead, GEF has sparked a flame that will continue to grow. (I understand that this post is a bit sappy and cringe, but I am nearing the end of my time as an undergraduate, so. I feel it is well-deserved.)

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OU Cousins Pumpkin Carve

This year, I attended the OU Cousins pumpkin carve for the first time ever—I had always had prior commitments during this event, so had never been able to attend previously. I was excited to share this tradition with my OU Cousin and other exchange student friends. At the event, we each got to pick out a pumpkin, and some treats were also provided. A spooky movie was playing in the background, giving us all a needed respite from the mid-semester slump of midterms and projects. Neither Ditte nor I were particularly artistic or skilled at carving our pumpkins but enjoyed the process nonetheless. I kept mine outside of my apartment for far too long, so it started smelling really bad. Traditions clubhouse came by to tell me that I had to throw it away. I was sad to part with it, but enjoyed it while it was there.

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Erasmus Plus Master’s Programs

As I prepare to graduate with a highly technical Chemical Engineering degree, I have been reevaluating some of my choices, perhaps regretting that I haven’t spent more time becoming more engaged in language, humanities, and the environment. For this reason, I’ve been searching for master’s programs that might allow me to relate my undergraduate degree to these interests. I also would like to study abroad for my master’s, but seeing as I am not particularly wealthy, it would need to be fully funded! While I searched, I came across the Erasmus Plus master’s programs. I had heard of Erasmus but didn’t know that there were programs in which students from outside the EU could participate. One can only apply to 3 programs, and I quickly found 3 programs of interest-related to environment and policy, to environmental engineering, and to coastal management. I understand that programs such as these are highly competitive, but I’m hoping to be admitted to one! It would propel me forward in my quest to become a globally-fluent environmental scientist, manager, or engineer.

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Sinterklaas

This semester, my OU Cousin is Ditte from Utrecht, Netherlands. We met at the Matching Party ( I always hate those, but luckily my friend Yuna is more outgoing than I). Because I live in Traditions West, it was easy to meet up often throughout the semester, for birthday parties or other parties, for dinner with her roommates and Yuna. Ditte and a few of the other Dutch students decided to introduce some of their friends to a Christmas tradition from the Netherlands—Sinterklaas. It is a bit like Rob Your Neighbor, but with more rules and multiple rounds. Ditte made lots of cookies and tea for everyone to enjoy, with about 15 people at her event. Each attendee brought 2 gifts and placed them in the middle, and we took turns rolling dice. The dice would tell us what to do next, and the next round would begin based on the timer or if all the presents were unwrapped. The tradition also has a bit of a politically incorrect practice in which somebody dresses as Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete. He is a chimney sweep, so he is “black” from the soot. Thus, whoever dresses as Black Pete must paint their face black, which was a little bit uncomfortable for those of us not familiar with the tradition. Other than that, it was a fun Holiday celebration, exchanging gifts with friends. Also, it was a tad bittersweet, as Ditte and our other Dutch friends were going to leave in a week. I guess that means I’ll have to visit Utrecht again soon!

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International WaTER Conference

During the past summer, I participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Penn State University, where I worked on a point-of-use water purification column, which utilizes Moringa seeds. These seeds grow in equatorial regions around the world, including in India, parts of South America, South East Asia, and multiple African countries. The water purification device is made using sand and seeds—thus it is a simple technology made from locally-sourced materials. I tested a small-scale device to remove E.coli from water. It functioned successfully, removing 99.9999% of the E.coli from water, thus purifying the water to a potable standard.
This fall, I presented my research at OU’s International WaTER conference, which included research of undergraduate and graduate students from across the country, and conference participants from around the world. I presented a scientific poster based on my summer research, gauging potential interest in the technology and meeting researchers, NGO managers, and professors from Europe, Africa, and Asia, all who seemed fairly interested. I hope to complete further research in this field of water purification, to improve current water systems in the US and develop technologies that may be useful to collaborators in developing regions.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.