Study Abroad….Again?

As an engineer, figuring out how to study abroad for a semester without delaying my graduation was surprisingly easy with the OUA program. And since I went abroad for my summer program after my freshman year, my summer in Turkey didn’t hurt my chances for an internship. While I’m so grateful that I had these opportunities, I’m still jealous when I hear of other people going abroad.

Last month, OU had its Engineering Career Fair, and I was fortunate enough to get offered an internship position with a company outside of Atlanta, Georgia. However, instead of the traditional 2.5 months in the summer, this internship is going to be 6.5 months, taking place over the summer and during the fall semester of 2017. Within my school of engineering, classes are only offered once a year. Since I will be missing my fall courses, I will not have completed my prerequisites for my spring classes. In light of the fact that I won’t be able to take classes in my major in the spring, I’ve decided to go abroad again!

While nothing is official yet, I’ve fallen in love with several programs in Europe and New Zealand. All of this research into programs reminds me of my freshman year when I was planning my trip to Turkey and Italy. Both of these programs, however, were with other OU students. All of the programs I am currently considering would involve me going to campuses not run by OU, leaving me with no other OU students. Even though I’ve studied abroad before, the thought of going somewhere without knowing anybody is pretty daunting!

I never would have taken off a year just to study abroad again, so I so excited that my long internship gives me a reason (and one that my parents are ok with) to go abroad again. I can’t wait to experience a new country, culture, and have more experiences of a lifetime!

International Organizations

This semester I had the opportunity to be involved in several international-orientated organizations, including the Global Engagement Mentorship and OUA Ambassadors. Due to school and other various commitments, I was not able to get as involved as I would have liked; however, I had a great time meeting new people and doing what I could in these organizations.

This semester the faculty member in-charge of the Global Fellow program started a mentoring group that paired upperclassmen with some of the freshmen global fellows. These groups were paired by major, interest, or preferred study abroad locations. For my group, I asked to be paired with other STEM majors, as it can be very difficult finding programs in the STEM field that won’t delay graduation. Due to timing and other factors, I was not able to meet up with all of my mentees; however, I was able to talk and connect with all of them. Talking with the freshmen about their plans to study abroad made me a little jealous and refueled my desire to go abroad again!

I was also involved in OUA Ambassadors, which I was also a member of last year. With the new monastery in Arezzo, the university is looking to expand the program. OUA Ambassadors members are all students who have studied abroad in Arezzo. The organization is responsible for putting together events (mainly during Italy Week), to highlight the program to other students and talk about their experiences in Arezzo.

Both of these groups have been so much fun to get involved. As someone who has studied abroad, two of my favorite things is to talk about my experiences and to encourage others to go abroad, and I love that both of these organizations give me the opportunity to do that.

St. Elijah Food Festival

Last week, my roommate and I attend in the St. Elijah Food Festival in OKC. Since studying abroad in Turkey and Italy, I have fallen in love with Mediterranean food, and I was so excited to get to eat some of this delicious homemade food! 14717042_879580592142769_6662792706525728307_n(Pictured above is some of their amazing homemade baklava)

While I was there, I was able to try some of their sfeeha, cheese talami, cabbage rolls, humus, pita bread, and some baklava. The food was so good that I caved and bought their recipe book. (My roommate and I have made some of the recipes and they turned out surprisingly well.)

We also had the opportunity to tour the church and learn about the congregation’s move from Jordan to the U.S. and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. The church’s decor and overall atmosphere reminded me a lot of a Greek Orthodox Church my study abroad group visited while in Turkey.

 
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I had a great time eating the Mediterranean food and learning about the church’s beliefs and move from the Middle East to Oklahoma City. I definitely recommend this to anyone who loves Mediterranean food and I look forward to going again next year!

Iran and the World

Last week I had the opportunity to go to a discussion faciliatated by Dr. Samer Shehata with Iranian Ambassador Mousavian. They discussed many different topics, most of which I have little outside knowledge on. One topic that they talked about in great detail was the somewhat recent nuclear treaty between the US and Iran. The speakers seemed to have different takes and opinions on what the nuclear deal means for future US-Iran relations. The Ambassador seemed optimistic about the future of our nation’s relations; however, Dr. Shehata seemed more reserved in future relations.
From what I was able to understand (and this is according to the Ambassador), the nuclear treaty is a win-win for both nations. This treaty requires transparency on both sides and ensures a peaceful program. Under this treaty, the nuclear sanctions against Iran have been lifted and Iran now has the same rights as other nuclear power nations. This deal is the most comprehensive treaty between the two countries to date and is a win for other nuclear countries, not just the US and Iran.
One thing Ambassador Mousavian really stressed was that the Middle East, as a whole, is on the verge of collapse. (It surprised me that he had this opinion and even more so that he was willing to share it.) In his opinion, it is up to the 5 big world powers and the four regional powers to prevent the collapse from occurring. He didn’t specify which nations were the regional powers, but from context clues I assume he meant Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Furthermore, there are four main points that the nations within the Middle East (in particular the four main powers) must reach a consensus on. This are: the right of the people to choose their own leaders (eliminate minority rule over the majority), diplomacy on war, plans to help with reconstruction in the region, and the fight against terrorist groups without discrimination.
There are still many major political differences between the US and Iran. The response in Syria is an area of contention, as is Hezbollah. While the treaty did not addresses many of the nations’ issues outside of nuclear power, it does show that the US and Iran are able to negotiate and reach compromises, which bodes well for future relations.

Middle East Roundtable Talk

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a get together with other Global Fellows and international students from the Middle East. There were 15-20 of us, chatting over coffee and doughnuts, sharing our experiences. I think Jaci had a great idea when she decided to create small, informal sessions to let students talk about their international experiences to other students (and get credit for it!).

(For those who don’t know, I studied abroad in Turkey for a summer a couple years ago and visited Morocco for several days while studying in Italy last year. )

Several people who went abroad with me to Turkey were there, and it was great being able to talk and catch-up with them. It made me realize how many adventures I had forgotten since coming back to Norman. It was also really interesting to hear people’s perspectives who were born and raised in that region and American students who spend much longer in the Middle East than I did.

I really enjoyed seeing some of my fellow study abroad students that I hadn’t seen in forever and meeting other people who share a similar interest in the Middle East. I love talking about my study abroad stories to other students who have studied abroad, and listening to their adventures in return, so for me this was one of the best international events I’ve been to.

LGBTQ Around the World

While a lot of recent media attention has been on Donald Trump’s presumptive nominee status as the Republican presidential candidate (YIKES!), another event that is making headlines is North Carolina’s new bathroom legislation that prohibits transgender individuals from using the bathroom of the gender they identity with. Many who identify as transgender, as well as others in the LGBTQ community, have a difficult time gaining social acceptance and equality in the eyes of the law. While I admit I don’t know a lot about the troubles this community faces, the recent attention on North Carolina’s law made me curious about how other nations around the world socially and legally interact with the LGBTQ community.

To gain some insight, I watched Jenni Chang and Lisa Dazol’s TEDTalk, “This what LGBT Life is Like Around the World.” These two women, as a couple, spend a year traveling to fifteen different countries to find inspirational stories about LGBTQ individuals and their fight for equality. The result of their travels was a documentary that featured people from all of those nations, of all different sexual identities, and their stories. The ones that really stuck out to me were about an Indian prince who came out as gay on Oprah (and subsequently disowned by his family) and a gay political nominee in Kenya who received death threats because of his sexual orientation.

While I figured that the US wasn’t the most progressive country in terms of legalizing same-sex marriage, I didn’t think that it would have taken our government 14 years after the first country (The Netherlands) legalized it. From what I gathered in the talk, it took us a while to legalize same-sex marriage, but compared to other parts of the world, society is reasonably accepting of the LGBTQ community.

I think it’s great that the US might consider itself a leader in social and legal acceptance of LGBTQ’s, its ridiculous and even embarrassing to have laws passed like the one in North Carolina. Though its taken many years, the US has increased its recognition of different sexual orientations, however, as seen by recent legislation, our government and society still has a long way to go before every person who identifies as an LGBTQ feels that they have equality in the eyes of the law and of society.

Holocaust Remembrance Week

IMG_3778Last night I went to the showing of Schindler’s List as part of OU’s Holocaust Remembrance week. I’ve only seen the movie once before, about six months ago, right before I visited Kraków for the weekend. I’d wanted to see it before my friend and I went because the movie is set and partially shot in the city. We also visited Auschwitz, so we thought it would be prudent to watch one of the most well known movies about the concentration camp.

I’m glad I got to watch it before I left for Poland, but I think watching it yesterday had a bigger impact on me. Watching it again not only allowed me to pick up on small things that I missed when I saw it the first time, but I was able to compare what I had seen in Auschwitz and Krakow to the scenes in the movie. Seeing the scenes that take place in Auschwitz after walking around the concentration camp some six months ago made the movie that much more impactful. The movie reminded me that while so much death, destruction, and devastation occurred in the city and the camp, the city itself looks similar to that from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Many of the iconic buildings remain, as do the important historical sites and streets.

It amazes me when I think back on it. If you were completely ignorant of the city’s history and the World War Two (which hopefully isn’t the case), you would have no idea of the horrors that took place inside and around the city, with the exception of the memorials. In one of the worst times in recent history, near a place where over a million people perished, a city looks nearly untouched by the destruction of World War Two.

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Fulbright Info Session

IMG_1886Even though I’ve already had the opportunity to study abroad in two different countries, I still yearn for the chance to go abroad again. I became very excited to learn about the Fulbright program, which allows students who already have they bachelors to go abroad to a country of their choice and complete a Masters degree, conduct a research project, or teach English to local students. I initially wanted to complete my masters, but after going to the Fulbright talk yesterday I now am considering applying through the research branch.

Thankfully I still have about a year before I need to apply, so I have plenty of time to decide. The problem is that you can only submit one application per cycle. So you have to decide what country to apply to based on where you actually want to go, what country would fit your parameters based on your research topic, and, perhaps, most importantly, what countries have the highest acceptance rate. 

I would love to go to a country that speaks English, but getting accepted into the U.K. is nearly impossible, and Australia and New Zealand only take about 10% of applicants. I am not fluent in any foreign languages, so while some countries will accept students with little to no language skills, I would feel more comfortable conducting research in a country where I understand what is going on in the local community and how that could potentially impact my stay.

Anticipating Revolutionary Outcomes

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Today I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Zoltan Barany discuss his new book, How Armies Respond to Revolutions and Why, and how that could be applied to the Arab Spring. In his discussion, Dr. Barany talked about how the ability to predict an army’s response to a revolution would give us the ability to infer the likely outcome of the revolution. He had several factors in each of his four main categories for anticipating an army’s response; these include military factors, state factors, societal facts, and external factors. Within these main topics, he focused in on the internal cohesion of the military and the presence of religious, tribal, and regional splits, the regime’s treatment of the military, the size, personnel composition, and the nature of demonstrations, and the potential of foreign intervention and invasion.

With these parameters, he specifically focused on the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the Arab Spring, particularly the Tunisia Revolution in 2011. In Iran, Dr. Barany asserts that had we applied this framework 3 months prior to the first demonstration, it would have been very difficult to predict the outcome of the revolution. There was a significant divide between the officers and the soldiers in the military, and the army was mainly composed of conscripted soldiers, who had little to no loyalty or motivation to act against the rebels. Additionally, the Iranian rebellion had the largest proportion of the population at that point, with 7-8% supporting the revolution. The factor that would have made this very difficult to predict was an unknown unknown (something that we didn’t know that we didn’t know). The Shah of Iran was seriously ill, would led to the shah vacillating on who to deal with the revolution. This missing piece of information would have made it nearly impossible to predict the outcome of the revolution.

The Tunisia Revolution in 2011, on the other hand, would have been much easier to predict if this framework would have been applied. In Tunisia, the army was never involved in politics and was treated poorly by the state. Additionally, the army was mainly comprised of conscripted soldiers. These factors made it unlikely that the military would strongly support the regime in the event of a revolution. The demonstrations in Tunisia were also largely peaceful and included women and children. We could have predicted that the army would be unwilling to shoot the demonstrators to support the regime.

I admit that I don’t know a lot about the Arab Spring or past rebellions or military events in the Middle East. However, I found the talk quite fascinating. As an engineering major, I love the idea of applying a formula to certain events and criteria to predict the outcome. While definitely not infallible, I think that Dr. Barany was developed a good basis for anticipation events in unstable regions of the world. This knowledge can help us determine the best course of action in deciding if, and how, to aid a country facing a revolution.

International Thoughts

I recently watched two TEDTalks that concerned diplomacy and national borders. In his Independent Diplomat talk, Carne Ross talked about his experience as a UK diplomat who specialized in the Middle East. He realized during his time working for the government and the UN; when dealing with countries suffering from internal conflict, these organizations failed to effectively communicate with the people, the government, or rebels (depending on the situation). The UN would make security and political recommendations or decisions without proper input from the people that would be directly affected by it.

 After trying many avenues to rectify this situation, he started his own non-profit. This organization, Independent Diplomat, is dedicated to giving diplomatic advice to groups or governments with little experience in diplomatic relations. He also focuses on getting the UN and these conflicting groups together discuss each party’s desired outcome. While he admits that his approach to increasing communication and understanding on both sides has a small chance of overall success, he argues that it is preferred to the alternative.

I found Ross’s TEDTalk and his non-profit idea very interesting. While many countries around the world are suffering from internal conflict, I never thought about how some of these groups, including governments, had little to no diplomatic experience and no way to effectively communicate to other parties or outside organizations. While I unfortunately have to agree with Ross about his chances of causing success, I think that this is a significant step towards opening up communication with the hopes of ending internal conflicts.

The other TEDTalk I saw was Parag Khanna’s Mapping the Future of Countries. He argues that many of the political boundaries that we see on the map are misleading. He exemplifies this idea through China’s relations with neighboring nations.

While in recent years China’s political borders have not changed, China’s influence and economic control has grown. In Mongolia, Chinese companies control a majority of the mines, shipping the minerals back to China. China has also increased in presence in Russia. With many Russians moving towards the western part of the country, many Chinese workers have crossed the border into Russia, inhabiting the regions abandoned by Russians moving west.The Chinese have set up bazaars and their own health facilities, slowly taking over the lumber industry in the region and sending it back to China. While the political boundaries for these countries has not been impacted, China has increased its economic presence and influence in these nations without any violence.

He takes this idea to nonindependent or conflicted groups, such as the Kurds in Iraq. Unlike in centuries past, having a presence in a region does not mean control. While the Kurds have a majority population and a military in the Kurdistan region, they are not independent of Iraq. If the Kurds gained control of the pipelines that run through their borders, they have the ability to establish economic freedom. Khanna’s main argument is that infrastructure and economics are the most important factors when considering a nation’s area of control, not simply the political borders. It is these factors that will eventually pave the way for a borderless world.