New year new name!

I have been abroad for the past semester, and have not kept up with any of the happenings back at OU, apart from those relayed to me by my friends. Although I used to be quite involved in what was formerly OUIS, the past few years have seen me drift further away from leadership roles, to the point where I’m a member who occasionally misses meetings. It’s quite a shift for me, as I’ve previously detailed in my blog.

This semester, the focus has been on philosophy to a greater extent, and establishing connections with other organizations on campus to work toward the common goal of raising money for those who are in need. I believe that this is a great course of action to take, as it broadens the horizons of the group, and maximizes the impact we can have on our community. SASA has also strengthened the relation it has with ISA through cohosting meetings and events, which has also been beneficial in bridging the gap between undergraduate and graduate students. Personally, I hope that eventually, we see the merging of the two organizations, as that will broaden the network South Asian students have when joining the organization.


US-China Lunch: Reform Contradictions Facing China’s New Leadership

Recently, I had the honor of attending a lunch hosted by the College of International Studies regarding US-China relations and the reform contradictions facing China’s new leadership. The talk featured Dr. Yukon Huang, a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who has a book coming out titled Cracking the China Conundrum: Why Conventional Wisdom Fails.

In his talk, Dr. Huang discussed China’s present leadership change, and the desire of the current administration to be transformative, modernizing China, and elevating China. While Trump is geared toward short-term issues, the Communist Party is thinking forward, to the midcentury. China has its work cut out for it: abroad, China has to deal with negative perceptions of the country and trade and investment tensions with the West, and at home, China faces deteriorating debt, growth slow-down, corruption, and income and lifestyle disparities.

Americans, on the other hand, fail to recognize themselves as the leading economic power, and cast aspirations on China. There is no relationship between US and China trade values, contrary to the perception of the US public. This raises the question: why do we think there is a connection? Although so many of the products bear the label “Made in China,” the label simply refers to assembly. Only a small portion of the money stays in China. Further, while many Americans believe that US companies invest too much in China, only 1.5% of America’s foreign investment goes to China, and the European Union invests more in China than the US does. Apple, the US company, actually has no investment in China, as FoxCon is a Taiwanese company.

The fact is, the more innovative a country is, the slower it grows. China tries very hard to be innovative. China’s growth is inspired by decentralized provincial competition. Economically speaking, Chinese officials aim to meet economic targets, which lead to reforms, and their success is rewarded by promotion, thereby motivating them to reach for targets once again. In terms the sociopolitical, the government attempts to contain social unrest through conditional autonomy, and repression with concession to maintain stability. One of the key aspects of the Chinese administration is the officials hailing from different provinces than those which they govern.

Growth began at special economic zones (SEZ) because incentives are given to the SEZs. The Chinese government pours money and incentives to the coast. Further, Dr. Huang corruption in China generates growth because the state owns all resources, and doesn’t get high returns. Corruptions allows the transfer of resources to the private sector.

Ultimately, Dr. Huang argues that the debt in China is beneficial because most of the debt went into finance this transition, which holds promise for the future. Dr. Huang concludes the talk by stating that China is unique, and unlike any other economy in the world. I look forward to reading his book and learning more on the topic!


Ottoman Tolerance and its Legacy Today

Among the many talks I had the fortune of attending this semester, the brown bag lunch with Yaron Ayalon stood out as being one of the most relevant to my interests. A bit of background: the summer before I began classes at OU, I was offered a free book by the Honors College, and was able to choose between three books. I indicated that I would prefer a book on the world’s thinkers, but there must have been some kind of mix-up because instead, I received The Ornament of the World, a book on inter religious tolerance in medieval Spain. At the time, I was disappointed that I didn’t receive the book I had wanted, so I shelved the book and didn’t really look at it again for the rest of my freshman year. That summer, before I left for my Spanish study abroad, I grabbed the book on a whim, as I figured I’d need something to read on planes and trains and automobiles. To this day, I’m so glad I did because reading the book while in Spain and studying Spanish history was one of the coolest instances of synchronicity I’ve experienced!

My biggest take-away from the book is that tolerance has historical precedent, and, under the right conditions, is achievable today. This point was supported by Dr. Ayalon, who discussed tolerance within the Ottoman Empire. As we know, the Ottoman Empire comprised of a minority of Muslims governing a majority of Christians, and Dr. Ayalon argues, based on evidence that he has gathered, that religious leaders such as rabbis did not have a central role in the administration. Rather, local lay-leaders had the authority, and the pluralism of the Ottoman Empire allowed a double identity for religious minorities.

Although the legacy of Ottoman tolerance would disappear in the second half of the twentieth century, at some point in the past, there was peace and cross-cultural appreciation. Turkey’s attempt at being a modern-day emulation of the Ottoman Empire fails in this regard: there is no religious tolerance, and the country maintains a police state. Yet, in the present global political environment, historical examples of tolerance bear importance, as even though so much has changed, there is still a lot to learn from these examples.


Fulbright Tips

I just finished the arduous process that is the Fulbright application, and after all the blood, sweat, and tears shed (all metaphorical, except the tears), I have some wisdom to impart. Since most of the people looking at this blog are fellow GEFs, I thought I would make a post about advice that I would give to new applicants, based on my experience.

  • Start early! This is good rule of thumb for life generally, but in this instance I’m referring to the letter of affiliation. If you don’t have a clear-cut affiliate from the outset, it’s very important that you begin looking around. I must have sent out at least 70 emails before I found someone who responded, let alone someone willing to sponsor my research.
    • If you study abroad for a semester, and wish to return to that country, or a country nearby for your Fulbright project, work on establishing that connection while you are abroad. This will save you a lot of grief later on.
  • Make multiple drafts, and have people read them. The Fulbright application requires a couple different essays, and the two have to be related, but can’t say the same things. As with any personal statement or statement of grant purpose, these can be tricky to write. It’s good to have people of different backgrounds read your essays before the interview because you don’t want to leave any room for misinterpretation. The interview is stressful enough, so showing people what you’ve written in a more casual, relaxed setting can help you hone the essays before hearing them critiqued in a high-stakes environment.
  • Be specific. My biggest interview take-away was the importance of specificity. The more detailed you are in your personal statement and statement of purpose, the better picture you paint for the Fulbright commission. Be clear in your purpose, and assertive in your reason for funding.
  • Relax! I stressed so much throughout the application process, and but beyond writing the essays and asking for letters of recommendation or affiliation, there was very little that I could do. The truth is, sometimes it’s tempting to play the numbers game, and apply to countries with high chances of success, choose programs that have high acceptance rates, but at the end of the day, you have to do what you are interested in. Have faith in your project, and have faith in yourself!

Learning to Teach

I’ve been tutoring English as a Second Language at the Norman Public Library for a while now, and it’s been one of the most impactful experiences of my college career! Twice a week, I go to the library and meet the girls I teach, we spend an hour speaking in English and reviewing grammatical concepts, and we share the details of our week.

I’ve never done anything like this before; I have no prior experience with tutoring or teaching in any fashion, and although I was a bit apprehensive, it didn’t take me long to find my groove. There are so many resources out there for ESL learners and tutors, and the library has a marvelous support system for it’s tutors. The best part of the experience, hands down, has been working with my learners. The two women are so intelligent and accomplished, and have lived such interesting lives. It’s such a shame that there’s such a large language barrier because I’ve grown so much from my acquaintance with them!

If you’re interested in becoming a tutor, you can sign up at the library’s website. There’s an orientation to attend, and then you match with a student. Typically, you spend an hour a week with your learner, and you work together to meet their language goals. You work out a time and a place that works for both of your schedules after you’ve been introduced by the program coordinator at the library. We really, really need tutors, as there are a lot of people on the waiting list, so if you, at all, can spare the time and are interested, consider joining!


Old Beginnings

My time in Australia is coming to an end. It’s strange; I feel like I’m just now getting comfortable. I’ve made friends, and the thought of saying goodbye to them is pretty painful. I really like Monash, and I’ve gotten pretty involved in some organizations here, that I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when I’m not here to see their future.

I had similar feelings, to a lesser degree, as I was getting ready to leave Spain. There are a lot of differences between that study abroad experience and this one, however. I spent my time taking relatively easy classes and traveling through Europe, I made friends, but spent most of my time with people from OU. Other students did the same thing, and while we were all cordial to each other, and would often run into other groups in our travels, people mostly stuck with others from their university, even if they hadn’t met those people before. I stayed with a host family, and while they really did make me feel like a family member, it was very clear that I was a guest in their home, and I came and went mostly as I pleased (without inconveniencing my host family).

I come and go as I please here too, but I’m weighed down by assignments and a less reliable public transport system. There aren’t as many nearby places to travel to, and I don’t have three-day weekends. I go into the city pretty often, but schoolwork definitely gets more importance in semester-long exchange programs. In addition, I spend a lot of time around my residence hall, hanging out with other exchange students, all of whom come from a wide range of countries, and some local friends I’ve made.

I can’t believe it’s coming to an end. It’s a familiar feeling, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m not sure how to cope. I do miss my friends and family and country, and it’ll be really nice to be back stateside (and not have to wait 4 weeks for international shipping), but it’ll also be a large adjustment.


Wrapping Up

The end is near and I don’t know how I feel.

I am so behind on all of the things that I need to do, and I’m feeling so overwhelmed with my academic work. Add to this the bittersweet feeling of knowing that it’ll be over soon, and a tiny dash of homesickness, and you’ll have an accurate picture of my emotional state. I’ve been coping by cooking for friends, reading books I brought from home, and making a copious amount of lists. I guess when things are too much, I go back to my favorite activities, and they haven’t let me down yet.

Beyond schoolwork, there’s a lot more that I feel I haven’t sorted out. For example, I have a lot of things in my room, and my luggage was pretty full when I came here, so I’m thinking about sending some of my stuff home by mail. One of my friends did something similar when she studied in Japan, and it worked out well for her. Furthermore, there are so many more places that I wanted to visit, and I have a few days off between exams, so I think I’ll travel a little bit more. I haven’t set any definite locations or dates, however, so I have a lot of planning to do in that regard. I need to also figure out my plans post-graduation. I have some time, but I need to do some clear thinking about what I want my career to be.

May is always a busy month, and Australia is no exception. I have a lot of things that I need to sort out, but I know that as long as I keep my head above water and do what is necessary, things will work themselves out.


Academic Tips

Changing universities really forces you to examine the way you study and prepare for classes. Here are some things I’ve learned that may be of use to other exchange students:

  • Go to class. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to rationalize missing classes for other, much more fun things that come up, like spontaneous beach trips, and going to the biggest shopping mall in the Southern Hemisphere. Going to classes prevents having to self-learn the material and cram the week before the exam. Seriously. Go to class. You’ll thank me at the end of the semester.
  • Actively revise notes. A lot of the time I spend “studying” is just me staring at my notes, trying to remember what the previous page said. I’ve found that actively engaging with the material (explaining it out loud, making mind maps, connecting it to material learned in previous or other classes, summarizing and contextualizing it, ect.) helps engrain it in my memory better. It’s an efficient way to study, and much more entertaining than dragging a highlighter through the textbook. Do this frequently, but do give yourself time to rest and allow the knowledge to solidify, so you’re not just cramming.
  • Take practice tests, and do practice problems. What can I say? Practice makes perfect: especially in math and science subjects.
  • Find a good place to study. The importance of setting cannot be overstated. I’ve found that it varies person to person. I like working in my room when I do practice problems, but I really prefer coffeeshops when I’m working on essays. I think that the bustle and noise in the background is more conducive to creative work, personally, while the quiet really allows me to concentrate on my work.
  • Engage with your professors. Incredibly difficult classes can become much easier with the help of a kind teacher. I like to meet with professors to discuss essays, prepare for tests, and just talk about the class generally. Professors have such interesting backgrounds, and are usually very eager to help out students in their class. Knowing the professor makes going to class more engaging, and assignments seem less daunting.

Where else?

I’m in Melbourne currently. Over mid semester, I saw Brisbane, Gold Coast, Noosa, and Byron Bay, and the trip was maybe the most fun I’ve had on study abroad so far. At the very beginning of the semester, I took a trip along the Great Ocean Road, and that was also such a memorable time. These experiences lead me to wonder: where to next?

I have some time off in my exam month, and considering different places that I could visit. I would love to go to New Zealand, Tasmania, and still haven’t been to Sydney yet. However, as the semester wraps up, it seems like everyone has their own different travel plans, and another group trip does not appear to be likely. I might have to go solo this time.

I’ve never travelled anywhere alone before: I’ve travelled in a group, or had people waiting for me at the destination. I toyed with the idea when I studied in Spain, but it didn’t really pan out. The idea is kind of daunting because of both the dangers of traveling alone as a girl, and the feelings of loneliness it might inspire. Once in Barcelona, I was with a group of people who wanted to go to the beach, while I, ever the art history nerd, wanted to see Parque Guell. We went our separate ways, and while I do not regret going on my own to see what ended up being the highlight of my Barcelona trip, I do remember feeling a bit isolated while I was there. It felt like everyone else around me had someone to take selfies with, while I wandered around alone, with no one to share the amazing sculptures and sights with. In the end, the group I was traveling with decided they wanted to see Parque Guell as well, and sprinting up the steps to go to the park before it closed is something I remember fondly today.

I don’t want that feeling to put a damper on my trip to a city, however, and I don’t want my impression of the city to be tinted with the fact that I was alone when I was there. Many travel blogs, on the other hand, claim that traveling alone is an incredibly fulfilling experience, that really shows you the meaning of independence. Some even go so far as to call it “liberating.” It makes sense; some of my most treasured time is the time that I spent alone, walking around a city and getting to know it for myself, without feeling distracted by other people.

My travel plans are so uncertain right now, but I haven’t ruled out the option of traveling by myself around Oceania. I’ll take the proper precautions, and check in with people periodically so that my friends and family know where I am; it seems silly to miss out on going to a new place just because other people aren’t going there.


Fun Alternatives to Talking About American Politics

Studying abroad broadens your horizons, no doubt, but it can be quite daunting to think about how you’re representing your country and home institution. How you behave and comport yourself may influence how the people you come into contact with view America. This is especially relevant in the current American political climate, and you may face questions similar to: “So, what’s up with Trump?”

In my experience, this question is merely a precursor to a larger discussion of American politics. While some of these conversations have been intriguing and have shown me new perspectives, most have been frustrating, and made me want to swear off of talking politics for the rest of my life (but I’m an International Studies student, so that’s never going to happen).

In honor of those frustrating conversations, I have made an Australian themed list of activities that are more fun than discussing Hillary’s emails for the umpteenth time.

  1. Eating Vegemite straight out of the jar
  2. Waiting for a Victoria PT bus that’s running late in the middle of January
  3. Predicting Melbourne’s weather
  4. Finding a Huntsman spider in your room (has happened to two girls in the time I’ve been here)
  5. Waking up after a night of drinking only goon
  6. Driving for 10 hours and still being in the same state
  7. Taking at least 7 hour flights to get anywhere else in the world
  8. Having bird calls wake you up at 3 AM
  9. Seeing road signs demarcating a “kangaroo/wallaby area,” but seeing neither kangaroos nor wallabies
  10. Going to a club in the CBD, only to have them play very bad music