Global Engagement Day 2019: Let’s Talk About Race

Global Engagement Day 2019: Let’s Talk About Race (Dr. JoAnna Wall)

When going abroad it is important to understand how you are going to be viewed by the people in the country you are visiting. It is likely you will stick out like a sore thumb which means people may interact with you in an interesting way. They may approach you with pre-conceived assumptions which affect the way they talk to you or interact with you. I have experienced this in multiple ways:

  • People stare at you
  • People may ask to take a picture with you
  • People may try and practice their English skills with you
  • People may assume you’re rich
  • People may think you are arrogant
  • People may assume your political affiliation
  • People assume you don’t understand or speak their native language

Realizing these pre-conceived notions I feel that there are two ways to respond. You could be offended by the stereotype or you could embrace it and turn it into a positive experience.

I have enjoyed being different while visiting a new country. While sometimes it can be to my disadvantage, such as when I get charged more at the market because I am viewed as an outsider, I have more often found that I can turn these prejudices into positives. I thoroughly enjoy when people assume I speak English and try to practice their English on me! I have found it an amazing way to make friends and often can even practice my language skills one them. I have often felt like a movie star as others hurry to take pictures with me as I sit down for a meal or walk down the sidewalk. Having patience with others is key to having an enjoyable time abroad. Realize that most people don’t intend harm by their actions and words and turn the would-be negative interaction into a positive one.

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College Football Has No Borders

OU is into football. Whether it be a home game in the beloved Gaylord family memorial stadium or a bowl game in Florida, students are into football. 8:00am on a Tuesday morning in Hanoi Vietnam it should be no surprise that OU’s MBA students found a way to watch more college football. Taking full advantage of the airport’s free WiFi, about 20 students gathered around the biggest laptop we could find to watch the 2019 National Championship game. I’ve never felt more at home while abroad soaking in the game day atmosphere with my classmates and a professor or two as well! I guess it is safe to say that wherever there is college football there is a little piece of home.

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Karaoke Obsession

Upon arriving in an Asian country it doesn’t take too long to realize that the people here love their karaoke! Upon entering one of many karaoke establishments it doesn’t take too long to realize that these people here are really really good at singing too! In America, or at least in Norman Oklahoma, karaoke is something that one does to be funny and goofy where not much skill is required. The singing is often subpar and the crowd gets excited simply because you are passionate and put energy into the music. The people in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand also have fun but in a more serious way. The talent level is through the roof and it seems like everyone is capable of producing real high quality stuff! The obsession for karaoke could be seen on the streets as performer after performer would simply line up, grab a mic, pick a song, and serenade the passerby’s. Perhaps the wildest and most unique scene I saw was a karaoke booth in the food court of a shopping mall. It looked just like a photo booth but was for singing karaoke instead! The price was a very reasonable 5,000 VND (a little over $0.25 a song). It looked like a really fun time and was extremely reasonable! In my few karaoke experiences I have had some of the funnest times of my life! I would definitely frequent an Asian style karaoke establishment if it made its way to Norman!

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My Odd Toilet Fascination

There are some basic principles that are necessary for human life. We have to eat, sleep, and use the restroom! One would think this third point would be a pretty straightforward thing, essentially executed the same all across the globe. However, I have learned the way people use the restroom varies widely based on regional laws, customs, and socio-economic conditions. I have previously praised the classic butt sprayer used where toilet paper is too expensive to purchase repeatedly . The butt sprayer resembles a kitchen sink sprayer that could be used on dishes but instead is assembled to the side of the toilet. While visiting Brazil on a previous trip I was surprised to learn that they actually did use toilet paper however the TP couldn’t be flushed down the toilet so it was necessary for all restrooms to have mini trash cans next to each toilet to place the used commodity. On my most recent trip to Hanoi Vietnam I was awe struck to find the most luxurious and expensive toilet I’ve ever seen. The toilet had an automated butt sprayer that extended from underneath the seat. Furthermore, it had a dryer that could be turned on after the spraying was complete. The entire contraption had a self cleaning capability and the seat had a built in seat warmer. All the features could be controlled be an easy access panel right next to the toilet! Optimal preferences could be pin pointed to achieve the best on toilet experience!!

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Vietnam’s Got Talent

The streets of Hanoi would rival the street performers of Battery Park in NYC or really any other place for that matter. With the streets of downtown Hanoi closed to cars, motorcycles, and trucks, there was more than enough room for street performers to show off their skills along the lakeside. Every 40 feet a new circle of people could be seen gathered around a performer willing to showcase their skills for a few minutes at a time. These people had some serious skill. Not only would there be a vocal duet with a pretty cute couple, but all of their friends also joined in as background dancers performing a choreographed dance. The attention to detail couldn’t be more obvious! These guys were taking this seriously. The talents didn’t end there. In addition to singing and dancing were hoola hoopers, magicians, jump ropers, and even popsicle stick tower builders (who built a tower taller than himself as 200 on lookers gathered around). It took nearly 2 hours to make the half mile walk along the lake! There were simply way too many reasons to want to stop sooner!

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Friends out of the blue

I was feeling sort of sad leaving Cambodia where I could speak the language and interact with the locals with ease. I was craving some sort of natural interaction with the people of Vietnam but was unsure of how it would happen. As I was walking around the Old Quarter of Hanoi (essentially the downtown hotspot of Hanoi for both locals and tourists) I was approached by two college aged kids who asked if they could take a picture with me. I of course said yes and then proceeded to talk with them. They invited me to play a traditional Vietnamese game with them which many of the locals were playing on the street. The game was surprisingly easy to learn and really fun to play! I soon found out the two kids I met were college students trying to practice their English! The interaction turned out to be mutually beneficial as I was able to talk to locals and they were able to hone their English skills! A crowd quickly gathered as we were playing the game and seemed to really enjoy this fun interaction as much as we did!

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International Entrepreneurs: Moo Moo Farms

Identifying a problem or a need is always the first step in launching a successful new business. Whenever there is a demand, a need, or a void that needs to be met there is room for businesses to grow.

As missionaries living in Cambodia we all noticed the lack of dairy products within the country. We joked of how we would all turn lactose intolerant due to the quick change of our diets. Of course dairy products were existent among the markets of Cambodia but due to the fact that all milk was imported the prices were often more than we could all ever dream of paying. Only the really wealthy Cambodians could afford to go to “Swenson’s” the country’s high class ice cream shop where one cup of ice cream was worth as much as the average man’s daily wage.

It was a common joke for one of the missionaries to say that they would open up a dairy farm in Cambodia once they had a little money. I heard it many times and even said it myself! We all saw the huge void in the industry and thought it would be cool to bring the joys of dairy products to more Cambodians. Every time I heard this I smiled to myself and thought of how impossible it would be to get an operation like that to fruition. Laws barring Americans from establishing businesses, corrupt government practices, and local lack of knowledge of how to raise dairy cows all made it near impossible to get a business going. Furthermore the basic things such as money, land, and the fact that the climate simply wasn’t well suited for dairy cows survival all were factors that reminded us why there wasn’t a dairy farm already in Cambodia.

Clearly I didn’t have the entrepreneurial vision and spirit as two other missionaries serving in Cambodia because today there is a dairy farm in Cambodia that provides Cambodians with milk processed and distributed right within their country. Moo Moo Farms started as a dream but after hours and hours of work from Kenny Matthews and Matt Boyd it is now a reality. What most only joked and dreamed about these two went and did. Their ability to start and grow their own business is remarkable in and of itself but the fact that they were able to do it in a country half way across the world from the native land makes the story even more incredible! Moo Moo Farms stands as a monument to me and hundreds more that dreams don’t have to stay just dreams!

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Lebanese Heritage and Food Festival

My wife and I pride ourselves on being “foodies”. One of the first dates we did a “world food tour” which involved eating Ethiopian food at “The Queen of Sheba”, followed by a sampling of Asian baked goods from the Asian SuperStore, “Super Cao Nguyen”, and finally culminating with a quick trip to “Plaza Mayor” for some chili mango candy. From that day on we are always trying to find unique places to eat so we can sample food from all over the world! This last Valentine’s Day I even bought my wife a map so we could show off all the countries in which we have sampled food!

When I had about the Lebanese Heritage and Food Festival I knew I couldn’t pass it up! I was excited and eager to taste the food as well as learn a little about the culture. I was impressed by the wide selection of food items that were all homemade and was further excited when I learned there was a bake sale as well. The items in the bake sale were fascinating and I enjoyed asking questions about the contents of each dish or jar. One jar in particular seemed intriguing and I was surprised to find out that the jar contained balls of yogurt which were preserved by the oil they were surrounded by (upon furthering questioning I was told the yogurt balls didn’t even require refrigeration).

The night wasn’t over yet. After sampling the food, and yes tasting some of the desert from the bake sale, my wife and were treated to some traditional Lebanese music sung by some of the organizers of the event. As the music began there were many who began to sing and dance along. The night was a quick step into another region of the world that I had never before been. As we got home that night my wife and I went straight to our world map and were happy to pin yet another country to our list!

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Global Engagement Day: My Peace Corps Prep Course

As I was listening about the Peace Corps Prep Course I couldn’t help but think of my time in the LDS Missionary Training Center (MTC) where I spent 3 months prior to living in Cambodia for two years. The new Program at OU seems similar as it helps prepare undergraduates better acquire all the “Core Competencies” needed for their time in Peace Corps. You learn language skills, gain specific sector knowledge, gain intercultural competence, and develop leadership skills.

This is precisely what I did as I learned Cambodian (Khmer) in a full immersion program, became more aware of my purpose as a missionary, learned of cultural norms, and had opportunities to practice various leadership skills through the different assignments and responsibilities I had over the other missionaries that were in my assigned “district”.

The benefits of Peace Corps Prep seem useful. As for myself I know I would not have been as successful upon arriving in Cambodia without the help of my teachers and all those that prepared me while I was in my version of a “prep course”. While I didn’t learn the language fluently in those few short weeks while in the MTC I was able to learn enough to understand how I could teach myself more once in the country. While I could never really grasp the significant culture differences until actually arriving in Cambodia, I was nonetheless ready to embrace whatever culture differences there would be.

All in all my experience preparing for my time abroad was tremendously beneficial to help me become integrated into the country quickly and efficiently upon arriving. More important than that, my time preparing was fascinating and got me more excited than ever to spend two years in Cambodia. The more you know, the more you can appreciate!

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Perception and Misperception in US-China Relations

U.S. – China relations are at the forefront of the global mind in many different respects. The two countries are viewed as the world’s superpowers and from the perspective of both Americans and Chinese each other are considered existential threats. Dr. Andrew Scobell provided the “Good News” that a sizeable number of security measures and interactions have taken place and more will take place in the future. Talking is good (and is much better than fighting). The Bad news is that despite the peace talks and agreements mutual distrust and suspicion still lingers.

China has 4 rings of security it must juggle all at the same time:

1st Ring: Homelang (Domestic Drag)- People right outside in the streets. Firewall on the internet, rebel groups within the country.

2nd Ring: Periphery (A Buffer Strategy)- 14 adjacent countries. “China lives in a much rougher neighborhood than America. Their neighbors are not quite as nice.”

3rd Ring: Regional (Spheres of Influence)- 6 distinct geopolitical regions that surround China. Central Asia and Southeast Asia. Huge influences in these smaller Asian countries

4th Ring: Global (Expanding Global Interesets)- Since 1990’s China has been making moves to capture more market and become more globally connected.

China views the U.S. as the only country in the world that has the ability to impact ALL 4 rings of influence which doesn’t help the trust issues China and the U.S. have with each other.

Qin Yaqing, from China Foreign Affairs University, said that “The United States may not have a global or overall strategy at all and may have too many strategic choices to form a grand master plan, but in the eye of the Chinese, it does have one. It may not be called grand strategy, but it is represented as a grand plan to deal with China. In this respect, whether or not the US really has such a strategy is not important. What is important is that in the eye of the beholder there is one.”

It indeed seems that all hope is lost concerning U.S. – China relations, however, interests of both countries are served when each other can stay away from war. This fact brings me hope that teamwork may be the answer at helping both countries. At least for now…

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