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Sometimes I forget that another country is just a half-day’s car ride away from where I live. During my semester in Italy, I thought it was a miracle that you could drive from one country to another, my brain not quite recognizing that essentially the same thing is possible here in Oklahoma. Sure, it’s not the most exciting car drive, but Mexico is a truly beautiful place.
This is my fourth spring break spent at Casa Hogar Getsemani, a children’s home in Morelos, Mexico, and each time I go I fall more and more in love with the people who live and work there. It’s an almost-idyllic place: pastel-painted houses, a mini-farm with ducks and chickens, children laughing and playing on the outdoor playground. It’s such a gift to be able to spend a week there each year, cooking meals for the kids and house parents and doing anything possible to lend an extra hand. It’s hard to put these kind of experiences into words, though, so I’ll include a few pictures to maybe give a little peek into the past week.
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It’s crazy how quickly life can change. I know it’s a cliché, but I’m sure every college student in their last semester can agree with me. A year ago, I thought that by now I would be a nursing student with two and a half semesters left until graduation. Here we are, though, only a few weeks away from graduating as a Spanish major and applying to graduate schools and real-life adult jobs. Crazy.
You’ll notice that all of the articles, in one form or the other, deal with Cuba, and that’s because I’ve been translating for an organization called Translating Cuba, which, according to its website, is “a compilation of translations of Cuban bloggers, independent journalists and human rights activists, primarily writing from the island.” There is very limited access to the internet in Cuba, and any internet usage is monitored very closely by authorities who block any content they deem rebellious. Translating Cuba takes news from the island and translates it so that it can be distributed to speakers of other languages; the news comes from a variety of sources, all of which are independent and cover a wide range of topics. It’s volunteer translation-work, and it’s a really unique way to have a tiny impact on the global community.
As part of the Masala World Music Concert Series, the University of Oklahoma hosted a Karnatak Music and Bharatanatyam Dance concert that featured singer and dancer Lavanya Raghuraman and mrdangamist Poovalur Sriji. The first half of the concert featured several different songs in different styles, melodic modes, and rhythmic cycles, while the second half featured different styles of Indian dance. Some of the songs that were performed were written by Dr. S. Ramanathan, the grandfather of Lavanya Raghuraman, which made the concert a very personal and emotional one unlike any I’ve ever attended. The soundscape was very unique because while the singing and the drumming were live, the rest of the instrumental music was recorded, and the same pitch was used for each of the live songs. Another part of the soundscape was the soft tapping of hands on legs as members of the audience kept the tala with Lavanya Raghuraman.
The first half of the concert was a showcase of classical Karnatak music in several different genres which praise different Hindu deities. Matthew Allen Harp writes that these songs to the gods were written for both spiritual and political reasons: “This one particular manifestation of Hindu deity was to take on the character of a master metaphor for…the Indian nationalist movement as a whole” (74). The primary focus of the songs was not the mrdangam (except for a brief solo piece), but rather the voice, which demonstrated what Amanda Weidman called, “the ‘fundamentally vocal’ character of Indian music” (6). The most interesting part of the vocal performance for me was the brief pauses Lavanya Raghuraman would take between each song to explain its significance. She dedicated the entire performance to her grandfather, Dr. S. Ramanathan, who she spoke very high praise of throughout the perfmroance. This, interestingly, brought to mind a quote from Weidman’s work on gender and the voice in which she writes that “after a few words about the greatness of her father” a prominent Indian vocalist began to speak about her own work (111).
The second half of the concert again featured Lavanya Raghuraman dancing in the Bharatanatyam style of dance. It was interesting to watch this dance after learning about its origins in the Devadasis earlier this week in class because while the dance was set to religious music, it was taken out of its original context of Indian temples and made to be more of a performance than a religious act. Author Richard Schechner writes in a chapter of his book on performance studies about this phenomenon of Indian dance being taken out of its original context and used as a performance in the act of what he calls “reframing” (84). It is really amazing to be able to experience other cultures and their music and dance traditions without having to leave Norman, but it is also unfortunate that these acts have to be reframed so that they are no longer viewed in their original context.
This time last year, I was preparing to go to Italy for a semester. I was feeling so many emotions–fear, excitement, anticipation–and I was so ready to embark on a new adventure. In honor of that, here is my advice for everyone going abroad next semester.
You will be terrified, and that’s okay.
Bring more money than you think you’ll need.
Black clothes, especially in Europe, are a necessity.
Download the DuoLingo app if you aren’t a speaker of the language you’re about to immerse yourself in.
Spend a lot of time with family and friends before you go.
Make sure to buy a journal.
A good, sturdy purse or bag will be your best friend.
So will a good travel backpack.
Start booking side trips and adventures now–it’s a lot cheaper a few months in advance.
Don’t be afraid to stay in hostels.
Write down a list of goals for yourself now and hang it up in your room when you arrive.
Have a backup debit or credit card for emergencies.
Don’t bring a ton of clothes–you can buy some really cool ones during your semester abroad and use those to fill your suitcase on the way back.
Get ready to be pushed to your limits and grow in a new and unexpected way.
Accept the slowed-down pace of life outside of the states.
You’ll probably have a little FOMO when you’re over there because you miss your friends. But remember, you’re in another country, having the time of your life.
Breathe. Especially while you’re deciding what to pack.
Get ready to experience the best semester of your life!
Well, I’ve officially been back in the States for 10 days. I’m holding off on writing a “coming back” post because I don’t think I’ve completely processed everything that’s happened in the last four months, and honestly, I don’t know if I ever will. The past ten days have been a little crazy–I’ve applied for jobs, been to interviews, been hired, filled out paperwork, hugged about a thousand people, watched my sister and two good friends graduate, and about a billion other things. They’ve been really good, though, and I think home is the place I’m supposed to be this summer.
I think being away for a semester really allowed me to appreciate how beautiful Oklahoma really is. There are no large thousand-year-old churches or grand works of Renaissance art, but there are beautiful plains with thousands of wildflowers and forests full of squirrels and singing birds. There are museums and parks and nature preserves that capture the unique beauty that can only be found in Oklahoma. This summer, I hope to visit these places and write about them as a way to remind myself that each part of the world is worthy of being noticed, not just those that are far away or exotic.
Today I visited Redbud Valley Nature Preserve with my mom and sisters. It’s an area of land that has been untouched, preserved as a habitat for native Oklahoma birds, mammals, flowers, and other wildlife, a place to see what the land looked like before industrialization.
There’s a sign at the entrance to the park that instructs visitors to “hike, daydream, bird watch, visit with a naturalist, sketch, photograph butterflies, relax, study the wildflowers, forget things, look for fossils, remember things, sit, stare, listen… do all these things and more. There are a multitude of possibilities – invent some of your own.” It’s the perfect place to take a break from reality and just be for awhile.
The cool part about Redbud Valley is that it is home to several diverse ecosystems. One trail winds through a forest, another leads through a grassland prairie, and a third requires climbing through a bluff trail: three different homes for many different kinds of plants and animals. The forest trail is perfect on hotter days because the trees provide shade from the sun, while the bluff trail is better for rainy days because the overhanging rocks provide shelter (the rocks do get a little slippery, though, so make sure to be careful!).
It’s always fun to go with other people and just enjoy the scenery and each others’ company. More eyes also mean more opportunities to spot cool bugs and animals! If you’re near Catoosa, Oklahoma and find yourself wanting to escape from city or suburban life, you should definitely drive down to Redbud Valley for a day. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is completely free to the public. You should take advantage of this hidden treasure and experience some of the beauty Oklahoma has to offer!