What A World.

This first half of my first semester of my first year of college has been definitely interesting. I really cannot say that it has been better or worse than I expected–it’s just nothing like I had expected.

Number One: I am in a sorority. I actually like it. When I go to my sorority house to be with my “sisters,” I have a chance for silly relaxation and down time. I love the relationships I’m building there; they’re just girls who want genuine friendships just as much as I do.

Number Two: I came in with the mindset of school > the world, and not that that has entirely changed, but I have become the overextender I kept telling myself I couldn’t become. I recently had to count (for my sorority) how many clubs/organizations I am a part of…and the number is up to around thirteen. That’s pretty self explanatory. I need to cull my list. My academics aren’t suffering (YET! *knocks on wood*), but I am always drained. I get decent sleep, but I never have down time! I can feel that beginning to take its toll.

Number Three: I am not making friends like I thought I would. Not that I don’t have friends (which I would be okay with admitting on this post that only Jaci reads [Hi, Jaci]), but I don’t have close friends. I even don’t have sweet, wonderful relationships with my sorority sisters or the people in my itty-bitty GEF and Honors classes. I literally don’t have time! Honestly, how can I devote time and effort to building relationships with people when I don’t even have the energy for myself?

Number Four: I forgot how much of a constant ball-of-stress I am ALL OF THE TIME–I wonder why? Haha. I’m not kidding either–my boyfriend has starting telling me to adopt the mindset of a “stoner” from time-to-time just to give myself a break from my overexerting self (NOTE: This doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol or other illegal things. Just chill vibes, squinty eyes with a tiny smile, and a soothing voice.) My under-eye bags are basically tattooed on as purple/black half moons and my shoulders have turned to knots of steel. Oh and the freshman fifteen is so real. Thanks Stress, you are working wonders on my bod.

Number Five: My college plans have drastically changed since stepping foot on campus and figuring out that the collegiate world can’t always be conquered from a pre-college mindset. I’m not compromising, but I feel like I’m updating–new information requires change. I’m no longer planning on double majoring and double minoring. I am declared as an IAS/Pre-Med major with minors of chemistry, biology, and Spanish. My major and its classes have nothing to do with Pre-Med, although I think it will be so helpful along with Spanish, but fulfilling my Pre-Med, Honors, sorority, and GEF requirements while working towards a normally unrelated major and going abroad definitely makes this college thing so much more difficult.

Number Six: I STILL don’t know where I am going for GEF. Puebla, Mexico has become a serious contender, but it no longer works with my timeline. I just have no clue on how I am suppose to solidify my study abroad plans while so many other aspects of my college are still so shaky. Like my sorority (this is one aspect of my sorority that grinds my gears), I am required to live-in my sorority house during a certain span of time. It just so happens that that is when I have to study abroad in order to cram all of my classes and experiences in before the MCAT my junior year. If I go abroad during that time and can’t find another girl to take my slot in the house, I have to pay for living-in, EVEN IF I AM I IN ANOTHER COUNTRY. No exceptions. Thanks for fostering my self-improvement and future, sorority. That is just one ridiculous tid-bit that is making my plans for going abroad more strenuous than usual.

I know everything I said might make my life sound a little horrific, but it’s not too bad. This blog has just become a place for my crazy thoughts. Which might be a little hectic right now. What a world.

I Am a Woman

I have felt as though I have been an “other” for upwards of 75% of my life.

On a surface level, I am a white, blondish, privileged, smartish, wanderlusting, artsy, upper-middle class girl who has been given a lot of opportunities already in life–I fit the majority bill pretty well. However, I have gone through a lot in my life which I believe has skewed my own perspective of myself as an “outsider”.

I was born with my right leg from the knee down appearing to be fine, but couldn’t quite keep up as I physically developed. By the age of six my right leg was two-and-a-half inches shorter than my left leg and one foot was smaller than the other. Over time the development of my right leg became even worse. I eventually, starting at age six on Valentine’s Day, had four corrective surgeries to fix what a dear friend of mine lovingly coined my baby leg (it’s highly hypotrophied and deserved a cute nickname after all the crap it’s been through). I’ve had a toe removed (hence Fourtoed Travel Wannabe), my Achilles tendon cut twice, an external fixator for six months (if you are curious and aren’t highly disturbed by gross medical equipment, it’s worth a Google), a plate placed on my shin, my heal broken and shifted, all the tendons and ligaments cut on the bottom of my baby foot, and have been wheelchair-bound for six months. The majority of those procedures took place before I was ten, and the hard ones were when I was six or seven.

As anyone can imagine, this wreaked havoc on not only my perception of myself. But unfortunately, the way everyone in my life saw me changed, too. Being a six-year-old in a wheelchair with an halo-like external fixator didn’t do much good in the friends department. Since little kids didn’t want to be friends with the girl who had new casts every few weeks and had to learn to walk four times (and in hindsight understandably so), those same people who saw me during my strife while I was young in school never particularly lost their perception of me as an outsider as we all grew up. Even a decade after my surgeries I didn’t truly have a friend group–everyone had made friends in second and third grade while I was in Shreveport being sliced and diced.

So yes, I understand being an outsider. It’s not scary, folks. It teaches you a lot about yourself. I highly recommend it–and studying abroad is a GREAT time to test it out!

Although I have no fears of being an outsider in the US, there is one particular topic of “other”-dom ” I am petrified of while being abroad.

I am a very independent, driven young women, and I am very, very afraid of how I will adjust to cultures where women do not have as many rights and liberties as I am accustomed to. I know that sounds snobby and unaware, but please understand: I am highly respectful of other ways women live across the world and I am very adaptable to many situations, cultures, and environments. However, I am so nervous that I will “slip up” while being abroad. I might smile at a guy and get groped. I might unknowingly step into a man’s role or space and upset someone enough to warrant some bad juju and worse. And what I am most afraid of, I might miss out on opportunities and experiences because I am a women.

I need a little more time to mull this over before I word vomit my heart out on this subject matter–I haven’t had a problem before, but this one hits me harder than most.

Ladies (and gents!), if you have any words of wisdom, I could use some love.

Coffee? I’ll buy.

Maybe Smiles Don’t Go Miles?

Thankfully, I do not get hot-and-bothered by people with neutral/minimally negative opinions about the US.

Like I have written about before, I was raised with a “big picture” kind of family. My dad is a maniac of a man–the Jack-of-all-trades kind of guy who sees the ways of the world with much, much more clarity than most could ever even imagine. He has spent the past eighteen years of my life pouring all of his thoughts, realizations, and observation into even the tiniest little McKenzie you can imagine.

For example (backstory included), my high school was really into competitive, state-wide academic testing. For some reason unbeknownst to me, my Academic Bowl coach thought it would be fun to slap me in an economics test. That’s comical because I have never once been introduced to anything even economics related at my mediocre high school. The day of the test I meandered into a room of around twenty kids all looking very studious, well-versed, and overly confident for how far they were about to knock that ball out of the park. The guy sitting next to me, from my same high school, had even made a 5 on his AP Economics test he had taken at another school before transferring. So I had a jolly good time flipping through the foreign charts and graphs and strange theoretical financial situations questioning how the production of oranges would effect the sale of apples and bananas. The 5 guy next to me strutted out feeling like a champ while I scuffled beside him, my heart a little deflated. I later found out he had came in second–and I came in first.

Long story short, thanks, Dad, for slyly instilling in me all the concepts of economics so that I would never place lower than fourth state-wide or second regionally without ever even Googling economics. I can’t even imagine what else he knowingly slipped into subconscious over the years to help me just know more about the ways of the world, but I can tell you it was probably more than I can even fathom.

On top of that, I’ve already told you about my go-getter of a grandmother who I grew up with telling me almost literally unbelievable stories of her equally unbelievable life. Another long story even shorter, she can speak five-ish languages and could write a whole book about all of her encounters with every corner of the world. Just hearing about what’s beyond Oklahoma and the few places I have been open my mind immensely.

So when I hear that an Irish guy has seventeen complaints about the US or that Americans are too punctual from a student from France, I laugh along with them. Yeah, it’s true! ‘Merica ain’t always so good! I have heard for a lifetime the quirks about the US from my father and grandmother already, why should I be hurt if someone from outside the US points out our flaws?

Even though it doesn’t bother me, I will openly admit that some of their points scare the absolute bejesus out of me. The one that makes me want to never leave the country is that in other countries, smiling and friendliness towards strangers is a BIG no-no. For example, I heard in my BGA class today that looking around and being inquisitive towards strangers, AKA not keeping your face in a constant state of RBF, in France basically invites unwanted sexual advances. Even worse, for my sunshiney heart that will talk to anyone with ears, making eye contact or looking at someone on the streets in Iran is ground for having someone call the police. Even my sweet, bubbly, and kindest-soul-you-could-ever-meet instructor Jaci told us one of her horror stories last week. After a long day of being straight-faced and introverted in Morocco, she was waiting for a female friend to meet her in the lobby of the friend’s apartment building. An old, old man walked in and Jaci told us she remembered thinking, “It’s an old man! He’ll be okay! He couldn’t hurt a fly!” After flashing the biggest, most genuine smile she could muster, the old man advanced towards Jaci for what she instinctively thought was an incoming hug. Instead she was face to face with a creepy dude who was trying to kiss her!

I will have to have the ins-and-outs of the cultural ways of whichever country I go down packed before I can even step off the plane…or I might be spending my first night in a jail cell for letting my pearly whites show.

This will be a very, very fun adjustment!

Smiles Go Miles

Having a room full of unfriendly looking people stare at you is not fun. It’s even scarier when love and inclusivity runs through your heart more than blood does.

I definitely am not always a ball of sunshine, but I take great pride in being kind. That’s my thing. I’ve come to be known for it almost more than anything else I am in my life and I absolutely love it. But when I looked at the cheeks, not eyes, of people who turned their heads away from my excitable self (an overenthusiastic grin with eyes a bit too wide from giddiness stretched across my face), I definitely died a little on the inside.

To explain, I was one of four “outsiders” who were taken out of my Becoming Globally Aware class last Tuesday to be isolated from the rest of the students. However I was the first (I didn’t touch my nose quickly enough, no Nose-Goes goes) that was sent back into a newly fabricated “society”–the rest of the class who didn’t volunteer excitedly enough to be taken out into the hallway. It was my mission as the first explorer to discover as much as possible about this foreign society as possible: values, governmental processes, religion, industry, etc. Then I would return to my fellow outsiders and present them with the trampoline of knowledge from which we would proceed to leap towards discovery.

After I presented these foreigners with a tiny Chewbacca keychain as an olive branch filled with acceptance and curiosity, I received, as I have mentioned, turned bodies, darting eyes, and frowning mouths. They at least could have stared, right? So I bounced from person to person both desperately and hopefully asking, “How are you? And you? Or you?” I finally lucked-out with one girl who replied, “Yes, yes, yes!” After finally hearing another human voice, my insides were screaming that, too. I keep chatting with her and every answer I receive is the same as before: yes, yes, yes. Eventually I get a little frustrated from the seemingly sheer lack of progress in receiving beneficial responses and she finally answers differently: No, no, no (I laughed a little, too). Victory again! I can receive yes or no answers!

At this point I’m pumped again, and to make a semi-long story short I start darting around to everyone in the room and ask them, “Are you happy in your society?” Only two more say, “Yes, yes, yes!” and I leave the room in a tizzy of confusion. Regardless of the other three outsiders’ experiences, mine baffled me…until their society was revealed to the four of us.

The society wasn’t really a society at all–there was no culture, industry, agriculture, nada. So what were the yes, yes, yesses, and no, no, nos we kept receiving? Responses to our friendliness towards them. Regardless of the question, if we asked it nicely we received a friendly yes; rudely, no, no, no.

Being an outsider was a big eye opener to me because I realized how easily other people’s “cultural” tendencies to treat others, like not making eye contact or turning their heads, shouldn’t bother me like I recognize it did during the experiment. I let my insecurity in a “foreign” environment affect how I carried myself. Although I should be mindful of other people’s societal norms that may differ from mine (like not smiling at every person I see), I will need to integrate into another culture without losing my backbone of who I really am. It turns out that if I would have retained my cheerful attitude towards others instead of becoming frustrated and guessing that their society might not be a friendly one (and adopting a cold demeanor), I would have received only yesses and might have figured out why their people responded positively to me.

That last part got a bit confusing (sorry!), but what I really took away from this “Outsider” experience is to never lose myself while melding with others–no matter how wrong it feels.

Three Down

I have been longing to have an answer to the recently frequently posed question, “Where are you wanting to study abroad?” for a loooong while now.

Before coming to OU and becoming a Fellow with responsibilities, I had grand dreams of skipping across the world snuggling kiwis in New Zealand, sampling endless varieties of bratwurst in Germany, and frolicking through fields of tulips in the Netherlands.  However, being surrounded by unbelievably intelligent people who are so incredibly driven and seem so well established in not only A) what they are doing, but also B) why they are doing it while I’m swimming in a sea of my travel hopes and dreams is slightly terrifying. Notice that sarcastic emphasis on slightly? It scares the wanderlust out of me to actually think about where I might go let alone DECIDE where in this world I’ll be spending large chunks of my college life.

The past few weeks have really grounded me in my journey of figuring out what I will be doing with this blessing of a scholarship. With hopes of double majoring in the most opposite of fields and minoring in Spanish on top of traveling extensively within four (or admittedly five years), I realized I don’t have time, now or in the future, to dilly dally.

The daydreams of a sweet, simple foreign life filled with glutenous eating, prancing through flowers, and cute exotic critters flew out the window fast.

The study abroad fair did help a little, though. After walking around the huge horseshoe and plowing my way through the snaking snow cone line, I found out that I really do crave adventure. I know how cliche that sounds, but after talking to a particular woman about how much she loved how South Korea is pretty Americanized, busses are abundant, everything is open 24 hours, and how it wasn’t a huge leap out of her comfort zone, a few red flags started going off in my head. I’m not in GEF to spend my scholarship, or even my time for that matter, playing it safe. I need to test my boundaries and grow from experiences that I wouldn’t normally get–that’s why people go abroad in the first place!

I really felt especially pumped-up for globetrotting after talking to a guy at the second booth of the horseshoe from the east (Cado, Cada, Cadda? I really can’t remember what program he was with and he didn’t have flyers for us. If you know, comment!). We started with basic conversation, but things got deep fast after he asked if I had traveled abroad before. We figured out we have a mutual passion to explore what we haven’t yet encountered! We were literally giddy about how incredible it is to go though experiences that push us to develop ourselves, especially ones that we couldn’t have but in places outside our safety bubble. Since I have already spent some time in England, France, and Mexico, I have officially crossed those places off my list (unless they offer something I can’t pass up–I’ll revoke that declaration in a heartbeat). He also helped really point out to me to keep my mind open about where I’ll end up traveling–he originally dreamed of Australia and ended up in South Africa!

I guess I didn’t get too much farther on determining exactly where I am going, but at least I know where I would prefer not to go!

Three countries down, 200+ more to go.

Mo’s Impact

In short, yes. I do feel like I have limited to both the number and range of stories to which I have been exposed.

I was born and raised in smallish-town Ardmore, Oklahoma.  With a population of about twenty-five thousand, Ardmore wasn’t puny, but it had the whole small-town vibe that just wasn’t my cup of tea. I went to the same school with the same one hundred kids for twelve years. I attended the same church with the same congregation for almost two decades. I have even lived in the same house and had the same bedroom for the literal entirety of my life. Not only being surrounded by the same circles of people for eighteen years, but having everyone know each other’s middle names, birthdays, and ten+ cousins who live down the road has made being exposed to new and wide-ranging stories difficult.

However, I will say that I have had a big saving grace when it comes to being globally aware. Let me begin by clarifying that I know only a fraction of her almost unbelievable life, but what I do know has been learned over years of holiday story times, sunset chats, and trips down her memory lane. My grandmother Maureen, or Mo for short, was born in Portsmouth, England around eighty years ago. Because of World War ll, she and her family were bounced around between England and Scotland for several years in her early youth and lost the majority of their belongings and savings a total of three times (her father, my great-grandfather, also deserves his own story about his pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mentality, but that’s for another day). However, she always managed to retain one specific commodity that changed her life: her bike. By the time she was twelve or thirteen she had already begun solo-biking across England and wherever else she could land; she had lived in Germany and France by herself before she would have even been able to legally able to drive in the U.S. (picking up French and German along the way); and she had left her country, friends, and family behind before she was the age I am today.

And that’s not even scratching the surface.

To reiterate and get relatively back on topic, yes, I do feel like I have been kind of limited in my exposure to the world and its stories. However, I have had an incredible role model who has taught me about the world and its history through an entirely unique perspective–her own life.

You’ll definitely hear more about Mo later. She’s deserves her own book (a joke my father [her son] and I are actually contemplating making a reality) and a lot of credit. She is the reason my love and desire to discover the world, its people, and its cultures is coming to life.