Today was the last day of Jaci’s class. The core group didn’t want to leave for our daily lunch, and Jaci was a little sentimental, but for the most part it was like a normal class. I loved this class; it was informational but informal. Occasionally, we would have a guest speaker that was not exactly helpful, but the majority of classes covered useful information from knowledgeable sources. Jaci knew when to rein in the rowdier students (read: my table), and when to allow it as a form of group bonding. I think the people in this class have formed a group that will last for the rest of our time here at OU and beyond.
As is the case with every other college student, I have grown in this first semester. Living in the dorms necessitates social interaction. I moved to OU from a state where I knew precisely four people. I am obviously much more social now. Because of this, I am more comfortable with who I am as a person. I wake up every single morning and think about how grateful I am to be able to live at OU.
Over winter break, I plan to print out various degree plans, minor requirements, and course offerings to try to determine 1. which degree(s) I should pursue, 2. when I should study abroad, and 3. when to take languages and which languages those should be. Next semester, I am starting French. I hope to take Spanish one day, but I don’t know all the languages OU offers or which ones would be most useful in my career. Many of my goals for the next few years will be laid out in a couple weeks. However, as my mom says every time I mention the word “plan” in front her, I plan and God laughs. I can’t be sure of what the next few years will hold, but I trust that it will turn out for the best.
If you’ve read my reflections, you’ve probably noticed that the numbers don’t exactly make sense. They start at 4, end at 14, 10 is skipped… But the reflections are for a class, so I need 10 of them. So, make up reflections!
One of the things I’ve wondered about for a while is how LGBT+ people are treated and perceived around the world. In America, for example, gay marriage is legalized and gay married couples can adopt. However, these are relatively recent developments, and I still hear about homophobic hate crimes and conversion therapy.
A lesbian couple out of San Francisco had some of the same questions I have, so they traveled the world to make a documentary. After watching their TED Talk, I realized that this dichotomous dynamic is not unusual. In Kenya, for example, homosexual acts can lead to incarceration. However, they just had their first openly gay political candidate run for Senate. LGBT+ people in every country are fighting to make their country a better, safer, more accepting place. Countries such as Argentina, Canada, and Spain show people in extremely homophobic countries what they can work towards. Each country has its own issues to be overcome, but at the end of the day, LGBT+ people are all working towards a common goal- equality.
Our final project in Jaci’s class was to create a digital story about an international experience. Since I have not traveled abroad or spent much time with international students, I decided to cover a little of everything: why the differences in languages are important, my experiences with language, and my experiences with the GEF. With the help of OU’s Writing Center, I recorded a brief script and began to edit a video around that audio using WeVideo. I was shocked at how easy it was to use the program. Since I didn’t have to struggle against the technology, the assignment was enjoyable. I’ve never had cause to make a video before, but I can foresee many opportunities to use this software in the future.
As someone who will be living in this world for decades to come, I am worried about the state of our environment. I want to help our environment become healthier. As such, I am majoring in environmental engineering (or maybe environmental science). Most engineers don’t learn other languages- both fields require a lot of time and effort, and language uses a different part of the brain than engineering. However, learning more languages means better communication with a more diverse group of people. Diversity is incredibly important when working with the environment because so many different groups of people live in this world. For example, global warming will affect everyone, but especially poor people or those living around the Equator. Rising sea levels will affect people in every country with an ocean shoreline (150 countries, or over 75%). One small, homogenous group of people cannot design and implement a solution for all these countries. It is important for me to reach out to others who have different experiences so we can combine our ideas to find a solid solution. Traveling to different countries and seeing what environmental problems the people there find most pressing will help me help others.
At the end of last summer, someone in the GEF group chat mentioned that Jaci was hosting a reading group this semester. My friend Noah attempted to get people to sign up with him. I thought he was cool, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to get to know Jaci better. I signed up without really looking at what books we were reading. That was a mistake. The first book we read was an in-depth look at refugees around the world (published in 2006); the second was the story of a Syrian refugee who returned to Syria three (!) times (published in 2013). This wasn’t exactly light reading.
The first book covered many different kinds of refugees from different areas of the world. The author had been working with refugees for many years. With this book, we talked primarily about the circumstances surrounding the refugees: why they left, where they could go, how they could get there, and what problems they faced in their new homes. In Britain, for example, refugees had a difficult time finding a community or even someone who spoke their language. In Australia, refugees often were forced to live in camps. In addition, many countries developed strict guidelines for anyone wishing for the protections of a “refugee” instead of a common illegal immigrant. This book was a good mix of facts and personal stories.
The second book was about a Syrian woman who fled to France, but traveled back to her homeland three times. She provides a rare glimpse into modern Syria and how it has shifted. With this book, we talked mostly about the political issues surrounding it. There was a young woman in my group who is majoring in some form of Middle Eastern Studies, and both of the group’s moderators had personal ties to the region. Though we would start each week by discussing the book, we would inevitably end up discussing a political or cultural nuance.
Before this group, most of what I heard about refugees or Syria was from my conservative parents; most of it was centered around ISIS. Reading these books was emotionally draining but important. They helped me realize that refugees and the Syrian people are just that: people. They have hopes and aspirations, friends and family, homes and homelands. They are not a xenophobic stereotype or a liability; they are human and should be treated as such.
Recently, our class has focused on how people “do good” abroad. Oftentimes, a group of well-meaning students will travel to an impoverished country to build a school or give vaccinations. However, these young adults often have no relevant training beyond an hour-long crash course. They often end up doing more harm than good. In addition, these students are from a foreign country and are disconnected from the local culture and political climate. They do not have an accurate sense of what is needed in that community- there are many schools that sit empty without teachers, hospitals that cannot be used without medical supplies, and churches for a religion that is not practiced.
In addition, many outside organizations try to help poorer countries, especially after a disaster. Their efforts can also be misplaced. Often, it is assumed that there is an infrastructure to help distribute the aid; when this proves to be false, aid money cannot be spent and vital supplies sit in distribution centers.
So how can students really help? Websites such as Charity Navigator help determine how reliable a charity is. In addition, they can help fund local entrepreneurs– people who saw an issue in their own community and are working to fix it. You can also help local charities in your community.
Last week in class, we watched this TED talk. In our discussion afterwards, the general consensus was that Singer was not truly altruistic, as he appeared to be in competition with others to save more lives. He also measured altruism based solely on saving lives, completely ignoring improving quality of life. He also monetized giving, even when it was not a monetary donation. He told the story of a young man who had been so moved by his writings that he decided to donate a kidney. Singer’s first reaction was to feel guilty that he still had both kidneys. His second reaction was to mention that donating that kidney had added as many years to someone’s life as donating a certain amount to his favorite charity, and since he had donated more than that, he felt okay again.
Even though I do not agree with Singer, I think it is important to try to improve someone’s life, either by extending it or improving their life quality. I am majoring in environmental engineering in order to help people who have been affected by climate change. I am in GEF to help me gain a global perspective on this global issue. I do not have an income, so I do not currently donate to charity. However, I try to improve the quality of life for those around me, and I plan to donate around 10% once I resume earning my own money.
Giving to others is not a competition, but it is an important part of society.
Studying abroad poses a unique set of challenges. You have to find a new place to live, learn the basics of another language, and know the culture well enough to not offend any locals. These challenges are well-known; oftentimes, college students will have an adviser help them with these. But what if you run out of medication abroad? What if you can’t stick to your budget because businesses give you the “American” price? What if you break your leg? I’m concerned about how to handle all of life’s curveballs in a different location and language. I’m also concerned about how my behavior may change in a new environment with a limited support system in place. But I will most likely go somewhere with other Fellows (or at least other Sooners), and as a GEF, I have a built-in community of 150 Fellows and Jaci. I am also worried about the initial change in routine- I know my day doesn’t go well if I don’t do certain things in the morning and before bed. However, I know I will implement a routine within a few days of being abroad.
As I get closer to my first trip abroad, I’m sure new concerns will pop up, but with help from others, I should be able to find solutions.
The first half of my semester has been positive overall; there were a lot of surprises. I honestly was not expecting to find such a close-knit community in the GEF program. The other Fellows inspire me daily to keep learning and expanding outside of my strict degree plan. I also wasn’t expecting Jaci to be so helpful, relatable, and kind to all of us. I didn’t realize exactly how regimented engineering would be and how other engineers would interact. I also didn’t know how difficult it would be to live with a stranger in a 176 square foot room (especially since I often go to sleep six hours after she does). I was not expecting to enroll in a Chinese course or try to add an International Studies minor.
When you combine all these surprises with my tendency to just… not plan my future, it makes sense that I haven’t formed many goals. I figured I would end up where I’m supposed to be. However, recently, I decided I want an International Studies minor to help me get into an International Business MBA program after I graduate from OU. I’m signing up for a Spanish class next semester to start formally learning a foreign language. In addition, I recently started to consider taking a brief trip abroad this coming summer. I would like to start southern Spain and finish in northern France. For general goals, I’m trying to finish the year with a GPA of 3.5+ and enroll in summer courses at a local community college over the summer.
Last week, the Confucius Institute arranged a festival centering around Chinese culture for their 10th anniversary. It was heavily advertised in my not-for-credit Chinese course, and my teacher, Li Li, said she would be at the calligraphy booth. The calligraphy booth had several Chinese characters for visitors to copy. Other booths had paper to cut into snowflakes, Chinese puzzle games, and Chinese food. There was a dragon about fifteen feet long that was probably used in a performance. Near the front of the festival, two girls played a stringed instrument (further research would reveal it’s called a guzheng). One of them had obviously been playing for years; I stood and listened to her for several minutes.
All in all, this was a fun, interactive festival. 7/10