Benefits from International Students

Happy Global Engagement Day! Every year the Global Engagement fellows are expected to attend at least one panel during global engagement day (I went to one about surviving and succeeding as a freshman – I’ll write about it in a different post) and I decided to go to an additional panel that discussed the impact and benefits of an international education. I think everyone always focuses on how an international education benefits international students, but it also has a huge positive impact on the communities that they visit. Beyond the obvious exposure to other cultures, there’s a significant economic impact in the form of jobs created and revenue generated. I mean, think about it. If OU (for example) didn’t have an international student presence, we wouldn’t need International Student Services at all. We also wouldn’t need the OU Cousins program or the NISO program. I don’t know how many jobs those create, but I bet that it’s a fair few. Then, of course, there is the fact that these students are living in the United States, buying good and services here and contributing to the American economy.

I think it was definitely interesting to reframe this issue within the context of “how does this benefit us.” I wouldn’t normally advise that, because I personally feel that it is equally important, if not more so, to consider benefits to other people. But sometimes it’s important to remind people that this isn’t charity; it’s an opportunity that we can and should extend as often as possible to anyone who is interested.

Five years in Review

I am about to (finally) graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a B.A. in International Studies. Recently I was completing one of my requirements for the Global Engagement Fellowship (besides keeping this super awesome blog) and I attended a panel that was discussing “Strategies for Surviving and Succeeding as a Freshman.” It was pretty standard stuff: use your planner, go to class, take care of yourself, et cetera… But it did get me thinking about the last five years. What do I wish I had been told as a freshman, and what would I pass on to younger students, specifically about the international community, studying abroad, and global engagement? So here are my two cents 🙂

 

What I wish I had known: No one really has it all together, they just look like they do. People pay about as much attention to you as you do to other people. Be adventurous. Your language skills will never get better if you don’t practice. No one cares if you mess up their language, they’re just happy you’re trying to learn it. Make time for your international events, you’ll miss the fun ones if you don’t. Take a deep breath, it’s over before you know it. Most people don’t end up where they thought they would. 23 is not as old as you used to think it was. The international students tend to stick together, so you’ve gotta work your way in.

 

What I would pass on to younger students: Take everything one day at a time. Ask questions. Make mistakes, but not regrets. Be adventurous, none of this will matter by the time you graduate. Travel while you can. Take vacations. Do something crazy for spring break at least once. Take care of yourself, but also your friends; you don’t get through college on your own. Don’t take yourself too seriously. International students want to make friends, but it can be hard; help them out.

 

There’s probably a thousand more pieces of advice I could give, but there’s honestly just one you need to remember:

Whatever you do, do it your way.

Don’t worry about how anyone else is doing it, because they’re not you.

 

 

 

Also, please go to class, get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, and do your homework 🙂

 

Epilouge

Any online friends I have that have found my blog (are there any?) may know that I really enjoy reading. I mean, I have three whole pages of this blog dedicated to creative writing and reading that I’ve done for school. You don’t take that many classes on the subject if you don’t enjoy it! But this post is meant to be an epilogue of sorts for me. Graduation is coming closer and closer every day, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up with my fancy blog after I finish my undergraduate degree, so I wanted to update anyone who cares and leave some final thoughts.

So I’ve been at OU for five years now – or close enough to five years that it doesn’t really make much difference. I’ve studied abroad, learned a lot about other cultures and people, participated in several international organizations, gone to more international events than I’m prepared to count, and enjoyed every second of it. In 19 days I’ll be graduating from OU with a Bachelors of Arts in International Studies and a Bachelors of Science in Chemical Engineering, and this July I’ll start working on a PhD in Biomedical Sciences. My biggest question coming out of all of this is, how am I going to stay internationally engaged in my post-undergrad life?

Living in Norman and attending OU, it’s so easy to be engaged. You almost have to try not to be. So I know I’ll have to put more effort into it that I have in the past, but I also know that graduate education tends to have a higher percentage of international students than undergrad. So hopefully I’ll make a ton of really great friends during my PhD journey! And, who knows, maybe I’ll end up doing a PostDoc fellowship in a different country! It doesn’t seem too far fetched to me 🙂

Farsi Funny

Tonight I went to Max Amini’s comedy show at the Reynolds Performing Arts Center called “Authentically Absurd.” I’ve been to comedy shows before and watched the recorded events, but all of the comedians I’ve seen before are either white men and women or they completely identified as American. This was a different experience because Max Amini is Iranian-American and he fully embraces his heritage. Parts of his show were in Farsi, and Max Amini translated for the audience members that don’t speak it. It was really cool, and it kind of forced me into a perspective that, as a white English speaker in America, I’ve never experienced before. It was kind of odd to be in a lingual minority, and I think it gave me a greater appreciation of what immigrants and exchange students go through on a regular basis. It also kind of reinforced the only “regret” I have from college. (I put regret in parenthesis because I don’t believe in regrets.)

I chose to study abroad in England and Italy. In Italy, I was at the OU campus in Arezzo, surrounded by other Americans and Italians who spoke English. In England, language was obviously not an issue. I didn’t have a lot of choice in where and when I could study abroad, due to my chemical engineering major, but I wish I had been able (and been brave enough) to go somewhere that would have made me stretch my language skills. I don’t feel very comfortable speaking other languages, and it’s likely because I don’t every practice (it’s a very cyclical problem).

But, as I said, the show was really funny! I got to learn a bit about Iranian culture, and hear some funny stories about immigration and minorities in American. There was also a great story about Max Amini performing at a charity event in Canada and the adventures that he had to go on to get there, which you can apparently find on his Instagram (I wouldn’t know – I don’t have one 🙂 )

SIDA

For my International Cooperation and Development class this semester, I had to do a presentation on an International Development Agency. It was a really interesting project, so I thought I would share it with the interwebs.

My project focused on SIDA or the Swedish International Cooperation and Development Agency. They’re a bilateral organization, headquartered in Stockholm, that funds development projects in over 35 countries around the world. One of their projects that I focused on is currently underway in a small town in Bolivia.

Sida partnered with a Bolivian organization called Agua Tuya to build a new water treatment facility. The goal was for the pilot community to become the first municipality in Bolivia to treat 100% of their wastewater by 2020. Currently, they are at 75%, so I’d say they are well on their way!

The water treatment facility is based on Swedish technology and half of the budget is directly funded by SIDA. My favorite part of this project, however, is how the plan was implemented. Before construction began, SIDA and Agua Tuya spent 6 months communicating with the community, educating them on what the waste management facility would do and how it would help them, as well as answering all of their questions and concerns. Even after all of that, construction didn’t begin until the community agreed to the project. I have seen so many examples of development projects harming communities because they don’t want the help or understand it. The dedication shown here to helping the Bolivians with their consent is honestly heartwarming. Even better, a local Bolivian woman from the community learned how to run and maintain the plant, allowing the community to remain self-sufficient, and they have already seen the benefits in larger harvests and higher economic output.

Agua Tuya is planning 14 more waste management facilities to be installed in different rural Bolivian communities, based on the success of this project.

Chile and the Mapuche People

I’m taking my International Area Studies capstone this semester! It’s crazy how fast everything has been passing me by. It seems like only a few weeks ago when I decided to bite the bullet and declare an IAS major, but I digress.

For my capstone paper, I will be writing about the Chilean Nationalism versus the nationalism of the Mapuche people, the third largest ethnic group in Chile, and a group on indigenous people who are not recognized by their country’s constitution. My paper is 20 pages on the history of the Mapuche people, from about 500AD to present day, and their relationship with their country, focusing on the social, political, and economic aspects of the topic. I won’t bore you with all the nitty-gritty details, but the relationship isn’t great.

Most of the contention between the Mapuche and non-indigenous Chileans revolves in some way around the Mapuche ancestral lands. These were taken from the Mapuche over generations and getting them back has proved difficult to say the least. That, combined with heavy anti-Mapuche sentiment and social policies, has led to a very tense atmosphere. Progress has been made in recent years, but it isn’t much and it isn’t fast.

My paper also focused on the growth of Chilean and Mapuche nationalism throughout these conflicts. It was fascinating to study how these separate nationalistic ideologies influenced each other over the generations they have coexisted.

Modern Societies in a Global World

This semester I’m taking a class called International Cooperation and Development, where we have been studying different modernization theories and how they apply to countries around the world. We just had our mid-term in the class two days ago and I’m surprised by how much I’m learning, and how much I’m enjoying the class. A lot of the material we cover can be kind of upsetting; we primarily been discussing underdeveloped and developing nations, how all the different theories of development don’t really work. But even with the less-than-fun subject material, the class is a blast! Dr. Morias is a really good professor, and she’s making the subject a lot more interesting than I thought it could be.

Our mid-term on Tuesday was over the development theories we have studied so far:

  1.  Economic Development Theories (Classical, Keynesian, Structuralist, and Neoliberal)
  2. Marxist Development
  3. Modernization
  4. Post-Structuralist/Post-Modernism Development
  5. Feminist Development Theories
  6. Critical Modernism Development

All of them have their flaws, but all of them also have good points. The best one, in my opinion, is Critical Modernism. This theory wants to let the citizens of a country determine the countries path to development, and doesn’t decree that development has to look like the western world. It is a non-elitist theory and it focuses on direct democracy and grassroots social movements. It isn’t a perfect theory either, but it gives me hope that International Development may be moving in the right direction.

 

International Bazaar

As I was walking to class one day this semester, I found myself wandering into the International Bazaar that the University hosts every semester. So, of course, I had to go check it out.

Every time I’ve been to the international Bazaar it is always really interesting, and this year did not disappoint. I tried to wander past all of the booths, but they were still in the process of setting up when I was exploring. Of the tables I did get to see, the Iranian student table was my favorite because they decorated it really well. It was absolutely beautiful! I also stopped in at the Turkish table for some trivia and treats (I wasn’t very good at the trivia) and at the ex-Yugoslavia table to say hi to some friends of mine.

Overall I definitely enjoyed the Bazaar, but it isn’t the same as it was when I was a freshman. My freshman year it was more of a Bazaar in the traditional sense: a market place where the international student groups were raising money for their activities. I think I still have some bangles I got that year from the Indian student group. This year it was more of an exchange of information. Either way, it was still good!

Kokomo

Aruba, Jamaica, oh I want to take ya
Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama
Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t we go…

Come on, you know you’ve heard the song.

I just got back from my first cruise ever (I’ve always wanted to go on one) and one of the ports we visited was Montego Bay, meaning that Kokomo by the Beach Boys has been stuck in my head for the past several weeks. Besides that, the cruise was absolutely amazing!  It was so relaxing that I never wanted to leave, and it helped that I felt pretty dang pampered on that boat too. The food was amazing, the events were fun, and the bartenders knew their craft! Off the boat was a different story.

Don’t get me wrong; I love traveling, and I had a ton of fun in every port I visited. However this was the first experience I had with being a tourist instead of a traveler, and I didn’t love it. Normally when I travel I try to fly under the radar and blend in, to see where ever I am in the same way a local would. But on my cruise, I became the tourist that I normally go out of my way to avoid being. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with tourism, and it plays a big part in the local economies of every place that I visited. But I can honestly say that I didn’t learn a single thing about Jamacia, the Cayman Islands, or Cozumel, Mexico that I didn’t know before this trip. I only saw tourist sites and did tourist activities. Other than that, the trip was amazing, but I think I’ll have to return to all of those cities before I can feel comfortable saying I’ve been there.

On the bright side, I think I can definitely say that I’d take traveling over being a tourist any day!


When Fulbright Comes a-Calling

I know I already wrote a post about Fulbright this semester, but I’m sure you can understand why it’s been on my mind.

My applicaion is open, and I have officially started on it. Let me start by saying, it’s a lot more intimidating that I thought it would be. I think that working on this application and applying for the program is something I’ve been planning for and thinking about for so long that, now that it’s here, I’m very nervous. So I’m trying to take it one step at a time, and I’ve made some progress.

The first step was, obviously, to pick my program. I’m applying for a study grant, meaning that I need to pick an affiliate university, and I’ve had one particular school in mind for a few years. But, before I opened my application I took one last look at all of my options and noticed a new program that had been added to the Fulbright website this year. Radboud University in the Netherlands is offereing and award for one student to work on a graduate degree in one of several fields, incuding a Masters in Medical Epigenetics. I don’t really have the words to describe how much it would mean to me to be able to study that particular science, and it’s not exactly a common program. Sufficite to say, if I get accepted to Radboud I’ll be going to the Netherlands, Fulbright recipient or no.

Since I made that decision I feel a lot better about the whole process. I still have essays to write and reccomendations to get, but I have faith that it will all work out the way it needs to. I’ve been working on learning a bit of Dutch with Duolingo to get ready, and I think I’m doing everything I can.

It’s going to be a lot of work, but I think I can do this!