As this semester comes to a close, I am incredibly excited. In two weeks, I will board my flight to France, beginning a year of studying abroad. I will be in France until mid-June with the OU College of Arts and Sciences Leadership Scholars, studying primarily in Clermont-Ferrand. This will be a wonderful opportunity to improve my French and experience the Auvergne region. From there, I will go to Madrid, where I will be doing an intensive language program until late July. My goal is to get a C1 certification in Spanish after the program ends. I will then be back in the US for a few weeks in early August before flying to Russia. I will be spending the 2018-2019 academic year in Saint Petersburg taking Russian Language and Russian Studies courses. By the end of the year, I hope to be at a C1/C2 level of Russian.
One of the classes I took this semester was a new IAS course called Religion in Europe. The course was primarily a history course, but the last 1/4th-ish of the class was focused on contemporary Europe. During this time, we had the opportunity, through OU’s digital humanities program, to create a map pertaining to religion in modern London using ArcGIS. My group focused on mapping Judaism in modern London, and the final product was really interesting. Seeing the modern implications of where Ashkenazi and Sephardim Jews migrated to was really neat. We also looked at the development of Jewish community centers in London, and the thing we were most surprised by is how un-Orthodox most of these centers were, accepting Jews of various backgrounds including secular and LGBT Jews.
This semester, I took the Senior Capstone Seminar on International Terrorism with Dean Cruise for my REES major. I had the opportunity to write a capstone paper for this on the history of terrorism in Russia, which is where I will be living for the next year. This was an incredibly interesting topic to learn about, as I had no knowledge of it before the class. It was particularly interesting to look at the use of state violence in the Soviet Union as a means of countering terrorism and to look at how different Russia’s history of terrorism is from the global norm. It was great to be able to finish my capstone for my REES major as a sophomore, as it will let me focus on my Russian major’s capstone when I return from studying abroad for senior year. Another reason I sincerely enjoyed this class is because it made me a better public speaker. There were numerous occasions on which I had to present to the class, something I have never been great at, and I truly believe I improved significantly.
Another international event I attended this semester was paper presentations by IAS graduate students. While I am not likely going to attend graduate school at OU (or in IAS), it was incredibly interesting to talk to these students and hear about their work. One presentation that particularly stuck out was about gender vs sex in education in East Africa. This was a topic that I knew nothing about, so it was incredibly interesting. Another benefit of attending the event was hearing professors’ critiques and questions for the grad students, as it made me think about how I could improve similar problems in papers I was writing. It was also really helpful to talk to the students about life in grad school, as that is (hopefully) where I will be in a few years.
One of the international events I hosted this semester as chair of the CIS Student Advisory Committee was a film screening of Out in the Dark. This is a touching movie, though its pro-Israel bias is unfortunate. However, this bias is to be expected as the movie comes from the Israeli Film Fund. The movie is in Hebrew (and a little Arabic) and follows the love story of a Palestinian man who falls in love with a (male) Israeli lawyer. The film chronicles the hardships that come with this, and addresses homophobia in Israel/Palestine. As someone who wrote his honor thesis on homophobia is Russia, it was really interesting to look at the similarities and differences between Russian and Israel/Palestine. Had the movie had a more balanced depiction of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it would have been amazing.