More On Immigration

After thinking about The Wall and the reasonings and thoughts behind that, I began to contemplate another big topic of conversation that deals with immigration. Although I hope that immigration would be taken more seriously in some aspects of the United States, the vetting of Muslim, Middle Eastern, Arab (I am not intending to be offensive by miscalling or mis-grouping populations, I am simply not informed well enough) immigrants during their immigration process deeply saddens me.

Unfortunately, I understand where many people are coming from with their desires to vet Muslims as much as possible to prevent them from entering the U.S. I understand this because I was too young to remember 9/11. However, coming from a small Okie town, I have heard all too much hatred spewed about the lack of trust some people have because of the horrific actions of a few. In more modern times I personally remember growing up and hearing about the developments of ISIS/ISIS (sorry for another naming blunder) and their ruthless murders, the killing of Osama bin Laden and throwing his body into the ocean, and the like.

Although too much blood has been spilled on both sides, I think it is so wrong to keep refugees out of the United States simply because of where they come from and for what other people in their ethnicity/country did. And what is even scarier, to me, than having someone from another country and background trying to sneak in to cause destruction is the homegrown terrorism that is becoming more of an issue in the US. I am not the most educated in the topic, but having terrorism spring from our own front lawn is a much scarier issue to me than having one ill-intentioned person slipping through the cracks out of thousands of good people who deserve our help. I think the United States has a responsibility as a well-endowed country of the world to help people from other countries when they are in danger. Turning a blind eye during an international crisis to those who need help the most, in my 0pinion, is the wrong thing to do entirely.

On Being a Rio Ambassador

This semester, like last semester, my international group was being a study abroad ambassador for the OU’s sister program in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, also much like last semester, this group did significantly less than I had hoped for.

As I have written so much about, I loved every second of my time in Rio de Janeiro and would shout it to the whole world from the top of Mount Everest if I could. Because of this, two semesters ago I was thrilled to apply-for and become a part of the ambassador program. I have been more than ready to stand in front of classes, armed with dozens of the several hundred photos I took from my time in Rio, and explain how they would all be missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime (which I genuinely believe it is) if they didn’t drop what they were doing to sign up for the next trip out. But even after several offers from me, this still hasn’t come to fruition. Additionally, we don’t have consistent meetings to discuss ideas or the like either.

What we do do, however, is band together when it is important, like during a big event to promote Rio, and show off our own enthusiasm about our experience. For example, we make a lot of appearances during Brazil week each semester, spend time at booths when we can, and some even act as liaisons in the CIS office, but other than this, unfortunately, we don’t get to do too terribly much. Now don’t get me wrong, this approach is important, but I think there is more we as ambassadors can do to spread the word about how Rio should be more of a contender in OU’s sister programs.

With this, I have an announcement! In order to attempt to bridge the gaps and try to get more people involved, I have volunteered to be the Rio Ambassador Chair for the next spring semester! Whoohoo! I am thrilled. After this semester, I learned that we simply need, as ambassadors, to be more connected to one another and more involved with the ambassador program in general. I have high hopes and already a few plans for myself in this position, and I can’t wait to keep y’all updated!

Study Abroad Fair

A few weeks into this past semester the College of International Studies hosted its annual event–the Study Abroad Fair! It might have also been called the International Fair…but you know what I mean!

The fair was chocked-full of the different study abroad groups trying to convince whoever was walking by that their program could offer them the world, literally!, and more. At leas two dozen booths were looped along the South Oval with all the pens, knick-knacks, and odd-ball trinkets that each different program could offer. Some even had food! However, one booth stood out among the rest because…this time around I got to help host OU in Rio’s booth! Our booth was smack dab right in front of Neilson Hall–a prime location. I got the opportunity to help host because this past semester, much like the one before, I was a Rio Ambassador.

The whole experience was actually quite satisfying and fun! It was lovely to be able to just rattle on-and-on about anything that came to mind about Rio. It was also very enjoyable to be able to whip out some of the photos I took while in Rio that were on my phone to show off how beautiful the city is. The ooo’s and ahh’s were so real–and I can’t blame them!

However, most people who came by weren’t actually interested in going to Rio (we were one of the booths that had snacks), but there were a handful that I think I might have actually made a bit of a difference with. One guy in particular, I cannot remember his name, was a physics major who was teaching himself Portuguese and was also already fluent in Spanish. It was such a pleasure to talk to him because he was thrilled, but he didn’t think he could go because he was running out of time. Sadly, he was right–the sooner you think about studying abroad the better–and I don’t think that he ended up signing up for the spring semester or another program. Unfortunately, I think there were only a few people, in total, who express genuine interest. Honestly, I don’t blame them too much. Rio was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my life, but I with all of the swirling rumors about what is going on in Brazil (that actually spiked right after I returned last year), it is difficult to convince people’s parents that their children would be remarkably safe so far away from home.

To top this all of, my favorite person from Rio made an appearance–Caren!! She definitely deserves two exclamation points. I adore Caren with my whole heart and soul, we even have matching polka-dotted/stripped shirts. It was a real joy to be able to speak so fondly of her city with her to all of the kids who walked by. I know she’ll be back for it again the next time around (she comes back to OU once a semester), so I can’t wait for the next Study Abroad Fair!

Oklahome (Intentional Mispelling)

Waaaay back at the beginning of this past semester, I received an email about an international event that was specifically for OU students who had recently returned from a study abroad program. At first, I felt kind of silly about wanting to go to the event. It promoted an environment in which returning students could not only just share about their experiences, but also discuss the nitty gritty things that a lot of people probably don’t always want to talk about.

For example, although I will talk about my experience in Rio de Janeiro for hours, one of my very first memories from my Rio trip is NOT one that I ever share. After traveling for a full day from Mazatlán, Mexico to Mexico City, São Paulo, then finally Rio, I was more than thrilled to be there, but all the worrisome looks and concerned words from friends and family were really eating at me after being with only my thoughts for 24 hours. I after struggling to find my drive (he was waiting in the international terminal–I came in domestic from São Paulo), I rolled into the hostel, hauled my enormous suitcase up two flights of stairs, attempted to call my boyfriend via WhatsApp, and cried for about an hour. Even in hindsight, I still can’t quite put my finger on why I fell apart as soon as I arrived, but the point is that I did fall apart even though I was over the moon to be there.

So after recalling this experience, among others, I RSVPed for Oklahome!

I arrived and was shocked to see as many people there as I did. There were probably two dozen, and there were even a few with I traveled with in Italy.

First things first, we introduced ourselves and where we had been with OU. People had been everywhere. There were a lot of Italy’s, I was definitely the only Rio de Janeiro, a few Germany’s, one or two in Uganda for mission work, a few in Asia, and then the rest were scattered.

After our introductions, we listened to a woman who works in CIS as the Italy study abroad advisor. Oddly enough, what she had to say really resonated with me. The thing that hit home the most was how she talked about how the places we visit change us in ways we don’t typically understand or may not notice.

immediately thought about how much I miss sweating. Odd, right? In Rio, I grew so accustomed to having big, fat beads of sweat just rolling from everywhere. I didn’t know that the back of my knees could sweat like that! Don’t get me wrong, at first it was very uncomfortable and a little gross. However, even after only being in Rio for a little under two weeks, to this day I would give anything for the feeling like the sun is baking me like a toasty loaf of bread and losing ten pounds just from sweating so profusely.

So I shared this, and yes, I got some weird looks. Ha! But what the woman said made 100% sense. I am grateful to be home and to have had the experiences I did in Italy and Rio, but I think it will take me a looong time to not hesitate to give the “okay” hand sign without thinking I’m about to offend someone.

Italy Recap

It was a decently looong time ago (or at least it feels like it after a hard fall semester!)…but I went to Italy in the early summer of 2017!

To start, I was in Italy for almost a whole month. I went with the 2016-2017 President’s Leadership Class with over eighty other people. I’ll talk more on that in a minute.  We went to twelve different cities, my favorite being Positano, and I loved every single one. In hindsight, the whole trip felt like it passed in a blink of an eye. However, while I was there it felt like eternity, for both good and not so great reasons.

Let’s start with the not-so-great reasons. As I italicized earlier, I went with almost eighty other people including the sponsors and the other PLCers. Having eighty American college-kids in Italy was, in my opinion, a train wreck. This made the trip surprisingly very difficult for me. I have been lucky in my life to travel relatively extensively for my age and economic status, and when I traveled I was taught to be incredibly respectful of the culture and people I was sticking myself into. Some of the instances of privilege (and not in the new socially trendy sense, but the old-school I-get-what-I-want-when-I-want-it-or-else) I saw dumbfounded me. For example, one girl had a break down in a Prada or Gucci store near the famous Spanish Steps because she wasn’t able to get a hold of her parents (the seven hour time difference) to get them to transfer her $3,000 so she could buy a purse or two. Another boy would only eat at McDonald’s and refused to try new Italian food (which was actually all new because of how different Italian and Italian-American food is). Finally, one boy in my group starting harassing me a bit and wouldn’t take my avoidance as a hint that I didn’t want his company. He made a chunk of my trip even nightmarish because he was always watching and following me–and this never ended even after I asked several of our sponsors for help. And, I promise, there are many more instances like these that happened for the whole month.

This insensitivity and lack-of-respect to what we were doing in Italy shocked me every day. I should have gotten use to it after a while, but I remember it would really bum me out seeing kids try to sneak away from different outings or educational times to do other things (often including drinking). PLCers are suppose to be representatives of OU, and I think we should have been ashamed of ourselves and our actions while we were over there. I would be embarrassed at least a few times every day to be in the group I was in.

On the bright side, though–I loved Italy as a whole. As I extensively posted before, I went to Rio de Janeiro around this time a year ago and I love love loved every second of it. It was tight-knit and we were well aware of our outsider-presence in another community and way of life, and, luckily, I was able to find a few people to band-together like this while in Italy. They really helped turn the trip around for me. The food was always absolutely incredible, the people were always beautiful and kind (especially the woman that helped me when I was completely lost while in Arezzo, and I learned so much more than I ever expected about the Roman Empire and its art history.

All-in-all, I would go back to Italy in a heartbeat, but with people I know would appreciate it I truly hope I can return to Italy again one day and to have the kind of experience I know is out there.

Honestly? Highly Confused

I most definitely walked out of the “Into the Mainstream” presentation at Zarrow more than a bit confused.

While sitting in Farzaneh, because Zarrow doesn’t have cozy seating, typing this up, I am realizing how surely out-of-the-loop I am with international politics. Back in my political-knowledge prime, which was probably sophomore year of high school when my Quiz Bowl coach had me memorize a good chunk of the leaders of the world, I still had no idea what the heck any of the countries, policies, or leaders anything else had to do with one another. I have always thought that I had a decent general knowledge about what’s going on in the world, but this evening was a pleasant notifier of how lost I am!

On a seemingly unrelated note, I recognized several faces in the crowd tonight, some from GEF, PLC, or other odd-ball acquaintances on campus, and a few of them asked hearty-enough questions to make me more than question my competence as a person living on this highly politicized planet. I’ll be completely honest here–I have heard of a “populist party” before tonight, but other than that, again very honestly, I knew nothing about what the speaker was talking about. The only tidbit I even remotely recognized was the name of “Le Pen” because a few GEFers were furiously discussing some French election. Please note, a key phrase in that last sentence was “some French election.” Ha!

And since now I recognize more how little I truly know about global politics and relations, I feel like a lot of what I absorbed tonight was a little electric and, to put it lightly, strongly-worded. I learned how populists are suppose to be racist, antisemitic, heterophobic, sexist, and two other buzzwords I can’t remember. I learned how it’s hard to define “populism,” but that we did it anyway. In summary, I think it boiled down to leaders who are scrapping by and targeting the ignored voters of a political system to get in control to instill their “let’s change EVERYTHING” mindset.

Please know, the speaker did a wonderful job presenting his research and thoughts on the subject, but I couldn’t help but thinking every few minutes how biased what he was saying sounded. And regardless of political affiliation, the numerous Trump shots only soured my perception further.

For a more informed person, this event would have been highly interesting. I feel bad to say that since I truly didn’t know enough about this information on my own prior to this event, it really just left me more intrigued/skeptical than anything to find out more on the subject in general.

I guess the speaker was successful–now I want to buy his book (and others’) to learn more!

I Have Missed You.

Tonight was the night. I have talked about it for months, have based life-long plans on it, and even managed to convince my parents that three minors and spending a year abroad is a good idea because of it.

I had my first true encounter with Arabic!

This evening I went to the Arabic Flagship Talent Show. I truly had no idea or expectation (other than thinking “You know what, I might actually understand something!”–a definitely delusioned thought in hindsight) about the night before walking in. I was way more than pleasantly surprised!

However, I do have to preface this post a little. My first encounter with Arabic included me being so completely lost that I laughed when everyone else in the room laughed because they actually understood the jokes (5% percent of the time) or praying for English subtitles (95% of the time). About ten minutes after included people explaining the references to me, as well. Poor Maha–now I know why she is so lonely and doesn’t like falafels. But I definitely laughed at the Oklahoma weather video. Tornado jokes are pretty much universally understand by any native Okie–the hilarity of Oklahoma weather has no language barrier!

I do definitely remember being wildly intimated at points, though. Sitting in a big room filled with belly-laughing people, missing punch lines, and trying to explain  that I literally know one word of Arabic, “no,” (because I deduced it contextually after ten videos) makes me a little nervous about how the heck I’ll actually learn this language.

I’ve had people ask me, many times over, in the past several months with wide-eyes and slightly dropped-jaws “Why are you wanting to learn Arabic? Isn’t that going to be so hard for you?” And every time I was more than excited to defend my potential third language and brush the worry-warts off my shoulders. But tonight made me realize how much is in store for me with Arabic. It’s wildly thrilling, but actually a little terrifying for the first time so far. And I haven’t even started yet!

But while I was typing up that last little paragraph filled with my first inklings of nerves and fears, one thought popped into my head that helped restore some faith in myself (it’s definitely about the fearless woman who started this whole journey for me).

Jaci, you better come back to hear me say my first words in Arabic to you (after mutually freaking out about reuniting for about five minutes):

"لقد غاب لك."

EAA: Come Back with a Vengeance

Hello folks, it’s been a good long while.

To begin, this semester has kicked me in the butt. Never again will I take three 5-hour classes thinking all will be well–I’ll known what terror and stress is in store! But that’s besides the point for this post.

I feel as though I have surely shirked my GEF responsibilities this semester. All though I have kept up with my requirements, I do really miss posting every week about the roller coaster ride of a time college life is. My classes have eaten up much more time this semester than last, so the crazy, over-involved, stressed-out-of-my-mind-because-I’m-doing-too-much self has faded away a bit. Whoohoo! I’ll take my victories where I can get them! However, there was one thing this semester I was wildly looking forward to.

After coming back from Rio de Janeiro, I applied and got accepted into a little study-abroad advocate-type program, called Education Abroad Ambassadors, that focuses most intensely on educating students and spreading the word about OU’s opportunities for studying abroad.

Unfortunately, not a ton panned out in this group for me. I loved and lived for what EAA stands for (not the acronym [Which OU has taught me most to love. They are just so convenient!]), but the few meetings we had and the big plans to get us “seasoned study abroad vets” on the prowl to enlighten OU about the wonders of studying abroad just never really came to life as much as I anticipated.

Our meetings were full of hope and our schedule seemed packed to the brim in the beginning. Us Latin American study abroad-ers diligently plotted on how to steel away the semi-delusioned Arezzo-bound kids (but I’m being a little hypocritical, I might be going there this summer with PLC!), but I think that this just might have been the start for the EAA. I thoroughly hope that EAA comes back with a vengeance next semester and that the majority of the events aren’t during PLC anymore (done with PLC after the Italy trip, so that’s a sure-fire yes), because this program is too important and potentially wildly impactful to let slip under the rug.

It is mind boggling to me how so many people still don’t know how accessible studying abroad really is here at OU–believe me, I sat those folks down for a long talk. (This honestly did happen on multiple occasions throughout this semester. Ha!) So maybe I was an Education Abroad Ambassador with and without the formal group. The world just deserves to know how AWESOME studying abroad is!

*especially in Rio*

 

Margarida

January 3rd, 2017

At this point I was feeling a little shaken in my confidence about deserving to be in Rio. I’m on this class trip that is meant to be a 3000 level course in a hemisphere and country I’ve never been in and with a language I couldn’t speak a lick of. So what did I do after calling my boyfriend and crying a little more on a shaky WhatsApp video chat? Go to dinner by myself!

Admittedly, this isn’t too great of a feat. The hostel I am staying at is one block away from the beach and one block away from the busiest, most well-lit street. It’s also in Leblon—one of the safest, if not the safest, places in Rio. After getting a suggestion from Matt, I headed down two blocks to a place known for its…barbeque? I found out it was Cornish game hen. Neat! After ordering my food by pointing and being stared at by an old Brazilian lady throughout my meal, I power walked back to the hostel to go straight to bed and wallow in my #AmericanGirl status.

I knew I had a neighbor in the bed across from me, but it wasn’t until I was cozied up in bed reading and sweating my buns off in a Pi Phi sweatshirt that an older, Brazilian woman walked in. She started in Portuguese, but once I peeked my head out and mumbled a bit she transitioned to choppy but surprisingly good English. At that time I was not in the mood for her chatting and small talk, an oddity for me, but she persisted. For whatever reason I cannot recall, she sat down across from me in not-her-bed after exchanging niceties to really chat me up. Margarida, as I came to know her by after talking until almost one in the morning, surprised the beejeebies out of me. Long, long story short, she is a practicing, unmarried, and childless pediatrician from the northwest of Brazil who has devoted her passions, money, and life to travel. I love Mo, my grandmother, dearly, but when it comes to travel I think I discovered someone even more smitten with the world and bitten by the travel bug. I would mention any place I’d been, hope to go to, someone I knew had gone, or even heard of and she would rattle off her experience in that place and five more just like it that she loved. The line I remember most from her went something like, “I haven’t seen all of the world, but I am pretty sure I would no longer see anything new.”

There was another bit about this woman that caught me off guard. Margarida wasn’t a particularly lively person, and leaned much more on the side of impersonal and reserved throughout our conversation, even while she offered me several of her strawberry wafers. I was telling her the story of my leg, why I wanted to be a doctor, and how I specifically wanted to be an international surgeon when she stopped me to say in her hard-to-understand English, “I think you will be a very good doctor.” This tiny gesture felt like an enormous gift. She proceeded to speak of the sacrifice she had felt, not about not having a family, but about the missing time and lifestyle physician-hood took in return of its affluence and agency it offered. She then paused, telling me she didn’t know the translation of a word she wanted to use to describe what she was trying to accomplish with this portion of our conversation. She picked up her phone to translate it and mumbled a suppose-to-be English word over and over again in an accent I could not decipher for the life of me. She eventually got up and walked her phone with the translation over to me. Encourage. She wanted to encourage me to become what I dream to be. She said she thought I could do it—now that’s a gift.

Beyond that I don’t have much more to say about Margarida. We woke up in the morning and I found her reading her bible. A devout Catholic; she reads her bible twenty-five minutes every day and even had a teeny, gold Virgin Mary necklace ripped off of her chest on the beach the other day. She told me we were going to get breakfast; I was flattered. I now feel so bad—I neglected her a bit once the rest of the crew arrived in the morning. But later in the day, whenever the girls were unpacking in a room I unknowingly ushered them into with a Margarida getting ready for the beach in her bikini, she asked me to rub sunscreen on her back for her; I was honored. She left after giving me her number and telling me all about Carnival, her favorite, in Recife, Brazil.

I took it as an invitation to visit her someday.

#AmericanGirl

January 2nd, 2017

Officially in Brazil! Officially an obvious American!

Even when I was trying to ask questions in my beginner Spanish (I didn’t realize so many people would know some conversational Spanish) I was greeted with Ingles? (I’m extra surprised at how many people know English?!)  Bummer. I’m so obviously American it’s humorous. I can’t blame them either. I’m walking around with my L.L. Bean duck boots, a huge and colorfully patterned cardigan resting on my forearm, beads of sweat forming on my forehead, and a constant look of confusion plastered to my face. I don’t think the Macbook Pro I’m writing this on is helping my cause either. I’m not from these joints! I’m also sitting here, probably at the wrong gate, wondering how American I actually look. Am I just self-conscious because I don’t know the language or the people, so I feel as though I’m sticking out like a sore thumb, or am I really sticking out like a sore thumb? I’ll find out in a minute when I go try to figure out the partidas domésticas board again.

I’m at the right gate! I was just thrown for a loop whenever this gate is hosting two plane arrivals and departures within one hour.

UPDATE: That was the wrong gate and I am obviously American. I scream American so badly that while I was talking to the picturesque Brazilian man—very tall, beautifully colored, and extra muscular—the flight attendant spoke to him in English as we were walking by. He instantly responded to her with what I deduced was something like, “Oh no! I am not American—she is!” This encounter was hilarious to them, and admittedly to me, too. So I got to my seat, an aisle seat, and started waiting for my neighbors to arrive. Whenever a couple walked up with the proper body language I gestured if they were sitting with me. They both responded with, “Yes!” #AmericanGirl

Once my flight landed after twenty minutes craning my neck to catch glimpses of the city from the tiny airplane window, I was ready to conjure Rio. I strutted out of the arrivals terminal on a mission to find Emilton, a man who works with OU in Rio and came to come pick me up from the airport and take me to our hostel in Leblon. He was suppose to be wearing a specific OU affiliated shirt, so I tried to check out every man’s clothing without being too conspicuous, but I could not find him! I stopped to exchange currencies and try to hop onto any free wifi I could to contact Caren for probably twenty minutes, but no luck. Just when I was debating between sleeping in the airport until everyone arrived the next day or attempting to hail a taxi, I realized he might be at the international terminal, thinking I was flying out of the U.S. instead of Mexico. THERE HE WAS! I felt so bad. Not only did I spend way too much time looking around the domestic terminal, but our bags from the flight were horribly late coming out of the chute. He was there waiting for at least almost an hour! Then something else, very important, made me feel worse.

I couldn’t talk to him. At all. It’s completely my fault, too. I didn’t even know how to say “thank you” yet. I didn’t realize and know that to say hello it was “hola,” like in Spanish. The entire ride to the hostel was either filled with silence or him trying to speak to me in a language I couldn’t understand a single word of. I was so embarrassed. I have been so passionate about respecting and adapting to cultures since I want to travel abroad as untouristy as possible, but I failed! My mom even got me a Portuguese/English dictionary—I forgot it in my car at DFW. I spent so long preparing for this course with its particularities that I forgot to prep myself for the experience. Whenever I was walking out of the hostel, Matt at the front desk took my laptop and my camera from me (that I was going to keep in my backpack) to watch it while I went and ate. I didn’t even have a lock for my drawer to keep my stuff safe in the hostel.