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.

First Time Trabelin’ South & What It Can Do to a Girl

January 1st, 2017

Water fountains aren’t a thing in Mexico, and for whatever reason I have a feeling they won’t be in Rio either. The realización de fuente de agua has been only the most recent surprise on my way down to Rio, but it’s sure the one I’m noticing the most right now.

I’ve been down in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico for the past week. Interestingly enough, this year my usual decompression with tons of shrimp and sunscreen was not very relaxing—and it wasn’t just this reading and paper for this class that caused it! I’ve been thrilled for this experience since I camped outside Erika’s/Dr. Larkin’s (What’s the protocol for addressing really cool professors that you want to be your friend?) door to figure out if I could tag along as a freshman on the block. Most folks I’ve talked to about it had been too…until I got to Mexico. For whatever reason, the seasoned travel vets who have frequented Mazatlán and other corners of the world for decades were all excited for me, but consistently had very slight apprehension that I couldn’t stop picking up on. After being very lovingly engulfed by good-intentioned concern for a week, I admittedly couldn’t take it anymore. The relentless assumptions that I couldn’t figure out how to navigate airports and that bug-eyed question I’ve come to detest pushed me over the edge—Are you ever going to be alone? I would immediately answer with a Never! to ease the fear off their faces, but this nagged me. When did the whole world become a warzone?

After saying goodbye to my dad in the Mazatlán airport, I strutted into the nearest bathroom and cried like a baby. I was the only one in that airport terminal besides the bathroom cleaning lady and the guy working the bar. I never had any reservations about going to Rio, not one, but I think the reality of how I’m not a kid anymore hit me like a freight train. I was flying down to Rio. Alone. That week of worry rubbed off on me and my own fear set it. I was shaken in my self-confidence to do what I not only planned on doing, but wanted to do with my life. Now that I’m on my plane from Mazatlán to Sao Paulo after a plane delay and a tight connection to make in a foreign airport, I know I’m going to be just fine. I guess I just didn’t think so then. This is my first solo trip to a new place—excluding the rest of the group—and my first test to see if I could handle my future career goals. I want to be an international crises-based physician. That will, hopefully, include a lot of traveling to anywhere and everywhere. An unforeseen drawback, however, would also be being potentially disconnected to my loved ones for unknown periods of time. I was so gung-ho about a life of *Side note—I’m about to get food and water for the first time in a while. The flight attendants rolled by with their little carts and my heart skipped a beat!* constant travel until I had reasons to not want to leave. My loved ones are beginning to mean much more to me as I’m growing up. I know the world is the most connected and accessible it’s ever been, but what will that do to a future family? How do you celebrate holidays in countries without the ones you grew up with? What will too much time with my butt glued to an airplane seat do to my janky back? And will I ever get over always getting sick when I travel (as I sniffle from my latest round of the travel bug)? I guess I’ll find out in time.

I’m on my flight from Mexico City to Sao Paulo. I’m pretty sure I’m about seven or eight hours into it, but I have no idea what time it really is. While I was sleeping, we flew over the Pacific and into South America through Peru. I had the geographical relation and location of Brazil and Rio so wrong! It has been a while since I have flown to a place this far away. I had forgotten how big the world is.

The grub is a-comin’! I think we can even get coffee with it? What a world this is.

Dylan, Fulbright, and Genevieve–How Bazzar!

This is going to be short and sweet (for two reasons!). What I’m reflecting upon was definitely a little while back, but the more I think about it the more I recall about the importance of that day.

For starters, that I convinced my sweet, sweet boyfriend to come along with me to an information session about Fulbright Scholarships. His name is Dylan; in relation to this flashback, he has not traveled too much and is kicking his butt into gear while in college to open doors for himself. We grew up in the same small town where vacation was either to Dallas, Texas for a shopping spree, a Mexican tourist town, or an orphanage half-way across the world to snuggle babies, so he didn’t travel very much while he was young. Additionally, at our high school, which is admittedly the very best school in southern Oklahoma and one of the best schools in the state, it wasn’t only uncool to make good grades, but it also wasn’t very difficult to. Not only did he never really have to work hard to make good grades, but everyone didn’t. What a trick, Plainview–who knew hard work required hard work!

But anyway, I included this mini backstory to highlight how proud I am of him for taking the time to check out something which he wouldn’t have before that day. After leaving the session, I had never seen him more confident in his own enormous potential.

While at this Fulbright session presented by the lovely Jaci Gandenberger with Dylan, I met someone who has already become a large role-model and advisor for my studies. Genevieve (I still don’t know her last name… Sorry, Genevieve!) was awarded a Fulbright to do research in Jordan this coming year (Congrats, Genevieve!). I am thankful for this more for my sake than hers–Jaci had been telling me for weeks to come and meet Genevieve, but I had never gotten around to it. I had heard about this legendary and fearless lady prior to meeting her because she in charge of OU’s Arabic Flagship Program. If you are unaware of what the Arabic Flagship Program is exactly and the role she plays, just know that Genevieve basically corrals forty kids like me, trying to do some of the craziest, most fun, and adventuresome opportunities OU has to offer, for her job. That takes one special and devoted person, which she most certainly is. She has already spent hours with me trying to figure out how to make my goals more than just dreams, but a reality, and I’m not even in Flagship *yet*! Even before I am anywhere close to technically needing her help, she has whipped out her blue sticky notes, Pilot G2 pen, and contacts to give me the best advise on how the hell I’m going to maybe be able to find a way to get into her program–all without blinking an eye and with a smile on her face.

I got way more into that last Genevieve bit than I thought, so back to the story!

After leaving the Fulbright session where I met Genevieve and saw my boyfriend believe he’s a cool enough cat to apply for scholarships and awards like the Fulbright one day, we wondered over to the international bazaar on the South Oval. While sipping on some kind of delicious Mediterranean tea, finding out I do not like dates, and eating the BEST baklava I have had in my life, Dylan and I walked around the circle of tables thinking about not only our individual futures, but our international future together. Being surrounded by all of these people proudly representing their countries with food, flags, talk, and art helped me realize that those places really aren’t all too far away, both literally and metaphorically. By bumping into a dear friend stressing over an economics test, a new acquaintance I had just met at the Fulbright session, and a fellow Fellow face painting within three minutes, I understood how possible everything is while at this one event for that relatively short period of time.

That day was bazaar (spelling and pun intentional), but so wonderful. So many little parts of my life swirled together beautifully and in such unexpected ways. While standing in the South Oval with hot tea in my hand, baklava lingering on my tongue, my biggest supporter at my side, and my heart full from so many people taking new roles in my life, I realized the world was a little smaller than I could have ever hoped it could be.

“While we’re on the topic of destroying America…”

Last week I had my last meeting with my international group for GEF…

I am so grateful.

I was a member of one of the Honors College’s Informed Citizens Discussion Groups this fall semester. To be clear before I give you my low-down, I disliked my own group within ICDG, not ICDG as a whole (although I did eventually removed myself from the ICDG Facebook page because of how this election was handled). I am not the person who just straight-up hates things that go against my grain, but I really struggled with ICDG.

My feelings for my particular ICDG group can be exemplified by the title of this post. That little melodramatic snippet is actually a serious quote from one of the two consistent members, excluding myself, of the group during our last meeting. The group was discussing Trump’s potential Cabinet.

To go through my many griefs, I’m bringing back my number list.

  1. Not exaggerating, I spoke at the maximum three times throughout the entire semester, not including when I was on trial for my political affiliation (see 2). Within only a few meetings, I realized that anything I wanted to contribute to the conversation would instantly be pounced on. Since I didn’t spend all of my free time protesting on campus or beefing up on my Bernie Sanders knowledge, I was basically not “well informed enough” to have legitimate opinions in my extremely biased group.
  2. Either during the first or second meeting, I was persecuted. Upon openly sharing with the group that I am a conservative, one girl, while refusing to look at me without a face of disgust, said, “I have never met a Trump supporter before.” To make things worse, another guy just pointed at me and said, “Well, there’s one.” With that one casual comment, I could tell that those people branded me a racist, earth-hating, money-hoarding, sexist, delusional scum bag by the looks on their faces. I was then questioned for the rest of the meeting–their expressions then turned into those face people make when they are watching some ridiculous animal at a zoo. Regardless of political beliefs, I was appalled with the sheer lack of respect.
  3. The Facebook page was sheer chaos. Although I admit I must be biased because I grew up conservative and have remained conservative through the liberal college experience, I try to understand other opinions with as much respect as possible. Once Trump was elected president, the page was filled with posts about the world ending, what condolence food was being brought to which group, and ideas on how to void Trump’s win. Besides the presidency, there was one conservatively bent comment on a post about Black Lives Matter, or something of the like, that I particularly remember. Instead of the author of the post respectfully countering with support for his opinion, he attacked the character of the commenter who said that all lives matter. I removed myself from the page after that.

Believe me, there are many more complaints, however, I owe them some thanks. They sure as heck strengthened my beliefs–despite listening to the most biased group of people I have ever encountered for a whole semester.

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.