After taking Erica to eat authentic Mexican food, we decided to give her an authentic Texan experience at the Fort Worth Stockyards Championship Rodeo. After eating delicious Texas barbecue, we made our way to the rodeo. During the patriotic intro with the song “I’m proud to be an American,” I couldn’t help but look over at Erica and feel a tinge of awkwardness as the whole arena sang, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” I did not have that same awkward feeling when I went to the rodeo a few years ago, before spending a semester in China. Travel sure has wrecked me from my nice happy, patriotic life. Now I over-analyze the patriotic songs I grew up singing, the size of our fridge, the number of cars we own, and the plastic cutlery we waste. But it was fun watching Erica throughout the evening-I couldn’t help but think if she would also struggle singing Chinese patriotic songs after going back home.
I took Erica home with me over the weekend after finals week to visit Texas and taste some authentic Mexican food. We went to the most hole-in-the-wall place we could think of –“Taqueria La Original.” The salsa there is spicier than most Americans can handle, the TV in the corner plays dramatic Spanish soap operas, and the street tacos don’t have any shredded cheese on top. So to me, it seemed pretty authentic, but to be honest, I’ve never been to Mexico, so I can’t say what authentic Mexican food is like. Although the large photographs of London that hung the walls made me doubt the “Mexican-ness” of the restaurant, it still is one of my favorite Mexican restaurants. It did make me wonder if my judgement of authenticity is actually accurate, especially considering that many cuisines have become a blend of many different cultures here in the melting pot of the United States. That’s probably why when people ask me to take them to a good American restaurant, I shrug, and take them to a Mexican restaurant instead.
Well, the semester has ended, and now it is officially the Christmas Season. In spirit with the season, I decided to publish a post I have been working on about Jolabokaflod, the Christmas Book Flood.
On Christmas Eve in Iceland, friends, family members, and loved ones give each other a book of paper and ink (as they are far less enamored with ebooks than our society), and they spend the evening reading, often with a cup of hot chocolate. It’s a cozy tradition that is thought to have come about during World War II when restrictions on imports and resources made paper one of the few items still plentifully, allowing for the printing of a wave of books, making books one of the few readily available gifts at the time. It has been a treasured part of Christmas ever since.
The majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for this event. Part of the reason this tradition is so popular is because of the love for reading and writing the Icelandic people have. Literature is treasured there; Iceland has one of the most prolific literature markets in the Western Hemisphere.
Writers, publishers, and readers alike look eagerly to the Christmas season for the chance to promote books and see what new stories will be stocking the shelves each year. Because the population of Iceland is so small, this is more or less the only time of the year that books are published, though some publishers are looking to expand to the whole year.
As I have never been to Iceland or experienced anything like this before, I cannot confirm how accurate the romanticism of this tradition or how prevalent book-giving actually is, but rest assured, if I ever make it out to Iceland around Christmas time, I’ll be sure to find out.
In October, OU’s South Oval swarmed with curious students carrying plates of traditional Chinese food, making their way through the various cultural booths during OU’s yearly Confucius Institute Day, the institute that allowed me to study abroad in Beijing for a semester. After grabbing some spicy pork and fried rice, I made my way through the booths, sampling Chinese tea, learning about traditional Chinese instruments, and practicing calligraphy. I joined a group of students practicing Chinese hacky sack (毽子) for a while, remembering the time I watched a group of older men in Beijing that were hacky sack masters. It was a nice break between Microbiology classes. Later, I ran into some of my international friends at the booths, and we took a break to grab a free snow cone–a first experience for them!
This semester as part of my participation in CESL (Center for English as a Second Language), I spent time with a group of students from China, including, of course, a weekly trip to Walmart in a car full of rapid-fire Chinese that was sometimes hard for me to keep up with.
A few weeks into the semester, they invited me over to their apartment for traditional Chinese food. For dessert, they topped cinnamon sugar toast with moose-tracks ice cream, an invented delicacy that seemed like an appropriate American conclusion to the Asian meal.
In exchange, I began to invite them over to my house on Monday nights for a home-cooked American meal and a window into my college life. I was surprised when they turned down the chopsticks that I offered and instead grabbed up a fork to eat the spaghetti I had made. “Forks are way more convenient!” they said, an honest confession to the superiority of Western cutlery. As we ate the simple American meal, we all reminisced over the delicious Chinese food at BNU’s cafeteria–凉面 liangmian, 包子 baozi, 火锅 hot pot, and 八宝粥 eight treasures porridge– admitting to the supremacy of Eastern cuisine. After dinner, Yedda gravitated toward my guitar, so I taught her a few chords and a basic song. Erica sat in our big velvet-green recliner and read Ovid for her classical mythology class. Wuyan pulled her Japanese textbook out of her bright yellow backpack and pored over Japanese. Jo chatted to her friends on WeChat while reading a book. I sat contented, studying Microbiology, enjoying the presence of my instant friends, in the back of my mind knowing that our time together would quickly come to an end.
During Monday of finals week, Erica told me (around 10 pm) that she just found out that it was Jo’s birthday. In the crazy hour that commenced, we pulled off a surprise birthday party, complete with snacks from the nearby 7-11, and a birthday card. I’ve begun to realize that nobody in Traditions locks their doors, because we all just walked right into her apartment, went to her room, and woke her up to wish her happy birthday!
A few days later, as we said our last tearful goodbyes, promising that we would see each other again in the future, I remembered my own goodbyes when I left Beijing 2 years ago after studying abroad at BNU for a semester. I remembered making the same moist-eyed promises to my Chinese family. I’m grateful that in the last two years I have had the opportunity to see some of them again in unexpected places — England, Poland, and California! Even though we will still stay in touch over WeChat, that evening I couldn’t help but look at flights to Beijing during spring break — a visit is way overdue!
There has been quite a gap since my last post in this one, but I’d like to chalk that up to the eternally busy lifestyle of the college student. Without any further ado:
A month or so ago, I was able to attend a meeting run by Anne Delong to review the requirements for the Global Engagement Fellowship. I’ll be adding these requirements to the main GEF page soon, but here’s a glimpse of how the program works.
Global Engagement Fellows are those students who want to be global citizens, who are prepared to have an influence that extends beyond borders and experiences that transcend a single society. We are given scholarships to study abroad at least twice in our time here at the University of Oklahoma, and to help foster our growth while home, we have to be a member of an international organization and attend at least two international events per semester. In order to make sure we are using these opportunities to grow, we are also asked to maintain a blog — hence this post — recording the experiences we have had while completing these requirements.
Anne started the meeting by introducing herself and having us introduce ourselves to each other. We talked through the requirements again and discussed different study abroad opportunities. The main part of the meeting though was reserved for an upperclassman to tell us about her experience in the GEF program.
She started off telling us about her time in Quito, Ecuador, at which the people have the “Ohio” accent of Spanish. It’s easier to understand than other Spanish speaking countries, and the city is sprawled out between two mountains, which makes for some wonderful landscapes. She told us that going abroad, she gained a really cool appreciation for the way the landscape affects the attitudes of the people who live there. The people of Quito have this way of thinking about their city based on the presence of the mountains, and it made be begin to wonder how my view of the place I live is affected by the surrounding landscapes.
Afterwards, Anne showed us part of this powerful TedTalk entitled “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She spoke of how, growing up, she had this idea of this poor boy her family employed to work in their home, and when they went to visit his home, she was startled to find that there was more to his life and his family than merely being poor. He was a whole person, and somehow, she had missed it. Later, when she went to the United States, other people would treat her based on the single story of Africa they knew. In one of her classes, her subject matter was criticized by her professor for not being “African” enough, in that it did not depict the extreme poverty we so often associate Africa with.
Chimamanda Adichie explained that we must beware of the single story because it clouds our vision from the person behind the stereotype we have.
I recently attended a talk by Mohammed Daadaoui titled “It’s Good To Be The King, or Is It? The ‘Refo-lutionary’ Promise of the PJD Islamists, Street Protests and Regime Control in Morocco.” As you have probably gathered from the title, the lecture focused on the Moroccan monarchy and the challenges it faces.
Daadaoui described the Moroccan monarchy as a lynchpin monarchy, which plays a limited role in governmental institutions and tolerates some decree of social pluralism, such as an elected head of government. However, no party will ever have a majority as a plurality party is engineered, and there is a shadow government headed by royal advisors. The king has a great deal of symbolic power, as the guarantor of social order and the commander of the faithful, and all Moroccans swear an annual oath of loyalty to him.
The Arab Spring was, of course, challenging to the stability of the monarchy. The February 20th protest movement led to cosmetic constitutional reforms, which gained some support but may have weakened the monarchy by its entrance into the political fray. Additional challenges include the rise of the PJD and the Rif protests.
The PJD, Parti de la justice et du développement, led by Benkirane, is an increasingly successful Islamist party that has been successful in encouraging voter turnout through its discourse of honesty and morality. While it is prevented from gaining a majority through the bloc system of the parliament, the PJD seeks incremental social changes within the system. Benkirane is known for his humble abode and his habit of giving speeches in Darija, the Arabic vernacular of Morocco. However, he began to be seen as an adversary of the king and was fired by him. While this was apparently a sign of strength, it may also serve to demystify the monarchy.
The Rif region of Morocco has a long history of conflict with the monarchy. It was a separate republic under Spanish colonization, and its 1958 rebellion was met with violent repression by the father of the current king. The current protests, which are at least somewhat more tolerated, address injustice due to corruption and the lack of national support for the socioeconomic development of the region. The king has been silent on the matter, but used his throne-day speech to critique the political class. This was followed by the sacking of several ministers, which was refered to as a زلزال سياسي , or political earthquake.
Daadaoui summarized the situation with the term “The King’s Dilemna,” which he defined as the monarchy’s need to shore up their position within the political fray while maintaining symbolic support above it. My classes in Morocco focused on other aspects of Moroccan society, probably because criticizing the monarchy is illegal, so I was very interested to learn more about Moroccan government. Some of the ideas were familiar to me, such as the shadow government, the oath of loyalty, and the Rif protests, but others, such as the rise of the PJD, were completely new.
Note that the information expressed here is not my own opinion on the Moroccan monarchy, but is simply my best attempt at summarizing the lecture.
One international organization that I have been blessed to have worked so closely with this semester is United World College. President’s Leadership Class had our first meeting with UWC scholars early in the semester. We broke up into small groups and were each assigned two UWC scholars. We went around and shared our names and a breif backgroung and the UWC schoalrs did the same. Then, the UWC scholars further explained why they went to UWC and how they got to OU and spoke a bit about their lives here in Oklahoma as compared to that in the home countries.
Hearing about an international student’s college journey was very humbling for me. I always knew I wanted to attend the University of Oklahoma and that was a very tangible goal for me. Until speaking with the UWC scholars, I never considered the struggles and goals of an international student pursuing a college degree. I am so thankful for my own journey and the means by which I’ve been able to reach my goals.
To end our semester, we had a Christmas party with the UWC scholars. It was so sweet to talk to them about the holidays and to hear their plans for winter break. I feel like I often take for granted my ability to visit my family and know that I have somewhere to go over break. The United World College Scholars that I have met are so inspiring to me and I wish them the best as they continue their education here at the University of Oklahoma.
For more information on the UWC Scholars Program at OU: http://www.ou.edu/admissions/uwc.html
September 18th-22nd OU in Puebla hosted “Mexico Week” at the University of Oklahoma. Mexico Week was a week full of events to celebrate and educate students about Mexico and the study abroad opportunities there. Armando Garcia, director of OU in Puebla, came and spoke to my Spanish class about the study abroad center in Puebla. I’ve actually been selected to attend the PLC in Puebla trip this summer, which makes Mexico Week signifigant to me.
During Mexico Week, there was an information booth in the South Oval on campus. I stopped by on my way to class just to see what was going on. At this point, I had no idea that I’d end up spending two weeks of my summer in Puebla. At the booth, they talked about the different areas of study available in Puebla and the different opportunities presented to the students who chose to study there. This upcoming summer, those possibilities will be my reality and I could not be more grateful for that opportuity. Hopefully, this summer I’ll have blog posts describing my time spent in Puebla, rather than my learning about it.
For more information about OU in Puebla: https://youtu.be/IJkarvsY97M
There Is Prom In College!
This year I had the privilege of attending International Prom at the University of Oklahoma. When my friend, Dylan, asked me to go with him, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. First, I thought International Prom was only for international students. It isn’t. Then, I thought it would be really intense and formal like prom in high school. It wasn’t.
A group of my friends from PLC (President’s Leadership Class) met at the caf and ate dinner together. After dinner, we walked to the park and took some cute “prom” pictures. Then, we went to the actual dance.
I wasn’t sure what to expect because all my proms in high school were pretty typical and this was college prom. Honestly, it ended up being pretty similar to high school. However, the international aspect of this prom made me appreciate it much more.
I’ve never noticed how “American” prom really is. I mean, where else in the world do a bunch of high school students get dressed up for one night of dancing, music, and fun and turn it into an entire event, which requires sometimes months of planning ahead. Now, I was never as impressed with prom as some of my friends were, but it’s become a big deal for students in the U.S. Any movie depicting high school kids will tell you, prom is the be all end all. Ask any American student about the key points of their schooling experience and prom will probably come up a few times. It’s no surprise that international students would want to have “prom” be part of their American experience.
Internation Prom, hosted by the international adviory committee, was fixed to accomodate international students and their prefrences. It was sweet to see the American prom altered to be more fitting for international students. Instead of the DJ playing only popular American dance songs, they played songs from all different countries and cultures. No matter where a student was from, there was at least a piece of their culture featured at the dance.
I think it’s important to celebrate and include the many different cultures and backgrounds here at OU and I am proud to attend a university that does that.
For more information on the International Advisory Committee or International Prom: http://www.ou.edu/iac/events.html