International Involvement: Baccano

My semester has been brightened by an Italian touch.

First off, my Intermediate Italian Continued course is full of amazing people, and each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is made one hundred times more fun by our banter.

Secondly, I've gotten more heavily involved in Baccano, our campus's Italian conversation club. Out of curiosity, I attended its organizational meeting at the very start of the semester. The group of us, along with Dr. Daniela Busciglio, brainstormed ideas for events we could host. Movie nights, coffee meetups, bake sales, soccer tournaments, you name it! This group of guys and gals is so enthusiastic about Italian language and culture - it's absolutely infectious. What began as a simple interest in learning a beautiful-sounding language has grown into a love for what that language represents: the culture of a passionate, loving people.

Two events stand out to me as being especially exciting.

The first was our second Caffe e Conversazione for the semester. Anyone with any level of Italian who was interested could come to Crimson & Whipped Cream and chat away with other like-minded people. Along with some people from my own Italian class, I met several fun new folks and had awesome conversation about everything from our favorite foods to our romantic gossip - all in Italian. I remember thinking, this is real language learning. Not memorizing long lists of vocabulary you may never use, but rather putting all of it into practice and forcing yourself to think, speak, and breathe the language. Throwing yourself into the deep end and chatting away, drawing on the collective knowledge when you reach a roadblock or can't quite articulate a thought. It's embarrassing and scary and wholly thrilling.

The second event was quite exciting - the documentary filmmaker Fred Kuwornu came to OU for a day to speak. His films seek to enact social change, which creates an interesting middle ground between art and activism. Although I was not able to make it to his talk, I did attend the meet & greet and later accompanied Dr. Busciglio and Mr. Kuwornu to dinner, where I was able to ask millions of questions about his life's work.

I'm grateful to Baccano for providing opportunities for me to step out of my comfort zone and learn outside of the classroom. I can only expect my involvement to become more exciting over the coming weeks and semesters!

Professor Mustafa Bahran: The Yemeni Conundrum

Prior to attending the lecture given by Professor Mustafa Bahran on February 28th, I knew shamefully little about either the history of the country or the presently ongoing conflict. As was mentioned in the lecture, Western media tends to forget about this nation’s revolution amidst the larger players in the Arab Spring – namely, Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria. However, Yemen is not a country to be forgotten. Professor Bahran gave his audience a sweeping yet thorough history of this ancient nation, reminding (or informing) us all of the rich culture to be found in Yemen.

The conflict in Yemen seems extremely complicated, with many intertwined actors. No one entity involved is entirely without agenda, and seeming enemies are often in each other’s pockets. Although the typical war is certainly complicated, this one in particular involves numerous factions that are not entirely separable – nor is there a clear division of right from wrong in terms of different actors’ motivations for violence. The sheer amount of confusion to simply comprehend and categorize the participants makes understanding the war extremely difficult. And this is before we even begin to factor in the wider context and analyze how the economic, social, and political state of Yemen could have shaped the war into the seemingly hopeless conflict it is today.

The lecture made its audience think. Not only did Professor Bahran include a plethora of facts and vital details in his analysis of the war, but he did not hold back the expression of his own emotional investment in the conflict’s outcome. Having lost a brother-in-law in the violence, Professor Bahran certainly succeeded in portraying the urgency with which he and other Yemenis hope for a quick resolution. This added emotion turned what could have been a purely academic lecture into a call to action and a push for all of us to become invested in peace.

Look Beyond Yourself

This semester, I decided to step out of the comfort of my own sheltered existence. For years, I was obsessed with Europe - my homeland, my calling, the place where one can walk around any city and experience a million marvels of architecture and culture in a single day.

To be frank, I never felt the urge to venture beyond, to experience or learn much about the rest of the world. It felt so unfamiliar - and foreignness is scary. I dove into my high-school level world history and human geography courses, reveling in the beauty of historical and socioeconomic trends. It was all very academic. Genghis Khan did such and such, killed a bunch of people. History from a distance - these people didn't feel much like people. Their story was a collective one, and thus abstracted beyond emotion.

Enter the course Arab Spring. Already I was intensely invested, because my sister had lived in Egypt in the year before and the year after the 2011 revolution. Her normal updates at the time morphed into reassurances that she hadn't been in the metro when security forces let off tear gas, that she had stayed in her apartment while a protest went on in the square just a few meters below. My own blood's tangential involvement meant I was more personally invested in the outcome of the history being set in motion. I followed closely on social media, watched in horror as I saw photos of bloodied protesters and read about their struggles to take back control of their own beloved country.

And, this semester, I decided to jump back in academically. The class 'Arab Spring,' taught by Dr. Joshua Landis, utilizes all sorts of perspectives with which to see this important period in Middle Eastern history. Viewing the events through economic, historic, social, and personal lenses (the result of reading academic journals, memoir-like books authored by seasoned journalists, and first-person accounts alike) weaves a series of frames into one larger story of the struggle of a people. Perhaps it is the addition of social media as a crucial narrator for the revolutions, a medium through which the very people involved can offer their thoughts, unfiltered. Or the fact that it is people my age who are putting their lives at risk to overthrow the propagators of autocracy and oppression. But the course has resulted in a strange amalgamation of academic study and personal investment in the future of the region.

I encourage us all to look beyond - if all you check each day is your social media feeds, make an effort to also read the news. And if you read the news, follow social media feeds that put another layer onto the often tragic but sometimes faceless events that occur everyday around us. Become invested in knowing your world. And when a chance comes for you to change it, do your part.

Letters

An archaic form of communication, it’s charming nonetheless. Somehow, opening a Snapchat never quite measures up to the pleasant surprise of receiving a handwritten letter in the mail. Torn at the corner, slightly muddied, and stamped multiple times over with details of its journey, this flimsy envelope and its precious contents went through so much more to find itself in your mailbox. No puppy ears filters, no instantaneous reply.

A letter is free of time, free of anxiety. You send it off and wait. And if you’re lucky, a reply will find its way to you in a month or so. Freed from the worries of the modern age – why hasn’t he opened the snapchat I sent? Why didn’t she reply? She saw my message an hour ago – is she angry at me or just forgot to send one back?

With a letter, there are no accusations or fears. Almost as a diary entry, I scribble down my thoughts for as long as they come, wipe off the ring of moisture from my coffee cup, fold it up, and stuff it into an envelope. Collecting my thoughts for a month or so allows for a long and winding tale of life as it happened, which is often more interesting than watching it live on social media. The intense and personal bits are reserved for this much more intimate form of communication.

No back-and-forth messages to work out a good time to Skype, since time differences and busy schedules alike may mean this happens all too late. Instead, a promise to keep up this common thread of conversation, even if months separate replies.

In an excessively connected world, sometimes the old ways are the best.

Ireland: A Reflection, an adequate amount of time later

I was ready to leave when I did. I needed a change of scenery – again.

But, just as all of us truly believe that our lives are not a cliche, it just took time to miss what was gone. And now I really do.

I’ve started having dreams, recalling things about the place I left. An academic year is no short time (at least while it’s passing), and in those nine months I experienced plenty of material for my brain to pull from during sleep.

The first were dreams in first-person perspective, as if I had a Go-Pro on my head while I walked. I retraced the steps from my house near the university all the way into town, stopping at my friend Morgan’s house to pop my head into her window and say hello. The river gleamed even on this gloomy day, the clouds casting their reflection with what little sunlight could be spared. Headphones in, I strolled to the beat until I reached the bookstore, ready to peruse Waterstones’ latest offerings. And then it stops.

I wake up and I’m back in Norman. No river. No real chance of a stroll into town, and far fewer cafes to choose from. No sipping on a cappuccino and watching the rain fall.

The very things that made me most upset (“It’s too dark during winter!” “Why does it rain so very often…?” “It’s such a hassle to catch a flight onto the continent.”) are the things I really miss. The gloom. The rain. The cheap Ryanair flights.

My friends. (They didn’t make me upset)

I don’t regret the experience, and I don’t regret coming back. But the reality is, you leave a little piece of yourself wherever you go. And I left quite a bigger chunk in Ireland.

International Organization: Informed Citizens Discussion Groups

For my international organization this semester, I decided to try something different. I went online. With an infuriatingly busy semester ahead of me, I knew that to be able to be involved, I’d have to be clever.

The choice of platform was obvious: everyone’s on Facebook, right? I had heard of the Informed Citizens Discussion Groups and had friends who’d enjoyed the club, so that was where I decided to get involved. What followed was a semester of very interesting social media engagement.

The Informed Citizens Discussion Groups page is an… interesting place. Full of students with opinions all across the spectrum, it held a deep intrigue for me. Here was a way to become politically and internationally involved like never before – reading news articles regularly and interacting with people to trade thoughts about current events. The obvious focus of the semester was the US election, but there were articles posted about international events as well.

Each time someone made a post referencing some recent event, a multitude of people would stream to the comments section and offer their piece. Opinions were shouted (as much as that can be done on the Internet). Arguments broke out. Petty comments abounded. Sarcastic comics were even drawn and shared. I laughed, I frowned, I learned. Consuming this media along with my morning browse of various social networks forced me to be informed about my own world.

I would argue this Internet-based involvement is somehow an even deeper connection than would be being involved in some university clubs. Many meet rarely or gradually shut out newcomers to be a sort of elite crew. Informed Citizens Discussion Groups does the opposite – come one, come all, and contribute any opinion you dare – as long as you can handle the response.

Music from Syria and Beyond

The evening of October 1st was a pretty magical one. For just the cost of a cup of coffee, my friend Sadaf and I were able to attend a beautiful concert unlike anything I had seen (or rather, heard) before.

The concert was extraordinarily simple, featuring just two performers: Kenan Adnawi on the oud and Tareq Rantisi on percussion. What followed was a two hour period of listening and contemplating.

Music has been a huge part of my life since before my birth – I remember the sounds of Peter Gabriel and Lighthouse Family filling the house. But somehow, even with a father who received his bachelor’s at a university in Saudi Arabia and a sister who has collectively spent over two years studying in different parts of the Middle East, I had never listened to any music of that region (save some Egyptian rap my sister sent me videos of on occasion). Therefore it was pretty incredible for my first concert in this genre to feature two very talented musicians from the region.

Although I can’t recall the names of the individual songs, their sound stays with me. The highlight was the moment the two musicians transitioned from original pieces to traditional Syrian songs, and members of the audience began to sing along. Music was meant to be shared this way – not in silence, but in togetherness, either with emotions flooding our heads or the words themselves spilling from our mouths, to share in the awe as one.

Stories: Middle East and North Africa

A few Fridays ago, I took a well-deserved break from real life and headed over to Second Wind for a dose of story time.

The first event of its kind, this “open mic” afternoon opened my eyes a bit more to a region that I’m shamefully unfamiliar with. Although the Middle East was the focus of six years of higher educational study for my eldest sister, I have never seen this place, nor heard an actual conversation in Arabic or Persian or any other language of the area. And, despite being close friends with a wonderful gal of Iranian descent, I have no clue what Tehran or any other city in her home country looks or feels like.

Living in a country with such close ties (good or bad) with this region, I should be more aware. Thankfully, this event was one of my first steps to decidedly become more aware.

Over a huge box of Hurt’s Donuts, an ever-growing group of Global Engagement Fellows shared stories. One tale of a hair-collecting famed potter left us all in fits of (slightly uncomfortable and nervous) laughter. Arabic majors and monolinguists alike shared memories of their feelings of discomfort as they navigated new cultures and customs. My friend Sadaf (ushered on by myself) told us about her first months in the United States after emigrating here – such a huge move begun at an already difficult time in a teen girl’s life, and to a country whose language she didn’t speak!

I was pleased with the discourse we shared at this coffee hour. Although I found certain opinions (especially sweepingly generalized and negative ones) to be unfounded or unsubstantiated, the overall tone was a positive one. Here is a region of the world which many (including certain American politicians) have gone to great lengths to vilify and demonize. This is not to say that instability and conflict does not exist in this part of the world – we know that to be true. But this was also once the Cradle of Civilization, as many a high school history teacher drilled into our heads. Developers of modern mathematics were nurtured here. We cannot forget the history, nor the culture and the people who remain.

Conversations like these could be the start of developing a more thorough understanding of our fellow humans just an ocean away.

Long time, no see. Plus, exam destress tips!

I’ve been bad.

Over the past weeks, I’ve let myself drown in a sea of Netflix and terrible meals. My current favorite form of procrastination is finding new ways to pack my luggage to go back home. The last two days have been spent in the library, “working” away at making Quizlet flashcard sets while practically off my head on caffeine and sugar.

And through it all, I’ve let my blog stay idle, even though it’s the best place to let out my thoughts.

Well, here they are.

I think I’m ready to go home. The rapidly shortening span of time between me and some much needed hugs from my parents has me drooling over the date May 7th like one of Pavlov’s dogs. But it’s a lie. Because I’m also terrified.

In less than three weeks, I gotta fly out of here. And a few days after that, I have to somehow return to the state of mind of my 17-year-old self who freaking loved calculus in order to pass my summer math class. I have to handle this whole “reverse culture shock” thing with less than a 10-day turnaround. I see it sort of like pushing some button and falling through a wormhole back into my old life.

Don’t get me wrong – I can’t wait to get me some America. I’m ready for barbecue, old buddies, and Bernie Sanders rallies. But with exams quickly approaching, is my stress-filled, smudged-glasses, coffee-induced haze preventing me from enjoying my last days on the Emerald Isle? I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, here are some tips I’ve got to listen to myself.

  1. Study with a buddy. Now, take this advice carefully. Bring your friend to the quiet part of the library – the “red zone” as it’s called here at UCC – and use them almost as a workout pacer partner. You can keep each other motivated just by each concentrating on your own subjects. And if you take classes together and can handle it, move to the talking zone to have a study session aloud together.
  2. Take advantage of every resource. Extended lab hours? Test out some code or make some charts to help you study. Review sessions being held during study week? Heck yes, take any opportunity to hear the information said aloud again. Extra office hours by your professor? Don’t feel too shy to ask any last-minute questions about concepts that confuse you.
  3. Drink water. I’ll credit bestie Morgan with this one. During exams, simple things like food and water tend to go ignored for longer than they should. Staying hydrated does wonders for everything: your focus, your comfort, even your skin! Got a headache just from reading for an hour? Check your water intake.
  4. Breathe. Exams aren’t everything. Sure, passing is important, but so are you. Pace your studying and don’t overload. 12 hour sessions in the library aren’t helping anybody if your mental health is suffering. Have a call home, take a little nap – top up your strength (emotionally, physically, and mentally) so you’re not running on empty.​

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I believe in us.

Best of luck to fellow students as exam season is upon us.

You’ll be just fine.

​Elena

Fortresses of Solitude

Each of us, no matter how strong or independent, sometimes find ourselves in times of hardship. Stress, sorrow, and self-doubt catch up to us and beg to be attended to. In times such as these, we must determine a place of comfort – a fortress of solitude, if you will – in which to ponder our paths ahead and persevere.

Superman found his solace in a palace of ice crystals.

fortress

Here are the places where I find mine.*

*with suggestions for specific versions to visit in Cork.

  1. A comforting coffee shop. My coping mechanism for stress can often be found in a good latte. It’s not a caffeine dependency – I can stop whenever I want, I swear. Seriously, though, something about independent coffee shops with beautiful atmospheres can focus my mind. Even looking around these homely places themselves reminds me of what other people have done with their unique combinations of hard work, creativity, and perseverance. After all, with global chains like Starbucks taking over the world, it does take a heck of a lot of work to make one of these beautiful places into a must-see spot in their home cities.

    My suggestion in Cork: The Bookshelf. The comfiest couch and armchairs known to man, a perfect latte every time, and always-fresh raspberry scones to die for. My only qualms are the giant “bookshelf” that’s really a piece of wallpaper and the floor-to-ceiling mirror that tricks naive first-timers into trying to look for a free table in the “other room” (Who, me? Nah).

    shrug

  2. In nature. I’m not exactly what you would call the outdoorsy type, but I do enjoy some fresh air every once in a while. I find a change of scenery is just what I need after hours of staring at a computer screen, trying to debug a particularly annoying program or finish a particularly difficult essay. A picnic, a leisurely walk: perfect.

    My suggestion in Cork: along the River Lee. Most students would tell you that the best way to get from one end of campus to the other is through the amphitheater, past the quad and out the other side. I disagree. I find the rarely-used path from behind the Gluck (art museum) along the river to be much calmer and pretty serene.

  3. A bookstore. This one seems obvious – bookstores, frequented as they are by a very narrow cross-section of clientele, are sort of sacred. As in, all the customers know not to raise their voices above a whisper, as to do so would be to disturb the near-holy browsing experience being shared by all who have experienced the traumatic event of a favorite bookstore closing. These safe havens are a dying breed. We must cherish those little nooks that haven’t yet bit the dust.

    My suggestion in Cork: I know it seems counterintuitive that my favorite place is just one of a chain: Waterstones. But something about it draws me in. The ever-present “buy one, get one half off” tables are addictive to browse, and they regularly make me forget that both my wallet and my baggage allowance home cannot afford a new member of my collection. But for some reason, all of the Irish (British) editions of books on my wish list are so much more aesthetically pleasing than their American counterparts. So I have to bring them back, right?

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    Glasses = automatic nerd-disguise.

     

  4. A kitchen. (Cue the sexist jokes) But really, I find it super comforting to bake some cookies when having a rough day – I type this at the very same moment as I’m dipping a fresh chocolate chip into my glass of milk. Yep, today was one of those days. Plus, mixing cookie dough by hand while I’m away from our handy Kitchenaid mixer is a killer arm workout. Even making familiar foods can bring up good memories and take your mind off things for a while.

    My suggestion in Cork: Errr, anywhere but my kitchen. Our oven really has only two settings: off and broken. So if you plan on making a soufflé, I would suggest an upgrade. The plus side is that my cookies take just a quarter of the time they normally do before burning to a crisp.

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    Me when my cookies burn.

     

  5. Home, or something resembling it. For me, for now, the closest I can get is my computer monitor, broadcasting whatever Skype call I’m on at the moment – our family is currently split into four parts, scattered across the world. Four different time zones don’t make keeping in touch very convenient, to say the least. But we do our best, and my daily contributions to our group message (consisting of the worst puns, links to parodies of future president Donald Trump, and music suggestions to start the day) at least serve as some thread of connection to my nearest furthest and dearest. I know it technically doesn’t fall under “solitude,” but keeping in touch its family is important to keep from becoming a bit too lonely.

    My suggestion in Cork: Well, I’m stuck here; unless your home is actually in the city, I can’t help you. But I can tell you that technology is a beautiful thing, and that a multitude of free international video calling services exist to help you keep in touch, especially if you’re far from home.

  6. My own head. This sounds a bit strange, but bear with me. Sometimes to escape my own thoughts, I have to go deeper into my own head. Push past the cloudy stuff and reach the happy and the creative, that sort of thing. Put on my big over-ear headphones and tune out the world, blasting The Smiths’ entire discography for good measure. Your fortress of solitude doesn’t have to be a place: it can be you.

    My suggestion in Cork: Um. This went from a cafe review to something much deeper. You’ll have to rely on your own judgement for this one. What gets your mind off things and helps you focus on the future, on the good, and on yourself? Calcukus? Music? Writing? Do the thing. Find your solace.

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    You vs. everyone’s expectations.

I definitely didn’t use this post as an excuse to browse gifs of Henry Cavill at my leisure. Definitely not. Carry on.

Ellie