American Culture Club

This is the second year I’ve participated in the BCM’s American Culture Club. ACC is a place where international and exchange students can mingle with Americans and other exchange students and learn about American culture. In the past, I’ve learned much from going to these clubs, since I don’t normally think about the traditions behind my everyday life in Texas and Oklahoma.

The club has been structured slightly differently this year. Last year we met for five weeks and discussed family, holidays, and Oklahoma culture. This year we focused on American holidays, a different holiday each week, and explained the traditions of each one. The discussion naturally wove around to holidays from each student’s home country.

I participated in more outings than club meetings this time around. One of my favorite moments from this semester was trying to explain the food at a barbecue place we went to for dinner one night. As I read through the menu and recommended my favorite things, I realized that explaining coleslaw and fried okra is not an easy task. Fried okra’s deliciousness speaks for itself, but coleslaw is more difficult to justify.

Regardless, I’ve had lots of fun meeting people at ACC this year and look forward to next year.


A Peace to End All Peace

Image result for a peace to end all peace

This semester Jaci and I co-moderated an honors reading group for the book A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin. I was interested in the book since it concerned the region that I visited last summer, and I wanted to gain historical background not only about the region but also about the Middle East as a whole, since my knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs is limited.

The book begins on the eve of the first World War, a time when the Middle East was one of the only regions in the world not shaped by colonial Europe. As war breaks out and victory over Ottoman Empire seems within reach for the Allies, these major powers begin to discuss the fate of the conquered territory. The books tells of the guises the Allies adopted – concern for the people of the Middle East, protection, Zionism – to justify partitioning the Middle East according to arbitrary boundaries.

An aspect of the book that was interesting to me was the lack of preparation the main figures in the British Government had for their executive positions. While they could compose easily in Latin and Greek, they did not know an iota about the Middle East. Thus, they made decisions that were harmful to region and not in the interests of the peoples concerned, as Woodrow Wilson said they would be. A broad education did not adequately prepare these men to make these kind of decisions. I now recognize the importance of experts qualified to make policy decisions that affect people worldwide. The liberal arts still hold a critical place in the world, but so does specialized knowledge. The failure of the Allied leaders to recognize the limitation of their knowledge was prideful and foolish.

A Peace To End All Peace was not an easy read. Since I usually tear through books pretty quickly, I the time this book would demand of me. However, I am glad that I read this book. I feel that the perspective I have gained on the Middle East – and on competence – has been invaluable. More importantly, this book has taught me much about the importance of cultural competence and specialized knowledge and the damage that thoughtless decisions and unbridled foreign intervention can wreak. A Peace To End All Peace is not just a thorough historical look at the decisions made during and after World War I. It also contains deep truths about human nature that anyone, history buff or Middle East expert or not, can understand.

American Culture Club

The BCM, the awesome student ministry I’ve been a part of since coming to OU, hosted an American Culture Club for five weeks earlier this semester. The club’s goal is to welcome international and exchange students and help them learn about American culture. I’ve been eager to spend more time with international students at OU since receiving such a warm welcome as a guest in Central Asia this summer, and making new friends and helping facilitate discussions at ACC was a perfect opportunity.

Each week, we had time to chat and eat snacks and then discuss a set of questions over topics like culture shock, family differences, and U.S. holidays. In seeing American culture though new eyes, I ended up not only learning more about my own culture but a little bit about everyone else’s cultures, too.

One afternoon at ACC, when we were discussing family structures, a student from Cambodia shared that in her language there are five different ways to address people and five different grammatical forms based on their rank of seniority. A student from Sweden said that there were no distinctions in seniority in her country — everybody is on a first-name basis. However, despite this cultural difference, I observed that in every culture, some things are common between everyone. In every culture, people love and treasure their families.

(Not really related to American Culture Club, but I found this infographic illustrating East-West cultural differences the other day. It struck me as a creative illustration. Do these illustrations accurately represent the cultures without making too many broad generalizations? What do you think?)

American Culture Club made me realize that it’s difficult and quite funny to explain American, Southern, and Oklahoman slang. “Hit the sack?” “Twister?” “Fixin’ to…?” “Pitch in?” Where do these phrases come from, and how do they find our way into the regional collective consciousness and stay there? I don’t know. One week,  our small group’s assignment was to write a short story using all of these terms. Hilarity ensued.

One weekend, a group of us went camping at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area near Sulphur. It was my great pleasure to introduce my international friends to the s’more, which is officially the most purely American food of all American foods and also undeniably the most delicious. It was also great to sing songs and talk about our favorite music, our philosophies and spiritual beliefs, our hometowns, our goals and dreams. Something about sitting around a campfire draws people together.

I made some wonderful friends at American Culture Club, and though I wish it had lasted longer, I’m glad we’ve still been able to hang out since then.


Turkish lessons

Proudly displaying our certificates

Proudly displaying our certificates

Something that’s really wonderful about OU is the number of lectures on any topic imaginable that are free and open to the public. Recently, I’ve learned that lectures aren’t the only free opportunity to learn. There are also free classes.

When I found out that a free Turkish class was being offered this semester, I jumped at the chance. I would love to visit Turkey, and since learning one foreign language since last semester has been fun, I decided to tackle another.

The classes, hosted by the Turkish Student Association and taught by Gorkem Guloglu, are held in a classroom on the first floor of Price on Tuesday evenings. At the beginning of the semester attendance was high, but since then it has dwindled. Fortunately, the lower attendance has allowed me and the other dedicated students there to practice our conversation one-on-one!

German is the only foreign language I’ve made much progress in, so I’m using it as a frame of reference for learning about other languages (I feel like I know more about German grammar than English grammar!). I’ve found myself comparing Turkish to German quite a bit. They’re not at all similar except for a few letters in the alphabet that make the same sound.

A few things about Turkish that are really nice:

  • Vowel harmony. The vowels added to the end of words vary based on the vowels contained in the words. As a result, words flow easily from the tongue.
  •  No definite articles.
  • Nouns don’t have genders.

In a way, I can see how it would be easier to understand, but as a native English speaker, some things are tricky. I struggled with verb conjugations.

A couple random things I find cool: Çay, pronounced like chai, is the Turkish word for tea. Aslan is the word for lion. And seni seviyorum means “I love you” but Seni sevmiyorum means “I don’t love you.” One letter makes all the difference.

I want to keep learning Turkish through Duolingo and maybe through another class offered next year because it’s a beautiful, harmonious language and because I intend to go to Turkey at some point in my college career.