Egypt Club and Coffee Shops

As always, I am lucky enough to participate in OU’s Arabic Flagship program. To be a part of OU’s flagship program, students must participate in an Arabic culture club, attend bi-weekly roundtable events, and meet weekly with a language partner. This year, I once again participated in the Egypt Club, where members learn about Egyptian culture, history, and the language. Topics of this semester’s meetings ranged from the Arabic Spring to underground music, with everything in between.

Although, one of my favorite topics was coffee shop (or ahwa) culture. In that meeting, we learning about the proper words for ordering a coffee, including American coffee, sugar, tea, and teapot. We also learned about the typical hierarchy in a coffee shop, from the owner to the coals boy (for the shisha), and the different titles they have. We also got to try different teas that are popular in Egypt, including peppermint, tilia, anise, and caraway. At the end, we talked about what is arguably the most popular coffee shop in Egypt: El Fishawy. It is located in Cairo and was established in 1771, making it one of the oldest in the city. It is also one of the most beautiful coffeeshops in Cairo, and many famous writers and intellectuals used to frequent the shop in the past. Overall, Egypt Club provided me with a more intimate look at Egypt, and I learned a lot about its culture and unique quirks!Image result for el fishawy

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Natakallam Arabi

As a way to practice and improve on my Arabic, I joined the Arabic Flagship program at the University of Oklahoma. In it, we attend meetings every two weeks and participate in a culture club once a week. In particular, my favorite meeting was a roundtable where we talked to two refugees from Syria: one who currently lives in Brazil and one who lives in Lebanon. They both work for an organization called “Natakallam” (نتكلم), which partners refugees from the Syrian Civil War with people who want to learn and practice Arabic. In our discussion with them, they told us about their experience in Syria and how they left the country. One of them spent years trying to escape, and his journey included covert border crossings and Turkish prisons. The other got a work visa for Lebanon, and crossed the border every couple of months to keep it current so she would not have to stay in Syria. Their journeys were harrowing, and it was eye-opening to hear about experiences like theirs that I only ever heard about previously.

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However, one of the most interesting things that they talked about was their outlook on the future. Both hoped to return to Syria, but they also doubted that possibility because of its current political situation. They also talked about their perceptions about the places where they live. The one who lived in Brazil talked about the Arab community that was already in the country and how they helped him transition to Brazilian culture. It was especially interesting to hear this, as in our Arabic class we read a poem by a girl from Palestine who currently lives in Brazil, so it was fascinating to see the connections and differences.

Reading About Confucianism

This semester, I am co-moderating a reading group on The World’s Religions by Huston Smith. Like the name suggests, the book is an introduction to the world’s main religious traditions, and it includes chapters on Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The other moderator and I hoped that a discussion of this book would introduce students to other cultures and ideologies that they would not have otherwise interacted with. And, so far, it is going well! This week we read the chapter on Confucianism, and we had an interesting discussion about immigration and the role religion plays in it. As the book highlights, Confucian culture, which focuses on the collective, is very different from Western culture, which tends to focus on the individual. This fostered a debate about the difficulties immigrants face when trying to retain their own sense of cultural identity when they move to a new country.

At the end of the chapter, Smith includes an interesting claim about the future of Confucianism: that it will not survive in a Westernizing world. This statement created a furious debate about the validity of the “Clash of Civilizations” narrative and whether these two world views can coexist. All of the members ultimately agreed that globalization will not spell the end for Confucianism, although its emphasis on the collective might be in danger. In the end, this reading group is doing exactly what I hoped it would do—introduce the members to different ideas and world views that they may not have known much about.

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WLT or International Film Club?

I have a busy schedule: next semester I am taking 15 hours (spanish, intro bio, chemistry with a lab and calc) and I work at least 16 hours a week because I am part of the work study program. Work study means that by the end of the year, I will have worked enough hours to pay off all of my room and board, which is wonderful — do not get me wrong — but it leaves me really busy. I am by no means complaining because work is something that makes college worth even more to me, however it does make it hard to fit things into my schedule.

A few other fellows have started an International Film Club that meets about once a month and there is food and refreshments and a nice discussion that follows. This semester they met on Thursdays around 8 or 9, but the problem for me is that I work on Thursdays from 8 pm to 12:30 pm. I would really love to be able to attend this club — after all, my friends are the ones that founded it — but if it just is not a possibility next semester then I plan on attending the World Literature Today program. This is a book club of sorts except all that is read are books written by authors from other countries (Shocker! I know). I have always had an affinity for reading and I would still love to partake in this club because I would be exposed to other cultures through the vibrant writings of people who actually have seen the countries they are writing about first hand. Although it is not my first choice, it would still be a great opportunity to become a little more globally engaged if I do not have free time for the International Film Club.

Belly Dancing

Last year, I joined a belly dancing club through the Arabic Flagship, and this year I participated in it again. It’s a chance to learn more about Arab culture and do something I love—dance. I’ve danced for most of my life, but I stopped in high school and only picked up belly dancing in the spring of my Freshman year in college. In my opinion, dancing is a good outlet for all of the stress school causes, and it’s also a lot of fun to put on a hip scarf and hear it jingle around you. Last year we spent most of our time learning the basics of belly dancing and threw together a relatively simple dance number for the Arabic Flagship talent show. This year, though, all of the club’s members are veterans and we’ve graduated to harder combinations. The moves are more intricate and faster, which makes mastering them difficult. But, somehow, we seem to be managing.

A typical meeting this year consists of three parts: drills, dance one, and dance two. For the first fifteen minutes or so, we drill various steps, like hip circles, shimmies, and short combinations from one of our dances. Then we move on to our first dance, Ah w Nos, which is one of the dances we will present at the Arabic Flagships talent show. This dance does not fall into a particular belly dance style, but it is much faster and more complex than the one we performed last year. We spend about forty-five minutes reviewing the combinations, learning new ones, and running through the dance. After that, we move on to our second dance, done in the Khaleeji style. For me, this number is particularly difficult as Khaleeji is a new style for us and a lot of its movements are foreign. We usually spend about thirty minutes on this dance, reviewing, learning, and practicing. With the talent show only a few weeks away, hopefully we can get it all down!

Arabic Flagship Round Table

At the beginning of the semester I was accepted into OU’s Arabic Flagship, which is a language intensive program funded by the State Department that aims to improve student’s Arabic skills and cultural awareness. As part of the requirements, I must attend a weekly round table that discusses a variety of topics, from studying abroad to Janbiyas (an Arabic dagger). One of my favorite topics, though, was the second presidential debate. Before the round table officially started, we received vocabulary sheets that listed words that would frequently come up in the debate. I assumed it would include words like “economy,” “foreign policy,” or “social programs.” Needless to say, I was mistaken. When I looked down at the sheet, I burst out laughing and looked to my friend, needing confirmation that what I held in my hand was real. Amongst the expected and benign words that any debate would include (“Republican Party,” “Democratic Party,” “campaign”) were terms that would have seemed out of place in any other election than the one that we are experiencing in 2016. It was impossible not to be drawn to them. It was like they were bolded and in 30-point font. Staring up at me were words like “sexually suggestive gestures,” “contempt,” and “disaster.” And, of course, the infamous “locker room talk.” If you were curious, in Arabic it would be “كلام خاص بين الرجال”, pronounced similar to “kalaam khaas ben ar-rajaal.” The room was filled with random snickers and congratulations to the student who compiled the list until it was time for the round table to start. We watched about thirty minutes of the debate in Arabic, and then broke into small groups to discuss what we watched. Various questions included, “Who won the debate and why?” and “Do you have any suggestions for the candidates?” Everyone in my group decided that Hilary Clinton won the debate, but that does not really matter. What was so amazing about this experience for me was that I could (attempt) to discuss my country’s politics in a language that was not my own. I was able to interact with people who did not even live in America, and get their perspective on our political situation. Despite the humor of the vocabulary sheet, this round table was serious and extremely important.

Arabic Flagship Program

OU Model United Nations Conference

A few weeks ago, OU’s Model United Nations club presided over their annual High School Conference. We invited various high schools from the area to participate in our simulation, which included a Security Council, and three General Assembly Committees devoted to Disarmament, Economics, and Human Rights. I was able to participate as a rapporteur for GA 1, which was the Disarmament (and Cyber Security) committee. Essentially, I was responsible for formatting the students’ resolution, roll call, passing notes, vote counting, and anything else the Chair needed me to do. The first day of the conference I played a relatively small part. We were almost fully staffed, so I mainly passed notes and helped with some formatting. Later on, though, classes got in the way and I ended up becoming the Vice Chair of GA 1, for all intents and purposes. It was a little nerve-wracking, since I haven’t participated in a Model UN event before. I always wanted to, but unfortunately my high school did not have a team. Because of this, I was really excited to finally get to join in college, and the conference proved to be a crash-course in Model UN procedure and etiquette. I learned about speeches and vote requirements, and it was really interesting to see all the high schoolers interact. While some were not necessarily “in-character,” a lot were, and it was fun to see how they perceived their country’s stances on issues as pressing as security and nuclear weapons. Our committee did run into some hiccups, though. Before the conference, each committee was assigned two topics that they would debate throughout the two days. GA 1 was given Cyber Security and Disarmament. However, our students powered through their topics, so on the last day we were stuck with nothing to talk about. The Chair and I tried to open up some of the previous topics, but the students were not into it. Eventually, we had to come up with a third topic that they could debate, so they weren’t spending all day in pointless caucuses. After their new topic was given, something dealing with espionage, the committee smoothed out and the students were able to really get involved again.

Forum at the college of continuing education

Over all, the High School Conference was a great experience! I even got to be the Chair for a little bit—which was a little scary, but a lot of fun! It really makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger, that you are part of a global community. What I think is most important about it, though, is that it fosters understanding. Those kids were required to learn about their countries, to understand and become them. If everyone was able to see situations and problems from someone else’s point of view, I think a lot of our problems would become easier to solve.

Model United Nations Southwest logo

OU Cousins Matching Party

People had previously described the OU Cousins Matching Party as a blood sport– they were right. The moment I walked in I was confronted with a wall of people and had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to be doing. And then over the speakers I heard “GO TO THE SECTION WITH THE SAME COLOR THAT IS ON YOUR NAME TAG.” Immediately the wall of people became a sea and I was swept along with the current into the Silver section. It was probably the most polite and awkward blood sport that ever took place. I can’t even imagine what it was like for the International students, I would’ve been killed with kindness. Fast-forward through all the awkward introductions and questions, and I met Saki, an International student from Japan. She agreed to be cousins with two other girls and me, and the game was over,  just as quickly as it had started.

After that Saki, another one of her cousins (Cece), and I went to dinner at the Caf. Saki understandably wanted Asian food, so we got our food and spent a good hour just talking. She told us about her current OU classes, her university back home, her family… really just everything and anything. It was a great experience, and fun to learn about how the education system differed in Japan. She was so polite and answered any questions that we had as well as she could. Of course somethings got lost in translation, but that was to be expected. Over all though, I am so excited that Saki is my cousin and I can’t wait to get to know her even more!