The Cold War & Beyond

Several weeks ago, I attended the second installment of a Cold War lecture series hosted by the College of International and Area Studies. I wasn't quite prepared for the type of lecture it turned out to be, but by the end I was able to appreciate its uniqueness.

The tagline was "Personal and Professional Reminiscences of a Scholar/Soldier" - I didn't pay too much attention. But a few minutes into listening to Dr. Fishel speak about his highly personal involvement in the happenings of the Cold War, I realized this really was unlike any lecture I had attended at the university. Here was someone who had not only studied the subject on which he spoke, but had lived it. Granted, at times this made it hard to follow. I myself am no expert on the Cold War, and following the multiple threads of his story - often interrupted with another - while keeping count of the handful of facts I knew about the period was taxing at best. Dr. Fishel, in simply recounting his life story, impressed with not only the intrigue of moving from one position to the next within the greater background of this historical period, but also with the pinpoint accuracy of his recollection. Dates, names, detailed visual depictions of certain scenes, all drew us into the story, enraptured.

I left with a little more knowledge and a lot more respect for this man along with countless others who lived a difficult and interesting double life during the 20th century - scholar-soldiers everywhere.

Puterbaugh Keynote

At noon on March 9, Jenny Erpenbeck, this year’s Puterbaugh Fellow, gave the festival’s keynote speech, “Blind Spots.” This was the only Puterbaugh Festival event I attended this go around, and I must say I chose well.

Erpenbeck, a previous citizen of the German Democratic Republic a.k.a East Germany, spoke about the current refugee crisis. She brilliantly incorporated her own history as a European refugee to highlight the biases against modern refugees, most of whom come from “shithole” countries.

One of Erpenbeck’s main themes throughout her presentation was the value of life. By making a distinction between her and her fellow East Germans and, say, present-day Syrian refugees, the West decides which lives are worth something and which nothing. Modern refugees are often only viewed as asylum-worthy, life-worthy if they have useful skills. Erpenbeck proclaimed that people do not need to be useful to be valuable.

Honestly, this post does not do Erpenbeck justice. Her address was so moving, it brought me to tears. The German writer ended her powerful speech with, “We are from shitholes, too.” The crowd gave her a standing ovation.

Global Engagement Day: Spanish Survival Skills

Today was the highlight of the semester for GEFs (Global Engagement Fellows) on the OU campus: Global Engagement Day. All of us gathered to attend events organized and hosted by our peers - everything from advice for applying to Fulbright to student stories from studying abroad.

I want to focus on an event I attended - Survival Spanish Skills. You may ask why a native Spanish speaker chose to attend this event; well, aside from a two-week trip in 2016, I haven't been immersed in Spanish culture much if ever in my life. My language learning came from my father, and constant practice speaking with him has kept me in touch with those skills. However, there are many cultural nuances and details I get rusty with - or never learn - by living in the United States and not Spain.

Although the focus of the event was probably too basic for me to learn anything, I could see how it was extremely helpful as a quick guide. What you could learn from that 30-minute lesson (who-what-when-where-why, cognates, and general "please" and "thank" you type phrases) would be enough to get you through a short trip to Spain intact.

But I was also reminded that there is always something new to learn, whether you've been speaking Spanish for 2 years or 20 years. Today, I learned that to say "How are you" in Argentina, you use the word "vos" instead of "tú" to mean the informal singular "you."

Above all, it was a good refresher and a chance to meet some new friends.

After Undergrad Opportunities: Fulbright and Peace Corps

On the 4th of April, it was Global Engagement day at the University of Oklahoma and I attended the first session (see my last post) as well as the third session of the day. The third session consisted of “After Undergrad Opportunities” and two speakers spoke to us about the Fulbright scholarship and the Peace Corps.

Sarah Griswold is the Peace Core prep coordinator at the University of Oklahoma. Griswold highlighted how the Peace Corp is the most successful flagship program, which was established by John F. Kennedy. Griswold then spoke about the benefits the program gives including​ community building​ and pragmatic benefits. The Peace Corps​ will take care of you when you are doing your service, and you will receive​ medical and dental care as well as a monthly stipend. Particularly, Griswold does the Peace Corp Prep which is new to the University of Oklahoma and began in the Fall of 2017. Griswold finished her presentation by telling us how it is a competitive program, but it also makes you a better competitor and looks​ good when you are finished with it and are applying for other opportunities.

Jonathan Freeman is a Fulbright Alumni and Ambassador who is currently getting his Ph.D.​ and came to speak to us about his experience as a Fulbright scholar and how to apply to it. Freeman conducted archival research on cultural boycotts in Johannesburg, South Africa. During his time in South Africa, he also gave two lectures on his research and was surrounded by other Fulbright recipients. To be eligible for this scholarship, you must be a graduating senior or graduate student, and you must complete the application process and go through a series of other steps. There are two types of grants that are given out: one is a study and research grant, and the other is an English teaching assistantship​ grant. Freeman spoke to us about his experience, as well as what he is doing now and how Fulbright has impacted his life and his career. It was influential for me to hear his story, and how he got to where he is now. I am very happy that I was able to hear Jonathan Freeman speak during Global Engagement day.

Lastly, I am very interested in Fulbright. I will continue to do more research into it, as well as take some early steps that will help me achieve my goal. Although I have two years left until I graduate, I find it important to start early and motivate yourself.

Fulbright Website: https://us.fulbrightonline.org

best regards,
ale acosta

Germany: Integrating Immigrants

Earlier this semester I saw a photo exhibit, Germany: Integrating Immigrants. This exhibit, part of Germany Week at OU, was designed to help viewers learn about the ways Germany helps immigrants successfully build their lives in a new country.

The exhibit began with a short video in a classroom in Kaufmann hall. The video described the experiences of several immigrants and refugees in Germany and the paths their lives had taken and the careers they were able to pursue successfully. A series of posters began outside the classrooms and continued down the hall of the second floor of Kaufmann and in the lobby of Farzaneh a few buildings away.

Before seeing this exhibit, I had known that Germany has had relative success in helping immigrants integrate into society, but through this series of infographics I learned about the specific ways that the German government helps newcomers. For example, there are plenty of German language courses offered as well as an app designed to help refugees learn German for everyday situations. The US government does not seem to offer similar services. Integrating Immigrants brought that to my consciousness and caused me to consider what life is like for immigrants to the US.

International Student Day of Prayer

I am a part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at OU, which is a campus ministry under the larger umbrella of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. IFES has chapters in 160 countries, reaching over half a million students worldwide. To celebrate the work God is doing all over the world through IFES and to show our chapter how we can join them in prayer, we take part in International Student Day of Prayer each year.

This event begins on a Thursday night for us, during the time when we normally would meet for our Large Group Bible Study in Zarrow Hall. Instead, we have a carry-in potluck, where people bring dishes from all over the world. This is especially fun for many of our international students who get to bring something from home to share! We begin with the meal and fellowship, which is always a great time.

Afterwards, groups of students begin presenting on the IFES region that they researched. They share information about what countries have chapters, the culture of the country, and what the chapters’ specific prayer requests are. Some groups are able to bring in items from those countries, if they or someone they know has been. One of our InterVarsity chapters at OU focuses specifically on South Asian students, so they typically prepare a dance to perform at the event.

Overall, this event is a great time and a wonderful way to be reminded of God’s presence around the world!