International Event: Spain and Latin America Discussion Night

On October 21, 2016, the Global Engagement Fellows hosted a discussion group at Second Wind coffee, focusing on Latin America and Spain.

The discussion group consisted of students interested in studying abroad in Latin American countries, students simply interested in the Latin American culture, and a few students who had studied abroad in a Latin American country who were able to offer some wisdom to the prospective travelers.

I mostly spoke to Sindhu Garimella and Katherine Voss, two Global Engagement Fellows. Sindhu had studied abroad in Spain for a semester, living with a host family who was adamant about avoiding English in the household.

Sindhu explained how when she first arrived, being in a 100 percent Spanish-speaking environment was very tough, and she would have to think a moment before being able to respond to questions and have conversations.

However, at the end of her journey, she was able to have fluent and mostly unburdened dialogue in Spanish. In fact, she said a big part of the culture shock upon returning to the United States was being in an environment where she didn’t have to take a moment to translate and speak Spanish.

 

Hearing the stories from those studying abroad was both enciteful and intriguing. Before, I hadn’t considered studying abroad in a Latin American country but the stories of culture and their experiences made me consider it. It was very interesting to consider being placed in an environment where people actually avoid speaking English for the sake of speaking their native language.

In the United States, foreigners are often expected to speak in English no matter what. It is interesting to see this attitude reflected elsewhere, mostly amongst Sindhu’s host family.

Currently taking German myself, I’m excited to be placed in a situation where I can only speak German to communicate. I look forward to the challenge and the experience of having my world flipped upside down!

International Group: The Informed Citizens Discussion Group Fall 2016

For my sophomore year of college, I decided to shift from an international book club to a discussion group which focuses on diving into the deep issues of current events, both domestic and foreign.

The Informed Citizens Discussion Group(ICDG) is an organization on campus which organizes small discussion sections to spread awareness and understanding of pressing issues from all around the world.

I was initially attracted to the group because I have a deep-rooted interest in current events and global affairs. Since I was old enough to understand the dynamics of politics and related issues I have been drawn to talking to anyone and everyone about what is occurring in the world. Since starting college and with the introduction to larger classes, there have been less opportunities to sit down and have a discussion with a group of equally invested individuals.

I decided to join the Informed Citizens Discussion Group because I knew of a few other Global Engagement Fellows who were involved in the program and really enjoyed themselves. I signed up for the Wednesday time slot which held a meeting every Wednesday from 4:30-5:20.

The experience was exactly as I have imagined and hoped it would be. Every week I was able to engage in conversations about a wide array of current events. The group gave me another reason to stay up to date with articles and be actively involved in seeking out information about news.

Being the presidential election season, the discussions were definitely interesting, to say the least. I am glad to have been able to be a part of a gathering of students who were each so passionate about what they were discussing. Most of the students held generally liberal views, yet there was a pleasant sprinkling of differing opinions which kept the meetings from becoming an echo-box of reinforcement.

Discussions ranged from talking of Kim Jong-un’s recent theatrics to an in-depth analysis of the Oklahoma state questions which were on the ballot in November. We discussed the human right’s abuses being carried about by Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, the cabinet appointments that president-elect Donald Trump has been making, the formation and rising prominence of the ‘Alt-Right’, the death and history of Fidel Castro, immigration reform and polarizing issues.

The discussion group taught me to sit and listen rather than thinking of only of what I am going to say next. It was interesting and exciting to sit and listen to 10 different voices and opinions engaging with each other. Some were very conflicting while others were reinforcing and supportive. Being exposed to differing thought processes encouraged me to be introspective, analyzing my own opinions and the reasoning behind them. Surprisingly I found myself taking a different stance on a topic by the end of a discussion session, more than once.

The Informed Citizens Discussion Group gave me a safe spot to engage in serious conversation once a week with no ties to grades or repercussions for having a lack of understanding on a topic.

I look forward to continuing participation in the group for the Spring 2017 semester, especially as the Trump presidency begins to take hold and effect the United States and global community.

International Events: Khayyam Day by ICA

On Friday, April 22 I attended what is called ‘Khayyam Day’, a little celebration hosted by the Iranian Cultural Association at the University of Oklahoma to welcome the marble statue of 11th century Iranian philosopher, mathematician, poet and astronomer.

The two hour event included modern Iranian music, a renowned Persian calligrapher, a speech giving the history of the statue, and delicious Persian food.

There was a lot to say about Khayyam, a man who until that day I hadn’t any knowledge of. He was a great poet and philosopher, one who hated violence and sought self-enlightenment. The statue itself was created by a sculptor in the Lorestan Province of Iran, with marble from Iran itself. The statue took over 3 years to complete and find the marble for, because the master sculptor wanted it to be perfect and to represent the Iranian culture as much as possible.

The historian speaking emphasized how the statue like a symbol of a hand being extended to the American people, a hand seeking partners to be friends with Americans. The makers and senders of the statue wants the United States people and the world to understand that they too are like Khayyam, and hate violence. The speaker ended with a hope that that hand be extended back.

Now for the food:

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The food was both scary and exciting! On the top left are stuffed grape leaves, a dish familiar to me as they are one of my Armenian grandmothers favorites. Another familiar dish is baklava, a sweet pastry filled with simple syrup and walnuts. The pita bread was familiar as well.

Something that I had never tried before were tried dates. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had no idea how to eat them! So I resorted to eating around the seed… it was delicious and very gooey. The wafer cookie was familiar to me as well!

My favorite thing on the plate was the potato salad. It was a mashed potato mixture with peas, relish, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and olives. I wish I had gotten more it was so good!!!

Overall, it was exciting and intimidating to be exposed to a new culture like that. It makes me excited for my study abroad adventures in the future.

The speech and the statue made me think of what is happening on the international stage, how the globe is looking at Iran right now after the Iran nuclear deal a couple of months ago. It made me reflect how the government one lives under doesn’t represent the citizens, and of how around the world there are people who live under governments that do corrupt things, and in turn are given sanctions and restrictions that harm the people more than the rich government officials.

 

International Group: The WLT Bookclub, January Meeting

The World Literature Book Club is a book club on campus dedicated to exploring foreign literature to give us all a glance at what other cultures and countries have to offer. So far I have definitely enjoyed the break from my STEM major to sit down and analyze a book, something I enjoyed doing frequently in high school.

For winter break we were given a long novel to read called The Three-Body Problem, written by Chinese author Liu Cixin. It is the first book in a science fiction trilogy, and was awarded the Hugo Award in August of 2015. The story line is basically that of an alien invasion.

 

My general impression of the book is pure surprise. As an American, I hadn’t really considered that something such as a detailed science fiction novel that critiques government actions such as the Cultural Revolution could come out of China. I was under the false assumption that the Chinese government regulated the output of creative materials so heavily that nothing like this could ever be published. So when I read the first chapter and saw drastic criticism of the government’s actions as they killed scientists and spread communism, I was utterly surprised.

The book surprised me further as it went on to showcase a powerful female figure as one of the smartest and most successful scientists in the novel. Being a mostly patriarchal society like the United States, I wasn’t expecting this out of China either. I hadn’t realized that progressive tendencies exist there as well.

The discussion of the book led the dozen or so of us to dwell on the tedious scientific detail that the author placed into the book, and yet he managed to do so in way that kept the reader engaged. We came to the tentative conclusion that, *spoiler*, as the aliens come to Earth and essentially are just as bad as humans, the moral of the story is that another reality isn’t necessarily better than ours. Specifically from the Chinese author’s point of view, so criticizing the government and the humans in the beginning and leading to the main character to invite the aliens, we found that maybe his message to the Chinese people is, “despite how we may struggle in China, the ways of the West aren’t necessarily better”.

 

The Three-Body Problem definitely opened my eyes up to what the international literary community can offer.

 

 

International Events: “Soccer, Sex and Scandal in Brazil”

“Soccer, Sex and Scandal in Brazil” was a lecture given by anthropologist and author  Don Kulick on Tuesday, November 17. It detailed the scandal of the famous soccer star Ronaldo and his adventurous night  with three “travesties”, which Kulick described as men who decide that they want to dress like  women and get plastic surgery to look like women, however they have no desire to remove their  penis, nor do they identify as females, such as transgenders in the United States.

The scandal around Ronaldo developed not because he hired prostitutes, but because the  prostitutes, including Andrea Albertino, were travesties. Andrea leaked the situation to the press, causing the scandal. I thought it was interesting how Kulick described the concept of  sexuality in Brazil, especially for men, how a general line of thought is that as long as man is  acting as the “penetrator”, and doesn’t get penetrated, he is still “straight”, even if he is having  sex with a man. However, there is also a question brought up, that if a man wanted a woman, and  not a man dressed as a woman, then why hire a travestie? This is why Ronaldo fell under so  much scrutiny, as the Brazilian public questioned his sexuality, and in turn his manhood.

The idea of “I’m not gay unless I am penetrated” seems strange to me, as an American,  where the societal view on sexuality is that performing intercourse with one of the same sex  constitutes the sexuality of the act. In Brazil, however, there are very blurred lines between all of  this. Travesties are known as beautiful, and some of them have become famous and are very well  known  in Brazil. Ronaldo claimed that he didn’t know the prostitutes were travesties, however  Kulick explained that not only do travesties advertise in districts, they are also very recognizable  by Brazilian natives by the way they dress and act. This whole lecture has made me think of the  different ways that sexuality is viewed around the world. It seems odd to me that it was not the  act of hiring prostitutes which gave Ronaldo a bad rep, but rather the fact that he might be gay  when so many men look up to him.

In the future I hope to attend more lectures such as this one. I like hearing experts in their field give lessons over issues around the world, as it is both hard to come by someone so specialized, and I find that these lectures often highlight things that I didn’t realize were issues.

Andrea Albertino
Andrea Albertino, source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-562742/Brazilian-World-Cup-star-Ronaldo-takes-prostitutes-hotel-room–discover-MEN.html

International Group: The World Literature Bookclub

As a Global Engagement fellow, one of the things we’re encouraged and required to do is become an involved in an international group on campus. The group I decided to get involved with is the “World Literature Bookclub”, a book club that focuses on literature from around the world and meets once a month to discuss the book, sponsored by World Literature Today. It aims to spread appreciation for the global literature spectrum and the rhetorical beauty that less appreciated, global authors have to offer.

The process of choosing the group was a bit haphazard. Originally, I had signed up for the OU Cousins program, a club which pairs American students with foreign students, making them ‘cousins’. The object is to encourage international friendship and the exploration of cultures. However, because the group is so enticing, there are always more American signed up than international students. Unfortunately for me, this meant that I wouldn’t be paired with a cousin. As a result, I was left scrambling for an international group. I used the list of international groups available on OU’s global engagement website, and was intrigued by the WLT book club.

In high school, I was very interested in literature and passionate about English. I loved writing essays and analyzing texts, spending hours pulling apart the sentences and plot of books like ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Because of this, the idea of engaging in the analysis of foreign literature was so interesting. I loved the idea of exploring the world by digging into the minds of intellectuals I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.

The first group I have analyzed so far has been a collection of flash fiction from around the world titled ‘The Best Small Fictions 2015’, edited by Robert Olen Butler. It celebrates the beauty and full stories that can be told through only a couple of paragraphs, even sentences. The first book discussion meeting that I will attend will be on December 2! I hope and am certain that in the future this club will supply me with both friends who are interested in what I am, and simply entertainment in something that I love. As dreamy as it may sound, I hope to one day have a personal library at home that is filled with books of all sizes and genres from around the world that I have had the opportunity to engage with and learn from.