Grillfest 2018

Every spring semester the entire German department gathers together in a local park to feast on bratwurst and sauerkraut while celebrating the rapidly approaching summer break. I was unable to attend last year but since I recently declared a German major, I made a point of attending the grillfest this spring. Hosted by the OU German Club, the grillfest featured a wide variety of German food. Besides that aforementioned, there was potato salad and tomatoes and cucumbers with dill yogurt and a wide selection of bread paired with Italian soda and finished with some delightful cookies whose name escapes me.

It is now just a few months short of a year since I left Germany and the memory of daily life there grows unfortunately dimmer. However, eating such German fare in the sun surrounded by snippets of German conversions made me feel like I was in my own little slice of Germany in the middle of Norman, OK. I can only imagine what the experience must feel like for the German faculty who either were born in German speaking countries or have spent considerable time there.

Unfortunately, I also noticed that my confidence speaking German outside the classroom has been diminishing as well. Over this summer I will have to work on conversational confidence with my friends who are also learning German.

aKDPhi Junior Active Spring 2018 Semester

The photos shown above were taken when I became an active member of my Asian-interest sorority, alpha Kappa Delta Phi (aKDPhi). Although we did not get a class this semester, our pictures are still really nice! While in my sorority, I have made sisterly connections with nearly every member. They inspire me to be more creative and to be more than I can be. Although I devote a lot of my time towards them, I am also finding a part of who I am. This sisterhood has provided me with friends that go out and eat Asian food with me. 🙂 We have worked hard to fundraise for our philanthropy and to promote our sisterhood to others. I am proud to be a member of alpha Kappa Delta Phi International Sorority.

Musings on ICDG

Chairing the Informed Citizens Discussion Group is a real treat, but moderating an engage group is honestly so much better. This semester, my co-discussion-moderator and I were lucky to have a core group of about 7-8 students who came back to our room in Cate once a week to talk pop culture and politics. We had a number of students from different home countries and it was fascinating to listen to them describe the news occurring in their own worlds. As the year progresses forward, it is going to find someone that can keep the program running in perpetuity… as I approach graduation, I want to make sure that ICDG is forever supported by the University and won’t die when I receive a diploma. It is vital that students find a way to actively engage with other students and respectfully argue with opinions that aren’t your own. I’d also love to see more representation from the international study body on both ICDG exec, the moderator team, and within the organization itself. ICDG can function as such an amazing vehicle of cultural exchange, and if I’m not doing enough to encourage that now, I certainly need to going forward. This semester specifically, I really enjoyed our conversations about the impact that the University President has on international students, which a student brought up when discussing what Boren had done for him as a student and expressing a hope that such support would continue.

Incorporating Immigrants

A well-known topic of international discussion is the influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East into the European Union. As some countries try to close themselves off, Germany has notoriously opened their borders to hundreds of thousands during these past few years alone. Many German citizens and officials cite the unsustainability of their burgeoning economy, when coupled with their aging population, as an incentive to incorporate foreigners into the German populace.

While this may be the end goal, immigrants cannot rejuvenate German society while they remain dependent on welfare and without access to the labor market. As a result, German leadership is working to integrate them into the workforce. This process that was described in the photo exhibit “Germany: Integrating Immigrants” that the German Embassy displayed on campus this semester. The exhibition was part of German Campus Week, organized by several on-campus departments and organizations, including the OU German Club.

I was impressed by the diversity and depth of programs in place to help immigrants in all aspects of life. There were language and culture classes, of course, including German history and the current legal system. Immigrants who had been trained as teachers in their home countries could apply for a qualification program at the University of Potsdam which included a year of intensive German and training with German students and instructors. The program was immediately popular, attracting 700 applications for 45 spots during its first year in 2016. A school in Munich for unaccompanied minor immigrants has several psychologists working with the young refugees to help the often traumatized youth prepare for an independent life in a foreign country. In Berlin, rabbis and imams cycle around the city on tandem bicycles to counter Islamophobia and religious discrimination.

Germany as a whole seems dedicated to incorporating the large immigrant population into German society and the rest of the world should take note.

GEORGIA VANCE

OU Cousins builds bridges of friendships between international students and American students, allowing American students to connect with people all around the world without actually studying abroad. My good friend Heath joined OU Cousins last year, and she talked about it all the time. She truly enjoys making close connections with other people, and just from casually hearing about Heath’s experiences, I knew that I wanted to get to know more people in the international community on campus.

I went to a matching party a week ago, and I met a blonde girl with glasses from Australia that is studying ancient history and literature. Her accent was light, and she looked so put together and kind. We sat together for a moment, and when we didn’t express any initial interest in being each other’s OU cousins, I thought that it was just a fleeting small thing. However, at the end of the event, she asked if I wanted to be her OU cousin, and I was so excited. I could tell from the beginning that we were very similar and I looked forward to getting to know her and become her friend.

Georgia is someone that I greatly admire. She is outspoken and never feels scared to speak her mind–something that I tend to struggle with a lot of the time. She is a force of nature, and I love spending time with her. She has a lot of opinions, and while I do as well, I really enjoy talking things over with her and learning from each other.

Speaking with a person that is not acquainted with all the little ins and outs of American culture is so interesting. While talking with Georgia I have learned so many things about Australia and Melbourne, I have also learned a lot about myself and the differences between the United States and the rest of the world. Speaking with Georgia, I have felt so humbled and open, and I truly appreciate meeting her and spending all of our time together.

THE BREADWINNER

This semester, I was part of a reading group that read two children’s novellas. The Breadwinner and Habibi are two novels that address issues in the Middle East through the lens of children, something new and different than the majority of what we hear in the United States today. My main focus has mostly been on Latin America and Spain simply because I was studying Spanish. However, I was deeply intrigued by this reading group and the subject of these novels. Wanting to broaden my horizons, I learned so much from coming to our little book club and discussing a novel.

Literature is something very dear to me, and I truly missed being able to read something and discuss it. This book club was a lovely outlet for me to do something I love and learn more about a subject I am not very familiar with. The Breadwinner followed the journey of a young girl named Parvana and how her life was affected by Taliban rule in the Afghanistan. It’s an amazing story that I would recommend to anyone, especially those that may not have large exposure to issues in the Middle East. I was thankful for the group to be able to give me a lot of the background on area, culture, and important issues that made the book an easier read.

OU Cousins’ BBQ

Two weeks ago I was able to attend the OU Cousins’ BBQ, the group’s big annual celebration. OU Cousins focuses on helping students feel at home here in Oklahoma and to cap off the year they host a stereotypical American get-together, a BBQ. Buses full of students shuttled U.S. and international students alike to a ranch some 15 or so minutes from Norman. There they were greeted by cowboy hats and red and blue bandanas to help everyone get in the spirit. After filling out name tags with names and countries, students got in line for traditional BBQ fare: brisket, fried chicken, baked beans, potato salad, and brownies. Long tables were set up on the dirt floor of the barn and a live band played covers of well-known country songs in the corner. After dinner, students were called out onto the floor to participate in country dancing. I must admit, even being from the States, the whole experience was a little overwhelming. BBQ food and country music, and ranches are a part of my life and not remarkable on their own. However, this BBQ brought everything together into one, over-the-top event. It was fun and I understand why OU Cousins chooses to host this particular event, but I do wonder how it was perceived by the international students. Many of them seemed to enjoy it but others remained at the tables, looking as though they felt terribly out of place. It was amusing to realize that this gathering, with cowboy hats and country music and fried chicken, was a legitimate stereotype that other countries had about some Americans. It makes me wonder what stereotypes I’ve heard about other countries that are as incredibly niche and exaggerated as the ones at the BBQ.

My Experience with OU Cousins

“The OU Cousins program was created in 1996 by President and Mrs. David Boren as a way of developing understanding, friendship, and unity among U.S., International, and exchange students at the University of Oklahoma.”

As part of the GEF program, we are expected to participate in an international group on campus every semester. Like many of my friends, I chose to join OU Cousins. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, OU Cousins matches US students with international students studying at OU. Once students have been matched, the group hosts regular events to facilitate friendship and bonding between the students and encourages “cousins” to socialize outside of the events.

Even before I applied to OU, I was excited to participate in this program. My best friend from high school is a grade above me, and during her freshman year of college she many friends among the international students at her university. Over Thanksgiving break during my senior year of high school, she brought five of them home with her, introducing them to Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and showing them around St. Louis.

Seeing her interact with these college students from China, Japan, and Brazil was fantastic. They shared their knowledge of their home, and she explained our strange American ways and quirks of the English language. In the picture above, we were ice skating at a seasonal rink and one of the girls asked if this was “gliding”. I was surprised by how difficult it was to define the term, to explain “gliding”. Primarily because of that break, I went into my first semester at college excited to be matched with my international cousin and to spend time with them throughout the semester.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned. I signed up and went to the matching party, nervous and enthusiastic. The first thing I noticed was the ratio between US students and international students was terribly skewed. As the groups intermingled, every international student had a cluster of US students around them, and there were some groups of just US students chatting together to pass the time. Furthermore, in the small amount of time, it was difficult for students to find a cousin they clicked with. I know a few people who get along with their cousins amazingly, but I also know several who do not.

My cousin and I were matched primarily by chance. We spent a lot of time together at the beginning of the semester, but our interests and personalities are so different that it is a struggle to make conversation. We often ended up eating or studying together in silence. As time went on, we drifted and now only see each other occasionally.

It pains me that this is my experience with OU Cousins. I think the program is a wonderful idea, and I have personally seen a lot of good come from it. However, the way the matching process is organized now there are many students who are rushed through and find themselves paired with a cousin with whom they have nothing in common. OU has a great organization on their hands, but OU Cousins needs to learn how to prevent its participants from falling through the cracks.

TRAIL CLEAN UP

10/30/16

2 Sundays ago, I attended a trail clean up with Sooners Without Borders. It was the most beautiful day to be at Lake Thunderbird, and I had a really great time picking up other people’s trash, as gross as that sounds.

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The trail clean up really made me realize how much of an impact two hours can have on the earth and our community. 9 people were able to fill that many trash bags in 2 hours. Ironically, we took this picture next to a sign that chastised leaving trash on the lake. It was nice to be able to spend my Sunday afternoon doing something meaningful and fulfilling. I really enjoyed meeting people that I wouldn’t normally meet through my classes or other organizations I am involved in. The day was just really fulfilling and it was nice to be outside away from campus for a little while.

That day reminded me of how beautiful our Earth is and how much work we should be putting into protecting it. While cleaning up, we came upon this small beach that reminded me of the beach in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

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You can see some of the trash in the photo, but it was still beautiful nonetheless. The Earth is something we should be caring for and looking out for. This beauty was given to us and we should cherish it.