Frozen Time

The past few weeks have rushed past me, occupying my time with midterms, my Fulbright application, and various events on campus. I have adjusted fairly easily to being back in the States, but some days I still am struck by the loss of the mountains on every horizon. In general though, I have been too busy to give much thought to the life I left in Japan. It is the mixed blessing of busyness.

Overall it has been a good semester. I have a class with my OU Cousin for the first time this semester, so she and I get to see each other regularly. I also had the privilege of attending OU’s International Prom with her and a few of my other friends, where we celebrated the international community here at OU. I am working to take full advantage of the many opportunities presented by the university to engage with the international community, including a daily international news update and the school-wide Teach In on the strengths and weaknesses of constitutions. Meanwhile I continue to be involved with the JCPenney Leadership Program, joining with other business students on campus to pursue professional development and the life-skills we will need after graduation.

Although many of my activities have not changed, my life at OU is changing whether I like it or not. My friends who I’ve studied alongside since we arrived here freshman year are searching for full-time employment. Most of them will be leaving me when this year ends. At the same time, with President Boren stepping down at the end of this year, the school itself is poised for change in the coming year. Life at OU as I have known it is changing. Like anyone else, I don’t care for change. If I could freeze these years and my friends and keep things the way they are, I would be very tempted to do so. However, I know that time flows on, with or without me. I will cherish these days that I have left with my friends while looking forward to new horizons and adventures. There is still much of the world left for me to see. I cannot fly if I remain here, frozen in time.

Kyoto 1.22.17

My Dearest Friend,

My first semester here at Ritsumeikan has finally ended. The last of my tests have been taken and papers turned in. I now have two months to relax and explore Japan before my second semester begins.

This semester was difficult and full of new experiences for me. It has been my first time living abroad, my first time living for a significant period of time without access to a car, and my first long-term experience with a language barrier. I’ve met people from all over the world who speak every language I can imagine. They come from so many backgrounds and are working toward a myriad of futures. Honestly, it makes me feel small. I’ve seen and done so little compared to most of these people. I’m trying to learn Japanese as my second language, I’ve only been to three countries in the world, and I’m already in my twenties. I have friends here who worked abroad in high school. It makes me wonder how much I missed on account of being born in America.

Don’t get me wrong, I love America. I grew up there, and it’s my home. However, it’s not perfect. The rest of the world seems so far away and insignificant as a child in the US, but it’s not. The world is a vast and marvelous place and has much to teach us, both as individuals and as a country. Many of the issues that are tearing apart America have found various resolutions in other countries. Instead of fighting about what ifs, why don’t we look at the outcomes? As Americans, we like to look at the rest of the world as if it was still in the 18th century. We talk about freedom and our unique place in the world. Yes, we are still a great country wielding a lot of power. But where the rest of the world has seen great progress in the last 200 years, we keep looking back at “the glory days.” I love the foundation of our country and the ideals of our nation. But the world is not the same place as it was when we were founded, and it’s naïve to act like nothing has changed.

When I left America to come to Japan, I didn’t know much about the rest of the world. I thought I did, but I was wrong. I still know very little, but I know some things. And the biggest thing I’ve learned is that while the US has an incredibly strong military, we are not the only important players in the world. We don’t know everything, and in a lot of areas, we’re falling behind our peers. So instead of arguing about the precise meaning of a centuries old document, can we agree to open our eyes and start doing something? I’ve met so many people here who would not go to America if you paid them, not with the way our country functions right now. And I can’t really blame them. But it is my country, and I won’t abandon it, not if I can help it.

My friend, please try to learn something from my experiences here. I know it’s hard to see clearly from inside, but try. We have to do something, and we can’t all get up and spend a year abroad. All we can do is try to bring that global awareness back with us in our suitcases and share it. I miss you dearly. Hopefully I’ll see you soon.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

Tragedies

These days the world seems increasingly frightening. You only have to turn on the news to be inundated with horror stories of violence and sorrow. Every day it seems a new tragedy strikes our world. It’s easy to wonder what happened. What caused this increase in pain? I’ve spoken to many young adults of my generation and heard them asking this and similar questions. Studying history has led me to an uneasy answer—it hasn’t increased. The world is no more messed up than it was in the past. In fact, many aspects of society have improved. Death rates have decreased and many victims now have legal recourse against assailants. For much of history, most victims of violent crimes had to suffer in silence. So what did change? Why does the world appear so much worse?

The short answer is technology. Through radio, television, and now internet, we see atrocities. We know the death tolls and the faces of the victims. We see the results, and we hear of these occurrences immediately. The other change is actually positive—we care more. Most ancient civilizations had at least one group of people they considered lesser, sometimes not even seeing them as human. This mindset led to the targeting of women, children, and minorities often with little to no societal or legal repercussion. Today, most people have a visceral reaction against such ideas. Thus, when a shooting or rape occurs and is reported, most people are upset and offended. This shows how far we’ve come.

The problem is the people who haven’t progressed with the rest of humanity. Some people still look at certain groups and deny their personhood. Does an individual renounce their humanity when they move to a new country or they choose someone to date? Of course they don’t. So it’s time to stop living in the Dark Ages. Murder is a crime. Rape is a crime. The victim is a person, so there is no excuse for the perpetrator. It doesn’t matter what boxes we can fit them into, we’re all humans. We live in the 21st century. Don’t let fear or hatred turn back the clock on society.

A Dinner with Journalists

Last year I learned about the President’s Associates dinners and attended an informal discussion with Mr. Robert Gates. This year I was eager to finally attend one of the actual dinners. Last week, that opportunity came. A friend of mine and I went together to the dinner, ready to hear from two giants of journalism, Bob Schieffer and Jim Lehrer. Although journalism is not among my fields of interest or study, the insight of these two men was phenomenal. Both of them had worked for many years reporting from Washington, and so their thoughts on the current political environment were particularly interesting.

They explained how, in their opinion, many of the problems in Washington stem from the “industrialization” of politics. The political sphere has become an industry dominated by professional players. It’s not about getting stuff done, it’s about getting in. This has increasingly led to the polarization of parties. The moderates are disappearing from politics. And it’s the moderates who are most important in Washington. Without compromising on little things, the government shuts down, literally. I agree with them wholeheartedly. Politics shouldn’t be like picking teams in schoolyard sports. “I want pro-choice so you have to be pro-life” or “I’m fiscally conservative, so you can’t be!” That’s not how party politics should be. If it is, maybe we shouldn’t have party politics. I don’t know why no one in the world of politics seems able to say “I agree with you” to anyone of another party. I feel like on most things we should agree. We all want our country to function, right? Surely none of us really want to eternally spiral deeper into debt. Instead of starting all our debates and decisions from a position of opposition, we need to start by identifying our common goals and interests. We can only make progress if we start from common ground.

America can’t lead the world if it can’t lead itself. We will lose any and all respect we have in the international community if we can’t get ourselves together. And because of the money, that’s not going to happen from the top down. It has to come from the bottom up. If we, the voters and the future politicians of America, don’t step up, nothing will change. And if nothing changes, there won’t be anything left to lead. We are the future of America. We need to be knowledgeable and willing to take the hard steps to make politics about governing again instead of about getting elected and making money. The longer we wait to make a change, the harder it will be to change the system. This is our country too. Let’s focus on bringing people into office who are willing to work with one another rather than unilaterally push their own agendas through. I don’t care how good those agendas seem—we’re better off with a team player. And it’s up to us, the people, to make that happen.

 

P.S. If that started to sound rant-y I apologize. I strive to avoid political rants in anything I post online. (Partially because I’m not informed enough to be worth listening to.) However, I wanted to discuss the dinner, and that was the part that most resonated with me.

Reflections by the Fire

I sit here in this place that has become my home and think. I’ve become so accustomed to this inn and these friends and the laughter and stories that we’ve shared. A lot has changed over the months here though. Many friendships have grown, though some have faded. Some paths have converged, while others have split, leading us apart. I’ve met some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and also lost contact with some of my friends from childhood.

It’s not just the group that has the changed though—I have changed. I have been assured by my friends that I’m very different than the girl who came to college last semester. The months have worked their magic and aged me. I have become more relaxed, more open to others, and more cautious with my words. I have learned more than I could have dreamed. Topics I once knew nothing about, I can now hold an intelligent conversation concerning. This semester I was involved in another political discussion group, again joining with other students to watch the weather of the world. After the first few weeks, I noticed that my fellow group members, knowing my field of interest and study, would ask me about economic issues in Asia. At first, I really didn’t think I was qualified to give any sort of response. However, I began to see a change in my answers as they became tolerably informed. I am by no means an expert, but I know enough now to analyze and think critically and give informed opinions.

The opportunities I’ve had this year have been innumerable. I’ve gotten to sit down and talk to academics and business executives. I’ve traveled to new parts of my country, while preparing for my first flight abroad. I’ve made friends from throughout the world, even from my own corner of it. As much as I’m excited to fly next week and start my journey abroad, I’m a bit sad at the thought of leaving this inn and this fireplace. However, I know I will return. And when I do, I will be a bit older and a bit wiser than I am now. Such is life. Even returning to the same place, I’m not really the same person who left. But I don’t believe that’s a bad thing.

Hazy Horizons

The world is in a state of turbulence; this is a pretty standard belief. But the average standard of living is higher now than ever before in history. The American people are also, on average, safer and more prosperous than ever. So why do we characterize the world as turbulent? It was this question address by Dr. Thomas Finger, a faculty member at Stanford University and former Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis of the State Department, in his keynote address to round out this year’s International Studies Symposium at the University of Oklahoma.

The world is moving forward and upward, true, but there is still turbulence. This is because, for once, we can’t see the future. We do have enemies today, but they are much harder to identify than in the past. We used to know our enemy, whether Nazi Germany or the communist regime of the USSR. However, using Dr. Finger’s analogy, we have traded in a dragon for baskets of snakes. We cannot focus our energies on a single target, and each of our snakes has to be handled in a different way. Thus, we need to redefine how we deal with the world’s turbulence. Also, part of our problem is the change that has occurred in our definition of national security. We once defined national security in terms of the safety of the US homeland. Now, we have decided that all US citizens must be safe at all times no matter where they are and for what reason. How can we commit to such a promise? Is it even our place to risk our armed forces to save those who intentionally put themselves in harm’s way in the pursuit of glory or riches? I don’t know, but I do know that we need to decide what we can commit to and what is not our battle. The turbulence of this day is different than any we’ve faced before. We need to recognize our new breeds of enemies and develop new methods to fight them while preventing our paranoia from creating more. Our uncertainty cannot be allowed to destabilize us. We must move forward, regardless of the clarity of our horizons.

media convergence & its effect on the consumer

People talk about the way media is changing like it’s the end of the world. We talk about how newspaper circulation rates are dwindling, how the 24-hour TV news cycle is ruining the integrity of the information the media gives us, how no one listens to the radio anymore–and all of these issues hold varying degrees of truth, but media convergence doesn’t mean the end of media as we know it. What media convergence does mean is innovation and a whole lot of opportunity.

Newspapers, television and radio have been around for ages. They’ve evolved and changed over the years to better suit their readers, viewers and listeners. When the Internet sprang up, they kept evolving and changing, perhaps a little timidly. Now, with the advent of social media and personal blogging platforms, we have so many options and outlets to stay informed as well as voice our own opinions. Before the Internet, news was largely a one-way street. Newspapers printed what they wanted to say with little interaction from their readers–maybe a letter to the editor or two, but newspapers weren’t about being a conversation. With social media as well as online news platforms, consumers (readers, viewers, etc.) can interact with their news in a new way. Consumers can tweet at the media organizations that deliver their news, offering commentary, praise, criticism–whatever they’d like to say. They can leave (often inflammatory) Facebook comments on links to stories. And, on websites like Medium, anyone can write their own pieces to be published and distributed on the web, covering a variety of topics.

Because new media (as opposed to traditional media) is so widely accessible to a broad audience, it can give more people platforms to have their voices heard. In a way, media convergence affects the consumer by making the consumer, in some way, part of the media. Because we do have access to the Internet and because many once-traditional media outlets are adopting a more online-friendly, digital component to their publications and broadcasts, we get news in a much more personalized, interactive manner. We can get mobile news alerts on our phones, we can like and follow pages and Twitter accounts for news organizations that we enjoy–we tailor our media consumption to our own preferences, and we can interact with those organizations. Media convergence has allowed for a conversation between the consumer and the producers, creating a more interactive experience for us as media consumers.

Watching the Weather

When I was young I never cared about politics or the news. It didn’t concern me, or so I thought. However, I’ve grown up since then, and, in doing so, I learned a very important lesson: when you’re getting ready to fly, you need to know the weather. Politics, the news, these make up the weather of humanity. So now, I am making an effort to understand the weather in order to be more prepared for my coming flights.

Since arriving here at the University of Oklahoma, I’ve been searching out ways in which to watch the global weather. One way I found was to join a political discussion group. In these groups, a few students will come together weekly and read articles in the Economist, a British news magazine of sorts. I love the system, because we each read the articles that most interest us and then summarize them for the group. This gives me both the resources and impetus to research topics of interest to me while also learning about what is occurring elsewhere.

I found another opportunity in the President’s Associates Dinners. Throughout the school year at OU President Boren will invite prominent men and women to speak at his President’s Associates Dinners. I had the opportunity recently to attend an informal discussion with President Boren and his most recent Dinner guest, Dr. Bob Gates, former Secretary of Defense and former Director of the CIA. It was fascinating to hear his practical opinions on a variety of topics that I was only familiar with from an academic standpoint. From drones to international aid, Dr. Gates covered a wide range of topics of both domestic and international significance. I cannot go into all the topics Dr. Gates discussed; however, they were all informative, and his logic was always sound as far as I could tell. Because of his talk, I now have a better idea of the roles of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense in the administration of our country.

The variety of tools I have found here at OU to aid me as I try to watch over world affairs has been incredible. I love learning from such a wide range of perspectives. I hope I can continue to find ways of watching the weather in preparation for my coming flights. The skies are calling to me, and I’m slowly but surely nearing the date of my first major departure. All I can do now is try to make sure that I’m ready for it.