Houston 8.9.17

My Dearest Friend,

I’m back in the States. It’s been a long year since I was last living here, but I suppose it’s good to be back. I loved Japan. I loved living in Kyoto and looking out my window to see mountains circling the city. However, I think I have learned what there is for me to learn in Japan at this point in my life. Living abroad, I learned a lot about myself and the world I live in, but I also found that there is much I don’t know about my own country and myself. Before I go abroad again, I have things to do here.

First, I want to continue developing myself and my interests. I tend to become mired in my work, so I forget to pursue interests and hobbies. Worse yet, I sometimes forget to enjoy them once they’ve been added to my daily to-do list. I want to make a focused effort on having hobbies and extracurricular activities that I enjoy outside of my major and career goals. Related to that, I want to keep working on my language skills, now for my own sake rather than for classes. I’ve spent a lot of time on my Japanese, and I want to keep it up. I want to become bilingual. Living in an international dorm for a year, most people I knew spoke at least two if not three or four languages. I want that too.

The next primary goal over this next year is to continue my journey toward self-sufficiency. I’m finally living in non-university housing for the first time since I left home. I’m also working on getting a part-time job to pay for as many of my day-to-day expenses as possible. As a college student in America, I have always had a foot in both worlds, childhood and adulthood. After having been mostly independent and self-sufficient for a year abroad, I don’t want to go back to being a pseudo-adult. I’m not in a position yet where I can shake it off completely, but I can start a conscious journey toward being fully independent.

Lastly, I want to further invest in my relationships, both here at home and those I built while abroad. I have always struggled to stay in contact with people I no longer see regularly. For much of my time abroad, I had little if any contact with people from home. However, I also was reminded of how wonderful my friends from OU are and how important they are to me and my life. I want to actively invest in and develop those relationships further while maintaining the friendships I spent a year building in Japan. I am no longer content to take a passive role in my friendships. My life is only as fulfilling as I make it.

I have changed a great deal over the past year. Now that I’m in motion, I don’t want to stop. There is so much more out there for me, and I am capable of so much more than I have in the past expected of myself. This year, back in a comfortable place with a group of amazing friends nearby, is the perfect time to explore what I can do. Once I have tested and expanded the limits of my capability, I will be ready to explore the world more fully. My next flight is coming soon—I want to make sure that I’m ready for it.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

Informed Citizens Discussion Group

One amazing student group that I joined this semester was the Informed Citizens Discussion Group. While I didn’t initially think it would be an IAS-related group, our discussions turned out to be mostly about international politics. ICDG is a program that lets a small group (≈ 10) students get together weekly to discuss a wide variety of topics. These are mostly political discussions, but other news-worthy events are discussed as well. Our specific group spent quite a bit of time talking about U.S. relations with Russian Federation, the Israel-Palestine Conflicts, and domestic social issues/policy, which are three of my favorite things to talk (rant) about. My favorite part of the group was our diversity; our group had people of different races/ethinicities, religions, cultures, sexualities, and genders. One member was getting her LLM at OU Law School, as her first law degree was earned in Pakistan. The Informed Citizens Discussion Group is an amazing program, and I’d recommend it to any OU student even remotely interested in politics.

Honors Reading Group – Fall 2016

Human Cargo & The Crossing

This semester, I participated in an honors reading group about the refugee crisis. In order to get a multifaceted view of the extremely complex and nuanced problem, we read two books: Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees and The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria.

(Caroline Moorehead) Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees:

“Traveling for nearly two years and across four continents, Caroline Moorehead takes readers on a journey to understand why millions of people are forced to abandon their homes, possessions, and families in order to find a place where they may, quite literally, be allowed to live. Moorehead’s experience living and working with refugees puts a human face on the news, providing unforgettable portraits of the refugees she meets in Cairo, Guinea, Sicily, Lebanon, England, Australia, Finland, and at the U.S.-Mexico border. Human Cargo changes our understanding of what it means to have and lose a place in the world, and reveals how the refugee “problem” is on a par with global crises such as terrorism and world hunger.”

“Human smuggling is now said to have an annual turnover of over $7 billion — more than revenue from smuggling drugs. Caroline Moorehead’s important new book looks at ‘human cargo’ from Afghanistan, Liberia, Palestine and many other places. She has visited war zones, camps, prisons — and the black Dinka families from the Sudan who were re-settled north of the Arctic Circle in Finland.

She follows the fate of 57 young member of the Mandingo tribe, who fled ethnic cleansing and ended up happily in America via Egypt. She is shown the graves in Sicily of drowned boat people, and examines the fence that has been built across Texas and into the sea to keep migrants out of America. She has interviewed emigration officials in Australia and members of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Geneva. Is there a valid distinction between ‘good’ asylum seekers and ‘bad’ economic migrants?

What happens to those whose applications are turned down? The difficult questions are asked, the horrible issues faced. But, above all, Human Cargo celebrates the courage, cheerfulness and will to survive of ordinary human beings.”

This book was very well-written, and gave a depressingly candid (but necessary) view into the lives of refugees. One would have to be heartless to not be touched by their stories. The prologue was particularly poignant and tried to give the reader a fragment of an idea about the pain and suffering, both physical and mental, that so, so many refugees have to go through. It also gave an insightful look into the UN refugee policies.

(Samar Yazbek) The Crossing: My Journey to the Sacred Heart of Syria:

“Samar Yazbek was well-known in her native Syria as a writer and a journalist but, in 2011, she fell foul of the Assad regime and was forced to flee. Since then, determined to bear witness to the suffering of her people, she revisited her homeland by squeezing through a hole in the fence on the Turkish border. Here she testifies to the appalling reality that is Syria today. From the first innocent demonstrations for democracy, through the beginnings of the Free Syrian Army, to the arrival of ISIS, she offers remarkable snapshots of soldiers, children, ordinary men and women simply trying to stay alive. Some of these stories are of hardship and brutality that is hard to bear, but she also gives testimony to touches of humanity along the way: how people live under the gaze of a sniper, how principled young men try to resist orders from their military superiors, how children cope in bunkers. Yazbek’s portraits of life in Syria are very real, and her prose, luminous. The Crossing is undoubtedly both an important historical document and a work of literature.”

“The Crossing is a powerful testament to the reality of Syria today. From the first innocent demonstrations for democracy, through the beginnings of the Free Syrian Army, to the arrival of ISIS, here are the daily lives of soldiers, children, ordinary men and women struggling to survive. In heartfelt, luminous prose, Yazbek shares their stories of unbearable brutality, and the humanity that can flower even in the most terrible of circumstances.”

The Crossing: My Journey to the Sacred Heart of Syria was written as a series of “crossings” into Syria. This book gives stunning insight into the daily lives of Syrians. Like Human Cargo, The Crossing is a heartbreaking but worth-while read. While Human Cargo looked at the lives of refugees away from their country of origin, The Crossing is written by a refugee about the country she left. As the description shows, the book details many of the reasons that Syrians have left/are leaving their homes. In a very different way than Human Cargo, The Crossing accomplishes the same thing: giving the reader a new perspective on the refugee crisis and (hopefully) urging the reader to educate themselves further and fight for refugee rights in their countries.

I deeply enjoyed this reading group, as both the moderators and members of the group were fantastic. It has most definitely made me want to continue to join honors reading groups in the future. In fact, I’m even moderating one this coming semester!

Thanks for reading!

Informed Citizen Discussion Group

When deciding on my international group to be apart of,  I had some difficulty. I have always wanted to be involved in basically everything I can get my hands on. College has been a learning process in that I realize I can not be involved in everything. In fact, there are many things I want to be a part of that I have had to say no to simply because there’s no way I could fit it in. Alas, I ended up settling on Informed Citizens Discussion Group, aka ICDG.

From the first time I arrived, I knew it was going to challenge me. You see, I am a fairly conservative millennial with Republican political preferences. I was the only person in the group who leaned this way which didn’t come as a surprise because the majority of the campus tends to lean much farther left. Within five minutes of being there, without knowing anyone’s views, a girl made a joke about hoping ICDG could reform any and all Republicans on campus.

I think the discussions were a learning environment for everyone. I was able to show that there are some of us who hang out in the middle neither on one extreme or the other. I was also able to break a few stereotypes people in my group held. In turn, I was pushed to look carefully at why I believe what I believe. We all learned that people can be on complete opposite sides of an issue and that each one is fully justified in why they came to hold the opinion they hold. We dabbled in learning the grey area where many issues didn’t have people in the right or the wrong side- just different sides.

All together this was an interesting semester to be involved with a discussion group. Getting intelligent people with different opinions together to discuss everything from Brexit to the presidential election was stimulating and enlightening.