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.

The Road Goes On

I have been back in America for a month and a half now. Midterms are starting at university, and it is now an inescapable fact that I won’t be going back to Japan any time soon. This is not a short vacation back in the States—I’m here to stay for now. I can’t say I like the idea. I got so used to being in Japan.  I complained about it while I was there, but I also loved it. Now I’m having to adjust to being back here. However, I don’t want to become content. I don’t want to lose my drive to travel and see the world. While I’m here though I will continue searching for ways of staying globally involved.

In pursuit of this goal, I’m trying to engage with other countries and language associations outside those I have been involved with in the past. Across campus there are seminars about myriad places and cultures, and I want to learn more about all of them. This week I attended a lecture by Dr. Liu on the history of Chinese radicals. I was probably the only person in the room who’d never studied Chinese, but it was fascinating nonetheless. I was able to learn more about the relationship between Japanese and Chinese and their shared history, as well as continue my study of kanji, the Japanese writing system derived from Han Chinese.

Even as my classes focus on business and economics, I am actively working to continue a rounded and global education both through my continued study of Japanese and Spanish as well as through lectures on campus and personal conversations. I learned a great deal about the world while I was abroad, and I’m more aware than ever that there is much more to learn. I’ve traveled far, but the road ahead of me will hopefully take me many more places before my journey ends.

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!