Living in the Kraettli Apartments

As I mentioned in the last post, I live in Kraettli Apartments. Kraettli is the super old university apartment complex across from Traditions East. The apartments certainly don’t look very nice, but they actually aren’t that bad. The rent is extremely cheap (which is what I like!), and the apartments are actually really big. I am fortunate enough to live in one of the more updated buildings (meaning I actually have a double sink in the kitchen and the walls were painted semi-recently), so I can’t complain much considering the cost.

The funny thing is, not very many American students live here. My neighbor across from me is American, but I don’t think I have seen any other American students here. Most people who live here seem to either be from Asia or the Middle East. I have also seen a couple of French people around before, but I think they might actually live in Traditions East. My roommate suggested that the reason why so many Asian and Middle Eastern students live here might be because of the difference in currency value. Since their currencies are not worth as much as the dollar, it is probably a lot harder to afford housing. In contrast, Americans probably don’t want to live here because it isn’t very stylish. I personally don’t see why curb appeal is so important when rent is so cheap, but I guess other people have different priorities.

Because of the large percentage of international students here, I am always surrounded by other cultures. It is always an adventure using the laundry facility because people often use the washers and dryers for non-traditional purposes, and you always have to check that the washer or dryer you want to use is actually clean.

I can also often smell the awesome food people are cooking, and it always makes me want to go eat at a good, authentic Chinese restaurant. Sometimes, though, people burn the oil they are using, and then the whole area smells like smoke for several hours. Often times, people actually cook with their doors open so that all the smoke can get out without setting off the fire alarm. One of my neighbors does that quite frequently. I have also seen some rather interesting things setting out in the courtyard. Over the summer, someone had hung some sort of food out to dry, and I could have sworn it looked like intestines. Someone kept going out to check on it, and I could smell that they were cooking something inside. The drying stuff certainly looked gross to me, but apparently they were pretty excited to eat it.

Kraettli really has quite a unique culture compared to most apartment complexes. A lot of families live here (I know at least three of my neighbors have young kids), but there are also a lot of people living here who are around my age. Everyone living here has to be attending OU because it is university housing, but unlike other university housing, there seems to be pretty even mix between undergraduate and graduate students. My neighbor next to me seems to throw a lot of parties, but it is pretty quiet other than that. It also seems like there is a lot more interaction between residents than in normal apartments because of all the different events and get-togethers that are held. It truly is just like living in a mini international community.

Living with a Chinese Major

As I have mentioned before, my roommate is a Chinese major. She is incredibly awesome at speaking Chinese, and she is always interacting with the Chinese students on campus. Then when she’s back at the apartment, her love for Chinese starts to rub off on me. Again as I have mentioned before, I don’t know any Chinese whatsoever, and I don’t exactly plan to learn it any time soon, but I can definitely still appreciate the Chinese culture. For one, my roommate cooks some pretty amazing Chinese cuisine, and I always love trying her new recipes she gets from her Chinese friends. She has also been introducing me to Chinese music. Sometimes she’ll run a playlist of Chinese songs while we’re cooking, and I’ve started to be able to sing along to some of them, even though I don’t really know what they are saying.

However, there is one thing that “annoys” me about my roommate… I’m the one studying French, yet she still meets more people from France than I do! She came back from Chinese Club one day and told me that a guy from France had shown up because he wanted to learn Chinese. Go figure. Plus, there is a French girl in one of her classes. I have never actually spoken with anyone from France here before, so I have to say that I am pretty jealous of her for that!

Goals for Abroad

Studying abroad is a great adventure, and a wonderfully intimidating one too. I have never left America before – in fact, I have only ever left the Midwest once. I have also never been on a plane, and I have never traveled any great distance without someone else in my company. Yes, going to a foreign country is a very scary thing indeed. And going to a foreign country that doesn’t speak my language is even scarier. Yet the adventurer inside me is just dying to go out and explore the world, so explore the world I will.

So, where will I go first? France. I can’t think of better way to begin my adventures than to go somewhere that does not speak English and to go entirely alone! Sound scary? Sure! Am I up for it? Of course! I have wanted to go to France for a very long time, so I am thrilled that I finally have the chance to go. Going to France will give me the opportunity to branch out and exercise my independence, and to stretch my communication skills. Honestly, the scariest part about going to France is the fact that I won’t always be around people who speak English. I am planning to go to the Vichy summer intensive French program, so I should hopefully still have some people around who speak English, but that is by no means guaranteed. And considering that I already have a hard time communicating in English, I am very worried about how I will possibly be able to communicate well in another language. But the experience will be good for me, and I know that I will certainly grow from it.

Why France? To study French of course. When I was little, my mom taught Spanish for a while, and both of my older siblings took Spanish in school. But I, in an effort to be different from my family, decided that I would rather learn French. That was honestly the only reason why I wanted to do it at first. My family learned Spanish, so I had to learn French because doing the same thing as everyone else would be boring. Then as I started learning French in high school, I realized that I had actually pick the right language to learn after all because French is a very common language to be spoken in the scientific fields, especially physics. After all, CERN (a giant particle accelerator… something that is super cool for physicists) is in Geneva, Switzerland, which both borders France and speaks French. So now I have two reasons for studying French: I can do something different from what my family did, and I can study a language that is useful in physics. It seems pretty perfect to me. Plus learning French has really helped with my communication skills in general. I am really not any good at expressing what I am trying to say in coherent sentences when I talk, and I am awful at thinking up answers on the spot. But somehow, learning another language has helped me overcome both problems, or at least to an extent. One of the most useful skills I have gained from learning another language is being able to “talking around the subject,” which basically means being able to describe what you are talking about even if you don’t know the word for it. Although I do use that in French quite often, I have found that I use it just as much in English as well. A lot of times while I am having a conversation, I will forget a certain word, so I have to “talk around it” until I remember what it is. It seems like a perfectly simple trick, but I never thought to use it before I started studying French.

Then where shall I go after that? England. In comparison to France, England seems like a much more comfortable place to study. For one, they (obviously) speak English there, which means that I will not have to try to overcome any language barrier. But going to England does present other challenges. I am planning to study there for a full academic year, which means that I will be away from home for far longer than I ever have before. On top of that, I will be studying at an actual English university (the University of Sheffield to be specific) with actual students from England. At least in France, I will be surrounded almost entirely by other international students, so I will be in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to knowing what to do. But when I am in England, almost all my classmates will be from England, so I will be the odd one out. That’s a little nerve wracking to me, knowing that I am going to be in an unfamiliar place and won’t necessarily be with other people in the same position as me. But the experience will be good for me, and I will again certainly learn from it. I suppose I will have to learn how to figure stuff out on my own eventually, so I might as well do it while I’m in a foreign country.

So why do I want to go to England so badly? Physics! Well, that and the fish and chips. Those are good too. But it’s mostly for the physics. I’ve already mentioned it quite a bit, but I really am extremely excited to be able to study in England. There will just be so much to learn, and so many new perspectives on the same topics I’ll have already been studying. Even though my trip is still a long way off, I am waiting in eager anticipation of what I might be able to accomplish there. If things work out the way I hope, and if I can really get some good connections through my professor who already graduated from there, then I should be able to do much more than the average exchange student could while I am there. What I really hope is that going abroad will improve my chances of being able to attend a good graduate school after college. It is a bit of a gamble because I am taking an extra year to graduate by studying abroad, but I am sure that the experience will be worth it. All in all, studying in England will be a wonderful opportunity for me to explore a new perspective, and that is what really matters to me.

International Students on Campus

It’s amazing how many international students you will see on campus. There are so many here that it’s hard to not run into one wherever you go. Whether you’re at work, in class, hanging out in the dorm lobby, or eating dinner in the cafeteria, you are almost always sure to see an international student around.

I work as a receptionist for the university’s pharmacy, and we frequently have international students use our services. Interestingly, of all the international students at OU, it is mostly the Asian and French students who use us the most. I rarely see people from any other part of Europe or from Latin-America, and I only see Middle-Eastern students on occasion. Maybe it is because that is where most of the international students are from, but I don’t know. It is simply an interesting trend.

In several of my classes, I am friends with some of the international students. One of the things they frequently mention is that the language barrier often makes it difficult to understand what is being asked. For instance, a problem in physics asked to find the force of a tow truck on another car. My friend didn’t know what a tow truck was, so he didn’t know how to answer the question even though he knew how to do the physics. They also frequently mention how much easier the classes are here than in their home countries. I have a friend in my engineering class who is from Israel, and she is always talking about how surprised she was that the class is so easy. She said she doesn’t even have to try to do well here, but back home she has to work really hard just to receive the equivalent of a C.

It’s kind of weird sometimes when you are in a public place and hear a group of people talking in another language. Many times, they speak in the other language because they don’t want others to know what they are saying. I was studying in the lobby of my dorm, and a group of people came in and started taking in Arabic nearby. I didn’t think much of it until they started glancing over at me frequently, as though they wanted to make sure I didn’t know what they were saying. Fortunately for them, I didn’t, but it kind of made me nervous knowing that they could say whatever they wanted in front of me, and I wouldn’t have a clue. So at that moment, I was really wishing I knew Arabic. But other times, it can be very amusing when you actually do know what they are saying. My brother worked for a drywall company for a while, and once when he was making a delivery to a job site, he saw a group of Mexican workers chatting and laughing nearby. My brother is very proficient in Spanish, so he actually knew what they were saying. They were laughing at him, and making fun of him for being a “white boy.” So my brother walked up to them and said to them, in Spanish, “this white boy knows what you’re saying” and walked off. My brother said they stopped talking after that. You never know if the people you are laughing at might actually know what you are saying.

Another place you can frequently see international students is in the cafeteria. It is interesting to see different people’s preferences to different types of food. Typically, the students will eat the food most similar to what they are used to, but then they always complain about how it is nothing like what they are used to. And if they do eat American food, they eat it the wrong way. Like eating french fries with forks and cutting sandwiches into bite-size pieces. But hey. There is always more than one way to eat each food. I mean, my roommate usually eat cheesecake with chopsticks! And honestly, it tastes better that way anyway.

Understanding Culture through Science

Culture – the way we are raised, the people who surround us – influences everything about us. It influences the way we act, the way we speak, and the way we think. Not one aspect of our lives can remain untouched by it.

Modern science has, in a sense, become a culture of its own that unites the individual cultures of those within. But despite this, each individual remains influenced by the culture around him. So a scientist in France is a part of the same scientific culture as a scientist in England, but the Frenchman is still influenced by French culture and the Englishman by English culture. As a result, the scientific culture can be somewhat turbulent when national cultures are at odds.

The purpose of science is to discover how (experimentally) and why (theoretically) the world works. There is very little disagreement between scientists about the proven facts of nature. Gravity exists (well, kind of) and makes stuff fall. Friction exists and makes stuff stop moving. The list goes on. But when scientists begin creating theories about how they believe the world should work, national cultures begin to be at odds. A good example of this is Greece versus Italy, Aristotle versus Galileo. Each scientist came to his conclusions based on his cultural preconceptions. Aristotle would have believed that the gods controlled every aspect of life based on whether or not they were happy with humans, so every natural phenomenon was a direct result of human actions. He would also have believed that astrologers could tell the future based on the stars. With these preconceptions, he could not possibly believe that the earth was not the center of the universe. But Galileo’s Christian worldview did not hold these preconceptions, so he was not restricted by them. Furthermore, Galileo would have believed that the world was imperfect and full of sin, so he could come to the conclusion that a perfect universe could not possibly revolve around such an imperfect object as the earth.

It is no coincidence that the sun-centered model came from the western, Christian world. Such a model disagreed with the fundamental beliefs of the eastern world. And this makes an interesting point about the relationship between science and the fundamental beliefs of different cultures. Science serves as a way to discover what fundamental beliefs truly agree with reality, but discoveries can never be made unless there is a diversity of beliefs. Therefore, it is essential to encourage cultural diversity in science because you never know which culture might be able to reveal something about reality that others were blind to. It is also important to realize that sometimes the correct idea seems the most absurd, so you must be careful when determining what is really true.

Ultimately, you must be able to understand the culture from which ideas come before you can truly understand the ideas in themselves. If you understand why someone believes something, you will be more likely to understand what they believe, whether you agree with it or not. And if you do disagree, you will be able to better articulate your reasoning because you will know what core idea it is that you disagree with. At this point, you will not likely be able to have a particularly scientific argument about the disagreement because the issue is not scientific in nature. Science in its purest form cannot be argued against, but its interpretation can. And that is the issue behind almost every “scientific” argument. These interpretations can eventually be proven to be true or false, just as it was between Aristotle and Galileo, but only indirectly through the science they imply. So instead of looking down on different cultures because they interpret science differently than you, look deeper into the culture so you can understand why they interpreted it the way they did. Then, through further scientific investigation, you can determine whether or not the interpretation is valid. And who knows. You might just be surprised to find that they were right all along.