Ancient Scripts in the Arab World

During my visit to Paris after finishing up at Bordeaux, I followed up on a recommendation from a friend and visited the Institute of the Arab World, which was absolutely fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the part of the collection that explained the early history of the Arabian peninsula and the Levant, as it introduced me to scripts and languages that I was previously unaware of, such as Sabean, Thamudic, and the Ancient South Arabian script.

Recently, I came across an article in the New Yorker (via languagehat) and a podcast from UT about Ahmed Al-Jallad, who researches and deciphers inscriptions in the Safaitic script, which are written in an older, pre-Islamic form of Arabic. The Safaitic alphabet is primarily found in Syria and Jordan, and Al-Jallad theorizes that forms of Arabic were present in this region before the rise of Classical Arabic on the Arabian peninsula. In the podcast, Al-Jallad discusses pre-Islamic inscriptions written in the Arabic alphabet. Those found to this point are generally associated with a Christian identity, rather than a pagan one. I would highly recommend reading the article and podcast (with transcript) if you are interested in Arabic history, linguistics, or just generally get excited about deciphering ancient scripts and languages. Al-Jallad also has an interesting discussion of Safaitic with photos and translations on his Twitter account.

 

Two Years and Counting

Two Years and Counting

It’s crazy for me to think that I’m coming up on one year since I studied abroad in Austria, and almost two years since I went to Japan. I looked forward to going abroad so much that it’s hard to believe I’ve finished all of my undergraduate time abroad.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m done traveling–the idea of going to grad school abroad, or even just moving abroad once I graduate and finding a job in a different country, is definitely at the top of my list of possibilities! But in honor of these anniversaries coming up, I decided to write a post about the everyday things I miss the most about studying abroad.

Speaking Another Language

Since I returned to the US I’ve continued taking language classes in both Japanese and German, but it really can’t compare to the exposure of using that language every single day, over and over again. For example, in my everyday life I have two opportunities to speak Japanese: when I talk to myself and just decide to do it in Japanese (which, yes, I do a lot, and probably makes people who pass by me think I’m crazy), and when I ask my phone what the weather is going to be, since I still have it set to Japanese.

But when I was in abroad, I was constantly thinking in and using my German and Japanese for everything from mundane tasks, like paying at a convenience store, to much more intimidating ones like filling out my Austrian residency forms and giving directions to taxi drivers. Even if I wasn’t always thinking 100% in that other language–I just don’t have enough vocabulary to do that, especially in Japanese–constantly being ready to recall vocab and accents to speak the other language was what helped my language skills grow so much, and was also a ton of fun for me. But in the US, I don’t have to do that because everything is in English.

Milk CoffeeI remember very clearly how I would prepare Japanese sentences and vocab in my head in anticipation of whatever I was about to ask someone. Near the end of my trip, I was drinking an iced coffee and thinking that I would have to do that more often in the US; I’m more of a tea drinker overall, but in Japan there were vending machines on every corner that sold delicious milk coffee for about $1.50, and I really liked it. (This may have been partially due to the cute cans that it often came in.) I thought to myself, “I could go to Starbucks on campus and order coffee, but I’d have to think of how to ask for them to also add milk to it. Hmm, that could be hard, how would I say that…? Wait. English. I’ll be speaking ENGLISH. I can literally say, ‘Can I please have some milk in it too.’ Wow. Imagine that.”

The Food

Red Bean Ice CreamI’m pretty sure every student who studies abroad will agree with this one. Once you come back, it’s great to have your “normal” food again, but pretty soon you really just want to eat the things you took for granted while you were abroad. I even miss the foods that I didn’t initially like, but now seem so iconic of the food I could find while abroad. I particularly miss the roasted chestnuts I could buy from street vendors all over Graz and the cheap convenience store onigiri in Kyoto. So convenient. So delicious. So definitely not available over here. Sigh.

The Architecture

Dublin CostaTake a moment to picture a regular chain coffee shop in your head. If it’s anything like my local venues, it’s in a generic strip-mall style building, probably with a standard taupe-colored exterior. Not so in Dublin! Whether it was to preserve the historic center of the city or just that space is such a premium downtown, the local not-Starbucks was housed in a gorgeous copper-domed building complete with stone coats-of-arms and Greek-style pillars.

Walking to the university campus in Graz every day, I would often take detours down side streets just to admire the beautiful architecture all around me. It was surreal to realize that the centuries-old buildings with such incredible exteriors held regular businesses like H&M, grocery stores, and gyms.

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I’m sad that my undergraduate study abroad programs are over, but I know that I’ll be living abroad again in the near future. I love experiencing so many aspects of other cultures, not just the ones listed above, and I can’t wait to see what new experiences I’ll have in the future!

If you’ve been abroad, what are the everyday things that you miss now that you’re back?

 

Finding Home–家に帰って

Another semester is coming to a close here at OU. That makes two since I returned from Japan. It’s started to hit me recently just how long it’s been since I got back. The Japanese language has three primary verbs for traveling: one for going, one for coming, and one for returning home. I thought I’d returned, but I don’t feel home. Don’t get me wrong, I love OU and my friends here. I love being able to communicate with almost everyone. I love eating cheese in ungodly amounts and being able to make tacos without breaking the bank. But despite all that, I don’t feel like I’m home. I miss Japan. I miss the mountains and the sakura in spring. I miss the smell of the ramen and curry shops along the streets by campus. I miss the friends that came to mean so much to me, even though we were only together for a short time. Mostly I miss the feeling of home that I got from my neighborhood with its quiet streets and the small bakery where I’d buy breakfast. I know it’s unrealistic to look back and see only the happy parts. I spent many lonely nights in Japan aching to be here with my friends. Well, they say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I suppose it’s true.

As it drifts farther into the past, I’m trying to keep my experiences alive within me. I no longer respond to people automatically in Japanese, and I’ve lost the habit of converting all of my purchases into yen in my mind. But I don’t want to lose the part of me that loved and embraced living in Japan. I’m still studying Japanese, though I’m sure I’m not as good as I was a year ago. This semester I’ve also been attending the Japanese Club at OU as much as I can. I have friends there from Japan, and it’s so comforting to fall into discussions about which conbinis (convenience stores) we liked and our favorite parts of town. But for every happy memory there is a pang of longing. For every shared smile from an inside joke in Japanese there is an ache for the sights, sounds, and smells of Kyoto. When I boarded the plane to come back to America, I truly thought I was coming home. Now I’m not so sure.

As I approach the end of my college career, I will look for opportunities to go abroad again. I want to find my home. Perhaps it is somewhere here in the States. Perhaps I found it when I was living in Kyoto. Or perhaps it’s somewhere I have yet to go. Wherever it is, I won’t stop flying until I find it—the place I was meant return to. Home.

A New Journey—Costa Rica

Over Spring Break I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica, my first flight taking me abroad without crossing the Pacific. I was visiting as a student, studying the corporate environment and the function of leadership in Costa Rica. Although I was only in the country for 10 days, I learned a great deal and had the opportunity to experience a culture greatly different from any I’d been in before.

The business culture in Costa Rica is highly developed and well-specialized. Although agriculture remains important to the economy, Costa Rica has emerged as a hub for transnational corporations seeking a foothold in Latin America due to its longstanding democracy, low corruption, and established infrastructure. At the same time, Costa Rica has attracted many important manufacturing jobs in the pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and communications industries because it is relatively low cost while also having much lower risk than the many parts of Asia that would typically attract these manufacturing jobs. Tourism has also been a pillar of Costa Rica’s economy, with visitors coming from across the developed world to experience the natural beauty of the protected landscapes that make up 25% of Costa Rica’s total land area. Lastly, many entrepreneurs and corporations in Costa Rica are working to become more sustainable and promote environmentally friendly industries as a primary driver of the economy. This includes giants like Walmart and Gensler that work with local farmers and businesses as well as small local players who use their own limited capital and influence to promote organic products and clean industries. Altogether, Costa Rica’s economy is remarkably diverse and is growing rapidly as more and more companies strive to take advantage of its developed market and educated labor force.

Culturally, I wasn’t sure what to expect in Costa Rica. I had vague ideas about Latin American cultures, but the picture painted is usually one of an underdeveloped third world country. What I found was starkly different. Costa Rica is highly developed. The population is over 98% literate and the country is 99% electrified. The national electric, oil, and medical services are relatively expensive but highly efficient. Costa Rica has a well-developed educational system and a steadily growing economy. All in all, it is a first world country. At the same time, driving through San Jose, we saw unmistakable signs of poverty and crime from ramshackle buildings to the ever present bars protecting the windows of residences and businesses. In this way, Costa Rica reminded me of China. Both nations are straddling eras, with elements of both preindustrial nations and modern economic powerhouses coexisting within a single country. Old and new, rich and poor exist side by side.

Altogether, I had a great trip and enjoyed myself. I also learned a lot. The way we classify countries is far too simplistic. Calling countries “first” or “third” world gives the impression that some countries are better or further along in history than others. This isn’t true. Different countries have different struggles and different economic systems. However, every country has its own strengths and all have something to contribute to the world. I want to continue traveling to experience more cultures and learn to appreciate the unique gifts that each brings to the international community.

Daily Life in South Africa

The University of Oklahoma’s university exchange partner in South Africa is the University of Pretoria. Located in Hatfield, Pretoria, UP’s main campus is like OU’s in many ways–comparable size, similar classroom and office buildings, same through-campus transportation methods.

UP, however, has an enclosed campus. A fence runs around the campus’s entire perimeter with guarded turnstiles for pedestrians and gates for cars. Students, faculty, and staff must use their identification cards and fingerprints to access the campus.

This is evidence of the high crime rate in South Africa–something to consider when thinking of going there–but Hatfield is one of the safest neighborhoods in Pretoria. I had no problems walking among campus, my residence, and local stores by myself during the day. After dark, my friends and I walked together to restaurants and clubs without issue.

UP assigns most exchange students housing in Tuksdorp, one of the univeristy’s off-campus postgraduate residences. They reserve limited spaces, though, so some students end up in other international housing or non-university accommodations. This was not the case for me, but it is a reason to submit application materials as soon as possible.

A community of differing small houses enclosed by a fence, Tuksdorp is quaint and cozy. It has a free laundry room, computer lab and TV lounge, and pool. Exchange students of the same gender are grouped together. Each resident has their own room with a sink and access to a shared toilet and bathroom. Each house floor has a fully-equipped kitchen. A housekeeper comes every week day to clean the communal areas.

Living in Tuksdorp was a great experience for me. My floor housed eight girls–two Dutch, two German, two Mexican, one Chinese, and one American (me!). We ate, studied, relaxed, and traveled together and with exchange students from other floors and houses. Having everyone so physically close made it easier for us to connect and grow friendships.

I walked most places on a day-to-day basis. The Hatfield Plaza, about two blocks from Tuksdorp, provides a grocery store, phone services, clothing stores, and even doctors’ offices. That same stretch of road has multiple American fast food chains–McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC–but several local restaurants are close as well as numerous bars and clubs, if you’re into that.

If I wanted to go farther, Uber is an affordable safe option in South Africa. A Gautrain station is also located just another block past Hatfield Plaza. The rail goes from Hatfield to Johannesburg. It’s a good option for traveling to and from the airport, Pretoria’s city center, and Joburg’s various neighborhoods. For trips, we rented cars or flew.