Romeo and Juliet: The Ballet

This November, I got to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet with front-row seats at the Mariinsky Theater here in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It was a truly breathtaking performance and I was lucky enough to get to see Xander Parish in the leading role.

 

 

 

Buenos Días, Alicante!

Barrio Arabe
Hello from sunny Alicante! I have been in Spain for three weeks now, but there are still days that I wake up and forget that I’m here—until I hear the sounds of Spanish from the streets below my window and remember that my dream of studying abroad is actually happening.

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride so far, between juggling classes, navigating the city, and meeting new friends, but it’s also been thrilling. I’m living with a host family and another exchange student from Japan. I love our dinners together where we talk about differences between our countries and Spain. In fact, meeting other international students has been one of the highlights of the trip so far. I have made friends from Montreal to Algiers, as well as several from right here in Alicante.IMG_5453

I’m thoroughly enjoying my classes at the University of Alicante. I am taking two linguistics classes, an Arabic class, and a translation class, so my language-loving heart is just loving it here. Plus, the gorgeous weather, stunning views, and Mediterranean architecture certainly makes each and every day here an exciting, new adventure.

I am so fortunate to call this city home for the next five or so months, and I can’t wait for all the adventures that lie ahead.

 

 

Semana Dos de Clases

My favorite cafe in Sevilla (so far), Filo! It has the best WiFi, coffee, & snacks. I’m currently eating their hummus.

Mi amigas and I are in our favorite cafe, Filo, making plans for the upcoming weekend. We have decided to go to Málaga for the upcoming weekend. Málaga is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and home to a museum featuring his work. I am muy emocionado! 

Classes have been going really well. My International Business class at the International Study Center is fascinating. Our professor is from Scotland, but has been living in Spain for the past thirty years. Who better to teach International Business?!? I have the same professor for my Entrepreneurship class which as also been very interesting. Our final paper is going to be about a product/service from the United States that we think would be successful in Spain. I’m thinking…Cheez-Its. Okay, I’m only joking, but I could seriously devour a box of the “Extra Toasty” ones right now.

My class at Universidad Pablo de Olavide, The Global Economy, has also been great. Although the course is taught in English, there are students in the class from all over Europe. Everyone offers a different perspective when we discuss international events, which is not really an experience you can get back home. I have taken several economics courses, but never one that is theory-based, so I am excited to learn! 

Below are a few photos I’ve taken while exploring the city throughout the past week. ¡Hasta luego!

Interview 2: Ryan Gaylor; Arezzo, Italy

I sat down with Ryan Gaylor over coffee to discuss his summer study abroad experience. Ryan is a junior Dramaturgy and Journalism double major from Atlanta, Georgia.

L: How do you identify as an artist?

I consider myself as a theater artist, as a Dramaturg. Overall, I consider myself a storyteller and the uniting thread between my two majors (dramaturgy and journalism) is my interest in stories, and how they’re told, and how to tell them well.

L: How much of your life in the United States is influenced by art/dedicated to art?

A large portion of my time is spent thinking about art in one way or another. My journalism stuff I don’t consider art as much because it is inherently more functional, but there’s definitely an art to it, and an overlap between the things I do as a journalist and a theater artist.

L: Where did you study Abroad?

I studied abroad in Italy, in Tuscany. I spent a few days in Rome and spent the majority of my time in Arezzo. I also traveled to Florence, Cinque Terre , Pompeii, and other cities along the Mediterranean Coast. I was there, altogether, for a month in the summer of 2017.

L: What was the purpose of your trip? Why did you decide to go?

I traveled with the Gaylord College of Journalism through OU. The program was Marketing and Advertising and Documentary and Film. We had two projects that we worked on: we created a documentary about Arezzo and we helped a museum in Arezzo re-brand to reach a modern audience in Arezzo. It was a veey project based program.

I knew I wanted to study abroad somewhere. I have traveled all my life. It was something my dad instilled in me as being important– that experiences are more important than material things, that it’s important to broaden yourself. I was attracted to this program because it seemed interesting, especially the hands-on project based work.

L: What were ways you specifically/intentionally interacted with art while in Italy?

We visited the Uffizi Mueseum in Florence. I studied art history when I was younger and I knew the significance of many pieces to the narrative of art history, and it was extremely cool to see in person the pieces that I had studied. Having that background knowledge was cool. I sought out pieces I studie: Birth of Venus, Primavera. Going to Vatican was insane. I’m not religious but I’ve always visited European churches because they are so intrinsically linked with the artistic history of Europe. So going to the Vatican, with its sheer quantity, was incredible. I am an artist but I did not go there as an artist.

In Arezzo, worked with this dead man’s collection of antique items. He was one of the founders of Arezzo’s famous antique fair. It was neat to see through the lens of this collector to see what was artistically and historically valuable. His house, Ivan Bruschi House Museum was converted into a museum.

Overall, I was interacting with historic art more than contemporary. Florence was where the Renaissance was centered so everything I was exposed to was very connected to that and the Renaissance in general.

L: Based on your experiences, how would you describe the artistic culture?

I think one of the biggest differences between the artistic culture there and the artistic culture here  is that is has such deep historic roots– most of the art I saw there was older than our country. There’s a much deeper sense of history, and coming from something, and continuing a tradition, rather than creating something knew. Now, this is all based on my own experiences, and I’m not the expert, but this is what I noticed in general.

L: How do you think their artistic culture has affected their culture in general in their day to day life?

There’s a sense of connection to the past. There are buildings that have been around for a couple thousand years, whereas in the US we don’t even have that a little. Common root, the ties to history, etc.

L:How would you describe the artistic culture of the United States?

There’s a big cultural emphasis on what’s happening next and, y’know, what are we going to do that’s new? What are we going to do next? I didn’t get that impression, and it might have just been because it wasn’t the scene I was interacting with. In the United States, art from different locations feels different and is different, but there is not as much sense of place in the art itself. There isn’t as much of a sense of coming from the place it’s coming from or history informing art.

L: How does the artistic culture affect US artistic life?

I think it’s reflected a lot more in industrial design, and there’s a lot more exposure to art in the work place than their used to be. I also feel like our art is very loud and opinionated, which is a reflection of our culture. If you look at a lot of US contemporary art, it’s a lot of “We’re making a statement. We’re making a point.” American art is as loud as we are and it could be that one just fuels the other.

L: How would you say your experiences abroad have affected you as an artist back in the US?

More than anything, I would say it has given me a greater sense of context and the ability to place where we are now (in terms of “Western Art History”). I’ve been able to see where we fit in and experience things that we’ve been discussing, artistically, for centuries, and the ideological connections that go with them. It’s been very powerful to see how the ideology of places affects the type of art that’s created and the ability to see how time, thoughts, and art have progressed have been beneficial.

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Interview 1: Bianca Bulgarelli; Arezzo, Italy

Bianca Bulgarelli is a junior Musical Theater and History major from Los Angeles, California. We sat down in a coffee shop to discuss her recent study abroad trip!

L: Where did you go?

I studied in Italy. I went to Rome for 4 days and then we took a train to Arezzo. We took a two day trip to Florence and I also took a day trip through Luca and Pisa. I went from May 13th through June 2nd of the Summer of 2018.

L: Describe your program/ who you went through

I went with the musical theater program and we took the musical theater history class, which is required for my degree. There was one faculty member and a group of less than twenty students and we just studied over there pretty much. In addition to that class, we went to museums and learned nothing to do with musical theater, and it was a great excuse to just study in a beautiful place.

We did study and watch some relevant musicals. We watched A Light in the Piazza, which is set in Florence. A lot of the musical is in Italian and we were quizzed on that. Our quiz for the musical A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum we took in the Forum.

We really got to experience the night life [in Rome] and in Arezzo, we got to experience the smaller city life, and see a lot families, a lot of children, and a lot of dogs. I swear, everyone has their child our and their dog out on a Thursday at 10pm. Night time was socializing time. So many young people would go out and just eat and drink with each other. Eleven and midnight were early there.  Food and drink is a way to come together and bond. I feel that that is so valuable in a culture.

Here we drink to get drunk. There you drink for taste and for socializing. I’ve been reading a lot about the loneliness epidemic in this country. For some odd reason we want to be incoherent with friends and drunk with friends and not remember things. It seems as if we don’t value our time spent with friends because of that; we either need our phones or alcohol and we don’t connect with each other. We are constantly trying to distract ourselves, but we already have connections that we could just strengthen.

L: Do you think that’s an American thing?

I haven’t been to a lot of places. I have been to Japan (my cousins are half Japanese) and my Dad is from Costa Rica, so I have experience with those cultures. After travelling to Italy and also experiencing their lifestyle, I honestly think it is. I can’t say for the rest of the world, but in Costa Rica the way they socialize and touch each other — you know how they talk about how no one has personal space there, its’s true: my grandmother did not want me to close my door when I was there. My aunt moved back in with my grandparents and that wasn’t weird it was normal, it was family. But here in America, it would be like “Oh. You’re not an independent lonely adult? What’s wrong with you?”

In Italy, I thought that social media was a generational thing, but I really think now that it’s a North American problem. Here you could walk into a room and everyone is on their phone. But there, I never experienced that. When people talk to each other, they were very expressive and very engaged with whoever they were talking to.

In Japan, I went to a public bath from traditional Japanese culture. Women aren’t timid about their bodies in a women only bath house. In our culture, I feel like there is a stigma around our bodies, platonic physical touch, and connection. Our culture is very sterile. We want to be sterile and fascinating.

L: What art did you interact with during you time in Italy?

We went to the Academia, the Uffizi, the Vatican, the Medici palace, and more, but I can’t remember their names. Actually what’s super interesting right now is I am taking Renaissance Art in Italy for my Western Civ. So all these paintings we are studying now, I saw in person. I remember spending a lot of time looking at the progression of the enthroned Madonna with the Christ child and the transition from Byzantine style (Cimabue) to more Realism and Naturalism (Giotto). And after seeing all of this, I get to come back to Norman and actually make connections that will actually stay in my brain. It makes the class so much more interesting to say that I saw that, I stood in front of that and took it in in real time. It really makes things stick and makes me so grateful for my textbook, knowing that it’s real life and not just a textbook. The guides we had were amazing and I’m so glad I paid attention because now I actually get to write papers on it. There are frescoes that I saw, even in Arezzo, that are in my textbook.

Artists were so valued. They were such a big part of life. With the Medici family and the Strozzi family (which was actually even more influential but no one talks about them), they were the only reason that a lot of this art is around.

We also took commedia classes, which is an Italian drama style with masks and center around archetypes and old comedy. They were taught by a student of commedia who was from the United States. We had groups that developed our own commedia scenes and characters. We rehearsed for a showcase that we put on in the community of Arezzo in a small theater there. It was kinda outside our comfort zones. The physical body is emphasized, and we explored how it is used to build character. Our teacher took us through these exercises and then we went through different archetypes in commedia and then used improv to create and then perfect scenes.  If you imagine a really good acting class that was what it was. It was goofy. Commedia is very sex joke oriented, a lot of dirty jokes because it was for the common people and common people weren’t posh. They didn’t care about class so it was just to entertain people and make them laugh. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do as an actor, to just let go.  You don’t have any lines, you just have to come up with something. That was hard for me, but it was cool.

L: How would you describe art in relation to the culture of Italy, or the artistic culture itself?

I think that art is embedded in their culture. I don’t think you can separate it out. What I’m learning in my class is that this idea dates all the way back to the 1300s, when artists started becoming valued and commissioned by churches. A lot of the work was didactic for the church so the only way the people who couldn’t read knew what was going on was through the artists. They needed these artists. I think from then on, they still just value art so much and art is everywhere in the city. Even with the architecture. Everything was planned and thought out. We go into the artists’ ideas and motivations behind why they did what they didn’t and its really intention. Those are things that people are looking at every day and honestly all the buildings are just works of art. Art is just in the air.

Whereas here, there’s an extra effort that needs to be made to make something artistic and it’s a little bit less important. Function is  prized more over artistry. Function and efficiency.

L: How would you say that the artistic culture affects the people in their daily lives?

I don’t think they are as aware of how beautiful everything is. But even in the way people dress — I think art in their society has influence fashion, not just in Milan fashion week, but just everyday people wanting to express yourself through clothes. I feel like in the United States, unless you’re in LA or New York, you aren’t going to see as much self-expression through clothes– or just people being like “I don’t care I’m just going to wear this because it’s cool, not because it’s the trendiest thing.” I didn’t see one trend there. There was a lot of individuality and that’s probably influenced by the art they see around them all the time.

L: How would you describe the US culture in relation to art/ the artistic culture itself?

Here it is kinda separated. Either you’re rich enough to be part of the art culture and experience art and have taste of you’re not and then it’s not cool to want to go to museums. I’ve been to a lot of museums because my mom loves it, and I hated it as a kid, but now I’ve grown to love it. I feel like art is like “Here is a museum, That’s where you can find art.”

We’re a new country. In antiquity, people didn’t seem to be as invested in that. There are gems here and there, but in Italy it was overwhelming with the amount of detail and embellishment in every single building. I think, when this culture was founded, we just weren’t concerned with that at all. To my understanding artists were never valued like they were in Italy, not even for the church. Puritans didn’t value art at all, I think they actually hated art and dancing. That’s where our country grew up from. So it’s not surprising that we don’t value it enough. There’s a small community of people that are art lovers, but they are usually more wealthy. I like modern art and I like contemporary art, but I don’t think they compare to the historical values that some of these masterpieces have and the significance of the artists behind them. They are so important. They have very different roots from us.

How would say that affects how we live our day to day lives?

As I said before, we value function and efficiency over everything else. If you look at the way we live, we want to be the most productive versions of ourselves but I don’t think we need to be the most efficient versions to be great humans. We are more concerned about productivity than happiness. There’s a certain kind of shame that we pride ourselves on when we’re not 100% productive and that’s part of our culture. I don’t know if art… Art is something that you have to just stand and take in. You need time to just view it and not do anything. We don’t like just resting and looking at something. We get bored or our attention spans aren’t long enough, that’s why we have social media. Our country is just not that old and we don’t come from the same roots.

L: What do you do as an artist here and how would you say your experiences have affected you here and now?

I am a musical theater and history major. A lot of what I do is performance based. I am singing and dancing every day, constantly trying to improve technique but also my artistry and remembering that I have something to say through these skills. Going to Italy fueled more of the history major in me, the intellectual, the art lover, and the traveler in me. It fueled me as an individual rather than me as a performer which was very much needed because here it’s 24/7 nonstop perform perform perform. It was nice to just be a person taking in the world. It reminded me of how much more there is beyond musical theater.  This is a bubble and we get so focused and we are so hard on ourselves if we mess up one. This year , I am way less hard on myself and I think it’s because of this trip. I realize that I am just a human who wants to travel and see the world and experience art and joy. I don’t want to be a musical theater robot. I do care about my career and my work, but there’s so much more to life. I love learning about art, how art relates to things that have happened in history. I am going to go to New York city, and even if I don’t perform, I know that I want to be there, which is really comforting. I know, no matter what, I’m going to go to the right place, at least. I can write, I can do other things. I don’t have to put all my value on how casting directors see me because I know there’s so much more to my brain. The trip reminded me of that and I think that was the biggest take away.

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The Interview Project

In these upcoming posts, I will be posting interviews from artists who have studied abroad. These interviews center around their experiences and their perceptions of different cultures through various artistic lenses. While their observations and opinions are honest, accurate, and true to their own experiences, the interviewees are not professed experts on the history or culture of the countries they studied in. Assumptions and perceptions are just that, and might not be absolute fact.

These interviews are an attempt to understand art as it functions in culture on an experiential level and they are a first step in comparing the United States to other countries around the world. It is also a glimpse into the effects that studying abroad has on artists as they return to their work in the United States.

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womxn

Feminist theory and arguments in its origin encounter a simple question: what constitutes a woman? Even today, people are still defining what it means to be a woman, though the definition has already been years in the making. In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex, arguing that woman was defined as an apophatic construct to man; everything a man was a woman was the opposite. And more recently in 2016, Sally Haslanger’s Social Construction: Gender and other Social Categories unravels what it means for something to be socially constructed and what that means for gender. Haslanger explains how gender is socially constructed, and how that does not negate the realness of gender and its effect on people. Defining gender and understanding how it came to be is integral in understanding feminism. 

Sexist oppression is different than other manifestations of oppression in that women are not a minority. Women make up around half of the population, and this is where it was hard to prove that discrimination on the basis of gender was even real. Defining womanhood is one of the very first steps to understanding the argument of feminist as sexist oppression. Cognizance of how gender and sex are constructed in our society gives insight into how inequality has been formed in the gender binary for women and other non-binary conforming people. 

Gender “marks social differences between individuals or about the location of groups within a system of social relations” according to Sally Haslanger’s Social Construction: Gender and other Social Categories.  Gender is a function of one’s role in a social framework or identification with someone who typically occupies said “gender role”, which will differ depending on a person’s race, class, ethnicity and more. Haslanger’s definition of gender is apt; it creates space for different cultural interpretation of women and also references the concept of how “woman” has come to be defined historically. One of the most fascinating points that Haslanger makes is how gender is a social construct, but that in itself does not invalidate feelings and sentiments of the individual about gender. 

The most interesting question that Haslanger brings up, in my opinion, is how the flaws in the binary sex/gender system should be amended. Should we expand our view of sex/gender to encompass more than one category? Or should we simply expunge any classification based on sex/gender? I feel like in our society today, we have begun to create a space that non-binary genders exist and are respected. Maybe this is because doing away with gender seems to hard an endeavor to successfully accomplish. The use of pronouns is an important part of our language (and many others). I also believe our social construction of gender is rooted so deep, it is hard for many to comprehend the damages that the social construct of gender has had on people. The construct is limiting and detrimental to the freedom that we hope to provide our posterity. 

Simone de Beauvoir focuses on the otherness that has historically defined womanhood in her Introduction to The Second Sex.  In understanding how a woman is constructed opposite men, Beauvoir demonstrates how the dynamics of power are interlaced in our very understanding of men and women as a binary. She discusses how men “profit… from the otherness” of women. This understanding of how sexism originates from the very construction of gender ties directly into how bell hooks defines feminism as a movement to end sexist oppression. Beauvoir’s “otherness” insinuates that women do not have “full membership in the human race” because they are lesser than the foil that they are defined to–men. This definition of women is closely linked with ideas of sexist oppression and connects deeply with contemporary feminist arguments, though it does not include other gender and sex identities. 

My title is “womxn“, which is a term that English-speaking feminists have more recently begun to use as a more inclusive term than “women”. “womxn” serves to shed light on injustices towards women of color and trans-women, and define “women” as independent and separate from “men” even in spelling. This spelling and concept can be seen as a  reclaiming of the word to stand alone from “men”, especially in light of how Beauvoir explicates how “women” is defined. 

My Grand Christmas Adventure

Before exams, I went on an adventure with my older sister to London and Paris. It was quite a lot of fun, but nothing like I expected. We absolutely loved London. It seemed that there was a place for everyone in London. It was such a mix of different cultures and traditions. We did all the classic touristy things like seeing the London Bridge, riding the London Eye, and watching the Changing of the Guards (which was a bit underwhelming). But we also did a lot of wandering in different places, finding Christmas markets tucked in little street squares, or pretty buildings that have probably been there for centuries. Perhaps my favorite part was attending Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at Westminster Abbey. I don’t imagine there are many people who can say they’ve done that.

In comparison to London, Paris was actually a bit drab. Perhaps it was just because it was winter, but everything seemed a bit dirty and unkempt. Plus it was cloudy and cold almost the entire time we were there. Nevertheless, we still managed to have a good time. We did a really cool tour of the catacombs, and of course went on the Eiffel Tour. For New Year’s Eve, we went to the Champs Elysee. That was actually a lot of fun. I got to translate pieces of the French constitution as they scrolled across the Arc de Triomphe, then they did a really neat light show that ended in a big fireworks display. Of course there was a big concern that the Yellow Vests were going to do something that night, but it was actually pretty calm. Though we did see a dude get tackled by the police, and another dude get chased by police dogs. On my last day in Paris, my sister left in the morning and I spent the rest of the day with a friend near Sacre Coeur. We found a really neat little artist’s square with tons of local artists set up, painting and selling their art. Some of it was quite good. We also found a delicious crepe shop nearby. All in all, it was a pretty great way to end my stay in Paris.

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Exams…

I finally finished exams last week, and I still can’t decide whether I like them better here or not. As I think I’ve mentioned before, exams are spread out over three weeks after Christmas break. I also discovered that they are extremely rigorous when it comes to eliminating cheating by students or grading biases by professors.

To eliminate cheating, pretty much the only things you are allowed to bring into the exam room are pencils, IDs, water bottles, and calculators. Although calculators are only allowed if they have stickers on them to show that they were pre-approved. Phones are also allowed, but they must be turned off, placed in a brown paper envelope, and placed under the desk. Exams are also only held in special examination rooms where desks are evenly spread out, never in a normal class room. Since there are a limited number of these rooms, multiple exams are usually held in the same room at the same time. But annoyingly, exams don’t always have the same end time. One of my exams was two and a half hours long, and I believe the room was shared with a 40 minute test, an hour test, a two hour test, and a three hour test. It’s a bit distracting when the other people are leaving, but the room is organized so that each test group is grouped together, and it’s ordered so that people with shorter tests are closer to the door.

There is an equally rigorous system for avoiding grading biases. For one, the professor is not in the room during the exam. There are instead official test administrators in the room who have no connection to the tests being taken. Your name is also completely concealed from the exam paper. You write and sign your name in the corner of the answer booklet, but then you fold the corner over and seal it. The only other identifying thing on the cover is your ID number. But it doesn’t end there. Apparently the professors don’t actually grade the exams (I’m not entirely sure if that’s always true, but it’s definitely true in the math department… or the maths department as they call it here). I have also heard that each exam is always graded by two different people (to ensure the point tallying is correct), then someone else comes along to make sure the points actually add up, then someone else comes along to see if the overall grade scale needs to be shifted (with the approval of the professor), then finally someone else comes along to do one final check. I actually heard about that five-step process from a different university, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do something similar here.

To top off the entire strange exam system they have here, we don’t get our grades back until March. That is very annoying for financial aid’s sake, but I suppose it’s worth it if they’re using that time to eliminate cheating and grading bias.

World Poverty

Poverty has been an undergoing issue around the world. Despite the government’s attempt at attempting to lower the unemployment rate, realistically, the unemployment rate can never be 0%. Generally, there are many families that only have one working parent and the other parent is not working, but he or she is taking care of the children and housekeeping. The best that any country can do is keep the unemployment rate between 3% – 7%.