Almost Graduation

In honor of graduation being 25 days away, I thought I’d make a post about things I’m grateful for that Global Engagement provided me throughout my college experience.

  1. First and foremost, I am grateful for the financial scholarship that the GEF program provided in order to allow me to realize my dreams of studying abroad in college. Without that financial assistance, I never would have been able to afford travel on my own, especially twice, to both Germany and Italy. Knowing as a freshman that I would have the help I needed to travel allowed me to start planning early and compare my options for where I wanted to go.
  2. I am thankful for the community that the GEF class first semester freshman year established for me as an out-of-state college student and the tone it set for my college years that inspired me to stay globally connected. I loved having several familiar faces from that class across campus that I could connect with about our global interests, activities on campus, and just how college was going, in general.
  3. Although I tended to go to events and be involved with cultural groups that I already held previous interest in, such as those related to Slavic cultures, I appreciate the wide range of cultural and globally-oriented groups and activities that were available, which provides opportunity to learn something new and become even more connected to the differences of people across the globe. Especially at the yearly Global Engagement Day, I loved hearing anecdotes from others that also studied abroad but in areas very physically and culturally different than where I traveled to, because it offered new perspectives on the world. In a way, this was a small glimpse into visiting these places for myself, without actually doing so.
  4. Lastly, I am thankful that I had another motivator, besides my own interests, in remaining connected to campus activities and seeking out fresh perspectives on cultural differences. Being a double major, a part-time student employee, and maintaining a social life through school, it would have been more difficult to continue global involvement once schoolwork and other responsibilities started piling up. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the Global Engagement Fellowship program throughout my college experience and will always treasure the opportunities and global perspectives this program provided me!

 

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Queer Identity and Israel

Imri Kalmann is a social activist that has been working for many years to increase public awareness of LGBT issues in Israel. He is a former co-chairperson of the Israeli LGBT Association and has also founded several prominent night clubs in Tel Aviv that are hubs for persons that identify as LGBT. Kalmann gave a talk at OU Hillel this March, where he spoke about his own personal experiences growing up in Israel as a gay man, and how he became involved in activism.

One of the most fascinating parts of this talk was hearing about the interactions of the different elements of Kalmann’s identity. Kalmann discussed how two of the most important aspects of his identity are his jewishness and his identification as a gay man. While the Jewish community as a whole is very accepting of LGBT people, Kalmann has found that government policies in Israel do not always reflect this due to the sway that the ultra orthodox that hold over policymakers. As traditionalists, most ultra orthodox are far less accepting of the LGBT community. Opposite this, the LGBT community tends to be a more secular sector of society.

Kalmann has struggled to reconcile his judaism and his homosexuality; while closing his popular gay bars on the Sabbath was important to him in upholding his personal religious convictions, the gay community resisted this show of religiosity. Kalmann felt that as much as the ultra orthodox did not support his sexual identity, the gay community did not support his Jewish identity. This was especially interesting for me to hear about as a fellow Jew and member of the LBGT community. I have been lucky to feel very supported by my Jewish community here in Oklahoma, and having an LGBTQ+ group within the OU Hillel community has shown me that these two identities can coexist harmoniously.

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down girl part 1

Down Girl sets out to explore misogyny and feminism in a unique light and find a new approach addressing intersectionality and feminism. The introduction focuses on the terms “rape” and “strangulation”, and how those words have a misogynistic effect in the political sphere. Then the first chapter hones in on the definition of misogyny itself to prove how deeply ingrained it is in our society. 

What strikes me the most about this book is how Manne skillfully weaves relevant political cases into her argument. She does not restrict her argument to just be conceptual or just a social commentary. Instead, she embraces both, which strengthens her argument, and makes it easier for the audience to conceptualize and understand how Manne’s ideas are applied in real life settings. Additionally, many of these political situations are familiar to readers. For example, in the introduction to Manne uses several examples from our current presidential administration, including Donald Trump himself. She brings up how 50% of white women voted for Trump when he clearly represented many misogynist perspectives. 

Manne defines misogyny as “the system that operates within a patriarchal social order to police and enforce women’s subordination and to uphold male dominance” (p. 33). She noted how misogyny does not target all women but instead selects a unique few to punish. Misogyny serves to punish women that do not fit into the patriarchal norms.  This is a criticism of misogyny and sexism as the refusal to see women as human. Manne instead challenges what society is content with accepting to draw attention to a real problem, structures of power and inequality that perpetuate misogyny. 

In the first chapter of Down Girl, she discusses the case of Elliot Rodger, a mass murderer that targeted a sorority house, Alpha Phi at the University of California Santa Barbara. Subsequently, people subscribed that Rodger struggled with mental illness and argued whether or not he was truly misogynistic. They list the reasons that his actions and motives were not misogynistic: he was too obsessed with women and overly valued them causing him to act out, he was too obsessed with the men who could get the women that he desired that he acted out to punish women, he was obsessed with only “hot” women so there is no way he was misogynistic because he didn’t act out again ALL women, or maybe he didn’t even hate women on a fundamental level, and instead acted out to psychological distress. All of these reasons pivot the focus away from how violence is enacted against women in a structural manner, and Manne picks apart every little aspect of the case of Elliot Rodgers in order to prove her definition of misogyny. 

COLSA’s Colombian Night

This year, I went to my first COLSA Colombian Night at OU. It was about time—I’ve been a Colombian student at OU for four years now. Embarrassingly, I had never really looked into the Colombian Student Association. My experience at Colombian Night was my first introduction to the club!

The night consisted of a dinner, a show, and a fiesta. I wasn’t able to make it to the dinner, but the show was lots of fun! Apparently, each year Colombian Night focuses on a different region of the country. This year, the theme was Los Llanos, or the plains of Colombia. COLSA put together a beautiful video introducing the beauty of the Colombian plains, and highlighting the diversity of Colombian culture. Los Llanos are primarily in eastern Colombia, and run into western Venezuela. Our MCs for the night, one from Colombia and one from Venezuela, illustrated the significance and beauty of this shared land.

After we stood for the national anthem of Colombia, played via another video, and a live rendition of the US national anthem, the show began. There was lots of traditional dancing, which the COLSA members had clearly rehearsed and perfected. Their costumes were beautiful—bright, vivid dresses in blue, yellow and red (the colors on the Colombian flag). Aside from the dances, there was a short play narrated in both English and Spanish. I kept up with the Spanish, but was grateful for the translations. Colombians speak so quickly! Like the rest of the show, the play was polished and very impressive. The students acting in it seemed to be having a lot of fun on stage, and their enthusiasm was contagious.

After the show, we all received small harp-shaped keychains—this initially confused me, as I wasn’t aware that the harp was a significant instrument in Colombian music. But after some research I saw that Colombia has proudly reinvented the harp and made it their own, sometimes referring to it as “the Andean harp.”

I also attended the fiesta following the show, which was at the Norman Main Street Event Center. It was great to see even more dancing and get to talk to the friend who had invited me to the event. Although the party was largely COLSA members to begin with, eventually more and more students arrived. There was a large presence from the entire international student body, and everyone seemed to enjoy celebrating and learning about Colombian culture! I stayed for about an hour before getting tired and going home. I expected the fiesta to start winding down after that time, but my friend who stayed informed me that they kept dancing for hours (I can’t imagine how anybody had the energy).

As I left, I sent a WhatsApp message to my Abuelita, who I constantly disappoint with my lack of Colombian-ness. Though attending Colombia Night doesn’t make up for my patchy Spanish and terrible dancing, she seemed to appreciate the effort.

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Belly Dancing

At the end of February, the Arab Student Association advertised an event that instantly caught my attention – a night of belly dancing!

Last semester I was fortunate enough to take a belly dancing workshop through the OU School of Dance, and I absolutely loved it. The movement is sensual and invigorating. As a dancer, I always enjoy new dance experiences, and learning about styles that exist in other cultures opens windows to understanding dance in the larger global context.

The workshop was led by two members of the Arab Student Association with belly dancing experience. They put together a short routine for us set to an upbeat song that had a distinctly Middle Eastern sound. They taught us a series of movements, which mainly consisted of undulations in the torso and hips. We then linked these movements together for the dance. Although the gathering felt somewhat awkward in the beginning and there was a sense of shyness in the room, we soon became comfortable with one another. This allowed us to dive into the movement, swaying our hips and shaking our shoulders together. The night ended with us dancing in a circle, improvising and free dancing as a group.

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Women and the Revolution in Iran

Dr. Shirin Saeidi, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, visited OU in February to give a talk about a book she is working on that deals with women’s rights struggles in post-revolution Iran. Dr. Saeidi did field work in Iran for several years in order to gather stories from women and learn first hand about their experiences.

One of the focuses of Dr. Saeidi’s work was engaging with non-elite women to give voice to their stories, which are often left out of the larger narrative in Iranian society. Saeidi discussed the idea of “individual versus collective remembrance,” and how women’s individual “remembrance of the past” is often lost to the mainstream narrative that is created to characterize history. By considering how past experiences contribute to shaping women’s lives in the present, we are better able to understand how the history of their circumstances affects the ways they choose to engage in the struggle for a better life.

A fascinating moment during the lecture was when Dr. Saeidi discussed the word “feminism” and how it was perceived by women in Iran. Interestingly enough, she found that the majority of women engaged in the struggle for equality did not identify with this term. This term originated in the West, and therefore it should not be surprising that Iranian women view their fight for rights based on their own terms. Although feminism is perhaps a universal concept in what it aims to achieve, we must respect how women around the world choose to characterize and approach their own unique struggles if we wish to truly support their efforts.

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Eve of Nations (4/12/19)

This past Friday was a night to remember. My first time attending Eve of Nations, and It definitely was worth it. I loved the theme of unity and inclusion, as different cultures came together to embrace one another’s culture. The food was amazing, and the performances were truly unique. The beginning of the show was a fashion show, and it revealed the different countries that the students are from. It was intriguing to see how diverse our international community is at OU. From traditional to modern dances, there was much excitement in the show. I loved the message behind this event: to come together as one and to embrace one another. This event meant everything to me.

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Behind the Roses

Studying abroad isn’t easy.

If you ask other students at OU about their study abroad experiences, you will probably hear a plethora of positive adjectives. Amazing. Absolutely wonderful. Interesting. Rewarding. The list goes on. If you consult Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat, you will be inundated with beaming faces gesticulating to the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum behind them and goofy grins half hidden behind artisanal coffees and glasses of local wine.

These aren’t wrong. Although the stories may be condensed and edited, the pictures posed and filtered, study abroad is full of beautiful and inspiring moments that you will treasure for the rest of your life. That being said, this is only part of the experience.

I have not had any difficulties. I am in a country where everyone speaks English, I have not lost my suitcase or missed my train, I was able to enroll in classes that I can use for my degree, I have not been harassed or attacked or mugged. The worst thing that I have endured was falling ill in Switzerland and being forced to travel home early, forfeiting my nonrefundable tickets. I know travelers have faced much worse and I know OU students who have faced much worse, but nevertheless, this isn’t easy.

Think back to your freshman year at college, your first month at school. You were in a new place, you didn’t know how anything worked, and you were removed from friends and family. Studying abroad presents a host of similar challenges, set in a completely foreign environment. I expected things. I knew that it would be difficult to be separated from my loved ones, not only by distance but by a time difference. I knew that the classes would be formatted completely differently from those at OU and that I would need to double and triple check every requirement and deadline. I knew that I would essentially be living out of a suitcase, limited in my possessions by what I had brought with me and what I had room to bring back.

I did not expect the sheer volume of new input to be so overwhelming. My shopping excursions took ages as I flitted from store to store, unsure where to buy what I sought. I did not expect periods of excruciating boredom interjected with days of frantic productivity. The rhythm of coursework and errands and social life here evades my best attempts at synchronization. I did not expect the quiet constant unease stemming from the inescapable truth that no matter how beautiful my new linens were and how many new friends I was making, my time was fixed, running steadily through the hourglass, and this was not my home. Constantly poised on the edge of my seat, I hesitate to settle in, fearing to aggravate the sting of my inevitable departure.

I do not wish to dissuade anyone from studying abroad. I adore England and would make this choice again in a heartbeat. Every day is an adventure and every day I stop and think about how lucky I am to be here. I smile frequently, broad, genuine smiles that are rarely captured in photos. I am happy.

Just know, when you attend Study Abroad 101 and browse the programs and write your application essays reverberating with enthusiasm, studying abroad isn’t easy.

Russian Club 2019

Music is a vital part of any culture. The appreciation for another culture’s music can be a great signifier of truly understanding another people. This is one of the reasons why Russian Club is putting on a big semester concert on April 28th.

Since the end of April is approaching and the concert with it, this past Wednesday, the Russian club meeting was spent mostly practicing songs for the concert. Not as many students were able to come this week, as it is exam season, but there were still around seven of us, including Rachick, one of the Russian professors, and his dog Тигр (Tiger).

Aaron, our current Russian Club president, practiced his song first, an old Georgian song that Rachick knew all the words to. He played the guitar along the way, and here and there, Rachick corrected the words or the pronunciation. A couple of late comers showed up soon after, and they practiced their songs as well. One of them was a Russian patriotic folk song from World War II called Катюша. It has a jaunty beat and quick lyrics, and even Braden, a second semester Russian student, knew some of the words. It looks like the concert is shaping up to a really good showcase of Russian music and culture.

Music has the inexplicable ability to unite people, to go beyond words. It is at once a great definer of cultures and a great uniter of cultures. I think music can really contain a piece of our soul, and so when you take the time to learn the music of another culture, you are allowing yourself to be changed and learning to see the world through new eyes.

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