OU Cousins is a student organization that provides the platform to be several different things. There are the typical weekly gatherers for lunch, who maintain a somewhat friendly, yet oddly removed, relationship for the duration of a semester. There are the ones who drink too much together one night and never speak again. And then, there is something outlandishly special. This past year I had the chance to befriend a girl named Pilar Gimenez as my OU Cousin. What I have said before in a previous post about Pilar, all continues to be incredible and true; however, there is now a new spin on our story. This upcoming fall, Pilar and I will be studying at the same university in Valencia, Spain. I’m so excited to add this to our list of adventures together.

Currently, we are sitting on a couch in my friend’s loft in downtown Chicago. We’ve spent the day walking around the city, completing her architectural dreams with visits to the Farnsworth House, Cloud Gate, and other works by Mies van der Rohe. We popped into an open house at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where we viewed some models and had a few slices of a California Roll. I bought some old comic books for a friend of mine. We have two more days in the city, and then I’ll send her and Indo on their way to Spain. We’ve both agreed that this would be impossible, but the promise of us seeing each other again in Valencia provides some condolence.

Pilar, it has been an amazing year with you. From our first trip to Turner Falls, then on to San Francisco, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and now, to this lovely couch in Chicago… it has been a joy.

Things I Learned After Atacama

After my trip to the Atacama Desert where I got violently ill on the plane, my body wasn’t quite right. I was sick on and off for two weeks after my trip. I couldn’t keep food down and I would get terrible migraines. In the United States, I’m usually pretty averse to going and seeing the doctor, so I especially didn’t want to see a doctor in Chile. I hate making appointments, I hate telling people about my ailments, and I seem to hate leaving the house when I’m sick. I’ve always been (for better or worse) a mind over matter sort of person.

It was really difficult being sick in Chile. The homesickness hit me hard. Instead of being in my own bed surrounded by medicines that I recognized and people that I knew, I was in a foreign place. I was having a hard time communicating what was wrong with me to my host mother. She was fretting about the apartment, wanting to make me better and wanting to help, but I didn’t know how she could help. I also didn’t really want her help – I was sick and tired and wanted to be left alone. I wanted my roommates, I wanted my mom, I wanted my boyfriend, I wanted anyone who could speak English and who was familiar to me.

It was interesting seeing the different home remedies that Anita had. I couldn’t tell if they were Chilean home remedies or if they were just Anita’s home remedies. Since I was having a hard time keeping food down, I was only allowed to eat bread with maple syrup and Gatorade. I chew gum like it’s going out of style, but Anita forbid me from chewing gum because she said that the gum was upsetting my stomach. I wasn’t familiar with any of the brands here in Chile, so I couldn’t ask her to go to the store and grab me anything.

I really felt the cultural barriers when I was sick. I didn’t feel like being adaptable, I didn’t feel like speaking Spanish, I didn’t feel like interacting with anybody. It made me realize how much energy it can take for me to speak Spanish and connect with people of another culture. Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it takes a lot of effort.

I feel stronger after this experience. There is a certain fear of the unknown that is now eliminated – I was sick abroad and I wasn’t wrecked by it. I have a healthy dose of respect for people who get sick abroad without a support system.


Let’s Talk About Food

Let’s talk about food. I just got back from Argentina and boy do I have some thoughts on food. It’s great. It’s wonderful. I love food. Food is a huge part of culture and it’s a beautiful, delicious window into another way of thinking. It’s an indicator of the country’s economy, of the country’s heritage, of the country’s social preferences, and you can learn all of this while enjoying scrumptious tidbits.

For example, when I was traveling across Europe, I couldn’t find peanut butter anywhere, although Nutella was everywhere. It made making peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches rather difficult. But in Chile, any store had peanut butter and Nutella. PB&N sandwiches became regular staples for me during the overnight bus trips my friends and I took. Then I went to Argentina, and my friend and I had to prepare for a 22-hour bus trip from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazú, the northern most tip of Argentina. She and I ran from store to store trying to find non-perishables that we could take on this bus trip, and try as I might, I could not find Nutella. I found peanut butter, but it was like Nutella did not exist in Argentina. I finally asked a store employee where I could locate Nutella, and the guy looked extremely confused. Apparently, Nutella is not a thing in Argentina, or at least the part of Argentina that I was in. Instead, there were rows (I kid you not, entire rows and displays and aisles) of dulce de leche. It seemed like they put dulce de leche on pastries, on breakfast foods, in coffee, in candies – wherever you please.

I can’t quite articulate it, but I find it so fascinating how you can find certain foods in one country but not in another. I’m so accustomed to having everything that I want at the tips of my fingers – in America, I can just go to the store and whatever I want will be on the shelves. But not everyone has the same tastes as I do, as Americans do. If you take me out of America and put me into another country, I live with that country’s taste buds.


To Move or Not to Move?

This semester I had the opportunity to attend a lunch and learn hosted by the JCPenney Leadership Program where Dr. Ana Bolino and Dr. Margaret Shaffer presented on the topic of Relocating to Another Country. This topic was of a particular interest to me because I have long entertained the idea of working as an expat and I was interested in hearing about the experiences of two women who had completely uprooted their lives and moved to a different country. They both had very different stories. Dr. Bolino was born and raised in Romania and moved to the United States for higher education. She got her PhD from the University of South Carolina, where she met her husband, Dr. Mark Bolino. She stayed in the United States and now has a family here. Dr. Shaffer, on the other hand, moved to Hong Kong with her husband, who was a professor. She owned her own business in Hong Kong, and has lived there off and on for so many years that she has permanent residency in Hong Kong. Their experiences had similarities – both experienced culture shock and reverse culture shock – but the experiences themselves were opposite – one coming to the United States and one leaving. It was interesting to see that somethings were universal and did not matter from where you came or to where you went.

My boyfriend went to that same talk about a year ago. He and I both have studied abroad for a semester (he went to Arezzo, Italy and I went to Vina del Mar, Chile) and we both have spent a decent amount of time out the country. We both like traveling, and we both are business students. After I attended the talk, we sat down and compared views about living and working out of the country. It was interesting to see how our views differed, seeing as we both have similar backgrounds. I was open to the idea of moving and living abroad – I loved my time in Chile, stayed with a Chilean family, and I spoke Spanish more or less fluently so I was able to converse and connect with Chileans. He on the other hand was not as much of a fan of moving and living abroad as I was. When he was in Italy, he did not speak Italian and stayed with other OU students, so he was able to connect less with the country and culture. He loved his time abroad, but always felt like he was an outsider. I too felt like I was an outsider, but I believe that because I was able to speak Spanish, I was able to integrate better into the community. Being abroad for a semester gave us different ideas of ourselves and of our country, but ultimately it is still our home.


International Companies in Modern Day

This competition was held in St. Louis, Missouri by the University of Missouri at St. Louis (UMSL). The structure of this competition was different from the CUIBE Competition at Northeastern University. Instead of being a Harvard/Ivy case, the case for this competition was written by a company based in St. Louis. The case was written about a real life international business problem that the company was facing. Because the company wrote the case, the information supplied was very different – there weren’t any numbers or financials and the case didn’t give very specific information. This made the case both more interesting and difficult, as it gave us a lot more license to be creative, but at the same time it made creating financial projections much more difficult as we had to use comparable numbers that we sourced from the internet (which is not a super easy thing to do as the technology that the case was centered on is very new). There were two components of the case, a domestic and an international problem. The domestic one centered on growing the business in the United States and creating functional distribution channels that didn’t have adverse effects on anyone in the supply chain. The international problem that we had to address was the issue of data privacy laws: once this company used the technology to collect the data, who owned the data and what could the company do with the data based on the laws of the different countries in which it operated? Data privacy laws are currently a hot topic of conversation – Mark Zuckerberg just testified in front of Congress not too long ago and was grilled on Facebook’s data protection. Countries around the world are starting implement stricter data privacy laws as the value of data increases. Companies must be aware of the data laws in whatever countries that they are operating in.


St. Louis Case Competition

I was lucky enough to be involved with the CUIBE International Business Case Team again this semester. The team for this semester was comprised of two returning members and two new members, which led to new, interesting discussions and a different dynamic. The lead up to the competition (this one was in St. Louis, Missouri) was very similar to the previous two case competitions that I had previously competed in. We went over different frameworks, key issues that might come up in this competition, and what each member’s strengths and weaknesses were. There were two International Business majors on the team, myself and an exchange student from Bosnia. The other two team members had both studied abroad before but studied Accounting and Entrepreneurship. The cool thing about this team was that our strengths were more diverse and we were more prepared to tackle different types of problems that might pop up. For example, the team last semester was comprised of people whose strengths were to handle the cultural issues of international business. However, those are not the only types of problems that might pop up. This semester’s team was much more prepared to handle the legal, logistical, financial, and cultural issues that could crop up when doing business abroad. This diversification greatly helped our team during the competition.


The Quest for Cereal

Food is a way to transport you to another place and way of life. It’s also something that reminds you of your home, of where you’re from. When I first moved out of my parents’ house to move up to Norman for college, I didn’t know how to cook at all. I lived off of cereal (there are so many different options for so many different occasions). I took for granted that stores had refrigerated cow’s milk and eighteen thousand different cereal choices. When I went to Chile, I experienced a lot of culture shock when it came to food. I live with a lovely Chilean mother named Anita and her husband, who is the head chef of his own restaurant. Because of the program that I am in, the host family is supposed to provide three meals for their exchange student. My Chilean breakfasts during the first half of my study abroad usually consisted of a roll with ham and cheese. All of this seems innocuous and like not that big of a deal, but there’s a lot of culture shock wrapped up in those few sentences. Let’s unpack it all.

First of all, I’m a breakfast person. It doesn’t matter what time of the day is, if you tell me we are having American breakfast food for a meal, I will be the happiest person you’ve ever seen. I like my breakfast meals bread-y, sweet, and large. I’m a huge fan of the traditional American breakfast. This might come as a huge shocker, but they don’t have traditional American breakfasts in Chile. Instead, the Chilean thing to do is drink a cup of tea/instant coffee/juice, eat a roll with ham and cheese, and chow down at lunch and dinner. This is very different than what I usually do. In the U.S. I normally eat a lot for breakfast and then just snack the rest of the day. I don’t particularly like tea or coffee, and the Chilean juices are very different from American juices. They’re much sweeter, almost syrupy sometimes, with a lot less tartness. I like to put water in my juice to dilute it a bit, if that gives you any idea of what they can taste like. At first Anita would leave a ham and cheese with mayonnaise (I told y’all that Chileans like their mayonnaise) roll in the fridge for me in the mornings, which was honestly so sweet of her and I really appreciated it. That’s why it was so difficult to tell her that no, I didn’t actually like that type of food. I finally plucked up the courage to ask her for food that I liked more – bread and jam and cereal. I had heard from my other friends in Chilean host families that bread and jam and cereal were consumed by people in our town, so I felt more comfortable asking Anita (I didn’t want her to think that I was asking for the moon or something).

The day after I asked for cereal and milk, there was cereal in the pantry. Corn flakes – I could sprinkle some sugar onto it and bam, it’d be just like Frosted Flakes. But then I looked in the fridge and I couldn’t find any milk… I looked for any carton, container, box, or jug imaginable, but there didn’t seem to be any milk. So, slightly disappointed, I consumed bread and jam for breakfast instead. Later that day, Anita asked me excitedly if I had had cereal for breakfast. When I told her that I hadn’t because I couldn’t find the milk in the fridge, she informed me that of course the milk wasn’t in the fridge because it’s in the pantry!

I was a little wary of the idea of milk in the fridge to say the least. Anita showed me the powdered milk that she bought and how to mix it with water to get milk for my cereal. After growing up on cow’s milk…. this was slightly different. I found out the I didn’t mind the boxed milk, as long as I adjusted expectations and didn’t expect cow’s milk. I now get to enjoy my cereal, and I’m a pretty happy camper. Although, I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to consume a gallon of refrigerated cow’s milk when I get back to the States.