Month: July 2015
I’m in Korea!
What have I been doing this summer? I am currently spending a much-too-short month in Daegu, South Korea at Kyungpook National University’s Global Summer School with 27 other students from all over the world. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for ages and it hasn’t disappointed. Forgive me for taking so long to post here, I’ve been really enjoying my time here. I’ll spend a little time in this blog talking about Korean culture in general, and in the next post I’ll try to talk more specifically about the Global Summer School and my class.
I should preface this blog post by telling you something: I’m not a complete newbie to Korean culture. I’ve been listening to Korean pop music for several years now, and I have been sucked into the world of Korean dramas. Neither of these things has been particularly beneficial to my time management, but they have been a part of my life all the same. Of course, consuming the pop culture of a country by way of a computer screen does not give anything close to the complete picture of a culture. I am not claiming that I am an expert in Korean culture, but I did come to Korea with quite a few expectations. Some of these expectations were justified, and some of them were not.
There’s so much to say I don’t really know where to start, but the foodie in me is demanding that I tell you that Korean food is, as expected, delicious. I can’t tell you how many times my mouth has watered looking at the food on the screen in Korean dramas, and now I finally get to eat that food myself. It doesn’t matter whether it’s traditional Korean dishes, or the Korean take on other types of cuisine like Chinese food or pizza—it’s all good. I’ll be honest: Kyungpook’s cafeteria is a little disappointing, but I’m also being honest when I say that I’ve never eaten at a cafeteria that wasn’t at least a little disappointing. Cafeteria food aside, Korea has been a culinary adventure that hasn’t hurt my pocket too much, as many restaurants are quite cheap compared to the U.S. Last night I only paid 3,000 won (a little less than $3) after splitting a meal with 4 other girls, but I was completely full. I could go on and on about the food, but I won’t waste your time, so I’ll just put a few pictures below. (Bear with me and just be glad I haven’t spammed Instagram or Facebook with these photos.)
There are countless things I could talk about, but I’d like to focus a little more closely on one particular topic: Korean fashion. I am interested in fashion in general and I have found it very interesting to see what people my age are wearing here and compare it to the U.S. and Oklahoma.
First of all, students at KNU dress much better than OU students. Of course there are exceptions, but this is the case on the whole. It’s the cold, hard truth. I’ll admit that that I myself have often become victim to the ease of rolling out of bed and pulling on athletic shorts or leggings and a big t-shirt to go to class. For some girls at OU this is a uniform, and the guys don’t dress much better. Korean students, however, tend to dress much nicer and look more put together. Dressy casual seems to be the norm here.
However, there is a catch. I can’t remember who said it, but someone in the program described it perfectly when they said “Korean students dress well, but they all look like they bought their clothes at the same store.” I saw countless variations on the same few outfits everyday. When there’s a trend in Korea, it is a trend: Waiting at a crosswalk around school on any given day, it felt like half of the girls were wearing white strappy sandals, and every other person was wearing a horizontal striped shirt. I saw a dress I liked in 3 different stores downtown, and gave up and bought it at the third store. Here’s a Korean college student dress code:
Boys: If you are feeling fancy, wear a button down shirt. Don’t be afraid to go for an interesting pattern or color because it won’t be construed as effeminate as it might be in the U.S. A polo shirt is also fine, or a t-shirt with a graphic design or some nonsensical English or STRIPES (!!). Accompany this with slim cut jeans, slacks, or shorts. Don’t worry about showing too much thigh here, because shorter shorts on men are not seen as effeminate in Korea. If you’re feeling lazy, wearing athletic clothes is fine. You will still look cool as long as all articles of clothing are either Nike or Adidas brand.
Girls: You have some more variety here, but certain types of clothing are more common. A cute blouse will do, or a t-shirt with some random English or STRIPES (!!). Pants can be slim cut or more of a boyfriend fit. One pieces, overalls, and loose summer dresses with short hemlines are also in style. Wearing skirts and dresses with heels for school is not considered overdressing. You should probably wear those same white strappy sandals that everyone else is wearing, but if you’re short you might opt for a higher heel.
These are tongue-in-cheek generalizations, and plenty of exceptions can be found. There are stores with more unique clothing, and I see people who have a more original style dotted about the streets. But trends seem to take a stronger hold in Korea than they do in the U.S., and people seem to feel less of a need to set themselves apart with their style. Perhaps this stems from the more collectivist ideologies of East Asia, where individualism does not reign supreme like it does in Western countries. In the U.S. people often feel the need to express their individuality in every aspect of their life, and worry about standing out and seeming different. I remember feeling annoyed in high school when I saw someone wearing a sweater I owned.
But is expressing your individuality that important? I have found myself wondering this while spending time in Korea. Although they may not be as immediately apparent, there are plenty of other ways to be different besides the clothes you put on your body. If you like the clothes you are wearing and think you look good, does it matter if the girl next to you is wearing the same thing? Just because you are wearing the same clothes as someone else doesn’t mean you are the same person. Many Koreans wear similar clothing, that’s true, but I’ve seen very few people my age here wearing something I thought was ugly or unfashionable.
I haven’t figured out exactly how I feel about this yet. To play the devil’s advocate, it is also true that the clothes you wear are one of the first things people notice about you, making it a great medium for expressing who you are. If you are wearing the same things as everyone else, what are you saying about yourself? Sorry, I’ve asked a lot of questions and haven’t provided answers. But these are some of the things I’ve been thinking about while in Korea, and this is just one tiny facet of Korean culture. Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot. See you later!
The Sands of the Hourglass
I can’t believe it’s been a over a month since I returned from China. It doesn’t feel that long. At the same time, my summer is almost up–25% of my time in college has disappeared, running like sand from an hourglass. It can’t have gone by that fast, can it? My time as a teenager is almost up. My time in college will quickly follow. Life passes so fast that it’s really a wonder anyone can ever manage to be bored. And yet, I’m guilty of it too. I’ve wasted time being bored before. It’s folly. Every second, every grain of sand, is precious. I’m starting to understand that.
Despite my worries that I’ve wasted my time, this past year has really been incredibly productive. If you’ve been following my journeys, you know about China and the Enactus National Expo. You’ve traveled through memory palaces of Cordoba and seen the flying silks of Bangladesh Night 2015. Whether you can tell or not, I’m not the same person who began this blog almost a year ago. That girl was, at once, both supremely overconfident and extraordinarily insecure. She worried so much about what people thought of her. She didn’t know what she wanted to be or how hard she could work for something she loved. I’m not saying I’ve finished the journey to become the best me, but I have taken a few steps forward. I’ve traveled far enough, at least, that I can see a difference in who I am versus who I was.
The last thing I should mention in this moment of quiet reflection is my friends. I have significantly more amazing friends than I usually recognize. I just found out one of my good friends from high school is going to Yale. How awesome is that? It’s not all about getting into fancy schools though. One of my friends is studying Chinese in Shanghai, the beautiful city I left just a month and a half ago. I also have friends from college who graduated at the end of the school year. They’re moving on. Some are going to grad school (one is even going to William and Mary!) while others are finding jobs. Such is life. When this stage in my life ends and my hourglass if flipped, I don’t know where I’ll go. I suppose the mystery is half the fun. I also don’t know who will be beside me. Even if my next stage in life is one I must walk alone, I know that the friendships I’ve built are real. Even if we lose contact, those people helped make me into who I am today. For that, I am grateful. I wish the very best for all of my friends who are beginning a new stage in their journeys. I wish the same for you, whoever you are, and wherever you’re going. You’ve followed me thus far, and so I count you a friend. I hope you’ll join me as I begin my Sophomore year. I wonder where I’ll go and who I’ll meet. In a month it will begin. I’ll be back on the road. I’m not worried though; I’ve always felt most at home on the road and at the little inn that awaits me in Norman.
A Month in Pictures
If you like these pictures, check out my VSCO Cam page – iveydyson.vsco.co
So I made it. 7 weeks, 6 cities, 2 countries, and 20 flavors of gelato later, and I’m back home. Weirdly, it feels like I never left. I saw so much though, and feel like I learned a lot- about myself, my friends, and the world.
Things I’ll miss: walking everywhere, the comfort/community in Arezzo, new adventures, new friends, time to explore on my own, mozzarella, climbing on ancient aqueducts, winery days, and, of course, gelato.
Things I won’t miss: zero A/C (though Americans definitely don’t have it right on this either- we way overuse it), loud city noise coming in through the screenless windows which are open because no A/C, and saltless bread
Barcelona was probably my favorite city to visit, but Arezzo was so amazing to live in. I feel like I really found at least some semblance of a home in Italy and it was a great way to experience Italian culture. Because it was an OU study center, there was a weird pull between staying in my comfort zone with the OU group and branching out to experience Italy, but I think I balanced that decently. Travelling on my own afterwards helped with that. But anyway, Arezzo was great. Shoutout to Sergio at Bar Stefano- tell him hi if you’re ever there, he’s the best.
Rome was an amazing experience, too. It’s sometimes hard to even appreciate the history, architecture, and artwork because there’s just so much of it. I found myself becoming apathetic at times to it, but I just had to remind myself to really appreciate everything around me. It was definitely a once in a lifetime type experience.
Cinque Terre (or as much of it as we saw- which was Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Corniglia)- was so much fun. It was really intense with all the hiking given the heat but it was completely worth it. The cliff diving and the swimming were so much fun. It was such a memorable weekend.
I didn’t love Siena but that may have just been due to a subpar hostel. The cathedral there was beautiful, though.
Our day trip in Florence was just okay also. None the less, I learned so much and experienced an incredible amount of new things everywhere we went. Even mundane, day to day things sometimes seemed new. At times, it was overwhelming, and I had to push myself, but that ended up being a big part of the experience. I feel a lot more capable now, like a real adult or at least as close as I want to be for now. I think travelling on my own for the 5 days following the program were mainly to credit for that.
As for what I learned about the culture, Spaniards have this great thing every day where they walk around from about 5 until 6:30 to socialize, stroll, and enjoy their evenings. Catalunyans have serious pride in their could be nation- currently they are still a part of Spain, but they want that to change with a vote for independence. Their food wasn’t my favorite and they’re really big on seafood. The city is pretty laid back though, but modern and productive at the same time. I felt like they had a nice balance of new and old and productive and relaxing. I liked that.
Italians’ defining feature, I’d say is their sense of community and inclusion, and their machismo. The sense of community means they are a social culture with long meals and big gatherings. The machismo means they have great pride in what they do and make- from their food to their cities to basically anything else. They are loud and proud but welcoming and compassionate.
Each country certainly has its struggles, though. While I was abroad, Greece was teetering on leaving the euro zone and migrants/refugees were pouring in to Italy from Northern Africa. This certainly was causing tension in the country and it exposed an ugly streak of racism and prejudice in the country. That was interesting to me to see because I feel like there is a perception that American race relations are uniquely bad, but clearly other countries still struggle with their own strains of it. In France and Germany, and many other countries I’m sure, there is a lot of prejudice against hijabis and Muslims in general, for instance. That is not to say that Americans should not continue the press for equal rights and equal treatment for everyone regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, etc., but it was interesting to see we are certainly not alone in our problems.
Also, it was troubling to see how far ahead the Italians (and, presumably the rest of Europe) are in eco-friendly and green technology and renewable energy. We really need to get our stuff together on that front, and that was apparent.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip and a fantastic experience. It taught me a lot about myself and it showed me what I am capable of. I learned a lot about other cultures, I saw so many new things, and I met great people. It was a wonderful opportunity and I can’t wait for my semester abroad.
Journey to Tanzania 2015
Proposals, Privilege, and Purpose
Visit to Glasgow
It’s such a treat to have been able to see several areas of Scotland outside of Edinburgh so far. Though we only visited Glasgow for a few hours, it was easy to pick up on a completely different vibe from the city than what we had previously seen. We visited Glasgow during midday, and yet it felt more energized than most Edinburgh at night. It definitely feels younger and more lively, and possibly more progressive than any place in Scotland that I have visited. That, along with it’s high population, I can see why this area is an important swing vote.
We traveled to Glasgow with the purpose of meeting Mr. Richard Walker, the chief editor of the National (and its parent paper, The Herald). The National is Scotland’s pro-independence media source, producing a daily paper and online stories.Visiting the National was an interesting look at how the media has influenced and is being influenced by the people there. Mr. Walker talked to us about where the paper stood on many issues and its relationship with the Scottish National Party (SNP). For being such a busy man, I appreciated the amount of time he chose to meet with us. He answered all of our questions as openly as he was able, and we never felt brushed off. He was an interesting character in that he supported a mix between traditional journalism values of reporting the true story and encouraging satirical tendencies.
I appreciate that the paper hadn’t completely sided with the Scottish National Party in every policy, nor had they intentionally buried every story that would have reflected poorly on the SNP. There is a dangerous line for any media outlet to become too involved with a single party’s agenda, but I think that the National has done well at staying on the correct side of that line. If there were to be serious talk of another referendum, the National (and media sources like it) would be integral to the conversation, regardless if it decided to “grow up,” as Mr. Walker suggested, or not. Should the National become more serious, then it might add to the stability of the nationalist cause, but it would lose the style that its readership has come to enjoy. If it stayed true to its previous behavior, then it may not convince very many of the need for an independent Scotland, but it would be more likely to continue to be read by those who have already made up their mind to support “Yes.” I enjoyed reading the copy of the National we were given, and I think I would like to keep up with their stories on-line in the future.
A link to the National‘s website can be found here, and their twitter handle is @ScotNational.
Journey to Turkey 2015 – Confronting Misconceptions
The first day of my Journey to Turkey was admittedly less than ideal. My first flight was delayed, I missed my connection, and I lost my luggage. My first few hours in Turkey consisted of me trying to explain what my luggage looked like and where it was supposed to be to people who didn’t speak English very well. I actually cried when I saw Jaci (the OU Study Abroad faculty member who came on the trip) at the airport to pick me up; I was so relieved. My mood did start to improve the next day, however, when we started to see the incredible artifacts and over 1,000-year-old buildings that make Istanbul so unique. While I was learning about Turkey’s rich history, I was confronted head-on with the fact that I knew so little about the country and its culture. It quickly became clear to me that I had some very inaccurate preconceived notions about Turkey and its people.
One of my most significant misconceptions about Turkish Muslim life in general was my impression concerning what a harem was. To be honest, the picture that immediately pops into my head when I hear the word “harem” is a bunch of scantily clad women wearing sheer veils over their nose and mouth dancing in a dimly lit room. When I pictured Leyla, a woman in Birds Without Wings (a book we were required to read for Professor Demir), in her harem, I imagined her in suggestive clothing in a dark room, even when Philothei and Drosoula (who are Leyla’s young hand maidens) were there with her. But when we visited Topkapı Palace on our first full day in Istanbul, I learned that this image is not actually what a harem was like. The harem was simply the living space of the women and children, no different in appearance than other parts of a residence. When I realized that my mental image was so wrong, I started to understand that my misconception of the nature of harems relates to the West’s misconceptions about the East. I had never before seen a harem (and really neither had anyone else, except for the Muslim families who lived in them years ago). But I still had a defined, albeit inaccurate, picture of what they were, because so many people had used that image to describe them. But they really had no authority to tell me what a harem was like, as they had never been there either.
One of the very first concepts we discussed in class was orientalism, which is a Western way of viewing the world that emphasizes the differences between the East and the West, while painting a very homogenous picture of Eastern culture. In other words, those who have orientalist tendencies think that all of the non-European cultures are very different from Europe, but that those non-European cultures are very similar to one another. We read a piece on orientalism by Edward Said. In it, Said discusses about how the “West” thought they were experts on everything about the “East,” and they used this alleged superiority to validate occupying nations in the East. He cites the career of Lord Cromer (Evelyn Baring), who was the 1st Consul-General of Egypt. In the eyes of the British, Cromer was apparently qualified for this position, as he had spent time in India. And as far as the Brits were concerned, Egypt and India are the same because they are both in the East. He took his idea that the British government needed to have a strong hand over the nations it inhabits from India, and transplanted it in his policy in Egypt. But there was no way Cromer could have really known Egypt because he had never fully experienced it. I did some further research and found out that Cromer did not even speak Arabic. Cromer was obviously a bit more extreme, but just I had a clear image of a harem without ever seeing one, Cromer had a clear view of what he thought Egypt needed without knowing the people. I think the West is constantly striving for a feeling superiority over the East, so we tend to generalize the culture of all the countries in the East while exaggerating and sensationalizing the little things that are different between “us” and “them.”
As our journey continued, I noticed even more of my misconceptions coming to light. One of my most significant misconceptions was that regarding the headscarf. As I walked through Istanbul, especially outside the Süleyman the Magnificent Mosque, I saw almost every form of the headscarf possible. I saw all different colors and patterns, various levels of covering, some women who had hair showing, some who had no hair out of place. Even the way the women’s hair was styled underneath the covering was different. This degree of individuality these women displayed in their head coverings seemed to contradict everything the West “understands” about the hijab. Our media tends to radicalize the headscarf, claiming that it is a sign of the oppression of women in the name of Islam. People in the West commonly believe that Muslim women have to wear the headscarf and that they would be ostracized if they did not. This simply is not the case. According to a 2008 Gallup poll, only 45% of Turkish women wear a headscarf in public, while 52% do not wear a headscarf at all. During a class discussion we had while sitting in the courtyard of Süleyman’s Mosque, we talked about the fact that for many women, to wear or to not wear a headscarf is a personal choice. There are many families in which the grandmother wears a traditional headscarf while the granddaughter does not. I saw girls who were covered from the roots of their hair to their toes walking side-by-side with girls dressed very similarly to the way I dress.
There is no conflict among these families or these friends, as it is a personal choice to cover. Women who wear the hijab do not ostracize their sisters, daughters, friends who do not. But I did not know that before coming to Turkey. I thought (based on the Western “knowledge” that I had accumulated on the subject) that the social and religious pressures would dictate that women should wear headscarves, and that’s just the way it is. I am so lucky that I got to go on this trip. I learned things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Our society does not really value learning about cultures that lie east of Western Europe, and I think that’s a real shame. With the knowledge and experiences I’ve gleaned from this trip, I will try to move forward with a more accepting and curious mindset when I encounter new cultures.