International Event 4: Arabic Flagship Roundtable (20 Nov)

Event: Arabic Flagship Roundtable (Hester Hall, 20 November 2015)

For the final Flagship roundtable meeting of the year, Professor Aisha Mojan gave a presentation on her home country, Morocco. Her presentation focused in great detail on the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, known colloquially as Darija, and how it differed from and was similar to classical Arabic and other dialects. Darija is known for being vastly different from other Arabic dialects, up to the point where speakers of other dialects cannot understand Moroccans. Professor Mojan introduced the students (all of whom spoke either Egyptian or, like me, Syrian-Lebanese Arabic) to some basic Moroccan phrases. It is not only fascinating to see the vast differences between Moroccan Arabic and my “base” dialect (Lebanese), but also the similarities. Professor Mojan explained some of the connections of many Darija words to archaic classical Arabic, showing connections that tied Darija into the larger family of Arabic dialects. This was especially stunning for me because growing up I was always told that Moroccan Arabic was not actually Arabic because other Arabs could not understand it. But Aisha’s explanations of how Darija was connected to other versions of Arabic helped everyone obtain a new appreciation for how Darija was a fascinating variant on the versions of Arabic that we were already familiar with.

She also spoke at length on Moroccan culture, cuisine, and politics. She talked about the various culinary influences from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Europe that made Moroccan cuisine so unique. At the end of the presentation, when she was taking questions, I asked her what she thought were the biggest challenges facing Morocco today. She responded without hesitation that unemployment was Morocco’s greatest problem, as it prevented people from contributing to building up Morocco’s economy and also provided an opening for political unrest.


International Event 3: Lecture by Joseph Bahout: “Lebanon’s Christian Communities: Where Do They Stand Today?” (22 Oct)

It was fascinating to hear Doctor Bahout talk about the current state of Lebanon’s Christian communities and how they arrived at their current position. I appreciated his presentation of Lebanese history, especially during the past century, tracing the rise and fall of Christian power in Lebanon. He did an excellent job of explaining how Christians – and especially Maronite Catholics – literally drew the borders of Lebanon with the French to maintain a slim Christian majority while absorbing Muslim-majority ports (like Sidon and Tripoli) or rich agricultural valleys (such as the Beqaa) that would benefit Christian businesses. He then laid out the basics of the National Pact, which left the Maronites at the top of the national political hierarchy (with the presidency reserved for a member of that community) while including Sunnis, Shi’ites, and other Christians as junior partners, thus preserving Maronite dominance while giving everyone a stake in Lebanon’s politics. He excellently explained how this system ultimately buckled and collapsed in 1975 under demographic pressure, which in no small part a result of the presence of Palestinian refugees and militants after 1948. He concluded with what I thought was a very interesting take on Lebanese politics, lamenting the division of Christians between those that ally predominately with Sunni politicians such as the Hariris and those who align themselves more with Shi’ite groupings like the Hizballah and Amal. I found his perspective to be very unique because, although he has renounced his Lebanese citizenship in favour of French citizenship, his sense of disappointment about the situation of Lebanese Christians especially struck home because he is by background a Lebanese Christian. His frustration made the no-win situation facing Lebanese Christians today all the more palpable.


International Event 2: Professor Naima Boussofara on Registers of Arabic (23 Oct)

Professor Boussofara presented a lecture in Arabic on how Arabic is taught in terms of striking a balance between fusha, or classical Arabic, and ‘aamiya, or spoken Arabic. While she herself said she had no preference between various approaches at balancing (or not balancing) these two versions of Arabic, she said that for too long instruction on Arabic has been single-minded and lacking self-criticism. I found it interesting to hear her perspective, which was in part that teaching entirely fusha was dangerous, because my linguistic background is very much based in colloquial Lebanese Arabic, and so for me I would actually appreciate more of a focus on classical Arabic than what I have received from my Arabic class at OU. But, at the very least, it made me aware that OU’s emphasis on practical Arabic (i.e., speaking a lot in Arabic dialects, because classical Arabic almost entirely written and next to never spoken outside of very formal settings) is very rare across the US, and that most Arabic students in the United States have a limited ability to interact with people in Arabic-speaking countries because classical Arabic is much like Shakespearian English: applicable only in written form, and baffling to most people on the street. She also touched on how technology is changing the landscape of Arabic dialects by creating ways for, say, Saudis to be exposed to Moroccan Arabic and vice-versa that never existed in the past. She argued that the integration of the age of the internet has helped to reduce the dominance of Egyptian or Lebanese Arabic as a lingua franca between people of different nationalities, as their dominance on music, television, and film that was a defining characteristic of the Middle East in the twentieth century, is being challenged as the Gulf countries and the nations of the Maghreb begin to disseminate their dialects more and more through their own films, music, and television programming. I also found this interesting because it was my previous perception that the rise of mass communication had only reinforced Egyptian-Lebanese dominance, but I enjoyed listening to a different perspective.


International Event 1: Professor Naima Boussofara on the Fall of Ben Ali (23 Oct)

It was very interesting to hear Professor Naima Boussofara speak about how Ben Ali’s speaking style and delivery affected the outcome of the Tunisian Revolution of 2011. I found it uniquely fascinating because it was a look at an aspect of Ben Ali’s fall that went beyond the typical explanations of unemployment and corruption. Boussofara, who has extensive background in linguistics and the Arabic language (she currently is the Arabic professor at KU), honed in on the way in which Ben Ali presented himself during his three addresses to the Tunisian public during the demonstrations that culminated in his ouster. His addresses appeared stilted in overly formal classical Arabic, making him seem distant, austere, and elitist to the Tunisian public. Even when he tried to speak in colloquial Tunisian Arabic, his language was still too heavily influenced by classical Arabic to sound anything like, say, FDR’s fireside chats or Ben Ali’s populist predecessor, Habib Bourguiba. Another interesting thing Professor Boussofara mentioned was the role of the presidential office telephone in his downfall. Ben Ali, while giving his televised address, had deliberately spoken from his austere, empty desk in the regal presidential office, giving off an air of power. However, a telephone rang – eight times – during his speech, which made him appear, to put it lightly, less than in control of his surroundings. After all, Boussofara pointed out, it was interpreted as a first sign of weakness that a man who had spent decades trying to silence critics had been unable to silence his own telephone, and otherwise distracted from his speech, making him seem almost laughable. The net result of this was that Ben Ali’s austere and powerful-looking façade, propped up by his use of classical Arabic, was proven to be just that – a façade – and each address that Ben Ali gave seemed only to weaken his standing with the people further. Overall, I found her analysis of an underreported and under-analysed aspect of the fall of Ben Ali to be a fascinating insight on the collapse of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled.


Thanksgiving Adventures Abroad

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One thing that I really like about the program here in Arezzo is that we get about half of our Fridays free. For Thanksgiving Break, most professors here cancelled class on that Monday and Tuesday; those who didn’t were pretty willing got let us make up those missed classes. Many of the engineers took advantage of this, leaving Arezzo on the Thursday or Friday before Thanksgiving and not returning until the Saturday or Sunday after Thanksgiving. During my 9 day break,  I was able to visit 3 countries on two different continents. I spend the first three days in London, the middle three in Barcelona, and the last few in Fez, Morocco.

I visited London last summer, so I had already seen the major sites, but I loved visiting again and experiencing different things. I went to the Holiday Park in Hyde Park, saw the Rosetta stone, and explored the British National Gallery. I became a pro at navigating the tube. I love London, the people are amazing and the city has so much to offer; however, I think my favorite thing is that I understood everything going on and could read all of the menus.

Fez, Morocco was something different all together. The most significant thing was that English was neither the first or second language, it was Moroccan Arabic and French, which neither my friend nor I knew. Lucky, we met two Australians staying at the same hostel as us, one of whom was fluent in French. We were all staying there the same three nights, so we hung out when we went to the huge market or walked around the Medina. I’ve never been to Morocco or Africa before, but I went to Turkey earlier this summer, so I thought Morocco would be a little bit like that (which it kind of was but also wasn’t in a weird way). As a group of four girls, I was a little nervous wandering around the medina, but other than a few minor events, we were able to wander around without much trouble.

My Thanksgiving was definitely different compared to my usual Thanksgiving, but I loved it (especially since I got my Turkey fix when OUA held a Thanksgiving feast for us).

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Spanish Club Tomatina


In 1945 Spain, someone fell from a parade float and, in anger, began throwing tomatoes at bystanders. This is the condensed version of the history of Tomatina, but I think it’s sufficient. Since then, ‘La Tomatina’ has become a yearly festival held in Buñol, Spain, where people pelt one another with tomatoes for however long they want, covering the streets and themselves in a goopy tomato mess. Spanish Club decided to bring this event to OU, though we used water balloons instead. ;) A handful of people came out to participate, but because of the time of day, it ended up becoming more of a water balloon fight for the officers, which was still fun, and I targeted a few pedestrians as they went to class.


Tierra Tinta + Encouragement


A few weeks ago, OU held an event called Tierra Tinta where Spanish graduate and PhD students gathered to present research that they had done on various topics. I went in the morning and listened to a presentation about the opinions of modern Mexican literature in the 21st century. Everything – and I mean everything – was in Spanish. Now, I could lie to you and say that it was amazing and that I understood most of it and that I just sat back and listened with no difficulties, but because my Spanish learning is so personal and important to me, I want to be very frank. I could barely understand anything past the initial greeting. The presenters had prepared long, written speeches, and everything that they said aside from their greetings was from a piece of paper. They spoke very quickly, did not make a lot of eye contact with the audience, and their voices remained relatively monotone. This in itself made the entire experience really disheartening. With any language, emotion and enunciation are immeasurably important. Even in English, I sometimes have to ask people to repeat themselves if their voice is dull or if they lack facial expressions or body gestures. It’s part of comprehension.

In my Spanish classes, my professors have always been very emotive when they speak, making sure to put on big smiles when they say something exciting or solemn frowns when they’re giving bad news. These things have helped me tremendously to understand what’s being said, and for me, facial and bodily gestures now go hand-in-hand with speaking, because they supplement my comprehension so much. So, during the conference, as the presenters were reading from their prepared speeches, I sat emotionless and annoyed as I picked out a word or two every few seconds. It was like watching a movie when the DVD is scratched and the movie jumps and skips around, and you’re left confused as to what’s going on. It was really aggravating, and I must be honest and say that I briefly became extremely discouraged and considered the idea that, even though Spanish is supposedly one of the “easier” second languages for native English speakers, I would never be able to master it.

It’s undoubtedly difficult to start learning a second language as an adult. It is so hard. Some days you feel like you’re pretty decent. You’re watching a Disney movie and understand quiet a bit, so you puff out your chest, clutch your Spanish novel, and continue singing along to a Spanish song. You’re sure that you’re basically fluent. Other days, you read something – say, a Spanish Hallmark card or a funny Spanish meme on the internet – and you have no clue what it says. At all. You get angry. You stop reading your novel, you delete your Duolingo app, and you subscribe to more English Spotify playlists. You’ll never learn. It’s hopeless.

But the truth is, if you enjoy it enough and spend enough time trying, you WILL learn. It’s all about desire and persistence. Even after feeling like crap during the conference, the excitement that I have for Spanish kicked in again, and I pressed on. I really love it, and this fact is the one thing in my life of which I am absolutely sure. I will never stop trying to learn and master it, and this is advice that I have for anyone who wants to learn another language. You absolutely can, and if it is important to you, like anything else in life, you’ll make it happen.


OU Cousins Food Event and TUW Cultural Fusion

During my summer in South Korea, my OU friend and I met with two girls who were going to be exchange students at OU during the 2015-16 school year.  We answered any questions they had and talked about our experiences in Korea.  Then, I met one of the girls at the OU Cousins food event and we agreed to be cousins!!  Her name is Olivine/ Yaerin Jang and she is a Sophomore Plant Biology major.

At the event, we ate pancakes and chatted about how her first few days had been. Afterward, we attended a TUW Cultural Fusion night at Couch Restaurants consisting of performances, a fashion show, and yet more free food.  Some of us from the OU Cousins event went together since it happened right after.  I really enjoyed seeing the traditional outfits worn by international students from various countries and wondered what an outfit worn by a U.S. citizen might look like. Overall, these events were fun and helped me to get to know some international and American students.


OK State Fair and Chuseok Celebration

I had never been to a state fair before, so, for my first meeting with my OU cousin, we went to the state fair along with some of our friends.  In my eyes, it is about as American an event as possible, thus I was excited to experience it with Yaerin and the other girls.  While there, we ate many delicious foods, including some yummy corn and some friend things.  Also, we enjoyed some of the rickety and dangerous-looking rides. For me, this was an event which is good to attend once, but which I wouldn’t care to experience again.  The crowds of sweaty people, the greasy food, and the creaky rides are fun to experience at least once.

After, we ate some ice cream at Braum’s (because we hadn’t had enough unhealthy food already…) and THEN, we ate even more food when we celebrated Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving, with some other friends.  Chuseok is a time when many of the Korean exchange students miss their families, so it was an important day to celebrate with my friends.  Some had been cooking all day at my friend’s house and Yaerin and I arrived just in time to start eating.  We enjoyed some traditional Korean foods, which were extremely delicious. Having this meal with my friends made me realize that, as I am also away from my family, we have something in common.  We had become family to each other, creating a welcoming home for Americans and exchange students alike—whether this was through OU Cousins or not, I think this type of meeting and celebration is what can truly connect us with each other and help lead to intercultural appreciation, understanding, and respect.



How to not be ignorant about the world (Ted) 11-29-15

In a time and age where certain wrongful characteristics of society are presented to the public in a quick and sequential manner, it can be all too easy to let the negativities of the world define how we feel about our own lives. Be it inequality in opportunities between genders in education or inequality in financial distribution, there are countless aspects that are horrendous in this world. The key is to focus on positive aspects in our own lives while continually educating ourselves about the circumstances of the world. This is a far better plan to confront the unjust of the world rather than solely relying on the media as a source for our knowledge of the globe as a whole.

I have to admit that the video caught me off guard. I was expecting for the answers to the questions to be the worst case scenario. This might have been a sense of empathy for us to want to believe that things are worse than they really are. The truth is that we need to seek out our own resources to get reliable information. This is certainly not to say that these atrocities are not present in today’s societies.

What the speakers were able to do was present information that is strangely ironic in a certain sense. Most would not be willing to tell the world that things are not bad as they seem. Whoever claims this might come off as impassive or heartless. Taking this stance is a daunting task in my opinion. Yet the two were able to tackle the problem in an efficient and professional manner. Of course, I can imagine that a significant confidence booster for them was their thorough research for the statements they made.

The video appealed to me in a way that is difficult to put in simple words. After growing up all of these years while being constantly educated in a certain manner, it is definitely satisfying to be afforded such a brand new perspective on the overall situation of the current human population. I am sure that this type of logic can be applied to countless other aspects of societies. While the video focused on general contemporary issues, there are countless “smaller” topics of debate. Without a doubt this video offered me a better perspective on global matters.