Needless to say, the US and its international relations are not much improved from the last time I posted about it. There is a constant, divisive struggle in this nation between people who wish for things to remain as they have always been, and those who wish to move in a different direction. One of the things that has stood out to me most is in this country’s relations to Israel in the past few months. It deeply, deeply saddens me that our government finds it ideal to sponsor a country and an army which is committing undeniable atrocities, which are being reported on the news each day. This isn’t to essentialize an incredibly complicated situation, of course, but it does seem to me that there has been some action and support on our part which is just unequivocally cruel.
This isn’t even to mention the “international” relations even within our borders. Throughout the last couple years, immigrants in this nation have been subject to unnecessary scrutiny, poor treatment, and harmful racist tactics of those emboldened by recent political actions. It is troubling to see that even in a nation that considers itself progressive, a nation which was founded on the idea that anyone can be a part of it, a nation which preaches opportunity, this is still a major issue facing our society. We must move forward. We must be better.
On Global Engagement day, I attended the panel on LGBTQ+, gender, and other social issues abroad. Many students attended and spoke about their experiences studying abroad and how having one or more of these characteristics affected them. I found it extremely fascinating—since I myself have only studied abroad in countries I would describe as fairly similar to the US in customs, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that something as simple as being a woman could make a study abroad experience considerably more difficult. While I dealt with some odd treatment for the way I looked (mostly the blonde hair,) this was very minor compared to some of the experiences of the other students.
The panelists were very good about explaining how they dealt with their respective issues, and about giving advice for those who study in these places in the future. For some, hiding the characteristic that made them stand out, such as same-sex attraction, was the strategy for coping while abroad, knowing that they could be themselves upon their return home. For others, the issue was maybe not so easily concealed. In this case, the general strategy seemed to just be to take time for yourself, not feel too bad about odd glances, and talk to someone to make other arrangements if needed.
What I got more than anything, though, is that there is no distinct right or wrong way to approach a situation which makes you uncomfortable. You should always do what makes you as an individual feel most comfortable, and of course, ask for help if needed. Studying abroad is meant to be an experience for you to enjoy, so you should do whatever seems the most right for you.
One of the most fun events I attended this year, as well as last year, was the Latino flavor event that is hosted at the union. On one day of the week, there was a mariachi band which performed in the union courtyard. I love watching this band every time I see them, because there is a woman in the band who plays the flute. Since I play the flute, it is always intriguing and fun to see how dynamic the instrument can be when used in different settings.
The next day, there was a buffet in the union ballroom, complete with foods from many different Spanish speaking countries. Similar to last year, we were given a certain amount of tickets to “spend” to try a number of different foods and desserts. There was entertainment as well—many different artists took the stage to perform, with a variety of different styles of music. This wasn’t the only entertaining part of the day, however, since as we ate, one of my friends who had never eaten a tamale chowed down on his with the corn husk still on! I laughed for a while, before explaining that that part was to be taken off before eating. All in all, it was an eventful afternoon.
One of the events that LDC puts on throughout the year is the annual salsa ball! Many of the more competitive dancers dance at different events around Oklahoma City throughout the year, but this gives them the opportunity to show off their skills at OU. Though I did not participate in the salsa ball (my skills are definitely not up to par), having the opportunity to watch the more experienced and skilled dancers show off their capabilities was astounding. Watching any form of art is impressive, but watching the people who have shared their art form with you perform at their best is astounding. Having the opportunity to see these dancers truly portray their passion for the art that they love and teach is so much fun.
This semester, I convinced one of my friends that we needed to join the Latin Dance Club. Over the years, I have learned a bit about both salsa and bachata, but have never had an opportunity to have more formal training. Growing up in a town that was predominantly Hispanic, I attended some parties with friends, who taught me the basics of Latin dance, and I developed more of an understanding for why it was so important to the community and the culture.
I attended and information session with my friend at the beginning of the semester, and immediately felt that taking a class with LDC would be a great way to truly learn more about the art of Latin dance. I’m not the most coordinated person, nor do I have a dancer’s intuition, but I still found the steps of salsa and bachata fairly easy to follow. The basic patterns are simple, and the artistry is found in the embellishments made by the individual (or pair of) dancers. In this way, each and every dance is fundamentally unique, and allows the dancers to express their creativity. I found myself enjoying the salsa dancing a bit more, simply because of the characteristic intricacy of the dance. Bachata, the more sensual of the two dances, felt much more out of character for me, but was still exciting to try. Overall, I hope I have another opportunity to take a class in the future, so I can really develop my dancing skills!
This summer, I had the opportunity to live my literal dream come true. I got to do something I had only imagined as a kid. I got to see monuments I had read about in history books, paintings and works of art I had only seen in pictures, and views of mountains and seas I couldn’t have created in my wildest dreams. I was walking on air for approximately two months, traveling and experiencing life as I never had before with incredible people.
Then, of course, I had to leave.
As I embarked upon my five-flight journey home (yes, it was cheap. No, I would not recommend), I slowly came to the realization that I may never get to experience something like this again. I was happy to be home, sure, but ultimately, I yearned to be back out in the world, gaining new experiences and learning things I couldn’t back home. I went back to a mundane, everyday job at home, still sort of in a state of bliss over all I had experienced. It wasn’t until I got back to school that the true post-travel hangover began. As I attended my routine classes, I missed the days where I could casually go down to the bay and take a swim in the Mediterranean Sea. I missed the freedom that studying abroad afforded me, and the history that was on every street corner. School didn’t really seem that appealing anymore. However, it eventually occurred to me that because of what I want to do with my life, and because I am determined to make it happen, I will have many, many more great adventures. At the current point in time, I do not have the funds or the time to be able to travel as I would like to, but I have plenty of time to get there. And of course, college is its own unique adventure in a lot of ways, and I have the ability to make every day a different experience. So, until next time, I’ll live my own great adventure. So it goes.
This semester, I decided to participate in a different international organization than I have previously. Last year, I joined the OU cousins program, which gave me the very cool opportunity to become close with someone from a different country. This semester, however, I decided to attend meetings for the Hispanic American Student Association instead. I have many friends that have been heavily involved in the organization, so I thought I would see what it was all about. I attended my first meeting close to the beginning of the year, and the group was in the beginning stages of planning the Day of the Dead festival. Getting to see the planning stages of the event (and eventually attending) was really awesome. From its inception, so much goes into the planning of the events of the day, and seeing the hard work pay off at the event was certainly rewarding. The other thing that the meetings often focused on was legislation—the US government, in its current state, has threatened to harm Hispanic students (specifically undocumented ones) in many ways, and this is entirely unacceptable. Seeing some of my closest friends struggle with the repeal of DACA and the consideration of a “wall” has been incredibly difficult. Encouraging hate is no way to make our country stronger, especially when it affects incredibly talented, courageous, and kind students. I would encourage anyone to attend a HASA meeting or any other forum about immigration, because I truly believe that their views would shift dramatically when put into a real-life context with the real people who are affected.
On November 29th, the Price College of Business held an event about the world economy and how it shapes cultural traditions (and vice versa). I wanted to attend the opening speech by Jabar Shumate, but missed it due to the fact that I had class at the time. However, I did get to witness an awesome presentation by Vanessa Meraz, who is a DACA recipient. Vanessa spoke on DACA and the various effects that it has on the US economy. She dispelled many of the misconceptions people seem to have about DACA recipients, and discussed how they contribute to building the American economy (by gaining employment, creating their own businesses), as much as any citizen does. I felt that this talk was extremely important given recent events, and was an eye-opening look into how immigration policy shapes not only the American economy but others as well.
On October 29th, OU held its annual Day of the Dead street festival. My friend Hima, who is also a Global Engagement Fellow, and I went to the festival in the evening to check it out. We walked around for a while looking at all of the rides and other sights, and then stopped by the food trucks to get something to eat. I got some incredibly good carnitas tacos, and then we sat down to watch Roberto Tapia. His music was a super interesting mix—it was sort of electronic, but had influences of hip hop, which was unique. The festival overall was an incredibly fun time, and a great look at the way that a different culture perceives death. From an anthropological standpoint, the Day of the Dead and festivals like it are fascinating—death is a taboo in almost every culture, and different cultures have a variety of ways in which they deal with it as a concept. In America, it seems like many times death is not spoken about, and reminders of a dead loved one are avoided. Contrarily, in Hispanic culture, the dead are commemorated with this yearly celebration. It’s very neat to have the opportunity to experience things like this, and it reminded me of the importance of understanding cultures that are different from my own.
On October 6th, one of my friends and I attended the international prom! I attended the prom last year as well, and it was just as great of an experience this year. I put on my slightly-fancier-than-usual dancing clothes and got ready to have a good time with some of my friends. At the prom, I saw many non-international students I knew as well, and it was cool to see that they too had taken an interest in this event. I danced the night away, trying to meet as many people as I could. It was an incredibly fun night filled with dance circles and friends, and I even got to see the international prom king and queen be crowned! Overall, I think that this continues to be a really important event for OU. Prom is such a mythical event in American culture, and it ties people together because it is a common experience. Since international students often don’t have the same sort of thing in their home countries, it’s really cool for them to get to attend a “traditional” American event like this, as well as to have an awesome social experience.