X-Culture

This semester as a part of my international business class, I took part in a global business project known as X-Culture. Essentially, it is a program wherein participating students from various international business classes in universities around the world are randomly assigned into teams and given a challenge from one of several real-life businesses. Over a period of 8 weeks, each team conducts various market research for their given challenge and brings it all together in a final, pristine report. At the end of each week, there were certain deliverables due, as well as peer evaluations in order to keep each student on track and actively working toward the end goal.
The object of X-Culture is not only to write a report for a company, but more importantly, to teach students how to collaborate with colleagues from across languages and cultures. The final report is submitted in English, but most participants are not native English speakers.
Coordinating within an international team can be very challenging, for several reasons. The most noteworthy may be having to successfully communicate across time zones, but it is far more than that. People communicate and work differently depending on their home culture, for example, some cultures are very direct communicators, while others approach things from a more indirect angle. Some cultures are very time-oriented, while others do not adhere strictly to time. These, as well as other differences, are the real takeaways from such a project.
My international team consisted of five members, who came from the US (two of us were Americans), Colombia, France, and Malaysia. Our team chose a product called CaptiVoice, which is a comprehensive text-to-speech and reading support tool created by Charmtech Labs here in the US. CaptiVoice is a great product that can be incorporated by individuals as well as across institutions, and their challenge was to select a new market and develop an entry strategy.
I won’t go into our report, because it was tedious to write and a pretty boring final product (although it was quite good), because as I mentioned earlier, that wasn’t the most important part.
The best part of X culture is that I learned how to work in a legitimate international team. I had to manage my time around the time zones of my partners, and I had to wake up at ungodly hours to have skype meetings so we could all stay on track.
I helped people who were not confident in their English to see that they were actually very good at English, and I got to see their English improve in a very short period of time.
Best of all, I made new friends without ever meeting them in person. And I might never meet them in person, but I hope that some day, I get the opportunity.
X culture was something fantastic that I did this semester, and it was a ton of work, but it was all very worth it. I’m so glad my professor decided to include it in our class.

OU Cousins BBQ… the last one

Well, the title says it all. My absolute favorite OU Cousins event of every year is done, and sadly, it will be my last as a student. I know I’ll always be welcome in the future, but it was the last one that I will ever help fully plan and execute. As you can probably tell, I’m a very sentimental person.

I’m sure I have said some variant of this every spring when the BBQ comes around, but I find the Cousins BBQ to be extremely important for all international cousins in attendance. It is an event where our hundreds of students are fully embraced by a loving Oklahoma family, and is probably the only opportunity for them to do so during their time here.

The longer I’ve been a student at OU, and especially when I was studying in Graz, I realized that many of our international students at OU live in a sort of echo chamber. OU campus is an enormous place, and it is very easy for our international students to get comfortable with other students from their home countries or other international students and stay there. Many of them rarely leave campus, because they have basically every thing they need there.

Part of me wishes that we could have the BBQ earlier in the year so that the students who stick to OU campus can see the other opportunities that Norman and Oklahoma have to offer, but I recognize that logistically, it simply wouldn’t work.

One of the biggest challenges for international students remains that it’s often difficult for them to make friends with our American students. The United States can be very intimidating, let alone Americans themselves. We’re loud, we’re talkative, and we often aren’t aware of or don’t understand the intricacies of other cultures–although I know firsthand that many of us try our hardest. All of these things make it difficult for international students to approach Americans, and also for Americans to approach international students.

All of these things, as well as many more, are why the OU Cousins BBQ is so important to our international students, and also why it is so important to me.

The BBQ was a great success, as it always is. The food was amazing, the band was rocking, and the company astounding. I will never forget it.

 

Global Engagement Day 2018: LGBT/Women/Minority Panel

Even though I only got to attend one of the events of Global Engagement Day this year, I still call it a success!

The session I attended was a informal round-table panel of sorts, wherein several LGBT/Women/Minority students who studied abroad in rather conservative countries discussed their experiences.

I have personal experience as an LGBT person in a conservative country, Tanzania, and many things the panelists said reflected my own thoughts and feelings.

Their stories were personal, insightful, and wise.

The first speaker, a gay man and a friend of mine, spoke about his time living and studying in several conservative countries, wherein he had to take the journey back into the closet to keep himself safe. Personally, the closet is something that I am able to step into and out of fairly easily, but for many people, their LGBT status is more obvious than others. People who meet me don’t know about my status until I explicitly say something, and it is not free information that I am willing to share with everyone.

What’s important to do in a conservative country is to find a supportive community, if one exists, or find support from friends and family back home. I think it can be surprising to people, but even in the most conservative of countries, supportive communities can be found.

When one is not surrounded by that community, we must unfortunately hold back from our true selves. It isn’t fair, but we as LGBT Americans can’t afford to start a culture war if we want to appreciate and live in certain cultures. Unfortunately, in certain situations, the best way to avoid offending people and to avoid conflict in general is to hold back.

Other speakers spoke of race and ethnicity, gender, body size, and invisible disabilities. If I wrote down everything that I found to be thought-provoking, it would be far too long of a blog post.

Ultimately, I wrote down some short thoughts that thought were important–and seeing as I am a poor blogger, I will simply write them in bullets below.

-You will be tested in ways you can’t prepare for when studying abroad, even if you think you can’t be more prepared. Flexibility is key.

-Unfortunately, sexual harassment is a worldwide phenomenon, and it is worse in some countries than it is in others. Women often must protect themselves in ways that we wish we didn’t have to, but that is just the state of the world.

-Be bold in communicating your needs while abroad–safety and security are of utmost importance.

-When you become a representative of your country, you must be very careful to pick and choose what you think is most important, and what will be acceptable in that country.

-No culture is monolithic, and preconceived notions are not always true. Some people and some cultures will surprise you in the best of ways.

In conclusion, it was a great panel, and it made me think of a great many important topics and ideas.

 

GEF Movie Night: “Return to Cuba”

A short while ago I attended a GEF-Sponsored movie night, featuring the 2016 independent film/documentary entitled “Return to Cuba.”

Featuring one Barbara Ramos, a native Cuban woman who returns to her hometown of Santa Clara after 18 years of living in Italy, the true story chronicles her life upon return to her dear Cuba, and the process of building her dream home over the course of three years.

While watching the film, I felt as if I developed an intimate relationship with Barbara, because she leaves no stone unturned when it comes to her description/observation of life in Cuba, especially during and after the Communist revolution brought about by Fidel Castro.

There were so many things that I loved about the film. The music used in the film, for instance, was excellent at setting the mood and tone of Cuba. It was light and jovial, Which I imagine many days in Cuba are, especially based on the individual interviews throughout the film, which were also a very important aspect of the documentary.

Various different people, from Barbara herself to Barbara’s father, to her friends and neighbors and other locals, are interviewed individually in the film, and they talk about everything from the general happiness of Cubans to the political climate.

It is mentioned several times by interviewees that Cuba is a special place, because in Cuba, people enjoy life more than in other places. People are happier with less in Cuba, and they only work so that they can enjoy life, whereas in other (especially Western) countries, it is often seen that people live to work. It is also said that personal relationships are more important in Cuba than they are in other countries; in the West, everything is done with cell phones, which is something that Cubans simply don’t do.

As for the political climate in Cuba, different people had different opinions. Some liked Cuba’s socialist economy, claiming that the free healthcare and education in Cuba is very valuable (“my husband had a foot operation, and we paid nothing”), while other see the value in capitalism, especially concerning the fact that many Cubans must make their money using black market trading systems. One man remarked that capitalism is “the same watchdog as socialism, just wearing a different collar.” I think there is truth to those words.

Some people thought that improving relations with the US would be very good for Cuba and the Cuban economy, while others recognized that the US does nothing for free, and that the US will always adopt an imperialist behavior. There is only one thing that can be generally agreed upon, and that is that US relations will take time. I think that, in the long run, there are some Cubans who will be better off when US relations improve. However, I think the poorest of Cubans may end up even worse off. Only time will tell.

I knew little of Cuba or Cuban culture prior to watching the film, and I am so happy that I attended the event, because I feel like I learned a lot, and I would love to visit Cuba one day.

German Opportunities Fair 2017

I recently had the distinct pleasure of helping host the German Opportunities Fair, which is a gathering of great German-speaking minds who want to attract and inform other great German-speaking (& learning!) minds. We hosted the event in the student union, and invested in food offerings of pizza and drinks in order to attract even more prospective great minds. Needless to say, the event was a hit.

There were several stations at the German opportunities fair—we had tables for internships, German major and minor information, Fulbright grants, graduate programs, general study abroad programs, and individual study abroad programs, like the summer in Leipzig, Germany Program. Everything anyone could want to know about OU’s German program (and more), they could find it there.

I was stationed at the general study abroad table due to my recent studies abroad, alongside a few other friends of mine who were in Germany last semester. I was the only representative of Austria, but I represented well. 😊

As soon as the doors opened, we were bombarded in the best way possible with students who wanted to know all there was to know about studying abroad in German-speaking countries, and we told them everything we possibly could based on our own experiences.

The best way to learn about studying abroad isn’t from pamphlets or professors, it’s from face-to-face conversations with people who studied abroad and had a wonderful time. Study abroad changes your life in innumerous ways, and nothing gets that across quite like someone who has personally studied abroad. Prospective study abroad students don’t need a spiel, they need an informal conversation, and that’s what they got.

The event was scheduled to last for two hours, of that I was only needed for the initial hour, but I ended up staying until about 30 minutes after the set end time.

The time passed quickly—likely because there was not a single moment where I wasn’t talking to a student who wanted to study abroad. The enormous huddle around our table kept us extremely occupied and entertained; who doesn’t want to talk about their study abroad experience while also informing others how they can do that same thing? If only we could get paid to do that.

OU Cousins Feel the Thunder

OU Cousins recently took its semi-annual trip up to Oklahoma City to watch our favorite NBA team, the OKC Thunder. Although some people may loathe a 30-minute bus ride through the not-so-scenic route, I enjoy that individual OU Cousins know how to make the most of it by having eye-opening conversations with one another. Those bus rides are always excellent avenues in which to make connections with fellow OU Cousins, especially concerning topics of culture and difference.

My go-to questions when it comes to speaking with OU Cousins have never changed, but I learn very new things each time I ask, “So, what’s your favorite/least favorite thing about Oklahoma/The US?” and “What’s the most striking difference between your (home) culture and Oklahoman/American culture?”

The answers never fail to engage my curiosity, and lead to thoughtful and meaningful conversations. If anyone has any tips on more questions that lead to such good discussions with people from culturally diverse backgrounds, I sure would like to know them.

Sport is something that connects people across the world. For example, I truly believe that the Olympics is one of the most unifying and important things that the world does, because we all (with the exemption of a small few) come together to participate. I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but for many reasons, sport and competition are an integral part of human society. Although the sports themselves may be different in some countries, the motivation behind them is the same, and I believe that is what brings people across the world together.

Professional sports, although I am not very interested in them, are very important to the United States. They are enormous industries wherein Americans spend millions of dollars per year, a driving force in the economy and culture.

For the reasons above, I think it is AWESOME that we get to take OU Cousins to Thunder Games!! It’s likely the only time our international students will be able to attend such an event (besides OU football games, but those aren’t “professional”), and they get to do so with a huge group of their fellow OU students!

Those who enjoy basketball are able to watch the game and cheer on the home team, while those who are less interested in watching the game are able to continue chatting and making connections with other OU Cousins, all while being surrounded by a massive amount of American culture. It’s a win-win.

A win-win-win, if you include that OKC solidly defeated the New York Knicks, 105-84.

Lunar Moon Festival 2017

I recently attended the enchanting Lunar Moon Festival!

The festival, hosted by the Vietnamese-American Community of OKC, was at Military Park in the Asian district on October 7th. I had never been to the event before, or even really that part of OKC before, and I had an amazing time. Here is some background on the history of the festival itself:

The Lunar Moon Festival, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival (called tết Trung Thu in Vietnamese), is a harvest festival celebrated by ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese people. In Vietnam, Rice is harvested before the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (mid-autumn). Each household then offers sacrifices to the God of Earth. While occupied with harvesting, parents do not have much time to take care of their children; therefore, they make full use of the festival holiday (which is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar) to play with their children. This date corresponds to late September/early October. The festival is mainly for children, and parents buy their kids paper lanterns (which are often carp-shaped), snacks, masks, and toys. People celebrate by setting up a worshipping platform, on which they lay traditional mid-autumn food and treats. Later, family members sit together to eat the food while appreciating the full moon. The platform is not taken down until midnight, when the food has been completely eaten.

I think this is the sweetest festival ever, because it is all about parents spending time with their children. The celebration in OKC involved dragon dances, traditional dance performances, a talent show where kids showed off their impressive skills, games, and food trucks that served traditional Vietnamese foods.

I personally enjoyed the dances and the talent show (some of those kids blew me away!), as well as the tasty Vietnamese food.

I tried Sugar Cane juice, which I also had in Zanzibar, and it was as delicious as I remembered. It is not as sweet as people would think (being the juice straight from a stalk of sugar cane), but rather, it is just incredibly refreshing. I also enjoyed a sticky rice cake filled with pork and mung bean, which was delicious and filling.

I so love learning new things about different cultures from around the world, and I especially love getting to experience traditional cultural celebrations and practices. It makes me feel more connected to the world and it’s people, and I will certainly be attending this festival in the future, as well as looking for other cultural festivals in my area that I can attend.


To learn more about the Lunar Moon festival, check out these links!

http://www.adoptvietnam.org/vietnamese/tet-trung-thu.htm

http://www.accent.ac.nz/elto/articles/mid-autumn-festival-vietnam

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mid-Autumn_Festival

OU Cousins Bingo & The Importance of Cultural Understanding

There’s something magical about playing a good ol’ game of bingo.

There’s something even more magical about playing the same ol’ game of bingo in a room filled to the brim with joyful international students.

Throw in some pizza and a myriad of cool prizes, and you’ve got a full-blown party.

Thus began the ever-wholesome OU Cousins Bingo Night.

You know, this was my fourth experience with OU Cousins Bingo, but it may have been the first year I realized that many international students aren’t familiar at all with the game. It’s quite embarrassing if I’m only just realizing this after four years, but it could be untrue; my memory often fails me. It would be as simple as looking at my previous OU Cousins Bingo night posts to find out… yet, here we are. Also, it brings me to my next topic.

As a global engagement fellow, I have found I am often very aware and accepting of the existence of cultural differences. However, seeing as I am the type of person to be aware of the existence of such divergences, this leads to the problem of me believing that my thoughts and feelings are shared with the rest of society, which is untrue. Unfortunately, this is not true, and makes for some bigger overarching problems in society, especially in a society whose (incompetent) President encourages (shameful) ethnocentric ideals.

For example, recently at a family gathering, a cousin of mine mentioned working with a group of Native Americans who considered eye contact to be disrespectful. My cousin had to adapt to their cultural norm by making sure not to make direct eye contact while she was interacting with the group, which was fairly simple to do. Having heard of several such slight cultural differences before, I simply accepted the fact and continued with the conversation. However, another family member was completely taken aback, and felt that the idea of not making eye contact while speaking with someone was extremely disrespectful.

This family member is one with whom I often clash, for various personal and political beliefs. Unfortunately, he is very ethnocentric, and has a very difficult time grasping the idea that people can be different from him and his steadfast beliefs and still be considered, well, people.

How can you explain the idea of culture to someone like that? Culture is something that we learn from interacting with our society from birth. It’s not innate; and therefore, not one culture in the world is better than all others. Culture is amazing and unique and beautiful, and I love learning about new cultures, because I get to learn more about humanity.

It makes me really frustrated, but mostly sad, that some people will never understand that.

Sometimes you just have to decide that some people will never change, and move on. Besides, those people are missing out on some excellent multicultural bingo.

May there always be more bingo prizes for those of us who appreciate the cultures of others.

“You’re Okla-HOME!”

The first international event I attended this semester was the “You’re Okla-home” event for returning OU study abroad participants. The event included dinner and conversations with others about our experiences abroad, as well as our experiences upon returning home. I was really excited about this event, because I knew quite a few people who studied abroad last semester/year, and was eager to swap stories and share tips for things like reverse culture shock.

I spent the evening mostly conversing with students who had studied abroad in Germany, with whom I shared some very similar experiences, such as our shared language and cultures, our newfound adoration of public transportation, and the amazing friendships we forged with people from around the world. These conversations made me feel continually blessed about studying abroad in Graz, a peaceful city that was just the right size. Even though my friends who studied in Germany had incredible semesters, they had certain experiences, such as drunken violence, that I never witnessed in Graz. Although I’m sure things like that happen in Graz, I am also sure that it does not happen very often, simply due to the relatively smaller population and lack of overcrowding.

I also got the opportunity to speak extensively with a fellow GEF who spend the entirety of last year in South Korea. She told me all about the culture of South Korea, and even though Asia hasn’t really been on my radar in the past, I’m now determined to go as soon as time and money warrant a trip (The question becomes, where in Asia??). Speaking with her made me wish even more that I had gotten to spend a year in Graz, but alas, my expected graduation date could not wait for another semester.

Unfortunately, none of my other friends from Graz could attend the event, but that was okay, as we had already taken time to decompress with each other.

I think this event was very important for returning study abroad students, because coming back to OU after being abroad is a challenge, certainly for those who studied long-term, such as for the duration of a semester or a whole year. Obviously, I still miss Graz each and every day, and I know that feeling will never fully go away. However, when I first returned home, I experienced intense feelings of culture shock. My idea of home, and my home itself, had shifted from Oklahoma to my lovely city in Austria. I had also changed, and the change had occurred in my new home, where I had adapted to the way of life.

When I got home, I began to reject a lot of things that are present in daily American culture. For example, something that really got me was simply how much open S P A C E we have here. I had been living in a very dense city, wherein one could feasibly walk or take public transportation to their desired location, and reach that destination in a few short minutes. I felt like here in America, and especially Oklahoma, we had an unnecessary amount of open space. Why did we need to spread everything out so far? I used to love driving, but when I got home it seemed like an annoying hassle. In Graz, one can go to the city center and get basically everything they need, just by walking a few minutes (or even less) to the next store. Here, everything was spread out for what seemed like no reason, except for the fact that Americans just like things to be big and spread out. Moving around my hometown like a chore, and I *hated* it.

While I never thought I would get over the little things about Oklahoma that I had a newfound distaste for upon my return, I eventually re-adapted to the norms here. This re-adaptation was something I greatly enjoyed discussing with my fellow study abroad participants. All in all, the “Okla-home” event was a success in my book.

Home Is Where You Make It, And Other Cliché Notions

I don’t think I ever really understood the meaning of “home” until I went out and made one for myself, over 5000 miles away from what my idea of “home” had always been.

My home had always been the place where I grew up, the place in Oklahoma with familiar faces and roads in which I knew every turn. It had been the place where I had always lived, where all my memories were made. I thought it was special just because it was where I came from.

After spending a semester in Graz, Austria, home is very different to me now.

To me, home is no longer simply where you’re from. Home is something that you make for yourself.

I have surely made a home for myself this past semester. I became a part of something that, only a few short months ago, was completely foreign to me. And, in the most cliché of statements, I’d like to think that Graz became a part of me, too.

In my town in Oklahoma, I had always been there. My reputation preceded me, everywhere I went. The kids with whom I grew up and people I had always been around knew me inside and out, through every phase of my life. They had seen me through struggles and stages I care little about, while I was working on becoming who I am today. As hard as we try not to, I think those preconceived notions of other people stay with us forever, and always shape how we see people and interact with them. I think that’s especially true in Oklahoma, where everything seems to move a little bit slower, and people are a little less concerned with the passage of time and the development of thoughts, ideas, and people in general.

It’s not that I completely reject who I was as a kid, or even who I was a year ago. It’s that, no matter what I do in Oklahoma, there will always be those who have placed me in a box, the same box in which I have always been stuck.

However, that all changed when I arrived in Graz.

Here, I have been able to shape myself completely as the person I want to be. Every person I meet is a new opportunity to grow. The lifelong friendships I have made here are not simply shared with people I know because of locational circumstance, but serendipity. The person I get to be when I’m around them and getting to know them, doesn’t have to carry the weight of who I have been for my whole life. My identity is no longer tied to where I’m from, and everything I’ve done in the past. It is concerned only with today, and what tomorrow brings.

As someone who has struggled with identity issues for most of my life, this feeling of being able to shed the past 20-odd years is astounding, and freeing. I truly have never felt so free in my whole life.

So, Graz, this is my love letter to you.

Meine große Liebe, oh how I admire you. It may seem self-centered, but over the course of these last few months, I have learned just as much about myself as I have learned about the whole world. And at the heart of this change, my dear, is you. You, with your lovely cobblestone streets, often cut through by tram lines. Your beautiful, thoughtful, colorful buildings and churches, adorned with delicate detail. Your sweet air, which has filled me with pleasure at all times of the day. Your tame midnight streets coupled with your boisterous nightlife, your green color which I haven’t experienced anywhere else.

At the heart of you lies the Schloßberg, where one can enjoy views of you in all your majesty.

And at the heart of me lies you, where one can see my ultimate adoration.

Graz, my love, my true home. How grateful I am to have met you.