International Students and Gun Ranges? An Astounding Mixture

Recently, I was sitting waiting for my International Business class to start and chatting with some of the other students in the class. I really enjoy this class, because over half of the students are international students, and so I get to make new friends from around the world and learn a lot. I am never disappointed by the things that I learn, but rather, intensely intrigued. This day was no different.

A new friend of mine, Pierre, and I were having a conversation about his experiences thus far in the States. I always like to ask my new international friends questions about their time here, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I really do learn a lot from simple questions. During one of these revealing question-and-answers, Pierre revealed to me that he had recently gone to the gun range.

“Really?” I asked, a bit astonished, and confused, and maybe even with a hint of distaste. Guns are a hot-button topic in the US all the time, especially considering the sheer number of children that are murdered every year in their own classrooms by their own classmates. Can you tell how I feel about guns?

My relationship with guns is tenuous. My family owns several guns. I’ve shot several guns. I understand why people want them and why people think they need them…. but I also believe that in the big picture, guns are completely unnecessary deadly weapons. The most rational argument for guns is that people want them for hunting. Personally, I find hunting distasteful as well, but I see the worth in it to control animal populations, as well as for those people who must hunt for food. Trophy and pure sport hunters, however, disgust me. However, even though I understand why humans hunt (when it is with pure intentions, anyway) and how it can be good for the whole, I disagree with the use of guns for hunting. If you want to hunt something, unleash your wild, instinctual side and use a bow and arrow. Guns make it far too easy. The world would be a better place without guns, yet, I know that such a thing will never happen.

Please excuse my rant, but also notice that I kept it within this blog post for your reading pleasure. If you want to have a chat sometime and hear my entire opinion (who wouldn’t want that?), hit me up sometime.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming: International students like going to gun ranges to shoot guns. It’s something that is on several of their lists to do in America…. Because guns are hard to come by in most other places. They are either heavily regulated or completely illegal. In fact, I can confidently guess that most international students who attend OU never shot a gun before they arrived in the states. Many of them probably remain that way, but several of them head to the gun range, pay a couple of bucks, and sink some shots into a flimsy piece of paper a couple of yards away.

For some reason, this news startled me, and I’m still thinking about it. I can’t believe that something us red-blooded Americans hear about and have access to every day, and something we can use however we please, is like an exciting toy to foreign people. They want to try it out and see what it is like to hold deadly force in their own hands. I understand that guns can be fun to handle, and it can be exciting to hit your target perfectly, but otherwise, I really don’t see the appeal. Disclaimer: I’m 100% not judging international students for wanting to shoot guns. It’s a novel activity that they’ve never done in their lives and may never do again, by all means, we should allow them to do so in a safe and controlled environment. I’m still simply perplexed by the idea that international students want to go to shooting ranges. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Other than more rants in my head, I think I’ll end this blog post here, for the sake of brevity and intrigue.

The Enormous Event

This semester has been a semester of lasts. It was my last Spring as an undergraduate student, and therefore, I will never get to experience all the springtime activities that I know and love here at OU. It’s a bittersweet feeling, and I also missed one spring at OU while I was away studying abroad, and missed all my favorite events that semester as well. I would never trade my semester in Graz for anything, but I would do quite a lot to go back and be able to relive my days OU’s annual day of philanthropy, the Big Event. Luckily, I can cherish the memories of my last one, where OU Cousins volunteered at Cross Bridge Community Church in OKC.

The day of Big Event starts bright and early on the North Oval on campus, where thousands of students gather in their respective huddles to go out and serve the community. Speakers blast popular music to get the crowd pumped up, a few speakers give some encouraging words, and within a few minutes, the crowd disperses to make an impact at hundreds of different locations.

In my tenure with OU Cousins, I was used to going to the Whinery Family Farm, but I love a change of scenery, and it doesn’t really matter when you get to help those in need, and help we did.

When we arrived at our volunteer location, Cross Bridge Church was in dire need of tuning up, and OU Cousins took on the challenge valiantly. We cleaned the basement of dust and trash, hauling off unwanted everything from cardboard to an old furnace. Next, we headed outside into the bitter cold to paint the outside of the church, the ramp and the stairs leading up to it. The leaders at the church were so kind—they knew with the combination of cold and wind, we were freezing out fingers off, and they gifted us with gloves to help get the job done. By the end of the morning, the church was in tip-top shape, and all it took was a couple of gallons of paint and about 20 OU Cousins.

Some people might question whether or not The Big Event is an international activity. Besides the fact that it is something I do with OU Cousins, it is also something that crosses international lines and builds bridges between diverse cultures. Even with all the variances in the human condition, there are many things that bring us all together. Volunteering and helping out our communities is perhaps one of the most important of those many things. Compassion for others is something that has no national language, and no agenda (although, unfortunately, some volunteering does have ulterior motives, but that’s a blog post for another time). This event may be a very small action compared to problems and goings-on in the rest of the world, but its impact is vast. I guess that’s why we call it The Big Event.

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.