OU Cousins BBQ 2016

Now for my favorite event of the year!! Yay!!

We held our 21st annual OU Cousins BBQ on the evening of April 28th at the Whinery Ranch. This was by far my favorite OU Cousins event of the year, and maybe even my favorite event of the year period. I will say that I am definitely biased in this opinion, because I was one of the people who worked hard all year to make it happen.

Everything went exceedingly well. As guests arrived, we distributed hundreds of handkerchiefs and cowboy hats, several of which were humorously oversized. This took quite a long time, actually, because we had several buses carrying several hundred OU Cousins, as well as OU faculty, and family and friends of the Whinerys attend the event.

The event featured typical BBQ-style American food, which everyone always enjoys, and this year instead of a mechanical bull we rented a photo booth! We decided that a photo booth would be a good addition to the event because photos are something that international students can take home with them for memories of their time at OU with their cousins. We also had the live band, and a country dance instructor teach everyone some new moves.

President David Boren attends the event every year, and this year he pulled up in his Jag a fashionable 45 minutes late, because he’s just so cool. Throughout the event, he must have taken hundreds of photos with students. In fact, I think international students might love DBo even more than American students!! Finally, we ended the evening by presenting gifts to the Whinerys, President Boren, and the OU Cousins faculty director, Quy Nguyen, followed by a huge group picture.

After a full year being involved in OU Cousins, I can say that I am so happy that this is the international group in which I chose to have a leadership position. I have formed some close friendships with other members of the Cousin’s Advisory Board (we call ourselves CAB), and even though I didn’t have a cousin of my own this semester, I met several really cool international students at all of our events.

The OU Cousins BBQ this year was even more fun than last year, and I hope it gets bigger and better with each year to come. It makes me really sad that I will miss it next spring. Hopefully there is an active international students association in Austria, because I want to get involved!

Humanize Me: Syrian Refugee Crisis Awareness

On April 20th in the South Oval, there was an event put on by the OU College of International Studies Leadership Fellows called “Humanize Me.” The event was an interactive presentation of sorts that was about Syrian refugee crisis awareness, which is something that I try to stay informed about, and that I’ve mentioned in a few other posts before.

The group had a table set up where they had several pages of information about the crisis—of course, I took them all, because that’s my kind of literature. To the side of the table they had a spinning wheel where people could spin to see, if they were a Syrian citizen, how they might be affected by the conflict in the country. They had it set up so that most of the wheel options involved fleeing the country, but I was one of the lucky ones who got to stay in my home with the help of humanitarian aid. There were other options, too, such as remaining in the country with no need of humanitarian assistance, and remaining in the country with no assistance, although it was needed.

Part of the event also involved very colorful path of small flags that followed one refugee’s journey from Aleppo, Syria, to Hamburg, Germany. For each stop of Ahmed’s hard journey, there was a piece of paper detailing his struggles. It was a scary and difficult journey indeed—several times, he feared for his life, he avoided police (he was arrested once) and robbers, and crossed several unsafe borders all without the necessary documents. Many refugees who set out on the journey, men, women, and children alike, never reach their final destination. However, Ahmed is one of the lucky ones, and is now safe in Hamburg with bare essential supplies needed to survive.

There were hundreds of flags guiding the path from Aleppo to Hamburg in a rainbow, and they represented more than just the journey from Syria to Germany. According to the signs, every one of the hundreds of flags represented 11,500 people who have fled from Syria, 1,600 people who are internally displaced, 790 people who have been killed, and 3,700 who have been wounded. The flags did not include the statistic that more than 3,770 migrants perished crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2015—mostly in boats that were hardly sea-worthy, but the refugees had no other choice.

It makes me so angry that people have the audacity not to care about their fellow human beings. That is all I will say in an effort not to start a rant.

The event was very informative and well-laid out by the Leadership Fellows. I hope to see more events like this in the future, where all passersby can go on a “Journey to Germany” on their lunch break.

The Big Event with OU Cousins

Every Spring, the University of Oklahoma puts the biggest volunteer event in the state, and we aptly call it The Big Event. Students volunteer through groups that they’re involved in, and the groups that participate range from Greek organizations to Botany Club to groups of students who aren’t even affiliated with student groups but who just wanted to volunteer. Thousands of students participate, devoting their Saturday to several causes all across the state of Oklahoma.

This year, I volunteered with OU Cousins for The Big Event, and even though it was a lot of work and we faced some difficulties getting supplies, I had so much fun.

OU Cousins volunteered our time this year at the Whinery Ranch, which is where we host our biggest event at the end of the year, the OU Cousins BBQ. I was one of two group leaders for our group, and my step dad graciously lent me his huge truck so I could help transport OU Cousins and our supplies to the worksite. This truck came in extremely handy, and ought to be considered the hero of the day.

Before The Big Event begins, all of the participants gather in the North Oval for check-in and free breakfast at 8:30am. As I said, there are thousands of students who get involved every year, so the oval was covered in a sea of shining OU faces and white T-shirts.

We had about 20-25 people volunteer through OU Cousins, so once the opening ceremony was over, we all split into smaller groups for rides to the ranch. My group was also assigned to stop by the Stephenson Research Center to pick up our supplies, which I was told would be about 15 rakes, 15 shovels, and 30 pairs of gloves.

The wait for supplies was unending. At one point, the line of cars stretched out along Jenkins almost to Imhoff, which for those of you who might not be able to gauge the distance, is just entirely too long of a line. While we were waiting, I really got to know the three Chinese students who were unlucky enough to be stuck waiting with me.

My new friends April, Ming, and Yiyun, all came from different universities in China but had gotten to know each other well during the school year. They were also all completely flabbergasted by the immense size of the truck I was driving; they had never been in a vehicle so large. During the long wait, we talked about a range of topics.

Mostly, I asked them cultural questions, because I am always so curious and haven’t had such an opportune opportunity to sit down and speak with Chinese students. Their absolute favorite part about America—and this is kind of sad—is the fresh, clean air. The urban areas of China where they are from are so heavily polluted, that coming to America opened their eyes (and lungs) to good clean air for the first time in a long time. And they got to spend the whole year breathing it in! This answer really amazed me, because it’s something that I have been aware of, but not something that I ever deeply thought about. Who thought that clean air, a basic human necessity, would be someone’s favorite part about America? For many people from China, what I would consider to be the most polluted place on the continent, it makes sense.

The thing they disliked most about America did not surprise me—the food. They missed their favorite dishes from home, and they really did not enjoy American “food” at all. In fact, Ming revealed that she completely refused to eat American food, because it was so bad it made her sick. This often leads to her being hungry throughout the day, which I found to be really unfortunate. I could empathize with her experience, though. When I went to Tanzania and had amazing fresh food for a month, it was difficult to come home, because the food really does not compare. Luckily, my three new friends all lived in apartments where they could cook their own food.

As we inched closer to the research center to pick up supplies, I got a call from Emily, the current student director of OU Cousins. One person with our group had arrived to the North oval late, and was left behind. We were assigned to pick her up after we picked up our supplies. I felt bad, because it would be a long time before we could go back and get her, but everyone else had already arrived at the Ranch.

After about 30 minutes of nice conversation, we finally made it to the pick-up site. Unfortunately, we encountered a problem: our supplies were nowhere to be found. One Big Event organizer told us that our supplies had already been picked up, but then a few minutes later someone came by and told us that we hadn’t requested supplies. It was all very confusing and incorrect, because we obviously were in need of supplies and had requested them, and I was the person who was assigned to pick them up. After a few minutes of calls back and forth to Emily, and not-so-knowledgeable organizers, we were told to wait and we would be given some extra supplies.  The haul we were eventually given was far less than what we needed: two shovels, six rakes, and thirty gloves. However, it was something, and then we were on our way back to the North oval to pick up our stranded OU Cousin.

Much to our surprise, the stranded member ended up being Ming and Yiyun’s cousin! Her name is Jess, and she is fluent in Chinese, which I admire. Once we picked her up, we were off again, finally toward the Whinery Ranch, if only about an hour and a half late.

Once we got to the ranch, it was business as usual. We dispersed our meager supplies, and I was put in charge of Ranch transport because of the truck. The Whinerys have a big estate, so it was necessary to drive around and check on the status of groups, and pick people up and move them to other sites when they completed tasks. Toward the end though, I got the chance to get my hands dirty. We raked leaves off of the side of the road into huge piles, hauled fallen branches and sticks into piles, and cleared away the weeds and grass at the bottom of the front fence. It was a lot of work, but it was a beautiful day. Also, we found that there is no better way to bond with people than to perform manual labor together!

When all of our tasks were completed, we broke for lunch and more conversation. It was truly amazing how volunteering brought us all closer together, and bonded us as a small international family. I made a lot of new friends from China to Australia to the good ol’ US of A. The Big Event with OU Cousins was a highlight of my year.

Eve of Nations 2016

On the evening of April 8th, I had the great pleasure of attending the 46th Annual Eve of Nations in the Lloyd Noble Center!

I’m so glad I got to go to this event—I wasn’t able to go last year, so it was a completely fresh experience for me, and I had a really great time. I was so pleased with the evening, I’m already upset that I won’t be able to attend next year because I’ll be studying abroad. Maybe someone can film it so I can see it (#livestreameveofnations)?

Allow me to provide a quick explanation for those who aren’t aware of the amazing night that is Eve of Nations. Each spring, OU hosts a large event and friendly competition in which students from every international organization at the university put on a cultural performance that represents their group. Most international groups are country-specific, such as the Iranian Student Association, Korean Student Association, and etcetera, however, they are not all this way. One in particular is the United World College, which I think I’ve mentioned before, and is made up of students from all over the world. Anyhow, most of the performances are dances, but this year there was one in which a student simply played an instrument from his home country. During the show, spectators have the option of enjoying a delicious international meal for a small price, but they can also just sit in the stands and enjoy the performances.

This year, my personal favorite performance was the Indian Student Association. Their performance was one of the first, and I was blown away by the costumes and the dance itself.  They wore traditional Indian garments in a wonderful and bright shade of green. The women wore beautiful, gold-hemmed green dresses with black sashes, and the men wore black tank tops and flowy black pants with green, almost scarf-like belts around their hips (please forgive my ignorance of cultural attire).

The best part about their performance was not the clothing, but rather the splendid symmetry of the piece. There were four women and four men, who at times were coupled and other times were not. The group had great synchronization—anyone could tell that they had worked very hard to choreograph the dance, and had spent a great amount of time practicing.

In the end, the Angolan Student Association won the competition with their exciting energy, but the ISA came in the top three, so I was still very proud.

Eve of Nations is such a great event, not only because of the food and entertainment, but because of the international camaraderie that comes with it. It’s wonderful to see how close-knit international students are with their student groups, and inspirational to see how proud they are of their culture to show it off on such a grand scale.

At many points during the show, I wondered to myself what an American Student Association would perform for a similar event in a foreign country. There’s always the potential for a Native American performance, but very few modern Americans claim native ancestry, and many who do know relatively little about the culture from which they come. Besides that, I have no idea. Our country is unique because it’s so young compared to others and we’re made up of cultures from all around the world. But what specific and individual traits could we display in a single performance? It’s fun to think about!

Greetings! It’s been a while.

Today marks the final day of my sophomore year at the University of Oklahoma—I can’t believe how quickly the past two years have gone. This semester specifically has been quite the challenge for me, but it was also filled with excitement.

Some of the many highlights include: changing my major in a big way, and in a way that I know will be for the best, mostly figuring out my plans for my semester-long study abroad (look out Austria—I’m coming for you, spring of 2017!), moving into a house, and even adopting a dog!

Even though class work attempted to kill me this semester, and my job and involvement kept me running around like a chicken with my head cut off pretty much every day, I made it out alive. My 4.0 even managed to survive along with me, although it was the hardest fight I’ve ever put up. (Note to self: Never, ever, ever, have faith in group projects; always prepare for the worst.)

The stress of making the grade this semester was so much, it really makes me reconsider if it’s always worth the fight. Fortunately, that’s something I get to forget about for the time being, because hey, it’s summer.

Unfortunately, due to my crazy semester, I have gotten embarrassingly far behind on my blog posts, and for that I am terribly sorry and ashamed. However, I attended and helped run some great international events that I am so excited to share! Hey, better late than never, right?

P.S. I promise I will work on writing blog posts in a more timely manner, after all, I want to be ready to document everything great come next Spring!