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.