While studying abroad, a group of friends and I went to Paris for a four-day weekend over Bastille Day, France’s national holiday. I was a little nervous about going to France because it was the first country I was going to where the national language is not English. I was worried that a lot of people we would run into would not speak English and it would be hard to get around. I had also heard a stereotype that many French people know English, but will not be willing to speak English with Americans. However, once we got to Paris, I had a very different experience. Most people I ran into spoke English and were very willing to speak English with us. On the train from London to Paris, we were practicing some common phrases in French and a lady sitting next to us helped us by critiquing our pronunciation. In the end, I didn’t have a single negative experience speaking with local French people.
Another thing I was surprised about was the French people’s attitude towards Bastille Day. I expected them to celebrate like how many Americans celebrate Independence Day, however, the celebrated much differently. I was expecting Paris to be extremely crowded on Bastille Day, however, there wasn’t as many people walking around the city as I had expected. I felt like many French people stayed in their homes and were happy to have the day off because most of the people I saw wandering the streets were tourists. Additionally, when we watched the fireworks show by the Eiffel Tower that night, many of the onlookers were quiet and contemplative rather than loud and celebratory like many Americans would act on the Fourth of July. Ultimately, I appreciated the way the French celebrated Bastille Day and had a great time watching the fireworks show by the Eiffel Tower. I hope to visit Paris again sometime on Bastille Day.
For the month of July, I studied abroad in Oxford, England where I took a class called “The Great War & the 20th Century.” I loved getting to explore Oxford because of its rich history and culture. I felt like everywhere we went, there was some historical significance. One of my favorite parts of Oxford was visiting the Eagle and Child, a pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien frequently met at. It was a cool experience eating at a place where these great minds regularly met.
Another thing I enjoyed about Oxford was exploring the various colleges of Oxford University. Each college has unique traditions and layouts so I enjoyed touring multiple colleges. We stayed in Brasenose College so I had plenty of time to explore it. Surprisingly, they were very strict about not letting you walk on the grass quad. If you happened to walk on the quad while the attendants were watching, they would get very angry. We also got to explore Magdalen College which had a very different atmosphere from Brasenose. It had a tower that we were able to walk up and see a great view of Oxford. We could even see Brasenose from the tower.
Overall, I had a really great experience while studying abroad this summer. I struck a good balance between studying for class and spending time exploring the areas I was visiting. I am already missing Oxford and I definitely plan on going back in the future!
A couple of weeks ago, reports in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed that Chechnya had been treating gay individuals extremely harshly through imprisonment, torture, and harassment. Authorities in Chechnya began a collective punishment of gays after a rights group in Moscow applied for permits to hold gay pride parades within the region. Gay men have always had a tough time living in Chechnya because of its extremely traditional values and customs. However, the organized collection and punishment of gay individuals represents a new level of human rights violations in the region. Many gay people in Chechnya have had to live a life of secrecy, but now they risk being exposed and physically targeted by law enforcement within Chechnya. Clearly, this type of harassment should not be tolerated by other nations. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for other nations to prevent Chechnya from violating people’s basic rights. However, if our society works to promote kindness and respect towards all groups of people, instances like the one in Chechnya will be less common and our society will become more accepting of people in general.
Recently, Emmanuel Macron was determined to be the victor of the French presidential election, defeating Marine Le Pen by greater than a 30-percentage point margin. Macron will be the first president from outside the Republican and Socialists parties since 1958. Macron left the Socialist party to form his own movement, En Marche. Marcon claims that his party is neither right nor left wing, yet many describe Macron as a liberal centrist who supports the EU and is pro-business. Many pollsters had projected Macron to win, however, I was slightly skeptical myself that he would win. Many pollsters had also predicted for Hillary Clinton to win in US general election, yet, they were clearly wrong. Thus, I had predicted that the extreme nationalism and anti-globalism sentiment that led to Trump’s victory would also be present in France and would help Le Pen get elected. Ultimately, I was happy that Macron won because I strongly disagree with many of La Pen’s beliefs. I mainly disagreed with La Pen’s desire to leave the EU. I believe that the European Union is an important partnership between European countries and therefore should not abandoned. French’s election shows how globalization has not been completely defeated by extreme nationalism.
This semester, I decided to join Foreign Film club, a new club that was started last year by a couple of Global Engagement Fellows. I was excited to join the club because I enjoy learning about other cultures. The films we have watched in the club are distinctly different from many American clubs. Observing these differences is interesting because they bring about a fresh new way to tell a story on screen. These differences also helped me to understand the culture and environment of the countries where the movies were produced Unfortunately, this semester we didn’t have too many meetings because some got canceled at the last minute. However, when we did have meetings, it was fun to hang out with a lot of other Global Engagement Fellows as well as with others who were interested in international films. I plan on staying involved in foreign film club throughout the rest of my time here at OU.
On April 6th, I attended a conference on water security. The presentation that attended was about Water Security in the Kabul River Basin by Sher Jan Ahmadzai. Dr. Ahmadzai explained that the Kabul River Basin is located between Afghanistan and Pakistan and thus, is causing a lot of conflicts. Pakistan and Afghanistan have encountered the problem of having scarce water resources so they are both desperate for the water in the basin. Dr. Ahmadzai pointed out that both countries are struggling to obtain water because of the use of water intensive crops, poor irrigation systems, and the fact that climate change has caused many glaciers to deplete. Thus, both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been fighting to extract as much water from the basin as possible and they have been trying to prevent each other from extracting water from the basin. Dr. Ahmadzai argued that the reason these countries have been having such a severe conflict is because they have not cooperated to create a treaty to negotiate a solution to the problem. Attending this presentation was especially informative and interesting because I learned how climate change and other factors are contributing to worldwide conflict and how our world must adapt to address these new challenges.
On March 28th, I attended a session that included general information about the Fulbright program and the application. Before attending the session, I was uninformed about the Fulbright program and was unsure about what the program helps to fund. At the session, there were four people who had either already completed their time abroad with a Fulbright fellowship, or who had just been awarded a fellowship. They explained how there are three main areas the Fulbright program helps to fund: a research project to be conducted abroad, graduate studies in a foreign country, or an English Teaching Assistantship to teach English in foreign schools. While I am not entirely sure about what I want to do after graduating from college, I am most interested in the fellowship to help fund graduate studies abroad. The panelists who have already received a Fulbright grant recommended that we start working on the application a couple of months in advance before the actual deadline to ensure we have enough time to draft a competitive application. Furthermore, they explained that if you are interested in doing a research project abroad, you should continue or expand upon previous projects you have done in the past. I’m glad that I attended this session because it helped me to start thinking about the Fulbright program and what I am specifically interested in pursuing in the future. Additionally, the panelists who had already completed their fellowship shared some interesting stories of their time abroad. After attending the session, I am both nervous and excited to apply for the Fulbright Fellowship in the future.
In my opinion, one of the most important issues facing our world today is climate change. Growing up, I had little knowledge of climate change and was apathetic towards the issue until one day in seventh grade, when my mom took me to a presentation about how humans are causing climate change and the challenges that it poses towards the world. Immediately after listening to the presentation, I was shocked at how much climate change threatens both the present day and the future of our world.
Unfortunately, the response to climate change has been somewhat lacking in the past couple of decades and is just at the beginning stages of making progress. One of the most challenging aspects of climate change is that while developed countries are the main contributors towards climate change, developing countries will be the first to feel the negative effects of climate change. As such, creating policies which promote the divestment of fossil fuels lies mainly on the hands of developed countries. Clearly, climate change is an issue that must be addressed in the future; the stakes, like the seas, have never been higher.
In the past year, a lot of unexpected events and decisions have been occurring in the political world, from the Brexit decision to Donald Trump’s election to the most recent failed referendum in Italy. The common feature in these three surprising results is a wave of right-leaning nationalism that is anti-immigration and against globalization. While I was upset over these three outcomes, I have to remember that real people are voting for them because they feel as though their needs aren’t being addressed in society. Thousands of working class individuals feel threatened by the forces of globalization as it strips many manufacturing jobs out of developed countries. While globalization may make the world better by opening up opportunities for upward mobility in countries like China and India, it can have a negative impact for working class citizens in developed countries. One important lesson that we can take from these recent events is that although, the results may not be what we wanted, we need to be more aware of and implement policy solutions to help those individuals most hurt by globalization.
This semester, I took part in an informal reading group where we read the books Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees by Caroline Moorehead and The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria by Samar Yazbek. Originally, I signed up for the reading group to get know other Global Engagement Fellows and Jaci. I was able to meet with some of my GEF peers, but more importantly, I left the group with an increased awareness of the struggles of refugees and more empathy for people trying to flee their country from oppression.
While the books were certainly not a light read, I emerged a much more informed individual who will pay attention to global crises in the future. Human Cargo follows the lives of different refugees throughout the world and explores the challenges they face in fleeing their home, establishing refugee status, and adjusting to life in their new home, if they were fortunate enough to be chosen for relocation. One of the more shocking things that I learned in the book was how difficult it can be for fleeing persons to obtain refugee status and obtain permanent residence in other countries. Oftentimes, fleeing persons would be denied refugee status because the UNHCR screeners either didn’t believe their stories or thought they were economic migrants searching for more opportunities. The Crossing, on the other hand, is a first person account of Samar Yazbek, a Syrian woman who fled to France, but traveled back to Syria on three separate occasions. While reading the book, we discussed the general history of Syria, the Arab Spring, and the political debate surrounding issues involving the Middle East.
Overall, I am incredibly glad that I decided to join the reading group as I got to know Jaci and other students who are interested in global topics better. While I came into the reading group with a progressive mindset towards treating refugees with respect and welcoming them in to the US, I left the group with a stronger sense of moral obligation to understand and seek to eliminate the struggles of refugees across the world.