UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA
THE VIRTUES OF STUDY ABROAD: VOLUME II
“A TRAVELER WITHOUT OBSERVATION IS A BIRD WITHOUT WINGS.” –SA’ADI This publication, The Virtues of Study Abroad, is designed to showcase the merit of Study Abroad programs - especially how they contribute to the personal growth of students. The following student works are intended to highlight the various personal characteristics that emerge and are strengthened by an international educational experience. Participants were inspired to share what they value most about the opportunity to study abroad. They wrote about traits many other study abroad students also say they gain: courage, perseverance, empathy, enthusiasm, perspective, understanding, openmindedness, engagement, curiosity and respect. This publication not only discusses the potentially life-changing personal and educational benefits of Study Abroad programs, but also how the University of Oklahoma’s focus on international education makes these experiences possible. The variety and availability of programs speak to the degree to which educators and administrators value study abroad as an important component of higher education. Participation in such programs gives students the opportunity to practice intercultural communication skills, cultivate an openness to new experiences and engage in a style of learning that inspires curiosity and a life-long love of learning. We hope the following personal stories and observations resonate with those who have studied abroad, as well as prospective journeyers alike.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. [COURAGE] Marisa Brumfield
2. [PERSEVERANCE] Emily Farris
3. [EMPATHY] Daniel Meschter
4. [CURIOSITY] Jordan Larsen
5. [PERSPECTIVE- a photo essay] Alexis Taitel
6. [UNDERSTANDING] Kendall Burchard
7. [ENGAGEMENT] Bryce Fugate
8. [OPEN-MINDEDNESS] Elizabeth Moyer
9. [ENTHUSIASM] Erin Pace
10. [RESPECT] Kylie Frisby
BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY
College Degree Program: Environmental Sustainability, Science and Natural Resources Study Abroad Program: Italy
â&#x20AC;&#x153;I chose to study abroad because I wanted to experience a different culture at a critical age in my life where I have many opportunities to mold my future. Witnessing a new way of life for an extended length of time overseas seemed to be the best way to discover myself and what I desire for a future.â&#x20AC;?
“…Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you 6
will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty. Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. You are still going to live a long time…and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience. You are wrong if you think joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living. My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life. It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it. The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.”
This excerpt is from Jon Krakauer’s novel Into the Wild, which I read in the 8th grade with absolutely no clue as to how much it would later impact my personality, beliefs and lifestyle. This past semester while studying abroad in Italy, it became crystal clear to me that my soul is one which yearns to encounter virtually any shape or form of a new experience, primarily those opening my mind to culturally, geographically and philosophically new customs, locations and ideas. My experiences abroad cannot be summed up in an essay or paragraph, as each day presented me with its own unique adventures, lessons and knowledge. Since departing from Italy, I have had time to reflect upon my experiences and have taken away many valuable memories and bits of knowledge that are now the building blocks of my identity and character. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned while living in a foreign country is that there exists a genuine distinction between being alone and feeling lonely. The former is a simple result of living our lives: we come into this world and leave this world alone. The latter, on the contrary, is a result of negative thinking that can so easily creep into our lives and force us to feel out of place or uncomfortable. I first traveled out of North America in March to Greece completely by myself and came back 12 days later a totally different person. While I have always been a very independent person, I never expected to take such a huge step like traveling internationally without anybody alongside me. The time I spent traveling in Greece revealed to me that the concept of loneliness is skewed in our society and often given a negative connotation. Had I not gone alone to Greece, I would have missed out on the exhilarating, life-fulfilling experiences and wonderful people who 7
deeply impacted my life. Rather than allowing my state of aloneness to make me feel lonely, I instead forced myself out of my comfort zone and into an open and sociable mindset, allowing me to meet others every step of the way. I never once felt lonely during my trip because I chose to make the most of being a solo traveler. My experiences traveling to Greece gave me the courage and confidence to do the same once again while studying abroad. In fact, it turned out to be the highlight of my semester in Europe. My semester abroad also impacted my growth into my individuality and personality. I recognized my desire to live a life of simplicity and authenticity, combined with an open mind to all changes and experiences. I realized that as long as I stay true to myself and continue to seek after what brings me joy, the bigger things in life will take care of themselves. It is easy to forget that we tend to discover ourselves when we aren’t searching for all of the answers. Patience brings us more than constantly hoping or trying to force something to work out a certain way. Finally, I learned that we must constantly strive to live in the present and enjoy every moment even during rough times, knowing that our lives could be taken away at any moment. I have grown exhausted of saying, “One day I will do this” or “I want to do this but don’t know if now is the time.” I refuse to allow negative thoughts like these to impact my use of the days I have to live on our beautiful earth. I am going to work hard so that I can do everything I want to, when I want to, while I am young, even if I have to go alone. Now is the time to live. This concept in particular is the reason behind
my adoration and appreciation of Krakauerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s quote: I desire a life with an endlessly changing horizon that allows constant change and growth to fill my life. Travel, for me, has become the means by which I choose to forever seek a life of new and different suns.
College Degree Program: International Studies, minors in African Studies and Social Justice Study Abroad Program: Internship in Benin
â&#x20AC;&#x153;I chose to do this internship because I wanted more experience abroad and because I am interested in the research aspect of international development.â&#x20AC;?
I had just experienced an amazing month studying abroad in Tanzania on one of OUâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Journey Programs. I met a lot of great people, ate delicious food and explored an incredibly beautiful country. It was now time to get on another plane and fly across the continent to Cotonou, Benin. I somehow was bumped to first class and experienced the most amazing and comfortable flight ever. I was continually offered food and wine, and was even able to sleep for several hours because I had so much space. I sat next to an English man who lived in Dubai and was on business investigating some of his shipments that were ransacked by pirates. The whole experience only increased my enthusiasm for what the next two months had in store for me, which included a two month internship at the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy in Calavi, Benin. I landed in Cotonou, made small talk with the officer who looked at all of my documents, and then I was in this new and exciting place. I was waiting patiently for my baggage when I saw a man holding a paper with my name on it. I assumed he was my driver from the Institute. He found my bags, put them on a cart and then started yelling at me in French to pay him. I was confused because 10
the Institute told me not to withdrawal any money from the airport ATM. It turned out this man had stolen the sign bearing my name from Institute contact, who was waiting outside for me. I decided to pay anyways, eventually finding an ATM and paying him around $20 to put my bags on a cart and walk me to the door. This event was emotionally exhausting. I stared out the window at the Cotonou scenery as we drove to the Institute, where I would also be living. It was the rainy season and there were many flooded roads that we just powered right through. The streets were also filled with people on motorcycles zooming around us â&#x20AC;&#x201D; I had to close my eyes often because I thought we would never get to the Institute alive. Along the roads were women and their children selling produce, bread and random hygienic products at their stands, while others operated food vendors or sold tires for cars and motorcycles. There were also many vendors selling petrol on the streets in a variety of sizes of glass jars. We were told by the driver that the government didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t provide enough petrol and all of this was contraband from Nigeria. We were also told that often the petrol that purchased from
my poor French ridiculed me throughout my whole time in Benin. Because of my language barrier and my lack of experience with statistics, I went two weeks without being given any assignment. I sat in our apartment and read all day. I went days without leaving and with only minimal communication with other people. I lost my appetite completely, only eating a hand full of bland rice and a mango each day. I was miserable. I felt that coming to Benin was a mistake. I felt that I had let down the staff at the Institute as well as my professors back
gas stations was contraband as well. Once in a while the government would crack down on this and the jars would disappear for a few weeks, but they always ended back up on the streets. I was told that this Institute was bilingual and that I would not have any problems not actually knowing French. Maybe the workers there spoke English, but they sure were not going to let me in on this secret. I avoided eye contact and mustered out the occasional “bonsoir … oui ça va, et vous?” in response to other’s greetings. I walked up the five flights of stairs with my luggage to meet the other interns. There were two students from Princeton who were mostly fluent in French and had already been working in Benin for a week. Throughout my time there two more Princeton students arrived to work. The two interns took me to meet one of the head researchers, who in response to 11
I NEEDED TO HEAR THAT IT WAS OKAY FOR ME TO GIVE UP home. I was really embarrassed. I emailed a professor who told me that I should wait two more weeks to see if things got better, and if not then it was okay to resign and come home. I really needed to hear that. I needed to hear that it was okay for me to give up if things did not improve and that they would not think less of me for doing so. My time in Benin was never easy. It was the hardest and most challenging thing I have ever done, but it did get better, especially after I was able to meet the director of the Institute, Dr. Wantchekon. He was so nice, intelligent and encouraging. In addition to being the director, he was also a professor at Princeton, and had recently launched the African School of Economics in Benin. He took us to great restaurants, his favorite gym and even the village where
he was born and grew up, Doga. He spoke in English and so I was able to have great conversations with him. He was impressed that I knew the names of all the African basketball players on the Thunder, which was a gateway topic into discussing many other topics. He entertained my many questions about the treatment and view of women and education in Benin. We even had some arguments, but they all ended on a good note! It felt good having someone who was so important and busy to continually make time for students and to teach us about Benin and the work of the Institute. I have some wonderful memories from my time in Benin such as going a week without water in our apartment, killing massive wasps, eating rabbit, visiting a python temple where I actually had a python around my neck, dancing at a goodbye celebration, playing in the ocean, watching the World Cup matches on street corners and touring the stilted village of GanviĂŠ. My relationship with the workers at the Institute 12
improved, although silence still consumed most of our time together. I was eventually given work to do, and to be fair, I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t believe they had a lot of work for any intern to do â&#x20AC;&#x201D; even those that spoke French. I actually managed to learn a lot about Benin, and I became more excited and confident about the work the of the Institute and its importance to the country. Going abroad can be scary, especially when you go alone. I had a difficult time, but I do not regret going. It was important for me to go and I ended up enjoying myself. Do not be afraid. Just go. Work through the challenges. It is worth it.
College Degree Program: Arabic and Economics Study Abroad Programs: Oman, Jordan
“I went to learn Arabic in its native environment, experience a history few English speakers know about, and eat every conceivable combination of rice and meat. ” 13
“Ijlis, ijlis.” Sit, sit. I obeyed the taxi driver and ducked into the cab. The door slammed and the honking of Amman’s afternoon traffic subsided dully. “Where to”, he asked. “Wadi Abdoun”, I replied. After five days in Jordan, I was still making the mental adjustment to communicating in Arabic, and the words came thickly. We drove and the hot, orange light of the afternoon cast blinding shafts through the car’s windows. Traffic moved apace and we made good time, weaving between cars under overpasses and moving southeast from Tla al-Ali to Abdoun. I stared out at the dusty apartment blocks passing by the roadside. Eventually, we came to a quieter street and I began to reflect. That summer of 2014 I was studying Peace and Conflict Resolution with the Foundation for International Education. My colleagues and I had come to Amman after two weeks of classes and fieldwork in London, Belfast and Londonderry. From studying the civil strife in Northern Ireland, we had gleaned a 14
theoretical framework for understanding the cultural bases of conflict and developing inclusive political solutions. Accomplishing that, our professor noted, required cultural empathy, or an understanding of people’s emotions regarding socio-political issues. In Londonderry, we had visited the Theater of Witness, where we heard from both Catholic and Protestant women about the reasons their sons and husbands had gone to fight. We heard about the political causes that people killed and died for, and about the war-weariness that overcame ideological hardlines and motivated popular support for the peace process. These academic and empathetic lessons we bore in mind as we came to Amman to study similar ethnoreligious conflicts in the Arab world. “Minayn inta?” I asked the taxi driver. Where are you from? My reflection over, I figured I might practice my Arabic and pause my thoughts on conflict and the elusive goal of peace. “Ana?” he replied, looking at me briefly. “Me?” He stared back at the road, then
continued in Arabic: “I’m from Palestine.” He looked back at me. “And where are you from?” Two thoughts ran through my head. The first was that in a country with three million Palestinians making up over half the population, I had been bound to run into one of their number eventually. The second was that now I would, as an American, have to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli conflict just when I had put my thoughts on the topic on hold. So I answered, telling the man that I was an American and in Jordan studying peace and conflict resolution as well as Arabic. “You’re an American,” said the driver thoughtfully. He turned a corner and the car headed down another quiet one-lane street. Then he looked at me and fixed me with a steely look. “What do you have to say about Gaza?” At the time, Israeli airstrikes had just begun in earnest against Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip. News of civilian casualties had just begun to hit the airwaves. Answers swam to my head. They included the usual, politically neutral pablum. While the American government maintained an alliance and friendly relations with Israel, the political status quo did not necessarily represent all Americans’ opinions on Israeli policy towards the Palestinian territories. I wanted to say how many Americans of my generation condemned heavy-handed tactics that spoke to the Jewish regime’s siege mentality. The situation in Gaza was a tragedy that many Americans felt strongly about. I opened my mouth to speak, but the driver beat me to it. 15
“My son wants to join Hamas.” He set his mouth a thin hard line and turned his gaze from the road to me. Our eyes connected and his expression softened. “What do I tell him?” Considerations of history, politics and news melted away. Here was a question that showed – as did the Theater of Witness in Londonderry – the human core of an otherwise complex conflict. To this Palestinian taxi driver, the Gaza conflict, its events and its politics meant nothing compared to what it could do to his family. Caring and love for family is as universal an emotion as I can imagine, and so I was able to empathize, once my driver asked the right question. “You and I both know that what’s happening in Gaza now will not end the violence between Israelis and Palestinians,” I said slowly, picking my words carefully. “Tell your son that his joining Hamas will likely not change history. God only knows.” I held up my hands noncommittally. “There is more to life than dying, no matter how noble the cause.” I studied the driver’s face. He looked no older than forty-five. “You’ve lived some. Tell your son what you know about living.” I stopped speaking, looked towards the road and then looked back at the driver tentatively. I knew I had messed up some case endings, and I was not sure about one of the words I had used. Still, I thought my Arabic had conveyed my meaning and my understanding of how he felt. We arrived in Abdoun, having spent the rest of the trip in silence. I paid my fare, and gripped the driver’s hand in farewell. Our eyes connected once again. Then he
spoke: “Shukran. Ma’ salaam.” Thank you. Goodbye. “Ma’ salaam,” I replied and stepped out of the cab. After watching the car drive off, I stood for a while, thinking. For all I had studied and researched, I would have never appreciated how immediate and human of an impact conflict has on people’s lives had I not gone abroad. From the United
Kingdom to Jordan, I learned just how real the history and events we study in class and lectures can become with human contact and a little bit of empathy.
College Degree Program: The History of Science, Technology, and Medicine; Pre-Med Study Abroad Program: Italy
â&#x20AC;&#x153;My decision for studying abroad was made of my desires to gain global perspective, cultural undersanding, increased self-confidence and pounds from delicious Italian cuisine.â&#x20AC;?
Tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare … Cultural understanding, a primary motivation for studying abroad, often manifests itself through language, specifically idiomatic expression. I learned the Italian idiomatic expression above while studying in Arezzo, Italy. Tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare translates to between saying and doing is the sea, roughly meaning that a task is easier said than done. Just as the sea-filled gap between lands is difficult to traverse, so too is the gap between plan and action, a transition necessary for success. Throughout my semester in Italy, I cultivated a virtue that transforms the task of crossing the sea from a tribulation into an adventure. This virtue is curiosity. In 1949, theoretical physicist Albert Einstein shared his disbelief that formal education had “not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.” Though education
I SET MY HEART ON THE COUNTRY OF MYTHS, MICHELANGELO AND MACARONI has progressed much over the past 66 years, classroom instruction consistently relies on saying or the memorizing facts, studying theories and plugging values into equations. While necessary for learning, classroom instruction must be supplemented with doing if students hope 18
to find success outside the classroom. To assuage Einstein’s fears of dull-minded, stagnant students, the foreboding fracture between saying and doing must be bridged. I found that studying abroad supplied the bridge-building material of curiosity, the very virtue Einstein found at risk. Before even enrolling at the University of Oklahoma, I had plans and hopes of studying abroad at some point during my undergraduate experience. My longtime captivation with Roman and Greek mythology begged me to study in Arezzo, Italy. I set my heart on the country of myths, Michelangelo and macaroni. Planning for my semester abroad was thrilling, but acting upon my plan proved more daunting. Concerns about expense, degree timing and missing opportunities on campus flooded the sea between staying and going. A literal ocean spanned my home and Italy, adding to my anxiety, as I had never before left the country. I had been talking about Italy to my family and friends for months, but even as I packed up my 49.9-pound suitcase, some hesitation persisted. Upon my arrival in Arezzo, language and custom differences took me by surprise. While I expected my two prior semesters of Italian language to be inadequate to thrive in the middle of Tuscany, I underestimated our everyday reliance on language. Often frightened into silence, my initial emergence into the Italian language was cautious and strained. The language barrier seemed too wide to bridge. Italian customs also threatened to toss me out of my comfort zone. In the Midwest, we smile at strangers. In Italy, we stare. In the Midwest, dinner is served around 6 PM. In Italy, no restaurant
opens its doors for another hour and a half. In the Midwest, 24-hour super stores run rampant. In Italy, shop hours vary more than their selection of pastas. I often faced the differences of my new home with impatience and even fear. Why had my formal education not prepared me for what appeared to be the basic human task of survival in a foreign culture? After learning the idiomatic expression tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare in Italian class, I placed studying abroad under the easier said category. Though a little anxiety (and a lot of gelato) fluttered inside my stomach when leaving my apartment in the historical city center of Arezzo, I began to realize just being in a foreign country put me in motion from 19
saying to doing. I had crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Now it was time to cross the sea. By changing my focus away from fear of difference, curiosity concerning that difference set in. Why do Italians react differently to strangers, keep later mealtimes and close shop in the middle of the afternoon? Einstein’s desired “holy curiosity of inquiry” took over. I sought answers from my local instructors and friends and observed my surroundings more precisely. The more I questioned and explored, the less I feared. The further I dared to stray from my apartment, the closer I became to cultural understanding. I had the opportunity to explore Italian culture firsthand, and though I started off drowning, I learned to swim through the sea of separation.
I quickly saturated my study abroad experience with adventures. Some adventures were small, like getting lost wandering the cobblestone streets of Arezzo for a couple of hours. Some adventures were big, such as hopping on a last-minute flight to Barcelona for a weekend of exploring yet another beautiful culture. Whatever the scale, each adventure was curiosity-driven. Curiosity spanned plan and action, saying and doing, formal and informal education, the United States and Italy. Studying abroad fostered a greater sense of inquiry in me, and since Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve returned to the United States, I find that the effect persists. I like to think that Einstein would approve. While tra il dire e il fare câ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Ă¨ di mezzo il mare, the sea exists between saying and doing, that sea does not have to intimidate and separate. Instead, build a bridge by studying abroad and cultivating the virtue of curiosity.
5 [PERSPECTIVE- a photo essay]
College Degree Program: International Studies BA/MA Study Abroad Program: Turkey “I chose to study abroad to experience a new culture, meet new people, and write my master’s thesis in an exciting place.” 21
ACROPOLIS OF ATHENS
ACROPOLIS OF ATHENS
NATIONAL GARDEN OF ATHENS
EAST SIDE WALL
1.3KM OF THE BERLIN WALL PAINTED BY 100+ ARTISTS
College Degree Program: Professional Writing, Minors in International Studies and Constitutional Studies Study Abroad Programs: Germany, Italy
“I’ll never know where I fit in the world unless I explore.” 32
“Are you from Sweden?” the curious server asked, his big green eyes wide under his unkempt black hair. He wiped his hands on his apron after refilling my water glass, gently removing the moisture perspiring from my cup. I thought him foolish for wiping away the cool water. Even at sunset, the sea breeze blowing through the Hard Rock’s rooftop patio couldn’t sway the sweltering Hamburg heat. Ice water was a novelty in Germany, but here they were committed to providing a fully “American” experience, ice included. I shook my head, greedily sipping on the water. “No, I’m from the United States!” I smiled, eager for conversation. I had been backpacking through various parts of Europe alone for the past few weeks, and I had always found people happy to share a story or a meal. But Hamburg had been different, the first place during my travels where English speakers were not as welcome. I didn’t expect Germany to conform to my needs, nor did I wish it to, but after three days of living in relative silence, I embraced the conversation.
to work an ink press. He told me how he wanted so badly to design, but between work and university, he grew so tired and struggled to muster the creative energy. He wanted to start with t-shirts, but then hoped to expand to other mediums, demand for his designs permitting. He talked about how much he hated university, his classes and his degree. It wasn’t his passion, only a practical path. He would leave periodically to tend to the surrounding tables, but he always managed to begin again where he left off. “My mother, she calls me a dreamer. And I think I am. My spirit … my spirit is American. You all can dream, you all can believe in your dreams, and make them reality — Germans do not believe, they do not believe the way you do.” His big eyes blinked away the tears before they could fall past his lashes. I grabbed his hand. He smiled.
“I will make it one day, to America.” he said. “The U.S.?” he responded, his eyes “There, I can be whatever I want to be. I will shimmering like the sea before us. “America? Oh, my … can I share something with you? Can I share … my dreams?” I could feel my smile spreading across my face, reaching toward my ears. I nodded. He proceeded to tell me all about his dream of designing t-shirts for a major U.S. company. He talked about everything he had done to make his dream a reality, from buying the design software to learning how 33
save, I will work, and I … I will succeed.” He gave me a hug and a kiss on the check when I left. His face glowed brighter than the moon rising above the waves. He just needed someone to hear him out, someone to understand him, someone to assure him of the beauty of his dreams. He just needed someone to believe in him, and his potential, if only for a night. During my time abroad, I read chapters of unpublished books, and viewed rough t-shirt designs and discussed future business plans and countless dreams, all because someone needed somebody to believe in the power of their visions. Who better than an idealistic American? Some say “ The American Dream” is dead, but big dreamers and big doers from around the world, will forever be associated with America. And that will forever fuel me to keep dreaming and doing.
College Degree Program: Petroleum Engineering and International Studies Study Abroad Program: Colombia
“This opportunity was a Petroleum Engineering class in a Spanish-speaking country, so it was a natural choice for me! I am focusing my IAS degree on Latin America and energy, so this was perfect!”
taking me to Brazil, to the shop owners in Bogota to the students in my class, all the engagements with Colombians made my study abroad experience unforgettable.
Study abroad is all about engaging and immersing yourself in the experience. For me, I jumped right into the Colombian culture by engaging myself with the people, food and nature. Colombian people are some of the friendliest and most open in the world. From day one, my experience was filled with engagements among different people. First, the course I was taking was a mixture of OU students and students from Universidad Nacional in Colombia. This academic collaboration allowed the American students to learn about the petroleum industry in Colombia, while teaching them about ours. We would eat, swim, learn and have fun together. As the current president of the OU chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, I decided to bring the Colombian students OU SPE shirts as gifts to join our chapters together. In addition, during my time in Bogota, I was able to reunite with an exchange student who had spent the past year studying at OU. One evening, a group from class went to learn salsa at a five-story salsa club. The dancers ranged in age from 16 to 80 and they all eagerly welcomed us while showing us the ropes. We danced the night away with new friends. From the boat drivers crossing the Amazon to the moto-taxi drivers 36
ONE OF THE BEST WAYS INTO A CULTURE IS THROUGH ITS FOOD
One of the best ways into a culture is through its food. Colombian cuisine is a beautiful engagement between the food of indigenous Colombians and European colonizers. I immediately jumped into this food culture by trying everything I encountered. During my first few nights in the Amazon I ate piranha, pirarucu (large river fish), tostones (typical fried plantains), Bandeja Paisa (national dish) and the infamous mojojoi (palm tree grub worms). I would walk through the markets lining the Amazon river and see stands overflowing with exotic fruits. In order to get the most out of the experience, each member of our small group purchased different fruits to take back to the dorms for all to try. I would chat with the men and women selling the fruit to understand what each tasted like and how to properly open and eat the fruits. We returned and had a fruit feast with flavors that I had never tasted before. One evening, some students stayed in and made dinner. For three other students and myself, we craved more adventure. We rode into town via moto-taxis and decided on a street vendor dinner. For roughly $1.25
we had multiple sticks of meat and yucca with cheese-filled arepas drizzled in honey. While we ate, we sat on milk crates on the ground and talked amongst ourselves and with locals. In that moment especially, we felt truly engaged in the experience. I found myself sitting in a classroom looking out the window and being surrounded by a lush, dense forest. During lecture, I would frequently peer outside and see rain forest thunderstorms rolling in, giant Blue Morpho butterflies fluttering about, colorful birds darting here and there, monkeys swinging on vines and brilliantly colored blossoms swaying in the steamy breeze. Each day I would walk to class from the dorms via a jungle path. I would dip under the hanging vines and listen to the roar of the frogs, insects and birds from the forest as the sun filtered through the canopy. One day our group took a boat across the river to an island situated on the Peruvian border. There, we spoke with the locals who brought forth anacondas, caimans and (my favorite animals) sloths! Through engaging with the locals, I was able to hold these Amazonian creatures that I once only read about as a child. My engagements with nature during my study abroad will be memories embedded into my mind forever. My definition of engagement is, to participate or become involved in something. This is one of the core elements of any study abroad experience. No matter if you choose to study abroad for three weeks or three semesters, I highly encourage it. Study abroad provides a unique opportunity to throw yourself into something new. In doing this, you learn more about how your engagements with other people, places, things, and ideas, ultimately shape who you are. 37
College Degree Program: International Security Studies Study Abroad Programs: Jordan, Turkey
â&#x20AC;&#x153;I wanted to gain a new perspective on the issues I study and understand more, generally, with a special focus on understanding the perspective and opinions of the populations of Jordan.â&#x20AC;?
Before studying abroad in Jordan, I did not know what to expect. I had learned a lot about both good and bad aspects of the Middle East including cultures, politics, etc. I was warned about all the various dangerous things that could happen to me. Family members and friends asked me, and still do, if I would or did have to wear a headscarf. Orientation for study abroad at OU, then orientation for my program, presented dangerous scenarios that I and other students could experience. Political tensions in the region were high and have only grown. My family was concerned with the growing threat of ISIS. Despite all of this, I tried my hardest to maintain neutrality and evaluate my experiences objectively. I knew, despite concerns and negative stereotypes perpetuated by media, that Jordan would be safe and my experience would be great. There is no way to escape it: Studying abroad in the Middle East is a distinctly different experience if you are female. Despite the fact that being Muslim does not make a person sexist, or that being in a Muslim majority country does not mean one has to follow religious customs, people still hold stereotypes. First Lady Michelle Obama’s so-called refusal to wear a headscarf while on a diplomatic trip to Saudi Arabia is a great example, because it has never been custom for foreign women to wear head scarves. That being said, general populations of countries have strong traditions, perhaps influenced by religion, which can impact how people think about and treat foreign women. I will not sugarcoat what was my reality for four months. Those four months and the following two spent back in the United States helped put everything I experienced and what I have thought into perspective. 39
Additionally, there is no way to ever escape the privilege that U.S. citizens have in most other foreign countries, and most notably in underdeveloped, in any sense of the word, countries, such as Jordan. Our extra-curricular activities included meeting the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Judeh, and going to King Abdullah’s Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC), where special operations teams from all over the world, except Israel, train. Foreigners, especially those from the U.S. and European countries, are given special privileges in certain ways, in many countries. Why this occurs requires complex and very long explanation, and is much debated. For instance, many students are able to fly to Jordan after graduating with a bachelor’s degree and find a job, while locals struggle to find employment opportunities. These two aspects were my realities for my entire last semester. Study abroad in Turkey for one month was good preparation for my time in Jordan. The country is debatably half-Middle Eastern and half-European. The customs are far more similar to Western customs, so it was an opportunity to dip my feet into the unknown before plunging into the deep end. Jordan was a different experience. Every morning I ate breakfast that had been prepared by my host family’s maid, and watched news, which typically covered topics like ISIS and refugee crises. My days were spent with my host family, at cafes, shopping, exploring and on field trips with my program. My host family was “trueJordanian,” meaning they were living in Jordan before the waves of refugees moved in. They were members of the privileged class and this was obvious. The rest of the country, however, is a very different picture. Jordan is now the host of over three million
refugees, and likely more undocumented. Most of these individuals are PalestinianJordanians, waiting until they can return to Palestine, or Syrian refugees. Living situations for these refugees are anything but ideal. Jordan has accepted more Syrian refugees than all developed countries combined. Jordan has a critical water problem and is on the forefront of battling extremism and terrorist groups, such as ISIS. Generally speaking, the people and the Jordanian government are progressive, politically involved and good-natured. It takes a deeper understanding to realize that the negative aspects of society come from somewhere, but it is not an inherent evil in people. A week vacation to Egypt really put my perspective on Jordan into place. The amount of sexism I encountered made me realize how lucky I was to be in Jordan, where a woman can stand up for herself. All of these issues were 40
very prevalent and plagued me, but the experience taught me that the Middle East is much more than stereotypes presented to us in the media. The issues in Jordan are not different than our own, yet they are more dire. Sexism and privilege is everywhere. The only differences between countries are levels and types. Afghanistan has historically had higher levels of women in national parliament than the U.S., but also still has many issues with gender inequality. Sexism in New York and other large cities in the United States, is just as bad or worse than Jordan. Privilege is also never something that can be escaped. It follows us around in our everyday lives and impacts how we are perceived by foreign people. I feel I would not have learned this had I studied abroad in Europe or without pushing back
the negative stereotypes portrayed by my own society to learn the reality of Jordan and Middle Eastern people. I wish that people, like me, can resist ethnocentrism and be open to experiences. Studying in Jordan opened up a whole new world and broadened my perspective greatly. Coming in with as few expectations about the experience as possible proved advantageous, and every step of the way I evaluated what I experienced. Jordan faces many steep challenges, but the government and the people are poised and ready. The problems they face are far worse than one can imagine as an out-lier. The experience of being there and learning from some of the people at the core of the changes was exciting and opened my mind to a true understanding of another cultureâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s perspective.
College Degree Program: Spanish and Latin American Studies Study Abroad Program: Argentina
“You ask why I chose to study abroad, but the better question is, what wasn’t my reason for study abroad?”
new mystery. I have lived most of my life in Norman, Oklahoma. Although I had been to Bolivia over a summer, my best friends family had sheltered me the entire time. As While living in Buenos Aires, I encountered I stepped off the plane in Buenos Aires, enthusiasts of all sorts. Soccer enthusiasts, I realized I was alone. I did not have the comfort of my cell phone. As I got into the who shed puddles of tears on the streets taxi, I was scared. I was going to live with a after their team suffered a loss. Religious woman I knew almost nothing about. I only enthusiasts, who could be seen walking every Sunday morning to the Catehdral, just knew her name was Bolmara and she was an artist. But I was filled with this idea of a around the corner from my apartment in “lively pursuit” from the definition above. A El Centro. Human Rights enthusiasts, who lively pursuit of life itself, I suppose. petitioned every Thursday in the Plaza de Mayo for the rights of their long lost family members who had “disappeared” in the Mark Twain once declared, “Travel is “Dirty Wars” of the 1970’s dictatorship. fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrowmindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, Let’s be honest. Despite my prior fluency wholesome, charitable views of men and in Spanish I was not fully prepared for things cannot be acquired by vegetating the dialect I was exposed to in Argentina. in one little corner of the earth all one’s Anyone who knows the Spanish language knows that in each country the dialect is a lifetime.” Enthusiasm can be described as a lively interest or eagerness that consumes the mind.
I hold this quote to be true of my own experiences. I learned to accept another culture, to adapt, to use the not-so-lovely subway system, to learn a new dialect and to find the places I needed to go without much help. I had to make new friends. I had to eat new foods. None of this would be forced upon me if I stayed in my little corner. I had a choice to make. I could embrace these changes and adapt with enthusiasm and a positive outlook, or I could dread every minute of it and wish I were home. There were ample good times where it was easy to be enthusiastic. There were also countless trials, where the easier choice would have been to shut down from the world. With my positive enthusiasm and appreciation for the world, I chose not to turn away. During my time in Argentina I became enthusiastic for learning. I became a literature enthusiast. It would be hard not to. My incredible professor Dr. Wray had the ability to instill wonder, hope and enthusiasm in me. Each book or poem I read taught me new things about the world and about myself. Each character made me feel something. I became enthused with steak and empanadas. I also became a dance enthusiast. It would once again be hard not to, in the wonderful city where Tango music was invented. I became enthused with nature when I traveled to the beautiful and famous Iguazu Waterfalls. I became enthused with many new friendships. I found connections that will never leave my life. I learned to put friendship high on my priority list. I learned that friends are sometimes the only thing you have, because material things don’t really matter. Especially when you are freezing cold in the rain and can’t find a taxi 44
for hours. Or when you arrive to Uruguay with nothing but a backpack and have no idea where to go from there. Yes, friends are grand, and the desire and enthusiasm to learn is a precious quality. All those things were easy to love. Yet there were also things that were hard to look at with a “lively interest.” I didn’t have much of a lively interest when I was robbed of my ID, credit cards, house keys and phone. Well, I had a lively interest in screaming, but that is all. Yet, while sitting on the steps outside of my apartment waiting for my roommate to arrive, a really nice man from the store next door spoke to me. I told him what had occurred and he gave me some great advice, and a piece of chocolate too. He told me “A veces el mundo te joda, y no hay nada que puedes hacer, sino sonreir.” Sometimes, he said, the world screws you over. And there isn’t really anything you can do, but smile. So, I smiled with enthusiasm, and I sent positive thoughts to the boys who robbed me, ending the cycle of negativity. I learned to enjoy learning about the hard things too, not just the fun things. Seeing first hand desperate living conditions of the poor I had only seen in documentaries really set a fire inside of me. First of all, my desire to spread happiness and help others began burning ferociously. I thank this fire every day because it ended up bringing me to almost every country in South America over the next few years. There were multiple fires. The other was a love for learning the culture and language of Argentina and Latin America in general. There is a spirit in Latin America that I can’t quite grasp to explain. Maybe it began in ancient Incan empires. Maybe it began even before that. Latin America was
conquered in the 1500s by the Spanish Empire. Yet they never really stopped fighting back. Iconic legends like Simon Bolivar and Che Guevara can show you glimpses of this spirit. Or maybe you can find it in the rural lands of Mexico, where bandits and free spirits roamed for centuries. It is a spirit of strength, passion and enthusiasm. If you have felt this spirit, you need no further explanation. If you haven’t, I hope one day through travels or literature you will catch a glimpse.
I chose enthusiasm as my learned virtue because everywhere I looked in Buenos Aires it was there. A dance instructor once told me, “Look, you get out of anything only what you put into it.” It is this beautiful attitude about life that I have used to find enthusiasm in the small things. Things like the smile of a child playing with twigs in a rural Argentine village, the smell of a parilla (a famous argentine cookout) with amigos, the way water falls in nature or the consoling hug of a friend.
I LEARNED TO ACCEPT ANOTHER CULTURE, TO ADAPT 45
College Degree Program: Public Relations Study Abroad Programs: England, France, Belgium, Holland
“I wanted to broaden my worldview and do something I had never done before.” 46
Imagine yourself in an unfamiliar place surrounded by giant buildings, fast cars and the hustle and bustle of the city. The more you look around to take it all in, the smaller you feel, realizing that the world is a much bigger place than you could have ever imagined. The sights, the sounds, even the smells are so distant from everything that you know and you suddenly feel alive, reveling in the unfamiliarity and the adventure that is to come. That is exactly how I felt as soon as I stepped out of Heathrow Airport in London, England, when I began my adventure abroad. Before I get into all of the wonderful things I learned from my time in Europe, I feel as though I need to share a little bit about my background to help you understand just how much anyone can learn from a study abroad experience. To begin, I am from one of those tiny, humdrum, onestoplight towns in the â&#x20AC;&#x153;middle of nowhereâ&#x20AC;? Oklahoma. I grew up with the same people from preschool until I graduated from high school and was somehow related to everyone around me. As a child, I never quite understood that the world extended past the city limits of my hometown. I knew there was more out there, but I never understood just how much more there actually was. I grew up in a place where, for the most part, everyone looked the same, talked the same and acted the same. Our community, which is largely agriculturebased, is overwhelming and somewhat suffocatingly Caucasian. Where I grew up, being different meant that you were defective in some way. Just to put it into perspective, I never had a full conversation with someone of a different ethnicity than me until college and I never knew that there was anything strange about that. When I graduated high school and moved to the
big city of Norman, it was like my eyes were opened for the first time. For the first time, I realized that these different cultures, different upbringings and different beliefs can encourage so much mental, personal, spiritual and professional growth, and I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t wait to learn more. During my freshman year of college, I was involved in student government and met a senior named Holly. She was one of those people that knew how to make everybody feel like a somebody, and I wanted nothing more than to be her. I was somehow paired with her through student government and she became my mentor. Holly told me of her travel bug and her adventures of studying abroad. She told me what she learned, who she met, what she saw, and I knew over that cup of coffee that I needed to have that experience as well. So, by some crazy miracle, the opportunity to travel abroad presented itself to me during my junior year of college. I jumped at the chance, and what seemed like the next day, I found myself on a plane to a foreign country and I was petrified. My time abroad was short, yet I learned more than I could have ever imagined. I was thrust into cultures and societies that were unfamiliar to me, and although I was in such strange places to me, I felt strangely at home wandering the streets and meeting others different than myself. In just under a month, I traveled to England where I experienced the magical city of London and got to witness some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen. I traveled by way of the Chunnel to Paris and I went on a river cruise down the Seine. I even got to eat some authentic crepes under the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. I visited the Louvre and spent my 21st birthday exploring the gardens of Versailles. I traveled to Belgium, where I
visited NATO in Brussels and learned about how intergovernmental relations impact the lives of Europeans. I even got to see my old mentor, Holly, while in Brussels! (crazy, right?) I visited Bruges and got to ride in a boat down the beautiful canals of the small city. I visited The Hague, where I got to see the Peace Palace. Lastly, I visited Amsterdam, where I met some of the kindest people and fell in love with the quaint city. While abroad, I learned more than I could have ever imagined. I learned that different isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t defective, as society had previously taught me in my hometown. I learned that people are people no matter where you go in the world. We all have our own 48
stories, lives and backgrounds and learning something from every person you meet is of utmost importance. I learned that as Americans, we are too materialistic. I made it through an entire month in Europe with a suitcase and a bookbag, together weighing less than 35 pounds. We donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t need as many possessions as we think we do to make it by. I learned that sometimes doing nothing is the best thing. In Amsterdam, I spent an afternoon sitting on the edge of a fountain watching locals, tourists and street performers having the time of their lives. It was such a refreshing moment to just take a break from it all and truly enjoy where I was. However, with all this in mind, I think the most important thing I learned abroad was the value of respect.
By definition by way of dictionary.com, respect is, “esteem for or a sense of the worth and excellence of a person, a personal quality, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability.” The less complicated way of saying that is, respect is merely seeing the worth or value in someone or something. I told you that I grew up in a place where everyone is unnervingly similar and being different was a bad thing. I was taught by the society around me to look down on those people because they were not “like us”. In my time abroad, I found so many people different than me and truly learned to respect them. I respected their cultures, their upbringings (no matter how different than mine), their worldviews, their languages, their personality traits, their sense of humor, their religious and sexual preferences and most of all, I respected them as humans just as much as I did anyone I had ever met at home in the states. Being abroad and completely submerged in someone else’s culture is a hard thing to do. You must leave everything familiar and comfortable behind you. However, a wise woman at the University of Oklahoma once told me that being uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing, as that is the state in which we learn the most. So I urge you to see the worth in those different than you, and respect them for how they are like you and for how they are not like you. People are people no matter where you go in this crazy world, and you can learn a lot from them, but respect always comes first. Respect for others is the most important thing one can have and there is no better place to learn that than abroad.
BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY Visit the Education Abroad office at the University of Oklahoma to speak with an advisor and begin planning your study abroad experience. Study Abroad 101 sessions are held throughout the academic year. OU offers many study abroad opportunities, such as the OU Study Centers in Arezzo, Italy, which offers both semester and year-long programs in Italian history, language culture and more. OU also offers summer Journey programs across the globe led by OU professors with linguistic, historical or political expertise in the given area. The cost of such programs is generously subsidized by multiple scholarship options, including the Presidential International Travel Fellowship, which OU President David Boren created to make international travel and study abroad opportunities available to more students. Go to studyabroad.ou.edu to begin your journey! 50
PHOTO CITATIONS Marisa Brumfield- cover photo, 5-6, 8, 50 Kendall Burchard- 32-34 Emily Farris- 9-12 Kylie Frisby- 46,48-49 Bryce Fugate- 35-37 Jordan Larsen- 17, 19, 20 51 Daniel Meschter- 13, 14, 16 Elizabeth Moyer- 38, 40-41 Erin Pace- 42, 43, 45 Alexis Taitel- 21-31 51