International Pageant

On Thursday, February 6th in the Meacham Auditorium, the International Advisory Committee held the OU International Pageant. I decided to attend the event with my friend from Kampala, Uganda. At the event, the contestants competed against each other in different segments, showcasing their different cultures as well as personal talent and working on a platform with IAC to improve the lives of those in the community.

At the event, the contestants represented a wide variety of countries such as Russia, Myanmar, Mexico, Vietnam, Ghana, Ethiopia, and much more! There were different acts such as cultural attire, talent, and a questionnaire. All of the contestants were extremely confident in their abilities and really showed that they wanted to be the face of the international community here at OU. Unfortanelty, I had to leave early before I could see the announced winner, but I bet who won truly deserved the crown. Overall, each contestant did an amazing job with the performances.
 

International Student Night

Hey everyone! Long time no see! It is officially my second semester here at OU, and I am enjoying everything the university has to offer! I think this semester is already going better than the first, and I cannot wait to see what else is in store!

Recently, I hung out with one of my good friends who is from Kampala, Uganda. She invited me to the International Student Night that was hosted at the OU Women’s Gymnastics competition against Iowa State at the Lloyd Noble Center. This was the first time I had been to an international student event as well as to a gymnastics meet.

Before the event started, the group had some really delicious pizza, and this is where I met some other really awesome international students from places like El Salvador, Lithuania, and another person from Ghana. We talked a lot about the difference in how Americans value sports compared to other countries. It was a really good eye-opening experience to hear different perspectives.

After eating, we all headed to the meet and watched the competition commence. OU’s Gymnastics team I think is one if not the best college team in the nation, which makes sense because the level of talent was amazing! The women had so much upper body strength! There were four different categories: vault, beam, floor, and bars. Both teams did an amazing job, and I believe OU won the meet. Overall, the international student event was fun!

Arab-American Representation in Cinema

Last week, an Assistant Professor from the International Area Studies Department, Waleed Mahdi, came to speak to the Global Engagement Class about how Arab Americans are portrayed in film around the world; however, the professor specializes in Arab-American representation in Egyptian cinema. Mahdi spoke with great passion about this topic. He discussed with us how he has a personal connection to the subject because of his identity. When it comes to minority representation, each minority group in some shape or form is presented in a way that creates an overall narrative for the entire group.

When it comes to Arab-American representation, Mahdi pointed out that this group of people is portrayed in a negative light in cinema. Too often are Arab-American characters associated with islamophobia. They are usually seen as a national security threat to America and associated with some sort of foreign policy concern. I have seen for myself Arab-American characters in media being portrayed as terrorists or fearful people. Film is a powerful platform that has the ability to shape one’s views and understanding of life, so if a negative depiction of Arab-American characters is constantly portrayed, then this portrayal will morph itself into reality and become part of how society sees Arab-Americans as a whole.

Professor Mahdi offered a great example to back up his claim. He showed the class a small clip from the Disney movie, Aladin. In the clip, we clearly see the supposedly scary Arab guards wielding sharp swords around with a menacing look in their eyes, all the while wearing what seems to be traditional Arab clothing. This film was obviously meant for children. Still, Disney has unknowingly perpetuated a stereotype about Arabs, in which children who watch Aladin will soak up and associate this information to an Arab or Arab-American person in the real world.

Whether we realize or night, film feeds into a single narrative, which in turn helps facilitate clashes between cultures. When we box a group of people into a particular identity, we created exclusion, alienation, and ignorance around us. The professor ended his talk by stating that representation has become better, but there is still work that needs to be done. This work must come from not only the film industry but from the public demand as well to seek change.

How do we approach helping people?

In one of my Global Engagement classes, my classmates and I watched a TED Talk video titled “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen” by Ernesto Sirolli. The speaker’s main argument was that the best way to help people is to be quiet and listen to them and their dilemmas without any intention of influencing them with our own agenda. The first step is not only to listen but to hear people with the intent to understand their needs and desires fully. Ernesto backs his argument by recalling back to a time when he did aid work for an Italian NGO in Africa during the 70s and realized that the work was ineffective. In Africa, he attempted to teach the people there how to grow food, but the agricultural project failed because hippos in the region would eat the plants. Ernesto states that if he had just been mindful of the native people, he would have known that they do not grow agriculture for that reason. Instead, Ernesto came to Africa intending to be, in a sense, a savior for the African people from starvation. 

Ernesto points out that when it comes to western people helping others, especially those in developing areas, we tend to have a mindset that is naive and egotistical. We portray this false persona that we are here to provide guidance when, in reality, we promote our own interest and treat people from different areas and cultures as children who need to absorb every ounce of aid we offer to them. This mindset is deplorable and should not be our way of helping others. Afterward, Ernesto says something that resonated with me. He states that “the principle of help is respect.” The method of going about helping people is through considering their interests and passions rather than our own. Those who wish to help must rid themselves of a superiority mindset and put themselves on the same level as those who seek help. 

 On the other hand, I do disagree with which group of people Ernest wishes to help. He tends to focus his speech more on assisting the entrepreneurial society of developing areas rather than the people who live and struggle there. We must focus our attention on not only transforming the economic community but also supporting those in the community who are left out of the discussion because of the barriers that are facing them so that everyone is included in the overall benefit to society. The “shut up and listen” method can be effective if we use it with the intent of helping those who truly need assistance.

Could you live on a $1 a day?

Could you live on a $1 a day? 

Would you be able to survive on a dollar a day? Sounds crazy, right? Most of us would say no without any regard. We would not be able to fathom what life would be like living on these wages. However, living on a dollar a day is possible in other places around the world, but that does not make it an easy task.

    In my Global Engagement class, my professor showed the class a series of videos from a YouTube documentation called Living on One. Three friends travel to a remote Mayan village outside of Guatemala City called Pena Blanca, where they document their study of rural poverty and how they and the villagers lived while making only one dollar a day. According to the video, there are about 1.1 billion people across the globe who live on a dollar a day.  

    One major theme that I noticed throughout the videos was that there were many problems and uncertainties that the three friends experienced while in the village, which the local people experienced daily. In one of the videos called Water from a Pipe, one of the three friends contracted a parasite infection after drinking contaminated water from a rigged pipe system in the village. The guy did not have a well-adjusted immune system to deal with the various contaminants in the water. But the villagers’ health was not affected as much because they had been drinking the water since who knows when, and their immune systems had adjusted to deal with such a harsh environment. This is not to say that the people are not sick because they most likely are but cannot afford medical care.  

    In another video called Hunger and Tortillas, the three friends struggle to take in enough nutrition from a diet consisting of rice, beans, lard, and tortillas. They struggle with not having enough energy to pursue daily activities. Young children are most susceptible to having their early development stages hindered because of the lack of access to clean water and healthy and nutritious food. The children in this remote village will inevitably fall behind because of the environment in which they live. 

    The last video was called Disaster Strikes. Heavy rains engulfed the small village, causing landslides, river overflows, and hurricanes in the surrounding area. Many people lost everything: infrastructure, crops, and lives. The people were forced to start over with some governmental assistance, but not like what we have in America. I’d imagine that the villagers would want to get out of poverty, but natural disasters keep people in the cycle of poverty. 

    So, I will ask the question again. Can you live off a dollar a day? Absolutely. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. In fact, no one should be living on these types of wages, but in the world, we live in, there is an unequal distribution of wealth that keeps some people at the top and others at the bottom. 

The Turkey-Syria Conflict

The Turkey-Syrian Conflict is one that is the byproduct of years of international conflict and entanglements, and disputes between Turkey and US-backed Kurdish forces have dramatically increased in recent days. There has been substantial news coverage over the issue, but it can be very confusing to comprehend everything that is going on. Even I have had difficulty with this. To understand this conflict, we must first take a step back in time to where it all began.

In 2011, a civil war started in Syria after non-violent protests were met with aggression from the Syrian government led by President Bashar Al Asad. Once the civil war began, many groups such as pro-government, ethnic, and religious militias, as well as the well-known Islamic Extremistic group called ISIS, sought to gain control of the country. A powerful Kurdish militia was among these groups. Out of these factions, ISIS grew most in its stronghold on the state and posed a more significant threat than any other group due to the groups’ extremely radical ideologies and goal to create an Islamic Caliphate. The United States became an ally of the Kurdish forces to defeat ISIS control in the Northern part of Syria, which the coalition was successfully able to do. After the defeat of ISIS, Kurdish forces were able to seize control of the area and mostly made it their autonomous state for the time being. The presence of Kurds in Northern Syria is what sparked tension with Turkey.

Turkey borders Syria to the North, so the residence of Kurdish Forces created tension in the region. The Turkish government believes that the Kurdish militia is aligned with a Kurdish Guerilla group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has caused years of insurrection within Turkey. Both the United States and Turkey agree that the guerilla group is a terrorist organization, so Turkey views the US-backed Kurdish forces in Northern Syria as a security threat as well. The United States at first took on a mediator role to ease tensions on the Turkish Border. Kurdish Forces were persuaded to change their name to the Syrian Democratic Forces and encouraged to recruit non-Kurdish fighters; however, the United State’s peacekeeping role has come to a sudden end.

Recently, President Donald Trump decided to remove all American troops from the Turkish-Syrian border in Northern Syria in an attempt to ease the United States out of “endless wars,” according to Trump. The withdrawal of soldiers on October 6th granted a window for a Turkish invasion into Northern Syria on October 9th. Later, the Pentagon mandated that all American troops be withdrawn from the region. The president’s decision to withdraw troops has faced backlash from all corners, even from members within Trump’s political party. There is fear from the international community that the Turkish invasion will allow the resurgence of influence from ISIS as well as increase a stronghold in the region for Turkey, Syria and its ally Russia. There are also concerns for the protection of civilians in Syria, as they are caught in the crossfire of violence and political turmoil.

*https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/14/world/middleeast/the-kurds-facts-history.html
*https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/10/world/middleeast/syria-turkey-offensive.html?module=inline

OU Cousin’s Smore’s Night

Poster for OU Cousin’s Smore’s Night

The first event of the semester hosted by OU Cousins was the OU Cousin’s Smores Night held at the Cross Firepits located at the Cross Apartments on campus. This event was the perfect opportunity to hang out with my OU Cousin for the first time. After the matching party held near the beginning of the year, my OU Cousin and I communicated a lot with each other and came up with a schedule to meet up to do different activities together. Any event hosted on campus is much easier for me to participate in because I do not have a car, so on-campus activities are more accessible.

On the day of the event, I asked my OU Cousin to meet me at the firepits since they were closer to where she lived near campus. When I arrived, she was not there yet, so I decided to mingle around with other people that were there. Even though the event had just started, there was already a large turnout of OU students and international students. Two large fire pits were lit inside a protected area, and comfortable chairs were set around so that everyone could relax and have a good time. Items to make smores such as big and small marshmallows, Hershey’s Chocolate Bars, Graham Crackers, and extra-long Bamboo Skewers were set about. The day was warm, and the sun had just begun set so that the sky looked as if it painted with an orange, pink, and purple haze.

Cross Firepits

Once my OU Cousin showed up, we decided to grab what we needed to make her first s’more!!! I explained to her how to cook the marshmallow without burning it in the fire ( I have done this many times 😆) so that the marshmallow could have a perfect brown color. After roasting the marshmallow, we successfully created our s’mores; however, my OU Cousin had some difficulty eating hers because it was so sticky. The roasted marshmallow got all over her hands, so we had to leave the event and find a nearby bathroom so that she could clean up, then we came back!!! It was an experience I am pretty sure she will never forget.

I had such a fantastic time catching up with my cousin and what she had done since we had last seen each other. It was such a relaxing time, and I was glad that I was able to be there with her as she experienced one the staples of the American culture.

What is “white privilege”? and How does it impact race relations?

White privilege is a phenomenon where caucasian people have opportunities or advantages in life that people of color do not have simply because of the color of their skin. Granted, this is not to say that some white people do not struggle in life; however, white people still have access to far more resources to improve their way of living. Those who have white privilege do not necessarily notice that it exists, which only perpetuates the inequalities that are prevalent in today’s society. White people experience advantages politically, socially, and economically at the expense of non-white people.

Recently, examples of white privilege have impacted race relations between black and white people negatively in America. For example, just recently, a white female police officer shot an unarmed black man, who happened to work alongside her as an officer, in his apartment, which she mistook as hers. A jury found her guilty of murder, but only sentenced her to ten years in prison. After the sentencing, there has been outrage from the African American community about how the officer will receive a short sentence. Many see the sentence as a blow for racial equality and justice in the legal system, and I can agree. It is hard to tell precisely if the perpetrator would have received a longer or worse sentence if he or she was of color; however, what we know from history is that the entire justice system has been ridiculed with institutionalized racism and injustice, and it still is to this day, so if the perpetrator were black, he or she would have been worse off.

Another example of white privilege in action was when many of the parents involved in the recent college admission scandal to send their children to prestigious universities in the nation received either a short of amount of time to spend behind bars or had to pay a small amount of money, which ultimately had no effect on their total income. These parents received a slap on the wrist for their wrongdoings because they have power and money, which are some of the characteristics of white privilege. Something that was brought up to show that white privilege existed in this situation was a case where a black woman was sent to prison for attempting to send her son to the wrong school district; however, the mother only wanted a better education for her child. There are apparent disparities that black people face, such as the lack of proper education. The education system favored the wealthier parents who used their opulence to cheat the education system, all of which are characteristics of having white privilege.

White privilege manifested from racial biases and racist acts from the past, which eventually gave white people the ultimate power, authority, and unconscious benefits that others in society do not have. It is whether people with white privilege genuinely begin to recognize that it is real that we, as a human race, will be able to make progress in our environment.

With Study Abroad comes Diversity Issues

When I think about studying abroad, I think about all of the positives that could come out of such an experience, but I never really take the time to understand how myself and others could be viewed and treated as foreigners. In a study conducted by Brown University where students returning from short term and long term study abroad trips were surveyed about their experience, diversity issues were discussed. Some diversity issues that stood out to me are minority/majority issues, race and ethnicity, nationality, and gender.

In America, White-Americans dominate the racial majority, while Africans Americans take the place of the largest ethnic minority. What I noticed in some of the white-American student surveys was that many of them for the first time experienced what it felt like to be a minority while studying abroad. For example, the White-American students who had traveled to countries in Africa had experiences that made them uncomfortable and reminded them they were white, which is a fundamental concept of being a minority; however, most of them did not experience modes of discrimination or prejudice. This is interesting because being an African American in an African country, according to one of the students, would have been far worse. African American and African cultures are entirely different because African Americans are seen to be whitewashed or westernized. Being an African-American in general means you have it hard wherever you go and that you are a minority all the time. I can testify to this based on my time in Russia. Although there was a significant amount of African people who lived there, I instantly stood out, attracted unwanted attention, and was treated differently.

This brings me to my second point: nationality. According to the students, as an American, we are perceived as more socioeconomically well off than most people around the world. No matter if one is dirt poor or filthy rich, he or she is put into the same category of an abundance of wealth. That being said, many of the study abroad students were scorned upon and taken advantage of, especially in countries in Eastern Europe. While I was in Russia, for example, I experienced almost being overcharged at a local market because the vendor overheard me speak English and tried to exploit me. It’s interesting to think that although each of us in America has certain problems financially, we are perceived to still be able to live well enough than most people around the world.

The last diversity issue that did not surprise me is gender inequality-this concept was seen around the globe with many of the female study abroad students. Gender inequality is universal and is subjected to no boundaries. For example, a female student in Cuba was hindered from participating in an athletic activity with the male students, while thousands of miles of away in France, a female student was harassed from men in her environment. Women receive little protection everywhere.

These key themes stood out to me because I have never really thought of there being other people who have experienced similar issues that people of color experience on a daily basis. I now understand that diversity issues are not tied to a single group of people but can affect everyone in some shape or form.

Where would I go?🧐

Where would I study abroad, and why?

This question is not that easy to answer. There are so many places around the globe to visit, and these places all hold unique qualities that make them stand out.

If I had to choose, I would study abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia! I have already been to Russia before to the capital, Moscow; however, I want to continue to travel around the country and explore more of what it has the hold. I believe the next best step would be to visit Russia’s second- largest city.

From what I have heard about St. Petersburg is that it is a city vibrant with culture and history. The architecture of the buildings within St. Petersurg is vibrant with color and preserved so well that it feels like the city is a museum in itself. Some places that I would like to visit are the Winter Palace, The State Hermitage Museum, Pushkin, Alexander Palace, Catherine Palace, and Palace Square. Visiting these places will allow me to learn more about Russia’s fascinating history and take some really cute and aesthetic pictures 😜

St. Petersburg, Russia 🇷🇺

I would also like to study abroad in St. Petersburg to improve my Russian language skills! I believe that having the opportunity to be immersed in a native environment of language and culture will help challenge me to utilize my foreign language skills and gain a better understanding of the language. I’ll be able to hone my language skills not only through a formal education setting where language classes are offered but also through going beyond my academic setting and using the language within my everyday environment.

Besides Russia, I honestly would not mind studying abroad anywhere in the world. I do not want to be constricted to one region of the world due to academics but instead, see as much of the globe as possible to live spontaneously and gain unforgettable life experiences. Some places that I have in mind are China, Japan, France, England, Australia, Canada, and much much more! I am a big foodie person, so I would love to travel to one of these places and connect with the natives through cuisine. Food is always the path to someone’s heart. ♥️

The answer to where I would study abroad and why depends not only on the goals or objectives that I might have but where at the moment I would rather be in the international community. I cannot wait to see where i’ll end up next✈️