This semester, I got to partake in one of the strangest, yet most enjoyable, classes ever. This class, called Reacting to the Past, is part of a new interactive pedagogy designed to help students directly interact with the subject material. The class, an honors perspectives course, took place over the course of three games. In each game, we were told to reenact historical events while portraying different historical characters. For example, our first game was the Constitutional Convention. In that game, I got to be the ever eloquent Benjamin Franklin. In the second, Greenwich 1913, I got to be the radical Emma Goldman. It was a lot of fun to portray people radically different from me and learn about their personal histories and philosophies. Overall, the class was a great experience and I feel I learned a lot.
My international organization that I have rejoined this year is the OU Cousins program. Although I really miss my old cousin, Alex, my new cousin is a really cool guy. His name is Jorge Baviera, and he is actually from the same city that my old cousin is from. Both of them had great things to say about their home city, Valencia. In fact, they have made me promise to visit there when I study in Spain.
One of the really cool things about having two different cousins from Spain is that I can really see some things that are similar in the two. These cultural differences make perfect sense to them but baffle me. The biggest difference would probably be meal times. Whenever Jorge and I are trying to plan to meet for dinner, we always have the hardest time. We can never agree on when is an acceptable time to eat. I, for example, prefer to start eating between 5 and 6. Jorge, on the other hand, doesn’t want to eat before 8 or 9. He usually eats lunch at around 3, 4 hours after me. It makes it really difficult to be hungry at the same time. However, we have managed to find sometimes that work, and I have really liked getting to know him this semester.
Over the course of this semester, a lot has changed in our country. With domestic and foreign policy changes, many people are unsure of the future state of the nation. One internationally focused event that I attended was a forum on DACA and how it impacts immigrant students in the US. With President Trump’s decision to pull the DACA program, the fate of many students who entered illegally into this country as children have an uncertain future. This forum was a way to hear from both experts in this field and from students affected by the decision.
At the end of the forum, a lot became clear. There were going to be many people, including thousands of students, whose lives would be affected by this decisions directly. However, almost all Americans would be affected indirectly in some way. Immigrants are a part of America. Cutting out that part of our identity can do nothing other than reshape the fabric of our nation. So, I asked what I could do, as an individual student, to try and help out. All of the members of the panel unanimously told me one thing: make your voice heard. So, I did that. I, for the first time, decided to speak to my representatives. I sent an email, not expecting much in return. Unfortunately, I was right. My representatives response was lack-luster, to be kind. However, I know I tried what I could. I have attended meetings and rallies and have tried to make my voice heard. That’s all I can do and all I will keep doing.
One of the coolest events that I got to attend this year was a discussion on the political future of Zimbabwe after the recent resigning of decade-long president Mugabe. Mugabe, who had been a part of the revolution and had been a face for free-Zimbabwe had, during his years as president, commit horrible atrocities as his regime became more and more powerful. He only resigned after being essentially forced out of office by a military coup, but the enactors of this coup, in my opinion, do not present much hope for a more democratic Zimbabwe. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new president, has a history of violence. He was Mugabe’s right hand man for years and had a primary role in Gukurahundi massacres of over 20,000 Ndebele, an ethnic minority in the country.
This discussion was doubly interesting because it was directed primarily by students, specifically Zimbabwean students. They laid out the whole political background of the coup and gave their own opinions on the coup, the future, and the ZANU-PF, the leading political party in Zimbabwe. They all had very different opinions but had great reasonings behind all of their arguments. This discussion was a privilege to be a part of, therefore, because I got to learn a lot about a significant international event and also because it demonstrated an exemplary way to discuss politics. Although the majority of speakers did not agree with each other, they were all willing to listen respectfully and agree to disagree at the end of the day. They were all friends, despite their differences. I think this is a lesson we could all stand to learn.
I am very glad that I got to return to one of my favorite international events from last year: the international student game night. This one this year passed much the same as it did last year. I ended up playing Uno for a large majority of the night and met a bunch of super cool people. For example, I met Anto from Venezuela and Francisca from Brazil. I also got to hang out with some friends that I had previously made, such as Amer from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now, when I see these people around campus, I don’t hesitate to say hi. This program was a great way to bridge the gap between American and International students.
Well, it would appear as though my study abroad in France has come to an end. After spending a month in Vichy (which you can read about in my last post), I had the extreme good fortune to get to spend my last day in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Paris. However, if one day taught me anything, it’s that I could spend a lifetime in Paris and still find something new every day. Every street is full of beauty and history, and every nook and cranny hides secrets of the past. I spent the majority of my day on l’île de la cité, and I was just dumbfounded by just how old many of those buildings were. Hundreds and hundreds of years had passed since the construction of those giant structures, but still they stand tall and proud. As I walked through Paris, marveling at the buildings, enjoying the culture, and trying my best to absorb and remember everything I could, I couldn’t help but think just how different it all was from back home. I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, a historic city from an American perspective, but the story of my city is no more than 200 years old. It’s a divisive city, built on controversy and difference, and even today those roots linger. We have no giant cathedrals or palaces. We have no Arc de Triompfe or Eiffel Tower. But we have the first White House of the Confederacy, and the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, too. And at the end of the day, I realized something important. The US and Europe are similar, but also different. Very different. I love France for what makes it special and unique. I love its culture and history. I even loved meeting its people. But I also love Alabama, and Oklahoma, and the rest of the US. I think that’s what I gained from my day in Paris. A new perspective, and a better appreciation of where I’m from and where I might be going.
I have to say, I can’t believe that my month in Vichy is already over. It seems like just yesterday I arrived here, totally lost and more nervous than I would have liked to admit. I didn’t even know what my host family looked like, much less what they would be like. But all of that seemed to melt away when I stepped off the train in Vichy and a kind-looking middle aged man walked up to me. His name was Jean Pierre Ducros (one of the most French sounding names I have ever heard), and he was my host dad for this last month. I always wandered how he knew which passenger was me, but he probably just went up to the most lost and confused-looking adolescent male with an oversized suitcase. And I’ve also been described as “painfully American” (thanks Hennessey Chism). Maybe that gave it away. But either way, Jean Pierre and Marie are some of the kindest people you could ever meet. Besides being fun to be around and fantastic cooks, they helped me make the most out of these past 4 weeks. When I went to Lyon, they gave me a map, pointing out all of the must-see locations. Every day, they helped me better appreciate all the things I want to remember about Vichy, and helped me learn and grow from all the things that maybe I don’t really want to remember. And that, I think, is something I never expected from studying abroad. Did I expect to learn French? Yes. Has my French improved? Definitely. But French is not half of what I’ve learned here. Not by a long shot. I spent four weeks in France with people from 6 different continents. I meet people that I never would have expected to come in contact with, much less come to love. Alaa from Bahrain. Martina from Switzerland. Carlos and Camilo from Colombia. Nicholas from Colorado. Fauzan from Indonesia. Schalia from Iraq (though she one day wants to say she’s from the country of Kurdistan). Fatima from Mexico. Omar from Saudi Arabia. Hee-un from South Korea. Han from China. Paula and Isabelle from Oklahoma (Boomer Sooner). Kiera from Australia. Pinar from Turkey. Alex and Karina from Michigan. Jodok from Switzerland. Ragna from Sweden. The list goes on and on. And I didn’t just study with these people. We lived life together. We climbed volcanoes to see ancient Roman ruins. We explored cathedrals and basilicas on the top of mountains. We found tiny little places in Vichy that became tiny little places in our hearts. And of course, all of the little things made Vichy the beautiful experience it was. Wandering aimlessly through Lyon, munching on crepes and talking. Eating sandwiches in a park created by Napolean III. Sitting at a tiny cafe (the Canotage) next to the Allier river, eating cheese and bread. Oh, Jesus, I ate so much cheese and bread. So, even though it wasn’t a perfect month and I might have gained a pound or two, I don’t care. Life isn’t perfect, and we learn just as much from our mistakes as from our successes, and we learn even more from our friends. Thanks to them, I can honestly say I got the education of a lifetime. So to Vichy, I say à bientôt, parce que je reviendrai. And to my friends, merci beaucoup. Je vous aime, et je ne vous oublierai jamais.
My second semester of OU Cousins, one of my international groups here at OU, was tremendously better than my first semester. First of all, I had a much better relationship with my cousin. Alex is from Valencia, in Spain, so it was really cool to get to practice my Spanish with him and learn about some of the regional differences in Spain. He always spoke about his city and what makes its special. We would hang out all of the time. Outside of all the events, we would see each other about once a week on the weekend. He lived near Traditions, so he, I, and many of our friends would go and hang out with a lot of the other International Students.
I think that this semester of OU Cousins represented everything that OU Cousins was meant to be. I and Alex spent so much time together and we learned so much about each other’s homes. We found so many differences between our cultures, but we also found so many similarities. Even though he was raised in a non-religious household and my father is a pastor, we both realized that we love Freddy’s. The little things that make life what it is brought us together and make any differences irrelevant. We honestly became very good friends, and I am sure that our friendship will continue past his time at OU. Even if we are separated by half the world, the relationship that OU Cousins helped us build will endure. That is why OU Cousins was such a great experience this semester.
With the rise of Populist political parties in a large number of countries around the world, a lot of people, myself included, have a lot of questions about Populism. What exactly is it? What triggers it? What do Populist parties actually promise or represent? In response to these questions, the University invited Dr. Reinhard Heinisch, a leading scholar on European Populism, to speak on the subject in his lecture “Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe.”
As I waited to hear what Dr. Heinisch had to say, the room quickly filled up. Every tabled was full, and every chair was occupied. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who wanted to hear what the expert had to say. The first thing he told us, though, is that the issue is way more complicated than we thought. First of all, it is almost impossible to completely define Populism politically or ideologically. Populist parties in Europe are present in the left and in the right of the political spectrum. Some are more authoritarian and autocratic with strong leaders while others actually value strong democracy. What really defines Populism, therefore, is that political ambiguity. Populism represents the angers of people who are upset with the establishment. Populist parties offer an alternative and a promise for change. However, their ambiguity makes it so that they cannot really do much to act on those promises. They make promises, not plans. I had no idea that Populism had such a variety. However, in an age of increasing anger at governments, we need to realize the we don’t need promises. We need actual plans and ideas.
One of the most memorable international events that I attended this year was the Eve of Nations. Here at OU, we have a huge community of international and exchange students. People from all over the world come here to study, but they still remember and love their own countries and cultures. Eve of Nations is a way for them to celebrate their homes and share them with other students.
After a delicious dinner, the night began with a really cool fashion show. Students wore the traditional clothes of their nations, and it was really interesting to see how differently some people dress in their everyday lives or even just for special occasions. The show also featured some Native American students. A guy from one tribe, I think it was the Crow tribe, had on one of the most elaborate outfits I have ever seen. It was covered in bells, feathers, and every color imaginable. Other students came out in more plain, but austere, attire that bespoke a proud culture.
After the fashion show, different multicultural organizations put on acts to demonstrate their talents and show the arts of their nations. My favorite by far was from the Japanese Student Association. Their dance, a dramatization of fishing, was supposed to demonstrate how hard work manifests in every part of the body, from the head to the toes. Let me tell you, I got tired just from watching them. They all moved so fluidly, perfectly in sync and precise; I was transfixed. It was one of the coolest displays of dancing that I have ever seen.
The best part of the night, however, was getting to see so many of my friends have a great time on stage. This semester, I have gotten really close with a lot of international students, and I have learned a lot about their countries. They all looked so happy to get to share more about their homes with us. Eve of Nations was an absolutely wonderful event, and I am really glad that I got to share it with my friends. I learned a lot, and, like I said, I’m sure I won’t forget it.