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.
Este semestre, el grupo internacional de que quiero charlar es la Tertulia. «Tertulia» es una palabra vieja española que significa una reunión social, y usamos esta reunión para hablar juntos y practicar nuestro español. Por su puesto, solamente hablábamos en español. Al principio, me interesaba la tertulia, pero no me gustaba tanto. Yo me sentaría y escucharía, pero no conocía a la gente y no hablaba mucho. Entonces, las semanas pasaron y nos hicimos amigos. Yo empecé hablar y empecé aprender mucho de muchas cosas. Cada persona necesitaba dar una presentación sobre cualquier cosa, así mis amigas internacionales hablaron sobre sus países. Paula habló sobre Colombia y Slavka explicó las tradiciones de su país, Eslovaquia. Aurélie dio una presentación sobre Francia y su ciudad, Clermont-Ferrand. Yo no quería presentar, pero Aurélie me hizo, así que di una sobre una cosa que me fascina: la lengua Irlandés. Aunque no la hablo, quiero aprenderla. Cuando di la presentación, yo tuve miedo, pero yo pienso que la hice bien, y mis amigos parecen que están de acuerdo.
Sin embargo, aunque me gusta mucho la practica con la lengua española, la cosa lo mas importante para mí son los amigos. Ahora, conozco a la gente de cada parte del mundo. Tengo amigos hispanohablantes de Colombia, México, Eslovaquia, y Francia, y hacemos muchas cosas juntos. Por ejemplo, yo fui a la Festival of Lights con estos amigos. Hemos asistido fiestas, hemos comido, y hemos reído juntos. Ahora, al final del semestre, yo sé esta cosa: este grupo que no me gustaba mucho al principio ahora es el grupo lo mas importante para mí.
This semester, the international group that I want to talk about is la Tertulia. Tertulia is an old Spanish word that means a “social gathering,” and we would use this gathering as a time to chat and practice our Spanish. Of course, we were only allowed to speak in Spanish. At the beginning, Tertulia interested me, but I didn’t really like it. I would sit and listen, but I didn’t know anyone so I wouldn’t talk much. Then, as the weeks passed, I and the other students became friends. I stated to talk more and learned so much about so many different things. Each person was asked to give a presentation, which could be about anything, so my international friends told us about their countries. Paula spoke about Colombia and Slavka explained some traditions of Slovakia. Aurélie gave a presentation on France and her city, Clermont-Ferrand. I didn’t want to present, but Aurélie made me, so I gave a presentation on a topic that I find fascinating: the Irish language. Although I don’t speak it, I really want to learn it. When I gave the presentation, I was a little afraid, but I think I did well and my friends seem to agree.
However, even though I liked practicing my Spanish, my new friends are the most important to me. Now, I know people from all around the world. I have Spanish-speaking friends ranging from Colombia and Mexico to Slovakia and France, and we do a lot of stuff together. For example, I just went to the Festival of Lights with these guys. We’ve gone to parties, eaten, and all laughed together. Now, at the end of the semester, I know one thing for sure: this group, which I didn’t really like at the beginning of the year, is now the most importante group to me here at OU.
Last night, I got to go to the Festival of Lights with the OU Cousins, and it was so much fun. However, the night started off with a lot of uncertainty. I was technically on the waiting list, but then I heard from a friend that she would be unable to go. She offered me her spot, so I got on the bus and waited to leave. However, it seemed to take forever. I was constantly afraid that they would realize that I technically wasn’t on the list and would ask me to leave. Then, after what felt like hours of waiting, we pulled away. After that, I could relax and really enjoy the company of my friends: Slavka, Aurélie, Lucas, and Lu. Although my real cousin couldn’t make it, Lucas and I had been “faux cousins” since his cousin never got in contact with him. On the ride to the Festival, we all talked and laughed while eating pizza and watching scenes from one of my favorite christmas movies of all time: Elf. Of course, we couldn’t really hear or watch the movie well, so we currently have a plan to watch the entire movie sometime soon before they all go back to their countries for the winter break.
At the Festival, the fun only continued. We took pictures with all of the lights and displays and petted the camels and sheep. Although it was horribly cold and the wind was relentless, we were all dressed warmly and did our best to avoid the chill. Eventually, though, we had to get on the bus and head back to campus. The entire ride back, though, we sang christmas songs. I laughed with my international friends as they struggled through the words, and they laughed at me as I somehow remembered every song. Although fun, it led to some really interesting discussion about differences between American and specifically French Christmas traditions. They all knew different songs and never had giant light displays like the Festival of Lights. And although I knew in my head that those were American songs, it still surprised me that not everyone knew the words to “Baby it’s cold outside.” Still, what counts is that we had fun and got to spend a nice time together. I’m glad that most of them are staying for next semester, but I am really going to miss Lu. She is returning to Uruguay soon, and I think that we have become pretty good friends. It will be sad to see her go.
To be honest, I haven’t really like the learning how to put together my digital story. Its not that I don’t like the idea behind the project, I do, it’s just that I am not a huge fan of the digital story format. In other words, I like what we are doing and what we are saying, I am just not a fan of how we are saying it. One of the major reasons is because of the visual component of the story. I am not the type of person who takes a whole bunch of pictures in my normal life. If I am at a really cool location or at a very important event I will take pictures, but I don’t just going about my daily life. Much of my story has to do with how I got involved internationally back home, and that part of my life just became a part of who I was and what I did regularly. I didn’t take a whole bunch of pictures. Therefore, finding enough visual material has been difficult for me. I need to have enough visuals to fill the time, but they also need to be relevant and preferably not from the internet. In my case, this is impossible. I will have to use internet images to fill the time because there simply are not enough pictures to fill 2 minutes. It also seems a little impractical. Although I have learned some interesting stuff about the editing process and the basics of digital storytelling, I don’t feel as though I will really use any of these skills in my professional life. I would always prefer to give a presentation or tell a story in person, and I believe that my future career will prefer that method of communication. Now, I could be totally incorrect and these skills and techniques will actually be very valuable, but as of now I am having a hard time connecting to the format of this project. Like I said earlier, I love the idea and I am really passionate about my topic, but I wish we could have had some variety in the method.
My digital story is coming along really well. The recording is done, I have my WeVideo account, and I have a lot of ideas for images, pictures, and music that I can use to help round out my story. I don’t quite have all of the pictures the I need, but I’m sure that I will be able to get them together while I am home this week. I am hoping to be able to meet up with my former students to see how they are doing and to see how their lives are going. If we meet, I would love to get some more pictures that would be great for my story, especially during the parts when I talk about them.
Going off of this, my only concern is making sure that I will have a sufficient number of relevant pictures. I never was a big picture taker, so I don’t really have a lot of pictures from my childhood or as an ESL volunteer. If I end up being unable to meet with my former students, I might just be up a creek without a paddle. I am hopeful, however, that this will not happen. Even if it does, I’m sure I can make something work. The important thing is the story. I am really passionate about what I am saying and I believe in the values that I present. As long as I can successfully tell the story that I want, I will be happy with the result, whatever it may be.
Honestly, I believe that the Global Engagement Fellowship will be invaluable to me in the future, especially in my future career. Obviously, it will help me be more exposed to and accepting of foreign cultures and people. Since I am currently thinking that I will want to work in the foreign service, these values and experiences should be invaluable. The better I understand those with which I am working, the better I would be able to work as a bridge in between two countries. Using the scholarships to study abroad can only help me broaden my horizons and understand the differences between cultures and how those differences manifest themselves. More currently, however, the Global Engagement Fellowship is currently exposing me to opportunities and introducing me to important people. People have told me that it is never too early to start meeting people, and knowing the right people is incredibly important in finding jobs, especially in the government. I hope that I can use the relationships I’ve made with the people I’ve met and the opportunities I’ve taken advantage of as a Global Engagement Fellow to advance my future careers.
I think that, if I play my hand well, the Global Engagement Fellowship could have a huge impact on my future. This really does depend on me though. I have to be intentional in using the resources afforded to me to make relevant relationships and make use of the plethora of opportunities. I think that Jaci is a huge part in this. Already, she has proven to really have our best interests in mind. Like we say, Jaci will fix your life. She has helped me figure out my path here at OU and she has spoken and worked on my behalf to help me get through some confusing situations. If all else fails, at least I know that I will get an awesome mentor out of this fellowship who cares about all the same strange stuff that I do.