After my first half month of classes, I’ve learned that Spanish Culture and American Culture are much more different than I originally though. Just to give an example, my enrollment was completed until the 1st of October. Classes started the 11th of September. Let’s just let that sink in for a moment. But that being said, I have also had a really good time, met a lot of cool people, done really interesting things, and learned a lot. Here are some pictures of me being too tall to fit through Spanish doors, exploring giant Spanish caves, and making fantastic American mashed Potatoes.
Next year is going to be a momentous year for me. I will be going on my long-term study abroad to Valencia, Spain for an entire year. I have a lot of friends in Valencia, so the choice seemed obvious, but it actually took a lot for me to make the decision. I was originally going to go to Alcalá de Henares, but the program there just looked more and more wrong the longer I looked. So I decided to make a change. I looked at a University in Madrid…no. I looked a University in Barcelona…no. Eventually, Valencia just presented itself as the perfect option, so I decided to take it. That being said, I have still had plenty of issues. Acceptance and Application issues are still plaguing me today, so I have to get a lot cleared up before I go. Either way, I am really excited and and ready to keep you all updated.
Looking back, I would say one of my greatest areas of improvement would have to be in French. When I started here at OU, I didn’t speak hardly a word of French. I knew the basic “oui, bonjour, croissant”, and the like, but I had basically nothing more than that. Then, I got to go on my first study abroad to Vichy, France, and I have seen my French abilities skyrocket. I most notably saw it in my 3000 level French classes this year. My professor, Julia Abramson, was a fantastic teacher who only helped me to get better. By the end of my second semester of this year, I felt incredibly confident in my ability to read and understand French. My speaking and writing still needs some work, but I am honestly very satisfied with my progress over these two years.
I didn’t come to Norman expecting to find authentic Colombian food or great entertainment. However, that is exactly what I found through the Colombian Student Association’s Colombia Night. I went to the night with a bunch of friends and a free ticket I got from a professor, and I had a great time. The food was delicious, despite the fact that everything tasted drowned in coconut. At the performance, there were so many colors, especially during the dances, I was almost overwhelmed. And even if one act did drone on and on about Gabriel García Márquez, it was super cool to learn even more about the author. Overall, I had a great time with good friends, good food, and a great show.
The most interesting course I got to take this semester was one not even taught by an OU professor. IAS 3003 “The Practice of Diplomacy” was a professional course based around the State Department. It was an in depth look into the structure of the foreign service and the policies of the State Department for the last two decades. The professor, Kristin Stewart, is the current Diplomat in Residence for our region. She has spent the last part of her life all over the world, from Panama to Senegal to Iraq, representing the United States as a member of the foreign service. She was a wealth of information and a gold mine of advice. I took the class anticipating to learn about the foreign service, but I learned that I was fascinated by the role and life of a foreign service officer. After taking that class, I am seriously considering going into the foreign service after I graduate.
This semester, I got to go to a truly fascinating lunch with an important figure in the inter-American community. Paulo Abrao came to the University to give a speech, but he also met with a few students before to eat lunch and discuss the topic in Spanish. Paulo is the Secretary-General of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, and he came to speak about the state of human rights in Western Hemisphere. He believed that much of the solution to solving human rights abuses in countries full of corruption, like Brazil, revolved around stimulating academic exchange and investment in all American countries. He said the Commission was doing good work, but it still has a lot of work to do.
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.