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The Great Convergence by Richard Baldwin

My honors college reading group is reading The Great Convergence by Richard Baldwin. A few things about this book and about this reading group have stood out to me.

  1. Economic gains and losses are surprisingly concentrated in just a few nations. For example, the first wave of globalization increased wealth for mostly just seven nations.
  2. While a lot of Americans do not think about the fall of the American kingdom, all empires rise and fall. The thought of another replacing America as the world’s sole superpower is intriguing and important.
  3. The physical form of things can have such a huge economic impact. But containerization of goods had an immense effect on the shipping process and enabled greater time and cost efficiency in trade.

“The Crisis of Modern Turkey” by Soner Cagaptay

On 9/25/2017, hosted a Teach-In following the theme of the Strength and Fragility of Constitutions. The 2pm session was hosted by Soner Cagaptay and entitled “The Crisis of Modern Turkey.” Cagaptay took the audience through a brief history of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since he rose to prominence in 2002 and became president in 2014. Since then, Turkey has been transformed into a state of political crisis. Turkey is one of the most politically polarized nations on the face of the earth. People either believe Turkey was hell before Erdoğan and is now heaven, or was heaven before Erdoğan and is now hell. Oddly enough, 73% of Turkey’s wealth is in the areas that didn’t vote for Erdoğan. It has been suspect that elections have been unfair, which would be the first rigged elections in Turkey’s recent modern history. Cagaptay theorizes that Erdoğan acts largely because of the circumstances of his childhood: his family was a poor, religious family that felt marginalized. Erdoğan has been attempting to shape people in his own image now as a conservative, Middle Eastern, Islamic society. Erdoğan has been locking up dissidents and almost must continue to do so, because if he stops, he will be both persecuted and prosecuted. While of of this political strife is happening Turkey has simultaneously been enjoying a period of economic prosperity. There has been an increase in foreign investment, improvements in infrastructure, and lower levels of infant mortality. So Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will have a mixed legacy for his political failings and economic successes. If elections continue to be the means by which Erdoğan is able to maintain power, his reign will end eventually as the people who were raised under his rule are less and less likely to vote for him. Then his legacy can be more fully decided.

One especially intriguing thought is this: Democracies don’t die with a bang. The start of a democracy is clear but the end is so gradual you don’t notice it. One day you wake up and it’s not there. It’s died with a whimper because democracy is so fragile.

Aarhus

Today was my last day in Aarhus.
I can’t believe how time flew by.
I passed with a 7/12 on my final oral examination for Viking Age Scandinavia, and I can honestly say I deserved a 4.
I am so glad that I chose this program over an OU program because it was fun being the only American in my entire class. We had about 45 students, and most of them were Danish. We had two Canadians, two Australians, a Singaporean, and me the American. I was afraid for the first few days that Danes were really closed off like I had heard a few people say and I wouldn’t get to know any of them, because they talked amongst themselves in Danish as soon as we reached a break in lecture. However, a few Danes reached out to the international students and then more and more Danish students were reaching out to us. Danish people are really obsessed with their “hygge” or coziness, and some of them find hygge in reading books by the fire or going out with friends for coffee or beer. What I love most about the Danish people I met was their humor and kindness. They made me feel at home, and I will always have a place for Denmark in my heart.

What I learned in Europe so Far

  • I felt that some French people did not necessarily want to speak English, even if they were able to. They are French, they are in France, and they would rather speak French. Since I was traveling with my parents, we sometimes spoke Chinese. I felt that when we did, people were not as upset that we didn’t speak French but were happy that we at least spoke English.
  • It’s a small world. I talked with some Indian New Zealanders in Paris for about 10 minutes, then three days later I ran into them in London as they were getting on a bus I was leaving.
  • It’s much easier to be present in the moment when you don’t have any cellular data and normally suffer a bit of a snapchat addiction.
  • In David Foster Wallace’s speech “This is Water,” he says that culture is all around us but we don’t notice it much. I do know that America has a culture and has customs, but I think it is easier to notice them when you experience a culture that is different than America’s. I’ve now realized how enthusiastic, outgoing, and loud us Americans are compared to Danes.
  • Travel is not an itch you can scratch and have it disappear. Traveling to new places makes the desire to travel to even more places burn even brighter.
  • Religion isn’t so much just a religion. Sometimes it’s more of a culture. I’ve met Catholics who never attend mass and don’t believe in hell. I’ve met Lutherans who don’t believe in God. There are barely any Mormons in Aarhus, and I suspect that a part of that is because how irreligious most people are, but many people religiously smoke and drink. The tour guide in Copenhagen said people drank an average of 80 liters per year there.
  • I thought I was different in Oklahoma since there are not  many Chinese people. But in my class here in Aarhus, I am the only American. I am one of two STEM students. (The other one is an engineering student from Singapore, and was the only other Asian funnily enough.) Most people there are Danish, blonde, and study prehistoric archeology. One Dane kindly pointed out that there was a Canadian in the class as well, but I am fairly sure that he lives 30  hours away from Oklahoma. I like being the only Chinese, the only pre-med, and the only American. It helped me feel how the United States really is only 5% of the world’s population. It’s hard to realize that when I’ve grown up in the US my whole life.

Cost of American University for International Students

In English Composition II, we have to write four papers over a societal issue. I have two classmates who are writing about the high cost of tuition for international students in American universities. I have read at least one paper from both of them. Both students were good at explaining how international have to pay more in tuition and fees and have fewer opportunities to work since they are not American citizens. Both were good at showing the reader how international face additional struggles. International students can be homesick, they don’t always have a strong support system, they can face culture shock, and often they are taking university level courses in their second or third language. However, something that bothered me about both of my classmates’ projects is that they don’t provide any solutions. They both call for more compassionate treatment towards international students by lowering education costs. But I fail to see how we will do this. International students disproportionately study business and STEM, which is beneficial for the United States as we are in a STEM major shortage as our economy rapidly shifts. However, why would the government or schools want to lower the cost of education for international students? What incentive do they have? The stereotype is that international students have a lot of money from their parents, and many don’t; however, there will always be countless international students whose parents can afford American education. There will also always be international students whose parents cannot really afford American education, but sacrifice everything anyways for their child to receive their education. College is a business, and international students are a good demographic for charging a lot a money. What would have to change to make the lives of international students easier?

Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye

Our second book that we read in our reading group was Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye. In this book, we follow 14-year-old Liyana on her move from St. Louis, Missouri to Palestine. What stood out to me the most from this book was the feeling of going to a new place that you don’t exactly belong to. Liyana’s father is a native Palestinian who moved to the states for medical school, but Liyana spent her whole life in the United States. When she moved overseas, she had her mom, her dad, and her brother, but she did not adjust well when she first arrived. She did not understand the cultural differences and wanted to continue interacting with the world the same way she had her entire life.

When I was seven, my parents told me we were going to China to visit for five weeks. I had never been to China before, and I did not fluently speak Chinese. Remembering the culture shock I experienced in China, I can relate to Liyana’s move. Something that Liyana conveyed in a truthful and real way was that when you’re traveling with a few people who share your worldview, traveling isn’t as lonely compared to being the only one who shares your same approach to life.

Liyana felt like she did not know this version of her father, who now followed the social norms of Palestine fairly closely at times. Relating this back to personality psychology, this brings up the old question: what makes a person’s personality their personality? Personality is not always stable across time and across situations, so maybe people have exactly have a set personality, but rather an ability to adapt to different situations. I would consider this as something good that can come of out traveling: just learning how to adapt to different situations and cultures.

Chinese New Year

I attended the Chinese New Year celebration hosted by the Chinese Language Club. Instead of just practicing how to say different Chinese foods as I do in Chinese class, I got to eat the food. The variety of dishes included dumplings, sticky rice balls, eggs with tomatoes, and eggplant. I was reminded of how much our senses of taste and smell are linked to memory. While eating the food, I remembered eating authentic Chinese food back in my home in Bartlesville and even growing up in Ohio. The room was filled with chatter, some in English and some in Chinese. Students and adults alike were playing Chinese chess. The intoxicating smells of the dishes came together in this glorious olfactory symphony.

 

Good food reminds me of good times and I am grateful that OU provided me a way to experience this good food to remind me of home. It also makes me look forward to eating yummy food when I go to China next spring.

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

The Breadwinner is the first book of two books my reading group is reading for this semester. It is a children’s book set in Afghanistan when the Taliban maintains much control over the daily lives of the people. Something that this book set out to accomplish was to remind us what we have in common with other people. This book did an excellent job of showing me how the main character, Parvana, and her family are not just some distant people completely unlike myself. Even though this story is fictional, Parvana felt very real to me. The dominant narrative I hear about everything and everyone in the Middle East is that they one homogenous, distant, foreign, and violent mass. Granted, that is not the only narrative I hear, but it still one that has shaped my perception about Afghanistan in a very real way. Parvana dealt with situations completely unfamiliar to me, such as digging up human bones for money, watching prosthetic limbs be sold regularly in the street market, and not knowing whether or not her family members were alive. But at the same time, she experienced things that felt more familiar to me, such as being jealous of her sister’s hair, wanting to have more freedom, and admiring her father.

 

Children’s books are so simple to read, but sometimes the lessons they present, big and small, remind you of how simple it can be to learn things.

Religious Studies Student Panel

I attended a discussion panel hosted by the Religious Studies Association this past Wednesday. It was a refreshing reminder to me of how different religions can bring peace, meaning, and happiness into people’s lives. On the panel were Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, and Muslim students. All of them promoted interfaith discourse and exploration. All of them exhibited values of kindness, compassion, faith in both God and humanity, and tolerance. They talked about how religion overlaps with culture, relationships, and politics, and how it doesn’t. They made me realize how incredibly hard it must be to keep your religious beliefs in a society where you are the minority. Some of the students talked about having knee-jerk reactions to Christians for a while, but settling down and finding a deeper understanding and peace. The panel was supposed to be about how religious views can affect views on social justice, but what stuck with me was how fundamental religion can be to a person’s identity. Religion can provide a sense of belonging and community, but not being a part of the dominant religion within a community can lead to feelings of ostracization. For that reason, I am glad that OU is a fairly diverse place with different student organizations for different religions.

Informed Citizens Discussion Group

I joined Informed Citizens Discussion Group (ICDG) this semester because one of the moderators is an upperclassmen National Merit student who gave me a tour of OU when I was still in high school. So far I am extremely happy with my decision to join. The group is small, but every individual is intelligent, passionate, and thoughtful. Every week when I go, I am challenged to consider world, national, and local issues from different perspectives.

One of the best discussions we have had was surrounding Dr. Landis and Syria. Dr. Joshua Landis is the Director of the Center of Middle East Studies here at the University of Oklahoma. He entered our discussion because of an interesting article about him on Huffington Post entitled “Assad’s Man in Oklahoma.” The article seemed a little unfair to Dr. Landis to say the least, but it’s true that not everyone agrees with Dr. Landis’s approach. Landis is anti-interventionist as he sees a repeating pattern throughout history that he called the great sorting out. Post World War II Europe saw this pattern when people of different nationalities, religions, and other markers of positionality were basically forced out so that people were with their own similar group members. Landis acknowledges this is an awful process that is extremely long and extremely bloody, but he simply sees no way out of it.

Many in my ICDG agreed that the United States should not have intervened in the first place. The debate now is that since we have already intervened, what do we do now? Even anti-interventionists can see that Assad is not the ideal ruler by any stretch of the imagination. But would withdrawing and allowing Assad the victory at the very least help end this long, bloody process of the great sorting out?

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