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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?

Realizing the Humanity of Refugees

It’s only natural to have a fear of the unknown. Grouping things as scary or dangerous in our minds has actually benefited human survival. The psychological mechanisms that allow for bias, prejudice, and fear of the different and unknown told our distant ancestors to stay safe and survive. However, today in modern American, the majority of us do not face life and death situations out in the wild. We deal with modern problems such as chronic stress from work, debt from school, back pain from sitting in the office for too long, and irritation from dealing with politics. So we don’t have the need to constantly engage with our fears that once kept us safe.

We need to recognize those fears and reorganize our thoughts.

Unfortunately, we sometimes can’t help falling back on that fear. Especially when it comes to fearing for our safety. We don’t listen to numbers or statistics or just plain facts. We create strong associations with negative events and want to do everything we can to prevent them.

It might seem like I am just rambling thus far, so allow me to present a more concrete example. People are more afraid of airplanes than they are of cars. You are far more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. But people have more fear surrounding planes because when a plane crashes, it’s horrendous. It’s nightmarish and gruesome and overwhelmingly tragic. People die in car accidents all the time, but it doesn’t get the same coverage on media and it doesn’t elicit the same fear.

My ultimate point about this fear is that people I’ve talked to, people I know, and people I look up to can all fall into the trap of being afraid of refugees. They can be afraid of the possibility of refugees being terrorists or the fear of refugees killing people. Yes, a handful refugees have killed people, but people in general have killed people. Refugees are no more dangerous than people we encounter in everyday life. In fact, immigrants commit crimes at much lower rates than native-born citizens. As Justin Trudeau says, everything has risks, but that should not mean that we don’t take in refugees because there are risks. The risks are really minimal; as explained by John Oliver, more people are killed by peanuts and by people named Mike than are killed by refugees. In America especially, more people are killed by gun violence by native-born citizens. You are far more likely to be killed by your neighborhood police officer than by a refugee, but that doesn’t mean that you should live in a perpetual state of fear of either. Fear shouldn’t rule your life.

It is only natural to think when people are different than us, they are more scary and more homogenous. But all of the millions of refugees are just people who want a basic human need: safety. It’s just easier to think of a mass migration of refugees as a threat because the fear in our minds over inflates the risk of taking in refugees. Yes, refugees have the possibility of bringing danger, just like every other group of people in the world. But it is important to keep in mind, they are no more dangerous than any other group of people in the world.

As the child of two proud immigrants, it saddens me to hear all of the hate-filled, fear-mongering rhetoric surrounding this election cycle. Everyone fears death, demise, lack of safety, and failure. It is wrong to capitalize on those fears for votes at the expense of blaming, targeting, and ostracizing an already marginalized group. Having a scapegoat won’t solve everything.

The U.S. had a hand in the displacement and endangering of people. We said we had the resources to do good in the Middle East. We thought we were doing good by attacking. We say we have resources to bomb, to send troops, and to destroy people’s livelihoods. I don’t think we realized the ramifications our well-intentioned actions would have. But now we stand in the middle of a human crisis that we had a hand in creating, and we say our doors our closed to refugees. We say we don’t have the resources to help them, we want to ensure our own security, we need to protect our own.

Granted, it is very possible to stretch a nation’s resources thin by accepting large numbers of refugees, just as some other countries already have. But the United States has not even gotten close to that point. We are such a large nation that has accepted so few refugees that I’ve heard it described as being akin to letting three more people into the a college football stadium of  80,000 people.

Both America and Germany are nations where the sentiment surrounding refugees is split about 50/50. It’s interesting that in America and Germany, people in areas without refugees are more afraid of refugees than people whose lives are integrated with refugees. I think the best way to conquer our fear is exposure therapy. If you’re afraid of water, learn to swim. If you’re afraid of refugees, learn the real story behind refugees and see the actual people behind the label. Know that they want to have jobs, protect their families, and find safety.

We once rejected Jewish refugees in the wake of the Holocaust. We now reject Syrian, Afghan, and other refugees in the wake of human crisis. History does not remember our fear of Jewish refugees fondly.

I certainly do not think history will remember our fear of Syrian refugees very fondly either.Rea

Reflections: Presidential Dream Course Lecture: Bodies of Color, Bodies of Sorrow: Resistant Mourning, Becoming-with, and Coalitional Politics

Dr. Ortega talked about our monuments to Martin Luther King Jr. and the rest of the civil rights movement actually being used as a sign of problems in the past and believing the present is good. I couldn’t help being heartbroken at that thought. She was right. Our MLK boulevards are in dilapidated areas. People are losing their lives to this very day. But we as a nation look back at the past as being in the past. I believe that so much of this hindering of progress is due to our own desire for comfort. We don’t want to see the facts and the atrocious state of our “progress”. So we can choose to remain persistent in our ignorance in the face of facts, evidence, and countless narratives. We can blame other people for their problems, we can blame the aesthetics of their skin and their choice to clothe themselves in a hoodie in the dead of night. But I learned in my psychology class that a huge problem is unconscious biases, biases that have evolutionarily helped the survival of humans, but now these biases are in the way of everyone living out the so-called American dream of freedom and equality. I’ll even admit that I myself have unconscious biases, but we need to have a larger conversation about everything without just yelling at the other side. While some civilians are arguing, other civilians are dying.

 

We forget the humanity of people we don’t see. There is a lack of transparency and understanding. Dr. Ortega said that we don’t really care whenever “those illegals” pick the strawberries we eat, take care of our children, and build the houses we live in. We view them simply as “cheap labor”. Dr. Ortega showed pictures of the belongings found on rotting, mummified, or fresh corpses of people who died in the heat while trying to build a better life for themselves and their families in the United States. The invisible aspect of those pictures were the bodies, the families, and the dead dreams. She pointed out that many of these people we only hear referred to as “illegals” are simply walking towards the land that was once taken away from them. With all of the supposedly kind, generous people in the United States, how does this xenophobic rhetoric seep its way into the daily vocabulary we are all exposed to? Why do people buy into the lie that foreigners are bad for the country? The birth rate of the United States isn’t even enough to sustain the population, so from a logistic standpoint, immigration can’t be a bad thing. And immigrants are less likely to perpetrate crime when compared to American-born citizens.

 

The melancholia Dr. Ortega stresses actually helps me see the perspective of people on the other side of this argument. If grief is saying goodbye to something you love, and melancholia is unending grief that can’t be resolved, and understanding the desperate state of people across the nation and world causes melancholia, then I can see why people would want to say that there’s not a problem. It helps those people enjoy their lives without the interruption of unending sadness. People just want to be happy. The only problem I have with this argument is that other people are being hurting at the expense of the mass of people willing themselves into ignorance in an effort to simply lessen their own pain.

In my own personal experience, the becoming-with state that Dr. Ortega endorses is truly the only way to a better understanding of how to build a better tomorrow. I don’t want to call it brainwashing, but I really bought into the main ideas and beliefs that I heard growing up in my predominately homogenous community of conservative, middle-class, Christian Americans. The way I changed my views on things was simply by reading and talking until I stopped judging and then simply saw the validity and humanity of those different from myself, even if I didn’t completely understand or agree. The reading and talking was driven only by a tiny voice of curiosity I had, and I wish more people had it. Then more exploration and exposure and acceptance and conversations could possibly take place.

 

Something that really gives me hope is the sheer number of students in attendance of that talk who were willing to intelligently question the status quo, respectfully engage with others, and show their youthful passion about topics salient to the world that us college students will eventually shape one day.

Study Abroad Fair

I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of options of education abroad opportunities available at the Study Abroad Fair. I actually did decide that I want to go to the Confucius Institute for my semester abroad. The lady working at that table was very nice, and even lied and said my Chinese was good. She gave me the most adorable bookmark that said “I’m very” in Chinese and she stamped a picture of an ox underneath, as the ox is my Chinese zodiac sign based upon my birth year. In Chinese it is “wo hen niu” which loosely translates into “I am very awesome.” I showed my parents, and they agreed.

Unfortunately, I don’t at all know where I want to go for a summer abroad this year. Hopefully somewhere that only requires English. I have been studying Chinese on my own, with my parents, and with my Language Exchange partner. I’ve learned that there’s virtually no way I could learn another language.

I learned that if you know what you want, people are more likely to help you. I knew I wanted to spend a semester in China, so everyone representing a program in China was eager to help me and give me information. I was not sure where I wanted to go for my summer trip, so people were more reluctant to talk with me for long or give me informational pamphlets.

All in all, the study abroad fair was nice. I learned that there are plenty of different options available and that I should just keep an open mind!

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