It’s dead week. I never liked the namesake of the week before finals. Which brings me to the frightening realization that it is the second to last week of the semester. I cannot believe that my freshman year in college is nearly half over. I am oddly reminded—oddly because I never thought I would get much out of the poetry unit in 11th grade English—of a snippet of Andrew Marvell’s poem, To His Coy Mistress, which describes time as a “winged chariot hurrying near.” In the same way, I feel like college is passing by like a flying chariot. I’m on for the ride, enjoying the breeze and trying not fall off.
By far, my highlight this semester has been my involvement with Christians on Campus. From the on-campus Bible studies, to the weekly college meetings, to the dinner and fellowship in alumni’s homes, I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of getting connected to Christ and other Christians. Without such a support system, I would have fallen off the “winged chariot” by week 3.
I also have enjoyed being a Global Engagement Fellow this semester. It has been both exciting and a little overwhelming. Because I’m part of the first class of Global Engagement Fellows, I feel like a guinea pig. I don’t have another group of students to look up to for an example. I can’t read their blogs and see what being a Global Engagement Fellow is like and what to expect in the coming years. But I guess that’s part of the fun of being on a winged chariot. You can’t ever know what to expect, but you try to make the most of every flying moment.
This semester I played piano at a wedding that to me is a big testament to the fact that globalization is real. Kaie, from Estonia, married Junior, from Mexico. One hundred years ago, I doubt that a marriage between an Estonian and a Mexican had ever occurred in history. Travel has really enabled the most diverse peoples to come together. I realized that their marriage is a defiance of cultural differences and a strengthening of the intrinsic unity among all humans. It gives me hope that cooperation on the global scale is very possible.
After being in two classes this semester about globalization, I have been trying to evaluate how globally engaged I am and musing on ways I can become more globally engaged. Then I thought about my house. I live off campus in a house with five other girls. Together, we are a globally engaged house. The diversity of skin color, culture, language, and life experiences in my house is beautiful. I live with two Chinese girls—one from Northern China and one from Southern China—an African American, a half-Korean, and a part Cherokee. Even though we are completely different, we have become so close. In fact, our cultural differences have made the fact that we all live together pretty incredible. That’s not to say that we don’t ever have problems. I have realized that I have some weird mannerisms that drive my housemates crazy, just as I have been driven crazy by some of their habits. But that’s what being in a globally engaged house does. It’s only until you get out of your comfortable, cultured bubble and start living with a diverse group of people day in and day out that you begin to learn about yourself and realize how different people can be. Just in this one semester, I have become so close to each of my housemates. In fact, in the next year, four of them are either going to graduate or go back to their home country. I don’t know how I’m going to survive college without them. My house has become my family.
This semester I had the unique, incredible, once-in-a-lifetime-but-hopefully-not-once-in-a-lifetime experience to have an exchange student from China as my roommate. Esther, who is studying English from Beijing Normal University, has been such a joy to me this semester. Not only does she help me decipher my pages and pages of Chinese homework, but she has changed me as a person. Our cultural differences and her English idiom mistakes always keep me on my toes. I never fail to be surprised (in a good way) by Esther. But instead of going on and on, I’ll just let you watch the digital story I created about our adventures.
As a part of the requirement of being a Global Engagement Fellow, I have to become involved in an international group on campus. I haven’t yet become a part of an international club because I’ve been involved in so many other groups on campus, but I’m looking forward to joining the Chinese Language Club in the spring. When I was looking for a group, I wanted to join a club with other Chinese speakers looking to practice speaking Chinese and promoting Chinese language learning on campus. I emailed the president of the club and found the club on Facebook to get a better idea of what they do. They had a moon festival earlier in the semester and also visited an elementary school to talk about studying Chinese. The club sounds like a fit for me, and I am looking forward to becoming more involved next semester.
Recently in our unit on giving back in my class Becoming Globally Engaged, we were asked to reflect on our perception of volunteer trips, charities, and other forms of developmental aid. I have never been on a volunteer trip before, but I know many people who have gone abroad, contributed to a community in some kind of way, interacted with local peoples, and came home with a self-edifying experience to add to a resume. In most cases, the goals of these trips have been less about the actual amount of change that is being made in the lives of impoverished peoples and more about gaining the experiences that help you learn more about the world, and give you something that looks appealing to a potential employer. These things are not necessarily bad, but I don’t think that they serve the purpose which they are supposed to–helping the developing world in the long-term. So, before going through our unit on giving back, I was a little hesitant to get involved in international aid programs, because I thought doing so was actually kind of selfish and did not initiate any long-term change in the world. I realized there was a need in the developing world, but I did not know the best and most effective way of really causing positive change, and so I just avoided the issue. I didn’t think there was much I could do besides giving up my whole future to work in a destitute village in the heart of Africa, which I was not prepared to do.
But in class, I was surprised. A TED talk about traditional aid failing initiated the discussion. Themes such as failure, learning, and long-term change made me consider again ways in which I can help out in the international community. Even in small things, such as raising awareness or buying the more trustworthy brand, can sometimes be more efficient than spending two weeks in Africa repainting the same unoccupied school. As a class we researched and found better aid organizations that worked with local peoples, emphasized learning and long-term change, and admitted failure to make progress. So as I look forward, I feel equipped in my criteria for international aid. I found some organizations that are causing positive long-term change, organizations that I can support with my words and my dollars. Further, I realized that even if I cannot even go abroad or give directly, I can change other people’s views of aid through social media, and inspire another person to do their little part in changing the world.
One of the reasons that I decided to come to OU was because of its strong international exposure. From excellent study abroad opportunities to diverse international organizations and events on campus, OU has nearly all the international experiences the world can offer. One of the international groups I’m most interested in becoming involved with is OU Cousins. I love international students. My mother is an ESL teacher for adults and I have met her students on multiple occasions. They always love to meet and get to know Americans, and I also love to talk to them. Having been abroad in a foreign country with a foreign language, I can relate to the constant confusion, communication difficulty, and sense of homelessness. In addition, I love to learn about other peoples’ cultures and mental make-up. Because I’m learning Chinese and love Chinese culture, getting to know an international student would be a unique opportunity for me to practice Chinese and understand China’s psyche. In exchange, I hope to expose them to American culture and give them “the American Experience.” Ultimately, I hope to study abroad in China and be fully immersed in the language and culture. And in doing so, I hope to be a positive ambassador of the United States and OU as I travel abroad. I honestly can’t wait to actually go to China and see my Chinese fluency really improve. If I only could have one of the benefits of international groups on campus, I would choose to gain language practice. However, language practice goes hand in hand with foreign friends, which is my close second.
As you can probably tell already, I am really excited to travel the world and study abroad. This is the third of many reflections or posts that are about studying abroad. Hear me out.
Having been abroad this past summer to Europe, I was able to get over a lot of my fears of traveling abroad. I conquered fears such as cultural norms (accidentally kissing the wrong person on the wrong cheek), food differences (not having access to my necessities—peanut butter and Cheez-it’s), living situations (no AC, awful public bathrooms), not being able to communicate (saying I’m pregnant instead of I’m embarrassed). And I did find myself in situations where I kissed someone wrong, or was craving peanut butter, or couldn’t sleep at night because it was too hot, but I came back alive. In fact, those seemingly painful, embarrassing, “squeezing” experiences made my overall experience more colorful and memorable. So I don’t have many fears about adjusting to culture; in fact I look forward to those aspects of studying abroad.
What I do fear in studying abroad is homesickness. After the first few fast-paced weeks, homesickness is going to come around and hit me hard. I’ve had a taste of homesickness already, being a college student only 3 and a half hours away from home. I can only imagine the fallout of being a 13 and a half hour plane ride away. My best support system in college has been a group of friends to support me who are going through (or have been through) the same things I am going through. Similarly, I think the best thing I can do to prevent severe homesickness is to develop relationships in the initial weeks before homesickness sets in, so I have someone to turn to when it does. Not only will this encourage me during my low times, but also afford me the opportunity to forge lasting companionships with people who are completely different from me culturally, but can still relate to all the same human emotions.
During class a couple months ago, Jaci Gandenberger, our fantastic teacher and coordinator for the Global Engagement Fellowship at OU, brought in a panel of international students to talk about their experiences of coming to a different society, and how they felt being the “other” or “outsider.” I was impressed by the diversity of perspectives present, even just on the OU campus. I was surprised, and then upset that I was surprised, that there are so many perspectives different from my own. Of course not everyone thinks like me! But to be confronted with those ideas on home soil, in the place where I feel most comfortable and confident with my own views, I felt almost like an outsider. But then I felt ashamed to hear that one of the panelists felt more like an outsider in the United States than in other countries abroad. I realized that I have a strong culture and perspective that is exclusive of certain people and is very judgmental. I then realized that whenever I am around people whose views, culture, and mannerisms differ from my own, I tend to feel like an outsider. Having grown up in a fairly conservative, Christian home and attended a small, Christian private school, I have not been frequently exposed to differing views. I realized that this could be a significant barrier to me as I study abroad, keeping me from freely and comfortably interacting with people who are different from me, an indispensable requirement to any aspect of life. Abroad or at home, being sensitive to and accepting the fact that not everyone’s perspective will match my own is, in my opinion, one of the first and most crucial steps in becoming globally engaged. In fact, I look forward to studying abroad, because I know that by immersing myself in an environment where I am the outsider, I will gain new perspectives and learn to properly interact with people and accept their views.
For my class Understanding the Global Community, we watched Rose George’s TED talk called, Let’s Talk Crap, Seriously. It’s really worth watching—watch it now! I found her speech particularly inspiring, because I gave a very similar performance for National History Day when I was in 8th grade. Initially, when I began to explore the innovation of the toilet that changed history (my topic for that year’s competition) I was reluctant to talk about the toilet in front of an audience, something that seemed inappropriate and awkward. But as I did further research, especially into the state of sanitation today, I was absolutely stunned by what I discovered about the pitiful state of sanitation around the world. I realized that thousands of children under the age of 5 were dying daily of diarrhea. I wondered why I had never heard about any of these issues before, and why there did not seem to be any progress being made in spreading proper sanitation facilities to the third world. Then I came across a book by Ben Fawcett called The Last Taboo. I was intrigued by his book and sent him an email asking him a few questions. His response, in which he applauded me for helping to open the door on the global sanitation crisis, made it clear to me that the fight toward proper sanitation is in raising awareness and “talking crap,” as Rose George puts it. The reason that little progress has been made toward sanitation goals is that nobody talks about it, so nobody knows about it, so nobody cares about it. When this came to light, I became passionate about poop, and began giving my 10-minute talk on toilets at my local library, the city water service department, and my home town’s ECOfest. In fact, my talk about crap earned first place at National History Day, a small victory in raising awareness about this issue. In later years at National History Day at my district’s level, other competitors and their families came up to me who remembered my performance and found out I won at nationals. I even reluctantly earned the nickname, “Toilet Girl.” Though the title was somewhat offensive, I secretly appreciated it because it opened the way for even more conversations about crap, and made the topic of sanitation a little less taboo. Since then, the unmentionable topic of toilets has become a small part of who I am, making those around me more aware, albeit at the cost of conversational comfort, of the urgent, shameful issue of sanitation.