Category Archives: International Relevance

The Twin Impending Senses of Doom and Elation: Thoughts on International Travel

The other day, I dropped $1500 on a trip to Clermont-Ferrand, France. This summer, along with Associate Dean Rhonda Kyncl and the College of Arts and Sciences Leadership Scholars, I’ll be embarking on a two-and-a-half-week excursion to France (funded by the program, which is a pretty awesome perk that I couldn’t be more thankful for) to learn about the concept of virtue, especially as it relates to service abroad. I have to admit… I’m a lot more nervous to go than I thought that I would be. I’m flying internationally for the first time, but I’m also flying by myself out of Kansas City, which adds another layer of stress. I gave myself a 3-and-a-half-hour layover in Atlanta upon re-entry in to the United States to go through customs, I’ve already picked my seats, planned out what I’m going to do on the plane to distract myself from the fact that I’m flying over an enormous ocean on a flying metal bird of death in to a city that was the subject of recent terror attacks, and yet, I can’t shake the feeling that something will go wrong. I suspect that this isn’t an uncommon fear to have… that being said, it doesn’t make it any less real for me. The what-ifs keep swirling around my head: what if I didn’t give myself enough time somewhere to make my next flight? What if I arrive late and miss a plane? What if a meteor ends life on Earth? All of these are, of course, entirely natural and equally likely scenarios, which only adds to my stress level.

All of that being said, I also couldn’t be more excited for this trip. I am going with some of my absolute best friends, being taught by one of my favorite people on OU’s campus, and I get to attend a party hosted in the freaking Eiffel Tower (you read that right). We’ll be meeting with the mayor of the town we’re staying in, hiking around, and eating all the French cuisine that our stomachs can, well, stomach. Once I finally have my feet on the ground, I’ll be able to think about all of that. Until then, I’m just praying to whatever deities are out there that I arrive in one piece (and preferably not in a body bag).

A Mentoring Update

This year, the Global Engagement Fellowship decided to launch a mentoring program for its newest members, and so for the last few months, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of mentoring some of the best and brightest students that the University of Oklahoma has to offer. Below is a quick update on each of these outstanding individuals.

Lucy is killing the campus involvement game. She is one of the few freshmen members of The Oklahoma Group, which is an organization that provides free consulting services and development advice for non-profits in the Norman, Moore, and OKC areas; both her team lead and her fellow consultants rave about her abilities and her work ethic. Lucy was also just named as one of the Top 12 Most Outstanding Freshmen on OU’s campus as per the President’s Office, and a winner of the University College PACE Award. I’m looking forward to attending the ceremony to see her win it all. Lucy is currently looking forward to spending some weeks this summer in France and potentially interning for Speaker Ryan.

Just like her best friend Lucy, Hennessey is already a campus force to be reckoned with. This year, she started her very own Registered Student Organization, the Foreign Film Club, which strives to provide both domestic and international students the opportunity to watch high-quality foreign films and gorge themselves on free food… in my opinion, a worthy cause. Hen is also a member of the Undergraduate Student Congress, where she is an active member of the Ways and Means Committee, which appropriates over $600,000 every year to different student organizations across OU’s campus. She is also currently a pledge for Delta Gamma, which I’ve been told she enjoys. I’ll take her word for it. 😊

Noah is a verified Linguistic genius, and will also be joining Hennessey and I in the Undergrad Student Congress in the upcoming months (benefits of being the only person to file for your district’s seat)! He is, far and away, the international politics junkie of the group, and I’m quite thankful for his expertise. Unfortunately, Noah is usually writing disgustingly long papers, so he isn’t able to hang out with the group as much as we would all like him to, but such is life. Noah is also one of the leaders of the newly-minted Student Advisory Committee for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity within the College of International Studies, where he is making waves and working to ensure that all members of the CIS feel like a part of our larger community.

Madison Doyle (along with Hennessey) has done what I never could, which is pursue Arabic past the first class. Both she and Hen are planning on traveling to the University of Texas this summer to take an 8-wekk intensive (IN-TEN-SIVE) Arabic course, after which they will surely emerge either battle-weary or simply lifeless (I cannot stress show intense they’ve made this program sound). When she isn’t studying her alif baa (alphabet, which is about all I remember from ARAB 1115), Madison is also a member of the Sooner Freshmen Council, an organization of freshmen leaders on OU’s campus that I myself am particularly partial to.

Finally, Ryan and Lydia are both dominating their freshmen year. Fun fact… the two of them make up their freshmen class within their school (dramaturgy, under Weitzenhoffer), and both are working on dramaturging their first shows this semester. We can’t wait to see them both. In addition to participating in the School of Drama and all of their slightly cult-like rituals, Ryan is also a Gaylord student, which I respect beyond words. The world needs more good journalists, especially when the current administration is calling into question the very nature of journalism and reporting. Lydia is a member of the Crimson Chords, OU’s only student-led, co-ed a cappella group, an organization that I was a part of long ago. I can’t wait to see her next concert.

Seriously, these people are the best.

An International Trump

What does Trump think he’s doing? I mean, honestly dude, you can’t just call the leader of Taiwan without expecting China to be ALL OVER YOU. Do you want World War III? This is how we get World War III. Trump’s lack of ability to understand even the most basic tenants of diplomacy is really going to make foreign affairs rough for America in these upcoming years. If there really is a destabilization of NATO and other similar alliances, there is going to be a place for Russia, China, and their allies to move in and upset Western democracy as the global ideologic hegemon. While that might not be the worst thing, it will almost certainly involve an unnecessary loss of life. Trump doesn’t seem to understand the gravitas of his situation, nor is he able to comprehend how his personal actions can possibly affect the lives of our service men and women overseas, in addition to our lives here at home. International Relations and International Studies professors are going to need to write new books and teach new classes about what it means to work in the Foreign Service under a Trump presidency, because this is certainly not the world that we thought we lived in. I am perhaps most scared for our European allies who rely on our support in order to stave off threats that are geographically closer to those nations and who are now being told that that support comes with a price. Sooner or later, Trump is going to need to recognize that diplomacy, and governance, is decidedly different from the art of business. However, if his success in the latter is any indicator, he may not learn his lesson regarding the former anytime soon.

The Electoral College

Among its democratic peers, the United States is unique in its use of the Electoral College in order to separate voters from the true power of choosing the President. Nations like Britain and France have far more equitable systems of voting for their highest offices, while the Untied States utilizes an institution that gives a voter in Wyoming 3.6 times the weight in the Electoral College that a voter in California gets. This was the topic of one of my Informed Citizens Discussion Group meetings, and I found it to be particularly interesting. According to members of my group, our Western European allies use a system close to, if not precisely, a national popular vote to elect their chiefs of state. These nations also have a higher voter turnout than the United States, and their campaign periods are shorter and more informative. It really got me thinking about the potential impacts of eliminating the Electoral College. Would we have an increased voter turnout? I could certainly see that being the case in places like California or Oklahoma wherein one political party dominates the winner-take-all system. Absent that institution, maybe each state would have a more diverse electorate? It would also force candidates to moderate their stances in order to appeal to voters everywhere. How would our primary system work? I really think that looking at the success of other electoral systems around the world might be beneficial for the United States as we strive to move away from a College that was created in order to protect slave states and to separate the people from making the important decision they possibly can.

Becoming Linguistically Aware

This semester, I took my second “Beginning” language course at OU (1st semester was Arabic, this semester was Spanish), and its been fascinating to study two very different languages with vastly different linguistic features.

Aside from the learning of the language though, perhaps one of the most interesting things that I’ve started to notice around me is who native speakers make the same minor errors when speaking English, which is very obviously informed by the grammatical syntax of their native language. My teachers for both classes were native speakers of their respective language and as we learned more about their language, it was clear how complex English could be to a non-native speaker. English is not a language that makes sense. At all. Its full of exceptions and irregular conjugations (when there are conjugations) and structures that make absolutely no sense; learning other languages only made me more aware of that fact and far more appreciative of non-native speakers who are trying to navigate the linguistic minefield that is the English language. Arabic is never a language that I would call simple, but at least it follows the rules it lays out.

Commander in Chaos

No one really ever expected Donald Trump to get here, most of all my Informed Citizens Discussion Group. During our last meeting of the year, we considered the implications of a Trump presidency on international relations and foreign policy, and I think we all left the room a little scared. There might honestly be nothing worse for our global presence than electing Trump, which is primarily for two reasons.

Firstly, electing Trump would make America the laughing-stock of the world. He is a bumbling buffoon who offends almost any minority population he meets, and his candidacy only shows how radicalized and xenophobic Americans can be.

Secondly, as our Chief Diplomat, Trump has already expressed admiration for authoritarian leaders like Putin and extolled violence against Muslim families and other minority groups. There would be no worse enemy to America than itself if Trump were elected, because he lacks tact and diplomatic skills in his dealings with leaders.

That being said, my ICDG group was also reasonably sure that Trump wouldn’t get elected. With un-approval ratings of the general population at roughly 2/3, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be in the Oval anytime soon. That being said, his candidacy does raise concerns that we have to be weary of internationally.

Environmental Refugees

In my IAS 2003 class, we’ve spent the last week discussing a really interesting topic: namely, as global warming continues to impact the ecological and environmental health of the Earth, should those affected and displaced by things like rising sea levels be able to claim refugee status? This kind of climate change is called “anthropogenic climate change”, used to indicate that the shifts in the environment are a direct result of actions undertaken by humans. In this case, it usually indicates the actions of countries with large manufacturing and personal transport industries that contribute to fossil fuel usage are negatively impacting the lives of individuals in countries with higher rates of poverty (usually those found on the coast).

According to the UN, a refugee means “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” I would argue that the concept of the environmental refugee can function  within this definition. Granted, the persecution these individuals face might not be direct, but the impact on their lives is present nonetheless. Due to their position as poverty-stricken individuals living on the coasts, many individuals can have their homes swept away due to the actions of other nations. Indeed, if one country attacked another with weapons designed to change the landscape and decimate places of residence, those who were forced out of their homes would generally be considered refugees. Anthropogenic climate change is no different. The actions of one country, or its subsidiaries, directly influences the geographic landscape of another part of the world, leading to a worsening of conditions that were not brought about, or enjoyed, by the inhabitants.

I will agree that the practical implication of labeling environmental refugees as actual refugees is certainly complex. However, that does not mitigate the obligation that nations like the United States have to mitigate their disproportionate pollution and usage of the Earth’s atmosphere.

 

Singing in Arabic

A month or two ago, my Arabic professor asked me if I wanted to perform a song, in Arabic, at the Arabic talent show that she was putting on for the Department. With the show a month away, and the promise of extra credit weighing heavily upon my worried soul, I decided to say yes; the resulting adventure was certainly a whirlwind.

I was paired up with two native Arabic speakers (Aicha and Kamel), and we met once a week for the next month or so as they tried to teach me the lyrics and melodies to the songs El Helwa Di and Foghna Hael (sad attempts at transliteration, I know). Working with these two was honestly one of the best experiences I had in my Arabic class. Getting to mesh learning with music/singing (one of my passions) was a great, but very challenging, experience. Kamel, a fantastic oud player, constantly amazed me with his ability to play music without notes (he watched a video once or twice, then was able to perfectly recreate the song), and Aicha’s patience in going over words with me was certainly Herculean.

Finally, the night of the show was upon us. My Arabic class performed immediately before us (it was a good effort for a class of 15 beginners), and then we were up. Months of hard work and practice went into the two-minute performance, and I have to say, we didn’t sound half bad. Granted, no one was expecting much from me… an Arab 1115 student taking on an entire song in a language that I hardly knew isn’t going to be held accountable for much. That being said, I was rather proud of the little group that I was a part of. I got a chance to work with a diverse group on a project that was close to my heart. I’d love to do it again.