Mentoring the Next Generation of GEFs

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This semester, I have had the immense pleasure of getting to mentor another new class of Global Engagement Fellows. In meeting new fellows this semester, I was struck by the feeling that I am getting old (okay, I may be just shy of 22, but in the context of the average age of college students, that’s not young). I am a senior this year. At many points over the course of this semester, I’ve found myself thinking “this is my last September in Norman,” “this is my last homecoming as an undergrad,” and, most recently, “this is my last Halloween as an OU student.” To me, these are sobering thoughts – I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at this wonderful university for the past three and a half years, and Norman has come to be my home. I’ve built up a close community of friends, and don’t feel ready at all for that community to split up and scatter across the country. Similarly, I don’t feel ready to leave behind my peaceful afternoons on campus, reading in a lounge in Farzaneh or writing a lab report in the Great Reading Room of the Bizz. Fortunately, I still have several more months of doing all of these things, but in speaking with new fellows, I’m reminded of how much of my time at OU has already passed.

One of my favorite things to talk about with new fellows is their study abroad goals. I love hearing about all of the places that they want to go and the things that they want to do. Once again, I’m frequently saddened that my time studying abroad is over (I’ve said before and I’ll say it again – studying abroad was by far the best decision I’ve made in college), but I love getting to hear about all of the adventures that my mentees will get to go on.

It’s also awesome to get to share some of the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years with the new fellows. After navigating the harrowing waters of trying to find housing for half a year and avoiding paying for the other half, I’ve gained some key insights that I’ve gotten to share. I love knowing that I can hopefully help eliminate some of the only negative parts of studying abroad for new fellows by telling them my cautionary tales.

This program has a habit of attracting very bright and talented individuals, and, truth be told, none of my mentees need much mentoring at all. They are all incredibly capable and driven young women, and I could not be more excited to see where this program takes them. Even so, it still feels good to be a resource for them, and it’s nice to have new explorers that I can live vicariously through.

To sum up, I am absolutely loving getting to be a peer mentor in this program. The Global Engagement Fellowship, and the studying abroad that came with it, has been one of the highlights of my college career, and getting to share my passion for this program with new members is always a treat!

A is for Arab: Stereotypes in U.S. Popular Culture

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Hi all,

Once again, it’s been a while since my last post! I had a wonderful summer interning as a business analyst with Capital One in Plano, and I’ve taken this first half of the semester to dive right into a very interesting, if hectic, start to senior year.

It’s a little crazy for me to think that this is the fourth year I’ve been keeping this blog! Time definitely flies by, and I’m having trouble believing that it will soon be time for me to leave the bubble that is college and make my way into the real world.

Fortunately, I still have some time left to enjoy OU, and part of what has made my time here great is attending various international events through this Global Engagement fellowship. My favorite events are often the lunchtime talks with different experts on various current events and areas of the world, but sadly, my class schedule this semester conflicts with all of these and I’ve had to get a little more creative.

The first event I attended this semester is a fantastic traveling exhibit in OU’s library called A is for Arab: Stereotypes in U.S. Popular Culture. This exhibit consists of a series of large displays with some photos of various negative representations of Arab people that have littered American popular culture for generations. Each large display is in the style of a children’s alphabet book, for, as the first display details, American stereotyping of Arabs can be found everywhere, including sources as seemingly-innocent as children’s books.

The exhibit strove to emphasize that even though anti-Arab and anti-Islamic sentiments have been on the rise post-9/11, these ideas are far from novel in American culture. Comics from Archie to Tarzan to Dennis the Menace have included negative Arab stereotypes, and American movies and novels have utilized such stereotypes for generations. Several of the displays detailed specific pervasive stereotypes that American culture has had a difficult time shaking.

One panel, entitled H is for Harem, outlines the ways in which the American portrayal of Arabic women is often seriously flawed and marginalizing. Arab women are rarely portrayed in American media, and when they are, they are often either hyper-sexualized or depicted as flat victims of violent oppression. There is very little accuracy in the way American media views Arab women, and this is incredibly damaging because many Americans draw their views on foreign cultures and people directly from the media. By allowing these negative (and false) stereotypes to be perpetuated, American culture perpetuates misinformation and ignorance that are extremely harmful to both race relations within the United States and the relationship that our country has with others.

In a similarly harmful vein, another of the panels in this exhibit is entitled V is for Villain, and it outlines the ways in which Arab men are so often portrayed as violent, dangerous villains, rather than as actual people. Much of American media paints Arab men with the same broad brush that in paints the women, but the men are made out to be evil, greedy, and dangerous. This is concerning for the same reason that all negative stereotypes are concerning; it breeds ignorance and mistrust, and it counteracts any hope the United States has of pursuing truly productive international relationships with Arab countries. Within our own borders, the ignorance fueled by these stereotypes makes it difficult for Arab people to assimilate into our culture, and it reinforces the idea that American prejudice against and fear of Arab people is okay.

Hopefully by now I have made it clear that I think this prejudice and fear is far from acceptable. The United States needs to work much more on eliminating stereotypes and instead viewing Arab culture and Arab people with the complexity that they possess. Broad brushstrokes are damaging and unproductive. We as a society have painted Arabs as the “other” for years, and it is time to turn the page.

It is reassuring to see exhibits such as this one focusing on educating people to this issue. Shamefully, before viewing this exhibit, I had not realized just how pervasive the negative stereotypes of Arab people were in U.S. culture, though I’m sure that any Arab-American is painfully aware. Hopefully, this exhibit can combine with an increasing number of positive, realistic portrayals of Arabs in American media to produce a positive change in American society. I know that we can rise above this hatred and fear that we have allowed to brew for so long; what we need now is to start taking our first steps.

The themes of this exhibit have significant overlaps with my honors research this semester, in which I am looking into the roots and rise of Islamophobia in the U.S. It is important to note that not all Arabs are Muslim and that not all Muslims are Arabs; these groups are far from homogenous, but we very often fail to treat them accordingly. This semester, I have been doing a lot of reading and writing over the origins of Islamophobia and their modern manifestations, and I look forward to sharing much of this in another blog post!

The Roots and Rise of Islamophobia in the West

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This semester, I have had the immense pleasure of doing honors research on the roots and rise of Islamophobia in the West under Dr. Charles Kimball. The semester is far from over, and I learn new things every day, but my research has many parallels to current events both in the United States and abroad, and I want to make a quick post sharing some of the things I’ve learned so far. This is a quick summary of my thoughts on what I’ve read so far.

Islam is the world’s second-largest religion and the fastest growing religion in the world. It was founded in 622 by a man named Muhammad, who Muslims believe is the messenger of God. The Quran, the central Islamic religious text, is believed to be God’s final revelation, a purification of the Torah and the Bible that came before it.

Islam shares many doctrinal similarities with Judaism and Christianity, and it even looks up to many of the same holy figures (the Quran mentions Jesus and Moses many more times than it mentions Muhammad). Yet, despite these similarities, many, many Americans and Europeans who are not Muslim view Islam to be a religion of violence and oppression, something far removed from so-called “Western values.” Post-9/11, both anti-terrorism efforts and anti-Islamic sentiments have been on the rise in the United States, but these prejudiced views of Islam are far from new. Rather, they date back to the earliest interactions between Islam and Christianity, and Western society has largely been unable to shake these biases that it formed so long ago.

When Islam first arrived on the scene, it definitely shook the status quo for the Christians at the time. Islam gained followers, power, and knowledge incredibly quickly, making the Western countries appear backwards by comparison. Thus, the first impressions that the West formed of Islam were formed in fear; Islam was the greatest threat to Christianity that Christians had ever seen, and in their fear, their initial assessment of Islam was incredibly inaccurate. They painted Muslims as godless villains and relied much more on their own imaginations than on research into what Islam is really like to form their first impressions. (Source: Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages, R.W. Southern)

Over the years, when Islam ceased to be as much of a military threat, Western scholars began to conduct more accurate research on Islam, but an anti-Islamic sentiment still persisted throughout much of the Western world. Negative caricatures of the prophet Muhammad and damaging misunderstandings of Islamic law and practices were pervasive. Even as Western society as a whole gained more understanding of the actual text of the Quran and of the actual religious practices observed by many Muslims, the prejudice generated in the Middle Ages remained ingrained in their societies. Events like the Crusades underscored the fact that Islam was treated as the enemy, and though some in the Western world, most notably St. Francis, sought peace and interfaith dialogues between Christians and Muslims, this attitude was the exception, not the rule. (Sources: Islam and the West: The Making of an Image, Norman Daniel, and The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace, Paul Moses).

European colonialism threw yet another wrinkle into Islamic-Western relations. European powers dominated many majority-Muslim countries for many years, and when they left, propped up oppressive authoritarian regimes, choosing their own economic interests over the implementation of the democracy that they claimed to value. These actions led to many political tensions in Africa and the Middle East that have yet to evaporate, as well as, understandably, mistrust of Western powers in the eyes of many Muslims. Western countries left terrible governments in their wake and claimed to support democracy but failed to do this in practice. As a result, many Muslims looked to Islam as a framework that could guide their political lives in addition to their private religious ones. Many majority Muslim countries have sought to implement Islam in some way into their governments, and this is an uncomfortable idea to many European countries, and to America, who pride themselves on the separation of church and state. (Sources: Islam: The Straight Path, John Esposito, and The Future of Islam, John Esposito).

Some in Muslim countries have felt so oppressed by the West that they’ve lashed out in terror attacks. Many non-Muslims in the West are quick to equate these attacks with all Muslims, when in reality, many of these attacks are politically-motivated, using Islam to justify violence but born from fear of Western political and military intervention rather than from fear of Christianity. (Sources: Islam: The Straight Path, John Esposito, and The Future of Islam, John Esposito).

What all of this boils down to is that there is a great deal of fear and mistrust on both sides of this divide, and these emotions and sentiments are far from novel. The challenge now comes in cutting through the fear and focusing more on our similarities and less on our differences. I know that sounds incredibly idealistic, but it is an ideal that I would like to strive for in my life moving forward.

At this point in my semester, I’m turning my attention to the specific case studies of the United States and Great Britain, looking at the historical roots of Islamophobia in each country and the modern manifestations of it. So far, it seems to me that much of the problem arises with an inability for many non-Muslims to imagine Muslim society complexly. Many have difficulty distinguishing between Muslims and Arabs, and equate all Muslims with the violence and extremism demonstrated by only a few. With my research, I hope to shed even a little bit of light onto this complex issue, as well as to champion the idea that we can and should see Muslims as the diverse, multifaceted group that they are. The enemy of ignorance is knowledge, and I hope to share a bit of that with my community with this semester’s research.

Wanderlust and Nostalgia

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Almost exactly one year ago today, I left my beloved Alcalá de Henares and headed home. It was the end of a magnificent and life-altering four month stay, and though I was excited to reunite with family and friends, I was devastated to leave. These seem like very dramatic words, and they are, but it’s difficult for me to avoid bold terms when describing this particular adventure of mine. I had been dreaming of studying abroad in Spain and living with a host family for YEARS before I did it, and when the time finally came to actually get on a plane and go live the dream, I was terrified. It seemed like an insane leap of faith, and I was not at all confident that it would be as awesome as I’d been dreaming it would.

However, faithful readers of the blog (if any exist!) will know that I faced my fears, got on the plane, and lived the dream. And it really was like living a dream – during that semester, I saw incredible places, met incredible people, and created memories that I will forever cherish. It is one of my accomplishments that I’m most proud of. I realize that seems odd – getting to live in Europe and travel the continent for four months in a country that values siestas doesn’t sound particularly difficult. However, in going, I overcame a great deal of personal trepidation and reached way outside of my comfort zone. I crossed the ocean, made friends, took challenging classes during which I debated interesting current events and learned a great deal, all in Spanish, built a relationship with my host family, also in Spanish, made great friends, became a more capable traveler, and got a great deal bolder and more confident.

My time in Spain was a time filled with learning. The joy of the trip was interspersed with mistakes and stress. To say that every moment was enjoyable would be a lie, but to say that every moment was valuable is the complete truth. Studying abroad taught me so much, about the world around me and about myself. I fell in love with the city of Alcalá and the country of Spain, and it all still feels as though it happened yesterday.

Ever since I returned, I’ve felt periodic pangs of missing Alcalá, but this semester has been particularly hard. Many times, I look at the calendar and think, “This time last year, I was roaming the medina in Rabat (Morocco).” “This time last year I was watching the sun set over La Alhambra while I listened to beautiful music and was engulfed in dancing and merriment.” “This time last year I was exploring the Sunday market in Madrid.” I absolutely love my life in Norman, but it’s impossible for me not to miss the grand and glittering adventure that was my semester in Spain.

What all this boils down to is that I’m itching to go back. A large part of me wants to continue to branch out and see more of the world that I haven’t yet, but another large part aches to return to my second home in Spain. I would love to get to hug my host mom, eat tortilla and drink some tinto in Indalo, to paddle across the lake in el Parque Retiro, and to get to revisit all the places that are so close to my heart.

Sadly, my days studying abroad may be over, but there is a silver lining – graduation is coming soon, and once I get a job and start saving, I can begin to save and scheme my way back to Alcalá. If anyone is reading this who hasn’t studied abroad yet, please do me a favor and seriously consider it. Everyone who has studied abroad sings its praises, and they are absolutely telling the truth. Go, explore, learn, and don’t be surprised when you come home and immediately want to go back.

Islamaphobia and the West

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Throughout the past several months, I have been disheartened to see that the fear of Islam, and of its practitioners, seems to be getting stronger and stronger in the United States. We like to think of our country as a cultural melting pot, accepting of people from all races and religions. Anyone willing to work hard who dreams of a better start will be embraced. Except that they definitely won’t, especially not if they’re wearing a hijab, it seems.

In reality, Islam is quite similar to Christianity. In my eyes, the moral basis of both religions appears to be very similar, and the Qur’an contains much of the Bible within it. Much as Christianity considers itself to be a continuation of Judaism, Islam considers itself to be an extension and perfection of Christianity. All three of these religions are Abrahamic, and I believe that if you look their past practices and into their specific beliefs, you will find many similarities – I certainly have.

None of this is to say that two groups need to be similar in order to get along. Mutual respect should not hinge upon similarity. However, it does make it look to me as though Christians and Muslims have much more to commune about than to fight about. It feels as though it should be easy for the two groups to get along, considering how much they have in common.

And yet. So many Americans, many of them Christians, fear and are threatened by Islam. More and more lately, I’ve been pondering this and questioning why. Part of it, I’m sure, comes from the fact that people feel comfortable pitting another group against their own – you feel closer to your ingroup when you belittle an outgroup. However, I think that a lot of it comes from politicians and public figures playing up the fear of Islam in order to make themselves seem more powerful and to get themselves elected.

I’ve had several conversations with a professor of mine, and we both agree that there’s more here than even meets the eye. I do not believe by any means that these politicians are creating this fear of Islam in many Americans. I think that this fear has existed all along, and they are simply stirring it up. Mistrust of Islam runs very deep, and I would like to investigate how exactly it all began. Because of this, I have decided to conduct my honors research project next semester on the roots and contemporary manifestations of Islamaphobia in the west. I would love to educate others, and myself, on the fact that Islam should be respected, and not feared, and that Muslims are just as valuable a part of this American melting pot as everyone else.

With many good books and articles by talented, engaged people, I hope to get at the roots of this problem. Hopefully, armed with this new knowledge, I can put a good foot forward and start combating Islamaphobia in any way that I can.

Epcot: the World Showcase

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Over this spring break, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Disney World with my family. It’s funny, because I pride myself on going off-the-beaten-path and taking care to experience more than just the touristy side of new places. I want to immerse myself in the real culture and to blend in, not to stand at-odds with the amazing places I visit. Walt Disney World, in all honestly, stands a little at-odds with these tendencies: as vacations go, it’s up there on the touristy scale.

However, despite it’s cheese factor, to me, Disney really is magical. For one thing, I’m a fairly high-stress person, and the opportunity to spend a week at Disney with my family and best friend meant getting to take a week off of responsibility and to just focus on fun. That’s rare for me. For another thing, I think there’s something admirable about a place dedicated entirely to bringing people joy. From the perfectly engineered details of the place to the friendly employees to the massive media presence that they whole place is founded upon, it’s clear that Disney is carrying out their mission well. It was an amazing week, and it gave me some wonderful memories.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’ve decided to ramble on about the wonders of Disney and what exactly this has to do with international events. We’re getting there! Because my favorite Disney park has always been Epcot, and my favorite part of Epcot has always been the World Showcase. If you haven’t been, the World Showcase is a long, circular walkway around a lake that features miniature versions of eleven countries from around the world. Each country’s area is themed to that country, filled with its cuisine, music, and even employees from that country. Walking through the showcase is like taking a mini trip around the world, all in a day. Obviously, it doesn’t beat experiencing these countries in real life, but there is something so cool about strolling from country to country and feeling immersed in so many exotic places so close together.

Some could, justifiably, argue that this showcase is guilty of reducing massive and diverse countries into a limited number of their most famous traits. This is true, but I like to think that Epcot is celebrating what makes each of the eleven countries they’ve chosen unique in the world. After having been to the U.K., Canada, France, Italy, and Morocco, I can honestly say that Disney does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of these places, and the fact that the employees in each country’s section are residents of that country makes it all the more awesome. Many people don’t have the means or opportunity to get to places like Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, but a trip to Epcot can help them better appreciate all of these places, as well as getting to meet people who’ve lived there.

One of my biggest passions has always been learning about other cultures and traveling to new cities and countries. I love my own culture, but I’ve always been hungry to experience others. To me, Epcot is the best of this – it gives people a taste of what lies outside the U.S. and celebrates foreign countries for being uniquely great. I like to think that Epcot inspires other people to love and celebrate the international community. I know it inspires me.

4.1 Miles: The Modern Refugee Crisis

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Sorry for the radio silence! This semester has been a bit of a beating, but I’m learning some awesome things and staying busy! Tonight, I had the immense pleasure of attending a screening of the documentary “4.1 Miles” and the panel talk that followed. “4.1 Miles” is a documentary about the refugee crisis in Europe, focusing on an island in Greece that sits just 4.1 miles across the sea from Turkey. The main focus of the film is one Greek man who takes several trips by boat into the see each day to rescue refugees.

This film brought tears to my eyes. The refugee crisis is often on my mind, but as a westerner with little actual exposure to it, it’s often easy to forget just how horrific the crisis is, as awful as that sounds. While watching this film, it was impossible for me to feel anything but deep sadness: sadness for the refugees fleeing brutal civil wars and losing family members in the process, sadness for this Greek man who is bearing so much of the weight of this crisis on his shoulders, and sadness that my country, like many others, is so apathetic in the face of this tragedy.

The film took place mainly on the man’s boat during rescue missions. It was harrowing to watch the soaking and terrified refugees flood the boat, clinging their children to them, crying for people that had drowned. It was heart-wrenching watching the Greek man’s eyes fill with tears as he lamented the world’s lack of response in the face of this tragic situation.

The film left me, understandably, shaken, but the three speakers did a magnificent job of transitioning from the emotional to the more analytical side of the crisis in a way that was tactful and engaging. Dr. Mitchell Smith, Dr. Mark Raymond, and graduate student Stefanie Neumieir all spoke eloquently about different facets of the crisis. Dr. Smith outlined the fact that, in the West, this crisis is often framed as a security issue, rather than a humanitarian crisis. Populist politics shape peoples perceptions, and nationalists play to people’s fears. All of this means that people view refugees as threats, rather than human beings who need help. Dr. Smith also spoke to the EU’s values of peace, tolerance, and rule of law, and of helping refugees. Some EU member countries, such as Germany and Sweden, have taken these values to heart, but many others are avoiding helping.

Dr. Raymond spoke about the fact that in the past, there were no such things as tightly controlled borders. Immigrants to the US simply had to cross the border. Sometimes, he said, if things were really strict, some immigrants might have been asked their names. He gave an impassioned speech about the fact that the world is NOT sharing the burden of this crisis equally – the countries accepting the most immigrants are often the poorest countries who are least equipped to help them. Many rich countries sit by and let them bear the burden themselves. This apathetic attitude forgets the fact that if the extreme influx of refugees becomes too much for these fragile countries to take and they fall into chaos, the problem is further compounded. Wealthy countries have the ability to do so much more than they are doing, but we seem so often to turn a blind eye.

Ms. Neumieir spoke specifically about the reception of refugees in Germany. Under Angela Merkel, Germany has been the most accepting European country toward immigrants, but that even their generosity is straining. Most notably, she mentioned the fact that most violence related to refugees is actually violence AGAINST refugees. This number, of course, is rarely reported on – people are much more content to see refugees as the enemies.

It is hard to find the words to describe how moving this film was, and how inspired I now feel to do everything I can to help refugees. These are people fleeing for their lives, relying on the help of strangers, losing friends and family members on their journey to safety. And they are facing slamming doors everywhere they go. I refuse to be afraid of them, and I refuse to turn a blind eye simply because I am far from most of the action. I am a citizen of the world first and a citizen of the United States second. Refugees, from any country, race, or religion, are people who desperately need our help. I’m going to do my best to lobby hard for the United States to provide that help.

Global Engagement Day: Study Abroad Story Time

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Now that I have studied abroad twice, I was called to participate in a panel during Global Engagement Day! It’s only a little alarming to think that I’ve already made it here (we’re rounding out year three of this blog, which makes me feel old…) but an honor nonetheless. The panel I participated in was named Study Abroad Story Time, an informal panel of students who’ve been abroad mixed with students who have yet to go, swapping stories and advice. If there’s one thing I really love, especially now, it’s reminiscing about Spain. This panel was made for me!

Throughout my time abroad, I’ve generated more than a few transportation near-horror stories, and I told one or two on the panel. I had a great time listening to the stories of others – everyone has been so many amazing places, and several GEFs are incredibly gifted story tellers. And of course, I loved getting to share some of my tales from Spain and England. My favorite thing about the panel was actually the reactions I got to some of my stories. I had many great experiences in Spain, and one of the most unique was my time shadowing a resident in the emergency gynecology and obstetrics ward of the hospital in Alcalá. I’d forgotten quite how remarkable it was to get to see C-sections and babies be born in Spain until I got a stunned reaction to the story. I was feet from the king of Spain at one point. I had to wait to see the doctor until a criminal, flanked by two policeman, was finished in the one room in the free clinic. Getting to tell my crazy stories to others was a great reminder of how unique and amazing my experience was, and it made me ache to go back.

My other favorite part of the talk was getting to share my stories about my host family. I ended up being the only one at the table who had lived with a host family, and people were eager to hear about how it was. This was another element of my trip that I’d grown to take for granted – I forget that not everyone has the amazing opportunity to live with a sweet host mom and sister for four months in a cozy apartment in Madrid.

My travels have taken me to so many places and given me so many memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. Getting to spend a small part of my week sharing those sweet memories with other fellows was an absolute treat, and I can’t wait for more story-swapping next year!

If It Scares You, It Might Be a Good Thing to Try

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We are now nearing the close of my first semester back from Spain, and the end is coming alarmingly quickly. Facebook gave me my “year in review” video today, so apparently we are wrapping it up (we still have SEVERAL weeks left in the year, Facebook, but thank you for the reminder). 2016 has been a year for the books, certainly, and it’s hard for me to believe how quickly it passed by.

On the Wednesday of dead week last year, I was in the ER in extreme pain (it ended up being appendicitis. I had an emergency appendectomy, it went poorly, I stayed in the hospital for five days, I had to push back all my finals, and I ended up being in too fragile a state to travel for Christmas like my family had planned. It was not the jolliest Christmas season, but it was memorable). Thank goodness this dead week is going smoother and the pain I’m in is only mental! (Just kidding. Sort of – finals are rough, guys).

After my surgery and my delayed finals, I recuperated at home until pretty much the minute I hopped on my plane to Madrid (the day I boarded the plane was actually the first day I was cleared by the doctor to lift things over 20 pounds again). It was a little bit of a triumph for me – in 30 days, I’d gone from struggling to sit up or walk without extreme pain to starting a life for myself in Spain that I will never forget.

One blessing of having emergency surgery right before I went to Madrid was that it took my mind off the hugeness of the leap that I was about to take in going abroad. Everyone talks about how amazing studying abroad is, and how it’s an experience you’ll never forget, and they are not wrong – going to Spain is quite possibly my favorite thing that I have ever done. As soon as I stepped back onto American soil in April, I was itching to return to Alcalá.

However. What no one talks about (and maybe this is because no one worries quite like I do, but I find that hard to believe) is how scary it is to embark on a journey that long. I have dreamt of studying abroad in Spain for YEARS, but as I got closer to actually doing it, I got more and more terrified. I started to wonder if maybe I didn’t really want to do it, and that it would just be a huge mistake. Many upsetting thoughts like this swirled around in my brain for much of the fall semester.

You already know this, but it was NOT a huge mistake. It was, arguably, my best decision to date. And my experience reminds me of a quote I love – “If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.” I’ve talked about this a bit in a previous blog post, but to me, it merits repeating: just because you are afraid of something does not mean you should not do it.

I wish, before I’d gone abroad, someone had told me that it is very okay to be scared out of your wits about leaving the country for four months, and that this fear is BY NO MEANS an indication that you should not go. This time last year, I was feeling MOSTLY fear and VERY LITTLE actual excitement about going abroad. The dream had seemed so rosy from far away, and up close it seemed so formidable. But I took the leap anyway and I will be eternally grateful that I did.

Now, I find myself getting caught up daydreaming about sipping café con leche and eating delicious pastries while I chatted in cafés with my friends. I miss roaming the streets of Madrid by myself, wandering through the parks, stopping in museums, and browsing any shops that caught my eye. I miss hearing Spanish around me always, and feeling powerful every time I interacted with a stranger and got to use my Spanish in casual conversation. I miss my classes, learning about Spanish history and art and medicine, and having debates about the European Union (all in Spanish, of course) with my wicked smart professors. I REALLY miss the friends I made – some, blessedly, go to OU, and I get to see them from time to time, but many are scattered across the country and we can only text. I miss my host mom and sister, sitting at our little kitchen table and discussing current events and Spanish vs. American culture, or sitting in our living room watching Gran Hermano. I miss all of the trains and busses and metro cars. I miss the weekend trips to new and exciting places, with adventure around every corner. I miss feeling the history in every building I passed and every cobblestone I walked on. I miss the trivia and karaoke nights, the tapas, and the laughter.

I miss quite a few things, but mostly, I am grateful. Grateful for SUCH an incredible experience. Grateful that I attend a university that encourages study abroad as much as it does. Grateful to be a Global Engagement fellow, an opportunity that has added so much richness to my time at OU. Eternally grateful that I did not let my fear win out and that I completed my spring semester at la Universidad de Alcalá. At the end, 4 months didn’t feel nearly long enough.

Part of my heart will always reside in Alcalá de Henares. And I would not have it any other way.

If by any chance someone happens to read this blog who is currently apprehensive about studying abroad, I hope that you will take my words to heart. If it scares you, there is a distinct possibility that it would be an excellent thing to try. Please never let fear talk you out of something incredible.

Being a Global Engagement Mentor

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This semester, I met my international group requirement by becoming a mentor to several new fellows. I have loved my time in OU Cousins over the past several years, but the interest in the club is so high that I thought it was time for me to step back and let others have a turn to see what an amazing club it is!

I have participated in several other student mentoring programs on campus, and I was eager to be able to pass on my study abroad knowledge to younger students who could benefit from it. I feel that I have learned a great deal during my two years as a Global Engagement fellow and my five months studying abroad, so I was eager to share my newfound knowledge.

At the beginning of the semester, I was given a list of names and email addresses and I went from there. I reached out to each student individually, and those emails inspired some awesome in-person conversations. Unsurprisingly, these students are all very on top of it and in control of their schedules, so they haven’t needed much general school advice, but it has been nice to be able to share my journeys applying for study abroad, timing when I went, the packing, and how I conducted myself while traveling, because these things were all new to them.

It has been lovely to meet with them and hear about their goals for their international journeys. They are all so excited to travel and to expand their horizons, and their enthusiasm inspires me. It is bittersweet to be on this end of the process, sharing my knowledge of my travels rather than getting ready to embark on them, but I couldn’t be happier for these freshmen. Being a Global Engagement fellow, and the opportunities that it has afforded me throughout my time at OU, has provided me with many of the highlights of my college career. I could not be more excited for these new fellows – I know that this amazing program can do the same for them.