Encountering Diversity

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It would shock me if someone were to travel abroad and only encounter people with backgrounds and outlooks similar to their own. Traveling means encountering diversity, and in this reflection, I talk about some perspectives on diversity I heard in class as well as my own experiences with diversity.

 

Hearing the different perspectives on diversity abroad was extremely interesting for me. Diversity is something I am most excited to experience abroad, but I hadn’t ever put much thought into the fact that I would be in the minority there. I grew up a white, Christian girl in an area dominated by white, Christian people, so I have very rarely felt “outside” of anything. However, I am Catholic in an area dominated by Protestants, which has been interesting at times. The differences between Christian denominations aren’t even near the same league as the racial and ethnic differences that can cause tension abroad, though, so I have a lot to learn about being in the minority. I can only recall one time in my life when I truly felt outnumbered and overwhelmed: I was ten years old and my family was visiting the Grand Canyon. We arrived late at night, and were having trouble finding our hotel. Tired and hungry, we stopped at a small cafe owned by the park to get sustenance before buckling down and finding the hotel. The inside of the cafe was absolutely packed with people, all from eastern Asia. Not a one was speaking English (they were being very loud in their various languages), and even the cafe employees were foreign. To top it all off, the restaurant was out of the chicken pot pie. It was all too much for my sleep deprived, hungry little head, and I was panicked and confused. Looking back now, my distress seems quite ridiculous, but it did open my eyes a bit to the pressures of being in the minority anywhere. Granted, I say a bit because my situation was incredibly tame, but it can serve as somewhat of a parallel for people who actually represent a minority on a day to day basis. Feeling outnumbered and unable to connect with the people around you can be terrifying, and that is often what students studying abroad experience during their first few weeks outside of their own country.

Having nearly another decade of life under my belt, I doubt that the Grand Canyon cafe incident would even cause me to bat an eye now, but I am aware that my experience abroad may be similarly overwhelming, and I am prepared for it. I’m actually quite excited to go abroad and experience life in the minority for once- I know it will teach me a great deal. I’m prepared to stand out, being a 5’10’’ white American female, but I’m eager to share my diversity, and in turn to experience the diversity of others. It’s going to be challenging at times, but it will be well worth it in the end.

My Study Abroad Goals

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President Boren has been a strong advocate for OU students studying abroad for years now, and studying abroad is actually required under my Global Fellows scholarship. Fortunately, I’d been planning on it anyway, and this reflections explains my personal study abroad goals for my time at OU.

 

Ever since I started taking Spanish classes in the seventh grade, it has been my dream to study abroad in Spain when I got to college. Now that I’m here, I’m much closer to that dream, and it’s incredibly exciting to me that it will soon become a reality. In the six years since the birth of the idea, my goals have become a bit more flexible; I would be happy in Chile or Argentina, or really any Spanish-speaking country, not just Spain. My main goal for the trip is total immersion in the language: I have spent years perfecting my Spanish, and through studying abroad, I want to become totally fluent. I love everything about the beautiful Spanish language, as well as the vibrant culture that comes with it, and I am eager to spend a semester drinking it all in. I also know that I want to stay with a host family, because I feel that it will be the best way to truly integrate myself into the country. While I was growing up, my grandmother was always hosting at least one foreign exchange student, and to this day, she remains close with many of them. I would love that sort of relationship for myself!

In addition to going to a Spanish-speaking country, I want to participate in the Honors at Oxford program. I am a lifelong anglophile, and I got the opportunity to visit Oxford over the summer and absolutely fell in love. There is so much happening in that city, and I cannot wait to return to study there.

Both of these goals have been set in my mind for a while now, so they haven’t really changed since I’ve become a Global Fellow. They have, however, solidified, and I can’t wait to go abroad now!

Cultural Differences: The Elephant in the Room

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Stark differences in culture can turn a harmless phrase into an insult and a friendly gesture into something obscene. In my global engagement class this week, we focused on different cultural faux pas and the care needed to avoid them. This reflection talks about all of that, as well as what I plan to do in my own life to avoid the awkwardness that might arise as a result of cultural differences in my future.

 

This week’s activities definitely opened my eyes to some of the stark differences between cultures that I wouldn’t have ever thought of without doing my research and talking to people who had actually experienced them. Things that are I’ve lived my whole life thinking were completely harmless can be incredibly offensive or strange to people from other cultures, and this week’s activities reminded me to keep my eyes open for that. It would be too easy to just forget that differences like that exist and to conduct myself abroad in the same manner that I do here, but that would result in embarrassment and regret, I’m sure. After this week, I’m a bit more afraid of unintentionally offending someone, because I can now see just how simple that would be. However, I am now resolved to be extremely careful with my words and actions, and to always do my homework before visiting another country. I know that, despite taking care to aways conduct myself as well as possible, I will accidentally offend someone someday, but I hope I can put that day off as long as possible!

The activities this week were a reminder for me more than anything else; I’ve always been a cautious person when it comes to these things, although it is easy to forget the degree to which you must take care. So I won’t be changing my thoughts or actions, but I will be more on the alert for cultural faux pas that I might unintentionally commit. It was an entertaining way to get some good reminders for things I need to keep in mind in the future.

The United States from a Foreign Point of View

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As an American, it’s hard for me to see the things about my own culture that stick out as odd or even offensive to foreigners. This week in my Becoming Globally Engaged class, I heard firsthand what some foreign students thought about America, and their answers were a mix of positives and negatives. In this reflection, I talk about my impressions of their perspectives and my views on cultural differences between the US and other countries.

 

The perspectives I heard about the United States this week were equal parts comforting and disheartening. On the one hand, each foreigner I heard from had many positive things to say about the US; almost every one came back multiple times, a clear indication that the positives of the US outweighed the negatives for them. However, the negatives were shocking and upsetting. The fact that many Americans’ frequent cultural insensitivity, flawed consumption of alcohol, and lack of basic geographical knowledge stands out so blatantly to so many foreigners disgusts me. I am normally an extremely patriotic person; I will always be proud to be an American, and though I want to travel extensively, I don’t see myself settling anywhere other than the United States. However, our country could be improved in many ways, most notably in our foreign relations and cultural sensitivity, and I hope to be a part of that improvement.

In addition to the flaws of the US that stood out to foreigners, I was most surprised by how different my culture is from that of other countries; it shocked me that things like hugging, smiling frequently, and the presence of many churches could strike anyone as odd. It’s obviously hard to pick out what is unique about your own culture without having compared it to any others, but hearing things that seem completely normal to me be called strange by others felt extremely unusual. Fortunately, the foreign students didn’t look down on these things; they were simply confused by them, which was more entertaining than anything. However, the things that did offend them about Americans were things I would like my country to work on. I plan to help with this by being as sensitive to other cultures and knowledgable about foreign affairs as possible. I would like to be the best representative of my country that I can possibly be, so that when people meet me, they come away with a positive impression of the amazing country I call home.

International Organizations on Campus and Me

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The University of Oklahoma plays host to scores of wonderful international organizations, and in this reflection, I talk about which of these I would like to become a part of.

 

I am most interested in becoming involved with international groups that give me lots of direct contact with international students, like OU Cousins and CESL. I would love to forge lifelong friendships and connections with students from outside the U.S., because I feel like this is a key step on my path to becoming a global citizen, as well as a great way to increase the diversity I am exposed to here at OU.

From these organizations, I would like to gain language practice, international friendships, and cultural exposure. I have been taking as many Spanish classes as possible for years now, and I would love to have an outlet to practice and improve my speaking fluency in an international student. I know that actively using my Spanish is the only way to achieve fluency, and I hope that until I am able to spend a semester in a Spanish-speaking country, I can use international organizations to practice Spanish as much as possible. In addition to language practice, I relish the chance to gain firsthand insight into what life is like in countries outside the U.S. I will have limited time to travel abroad during my years at OU, and I want to make up for this lack of foreign experience by conversing with international students as much as possible. I feel that they will be my greatest resources for foreign insight while I am in college, and I can’t wait to get to know as many of them as I can. I know that they have so much information to offer me, and I am eager to hear it.

I can already tell that OU is the perfect university to provide me with all the international experiences that I have time for throughout my college career. Using my Becoming Globally Engaged class and the many international organizations on campus, I know I’m going to have a diverse and wonderful college career.

The Dangers of a Single Story

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Often, global misconceptions arise from the fact that people only hear a single story about an issue, rather than getting a complete picture. In this reflection, I talk about how hearing single stories has affected me personally, as well as how I think it affects the global community.

 

Throughout my life, I’ve been limited in the number and range of stories I’ve been exposed to. This problem affects not just my viewpoint of the world outside the United States, but, more immediately, my viewpoint of the world outside the area I live in. The problem with the stories I’ve heard is that most are so brief and impersonal that it is nearly impossible for me to get an accurate read on the actual events behind them. Even the best stories cannot provide the same knowledge that experiencing an event can, and more often than not, I have’t been provided with the best stories. This creates an odd atmosphere of false impressions and misinformation about the world outside of my realm of influence. All this in spite of the fact that I like to think of myself as relatively well-informed; I keep up with the news and try my best to avoid stories with heavy bias, or at least to balance them out with stories where the bias favors the other side. I can’t imagine what impressions people are forming in countries where news is less easily accessible and more corrupted. Even in the U.S., it seems like much of the coverage of major global events is given with only one perspective, and this leaves people with an incomplete view of what is happening. This is a tragedy because it is fostering the ignorance and intolerance that breeds global conflict and keeps different countries from finding peace. To combat this one-sided relay of information, I will strive to seek out multiple viewpoints and encourage my peers to do the same; I want to avoid as much as possible only hearing a single story.

Welcome, Everyone!

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Hello! And welcome to your glorious peek into my mind (ha). I’m creating this blog as a project for my Global Fellowship at OU, but I feel like it’s been a long time coming- I love the idea of blogging and sharing my thoughts, and international issues are one of my favorite things to discuss. You’ll be seeing reflections I’ve written for my Becoming Globally Engaged class, reviews of different international events I’ve attended, and reports on anything else that strikes me as interesting and is even somewhat related to the international community. I have high hopes for this blog, and I hope you enjoy it!