Summer 2017 & Spring 2018 (updated)

After much deliberation, many applications, and lots of wavering, I have decided to go to Israel this summer!

I am participating in the Jezreel Valley Archaeological Project. Dr. Cline from the Religious Studies department, eight other students and I will help in the excavation at Legio, the site of the camp of the sixth Roman Legion (how cool is that?). The trip lasts four weeks. The first week includes a tour of important sites in northern Israel such as Caesarea Philippi, Nimrod’s Fortress, and Nazareth. During the other three weeks we’ll live at a kibbutz (a commune), dig, share meals, and listen to lectures.

I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to go on this trip. I’m eager to gain a knowledge of basic archaeological methods, which will bring new perspective and new life to my classical culture classes. I also particularly hope to travel to Jerusalem, Masada, and the Dead Sea.

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The dig site in 2015. Image courtesy of the Schusterman Center.

In other news, I have recently decided to add a major in Classical Languages! Since these majors will work together fairly easily, this decision won’t change too much for me, except that after this semester I will start taking Greek and continue taking Latin and classical culture courses. In light of this decision, I’ve decided to study abroad (probably, again, since plans tend to change) in England or Scotland. My top choice is the University of Glasgow. Scotland captivated me when I visited for a couple days in the spring of 2015, and the prospect of returning to study there sounds magical.

Glasgow

Turkish Food and Art Festival

Immediately following the camping trip with the BCM and ACC, I made a trip to Oklahoma City for the Turkish Food and Art Festival hosted by the Raindrop Foundation.

Turkish food on its own is a cause for celebration. I ate some mantı, meat-filled dumplings reminiscent of ravioli and served with yogurt, dried mint, and red pepper. I also sampled gözleme, a thin pastry filled with cheese and spinach, and then grape leaves stuffed with rice, and some çay (black tea). There were also kebabs, köfte (meatballs), and Turk kahvesi (traditional Turkish coffee, which is rich, dark, and delightful and surprises the drinker when she gets to the bottom of the cup and encounters a layer of fine grounds half an inch deep).

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Mantı.

On the stage, whirling dervishes whirled, dancers called on audience members to join them, and the MC awarded recognition to children who could correctly answer a question about the Turkish flag. My favorite art-related station the festival offered was the booth with Ebru, or water marbling. Watching an artist paint delicate swirls and flowers with a fine brush on the surface of the water is mesmerizing. I have seen Ebru artwork before, but never the intricate process behind it.

The Raindrop Turkish House in Oklahoma City offers a variety of classes in Ebru, cooking, and Turkish language. Next semester, I’m planning to brush up on my Turkish by taking one of the language classes! I’m glad I discovered the Raindrop House and the classes because of this festival.

It’s been several weeks since the festival, but I’m still thankful to the Raindrop House for hosting it and sharing so much beautiful art, wonderful food, and Turkish culture with Oklahoma City. I’m already looking forward to next year. Until then, I’m going to have to keep eating yogurt on my pasta and pretending it’s mantı.

American Culture Club

The BCM, the awesome student ministry I’ve been a part of since coming to OU, hosted an American Culture Club for five weeks earlier this semester. The club’s goal is to welcome international and exchange students and help them learn about American culture. I’ve been eager to spend more time with international students at OU since receiving such a warm welcome as a guest in Central Asia this summer, and making new friends and helping facilitate discussions at ACC was a perfect opportunity.

Each week, we had time to chat and eat snacks and then discuss a set of questions over topics like culture shock, family differences, and U.S. holidays. In seeing American culture though new eyes, I ended up not only learning more about my own culture but a little bit about everyone else’s cultures, too.

One afternoon at ACC, when we were discussing family structures, a student from Cambodia shared that in her language there are five different ways to address people and five different grammatical forms based on their rank of seniority. A student from Sweden said that there were no distinctions in seniority in her country — everybody is on a first-name basis. However, despite this cultural difference, I observed that in every culture, some things are common between everyone. In every culture, people love and treasure their families.

(Not really related to American Culture Club, but I found this infographic illustrating East-West cultural differences the other day. It struck me as a creative illustration. Do these illustrations accurately represent the cultures without making too many broad generalizations? What do you think?)

American Culture Club made me realize that it’s difficult and quite funny to explain American, Southern, and Oklahoman slang. “Hit the sack?” “Twister?” “Fixin’ to…?” “Pitch in?” Where do these phrases come from, and how do they find our way into the regional collective consciousness and stay there? I don’t know. One week,  our small group’s assignment was to write a short story using all of these terms. Hilarity ensued.

One weekend, a group of us went camping at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area near Sulphur. It was my great pleasure to introduce my international friends to the s’more, which is officially the most purely American food of all American foods and also undeniably the most delicious. It was also great to sing songs and talk about our favorite music, our philosophies and spiritual beliefs, our hometowns, our goals and dreams. Something about sitting around a campfire draws people together.

I made some wonderful friends at American Culture Club, and though I wish it had lasted longer, I’m glad we’ve still been able to hang out since then.

 

A Mexican Cooking Lesson

Last week, my friend and I took part in a Mexican cooking workshop in Farzaneh Hall, offered as a part of OU’s Latin America Week. This week, I still haven’t applied my new skills to make my own guacamole or salsa, but I’m looking forward to using the recipe I got next time I have access to a kitchen.

Armando Rivera, the owner of Puebla Tacos y Tequileria on Main Street and our instructor, greeted the class of ten or twelve warmly and asked who had traveled abroad this summer and who spoke Spanish. He then expressed to us his passion for Mexican food and culture because it is an integral part of his life — he grew up in Mexico and first learned to cook from his grandmother when he was six years old.

As he told us a brief history of the South and Central American civilizations, the adoption of the tomato by the Spanish, and the Aztec origins of salsa, Rivera passed around specially fire-roasted tomatoes, garlic and jalapenos to smell. The technique of fire roasting chars the outside of the vegetables and sugarizes the inside, he explained, resulting in an unrivaled and irresistible flavor.

Rivera drafted a few volunteers to help him prepare the ingredients, which he sources and hand-selects, to ensure quality. I asked him where he buys his avocados, and he vaguely replied that he has four sources, and he buys his from whichever source offers the best avocados on that particular day.

Finally, we gathered around several bowls and enjoyed the best salsa and guacamole we had eaten in our entire lives. Needless to say, I’ll be paying a visit to Puebla on Main very soon.

The aftermath.

The aftermath.

When I’m traveling, trying popular food is always an important part of experiencing other cultures. But when I’m chowing down on chips and salsa or guacamole at home,  I don’t always take the time to appreciate their close ties to Latin American history. This workshop and Mr. Rivera’s enthusiasm for Mexican food and culture was an excellent reminder that the United States owes appreciation to countries around the world for many of its popular foods. And thanks to other cultures, in my opinion, the United States is a much more delicious place.

Adventures in Central Asia

Thanks to the provision of God and some wonderful family and friends who supported me, I had the opportunity to spend six weeks in Central Asia this summer making friends, learning the language and culture, helping with an English club, and seeing beautiful places with four fellow OU students.

(Note: the reason I say “Central Asia” and not the name of the country is that this country is becoming more and more difficult for Americans to visit. For the security of my friends there, I can’t give a lot of information about our program. But bear with me, and feel free to use your imagination and speculate where I was!)

My friends Erin, Anna, Dillon, Stephen and I spent the bulk of our time in a city of millions of people, with a few excursions and weekend trips to other parts of the country. The district we lived in was populated by universities, students, restaurants, pubs and coffee shops. So. Many. Coffee shops. Coffee culture has been introduced to the city in the past five years, and it is thriving.

The squad, from left to right: Stephen, Anna, Dillon, Erin, and me!

I wish I could sum up our six weeks in this post, but it’s impossible because each day was completely different. Some days, we volunteered our English speaking abilities at a neighborhood club for students and professionals seeking to improve their English. Other days, we set out into the city in search of good food, interesting places to shop, and friends to show us around.

This has been my first international trip longer than ten days. The six weeks I spent in Central Asia have changed the way I see the world, people, America, and myself.

A warm welcome speaks volumes.

In Central Asia, we met some wonderful friends who took us around the city, to restaurants, and into their homes and places of worship. We were strangers in their country who spoke little of their language, got lost frequently, and asked lots of redundant questions, but they graciously helped us beyond pointing us in the right direction. If we needed a place to sit down and have coffee, they would come with us and chat for a while. If we wanted to purchase certain items, they took us to the best places to buy those things and then helped haggle the prices down.

Now that I’m back in the United States, I want to be the friend to international students that my friends in Central Asia were to me.

I recently heard the story of a student from Africa who studied in the United States for a total of eight years and was not once welcomed into an American’s home. And I’m sure he isn’t the only one. What does that say about Americans and our culture?

Love has no language.

Anna, Erin and I experienced significant language barriers this summer. We knew very little of the language coming into the country, and picked up some helpful words and phrases but were never conversational in the short period we were there. Thankfully, many of our friends speak English much better than we speak their language.

I struggled through some conversations when I wanted to explain complex things, and when I knew my friends wanted to explain complex things yet only a word or two was understood. I learned to listen well, and to explain things in creative ways that my friends understood, verbally and nonverbally.

But even though many things were unsaid because of the language barrier, our friendships did not suffer. Two of my closest friends in Central Asia do not speak much English, but I had many a wonderful time with them regardless. We swapped stories and talked about what true love is and whether it really exists and told each other our hardest struggles and biggest goals in life.

Love is not just words – love is actions. One friend I met, who hadn’t yet taken her year of English preparation and could only speak in broken phrases, said that she felt loved (as she made a hugging motion to her chest) by the way that me and my friends were talking to her, even though most of the words weren’t understood.

Love is listening and patiently striving to understand. Love is respecting the surrounding culture, and giving up rights and freedoms in order to build bridges instead of walls. Love is seeking to know another person and everything that makes up who she is – her family, her interests, her quirks, her beliefs, her view of the world.

In America, I take my privileges for granted. And to effectively learn about and live in another culture, I need to lay down my privileges, expectations and rights.

I like having a personal space bubble with a two- or three foot radius. I like it when everybody obeys traffic rules and abides by the law. I like being familiar with currency, food, public transportation, toilets. I like knowing exactly what kind of meat I’m eating when I stop at a food stand or a diner.

I like to make appointments with my friends and have them arrive and leave on time. I like being able to speak the language of my country and understand what passers-by around me are saying.(Unrelated tangent: I learned on this trip how helpful knowing another language can be when traveling, even if it’s not the national language. I encountered several people in Central Asia who did not speak English, but did speak German, so I got to put my German speaking abilities to the test! I’m barely functional in German, but those encounters gave me the motivation to keep improving it.)

I like having the freedom to criticize the president, or the legislature, or politicians, or the law, when I feel they are unjust or unscrupulous. I like to read news uncensored by the government. I like  that if ever accused of a crime, I’ll be innocent until proven guilty. I like going where I want, when I want, and not having my motives scrutinized.

I like life to be predictable, controllable and safe. I like to run around my neighborhood and know the only things I’ll have to avoid in my route are construction zones, not political rallies. I like not having to worry whether my friends and family were in the wrong place, at the wrong time when I hear there’s been a bombing in a large public area and dozens were injured and killed.

I harbor expectations for life that differ from those around the world. In the United States, all of these things that I like are seen not as privileges, but as expectations, as standards of normalcy. But in Central Asia, life didn’t always work exactly as I wanted it to.

If I had entered the country expecting things to be exactly as I like them, I would have been shocked. Much of the culture shock I experienced was caused by differences that are neither good nor bad, just different. I learned to take the word “weird” out of my vocabulary. “Different” does not mean “weird” or “abnormal.” If my friends from Central Asia visited Oklahoma, there would certainly be elements of American culture to which I’m accustomed that they would find different, too.

The political turmoil I described affected the people I encountered in day-to-day life even more deeply than they did me. The residents of the city I called home for a mere six weeks were caught up in a conflict that they, too, had no control over, conflict in the city they call home permanently, the city that many have called home for their entire lives and have no desire to leave. Now that I am home, I can mentally process all the things I experienced, but my friends in Central Asia must go about their normal lives.

Yes, all of the above list were things that I had to let go of this summer. But for the sake of cross-cultural understanding and growth and my new friends, who have become very dear to me, laying down all of these things has been more than worthwhile.

 

More than a month later, I’m still thinking through all of the things that happened this summer and the implications of what I’ve learned. Some of those thoughts will likely end up here in the near future. Until next time,

Elizabeth

Plans

A wise man once said that a person can plan their ways but the Lord directs their steps. The direction I actually end up going may be completely different, but these are my plans for the next year.

OU Cousins
I’m finally applying for the Cousins program this year! I’ll be matched to an international “cousin” at a matching party, based on mutual interests. I’ll meet with my cousin at events sponsored by OU Cousins and outside of those events – I want to be able to do regular life things with my cousin, like eating lunch and going to Target, and also do fun things and show them my favorite places in Norman. In Central Asia this summer, I had several good friends take me under their wings and show me around their city, and I’d like to be able to return the hospitality.

Critical Language Scholarship
The Critical Language Scholarship allows students to travel abroad for eight weeks in order to learn a language of high interest to the US in an immersive environment. The eight weeks of language immersion are equivalent to about one year of study in the language, and no previous knowledge of the language is necessary. The program is highly competitive, and I don’t think I have a very good chance of being accepted, but I’m telling you, readers, for the sake of accountability, so I can’t easily back out of it because I didn’t tell anyone of my plans. The application deadline is in November.
I’m going to apply for the 2017 program to Baku, Azerbaijan in order to learn Turkish. My heart for the region of Central Asia really grew this summer, and I can envision myself teaching English there in five or ten years.

University of Paderborn
I’d like to study in Paderborn, Germany for a semester or a year next year during junior. OU has several exchange programs in Germany, but I chose Paderborn because there are fewer English speakers there than in other German towns with large universities, and I want the experience to be as immersive as possible. I’m also interested in Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.

Zivildienst

Two weeks ago I heard Johannes Wiesmeyr speak about his time as a Zivildiener at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp memorial in Austria. He is teaching at OU through a Fulbright grant and will return to Austria after the semester. He was my German teacher last semester and I really enjoyed his class. Hearing him speak about his experience was fascinating (although I don’t remember him mentioning it last semester at all!).
First, he explained the Werpflicht system. In Austria, all males of a certain age are required to serve in the military for six months. Conscientious objectors are allowed to opt out and do civil service for nine months instead. (I didn’t realize there was a mandatory conscription system in Austria or other countries in central and eastern Europe; this was interesting to me and caused me to examine and compare the United States’ own conscription laws.)
Most Zivildienern work in nursing homes, helping the elderly, etc., but Wiesmeyr chose to complete his at Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Like most children in Austria, he first visited Mauthausen in eighth grade. He says he doesn’t remember all the details, but he knows it left a strong impression on him. When the time came for his Zivildienst, he signed up early to work as a tour guide at Mauthausen because he knew it was exactly what he wanted to do.
As a tour guide leader, he became an expert about the memorial and the camp itself, so after he explained Werpflicht, he shared some of this knowledge with us. He gave a brief synopsis of the structure of the camp, the type of labor the prisoners were forced to do, the system they were classified by, and the number who were murdered at the camp.
Learning about the Zivildienst system and about Mauthausen from Wiesmeyr was informative and compelling. He chose to serve the public in a very important way – by providing tours and educating visitors about the crimes against humanity that took place at Mauthausen. The world needs these kinds of educators and civil servants in order to prevent the same injustices from happening today.

Turkish lessons

Proudly displaying our certificates

Proudly displaying our certificates

Something that’s really wonderful about OU is the number of lectures on any topic imaginable that are free and open to the public. Recently, I’ve learned that lectures aren’t the only free opportunity to learn. There are also free classes.

When I found out that a free Turkish class was being offered this semester, I jumped at the chance. I would love to visit Turkey, and since learning one foreign language since last semester has been fun, I decided to tackle another.

The classes, hosted by the Turkish Student Association and taught by Gorkem Guloglu, are held in a classroom on the first floor of Price on Tuesday evenings. At the beginning of the semester attendance was high, but since then it has dwindled. Fortunately, the lower attendance has allowed me and the other dedicated students there to practice our conversation one-on-one!

German is the only foreign language I’ve made much progress in, so I’m using it as a frame of reference for learning about other languages (I feel like I know more about German grammar than English grammar!). I’ve found myself comparing Turkish to German quite a bit. They’re not at all similar except for a few letters in the alphabet that make the same sound.

A few things about Turkish that are really nice:

  • Vowel harmony. The vowels added to the end of words vary based on the vowels contained in the words. As a result, words flow easily from the tongue.
  •  No definite articles.
  • Nouns don’t have genders.

In a way, I can see how it would be easier to understand, but as a native English speaker, some things are tricky. I struggled with verb conjugations.

A couple random things I find cool: Çay, pronounced like chai, is the Turkish word for tea. Aslan is the word for lion. And seni seviyorum means “I love you” but Seni sevmiyorum means “I don’t love you.” One letter makes all the difference.

I want to keep learning Turkish through Duolingo and maybe through another class offered next year because it’s a beautiful, harmonious language and because I intend to go to Turkey at some point in my college career.

German Club

Hanging at Das Bootcamp with the Beginning German squad 

During my trip to Central Europe with the Dorothy Shaw Bell Choir last year, and especially while we were in Vienna, I started trying to pick up some German. I continued to work at it over the summer and eventually enrolled in Beginning German. Joining the OU German Club, which exists to celebrate the German language and culture, seemed a natural choice for me.

As part of German Club, I’ve attended Stammtisch, a Thursday get-together at Second Wind. Soon after arriving at my first Stammtisch, I realized quickly that my reading and writing abilities are far better than my speaking ability — I needed more practice. There were several students who had already spent semesters in Berlin and spoke fluently, and a few beginners, like me, in their first and second semesters who had no idea what was going on. Even though I had no response to most of the professor’s and older students’ questions, Stammtisch provides me with extra motivation to practice speaking.

German Club offers several presentations and lectures throughout the semester. One of them is the lecture on German dialects I’ve posted about earlier. Another was an informational session on the summer program at the University of Leipzig. Even though I probably won’t be going to Germany this summer, I enjoyed hearing from the students who went last summer talk about their classes and adventures around the city. Their pictures and stories really made me want to hang out in Leipzig for a few days or weeks or forever.

Next semester, I’m hoping my work schedule won’t conflict with Poesieabend or the Big Stammtisch, the German Club’s main events, and that my class schedule allows me to attend Stammtisch on a regular basis. But I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had in German Club so far and look forward to practicing the language and experiencing/eating German culture even more.

my digital story

My digital story was inspired by a lecture on German dialects from John te Velde, a professor at Oklahoma State University. This brief informational video reflects his reasoning as to why we need people to study and catalog dialects.

My video also reflects some of my own experiences and observations on language differences between the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, and Wales. I wish I’d attended this lecture before going to Canada and being confused by the children’s requests to play on the “structure” in the park (instead of the playground), or at least before confusing a waiter in England by asking where the “bathroom” was (in England, it’s the toilet, WC, or loo, not the “bathroom” or “restroom.” The “bathroom” is where you take baths. The “restroom” is where you sit down for a moment or take a nap.) These differences in vocabulary don’t necessarily mean that other countries’ English is part of a completely different dialect, but all the same, I’m glad I now have the perspective and the knowledge that other people speak differently than I do.

The lecture really piqued my curiosity about accents, dialects, and related languages. I hope my degree plan allows me to take an introductory linguistics class at OU, or even while I’m abroad.

I enjoyed making this video, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too!