OU Global Engagement Fellowship

Experiences & Reflections

Category: International Events

Global Engagement Day 2018 Talk

This semester I had the opportunity to present my study abroad experiences at the annual Global Engagement Day at the University of Oklahoma. In this blog post I’ll summarize the information included in my talk.

The main points I went over were as follows:

  1. Why I chose to study where I did
  2. How I prepared for my trips
  3. Some highlights of my time abroad
  4. What I learned about myself
  5. Advice for other students planning to study abroad

One the primary reasons I chose to study abroad in Taiwan and Germany is that I speak Mandarin Chinese and German fluently. Additionally, Taiwan is well known as a major manufacturer of electronics that are distributed on a global scale. Germany on the other hand has earned a reputation for high standards in engineering practices.

In terms of preparation for my trips abroad, a major conclusion from my research was that cash is king for the locations where I was planning to study abroad. I also spent a significant amount of time going through the process of pre-equating my engineering courses so that I would not be too behind on my engineering coursework when I got back to OU. I asked several people for advice, including my sister who had previously studied abroad in college and a missionary who had lived in China for several years.

The major highlight of my time at the National Taiwan University of Taiwan was my involvement in a university group called International Companions for Learning. Through the program I had the opportunity to lead weekly Skype session for a Taiwanese elementary school where I taught the students about American culture. The university even paid for a free trip to the actual location of the school towards the end of the semester! My time in Germany was filled with travel on the weekends when I didn’t have lectures to attend. I was able to visit a new almost every two weeks! In Europe traveling to a different country is equivalent to traveling to a different state in the United States. A cool part of my experience in Germany was that I stayed with a local host family for my last two weeks. My host parents were extremely friendly and taught me many things about Germany that I would have otherwise never have had the opportunity to learn.

I learned many things about myself during and after studying abroad. One was that all of my strengths and weaknesses I have while at have at home in the US are significantly magnified while abroad. A good example of this is being introverted, so if you tend to avoid parties on the weekends, you probably won’t go out of your way to party while abroad. Of course, this might be different for other students abroad, but this was my personal experience. I also learned that I really find myself to be more fulfilled when I enjoy the journey or process of something rather than staying focused only on my goals. A good example of this is my spontaneous trip I took to Geneva in Switzerland. I originally had not planned to visit the city, but the flights back to Germany were cheapest from there. It turned out to be my favorite city of all out of the ones I visited in Europe. Finally, I have learned that no matter what my future career is, I want it to have a significant international component.

In terms of advice to students who are thinking about or planning to study abroad, my primary advice is to plan thoroughly but not obsessively. On the one hand, you don’t want to be in a stressful situation you could have planned for, but on the other hand, there is a certain value to just wandering around for the sake of adventure. Obsessive planning leads to disappointment when plans quickly change. Also, it is important to have fun outside of classes, which may or may not be a hard things depending on what kind of student you are. Make sure to have a support network back home, because contrary to what you might hear from others, studying abroad does not only consist of positive moments (even though that might be a common portrayal). Last piece of advice is specific for those studying abroad in Europe: Make sure to check all modes of transportation. At least for Germany, train tickets are often more expensive (sometime significantly more expensive) than flying by plane (you might have heard of Ryanair and the likes). Flixbus is a great options if you don’t mind taking longer to get to your destination.

That’s it for this blog post! I’ll be posting quite a few more blogs soon detailing what I’ve been up to during the past semester.

“U.S.-Russia Relations: Where Do We Go From Here?” Jeffrey Mankoff 3/3/2016

Towards the beginning of this month, I attended a talk given by Dr. Jeffery Mankoff, an OU alum who is now an expert in U.S. political relations. This specific lecture focused on the bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia. One appeal for me to attend this presentation was that I was able to take one year of Russian language classes during my senior year in high school. I personally find the Russian culture and language to be a fascinating subject to study. I appreciated the insight I was able to gain from someone who has been actively involved in international discussions. Although I was a bit late for the talk, I found that the speaker was very organized and clear in expressing his arguments. Therefore, I was able to jump right in what was being discussed.

When I was settled and ready to take notes, the topic at hand was U.S. efforts to work with the Russian government to promote democracy in their country. One major frustration for the Russians, however, was that they felt the U.S. failed to provide the same attention they gave to the western European countries at the end of World War II. Various efforts were implemented there as aid to the recovering nations, but no such equivalent was seen for Russia. The focus then shifted to the various presidential administration of the U.S. and began with the belief that the Bush administration lacked the knowledge of Russia in general in order to promote rapprochement between the two nations.

Vladimir Putin was the first head of a nation to express condolences after the tragic events of 9/11 and openly offered any support necessary, a fact that is perhaps not widely known. The U.S. government did take advantage of this offer and received Russian intelligence concerning sensitive knowledge pertaining to Afghanistan and its surroundings. As a result of this unprecedented exchange of information, Putin initially appeared to have a pro-western attitude in his policies, yet it became quickly apparent that this would not last. In fact, Putin soon exhibited signs of attempts to consolidate control over the entire Russian political system. A major aspect of this shift in policy were major crackdowns that begun during this time with takeovers of big Russian businesses.

Even with the turmoil that began to ensue from the restriction of free trade, the U.S. continued to attempt to strengthen deeper economic ties with Russia. Around this time in history, popular protests began throughout various former Soviet Union constituent nations. Georgia began with the Rose revolution, Ukraine has its own Orange revolution, and all of the movements were collectively knows as the color revolutions. Russia’s first instinct was to identify the U.S. as the main supporter of these efforts to undermine Russian influence in its bordering regions.

Many of the newly reformed countries from the color revolutions had a great interest in membership in NATO, the primary bulwark in preventing Russian expansion at the time. The fragile situation in Georgia did not help the intensifying situation either. The new Obama administration thus began with attempts to improve relations, promote nuclear nonproliferation, and dealing with the growing Iranian nuclear program. A further area of interest was to strengthen societal links between Russian and U.S. citizens, but already worsening relations were quickly joined by a lack of interest of individual to actually carry out these efforts. A bilateral presidential commission was the main proposed solution that was attempted.

After Putin reclaimed his position as president of Russian in 2012, a newly forming middle class began to demand greater political power and government without Putin in the bigger picture. Continued U.S. support in the Middle East also helped to make Russian nervous about its authority in the region. Additional situations arose with the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood. Russia allowed the U.S. to protect civilians in Libya, but was not content when the U.S. expressed their goal of removing Gaddafi from power.

In summary, the speaker felt that whatever new administration is chosen by the American people will not use a “reset button” in terms of relations with Russia. His opinion is that any of the possible candidates will not believe that Russia will be willing to contribute to U.S. efforts and they lack a will to restore relations on the other side as well. He described relations with Russia as a mixed bag from now on as far as he could tell.

Although I really enjoyed the talk, the opinions that were expressed seemed to dominate the entire discussion. I thought that the speaker could have given a bit more of the Russian side of the thought process, but I certainly appreciated his neutrality when it came to proposing his ideas concerning the matter at hand. I always enjoy listening to individual arguing for one side of a discussion, and I have found myself more willing to evaluate the opinions that I hear the more I attend these interested lectures. I definitely look forward to attending more talks to help broaden my perspective on all sorts of topics!

“Science and Civilization in Islam” Dr. Peter Barker, University of Oklahoma 1/26/2016

Towards the end of January, I attended a lecture by Peter Barker, a History of Science professor at OU. I went into this particular Presidential Dream course presentation with an open mind, willing to learn new things and remaining steadfast in my curiousness for the origins of modern science. My belief is that I can always gain further insight into topics that interest me, and there is no harm in listening to an expert express their passion for their research. This particular talk seemed, however, unique to me in its cultural and international components. The lecturer gave sound arguments while allowing us to decide for ourselves how earlier science began based on the evidence he presented.

Dr. Barker began with an explicit statement of the significance of his findings relevant to the development of science as we know it. His arguments revolve around the idea that Islamic scientists had a much more profound impact in countless scientific topics than we learn. Although he never stated this directly, the impression was that he believed that Islam was the main source of the scientific revolution, with Western countries borrowing from what those in the Middle East had accomplished before them. He also stated his goals in presenting this topic to the community. His wish is to replace the various Islamic stereotypes that have remained embedded in Oklahoma with more fact-based statements.

The first thesis Dr. Barker refuted is known as the “bookshelf” thesis. This belief essentially claims that Islamic intellectuals translated and preserved earlier science, but did not add anything to ancient science. Many modern subjects that are well developed today can immediately be brought up as counterevidence to this argument. The first subject is Algebra which was conceptualized by Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. Yet another subject that is foundational to so many other disciplines, namely Chemistry, was heavily influenced by the work of Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan. Furthermore, Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abdullah ibn Sina systemized and added considerably to the study of medicine, including his significant identification of the smallpox disease.

Another argument for the insignificance of Islamic science is the Rise and Decline Thesis. The origins of this were supposedly begun by criticism of Greek tradition and religious criticism of science. Although science has remained a complex phenomenon throughout history, it is hard to deny two basic mistakes. The first is that scientific tradition between the West and Islam cannot and should not be considered separately. In fact, Lady Montagu, an English aristocrat, led inoculations all the way from Istanbul to Europe. The second glaring error in this argument is the absence of a verifiable decline in Islamic scientific progress. One could even say that western science is actually a continuation of Islamic science.

It is often hard to deny that figures we have thought to be heroes in history may have borrowed extensively from the work of others. We have the false impression that these figures were able to achieve amazing things during their lifetimes through their own faculties. Dr. Barker gave us a prime example of this problem. We were given a drawing that Copernicus used to develop scientific principles in the realm of astronomy. Then, we were shown a very similar drawing developed by an Islamic astronomer considerably earlier than when Copernicus published his work.

At the end of his talk, Dr. Barker opened up the podium for questions. I must say that I learned a great deal more from the great questions that were asked. The lecture as a whole gave me a fresh insight into the history of a topic I am greatly interested. Although I had my own idea about what the lecture would entail beforehand, I was still fascinated by how much I learned in a short amount of time. My belief is that adding perspectives to my current knowledge is one of the best things that I can do while exploring different opportunities in college. I am really thankful to OU for providing these great lectures that can give me a fun break from long hours of studying!

Fall 2015 Semester Open Mic Night @ Second Wind Coffee Shop 10/15/15

Last Thursday the Open Mic Night for the Fall 2015 semester was held at the Second Wind Coffee Shop. Jaci Gandenberger, OU’s Global Engagement Fellowship Coordinator, gave new and old Global Engagement fellows a warm welcome after everyone had settled down with their beverages. We began the relaxed event by giving a brief introduction of ourselves. Many fellows expressed their enthusiasm for studying abroad in their language of choice, be it a language they already know or one they wish to practice.

Different people in attendance shared interesting and relatable stories concerning their experiences abroad. One individual shared the time when he was lost in Japan. He was twelve years old at the time but was eventually reunited with his mother. Jaci told us about how she bridged the gap between cultures by forming a connection with a Moroccan family that also watched WWE.

Another fellow recalled his experiences while touring Paris. He noticed that a police car and ambulance were parked in front of a few buildings in the city. Although this was a bit unsettling, he was able to end on a happy note with his love for certain dishes found exclusively in France.

One girl talked about touring China. At the time, she didn’t think twice about needing to know much Chinese to simply have a meal in a certain restaurant. After waiting a long time in line to be served, she was finally able to communicate with the waiters and waitresses using the Japanese keyboard on her phone.

The event was truly interesting, both for those who have had extensive experience abroad and those who have never left the United States. I know I represent all of us in saying that we look forward to seeing this event take place again next semester. I can’t wait to listen to many more stories about such a diverse range of experiences!

“Why we need dialects and dialect research.” Dr. John te Velde, Oklahoma State University 10/1/2015

Yesterday I attended a lecture by Professor te Velde on the importance of dialects, specifically the dialects of Germany. He began by arguing for the importance of dialect research. Simply put, many more emotions can be conveyed through spoken language. In contrast to the written language, dialects are based on sound which has stress, pitch and other characteristics. Standardized language is more of an “idealization.” A critical aspect of any dialect is that it is spoken before the introduction of a formal education. An individual’s “mother language” stands as a better indicator of an individual’s capacity for language.

He then continued with his own research while pointing out the urgency of dialect research needs. Regional variations are quickly becoming obsolete after each generation. The main dialects that were focused on were Kiezdeutsch, Eastern Yiddish, Hessian, and Swabian. Kiezdeutsch is spoken by youth who have a minority background and live in urban German cities. This dialect is distinct in that it breaks a few fundamental grammar rules of Standard German. On the other hand, Eastern Yiddish has impacted subtle aspects of everyday German. One example is adding a pause in between beginning words and the rest of a sentence.

The bulk of the presentation was on the differences between Standard German, Hessian, and Swabian. Standard German and Hessian show many differences, including flat and round sounds, diphthongs and monophthongs, and more relaxed vowels. Additionally, Hessian sees the reduction of verbal, adjectival and nominal endings.

There are two main factors which are thought to have influenced the development of Hessian. The region where it is spoken was historically Rhine-Franconian. Additionally, Hessian was less influenced by other languages like French. In general, it is thought that any dialect evolves based of the principle of least effort. Swabian is distinctive for its extra diphthongs, noticeable nasal-drops and shorter vowels. Both Swabian and Hessian have cut the –en ending to –e and use a different article to distinguish between plural and singular nouns. Swabian also exhibits noticeable nasal-drops and shorter vowels.

Professor te Velde expressed his support for the theory of standard-dialect symbiosis, or the idea that Standard German and the dialects are enrichening each other simultaneously. He then finished his presentation by reemphasizing the importance of the least effort principle and the relationship between words and their functions in language.

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