Too many Carmen Sandiagos

With being part of GEF and a few language programs, I hear about how many international students OU has aaaaaall the time. We’re supposed to be one of the largest takers of exchange students, and I’ve met a few of the recruiters who work tirelessly to get students from all across the world to come here. So, knowing that they’re apparently everywhere on campus, it begs the question:

Where in the heck are they REALLY?
I don’t know if I’m just blind, but for some reason I don’t know very many international students at all. I have met a few people through the rugby team here, but other than them I haven’t found anyone. The issue isn’t just with me, however; I have many friends who say the same thing. It makes me wonder: Are they hiding from us Americans? Can they only go out at night? Do they have invisibility cloaks? And on a serious note, why are there not more resources available to get Americans and international students together more often?

To be fair, there is OU Cousins, though there are certainly problems with the program, especially seeing as you can only have one Cousin. Also, there are international floors, but then the opportunity to meet them is reserved pretty much solely for the others who live on that floor. I remember how easy it was to meet Italians and other exchange students at the University of Bologna because of all the programs and clubs there. It seems to me that there should be a better method to get together with international students on a casual level. I had an idea for a club long ago, though nothing ever came to fruition because I left for a semester and I was far too busy this semester. I’m thinking next year is the year to finally do something about this odd drought of international students being friends with Americans.

Language and Religion Chat

My Arabic class all got together for a discussion on the ties between religion and language, a talk ran by a professor whose name I can’t remember, let alone spell. He was visiting from another college and was the leading expert on the subject. Honestly, I thought it was going to be really really boring, but it ended up being absolutely fascinating. His research was more specifically focused on the connections between Arabic and Islam. As a native speaker and Muslim, he had grown up in a world suffused by both and had lots of passion for the subject. I had never particularly thought about how religion influenced language, but in retrospect, it almost feels obvious. That clarity does not make the subject any less deep, however. There were a million anecdotes about specific cultures and languages that grew around religion, notably on the island of Zanzibar in Africa. The Muslims on the island are actually split between worshipping in Arabic or in Urdu, the language of the common people on the island, and the debate between them is furious. As someone who is not religious, hearing about the ardent passion people have for the language tied to their religion was a new experience for me. I had assumptions beforehand, of course, but I did not realize how big of a deal it was for some Jews to worship in Hebrew and for Muslims across the world to worship in Arabic. I got a lot out of the talk and now I have a whole new lens through which to view my Arabic studying as an outside to the religion it grew around.

Italian Coffee Shop

Early in the semester, a few of the Italian teachers held a small event to talk about the classic Italian bar (that being what they call a coffee shop). While this might sound like a simple topic at face value, the bar is an extremely important part of Italian life, and so much goes into it. Listening to them talk was both nostalgic and interesting to see how their views of coffee and bars differed from mine, even though we were talking about the same places.

One thing I know for absolutely certain is that Italians have caffeinated blood running though their veins. I’m also pretty sure that’s where they get their reputation for passion and energy from. It only makes sense that they don’t actually have blood; it’s just pure coffee, which they need to replenish as often as possible at the bar. Many of my days were spent lounging on a table in the street sipping an espresso with some friends while people languidly waltzed by, and based on how full they were at all times of the day, that’s how most Italians spend their days. Outside of church, there’s no more common meeting place than the local bar. Bars welcome families and people of all ages despite their name. Coffee can differ widely from place to place, but one thing that stays constant is the absolute reverence for the drink. There are a ton of different methods that Italians swear by for making coffee in a bar or at home and no one can quite decide on the best one. I think they argue just to argue because it all tastes great to me, but what would my uncultured American tongue know?

After talking about the culture surrounding bars, I got to sit and drink proper coffee with my Italian professors and chat about Italy. It was a cathartic experience for me. I’m surprised at just how many emotions I had when I saw the images of bars they had up, but I guess it makes sense in retrospect. Either way, I was very glad I had ended up going, because the talk was really just a series of happy memories for me, memories for which I am very thankful.

Italian Club (not the sandwich tho)

This semester, I made much more of an effort to get involved in Baccano, and I can say that it was definitely worth it. The Italian Club is still pretty small here at OU because of a couple factors: the management was pretty bad before Busciglio came on, everyone in the club is very busy because they’re mostly older students, and there just simply isn’t a large Italian program here at OU. That being said, we were still able to have a few successful events, namely Caffe e Conversazioni, that were really fun and valuable for my Italian learning.

I was able to attend all four group conversation events this year and it was really rewarding. For most of them, there were only about five people there, but those five people were always excited to practice their Italian and improve. Actually speaking with people is obviously invaluable to learning a language. Books can’t teach you everything even if we’d like to believe they can (and it would certainly make language learning a much less stressful process). Also, even though I was speaking in my Italian 4 class, I was pumped to have a casual conversation with people in Italian again. I’d been missing it since coming back from Bologna and our little talks helped alleviate some of those itches.

In the future, I’m hoping to have the time to get more involved in the club and move it forward. With research, work and fraternity life, however, that looks to be a bit of a far-off dream. I’m still looking forward to the club for next year even if I can’t get too deep into it, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

Arabic Calligraphy lesson, aka Handwriting Inadequacy Hour

Just last week ago, the Arabic Flagship program hosted an Arabic calligraphy lesson with a master who teaches in California. Our whole Arabic class went together to take a look at the different styles of writing, and I can tell you, there were WAY more than expected. Calligraphy isn’t something practiced in the Western world with Latin script, so just in case you didn’t know, it’s an art form more about how the letters look than what they mean. It was initially practiced because it’s forbidden to paint or create any religious imagery of the Prophet or other figures whatsoever, so instead, script praising Allah was used as art to decorate buildings and writings. I’ve included a few examples of calligraphy below if you want a better idea of what I’m talking about. Classically, there were 65 distinct styles of calligraphy, but now there are just 12 styles in use, which is still way more than I expected. Of those, I could only read about 5, because the rest are so filled with decoration and twisting of the script that it was unrecognizable to someone who wasn’t too used to Arabic script. In the end, the lesson was far more intriguing than I could’ve guessed.

The professor had studied for years and years to learn how to write the scripts and it showed in his presentation. There were some technology issues and he had to use a chalkboard, and even without his proper tools, the scripts were still absolutely incredible. Each letter has a particular measurement using the dots you see in Arabic scripts, and each letter had to be a certain number of dots tall and wide to be considered actual script. Combine this with decorations and short vowels and you have a complex art. I didn’t realize that so much went into calligraphy, but after attempting to write some simple calligraphy with a pen, I quickly discovered that I would need SO many years to figure it out. Either way, it was an illuminating lesson, even if the illumination was mostly that my handwriting was WAY worse than I liked to think!

 

Arabic Talent Show

A few weeks ago, the rest of the Arabic 1 students and I all took part in the Arabic Talent Show. It’s a big night where all the students and faculty get together to watch videos and skits from the classes, along with poems and stuff from other clubs. They also had the Belly Dance club (which was actually incredible to see). Us baby Arabic students didn’t have much to do, but we all sang this one Egyptian song called Baba Fein, a little kids song. We didn’t get a bunch of time to practice in class, and outside of class just wasn’t happening with midterms and finals, but we went to do it anyways. It couldn’t be that bad right?

Wrong.

We were genuinely terrible. No one knew the lyrics and everyone was awkward (COMPLETELY including myself in this by the way). It was really really fun just to go up there and put our all into it, but it had to be torture for everyone else. After we were done the clapping was noticeably less loud. Still, it was a great time and I’d do it all over again! The rest of the show was so much better and I really enjoyed that too. There was one particular video that a class had made where they redid Lord of the Rings entirely in Arabic. I have to say, while “My preciousssss” is an iconic line, “Habibiiiii” might have worked even better! It was really cool and inspiring to see all of these Arabic students really living up their time learning the language. I hope that one day I can go to that same talent show and actually have something worthwhile to show, but for now I’ll have to stick with memories of butchering Baba Fein.

Baccano ya know

When I found out that Italian Club was reviving itself this year, I was so pumped. Baccano was basically underground for the first 2 years of me being at OU; it was pretty poorly managed, and there really weren’t any events to speak of. I always wanted to have a group of people I could speak Italian with but it was impossible to find them!

Obviously now that’s over, and thank Jeebus for it. I found out that the club was being revived on my way to adding an Italian minor and I couldn’t have been more excited. Even though it was a real bummer that I didn’t find out till halfway through the semester, I tried to go to every event possible. Turns out, that was very few, with me starting a new job and studying heating up, but I made it work. My favorite event in the Italian Club was a day called Caffe e Conversazione, where students and exchange students sat down in Crimson and Cream and had, well, conversations over coffee. It was fairly lowkey, and it gave me a good chance to sharpen up my actual talking and meet some new people to chat with. Believe it or not (he said sarcastically), it’s juuuuust a little bit difficult to find other Italian speakers in Norman, Oklahoma. Having Baccano back is a huge boost to my potential in Italian, seeing as that’s a whole group of people who are dying to speak Italian just as much as I am. I’m taking a few less hours next semester, so here’s to hoping I get to have coffee in Italian many more times over the spring.

Farsi Poetry Night

On a whim, I decided one night that I really wanted to hear what Farsi sounded like. The Farsi department at OU was putting on a poetry reading competition in Farzaneh Hall, and although I knew not a whit of Farsi, I figured it would be fairly educational. I was totally wrong but it WAS really cool. The poems sounded beautiful both in their original language and in English. The subject matter was all either very depressing or about almost creepily intense love, though is that reeeeally much different from English poetry? In speaking, the language almost sounded like a mix between Arabic and French, with some pretty key Arabic letters like ayhn and ghayn making a guest appearance with a bit of a softer lilt. The language also flowed differently from Arabic, with more “smoothness” to the words minus Arabic’s musical feel. After I listened to a few pieces, I looked up the Persian script and it was remarkably similar to Arabic. There are a few major differences, such as Farsi having a “p” sound and letter (why is that even missing in Arabic??), but overall the script and the language itself were very similar. Some other cool things about the competition were that they served some traditional Persian snacks, like pomegranate seeds, and some people even came with traditional Persian clothing. One dude even came in those curly-toed shoes they always have in movies, which was a childhood dream come true to see. I only wish I could pull them off myself… Overall, I was happy to have gone and seen it, if only for the perspective it afforded me towards Arabic. I may not have understood anything, but I certainly could appreciate it, which is what really counted.

Traveling Dangerously

I have a confession to make: I really really really REALLY want to live somewhere “dangerous”. You know, maybe somewhere that has a travel advisory on it, or anywhere that the average WASP wouldn’t be comfortable setting foot. I think it has more to do with the fact that I grew up with the most Wonderbread existence possible in a nearly all-white Minnesota high school next to the richest town in the state than a death wish, but who’s to say? All I do know is that after a while spent traveling in safe European countries, I’m ready for something a little more adventurous.

One place that’s stood out in my mind recently is Tangier, in Morocco. After talking about it with our Global Engagement Advisor (the stellar Mrs. Jaci Gandenberger), I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I’ve always wanted to live in Morocco; I just never knew exactly where. Tangier sits right along the coast in the heart of where the Spanish once held Morocco. As a port city and as one of the less wealthy cities in Morocco, it’s been traded back and forth from civilization to civilization and picked up a little bit of each culture along the way. A huge amount of writers and artists have lived in Tangier at some point in their lives and the city is still an artistic hotspot today. That being said, it’s got its darker corners, which attracts me in an odd way. Tangier is so different from anywhere I’ve ever lived (looking at you, Norman), and I want so badly to see it for myself. Does it make me dumb to want to be in danger? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. As for me, I think it absolutely does mean I’m dumb, but that’s just fine with me. Someday I’ll see it for myself, but for now, I’ll just have to be content with my secret agent fantasies and dreams of danger.

Still So Much to Learn

I had a moment of cultural ignorance the other day doing an Arabic project. We were supposed to interview someone who was born in a Middle Eastern country and find out a little bit about what they thought of America, partially in Arabic and in English. Unfortunately I don’t know actually know anyone for the Middle East (one point for my Ugly American side), so I ended up going to the Arabic Flagship tutoring and meeting a Yemeni man named Maeen. As I listened to him talk about his home city of Ibb and how life went on there, I realized that I had a wildly different view of Yemen from the truth. Honestly, I thought it was just a barren desert country with a few sandstone cities sprinkled throughout, even though I knew Yemen had coastline and the ocean generally didn’t go well with desert. Maeen also told me all about the traditional clothing Yemeni people wear in daily life and I just couldn’t imagine how they survived in long jackets and pants all day. I waited until the end to incredulously ask all of my questions when he showed me pictures of Ibb, an absolutely stunning mountain city. It has gorgeous green terraces on the mountains with mist hanging near the tops, and the city spreads out in the valleys. Solitary prayer towers rise out of the buildings and you can see a massive, ornate mosque on one side of the city. I’ve been lucky enough to see many amazing cathedrals across Europe, but I don’t think any of them really compared. He described the weather as being much like San Francisco which blew my mind as well. Hearing all of this made me realize that even as I had been learning about the Middle East through Arabic class and supposedly understanding, I knew that I still had reduced the whole region to a single archetype in my head. I was so glad that I ran into him by the end of the interview. Obviously, even though I can pretentiously imagine I know so much more than the average American now that I’ve traveled a bit, I still have a long, long ways to go before really I know anything at all. It was a nice moment of ego reduction, and I think I’ll keep it in my head for a long time going forward.