Lately, I’ve been listening to more and more music from outside the States. Most of it is Italian, but there’s definitely some other countries thrown in there. I listen to some Egyptian and Lebanese songs, French songs galore, a few Spanish songs (Elvis Crespo is my main man), and oddly enough, some Hungarian, Dutch, German and even Mongolian songs. I certainly don’t think I’m “tired” of American music; I’m unbelievably pretentious, but not quite so pretentious as to believe I’m somehow “growing out” of our stuff. There’s just an unbelievable variety of songs outside of what I’m used to and it feels like it’s time to explore it. I have some ulterior motives, of course; the Italian and Arabic music is definitely to practice my languages, and the Spanish is to help me building at least some comprehension, but the rest of them I can’t explain quite so easily. I have no idea what’s going on in the lyrics of the songs, and yet it doesn’t seem to matter. This is odd because I hear from my friends and family all the time that they’re not particularly interested in foreign music because they can’t understand it. While I understand wanting to know the meaning of a song, does it really matter that much? I think you can get the feeling of a song just by listening to it, even across Non-Western cultures, and actually understanding the direct meaning of the words is secondary to understanding the song. Either way, I don’t really need an explanation; all I know is that I’m really loving this odd music phase I’m in.
I’ve finally decided on where I’m going for my short-term study abroad, and it’s a bit of an odd pick. I’m going on the Journey to Tanzania trip in Summer 2018! You may ask: Nick, why would you pick an African country when you have absolutely no idea what it’s going to be like? You could go to Italy and continue practicing Italian, or literally anywhere else in the world. Well, I’ll give you the short list of my reasoning, and hopefully it’ll help explain at least a bit of why I’m such a weird dude.
- I’ve never been to Africa! This one’s fairly obvious, seeing as I want to see every continent. Even though everyone says Africa is a country, it’s really not, which SO blows my mind (please notice the sarcasm)
- I don’t want someone to guide me through Italy. Don’t get me wrong, I’d LOVE to get back there, but I’ve already seen a good amount of the places in the journey program. Plus, I don’t want to spend a month rushing my way through a bunch of cities when I could spend some time just hanging with friends. I think that there are a lot of better ways to view Italy than at a sprint, so I think I’ll save it for another time.
- It’s surprisingly cheap to fly from Dar Es Salaam to Rome, which is the second part of my study abroad plan. Once the Journey is over, I want to fly to Italy and the UK and see some old friends again. That way, I get to spend my time across the ocean in the best way possible, rather than going over there and wasting an opportunity to revisit Bologna. Hopefully by that time I’ll have enough money to spend on the trip, but that’s a problem for Future Nick.
- Based on the pictures, I’m pretty sure you get to play with animals. So that’s the big draw here.
In the end, I think Tanzania is the best option for me to expand my cultural literacy. It’s a whole new area I’ve never explored and I can’t wait to see what it’s like. I mean, I have to wait obviously, but I digress.
I’ve gotten a lot more involved in Italian Club (Baccano) this semester, which has been a really good move for me. I was the acting vice-president for the whole semester, with the original president studying in Bologna and the original VP being the president. I got to help write our budget, plan and set up events, and recruit people to show up, which I just had a blast doing. In fact, I came up with the karaoke and wine tasting event we hosted in November, which I’ll talk about later. We had a few classic events and a few new ones this semester: our classic bake sale and our Italian-language conversations were a success as always, but we had a bocce tournament that was new, along with the karaoke event. We also had a party for the majors and minors in Italian near the end of the semester, where we got to eat pizza together and just discuss all the fun stuff we wanted to do going forward. It was awesome to get together with a lot of the other students and really soak in the Italian, because it can be really hard to find other people who are willing to speak it as often as I am. The party showed just how many people were interested in Italian. It was encouraging because we’ve had a problem with enough people wanting to learn the language, but with how well the club went this year and our new professors finally getting used to Norman, I think Baccano is only going up from here on out. While I may not keep my position when the original president returns, I definitely want to stay involved and have a good influence on the future of the Italian program here at OU.
This semester, we had one of the most fun events we’ve ever thrown for Baccano: A wine-tasting and karaoke night at Michaelangelos! Obviously the wine tasting was a little more *unofficial*, but everyone knows its impossible to sing Italian songs (or karaoke in general) until your second glass of wine. Michaelangelos was the absolute perfect place to throw it, seeing as the Italian professors already loved going there for the fantastic coffee, and they had a ready-made stage and screen for the karaoke. At first, I was worried no one was going to show up, and it’d just be me and few others. It’s been hard for us to get people excited about Baccano events. It wasn’t exactly well-managed in the past, and no we’re fighting hard to bring it to some sort of relevance. Anyways, after the first few shuffled in, a lot more people started coming, including most of the Italian professors and some people living in Norman from Italy. A good chunk of new students came as well, which was very encouraging. Karaoke, though, can turn out very awkward if no one steps up, and that’s definitely what happened at first. Eventually I got my courage up and I was the first one up, after making my professor and the club president promise that they’d go up next of course. It may have started slow but by the end of the night just about everyone had sang, sometimes multiple times. All the professors go involved as well, which is just hilarious and so much fun to watch. Everyone who went said they had a great time, and it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to again next semester!
Caffè e Conversazione is one of the things I look forward to most in a semester. It’s an event that Baccano throws a few times a semester, where students from all levels of Italian get together at Crimson and Whipped Cream to practice their speaking. I started with it a year ago just to practice, but it’s become a great chance to see old friends and people I don’t get to run into very often. Now that Baccano has been built up more than before, more people tend to show up and make it a much more fun time, including professors and older Italians from around town. Sometimes, I’ve spent an hour just talking casually to my professors, which is a really cool and unique experience. It’s hard to see all of these folks regularly, seeing as they have different classes and lives than me, so talking to them at these events is a good time to catch up. I’d like to expand the event further in the future, however, because eventually it’ll be too crowded for that little coffee shop. I don’t quite know how I’d do that but that’s a problem for the future. For the moment, I’m definitely going to continue going to the conversations in the future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!