Empress Komyo Calligraphy from Year 744

Introduction to Shodo (書道)

Introduction to Shodo (書道)

One of the things I really loved about being in Japan was seeing how much culture is embedded into daily life.  I’m sorry to Americans everywhere, but we have no culture–not in the way that a country that’s existed for thousands of years like Japan does, at least.  Everywhere I went, there were temples, shrines, women dressed in formal kimono and yukata, traditional food, and common phrases that all reminded me of how different Kyoto was from my home.  I love to learn more about these customs whenever I can, and this semester I was able to when the Japanese club organized a short workshop to learn shodo, Japanese calligraphy.

Photo Credit to Australian Aikido Ki Society

Shodo is a traditional art form that most Japanese children are required to learn in elementary school, much like American kids take art classes.  Kids can also choose to join a shodo club in high school, participate in national competitions, or study it in college.  As with chado (Japanese tea ceremony), kitsuke (kimono wearing), and ikebana (flower arranging), many children take lessons after school or on the weekends, which helps to keep these highly traditional art forms alive.

That did mean, though, that all of the professors and exchange students who helped run the shodo workshop had far more experience than any of the American students.  I had assumed that, since I’ve been doing art my whole life and I love to write kanji, I would be able to pick it up fairly easily. Amy's ShodoUnfortunately, that was not really the case.  Writing complex kanji with a pencil is very different from using a stiff-bristled brush (held vertically, not slanted like a pencil) and ink, especially since stroke order is even more important with ink than it is with pencil.  After practicing only a few characters and over for about an hour, I finally wrote out the kanji for yuki (courage) and signed my name on the sign.

My kanji weren’t the prettiest in class (I heard that one of the exchange students had actually won several shodo competitions in Japan), I really enjoyed getting a taste of this beautiful art form.  In the future, I would love to practice more so that I can fully appreciate shodo.

Amy Clears the Ball!

MLLL Inter-Language Soccer Game

MLLL Inter-Language Soccer Game

It’s not often that students majoring in different languages can organize a single activity that appeals to everyone, but the MLLL department’s soccer game certainly accomplished this.  And it shouldn’t be surprising that the students got so involved in the game, since Germany, France, Spain, and Italy are famous for their national dedication to soccer.

Because German had by far the most students, the other three languages combined into one team for the game.  The players ranged from people who, like me, enjoy soccer but haven’t played much recently to those who play regularly on intramural teams.  Even some professors came to support their languages, some as players and some just to enjoy the beautiful afternoon.  Everyone felt competitive during the game, but there was also an air of fun surrounding the whole afternoon.

Because of how the teams were divided, we jokingly mentioned that the last time Germany faced off against the rest of Europe, it didn’t really end so well.  Maybe we should have taken that as an omen, because the Romance Language team beat us by a large margin.  But I had fun playing soccer again for the first time in several years, and since I didn’t make any embarrassing mistakes, I counted the game as a win for myself.

After the game, most of the students and many of the faculty members expressed interesting in making the game, or even an MLLL intramural team, a long-term tradition.  I hope that it will be, and I look forward to participating in the next tournament!

Off the Radar

Off the Radar

Off the Radar

I find it incredibly interesting that of all the OU events I have attended in the past year, the vast majority of them have related to the Middle East, and in particular to the refugee crisis and its impacts around the globe.  Every time I saw a flyer for an event related to this topic, I jumped at the chance to learn more about this incredibly complex and current topic.

Cyrus Copeland’s lecture on his book Off the Radar: A Father’s Secret, A Mother’s Heroism, and A Son’s Quest was one such event that I immediately cleared my schedule to attend.  In part, I was curious about Copeland himself: almost forty years ago, his father was accused of being a CIA agent in Iran and was arrested, so his wife became the first female lawyer in Iran’s history in order to defend him in court.  But I was also intrigued with the opportunity to learn more about any piece of Iran’s history and culture, no matter how insignificant.

When I arrived at the lecture, I immediately felt out of place.  I felt out of my element, as the majority of the other students and professors were either Iranian themselves or were deeply involved in the Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies programs at OU.  But Cyrus Copeland’s lecture was engaging and enlightening as he examined the stigma with which Americans continue to view Iranians and told several short stories of his own experiences as an America who grew up in Iran.  It did frustrate me slightly that the lecture’s main question–was his father really an undercover CIA agent?–was never answered in the lecture, but Cyrus was a compelling enough story teller that I would gladly read his book in the future to find out for myself.

Overall, this event opened my eyes to the tensions that still exist between Americans and Iranians today.  I look forward to learning more about this topic in the future, since our lack of forgiveness and cooperation remains a very current and tense issue.

Salam Neighbor Website Banner

Salam Neighbor

Salam Neighbor

Last fall, my Becoming Globally Engaged class spent a day watching Living On One’s series of videos about what it is like to only have one dollar a day in Guatemala.  I was impressed by how down-to-earth and earnest the producers were as they spent two months living in a rural community, filming the local way of life and spreading awareness of how different their living conditions were.

Later, I found out that the same group of students had recently made another film about their experiences living in a refugee camp in Jordan.  I immediately thought that this film would be an excellent way to see what life is really like for the refugees in the Middle East.  However, Salam Neighbor wasn’t available on Living On One’s website or on YouTube like their earlier series; instead, it could only be viewed in a public screening.

I was so excited when I heard a few months later that there would be a screening of the film at OU!  The film was extremely impactful, and had such an in-depth exploration of life at the Za’atari refugee camp that I walked away feeling heartbroken for the thousands living in similar camps around the world.

The film successfully portrayed the refugees and the wars raging throughout the Middle East in an extremely humanizing way: it brought the very broad, unspecific subject of “the refugee crisis” down to a relatable level that I was able to connect to.  The interviews with various refugees as well as explanations of everyday life in a refugee camp were incredibly moving but also inspirational, because even in the midst of such dire conditions, the films subjects have found ways to keep up hope and even begin to turn Za’atari into a semi-permanent village.

I am so grateful that I was able to view this film, and would recommend it highly to anyone interested in learning more about the refugee crisis.  Living On One has now released a copy of Salam Neighbor to iTunes; if you want to learn more about the organization or see the film for yourself, you can find their website here: http://livingonone.org

Refugee Crisis Poster

Reflection: “Refugee Crisis”

Reflection: A New Century: A Refugee Crisis or the Future of the Global Political Landscape?

Taylor McKenzie’s lecture, billed as an examination of the impact the current refugee crisis in Europe had on his own Fulbright research in Germany, was highly anticipated; the sheer number of students who attended the event was overwhelming, with students overflowing the available desks to sit on the floor between tables and crowding along the room’s walls.  Yet McKenzie’s lecture lacked focus or any clear message, other than that he had studied squatters in Berlin.  Despite his eye-catching lecture title and the immediateness of this issue, he was unprepared to actually lecture on the topic and instead spent the majority of his time showing clips of his own and his friends’ documentaries.

However, it was extremely empowering to see how interested OU students and professors are in this topic.  The turnout was far greater than expected, and despite McKenzie’s disappointing lecture, many of the attendees raised extremely well-thought-out questions after the talk itself had ended.

Based on these questions, most of the attendees were hoping for McKenzie to offer an insider’s view of Germany’s reaction to the recent influx of refugees.  Since he had lived in Berlin and studied the squatters there for his Fulbright project, he would have been well positioned to critique how the new refugees compare to past immigrants.  The students were also curious about how Germany’s relative openness to refugees compares to the US’s reluctance to accept more immigrants.  If McKenzie had talked about future policies that both Germany and the US could implement, as well as given a more concrete, insider’s analysis of the German’s reaction to these refugees, the talk would have been more satisfying.

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Reflection: “The Role of Energy in Empowering ISIS”

The Role of Energy in Empowering ISIS

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Presidential Dream Course lecture “The Role of Energy in Empowering ISIS and Fueling the Conflict in the Middle East” was not the subject matter, though it was certainly interesting, or the guest lecturer, who was impressively involved in the issue in real life as the Senior Advisor to the Chief Economist in the US Department of State. The aspect that really pulled me in was that this issue is real and immediate and pertinent in our lives. Throughout high school I took several AP history classes and loved them, and in my AP US Government and Politics class we examined several modern issues in the realm of US domestic politics, but I have never had a class that focused on current, major world events.

Sitting down in a room full of students who attended out of a genuine interest in the topic, not because they were required to, was inspiring and eye-opening. It was gratifying to realize that important people involved in events that shape our lives would come to my university to lecture me and 90 other students. But it was almost surreal to realize that my peers either already are or soon will be involved in issues like the crisis in the Middle East, issues that impact the entire world. It was a motivating yet intimidating realization.

I did not expect so much of the lecture to be focused on oil itself, from extracting it from the ground to converting it into a useful product. The idea that ISIL (as I learned the US government has officially decided to call the organization) is crippling its own military strength by using oil that is practically still crude for its vehicles was intriguing in its short-sightedness.

After seeing how knowledgable and well-connected many of my peers already are, I wonder whether this field is something that I would be interested in as a possible future career. It was certainly exciting to be in the middle of something large and real.  Overall, attending this guest lecture inspires me to learn more about current world events.