Culture Shocks

Unsurprisingly, the various cultures I encountered on my trip to Europe were all very different from the United States. This post will probably be an ongoing edit of the things I’ve noticed.

By traveling Europe, I actually learned more about American culture and what defines our lifestyles and our mindsets. It’s hard to recognize anything distinct when it’s all you’ve ever known, but exploring elsewhere has really opened my eyes.

In Europe, overall there is a slower pace of life. This was a common stereotype that I’d known, and being in Italy, the epitome of this idea, only ____ it for me. It goes beyond taking hours to eat dinner; it’s about appreciating the little things. For us, our entire culture is built on what’s next. Improving our lives, our jobs, improving technology, improving our salary or position. Everything is moving up, up, up which is why we have been one of the leading innovators in the past couple hundred years.

However, in Europe, I found far more people who were content with their job or their life. They didn’t need anything big or bold. There seemed to be much more respect for someone who chose to be say, a bartender, for their profession. Those choices of simplicity were normal and respected. Perhaps someone just wanted to live in a small flat in a city and run a coffee shop and nothing more. I think we could learn something from this mindset as a country.

Adventures in Budapest!

My day in Budapest was filled with one adventure after another! I took an overnight bus from Krakow to Budapest and arrived around 8:00 in the morning. I decided the best way to get an overview of the city was to take a free walking tour (these are very popular throughout Europe. They are super interesting and convenient but always remember to tip!). I couldn’t check into my hostel until 2:00 so I carried my backpack with me for the 3 hour tour across the city. I was worn out by the end but it was worth it!

Budapest was absolutely beautiful! It was the city that was most comparable to a US city — just with a lot more history.

Some notable sights were the ruin bars. After the removal and execution of the Jewish people during the holocaust, a large section of the city was left empty and dilapidated. People decided to make creative use out of the area and it is now home to dozens of bars! The one’s I went into had holes in the wall, didn’t have roofs and were just hodgepodges of rooms connected to create a fun environment! There was music dancing, creative decorations throughout the whole place! It was an ingenious way to bring life back to this part of the city while still preserving the history. They also had great food! I got to try some traditional Chicken Paprikash and I love it so much I’ve been looking up recipes since I’ve been back!

I also went to one of Budapest’s famous bathhouses. This historic houses have been frequented for centuries and are absolutely gorgeous! I went to the  Széchenyi bathhouse which has numerous indoor and outdoor pools. I was taken away by the architecture and expanse of the place. I also loved how I heard all different languages while sitting in the baths. People from all over came to this bathhouse! It was a much needed relaxation break.

At night, as I walked along the riverfront, I came across a watch party for the World Cup. I have LOVED being in Europe for the World Cup because it was a commonality between every country I went to. We were watching the England Colombia game and there were people from all countries rooting for both sides. It was a beautiful and powerful moment of community as hundreds of people from everywhere sat together watching a makeshift screen. The unity was beautiful and overwhelming and I have loved being a part of it. It was a great way to end my adventures in Europe.

Historic Krakow!

After my wonderful program in Italy came to a close, I was able to travel to Poland to visit my cousin in Krakow, and later spent a day in Budapest.

Traveling through the city of Krakow, I remarked on how Urban it was, especially compared to the ancient buildings that populated Rome. However, I only had to walk through the entrance to Old Town to find myself in a picturesque, historic plaza.

I took a walking tour of Krakow and learned a lot about their rich history. Krakow, former capital of Poland, used to be a major center of European trade, connecting the East and the West. Their central market is one of the largest in Europe and is centuries old. What used to be filled with merchants of all types is now home to restaurants, street performers, and souvenirs.  The city itself is also home to many universities. The original architecture is absolutely beautiful through the older parts of the city.

Krakow is a resilient city. It has survived multiple fires, Mongolian Invasions, and multiple occupations, including Austrian, German, and Soviet. It has even survived the worst account of genocide in modern history, the Holocaust.

It was actually very unexpected how much the cities in more Eastern Europe were still affected by the Holocaust. For Americans, we learn about it in our history books and we can watch the movies and go to the museums, but it did not have a permanent, visible effect on our country or our day to day lives.

In Budapest as well as Krakow, there are entire sections of the city that are historic ghettos where hundreds of thousands of people– Jewish people — were removed from their homes. There are empty buildings. There is a hole that might always be there. The effects of this horrific tragedy are still present throughout the city; people still remember. In Italy and the United Kingdom, there wasn’t the same impression and there was not clear mark, so the difference was very evident. It was very striking and very humbling.

Journey to Auschwitz

Today, I visited Auschwitz. It was one of the most powerful experiences if my life and something I don’t know if I can translate to words. We traveled through the concentration camp, visiting the spots where, 70 years ago, people walked — barefoot and cold — to their death.
From execution walls to suffocation and starvation rooms to the infamous gas chambers, Auschwitz was a terrifyingly efficient death camp. While you learn about it in schools, seeing the rooms where real people died every day was extremely difficult to process.  I never understood the true scope of the operations.
I gasped when I walked into Bier canal because the size of the camp was enormous.  The remains of barracks stretched on for what seemed like forever, each holding hundreds of people.  We walked the path to the gas chambers where thousands of people walked, thinking they were going to a shower. People squeezed the hands of their children, parted from their husbands or fathers or boyfriends; they huddled together with their school friends before being told to undress and prepare for disinfecting.
I met a survivor of Aushvitz that day, Hannah Moses. She was a twin who survived the experimentation of Dr. Mengele. These are some of the most memorable things she told us.
Throughout my trip, I was filled with sorrow, horror, and anger. Human beings systematically killed, stripped of dignity, forced to ensure suffering purely based on their religion, race, sexually orientation, etc. I am also terrified.

Image result for auschwitz plaque english

The last thing our tour guide said to us was ” I hope you take what you have seen here and you are more responsible” And I immediately thought of our current political state in the US. It is truly incredible that there are people in the US who are so privileged to be separated from this horror that they have the privilege and there audacity to call themselves NeoNazis.  This recent trend shows a serous lack of understanding of what happened during the war- the families and communities that were obliterated. When I was growing up these were universally recognized as human atrocities.  We will not forget. We will remember the horrors and make sure they never happen again.

Cheap International Flights: Travel more for less

This summer I traveled to Europe and spend time in London, Italy, Poland, and Hungary. I flew on 9 planes and spent less than $1200 on flights. So many people have asked me about it, so I decided to write a post about it for those intending to travel abroad.

Three tips: Start early, be willing to spend a lot of time searching, and be patient!

First of all, if you are a student traveling, be sure to look and sign up for student discounts wherever applicable. There are many sites that offer lower rates, like STA travel. You can also get a student traveler card which makes you eligible for more discounts.

Go directly to foreign airlines directly. Many US travel websites do not include flights by smaller airlines, which can sometimes offer better fares. Airlines will differ by country so you will have to do a lot of digging depending on where you want to go. Skyscanner is a great resource for searching cheap flights and they tend to include more airlines.

If you start early enough (about 8 months before), you can set alerts for when the price drops on multiple flights. They usually say the sweet spot to buy international flights is usually between 4 and 6 months out from the departure date and this will give you plenty of time to watch the price patterns. Shorter flights do not require as much time, but you should buy at least a few weeks out to avoid price surges.

If you want the best deals, you will have to get creative. It might be joining together different flights on different airlines. Be willing to be flexible in your destinations and connection locations as well. In order to get to Italy, I took a flight to London on one airline I had a 20 hour layover until my flight to Rome. I spent the day exploring London and visiting museums. I even saw a show at the Globe Theater! The cheapest flight home was through Lyon, France 5 days after my program ended, so I used the extra days to travel. I ended up in Budapest, Hungary and the cheapest way to get from Budapest to Lyon was to fly first to Brussels, Belgium. I had a few close calls and I ran through some airports but that leads me to my next and most important piece of advice.

CARRY ON. Carry on carry on carry on. I would not have been able to travel as much as I did if I didn’t. if you read the fine print of many discount airlines, the can saddle you with hefty fees for bringing a checked bag. Not only are checked bags more expensive, you will add a significant amount of time to your journeys. If you want to switch airlines you will have to wait at baggage claim and then recheck your bag (not to mention customs if you’re switching countries). While packing a month’s worth of supplies into one bag may seem impossible, it will be well worth it to cut time and cut costs. Good luck and safe travels!

Packing Tip: Remember liquids must only be in 3 ounce bottles. Also, try to find hostels with laundry options and pack clothes that you can mix and match. If you want to reduce your food costs, pack some snacks. By the end of the trip you’ll have eaten your food and you will have room for all of your souvenirs!

Voices of a Changing Middle East: Part 2

The second installment of the Voices of a Changing Middle East Theatre Series was entitled I Shall Not Hate.

This serious has continued to blow my mind and months late, I still find myself thinking back to these shows.

I shall not hate centers around a Palestinian male doctor who traveled between Israel and Palestine serving as a medical doctor. He grew up in a refugee camp and trained at Harvard,, leaving behind his wife and his children. He came back and was the first Palestinian to serve in an Israeli hospital, helping Israelis and Palestinians alike.

*Spoiler Alert*

The play centers around the many struggles that he has to go through- crossing borders, suffering abuse and discrimination, and dealing with the pains of war. Throughout all of the injustice that he faces, he does not harbor any anger or hate. He continues to advocate for peace and to work against prejudice on both sides.

At the end, an attack on his house kills three of his daughters and a niece. He witnesses the tragic and graphic destruction and wails in agony. One daughter survived, her eye hanging out of her face and her fingers split from her hand. Despite this extreme pain and loss, he still amazingly forgave the Israeli war power.

Theatrically, it was absolutely beautiful. The actor himself switched between Hebrew and Arabic (English subtitles were projected onto a screen) which gave the minimalistic one man show an authentic feel. The simple artistic elements powerfully illustrated the emotional turmoil he experienced. In one memorable scene, while the doctor was trying to cross borders to get to his dying wife, he carried a suitcase across the stage with him. The suitcase leaked sand through a hole in the bottom like sand falling from an hour glass. As he was sent from place to place trying to get clearance, the sand left trails all across the stage, lines here, piles there. The sound echoed on the ground, cutting through time and powerfully illustrating the urgency of the incredibly frustrating situation. The piece was a very acute reminder of the horrors happening right now in the world, but also of the incredible humanity. His power to forgive was astounding and resonated deeply with me. Peace in the face of violence, love in the face of hatred. It’s impressive and admirable and honorable — it is something I will carry with me and aspire to in my life. I was incredibly impressed with the production, with the story, and with the power of live theater.

Voices of a Changing Middle East: Part 1

This weekend I am attending the Film Series, Voices of a Changing Middle East. The event is being hosted by the OU Helmerich School of Drama and presented by the Mosaic Theater Company from Washington DC. The company focuses on producing socially relevant works that address and challenge the major conflicts of our modern world.

Voices of a Changing Middle East focuses on the conflict in Israel, Jerusalem, and the surrounding areas. This past evening, I saw the first installation, Wrestling Jerusalem. This one was show was written and performed by Aaron Davidman, a Jewish man who traveled to places throughout the Middle East, speaking with over 30 Jewish, Islamic, and Christian people, Israelis and Palestinians alike. The show was recorded and screened for students and faculty in Meacham auditorium.

This was one of the most powerful pieces of art I have ever seen. Each new character that Aaron created showcased a new and different perspective. The depth of the problems and points of view really illuminated how complicated the issue over there is. Many people are filled with stubborn pride for their people or resentment for those who have hurt them or their families. These two things are the primary reason that peace has been so incredibly difficult to achieve. All sides have committed atrocities against the others and exhibited oppressive behavior. All sides have significant religious ties to the area. Some citizens are striving for peace and acceptance of all nations. Some soldiers have been ingrained with the idea that the other side is inhuman and evil. Some citizens don’t care, they just want to feed their families. Many people have different definitions of what it means to be a Jew or a Muslim.

Aaron skillfully combined all of these different stories and personas into a beautiful and compelling climactic structure. Each new character had a different demeanor, a different carriage, accent, and speech pattern. And each of them had a history. He layered so many different arguments and points of view on top of each other until you couldn’t tell what was right and wrong anymore. He challenged every preconceived notion of the conflict in the middle east and made it human. He made it human. Accessible to people who have only heard about it in political settings in the news.

The climactic moment was told from the perspective of a Jewish speaking about what God means to him. He spoke about how God is a spirit inside everyone, connecting all living things. His God is a God of love and inclusion. There is no hate. All things are connected in these spirit of the world, in this loving life and energy. His God is not there for the destruction of peoples of nations or segregation and oppression. His God, His Judaism is about a resilient people who believe in their God and seek to learn and teach and grow with all of humanity.

I was incredibly moved and I immediately shared the experience and the stories with everyone I knew. It was so great to see and feel the impact that art can have on other people. The audience was asking questions and was compelled to take action for the promotion of peace in the area. A dialogue was started. More people have awareness of the intimate lives of people across the sea. This valuable production really gave insight into the issues underlying the Israel conflict and highlighted the depth and humanity of the people living in the region. I am looking forward to the next installments in the series.

College of International Studies’ Student Advisory Committee

I am extremely excited to be a part of the Student Advisory Committee this semester. The organization focuses on promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion throughout our campus. I discovered this organization through a film screening of 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days that I attending earlier this semester. I am extremely passionate about the goals of this organization.
This semester, the organization was very small, but applications for new positions were recently opened so I’m hopeful that it will grow and we can continue to raise awareness for global issues. I think this is a great platform on which to start conversations and educate our community. I cannot wait to see what new people bring to the table.
Personally, I am focused on issues of women’s rights around the world and have been particularly involved in the issue of sex trafficking. Next semester I hoping to host a bra drive for women who have escaped sex trafficking and need to regain a place in society. The company, Free the Girls, gives women the opportunity to become entrepreneurs by helping them sell bras to their community. This is one small way people can help. This issue is global and effects many people in the United States. I am looking forward to developing more ideas for upcoming events and projects.

4 months 3 weeks 2 days

Today I attended a screening of the Romanian film 4 months 3 weeks and 2 days. The story follows a young college woman and her pregnant friend as they endeavor to get an illegal abortion. The secrecy, the paranoia, and the obstacles were extreme. They met in dark alleyways, they gathered up hundreds of dollars, and both girls were raped in order to make sure the procedure went through. The film was excellent and brilliantly made. The minimalism used in the cinematography and dialogue emphasized the gravity and the reality of the situation.
I think the most sobering fact for me was that there are women who have gone through this- or worse- to avoid the consequences of pregnancy. So many countries, including the United States, do have a culture that is supportive of pregnancy outside of marriage. They are usually shamed or disgraced and rarely receive the support they need during and after the pregnancy.
The cost of having a child, monetarily, physically, and socially, is enormous. Most countries have few programs to aid single mothers (i.e. paid maternity leave, affordable childcare, etc.). I think it is extremely interesting that both sides of the abortion debate used this film as a reference for their argument. On one hand, the film shows how horrific the process of an abortion is. The obstacles these women had to face were psychologically damaging and the long shot of the dead baby on the bathroom floor is gruesome at best. On the other hand, people argue that this is why women need access to safe and legal abortion. Both sides agree that women do not have access to the resources they need. Hopefully we can continue to be an advocate for women across the globe who are facing these issues in an unforgiving society.

Día de los Muertes

One of the highlights of my Halloween weekend was the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertes)
festival at the Lloyd Noble Center. I did not realize how much of a community celebration this was. There were little children in Halloween costumes, and families walking around. I think it was great to see how much the University engages with the Norman community.
The music was extremely festive and there were bright colors everywhere. My friend and I rode a few rides and I got a flower painted on my hand! The food was excellent! I tried chicken flautas (Flautas pollo y res) and it was amazing.
The artwork is what stood out to me the most. There were a lot of pieces that had beautifully vibrant colors. The jewelry was exquisite and elegantly made. There were so many different styles, but it was clear that they all came for this distinct culture.
I really enjoyed experience the culture surrounding the Day of the Dead. In Hispanic culture, there is much more respect and reverence regarding our ancestors. In my family, we don’t have any way to honor our dead. We have a lovely funeral and we occasionally visit graves, but this is an annual celebration of all those who came before us and those who we loved and loved us. I really think it’s beautiful and I would like to investigate more of the my German heritage to see if we have any significant ways of honoring our dead.