World Literature Today Book Club: Spring 2016

An update on my International Organization:

For the Spring Semester of 2016, I’ve still been the President of World Literature Today book club. We started off the semester by reading The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. This was by far the best book I’ve read in quite awhile. It was written in Chinese, and translated to english. It won the Hugo Award for Science Fiction in 2015. A Chinese film adaptation will be released in a few months. The second book we read this semester was the Arab of the Future, a graphic novel by Riad Sattouf. This book is primarily a memoir of the relationship between a boy and his father, as he lived in Libya, Syria, and France as a child. The last book we read this semester was Memoirs of a Porcupine  by Alain Mabanckou. We read this book in order to prepare for the Puterbaugh Festival, of which Alain Mabanckou was the winner. Overall, it was a good year. I’m not an english major anymore, so I love having the chance to read and talk about literature with other people who are interested in it like I am. In addition, I love this club because it  let’s me experience modern international literature in a way that I would never be exposed to otherwise. These books that I’ve never heard of turn out to be amazing and new and exciting, and they let you experience different literary cultures that we don’t have in the United States. I’ve adored being the President of World Literature Today this year.

Schindler’s List Screening: Holocaust Remembrance Week

On Tuesday, May 3rd, I went to see “Schindler’s List” as part of the University of Oklahoma’s Holocaust Remembrance week. That was the third event of the day, which was specifically devoted to remembering the “Righteous Among the Nations”. That term is an honorific used by the State of Israel to recognize non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Schindler’s List is a film that was released in 2003. It was directed by Stephen Spielberg. It shows the story of how in Poland during WWII, Oskar Schindler became one of the Righteous Among the Nations by protecting his Jewish workforce from the Nazis. This is the second time I’ve seen this movie, and honestly I wasn’t looking forward to it. It’s an amazing movie, but watching it the first time was so emotional, I didn’t want to put myself through that again. The horrors and tragedy it portrays leave you shaken and cold inside, and remind you once again of the horrors that human beings can commit. By the end of the film, you’re emotionally exhausted. I didn’t want to watch it again. But I did. And once again, I was watching that terrible world and imagining what it would be like to live during WWII. I think at the end of the day, that’s the point of a week like this. To remember. I think that the point of this purposeful remembrance of tragedy is twofold: for one, we honor those who died and those who sacrificed, and for the other, we painfully make ourselves remember the cruelty that humanity is capable of, and we tell ourselves that this time we won’t let history repeat itself.

Latin American Musical Trio

On Tuesday, February 9th I attended a musical performance/lecture in Kaufman room 210 as part of the College of Arts and Sciences “Focus on Arts” week. Three faculty members of the Spanish Language Department -Christina Audas, Armando Rivera, and Chris Kneifl- preformed songs from different Latin American traditions for a small group of students and faculty. Different regions represented were Brazil, Peru, and Argentina. The different rhythms and musical instruments were unique and told stories about the cultures from which the songs originated.

The performance was lively, intimate, and informative. In between discussing the cultural significance of different songs and instruments, Ms. Audas would sweet everyone away to another time and place with the melody of her songs, some of which she even wrote herself. Mr. Rivera was amazing on different percussion instruments. He played the bongo with such skill that it appeared an extension of his body. One of my favorite things said was, “come and experience the soul”. I thought this was apt because music is the soul of a culture, and by listening to the songs of a people, we got to experience the soul.

“The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It” Reactions

I just watched the video, “The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It”. I will attach the link below. It’s a video from the Sundance Institute and I thought it was very interesting. It documented the communication between teenagers in North Philadelphia and teenagers all over the world. They used technology like their phones and computers to Skype with these other teens and ask them questions. The film was very poignant because the teens were so innocent as they brought up and challenged hot issues such as racism and identity.

I think that people still fear what they don’t know, and in a lot of cases throughout history that has been people from other nationalities. This video subtly makes a point that with the technology available today, there really is no excuse to not get to know people from other cultures. It proves hope for a future driven by interconnectedness instead of fear and ignorance.

https://vimeo.com/116915456

Learning Spanish

I’ve always liked Spanish. I took classes in high school and I did well. I’m doing well in my classes at the University of Oklahoma. But that won’t mean anything when I actually find myself in a Spanish-speaking country. I’m now less than a year away from studying abroad somewhere in South America Fall 2016. So working on my Spanish has become a bit of a priority as a prepare for my semester. I thought it would be useful to discuss some of the methods I’m employing on my quest to improve my Spanish before I go abroad.

1. Reading. I love to read, especially literature and fiction. I’m always looking for an excuse to spend my time curled up with a book instead of actually doing the homework I need to be doing…and what could be a better excuse than learning Spanish! I’ve read several things in Spanish so far: En el Tiempo de las Mariposas and La Casa de Calle Mango. My Spanish Professor was also awesome enough to recommend several of her favorite books to me.

2. Watching Television. Who doesn’t like Netflix? I’m currently watching this great show on Netflix called La Reina del Sur. It’s like even more dramatic Weeds. I love it. I’ve been trying to watch it without subtitles but my Spanish isn’t really there yet. A good compromise for me was to turn on the Spanish subtitles instead of the English subtitles. Who knew binge watching trashy TV could be so useful?

3. Speaking. I’m not currently getting a lot of experience speaking in Spanish outside of the classroom, and I have a feeling that will be the hardest thing for me to adjust to abroad. I’m considering participating in CESL next semester so I have someone to practice with.

WLT Book Club

The International Organization that I’ve chosen to participate in these past two years has been the World Literature Today Book Club. I’m actually lucky enough to have been elected President this year. Basically, each month we read a new book (we select modern pieces of world literature) and then discuss it over some delicious food. One of my favorite parts of the club is the multidisciplinary perspectives that we have accumulated. We have several English majors, a Journalism major, people from the College of International Studies, students majoring in the hard sciences like me, and even several grad students and adults from the community of Norman. These prospectives provide many lenses through which to look at a piece of literature. I’ve always loved reading and English, and now that I’m not majoring in English I love this opportunity to read literature and still feel productive. It also provides me with the opportunity to experience other cultures through literature that I probably wouldn’t have heard of without this club. We’ve read some very good books this semester: The Bridge on the Drina, The Last Illusion, and The Best Small Fictions. We’re currently reading The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu translated by Ken Liu. It was the winner of the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. So far it’s really good and I can’t wait to discuss it after Winter Break. I definitely encourage and GEF fellows that have a passion for International Literature to consider joining.

Studying Abroad Spring 2016

Well, my plans have changed once again. I’m actually closer to where I started than anything. For awhile I had dropped my Spanish Minor, so I was thinking about studying abroad in Turkey to take economics classes for my major. But after taking several Spanish classes at the University, the importance of being able to speak Spanish was reaffirmed for me. I want to be a doctor, and as Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States, being fluent or close to fluent would be a valuable skill as a doctor. Studying abroad in itself will provide me with an amazing perspective to approach the field of medicine. The other day I was talking to my Spanish professor about studying abroad, and she mentioned that from her time abroad the most important thing she observed was the connectedness of humanity-at the perseverance. I think that the experience trying to assimilate into a new culture will only help me as I work to understand patients and approach medicine with creativity and flexibility.

I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be going yet. I’m applying to three programs in South America, and I’m sure I’ll get accepted to at least one. If I had to choose, right now I think I would like to go to Viña del Mar, Chile. It seems to be the best University for the level of Spanish that I’m currently at. I have a lot of work to do before I go abraod, and I’m nervous for it. Sometimes it seems very inconvenient. It’s becoming an impossible task to fit in all of my science courses before graduation when I have a semester I won’t be able to take any. But I know that in the end it will be worth it.

The Neustadt Festival

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Every year at OU, the World Literature Today magazine hosts the Neustadt Festival, where they award a prize for international literature and culture. It’s a really neat opportunity to get to meet many amazing and influential international authors. This year, I’m really lucky to be the President of the World Literature Today book group. In preparation for the Neustadt festival, we read The Last Illusion, by Porchista Khakpour. Porchista is one of the guest judges for the 2016 Neustadt festival, and we had the privilege of talking to her about her book at our club’s October meeting. Porchista was very charismatic and down to earth. It’s always an amazing experience to meet with an author in such a personal setting and be able to ask questions about their work. The Last Illusion is a dark and intriguing book about Zal, a feral boy who’s a reimagining of Zal in the Shahnameh. This bird-boy comes of age in New York City right after Y2K and right before 9/11. Talking to Porchista about the ways she blurred the line of fantasy and reality was eyeopening. She pointed about the most cultures aren’t as infatuated with realism in literature the way that Americans are. After she talked to us, I went to Porchista’s talk in Hester Hall at 3:00PM on October, 21. She talked about the Shahnameh and reimagining it in Persian Literature. I think it’s amazing how she could turn a part of a National Epic into a brand new story largely set in America. Literature is one of my favorite ways to get to explore other cultures. I’m definitely looking forward to reading Porchista’s other book, Sons and Other Flammable Objects.

Pomaio

Today we visited our last vineyard, Pomaio. It was a very small vineyard with a high altitude, and it was beautiful! The most interesting thing about it was how green the vineyard was. They were so conscious of doing everything the natural way that their wines are actually vegan. They try to keep everything local and to reduce their impact in as many ways as possible. I could tell that both of the brothers were so passionate about what they did. I really really liked their business. The wines were good as well! We started by tasting a rosé wine. I had never actually had a rosé before this experience, and found it interesting. It wasn’t my favorite, as I prefer the stronger and more complex reds, but I’m glad I got to try it. After the rosé we tried three different reds, an entry level Sangiovese, a Chianti, and a more high quality Sangiovese. My favorite was the last type of wine that we tried. It seemed the most complex to me, and had less of the licorice taste that the first two had. The wines were very good. The food was an ART FORM. They kept bringing out dish after dish, and we kept wolfing them down. Focaccia bread, salamis, cheeses, stuffed tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, a pie-like pasty. I was obsessed with the food selection at Pomaio. It really makes me wish I was good at/liked cooking, because I sure enjoy eating good food. Anyway, I was very impressed with Pomaio as a company, and Marco was absolutely adorable. It was a great experience!

Free Travel Weekend

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This weekend was the free travel weekend. It was our first chance to practice traveling independently, but after our trips in Rome and Florence, I felt ready for it.

On Friday after the test, I took a short ride over to Cortona with Miranda and Meagan. It was a really pretty town on top of a hill (yes, all Italian towns seem to be on top of hills). It was actually very similar to Arezzo, which I guess isn’t surprising since it is so close. It had its own castle and historical center. It even had banners up for each of it’s own four corners. One of my favorite things about Cortona was the amount of shopping it had on it’s main road. I would say that a lot of this shopping was geared towards tourists, and that Cortona was marginally more touristy than Arezzo. Nevertheless, it was a fun town. At the top of the hill in a beautiful old church, we were shocked to stumble across a shrunken old dead body of a saint on display. From a distance, we assumed it was a statue of the saint on top of her grave like we had seen for several dead Popes in other churches. But no. It was an actual dead body. Apparently this is actually a common thing that can be found in churches in Arezzo as well. After that shock, we kept marching up the hill to visit the city’s fortress. I thought it was interesting that much of the fortress had not been renovated like in Arezzo, and it was cool to compare the two.

The next day, Saturday, I woke up early to catch a train to Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is this collection of five tiny towns on the coast, which all combine into the national park of Cinque Terre. It was breathtaking. We got off of a train at Riomagiorre,and I was startled by how clear and blue the water was. I’d never seen ocean water apart from the east coast of the United States. The beaches were rocky, with large black rock formations around the coast. You could see everything which made it an ideal location to try cliff diving for the first time. It was so much fun! I would estimate that the highest point Shelby and I jumped from was about 25 feet. I could have spent a week on those beaches easily. We also had a lot of fun hiking the second day there. To get between towns one can either take a train, or one can hike between towns. The easy paths along the coasts were closed for maintenance, so we took the upper paths. And by upper they mean upper. We ended up hiking from the first town to the second and then from the second to the third. A large part of these paths involve walking up stairs roughly cut into the rock up the entire mountain. It was so tiring but so fun! Once you got to the top, the whole ocean just opened up before you. The tiny towns and beaches where you had spent the day seemed like nothing. I was just amazed with the farmers who manage to grow grapes, olives, and other crops all of the way up the side of the mountains. If I had more time in Cinque Terre I would have liked to spent a night in each town and hiked in between, spending ample time at the beaches. I definitely hope to come back one day!