Preparing to go abroad again!

As a Global Engagement Fellow at OU, I get to go abroad not just once, but twice. I did my longer trip almost 2 years ago to China, and decided that this summer might be a good time to go on my shorter trip. OU has a lot of options for summer study abroad programs, and it took me a long time to sift through them all. I had it narrowed down to a few in China and Taiwan, but actually ended up taking my study abroad advisor’s advice and applying for a program in Uganda. The program I’ll be participating in is three weeks at St. Monica’s Girl’s School in Gulu, Uganda. Though I miss China, I’m glad that I’ll be taking this opportunity to go someplace that I’m much less likely to go to after I graduate college. The program also has an Engineering track, and is part of a cooperative development effort between OU and St. Monica’s.

I’m excited to go abroad again, but this will be a lot different than China. I’m pretty nervous about going there because I know so little about what it will be like. When I went to China, I was a little nervous, but I had spent several years learning about Chinese language and culture. I kind of knew what I was getting myself into. I don’t know a lot about Ugandan culture or history, but I do know that since gaining independence from Britain in 1962, Uganda has gone through a lot of violence. I’m nervous about being about being able to interact effectively and sensitively with people whose culture I understand so little and who have been through so much recent violence. You can bet that I’ll be reading a lot of books on Uganda in the next few weeks.

The school we are staying at, St. Monica’s Girl’s School, was actually founded to help victims of violence, particularly victims of a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony. The group abducted between 30,000 and 40,000 children who were either killed or forced to become child soldiers and sex slaves. Children who did manage to escape were stigmatized and rarely accepted back into their communities. St. Monica’s was established to teach skills to young women who escaped the LRA and were stigmatized by their communities so that they could provide for themselves. The school teaches tailoring, catering, and hairdressing, and was founded by Sister Rosemary Niyrumbe. The original school is in Gulu, but there is another campus in Atiak that was recently opened.

The part we will play in all of this is in helping to provide St. Monica’s with enough water. Last year, OU students surveyed people at St. Monica’s and in the areas around Gulu and Atiak to determine what their water needs were. Basically, they found out that everyone has trouble getting water, and that the burden of getting water primarily affects women. This year, we will be building a protected spring box for an agricultural farm owned by St. Monica’s, as well as work on a few other projects to improve the water situation at St. Monica’s. I’m definitely nervous about it, but also excited to be doing something that is useful and bigger than just me going someplace interesting.

Interesting notes from my Chinese Linguistics project

This semester I’m taking an independent study Chinese course. The course is an extension of my previous Language, Culture, and Cognition course, where we proposed a design for a linguistic study. This semester I actually attempted to conduct the study that a proposed. The study I proposed was a linguistic relativity study looking at the differences between Chinese and English. Linguistic Relativity is the theory that the language we speak actually influences the way we think. For example, other researchers have found that the orientation of our writing influences how we visualize scenes, and what part of scenes we pay most attention to. English speakers tend to notice more from the upper left corner of a scene because our text starts there. Taiwanese Mandarin speakers, however, still often read texts that go from top to bottom and then right to left, and they have been found to notice more from the upper right corner.

The study I proposed looked at something a little bit similar to this- the difference between Chinese and English punctuation. Chinese speakers tend to use a lot more commas and fewer periods than English speakers. It’s normal for half a page of text to have maybe only 2 or 3 periods. I wanted to see if this difference in punctuation was reflected in how people parsed long sequences of events in their mind. My method for testing this involved having people arrange pictures that represented a very long sequence of events to see how they broke them down into lines. I only managed to complete a pilot study this semester, but hope to complete a full study in the future. The pilot study only had 15 participants, but there were some interesting results. For one, the Chinese speakers tended to make longer lines with the pictures than the English speakers. This may actually support my hypothesis that how information is parsed in language affects how it is parsed in the mind. Chinese tends to have longer sentences than English, so we might expect that they would break the pictures into longer segments. Another interesting observation was that there was much more variation between English speakers than Chinese speakers in how they arranged the pictures. The Chinese speakers all meticulously arranged the pictures in the order I had intended, while several English speakers put them in a completely different order.

These results aren’t very meaningful at the moment, since it was just a small pilot study using methodology that needs major improvement. I just thought it would be interesting to share because I still find the idea of linguistic relativity really fascinating.

CLC Chinese Language Practice

This is the first semester I have been able to really get involved and participate in Chinese Language Club’s Language Practice Hour. I went to a few freshman year, but never really managed to go consistently until this semester. It was an interesting experience as a CLC officer, trying to figure out when and where to hold it, and how to get people to come. There were definitely a couple hours spent in a dingy room in Dale Hall Tower with nobody except for myself and AJ (CLC’s president). We had a good time attempting to speak Chinese to each other and trying to devise ways to make more people show up.

As the semester went on, we moved the practice hour to a much nicer room in Wagner Hall, found Chinese professors to join in, and managed to offer free pizza. We managed to have 5 or 6 people each week, which was a big step up from just AJ and I sitting in Dale Hall Tower. The moral of the story here is that free food is apparently a must for a successful event. It was good to get to keep practicing my Chinese, especially since I don’t have a Chinese class this semester. It’s important to find a way to keep practicing a language, and CLC practice hour was a good way to do that in the middle of a crazy busy semester. It was also good to meet some of the younger Chinese majors and minors as well as professors I’ve never had class with, and reconnect with old friends and professors from Chinese classes.

Global Engagement Day

This year, OU had it’s second annual Global Engagement day. I initially didn’t think I would be able to go because I’ve been super busy, but I managed to make it to a session where people tell their stories from abroad, and I’m glad I did. It was definitely a very nostalgic experience, because I’ve been so focused on school and rowing that I’ve gotten pretty far removed from my time abroad. I don’t even have a Chinese class this semester to keep me in touch with that experience, so Global Engagement Day was a good opportunity to spend a little more time reflecting on my time abroad. The longer I’ve been back the crazier that semester seems. I definitely spent most of my time there sitting in various coffee shops and studying, but I also did a lot of crazy things like running in the middle of the night and staying at a stranger’s house and going just a step past that one sign halfway up a hill somewhere that said to keep out. I’m really glad I took all the opportunities that I did, because I definitely don’t remember many of the vocab words that I learned, but I do remember the crazy things. Those stuck in my mind, and make for great stories now.

Global Engagement Day was also nice because I got to reconnect with the GEF’s I knew from my class, and hear their stories from abroad. Last time I saw most of them, we were just freshmen who were super excited and nervous to study abroad. It was cool to hear where everyone ended up going and how their experiences went. No matter where people went, they all had some crazy stories about things they did. I think there’s just something about going abroad for a semester that makes people take opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t take. I definitely did a lot more while abroad than I normally would, anyway. Part of it was that I was only there for a semester, and I didn’t want to miss out on anything. Part of it was just that I was succeeding at this crazy thing and it gave me the confidence to do things I wouldn’t normally do. Another part of it was that in a new place with new people, I could be a completely different person who did different things without having to explain myself to people.

Whatever the reason, I definitely am glad I had the opportunity to go abroad and do something outside my comfort zone just about every day. It definitely made me grow in ways that I don’t really notice every day, but that I can see pretty clearly when I think about my life before I went abroad. For example, now I’m so much better at talking to people, because no normal conversation can possibly be worse than two hours of wandering around speaking broken Chinese to a long string of tired airport employees who can’t help you exchange your ticket. Basically what I’m trying to say is Global Engagement Day made me reflect a bit more on my time in China, and I feel really grateful for that experience and all the great stories and memories that I have from it.

Lantern Festival/Chinese New Year

First of all, sorry for being super far behind in posting my blogs. This really should have been posted in February or March, but here it is in May. As usual, OU’s Chinese Language Club hosted a Chinese New Year festival. We couldn’t reserve a room in time to actually do it on Chinese New Year, so we just moved the celebration to Lantern Festival, which is the festival marking the end of New Year Festivities.

As with most Chinese Festivals, there are some cool folk legends associated with Lantern Festival. The most common legend is that once, the Jade Emperor of Heaven sent a crane down to Earth, and the crane was killed by a villager. The crane was a favorite of the Jade Emperor, and he was very angry that it was killed. He told the villagers that he would set fire to the village as punishment. His daughter, however, pitied the villagers, for the killing of the crane was only an accident, so she told them when the Emperor planned to set fire to the village. On the day when the Emperor planned to burn the village, the villagers decorated every house with bright lanterns. The Emperor saw the village lit up from afar, and believed that it was already on fire, so he didn’t go to burn it down. Thus, the village was saved.

In the modern day, Lantern Festival is still celebrated with colorful lanterns. The lanterns are often red, and some even feature riddles for people to solve. There is also a food associated with Lantern Festival, called 元宵 (yuan xiao). 元宵 are glutinous rice balls. Their round shape symbolizes family togetherness. As with many Chinese Festivals, Lantern Festival is a time to gather and enjoy food with family.

The OU Chinese program family had a nice celebration, featuring元宵 and 饺子 (jiao zi, a delicious type of dumpling) that were handmade by the Chinese professors, other CLC officers, and yours truly. Despite the fact that we couldn’t get music or our presentation to work, and the food was a little late, the event was a success. I look forward to next year when we’ll get to do it all again.