Last week I went to the Journey Programs Launch Party to hear about the journey study abroad programs. I’d already selected my short study abroad trip, but I wanted to hear about other options just to see if I did want to go somewhere else. The problem arose when I realized that I did want to go somewhere else, or more accurately, everywhere else. I walked into the meeting mostly interested in the Italy program, and left desperately wanting to go on every single program! I felt like the travel bug got me a long time ago, but the descriptions of those programs just highlighted how fascinating every part of the world can be. I never really considered visiting Peru or Tunisia, but after listening to professors and students talk about those programs I was completely sold. I realized that when looking for study abroad programs, it is best to keep an open mind. So far I’ve been researching and selecting programs based mostly on how they’ll help me get my degree or help with my future career. Maybe I shouldn’t worry quite so much about that though. Just being able to put “studied abroad in ___” is a huge bonus on a resume, so why worry about making the trip fit exactly with my future plans? I’ve been told to take some classes that interest me, whether they help with my degree or not. Maybe I should approach study abroad in the same way, because in reality I’ll probably get more out of it that way.
My initial reaction to this article was a bit skeptical. At first glance it seemed almost overly satirized, as though trying to make a point. But the more I read, the more I felt my brain slipping into that strange, detached mode it goes into when reading an article about a place I don’t know well written by a person who clearly has an outsiders perspective. I felt myself looking in a bit critically, noticing all the flaws of Thanksgiving that were pointed out by the author, and I almost had to remind myself about my own Thanksgiving experiences and all the positive aspects of the holiday. I almost laughed when I realized this: this article is so similar to how American writers portray other countries that it seemed almost bizarre.
As I read this article, I realized just how cynical the author’s angle was. It focused on every negative aspect of the holiday – its dark origins, the dangers it has created for travelers, and its further corruption by consumerism to highlight a few. But it never mentions the holiday from the perspective of someone who regularly participates in it. The author says nothing of families reuniting (sometimes for the first time in a year or longer), sharing a meal, and making memories. The article does not comment on how each person and family celebrates the holiday a little differently with unique traditions, or on how positively many people feel about it.
Since coming to OU, my narrow frame of experience and skewed perspective of the world around me has been continuously brought to light (something I’m grateful for and happy to address). However, after reading this article and realizing how many dozens of similar articles I’ve read about countries around the world (and even about other people within the US), it is easy to see how individuals can develop such narrow views of the world. It frustrates me that the media has such an easy time simplifying the lives of others, and I will definitely be more critical of this kind of portrayal in any articles I read from now on.
Over the past few weeks I’ve met up with my OU cousin several times, and in talking to her I’ve learned a few interesting things about outside views of the US, (and of US views of other countries), especially pertaining to holidays. Emma is from Sheffield, which is in northern England. When I met her a few weeks ago to see a movie, the Halloween excitement was just starting up on campus. With all the advertising around OU for costume parties, haunted houses, and pumpkin carves, she finally asked me “Is Halloween the biggest holiday in America? I always thought it was Thanksgiving.”
Honestly, I a bit confused. I thought Halloween had come from All Hallows Eve in Europe however many hundreds of years ago, so I suppose I’ve always assumed that England celebrated it at least similarly to how we do in the US. It never even occurred to me that there could be such a difference between two countries with the same language and a closely interwoven history.
I explained that Halloween was big, but (at least from my perspective) Christmas was probably the biggest holiday in America. Thanksgiving is significant, but there isn’t quite as much build up for it; it’s mostly a time to see family. Then I asked her how Halloween was different in England. She explained that a few people trick or treat, but not many (especially around where she lives). No one decorates nearly as heavily as Americans do, and pumpkins are practically nonexistent because the few ones that manage to grow without rotting are still too soft to carve.
I found it very interesting that this was another aspect of the “American melting pot” where we took another culture’s holiday and morphed it into our own, almost unrecognizably so. Conversations like this put into perspective just how different each part of the world is, even parts that share so much culture and history.
Last Sunday I went to the Day of the Dead Festival at the Lloyd Noble Center. One side was mostly a carnival with rides and games and even llamas in a petting zoo! (Luckily I never saw them spit!) The other side was lined with booths offering Dia de los Muertos face painting, jewelry, and one even had sugar skulls that could be decorated with icing. Several tents had traditional altars set up by various campus groups. There was even a stage that was occupied by traditional dancers, mariachi bands, and other groups that I couldn’t even identify. It was so exciting walking around among people wearing the vibrant traditional skirts with marigolds woven into everything from clothing and hats to hair. The face painters were especially talented, and many people walking around had a variety of designs and colors transforming their faces. It was an exciting and new experience, and I can’t wait to go back next year!