My OU Cousin this semester is Patricia, a freshman international student from Kenya. When we met for lunch back in February, President Trump’s first travel ban had just been put into place – and quickly put on hold. So, as most conversations back in February went, we tried to talk about other things, but eventually the topic got around to politics and to Trump’s latest executive order. Patricia told me about her friends on the international floor in Adams who were concerned about trying to go home over the summer. That part of the story I’d heard before, people afraid to go home to see their families because they might be banned from returning to school. As if going to college out of your home country isn’t scary enough, now these students were faced with the possibility of having to choose between seeing their families and wasting thousands of dollars on starting an education that would likely have to be completed elsewhere, with the risk of losing any credit they had completed. But Patricia also said that many of those students understood where the ban came from, even if they didn’t agree with it. Those countries listed on the ban are home to groups that openly and actively try to cause harm to the US and its citizens. It makes perfect sense to try to keep those groups out of our borders, but we need to consider how we do that. Blocking everyone from those countries from entering the US might reduce the risk of terror attacks in our borders – if we assume that no one already in our borders is planning an attack – but it won’t solve the root problems. It won’t address the fear and hatred that come from a lack of understanding of each other. It only encourages them. It makes the US look even more opposed to anyone from those nations, and it prevents the interactions that would promote understanding and empathy between our nations. I’m all for preventing terrorism, but I don’t think cutting off all travel between our countries is the solution. I think we need to look for a more long term solution, one focused on promoting understanding and comradery between our nations instead of encouraging the fear and hatred that these terror groups feed on.
Last night I got to go out one last time with my OU cousin. We went to Buffalo Wild Wings, shared some wings and amazing fries and talked about the year. Nok complained about how huge the US is, and how she had to choose between going to California and visiting the Northeast instead. She settled on touring New York City and Washington DC before returning to Thailand, but she wasn’t happy about it, and I was reminded of just how huge the US is. I’ve lived here for twenty years, but I’ve visited less than half of the states, seen almost none of the east coast, and have never been outside of the lower 48 with the exception of my trip to Italy last summer. Travel is such a different concept in the US than in other parts of the world. Where it takes us hours in a plane to cross the country, the same time can be used to cross several sovereign borders in Europe and parts of Asia, including the area that Nok is from. And in Europe’s case travel across all those borders is faster and cheaper than traveling from LA to Orlando is in the US. For a region that had to work across multiple governments, borders, sets of laws, and vastly different peoples, Europe still manages to encourage more mixing and interaction across its borders than the US seems to across its states. Life in Oregon is very different than life in Oklahoma, and because of that we focus on different issues and take different stands. That’s great, there’s nothing wrong with having different concerns, but when we forget how to relate to each other’s concerns we begin to create problems. In Europe, most people want to speak several languages, they wanted to be able to interact with different people. When I visited Italy, I hardly got to use what little Italian I knew because everyone there wanted to practice their English on me. In the US we can barely remember that members of other political parties are logical human beings too, especially those from different states. We’re such a huge group of people spread over so much land, we tend to forget about the other parts of the country and focus on our own county, state, region. We forget that those squares on the map represent other groups of people as different and as human as the people in our own little square, and that’s really a sad thing.
I had a great time carving pumpkins the week of Halloween with my OU cousin! I learned last year from my previous cousin Emma that pumpkins really don’t grow well outside of North America, so most international students have never even seen a pumpkin that would look “average” to an American. Pumpkin pies really don’t exist outside of the US, and jack-o-lanterns certainly don’t (the few pumpkins that do grow can’t handle being carved out). So it was really cool getting to help my cousin Nok carve a pumpkin for her apartment. It has been a few years since I’ve carved one myself, so it was a refresher for me too. Nok was surprised by how big and heavy the pumpkins were – she’d only ever seen relatively small ones before – and the amount of “guts” inside the pumpkin really caught us both off guard. We both dove into it anyway, and soon we were both scraping seeds out of the pumpkin with our bare hands. We got really messy, ate some candy, and managed to create a very respectable, smiling jack-o-lantern with hearts on its cheeks (Nok’s personal touch).
It was a great opportunity to talk to Nok a bit and get to know her better. As a student from Thailand who is a “permanent” international student at a Japanese university, Nok is by far the most well-traveled person I’ve ever met. She’s been to a dozen countries across Asia and Europe, and is working toward a degree in international relations with an emphasis on the Middle East (which was part of her motivation to come to OU, as her home university offered only a few courses relating to the Middle East). Her perspective on international events is really interesting, and her fluency in three languages is really making me feel like I need to brush up on my barely-conversational Spanish.
Last week I met my OU cousin Emma at the Cousins Thanksgiving Dinner. It was a really interesting event. Surprisingly few people had come even though the food was free, but it made for a less crowded atmosphere. They had all the classic Thanksgiving dishes – turkey, mashed potatoes, and the all-important pumpkin pie, as well as some sides and desserts that seemed typical to me. I felt like it was a good representation of the average Thanksgiving meal. They chose to play Christmas music in the background and decorate the tables with candy canes, which I almost laughed at because it seemed like a reference to the “Christmas encroaching on Thanksgiving” argument that always goes around social media this time of year – another American experience for students studying from abroad. Interestingly enough one of the songs that came up was one I’d never heard of, but my Emma and her friend had. It was a song that is popular in England around this time of year that came up on some OU Cousins student officer’s Pandora radio!
The food was really good – my cousin, her friend Clair (who was also from England), and I all had to go back for more mashed potatoes because they were so great – and we had a lot of fun talking to the other cousins that were there. It was a great way to meet new people, and I even got to see a few of the students I talked to from other countries at the matching party back in September. All in all it was a really fun experience!
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.