Amurrican Gurrl

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Okay that photo is not completely related to the topic of this post, but I thought that it was funny…

Sometimes, I like to pretend like I’m this global citizen- I mean, hello, I’ve lived and traveled in Europe, I’ve been to India, I read Al Jazeera for my news, and I can conversationally speak another language. Look at me. Yet, I am not immune to my own cultural upbringing and have noticed some particularly American behaviors in which I partake.

For example, I am currently eating scrambled eggs at 3:50 P.M. and writing this at the same time. Not only am I multitasking- a creation of the fast-paced American lifestyle- but I am doing to worst type of multitasking at all: eating and doing something else at the same time. Hell, eating and (sort of, does this count as work?) working simultaneously. While people in a lot of other countries actually sit down and have proper meals with their families, I regularly eat whilst writing, driving, cleaning, or getting ready for the day or to go out. I don’t always view mealtime as a way to relax and reconnect with my family- I too often see it as something to get over with so that I can accomplish more things. I also eat at really strange times of the day, such as now, and I eat breakfast foods at non-breakfast times. I remember regularly eating eggs at 5:00 PM in Paris and my host family thinking that I was really bizarre. Okay, that might be a bizarre thing to do in America as well…

I also drive everywhere, seeing as my attempts at biking in America are very stress-inducing. Sometimes, I drive places that are a few blocks away from my house. Actually, I do that all the time. When I lived in Paris and even Seattle, I didn’t have a car and subsequently just walked or took public transportation everywhere. In those places, there was infrastructure and a culture that made a car-free life, for the most part, effortless (totally effortless in Paris, doable in Seattle). I live in a culture of cars now however, so I drive. Not driving is hard, man!

Finally, I don’t know how many kilos I weigh, I drink hazelnut iced coffees at work every day (in Europe coffee comes in one of two formats: a shot of espresso or a cappuccino), I don’t put milk in my English Breakfast tea, I call it a “craype” and pronounce Ximeno Street “eggs-em-in-oh,” and I’ve been told that I may or may not talk like a Valley Girl…

At least I don’t shop at Wal-Mart or eat at McDonald’s? Fuck, I had McDonald’s fries last night… that I bought from the drive-thru and then ate in the car on my way home… they’re just so damn good!

Not All Westerners are Evil

Let’s get political up in here. Rafia Zakaria recently posted an article on Al Jazeera that really yanked my crank. It’s about the #bringbackourgirls campaign on Twitter regarding the 200 kidnapped girls in Nigeria. Here are my thoughts on it:

I understand the importance of social media in instances such as organizing protests and, yes, spreading awareness about injustice. However, too often I think that people equate spreading awareness with activism; it bugs the shit out of me when people post on social media about these issues or simply tweet a hashtag but then don’t do anything to address it or stop it in their real life. It’s like they think that tweeting a hashtag is their good deed of the day, and then they can go on with their lives without thinking twice about it.

Additionally, as this article discusses, using the uplifting of women as a means for justifying war- such as the Bush administration’s boasting about how the war in Afghanistan helped to liberate women- is also wrong. War helps no one, and there are ways to empower women without violence.

Hooowwwever, the rest of this article is shit. It basically says that the only reason why Westerners care about the abducted girls in Nigeria is that our Western Savior Complex makes us feel sorry for them and believe that we are the only ones who can help them. It states that, ignoring other, more complex problems in the developing world, we can only recognize the simplistic plight of young black and brown girls- calling this our “schoolgirl feminism.” Um, young girls are a legitimately and deeply oppressed group of people in the developing world. Reducing their problems to “schoolgirl feminism” is not only simplistic in of itself, it’s offensive. These girls often live in cultures that not only don’t want to help them but want to maintain the female inferiority and violence against women and girls status quo. I think that it’s okay for us to impose our Western value of gender equality in other countries. While it’s vital to use local resources and organizations instead of just blindly or ignorantly coming in to save the day, we can’t do nothing. No, we shouldn’t act violently. But this article condemns us for caring at all. Some of us are just caring people who see the abduction of a few hundred girls as the true atrocity that it is. We’re not all ignorant, egotistic people who simply need to save.

What would you prefer us to do, Ms. Zakaria- be unsympathetic, coldhearted robots who don’t want to help our fellow humans?

How Not to Study Abroad

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(^^the first/best time that I was in Paris)

In the fall of 2012, I studied abroad in Paris. I loved traveling in Europe but, to be honest, I didn’t really like the program that I was in. If you are looking to study abroad, learn from my mistakes on what not to do!

1. Know the climate of the place in which you will be living.

I sort of didn’t realize that Paris is really cold and cloudy in the fall… I had been there once before at the end of September, and the weather was sunny and perfect. However, living there in October and November was basically like living in Seattle, and we all know how I feel about that. To summarize, I’m physically incapable of dressing properly for cold weather, and the grey days punctuated by 4:30 PM sunsets were not so fun. I wish that I would have gone to Paris in a different season or studied in the south of France- a region whose climate is very similar to Southern California. 

2. Go for a longer amount of time.

I did a program that was for fall quarter; my classes were only 2 months long, and I added three weeks before and one week after for traveling. To be honest, I was ready to go home by that point- but it was also more difficult to really immerse myself in Paris in such a short amount of time. I felt like I was finally starting to feel comfortable and develop a daily routine when I suddenly had to pack up and leave. Additionally, it is harder to establish deeper friendships without being in one place for a longer amount of time; traveling every other weekend didn’t help. I definitely recommend traveling whilst studying abroad, as it is a fantastic opportunity to do so- however, if you are spending a whole semester or year abroad, taking trips won’t take away from making friends at your home base as much. 

3. Go to an actual French (or whatever) university.

I was in this weird program through my school in which I took classes with twenty-three University of Washington students and three UW professors. We just rented out a room in this building and had school there. Not only did it isolate us from meeting actual French students, but I didn’t even like most of the people in my program… I’m a friendly person and not a people-hater at all, but my group consisted of the following: three guys and twenty girls, divided into a group of sorority girls and a group of snooty hipsters. It was difficult for me to find my niche within that group- yet, as they were the only people with whom I went to school, it was really hard to branch out and meet different people. Had I gone to a French university, I would have felt much more immersed in French culture.

In my case, however, it was significantly less expensive to go through UW than to attend a French university. If you can’t afford the more expensive programs and still want to have a better cultural experience, I would probably recommend not studying abroad at all and simply living somewhere abroad instead. In fact, you could even try working abroad to gain money instead of spending it on school!

One of the other reasons why I chose the program that I did was the way that my university sold study abroad to us; they emphasized how hard it is to move to a foreign country, take classes at a foreign university, and find housing on one’s own. They repeatedly stressed how independent one has to be prior to leaving, and basically how not independent most of us are. That’s a bunch of B.S. You become an independent person by throwing yourself into “scary” or “hard” situations, not by having your hand held. People do direct exchange programs all the time and they survive just fine- in fact, they probably have a better time than people who go through programs such as mine. Sure, it’s riskier, but it’s more rewarding in the end! 

4. Try to find an ideal housing situation.

In this case, I scored the jackpot: I lived with a host mom and her 10-year-old son who were the nicest people on planet Earth and didn’t speak a word of English. I became really close with my host mom and dramatically improved my French conversation skills. I found myself being able to have long talks with her about politics, social issues, and personal things. 

Others in my program weren’t so lucky, however, and ended up with host families who were only in it for the extra rent money and only spoke in English to them. If you choose to live with a host family, try to arrange it so that you have more control over with whom you will be living. Otherwise, I would recommend trying to find housing with locals who are close in age to you. 

Good luck, and happy travels!  

Have you studied abroad before? If so, what was your experience like? 

Aside

The People Who are Crazy Enough to Think That They Can Change the World…

I just had an hour and a half long conversation with this boy about space, the creation of Earth and humans, whether or not there is a God or an afterlife, whether or not white people have historically been the most evil group of people, and finally whether or not individuals can make a difference in the modern problems of the world. Whew. 

He believes that the world will eventually be peaceful, as people will have to realize that peace makes more sense than war. However, he thinks that those changes simply happen with time, and that there isn’t a whole lot that individual people can do about such massive, widespread problems. I, perhaps being the idealist (but maybe it is idealists who make changes on the planet…), disagree wholeheartedly.

Most obviously, what if Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Aung San Suu Kyi, for example, had felt like powerless individuals who couldn’t make a difference?

What if Somaly Mam, a Cambodian survivor of both the Khmer Rouge and sex slavery documented in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s fantastic book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, hadn’t started the Somaly Mam Foundation? Instead of believing that she herself wasn’t capable of creating change, she now works passionately toward eradicating human trafficking in Southeast Asia and helping victims. ***

What if Edna Adan hadn’t created her maternity hospital in Somaliland, because she felt that the problems of maternal and infant mortality and female genital mutilation were too big for her to tackle?

What if Kennedy Odede had believed that creating Shining Hope for Communities, a girls’ school in a Kenyan slum, wouldn’t be able to tackle poverty and gender inequity?

Yes, the aforementioned individuals dedicate their lives to their respective causes. And yes, the problems of sex slavery, maternal and infant mortality, female genital mutilation, poverty, and gender inequity are very much alive still. However, these organizations still help thousands of people directly, who can then spread their knowledge gained to others in the community. Isn’t helping thousands of people better than helping no people?

Even those who don’t start organizations or spend their whole lives working on one cause can still travel to these places and volunteer. I just met this guy the other day who took two years off of university to rescue sex slaves in Eastern Europe and Asia.

Ah, my boy says, but most people have jobs and lives- they can’t just abandon those to, say, go volunteer in Africa for a year.

I reminded him that not only is it possible to save up money and subsequently quit one’s job to travel or volunteer abroad, but that people do it all the time. One need only take a look at Nomadic Matt’s website to gain inspiration.

Ah, he says, but I have my life here that I love and am comfortable with. How can I help people in Kenya when I don’t really want to go there for an extended amount of time?

Well, one can donate money. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money at all. In the Catholic tradition, people are expected to donate 10% of their income to charity. Thus, even if one’s income is very small, he or she still reserves at least a tiny bit of it for charitable purposes. Loan someone in a developing country $25 to help him or her start or run a business. Not only is $25 not very much money, but it is in the form of a loan that will be repaid.

Finally, one can volunteer in one’s own community. Developing countries have lots of devastating problems, but we in the U.S. have issues in our own backyards. One need only listen to Kendrick Lamar’s album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, to understand the poverty, gang violence, and prostitution that befalls on a city 20 minutes away from my house. I unfortunately am not familiar with organizations working to combat poverty in the area, but I know of lots that help domestic violence victims and prostitutes; WomenShelter of Long Beach, YWCA of greater Los Angeles, Rainbow Services of San Pedro, and 1736 Family Crisis Center of greater Los Angeles, just to name a few, help domestic violence victims; The Mary Magdalene Project of Van Nuys helps women out of prostitution and sex trafficking.

Finally, as the boy with whom I was speaking is a musician, I reminded him how music, art, literature, etc. have been used since the beginning of time to make changes and spread awareness about issues that matter.

The world does have a lot of issues, and one individual alone can’t solve all of them or even completely eradicate one of them. However, we each need to find the cause that stirs our soul and do what we can with what we have to help- for it is better to help a few people or even one person than nobody. Just imagine what would happen if each person did this, and what significant changes we would see on the planet as a result. We all must follow one of my favorite quotes of all time by Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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***Somaly Mam has been under investigation for lying about her background as a former sex slave. She has since resigned from the organization bearing her name. This goes to show how careful one must be with choosing where to donate one’s money- however, when Nick Kristof of the New York Times is endorsing an NGO, that tends to legitimize it. Kristof has since stopped supporting Mam and has said that he wish he had never written about her . There are good charitable organizations out there, so don’t lose hope, but it’s a shame that some NGOs are run by people with questionable motives.

L’hypocrisie et L’ignorance

The other day, I went to a French meet-up group that consisted of native French speakers, native English speakers who spoke fluent French, and students of the language like myself. It was so fun and exhilarating. It’s very empowering for me to be able to express myself in a foreign language- even if I have to find another way of saying something that I don’t know the word for- and to be able to understand most of what someone else is saying. It’s also just a really fun practice that makes me feel more comfortable with speaking and listening. However, after three hours, my brain was starting to hurt. I found comfort in the fact that, not only could I leave at any time and return to speaking/thinking in English, but I could even speak in English with any of the group members if I really needed to. Speaking in French was more of a self-imposed restraint than a necessity, because even the native French speakers of the group spoke English.

I realized how lucky that makes me.

As is commonly known, English is widely spoken all over the world. Thanks to our good friend imperialism- in particular British colonization of a good chunk of the world as well as our own country’s political and cultural imperialism, you’d be hard-pressed to travel to a country that has no English speakers. (One time I included the aforementioned statement in a French composition, and my professor was like, “I completely disagree with your opinion.” And I was like, “Gurl, that’s not an opinion.”) It’s for this reason that many English-speaking Americans choose not to learn a second language- and even those who want to have a hard time finding a way to do so. The best time to learn a new language is when one is a child- basically at the same time that one is learning English- because the language is acquired more subconsciously. Thus, if I had learned French when I was a child, I would be able to speak it as effortlessly as English; instead, I have to think about how to say something in French before I say it out loud. Anyhow, less than one-third of U.S. elementary schools offer foreign language courses . In California, at least in my school district, foreign language classes weren’t even offered until high school; at that point, one was required to take two years of a foreign language. That’s it. At my school, the smart kids and the not-so-smart kids were all lumped in the same language classes, making it so that the classes moved really slowly and the teacher had to focus more on disciplining the students than actually teaching.

In Europe, 90% of children begin learning English in elementary school, and the European Union set a goal in 2002 that students should learn two foreign languages in addition to their native tongue.

The European Union thus teaches children foreign languages at the appropriate age to do so, continues that education throughout their whole academic career, and understands the importance of multilingualism. In the United States, somehow we think that two years of subpar language classes 10 years too late for the student is sufficient. How many people have you talked to who said, “Oh, I took two years of Spanish in high school, but I forgot it all?”

What does it matter though? The rest of the world speaks English.

While factually true, this statement embodies the cultural superiority and ignorance that befalls on too many Americans. We think that we are the only culture and language that matters, and everyone else should try to be more like us. When non-English speaking immigrants and refugees come to America, we bitch, “Why can’t they just learn English?” yet we travel to other countries without making an ounce of an effort to learn the language spoken there. There was an article in the Long Beach Post today discussing the need to further language access in Long Beach, in particular to the city’s large Spanish-, Khmer-, and Tagalog-speaking communities. Every single comment on the article was basically someone saying, “Why are we enabling these people, they’re so ignorant, they just need to learn English.”

Um, you try fleeing your home country because it is run by a dictator who is committing genocide against his own citizens. You thus didn’t have access to an English education, and you are now past the age in which it is easiest to learn a foreign language. Then you arrive in a strange land in which everyone around you questions why you’re not fluent in English. And then try teaching English to your kids.

You try fleeing your home country because you are impoverished and your country offers no economic opportunities and/or there are drug wars or terrorism . You were also deprived of an English education, and now you are past the age at which it is easiest to learn a foreign language. There’s this country called America whose citizens boast that it is the best and richest in the whole world; you also know that the country was founded by immigrants who came from all over the world. So you go, and everyone around you questions why you’re not fluent in English. And then try teaching English to your kids.

We ourselves know how hard it is to learn a foreign language (especially all of you who “Took two years of Spanish in high school but forgot it all!”), yet we’re so insensitive and hard on those who cannot speak English. We’re totally hypocritical.

When I lived in France, I spoke some French, and I was taking a French class. However, I was not fluent and thus very thankful that a lot of signs on the street and government and healthcare documents were also printed in English. Yes, I wanted to learn French and work towards fluency, but if I had had to go to the hospital or something, I would be really scared taking chances with my health in a language that I don’t yet speak fluently. And I hadn’t even come to France basically involuntarily as a refugee or an immigrant fleeing poverty in my home country- I was there as a student/tourist!

Thus, it is not ignorant for someone living in the U.S. to not speak English- we are the ignorant hypocrites who don’t understand why they don’t. We think that it would be best if everyone else just assimilated to be more like ourselves. Finally, our government would rather spend money on bombing other countries instead of funding foreign language education for children who could grow up to be diplomats.

Scatterbrained

Sometimes, I think that I have too many interests in life. I love writing, as is probably evident by this blog, but I don’t just like essay writing- I also like poetry and spoken word. I also love listening to rap music, so then I think to myself that I should translate my spoken word poetry into rap. Musicians and rappers dedicate their whole selves to their craft, so I decide to commit to that. 

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(Doing the spoken word thang)

Oh, but boy do I love traveling! Nothing thrills me more than thinking about a trip, planning a trip, and arriving at the airport about to embark on a new adventure. Reading travel blogs inspires me so much, so I think to myself that I should be a travel blogger “when I grow up.” I’ll be a hippie backpacker who still tries to smell nice, and I will encourage my peers that they, too, can do the same. Yeah, that’s the best way to combine my two interests of writing and traveling.

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(Frolicking at the Black Sea in Turkey. P.S. it’s actually blue.)

However, some friends will invite me to go out swing dancing, and it’s so fun- yet being a beginner at it can be slightly frustrating. Whilst dancing with someone who tries to do a move that I can’t recognize, I decide that I need to spend more time in swing dance classes. (I’m too new at swing to have pictures of myself doing it…)

Then, my old salsa teacher will announce a new class series that he is starting. Man, I realize, it has been a few weeks too long since I have done any salsa dancing! I want to be the queen of the salsa dance floor. Sign me up, and perhaps I should finally invest in a new pair of dancing shoes. 

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(Rooftop salsa)

You know what I haven’t done in months and months, yet might ultimately might be my favorite form of dance? Hip-hop. I started doing hip-hop at age 9, and every single time that I go to class, I feel alive. I feel like I was born to do it. It’s just so much fun and also a really cool expression of my appreciation for hip-hop music. 

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(Um… here’s me dancing on a bus in India)

Maybe I could be a rapper who dances hip-hop at her concerts. As Beyoncé once said, “When I shake my butt, I feel it in my soul.” As Pinterest once said, “You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé.” 

Yet, being a dancer, a writer, a rapper, a travel blogger- these careers are all just pipe dreams, right? Very few people actually achieve success in those fields. And people might look at me funny when I tell them that those are my aspirations. Maybe I should pursue a career in a different interest of mine- nonprofit work. I really love helping people, and I’m particularly interested in preventing domestic violence and helping abused women. That’s a career that would be rewarding and, though it might not pay a ton, still be more stable than that of an artist. Maybe I have more of a social science brain than an artistic brain. I do love volunteering, reading the newspaper, and learning about sociological/cultural issues. 

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(Volunteering in India)

I could travel to a developing country and work with oppressed women there.

And write about it. And learn their culture’s dances. 

As I stretch out across my bed whilst writing this, I think to myself that going to yoga class today sure would be nice. Oh that’s right, I love yoga, too. I’ve always wanted to do yoga teacher training as well. 

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(Tree pose! This is quickly turning into a nostalgic India photo album)

Speaking of yoga, I’m very interested in deepening my spirituality and learning about the world’s religious beliefs. Maybe I should go back to school and become a Religious Studies major. 

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(Sleeping is meditative, right?)

Okay. I could travel to a developing country and teach yoga to oppressed women there. And write about it. And learn their culture’s dances. 

Back to traveling- I enjoy learning other languages and feel, honestly, morally obligated to do so. I love speaking French and just started learning Spanish. 

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(Um, here’s a crêpe that I ate once…)

Okay, I can travel to a French- or Spanish- speaking country and teach yoga to oppressed women there. And write about it. And learn their culture’s dances.

Why can’t I just like one thing.