I attended another panel for my third event, this time on underrepresented groups in study abroad. This involved aspects of race, sexuality, disability, and poverty. It was very helpful for me, as I have become more aware of my identity over the year and how many places aren’t okay with who I am. It was also helpful to hear from people with chronic disease, as I have faced depression’s more physical symptoms this year, and have struggled to work through them. Overall, it ended up making me much more confident about going abroad again.
After not having the best experience with Cousins in the fall, I decided to get involved with the ESL programs. Unfortunately, this never came to fruition. Due to my having a service dog in training at the time, I had to go through the process of making sure all parties involved were okay with his presence. This left me in a chain of emails and bureaucracy that never got resolved. I hope next semester is more successful in this regard.
I recently did a paper on the little known fourth national language of Switzerland, and became quite immersed in the historic aspects of the language, and the influence of other languages upon it. It really gave me a sense of how it is hard to stay isolated in this world. As a result, I want to share that paper with you, available here.
During my first trip to Germany, we found ourselves with a completely unscheduled day. A vote was taken, and the class decided to go to Schloss Neuschwanstein, the famous castle Walt Disney based his designs for Cinderella’s castle on. It took 5 hours to get there by train, but it was worth it. The typical tourist visiting Neuschwanstein pays a premium to get a tour inside, where they’re forbidden to take pictures, so they will buy photo books and postcards at ridiculously high prices. The tourist then visits the nearby Marienbrücke, a very narrow wooden bridge that overlooks a waterfall on one side and the castle on the other. They will push their way through the masses to get to the middle of the bridge, take their pictures and a selfie, and then turn around and go back to whence they came. There is nothing wrong with the tourist version of Neuschwanstein. However, I had an experience that was far better than that, free from waiting in lines and shuffling from room to room. Because our plans were so last minute, we weren’t actually able to get a ticket inside, which usually sell out at least two weeks before. We didn’t mind though. The most impressive part of the castle is most definitely the outside, with its spirals and arches. After taking pictures in front of the castle, we made our way to Marienbrücke, where we made yet another spur of the moment decision. We pushed our way through the crowd to get our pictures and selfies, but we didn’t stop there. We did not turn around like the other 90% of visitors, deciding instead to go the whole way across the bridge. Where the bridge met land, there was a gravel path that soon turned to dirt, and then faded into nonexistence in some places, but continued up the mountain overlooking the castle. We had several hours before we could catch the next train home, so we decided to see where the path would take us. There was a good amount of scrambling for foot holds between rocks and roots, and a couple scraped knees, but we eventually found ourselves in a small grassy clearing, near a good climbing tree. When I turned around to face the open sky, I was awe-struck. We were higher than Neuschwanstein, the massive castle seeming tiny in comparison to the mountains surrounding it. In the clear mountain air, we could see forever. It was also the sort of air that made you feel more alive than ever. We stayed up there for an hour or two, taking in the view and enjoying the wonderful weather. It eventually came time to catch our train home, and so we scrambled down the mountain again. We all slept on the ride home.
The first time I went abroad was the summer before my senior year of high school. I went to Germany with a group of students, and one of the most important lessons I learned there was how to be travel savvy. You have to have a certain level of savviness about you to get the most out of your trip. A good portion of travel savvy is just keeping your head on your shoulders and just saying “yes” to any new opportunity. A lot of the best experiences I had involved me in places I wouldn’t have otherwise been, had I not been willing to try new things. Another important part I learned was that it was okay to leave the pack. My favorite memories were created when I took the time to explore and deviate from standard tourist activities. Too many people spend their time abroad with the people they came with, never taking a chance to go out and explore. They just shuffle along with the group, snapping pictures, and never going off the beaten path. It’s okay to do a little of that, but to do it your whole trip is a waste. Throw yourself into it!
I attended a panel of students who had been abroad recently, answering questions for global engagement fellows. It was interesting, and I did learn some things, like watching out for taxi drivers taking advantage of you. However, I felt it was rather repetitive and a bit boring, having been abroad the past two summers. It was a mandatory event, and I understand that some GEFs haven’t been abroad yet, but I know some of us have been abroad, and I think that needs to be acknowledged. We are the first GEFs, so I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in the program. I think there should be more events encouraging interaction between GEFs, rather than just panels and meetings, so those of us with experience can bond with those who don’t have any yet.
I am very queer, in all definitions of the word, so as I look forward to my traveling, I need to keep in mind international laws regarding my identity and where I can and cannot freely express myself. It was scary to do research and see how limited the rights of LGBT people are. In some countries, just for existing, they face imprisonment and even death. I want to fight for a world in which people don’t have to live in fear, but the stakes are so great, I’m not sure if that is possible in all countries. When you face death for being yourself, how do you protest without outing yourself? I’ve seen some Pride events in countries where that is the case, and I would say they are some of the bravest people in the world.
As you may or may not know, I have a service dog named Oliver. As a result I was interested in looking up international service dog laws. Here’s what I found:
- Australia – pretty much the same as US laws
- Japan – official licensing and ID is required. They also regulate what the harnesses and vests look like.
- Canada – laws vary by province, but it is mostly the same as US
- New Zealand – because of their rich ecosystems, they do not normally allow foreign animals to enter the country; service dogs, however, are an exception.
- UK – same laws as US, but service dog owners are given a card that explains why their dogs must be allowed access to places where they would normally not be allowed, such as areas where food is served.
- For other countries, and as a general rule, it is recommended to check with the embassy at least six months prior to the trip.
- This is due to the fact that, regardless of service status, certain vaccines and paperwork might be required.
This is more or less what I expected, however, I have not been able to find what is recommended for 6+ hour flights. It is not exactly easy to feed a dog or have it go to the bathroom on a plane. This is my main concern I look towards my future travels.
The first international event I attended this year was the international bazar. It was a gathering of international student associations along with other international organizations and groups. The purpose was, as the name indicates, a bazar, with all the groups selling items from their countries. It was really cool to see all of the different ways of making things, and some gave me inspiration to make something new. This event was also my first introduction to a lot of the international groups on campus, which was beneficial as the year progressed. Overall, I’m very glad I went.
The Cousins program is an instiution at OU, but I believe it was overwhelmed by the sheer number of global engagement students. I was initially paired with a student from China, however we failed to make contact for a while. It turned out she was forced to return home due to a family emergency. I was repaired with Camila, a student from Brazil, near the end of the semester. We met up for coffee, just in time to find out this was her last semester at OU. Clearly, I did not have the best luck with the program, though I would like to try again next year.