Saying Goodbye- 7 July 2018

Well, I’m sitting on the plane waiting for my flight to leave for Dallas and trying to come to terms with the fact that my month and a half in Spain is actually over. The time passed so much quicker than I expected, and it’s going to be really hard for me to leave the place I feel like I was just starting to get to know. I’ve met so many wonderful people and seen so many places that I had only dreamed I would be able to visit.

Part of me is ready to be back to my routine and my normal food and habits and the people from back home that I’ve been missing. But right now that part is buried under the sadness that comes from leaving friends I’ve only just met, a new family here that treated me like one of their own, and a country that is full to overflowing with beauty and a rich, diverse culture. This experience has truly been unforgettable and studying in Alcalá has impacted me in a big way. If I ever have the chance to come back, believe me when I say I will not hesitate to hop on the plane.

Now we’ve taken off, and I don’t want to take my eyes off the window. I can’t believe this is the last view I’m going to get of Spain.

Maybe my heart feels so heavy because of all of the pieces of this trip that I’m carrying home with me.

…and Graffiti Nights (Part 2)

Along with all of the art in museums and other spaces where the works match the more classical definition of art, Spain is also decorated with a TON of street art. I really like art of any style or media, and I think street art can be a beautiful and powerful form of expression. I always take notice of the graffiti in any city I go to, and it was omnipresent in Spain. Every city I visited was covered with tagging and graffiti. In Alcalá de Henares, where I stayed, I actually got to see the process by which tagging is done, covered up, and redone. Along my route to class there were wide stretches of white walls that were the perfect canvas for the area’s taggers. In the morning I would pass city workers coating the walls in white paint, erasing strings of letters and names. Then later, on my way back from hanging out with friends at the bar or after taking the last train home from Madrid at night I would see groups of taggers out covering the newly white wall with vivid colors. It was a cycle that I watched over and over throughout my month there, with ceaseless working on both sides to have the last splash of paint. Here is a little bit of the graffiti in Alcalá that I actually watched being painted at night (red/orange tag and green/blue tag):

I didn’t see any truly “artistic” or impressive graffiti until my weekend in Valencia. The street art there is absolutely stunning, and I think it’s so awesome that the city’s culture supports this kind of expression. It’s not trashy looking or just simple tagging, but really adds another dimension to the buildings and the streets. I have way too many pictures to fit in this post, but here is a taste of what I saw:

Barcelona also had some very interesting and beautiful art. They actually have a few designated spaces in the city for graffiti, one of which being the Jardins de les Tres Xemeneies (Garden of the Three Chimneys). It is an urban park dominated by large walls where artists can paint without fear of being fined. I happened on it one day as I was walking back from the beach and the blend of styles and themes that I saw was stunning. I actually read online that the murals in the park are painted over once a week, so it seems as though my pictures are the only remnants of the art that was present on the day that I wandered by. The idea of the ever-changing landscape is both freeing and frustrating to me. Frustration from the quality of works these artists produce only to have them covered a few days later, but freedom in that there is a new experience for every visit to the park with new artists and new works to admire.

The culture in Spain is so deeply rooted and complex that one could spend a lifetime there and never discover it all. And the wide range of art in Spain, whether it be in the museums and the cathedrals or on the buildings and in the streets, just opens another window for people to see the culture and the beauty of the country. The richness and diversity of each of the cities I visited made it easy for me to see how so many artists find inspiration in Spain.

Painted Days… (Part 1)

One of the classes I decided to take during my month here in Spain is a class on the history of Spanish painting and Spain’s great painters. I’ve always loved art, and the class satisfies the required gen ed artistic forms credit that I’ve been putting off so when I saw it on the course list I thought hey, why not?

But I’ve gotten so much more out of the class than I imagined and honestly nothing compares to learning about a painting in the place where it was created, then going to see the work in person a few days later. Especially since I also was able to visit the sites where the artists lived and worked, and got to see the sources of their inspiration in the real-life cities, beaches, and people I passed by. I’ve been to world-famous art museums like the Prado, visited religious sites like El Escorial where every detail and brushstroke detailing the walls and ceiling is full of meaning, and seen works by artists like Velázquez and Dalí that have captivated generations. Having the background knowledge on the artists, the history, the techniques, and the works themselves from my time in class before seeing the paintings mere meters or even centimeters in front of me has made the art come alive for me and is something that I could experience over and over without ever being afraid of the sensation dulling.

I wanted to post about this specifically because yesterday was my last day in Barcelona with my parents (who came to visit as I was finishing up classes and have used me as a translator ever since) and we went to the Museu Picasso after a morning visit to Montserrat. As I traversed the halls of the museums and saw the development of Picasso’s art over the years through his many different inspirations, he became so much more than just the cubist painter that most people consider him to be. I had no idea he sculpted as well as painted, both with techniques that were at times radically different from those of other artists. There was a photo series that was part of a temporary exhibition in the museum that featured Picasso eating a fish which, after sucking the bones dry, he immediately pressed into some clay to use as an inlay for his Bullfight and Fish ceramic plate that he began working on as soon as the meal was finished.

 - Picasso in La Californie making Bullfight and Fish (verso: Faces)

Picasso in La Californie Making Bullfight and Fish

Bullfight and Fish (verso: Faces) - Pablo Picasso

Bullfight and Fish

Also, Picasso’s studies/interpretations of Las Meninas by Velázquez were so cool to me after I spent so much time studying Velázquez and had seen the original work at the Prado a few weeks prior. I really enjoyed comparing the two works and seeing the different pieces of the original painting that Picasso chose to focus on; seeing all 50something works in his Las Meninas series gave me a new insight into his creative process and his interpretation of/attitude toward the Velázquez piece.

Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez

Las Meninas, 1957 by Pablo Picasso

Las Meninas, 1957 by Pablo Picasso

The quantity and caliber of art in this place has truly astounded me in the month and a half I’ve been here. If you ever visit Spain, I would 1000% recommend that you spend some time in the art museums and places like El Palacio Real in Madrid, El Escorial, one or more of the ridiculous number of cathedrals in every city, or anywhere else you can see the beautiful, diverse, imaginative and sometimes weird works that Spain is home to. And if you can take a class on the world-renowned artists filling the country with their works (or at least get an audioguide or book or find a Wikipedia article online), it will only make your experience that much richer.

I Get Around: Transportation Abroad (and a Beach Boys Song)

How do I love thee, tarjeta transporte? Let me count the ways…

If you didn’t know, I am currently in the middle of a six week trip to Spain studying abroad in a city near Madrid called Alcalá de Henares. There are a few things that I’ve found or learned since I arrived that have made a HUGE difference in my experience, especially related to traveling within Spain so I wanted to compile a list of some of them in the hopes that they might be helpful to someone else. I know that before my trip I spent weeks scouring the internet for anything and everything related to travelling or studying in Europe/Spain, and even after that I still feel like there was a lot that I missed. So, without further ado, here are my biggest recommendations for getting around in España.

  • GET A TRANSPORTATION CARD

Most cities in Europe, especially in Spain, have some sort of transportation pass for students under the age of 26 that allows you unlimited access to the public transportation system for one month. In the Madrid area the tarjeta transporte gives you free rides on the city buses, the metro, and the train. It costs 4 euros for the card and 20 to charge it for the month and in my 3 weeks here I have gotten my money’s worth at least 5 times over. (For instance, one round trip on the train from Alcalá to Atocha, one of the biggest stations in Madrid, costs around 8 euro. I’ve made that trip at least 10 times now, and that doesn’t even factor in the money I’ve saved on my trips on the bus and the metro). It has made traveling back and forth between cities and within Madrid such a breeze for me. Also, the public transportation in Spain is actually wonderfully clear and well-run. It’s easy enough for even the most clueless of travelers to figure out where they need to go before they miss the next train. And that leads me into my next piece of advice:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help

People, for the most part, are generally good and helpful. And when you’re in a country you’ve never been to trying to navigate trains and buses and confusing streets and strange buildings, someone who knows the area can be a huge help in setting you on the right path. I don’t know how many times I would have walked for miles in the wrong direction, hopped on the wrong train, or stood around helplessly for hours if I hadn’t decided to ask someone for help. It can save so much time finding a friendly face to tell you that you need to take the C-10 train to make your connection to the bus station (which is actually just now pulling into the station so you’d better sprint if you want to catch it), or that the cell phone store is actually completely opposite of the way you’ve been walking aimlessly when your foreign SIM card has locked you out of your phone (again). I’ve asked people on the street, popped into stores or restaurants to ask workers, and even stopped and chatted with a couple police officers; across the board, everyone I’ve talked to has been amicable and extremely helpful. And even though I’m not great with strangers and don’t particularly like asking for help, it has made a big enough difference that I don’t even hesitate to do it now.

  • Use the language (or learn it!)

I love languages. Like, LOOOOVE them. So for me, being able to use what I’ve learned over 6 years of Spanish classes in the real world to communicate with people is just awesome. I don’t think my experience would be even half as beneficial and memorable if I didn’t have the ability to hold conversations with store owners and neighbors and people on the bus, learning about their lives and their country and their culture directly from them. It has also made my relationship with my host family much stronger than that of some of the other students who don’t speak as much Spanish. The ability to talk about topics that go beyond surface level, or even just to be able to make jokes with each other has allowed us to become more comfortable around each other and form a solid relationship. Plus, the vocabulary I learned in the classroom is nothing like the words I’ve needed in real life, and if I hadn’t come here I never would have known how much I was missing by only using the language in the classroom.

But even if you travel to another country with a beginner’s level or no knowledge at all of the language, learning it while you’re there can still make a huge difference. For the most part, people respect that you’re trying to learn and use their language and will help you out if you’re struggling. It’s also a sign that you respect them enough to try to speak to them in their language. Plus, the best way to learn a language is by immersion. What better way to become immersed in a language than by travelling to a place that speaks it and learning from natives in a real-world setting?

  • Find people to travel with, but also do stuff on your own

Meeting new people in a country you don’t know can be slightly terrifying. But finding a group of friendly faces who also love traveling and are excited to go see places and experience new things can really enrich your trip. Having people to explore the city and take weekend trips with, or even just having a group to go to a restaurant or the bar for a night of talking and laughing instead of sitting at home has made my experience a lot more fun and helped me to feel more comfortable here. But I also spent last weekend alone in Valencia after I couldn’t find anyone who didn’t already have plans, and it was honestly amazing. I didn’t have to depend on or wait for anyone and I got to see and do only and all of the things I wanted to (well, the ones I had time for). I also felt very independent and really enjoyed solving my own problems and making my own way around the city. The memories I made over that weekend are something that I will always have, and something I’ll have that I did for myself and myself alone. It was really liberating and almost relaxing in a sense, exploring on my own. I also would never have been able to visit Valencia had it not been for me going by myself, and Valencia is AMAZING. I loved the city and the sights and the beach and the people, and I definitely would have spent at least a week there if I could have. All this is to say that it’s great to meet people and travel in groups, but I also now see the merits of traveling solo and definitely understand why so many people take trips alone around the world*.

 

Well, I think that pretty much covers the main tips I think people should consider when thinking about transportation abroad (even though I know there are plenty more things I could talk about that would turn this post into a novel). Above all, I think the most important idea connecting these tips is to not be afraid to go somewhere new and explore as many places as you have the chance to. You have the rest of your life to stay in for the night or sleep late. Use every minute you have abroad wisely. It will be over before you realize it.


Just a note from the title: “I Get Around” is an old Beach Boys song that got stuck in my head while writing this post. It has nothing to do with Spain but it’s very catchy 🙂

Also,

*little disclaimer: I do not want to discount the potential dangers of solo travel, especially for women. When I was in Valencia (and really the whole of my time here) I definitely stayed very alert the whole time I was there and had plenty of lines of communication with people both here and back home who knew where I was at all times, as well as having the emergency number for Spain (112) and the US embassy’s information on me at all times.

Love and Art and the Brazilian Government, Oh My

Towards the end of April I had the pleasure of attending a Latin Americanist Lunch at OU entitled “Amar sem Temer”: Street Art and Resistance in Brazil. The lecture was hosted by Professor Mischa Klein, who lived in São Paolo for 6 years and served as the Faculty in Residence at OU’s Brazilian study center in the time surrounding the Rio Olympics. During our hour with her, she discussed the political and social context in Brazil following the Olympics and Michel Temer coming into power as the country’s 37th president, the street art culture and its impact on the Brazilian people, and the use of street art as a widespread forum for political discourse among the people and commentary on various issues such as gender-related violence.

One of the major issues Professor Klein focused on was the “Cidade Linda” or “beautiful city” campaign in São Paolo. The city’s mayor, João Doria, decided to “beautify” the streets by ordering all graffiti and tagging to be covered up by gray paint in a wave known by the people as The Gray Tide. Below is a picture taken from The Guardian of a worker covering up street art:

See the source imageA massive amount of art was wiped out by this campaign, including some done by Eduardo Kobra, an internationally famous artist who does massive portraits and was even commissioned for a work for the Rio Olympics. One of the works covered was an 11×17 meter portrait done by Kobra… a huge, beautiful piece of art, completely gone. Here is one of Kobra’s most recent works so you can see how talented he is. This specific piece is a tribute to Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, from streetartnews.com:

Works like this and pieces from many other talented artists were harshly silenced by sprayers and paint rollers. But the artists and the people of Brazil refused to let their culture be erased, and street art is still a very important part of the aesthetic of cities like Rio and São Paolo. It was officially legalized in Rio in 2009 and is recognized as urban art that may be done in any public space or with the consent/invitation of a building’s owner.

More recently, the focus of a lot of the cities’ graffiti has shifted to an explicit commentary on Temer, Brazil’s current president. A large percentage of the population does not support him or his legislation, and art depicting him as a vampire or with the slogan “Fora Temer” (leave/get out Temer) has popped up all over. The “Fora Temer” movement has even gone so far as making it into the commercial realm of the cities; in many stores, customers who say the phrase receive a 15 or 20% discount.

The power of art never ceases to astound me and move me in new ways, and Brazil’s street art scene is no exception. If you have the time, just google Brazil street art (or Rio street art or São Paolo or whichever city strikes your fancy) and you will see a rich, colorful, and powerful world; graffiti artists have something to say, and even if their work is painted over, torn down, or covered up they cannot be silenced… Viva a arte!

Implications of Brexit for Ireland

So a few weeks back for one of my international events I attended a lecture given by Adrian Farrell, the Consul General of Ireland for the American Southwest. Over a catered lunch from Panera (which was awesome for a broke college kid without a meal plan), he discussed the impact and implications Brexit has for Ireland and the Irish people.

The two key questions for Farrell revolve around Ireland and the Irish economy. Since Northern Ireland is a part of the UK, they are involved in Brexit even though the majority of the country voted to remain in the European Union. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have had a long and rocky history, and Brexit threatens to upend the current state of peace and reconciliation that the two countries have fought so long to achieve. The border between the two is currently fully open, with 260 major road crossings according to Farrell. And with the Republic of Ireland’s single-market economy (free movement of goods, people, etc.) and over $75 billion of trade each year, the reformation of a hard border separating them from Northern Ireland or the stoppage of trade with the UK would be devastating to Ireland’s economy. The Dublin-London air route is one of the busiest in the world, and up to 40% of Irish exports in areas like food and agriculture go to the UK. Farrell stressed that Brexit must not lead to the reformation of a hard border, and that Ireland must continue to be a trading nation regardless of the other outcomes of Brexit.

He also discussed the outlook of the Irish people surrounding the issue. After Brexit, Ireland will be the only English-speaking member of the EU, and they are already the only English-speaking member of the euro currency zone. Over 80% of the Irish population now agrees that Ireland should stay in the EU, and most of them believe that the EU needs to continue to reform. Farrell believes they should work harder to engage citizens in a direct democracy, and that structural funds, which are transferred to poorer states to help boost them, need to be strengthened, as well as believing a new Marshall Plan for Africa is needed.

Even with the areas that he said needed improvement, Farrell’s optimism and positive view of his country and the EU were very obvious. He discussed the impact of the Erasmus Program, which invests heavily in education and cross-border cooperation, and highlighted that 20% of people currently living in Ireland were born elsewhere. They also have a 6% unemployment rate that has been pretty steadily dropping.

Even though there are still many uncertainties with Brexit, and the March 29, 2019 date is fast approaching, the EU has shown remarkable solidarity in supporting Ireland and their continued peace with Northern Ireland. Farrell’s talk was one of the most hopeful and confident political discussions I have been privy to in a long time, and his portrayal of Ireland definitely convinced me that it needs to be moved up a few spots on my bucket list.

If you’re interested in reading more about Mr. Farrell or about the Erasmus Program, here are a couple of good links:

https://www.dfa.ie/irish-consulate/austin/about-us/consul-general/
https://esn.org/erasmus

The Cyber Offense-Defense Balance and Why Technology is Both Cool and Terrifying

On March 8 I attended an event for OU’s annual IAS Symposium. This year’s topic was global cyber trends and I went to a lecture entitled “What is the Cyber Offense-Defense Balance?” that was given by Rebecca Slayton, a professor at Cornell.

I don’t know very much about global cyber trends and had no idea what the cyber offense-defense balance even was when I sat down for the lecture, so I learned a lot in the hour and fifteen minutes I was there. Dr. Slayton began by outlining the conventional wisdom, which is that offense has the upper hand in cyberspace. Basically, first-mover advantages and the cost of attacking vs. defending favors the offensive in cyber operations. She then addressed the minority view, the cyber defense advantage, and proceeded to assert that in reality neither of these are true but that we are simply asking the wrong question. What we should be asking is “under what circumstances do cyber operations favor offense rather than defense?” The cyber offense-defense balance, according to Slayton, is shaped not only by technology but also by the complexity of adversaries’ goals relative to their skills and organizational capacity. In other words, a potential offensive advantage must be defined in relation to specific adversaries with specific goals, in conjunction with skills and organizational context.

In cyber operations, both the offense and the defense want to maximize payoff versus cost. This payoff is shaped by the goals of each adversary and subjective value of their operation. For example, cyber offense is valuable for countries or actors who value covert operations or action at a distance, who don’t have other means of attack, and who have adversaries who rely heavily on cyberspace. Cyber defense is valuable for actors who depend on cyberspace. The cost of cyber operations is more difficult to measure because cyber weapons have very different costs than physical ones. Each code design can only be reused until it is discovered, and costs are dominated by research, development, and testing rather than materials and production as physical weapons are. Maintenance costs are also huge in the software lifecycle.

The lecture also covered the consequences of cyber operations. The example that Dr. Slayton used was Stuxnet, a US-Israeli attack on an Iranian uranium enrichment facility. Over the at least 4 year development period ending with discovery in 2010, hackers took control of the facility’s computers and periodically sped up the centrifuges to damaging speeds without the scientists’ awareness. The costs due to loss of production and centrifuges was estimated to be near 7 million, and the non-monetary payoffs for the offense came in the form of damaged morale, excessive security, and resulting organizational inefficiencies. The perceived value of Stuxnet appears to be 2 orders of magnitude greater than its costs for the US and Israel. Although this may be true, the cost of offense exceeded that of defense and the blowback was that it strengthened the resolve of Iran nuclear power and that Iran was able to use the attack to learn about cyber weapons. Slayton’s final takeaway was that there is no offense-defense balance because cyberspace is not uniform (kind of a cop-out given the title of her lecture, I know).

Overall I thought the lecture was very interesting. As the importance of technology worldwide continues to increase, there are many adaptations we need to make and precautions we need to take, and as the definition of war changes with new developments it is likely that this topic will only become more prevalent in our society.

 

New Year, Worldwide

Happy New Year! Since it is the beginning of 2018 I thought it would be interesting to look at New Year’s traditions around the world.

 

Here in America we drink champagne and give each other kisses at midnight, but many countries have very different ideas of ringing in the new year. For example, in Spain it is customary to eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each chime of the clock, to bring luck. In certain parts of Scotland, people swing large fireballs over their heads in a tradition that is said to ward off evil spirits. In Denmark, broken glass is meant to be a sign of good fortune so people smash china and drop it on friends’ doorsteps to bring them good luck in the new year. People in Colombia and Ecuador make and burn puppets or scarecrows to symbolize leaving bad people or things in the past. Joya no kane is the traditional ceremony of bell-ringing in Japan that dates back to Buddhist beliefs, where the bells are rung 108 times to represent each of the worldly desires or sins. In Greece, hanging an onion in your front doorway signifies rebirth and regrowth. And on New Year’s in Germany, people eat filled donuts as part of their “Silvester” celebrations.

 

So as you can see, there are many different ways of celebrating the new year. Whether you were stuffing your mouth with grapes, breaking plates, toasting, or getting a New Year’s kiss, I hope you had a fun night and have a prosperous 2018.

Pasko Sa Nayon

Last week, to support one of my friends, I attended the Filipino Student Association’s Cultural Night called Pasko Sa Nayon. The phrase means “Christmas in the village” in Filipino, and the event was a celebration of the Filipino culture through food, songs, and a really interesting traditional dance called tinikling.

Tinikling is one of the oldest and most popular folk dances originating in the Philippines, and is recognized as the Philippine national dance. It means “bamboo dance” in English, and is performed with two large bamboo poles that are clapped together rhythmically as dancers hop and maneuver between them. There are various stories as to the origin of the dance, one of which being that the Leyte people did it as an imitation of the tikling bird’s unique movements as it hops and walks between grass stems and tree branches, and that the dance’s name came from the name of the bird. Another story tells of the Philippine people working in the fields under the Spaniards. According to LIHKA.org, when workers were slow, they would be sent out of the paddies for punishment. They were forced to stand between two bamboo poles cut from the grove, sometimes with thorns sticking from their segments. The poles were then clapped together to beat the natives’ feet. By jumping when the bamboo sticks were apart, the natives tried to escape this cruel form of punishment. From there it is said that tinikling evolved into the art form that it is today.

It is a really cool and fun-looking dance, and is very clearly a source of pride and unique part of the Filipino culture. I’ll attach a link below to a video of the dance; the OU students who did it during Culture Night were not quite as talented as these people, but it was still quite impressive.

I am very glad I attended Pasko Sa Nayon; I really enjoyed seeing a new facet of the Filipino culture, and definitely want to try tinikling now. Maybe with bubble wrap around my ankles, just in case…

International Organization Update

This semester has been a little bit of a disappointment in terms of my involvement in international organizations on campus. I am still a member of Spanish Club and OU Cousins like I was last year, but Spanish Club meetings happen to fall on the same night as ASL Club meetings (and I’m the vice president of ASL Club so I’m kind of obligated to be there) so I haven’t been able to go. I also was unable to be matched with a new OU Cousin this semester because of the disproportionate amount of American students wanting to be involved.

But fear not, dear reader, because I have been able to reconnect with Anita (my old OU Cousin) and have a status update on her life since going back to Taiwan. This is what she sent me in her email:

“I graduated from university this June in Taiwan. I went to Spain to visit my bf in July for the entire month. And I started working since September, which makes my life a hectic. I work in a electronics company as an international salesperson. It’s an okay job but the time difference makes my job kind of difficult because sometimes I need to make phone calls out of my business hour to reach customers.”

She also said she misses her time in the US and being a student (except for dead week), and I definitely miss having her here. However, thanks to the miracle that is modern technology, there is a silver lining: even though she’s not here anymore and is now off working in the real world we can still stay in touch. I’m hoping that in the spring I will be able to get matched with a new Cousin; I had such a good experience and learned so much from Anita, and now have a friend 7,600 miles away and a place to stay when I visit Taiwan.

I’m pretty sure spring semester will be better for me and my international organizations because OU Cousins generally has a more even ratio of international to American students in the spring, and ASL Club meetings will be moving to Tuesday nights to accommodate the change in ASL class scheduling so I will be free Wednesdays to actually attend Spanish Club meetings. In the meantime though, I still have Anita to keep my connection to OU Cousins and my Spanish class to keep me connected to the world of hispanohablantes.