Lost in Translation: Reading Foreign Literature

Hello fearless reader! A bit of good news to start out this post: I survived another semester(!), and am happily on winter break right now. The past few months have been a mess of classes, work, and extracurriculars, so I was in desperate need of a breather. And with all of my newfound free time I have finally been able to do a few of the things I love but never seem to get around to during the school year.

I am definitely a bookworm, so reading has been at the top of my list of activities this past week. Right now I am reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, which is a really wonderful, thought-provoking novel. It was originally published in Italian though, and that fact as well as various pieces of the novel itself made me want to discuss translated literature today.

Since Spanish is one of my majors I often read novels and/or news articles in Spanish, as well as watching videos and Netflix to help keep up with the language. There have been multiple instances where I have read or listened to something in both Spanish and English and been struck by the differences between the two versions. Sometimes the translation has a completely different meaning than the original, and it frustrates me to no end that people who don’t know both languages are missing out on what’s actually being said.

One of the aspects of translation that could impact this problem is how difficult it is at times to come up with the right words to describe a phrase that is only said in Spanish–like a colloquialism or idiom–and has no true English version (or vice versa). Languages must be translated idea for idea rather than word for word, and when you encounter an idea that only exists in one language, your job becomes infinitely harder if you want to express it in the other. For example, in one of my Spanish classes this semester we had to do translations of various poems. I thought it was a relatively fun exercise, but it was really hard at times to find the right words to use in order to evoke the right meaning or feeling that the author intended. And personally, even though I believe I did a good job translating and am proud of my work, the English version just never flows quite the same as the original Spanish.

Now this isn’t to say that translated works aren’t good; the Calvino novel, like I said, is well worth the read, and so many other great works have been translated hundreds of times over and are beloved by people all over the world. The fact that a novel or show isn’t in its original language definitely doesn’t turn me away from reading or watching it. It just makes me wonder what I’m missing, not being able to experience it as it was originally created. When a work is translated it almost becomes a new thing in and of itself. Most words and phrases can be translated in multiple different ways, and each person has a unique manner of speaking/writing that is almost impossible not to express. Therefore, a translation is no longer just the author’s, but now the translator has added their voice and style to the mix as well.

I may be just rambling over something completely inconsequential, but the way words can be molded and meanings can be shifted from one language to another fascinates me. I absolutely love learning and using different languages, and think that everyone should try to pick up a new one at some point in their life. If reading books or watching shows in their original language is your push to learn one, do it. Life becomes so much richer when you get out of the monolingual world.

Of Casinos and Cowboys

Happy fall! Here I am again close to the end of the semester, realizing that I have a lot of posts to type up and very little time to do them. Everything has gone pretty smoothly up to this point, and I have been busy as usual but am really enjoying all of the things I am involved in. One thing that you might remember if you’ve been keeping track of my extracurriculars is my international organization, OU Cousins. Last year I did not get matched with anyone, but this semester I made it my top priority to find a Cousin at the Matching Party in September. And I got so lucky because I not only found a Cousin, but I matched with someone from SPAIN! You know, the country where I spent six weeks this summer and the place that I absolutely fell in love with? Yeah, that’s the one.

My OU Cousin this semester is from Castellón, which is right near Valencia on the eastern coast of Spain. Her name is Mar and she is very outgoing and fun. I also have a second, “unofficial” Cousin: Mar’s best friend Maria who is also from Spain. The three of us have done quite a few things together, and I’m so glad I have gotten to keep some connection to Spain even though I am no longer there. The first place I took them was actually new to all three of us; Mar and Maria are in Las Vegas for Thanksgiving break, so before they went they wanted to go to a casino here to see what it’s like, and I’ve never been to one either so I was definitely curious. We went with my boyfriend and another friend of ours and spent a couple hours playing slots. Mar, Maria, and Cade all won a decent amount to take home, but on my second try playing the machine I chose ate my money and didn’t give me any credits to play. We waited for 15 minutes or so for an attendant that never came, and I decided to just give up for the night after my five dollar “donation” to Riverwind. The girls had fun though, and overall it was a good night of talking and trying to get the lucky press of a button.

I also took them on a trip to see the state capitol (per their request; I think it’s boring but I’ve also been there on way too many school field trips). It is a beautiful building though, and the tour given to us by an… eccentric… but sweet woman was relatively short. Plus we went and got burgers afterwards, and there is no way to go wrong with that. We also went to one of the events OU Cousins puts on every year, S’mores Night.

But my favorite event we attended was last weekend’s WCRA Semifinals Rodeo in Guthrie, Oklahoma. I have always loved rodeos, and when I saw that the WCRA was coming here while Mar and Maria were in town I knew I had to take them. We drove out to Lazy E Ranch on a chilly, blustery Sunday and spent the afternoon in a warm, farm-scented arena watching the contestants try to qualify for the WCRA Finals in Chicago in January. The hats and the boots and the horses and the livestock were all so supremely southern. Mar and Maria liked the speed of everything and the fact that it lived up to what they pictured in their minds when they think of an American cowboy. By the second pool of riders in the first event they were already experts, monitoring times and judging whether each cowboy was impressive or unimpressive. It was so funny to see them analyze all of the events that they had just learned about a few minutes before.

After the rodeo I drove Mar and Maria to the airport for their trip to Vegas. Their plan was to spend a few days there, then go to the Grand Canyon and to New Mexico before coming back for the last few weeks of classes. They are getting to see places in the U.S. that even I haven’t been to, and I am so glad they are making the most of their time here. Once finals are over they go to Florida, and then back to Spain. After experiencing how fast time passes when studying abroad, I’m sure this semester has absolutely flown by for them. I’m hoping we’ll get to hang out at least one more time before they leave, and I am definitely planning on staying in touch after they get home. After all, I may need someone to take me around Castellón when I go back to Spain 🙂

2018 Neustadt Luncheon

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Neustadt Lit Fest, an annual celebration of international literature and culture at OU. This year’s keynote speaker and the winner of the 2018 Neustadt International Prize for Literature was Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian American writer. Her works, along with certain aspects of Haitian culture, were discussed over three days of events. I went to the second-day luncheon, entitled “Edwidge Danticat’s Literary Message: A Luncheon Roundtable”, given by three well-known and talented Haitian-American scholars: Catherine John Camara, a professor of African Diaspora and Francophone Caribbean Literature at OU; Marcia Chatelain, a professor of history and African American Studies from Georgetown University; and Florine Démosthène, an artist who is a current recipient of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship (based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma).

The roundtable discussion focused on various aspects of the “Haitian diaspora”, or the dispersion of Haitians in the U.S. It was extremely interesting for me since I have little experience with Haitian culture or history. The three women presented information from their studies as well as personal anecdotes from their families and their individual time traveling in the U.S., Haiti, and Africa; they used their professional and personal experiences to explain current Haitian American culture from three similar but very distinct perspectives. I really enjoyed the talk (and the free lunch), and definitely feel as though the experience opened me up to another unique culture.

At the very end of the discussion, Ms. Démosthène treated us to some of her most recent work, a series of collages entitled “Wounds” that she did while in Ghana. The works are beautiful pieces depicting the duality of emotions and speaking to her personal experience as well as being a testament to the feelings and perceptions of many groups and individuals. Her website, florinedemosthene.com, has pictures of her work at well as her bio and more information; if you are interested, it’s definitely worth checking out. Also, I’m definitely going to seek out some of Ms. Danticat’s work as soon as I have time to read again (after finals if I’m lucky), so if you have any recommendations on what to read by her I’d love to hear them!

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:


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.

Summer-y Summary and Starting the Sophomore Slump

This post was supposed to happen a couple months back, but life has a funny way of ruining all of my carefully crafted plans and timelines.

This past weekend marked the end of my midterms this semester, and I am finding new levels of mental exhaustion. I am loving my classes for the most part, but hating Organic Chemistry with a fire that burns brighter than a thousand suns. It is through no fault of my professor, who is truly a nice guy and clearly loves what he is doing. I just do not harbor the same sentiment that he does towards any aspect of chemistry.

I know I said I would try to give a summer update sometime during the actual summer, but by the time anything interesting happened I was already having to change gears and prep for this semester. So I hope you will forgive me, but I want to use this post to go back and talk about my experiences this summer- specifically my trip OUT OF THE COUNTRY. FINALLY.

In July my family took a trip up north and visited Buffalo, New York; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; and Bruce Peninsula (a few hours north of Toronto). It was a really awesome vacation and we saw so many different things. We saw Niagara Falls from the US and Canada sides, which was an amazing experience; I would 100% recommend a trip there at least once in your lifetime. Then we spent some time in Toronto visiting the zoo, the aquarium, the CN tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame, St. Lawrence Market, the Royal Ontario Museum, Casa Loma, and a few other cool sights while exploring the city. We also drove up to Bruce Peninsula for a few days, and it was breathtaking. The views were amazing and the weather was perfect and I honestly just love hiking and being outdoors so it was a really fun excursion.

Since my dad’s family is from North Dakota and we spend quite a bit of time up there, a lot of Toronto just felt kind of like the northern US. There were definitely some notable cultural differences though. Some of the most prominent to me were:

Language: Canada is a bilingual country- its two official languages being French and English- so you are as likely to see things written in French as in English, even in the cities and near the border.

Money: The Canadian dollar is worth about 78 cents US. They have color coded bills, which makes them easier to differentiate, and they honestly just look much cooler than our boring green money. Instead of having $1 and $2 bills, Canadians use coins called loonies and toonies. Most places accept debit/credit, and in border towns or more touristy areas American dollars are pretty widely accepted as well, so currency exchange isn’t too much of a hassle.

Government: Canada is a constitutional monarchy, which means that the Queen of Canada, Elizabeth II, is the formal head of state represented in Canada by the Governor General (currently David Johnston). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is head of government, and in each province the Queen is represented by a Lieutenant-Governor appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the PM. There are three levels to their system of governance: federal, provincial, and municipal (local). I am far from an expert on Canada’s government, but this site has a lot of information about the parts that make up the whole and is pretty interesting for the curious mind.


Health care: This topic provides as much controversy for Canada as it does for the US. Currently, Canada has a publicly funded health care system in which all citizens qualify for health coverage regardless of income, medical history, or standard of living. It is a mostly free single-payer system that is funded by the public and carried out by private doctors (not the government). If you look up “Canada health care” online, many articles pop up with very conflicting opinions on the topic. There are proponents of privatization who say it would cut down on the outrageous wait time for non-emergency visits and fix many of the perceived issues with the current healthcare plan while creating a more sustainable system, and others who strongly back the current system and believe privatization would be very detrimental to the country. It’s a really interesting topic, and many of the arguments parallel the health care debates that we are currently having in the United States.

National pride: Canadians on the whole seem to be much more proud to be Canadian than we are of being American. Almost every house we drove by had some form of the Canadian flag outside and we could tell when we talked to people that they were more than content with defining Canada as their home and having the rest of the world categorize them as Canadians. They possess a strong sense of uniquely Canadian identity, and are proud of their diversity and heritage. A lot of these sentiments were even more prominent this summer, since 2017 marks Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Hockey: This one doesn’t really need a ton of explanation. Hockey is to Canada as football is to the US. Every kid grows up playing it, watching it, and living it, and every city has a team.

Tim Hortons: Like our northern neighbors’ version of a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks with the popularity of Chick-Fil-A on a college campus, they serve coffee and pastries and specialize in Timbits, their version of donut holes that come in many different flavors. Especially maple.

…and bagged milk. Which I still don’t quite understand. Sounds to me like a recipe for milk spilled everywhere, but it’s also more ecologically friendly and cost effective, so good on you Canada.

Overall, my trip to Canada was a lot of fun and I would definitely go back. I feel like it has definitely helped me broaden my horizons at least a little bit, and I’m more than ready to take my travels further.

Above: one of our MANY Tim Horton’s runs, a painted building we walked past downtown, and me in front of Casa Loma


Above: the view of the falls from one of our hotel rooms, my mom and I at Bruce Peninsula, and a rainbow over Horseshoe Falls (the Canada side of Niagara Falls)