Youth Culture in Contemporary Iran: an Unexpected Favorite Class of the Semester

To be honest, I started out the semester feeling a little lukewarm about my class on youth culture in contemporary Iran. It was an IAS class and sounded interesting enough, but I would have preferred a class on Europe or Germany or the EU. But once we delved into the material, I loved it.

 

Since the course was over youth culture in contemporary Iran, we covered several aspects of youth culture and history. We discussed historical perspectives, art and leisure, social relations, and comparative perspectives to gain a more holistic view of modern youth in Iran. Although there is a tendency in Western media toward Orientalist oversimplification, contemporary Iranian, and especially youth, culture is incredibly complex. This class taught me that the Islamic regime is more than it appears to be, and the portrayal of Iranian citizens as depressed and downtrodden is not the whole story. As with many stereotypes, there is some truth to that image: many people struggle with low-grade depression, unemployment, and feelings of wellness. However, there are also those who agree with the ideals and actions of the Islamic regime and those who feel the government is willing to compromise and reach an agreement. Much of my final paper argues the latter: that concessions between the Islamic Republic and the youth of Iran are producing small changes that will eventually lead to compromise.

 

In addition to the critical thinking and communication skills I further developed through this class, it was also a potent reminder of my inherent biases and assumptions about Iran, the Middle East, Muslims, even just other people. The surface is never the whole story, and though I try to be cognizant of that fact, I sometimes allow others to shape my perception of people without engaging with them myself. This class allowed me to engage with the culture of Iran on a more macro scale, with all sides of the story shown, whether that was varying socioeconomic classes, different religions, different generations, or different genders. That’s not to say the class taught me everything I need to know about Iran, no single class could ever do that, but it definitely complicated my perception of Iranian society, state, and culture, and made me want to learn more.

Summer in Ukraine! (I hope)

One of my main goals for my time in college is to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can while still balancing my other priorities. I’ve found planning constructive summers to be one of the most challenging aspects of reaching my goal. Summer programs tend to be expensive and short, and if possible I’d like to round out my experience with internships and other forms of learning than summer classes. Last summer I went home to Alaska to work for the Alaska World Affairs Council, but this summer I have no prior commitments, so I’m trying to work my short-term study abroad trip into this upcoming summer.

 

I have several potential options, including a Journey Program, a German program, and other international summer schools. The option I’m most jazzed about, however, is an REU in Sioux City, Iowa. Now, you may be thinking, “what does this have to do with studying abroad and who in their right mind would be excited to go live in Iowa for 10 weeks?” Believe me, I thought the same thing, but the REU at Dordt College turns out to be an amazing potential opportunity for me to hone my psychology skills and learn more about international politics and culture in eastern Europe.

 

REUs (Residents Undergraduate Experience) are programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation to help undergrad students gain experience in hands-on application of science and research. The REU at Dordt College is looking specifically at the correlation between mental health and various wellness outcomes in conflict-ridden areas of Ukraine. For example, the program is looking at PTSD rates and development, risk factors for distress and trauma, self-assessment of health, substance abuse, and domestic violence. If my application is accepted, I would go with the research team to Ukraine to collect data, and then spend the rest of the summer in Iowa analyzing and drawing conclusions from that date. If it were to work out, this program would be an incredible opportunity for me to combine my passions for psychology and international studies. Now to apply!

OU Model United Nations

For the past three semesters, I have had the pleasure of participating in the OU Model United Nations (MUN) club here on campus. This year is particularly exciting for MUN, as our membership has grown significantly and we’re looking to branch out from conferences to add programs. As Vice President of MUN, my duties are flexible to fit the needs of the club; as a result, I’ve been working closely with Jessica (the treasurer) and Andy (the president) to plan a panel event focusing on the role of the US in the UN today. The panel is set for next semester and we’re currently looking for additional faculty panelists to lend their experience, so if anyone has recommendations, please feel free to let me know!

 

Although I’m excited to be adding more programming for Model UN, my favorite part of the club is the conferences. MUN has three conferences every year: we sponsor one middle school and one high school conference, and we attend a collegiate-level conference in St. Louis, MO every spring. This November we held our middle school conference, for which we wrote background guides and held a training session for the middle schoolers to prepare them for the format of the conference. On the day of the conference, Emma and I were Vice Chairs for the UNESCO committee, with Amer as Chairman. Emma and I both got to sit at the dais and chair for a while, which I really enjoy. We tried our best to make the conference educational while still being engaging and fun, and we got mostly positive feedback from the kids. Next semester I’m looking forward to our conference we participate in, MUN of the Midwest, and the high school conference.

Journey Launch Party

On November 2nd, the Journey programs held their launch party, an event to inform students of their opportunities over the upcoming summer. The event was two hours and gave a very detailed overview of the six programs: Journey to Italy, Journey to Tanzania, Journey to China, Journey to Brazil, Journey to Peru, and Journey to the Middle East. The event was helpful from the start, as I had heard a lot about the Italy, Tanzania, China, and Brazil programs, but didn’t even realize they had options in Peru and the Middle East.

 

Both professors and former participants gave an overview of each program, including the classes taught, the logistics and finances, and (most importantly, in my opinion) the excursions and cultural activities included in the trip. Each program includes engaging classes and prevalent cultural activities. Since each of the destinations is unique, the combination of recreational activities differs for each trip. Some of the highlights for me would include Lima and Machu Picchu in Peru, Dar el Salaam and a safari tour in Tanzania, Beijing and the Great Panda refuge in China, Haifa and the Dead Sea in Israel, and Venice and the cathedrals of Italy. As you can probably tell, I really enjoy a combination of nature-oriented outings and more social and cultural experiences. This combination of education, application, and perspective is what I think the Journey Programs excel at: students can gain academic understanding as well as actual experiences in-country (and of course, lots of fun).

 

Overall, the Journey Launch Party provided a lot of useful information and tips, and gave me and the other students a more realistic view of what each program would look like. Of course, if I end up choosing a Journey Program, now the difficulty is deciding which program would fit me best, as they all sound fantastic.

Modernizing Conventions Between Persian and Urdu: Print, Punctuation, and Poetry

At the beginning of the semester, I had the opportunity to attend the debut OU lecture of Dr. Alexander Jabbari in the Farzaneh Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies. Dr. Jabbari was recently hired as a faculty member in the College of International Studies and his intriguing debut lecture on the coevolution of Persian linguistics and culture was both informative and interesting.

 

Since I have a limited knowledge base of Persian history, this lecture was especially interesting to me. Dr. Jabbari began by tracing the literary history of Persia (modern-day Iran) back to the 17th century. Like many other languages, Persian was heavily influenced by nearby languages, especially Arabic and Urdu. However, in the last two centuries there have been localized movements to “purify” Persian and return it to its roots, sans other linguistic influences.

 

Similarly, Dr. Jabbari tracked the cultural shift of Persia in recent history. Although modern-day Iran is the world’s only theocratic republic and is infamous for its religious conservatism, ancient Persian poetry is counterintuitively liberal. Dr. Jabbari gave examples of romantic, mysterious, and even sometimes homoerotic Persian poetry. This openly sensual and romantic style was gradually replaced with a more reserved and bashful tone in the 1800s, when wide-spread dissemination of European culture and ideals began. It was through “Victorian-ization,” Dr. Jabbari argued, that the cultural context of Iran began to change.

 

Not only did Dr. Jabbari’s lecture give me a new perspective on Iranian history in an innovative and convincing argument, it was also pertinent to current events. Instead of reinforcing stereotypes of Iran as a one-dimensional, barren land with depressed men and oppressed women, Dr. Jabbari highlighted the interconnectedness of Iran’s history and political trends with those of other areas of the world. Instead of judging a country by the current political climate, Dr. Jabbari’s lecture took an objective stance and traced Persian literary and cultural tradition in its entirety.

 

Eve of Nations

Every year, the College of International Studies hosts Eve of Nations, the largest event for the International Advisory Committee of the year. Eve of Nations is an awesome event with catering, a fashion show, and a multitude of dance performances that all honor and celebrate the cultures of other countries. I got an insider view of Eve of Nations, as I worked with the International Programming office as an intern this semester, so I helped with the background planning, set up, execution, and debrief of the event. The night of, I sold tickets for the first part of the show, but was finished in time to watch part of the fashion show and the dance performances. The students involved were mesmerizing, with their energy and enthusiasm for their cultures. The fashion show was jaw-dropping, with so many different unique exhibitions of cultural dress. Even better were the dance performances, which allowed the international organizations to showcase their talent through sharing their cultural background with the audience. From the Japanese Student Association’s traditional river dance to the India Student Association’s electric modern Bollywood-Hip Hop mashup, the dancers and the audience were captivated by an energy of celebration and joy as they shared an experience honoring the great diversity of the world we live in.

International Organization: Model UN Part II

College has been a wonderful experience thus far, due to my great friends, engaging classes, and my involvement with on-campus organizations. One of my favorite clubs is Model United Nations, which has been a crucial part of my experience this semester. Whereas last semester we had only the middle school conference to plan for and run, this semester we had our own collegiate-level conference to attend and a high school conference to host.

On Tuesday, February 21st, I got in a car with three other people I barely knew to drive 8 hours to St. Louis, MO, where the Midwest Model United Nations conference was held. I was intimidated by the drive and the conference, both of which were completely new experiences to me. However, that trip turned out to be one of the highlights of my freshman year. I got to represent France to the United Nations committee on Trade and Development and work with other college students from around the country (and around to world) to create innovative solutions to economic issues. The conference was heavily collaborative, and most of the students in my committee compromised and worked together to draft practical (practice) legislation that could benefit many countries involved. We ended up drafting two resolutions, one introducing a framework of accountability for corporate social responsibility and another increasing development in rural areas to allow access to global markets. In addition to the awesome professional experience I gained from working with these driven, intelligent students, I made many long-lasting friendships. I still have the contact information of many of my committee members, who are spread around the country attending many different colleges. I’m good friends with one of the people from our car ride, and really close friends with another. The trip was a little tricky to coordinate with class and homework, but infinitely worth it for the fun I had and the friends I made.

Upon returning from St. Louis, we began to prepare for the high school conference in March. I was assigned to co-chair a general assembly on weapons proliferation with a few good friends. We wrote a topic guide and prepared the room, and the conference began. As a someone who has experienced a high school conference as a high school student, it was a really unique and wonderful experience to be on the flip side. This time, instead of being the one debating and writing, I was the one guiding and editing. It was very rewarding to give the knowledge I gained through my years in high school to the students and help them to write great resolutions. I was a little concerned about the ability of high school students to focus and perform at a high level, but those kids far exceeded my expectations. From the first caucus to adjourning the conference, they were engaged and excited about the work they were doing, which made chairing a fun and rewarding experience.

I joined OU Model UN looking to continue to have fun with conferences and to make friends. I had no idea the extent to which I would grow to love the club and the people in it. I have made amazing, close friends and have had unforgettable experiences. What started as an extracurricular activity has become a staple of my life in college. Next year, I’m excited to get even more involved in OU Model UN with the great friends I’ve made by acting as Vice President. I can’t wait to continue to enrich my own skills and those of others. Until next year, Model UN!

 

International Organization: Model United Nations aka The Best

In high school, I did not have many life-changing experiences. I mostly had my head down and did whatever I was told to do to get good grades, build my resume, or get into college. However, one of the few really influential things I did was join Model UN. I joined without a real understanding of what Model UN is or what it means. MUN is a mock conference of the United Nations where high schools or colleges represent different countries to committees. For example, my sophomore year was the first year of my involvement, and I represented Iraq to the World Intellectual Property Organization. I wrote resolutions and caucused and quickly became 1. generally overwhelmed, and 2. completely in love.

Coming to college, I knew that I wanted to continue my involvement in Model UN, as it is one of the driving forces for my interest in a career in the field of international relations. So, bright-eyed, I joined the club and eagerly showed up to the first meeting. It was definitely a shock that not many people came to the first meeting. Anchorage high schools and UAA (University of Alaska Anchorage) have a very robust Model UN program that hundreds of students participate in each year, so it was definitely discouraging to see only a few people come to the first meeting, and even less continue to come to meetings. However, the people that have stuck with it are just as passionate as me about MUN, and it has been an awesome community to be involved in.

A few weeks ago, we hosted the Midwest Model UN Conference for local middle school students. I didn’t really know how to prepare, if at all, so I just went to the forum building, ready to wing it. It was the first time I have been on the administrative side (monitoring the students and leading the meeting rather than debating resolutions and caucusing). It was a shift in perspective, and it was so rewarding to see the middle school kids passionately but respectfully debate their opinions on international issues. I even got to lead the committee meeting for the second session, so I stood up at the front of the room and instructed the kids on what we were doing and what the proper procedure for various actions was. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to leading another committee in March when we host the high school conference.

In the mean time, we are preparing for our own collegiate-level conference February 22nd to 25th. We’re going to St. Louis for the Midwest Model United Nations conference. This week we signed up for committees, and my first choice was the Women, Peace, and Security session of the Security Council and my second choice is the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees) because I have a special passion for refugee issues and have represented India to the UNHCR in the past. This year we’re representing France, so we’re looking forward to a busy and heated conference, especially in regards to refugee issues. I’m beyond excited to road trip with these wonderful people to St. Louis and experience what I love at a whole new level.

Reflection 10: Digital Story Progress

Academically, I tend to struggle with open-ended assignments. I much prefer a set structure and guided questions that I can answer and expand on, and interpretive questions and assignments make me uneasy. However, just because they are difficult for me doesn’t make them any less valuable or important to my education. In fact, throughout high school and now college, many of the most memorable and important assignments I have done have been introspective and broad. It was no different with the digital story; at first, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities and had no idea what story to tell. With time and reflection, I eventually sat down to write my script, and it practically wrote itself. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t completely relevant to all people, but it is honest and earnest and an accurate reflection of my metacognition and worldview. As such, I am pretty happy with the way it has turned out so far. I think I show a wide range of emotions and shed light on an often implicit bias in the world today.

I am also really excited to share part of my Grandma’s story with the class, as she is one of the people I most love and admire in this world. It was really special to me to reminisce about my time with her, especially considering that I still visit her once a week when I’m home and now haven’t seen her in person for about three months. Even though the digital story is an academic assignment, it also allowed me to put my personal emotions and personality into it, which I really enjoy.

Finally, I had the privilege of visiting Germany with my mom last year, so since my story is also about Germany, I thought it would be really cool to include those photos in the video. I’m super excited about them because I think they really show the beauty, practicality, and urbanity of Berlin and Germany more generally. They also have quite a bit of emotion attached to them because that trip was a major highlight in my life and many of the photos are of me and my mother or me and one of my best friends, Franzi Otto.

The only concern I have at this point is changing the monotony of all the pictures with a video, which I don’t have at this point. This weekend, however, I plan to FaceTime my grandmother both to see her and chat with her over Thanksgiving and to get a clip of her demeanor and voice to include in my video.

Reflection 9: Future Aspirations

I am so thankful for the Global Engagement Fellowship program for many reasons. I have found such an amazing community of fellow students, professors, and advisors; I have gained access to classes and discussions that are challenging and fulfilling; and I have financial support to make my dream of studying abroad feasible. Another reason I am so grateful to have been afforded this opportunity is because of it’s usefulness in both educating myself in the field I would like to work in and as an accomplishment I can be proud of.

I have a few different ideas for my career path. The first main interest that I can see myself turning into a path I’d like to take for life is psychology, whether educational, personality, or clinical. I am very interested in researching psychological disorders, especially more severe disorders such as bipolar or schizophrenia. If I decide to take this career path, I would really like to be able to study and research all over the world to diversify my studies and really get a broad and more accurate picture of mental health issues around the world. My experience in GEF will give me a chance to apply to the Fulbright program, in which I would love to conduct a research project on mental health and the psychology of guilt in Germany.

Another passion of mine that I would love to pursue in a professional setting is international affairs and conflict resolution. One of the most influential experiences I have had, both in high school and college, is Model United Nations. I am especially passionate about refugees and the UNHCR, but would love to be involved in international affairs at any level. I think the GEF program will allow me to become more knowledgeable in this area and to test out the field of conflict resolution and diplomacy to make sure that the reality of the career matches what I want out of it.

Finally, I would be really interested in putting these two seemingly dichotomous interests together to study cross-cultural communication. I am very interested in psychology in a more macro-level context with the perspective of international cultural differences.

While I am so grateful for this program and its many benefits, I also hope to actively take full advantage of these. The other day I went to the College of International Studies Career Prep and Networking Fair. I met a lot of great people and received some helpful resources to start putting my career goals into action and am so excited to apply for an internship with CIS, an internship with the State Department, and look into the Peace Corps. I’m so excited to do my research and begin looking forward to my future!