Global Engagement Day 2018

For Global Engagement Day this year, I went to an event regarding International Students and their experiences at OU. Going into the event, I thought it would be a conversation with international students and American students, with an emphasis on how their experience here could be improved. This was the original intent I believe, however the actual event was about two international students and forty or so American students. We all sat around a long conference table, with extra chairs pulled up around the side, facing the two at the end. I stood in the back.

While there was progressive conversation, it was not quite the dialogue I was hoping for. This is an extremely important issue on campus (and in our society), but we must approach it from the right angle. A simple, one-sided question and answer does not provide the level of conversation needed to fully learn and grow from each other. Pedro and I work side-by-side, he in the International Student Services office and I in the Education Abroad office – and that is the kind of relationship that has opened both of our minds to different types of people. Interacting, speaking on a daily basis, and sharing stories when we get the chance.

Overall, good questions were asked, and good answers were given, but I would still like to see this event grow in the future. We have the opportunity as a university, particularly one that is bustling with students from all over the world, to truly learn something from one another.

Goodbye

OU Cousins is a student organization that provides the platform to be several different things. There are the typical weekly gatherers for lunch, who maintain a somewhat friendly, yet oddly removed, relationship for the duration of a semester. There are the ones who drink too much together one night and never speak again. And then, there is something outlandishly special. This past year I had the chance to befriend a girl named Pilar Gimenez as my OU Cousin. What I have said before in a previous post about Pilar, all continues to be incredible and true; however, there is now a new spin on our story. This upcoming fall, Pilar and I will be studying at the same university in Valencia, Spain. I’m so excited to add this to our list of adventures together.

Currently, we are sitting on a couch in my friend’s loft in downtown Chicago. We’ve spent the day walking around the city, completing her architectural dreams with visits to the Farnsworth House, Cloud Gate, and other works by Mies van der Rohe. We popped into an open house at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where we viewed some models and had a few slices of a California Roll. I bought some old comic books for a friend of mine. We have two more days in the city, and then I’ll send her and Indo on their way to Spain. We’ve both agreed that this would be impossible, but the promise of us seeing each other again in Valencia provides some condolence.

Pilar, it has been an amazing year with you. From our first trip to Turner Falls, then on to San Francisco, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and now, to this lovely couch in Chicago… it has been a joy.

Eve of Nations 2018

Eve of Nations is an event put on by the International Advisory Committee that serves as an annual gathering of over 20 student organizations. This spring, it was the 48th celebration, and I went with my good friend Valentina. We pre-purchased our tickets and settled in on a colder than normal April night. Before the show began, we caught up on our daily lives – classes, summer plans, etc. Valentina is leaving in three short days to fly straight into Rome, where she will partake in a study abroad program with the College of Education. She will then spend a week with her brother in Germany, before traveling to a small city in northern France where she will be an Aupair for the remainder of the summer. I am thrilled to talk to her about this journey, for it reminds me so much of my own – which I was leaving for this time last year. She is going to have a beautiful trip and I cannot wait to hear about her experiences.

Anyways, the group of students organizing and performing Eve of Nations put on a fantastic show. They began by introducing all the student groups and presenting the country or region that centralized them. I am always amazed by how many different countries are represented at our relatively small university in the middle of Oklahoma. I am reminded how important community it is, and I am happy that they have found communities here, away from their homes and their families, where they can be comfortable. Every region of the world is represented, and the male emcee shows early signs of being particularly annoying. The students perform dances, strut in the traditional clothing of their country, and everyone cheers. It was a fun event to attend, and I was especially happy for some familiar faces I saw on stage presenting and performing.

A Day in Oklahoma City

One Saturday, I swung by Traditions and picked up Raul, Pilar, and Indo – we were going to spend the day in OKC and Sophia was with me. First, we went to go find this International Fair put on by UCO. We went to the wrong place first, and we were really confused because it was similar to what we imagined, but it was the opposite of international. An older guy was playing country folk music out of his pickup, and a group was selling homemade dog treats. After walking around for a little, none of us acknowledging the highly anticlimactic environment we had just found ourselves in, we agreed that it was “cold” and walked back to the car. It turned out the real event was just around the corner. We got some cold asian food in to-go boxes and moved on. Next, we went to Penn Square Mall because they had never been. We spent some time walking around, making fun of the overpriced Santa pictures, and trying on weird clothes in Forever 21. After this, we went to Lake Hefner. It’s a nice view and there are a couple of restaurants along the water that are nice to sit and have some “tapas” hahahaha. We had great conversations, and I really loved this moment with them. Such genuine, pure people that I am more than thankful to have in my life. I sure do have it good.

I took them home and they told me I was “puro amor” – pure love. They just don’t see that it’s because my heart is beaming through my entire being when I am with them.

Heath

Education Abroad Info Fair

In August I started my new job working in the Education Abroad office at the university. I had interviewed for the position over the summer through a Skype call, and I remember that day we had a big lunch with the whole family. After an intense game of futbol, I threw on a blazer and locked Iker and Aitor out of the office. Despite the poor connection and the awkward English I had picked up, I ended up with the job and started a few weeks after I got home. On the first day, Hailey and I started together, and I knew we would be great friends. Kelsey took us to meet all of the advisors, and she thought I was so cool because I had spent the summer in Spain. Little did she know, I’m just a huge nerd but I think she’s caught on by now. Bobby, if you’re reading this, you’re pretty cool too. Also, our office is located in Farzaneh Hall, which is great because we are right in the middle of all things international. One day, our office was hosting an Education Abroad Fair on the South Oval. It was fun to go see all the students interested in study abroad, and I kept the crowd entertained by playing soccer in those huge air bubbles that let people knock you to the ground. I hope everyone studies abroad. It was the best thing I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to go again. So exciting. So invigorating. Getting to choose your life for that short semester is something so special. Just picking up and going to see the world with nothing but warm arms welcoming you and sending you. It’s what I dream about every night and it’s what I remember the strongest. I wore a bracelet all summer (until I lost it in Amsterdam) that read “No sueñes tu vida, vive tus sueños” and there are very few ideologies that I subscribe to more than this one.

Hasta pronto mis sueños…

Heath

International Prom

In October we all went to the International Prom together. We dressed up like real adults, gathered together in Traditions, and went to the dance together. This was the first night I met Raul, and Alex came with me to meet Pilar for the first time.

The dance itself was really fun. They played music of all different cultures, and it was fun to see everyone get excited when a song from their country came on. Also, it was fun to impress the Spanish people when I knew their songs, because they were songs I listened to all summer. Pilar told me she was really happy we met, and I couldn’t express to her enough how happy I was too. Meeting her and Pilar and Indo and Raul has been the best thing that has happened to me since I came home from Spain, and it was exactly what I needed. They remind me that that side of the world really isn’t too far away, and they keep my love alive for their language and culture. I’m going to miss them so much when May comes around.

Heath

de Zaragoza

I first met Pilar at the OU Cousins matching party. That day, I had gotten off work 30 minutes after the event had started, but I decided to go late anyways just to see if I could still meet someone. I walked in and the majority of people were sitting on the ground, but there were some still standing up and talking. At this point the event had been going on for 45 minutes, so I was sure I was too late. However, each year there are too many American students and not enough international students, so I was hoping I could find a friend and then join their OU Cousin group. However, I couldn’t find anyone, so I was about to give up and try being matched electronically when I saw another girl walk in late. They had separated us by name tags, so by her blue name tag I knew she must be an international student. I decided to go and ask her if she wanted to be together, because everyone else was already matched and she looked pretty cool. So we started talking, and she agreed with me that everyone must be matched already, so we got in line for some ice cream and there we were – OU Cousins!

However, what I did not realize in that moment was that I had met someone so incredibly kind, thoughtful, and funny. I swear Pilar must have been sent to me by some secret angel looking out for the both of us. She came into my life at a time when I was trying to fill a void that leaving Pamplona had left in my heart, and the next thing I know, I am paired by chance with an amazing girl from Zaragoza. Geographically, Zaragoza is the closest sister city that OU has to Pamplona. It couldn’t have been more perfect or more ironic. Oh, and the matching process at the OU cousins event hadn’t even started when we get there.

Pilar Gimenez is in her early twenties getting a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture. She came to the US with her boyfriend, Indo (Indo if you are reading this, you are equally incredible but we just can’t be OU Cousins porque pues tu y Pilar son primeros…) They had the option to be here in OK, or somewhere else in the Midwest if they wanted to come to the States. Talk about a power couple. Traveling the world together, dating for five years, and all the while being amazing friends to each other and the others that they meet. I think I’m in love with them both. Anyways, so far we have had a lot of fun together and I am always trying to figure out how to talk about Pilar. I can’t just call her my OU Cousin because she is so much more than that. So we are Heath and Pilar – and we are a lot more than OU Cousins and a little less than sisters. And then Indo is just there in the middle somewhere 🙂

A Pilar, estoy muy feliz de conocerte, y siempre eres en mi corazon.

Eres la mejor guapa, te quiero muchisimo!

Heath

A Different World

I stepped off my ten hour flight, and man, I was not ready for all that is Dallas, Texas. I had swam in a water park, walked around the city of Barcelona, flown from Barcelona to Amsterdam, slept overnight in a Burger King booth at the airport, taken the metro to downtown Amsterdam on a whim due to a flight delay, then boarded a flight home, all in the same shower cycle. I squirm and cry throughout the whole flight home, my body trying to tell me that I shouldn’t be leaving, and before I know it we have landed. Jake and Heather are sunburned from their vacation to Cabo. Cowboy Dan needs to talk to someone in charge. Katy can’t believe the line for customs because she has somewhere to be. They all have somewhere to be.

The worst part was that after three months of only understanding what I wanted to understand – I was thrust into this angry, unpleasant crowd and I had no other option but to hear everyone and all of their complaints. So I just waited in line, trying to get through so that I could see my mom and my best friend, Alice. I was so excited to see them, tell them all my stories, and show them all my pictures.

What you quickly learn is that no one is close to as half as interested in your experiences abroad as you are. It’s not because they don’t care…but they really just don’t care. It’s not a bad thing necessarily, and it’s a lesson I was glad to learn because now I know to never live in a moment with the anticipation of sharing it with someone else later. I have hundreds of pictures on my laptop that I took for people who don’t want to see them. I have stories I want to tell to people but I can’t because they start with, “when I was in Spain…” I have a new language I want to use but I can’t without being obnoxious.

What I’m trying to say, is that too many times we find ourselves remembering a moment before we even live in it. We take pictures before we look. We take videos before we listen. We share a story on social media before we talk about it with our friends. Losing my phone this summer was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Not only did I live every moment purely, but I was surround by friends who put their phones away when they’re together. They play cards when they go to the pool, they don’t scroll through their phones whenever they have nothing to talk about. I watched the Running of the Bulls without taking a video. Does that sound like an accomplishment? It shouldn’t.

I’m sharing this because I see too many students walking to class without looking up from their phone. I’m tired of sitting in a room of my friends and being the only one not on my phone. I’m tired of everyone rushing from place to place, not stopping to talk, and if they do their body language screams that they have somewhere to be. If you are reading this, I want you to imagine the next concert you go to or the next party you’re at, as if there were no phones. Imagine the four people sitting next to each other, not saying a word, without their phones to keep them company. Imagine watching your favorite band without a million cameras between you and the lead singer. See what a difference it makes.

xoxo,

Heath

¡Vive San Fermín!

The matador bends his knees slightly as he slowly raises his sword. He stands in the center of the plaza, a thousand drunken fools looking down at him. The bull is directly in front of him, huffing in all the air his massive body can hold to keep up with the blood flowing out from between his shoulder blades. They’ve been dancing for quite a while now, spinning and spinning by nothing but the flash of a red cape. And for these few glorious seconds, the drums stop pounding, the bottles of sangria stop swinging, and the whole arena is watching the two lovers.

This is how Pamplona was the few quiet days before San Fermín officially began. The whole city was preparing for the blow. We sat at a restaurant and watched bus after bus unload visitors, all coming to town for the fiesta. The local restaurant owners rented out their spaces, the families packed their bags and headed out for a week-long vacation, and then there was me – caught somewhere in between a local and a visitor. Sure, with some patchy Spanish I could tell you how to find the cathedral, where the bulls ran, where Hemingway stayed…but I was just pretending. And I loved every second.

San Fermín officially begins on July 6th, and this year that was a Thursday. I was to meet my friend Laura at the entrance of the pool at 9:30 am, and I was to not be late…oh geez. So at 9:30, I am jogging to the bus station, a little worried about time because I didn’t have my phone, and there is a bus outside of the pool so I get on. After the bus pulls away, I realize Laura and her friends are not on it, so at the next bus stop I get off and jog back to the pool. She’s not there, so I jog through Zizur, trying to find a bus station on the other side where maybe she will be, and at all costs not miss the bus on its loop around the neighborhood. The bus and I find the station at the same time, so I load on to the crowded bus, sure she must be somewhere on it. The bus starts to move, and we are on our way downtown. I felt pretty good, I didn’t miss the bus or anything – but then I see Laura. She is waiting at the last bus station out of Zizur. She’s alone and the bus doesn’t stop. I felt so insanely bad. I couldn’t believe she had waited for me. So we unload in Pamplona, and I run into some other girls I know. They say Laura will be on the next bus, and so I waited there…for an hour. It turns out later that she had gotten off at a different bus stop than me.

So here I am, alone, in a crowd of one million people, hopelessly searching the crowds for a familiar face. But the clock is ticking, and the streets are getting tighter and tighter – so I head to the heart of the Chupinazo in front of the town hall. The streets were so crowded that even the Plaza de Castillo, where people just watch the Chupinazo on a projector was full of people. However, I had an advantage. I was alone, with no tailing friends or even a bottle bumping against people, just me. I wove my way through the crowds, following behind the broad-shouldered German or slipping alongside the edges of buildings. Soon I look up and I’m in the middle of the madness. We sing, we jump, we drink (or if you’re me you just get sangria squirted in your eyes) – and at twelve o’clock we untie the red bandanas from our wrist and raise them to the sky. We go on like this for a while, all the while swaying as one massive crowd. One second I was falling into the arms of an Australian man, the next I was pressed so tightly against someone who only spoke French. Hemingway was right – the fiesta didn’t just start, it exploded.
I followed my Chupinazo star-crossed lover out of the crowd and we went walking through the streets – taking in the fiesta. Men poured buckets of water from the balconies on to the eager crowd, and the parades began.

A shower and change of clothes later, I went back out to the fiesta. After the typical Heath struggle to find her friends – I found them in the Plaza de Castillo. There was a group playing music in the gazebo and we all jumped in to dance. Day was turning to night, bodies were moving freer, and we all spun around to the tune of the happy flute. The best part was the little girls dressed in their red and white – nothing but their curls and shoulders bouncing up and down as they tried to copy the flick of their mothers’ feet. Eventually, we fell out of the crowd and headed to buy bocadillas (my favorite is the tortilla patata – so so good). We sat in the grass waiting for the fireworks and told bilingual jokes – seeing if the other could understand. They asked me how the fireworks compared to the ones on the Fourth of July.

At night, we danced until the bulls ran through the streets. Every day of the fiesta ends or finishes (depending on your age/tolerance) with the encierro. At about 5 am, everyone heads to mark their spot. You can either watch in the street or the Plaza de Torros where they have somewhat of a show following the encierro. The first morning, I went here with my friends where we watched the arena fill with men, shortly followed by six massive bulls. They corral the bulls, and then release smaller bulls with dull horns to toss some guys around in the dirt. The crowd cheers for the bull, and the locals yell at the occasional guy that tries to conquer the bull – pulling its head to the ground or yanking on its tail. That’s the special part about San Fermín that I think a lot of people don’t see. Yes, they kill the bull, but they also highly respect them. The matadors spend years in the Basque countryside, working with the bulls and learning how to turn what otherwise would be a slab of meat into the art of bullfighting. We catch the bus and head back to Zizur to dream about the next day of San Fermín.

The fiesta continues like this for six more nights and seven more days. Each day I fall more and more in love with San Fermín and the city of Pamplona. Somewhere along the way, my friend Sophia from Barcelona joins the fiesta, a gypsy steals my phone on Calle de San Nicolás, and I lose my friends from 3 am to 4 am. Every day we go to run with the Toro de Fuego, a bull with fireworks attached at the top chasing kids down the street, we watch the fuegos artificiales at the park, and my white clothes get more brown/purple every day.

On Friday, July 14th the fiesta is coming to an end. My friends and I spend the last encierro watching from the street. We see the men warming up and bouncing on their toes, waiting for the bulls. At 7:58 am they chant to the statue of San Fermín in the wall with their rolled-up newspapers, “Vive San Fermín…¡Vive! Gora San Fermin…¡Gora!” Then, at 8 am, a firework symbols the unleashing of the bulls – and wow… they are massive. They trample towards the already moving crowd, bowing their heads to the ground and raising their horns to sky. We hop in the street behind them, crowding into a bar to watch the injuries that follow. A couple of concussions, the occasional gore…my friends and I laugh over the fact that most of the injured are Americans as we head to get churros. They also laugh at my inability to roll my r’s without sounding French, while I am trying over and over again to say “churro” or “perro” correctly. The churros were amazing by the way – served hot with rich, melted chocolate to dip them in.

The last night of San Fermín is a bittersweet time. We are all happy – it is a Friday night, the firework show was good, and the town is still bustling. However, we know the end is coming and no one wants the fiesta to end. The lovers of San Fermín head to the Ayuntamiento for the Pobre de Mí celebration. The gypsies sell wax candles for a euro and we group together in front of the stage. The crowd sways, the candles are lit, and we sing, “Pobre de Mí, Pobre de Mí, que se han acabado las fiestas, de San Fermín” (Poor me, poor me, for the fiesta of San Fermín has come to a close). Then at midnight, the fiesta is over with a firework, and we move our red bandanas from our necks back to our wrists. The aficionados are crying.

Vive San Fermín. Gora San Fermin
.

Munich, Germany

Munich was schnitzel, beer, walking, Birkenstocks, an opera, and patiently waiting for Pamplona. This was the last leg of my trip with Audrey, and we had to hold each other accountable for not moving on to the next leg of our journey and enjoying Munich. It really is a beautiful and fun city. My favorite part was the English Garden (in the picture) and seeing the non-magical, opera rendition of Cinderella. On our last day, we went to the Dachau Concentration camp which was really hard to take in, but I’m really glad I saw it. It’s such an important part of the German history and our world in general. I will be back to Germany someday…maybe Berlin 🙂

I did not anticipate how excited I would be to get to Pamplona. After traveling for ten days, train…bus…plane…having to cancel my credit card…I was ready to settle in one place for an extended period of time. I love traveling and seeing new places, but it’s heartbreaking every time you fall in love with a city. You feel your body start to move naturally with the streets, getting a sense of where you’re going. If you’re lucky or more dedicated than me, maybe you even pick up on hello, goodbye, and thank you in their language. Maybe you even have a favorite bar. Then, it’s time to leave and start again. It’s fun and engaging, but I couldn’t do it forever.

So, I landed in Bilboa, Spain on June 12th (and yes, I am just writing about it hehehe). Gorka, Iker, and Aitor picked me up at the airport and the two boys were so nervous they were running around in circles chasing each other. It was so cute and I was so excited. We drove through the mountains for two hours, and finally came down into a valley that I would soon call home – Pamplona.

Maybe that’s all I need to write about for now. At this point I can’t really understand how I fell so hard for a city, how I feel so comfortable around a family I only met a month ago, and how badly I don’t want to leave my life here.

Besos,

Heath