Today I was able to both attend and be a part of the annual Arabic Talent Show put on by the Arabic Flagship Program. The event started out as a get together over a classic Mediterranean dinner (Greek salad, white rice, chicken, beef, dinner rolls, etc.), during which time I was able to meet students and faculty of the Arabic Flagship Program. Learning of their diverse backgrounds really pointed out the ability of language to bring together people of varying interests. Following dinner, the talent show portion of the event had begun. From skits to short films to poems to belly dancing, there really was something there for everyone to experience about Arab culture. The event highlighted many artistic forms, both modern and classic, and was a very good representation of the ever-evolving cultural dynamic of the middle east. In many of the modern songs, for example, the influence of American Pop culture was clear in the electronic music style, as well as the use of English words to rap. In addition, I was able to perform a fairly popular song with my beginning Arabic class. Although nerve-racking to perform in front of many people, in addition to being slightly underprepared, it was obvious that we had a lot of fun and the audience, clapping along, loved it. The night ended with a traditional Middle-Eastern dessert, baklava. The super sweet pastry with warm mint tea was the perfect ending to a cool December night. I really hope to be able to attend and be a part of this event for many years to come, and I highly encourage everyone else to do so whether they are looking for a fun event on campus, wanting to learn more of Arab culture, or simply craving tasteful Middle-Eastern food.
Today I attended Mehndi night as part of OU India Society’s annual India week celebration. If I am being honest, I did not really know about the event nor had any interest in going, but I am glad that one of my best friends from high school convinced me to go. For those of you that do not know, Mehndi is a paste that is created from the powdered leaf of the henna plant and is made into designs for men and women. Mehndi is more commonly referred to as Henna and is gaining popularity in the United States. In India, as a part of Hindu and Sikh weddings, mehndi is applied during wedding ceremonies. Traditionally it is thought that the darker the henna on the bride’s hand, the more intensely her husband will love her. It is an important part of many Hindu festivals (such as Karva Chauth and Diwali), as well as during Eid. It is widely used in south Indian state Kerala especially during Muslim weddings. It is a common practice among Indians, particularly elderly ones, to dye their hair using Henna. While I did not see anyone daring enough to dye their hair with it, I did see some beautiful, artistically crafted designs. I also saw some that were….not so much. The nice thing about using mehndi was that it was not permanent and would come off within a week or two. I am really happy that I got a chance to attend at least one India Week event, and I am glad to have made lasting friendships there. It really was interesting the turnout to the event, considering many people did not know much about what it was specifically, and I definitely like the way that OU India Society promoted the event as a public event allowing anyone with even the slightest interest to go and feel welcome. I know that next semester I will definitely be attending more of OU India Society’s public events because they are different from others, and you can really learn a lot about other cultures in the process.
Today I attended the Lebanese Heritage and Food Festival, and this has been my favorite international event thus far. The event ran all day, from morning to night, allowing people to freely come and go. I arrived around 5pm and did not expect to stay too long, but I ended up staying until the end of the event. I experienced many tasteful, traditional Lebanese dishes such as hummus, falafel, and shawarma sandwiches. For the first time, I actually had hummus made by hand, not pre-packaged from the grocery store, and that made all the difference. The best part of the event was seeing a great turnout from all age groups, young and old. There truly was something to do for everyone there. While the older folk conversed Lebanese and Middle-Eastern politics over some tea and baklava, their kids had fun with arts and crafts. I particularly enjoyed the books that were for sale. Although most were religious in context, I was able to find one about business in Lebanon published by the American University of Beirut. I was fascinated to be able to read and even understand some of the book because of my Beginning Arabic class. Some text was even in English so even though I did not understand it fully, I was able to get a general understanding of each topic. The night ended with loud Lebanese music that everyone seemed to enjoy, especially the passionate dancers in the crowd. I even observed a style of dancing among many of the older Lebanese women which I’m not sure if it was the specific genre of music played or if it was just a cultural way of dancing, but it was still interesting to see to say the least! I really loved being able to go to this event and feel as if I am a part of the Lebanese community.
Today, I attended an open mic session with people who are from/traveled abroad to the Middle East or North Africa region. Being a student that is eager to travel abroad, but unsure where to, I found this event very beneficial. I learned a lot about the experiences people had in living/traveling to this area, and how I might be successful and what I would struggle in personally if I were to travel abroad to the area. I really do enjoy events like these because it is much easier to relate to other student’s experiences rather than read about them in a flyer where you do not get the full perspective. In retelling their experiences, some had funny/scary stories that kept the audience intrigued and wanting more. Many of the students who spoke even stayed after to be able to talk one on one about their experiences. This, for me, was the best part being someone that is shy to ask questions in front of a large group of people I do not know. I received a lot of information not only about traveling abroad, but also where to travel abroad. I even met someone who just came back from Jordan who is also a pre-med/biology major who was really helpful in recommending what I should do since traveling abroad can sometimes be a handful on top of many pre-med requirements. Some of the speakers were even nice enough to give out their personal phone numbers for anyone with any questions for them at a later time. I really recommend that for people who plan to travel abroad, they really take advantage of these events to make sure that it is something they want to do.
Most of my personal international student group experiences this semester revolve around the many smaller groups within the Arabic Flagship Program. More specifically, one international group that I had gotten the chance to be a part of was the Arabic Drama Club. Mostly consisting of students in the Arabic classes, the drama club watches many movies, performs skits, and even makes short films. I had a lot of fun with this club because it gave me a different insight into the Arab World, especially in terms of pop culture. The movies, although with subtitles, are very entertaining, and if I am being honest, I might be investing myself emotionally more than I originally planned on with these films. The films are a nice change of pace, especially for someone who needs time away from that pile of homework they should be doing or simply if someone feels like they’ve seen it all on Netflix. This club has given me some of my closest friendships at OU because it is a club where I truly feel that I belong….and because homework help in tough Arabic classes is a nice added benefit. I really recommend anyone who is able to join do so because it is a relatively low commitment club to be a part of. Unfortunately, I probably will not be able to attend this club next semester due to my class schedule, but if I could, I know I wouldn’t even hesitate.