Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lunch With Marjane Satrapi

I was running late for class. After running up two flights of stairs with my lox and bagels in hand, I had finally made it to Professor Knight’s World Politics class for Global Scholars. It was like any ordinary Monday morning: everyone was chatty, excitedly discussing the readings, and still joking about how “metaphysical” the theory of constructivism is. The second the clock reached 10:20 AM, Professor Knight began making announcements. I was contemplating whether my lox and bagels would still be fresh after class when I heard Professor Knight say, “I know this event is happening the day before your midterm, but Marjane Satrapi is coming to speak at AU.”

I gasped. I squealed. I spun around in my chair and accidentally hit my friend sitting next to me. Professor Knight was about to explain who Marjane Satrapi was to the class, but noticing my near heart-attack when she mentioned Marjane’s name, Professor Knight allowed me to describe the life and works of my favorite author. I immediately began discussing how Marjane’s first book, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, impacted me as a daughter of a political refugee, the beauty of the story behind Chicken and Plums, etc. After my long-winded description of Marjane Satrapi, Professor Knight announced that we would have to submit in writing why we would want to meet and have lunch with Marjane Satrapi.

Right after class, I ran back to my room, turned on my laptop, and wrote a five paragraph essay in thirty minutes describing why I wanted to have the honor to meet and have lunch with Marjane Satrapi. Six days later, I was notified that I was chosen to attend Marjane Satrapi’s speaking engagement and attend lunch with her. I was over the moon. I began to look up other interviews she had done so I wouldn’t bore her with the same mundane questions.

It was a foggy, disgustingly humid morning when she came to speak at American University. Obviously, this didn’t affect my mood. I walked, practically skipped, to the front row of the auditorium in Ward Circle Building where she was speaking. At approximately 10:30, Marjane Satrapi walked in. She surprisingly resembled the drawings of herself in Persepolis. She dressed and behaved as the avant-garde, punk-goddess, Iranian-French artist I expected her to be. 

As she spoke, her humility, reflective personal introspection, and marvelous sarcastic wit when answering the questions the moderator asked engaged both the sense of humor and political energy held by all in attendance. Her humility was evident when she discussed the success of Persepolis. She discussed how she, as an artist, found it easier to discuss the Iranian Revolution from her own perspective. During interviews, her political views came to light as she discussed how she believes in the idea of political evolution as opposed to revolution because, “... Revolutions only breed bloodshed.” Thus, she unintentionally became the voice of a generation and was first labeled as an Iranian political expert by the media. She was able to shed this role because, as she said, “I am an artist, not a politician.” Although she isn’t a politician, she could definitely be a satirist. She compared George W. Bush to Ayatollah Khomeini by stating, “In America and the Iran the mixture of religion in power never gives a good result, just look at Bush and Ayatollah Khomeini.” She also threw in a jab at the 2000 election by saying, “...Wait, that’s when he [Bush] got elected twice. Okay.” Marjane Satrapi also established herself as an ally of the oppressed. You would probably assume by this sentiment that she is a feminist, especially when she referenced her friends wearing mini-skirts as a sign of a sexual revolution. This would be a false assumption. She is a self-proclaimed humanist. Her denial of calling herself a feminist was shocking to most of the audience and some wrote her off as a hypocrite. However, she still stated she was against the patriarchal establishment. What I found particularly interesting was her tying of the patriarchal establishment to the schema of dictatorship, especially in her homeland of Iran.

Between Marjane Satrapi’s speaking engagement and lunch, there was an interlude because of a tornado warning. Eventually, we were able to have lunch with her and she began the discussion in what I thought was an interesting fashion. She asked us to introduce ourselves. This immediately established a more personable setting than the auditorium, which enabled us to ask her more personal topics. Questions ranged from discussion of her upcoming movie (which she said is an example of her inner masochist), tackling the bourgeois, her artistic inspiration, and lost love. Marjane Satrapi stated that she hated the word “graphic novel” because not only was it a term to make the bourgeois feel better about reading a simple comic book, but it also makes her think of pornography. I was glad I was able to ask her about why she decided to use the female name, Iran, to represent her male protagonist character in Chicken and Plums. Interestingly enough, she explained how the male protagonist was actually representative of herself and the loss of love between he and Iran represented her relationship with her motherland. She then, in true Marjane style, bridged this idea of loss of pleasure she derived from the loss of her homeland to how our society in general forces us to deny pleasure. As an example of this denial of pleasure, she slammed women’s magazines. She stated, “I see all of these women’s magazines that claim feminism while they tell women to lose ten pounds of belly fat. I don’t want to lose ten f******* pounds of belly fat. I want to be reminded of all of the good sandwiches I’ve eaten. Life is short and we are all going to die. We should enjoy the now.”

By now you’ve probably realized that Marjane isn’t the one to hold back. I almost forgot to mention how she stated that religion is an opiate of the masses and her criticism of George W. Bush’s attempts to secure oil reserves under the guise of bringing “democracy” to the Middle East. One topic she wouldn’t touch upon was the story of her first love she met in Austria. When the topic was brought up, her feisty attitude was tempered by slight melancholy. The only thing she said about the matter was, “Human beings are not equal in front of death. A rich man can hire nurses to take care of him and massage him, but what about a poor man? He has nothing. We are only equal in front of a broken heart. No amount of money can fix that.”

The experience that the Global Scholars program provided me to meet and have a conversation with a rebellious intellectual that encapsulates the spirit of American University and a woman I would consider one of my inspirations, Marjane Satrapi. She enhanced my understanding of the obvious difficulties of Iran’s establishment of a stable governmental system post-revolution, indulged my desire to comprehend this political climate from an artist’s perspective.

Credit for this blog post goes to 1st year Global Scholar Mary Marston! Thanks, Mary!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Study Abroad Sneak Peek: Belgium



           I have always loved fall.  But autumn in Belgium in an entirely different season than the fall I’ve adored in Los Angeles.  For one thing, the season actually begins close to the calendar’s “First Day of Autumn”.  I’m not joking—the day before that first day, it was sunny and too warm to wear tights and sweaters but literally overnight fall set in and the gloom of clouds and drizzles made themselves very much known.  Of course, I don’t mind the clouds—the softer lighting makes for interesting pictures—and my hot chocolate addiction looks all the more reasonable when it’s a bit chilly outside.  Long story short: I’m loving the Belgium weather.
            As this program is called the EU in Action, it makes perfect sense to be in close contact with the institutions that make the EU function and make Brussels more than a pretty dot on the map.  Monday ended with a trip to the Council of the EU (note: different from the Council of Europe and the European Council, which are of course very different from each other) to discuss the current period of transition plaguing, I mean, that the EU is currently enjoying.  All of us geeked out a bit when we got to sit in the Council members’ chairs and “represent” (for a half second) an EU country. (We also had fun guessing the English names of the EU countries based on their native names). 
           
Belgium is an interesting country to live in.  The divisions along language lines are very real and very stark.  For example, one of the first weekend I was here I went to a castle in Flanders, which is the Flemish speaking region outside of the Brussels region. As soon as we crossed the border between Brussels (which is dual-lingual) and Flanders, everything was in Flemish.  The next day I went to Namur, which is in Wallonia aka the French-speaking region of Belgium—everything is only in French. This includes train announcements when traveling within Belgium; based on where you are going and coming from, the order of languages the announcements are spoken in changes! The language divisions make the governmental makeup of Belgium all the more interesting.  Most political ideologies are split into two parties—one for the French and one for the Flemish.  Thus, forming a parliamentary government can be quite difficult.  Belgium holds the Guinness World Record for longest time period without an official government: 541 days.  After the most recent elections, the Belgian government was just sworn in on Saturday, five months after the elections!
            My time in Belgium has been awesome, and I look forward to the adventures I have here for the rest of the semester. Until then, au revoir DC!

Credit for this blog post goes to third year Global Scholar Becca Ehling. Thanks, Becca!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Back in the (Former) USSR


Studying in St. Petersburg has been an incredible experience so far, but even better was returning to the city for a second session. Petersburg has become a second home to me. It has a very different feel and pace than DC, but I embrace the two cities as my homes and workplaces. Perhaps I’m just drawn to cities built on swamps.

The architecture of the city is like no other. Much of the “Cultural Heart of Russia” looks like no other city in Russia, or Europe for that matter. It has the canals of Venice with every apartment building looking like a Viennese palace. In a single intersection, you can see a 17th century hospital in the imperial style, a dark-grey Soviet office building, and an ultra-modern apartment complex. The city has been at the center of some of the most tumultuous events in the 20th century, and yet maintains a blissful elegance. As the autumn approaches, the 22 hours of sunlight (called “white nights”) and warmth dwindles to 2 hours of daylight and bitter cold, with heavy, lead clouds that weigh on the city.

My program (CIEE) has done a wonderful job exposing us to the city and providing opportunities to make friends with Russian students. I really appreciate the efforts made by Russians and Americans to get to know one-another through broken language, facial expressions, and (hopefully inoffensive) hand gestures. The stereotype that Russian’s don’t smile in public is completely true, but I have found the majority of Russians to be very warm once you reach out to them, and always curious to hear what the American has to say about Ukraine.

It is a particularly interesting time to be in Russia. Only after living in the city for about 3 months, on and off, have I started to feel the impact of the sanctions over the crisis in the Ukraine. Watching US media coverage of the crisis and then Russian media gives two entirely different narratives: Russia and the West playing power politics, versus a civil war and humanitarian crisis in a troubled border region. There is certainly no shortage of opinions regarding Ukraine, as many people in St. Petersburg have some sort of familial connection to Ukraine.

I am very much looking forward to seeing what the coming months hold as the atmosphere of the city changes and classes become increasingly more challenging.

Credit for this blog post goes to third year Global Scholar Andrew Arrington. Thanks Andrew!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Study Abroad Sneak Peek: England

The way I like to describe England is "similar enough to be comfortable but different enough to be exciting." It's funny, little things like calling a parking lot a 'car park' or wearing 'trousers' instead of pants never cease to make me giggle. Proof (as if I needed any more, being from the West Coast) that a common language doesn't mean a common culture. Taking a course on British government and politics, I've realized (or, perhaps, realised) that for all our countries' similarities, we have plenty to learn from each other.

I think my favorite (favourite...?) part of my time in England has been the fact that I've stayed out of London. To be sure, I'll be spending a couple weeks there in a month or so, but until then, I've simply been exploring the England that we never talk about in the US. Towns like Salisbury, Exeter, and Plymouth are full of amazing stories and sights but until I visited, I was only vaguely aware of something about a steak and the Mayflower (for the record, I did not see any Salisbury steaks in Salisbury). And don't get me started on Cornwall, whose residents have just received an ethnic minority option on the census! 

My semester here has been a lesson in layered identities, proving that there's always more to people than meets the eye (especially when it comes to Americans stereotyping some Londoners to all Britons!). You're not just British, you're British, English, from the West Country, from Devon, and from Exeter. And you have the ridiculously specific accent to prove it.
Credit to this blog post goes to second- year Global Scholar Keegan Amrine. Thanks, Keegan!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sarah Stroh: How to Spring Break in Africa

  Senegal is a relatively stable, democratic country in western sub-Saharan Africa. It’s actually the country that has the western-most point on the continent, if anyone was wondering. Although it lacks some key stereotypical qualities of an African country, like warlords, rampant AIDS or famine, and NATO and/or UN troops, Senegal is by no means almost at the first world level. The tap water is not safe to drink, the electricity from time to time goes out, showers are not often (or ever) hot, and the infrastructure is far from built.

My friends and I here in Dakar decided that we wanted to go bold for spring break - bold meaning that we would cross the entire country with our main goal being to see Senegal's tallest waterfall, Dindefelo Falls and go to the wildlife reserve Niokolo-Koba National Park.

Our first major stop was Kédougou, where we stayed in a cute little encampement and played Scrabble with the old men who ran it in a language that was a mix of French and Wolof. The next night we traveled to the Gambia River to see some hippos, but unfortunately they were not there. Sunday and Monday we visited some Bedik and Bassari villages, which are the main ethnic groups in the region (you may recognize the Bedik people as the ones that wear bones through their noses to show wealth or power). On our way back to our camp, we visited the Peace Corps base and we were able to discuss the Senegalese life with some volunteers! On what seemed like the hottest day (on average about 110 degrees), we climbed Mount Dindefelo, visited a Guinean village that resides on the plateau without passports I might add, and saw the waterfall from above! In all, we walked 14 kilometers in the extreme heat , but we survived !

During phase two of our spring break, we went to Niokolo -Koba National Park. We stayed at Dar Salaam, a small village just outside the park. Although unfortunately while in the park the chances of seeing "big game" like lions or elephants are extremely slim, we still saw hippos, crocodiles, warthogs, monkeys and many, many birds.

Overall the experience was an amazing one, and though I am happy to have returned back to the cleaner, cooler city of Dakar, I will be able to cherish my experiences in rural Senegal forever.
 
Credit for this blog post goes to second-year Global Scholar, Sarah Stroh. To read more about her time abroad in Senegal, visit her blog  http://breakingbeige.wordpress.com/.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Global Scholars February Community Meeting



               The theme for this month’s community meeting was professional development. 3rd year Global Scholars Bryana Banashefski, Rob Bronstein, and Emily Elliot-Meisel took charge of the program for the evening and made a presentation on how to present yourself professionally after graduation. Bryana started off the evening with a resume workshop with tips on how to perfect your resume. After a delicious interlude through a Mediterranean-themed dinner from Café Olé, we traded resumes with each other to correct the little mistakes that people often make on resumes. For example, periods! Don’t end one of your bullet points on a resume with a period and then not have a period for your next bullet point. Consistency is key; a clear and consistent resume makes a happy potential employer.
                Next up was Emily, who presented all of the different recruitment resources we have available at AU, such as the Career Center, the Office of Merit Awards, and David Fletcher, the SIS career advisor. Through these resources, we found many options for undergraduate students who may not want to enter the work force immediately, such as research and language fellowships and scholarships like the Fulbright and Truman scholarship. For those who are interested in getting jobs and internships with security clearance, however, Rob discussed the different intel internships available in the public sector, and the process of getting security clearance for these types of jobs. Often, clearance can take up to a year, which means that if you would like to join the CIA, it’s necessary to apply 1-1.5 years in advance. Planning is essential!
                Our final speaker for the evening was Hayley Darden, Search Director at Ashoka Innovators for the Public. Ms. Darden provided us with information on how employers think when recruiting for jobs or internships, and offered tips on how we should plan for our future outside school. With Valentine’s Day coming up soon, Ms. Darden advised us that the dream job is a lot like falling in love: it won’t happen immediately! There will be a couple of jobs that we may have to take for money or experience before we reach our dream job. She offered us some more tips on how to act in the workplace, how to interact with our coworkers as well as our superiors, and ended with a question to all of us: Whether it is money or meaning, what are you looking for in your first job?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard University



            Harvard doesn’t have anything on the Global Scholars at AU. That was one of several conclusions I recently came to after I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Boston to present my Introduction to International Relations Research paper at the National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard. The three days I spent at the conference were an amazing opportunity. It was quite the experience to meet and work closely with such an amazing collection of minds. In the interest of full disclosure, the Conference was probably about 75-80% hard science research pieces (with my IR work being grouped into the little government corner with the other “humanities”). In D.C. and especially at American University, I feel there is a trend towards activism and hands on work to get down and dirty and fix the world. Especially in the Global Scholars cohort where we finish a year early, it was amazing to meet a group of kids who were talking about being in college for upwards of a dozen years to get their PhDs and M.D. PhDs and other assorted research degrees (I’ll admit to not understanding some of what they were talking about...maybe more along the lines of 60-70% of what they were talking about in their research). That is not to take anything away from the gifted researchers from around the country (and Canada!) that I met there; when people ask me what kind of students I met there, I only semi-jokingly respond that they are the future Nobel Prize winners of the world.
 Speaking of Nobel Prize winners, another really cool aspect of the conference was the fact that it was at Harvard and that there is a plethora of world-renowned speakers at the ready as a result. I had the privilege to hear Nobel award winning Astrophysicists, a Vice President of Google and an entrepreneurial expert known as “Hacker Chick” speak as keynotes and in smaller workshops and panels. At these panels I learned how to write grants, build a successful start-up (step one in World domination, check!), and analyze research in the humanities from a hard science perspective.
The term “humanities” brings me to the biggest lesson I took away from the Conference and that I feel any IR major and especially any future Global Scholar applicants could take away from NCRC: how to work with hard scientists. We are not very much exposed to hard scientists at AU, and I’ll admit much of my knowledge of them comes from one Intro to Physics course and the Big Bang Theory. However, once you get past the respective jargons of their fields (and as intimidating as their research sounds, they are just as impressed/intimidated by IR research. I had more than one student remark to me, “I didn’t know you could do research like this, with no numbers or equations involved!”), it really is all about the research. A love of knowledge is what brings us together as academic students, and what better way to express that love than through research? The research projects I learned about ranged from the different ways to develop a cure for cancer, to tracking the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, to the Hijras of India. At the end of the day, though, it all broke down to methodology, a universal academic language. The ability to experience a room full of researchers from fields completely unrelated to mine seemed daunting and almost unnecessary at first, but in reflection, it was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my academic career. Working with these students I realized a lot of them were technical geniuses but had no concept of integrating their discoveries or inventions into practical settings, such as a project to install massive solar panels in rural areas of developing nations that had no budget accounted for upkeep or security. That’s where we come in as social scientists. If we reach across the aisle and work with our hard-science brethren, we can make the world a better place.

Credit for this blog post goes to 2nd Year Global Scholar Mike Friel. Thanks, Mike!