Noah Coen

Global Engagement Fellow

A Peace to End All Peace

(As I am using OU Cousins and the CIS Student Advisory Committee as my International Student Groups, I’m using this an international event. This is an Honors Reading Group, so it met once per week for an hour.)

One of the Honors Reading Groups I participated in this semester was “A Peace to End All Peace,” by David Fromkin. This was the second Honors Reading Group that Jaci moderated that I have been in, and it was her final Honors Reading Group to moderate here at OU. While I was sadly unable to attend all the meetings this year, I still greatly enjoyed the group and got a lot out of it. It was an incredibly interesting way of telling the story of WWI and how its treaties created the borders of the present-day Middle East. Though written in 1980, it was still super relevant to current events. We were able to talk about the invasion of Iraq and the rise of ISIS, both of which happened well after this book was written. One of the books main strengths was simply pointing out the incompetence of leaders, which definitely has parallels today. As someone whose major has nothing to do with the Middle East, it was great to be able to learn so much about the region from not only the book, but also Jaci. As one can probably tell from my multiple blog posts about it, I love OU’s Honors Reading Group program and would recommend it to anyone and everyone at OU.

Honors Research


This semester, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to conduct my honors research requirement and write my senior honors thesis as a freshman. I could not be more thankful for Dr. Rebecca Cruise’s guidance and direction while writing this paper. The paper focuses on the history of homosexuality in Russia and popular views of homosexuality there. Additionally, the paper discusses the rise of Vladimir Putin and its effects on views of homosexuality in Russia. One of the most interesting trends I found throughout the semester was that a society’s concepts and ideals of masculinity can often predict how they will treat LGBT+ persons. What a society defines as ideally masculine is meticulously constructed by socio-political institutions, such as the government or the Church. As such, things as simple as a shift in trade routes can affect a society’s views of homosexuality. In the late middle ages, for example, there was a series of Crusades. One major affect of these Crusades was the creation of new trade routes for Western Europe. This shifted trade away from Crimea and Kiev, straining the Kievan economy. Due to this and a number of other factors, Muscovite Princes began becoming more and more powerful, which led to the start of the Muscovy period of Russian history. While the Muscovites were building a city and forging their society, they were not focused on social legislation, and homosexuality was not illegal. This led to a fairly drastic uptick in gay visibility that was recorded by Western European travelers to Moscow. Writing this paper led me to discover many other things like this, and has ultimately improved my knowledge of Russian politics and culture.

International Poetry – Translation Seminar

In early April, the department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics hosted a series of seminars on the translation of literature, mostly focusing on international poetry. I attended two of the three workshops and learned a ton from these distinguished OU graduates. One of the speakers was an expert on Russian translation, which, as an Eastern European Studies major, I was very interested in. The other was an expert on lusophone poetry in Africa. During the seminars, participants learned much about the process of poetry translation. First, we discussed glosses. While often the translator does both a final translation and the primary gloss, at times they will have a native speaker create a gloss and will then create the final translation. A gloss is essentially a word-for-word translation, which usually doesn’t flow well at all. A literary translator uses the gloss as a base and builds upon it to create something poetic. As long as the final meaning is nearly identical, the translator has quite a bit of freedom. They can try to put meter in or alliteration or whatever they feel matches the quality of the original author’s work. While I do not want to be a literary translator, I am interested in doing some freelance translation in graduate school. So while these seminars were specifically about poetry, they were definitely still interesting and helpful.

The Israel Lobby

(As I am using OU Cousins and the Student Advisory Committee as my International Student Groups, I’m using this an international event. This is an Honors Reading Group, so it met once per week for an hour.)

This semester, I moderated the Honors Reading Group “The Israel Lobby.”  The Honors Reading Groups program describes itself as “Each semester, the Honors College sponsors a program of informal reading groups.  The groups meet just one hour per week, with 10-15 students and one faculty member [or student] from the Honors College, to discuss about 50 pages of reading from specific books. The books cover a very wide range of topics, and most have been recommended by Honors students.”

While the book mostly discussed American interactions with Israel, our group ended up extensively discussing Israeli politics as well. Our discussions ranged from Israeli settlements in Palestine to the effects of the Israel-Palestine conflict on Jordanian politics. I learned most about US economic relations with Israel and the reasons behind them. Multiple opinions were represented, and the reading group proved to be an immensely educational experience.

The White Helmets Screening

This semester, for a student group in the College of International Studies that I am a part of, I helped plan and host a screening of the documentary The White Helmets. This film is about a group of volunteers who help save lives and clean up after bombings in Syria. Many have died, but they have saved exponentially more lives than they have lost. All in all it was an incredibly touching documentary. In addition to planning the film screening, I also set up a panel discussion with graduate students whose research interests were relevant to the content of the film. After the film ended, we had a ’round-table’ discussion about the conflicts in Syria. I learned several new things about the Middle East, most notably the role of drought in the Syrian conflicts.

Thank You, Jaci

The director of the Global Engagement Fellowship, Jaci Gandenburger, has recently accepted a new job as Assistant Director of the Arabic Flagship Program. She is incredibly passionate about Arabic and  will do an amazing job (and have a fantastic time doing it). That being said, she will be sincerely missed. In just a single semester, Jaci has truly impacted my time at OU. She has always been available to answer any questions I’ve had and has been indispensable in planning out my future study abroad trips. In addition to all of this, the program that she built has introduced me to some of my closest friends, and for that I will be eternally grateful. It’s wonderful to have someone so knowledgable and understanding to go to if I ever have any questions about study abroad or international studies scholarships. Jaci, thank you so much! I hope you love your new job!

IAS 2003: Understanding the Global Community

Both the Global Engagement Fellowship and my degree require me to take Understanding the Global Community and I am incredibly glad that they do, as this was one of my favorite classes this semester. The professor is brilliant, the TAs are lovely, and I’ve met some of my best friends through this class. Throughout the semester, we have explored a plethora of topics, from globalisation and social policy to historical geology and climate change. It has served as an amazing introduction to IAS classes at OU.

Not only has the class been an amazing introduction to IAS topics, but it has also been a wonderful introduction to the IAS faculty. Throughout the course, Dr. Theriault has hosted a series of guest lecturers who have taught things including EU Politics, Chinese History, Global Security, and Violence in the Developing World among many others. This is fantastic for students that will be taking IAS classes throughout their time at OU, as it gives us something besides to go by when choosing what to take.

My favorite thing about the class, though, has been the people I’ve become close to. Nearly the entire front row (and part of the second row) of Dr. Theriault’s class is made up of Global Engagement Fellows, and many of us eat lunch together almost everyday. I have greatly enjoyed getting to know such wonderful people, and that’s thanks to the Global Engagement Fellowship. It’s truly been a great semester, and I look forward to the next seven.

Informed Citizens Discussion Group

One amazing student group that I joined this semester was the Informed Citizens Discussion Group. While I didn’t initially think it would be an IAS-related group, our discussions turned out to be mostly about international politics. ICDG is a program that lets a small group (≈ 10) students get together weekly to discuss a wide variety of topics. These are mostly political discussions, but other news-worthy events are discussed as well. Our specific group spent quite a bit of time talking about U.S. relations with Russian Federation, the Israel-Palestine Conflicts, and domestic social issues/policy, which are three of my favorite things to talk (rant) about. My favorite part of the group was our diversity; our group had people of different races/ethinicities, religions, cultures, sexualities, and genders. One member was getting her LLM at OU Law School, as her first law degree was earned in Pakistan. The Informed Citizens Discussion Group is an amazing program, and I’d recommend it to any OU student even remotely interested in politics.

OU Cousins and Heteronormativity

One of the IAS-related Groups/Clubs/Student Organizations that I joined this semester was OU Cousins. The premise of OU Cousins is that it matches American students with foreign students. This includes both foreign exchange students who are just here for a semester (or year) as well as international students who are here to obtain their entire degree. The cousins are supposed to do a variety of things together throughout the semester/year after being paired at the beginning. Here is how the OU Cousins Program describes itself:

“Through this program, students are matched according to hobbies, majors, and countries of special interest. Each International or exchange student is matched with one or two American students and invited to participate in monthly programs that are free of charge. In addition, students are encouraged to get together outside of official Cousins events and share their respective cultures with one another through normal daily life.”

Sounds fantastic, right? I thought so, too, and was looking forward to getting involved with the program. When you apply to the program, you have to fill out a relatively lengthy survey about yourself. This includes interests/hobbies, languages spoken, majors/minors, and lots of other details. The survey seemed like a great way to match cousins and the premise of the program sounded fantastic.

As I’ve said, I was super excited. The only problem was that none of these things were true and the survey wasn’t used. In addition to the logistic idiocy, the program strictly enforces gendered and heteronormative concepts of friendships and interests. If a guy is friends or wants to be friends with a girl, it’s obviously because he want’s to date her, right? If we make people fill out a survey, we should completely ignore it and never use it, right? Completely logical statements using the OU Cousins Program’s logic.

After you fill out the survey, you get invited to a matching process night. When you show up, you get a name tag (different colors for American students and international students) and a blank “bingo” card. The bingo card has arbitrarily chosen objectives on it (“find someone who has gone skydiving” “find someone with your same shoe size” etc., etc., etc.) and the goal is to find an international student (or, if you’re an international student, an American student) for each box. At this point, girls and guys are together in a large auditorium. If you’re introverted, it may be a bit overwhelming at first, but at this point it’s set up fairly well (although they could use some better “bingo” questions that actually help you get to know someone). At a minimum, you get to meet some pretty cool people.

Then they pass out a personality test. You’d think that would be smart, right? After all, it’s important for people’s personalities to be compatible. The way they did it, however, was completely and absolutely unhelpful. The personality test that they use separates students into four categories: Golden Retriever, Otter, Lion, and Beaver. The test is okay at best (they could at least use a test with an ounce of scientific research, but I digress), but the way they use it is much worse than the test itself and is, as stated above, completely unhelpful.

After we take the test (before they tell us anything about it or how they plan on using it), the guys are separated from the girls. The guys go outside and get into four different groups based on the personality test and the girls do the same inside. Instead of using the personality test in a sensible way (If we are going to take it, we might as well use it, right? Wrong.), like matching compatible personality types, the test is used for the sole purpose of getting us into four smaller groups. You talk to one person in your group for a few minutes, then they rotate the American students from group to group, each time only talking to 1-2 people. Again, this has absolutely nothing to do with the personality test we just took nor the survey we filled out online beforehand.

After about 15 minutes of this, the head of the OU Cousins Program stops everyone and asks people to find a cousin and go inside and sign up together. Let me reiterate, not only did this have nothing to do with the online survey, but it also had nothing to do with the personality test they made us take inside. While I was definitely frustrated with this, these are understandable problems and I completely get wanting to let people choose their cousin for themselves. I do think, though, that the personality test and survey should be removed from the process if there is never any intention of using either of them. I also think we should be given far longer as to talk to more students when looking for a cousin.

My huge problem with OU Cousins comes from a seemingly small detail: when, after half way through the event, they separated girls and guys. The program has many other problems, several of which I discussed above, but this is by far the most frustrating. Heteronormativity, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is anything “of, relating to, or based on the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality.” OU Cousins’ policy that cousins must be of the same gender is a perfect example of this. Their policy is not only heteronormative, but also assumes that gender dictates one’s hobbies and interests (It’s not like we all filled out a survey telling them all about our interests. Oh wait, that’s exactly what we did.).

During the first half of the matching process, I met several really cool people who I wanted to be cousins with. The ‘problem’ was that they happened to be women. At the halfway point, I found out I wasn’t allowed to be cousins with any of them and, frankly, it sucked. I still hang out with many of them, but it frustrated me that we weren’t allowed to be official OU Cousins.

I’m not sure how to conclude this post other than saying that there are tons of IAS-related groups that are amazing, so not liking OU Cousins isn’t a huge deal in the long run. From Honors Reading Groups to (Insert Country Here) Student Organizations, there is bound to be something that you’ll love.

Thanks for reading my rant!

Honors Reading Group: Human Cargo & The Crossing

Human Cargo & The Crossing

This semester, I participated in an honors reading group about the refugee crisis. In order to get a multifaceted view of the extremely complex and nuanced problem, we read two books: Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees and The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria.

(Caroline Moorehead) Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees:

“Traveling for nearly two years and across four continents, Caroline Moorehead takes readers on a journey to understand why millions of people are forced to abandon their homes, possessions, and families in order to find a place where they may, quite literally, be allowed to live. Moorehead’s experience living and working with refugees puts a human face on the news, providing unforgettable portraits of the refugees she meets in Cairo, Guinea, Sicily, Lebanon, England, Australia, Finland, and at the U.S.-Mexico border. Human Cargo changes our understanding of what it means to have and lose a place in the world, and reveals how the refugee “problem” is on a par with global crises such as terrorism and world hunger.”

“Human smuggling is now said to have an annual turnover of over $7 billion — more than revenue from smuggling drugs. Caroline Moorehead’s important new book looks at ‘human cargo’ from Afghanistan, Liberia, Palestine and many other places. She has visited war zones, camps, prisons — and the black Dinka families from the Sudan who were re-settled north of the Arctic Circle in Finland.

She follows the fate of 57 young member of the Mandingo tribe, who fled ethnic cleansing and ended up happily in America via Egypt. She is shown the graves in Sicily of drowned boat people, and examines the fence that has been built across Texas and into the sea to keep migrants out of America. She has interviewed emigration officials in Australia and members of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Geneva. Is there a valid distinction between ‘good’ asylum seekers and ‘bad’ economic migrants?

What happens to those whose applications are turned down? The difficult questions are asked, the horrible issues faced. But, above all, Human Cargo celebrates the courage, cheerfulness and will to survive of ordinary human beings.”

This book was very well-written, and gave a depressingly candid (but necessary) view into the lives of refugees. One would have to be heartless to not be touched by their stories. The prologue was particularly poignant and tried to give the reader a fragment of an idea about the pain and suffering, both physical and mental, that so, so many refugees have to go through. It also gave an insightful look into the UN refugee policies.

(Samar Yazbek) The Crossing: My Journey to the Sacred Heart of Syria:

“Samar Yazbek was well-known in her native Syria as a writer and a journalist but, in 2011, she fell foul of the Assad regime and was forced to flee. Since then, determined to bear witness to the suffering of her people, she revisited her homeland by squeezing through a hole in the fence on the Turkish border. Here she testifies to the appalling reality that is Syria today. From the first innocent demonstrations for democracy, through the beginnings of the Free Syrian Army, to the arrival of ISIS, she offers remarkable snapshots of soldiers, children, ordinary men and women simply trying to stay alive. Some of these stories are of hardship and brutality that is hard to bear, but she also gives testimony to touches of humanity along the way: how people live under the gaze of a sniper, how principled young men try to resist orders from their military superiors, how children cope in bunkers. Yazbek’s portraits of life in Syria are very real, and her prose, luminous. The Crossing is undoubtedly both an important historical document and a work of literature.”

“The Crossing is a powerful testament to the reality of Syria today. From the first innocent demonstrations for democracy, through the beginnings of the Free Syrian Army, to the arrival of ISIS, here are the daily lives of soldiers, children, ordinary men and women struggling to survive. In heartfelt, luminous prose, Yazbek shares their stories of unbearable brutality, and the humanity that can flower even in the most terrible of circumstances.”

The Crossing: My Journey to the Sacred Heart of Syria was written as a series of “crossings” into Syria. This book gives stunning insight into the daily lives of Syrians. Like Human Cargo, The Crossing is a heartbreaking but worth-while read. While Human Cargo looked at the lives of refugees away from their country of origin, The Crossing is written by a refugee about the country she left. As the description shows, the book details many of the reasons that Syrians have left/are leaving their homes. In a very different way than Human Cargo, The Crossing accomplishes the same thing: giving the reader a new perspective on the refugee crisis and (hopefully) urging the reader to educate themselves further and fight for refugee rights in their countries.

I deeply enjoyed this reading group, as both the moderators and members of the group were fantastic. It has most definitely made me want to continue to join honors reading groups in the future. In fact, I’m even moderating one this coming semester!

Thanks for reading!

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