26 Things

26 was somehow simultaneously the best year and not the best year, but I guess that’s how I feel about every year. 365 days is a long time.
It’s ironic because when things are the best and not the best, I do the same thing: write. These are 26 sentences, questions, thoughts, wonders, ideas, opinions, and emotions that I pulled from my writing in the last year, and I wonder if they’ll still apply at 27.
  1. If you don’t practice gratitude daily you’re missing out on something magical. Gratitude changed my life when I was in high school. I woke up every day and started two habits: thanking the day I had, and telling myself how much I appreciate the person I am. My perspective changed immensely, and I see every day through a mind and heart that is thankful for what it has, no more and no less.
  2. You’ll never know your boundaries if you don’t go outside of them once in a while. Theories are fun, but isn’t testing the only way to really find the truth?
  3. Anyone’s actions, and however they affect other people, are simply a result of them acting in search of their own happiness. I believe in the innate goodness of people, and every human’s common desire to find what will make them happy. So I’ve come to learn that while what we do is a great reflection of who we are, our actions are also because we all want the same thing. We all believe that what we believe is right. Right?
  4. Would you rather be happy or would you rather be “right”?
  5. We’re not here to ask each other to change. We are here to support each other in our changes, and push for the growth that comes with them.
  6. What do you value in your friendships? Just a question.
  7. Sometimes I have an inability to put myself first. And this can be mistaken for weakness, kindness, generosity. I’ve learned that I feel blame because I take it, and that it is within my responsibility to say no to blame, shame, guilt, and feelings that don’t belong to me. I am not responsible for anyone else’s happiness, and I can differentiate the burdens that are and aren’t mine.
  8. We’re all looking for the same things, but we search for them differently. Don’t wait until life is over to figure out what it meant to you. This is a desire we find on our own. We stray, but at the end of the day, we know.

  9. Too often we let results determine our choices. We use the words “if” and “then” and “wrong” and “right” to lead our decisions instead of our own feelings. I’m working on internalizing that there are no wrong and right decisions, only choices to which the universe will adjust.

  10. There is much to appreciate in the human quality that is unpredictability. It has become my favorite thing about people. Everyone is constantly changing, trying new things, growing into newness. So how can we realistically expect that people will always stay the same, make the same decisions, and be predictable?

  11. Everyone around me is here to wake me up and teach me something. Recently I’ve come to be grateful for the people in my life who are not like me. Sometimes we only see the patterns in us because someone comes into our lives to show us, and through this we learn that we are every quality. We are all patient and kind, selfish and angry, unique and wild. We just don’t always see it, and at times don’t want to believe it.

  12. I have a lot to say about a lot of things. I guess that’s what happens when you’re learning.

  13. My heart feels broken and whole at the same time. This year I lost a friend and it hurt so bad to hear that from the beginning, our friendship was doubted. But it also meant a lot to me to know that our paths crossed when they did, that we gave each other all we could in the time we had, and that nothing will take away my gratitude for that.

  14. I believe in endings just as much as beginnings because when you think about it – both are beginnings. Saying goodbye is just about the worst thing for me to go through, but I’m learning that goodbyes are just beginnings in disguise.

  15. I bet I smile when I sleep. I wrote this years ago and I hope it’s still true.

  16. What does it feel like to interfere with others’ happiness? Sometimes all we want is for the people in our lives to be happy, so much so that we forget to let them figure out for themselves what it is they need to discover.

  17. It’s not until you look back at who you used to be that it seems possible to change. Four years ago, I couldn’t run a mile without stopping, nor did I even want to. Then I made a habit out of running, and I’d wake up at 5 am to run 15 kilometers not just because I could, but because I wanted to. In the time it took me to prepare for a full course marathon, I got to experience that nothing feels better than running right past your own fear and self doubt and never looking back.

  18. The only way to get stronger is to push your limits and stay where it’s uncomfortable. In yoga and in life, I remind myself to stay. This doesn’t mean stay in an abusive relationship or a workplace that affects you negatively. It means: do the difficult and uncomfortable thing, and leave. Stay in your decision to leave. Just breathe. And soon you will find comfort.

  19. Know what you have and you’ll have everything you need. In gratitude, we find answers.

  20. When you have love, be conscious that it is a treasure. People are not just capable of loving and choosing to love, but are born to do it. Some have forgotten, but it takes just one person and one experience in love to get it back.

  21. Everything happens in my favor. I’ve been saying this for years, and I believe it more with every accomplishment, loss, challenge, and win. There are reasons, and I decided that it’s okay not to know.

  22. Look around to find that everything you see is a choice. What surrounds you, physically or not, represents you. The objects in your room, the things you use, and the clothes you wear, are a symbol of you. And the people closest to you are extensions of you. To come to the realization that we choose the things and environments and humans around us is priceless. I’m glad I got there pretty early.

  23. Practice gets you anywhere you want to go. Everything from being honest and saying no, to headstands and splits, is practice.

  24. I want to be more patient and present, and show more empathy and support. How do I do that? Practice, I guess.

  25. We all have things to grow upon. This will never change.

  26. Everything is energy! Emotions and feelings are energy. Good and bad experiences are energy. What does energy do? It comes, and it goes. It passes through. And we are all just vessels for energy, with the ability to take in the good and the bad. Sometimes we make it harder by trying to hold on longer than we should. But energy is its own force. Just let it pass. Be an open vessel. Let it in, feel it, let it out.
It’s clear that I’ve learned so much in the last year, some lessons by choice and some lessons through pain. Pretty sure that’s how it will be forever. I’ll be grateful for each one. I know how lucky I am.

Moved by Moving

Leaving home gets harder and harder every time I do it. And I’m always asked, “Why do you like living abroad?” and “How do you do it?”

After years of thinking about it, I finally found some potential answers, thoughts repeated in my mind if nothing else.

I have developed a deep, deep passion for the world. I’ve had it for years, and I’m guessing I always will. It keeps me going and partly blinds me from the pain that I inevitably feel when I leave. This world just has so much to offer. There are so many people and lessons and activities and views to meet and learn and do and see. The fact that all of this is available and waiting is pretty insane to me and I can’t miss out. Long ago I told myself I would see as much of the world as I could and this goal is never-ending and doesn’t get easier the older I grow, but until that promise no longer serves me, I must go and go and go.

I look around and think to myself that the reason life is so wonderful is because we get to choose. Sure, there are some givens, but at the end of the day I hope we can all recognize that we have the power to change what surrounds, consumes, inspires, angers, and pushes us, simply by making different choices. Sometimes I look at the places I spend most of my time, at the things I own and use, and at the people I share my days with. When I see each of these truly, I am able to trace back to the moment I let them in, and more importantly, the moment I let them stay. Through this consistent practice I’ve come to the understanding that I am allowing what and who surrounds me. When I leave home, I recognize fully that it is my choice, and that there is no one else to thank or blame for what I see when I open my eyes.

I love home. I love coming home and I love being home. I love the place I get to call home, and the people from home that I get to keep in my life regardless of whether I’m physically there or not. I treasure this place so deeply because I only get to have it sometimes. At this point, many places feel like home, and I can’t afford to take that for granted either. But home has always been people for me. It just so happens that a large percentage of the people I love are in the same place, and for that fact alone, I love home.

I crave stories. How else would we learn and grow from each other if we didn’t share them with each other? Most anything we say or exchange in conversation, on social media, through music and film, while people-watching, and when we lie awake at night thinking about our day, is a story. They are being shared in different ways, selectively, and again we can choose and craft them how we want to. Anything that happens to us is one story, and the way we choose to see it once it’s done or tell it when it’s over, are other stories. Every place I go gives me another story to tell, and many to listen to. At any time I can draw from this archive, and I can learn.

I like being uncomfortable. I like placing and finding myself outside of the zone I would describe as “comfortable”. I like the rush of new environments and unfamiliar ground. I like how it feels to know that time is all it takes to adjust to most change and most difficulties. And I know from experience, that when we are uncomfortable, we are growing. It’s easy to stay, but I prefer a little bit of pushing my boundaries if it means expanding my growth as a human through the days I have been given. I don’t like leaving because it’s uncomfortable, I like leaving because of where it gets me. So, here I am again, getting through the uncomfortable changes to find what is waiting for me. And something always is.

Every time I leave home, I cry at the airport while waiting at the gate for boarding. It’s never because I want to stay, but because leaving doesn’t feel as good as arriving. The last few months I spent at home have been everything I’ve dreamt of and more. I am so grateful for all the time I got to share with so many people, all of whom I consider myself lucky to know and connect with. I’m thankful for all the food that I got to eat, and that I am always missing when away. I know that home isn’t everyone’s favorite place, so I know my luck for all that it is, to have been brought to a place that fills me with good love and good memories, each and every time.

 

 

Airplane Thoughts

When I flew back to the U.S. last week (a casual 26-hour trip) I watched two films that were drastically different and yet exactly the same in their messages. One film was called Human Flow by Ai Weiwei and the other was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh. After I watched the first one, I cried a lot. And then I watched the second one and cried a lot too. And after I finished crying a lot, I thought a lot. 

What if we were raised in a culture of acceptance instead of in a world where “good” and “bad” and “right” and “wrong” are defined differently among people to the point where disagreement becomes disrespectful? 

I asked myself what it means to me to feel home in a place that was not always my home. I came to the U.S. seventeen years ago with my family, as an immigrant, and when I think about what that was like, and then I think about refugee families today and what it must be like for them, I feel so much pain. 

My wish would be for everyone who arrives in this country to find safety and feel home, but I know that not all do. I know that fear drives people to choose actions that are easily mistaken for reactions based on hate or judgement. But I also know that we, as humans, are inherently good, and that we are so capable of loving each other no matter where we come from. I know the latter is a stronger and better know, because that is the know that I lived. 

I arrived here at ten years old, and I felt accepted. I went to school and was approached politely by children wanting to be friends, despite the fact that my skin was darker and my eyes smaller. My teachers saw potential in me and guided and supported me genuinely. Strangers smiled at me and showed me kindness. Neighbors treated me as an equal neighbor. And it didn’t take long to feel home.

In Weiwei’s film I didn’t see much of my own story. I saw the version of mine that is a nightmare for me but a reality for others today. And no one deserves a reality like that. I don’t know the solution to the refugee crisis around the world, but I know what I can do and what I am willing to do. And it matters; small actions matter because in the end it is not about the action, but about the exchange between people.

After watching Three Billboards, I realized something that allowed for a new level of awareness in me: We need to get a head start in understanding and internalizing the idea that we are supposed to be in this together. That really is how simple it is. 

Both Three Billboards and Human Flow are talking about the same issue but framing it in different stories. In Three Billboards, the fighting parties come from the same place and are separated only by how they were raised and the roads between them. In Human Flow, they are separated by oceans and wars and cultures. Both are trying to tell us that we are separating ourselves from each other and it’s killing us. We’re nourishing hatred and bigotry and racism and ignorance and differences and we are choosing enemies in the people we share this Earth with. That’s not fair, and we have to fix it.

There is a quote in Human Flow that is important for the world to hear: “It’s going to be a big challenge to recognize that the world is shrinking, and people from different religions, different cultures, are going to have to learn to live with each other.” It shouldn’t be a challenge to meet our neighbors in the middle. It should be natural to our humanity.

In Three Billboards, Woody Harrelson says,Through love comes calm and through calm comes thought.” Love should be our first language as people. Love should be at the center of our existence, as individuals and as a species.

We are better than what we are doing to each other right now. We have to put it together, and we have to take it seriously. We need to choose love, and we need to choose it more often. 

Slaughterhouse Five Quotes

When I read books, I always write my favorite quotes as I read. These are from the most recent book I read, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.

If I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m so grateful that so many of those moments are nice.

That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.

There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.

All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”

“Why me?”

“That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Well, here we are, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”

Where have all the years gone?

All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. See how permanent all the moments are, and look at any moment that interests you. It is just an illusion that we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

So it goes.

But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. I learn by going where I have to go.

And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.

What It Means To Be A Human

Written December 2014

What it means to be human.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what a blessing it is to be a human on this earth. The odds of being any other creature are pretty high. But you are reading this, meaning you are lucky enough to be a person (and probably an awesome one). I’m not sure anyone really knows what it means to be human, but these are my ideas.

Being human means understanding the beauty rooted deep in all places of this earth. It means being aware that you are just a visitor, and that you should respect the rest of whom and what you share this space with.

Being human means being intelligent enough to adapt to what’s around you. This ability is in you. Use it.

Being human means finding connections with other humans.

Being human means appreciating every type of environment. From soil to sand to dirt to gravel and all the way to hardwood and tile floors. Whether we are under a tree or a roof, we can’t ever forget where we started and how we got to where we are.

Being human means respecting each other and those we share the earth with. In Costa Rica, the love and respect that people have for nature is contagious. They recognize that we share this land, not just with other people, but with trees and sloths and snakes and spiders, and all in between. Being human should mean being humble, and not crowning ourselves entitled.

Being human means having the capacity to try new things, paired with the ability to decide whether we like it or not.

Being human means consuming so much knowledge at a rate where we should always want more.

Being human means taking advantage of our ability to travel the world and do all of the above. As people, we have this power to inspire and move and change and share and love and teach and create. With so much power, it’s easy to waste. Don’t.

Being human means knowing that every beginning has an end. But if there is sincerity in between, I hope I never regret it. At one point, every thing we had and every one we had meant something to each other, and in this life, that’s all we really seem to be looking for.

You’ve got my love to lean on darling, all the days

Before I left for South Korea three years ago, my older sister told me that she’s a little bit sad that I’ll miss some important “growing up” moments in my niece’s (her daughter’s) life in this next year that I’ll be in South Korea. Well, I’ve been here for three years and it really pains me that I’ve missed out on my nieces’ and nephew’s youths. What if they have their first kiss? What if they get bullied and don’t know who to turn to? What if they get in a fight with their parents and want to talk to me about it? All these what-ifs went through my mind, so I started writing letters to my eldest niece. I put them in a box, and I hope that when the time comes, she’ll pass it on to my other nieces and nephew, and that it will be helpful to them while I’m gone.

This was one of the letters:

To my little one,

There is so much that I want to teach you and tell you and learn from you. I hate to be absent for any part of your beautiful life, but while I’m away, I hope you remember some of what I’ve already tried to teach you.

Be patient and kind, to everyone, always. Including yourself.

Do not believe in luck. Believe in gratitude. Feel it all the time.

Treat every human being as exactly that: a human being. Show respect to everyone, even your enemies, and do not tolerate being disrespected.

Your feelings are YOURS and there is never a need to explain why you feel them.

When you learn something, don’t forget it. Intelligence is extremely attractive and invaluable.

Never, ever, ever, ever assume. Never assume that someone ignored you, or that someone is mad at you, or that something was your fault. Because anything can happen at any time, and we are not always aware of everything at once. Don’t disregard coincidence.

In confrontations and arguments, express only how you feel. Do not tell people what they did, but tell them how they made you feel.

Living well is the best revenge. Don’t believe in revenge.

Work hard. (Be lazy, but only sometimes.)

I once sat next to an old German man on a train and he asked me what my dream is. I told him that I want to travel, and he told me about how he moved to the U.S. from Germany as a young boy with nothing. He went to school, became a doctor, and now he teaches at a university in New York. He offered me this advice: “Keep a positive attitude. Don’t compromise your dreams and something will come and open up your universe. You younger generations need more confidence. Just know that us older generations believe in you. Let the universe come to you—invite it.”

Too much of anything can turn into a bad thing. The keys to happiness at its finest are balance and moderation.

Tell your parents goodnight before you go to bed. Tell the people you care about that you care about them. People need to be reminded of that.

Not everything lasts forever, and that’s okay. Look back and remember the goodness of all things, and be grateful for having it.

Ask yourself questions all the time. It is important to be able to answer to yourself, and be true to yourself.

The earth is a precious place, and you are just a visitor. Treat it well. Save as much life, energy, waste, and water as you can. Nothing is unlimited.

An excerpt from one of my favorite articles: “We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.”

Stories are gifts that we give to each other. They can be happy, or sad, or scary. They are real, and they are meaningful. Remember as many of them as you can, especially the magical ones. Hold onto them and don’t forget that they can be very, very real.

“You are responsible for the energy you put into this world.”

Travel opens your eyes and your mind to both realities and dreams. Always keep going.

Try not to raise your voice, and try to always smile. Try new things often.

Know that the world we live in is a big one. There are millions of different souls and perspectives out there. You should never feel alone.

Power comes in many forms. Music, stories, writing, expression, art, thought, knowledge. Power is from within. Use yours—you have so many!

Self-discipline and patience are very necessary strengths. Learn them as early as you can.

Avoid any and all feelings of jealousy. Never wish to be anyone else.

Never burn bridges because you never know when you might need to cross them again.

And most importantly, never doubt that you are loved.

Love always,

Auntie

What It Was Like

I stepped off the plane and walked through the airport with my family. It was 2001, the summer before 9/11. We had a layover in Alaska before flying to New York City, our final destination. Through the tall windows lining the airport waiting area, we witnessed snowfall for the first time in our lives.

Needless to say, my brother and I–age 10 and 11 at the time–were overjoyed. Winter wonderlands were not exactly part of our childhood experience growing up in the Philippines. We took pictures with a big polar bear display, and pranced around with no cares. As the snow came down, we watched in awe with our noses pressed to the glass until the next flight called us for boarding.

Later that night, we landed in New York. We had several suitcases, filled with as much of our life as we could fit. And that was it. When the plane grounded, it was home.

I remember driving through Times Square as soon as the car started moving. I sat looking not exactly out of the car window, but up. At tall skyscrapers in a city full of life and light in the middle of the summer. It was my first impression of America: an endless bright sky even at night. I couldn’t believe that I was here.

Before I knew it, we were driving on quieter streets, much darker than 42nd and Broadway. Suburban houses. White picket fences and people walking their dogs on sidewalks. Exactly like I saw in movies and books.

We pulled up in the driveway of a quaint little home.

My home.

My new home.

In America.

This was the home my mom prepared for us in the months before the move. She flew the day-long flight back and forth getting all sorts of things ready. Paperwork, visas, green cards. Our house, our school, our neighborhood. It was all waiting for us. And everything fell into place, a dream and reality at once.

My mom walked us through the front door and gave us a tour. A living room, a kitchen. A piano. Bathrooms. A basement. A backyard with a deck and a pool, and a swing set for my brother and me. I had never dreamt of living in a house in America before. But there it was. A dream I didn’t know I had, come true.

I had a room.

My room.

My own room that had a bed for only me.

My brothers and sister had their own rooms, and my parents theirs. My mom decorated it with toys and posters, and a clock with Tweety Bird on it. I had everything; my whole family in one house, and a bedroom that I could call “mine.”

In the following months and years, the American dream kept unfolding, and I know exactly who I have to thank for that.

I had a neighbor on one side who asked me to come over and play in her backyard in the summers, and a neighbor on the other who went out of his way to plow our driveway when it snowed in the winters. I had a friend in school who taught me how to use a computer when I told her I didn’t know how. I had teachers who treated me and encouraged me the same way they did all the other kids. I had invitations to birthdays and block parties from classmates and neighbors. I had friends to ride bikes with, a team to play sports with, camp friends to spend summers with, a brand new culture to participate in, and a safe home to return to at the end of each day.

Looking back, I feel so lucky. I just had so much–all of which I can now say I took for granted. I grew up to call America “home.” And in some ways, it felt more like home than where I came from because of the strangers who, over time, became the people I shared this “home” with. They showed me love and kindness and respect as I grew up and found myself in a country that wasn’t mine until they showed me that it was. Actually, they showed me that it was ours.

Today I woke up and cried because I feel so lucky, and I also cried because there are children right now who aren’t. While reading the news this morning, I was brought back to the first time I arrived in New York, and how I felt no fear. I was a child, and I didn’t have a single worry–and that’s exactly how it should have been. I didn’t know I was an immigrant. I didn’t even know what that meant. Surely I didn’t have a full grasp of how much bravery and doubt it took to pick up and move lives the way we did.

What it would be like if we had arrived in New York today? Would I be terrified? Would I just want to go back where I came from because this seemed so much harder and scarier? How would I feel? What would people think of me? How would they treat me?

It pains me that there are children and families facing these questions as I write this. In ten or twenty years we’ll be reading what it was like for them as they landed in America to find that people didn’t greet them with open arms. We’ll read about those who came to our country in these last few years, and those words will be much different than mine. They’ll be about how much it hurt to be looked at differently, or what it was like watching their parents deal with disrespect. And they’ll write about how they didn’t understand why.

I feel a ridiculous sadness in recognizing my luck and circumstance sixteen years ago, and how it would have been different today. It makes me guilty thinking of how the families like mine might be treated in the current state of our country and politics, and the hardships they’ll face that I never did.

But through all of my tears and sadness this morning, there was one thought that gave me hope and assurance that immigrant kids like myself will discover goodness in their new lives in this country: There will be people who will make this place feel like home. 

There will be people who understand. There will be kind strangers who open their homes to share their food and time, and there will be children who will play with them and treat them well. There will be people who go out of their way to help. There will be teachers and leaders in the community who will show them that they are part of something important. There will be parents who will teach them to be brave. There will be others like them to remind them that they are not alone. And there will be all of us, those who came before them, who will continue to fight to give them the new beginning they came here for.

Finding Balance in Intricacy

“Everyone makes mistakes.”

And so we are told this, again and again. As children, we hear it when we make mistakes we are too young to fix–like spilling milk or breaking a toy. In school, we hear it when we get an unexpected score on the test we thought we were ready for. At work, we hear it on the first day when we are lost and completely unsure of our responsibilities. And in life, we hear it from our friends and our parents and those who love us, in the moments we feel like we just don’t have it together.

Everyone makes mistakes. It is a simple fact. That’s the easy part.

What comes after mistakes are made is where the complications start. Black and white collide and simple facts are only simple from a certain point of view. While people make mistakes, the consequences can’t always be fixed. The milk can’t be cleaned, the toy can’t be fixed. The next test won’t up the average. And it’s not the first day of work. Not everything comes with second chances.

I’ve found that after making a mistake, there are two choices. Learn a lesson, or don’t.

Recently I made a mistake that opened my eyes to the importance of making mistakes: learning forgiveness. It is a complicated concept. Whether you are in the position to give or receive it, forgiveness requires practice. It requires patience. And it requires pain.

Through this mistake I discovered what it feels like to be denied forgiveness, and to lose someone as a result. I also learned that the power of forgiveness is in the hands of the forgiver. Understanding both sides of forgiveness is necessary in understanding that neither side is easy to be on.

Finding a safe balance comes in time, and we each find that balance at our own times and at our own pace. I found balance when I forgave myself. I made a mistake, and I learned from it. I lost someone as a result, but each day brings me closer to accepting that. Life is too unpredictable to deny forgiveness. Too short to regret. And all too wonderful to wallow.

 

Chasing Magic and Building Bridges

Let me start by sharing something that I wrote to myself a few months ago in my iPhone notes. I had a rough day of teaching and on that Friday night, I was so happy and relieved to arrive in Seoul and see my friends. Around midnight and after our first few shots of soju, I was overcome with an urge to write these words to myself:

Hey Christine.

Lately, a lot of people have been telling you that you are “living the life!” but you know that’s not true, right? Today, you had an okay day. So this is a reminder: you’re not living the life. You’re just…living life.

Maybe people think that living abroad is easy, but you know more than anyone that it’s not. Moving to South Korea to teach English isn’t your average college grad’s move, and while it is an incredible experience, it doesn’t make your life “the” life. In fact, nothing makes any life “the” life, because every life is different. Don’t forget that. Just remember to put your money towards experiences. You are a twenty-something, with dreams of one day having a job you love and a family you love even more. But for now, you deserve to see what and who the world has to offer before you settle.

You were not given the life. You were given a life. And you have the power to choose what to do with it. Your time, your energy, your money, your love, and your feet can go where you choose. No matter where you go, you’ll find that you’ll have some so-so moments.

It’s not always easy to be surrounded by what you don’t know, but I urge you to continue to make a life outside of what you do know. By the end of it all, let’s see if you lived more of “the” life than you dreamed, or dreamed more of “the” life than you lived.

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At the end of a bad class, I read that note to self, and I’m reminded of what’s good. For four months and counting, I wake up with a smile on my face. And every day, I say to myself, “Christine…You are in South Korea.” Then I smile, turn my alarm off, get out of bed, and have a great day.

I don’t know how to describe what life is like here; I just know that not one day has gone by where I woke up or went to sleep feeling anything but happy. And sometimes drunk. But the bottom line is that I know I’m happy.

A few days before New Years’ Eve last year, when I was sitting in a New York City diner at 4 am, I found out that I was accepted into the EPIK (English Program In Korea) Program, and that in a few weeks I would be on a plane to South Korea, where I would spend the next year. It has been four months since I first stepped foot in this country, and every day since has been eye-opening and mind-stretching.

I came here for a reason. I was (and still am) chasing a certain feeling that inspires me each time I feel it. When I was ten years old, I moved to the U.S. from the Philippines, and I don’t remember a thing about the flight or any part of the trip, except for one moment. We landed in JFK airport late at night and on the drive to our new home in New Jersey, I discovered a little place called New York City. All I remember about my first moments in America is looking out of the car window and up to the skyscrapers of Manhattan. The city of dreams, the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps. It was a fantasy land that I thought could only ever be just that–a fantasy. But there I was, at ten years old, lost and speechless in the magic of New York.

Years later I would discover the magic of so many places. Washington D.C., London, Amsterdam, Rome, Paris, Madrid, and Sevilla. The beaches of the Bahamas, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Niagara Falls, the deserts of Africa, the mountains of Switzerland, and even the three largest cathedrals in the world. In each and every one of those places, I got the same feeling that I did when I found myself in New York for the first time. It’s the feeling that I get every time I step foot on foreign ground, and every time I see something that I have only ever seen on pages and posters and screens before. This knowledge that it was worth every cent and sacrifice it took to get there, just to see it with my own eyes; that no high definition flat screen view of this would ever come close to the real thing. A simple feeling that tells me: I’m here, in the world. I’m in it, and I’m breathing it and walking it and touching it, and that this is no fantasy. And it’s not something I can easily describe, and surely I can’t say that this feeling is the same for everyone. Maybe you get this feeling from an entirely different living experience. But I know with certainty that some of my best moments happened in places that I might never be again.

It is a great blessing to me that my life’s memories and stories are set all over the world. I have seen more of the world in a decade than most will see in their life, and I am only constantly wanting more. The world does a great job of making me feel small, in the best way. It humbles me, and it makes me honest somehow. The more of the world I see, the more I can understand what it needs to grow better. Whether it’s honesty and truth, or understanding and strength, or kindness, or opposition, rebellion–I hope that I can hear the message loud and clear, and I hope that I can spread that message to the next place I go and to the next person I meet. This is the feeling that I chase; a sense that somehow I’m helping to bridge gaps between places and people.

This year, I came to South Korea because I wanted to expand my boundaries and challenge myself–in work, in language, in culture, and in any other way that I felt the world could test me–and believe me, I’m being challenged every day. I also came here because I wanted to prove to people (including my own friends and family) who were skeptical about this move, that ignorance is only ignorance until someone shows you the other side. I’m happy to be the person who proves that, and I hope that I can be that person for many of those whose minds could stand to be a little more challenged and a little more opened. I also hope that I can continue to meet people who will do that for me.

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I have never been the type to want what’s easy and I certainly don’t want what’s comfortable. That’s why I’m here. My passions for international education and travel and people and language and learning has led me down this path of opening minds and building bridges, and I am confident that this field is already doing just that, even with the so-so moments in between.

Living abroad is hard. I know this because I leave my house every day and it reminds me.

Teaching English is hard. I know this because I have days that remind me.

Learning English is also hard. And I know this because I have students that constantly remind me.

But these daily reminders don’t stop me from spending five days a week in Korean classrooms teaching English to kids who might not like it, because I know that one day they might make a difference, whether big or small, in their families or for their countries, or in our world. I am constantly hoping that learning English and interacting with foreigners will open their minds, or inspire them to chase their own magic and to build their own bridges. And with over 1,000 students, I might have a pretty good shot.

I’ve only just started planting seeds. Stay tuned.

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Not Your Average Post-Grad

One hundred and sixty days ago, I reached a milestone of my life that only about 7% of people achieve: college graduation. Since May, every new acquaintance I make and every old friend I see has asked, “Where do you work?” or “What are you doing now?”

Here’s my problem with that. Why do people think that every college graduate’s success is measured by whether or not they have a full-time job lined up as soon as they toss that graduation cap in the air?

To start, shouldn’t we take some time to celebrate the giant success that is earning a college degree? Shouldn’t we be asking grads what they want to do with their life, not with their degree? Don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly believe that finishing college is a major accomplishment to be immensely proud of. However, I also think that there is way more to my early twenties than competing for a job that secures my spot in a cubicle, likely next to a middle-aged someone who has been there since his or her own college graduation.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I will have a full-time job one day, and I will probably be starting in a cubicle. But it’s not going to be a job that I applied for just because society told me that it was supposed to be the next step in my life. It’s going to be a job that I want for myself; a job that makes me happy, that I earned, and that I love.

So, what do I say when people ask me where I work or what I’m doing now? Well. Where do I begin? Since college graduation, I discovered a new love for nature while hiking in the Alaskan mountains. I celebrated my birthday delivering letters to Senators’ offices on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., went on a road trip to upstate New York with my mom, prepared homemade lobster rolls in Maine, and attended my first Filipino opera. I also began training for a half marathon, assisted an event planner with a medical gala at Gotham Hall in New York City, and started teaching myself Korean.

“I’m just livin’,” I say. I’m doing things I love. I’m learning from others, and I’m teaching myself. I’m traveling. I’m reading books that I could never find the time to while in school. I’m finding ways to make and save money outside of the 9-5 confine. I’m spending time with people I care about. And I’m taking a step back from the pressure that seems to be pushing too many young professionals in directions that they aren’t even sure is right for them. Most importantly, I hope that I’m serving as a reminder that success doesn’t always have to come in the form of a resumè.