Connectedness

A few years ago, my ex asked me who I’m closest with: friends from home, friends from school, or friends from abroad.  I never answered him, but I’ve since thought of that question on occasion, and I have come to the conclusion that I’m not more or less close to each of the groups; the levels of friendship and connection are just so different.  These people are part of significant phases of my life, and perhaps each group knows me in a different way than the others.

My friends from home have known me since I was ten years old, and they have, no doubt, seen me grow the most.  These people have watched me change, and vice versa.  There’s something about growing up constantly surrounded by the same friends, seeing slow evolutions in each other, and sharing experiences that shape us both as individuals and as a system.  All of this transforming brought us to a level of friendship that can only be achieved with time.  And all of this time has brought us ups and downs that only continue to bring us closer.  They are my cornerstone, the building blocks of who I am, the very core of where my growth began, and one of the main ingredients to my happiness.  My friends from home are the ones I am glad to always have.  No matter how far down the road, I know I will have them to come home to.

It was hard to imagine who my college friends would be and what role they would play in my life until I found them.  Turns out, they’re some of the best friends to have around.  College friends get to know you in incredible ways–at house parties and bars, hungover in dorms, during all-nighters at the library, and every other second in between.  These are friends who live with you–sometimes literally–and get to see who you are while you’re in the process of finding yourself and potentially, who you’re going to be for the rest of your life.  They are there to watch you overcome the most difficult challenges you will ever face, and if you’re lucky, they’ll be right next to you every step of the way, making the same exact horrible decisions.  I have formed unbreakable bonds with my college friends, and with them I’ve learned how little time can affect friendship.  They are my support networks and secret-outlets, my squad, and the bottom line is that they get to know me better than most people ever do.

Sigh.  Sevilla friends.  These are people with whom I have created an entirely new bubble of friendship.  They are there, living in the stories that I will be telling for the rest of my life.  These friendships formed exceptionally fast, and I think that might be the reason for our extremely high comfort levels with each other.  Suddenly I found myself in a foreign country with just a suitcase and this group of people to hold on to.  And I did.  We all did.  Fortunately I don’t think we will ever let go.  What we’ve been through were some of the best moments of our lives, and that is not something to be taken lightly. We’ve seen the world, pushed through borders and boundaries, and fell in love with the same city together. Through all of this, and in less than half a year, what we did was more than travel. We left parts of ourselves with each other, in all corners of the world, and if that doesn’t bond you for life then I’m not sure what does.

Since this question was posed to me, I entered a new phase in my life which has brought yet another incredible group of people into my life: my Seoul friends. The last three years in South Korea have been life life life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all my experiences here. I’ve grown part of different communities–teachers, foreigners, local yogis and runners–who have welcomed me and helped me to see the life I’ve built in this country. I hold close the group of friends I made within the first few days of arriving, and I think that through meeting them I became solid in who I already was. We all got to know each other exactly as we were and as we still are, and I have nothing but gratitude for the fact that we loved each other through flaws and mistakes.

Most recently I’ve been thinking about the running and yoga families I’ve come to know and love here in Seoul the last two years. When I first walked into Zen Yoga studio, and first went to an open run for Crewghost, I never thought it would become a completely engrained and habitual attendance. Now I go to my yoga studio 5-8 times and to a crew run at least once or twice, both per week. Spending as much time sharing a mutual passion with a group of people for hours at a time brings you together without even trying–certainly regardless of language. These two communities have brought me joy and support, and a family to back me in the goals that no one else can understand.

As I come to realize that I have just five short months left before a new adventure, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I’ve spent my years with. And as I get ready to leave this group of friends to visit the others, all I can feel is gratitude. To have so much love from around the world. To know that I can turn to so many to receive all kinds of needs. To understand that I can be a different version of myself and still be loved for it. To find that I am open and lucky enough to be able to connect with so many souls. And to recognize that with time, I am changing for the better. How do I know all this? Because each time I come back to all of the people I love, no matter how long it’s been or how far I’ve gone, I never doubt that the love and connection and friendship remain.

Advertisements

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.

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.

A weekend of talking, traveling, and theorizing…

This past weekend I went to a Study Abroad Returnee conference in Boston, and it was just what I needed.

On the entire 3 1/2-hour drive up to Boston from NY with my friend Kerianne (fellow API Peer Mentor), we did not listen to a single song.  We talked literally the entire time and had so much much more to say by the end of the drive.

What’s crazy about our friendship is that we have actually only met in person one other time–in Austin during internship training.  From this one friendship and this one weekend trip we took together, I have learned more than I ever expected to.  We are the same in many ways and yet the life she has led is worlds different from mine.  Having her as a friend is helpful in the sense that I can learn so much from her, and so much with her.

What did I learn this weekend?

A new definition of “home”

At the conference, we participated in a session titled “The Only Constant In Life Is Change”.  Study abroad alumni talked about how the study abroad experience changed them, and what their experience meant in many contexts.  There were so many thoughts that I related to, like the feeling upon returning home that everything had changed in me as a person, but nothing had changed in the place where I left.

The definition of “home” came up, and one particular answer really opened my eyes.

“Home is a place where you grow.  And you can reach a point where you are done growing.”

The student who said that is going back to live in her host country, Spain, after graduation in May.  She feels as though she did not do all of the growing that she needed to in her short time there.  It’s really incredible to have heard what her perception and definition of “home” was because I had never thought of it in that sense before.  I have always known that home is not one single place, and that it has to do with the people around us, but I never thought about why or how exactly my role made a place “home”.

Even while we are all always growing, we can grow in different ways 

In the same discussion at the conference, a student opened up and said that when she got home, she felt like nothing had changed except for her.  Everyone was worried about the same old things, and it was as if no one had anything new to share while she had hours and hours of stories to tell.

We talked about how, unfortunately, experiences separate us from people–whether the experiences are travel or not.  Students often come home from studying abroad with a newfound sense and perspective on life and what it means to be alive.  Just like people who like animals tend to befriend other people who like animals, and people who like computers tend to befriend other people who like computers, people who travel tend to gravitate toward fellow travelers.

Growing apart from people can happen for an infinite number of reasons, but study abroad students know that this happens especially when one begins to have different life experiences from others.  The passion that we travel-addicts have is undeniably contagious.  We are relentless when it comes to seeing the world and passing the passion on, but of all people I think travelers are the most accepting and the most open.  I think we recognize that although there are differences between each of us–travel experience, likes/dislikes, interests, backgrounds–there is nothing that should keep two people from getting along.

We must maintain a sense of adventure in all environments

To help us cope with this falsity that home is boring and slow, or that life abroad is better, someone at the conference told us that there is adventure all around us, no matter where we are, whether we are somewhere new or familiar.

I grew up right outside of New York City and I still have yet to go to the top of the Empire State Building, or see the Statue of Liberty.  Why is that?  There are millions of people who have seen more of this city than I have…and I’ve been here for more than half of my life.

Thinking about this gave me a much needed wake-up call.  I think I need to be a tourist in my own city, every day.  I’m sure there’s a cafe, bookstore, museum, etc. close by, where I could do a little growing and a lot of learning.

Keeping a sense of adventure in the place where you are is just as important as finding a new sense of adventure in the place where you want to be.  Kerianne told me about her travel writing class, and how the professor always says,

“You don’t have to get on a plane to travel.”

I think we (as a society) need to reevaluate what travel means, and look at it in a new way.  Traveling means “making a journey”.  That could be done without moving an inch.  Our senses and our minds (and our technology!) can take us anywhere, and maybe traveling is more about the feeling we get when we discover new places and learn new things.  Maybe it’s more about the concept of newness, and less about the place we go physically.  Knowing that I can do it through my senses, I can be more grateful for travel and adventure–whether it be a physical journey near or far, or a completely imagined adventure.

I was driving in the car with my mom, and outside our window were mountains behind the river, and a sunset behind the mountains.  She said, “You know, I always look at flights to Switzerland and think about what the scenery looks like, but look–it’s just as beautiful right here.”

I’m on the way to finding what makes me happy

It is mind blowing how constantly ecstatic I feel whenever I’m doing anything related to international education/study abroad. The stories, the people, the constant learning,  and the genuine interest I have encountered in this field are unlike any other. I am fully aware of lucky I am to have had the opportunity to go abroad and not only to have caught the travel bug, but to have also had the international education open mindset instilled in me at such a young age.

There are certain subjects and fields which I have entertained to be where my future career might lie, but I think I’m discovering that I don’t need to think about it so much.  I believe that humans, sometimes subconsciously, drift toward the direction of their passions.

In the beginning, I didn’t know how much international education would influence me or mean to me.  I became a Peer Mentor with API because I wanted to tell people about my study abroad experience.  At the time, I don’t think I even realized how much my time abroad changed me.  It continues to change me for the better every single day, and I think my undying interest in this field has fueled that.

Maybe the way to be happy and stay happy is simply to share the things that make us glad to be alive.  That seems like a ridiculously obvious statement, but every day I see and hear people talking so negatively about how they spend their time.

It feels like most people do things that make them unhappy because they think in the end, they will be rewarded.  But there is no guarantee of that at all, so I am making it a point to consciously move toward happiness by doing things that make me happy–every step of the way.  And I am well on my way.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 9.22.15 PM

New year // New me

Since early January I have dubbed this year, 2014, to be my year of learning.

Just as last year was my year of travel, this is my year of learning.

In the first few weeks of the year, I started learning how to knit and code.  And when the semester began in February I registered for piano and Italian classes.  I also learned how to edit videos and make short videos/slideshows.

So far: successful!

Ever since reading that article I blogged about a couple of week ago, Navigating Stuckness, I want to be not the smartest, but the most interesting person in the room.  I meet new people all the time, and I’ve noticed that I love the experience more when they inspire me to learn something new.  When people say, “I wish I could ____” or “I wish I knew how to ____”,  I would really really love to be able to say, “I can teach you.”

So I am transforming into a Renaissance woman of sorts because it’s 2014 and I don’t want to be good at only one thing.

Knitting

I came back to school before the semester started only to discover that I had a lot of free time on my hands until the semester started.  For that reason I decided I would learn how to knit.  After a basic lesson from a friend and watching a few YouTube videos, I turned into a knitter, literally overnight.

In one week I made a scarf for my mom and a headband for myself.  Now I’m working on this (incredibly soft and fluffy) baby blanket for my sister, who’s expecting a baby in July!

IMG_2649

Code

Last semester I worked with a (brilliant) grad assistant in the office that I work for at my university, and somehow he had an impressive knowledge of every subject ever.  There aren’t a lot of people like that.  Although a lot of times he’s probably the smartest person in the room, to me he was also interesting because he knew how to do a lot of stuff with just one talent–coding.

Over the summer I started completing lessons on codeacademy.com but recently I’ve been inspired to really learn the basics.  So at least once a week I spend between 1-2 hours practicing/learning code.  So far I know how to build a basic webpage with words, pictures, and links…Just wait til I get better and you’ll be impressed!

Piano

I grew up taking piano lessons and I can still read music and play songs, but I want to master the instrument a little more.  After two classes I (re)learned several scales, and I’m getting ready to do my first solo (eep!) out of the six we have to do for class.

Also, what’s different about learning it in a class meant for music majors, I’m really being challenged to learn the technical aspects of the music.  Before I had no idea how many sharps were in an F major scale.  But now I know.  Tweet at me if you want to know the answer… @codea

IMG_0387

Italian

I think this might be my favorite among the new skills I am learning.  I take a class on Tuesdays/Thursdays and IT IS SO FUN.  Our professor is fantastic and extremely engaging with the students, and I really enjoy it so far.

I’m still trying to get used to the fact that I’m in a language class that is not Spanish, so that kind of makes it even more fun.  The accent and alphabet are totally different so sometimes I have no idea what’s happening, but it’s okay because I don’t think anyone else does either.  Ciao.

What’s next?

I think I need to let these first four settle into my life, but I know I’m not stopping here.  What should I learn next?

Multiple Passion Personality Order

I read this FANTASTIC article last week.  It’s about how we, as humans, often find ourselves “stuck” in phases of life.  These phases include but are not limited to: boredom, creative overload, workaholism, just plain slow, overwhelming, etc. etc.  You know what I mean once you read “Navigating Stuckness.”

While reading the article, I found myself fascinated by Harris’ life, particularly how each chapter was so strongly defined by what consumed his time in that specific stage of his life.  From art to coding to storytelling to writing…there is so much talent in this one person to admire.  And I think we should all be that way.

In Chapter 3 of his life, Harris resolved to be a multi-talented and experienced person:

Instead of trying to be the smartest person in the room, now I wanted to be the most interesting. 

“Navigating Stuckness” in its entirety, is an inspiring story encouraging us to find what it is we want to do, and simply do it with no requirements of justification, salary, or even valid reason.  Sometimes it feels like a paradox, but most times I think it’s just life.  And life is a countdown.

In life, you will become known for doing what you do. That sounds obvious, but it’s profound. If you want to be known as someone who does a particular thing, then you must start doing that thing immediately. Don’t wait. There is no other way.

A couple of weeks ago, I was pondering the moves I would be making in my life within the next few years.  I wanted a life plan to somewhat base the years on.  This is the result:

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 1.35.10 PM.png

After the inevitability of “22: graduate”, I found that there is no realistic way to build a life plan.  The only idea that kept coming to mind was that of passion.  How do you want to occupy your time?  That is the real question.  And the only question we should never forget to ask ourselves.  Mostly because the answer is solid and true.  We know what we want, and what we don’t want.  And when we know what these things are…we must go after them.

Jonathan Harris makes the same argument, and he tells us how we might stay a step ahead of the traps that lead us to “stuckness”.  Reading his story in chapters, and being able to separate those chapters makes it blatantly obvious (to me at least) that we should practice our passions without limits.

I want to be interesting AND smart.  And I want to be good at writing and telling stores, while also being good at snowboarding.  I want to be able to knit and code and play the piano and practice travel photography.  I hope to be good at drawing and cooking and a whole slew of possible talents.  It’s a collective work in progress; I don’t need to spend 9-5pm every day doing the same one thing.  I can spend it doing several things.  And the best part of all is that I think this would make us happier.

If you’re always doing what you love, you will always be happy.  And if you’re always happy, then you will never be stuck.

Once Upon A Time…

I’m in this New Year and soon-to-be-college-graduate mindset, and I have come to the following conclusion about life:

You know people by the stories they tell.

…if they have any at all.

I want to always be the person in the conversation who has a story to tell.  Whether it’s about love, life, or even death, I hope I can provide a little anecdote with a happy ending.

People who share stories are the ones who have lived.  They are the ones who we turn to when we need to form an idea of what’s to come.  After all, your future is someone else’s past.  Or so I’ve heard.

When I’m 100 (and I will be someday), I want to tell stories about the time I learned how to surf in Portugal, or the time I camped out under the stars in the Sahara Desert in Morocco after a four hour camel ride.  I want to share with people the memories from my high school and college years, and I want to say beautiful things about all of the incredible souls I have been so lucky to encounter in my lifetime.  Most of all, I just want to leave something behind for others to remember, so that they, too, can have a story to tell.