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.

 

 

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.

Austin? AWESOME

I spent this last weekend in Austin, Texas attending Peer Mentor training at API (Academic Programs International), and it was probably my favorite weekend this summer–there was simply no better way to end it.

The weekend was good for three simple reasons: the people, the city, and the inspiration.

The People
How often do you get to meet someone who walked the Camino de Santiago–from France to the west coast of Spain–in 40 days?  Someone who volunteered with sea turtles on the coast of Italy and with elephants in Thailand?  Someone who came home to the U.S. after living in Madrid for one year, only to face a life-changing tragedy?  I’m gonna guess not very often.

Well, this past weekend, I met a handful of young people who are the authors of some unbelievable life stories and experiences.  My fellow Peer Mentors are confident, hard-working, diverse, and well…perfect.  Every conversation I had with each of them was moving, and each one forced me to think harder about the ways that I could be better and live my life with purpose.  And I think that’s how every conversation should be.

People should encourage and motivate each other, regardless of their differences or disagreements.  I’ve found that great differences between people can lead to more challenging connections, but also better understandings of one another.

Along with the impressive lineup of Peer Mentors, was the API staff.  They are the people who changed mine and many others’ lives by caring so much.  They recognize the fact that all people deserve good, positive things–one of those things being a study abroad experience.  They do everything they can to make it happen, and the best part is: they want to, and they love to.  I can honestly say that I have never felt so loved by a group of people who hardly even know me.  Dare I say, that kind of love feels just as good as the love I receive from the people who’ve known me since birth.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 7.43.28 PM
(This is a screenshot of a video of the API staff saying congratulations to my team for winning the scavenger hunt.  Aren’t they the cutest?)

In addition to my new API family, were the strangers I met.  They were all so kind, friendly, helpful, and my favorite, happy.  We met a woman at the hotel room while we were waiting in the lobby and she saw us adoring her kids from far away and she came over, introduced them, and asked us about what we were doing, and she was so excited to be reminded of her time abroad in Chile.  And that was the best feeling–reminding someone of their international education.

Texans are happy people.  And I like that.

The City
Let me just say.  I want Austin to be kept weird for ever and for always.  It’s a great city and I can’t imagine a better word than “weird” to describe it.  On our first day we separated into teams and did a scavenger hunt around the city and despite the 100 degree weather, it was a great way to get to know the city.  The Capitol is really pretty and an awesome thing to see at the end of Congress St.  On top of the Capitol there are six flags, one of each of the countries that have had some rule over the state of Texas.  The phrase “Six Flags Over Texas” is what they use to describe this, and FUN FACT that’s where the theme park Six Flags got its name.  You’re welcome.

Further down Congress St. there are fun stores, candy/chocolate shops, outdoor jewelry markets, thrift stores, and most importantly, cowboy boot stores.  It’s such a great, happy atmosphere!  And in case you are wondering, yes I did have an ice cream cone in this city as well.

ALSO, there’s a famous graffiti’d wall that says “i love you so much”.  Unfortunately, I had no idea that was in Austin!  I follow Shwayze on Instagram, and he posted this picture the other day:

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 6.21.47 PM

And I am SO sad that I didn’t know he was in the city at the same time I was.  I’ve been a big Shwayze fan forEVER and it would have been awesome to see him there but I guess this just means I have to go back to Austin next time he’s in town…

The nightlife in Austin is a college student’s dream.  6ixth Street (literally the street) is closed down because there are just hundreds of people bar hopping and getting weird.  There’s just no room for cars at night.  It was rowdy enough as it was–I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like during the school year with thousands of students living in the city.

It’s also a city for very active people.  There are trails along the rivers for biking, walking, and running, and there’s paddle boarding, kayaking, river tubing etc.  It’s refreshing to see so many active people no matter what time of day or week it is.

And finally, what is a whole new delicious world in Austin (and Texas in general) is the FOOD.  #OhEmGee the FOOD.  WHERE DO I BEGIN?

Well, I hate to get you excited and take it back but I’m going to do it anyway because I’ll be posting a (Sense)Story Perception blog about food in Austin very soon.  So.  I’m sorry about that.  Kind of.

The Inspiration
If there is anything I came home with from this trip, it is a giant super-size burst of LIFE.  This sleepless weekend inspired me to come back home (or go anywhere and everywhere in the world…) and tell everyone I meet for the rest of my life that they need to go abroad and study or work or volunteer, or just GO.  Sitting in that conference room every day and listening to each other speak about travels and adventures made my travel bug bite unbearably itchy.  And that is my favorite feeling.  I hope to hold on to it every single day.

I guess inspiration and travel go hand in hand.  Just as quickly as you go somewhere, you return–in the same way that inspiration comes and goes.  And in another sense, itchy travel bug bites are actually the inspiration inside all of us, waiting to be passed on to someone else.  There is gold in everyone (you can all thank Brittany Boehr for that piece of wisdom) and it is our job to find it.  Why?  Because, well, we can.

This weekend went by a little too fast.  But then again, so does life.  Thank you to everyone at API and all of the PMs for believing in me and each other, and for inspiring me to be better.

“The only magic I still believe in is love.”

Summer for grown-ups

Summer isn’t summer anymore.

Well, maybe it is.  Summer is always summer I suppose…but it’s not the same now.

I remember my first summer in America.  I was 9 years old, and we went to Disney World.  I got Mickey and Minnie’s autographs, met my favorite Disney Princesses, rode teacups and roller-coasters that I was tall enough for, and I was not in the least bit concerned about wasting time or money.

This summer, right when it began, I went to Disney World again.  This time, I was 21 years old, and my eldest niece was 9.  I remember the day she was born, and suddenly there we were at the happiest place on earth, where I too made memories as a 9-year-old.  It was mind-blowing to say the very least.  I didn’t know time could be so fast.

Instead of buying endless rounds of cotton candy and souvenirs, I opted for eating the kids’ leftovers and buying a single postcard.  And instead of needing to hold someone’s hand while walking around the parks, I was the one whose hands were clutched tightly by one or all three of my nieces.  Instead of waiting in line for the Disney Princesses, I wanted to wait in line for the Disney Princes… I mean, Gaston and Prince Eric were kind of nice to look at.  Ten years from now my family will be at Disney again, and I bet my nieces will have moved on to the Princes too.

Our day at Magic Kingdom this year turned out to be a magically bittersweet day for me.  We watched the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle (only the most iconic symbol for Disney World there is) and I cried the entire show and then some.  I stood in a crowd of thousands, with my youngest niece in my arms, my entire family around us, and a real-life fairytale ending in front of my eyes.

My eyes were waterfalls for a number of reasons.  I wasn’t 9 years old anymore.  I just came back from Sevilla, Spain, where I spent the last 5 months gallivanting with new friends and living my dream of doing nothing but traveling, writing, jumping off cliffs, spending time in the sun, and meeting people from every walk of life.  I’m almost two years into my twenties.  I’m an aunt.  I’m entering my senior year of college.  I’m finding the version of myself that I want to be.  I’m looking into what will be my career and full-time job.  It felt like the culmination of my life as a girl and the beginning of life as a woman.  And it hit me like a firework.  It’s time to grow up.

And so began the beginning of summers for grown-ups.

I’m working in New York City and also from home.  My weekdays consist of work and routines instead of sitting by the pool with my friends like we did back in the summer for kids.  No more trips to theme parks or concerts or beaches.  Every weekend is packed with plans because that’s the only time anyone has time.  My alarm goes off at 6:30 am–something I thought was unthinkable in the summertime.

It kind of hurts and feels weird and makes me tired, and nothing’s worse than associating those negative things with Summer.  But I will not let change get the best of me for there is always happy hour, weekend trips and adventures, backyard BBQs, bonfires, and always always always a way to have too much fun.

Summer is for grown-ups too.

A night in New York City

Some pictures from Friday night in New York City with my family:

IMG_7772 IMG_7775 IMG_7784 IMG_7785 IMG_7809 IMG_7841 IMG_7843

Day 17: Norwegian Culture

One of the days I learned the most was this one.  I got to go to one of Ninna’s family parties to celebrate her cousin’s Konfirmasjon (aka Confirmation), and it was such a great experience.  I consider myself very lucky to have been welcomed into someone’s home and personal event.

The confirmation was (from what I understood) very similar, if not the same, as the religious Confirmations that my friends had here in America.  We did not attend the service at the church, but I still got a deep glimpse of their traditions.  And a lot of delicious, fresh food was involved so I also lucked out in that sense.

First of all, the house we went to was beautiful.  Huge and modern; large windows; lots of wood; and very high ceilings on the main floor.  Second, the food was YUMMMMY.  There was a very aesthetically pleasing platter of smoked salmon that made it look delicious, but I was not a big fan of the salmon.  I don’t like raw fish or sushi.  But it is one of Norway’s best and most expensive foods so I couldn’t not try it.  There was an assortment of other meats, a very sweet fruit salad, a pasta salad, and several other dishes that I can’t remember.  And I swear I took pictures but for some crazy reason, I can’t find them.  It’s making me very sad.

There were also some delicious desserts that were homemade and baked by Ninna’s little cousins, who are barely ten years old.  I remember a chocolate/mocha type of cake, cookies, another cake (I want to say it was strawberry flavored), and other treats.  And now it’s making me very sad that I can’t remember all the desserts that were served.

The Konfirmasjon celebrant was wearing a “Bunad” which is what they call their traditional dresses worn on special occasions such as this, and May 17th, Norway’s independence day.  The dresses represent where you are from; Ninna wore a green one with certain pins and designs that represented where her family came from, while her cousin wore a red one with different pins and designs that celebrated her family’s origin.  I can describe the dresses as very traditional (as in 18th century, early American colonization times) and similar to pilgrim clothing.  

What I liked best was seeing how proud they were of their culture and their dresses.  In America today, it would be humorous for somebody to wear Bunads, but in Norway it was an honor and an exciting opportunity.  

Overall, I think this day was very insightful.  I talked to all of the people in Ninna’s family–there were about thirty people (more or less) at the party.  They were all such friendly, welcoming, people.  It was very funny to try and talk to the younger kids because they were shy to speak English.  In Norway, English is taught in all schools and everyone knows how, but they hardly ever speak it, so all of the parents at the party were glad to have their kids practice their English speaking skills with me.

I wasn’t surprised with how open everyone was.  I was so glad that they were.  And I would like to assume that they were so curious about me because I was so curious about them; that they were just reciprocating the vibes of interest I was giving.

With this I want to point out one of my very favorite things about travel, specifically to foreign countries.  It will always be a challenge to go to a country you are unfamiliar with.  It will always be a test when you find yourself facing a language barrier.  And it will never be easy to suddenly be thrown into a culture that you can’t immediately identify with.

But isn’t that where you find the beauty of learning?  Learning takes place much stronger outside of the classroom, in my opinion.  Experience is where it’s at.  To be engaged completely, mind and body, in a situation is the quickest way to learn.  And travel is the best way to do that.

People are always complaining of boredom.  Stress.  Confusion.  But it is so simple if they would just open their eyes to see the possibilities that exist in opening the door where travel is knocking.

Step out of your boundaries.  Discover the vastness of everything.  There are so many places to see.  So many languages to be exposed to.  So many foods to try.  So many traditions to experience.  And so many lives to encounter.

And yet everyone is still complaining.  We always want more.  “More” is out there.  Buy a plane ticket and you will see.

[I will attempt to find photos from this day, but for some reason they don’t exist on my computer right now.  Hopefully an update by tomorrow!]

Embrace the Debate! #hofdebate 2012

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Second Presidential Debate between President Obama and Governor Romney at my school, Hofstra University.  I was involved with the Debate prior to the actual event, and it was one of the best, most unique experiences I’ve ever had.

   

Over the summer, I applied to be a volunteer and I got a position as an usher at the event.  I have to say that I thought this was the position that got students the best of both worlds because it was one of the few that gave us the chance to be involved but also watch the Debate live.  Students who did not volunteer were able to enter a lottery where tickets would be distributed randomly–the total number that went to students ended up being over 300 I believe.

There were several positions for student volunteers.  Some students got to work with news networks while they were on campus (like CNN, MSNBC, FOX, etc.), in the Media Filing Center, in the Credentialing Center, or as security, just to name a few.

The hype on campus this whole semester has been so evident, and during the days leading up to the Debate, it was at an all time high.  Everyone was so excited and exhibiting Hofstra pride like I had never seen before.  People began needing credentials to be on campus, Secret Service could be found everywhere, various news stations made their way onto campus to interview the community and broadcast on site, and an MSNBC stage was even set up right outside the Student Center.  So much was happening! All. The. Time.

 

The day before and the day of the Debate, I was one of the 11 lucky people to be part of the dress rehearsal process.  Eight of us were chosen to be stand-ins for the town hall members (the Debate was a town hall style debate), and the other three students were stand-ins for the two candidates, Obama and Romney, and the moderator, Candy Crowley.

When we showed up for the first dress rehearsal on Monday, we were there from 9-4pm.  We were testing out the microphones and the production crew was setting up the cameras and checking out the camera angles, lighting, positioning, sound, and every other detail you can think of.

The two campaigns also came onto the stage to take care of details.  Most interesting to me was the depth of planning that took place.  They looked at everything including how loud of a sound the water glasses would make when placed on the table, how many steps it took to get to the center of the floor, how many feet away the candidates should stand from the town hall members, what exact direction to face (or not face) to get the best camera angles, and where to place the microphones when not speaking.  It was mind-blowing to watch a team of people work together and detail every step of the process.  So incredible to have been able to watch it too.

The day of the debate, Tuesday October 16th, we were asked to come in for dress rehearsal again.  We did similar testings this time, and I got to play the role of the First Lady, Michelle Obama during a segment of the practice.  I sat in her reserved seat, and practiced where she would walk in from and at what moment she would stand up, etc.

Perhaps the most exciting moment of the day was when the producer from the Commission on Presidential Debates, Marty Slutsky, asked us to be there for walk-throughs with the candidates.  We were so excited to be part of that, and we took the quickest lunch break possible to make sure we came back to set on time, and I can actually remember the feeling of my palms sweating from nervousness and excitement.

The President was to arrive on the set at 1:30pm to practice and run through.  We were sitting in the town hall seats on stage from 12:45, just waiting to see him walk in the door.  At around 1:22, Marty approached us and told us that the Secret Service did not want us in the room during candidate practice.  We did everything we could to convince him we wouldn’t make a sound or even breathe unless we were requested to do so.  The Secret Service didn’t budge on their decision and we were sent up to a conference room in the skyboxes of the arena to wait for them to finish.  It was a sad, sad room.  Full of complaints and very upset students who were a mere 8 minutes away from meeting the president of the United States.

After wallowing in our sad fate for a few hours, we went back to the arena for 4pm call time to be trained in our ushering services.  Before we knew it, guests began arriving in busloads (they went through security at the Marriott Hotel down the street and were bussed to the arena).  Doors opened promptly at 7 and suddenly the hall was filled with politicians, students, campaign members, and many people of importance.

  

(Above is a funny photo of a man who brought a Big Bird stuffed animal inside the arena.  Secret Service must have missed that one!)

Every moment after about 8 pm was so surreal for me.  I was in a room of thousands, with some of the most important and influential people in this country, and I could hardly stand still waiting for the event to start.  Everything was executed exactly at the right second.  The president of Hofstra University gave a speech, the moderator was introduced, and every person in the room gave their undivided attention to whoever was speaking.

When the candidates walked on stage, at about exactly 9:00:50, I could hardly believe I was sharing a room with them.  When I heard their voices, it hit me that I was witnessing a historical moment.  It was really indescribable, and it still is today.  I will always feel blessed to have been a part of this event.  Not many people can say they have attended a U.S. Presidential Debate, but even less people can say they prepared the stage, equipment, and pre-production details for the presidential candidates.

I’ve always been proud to be a Hofstra University student, but that night especially.  #rollpride