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. 

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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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Reeeeewind…

I thiiiiink that this might be a very lengthy post…but I always say that and then get tired of typing and stop after 5 minutes.  So I’m sorry in advance if that happens.

WELL.  It’s been an extremely busy crazy awesome happy two weeks since I have posted.

First and foremost, I discovered this super adorbs Twitter account called Doctor Pug (@DoctorPug).
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Like come on, isn’t that the cutiest thing ever?!  It makes me so happy and I would love to hang out with the pug or person who tweets as Dr. Pug.

ALSO.  I discovered a show on Animal Planet called “Too Cute: Fluffy Puppy Party”.  I never watch TV but I was stuck on the couch for a Too Cute marathon for a whole day.  Thanks, Animal Planet.

Okay, now that that’s out of my system.

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I moved into my house at school with the best roomiez a girl could ask for!!  They love bacon, are happy, laugh a lot, like drinking beer and wine, enjoy Taco Tuesday and Sunday family dinners, and most importantly they tolerate my weirdness and loud music.  It felt like home the second I walked in, and it makes me giddy inside when I go to sleep that I’m surrounded by a lot of love and happiness.

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Pictured above is Wiener and Banana (the best duo you will ever know) in their prime; having beer and playing video games within the first few hours of reuniting after 9 months apart.

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For the last three years I have been a Hofstra Welcome Week Leader, and this year was no different.  I absolutely adored the group of students that were assigned to me.  As I sat them in a circle I introduced myself and watched them to do the same, it took me back to 2010 when I was in their shoes.  I looked at all of them and found that the last three years of college have changed me incredibly.  I mean, the age difference between an 18 year old and a 21 year old is not very big, but the life experience that college has introduced to me is sort of mind blowing in retrospect.

It was a very nostalgic Welcome Week.  It kind of hurts to be a senior while participating and working on events and programs planned for freshmen.  And sometimes I think I have more school pride than a normal person should.

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But at least I got to lead a trip to Radio City Music Hall (and I didn’t lose any students!) for a stage door tour.  We met a rockette and also got private tours of the halls and stages at Lincoln Center.  Incredible!

During Welcome Week, I was also asked to speak at a study abroad panel for new students interested in studying abroad, and I had what I like to call the “study abroad glow” happening for at least a week after those two study abroad sessions.  There is nothing I love more than answering questions about Spain, study abroad, API, or my time abroad.

It’s been a weird thing adjusting back into life at school and not in Spain.  It’s crazy to understand if you’ve never been through something similar to study abroad because it seems a little overdramatic when I talk about the transition home, but it’s so real and so difficult.  I remember reading about reverse culture shock and blah blah blah before leaving for Spain, and I kind of skimmed through that material, but now it’s hitting me that it really exists, and it’s not easy.

I love life at home and here at school, but the love I have for my life in Sevilla is of another kind.  And I think that’s okay.

Throwback Tuesday:

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I have a feeling this semester will be tough in several ways but I’m ready for it.

Things I’ve done right in college so far

1.  Studied Abroad
No doubt about it–my favorite semester.  Studying abroad made me a happier, more cultured, independent student.  I don’t understand why such a small percent of students study abroad.  According to this article on Chronicle.com: only about 38% studied abroad during the summer, and 13% studied abroad for eight weeks or less during the academic year.  Fewer than 4% of students spent the entire academic year abroad.

Studying abroad is life-changing, and it’s something I will always advocate.  It is not an opportunity that any student should ever pass up.

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2.  Volunteered
Volunteering on and off campus is rewarding and eye-opening.  My volunteer trips have introduced me to some really great, generous, happy people.  The opportunities also open doors; last year I volunteered for the Commission on Presidential Debates leading up to and during the second 2012 Presidential Debate hosted at Hofstra University, and  I got to meet and spend time with the producer of the debates, meet important politicians, and see what it’s like behind the scenes during preparation for such a historic national event.  Volunteering is 100% positive for every party involved, and it puts some good energy back into the vicious cycle of a world that is focused on making millions and slaving their lives away just to buy things that only last a year or two. /endrant

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3.  Found a mentor
As a sophomore, I had a professor who took interest in my writing and asked me to share my papers for her to potentially use in her next textbook.  She also proposed that I work with her on my senior research project and thesis.  Two years later, we are still in touch, I still take her classes, ask her for career/academic advice, and this year we will be working on my thesis together.  My professor turned into my mentor, advisor, and I hope she’s ready to deal with my inevitable freak-outs when the time comes to graduate and enter the real world.

4.  Befriended people with the same major
Having friends in all of my classes, being familiar with all of the faces, attending events together, helping each other with schedules, professors, always being updated on missed meetings or classes, etc.  It just makes everything easier.

5.  Befriended people with different majors
I’m a mass media major involved in a medical club–doesn’t seem logical does it?  But because my good friend is pre-med, and the club needed a PR chair, I found myself loving the organization and learning about things that I would hate to take a class on.  I’m more involved on campus and with a great variety of interests.

6.  Befriended the ladies at Omelette Pan
I mean, they give me extra cheese and extra bacon.  I would consider that having the honor of calling the OP ladies my friends, is nothing but a great life accomplishment.

7.  Befriended international students
I’ve traveled to Norway and Amsterdam to visit local friends who I met at Hofstra, and I know I have a place to stay if I ever go to Norway, Amsterdam, Paris, London, Brazil, Russia, Australia or New Zealand.  More than just having places around the world to visit, these friends are unique and there are so many worldly things to learn from them.  Oh, and might I mention that maybe (just maybe) befriending international students will lead to meeting a perfect boyfriend.

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8.  Became a Pride Guide
I couldn’t be more proud to be proud of my school, and being a pride guide is how I exercise bragging rights about my school.  I’m able to meet prospective students and encourage them to come to Hofstra.  I have a network of student leaders and fellow pride guides, and I have only positive things to say about my school.

9.  Had an assigned random roommate
Freshman year was a year of firsts, including living with a stranger.  Roommates are one of the biggest stress factors for freshmen, and it was no different for me.  But it turns out I had the best roommate ever, and we got along swimmingly.  We were totally opposite and perfectly the same in just the right areas, and living with her was one of my favorite things about freshman year.

10.  Worked an on campus job
Even with an on campus job, I remained a stereotypical broke college student, BUT at least I was a little less broke than I would have been without it.  Working for a department on campus also allowed me to work on my time management skills, learn more about my school and how it functions, add to my resume, and meet higher-ups, directors, and upperclass students, and make new friends–all while receiving a steady paycheck.

11.  Loved the dorms
I never understood the students who hated dorms.  They’re a place to live, sleep, party, make lifelong friends, and enjoy college.  Where else could my floormates and I have shaving creamed our buddy when he passed out after a long night of drinking?  And where else could we have had a sleepover in the hallway with nothing but a bag of Cheetos?  Probably not many places.  So take advantage of college dorms; love them, and have fun.  Because it will house some of your favorite memories, and once you leave them, you will find yourself missing the atmosphere.

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12.  Made a fool of myself
I once threw up in a pizza box before we could eat the pizza.  Sometimes, that’s what college is for.

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Meaning in Money

Last week in my pop culture class, we watched a documentary about production workers in China who made bead necklaces for Mardi Gras. It was called Mardi Gras: Made in China.

Basically, it exposed the working conditions of Chinese factory workers and their stories. Girls who did not get an education but instead go to find work in factories to send money back home to their families. Color-dyed hands and arms, burnt fingers, and other work-related injuries. Fast-paced and of high expectations in production, the work that is done to make Mardi Gras beads goes unnoticed.

The filmmaker would ask people at Mardi Gras where the beads come from, and most of them don’t know, but that is hardly the problem. The problem is that we–America as a whole–live in a culture where we spend money on and buy things that we use for a significantly short period of time. Meanwhile, workers in China work fifteen hour days of manual labor to make the Mardi Gras beads that get left behind on the streets of New Orleans every year, easily wasted and trashed.

They make $62 per month, doing the same thing every single day, 6 days a week, and get just a few days a year off to go home and see their families. During the film, my professor said that the factory reminds him of prison camps–small sleeping quarters, lines and formations, strict rules, silence.

At the end of the film, I made a decision to be even more conscious of my spending habits.

Let the things you buy mean something to you for more than a short moment. Let it last.

Don’t buy Mardi Gras beads to wear for the night, and then throw them away. Buy something that will last a little longer.

When the factory workers saw that people in America got beads by taking their tops off at Mardi Gras, they were mortified. They had no idea that that is what their full-time work boils down to: drunk people throwing beads at each other.

So next time–actually, every time–you make a purchase, ask yourself where this product/service came from. Ask yourself if it is meaningful and most importantly, how long it will be meaningful for.

I’m already a conscious consumer. I reuse until I can’t reuse anymore. I rarely purchase water bottles or one-time use products. But after seeing this documentary, I’m an even stronger believer in a conscious consumer culture. We need to be smarter about money. Save some, share some.

Undress the Stress: Days 37 & 38

I reached a stress level too high for my liking this past Wednesday.

So I had my appointment at the Spanish Consulate in NYC at 10:15 am, and I planned to take the 7:50 am shuttle from my school to the train station, but guess what time I woke up.  7:50!!!!!!!  It was horrendous.  The shuttle only leaves every hour on weekdays and all of my travel plans were contingent on each other that morning, so missing the first mode of transportation was extremely problematic.

I called and texted every person I know at Hofstra who has a car and found a ride to the train station and made it to the consulate at 10:13.  Talk about an adrenaline rush.  I jumped out of bed, showered in record time, and of course when I left my building I left my paperwork in my room…ROOKIE MOVE.  And THEN when I went to go back up, the elevator took forever and when it finally came, there were about 3 floors pressed but no one was in it.  Can you say rude?  On top of that, when I went to take the elevator back down, it stopped on 3 floors.  It was not my favorite morning of all time.

After making it to the consulate after the subway being delayed twice on my way, I breathed the heaviest sigh of relief of my life.  If I missed this appointment, there’s a good chance I would not be going abroad next semester.  I booked this appointment in October and it was the earliest time they had at that point.  I can’t imagine when their soonest opening is now that it’s the holidays.

Even when I knew that I was going to be on time, I was still freaking out because I couldn’t believe that I slept through my alarm for the first time on the most important day of the whole semester.  Whew.

Shout-out to the people of the Spanish Consulate for being so nice and helpful!  They were very encouraging of the study abroad experience and the Spanish culture.  So much more excited now.

Once I got back to campus and carried on with the rest of my day as usual, everything went well.  For the second time, I volunteered for the Midnight Run and had an awesome  but slightly stressful experience.  I was assigned to hand out men’s clothing (including dress shirts, polos, sweaters, sweatshirts and fleeces).  We received so much in donations this semester that I had about seven or eight boxes filled with men’s clothing.  And when there are four or five homeless men standing around you trying to reach in the boxes (not allowed) and asking for different sizes and clothing styles, it’s very stressful.

Beyond that though, the entire evening was wonderful and I will be posting about it in the next few days.

Here are some photos of my morning in the city, and of my new friend Al.  He’s homeless, but he’s happy.  Also a photo of what my hair looked like when I took my hat off.

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Day 38 was a lot less stressed than 37.

I had class from 9:35-11 and also had a presentation in my sociology class at 12:45 but I kind of didn’t prepare at all.  So at 11 I sprinted to the computer lab and wrote the presentation right before class.  I’m not really a procrastinator and I knew about this presentation in September, but I just got carried away this week that I didn’t plan accordingly at all.  Everyone clapped at the end so that’s a good sign right?  Right.

That was about my only stress today, and I realized that I work well under pressure.  I was so intensely working on that presentation for such a short amount of time.  I impressed myself with my productivity.

What I did learn today is that maybe some people enjoy stress, or some versions of it.  I’ve always had a thing for adrenaline rushes and I didn’t hate being under all that pressure while working on my presentation at the last minute.  And I worked well under the pressure.

I know stress isn’t desirable, but I think that it isn’t desirable when it’s an actual heavy burden.  If it’s time pressure or being in a rush, it’s so temporary that when it’s finally over, it might have felt more like a rush than stress.

I guess it depends on perspective and in that case, what else is new?

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This has nothing to do with anything, but this beauty came in the mail today:

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I bought it for my friend Ky for being such a wonderful friend and human being.  I sure hope she doesn’t read this post.

It says “Maybe the best hasn’t happened yet”.

If you’re interested in purchasing one, check out this blog post by Tristan Prettyman.  And if you enjoy good music, have a listen to her tunes.