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.

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수능! 화이팅! Korean SAT Day!

Today is Suneung Day in Korea, aka the day where high school seniors take the Korean equivalent of SATs. Many say that this test decides their life.

After working in the public school system in South Korea for the last 8+ months, I’ve seen the immense amount of pressures that Korean students face on a daily basis. In America, the SAT is a test that students take seriously and a test that has a significant power in the college application process. However, American students can take the test multiple times, on multiple test dates, and with the option to use your highest score.

Here in Korea, this Suneung test happens ONCE every year, on the 2nd Thursday of November, from 8 am to 6 pm. The government implements a number of policies on this day, such as later opening hours for schools, stores, and businesses, and special traffic controls and systems. Even airplanes are prohibited from taking off or landing during the English listening comprehension section of the exam. Police on motorbikes and some taxis are dispatched in and around test sites, and are available to give students rides if they are running late. Public transportation or those who are going to test sites are also given priority on the roads.

A day or two before the exam, students find out their test locations, usually another high school or their same high school. On the day of, school gates close at 8:10 am. Parents, family members, and younger classmates greet the test-takers with candy, rice cakes, snacks, posters and signs of support. Suneung day is a big day not only for the test-takers themselves but also for their families. In my opinion, many Korean parents put too much pressure on their kids to do well in school, and as a result the pressure on the students to do well on this one test is pretty unbelievable. For some, it is literally life or death. Each year, suicide is committed by high school seniors who feel too much pressure before taking the test, or feel inadequate after they receive their results.

Just thinking about how much pressure Korean students must feel makes my eyes water. It’s not wrong or bad to feel pressure to do well, because it’s natural. And it’s not wrong or bad for parents to expect good academic results from their sons or daughters, because they work hard to provide that education. And it’s definitely not wrong to believe that education is a fundamental key to success in this world, because it is. But Korea’s way of filling their youth’s lives from age 10 through 18 with the belief that this single test determines your future is ineffective and cruel.

High school hours in South Korea are from approximately 7:30 am to 10-11 pm. This means, that for their 3 years of high school, they spend around 30-40% of their time in a classroom, with a pencil in hand. The rest of their time is spent sleeping, eating, and having fun, I hope. Outside of this country, the education system here is praised and the students are seen as the best and brightest. But, those who are in the education system itself seem to be desperate to get out. Working in South Korea and witnessing the hardships and pressures that students face firsthand makes me hope more and more that with time, change will come. I hope that the value Koreans put on education never goes down, but that their empathy for students goes up. I think fairness and second chances are two ideas that could take a significant amount of pressure off of students, and as a result, on the country as a whole.

Yesterday, all I could think about was how all of the high school seniors in Korea must be feeling. Stress, anxiousness, pressure, and an overwhelming overload of so many senses came to my mind, and I realized that it was only my imagination. For more than 600,000 18-year-olds in this country, it was reality. And today I am sending every single good vibe I can to each of them. 화이팅!!

Seven years and counting

Holy wow. Since 2006, every July 10th I think about life a little harder and it comes a little more into perspective. It’s the day I lost a good friend and the day the world lost a great person.

As we, the Westwood High School class of 2010, become rising college seniors, I know that Kevin Frazza is always in the back of our minds. Through everything that’s happened in the last seven years, Kevin has been there. It’s just not easy to forget being 14 years old and finding out one summer morning that your friend was murdered by his own father.

From our first day as freshmen in high school, when we first found out what it was like to be a class without him, to our last day as seniors in high school, when it hurt too much to be a class without him, he was there. All the way to our first day as freshmen at our separate colleges, and through every hardship and good day in between, Kevin was there, with each of us. Often I think about Duke University’s class of 2014 and imagine how much spirit and life Kevin could have brought to it. It breaks my heart a little, so I try not to think so hard about the possibilities and how they were taken away from him too soon.

Typically, college juniors study abroad for some time, and a few of us did; we traveled the world and experienced new cultures–something that I have no doubt Kevin would have done. Before I left to go abroad, his mom dropped a card in my mailbox with a picture of Kevin to take on my travels. He’s been everywhere now, and I feel lucky to have been there with him, but one of the most remarkable stories I can tell is about something that happened this winter, right before I left for that trip.

Someone a grade below me, who went to my high school and knew Kevin, was studying abroad in Cameroon, Africa. After lunch one day, I came home and saw a Facebook post he wrote while in Africa.

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How mind-blowing is it that six years after that shirt was created and distributed to only a handful–certainly less than 100–people from Northern New Jersey, it was found at a small market on another continent at the other end of the world? If there was a better word than mind-blowing, it would be exactly that.

It’s the little, completely unexpected reminders like this one that I love so much about life…and death.

Death is defined by someone being gone, passed away, dead. But in reality, in life, as long as someone is remembered, he or she is never gone. That’s who Kevin Frazza is, not was. He is never gone, but always remembered. He has done so much in the world by only being in it for 13 years and he has done so much for the people he knew, like me. He changed lives. And I can guarantee that anyone who was affected by his passing will be thinking about him today, on the 7th anniversary of his murder.

And isn’t that what everyone wants in life? To leave something behind and be remembered? To change something, or someone? Well, it just so happens that Kevin did all of the above. Because for the rest of our lives, Kevin will remind us how lucky we are to be here. The best thing is that, even when he was still here, that’s what he did. He was THE happiest 13-year-old kid I knew. All he wanted to do was make people laugh and smile. That’s what he was best at. It breaks my heart that the thought of him makes me more sad than it does happy. But at the end of the day I never forget how blessed I am to have known him.

Kevin puts life in perspective for me. He reminds me that life is not always fair even to those who deserve it. Rest in peace, Kev. You are among the brightest stars in my sky, even when it’s cloudy.

A 201 toast to the one and only, Kevin Frazza.

JDRF Walk for Kevin Frazza

This summer marked the 6th anniversary of my friend’s murder.  You can read that story here.

This fall marked the 7th JDRF walk that we have been involved with.  Kevin had diabetes and we couldn’t think of a better way to come together than to celebrate his life by walking and supporting the cause as a team of friends, family, classmates, teachers and community members.

Kevin died in 2006, right before our first year of high school, and we did our first walk later in that same year.  Ever since, it has become my favorite tradition and I look forward to that day all year long.  In high school, it was so successful and we got everyone we could involved.  It became an event for our entire high school and not just our grade.  Team Frazza always had the most members.

After graduation, we all went away to college but always always always made it an obligation to return home for that weekend in October to remember Kevin.  Our team decreased in number, but always increased in pride and most importantly, in love.  We have Kevin to thank for our friendships and closeness as a grade.  He brought us together–this network of genuine, good people.  I love knowing that a life so short created a bond so deep.

Kevin’s birthday is on October 16th, and the walk is always held on a Sunday at the end of October, so it’s a special month for us in many ways.  We get together the Saturday night before the walk, and there is always a birthday toast to Kevin.  He brought us together more than anyone or anything else in our lives.

This year at the walk, we celebrated Kevin’s 21st birthday with a delicious, sugar-free cake baked by his amazing mom.  We sang happy birthday and after the song ended, I kid you not, the candles blew out.  There was a shared moment of butterflies among everyone because we knew.  Happy birthday, Kev.  So glad you made the party.

If you’ve ever lost anyone, I would hope that you have people around who remind you that everything is okay.  I know I’m fortunate to have my entire high school class to run to whenever I miss Kevin.  What I’ve learned in the past six years was more than just about the death of a friend and what it feels like to lose someone who made you laugh on a daily basis.

I learned about myself and everyone else around me; how we can come together and stay that way forever.  We have been more than just a team and more than just classmates.  We’ve become a family.  It’s hard to say if this would have happened if we weren’t affected by such a tragedy so early in our lives.  But it did.  And now all we can do is share our story to remind everyone that the people you surround yourself with are the people who will get you through the most difficult times of your life.

So surround yourself with good people, and once you find them, never loosen your grip.

Grazing in the grass

Twice a week I spend a few hours babysitting.  As exhausting it is, it’s so rewarding and even more refreshing to be able to have a chance to be a kid again.  Being a 20 year old is much more demanding than I thought it would be back then.  Isn’t it ironic that we always want what we either had, or can’t have anymore?  The kids I babysit all play and pretend to be adults or big kids in high school, while I volunteer myself to play the baby in the game.  Every time we play, I tell them they shouldn’t rush growing up because you only go through it once, and after you do, it’s gone forever.