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

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

This was one of the letters:

To my little one,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And most importantly, never doubt that you are loved.

Love always,

Auntie

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grATTITUDE

There are 321 days until my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. BUT I think we should start celebrating early.  By early I mean every single day.

I never understood why there was only one day a year on which people give thanks.  Every Thanksgiving (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Thanksgiving) people reflect on their blessings, give thanks to their loved ones, post lengthy Facebook statuses, etc.  I wish that we did these things every day (except maybe not the Facebook statuses).

Why not start celebrating Thanksgiving every day?  Not necessarily with a huge turkey dinner and friends and family around the dinner table, but maybe with a minute or two of reflection on what you appreciate about each day.

This year, I started keeping a gratitude journal.  Every day, I write down 3 things I am grateful for, plus a short blog entry about a positive experience I had within the last 24 hours.  At night when I go to bed I sit down for a few minutes and one page in my small journal, and it’s starting to become my favorite part of the day.  When we build these habits of looking for the positives in our day, the result is grATTITUDE.

Grattitude is a permanent attitude that we, as individuals, can develop by choosing to celebrate Thanksgiving every day instead of once a year.

Being thankful is a lifestyle and an attitude, not a a once-a-year celebration.  We owe it to ourselves, and sometimes each other, to express our thanks.  So join me and give thanks every single day.  Be happy to be alive.  Tell people that they matter to you.  And highlight the positives you encounter throughout your day.

Motivate me Monday

Guess what?

I’ve made a very bold decision.

To cross #65 off of my bucket list.

Run a marathon.

AAAHHHH.

Yeah I’m nervous.  And because I know myself too well and I want to do this the right way and take my time in doing so, I’m giving myself two years to reach this goal.  Yes, YEARS.  A marathon is 26.2 miles.  So by the end of 2015, I will have run a marathon.  At least that’s the goal.  If it doesn’t happen or as long as I am still working towards it by then, I think I’ll be okay.

I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading about running marathons and the training the comes with it, and what I’ve taken away from all of it is that this will be a long, hard process that I’m going to need to take seriously.  And I think I need something like that in my life right now.  A project, if you will.  I’m going to start by training for a 5k, then a 10k, a half marathon, and finally a marathon.  To start, I’m going to use Cool Running’s The Couch-to-5K Running Plan that I heard about a few years ago.

I started today, and I feel great about it.  About halfway through the workout, I felt amazing.  I was like what is this 60/90 second running/walking alternation?!  I could run that marathon right now!  And then I lol’d because that was a sick joke.  But it has never felt better to set such a huge goal for myself, and after just the first day of working toward it just a little, it already feels rewarding.

Here’s the thing about setting goals.  Slowly getting closer to achieving them is an incredible feeling.  Running (literally, in my case) towards what you want gets your life going.  And that’s how it should be.

After running I had a really super good awesome wonderful meditation.  I remember when I first started meditating (I don’t really actually know if I’m really meditating but that’s what I call it…) aka thinking only positive things for 2-10 minutes and doing some deep breathing.  Is that meditating…?  Cause that’s what I’ve been telling people that I do every morning.

ANYWAY.  When I first started, I remember thinking like 4 positive things and I thought it had been 2 minutes already but it was really only about 15 seconds… This morning I couldn’t stop thinking of all the good things.

I just had an awesome run.  I feel really good.  I’m out of breath in a good way.
I have an awesome family, boyfriend, friends, and there are good people in the world who are working to make it better.  Including me.
I get to see my nieces today.  They’re going to change the world in a decade or so.
I’ve been to more places than most people have in their lives.  I’ve seen countless sunsets.
The sky is blue today.
I am blessed, grateful, happy, deserving.

Literally I couldn’t stop.  And then my phone went off and I remembered that I have work to do.  But I stopped and also remembered that life is too good to me.  And it could be for everyone.

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer

Undress the Stress: Day 17

Third time’s a charm, guys.

NO stress today.  I realized there’s a difference between having the stress, and feeeeeeling the stress.

I know that I have stress.  That’s an absolute fact.  I worry about schoolwork, money, my loved ones, the future, just to name a few.  I’m under pressure to meet deadlines and be on time.  There are expectations held of me by my mom, my boss, my professors, etc.

We are people, and we all have stress.  However, I think the tables turn when you ask yourself whether or not you feel the stress.  Does it affect your life?  Does it change your behavior?  If so, I think some reevaluating is needed.

Recognize that there is no reason to overwhelm yourself.  Having stress is not the part of the equation that you can control.  The part that you have a say in is the most important: whether or not you need to feel the stress.

In no way am I suggesting that responsibilities should be avoided or ignored because they shouldn’t.  All I’m saying is that stress is overrated.  All it takes to alleviate it is a deep breath and a new perspective.  #5 on this list of Ways to Add More Life to Your Years is “Make your gratitude list longer than your worry list.”

Of course there are days where I feel overwhelmed.  Days 1-14 were practically overflowing with worry.  But in those days I’ve realized that there are so many more moments throughout that I have felt grateful than stressed.

I once read about a 3:1 positive to negative emotion theory by Barbara Frederickson, a psychology professor and author.  She said that for every (1) negative emotion, feeling or experience a person has, there should be an ideal of (3) positive ones experienced along with it in order to naturally achieve a level or feeling of positivity.

We spend more time worrying about the single negative emotion than we do celebrating the positive ones.  It is a fact that negative emotions have greater impacts on people than positive ones.  You never forget when someone makes you feel bad, but the shared moment of positive energy is quick to pass by.  This needs to change.

At the end of the day, or even better during a moment of stress, hit the pause button for a moment.  Look back on your day and recall three positive moments.  Whether it’s the nice weather, a good hair day, or when someone paid you a compliment, allow every positive to drown out the negativity that a stressor brings.

You do not need to feel the extremity of stress in order to recognize it and take care of it.

Here are three lovely images that I hope get that positivity flowing.

The open road.

Frrrozen hot chocolate from Serendipity.

A puppy!

Undress the Stress: Day 2

Day 2 was less stressful than Day 1, just like I thought it would be.  Perhaps it was my attitude that had to do with it too.

  • Midterm! I had a midterm today so I suppose that added extra stress.  What’s weird is that I felt prepared and I knew what to expect from the test, but I kept underestimating how much I knew, and that got me nervous and unsure.  After the test, I realized that I was right and that I had absolutely nothing to worry about because I aced it.
  • Study abroad.  So there’s this form that needs to be completed by my Financial Aid Advisor, but she can’t fill it out until my program (API) sends me an official invoice with the cost breakdown of the program.  Yesterday API said they would e-mail it to me today.  Today API said they would e-mail it to me by the end of the week.  The deadline is SOON and I need that e-mail! So naturally I was very irritated.  But I got over that quickly because like I learned from yesterday–totally out of my hands.
  • A more personal stress also arose today.  Lately I just feel distant.  And that word makes sense in discussion of a long-distance relationship.  All I wanted to do was express that, but somehow it turned into an argument, still unresolved.  Which also stresses me out because I don’t want to go to sleep upset.  There’s no one to blame here but miscommunication, and a little lack of.  But I took a breath, and allowed my dreams to consume me.

Since I would never want to end any of these entries with a negative note, there were lots of good things that happened today.  I finally finished one of the forms and handed it in at the study abroad office.  It felt AMAZING considering I started the process for that form in September.

Learned yet another lesson today.  I think that it would help not just me but everyone, to start looking at things in retrospect.  Take for example the way I stressed out about my midterm.  I knew I was prepared and I knew that I shouldn’t be worried but for some reason I still was.  Well, if I looked at that situation in the way that I look at it now, I don’t think I would have been as stressed.

To look at things with a retrospective attitude would change everything.  Because in the end, everything is fine.  If, instead of expecting the worst in moments, knowing that once the moment passes, it’s over.  That way, there would be less reason to worry and stress.  Imagine how much stress from anticipation we could relieve if we only looked at the situation with a different perspective.  Sounds like a good plan to me.

And just to end on the most positive note I can think of, here are two inspiring quotes e-mailed to me this morning:

AND a picture of this morning’s sunrise:

From me to you

While on my European travels earlier this summer, I made a list of travel tips.  At the the end of, or throughout each day, my mom and I would talk about what we could have done better to save time, money, or energy.  I also started incorporating them into my blogs that I was writing while on the trip.

Here are some general traveling tips that I listed during my vacation.  Hope you find them helpful!

  • Never assume the worst in any situation.  Missing a train or a ticket is not the worst that can happen.
  • Bring the right volt chargers and electric converters.  I blew out my hair dryer on my first day in Rome because I didn’t do any research on what was compatible.
  • Try everything.  It’s always a nice surprise and you might just find yourself enjoying something you would have never expected to.
  • Drink lots of water.  Bring a reusable water bottle and carry it around instead of paying for overpriced plastic water bottles.  In Rome, there are public water fountains everywhere.
  • The further away from attractions/landmarks, the cheaper the souvenirs.  There’s a vendor that sells scarves for 50 cents a few blocks away from St. Peter’s Square in Rome.  Right outside the Square, they sell them for up to €15.
  • Learn some of the language.  I know this is an obvious one, but it truly helps to know communication phrases to ask for directions and whatnot.
  • Explore.  There is so much to see no matter where you are, and hidden city gems are the best to stumble upon.  There are a million recommended places in brochures and magazines, but if you adventure outside of the itinerary and take some time for a stroll, I guarantee you will find somewhere to love.
  • Plan with the weather.  Check forecasts frequently and try to plan everything from your outfit to your week.  Visit museums and indoor places on rainy days, pack an umbrella, bring a rain coat, etc.
  • Do your research.  I hate planning, but if I’m going to travel somewhere, I want to know everything about everything.  I need to know how tours work, where the best place to catch the sunset is, and what days each museum is open.  We almost bought separate tickets for the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill–the ticket gets you into all three.
  • Don’t rush.  I guess this is also a piece of general advice, but how can you expect to enjoy a moment when you’re just waiting to get it over with?
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for directions.  It’s probably easier to get through a little bit of a language barrier than to try and navigate your way through a city you’re not familiar with.
  • Purchase everything you can ahead of time.  Train tickets in particular.  In retrospect, it would have been so much easier to have everything in advance.  Museum tickets, train tickets, print-out vouchers, etc.
  • PACK WISELY.  I met a travel agent on a train to Sorrento, and she was traveling with her husband, both of them lugging around two large suitcases EACH while my mom and I were sharing one suitcase.  Not the smartest travel agent out there.
  • Try everything on the menu.  It’s hard to resist your favorite meal from each menu, but trying different ones might just get you to a new favorite.
  • Travel in good company.  This one is certainly self explanatory.  I am always lucky enough to be surrounded by great people.
  • Take the time to take a good picture.  Once a moment is over, it might not come again.  So take your time if there’s a certain photo you want to catch, or a certain landmark you want to photograph at a specific time of day or night.  When you go home and look through your pictures, you may regret the moment you gave up on that image.
  • Never forget the beauty of travel.  For me, traveling is the best way to clear the mind, rest the soul, and learn a little bit about who I am when I’m alone.  It reminds me of all the good in the world, and how lucky am I to see it so clearly–many people don’t see it at all.  Traveling in solitude gives me a high.  It leaves me with a memory, and fills me with a gratefulness so deep and sincere that I have never even thought about explaining it.  Every adventure is a different one, but the beauty in each should never be ignored.

Day 4: Termini / Catacombs / Pantheon / Rainbows!

Another very relaxed day today. 

We had to take the bus to the Termini, Rome’s main public transportation hub, and purchase our 5 day Eurorail pass. For the next few days we’ll be traveling to Sorrento, Florence, Capri, Pisa, and Venice!

After waiting the hour on line to purchase the tickets, we spent another 15 minutes actually buying them, making the reservations, and confirming the trips. Tip: The Eurorail is worth it if you’re not into delays. You can make your reservations on the spot, and take the fast track trains to everywhere you are going. There are Saver prices, and student discounts with International Student Identification Cards (ISIC). You can get an ISIC from STA Travel. Tip: There is also something called the Roma Pass, which gets you in free to the first two museums you visit, free public transportation use, etc. I didn’t use it, but I wish I did because it seems to be accepted in the top destinations.

Next was the Catacombe Domitilla (aka the Catacombs)! It was pretty scary, although the tour was a little too short and you are required to go on a tour. Imagine the law suits that would happen if people were allowed to explore down there without a guide! I had a conversation with the elderly men in front of me (I was the LAST person on the tour. I was constantly checking my back and being fearful I would lose my group!) about what would happen if the power went out…More law suits! No pictures allowed but I did sneak this one because I didn’t see the “No Photo” sign until after the tour ended.
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After the Catacombs we took a bus back to the Pantheon because we never got to go inside it the other day. The structure’s dome is absolutely priceless to see in person. Being inside a building so beautiful, historic, and holy, while at the same time looking up at the sky is a unique opportunity.

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Near the Pantheon are cheap outdoor restaurants (on the side streets, not in the square) so we sat down for some pasta. After finishing my €5 plate of lasagna, I honestly debated ordering another one.

We sat for a while and then walked around to shop for a long time. The clothes, shoes, bags, and accessories here are to die for–ladies, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

While walking the streets we watched an artist do her work. She was stationed near the Trevi Fountain, in front of a McDonald’s off of via del Corso. She used nothing but spray paint, a few pieces of cardboard, and two stencils to create her colorful, Italian masterpiece of the Colosseum–all in under 5 minutes! Someone bought the piece for €10 as soon as she finished it.

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Finally we walked to a bus stop near Piazza Venezia to catch a bus home before the sunset and predicted rainstorm. As we were walking it started drizzling and we thought to ourselves, “Perfect timing!” We couldn’t have been more correct because as we crossed the street, we looked up to see a perfect rainbow above the Altare della Patria.

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As if the days here haven’t been perfect enough, I got to see a rainbow and walk around Rome during a quick sunshower.

It’s moments like these when I really see what people mean when they tell me I’m lucky. But in reality, it’s not luck. It’s perspective. So many people would have been upset when it started to rain, but I appreciated the sunshower that the weathermen predicted anyway. Looking up to see the rainbow was just a reward for not looking down while it rained like everyone else around me was.

This just goes to show, sometimes you don’t need an umbrella in the rain.