Old cities are like old paint splatters on your favorite jeans.

A new home every 4 or less months… for 4 years? It definitely gets interesting.

As I move through the world, habits and behaviors and strategies and patterns that develop in one place follow me to the next.

Some of these turn into cultivated skills, like my slowly refining budgeting abilities. I give myself a mental high five when I noticed these popping up.

Others are like permanent paint splatters on your favorite jeans, not really noticeable and artsy enough that even if somebody did notice them they’d think it was intentional. These are the ones that I blink at when they come seemingly from nowhere.

Since August 2016, there have been a lot of moves, and each place has given me something new.

From San Francisco, California (8 months), I keep

  • a reluctance to even look into a restaurant unless I was mentally prepared to drop at least $20. (I never was. I went out to eat 0 times on my own in San Francisco.)
  • the normalization of homeless people on the streets, a mindset I dislike.
  • the assumption that anybody in a grey hoodie is probably working for Twitter, Uber, any other fancy start-up, or owns a million dollars.

From Atlin, British Colombia (1 month), I keep

  • a love for ferries. And lakes. And mountains. And Germans!
  • surprise that night falls elsewhere in the world, and darkly. (I’ve only been in Atlin, which is far north, in the summer––it never gets near full dark.)
  • a sense that no matter what happens, even if everything goes wrong, I can always find a place of belonging and peace. (this is really, really helpful, especially around finals time.)

From Seoul, South Korea (3 months), I keep

  • the habit of bobbing my head respectfully to those doing me a favor and handing my credit card over with my hand on my elbow.
  • an image of public swimming places that makes me surprised to find bathers outside Korea going in swimming suits instead of being naked.
  • a gentle disgust for wearing my shoes past the entry way.
  • a love for heated floors.

From Hyderabad, India (4 months), I keep

  • a reluctance to pay more than $3 for an Uber anywhere and more than $12 for a 10 hour bus ride.
  • a belief in the high potential (in the areas of cheapness, tastiness, and accessibility) for street food.
  • faith that the goodness of humanity can always be found, even if it doesn’t always appear that way on the immediate surface.
  • knowledge that clothing could always be more interesting and colorful.
  • EDIT: a new null hypothesis: people can like me. Before they know me, their impression is neutral, not negative. This is embodied in The Best Hyderabad House 2k18….

From Tucson, Arizona (1+2+2), I keep

  • ….. I’m still figuring out what my upbringing in Tucson left me with. Right now, it still feels like the baseline, and therefore hard to detect.

 

Now I’m in Birmingham, Alabama (2 months). What will I keep from here? Will these old habits ever fade fully away? Will I ever stop feeling homesick for 4 places at once? Will I stop accidentally pulling up mental maps of cities several spots down the list of moves when I’m planning what I want to do in the city that day or go to the library? Moving with Minerva is amazing, don’t get me wrong. If I could live 7 lifetimes and spend each in each city we live in, though… I’d choose that option instead of only 4 months in each home.


Featured image from Minerva’s website, https://www.minerva.kgi.edu/global-experience/

The “Impress” Playlist

Today I deleted one of the first Spotify playlists I ever created.

“Impress” mostly had songs added to it in late September of 2014, and had all those tracks I always hoped somebody would catch me listening to, so I could show off my eccentric-yet-oh-so-appealing taste in music. It had everything from Nunca Me Acuerdo de Olvidarte by Shakira to German rap to Wizard Love by heyhihello.

I remember standing at the bus transit center in 2014, earbuds in, hoping one of my familiar-yet-totally-unknown-and-definitely-not-relatable classmates would stop to ask what I was bobbing my head to. By the end of September, I must have only been back in the states for… two months. I was seventeen, and had just spent a year going to agricultural trade school in rural Panama. There was no internet. The town I resided in featured a single expat (avoiding US taxes), 0.5+0.5 Peace Corps volunteers (one left a few months after I got there, the other I never met), two Thai exchange students (who I barely saw), and a crew of Jehovah’s Witnesses (only two of whom I saw regularly). My kindle was my prized possession then; I could check out ebooks from my library back home and download them at an internet cafe a bus ride away.

With the exception of the worlds I could go to through the kindle, the few times I saw other foreign nonconformists a week, or my bimonthly call with my parents until I ran out of credit on my phone… it was just me that year. No cell phone, no social media, no English, no cafes, no familiar food, no Swiggy or UberEats… just my classmates and school and host family and host community… and me.

I didn’t speak Spanish when I arrived in Panama. Nobody, including my exchange program liaison , spoke English. I didn’t even bring a proper dictionary––I just figured that 1) I would pick it up within a week because that’s what all the stories say about the extraordinary powers of language exchange, 2) people would speak some English maybe? and 3) there would be internet and why carry an outdated and heavy dictionary when you had SpanishDict.com?

Talk about finding yourself. For a few months, I was the only one I could reliably talk to and understand. Even after I started to get pretty good at the whole Spanish thing, everybody around me came from radically different backgrounds.

The Thai students pretty much only spoke Thai to each other, even when they took me out for a birthday lunch. (Wow, I think I’m still salty about that. It was  kind of them, but I just sat there staring for much of the meal.) And they were from Thailand––they had a cultural background that was entirely different than my own; somewhat superficial differences that felt like a chasm between us when we were sixteen. (The other American and German who had come with us had left within two weeks and two months respectively.)

My Panamanian classmates and host family, were, of course, Panamanian. They lived in a world I didn’t even know existed––my international education covered that Europe was a thing, and that Mexico had sugar skulls, but not much more than that. The realities of poverty, of the tropics, of Spanish, even the idea that cultural differences were so prevalent… those were all shocks when I arrived.

The other United Stateians (whenever I call myself American people like to remind me that there are lots of other countries in North and South America, why should the U.S. be the only ones to get to be known as Americans? To which I would say that, yes, I agree––which doesn’t exclude me from being an American as well, as I come from the North American continent… simpler to just avoid the situation), they were also from different backgrounds. One was an elderly woman who had too much tax to pay in the U.S. and so was stuck in Panama, but seemed to hate the country and didn’t speak Spanish very well despite having lived there for like 15 years. Another was a Peace Corps volunteer who also was feeling pretty negative towards the country, and I’m ashamed to admit that I let that color my perception of the country. The Jehovah’s Witnesses seemed fine here, and I honestly enjoyed spending them with them, but the conversation never got far from God.

One day in late July 2014, eleven months after I’d arrived, I flew “home.” I met my family at the airport. My little baby brother’s face had turned from a circle to an oval. He was taller than I was now––something everybody always warned me would happen, but I never imagined would actually occur. I hadn’t realized how little the occasional video-call would tell you about what your little siblings look like. I hadn’t talked to my sister, who hates phone and video calls, in almost a year. The house was the same as I remembered, but I hadn’t realized we were so wealthy. The tap water would never make me sick or turn grey. The walls met the ceiling and formed a perfect bubble. We had A/C and a working shower head. There were almonds in the cabinet, and cheese––cheese!––in the fridge. My room was full of things, things that I recognized but only as if they came from the set of a beloved TV sitcom. They belonged to somebody else; their very presence seemed rather ridiculous.

School started in two weeks. I was going back to the same school that I had gone to for sophomore year of high school, which felt strange. I’ve switched schools every year (if not semester) all my life; seventh and eighth grade remain the only years I completed a consecutive year at the same institution.

Through the first day of class, and the second, everybody wanted to know how my year abroad had been. To my knowledge, I’m the only student from City High who has ever studied abroad. How was it? It was good? Great! So anyways I was saying, you’ll never believe what happened in math class–– By the third day, they’d stopped asking.

I stopped telling people details. I learned that people were uncomfortable if you brought up the negatives. And besides, how could you explain the same things you yourself couldn’t have comprehended a year earlier?

And so I found myself hanging out at the bus transit center, waiting for bus 6, earbuds in, hoping somebody would talk to me. Goodness knows I wasn’t sure how to talk to anybody else anymore.

Something had changed. I had this vague impression that I was different than other people now. Not just unique, I knew that––but that fundamentally, I had changed. There were no words to explain to anybody how I was feeling though, especially not without offending them.

So I created a playlist. It had music that was different. Similar to what you might be used to, but… different. A song about love between a Slytherin and a Gryffindor student falling in love. Salsa Tequila, the lyrics of which I now found hilarious having spent a year speaking actual Spanish. Different from what you’d hear on the radio… but familiar enough to start a conversation over.

And I named it “Impress.” That was its purpose, wasn’t it? I felt like I had a year of stories to impress with, none of which I could share. They were too long or too complicated or too sad or acknowledged too many uncomfortable truths. Songs, though… Maybe they could serve as a proxy for these stories.

I don’t need the playlist anymore.

I go to an international school with international peers, and we move to a new city somewhere in the world every four months while pursuing our bachelor’s degree. It’s called Minerva; you can read what I’ve written about it here. I’m now surrounded by my classmates, who get it (mostly)––they deal with the same stuff I do every day.

I don’t need a playlist of songs people haven’t heard of to show off anymore. I don’t need the same external validation as I did four years ago, nor am I restrained to a playlist to communicate. “Impress” will do just fine in the trash.

Don’t worry too much, though––the songs got moved to “alt up,” which has all my alternative but upbeat songs. Still extra, you say? Yeah, you’re right. 😉

 

Want more playlists? Follow Phoebe.blue on Spotify.

Improving quality time

My friend Shiao-li and I are trying out a new way to hang out. In the past we’ve tried studying together, but I often get distracted when I’m around people, especially if I’d rather not do whatever studying needs to be done. It means that there are many times we don’t hang out + reconnect or study together as well as we could be.

Some days, when the workload is low and/or I’m in need of a bandwidth recharge, this doesn’t matter. It’s fun to study together, especially since you get the added boost of exercise (walking to the cafe) and caffeine. Taking breaks while studying to talk is also fun.

But for days when I’m already going at full capacity and feeling motivated to get work done… this doesn’t work well.

So we tried setting a 30 minute period of time, 1-1:30pm, and a location, the patio. We showed up, without our computers or an agenda. We talked for that time, caught up, shared knowledge… and then left at 1:30.

It worked out really well, because we were both 100% tuned into the conversation, and because it meant that I was 100% committed to it the entire time despite feeling stressed about completing all the work I had on my plate. Because I knew it would end in just 30 minutes, which was an amount of time I felt comfortable giving, I didn’t have to worry about what else I could be doing with my time or how to exit the conversation.

How might we find other ways to improve our quality time with one another in an environment of hearty workloads and a poor work-life balance?

First two weeks in HITEC City!

I made it to India! It’s way better than I thought it would be, honestly. Multiple people told me that everybody either loves India, or hates it, but I think I’m solidly over the line on the “liking” side, but not quite to “love” yet. Enjoying the heck out of while I’m here, yes, but I’m not sure I’d move here permanently.

Here are some highlights!

My first meal in India was thali, I think South Indian. Basically, a huge dish of samples of curry, breads, yogurt, rices, desserts… not pictured are a basket of roti (puffed bread) and a small metal pitcher of hot (and hella delicious) ghee. We use ghee at my house, but I’ve never heard other people talk about it… until now.

Some school friends and I went to Golconda Fort, a historical marvel that spiked my creativity, fascination with the area, and dislike for people who carve their names carelessly into their surroundings. (Note: I don’t mind beautiful, well-thought out and well-placed tagging and graffiti. Just the stuff so unaesthetic as to besiege your senses.)

Part of the fort, newly re-plastered. One of the coolest things was thanks to the same low standards for protection of the site that led to the vandalism I shook my head over in just the previous photo: we could go anywhere in the site. No nook or cranny or hallway was off limits. Through that black portal to the right was an internal site where pigeons now reigned, so far from the bustle of the main grounds that I could imagine going there on a hot day when I wanted to escape the rest of the inhabitants of the fort hundreds of years ago.

Olaf and Mayzie, on one of the only walkways in the place. One thing I can’t say about India: it’s universally accessible.

Alondra.

The pigeon decided not to hold still for a photo. I decided I didn’t mind.

LOOK AT THOSE EDGES. HOW. INTENSE. Can you imagine building that by hand?!?

The view from the top. Hazy. Yum yum pollution! I’m going to start looking into anti-pollution measures here in Hyderabad; with all the of bright minds in this country, I’d be surprised if there weren’t several startup solutions in the works already. The only question is, how do I best support the effort?

Suraj snapped this photo. It’s got to be my favorite photo of myself, ever.

Dare I call this the obligatory, “cows-in-the-road-I’m-in-India” pic?

South Korea, where we spent the last semester, has left its mark on us. 애교!

Another delicious meal. I’ve only eaten something gross here once––a sort of shredded coconut curry thing with balls of something lemony in it. A Mistake. Shredded coconut is my kryptonite. The rest is delicious. This plate came from a resturant down the street and cost about $2. I am spoiled. Best of all, I’ve started eating street vendor’s all-you-can-eat-rice-and-curry dishes for $1. So. gooooooood.

Isn’t this over-way in construction fascinating! I don’t know what it is about it, but it feels so… futuristic. Urban.

And it just ends…

Amazing.

Waiting for the plane to Hyderabad

A staff member at my school sent out this video, a collection of experiences from a friend of hers who lives in the same area of India I’m going to.

Watching it brought back so many memories of my year in Panama. One part near the end showed him doing chores and other basic activities while “memories” of a time before were projected onto him and the background. I remember doing the same thing. You’d be brushing your teeth, sweeping the house, walking to the bus, and these memories, random and seemingly unprompted, would begin to play. If you let them, they swallowed you. Dwelling on the past too much leads to utter abandonment of the pursuit of enjoyment in the present. And living abroad on your own, when you’re struggling with the language and day to day life… it requires a lot of intentional enjoyment seeking.

I write this in Colorado, waiting for my flight to Munich, to wait for a flight to Mumbai, then to Hyderabad, where I’ll meet the rest of my class and stay the rest of the semester.

I’m a little nervous. Whenever I mentioned I was going to India, people get this far away, impressed look in their eye. I’m not sure if they’re impressed I’m going there, or if it’s just India that impresses them. They talk about the mix––they take two contrasting variables and explain how India is the only place where you see so much mixing of these two things you’d never expect to see, in extremes. Wealth and poverty. Joy and suffering. Good food and––well, no, nobody has ever mentioned there’s anything but good food.

I feel like I’m going on a study abroad trip, in a way that I didn’t when I went to South Korea last September for the fall semester.

I feel the way I did when I went to Panama: a little nervous about the amount of unknown variables and situations that are coming up, a little nervous about catching my flights and getting to the place I’m staying, a little nervous about presenting the best image of a foreigner, especially a foreigner from the U.S.A. A lot of excitement about seeing another way humans developed life, about seeing myself and my values in the context of that other culture, about the opportunity to meet strangers and maybe bring some joy to where I go.

The main three differences from getting ready for India this semester and going to Panama four and a half years ago are my level of preparedness for living in a different culture, my expected day to day, and the fact that I’ll be living with classmates instead of a host family.

When I moved to Panama, I barely knew that people lived different lifestyles than I did in the U.S. I had some vague understanding of what it meant for a country to speak another language, of what poverty was, of different styles of body language, but… they were vague. I was 16, and had only been to Canada before then, but for a short trip to Costa Rica on a ecotour that was not at all representative of local life in Central America.

I was also going to go to school in Panama. I ended up at a trade school, in the agriculture-zoology track, something that ended up being extremely lucky. That track of the school had less students, so I knew my classmates better than the other two exchange students who were in the Business and Science tracks. We had longer work days and summer school spent doing practical work in the plantain and banana fields and working with the animals, which meant I could participate in class before my Spanish was any good. In India, I’ll be continuing taking classes at my university, Minerva. (If you’re unfamiliar with Minerva, you’ll probably want to check out my short explanation of the ways in which Minerva drastically deviates from a normal university.)

In India, ~250 fellow and known classmates await my arrival. Our school has rented out an entire apartment building for us. It’s not ideal for cultural exchange; sometimes I hesitate to say I’m going on exchange or studying abroad because Minerva’s model barely allows for what we typically think of when we say “study abroad”. Minerva does try hard to make sure our staff are local, and that all students have the option to do an internship or project with local businesses and organizations. Every class has an assignment that requires engagement in the city we’re in. But… living with your friends, with other foreigners, instead of a host family, gives you a completely different experience. If I had time for everything, I’d like to live with a host family again. Maybe once I graduate.

So here I go, again. India, I can’t wait to meet you. See you soon.

Face swipe: understanding intergenerational conflict

Maybe this explains why we have a divide between the generations: without realizing, we misinterpret each other. Trying to play along, we miss some essential component that was invisible to us, but obvious to the other person. The first two boys are 23 and 20 respectively, the man is 40. 20 years is more than enough time for references and social behaviors to come and go. Besides being the funniest thing I’ve seen today, it’s a good reminder to keep your eyes peeled for the things we can’t always see.

Also, here is a comic about Detective Hume. 🙂

 

Day in pictures.

Started out my day alone at Minerva Seoul HQ (school headquarters), just me, a latte, and a LBA paper to write on glocalization.

Justine and Inna, being artsy af, joined soon after and provided welcome company as well as creative inspiration.


While getting coffee for us three, I was struck by this building, which I’ve passed by before but never seen. I took a picture, because why not? I like the building. Now it’s recorded on my personal device.

Same story with this framing / shape making technique in the coffee shop I went to. What an interesting way to decorate the wall!

All the way back to HQ I felt a curious sense of belonging. I, Phoebe, was holding a takeaway coffee carton because I had too many drinks to carry in my hands. I had friends/co-workers to get back to. I had a place. I had a purpose. And it was clear for the world to see.

And of course, the obligatory selfie reminding you of where in the world I am. With a little Korean touch – I’ve always wanted to wear the fog mask, and here I am. What fun. 🙂