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.

Casually in Korea

What with all we’re hearing in the news about North Korea and Donald Trump, I figure it’s good to post about the other 99.99% of things going on here in South Korea. 

We just finished celebrating Chuseok, which is like Korean Thanksgiving. All my favorite coffee shops were closed over the weekend so families could reunite across the country. Luckily the woman at the register let me into my favorite grocery store as they were closing up on Thursday so I could grab some veggies. 

Today was Hangul day. Hangul, the Korean alphabet, 한글, has its roots in education equality: King Sejong had it created as a simpler version of Chinese, which was so complicated it made literacy for non-elites hard to achieve. Hangul is really easy to learn (it took me under an hour), you can find lots of resources online!

We have off school tomorrow, which is nice as the Minerva version of midterms is right around the corner. I expect the rest of Seoul start getting busy again tomorrow and the next day, as everybody returns from spending the weekend with their family. 

To celebrate, two friends and I went to a cake shop, Dore Dore, in a hip part of Gangnam. Sugar is not my thing, but they enjoyed guessing which flavors belonged to which layer of the rainbow cake they got!

Life keeps on here in Seoul. I’m so glad to be a part of it. 🙂

The $6 Coffee

[Day 11 in Seoul. Status: Haven’t heard much about North Korea in the last couple of days.]

Today I purposefully sought out a $6 coffee.

(I would have titled this post “The Most Expensive Coffee I’ve Ever Consumed”, but on my way here I ordered coffee in the Shanghai airport and it cost $9, so that title is out. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

Some universities have their Greek Life culture, others their football pride culture. Here at Minerva, there’s quite the coffee-shop-studying culture, in that you can regularly see students going out to study at cafes and regularly hear discussions about which coffee shops are the best/unusual/cheapest/have blocked us due to extreme quantities of internet consumption and regularly happen upon other Minervans at coffee shops around the city. My point is that, while I’m sure there are lots of students who don’t go out to cafes every day, you don’t often see them for obvious reasons. (#attentionperceptionbias.) It makes you want to go out as well, especially as we don’t have any common spaces in our residence this semester, as our residence is a hotel. (And we have no campus. New reader? Confused? I go to Minerva.)

And so today found me venturing out from our hotel after class and lunch to find a quiet place to camp out for a few hours and get work done.

Seoul is full of cafes. Unfortunately, they all are pretty expensive. While you can get a cheap ($2-3) latte at take-away open faced or two table places, any larger area will charge easily $5 for a simple drink, and ice and milk will raise you another dollar.

The reasoning I’ve heard for this is that in this city, you pay for the privilege of parking your laptop for hours in their space. In the 24 cafes, I’ve even heard of people sleeping at the tables.

It makes sense, although I have to wonder how San Francisco, Tucson, and the rest of the United States keeps coffee shops open and running considering they charge half the price. However, the priciness of coffee shops doesn’t mesh well with Minerva, as there’s simultaneously pressure to go out to coffee shops both as a social and academic thing to do, and a lot of students under economic strain.

More than 75% of our students come from outside the U.S., and all admissions are need-blind. This means that something like 80% of our student body is on financial aid. A push to spend $5 regularly on coffee is not really what we need––or what we can afford.

I come at this situation with a (long) problem statement:

Where else in Seoul can I find free / reduced price wifi, or even just places to be without wifi, as I can pull up class readings ahead of time? And how can we make this a sustainable alternative for those students who would rather not spend so much just to do their classwork and socialize outside of their rooms? 

So let the quest for answers begin!

Elsewhere in time and space…. 

Two days ago was Exploration Day, where small groups of students are sent out across the city for a day of fun and exploration. Here’s the snapstory I created along the way!

Getting stuff done for me.

Today has been super productive! In the evening I opened up my room to anybody who wanted a workspace, and go 0 response, but hey. It worked for me!

  • crafted and sent 4 emails to organizations in Tucson I’ve worked with before asking for a phone call to discuss potential summer opportunities
  • emailed a volunteer coordinator about a position at Atlin Music and Arts Festival, my favorite Canadian music fest!
  • spent an hour cleaning my room (dear god it needed it), esp. my sink.
  • listened to a podcast on suicide deaths in the Arctic
  • got my new phone charger – somehow I came back from SXSWedu with three bases and a cord that didn’t work. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • talked with Julia about a time we could meet to get lunch
  • had a heart to heart with Connor over relationships / polyamory / crushes
  • went to a Symposium planning session at HQ + stayed after to discuss with Capri ❤
  • filed my taxes! cannot wait for that tax return!
  • applied for a new passport. was not expecting it to be $130. goodbye, tax return.
  • organized all RA funding things – found receipts, submitted expensify, recorded, requested the last of the budget…
  • posted this blog entry, a success in its own
  • journaled in my beautiful journalllllll
  • began my goal matrix on my wall, finally – to celebrate the little wins, and externalize+visualize goals and steps (once #breakitdown and #gapanalysis are applied), I’m writing things on colorful paper and putting them on my wall.
  • listened to quality music all day! gotta love that spotify premium. Pogo, Portugal. The Man, Moon Taxi, and now Electric Guest, just listening to their albums. Good good good.
  • talked to my dad 😀
  • going to bed before 1am. My sleep scedule has been off, but I hope to get it on track. (Actually no that’s a lie – I hope to get readings done the night before at least, so I can stop having to get up at 7am each morning to do them! then I could go to bed a little later, e.g. 12am (extended 1am), and wake up at 8:30.

Overall one of my most productive days lately. As soon as I thought of something, I went and go it done. And kept doing that.

I didn’t get an internship with Minerva this summer, sadly. But I also felt a sense of relief when I heard, that comes from having my freedom restored. There are so many things I want to do this summer. Having a 40 hour/week continuation of school was going to be a little hard.

I feel like I’m also breaking free of what Minerva wants me to do with my time. I’ve spent most of my life in control of much of my time, because I set it up that way. I picked schools that would allow me freedom, and exercised that control. Senior year, I ditched school every Friday and got a job.

Here, I easily spend a substantial portion of my time doing pre-class readings, class, and assignments. Other time goes to Minerva built activities and opportunities.

It’s been a little too easy to lose free will; to let such heavy structure make me forget how to find and work towards my own personal interests.

So, when Minerva announced we’d be cutting ties for the summer… I realized – I’m not doing anything they’ve designed for me. I didn’t get that fancy internship all Minervans are suppose to have. How I spend my summer is 100% in my own hands…

… and I’m relishing the power.

Which I think contributed to this heightened feeling of productivity today. Suddenly, the why –– why apply to internships, to jobs; why finish readings early, why do well on your assignments –– came from me. wanted an internship because it called to me. I wanted a job for my bank account and job skills. I wanted to finish readings early so I could go outside and play. I wanted good grades because 1) personal satisfaction and 2) they look good on paper when I find a place to lay that paper down.

The motivation shifted from your school / some unspoken force wants this from you to I want this for myself for my own reasons.

That internalized drive has made all the difference today. It’s made all the difference before. And it will continue to.

All I need now is to 1) keep this drive through the summer, and more pressingly, 2) immortalize this drive so it doesn’t disappear again next year.