It’s been 2 months since I’ve arrived back in California after living in London for 3 months. Assimilating back into my normal routine hasn’t been a challenge at all. In fact, sometimes it feels like I never really left. I haven’t really talked much about my trip to my friends back home besides saying that it was nothing short of amazing, extremely expensive, or “so much colder than California” Occasionally I’d reveal stories like how I almost missed my flight to Barcelona or the time I paid 18 dollars for a cold sandwich, chips and a bottle of water. But all of the details about what I seen and how I felt got lost in translation between all of the inconsistent Face time calls with friends.
I miss London. I miss planning day trips with friends, trying foods I’ve never ate, walking paths I’ve only seen in photos. I miss people watching while walking around the city, seeing people walk to work, sitting on the tube, going about their daily lives in fashions so different from my own. I miss studying geography from british professors in a classroom full of british students. I miss going out for pre drinks at Spoons, and ordering sunday brunch. I miss meeting new people at hostels. Where is the Canadian guy I met in a Barcelona hostel who studied engineering but decided to follow his passion in music and travel around Europe? I miss spending too much money on drinks because I was legal, and all of the bad decisions that followed. I miss going to bars and clubs and buying bagels at 2 am. I miss wearing my black chelsea boots and bomber jacket and scarves I knew would collect dust back in California. I miss living a life in a new city where nobody knew me.
After reminiscing, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m
Sometimes I get worried that I’ll never settle because of how much there is to see in the world and how much I’m willing to leave everything behind to do so.
Until I figure out how to be happy with where I’m at, I’ll be going through my camera roll for the 23432452th time.
While studying abroad in England during my autumn semester, I planned a weekend trip to Iceland. Iceland had always been a destination on my bucket list. Ever since I watched the music video for Bon Iver's Holocene, I was captivated by the country's magnificent geography. From it's beautiful southern beaches to the grand westfjords in the north, I made it my own personal mission to see its natural grandeur myself. Although my time in Iceland was short, I was able to walk around the city center of Reykjavik, see major tourist sites along the golden circle, and drive on Ring Road where I checked out some of Iceland's breathtaking waterfalls along the southern coast. I chased waterfalls during the day and searched for aurora borealis in the night. Before heading back to England, I got a chance to relax at the Blue Lagoon, a man-made geothermal pool. Despite missing the northern lights due to the weather, showering in water that reeked of sulfur, and paying $18 for bare-minimum sustanance, the weekend proved to be perfectly imperfect; the views I encountered were nothing short of spectacular and the friends I was able to share this experience with made the trip easily one of my favorites. You can read the full itinerary of my trip here.
Good evening everyone and Happy Thanksgiving. I’m pleased to be spending this holiday that celebrates gratitude with the wonderful people that have made these past few months an experience I am utmost thankful for. Describing my experience is something I can’t even put into words- but tonight I’ll try to.
My name is Ryann Jeff and I’m a third year at UC Santa Barbara studying economics and environmental studies at Queen Mary University of London this fall.
I grew up in Oakland, California and was raised by my two immigrant parents from the Philippines who laid the foundation for my desire to achieve the American dream. Since grade school until now, my educational journey has been built on financial aid, scholarships and grants, a physical manifestation of the work and passion I put into academics and student government. My overall goal is to graduate college and support my family.
My curiosity has always been one of my most defining characteristics. I’m fascinated by culture, new places and meeting new people, and wanted to venture beyond the confines of a textbook, the walls of a classroom, and eventually the Bay Area. The idea of being able to learn and grow in an environment so different from my own was a recurring afternoon reverie. When I started UCSB in 2014, I was already attending different study and travel abroad fairs: international volunteer excursions, global brigades and the UC education abroad program, planning out my academic schedule to make sure I would be able to fit a semester or summer abroad into my four short years at university.
After receiving my acceptance for the English universities program, I was more than ecstatic. I was already envisioning the adventures I would have the following fall- I would be studying my favorite subjects while living in one of the most captivating cities in the world.
To say that the time between my acceptance and the day I boarded my plane was spent cheerfully looking up all of the different cafes and parks I would visit, would be a romanticized version of reality.
Just weeks after my acceptance, I was making frequent calls to a financial aid advisor, adding more hours to my work study, and found myself constantly switching tabs between study guides and different scholarships at the library. 3 weeks before the deadline to submit UCEAP fees, I had received only rejection letters from scholarships. At that point I was devastated; dreams had price tags that I couldn’t pay for, even with tokens of hard work and passion. Despite my desire to study abroad, making sure that I would not put a financial burden on my family was my priority. Everything else would always come secondary.
On April 29, I opened my e-mail to a message that I can now say has changed my life. “Congratulations! I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected to receive the UC Santa Barbara UK EAP Fund Scholarship.”
4 months later I stepped out of Heathrow airport sweating. I wasn’t sure if it was the anticipation or because I was wearing a pea coat and happened to land on the UK’s hottest day of the year. Sore arms, perspiration, an air-conditioned black cab ride, Nando’s chicken, and a feeling of both jet lag and immense wanderlust is my best recollection of my first day in London.
To my luck, each and every day after that has been an unforgettable journey. From trying different food stands at Camden market and marveling at Big Ben, to venturing around Notting Hill and experiencing autumn at Hyde park, I have to say that some of my favorite moments in London are spent exploring the vibrant Shore ditch area with the friends I’ve made here. Enjoying English breakfast at the Pavilion Café in Victoria Park comes in close second.
All of my time exploring is complemented with interesting but challenging courses. Just as I hoped for, I’m able to learn outside of a classroom. I took part in a 4-day field trip to Somerset where I looked for sedimentary evidence of global environmental change, had a casual beer with my professor and colleagues discussing collected data and went on a trip to the national gallery to look at the cultural representations in landscapes. This program has helped me learn more about my own discipline and network with like-minded individuals from all over the world. In the future, I plan on working in the renewable energy industry.
I’m constantly being put outside of my comfort zone while traveling and challenged academically at university, but in the end, I’m grateful. If there’s one thing I learned during my 15 years of school, it’s that I can’t do it alone. All of my successes and experiences are shared. Where would I be without my friends and family who continue to offer their unconditional love? My teachers and counselors who have given me the tools necessary to grow and learn? Finally, where would I be without the donors of this amazing fund, who continue to support my pursuit of higher education? Everything I do will always be a collaborative effort between me and the people who show that my endeavors are important. I think I can speak for students everywhere when I say that your contributions matter. I would like to end this by quoting Greg Reid: “the greatest success we’ll know is helping others succeed and grow.”
Thank you again for this amazing gift, and enjoy great rest of your evening. Cheers.
Lately, I’ve been reading more about numerology and learning about my “Personal Year” and “Life Path Period”. I’m a big astrology junkie and myers-briggs enthusiast, so using the significance of the stars or numbers or personality quizzes to define who I am or help guide some of the biggest decisions I make is nowhere farfetched to me. After doing some simple calculations from this website, I found out that my “Personal Year” is Personal Year 1: the start of a 9 year life cycle. Personal Year 1 is defined as a new beginning:
Personal Year 1 holds the promise of being an exciting new adventure, with life taking on new challenges that pave the way for the next cycle of nine years in your life. This is a time to clarify your goals and it is a time to act on them. Hard work may be necessary to get a new venture moving. Your physical strength will be up during this year, perhaps higher than it has been for some time, as you have some special needs for this extra energy.
With my study abroad trip starting in less than a month, it’s evident that I’m going to be embarking on an entirely new journey. With 2016 almost half over, I can attest to the fact that I’ve organized my priorities, set clear goals, and have already overcome some challenges. My slate feels clean and I’m ready to take on this new chapter or cycle of my life with some confidence.
Every new beginning follows a goodbye. I’m not a fan of goodbyes- I was the toddler who cried while being dragged away from the swingset at the park, the kid that said goodbye to each piece of furniture in the house before going on vacation, the middle schooler that wasn’t ready to give away his video games to his nephew and the high schooler that took pictures with every best friend, teacher or acquaintance in close proximity at graduation. My heart beats faster when I flip to the last page of a book and I let the credits roll until the end after every movie.
I thought moving to Santa Barbara my freshmen year was going to be the hardest goodbye for me. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing my family in a while, my best friends in a long time, and everyone else forever. I could say “see you later” to my go-to sushi restaurant or my comfortable bed with complete reassurance, but I knew the moment my friends and I left the bay area was the moment that things would never be exactly the same way as it was before. I had to accept it, and I did. And now, none of it really matters. But as new beginnings unfolded and more memories were created, I knew that a new, and even more challenging “see you soon” would eventually come. That moment is now.
Being able to know exactly what to wear by looking outside my window, easily navigate my way through isla vista, or find solace in familiar faces on my living room couch is a heartwarming and secure feeling that I hate to have to let go. I’ll miss nights galavanting the streets of IV, studying in Davidson, riding along the bike paths to class, and staring at the sun set over the Pacific. Above all, I’ll miss my friends the most; the ones that I’ve become so accustomed to seeing around, living around and being myself around. I’ve shared so much with these people- many freebirds nachos, many late night hours studying, many intoxicated nights, many uncontrollable laughs, many mini-breakdowns, and many, many 2 AM conversations about secrets, desires or theories about the afterlife. Leaving them feels like I’m leaving a part of myself.
I don’t really appreciate how content I truly am until the moment is over. I realized just how comfortable, content and secure I feel with the way things are in my life. I’ve successfully learned to be independent, adjusted to my surroundings, and can rely on certain people in my life to be there for me no matter what. Why would anyone in their right minds choose to leave that behind to live in a new city where you don’t know anything or anyone? I’m completely enamored with new ideas and new possibilities, but am just realizing that I love to do this in the construct of my own level of comfort and security. So as I was watching my last sunset in Santa Barbara or eating my last dinner with my best friends until next year, I knew I was also saying goodbye to everything I’m used to. Choosing to leave when you’re unhappy is easy. Choosing to leave when you’re content with the way things are takes courage. It’s a change I’m willing to make and a change I know will positively impact my life.
Starting an entirely new “life cycle” is daunting. If I were to listen and apply numerology into my life, and am unable or unwilling to “answer the call to change and make the move in my life that appears necessary now”, then my prospects may be “delayed until the next cycle begins in nine years.” I know this is the year for me to embark on another adventure and to do so, I have to leave all of the nostalgia behind in the previous life cycle. In the words of Richard Bach’s Running from Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit, “It must happen to us all…We pack up what we’ve learned so far and leave the familiar behind. No fun, that shearing separation, but somewhere within, we must dimly know that saying goodbye to safety brings the only security we’ll ever know.” Nostalgia holds me back from making room for new places, new people and new memories to appreciate.
Being a student disorients my perception of a year. The last day of school is the eve of a new year; summer vacation is the start of a new beginning. And with every ending -whether it’s flipping the final page of my textbook or closing the final chapter of my life- I always have to look back at what I’ve learned. Every day feels the same and I don’t really recognize how much I change in weeks, months and years time. My second year of college has helped me look at things in an entirely new perspective. In light of this closed chapter, I thought it would be best to summarize everything I’ve encountered. Ultimately, I’m summarizing all of my blog posts into an easy-to-read study guide (something I’m all too familiar with). If I can apply postulates and theories to explain the natural world, then I can formulize life lessons and apply it in the future right?
7. Speak up
When you have an important midterm in the morning and loud music is playing at 3 AM, walk downstairs and tell your friends to turn it down. When you feel an inclination to share your perspective in class, raise your hand. When someone isn’t treating you with respect, let them know how you feel. If you don’t feel comfortable, say something or you’ll feel like you’re wearing wet socks for the rest of your life.
6. Don’t wait
If your class is in 10 minutes and the bus is running late, don’t wait. And don’t bet that you’ll make make it in time to get that first iClicker point, even if you’re planning to sprint into the lecture hall with your arms extended and finger readily positioned on Choice E. Take it from me. Also don’t wait for life to happen to you. A wise Lemony Snicket told me, “If we wait until we're ready, we'll be waiting for the rest of our lives.” I think if I chose to wait until I felt “ready” to do anything, I wouldn’t have made this year as memorable as it was.
Was I nervous to start my first day of my new job because I felt inexperienced? Yes.
Was I anxious about submitting my study abroad application because I didn’t know if it was the right time to go? Absolutely.
Was I scared to try something new, approach a stranger, tell someone how I really felt about them? Of course.
Did I do all of the above anyways? Yes. You’re probably thinking, “Why on earth would I risk my current state of contentedness and put myself in a situation that could go up, down, left or right?” I thought the same thing. But if I were to wait to throw myself into the unknown when I felt like I was finally ready to let myself fall, I would probably still be standing at the edge of risk and safety in contemplation. Please don’t wait any longer.
5. There’s a difference between being alone and feeling lonely
I’ve always had this irrational fear of being alone. Grade school wasn’t the last time I felt the necessity of having a bathroom buddy. I thought the idea of being seen alone meant that I was lonely. It wasn’t until this year that I realized how much I LOVE doing some things alone; I finish what needs to be done, I could think for myself, I could breathe for a moment. Being physically alone wasn’t the issue. It was feeling alone that I was afraid of. But I didn’t feel alone when I was doing stuff alone. I felt more alone surrounded by people who made me feel like I was different. Feeling alone feels like being with a group of people who are inside of the house while you’re standing behind a glass sliding door. I could see what was happening, maybe hear what was happening, but can’t connect or share in what was going on. When you’re in college and constantly conversing with semi-strangers at random houses, you reach a point where you realize you aren’t really solidifying strong relationships. I don’t go out as much anymore because I don’t like having a good time. I just choose to be around the people I want to. I can be doing nothing with the right people and still be more content than doing something fun but feeling lonely. I think realizing the difference between being alone (allocating healthy time for recharging/being by yourself) and feeling alone (being surrounded by people who make you feel like you can’t be yourself) can be mutually exclusive. Don’t be afraid to be alone, be afraid of feeling alone and feeling that way forever.
4. Be Vulnerable
I can’t be strong every waking moment of my life. Acting like I’m doing well all of the time is a tough role to play. And even though I want to look invincible and that I have my sh*t together, I don’t. And that’s perfectly fine. I don’t want to look like I do.
I struggle at my job sometimes, I’m not always the greatest friend, and I make wrong decisions that I wish no one would ever know. But I don’t try to hide any of it. If I did, would I really be writing an online journal about how I almost didn't make it into my major, suck at relationships or am inadequate at completing tasks 75 percent of the time?
All of the people I look up to in my life are the people that recognize that they are struggling, accept that they are weak at times, and allow themselves to get help from their friends and family. Perfect people don’t exist; they’re just hiding their imperfections.
Seeing vulnerability as a challenge to your “masculinity” or “reputation” or “self-perception” shouldn’t be an excuse for allowing yourself to open up to other people. Being vulnerable allows you to connect with others, share in common struggles and exchange love and support. I learned a lot about myself and about other people the more I became empathetic and opened up to them. My best friends are the ones that I can be vulnerable with and the ones that can be vulnerable with me. Be vulnerable with the right people. Those that support you are your real friends. Those that ridicule your weaknesses aren’t.
3. Plans sometimes fail
As much as I wish I got my way all the time, it almost always never happens. And when someone you love must cancel their short-term plans to spend their summer battling cancer, you realize that life doesn’t always go the way you thought things would go.
I try to not let life happen to me and I’m a firm believer of controlling my own destiny. But sometimes things don’t end up that way. In the event of times like these, a good friend told me that I have the choice of being a thermometer or thermostat; I can let the events in my life control me and simply react to these changes, or I can adjust my life and my attitude when things get hot or cold.
I’m not saying I throw all of expectations in the trash and accept that something’s going to fail. I expect the unexpected- a lot of times something can turn out really great, sort of great, not that great or sometimes completely suck. And in the event that things don’t go the way I planned it, I try not to react- but respond. There’s always a plan B, and a plan C,D,E,F,G.
2. Never give up
If you know me well, you know I don’t have any patience. And I also tend to give up way too easily in the face of adversity. When I can’t stand the heat, I immediately stay out of the kitchen. I don’t think there was ever a moment in my life where I can say that I truly worked my hardest for something and continued to keep trying until the moment I found out I wouldn’t get into the econ major. I could have done what I usually do- give up, drop it, do something new because I failed. I never understood the importance of perseverance because I never gave it a shot. I guess I never wanted anything as much as I wanted to get into the economics major. Despite thinking I failed, I didn’t drop the next set of classes to get in the major. Taking the classes could have been for nothing and asking for a re-grade could have been pointless. But I didn’t hesitate to make sure I tried every single option available to me, even if it meant e-mailing my professors and the department. I ended up getting into the major after my professor regraded my test and saw that the TA who graded one of the questions didn’t follow the rubric.
All of it was meant to happen. If I didn’t think I failed at first, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to see how much I wanted something or how much I’m willing to put in hard work and be determined. Success also wouldn’t have tasted this sweet.
1.You can’t do it alone
By far, the most important point I’ve learned this year is that every lesson I encounter was not a lesson I learned all by myself. Someone I look up to taught me this, and it stuck to me since I heard the words come out of her mouth that caused chills to run down my spine. All at once, I knew exactly how much the people in my life have helped me get to where I am. All of my success is shared. Where would I be without the friends I made in CLAS who helped me study for my classes? Where would I be without my housemates who always encourage me to have fun and let go? Where would I be without my best friends telling me to be strong or that I’ll be alright whenever I tweet how anxious/sad/mad I’m feeling? Where would I be without my family who are always there when I give them a call, even if I continue to rant about the same thing every time. I don’t think any of the events I encountered this year would have occurred without their presence. Everything I do will always be a collaborative effort between myself and the people in my life.
Study guides are a good preparation technique for acing an exam. But life isn’t a test to be conquered. If there’s one thing I learned about being a college student, I can spend all the time in the world preparing for the next test. Most of the time, I learn during and after. I’m not afraid of the next test or chapter or stage in my life; I’m bound to learn more than I prepared myself to.
These past few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster for me. I didn’t think I could feel fear, stress, sadness, grief, excitement and relief in the span of a few weeks. That was until I was faced with “dead” week and finals, the horrific process of moving out of my apartment, bittersweet graduation ceremonies, temporary goodbyes to my friends, and the long drive home to the Bay Area. I don’t have any battle scars but I do have acne and eye bags to prove that I successfully escaped the inferno of spring quarter. I was liberated. In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
Even though my sophomore year is over, I was feeling apprehensive about grades for the past few days. I finally had the courage to check, only to find myself falling back into the fiery pit of doom I had just escaped. It was a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from; a B- in Econ 10A. A 2.80 GPA instead of the 2.85 requirement; A 70 instead of the 72 percent I needed; A 38/50 instead of a 40/50 that could have changed my diploma to “Bachelor's of Arts in Economics and Environmental Studies.” I can go on and on about how one wrong multiple choice question had ruined the rest of my future. I had worked so hard to only get so close. Now, I feel so far from where I want to be.
I thought about it. Cried about it. Cried some more. If I can’t even accomplish something like this with the effort that I put throughout the year, how could I accomplish anything? I’m only convinced that hard work without luck won’t get you anywhere. So in an effort to make up for the devastating blow to my ego and undergraduate career, I painfully tried to devise a new plan for myself. I went on indeed and looked for jobs and research projects that needed assistants for the summer. I was splitting screens between my latest resume and quotes on failure and redemption on brainyquote.com.
For a moment I paused and realized I was only hurting myself more by trying to jump into my next best move. I closed my laptop and stared at the ceiling. I had reached the bargaining stage of grief that follows anger and denial.
What if I had studied a few more hours, even though I felt like I studied for eternity?
What if I talked to my professor to give me the points I deserved on the second midterm when I had done the math correctly but wrote down the wrong number?
What if I didn’t go to coachella after my first midterm so I wasn’t distracted while studying for the test?
What if I wore a watch during my Econ 2 final so I didn’t lose track of time?
What if I didn’t get strep throat during my Econ 2 midterm?
What if I was more careful with the homework assignments during Econ 1?
Half of me is accepting the fact that I must move on. The other half is still stuck in the past, trying to negotiate my way out of the hurt I feel by asking more “What Ifs.”
My summer plans to catch up in econ by taking courses back in Santa Barbara was now out of the question. I reached out to my friends, asking them what I should do with my time, only to get a message saying I should “Drop acid, learn how to surf, drink with friends, listen to good music, eat semi-good food, go out and drive for a while with no destination, shop around.” Immediately, I was unimpressed with the response. None of those things are going to help me.
Plans sometimes fail. Before the year ended, I asked one of my close friends what his plans were for the summer. He was going to move to berkeley, work, maybe take some classes, be with his girlfriend, be with his friends, move into our new beach house, and finally be able to vote in the primary election. He was diagnosed with stage 4 Burkitt's Lymphoma a week before the start of summer vacation. Without any control or input or bargain, his plans failed. His new summer itinerary was nothing like his original. He won't be at Berkeley or Santa Barbara; He’ll be undergoing four sessions of chemotherapy over the next three months two hours away from his home in Bakersfield.
It’s an unfair and unjust situation like cancer that reminds me about how much control I have over my own situation. I can’t relate or even imagine the emotions he’s forced to face and in no way can I even compare the magnitude of his situation to my own. The disparity is indisputable. My life isn’t put on pause, it’s only getting an alternative scene. Considering the fact that I can drop acid, learn how to surf, drink with friends, listen to good music, eat semi-good food, go out and drive for a while with no destination or shop around gives me every reason to seize of the opportunity to do so.
I’m still learning how to cope with everything that’s going on around me. I can’t say that I’m fine with not getting into the major. I also can’t say that I’m not thinking of my friend every day and how his plans were unrightfully put on hold. I can and will say that despite failed or paused plans, there’s always a plan B. And a plan C,D,E,F,G. And whether it involves me finding a new job, or studying to retake the exam, or using my econ courses to declare my environmental studies concentration in economics and policy, it isn’t the end for me or anyone else.
This past year has been both a blessing and a challenge. There are so many unforgettable memories, new and old friendships and character-building moments that were not planned but serendipitous, and I only have my life to thank. Bear with me in the next few months. I have no idea where I’m going or what I’ll be doing and I want to get better at being okay with that.
Please pray for my friend Eric and everyone else fighting a hard battle.
For a while now, I've been living my life independently. I wake up every morning, take a quick shower, grab coffee and make my way to campus. 9 A.M drop-in hours, 11 brunch, 12 P.M work/class, 6 P.M dinner, 8 P.M library, 2 A.M sleep. After a few weeks of this monotonous routine, I realized not only how much I hate repetition, but how much I hate being alone. I didn't live my life independently; I lived it reclusively.
I don't reflect much about my day because I get caught up in whatever task is ready to be deleted off of my mac stickies. It’s not until I curl up in my bed and stare into the ceiling when I start to really think about the time I spent not only being alone, but feeling alone. Sure, I interact with multiple people throughout my daily schedule; I exchange brief conversations with teachers, coworkers, the girl working her morning shift at the coffee cart or the woman swiping my access card at Carillo. At the end of the day, I kick off my shoes and rest my bag, only to find myself in a place that lacks solace that my distraught heart yearns for.
These past few months have been hard for me. Trying to get into my major has not only taken toll on my physical well-being, but has altered my entire lifestyle. The worst part isn't the fact that I spend half the time murmuring the substitution and income effects for different demand functions or only being able to afford shitty coffee and warm half n half to get me through normal waking hours; it's the fact that I have to miss out on everything else that makes me love my life.
I miss being in my apartment. I miss watching movies with my housemates, exchanging laughs while making meals and playing our favorite songs on the speakers. I miss eating with my friends. I miss seeing what everyone was up to, knowing how their day went, letting them know was going on with me and end up either laughing or crying about it. I crave to hear about the bike accident they got into, the teacher that screwed them over on their last midterm and share in the excitement of a recently announced music festival line up, digesting every ounce of their thoughts to satisfy my starvation for social interaction. I’ll choose cracked, off-white walls, wine-stained carpets and sticky counter tops over the 8th floor of Davidson any day if it meant being with the people who remind me why I love being a college student. Instead, I can’t help but feel like people think I’ve grown distant.
Chasing a dream is a difficult, lonely endeavor. No one truly understands the journey that you embark. Although one might attest to your struggle by comparing it to their own, they will never understand the emotional impacts that affect you individually. Most days I want to stop what I’m doing and return to the life before I had ever embarked on my journey. I wish I can figure out how to balance my life so that I can have the energy and positivity to be around by the people I love, all while making sure that my own personal goals are being catered to. In the meantime, I hope that everything works out so that I know all of the friendships that end up floating away from me was worth losing.
Do you ever get a short, sudden feeling of complacency because you feel like your life has come full-circle? That’s how I felt this weekend. Being immersed in the California desert, surrounded by unconquerable mountains under a scorching sun and iridescent sky reminded of me of how the universe conspires to get people to where they desire to be.
I went to Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival this past weekend and it’s been one of the best weekends in my entire life for reasons I can’t simply explain. It’s a collective effort of the dry grass brushing against my feet, the cool winds that pressed against my wet hair, the sweet voices of my favorite bands and their crafted beats and the sweat between palms intertwined with old and new friends.
But living minimally in an escapist’s oasis is not merely the reason for the euphoria I felt being there. It was the fact that I’ve dreamed about attending this since I was only fourteen, back when I listened to my angst-y teenage playlist that ended up manifesting itself into 2011’s lineup. It was The Black Keys and Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons and Neon Trees, Kanye and Erykah Badu that made me wish I could hop into my dad’s 1988 corolla and drive myself to a refugee camp of like-minded youth with similar tastes. I wanted Luke Steele to make me feel alive the Strokes to remind me that I only live once. But I couldn’t. And after years of wishing I could afford my own ticket or know how to drive or make my own choices, I was finally nineteen and I was in my prime to fulfill this teenage dream. And when I finally had enough money in my savings from high school graduation, eating ham and cheese sandwiches and working at the office an extra 15 minutes for two extra dollars a day, I bought a ticket.
But like all realistic stories, a conflict that had me contemplate between heart and mind had infiltrated my could-be fantasy life. A midterm that could define the rest of my undergraduate career (don’t take this lightly) landed on the same weekend. For those who know me, I take academics seriously, and making choices that could alter my report card and my future are choices I was not one to take. So during late nights studying to make sure the future me was going to prosper, my early-adolescent self was looming over me, transcending from his green bedroom to the 8th floor of the library. It was a moment of self-realization. If I couldn’t even accomplish an old dream, what makes me capable of achieving any new ones for the future.
And just like that, I made arrangements. With the help of friends who encouraged me to just live, I packed my Ford Explorer, took the midterm and journeyed through 6 hours of LA traffic, missing almost the entire friday of the festival.
If there was a word to describe something perfectly imperfect than that was this experience. Because even though I missed Sam Feldt or ASAP or Years and Years, making friends at the campsite and bathroom lines and dancing with strangers to my favorite songs made me forget that I missed anything at all. And as I lay in my sleeping bag and saw all my friends asleep after a long night, I thought about being in my old green bedroom and how happy my old self must be knowing he would finally be where he desired to be.
I guess the reason why I feel euphoric is because I felt like I crossed off a dusty goal on my bucket list. And when you’re nineteen, lost and feel unaccomplished most of the time, it feels good knowing you did something you once thought was just a midnight reverie. And as I ended my saturday night staring at the dark, endless sky to Guns n’ Roses, Luke Steele appeared and I was finally walking on the same dream.
I love engaging in meaningful conversations with people. For the past two days, three friends of mine brought up the same topic of conversation: college majors and future careers. I have one friend who was told me his parents bombarded him with the “what are you doing with your life” question over the weekend. My second friend ranted to me about how irritated she feels when STEM majors feel superior over and belittle social sciences and the humanities. My third friend brought up a meaningful conversation about how her higher educational goals do not match up with society’s conventional mindsets.
After having these conversations, I realized how much college majors have an impact on a person’s view on life, others and themselves. I decided to write this blogpost because I felt like this issue should be discussed and shared with as many of my friends and peers.
I’m a BA environmental studies major. That’s right a BA- Bachelor’s of Arts. I didn’t fail out of Biology. I didn’t choose this major because I wanted to spend less time in the library and more time partying. I chose it because I cared about the natural environment and the importance of sustainability. And if you’re already assuming I’m going to start preaching about how “passion is more important than job security” then keep on reading.
I come from a family that believes the only way to be successful is to be:
Luckily for my sisters, the healthcare profession did not only align with my parents' dreams, it was also in their blood and character. They had the loving and empathetic personality, motivation to help people, and interest to treat patients bedside or behind the microscope. For me however, I planned my future according to what my parents believed were the only ways to be successful, even if it didn't correlate to my own personal desires. And for a second their brainwashing abilities actually worked; I wanted to be an engineer. Since I was eight years old, the only thing I dreamt about was graduating from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering. I have a project I wrote in 3rd grade that said “I want to be an engineer because I want to make computer chips and computer games.” I didn't have the slights idea of what engineers actually do. As I grew older, I became more passionate about subjects like writing, public relations, community service, planning, environmental studies, international studies and government. My brain always worked best when given an assignment or project that allowed me to be as creative and flexible as possible. I realized that the things I was interested in didn’t align with the medical or scientific field.
Deciding what I wanted to do was difficult. Looking back, the only reason it was a complicated process was because my family’s and society’s values had clouded all the options and possibilities that were available for me to explore. My parents told me that no other majors were worth considering because they weren't profitable. Society supported their opinions, and to make it worse, society also said I had to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at eighteen. There was so much pressure to plan out my life without having enough time to explore what I wanted to do with enough comfort and support during the process.
I’m not saying that my parents and society are wrong. Factually, STEM majors lead to lucrative careers. I am fully aware that some majors do not lead to guaranteed jobs post graduation. And I acknowledge the fact that I am paying thousands of dollars for my education that I’m going to have to pay back in the future. All of these facts are making myself, my friends and all of the other hundreds of students surrounding me in my lecture halls stressed, anxious and paranoid. I have STEM friends who don’t eat or sleep during the week to get at least a fifty percent on their midterm. I have economics and accounting friends who work tirelessly to make it over the 2.85 GPA requirement that the educational bureaucracy imposes on all of the aspiring CPA’s. I have friends in the humanities who feel incompetent because their peers, their parents and the world around them believe that they are working for a worthless degree that won’t get them anywhere.
I’m not an academic advisor here to tell you what path you should and shouldn’t take. I’m here to remind you that there is no "end all be all" road to success. I think the biggest misconception about careers is that there are only a limited number of options. Before stressing out about getting into a major, explore other options. Realize that there are more jobs than your family or society says there are. With my major and additional background experience: I have the potential to become:
I can work for the government, a private organization or firm, a laboratory, or a start-up. And that’s not all. I could go to graduate school and concentrate on public health or public policy or epidemiology. I can take extra prerequisites at community college and apply for nursing school. I can double-major. I can supplement my resume by focusing on job experience over GPA. I can learn practical skills for administrative work or take classes in GIS. What I’m trying to say is that there are many roads that can lead to the same success story. There isn’t a cookie cutter process that has to be followed. You can begin whenever. You can change your mind. Research before assuming. Build a network of people from your discipline and learn that there are different ways to attain your idea of success. If it doesn't work out one way, find another way. Create another way.
Even if your educational or career goals don't match up with your parents, remind them that you're a motivated and hardworking person. I don't think our families and friends realize how hard we work and how much we stress out about making sure we have a planned path. We sacrifice sleep and fun. We study more than they think we do. The fact that we're success-hungry already demonstrates just how successful we will be in the future. True success is based on whether or not you are a goal-getter; whether you're willing enough to put in the work, passion and drive in whatever success you're pursuing.
Success is different for everyone. It might involve getting into medical or law school. It might mean doing whatever you can to help as many people as possible in other ways- through social work, non-profit, teaching or public health. It might mean developing your own talents- in art, dance, music, writing or photography. Whatever it is, it’s yours and yours alone. It isn’t and shouldn’t be everyone else’s success story. Society continues to regurgitate the same idea that STEM will make you succeed even if it means getting hurt, discouraged, or bored in the process. The world needs an eclectic community that offers a variety of potential and hidden talent.
To ALL students- continue to work hard, take care of yourself and be flexible. Figuring out the next step might mean taking a detour or side road, but as long as you focus on what you're doing and letting everyone else navigate their own trek, you’re accomplishing half of your success already.
Over winter break, my cousin recommended that I read And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hoesseni. The novel takes place in 20th century Afghanistan and revolves around the relationship between a separated family. There's a quote in the book that particularly stuck out to me:
"But it is important to know this, to know your roots. To know where you started as a person. If not your own life seems unreal to you. Like a puzzle. Like you have missed the beginning of a story and now you are in the middle of it, trying to understand."
When I read this quote, I started to think more deeply about my roots. In a previous post, I talked about how it feels like I'm living more than one life. I've moved and evolved and experienced so much in my life it's hard to connect the pieces into one coherent collection of memories; It's convoluted. I know a lot of people who believe life is about creating themselves and disassociating with their past. People move cities or transfer to different schools attempting to be "someone else". Can you really run away from your past?
I was raised by my parents who were both immigrants from the Philippines. My generation of siblings and cousins are first-born americans; we were destined to live the American dream even before birth. Growing up Filipino-American was different from growing up in a stereotypical American family. There were no family game nights or dinners asking how everyone's day was going. I wasn't talked to in a more loving or respectful manner when I was being scolded. I felt governed and controlled.
The choices I made growing up were products of my parents hopes and desires. How was I supposed to make my family proud and fulfill the model minority stereotype that everyone around me expected me to be. The pressure to succeed and be the person my parents would love and accept induced psychological anxiety in me. I wasn't allowed to fail. This made every small failure growing up feel like my entire life was falling apart.
How was I supposed to carry on the traditions of my family while simultaneously adapting to western society? It made the journey of self-discovery even more difficult.
There was a point in my life where I didn't want to be Asian. I remember wishing I was caucasian because I was so embarrassed about my roots and the way I grew up. I didn't want to be associated with being good at math or playing the piano. I wasn't good at either. I didn't want to be perceived as docile and quiet. I didn't want weird looks whenever my friends looked inside my refrigerator or heard my parents try to understand the person on the other end of customer service. I tried distancing myself from my culture; I stopped eating the foods and listening to the tagalog music I sang and danced to as a kid. I tried so hard to be someone else.
Looking back, I'm ashamed of the process I underwent trying to figure out my identity. To be ashamed about the people and culture that supported me my entire life is one of my only regrets.There was so much time wasted not talking to my parents and opening up to them. So much time wasted not learning the language or the recipes of the food. So much time wasted forgetting how hard my parents and other immigrants work so hard to provide their children with a life equal to their western counterparts, despite starting at a disadvantage.
My roots define who I am. If I were to forget everything and everyone that provided the foundation for all of my failures and achievements, I would have lost a fundamental piece of myself. I was taught discipline and hardwork.I was taught the importance of family. I was taught that God and faith came first. Most importantly, I was taught that love wasn't hearing "I love you" every single day. It was "Come home now it's late" and "put on two layers of jackets it's cold" or "don't drive it's raining hard". Even though I never heard the eight letter, three-word phrase every day, I learned to see and appreciate love in some of the smallest gestures and I owe it all to my parents. I belong to a community that values education and good morality; a community that inspires me to continue to work hard and represent a culture that lacks idols in government and the media. I know that my children and children's children won't grow up in the same environment and culture that I did, but I hope to continue the traditions and cultures, and remind them of the roots that sowed the seeds of their fruitful life and bountiful success.