Studying Abroad

Today marks the end of my third week studying abroad in London. As I stand on the precipice of my last essays, presentations, and final exams, I feel overwhelmed and slightly terrified for the future of my next two weeks. I should explain that the study abroad program I chose was five weeks in London and nine weeks in Paris. I admit, I was greedy, and I wanted the opportunity to explore two countries, learn two cultures, and speak one new language. 

Now I come from a university where the definition of stress has no limits; each semester I am pushed beyond boundaries I thought were impossible. I heard from individuals that studying abroad would decrease my stress levels; the classes would be easier and I was essentially “paying for an A”. I thought the universe dealt me the perfect hand, but once again, I realize life is combination of moments that are idyllic and moments that are chaotic. Nothing ever goes as planned, but I have to be okay with it. 

One of the most difficult things about studying abroad (for me) is the difference found within the culture of the classroom. At Berkeley, eight hundred students in a lecture class makes it easy to hide behind the crowd; however, my classrooms now consist of twenty students. A discussion based lecture terrified me more than I could have imagined. My anxiety levels surge when I either answer questions incorrectly or lack an opinion on the subject matter. I get embarrassed when other students are avidly fighting for their beliefs, and I cannot muster the same courage. But what I learned was, it is perfectly okay to be interested in a subject, to fight for a belief, to have a passion even if other students seem more knowledgable. It doesn’t make my interest worth any less, and it doesn’t mean I am not worthy of my passions. I have the right to be just as obsessed as they are and, comparison is truly the thief of joy. 

The second issue is finding the right balance between studying and playing. I know this is a struggle most students face, but studying abroad exacerbates the situation because you’re in a new country. Your country is probably surrounded by so many other countries and traveling every weekend seems like the norm. It all comes down to priorities and what type of you can you fall asleep with at night. It’s important to find this balance in the earlier weeks of studying abroad before you’re filled with regrets on one end of the spectrum. 

And on the topic of social media. Social media is fun, but it’s also deceitful. So many people believe I’m having so much fun and life is easy and worry-less, but no one’s life is filled with happiness twenty-four/seven. My mind is constantly going between happy, anxious, excited, sad, just like any other person. We tend to show our best selves on social media, and I’m guilty of it too. 

Studying abroad is always teaching me something new everyday, and here are just a few extra lessons I learned. I realized I wish I took more classes in Political Economy before I declared my major. I love spending time with other people, but I also needed more alone time than I would’ve admitted a year ago. The fear of missing out is so real, but it’s going to happen and it’s going to be fine. And there are days when nothing is perfect and everything is going down the drain, but if I can remember where I am and still be in awe of my surroundings then I know that I am blessed and thankful.

Be kind to yourself when you’re abroad because you are bound to make mistakes along the way, but studying abroad is worth it. It takes you away from reality because working, participating in clubs, volunteering – these duties disappear and they’re replaced with time to explore new surroundings. So amidst all the stress I am going through currently, I’m also really happy. 

 

A Fight for Equal Education

I never knew what it meant to volunteer, to give away your time, and be alright with it. Although I’d like to think human beings are inherently good, we are also so selfish. This past January I became a tutor at the Boys and Girls Club of America. I started because I wanted something to do, something to pass the time. Three months later, I want to say volunteering has finally shaken me out of my own world; I realized I want to fight for something bigger than myself: equal education.

In eighteenth century America, the emergence of the idea of a self-made man was created by Benjamin Franklin. In his autobiography, he addresses how he overcame the pressure of genealogy. As the youngest son, he was unable to inherit from his family, but his life and his accomplishments mirror the possibility of an ordinary person defying the odds to become an extraordinary person. One of his lesser known inventions is his creation of libraries. It reiterates his idea – despite the social status one is born into, with an access to education, anyone can make something of oneself.

Education is different nowadays. I grew up in a privileged family, and I took for granted a lot of the opportunities I received. From a young age, I had tutors and educational programs for any subject I desired. I was able to take piano, ballet, and art classes, and I believed this was normal because I grew up in a community where many kids had the same extracurricular I had. In college, I realized other students did not grow up in similar circumstances, but many more students had. This problem is complex because higher education is attracted to students with amazing test scores and well-rounded individuals; these are opportunities low-income students find much more difficult to receive. The root of this cause lies in income inequality. At the Boys and Girls Club of America, I know many of the children come from low-income or working class families. These kids are intelligent, and they deserve everything to succeed. It upsets me because I know many of them will not be granted after school tutoring programs, SAT, ACT, Subject test classes to make them one step ahead of the game. Some of them will continue to pursue education, fighting their way out of inequality, but some of them will see their classmates rise ahead in grades and test scores and lose hope. At the location I worked with, there are girls here who accept themselves even when others call them “weird”. There are girls who will not be afraid of playing sports with boys and are not afraid to dominate conversations. There are boys who come from broken homes and find it difficult to open up and make friends. Their stories broke me and healed me. I cared about their futures and their aftermath; I wanted to see them succeed. I want to be able to offer them guidance and education. I know I don’t have the answers to change the ways of society, but I want to play the role I know I am capable to doing, a role where I can even out the playing field ever so slightly.

No Place Like New York City

IMG_9832I can’t help it. Every time my plane is near minutes away from landing into John F. Kennedy Airport, I play the song, “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift.  I plan activities and restaurants weeks in advance, knowing I would never check off the entire list but trying my best to do so. Can you tell? I love Manhattan.

Here were some of the highlights from the most glorious week in New York.

Best Skyline View

Skyline

 

I try to visit New York at least once a year, partly because I am obsessed with this city, but the greater reason is because many of my friends and my brother are currently attending New York University. Every time I’m interested in exploring a new part of the city; this time I visited Brooklyn Bridge Park. This park is beautiful. Even during the winter, there are so many families gathered around the frigid cold; I’m sure the summers would be flooded with New Yorkers. Why make the trek to Brooklyn when its 20 degrees and raining? The stunning city skyline. You get to see all of New York City and Staten Island.

Best Museum 

MET

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a must visit when you come to the city. Tickets are pay as you wish, and there’s just so much to explore. On a rainy day, I like to come here and get lost within the hundreds of galleries. Surprisingly, I always find a new time era I was unable to venture into before. It’s fun to be lost within different realms and be inspired by art from generations. There’s also free wifi at the museum, so grabbing a book or your laptop is a great place to get some work done!

Best Rooftop View

IMG_9960

There are so many attractive observatories in New York. Many decide to go up the Empire State Building, the recently opened One World Trade Center, or the Rockerfeller. My personal favorite is the Rockefeller because I like to see the Empire and the One World in my rooftop view, not be on it. However, I discovered a new personal favorite this break, the Whitney Museum. Many museums in New York are pay what you wish on Friday; it’s the same for the Whitney Museum, but it’s only after 7pm. The eighth floor of Whitney provided an gorgeous view of the Meat Packing District; I felt totally immersed in the city.

Best Dessert 

Juicy Spot

 

Juicy Spot Cafe. I stumbled upon this dessert cafe by mistake. My friends and I were looking for smoothies, and this cafe seemed to offer some (stated on Yelp). Upon entering the cafe, we were enticed to try the desserts. Recently, I’ve been seeing many cafes implementing a thai-style ice cream rolls. They’re extremely popular in my hometown, but they seem to have made their way to New York! They have an option to order the base, flavor, toppings, and drizzle; however, I chose one of their popular go-to combinations. I was not disappointed; the watermelon lychee ice cream roll was heaven. This cafe isn’t too popular yet, but I’m hoping more people will realize how delicious it is.

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