In Admiration Of My Friends Around The World

Sometimes I think I’m cool. Sometimes I reflect on my life choices, and I am proud of myself.

But then, I think about my friends.

And how amazing, talented, and ambitious they are. Not to mention, how much each one of them means to me. Life is much more beautiful with friendship. And even more beautiful with true friendship.

It’s an admiration for their work and their lifestyles that doesn’t cause jealously or a feeling self-pity. Rather, I reflect on how grateful I am that people like them exist. There are people in the world who want to create a more peaceful, equal place for all, and they are out there working on it as we speak.

We are all recent university graduates. In fact, for many of them featured here, it has been one year out. If you are in university now, and need proof that you can do whatever you want – here it is. Especially if you’ve just graduated, note here that your first year out – whether you have a “job-job,” whether you’re searching, whether you’re traveling, or whether you still don’t know – it’s perfectly fine to do whatever your heart calls you to do. It will work out (unless it doesn’t, and in that case, you better start listening for the right thing to do).

I dedicate this post to my friends, who live in all parts of the world and who are all doing spectacular things.  Thank you for what you do.

In this post, you will find Rahaf (Jordan), Carly (Spain), Rita (Nigeria), Stephanie (Ecuador), Kimberly (United States & abroad), Emily (Australia), Colin (Vietnam), and Laura (Dominican Republic).

They each answer questions and reflect on their experiences. There are so many amazing pieces of advice in their answers. There is something for everyone. What speaks to you about their answers?


Rahaf (Jordan)

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Rahaf (left). Photo from http://firstperson.oxfamamerica.org/2015/03/these-7-young-changemakers-are-defying-stereotypes-about-millenials/

What brought you to your country of residence? I moved to Jordan to work on issues related to the Syrian crisis. I realized late in my senior year that I wasn’t ready to start my graduate studies just yet. I knew what I wanted to study and it seemed natural to just to stay in school after finishing undergrad. But during that time I was also working on my senior thesis focused on constitution making in post-conflict nations. I had spent some time in Bosnia doing research and realized I needed to spend more time in the field understanding the complex dynamics of conflict before I could begin to research and understand post-conflict state building.

What do you love most about your new city? The food! My friends! Amman can be difficult for someone who is not used to the Arab culture but the people I’ve met made me fall in the love with the city. This isn’t something I necessarily love, but I do enjoy being in and living with the Arab culture. It’s great.

What is the most challenging part of living there? Figuring out my role. When you work with humanitarian organizations, it’s easy to get burned out or lose hope in the work or the people you work with — colleague or beneficiaries. I find myself sometimes so consumed in refugees’ every day struggle that I forget to recognize the positive side of things. It feels draining to think about how long this war has dragged out and the increased number of refugees looking for a way back to living their lives and not letting it feel like it is disrupted or on hold. I also find it extremely challenging to work with aid workers in NGOs who don’t care about the work they are doing. Hard to understand why someone is in this field if they don’t even care for the people they are serving.

What is the best moment you’ve had since being there? I think so far it was really exciting when I was asked to be a project manager for a short-term project then asked to be a senior protection officer. It was exciting feeling like my boss thought I was capable of a position that high up despite having limited to no experience working with refugees. They trusted my work, passion and commitment and honored that with a high level position.

What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? When you live in chaos and work with chaotic situations you have to focus on the big picture. Only looking at the small picture makes it feel like you aren’t moving anywhere. That the situation is only getting worse with little positive outcomes. But those individuals who are wreaking havoc and causing problems, they are just bubbles that will eventually pop. And when the bubble pops nothing stays behind. It’s an individual’s positive impact that is forever remembered and praised. People like MLK, Gandhi and other activists did not think they won’t succeed. They tried and creating movements and that’s what sticks. The small picture matters — for example, you have to see that injustice still exists in the US — but the big picture shows you that we continue moving forward despite the bad players and chaos that exists


Carly (Spain)

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Carly (left). Photo: Facebook

What brought you to your country of residence? I came to Madrid to teach English in a high school classroom.

What do you love most about your new city? My favorite parts of this city are how safe I feel, the public transport, and the fact that life happens in the streets and outside.

What is the most challenging part of living there? The most challenging part of living here is having my friends be spread out throughout the city. Even though the public transit is fantastic and makes it pretty easy to get around, making the transition from living in a dorm with my friends to having to actually make plans and commute has been a bit of a pain.

What is the best moment you’ve had since being there?  A lot of my best moments happened with my roommate. Ironically, after living a few hours away from the Mexican border for a lot of my life, when I moved all the way to Spain I got a Mexican roommate. He is the type of person who gets up and does something fun and fantastic every day, and getting to know the city with him was an absolute blast.

What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? I love webcomics and my favorite piece of advice moving through my senior year of college and my first year in the real world was this: http://www.picturesinboxes.com/2013/11/23/rubix-cube/


Rita (Nigeria)

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Rita featured for her company’s International Women’s Day Campaign

What brought you to your country of residence?  I moved to Nigeria for my job. I’m currently working for Kaymu – Nigeria’s version of ebay and the largest online marketplace in Africa.

What do you love most about your new city? I love the energy in the city- you truly feel the hustle and bustle in everything that people do. Nigerians are generally so excited to share their culture with newcomers and they really appreciate any effort you make to integrate, whether you try to say something in Yoruba or eat a local dish. This has really made my time here great so far.

What is the most challenging part of living there? Moving to a new, big city always comes with its set of challenges. Lagos, particularly, can be hard to manage because of some unpredictable infrastructure issues with things like traffic and electricity.

What is the best moment you’ve had since being there?  I got sung to at open mic night at a restaurant that I really like once which was surprising and super flattering

What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? This wasn’t advice that I was personally given because I’ve never actually met Woody Allen and I have my doubts about him but he once said something really important: 80 percent of life is just showing up. I think that’s true for everything. I very much believe that in whatever you do, you should be wholly present, and the rest will follow. This piece of advice is the one I try to follow most.

 


Stephanie (Ecuador)

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Stephanie with a girl.

What brought you to your country of residence? As the spring semester of my senior year at The University of Scranton began, I was actively searching for opportunities to return to Latin America. I found about the Working Boys Center in Quito, Ecuador as I was leaving an interview for a potential position in Colombia. I coincidentally ran into a Scranton alum who had been a year-long volunteer with the WBC. He highly recommended the program and, after doing some research, I found myself captivated by the WBC’s mission and work. In no time, I was accepted and preparing to move to Quito.

What do you love most about your new city? I grew up on the East coast and so the big cities I am accustomed to are flat and abut the Atlantic Ocean. Quito is just the opposite. Nuzzled in the beautiful valley of the Andes, any panoramic view of the city is breathtaking. You are constantly surrounded by this majestic mountain range and I have to say, I fall in love everyday I look out the window and behold this tierra. I also have the honor of working with many indigenous people of Ecuador who have taught me about the sacredness and true power of the pacha mama. The care they take and the pride they feel about the beauty of this earth proves Quito’s unique quality of being undoubtedly both urban and rural.

What is the most challenging part of living in your new city? The most challenging part of living in Quito as a white, woman is confronting a machismo society that is resistance to chance. Most times it is unsafe to walk alone and I hate the feeling of feeling uncomfortable, but it is a reality I have come to accept. Comments, looks, and lingering footsteps have become part of the daily routine. I can only hope in time the women of Quito and society transforms to value all people and all races.

What has been the best moment since living in your new city? There have been countless memorable moments, but one of my favorites was a field trip I took with the students I teach. We went to el parque Carolina and brought packed lunches then spent the rest of the afternoon playing. That day my gender, race, and country of origin melted away. No one looked at me differently, or at least I didn’t feel any different. Everyday my students remind me that it does’t matter that I am not a native speaker, love can be expressed by playing soccer in the park on a Saturday afternoon.

What’s the best advice someone ever gave you? Don’t think everything is about you. That piece of advice was given to me a few years ago when I was personally struggling to understand myself and this life. Most times, we get so wrapped in our own realities that we actually believe that it is the only reality that exists. We make life so much more painful and serious than it needs to be. Now, no matter where I am and I feel myself slipping into emotionally selfish tendencies I have to remind myself… not everything is about you Stephanie!

 


Kimberly (San Francisco/India/Panama)

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Kimberly looking beautiful. Photo: facebook

What brought you to your country of residence? My parents. I was born in California, but have moved around the states for quite some time. I’ve spent most of my life in the Midwest and now am back in SF working with Movement Exchange, a non-profit global community of dancers who want to make the world a better place through their love, their passion, their joy, dance.

What do you love most about your new city? San Francisco is a catch-all for anything and everything. It has been a cultural and artistic hub of the world for decades and continues to carry an ethos of environmental, spiritual, and cultural progress. It is a place where, after living here for only 7 months, I can walk outside and run into somebody I know.

What is the most challenging part of living there? San Francisco is going through quite a transformation at the moment. It is odd to see black or Latino people now as gentrification has led to skyrocketing rent prices. Of course this leads to pushing people of lower classes out and those populations are usually of black and Latino descent. What people don’t realize is that their 2-year transitional stay in San Francisco while they are working at Google, Twitter, or wherever is causing the rupture of an ecosystem. You hardly see any San Francisco natives anymore and without a solid foundation of community, the ecosystem falls apart. Luckily, we still have many artistic endeavors that are fighting off the degradation of community, but every day it gets more and more difficult to resist the modern forces of technology and capitalism.

What is the best moment you’ve had since being there? Performing with Jiridon for a documentary premiere in Balmy Alley. Andreina, a friend from Bloomington, Indiana, invited me to perform with her dance and drum group for a special community event where they were premiering a documentary about the history of Balmy Alley. Balmy Alley used to be a drug-infested alleyway where little children would walk through to get to school. The school teachers, who were about my age (22), were not ok with this so they transformed the alleyway into a canvas, having staff and kids beautify it with their paintings. To this day, it serves as a testimony to the Latin American diaspora. The stories the paintings tell are so strong that any Latino, or really any human being, can’t help but have tears well up in their eyes when witnessing the magic of each mural. The murals show that all of us struggle to keep many things alive: ourselves, our culture, our ancestry. Before performing at this event in October, I felt out of place. I wasn’t sure if moving to San Francisco was the best decision. But that night, I had found my answer. This is where I was meant to be all along.

What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? In India, I met a Jain priest named Sachi who showed us the ways of temple life in Ranakpur. Upon entering the main temple, my heart stopped. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And I thought the outside of the temple was impressive. My initial body language was closed; my arms were either over my mouth or across my chest. I had never felt unworthy of being somewhere until then. The energy of the temple radiated through me and it was extremely intense for me to take in all at once. No words came out of my mouth for the first ten minutes. But then, Sachi came across an area where there was a crooked pillar. He said, “Many people think it looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa but it was intentional.  The architects knew that only God could be perfect, nothing else.” This put my mind at ease, my body opened up once again, and I realized that even the entities that seem most perfect, still house imperfections, and this is what makes life beautiful. We carried on to another  area that has yet to be completed, he said it wasn’t part of the original structure but that a King wanted to outdo another temple in the next kingdom over and ordered that architects install this addition. What’s curious about it though, is that the addition was built with greedy intentions, thereby leading to its ultimate demise. The rest of the structure stands tall and sturdy, and Sachi believes it is because it was built with the purest of intentions: love, compassion, and respect. This drew out quite an epiphany within me. The foundation of all endeavors must be love. If impurities, such as pride, ego, deception, greed, anger, desire, or jealousy, enter the mind or the hands with which you craft, all you have built will eventually crumble before your eyes. Do all out of love.

 


Emily (Australia)

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Emily looking divine.

What brought you to your country of residence? I ended up in Australia because I knew I wanted an adventure and to live abroad. I had a friend from high school who was Australian and had moved back for university. I liked the idea of having a new adventure in a place with a different culture but still having the securities in place of knowing someone from the area, speaking the language and being able to work legally and finding work easily enough!

What do you love most about your new city? I love that sydney can feel like a million different places depending on where you are. Sydney is broken down into lots of little suburbs and they all have their own unique and different vibes. Somedays I feel like I’m in New York, others Miami. Sydney has so many different things to offer!

What is the most challenging part of living there?  The most challenging part of living in Sydney is the cost of living. Rent and food are both quite expensive.

What is the best moment you’ve had since being there?  The best moment I’ve had would be watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks being light from the harbour bridge. It’s on so many peoples bucket lists and I’ve been able to tick it off of mine!

What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? The best piece of advice someone ever gave me- “do what makes you happy. Live without regrets”-my dad tells me that all the time.


Colin (Vietnam)

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Colin in Mai Chau. Photo: Antonya Wallace

What brought you to your country of residence? I’ve been living in Vietnam for the past 5 months. I decided to come here for a few reasons. Firstly, I don’t really want to live in the United States. I plan on living in Brazil long-term, but it’s pretty difficult to save money there. Also, I want to get more a career type job there. So Antonya and I decided to come to Vietnam first to be able to travel and save some money before going to Brazil.

What do you love most about your new city? I love the pace of life in Hanoi. People take their time to do everything, which is a more suitable lifestyle for me, because I’m a pretty slow person myself. People take joy in the small things, especially public social life. There are as many café’s as there are street food vendors. People are so incredibly friendly, so you end up having daily acquaintances that seem very happy to see you, even if you can’t fully communicate with them.

What is the most challenging part of living there? There are two things that make living here a real challenge. The language barrier can be very frustrating for a few reasons. Vietnamese, being a tone language is extremely hard to master. And as soon as you think you know what one word means, there are 6 others that have just an accent in difference but make a completely new meaning. Also, due to this language barrier, people tend to think you’re stupid, so I feel defensive a lot of the time. Another challenging part of living here is traffic. During rush hour it will take me about 45 minutes to travel 3 miles through the city. Motorbikes are the essentially the sole method of transporting yourself from point A to B, and there is no rule that governs traffic, not even right of way. So the first few times driving I feared for my life. I have not met a single person who has not crashed, so it’s always this feeling in the back of your mind that leaves you uneasy. Though it’s risky, it can also be a huge thrill riding your motorbike through town because there’s so much diversity to each part of the city.

What is the best moment you’ve had since being there? My best moment so far has probably been riding motorbikes to this village about 5 hours outside of Hanoi. You have to cross a mountain range to get there. At the peak of one of the mountains you can see the village deep in a valley, with all of the rice farms going up the side of the mountain. It was incredible sight and the feeling of isolation and freedom that you get on the road is pretty memorable.

What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? Make up your mind. I’m a pretty capricious person. I change my mind all the time and I’ve really started to become more confident in my decisions. It really has nothing to do with my travels here. But yeah, I like it when people tell me to make up my mind, because often times I need that reminder.


Laura (Dominican Republic)

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Laura expressing her happiness. Photo: Laura

What brought you to your country of residence? I came to the Dominican Republic in January 2015 to serve for a year with International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a human rights agency based in DC, and their field office here in the D.R. works to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of minors.

What do you love most about your new city? I live in Santo Domingo, which is the capital and most-populated city of the D.R. I think my favorite thing about Santo Domingo is the constant energy and sounds… Walking down the street, you hear constant music (mainlybachata), and at night, laughter and animated political discussions stream from every balcony as people enjoy the tropical evening breeze. It is a lively city!

What is the most challenging part of living there? I think the most challenging aspect of life here in Santo Domingo is the machismo. Though I’ve previously experienced machismo while living in other Latin American countries, the street harassment here is by far the worst that I’ve experienced. It makes something so simple as walking to the store a seriously uncomfortable experience.

What is the best moment you’ve had since being there? The best moment I’ve had here thus far was swimming in the piscina natural (natural swimming pool) in Laguna Gri Gri, located on the Northern coast of the country. This “swimming pool” was basically a small inlet attached to the ocean, with the most beautiful turquoise water I’ve ever seen. Definitely was my most *Caribbean* moment yet. 🙂

What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you?​ Well, he didn’t give me this advice personally, but I’ve always loved the quote by Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there.” At times, I find myself dwelling too much on past memories or on future opportunities, and this quote reminds me to live in the beauty of the moment and focus on being the best that I can be in the present.

 

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