Do it for the (Insta)gram

It’s a Friday night at Rutgers, which means the pressure to have an absolutely amazing and unforgettable evening is here once more. It has to be Instagram-worthy. Snapchat famous. As I sit on our (oddly short) couch, I mentally prepare myself for the cumbersome routine of getting ready to go out. “Why aren’t sweatpants socially acceptable at a party? Is it okay if I eat my leftover Indian food before we go? Can I leave early and binge-read Pride & Prejudice instead?” These are the important questions I ask myself as I refresh my news feed for a third time, reluctantly planning out my night.

But then something magical happens.

Amidst the virtual realities we each occupy on our computers, one of my housemates pulls out her guitar, sits on the floor, and begins to strum. One by one we slowly start to close our Buzzfeed articles and Netflix pages. It starts with a small hum and within 5 minutes, our silent house is filled with an original rendition of Adele’s Someone Like You. Then we switch to Jason Mraz. Then Beyoncé.

With our windows open, our neighbors are probably confused as to whether we’re singing or crying, but in our living room there is nothing but smiles and laughter. And quality music of course. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Something as simple as sitting around a guitar at 10 pm on a Friday while the rest of the street is planning its own unforgettable night makes me appreciate moments like these. It is so easy to get sucked into this idea that if you’re not going out tonight, you’re missing out. There’s an entire acronym dedicated to this feeling: FOMO.

We see it through Facebook and Instagram. All the candid shots, the perfectly timed, mid-laughter photos. It’s almost instinctive to want to take a picture of a moment because we’re so afraid of forgetting it. We’re afraid that if we don’t capture it now, it didn’t really happen. Well did it?

Absolutely.

I realized while smiling to the words of “I’m Yours,” that I don’t need a picture to remember this moment, because it’s okay if I forget it. It’s okay to just immerse myself in the feeling as it is and not remember it weeks from now from a hazy photo in my camera roll. Because truthfully, not every moment is going to be unforgettable. Most of them we will forget and that’s okay because new ones will come along with just as much laughter and sentiment as the last.

As a member of a generation so eager to record and store every single caption of time on our iClouds, I think we should take a step back and stop worrying about whether or not a moment is Insta-worthy and instead, just appreciate it for what it is. And just that.

In the end, we did end up going out that Friday night and taking one or two (maybe more) outrageous selfies in the process. But I can say with full confidence that the wonderful feeling of dancing with my friends and singing along to some good music is something that was never captured in a picture and I’m perfectly okay with that. 🙂

What Happens When You Look Up

My iPhone might be the single-handedly most important object in my life. Or chocolate-dipped strawberries. I haven’t decided yet. But whichever one comes first, my iPhone does not ever leave my hand, and as sad as it is to say, it is unfortunately true. So I decided to see if the rest of the college population is as bad as me about this. And I can report to you now, that they are… that some might even be worse. I mean for starters, I saw a girl actually walk into a street sign because she was texting. Or online shopping, because in that case, it is perfectly acceptable.

The first thing I decided to do was survey Rutgers buses. It is unbelievable that we spend so much time with so many strangers every day, yet we are unable to have conversations that extend beyond, “Can I sit here?” So on my first bus of the day, I sat and observed. There were 40 students on the bus, and 31 of them were on their phones. And no, not just listening to music, but texting or playing games. The next bus I was on had 31 students, and 23 of them were on their phones. The third bus of that day, and the last, was so packed (typical of the LXs this year) that I could not count the amount of people, but let me tell you, even when we were all sandwiched in with no space to breathe, let alone move, people still managed to fish their phones out of their pockets. I repeated this experiment for the rest of the week, and every time, the result was more than 70% of the students were on their cell phones each time I was on the bus.

So I took this experiment a little further. I actually spoke to people… Can you believe that? Words came out of my mouth… and they were normal words, not shortened abbreviations for laughing or a sad-face emoji in substitute for actual grieving. And the results did actually surprise me. Any time I asked someone a question next to me, I made sure it was an open-ended one from which a conversation could form. I asked a total of ten people this whole week and four of them did not touch their cell phones and actually had a decent conversation with me until we reached our designated bus stops. Three of them answered while on their cell phones. And the other three responded with a short reply and then went back to their phones. So to sum up, I did not make any new friends, but I did have some actual laughs on a bus, and it was a great change from the normal quietness and occasional bad music blasting from a pair of Beats.

The final test of this iPhone challenge occurred during dinner. On a normal Thursday night, I had dinner at Brower with six of my friends. But before we started eating, I asked each and all of them to put their phones in their pockets for the entirety of the meal. Of course the first question I got was, “Can’t I just keep it face-down?”

And I simply replied, “No.”

So guess what happened that Brower meal? Well here’s a clue: none of us died. We all lived to fail our exams the next day, we all still remained friends, we, believe it or not, survived not touching our cell phones for 45 minutes. Rather, we laughed a lot, insulted each other a lot, and managed to not have a panic attack over being away from our other half (the iPhone of course).

So why is it that we are so afraid to be disconnected from the virtual world and instead reconnect ourselves with the physical world around us? Why do we get a panic attack when we can’t feel our phones in our pockets? Why do we refuse to walk a few doors down to ask our neighbors for scissors, but instead just text them if they have a pair? Why are we so afraid to let ourselves look up?

After my week of going phoneless for various amounts of time, I’m not going to lie – I did have mild anxiety at times. I would feel for my cellphone, want to turn it on, but then have to mentally yell at myself not to. And a couple of times, I couldn’t resist. And what did I gain from checking my phone during those points of weakness? I saw that I gained one new follower on Instagram, I had a text from my friend that said “Lol,” and I had a couple of emails from stores that I really should unsubscribe from because I am a one romper away from drowning in debt.

So I urge you fellow iPhone addicts, put your phone down for a minute on the bus. Look around your surroundings to see if you actually know what road you’re on. See if those boys dressed in a banana and a gorilla costume are still running down College Avenue. And then put your phone down for ten minutes. Get to know the people who live next door to you. Spend ten minutes trying to figure out when your next essay is due and how you’re going to write it. And then, put your phone down for a meal. Resist the urge to touch it during dinner. I promise you, it is not that hard. Sure, nothing life-changing may happen in those few minutes that you don’t touch your phone, but I also promise you, nothing life-changing will happen if you are on your phone either. So put your phone down, make new friends, ask people about the music they listen to, compliment someone’s shirt, or just look out the window. There’s a whole world around you when you remember to look up.Oct-1

United Nations Peace Day 2015

Visiting the UN Headquarters in New York City had always been a priority on my bucket list. Because both my parents had worked in the United Nations, I hold this organization dear to my heart. When people ask me why I have traveled so much, my answer is the UN. Because there were duty stations spread out across the world, my family and I have had to move around every four years (sort of like an embassy position). As a result, I have lived in four developing countries where I was able to witness first-hand the ways in which the UN works to encourage development, environmental protection, human rights, and other such critical goals.

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When I was notified a couple weeks ago that I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 UN Peace Day Conference at the Headquarters, I immediately signed up. I had already witnessed how UN agencies across the world were trying to implement the Millennium Development Goals that were set to be achieved by year 2015. Now, I wanted to see where the actual decisions were being made. At the conference, I would not only be a flag bearer at the official Peace Day ceremony, but I would also participate in a Youth Forum in the General Assembly where Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would address us himself. Needless to say, the opportunity was one I could not pass up.

Peace Day is a day dedicated to promoting the ideals of peace among people and nations. First established by the United Nations in 1981, the day now occurs annually on September 21st. On Peace Day, countries around the world must recognize non-violence and temporary cease-fires. This year’s Peace Day theme was “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All” stressing the importance of civil society and youth in promoting peace across the world.

So on Monday, September 21st, I joined a group of around 15 Rutgers students and our coordinator to board the 6:23 a.m. train to NYC. Once we arrived in front of the tall rectangular UN building, what did we do? We took a selfie…

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I stood there and admired the building. Dressed in formal attire, I almost felt as if I were on my way to work. I could not help smiling as I realized that I was following in the footsteps of my parents.

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After about half an hour of getting through security and obtaining our passes, we all rushed into the building to find our flags for the ceremony. I ended up bearing the Kyrgyzstan flag. Although we were pretty far behind, we could hear the Secretary General’s opening speech and the toll of the Peace Bell.

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The Peace Bell is the official UN Symbol of Peace. Offered as a gift from Japan to the UN in June 1954, the bell is rung twice a year during Earth Day and World Peace Day. As flag bearers, we were told to raise the flags high and observe a moment of silence each time the Secretary General rang the bell. We got to hear the bell ring once again at 12 p.m. once our Youth Forum in the General Assembly had concluded. That time, however, the honor was bestowed upon the Secretary General’s spouse, Yoo Soon-taek, to ring the bell. We once again observed a minute of silence and then recited in unison: “Let Peace Prevail on Earth.” I can clearly remember the excitement I felt at being part of these symbolic minutes.

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After the closing of the official Peace Day ceremony, we all hurried towards the General Assembly to get the best seats in front of the Secretary General and the other distinguished speakers.

Sitting down in the General Assembly, I could envisage myself representing one of my home countries in the future.

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During the conference, we had the privilege of hearing several speakers share the ways in which they promoted peace on earth. Some of these speakers included actor and director, Michael Douglas, who is also UN Messenger of Peace and strongly involved in advocating disarmament of weapons across the world. Another notable speaker was artist Herbie Hancock, who discussed the ways of finding peace through music. Other remarkable appearances included Messengers of Peace, Mr. Yo-Yo Ma and Dr. Jane Goodall, and the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi. Throughout all the speeches, the one common theme was promoting the involvement of youth in decision making. All speakers congratulated us for having attended the conference and stressed the importance of our contribution.

After a few more demonstrations and questions, the Peace Bell rung signaling the end of the Youth Forum.  As everyone rushed to take their last group pictures in the General Assembly room, I glanced around at the grand room and promised to myself that I would be back in this room having made a difference in the world.

Our group of Rutgers students have decided to meet up again and discuss ways in which we can implement the lessons we learned at the UN back at Rutgers. I am excited to hopefully come up with ways to make a difference in our community.

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Thank you to Jehad Felemban for all the great pictures in this article that he took of our group at the United Nations.

SASHP Artists Collective

The SAS Honors office building (located at 35 College Ave) holds many events throughout the week; they are all listed in the weekly newsletter. One of them is the Artists Collective: a coffee shop-esque gathering where anyone is invited to perform a song,  recite poetry, or anything else you want share with the world. Sometimes, the scene shifts from a performance art stage to a visual art gallery that displays students’ artwork or photography.

On Friday September 18, the SAS Honors Program Artists Collective held an exhibition for Shannon Gilbert’s photos from her recent spring break 2015 trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. She is a sophomore in the SAS Honors Program and is majoring in Economics and History. To her, pictures help others see the world as she sees it and spread the history of the places she’s visited.

The Yucatan trip has been occurring for the past five years or so. This spring break opportunity allows SASHP students to see the wonders of the ancient Maya. Students spend a week traveling around the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico seeing ruins, going on adventures, and making new friends. It’s not difficult to snap yourself an Instagram-worthy picture while in the Yucatan, for it’s a gorgeous place to be, and impressively, all of Shannon’s pictures were taken with her iPhone or GoPro.

The header photo was taken during sunrise from the beach at Puerto Morelos, home of the world’s second largest coral reef. The photo is gorgeous and looks like one of those backgrounds that come preprogrammed on your computer. Here are a few of her favorite photos that are currently on display at the Honors building:

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This is an underwater photo taken while snorkeling in the coral reef at Puerto Morelos.

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This photo was taken while swimming at Cenote-Ik-Kil. A cenote is a natural sinkhole filled with water, which attracts those who enjoy swimming.

A picture of the famous Maya ruin: Chichen Itza

A picture of the famous Maya ruin Chichen Itza.

During this past trip, Spring 2015, the SASHP travelers visited an elementary school for the first time since the Yucatan program started. When they arrived at the school, the elementary students surprised them with a home cooked lunch. Our fellow Rutgers students learned some of the Mayan language, which is expressed in hieroglyphics. Shannon explained that the school teacher translated the Mayan into Spanish and Dean Nazario translated the Spanish into English, like a game of linguistic telephone. The students used their knowledge from the classroom to make crafts designed with both Mayan and Spanish and sell them to tourists to raise money for their school.

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Rutgers Honors Program students sat in on a lesson and were taught a little bit of the Maya language.

Shannon recounted one night when they slept in hammocks after exploring Kaxil Kiuic, a biocultural conservation. James Callahan, a professor who worked at the site, warned them to keep their windows closed because it will get really cold at 4am. She and her roommates were skeptical because it was still hot out when they went to sleep, so they did not heed his warning. At 4am on the dot, everyone woke up shivering and they rushed to close the windows and grab their blankets.

Although that is not the most action-packed memory, it’s different, new, and something unique to remember from that trip. It’s something that you would not be able to experience here in the States. That’s the beauty of travel — you get to see the world, meet new people, expose yourself to different cultures, and do things that you wouldn’t be able to do any where else in the world.

I went on the Yucatan trip in 2014 and I am telling you, if you are wondering how to spend your spring break, I highly recommend going to the Yucatan. It’s such a wonderful opportunity at a decent price. Not only do you get to explore a culturally rich part of the world, but you get to do it with a fantastic dean and other students, with whom you will form friendships with. Take advantage of the other trips that the Honor Program has to offer. No one I know has ever come back disappointed. So seriously, promise me that you will try to go on a trip, okay?

The Artists Collective is a way for anyone and everyone to show off their passion, meet other honors students, and have nice conversations with the people around them. Keep an eye out for more Artists Collectives in the future and if you’re free, try to go to one. It’ll be a nice way to spent an couple hours.

To see the rest of Shannon’s Yucatan pictures, stop by the SAS Honors office building. Her exhibition will be up through October 16.

If you want to talk about the Yucatan trip, travel in general, or anything else, feel free to email me or leave a comment! 🙂

Health is a Human Right

I never thought I would have a chance to go to Central America, but a few months ago I made the decision to apply for a Global Brigades trip to Honduras. In August, I found myself on a medical/public health brigade in a beautiful country with a violent reputation that did not resemble my experience at all.

Beautiful Honduras

Beautiful Honduras

I have always been rather wary of trips like this. I do not believe that providing aid without working with the local community, without developing a plan for sustainability, can make a significant impact. However, after researching the Global Brigades mission and plan for success, I was impressed by their method of developing sustainable change. It is a success because of their holistic approach. They do not only provide medical aid, but also bring in microfinance, business, engineering, architecture, water, public health, and other professionals that educate people about personal finance, prevention, and planning when they don’t have access to that kind of education. I have a passion for global health and have always wanted to experience public health work outside of the classroom, so this trip seemed like an important experience.

The people we encountered in communities a few hours from the capital were profoundly kind, curious, and open. They taught us their language and customs; they wanted to share experiences and interact. They were also trapped in certain circumstances that hurt their health. Foremost, they lacked the education, safe resources and access to healthcare they needed to live long, healthy lives. They wanted to learn about basic sanitation, they wanted to live free from parasites and preventable infections, but they had contaminated water and they didn’t know the importance of washing their hands and brushing their teeth twice a day, among other things. With the proper education, they could take control of their circumstances and prevent certain health conditions that would otherwise control them.

My favorite part of the trip was going to a school and teaching young students there about the importance of basic sanitation and making healthy choices. A lot of the medical conditions that their parents suffered from were preventable, and we were able to teach them how to brush their teeth, filter their water, and make healthy food choices.

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Another important mission of the trip was to promote gender equality. A large portion of the public health trip was manual labor- working alongside community members to build a bakery, a latrine, and a safer stove that wouldn’t have harmful respiratory effects. Some of the women we encountered did not believe that they could do the same labor as men. Watching us, some of the women started to join in on the projects and they were very proud at the end of the day when they saw what was accomplished. The bakery that was being built in the community would eventually employ a group of women who would otherwise be unemployed.

An ecostove we built

A week in a foreign country will not change the conditions in that country. However, with a lot of people trying to make a change and chipping in throughout their lives, I do believe that things can get better, little by little.

Tiny kittens in Honduras

Tiny kittens in Honduras

Things I learned & will try to keep in mind:

  1. You don’t need to go to a foreign country to help someone in need. There are plenty of ways to volunteer by your home; there are plenty of people that are in need in a nearby community. If you give a little bit of your time each month, you can make long-term impacts. Even if you give just a few hours of your time each week at a local shelter that can make a really great difference.
  2. Objects and money don’t equal happiness. When you are used to the standard of living that we have, it may be hard to distinguish between what is and isn’t important… But when you have just enough to live off of, the line between what is and isn’t becomes pretty clear. On a side note, many of us spend our lives trying to do as much as we can and accomplish as much as we can. When you near the end of your life, those aren’t always the things you cherish.
  3. Kids are the same all over the world and I am positive that I want to work with them for the rest of my life. They are equally as sneaky, funny, and silly anywhere you find them and they make the best of any situation. They are my biggest inspiration.
  4. Even if you encounter a language barrier, your biggest tool is a smile.
  5. On a day-to-day basis, you may or might not encounter serious gender equality issues, but there is so much more work that needs to be done on a global scale.
  6. We are very privileged to live in a country with accessible public education from K-12th grade.
  7. Health is a human right.