Two Worlds, One Family

College is described as a time for growth, where we students join clubs to explore our interests, or discover new ones, and take classes that are supposed to help us figure out a profession to pursue. While maintaining an acceptable GPA, having a social life, and getting a decent amount of sleep each week, we are also supposed to discover more about ourselves as we dip our toes into adulthood.

As I reflect on this stage in my life, I can’t help but ask myself this simple yet thought provoking question: who am I?

A large part of who I am comes from what my parents taught me about our cultures. The problem is that the cultures I am a part of may not be so evident just by looking at my face. Often, one glance at a sliver of skin is all it takes for someone to form a first impression based on racial stereotypes. Our identities are partially shaped by our interactions with others, and when there’s a disconnect between how the outside world views us–their opinion based on stereotypes and assumptions–and how we view ourselves, we end up recalibrating our personal definition of who we are in an effort to reconcile the dissonance.

While perusing the bookshelf at 35 College Ave, I came across an elegant, white book titled “Whasian,” which immediately halted my scanning eyes. Written by Joy Huang Stoffers, a fellow SAS Honors Program student, this novel details a college freshman girl’s struggle to define herself amidst the added stress of a dysfunctional family.

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Ava, the protagonist, is Whasian, which is a combination of “White” and “Asian”; she has a Chinese mother and a European-American father. Some synonyms for Whasian include: Amerasian, Eurasian, Hapa, and Halfie. Coming from two different worlds, East meeting West, Ava struggles with her identity because her racial ambiguity, white face with asian features, causes her to feel like she is floating in between both worlds, unable to plant her feet firmly in the ground and define who she is.

Ava’s mother belittles her daughter’s unique appearance and labels her a “mongrel,” which only hinders Ava’s attempts to find herself. Like Ava, I am Whasian and this commonality is what prompted me to pick the book off of the shelf. I identify with Ava and know what it’s like to feel like an outsider. Fortunately, I was never on the receiving end of another person’s disgust at my heterogeneity. I never heard slurs directed toward me, that I know of, except for the one time when a boy called me “slanty eyes” on the playground in second grade. I cried to my parents because a description of a facial feature I had no control of, my eye shape, was mocked, and in a tone so nasty that I felt that it was wrong to have slanty eyes. They comforted me by driving the schoolyard taunt out of my head and replacing it with love and a positive view on my appearance. My family and friends do not see me as two different halves, but as a harmonious whole. Their support and love has helped to pacify the rough seas formed by attempts to make me feel ashamed of my hybridity.

I don’t get bothered when people ask me, “What are you?” Obviously I’m a human being and they are not asking about what species I belong to, although the tone in some peoples’ voices may come across that way.  Sure, the question can be rephrased in a better way, but I know that the person asking the question wants to know about my ethnicity. I don’t mind when they try to guess my mix either–I treat it like a game, like Fool the Guesser you see at fairs.

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I can never win this game

I hope my face is ambiguous enough to stump them. I smile whether they guess the right or wrong ethnicity; I am amused by their curiosity and appreciate the desire to decode my features. Maybe I am naïve, or ignorant, or insensitive because I am not affected by or don’t acknowledge the microaggression contained in this question. Maybe I have this outlook because I have not been treated poorly because of my race and ethnicity.

Recently, my dad has been asking me how I identify: as White or Asian. I see myself as both but sometimes I’ll feel more like one than the other depending on the situation. Because of my mix, it’s sometimes a struggle to fit in with one group or the other. Even though both sides of my family accept me, I’ll feel out of place when surrounded by my mom’s relatives and friends because I’ll feel too White. Conversely, I’ll feel too Asian when surrounded by my dad’s relatives and friends. What makes it worse is that despite practicing the traditions and knowing the customs, I don’t speak either of their languages so it distances me from fully being a part of my cultures. This concept of not fully belonging to one or the other has prevented me from joining respective clubs on campus because I’m afraid my inability to communicate in the native language will result in me being seen as an outsider.

Like Ava, I learned to celebrate both halves of my identity. I hope to someday learn the languages so I can feel like I truly belong to both my cultures. I love being mixed. My parents have shared their traditions with each other and with me, and as a result, we have created our own way of celebrating both cultures. They coexist in my house, and in my soul, and they mix and interact in new and interesting ways. It’s normal for us to eat kielbasa over rice or to share opłatek before digging into a plate of pancit. I know I am not alone in my heterogeneity. I belong to a community of other racial mixes who understand what it is like to be between cultural worlds.

Who I am and how I see my self will never be a fixed definition because I am constantly changing, growing, and learning.

What I do know is that I will cherish my cultures that were brought together when two worlds collided to form one family.

Who am I?

I am Whasian.

Amerasian.

Halife.

Polipino.

Me.

Snow Won’t Keep Us Inside!

This past weekend, we experienced an actual blizzard. I say this because our snowstorms have been quite lackluster for the past few years. For some, this is a great joy to hear; for others (like me, who enjoy playing in the snow), this was disappointing to hear. I remember getting more than one foot of snow in the winters of my childhood; I remember making snowmen, sledding, and coming inside exhausted and spent, warming my feet in some fuzzy socks, mug of hot chocolate in my hands.

And these past couple years, I wondered, “Why don’t we get that much snow anymore?”

That could be answered in a lot of different ways, but besides conjecture, one thing is true and clear: Earth’s climate is getting warmer.  Scientific consensus is that it’s mostly our fault, that it’s because of the greenhouse gases our machines emit. It’s really not difficult to believe this when there are so many machines that we use around us that contribute to the amount of greenhouse gases in the air. But wait. So what does that mean for snow? My thoughts are that if we don’t do something more to halt or slow the Earth’s increasing climate, then we might not have snow anymore at all. Of course, losing snow is the least of our problems with an increasing climate. But it’s just another thing to add to the list of things we might lose.

With this in mind, and a desire to create new memories (and relive some of my childhood ones), I spent this weekend outside with some friends, specifically Sunday, because getting caught outside in the middle of the snowstorm wasn’t really my idea of fun.

Although I didn’t make a snowman, I did sled around places on Busch campus. The air was cold and crisp, but it wasn’t freezing; the weather was perfect for sledding. One of the steep hills on campus is the hill across from the Campus Center. We didn’t sled there, because the street was across from us, and landing there could have been catastrophic. But angled correctly, and toward the other side, and it might have worked. Another was the sidewalk near Serin and SERC, but there were trees and the sidewalk had mostly been cleared. That doesn’t mean we didn’t try sledding down that hill. We strolled the campus, looking for places to sled, or sometimes just sat around:

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I’m glad I wore two pairs of pants, but I was still soaked after sitting on that mountain of snow.

And we had some fun with some snowball fights, because the snow actually stuck together well enough to form a snowball. And in the process of running around campus, running away from snowballs, we saw a bunch of snowmen:

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This one was in the courtyard by Crosby Suites.

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This one was in front of BEST Hall.

And some snowmen had been knocked down, which was depressing. Coming upon those felt like someone was snuffing out a piece of life, or brightness. And the snowmen, although nice to see, were nowhere near the calibre of last year’s snowmen, when people had created snow statues of The Thinker and Pietà. So this is a challenge to all of you out there: do you think you can build a better snowman next time we have a snowstorm?

And reliving my childhood wasn’t complete yet! I had one more thing left to do:

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Make a snow angel!

I’m surprised, as I was making the snow angel, that I didn’t get more soaked. That might have been because I was already pretty drenched.

And to bring this childish experience back into the future, I took an aesthetic picture. For memory purposes, of course:

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A Visit to the Guggenheim

One of my favorite activities to spend an afternoon on is visiting an art museum. They’re such calm, enriching places, where we can just gather and admire beauty and art for beauty and art’s sake. Whenever I get the chance, I love to pop into different art museums and take leisurely, enriching walks throughout the exhibitions.  In bigger museums, like the Metropolitan Museum, this means going from world to world–crossing over from Ancient Egypt to the Hellenistic era, and to the Renaissance era. In smaller museums, this means enjoying the thought-provoking nature of the pieces and enjoying an intimate experience with the artwork. This break, I finally got the chance to go to the Guggenheim, which happens to be located in Upper East Side.

The building itself is a work of art–approaching it on the clear, sunny day I went, I was awed by the bright ceramic white and the spirals. Among the usual boxy, rectangular skyscrapers of the city, the Guggenheim stands out with its sloping curves arching towards the sky.

We entered the museum, using our library passes to get in for free, and stood in awe, looking up at the sky. A beautiful spiral arched up, framing the bright blue sky. Walking up the sloping spiral, you gently get closer and closer to the sky. The museum was spacious and allowed you to really get close to the pieces and take it in.

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Walking through the museum, we came to an exhibition: “Photo-Poetics: An Anthology.” I found this exhibition particularly interesting–the pieces were thought-provoking, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing or challenging. The pieces themselves were mainly photos of objects and written words like newspaper clippings or passages from books. Their combination had a very poetic nature to it with certain words being highlighted, or poetic phrases being framed.
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Another exhibition I was particularly excited about was the one featuring Vasily Kadinsky. I had studied him in class and was excited to see the works in person. Kadisnky was a Russian abstract artist in the 20th century. He produced some of his most influential art after moving to France in 1939. His pieces are bright explosions of geometry, and I deeply appreciated the more-geometric pieces. The colors were quite eye-catching, and my friends and I had to take a few minutes to really appreciate them.

I highly recommend a tour of a local art museum any time you are in a new city. These expeditions are very entertaining and have provided me with some of my favorite artists and pieces. In addition, local art museums really give you the feel and culture of a place. At Rutgers, the Zimmerli Art Museum is a great place to walk around–there is a lot of interesting artwork to appreciate there. And it’s a great place to admire art and unwind after some classes.

A Very Active Winter Break

When picturing a long break from school, I generally look forward to sleeping late, spending time with family, and watching entire seasons of TV shows on Netflix. However, winter break is always different for my sister and me. There is no lazing  around on the couch for us; instead, we are out on the Swiss Alps skiing from early in the morning until mid-afternoon. When we arrive to the Netherlands, we continue staying active by biking around town and spending afternoons ice skating. Honestly, with all the eating we do during the two Christmas days in the Netherlands (three large meals) and New Year’s Eve, it’s a relief that I can rely on our long skiing days  to burn off the extra calories. Additionally, although I try to keep active during the semesters at Rutgers, with exams and work, it takes a lot of courage for me to drop everything and go to the gym. Thus, winter break is the perfect time to work out through a variety of different winter sports. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to return to school feeling fit and ready to start a new semester.

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Every winter break, my family and I go home to Switzerland and spend New Year’s up in the mountains. Generally, we like to go to Crans Montana, which not only has great ski slopes, but also has a very lively family-oriented village atmosphere. Generally, Crans is covered in snow during late December; however, this year we weren’t as lucky with the snow conditions. Although we got to practice skiing in all kinds of conditions (ice, grass, rocks), most skiers will agree that nothing can match the joy of skiing down a slope of fresh snow on a sunny day. Nonetheless, my father refused to let us give up on the poor snow conditions and so, every morning at 10 a.m., we found ourselves skiing down the slopes. Since I was always used to seeing the mountains covered in snow, I found that it was a pretty funny sight to see the hills of grass all around us.

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Although we both took a few painful falls while skiing down the rocky slopes, we did learn how to ski down different conditions. The only annoying part, however, was that on the day of our departure, the long-awaited snow fall finally did arrive. Yet if you have skied before, you will know that during heavy snowfalls with little visibility, it is not much fun to ski down the slopes. Thus, we unfortunately did not get to benefit from the fresh snow. In any case, I still considered our ski trip a success since we got to ski down the slopes the entire week.

Upon arriving back in the Netherlands, we had to adopt to the very flat topography of the country and skate instead. In fact,  up in the North of the Netherlands, it has been so cold that the streets have frozen and become new ice skating rinks for the Dutch. In the Youtube video bellow, you can see how the Dutch have taken advantage of the freezing temperatures up North.

Although we did not get to skate on the streets of Rotterdam, my sister did bring me to the indoor skating rink of the city. The skating rink we went to was constructed in the form of a 400-meter track covered by temporary roof that was placed to cover the ice. Thus, after more than an hour of skating around the track, my sister and I both felt our legs aching from exhaustion. In the Netherlands, ice skating is an integral part of Dutch culture during the winter season. During the winter months, every town in the Netherlands generally opens up a small outdoors skating rink wth the option for people to rent skates for the day.

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To finish up our skating outing, my sister and I went to grab the typical warme chocomel met slagroom (hot chocolate with whipped cream) from the little food stands near the skating rink.

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When I woke up this morning and felt my leg muscles aching, I knew that the hour we spent skating had paid off. Going to the gym is not the only way to get a good workout during the day. Winter break is the perfect time to go out and find new ways to both have fun and keep active. Although my sister and I have still been binging on episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, Downton Abbey, and The Bachelor, we still have managed to incorporate some sports into our break. School is starting is less than a week, so go out and take advantage of the time off and try out some new forms of activities! If you have not gone skiing or skating before, maybe this could be the chance to try it out and see if it you like it. In any case, I guarantee you that the leg workout will make it worth the effort 🙂

Beauty is Only Skin Deep

As I perused the makeup section with my younger sister today, thoroughly impressed by the diversity of shades, I thought back to a similar scenario six years earlier. It was the first time I went makeup shopping with my mom, and I was in awe of the aisles of foundation, mascaras, and lipsticks that gleaned in their beautiful, untouched packaging. I came prepared a list of products that Seventeen Magazine swore were “must-have essentials” for every make-up bag. First on the list, naturally, was a make-up bag. The other products, however, were specific foundations, blushes, and lipsticks that were sure to compliment everyone. And yet, as I browsed the aisles of Maybelline and Covergirl, I began to second guess the authenticity of the list. None of these products were made for me, or more specifically, made for the color of my skin. The foundations asked if I was fair, beige, tan, or dark tan. Well really, I was like a medium, honey beige with yellow undertones but only in the winter and early spring. My skin in the summer was a completely different story. But it seemed like none of these makeup companies seemed to consider that.

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But where is my skin shade??

Slightly disheartened, I picked out the tan shade and moved on to the lipstick section which looked pretty darn foolproof. Seventeen Magazine recommended having at least two lip colors: a nude pink for during the day and a bold fuchsia for going out. As an introverted freshman with a questionable social life, I stuck with the first option. The nude shade was supposed to be close to the neutral color of skin, with just a little pop of color, whatever that entailed. Browsing the lipstick cases, I was torn between shimmering apricot and moody mauve. I stuck with the latter, which more closely looked like the shade Seventeen recommended and called it a day.

As I got home, I rushed to my bathroom and ecstatically opened my new purchases. I looked at the faces in the magazine and envisioned myself as a completely new person. The next few minutes were followed by confusion then defeated dejection. The foundation transformed me into a slightly anemic oompa loompa while the lipstick suggested that I was in favor of the 90’s frosted lip making a comeback. Horrified, I washed the products off and consulted what I (naively) considered to be my makeup bible, my Seventeen Magazine, trying to see if I accidentally bought the wrong products. But it turns out, I did buy what the magazine claimed to be makeup items that complimented every skin tone and I began to speculate if maybe they just forgot to consider women of color.

As a South Asian woman born and raised in the U.S. I was accustomed to being considered the black sheep in the beauty industry. I was always too dark for my parents’ standards and not the right shade of tan for Western standards. Beauty icons with my skin color were largely absent from the shows I watched and the magazines I read. One of the first women to break this void of South Asian women in Western media was Frida Pinto, who exploded on the scene after the wild success of Slumdog Millionaire. After that, however, it wasn’t until much later that I began to notice more and more South Asian women being featured as beauty icons. In 2011, Mindy Kaling became the executive producer of the office and then in 2012, she wrote, produced, and starred in her own show (which is so, so good). Her success as an actress and producer (in a largely white, male dominated industry)  began redefining the role of South Asian Woman in Western media. In 2014, Neelam Gill became the first Indian model to be featured in a Burberry campaign. I remember seeing the ad and being in awe that there was this person featured in a high fashion ad that I genuinely saw myself in. I hung a picture of the ad in my room as a tiny victory. More recently, Priyanki Chopra became the first South Asian actress to receive a People’s Choice Award and again I felt a small swell of pride. Although we’re always taught that beauty is only skin deep, it was nice to know that the notion of beauty, regardless of being external or internal, was diversifying its image.

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The wonderful Burberry ad

Moreover, despite these small breakthroughs, there continues to be a large void in the film, fashion, and beauty industry in including South Asian and other women of color; however, I think we’re slowly starting to pave the way to a more inclusive media. Don’t get me wrong–I still sometimes feel very self-conscious when I walk into a place, knowing that I am the only non-white person there; however, surrounding myself with a wonderfully diverse group of friends and finding beauty icons within those very people is a good place to discover what it means to be and feel beautiful.

Adventures in Spain!

For the upcoming Spring semester, my posts will be a little bit different from the norm. This is because I have been given the incredible opportunity to study at the University of Valencia this semester through the Center for Global Education at Rutgers! I’ve only been in the city for four days, and I am already sure I’m going to love it! The first few days have been overwhelming, as expected, but I’m finally settling in and adjusting to life in Spain.

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Some aspects of life here in Spain are very different from mine, and of many people, back in the US. Unlike many college students, I’m not that big on taking naps; however, siestas are a very real thing here. Every day at 2 pm (14:00 in Valencia!) almost all of the shops and businesses close, except for restaurants, banks, and a few other essential places. The siesta is a time to relax, to eat a large, enjoyable meal, and literally take a nap. Because dinner is served so late here, I find myself wishing I could more easily nap during the day to avoid sleeping on such a full stomach at night. However, I’ve already started to grow more comfortable with the concept, and perhaps I’ll take a siesta every day when I return to New Brunswick.

The food is another thing that is very different in Spain than it is back in the states. Valencia is the birthplace of paella, a Spanish dish that is made up of rice. It is an assortment of a few different kinds of vegetables and a mixture of meat, depending on what region you are in. Traditional Valencian paella has chicken and rabbit in it, which is not quite what I expected, but is absolutely delicious. I’m still adjusting to the sodium content of the food here, which has come as quite a shock in comparison to my extremely low sodium diet at home. I think I may have audibly gasped when they salted the salad at the first restaurant I went to. Other than the salt, everything I’ve tried here so far is great. Most of the meals include jamón (ham), and almost all of the vegetables are locally grown in the areas that surround Valencia.

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Paella!

I cannot believe how normal living in Valencia feels after only four days! There are still some things I am getting used to, and I know I will continue to get annoyed at my frustrating lack and meticulously slow improvement of Spanish knowledge, but adjusting to life in a new country on a different continent is a process that takes a lot of patience and determination. I am nothing but excited to see what changes and experiences the next five and a half months of my life bring!

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(I will still be writing for the Honors Program Blog, but if you want to see more posts and photos from Valencia, I’ll be keeping a blog with the url madelinepadner.wordpress.com!!)

Adventure Awaits

It has been eleven days since the much anticipated countdown to the New Year and I still haven’t thought of a New Year’s resolution to attempt. Once the ball drops, “new year, new me” sentiments flood social media. While the thought of a new and improved self sounds very appealing, what exactly does that mean? How do I want to improve and better myself, my well-being? I want a simple and effective goal with a plan that I know I’ll stick to. As much as I want to go to the gym five days a week, I know that it’s not realistic because to be honest, I am really a little lazy. On that note, what I do know is that I need a new show to binge-watch. I’ve just finished Downton Abbey (which was an incredible and emotional experience) and I’m yearning for a new series to squeeze in before school starts, so if you have any suggestions I would love to hear them.

With the new year comes new opportunities for change and personal growth, and along with keeping an eye open for new Netflix suggestions, I am searching for new adventures. I think I may have figured out what I want my New Year’s resolution to be. I want to take advantage of as many opportunities and adventures as I can. I don’t want to be held back by fear or uncertainty, and I need to let go of the baggage from 2015 that will hold me back. There is no better place than Australia to put into action my plan to take advantage of all the new year has to offer. I am so eager to study abroad in Brisbane at the University of Queensland this semester.

Ever since I was little and learned about kangaroos, koalas, and the Great Barrier Reef, I have been fascinated with Australia and wanted to go. I had to adjust some plans prior to applying to study abroad but I know it will all be worth it in the end. The anticipation surrounding this adventure has fueled my desire to see more of the world with friends. I even want to challenge myself by travelling a bit on my own. During a conversation with my dad in a Home Depot parking lot, I described my dreams to him and exclaimed, “The world is my oyster!”

This cliche phrase has never seemed so appropriate. Each new year brings me closer to new adventures and I am extremely excited for what’s to come. 2015 had its ups and downs, but now it’s 2016’s turn to prove itself memorable. I’m optimistic that this year will be rewarding and filled with unforgettable moments.

This year, you won’t find me in the gym. I resolve to spend less time indoors and more time walking in the wind–exploring, growing, and learning. The world is my oyster and I am its pearl, polished by the new year. Let the waves of opportunity carry me through a thrilling and successful year. Adventure awaits.

Restriction, Revision, and the New Year

Even though technically the beginning of the year is just a moment in time, the start of a new year still feels like a big deal. For the past week, I’ve been doing everything in my power not to taint the fresh whiteness of 2016. Everything needs to stay perfect, from my handwriting to my hair.

Of course that’s a totally unrealistic approach to starting a new year, but it’s a practice I find myself falling into every January 1st (and on my birthday and at the beginning of each semester). I feel like a lot of typical New Years’ resolutions come from a negative place motivated by restriction rather than reflection. There’s this desire for abrupt change that’s fueled by this false idea of a clean slate. This year, I want to think about my goals in terms of revision. I’m not starting from scratch; I’m just making changes to a work-in-progress.

Like many teenage poets, I have pages and pages of really terrible poetry. In middle school, I wrote poems on pieces of paper ripped out of spiral notebooks and kept them folded in little squares in the pockets of the hoodies I wore every day. Once when it was snowing, I lost one of my poems because it fell out of my pocket, and the white lined paper blended into the snow, so, of course, I wrote about that catastrophic event. This was all very serious at the time, and I kept everything I wrote in a folder hidden at the bottom of one of my desk drawers. Just to make sure you know how serious this was, this is a poem I wrote in seventh grade:

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This is about the time in Family and Consumer Science when my cooking group defended me when I was going to get in trouble for someone else pouring macaroni into a sink. It was a truly emotional experience.

Looking back, though, much of what I wrote was obviously very ridiculous and exaggerated. That isn’t to say that my emotions weren’t “real” or that writing wasn’t a good outlet for them, but I’m very comfortable with the fact that my free verse poetry was pretty much absolute garbage. I don’t regret writing in that style, though, because it was how I learned how to write freely, to write exactly what I was thinking and feeling instead of muddying up the message with figurative language or contorting it to fit into a rhyme scheme. Around this same time, I was also really into writing historical poetry, specifically relating to the Holocaust and the French Revolution. My historical poems almost always had a rhyme scheme, and looking back now, I can see that I was definitely drawing on the style of Edgar Allan Poe to discuss darker, more violent topics.

Although I don’t love all of the poetic choices I’ve made over the years, it does make me feel better about myself to put it into perspective. I was trying to understand how I felt using techniques placed in front of me by other authors. Sure, maybe it wasn’t my brightest moment when I capitalized every noun so I could be like Emily Dickinson, but at least I tried.

Most of what I wrote in middle school is pretty much unsaveable. I’ve combed through poetry from that time trying to find something worth recycling, but, honestly, I’m pretty content with leaving the words I used to express myself in middle school firmly in the 00s. My high school poetry is a little bit different, though. There are moments worth stretching out and playing with, interesting phrases and wordings that deserve equally interesting frames. For example, take this:

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I’m pretty sure I thought good poetry had to be so abstract that no one could understand it. Unlike the Symbolists, I was not trying to make any actual point by this abstraction.

It’s not great, and I’m not sure what it’s about, but I love that silence is functioning like a red string meant to remind the speaker of something, that it gets weirdly meta in the third line, and that it uses a really conversational tone despite how bizarre it is. It’s not great, but it’s also not finished. I haven’t looked at this in probably three years, but sophomore-in-high-school me is totally inspiring sophomore-in-college me right now.

Time doesn’t fit neatly into calendar boxes; 2015 is over, but everything that happened last year and every year before that still affects everyone living in 2016. I’m working on revising the me of last year, but I’m also revising the me of yesterday and the me of an hour ago and the me of a sentence ago. It’s so much less scary to approach this year knowing that I’ve already laid the groundwork for everything I want to accomplish and that there are people available to help me from my professors to my parents to Gertrude Stein. And it doesn’t really matter that the way I write the letter s changes from word to word or that my hair is perpetually frizzy, but it would be nice if that weren’t the case.

A Day as a Dutch College Student

Ever thought what it would be like to be a university student in the Netherlands? Or maybe you considered studying abroad in Leiden University. Today, I decided to experience Dutch student life by following my sister, Laura, through her typical day in Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Laura is currently a freshman in a three-year bachelor program. Although she is part of Erasmus University, Laura is currently pursuing her studies in the Erasmus University College (EUC). The college is run by a Liberal Arts program where students take a range of mandatory classes in their first year (like our Core Curriculum) and then choose their concentration in their second and third years. EUC follows a Problem-Based Learning curriculum where small groups of students work together to define, discuss, research, and share information on current topics. Semesters consist of two quads where students follow three different classes per quad. Although some of Laura’s lectures are in Erasmus University, most workshops take place in the EUC building. Most remarkably, the building is one of the few to have survived the bombings of WWII in Rotterdam.

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For their first year in EUC, students are required to reside in the Student Hotel. Each student is given both their own room and bathroom and expected to share a communal kitchen with around ten peers. Along with the room and board, students receive their own bicycle to commute to EUC which is a 10-minute bike ride from the Student Hotel.

According to Laura, living in the Student Hotel has been a great way for her to meet students and make friends. Because she shares a kitchen with her floor mates, Laura often cooks meals with her friends. For Thanksgiving, everyone was in charge for a certain dish that helped create a fine Thanksgiving feast.

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Although meal plans are available for purchase in the restaurant of the Student Hotel, mostly everyone chooses to cook together instead.  Everyone has their own shelf; however, Laura explained that people mostly shared their food and utensils.

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After visiting Laura’s kitchen, I recalled how integral the dining hall had been to my Freshman experience at Rutgers. Meeting friends and grabbing food after class in the Livingston Dining Hall made up a huge part of my social life at Rutgers. However, according to Laura, sharing a kitchen with her floormates made them like a second family to her.

Together  with her friends, Laura explained that they bike every week to the closest “Albert Heijn” for grocery shopping.

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One of the other things that struck me was Laura’s room: I was very envious of it. Unlike my Freshman experience in the Livi Towers with a communal bathroom for six other girls and me, Laura gets her own private room with bathroom. Not mention, she also has a room cleaning service come in a few times a month.

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Laura explained that while students have mostly one three-hour class a day, they spend the rest of the time studying independently in their rooms, kitchens, or communal study areas in the Student Hotel.

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After showing me around the Student Hotel, Laura brought me down to the basement to see the EUC equivalent of Rutgers buses-bicycles. For students in the Netherlands, the most efficient way to go to class is on a bike. Everywhere in the Netherlands, there are lanes dedicated solely to bikers. In fact, when Laura and her friends go out on the weekends to pubs or Frat houses in town, they use their bikes to travel around.

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The bikes in the Student Hotel

After renting a bike for me as well, Laura brought me through the path to EUC. On our way, Laura teasingly warned me not to fall into the canals. Although she was joking, because of the narrow paths we biked through, I chose to take her advice to mind.

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I recall that upon arriving at Rutgers in my first year, one of the first things my father did for me was buy me a bike. Although I did end up using it sometimes to commute between Livingston and College Avenue, I never truly did commit to riding my bike. In the Netherlands, however, biking is an integral part of Dutch culture. Rain or shine, Dutch students are always ready to hop onto their bikes. In fact, my father always recounts how as a child, his mother would always bring his brother and him to the Saturday market on her bike. Biking is not considered a sport, but rather a main mode of transportation.

On our way to town, Laura pointed out a Dutch Frat house called Laurentius. Fraternities & Sororities in the Netherlands are considered forms of student associations where students rush to get initiated into the association. Student associations are highly looked up upon as they are a great form of networking in the Netherlands. Laura also explained that the frat houses throw parties on the weekends but that she prefers to go out in town instead. Since the legal age to enter clubs and pubs in the Netherlands is 18, Laura and her friends choose to explore the nightlife in Rotterdam where they can meet college students from around the world.

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Laura also took me to the big market hall in Rotterdam where you can find food from around the world. First, of course, we had to battle to find a place to park our bikes in the center of the city.

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In the market hall, Laura brought me over to the Dutch dessert stand where they were baking fresh stroopwafel cookies. Stroopwafels are traditional Dutch waffle cookies with warm caramel in the middle.

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Eating a fresh stroopwafel is the ultimate experience for a Dutch kid whenever their parents bring them to the weekend market in their hometown. Needless to say, I am still a Dutch kid at heart.

Coming over to visit Laura at EUC is always a great experience for me. Back when I was applying for universities, I had made the decision to apply to Rutgers and come to the U.S.. However, the Netherlands is still my home and through Laura, I get to live the Dutch college experience in my own way.  From what I have heard, the college life in the Netherlands is a lot different to the one at Rutgers, but still a lot of fun. Rutgers currently has an exchange program with Leiden University which is also located in a great town. If you are curious to explore a new college experience, I recommend you to check out the Netherlands as well!

Greetings from Rotterdam!

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Tips for Maintaining a Crazy Schedule

I find winter break to be the perfect time to get organized and make plans for the upcoming semester. I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions that are forgotten in a few weeks–but I do believe in setting goals throughout the year and taking meaningful steps to achieve them.

My goal last semester was to get more organized. I have always had an overwhelming schedule throughout college, and it started catching up with me by the end of junior year. For this reason, during my first semester of senior year, I made some changes in my habits that led to a much smoother semester overall. There are a number of things I now do so that I can pay my rent, spend time with my friends, tackle a difficult class schedule, travel every once in a while, exercise, AND binge watch Netflix. The key is time management.

How do you properly manage your time to successfully balance schoolwork, friends, jobs, clubs, volunteer experiences, sleep, exercise and travel?

  1. Organization
  2. Motivation

It is my belief that you will succeed at managing your time if you become more organized and do things that keep you motivated. If you don’t stay motivated, you will burn out halfway through the semester (I learned this the hard way). If you don’t stay organized, you will inevitably neglect one of your responsibilities, whether it be school, work performance, or your friends and family.

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In accordance with this Venn Diagram, I think that it is possible to defy the laws of physics. There a lot of things that I do to maintain my sanity and live through my schedule, ranging from the obvious to some that you might find useful!

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Make time for everything and spend your time wisely–this means that I plan when I will exercise and do homework. I’ve found that when I have allotted time for doing my homework, I feel like I absolutely have to do it during that time, and I tend not to get distracted as much. If I only have two hours to write an assignment, I end up writing the assignment without procrastinating (too much).

Similarly, if I don’t plan gym time into my schedule, I won’t go. If it’s written in red on my calendar I probably will go. If I plan ahead of time to meet my friend on a run every Wednesday, I definitely will go.

Make to-do lists! It may seem unnecessary, but it feels very rewarding to cross something off your list when you finish it. For to-do lists, I strongly recommend Google Keep. Here is a screenshot of my current tasks (the web version):

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  • It works on a phone, tablet, or computer, so you can get the app on hand-held devices and sync between them. You can also just use the web browser version if you so desire.
  • You can quickly filter and search for notes by color or characteristics (ex. “shared notes”).
  • You can add written notes, audio notes, lists, and pictures!
  • You can copy a note to a google doc or share with your friends with the click of a button.
  • When you’re done with a list, you an archive it to hide it from view.
  • You can set a reminder for a task, which is especially useful on a mobile phone.

Create a Google Calendar! I find that during winter break, I finally have enough time to start building my schedule for next semester! Using Google Calendar is great because as a Rutgers student, you have a Scarletmail account (which is basically a Gmail account that comes with access to Google tools like Google Calendar).

Features that I love in Google Calendar:

  • It syncs readily with your phone and laptop (think of the “Calendar” app on your iPhone).
  • You can share it with family and friends (and you can choose to hide or show their events on your calendar, which is very convenient when you’re trying to remember their trips and meetings, but don’t want them to show all of the time).
  • You can make your events all sorts of different colors, which makes it easier to visually distinguish between jobs, class, volunteering, and club events.
  • You can opt to receive text message reminders for appointments, by adding your cell phone number in Settings!
  • You can have an agenda sent to yourself in your email each morning. This way you can see whatever you have planned for the day in your email when you wake up. This can be done under “Reminders.”
  • You can make lots of different calendars–for example, a work schedule calendar, a class calendar, and a personal events calendar.
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The phone app is really sleek…

Use a physical planner. I used to think that I could live without writing everything down. I would memorize every event and obligation that I had. That was until I almost forgot about a really important event for work… I then invested in a planner (which doesn’t have to be a big investment). If you have never had a physical planner, you should consider using one. Even if you use Google Calendar on the regular, it is very satisfying to scribble notes to yourself all over your weekly agenda. I prefer to use a physical planner for writing down my homework assignments and tasks, and a google calendar for events, appointments, and my work schedule.

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Tackling 2016 with my elephant planner!

Create an Assignment Spreadsheet. This is basically a giant excel sheet with every assignment from all of your classes listed in one place. I prefer to keep it on Google Docs so that I can access it at all times. This blogger gave pretty good ideas for customizing one.

Download the Self Control App. This app will block any sites you tell it to for any amount of time you choose. You can set it for your class time so you aren’t distracted by Facebook while you’re there, or you can turn it on while you’re writing a paper to help yourself focus. I don’t use this app anymore because I found that after some time, I no longer needed it. However, if you don’t have it on your computer already, you should consider downloading it.

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Every day of my week is different, but there are certain things that I keep as part of my routine. For example, I always leave time to enjoy a big cup of coffee every morning. This time is mine for reading the news, jotting down a comprehensive to-do list, blogging on Tumblr, or learning to do something on Pinterest.

Other things that are non-negotiable: exercise and 7-8 hours of sleep every night. If I’m tired, I’m unmotivated. If I’m groggy, I’m unmotivated. I don’t sacrifice sleep for anything anymore and that has been a life-changer.

There are a few other things you can do to stay motivated as you go through your daily schedule. Schedule breaks in the middle of doing work so that you don’t burn out. These can be work-out breaks, blueberry tea breaks, Tumblr breaks. Your mind wanders after a certain period of time, which affects the quality of your work. To maintain quality, do yourself a favor and take a scheduled break before your brain takes one for you.

After a long week of working I try to reward myself with something that will help with self-improvement. Don’t get me wrong–sometimes I crave a milkshake, so I will buy a milkshake (Everyone, please go to The Counter on George Street and get an Apple Crumble milkshake because it will blow your mind). IDEALLY, I aim to buy something like new workout leggings that I know will make my runs a little more fun.

I hope some of these tips come in handy for your new semester. I have some new goals that I am excited to tackle:

  1. More morning runs! I love to run, and I did run for the whole summer and most of the fall semester, but I got a bit lazy by the end of it. I’ve found that the main thing keeping me from going on runs is boredom. My current plan is to listen to podcasts while I run, which I think will help me stay motivated. If you have any suggestions for podcasts, please comment below! Let’s join Mark Zuckerburg in his 365 mile challenge!
  2. Color coding my notes. My notes and study guides have always been black and white, without pictures and color, just lines of text. I spoke to a few friends recently who looked at my notes in shock and suggested that I use more color and pictures in my notes and study guides, which they claim makes things easier to remember. I’m going to give it a shot this semester and see how it goes. Time to invest in some colorful pens and highlighters.
  3. Buying less coffee. If you know me at all, then you know that I buy coffee all of the time, despite having a coffee maker at home. My goal is to finally start making more coffee at home, so that I can spend all of that money on something else (such as my backpacking trip to Europe with my friend N.K. ❤ ).