learning alone-ness

“New York is one of the loneliest cities.” My roommate told me this the other day, and it just made me really sad. I hate being lonely, so why exactly did I move to apparently such a lonely place? In a city where you are surrounded by people most of the day everyday, it is easy to not be alone, but still feel lonely. However, while you can not be alone and still be lonely, on the flip side, you can also spend time alone without being lonely at all, and I think this is a lesson that I’m learning more about each day. My good friend Jake (who is having his own crazy adventure in France, check him out!) has talked about, and actually just blogged about, developing the “I” of his personality type (see: Myers Briggs Personality Test), adding a little bit more introvertedness to his very extroverted personality. One of the ways he is doing this is spending time in solitude each day, doing nothing but sitting still. Now, that sounds absolutely miserable to me because I am the kind of person that usually needs constant stimulation. But, I do think there is value in recognizing the benefits of having alone time. Not only can alone time teach me things about myself, but it can also develop my personal creativity and bring a peace to my life that might not be there if I constantly surround myself with people 24/7 just for the heck of it.

Do not get me wrong, I LOVE spending time with people — my friends, my family, my co-workers, anyone. I actually said to Jake recently, “Why would I want to walk through life alone when I could be walking through it with other people?” But I think it is my desperate desire to constantly be in the presence of others that can send me into a deep pit of depression whenever I have moments alone. Instead of dreading those moments, I want to embrace them as opportunities to learn something new, develop my own creativity, and maybe even (gasp) sit in solitude.

And while I have had plenty of alone time here in the city so far, I have also had a lot of great experiences with great people! I’ve been able to get to know my co-workers, not only in the office but also during lunches and out in the city. I was able to spend time with one of my favorite chicas from my time in Ecuador, Shannon, while she was interning at NBC for the Olympics (no biggie). I’ve been able to hang out with some new-ish friends and had a great day with them at the beach. I got to show one of my best friends Zack my life here in NYC, which meant so much to me. And one of my oldest friends (I’m talking 13 years) Sarah just moved up here for job interviews, and (because I know she’ll land one soon) I’m so excited to have her up here with me.


keep your eyes open

I haven’t blogged consistently since my semester abroad in Ecuador, and several friends have suggested I blog about my newest adventure, so here I am! I went back over my South American blog to get back in the writing mindset and to reminisce on all the great times we had there. While I love looking back on those memories, one thing I have realized about myself lately is that I tend to dwell in the past. Sometimes, I am scared of what’s ahead because I’m convinced it can’t be nearly as good as what I’m leaving behind. But as C.S. Lewis said, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

My life has been quite a literal whirlwind in the past month. Almost one month ago to the day, I had no clue what the next week, month, year had in store for me. I was too sad about graduating to want to hang around Chapel Hill any longer and was bored with the same old, same old in Raleigh. Needless to say, I was ready for a change. The next day, I was offered a freelance position as a digital developer at a production agency called Tag Worldwide in their New York office in SoHo. Yesterday, one month later, I finished my second week of work at Tag, went for dinner and drinks in midtown Manhattan with a friend, and came home to my cozy apartment in Brooklyn. Talk about a change.

The past three months have been… interesting. It seems that everyone neglects to tell you that graduating from college is yes, a milestone achievement and something to be proud of, but it also kind of sucks. All of a sudden, the routine you’ve had for 17 years of school/summer/school/summer is gone. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who lands a job right after graduation, life before you is one, long plateau. “So what are you doing now?” Most. Commonly. Asked Question. “Oh, you know, just looking for jobs” gets pretty old. Job application after job application after job application. I literally applied to at least 80 or so jobs. Throw in the depression of graduating, and you’ve got one emotional summer.

It wasn’t all bad. I had a wonderful week-and-a-half road trip up the coast of California with two of my best friends. I took a trip out to Arizona and had some long-overdue quality time with my mom’s side of the family. But what made it somewhat miserable for me was my problem of dwelling in the past. Yes, I was ready for a change, but I was also terrified to let go of the past four years, particularly my freakin’ awesome senior year. I knew in my head that God had great things ahead of me, but my heart had a hard time believing it. I was restless, but couldn’t let go.

“If you never leave home, never let go, you’ll never make it to the great unknown till you keep your eyes open.” These words kept me inspired the last couple months of school and throughout the summer [they’re from the song “Keep Your Eyes Open” by my all-time favorite band, Needtobreathe – check them out!]. So, when I was offered a job in New York City, I realized, this is it. This is the “great unknown.” Within a couple days, I had accepted the job and paid my first month’s rent for a room in a 3-bedroom in Bushwick. Within a couple weeks, I had moved out of my Chapel Hill apartment, said my goodbyes, and driven myself and all my belongings up to the concrete jungle of NYC.

And so far, I’m loving it. Don’t get me wrong, living in New York is not easy. Starting over with a limited amount of friends in your area is not easy. Adjusting to life in a big city when you’ve spent your last four years in a small college town is not easy. But it’s challenging. It’s fun. It’s an adventure. I say that even as a reminder to myself. Tonight, on the L train back to Brooklyn, I realized that throughout my various Latin American adventures and experiences even here in the U.S., I’ve lost a little bit of my “surprise” at life. Let me explain: Culture shock is something I haven’t experienced in a while, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I adapt fairly quickly to new conditions, to a point where I become almost too comfortable, and the new conditions lose their “new-ness.” On that train back tonight, “Keep Your Eyes Open” came on my iPod. I realized that not only do I need to keep my eyes open in order to let go of the past, but I also need to keep them open to see the world around me, to witness the adventure that I am living right now. The fact that I was even riding the L train tonight when a month ago I was completely aimless is unbelievable! I have many goals for this next phase of my life, but keeping my eyes open is top among them. Keeping my eyes open to this world of New York City that God has placed me in and to the adventures of the present.

I understand that this post was somewhat of a smorgasbord of my life over the past few months, but I do intend to be consistent with this blog, promise! And perhaps it will be a smorgasbord of my life in New York – the experiences I have, my reactions to them, things I learn about the city, things I learn about myself, things I learn about design and programming, photos I love, videos I find on YouTube. I’m sure there will be a redesign at some point, and you can certainly count on plenty more Needtobreathe references!

Access to a college education: DREAM or reality?

I wrote the following story for a reporting class that I was in this past semester. As I am a supporter of the DREAM Act, it was a challenge to write this story from a journalist’s perspective and not an advocate’s. I tried though, and this is my final product!


Alicia Torres Don grew up in a family where it was stressed that working hard to make a living was more necessary than an education. But Torres Don, one of nine children, wanted to go to college.

Because of her undocumented status, a college education was just a distant dream, as it is for the approximately one million undocumented youth and children living in the United States. While there is no federal law that prohibits the admission of undocumented students into colleges and universities in the U.S., there are only 12 states that offer in-state tuition to those students, making college a pricey and often unaffordable option.

Lucky for her, Torres Don grew up in one of those 12 states, Texas, and was able to get a college education, but she recognizes that it was a choice that not everyone has.

“I value it because it was a choice that I had that I didn’t think I had,” she said. “It was a choice that was there, so that’s why I think we need to keep fighting.”


The history of the ‘DREAM’

Access to higher education for the nation’s undocumented youth became a hot topic for debate in 2001 when a bill was introduced during the 107th Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students who graduated from a college or university or enrolled in the military.

Within the next few years, it acquired the name “DREAM Act,” the initials of which mean Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors. Though it continued to fail in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, supporters continued to fight for its passage, particularly after it was voted down in 2007.

When the bill was reintroduced in 2009, groups around the nation mobilized efforts to fight yet again to pass the DREAM Act. One such group in North Carolina, the N.C. DREAM Team, organized rallies and hosted vigils with particular efforts focused on convincing their state’s Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan to support the bill.

“We were aware that the DREAM Act wasn’t going to have a huge effect here in North Carolina because we didn’t even have in-state tuition,” said Torres Don, an N.C. DREAM Team member, “but we felt that if on a federal level there was a DREAM Act, then it would be an easier fight locally.”

To the disappointment of Torres Don and the rest of the state’s undocumented youth, the bill failed and worse, did not receive a supportive vote from Hagan.

“While I am open to considering some of the provisions of the DREAM Act in the context of comprehensive immigration reform, I believe that the United States must address the issue of illegal immigration at its core,” said Hagan in an email.

The most recent version of the bill that was reintroduced this year gives undocumented students an opportunity for permanent residency, and eventually citizenship, by completing at least two years of higher education or serving for at least two years in the military. In addition, the student must be under 35 years old at the time of the bill’s enactment and must have entered the U.S. before the age of 15.


The education debate

Supporters of the bill believe its provisions would benefit both undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens alike.

“We believe that if they have gone to K through 12 here, it only makes sense that they go to college here so that they can contribute back, give back to the country,” said Nayely Peréz-Huerta, community organizer and advocacy coordinator for El Pueblo, Inc. “For us, that would be the DREAM Act.”

However, opponents see the bill as a reward for illegal behavior.

“The Dream Act Amnesty legislation is not focused on immigrants,” said William Gheen, director of Americans For Legal Immigration PAC. “It is focused on providing benefits and amnesty for illegal aliens.”

“Every time we give someone a break who’s broken the law, what are we telling the people who are standing line, waiting their turn?” asked Ron Woodard, director of the nonprofit immigration reform organization NC LISTEN.

Still, advocates stand strong in their belief that undocumented students deserve a college education in the U.S.

“We do believe that they should have the same rights as any other students because they have been working just as hard,” said Peréz-Huerta. “All students should be given the same opportunities.”


On a local level

Under the current admissions policy agreed on by the State Board of Community Colleges, undocumented students may apply to and enroll in North Carolina’s community college system. The policy, which took effect in 2010, states that an undocumented applicant must be a graduate of a U.S. high school and must pay out-of-state tuition. In addition, U.S. citizens have priority over undocumented immigrants in classes or programs that have limited capacity.

“A community college will do everything it can to accommodate all students who are interested in taking classes, but many classes aren’t able to accommodate all the students that want to take them,” said Megen Hoenk, director of marketing and external affairs for the N.C. Community College System Office.

This admissions policy is consistent with the policies of other higher education institutions throughout the state, including that of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“From an admissions standpoint, some undocumented immigrants have indeed applied and enrolled through the years, but this is very, very few,” said Ashley Memory, senior assistant director of admissions at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions. “We don’t use citizenship as a factor in making a decision nor do we track the number of applicants who are undocumented immigrants.”

While UNC-Chapel Hill may not track those numbers, the N.C. Community College System does and recorded 142 undocumented immigrants enrolled in curriculum programs within the system in 2009. That number rose to 193 in 2010.

Undocumented students in North Carolina have faced and continue to face their fair share of opposition. In Jan. 2011, N.C. House Rep. George Cleveland of Oslow County introduced House Bill 11 in the N.C. General Assembly, a bill “prohibiting illegal aliens from attending North Carolina community colleges and universities.”

“I strongly feel that the taxpayers’ money should not support illegal activity of any kind,” Cleveland said.

The bill, which has made little progress since its introduction, would put North Carolina in the same boat as Alabama and South Carolina, two states that prohibit the admission of undocumented students to state colleges and universities.


‘My home is here’

Opponents of accepting undocumented students into U.S. colleges and universities believe that the issue is not whether those students can get an education, but where.

“As an adult illegal alien, someone who’s finished high school can go back to their native country and get an education there. No one’s denying them an education,” said Woodard. “That’s where they’re legally from, so no one’s denying them the opportunity to go back home.”

But for many undocumented youth who were brought here as children by their parents, their home is in the U.S.

“My home is here. My home is where my parents are. My home is where I have Christmas. My home is where I have my friends,” said Torres Don, who came to the U.S. from Mexico with her family when she was six years old.

Torres Don, now 26, enrolled in elementary school in Austin, Texas, and while she succeeded in her classes, she was one of the first in her family to do so.

“My mom has an elementary education, as does my dad, so for them, it was really hard for them to go into a parent-teacher conference and for the teacher to try to make my parents understand the value of education,” she said.

Torres Don became the first one in her family to graduate from high school, earning her diploma from Anderson High School in Austin in 2004. Because Texas law allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at state colleges, she was able to enroll at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, later that year.

“The longer you’re here and the more that you’re exposed, you know that education is very important and that it can take you a lot of places, regardless of your status,” she said.

Torres Don moved to North Carolina a year ago and, along with her younger brother José, immediately got involved with the N.C. DREAM Team, a grassroots organization fighting for immigrant rights. She and other group members fought hard for the passage of the DREAM Act last year, and when it failed, the group refocused their goals.

“In North Carolina, it was the fact that we needed to build base. We needed undocumented youth to drop the fear. We needed to sort of offer that support role, and we also needed people to know their rights,” she said.

For Torres Don, going back to Mexico for college was never a consideration.

“In you asking me to go back and consider going to college in Mexico, you’re asking me to consider giving up my life and giving up my family in the United States,” she said.

“Yes, I know the language. Yes, that’s where I was born, but at the end of the day, it’s a strange, scary place because my home is where my family, my heart and my friends are at. It’s all here.”

all we need is faith working through love

Galatians 5:6. It’s the verse that Faith Ministry lives by. Faith Ministry is the ministry that I started working with in 2006 that led me to my passion for Mexico and the people that live there. The ministry is located in Reynosa and Miguel Aleman, Mexico, and in McAllen, Texas. They are dedicated to working along the border, providing homes for people that need them, as well as medical services, scholarships for children, and a church community. Every year, church groups from the U.S. go down and spend a week working with Mexican volunteers to build a house for a family in need. The ministry works on sweat equity, so the volunteers working are ones that are working toward their own house. I’ve spent many wonderful hours over the past 5 years, working under the hot, HOT Mexican sun, mixing concrete and laying block, and making some really great friends.

My mom and my friend Gali in Reynosa

This week, my mom (lucky her!) is in Reynosa with a group from my home church in Raleigh. I couldn’t be more jealous of them, especially because I’ve gone to Reynosa for the past two years over my fall break. But I’m so excited for them to, and I know God is doing great things there this week. Unfortunately, there have been a lot fewer groups working with the ministry because of the violence occurring on the border and the hype it has received from the media. It’s hard to see the effect that this has had on my brothers and sisters that live in Mexico. But I know God is faithful, and He will protect them no matter what. And to anyone thinking about visiting the border for missions, consider taking a leap of faith and trust that God will protect you too.

“For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.” – Hebrews 3:4

think different.

I’m devoting my first post back in the blogo-sphere to a man who helped transform the way we think about technology and the way we communicate with people all over the world. Steve Jobs, founder and former CEO of Apple, was raised in a working-class family, didn’t graduate college, and started the company that is now worth over $300 billion in his parents’ garage at the age of 20. It’s amazing what he was able to accomplish in his over 30-year career, which makes it difficult to think about all he might have accomplished had he spent more time here on Earth. The fact that probably at least half of everyone who found out about his death on Wednesday found out about it on a product he invented is proof enough of the impact he and his company have had on the world.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things, push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

This video shows Steve Jobs unveiling the first Apple Macintosh in January 1984. My, how times have changed…

Check out how much Macs have changed since they first came out in 1984! (found at ReadWriteWeb)

Original Macintosh. Cost $2,495 and came with a keyboard, mouse and 3.5" floppy drive

Macintosh II. The first modular model. Cost $3,898 and came with a color video card

Macintosh Portable. First attempt at a battery-powered version of the desktop. Cost $6,500!

PowerBook 100. Cost $2,500 (1991)

Macintosh Color Class. Cost $1,390 and was the first color compact Mac (1993)

iMac G3. Marked the return of Steve Jobs to Apple. Cost $1,299. (1998)

Power Macintosh G3. Cost $1,599 (1999)

iBook. Also known as the "iMac to go." Cost $1,599 (1999)

PowerBook G4. Cost $2,599 and traded the plastic casing for a titanium body. (2001)

iMac G4. Cost $1,299 and had a sleek flat-panel screen. (2002)

Power Mac G5. Now known as Mac Pro. Cost $1,999. (2003)

MacBook Air. Cost $1,999. (2008)

MacBook Pro. Cost $1,199 (2010)



It”s crazy to see how much technology can change in just 26 years, and this is just computers. The same can be done for iPods (like here), phones, etc. The final thing I want to end with is Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford’s graduation in 2005. It’s an excellent address, and it has taken on much more significance in the days since his death. Some of the golden nuggets:

  • “Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference.”
  • “You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
  • “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
  • “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

lost in translation

The true test of mastering a language is having to translate what someone is saying into English WHILE they continue to speak in their native language. This I realized last week, while I was interpreting for a Mexican woman named Elva in a video interview done by a local aid organization, CIR. Here’s what the whole situation looked like:

Interviewer: Ask her, “What is the biggest challenge you have faced since the tornado?”

Me: “Cuál es el reto más grande que has encontrado desde el tornado?”

Elva: “Lo más difícil …emm, pues, lo difícil es…”

Me (AT THE SAME TIME): “The…most…difficult…thing. Well, what’s…hard…is…”

Elva: “Ha sido difícil encontrar trabajo, pero también fue difícil vivir sin hogar por ese tiempo después del tornado…”

Me (again, at the same time, struggling): “It has been…hard to find….a job, but also…it was hard living…without a…home…after the tornado…”

It was challenging, to say the least. But, it was also a really great experience and excellent practice translating. To think that this time last year I could barely get through an interview in Spanish, and now I can translate other people’s interviews — that’s pretty cool. Thanks to all the Mexicans and Ecuadorians who helped me out with that!

Because I’ve been studying Spanish for so long, and I now consider myself somewhat fluent, I sometimes forget what it was like to not be able to understand the language. Then I listen to something like this:

Oh yeah, now I remember.

i discovered ecuador

It’s already been two months since I got back from this wonderful little country called Ecuador, so of course I was excited to see this pop up in the news recently.

Even if you don’t understand Spanish, you can still probably tell that the Ecuadorian Tourism Ministry just launched a new campaign to promote Ecuador and bring more foreigners to visit there. There are these cool video billboards in Times Square that list different awesome things to discover in Ecuador. Here are a few of them:

I discovered a hummingbird the size of a bee in Ecuador — Hmmm, can’t say I saw any of those, but I’m sure they were there!

I discovered 4,500 different butterflies in Ecuador — Check. The beautiful little town of Mindo has a butterfly farm!

I discovered 14 different Amazonian trees in Ecuador — Check. Our school trip to the biodiversity station in Tiputini gave me the chance to see probably about 159,348,058 different Amazonian trees!

Amazonian rainforest

Now those are some Amazonian trees.

I discovered mountain biking down volcanoes in Ecuador — Check (kind of). I might not have biked down a volcano, but I did hike down a volcano, ride a horse down a volcano, and ride a chiva (an open-air party bus) down a volcano. So, that counts.

I discovered 15km of wild surf on one beach in Ecuador — Double check. I spent Carnaval in a beach town called Montañita, which is one of the best spots to surf in Ecuador. And then, one of my favorite places in Ecuador, and where I learned to surf, a little town called Canoa. Plenty of wild surf there.

Surf in Canoa

See that surf in Canoa? And the view's not too shabby either.

I discovered an avenue of volcanoes in Ecuador — I saw quite a few volcanoes while in Ecuador. There was Cotopaxi, the highest peak in Ecuador, which I never actually climbed but drove by a few times. There was Tungurahua, a volcano in the town of Baños that was actually erupting when I took my sister there in May. And finally, Sierra Negra, a huge volcano on the Galápagos Island of Isabela that is 6 miles long and 5 miles wide and hasn’t erupted in 6 years.

Volcan Sierra Negra

Volcán Sierra Negra in the Galápagos

And finally, my personal favorite: I discovered beach parties until dawn in Ecuador — Check, a thousand times check. You can’t go to a beach town in Ecuador and not find a party going on until dawn, usually at a tiki bar out on the sand or, as in Canoa, at a dance club right below your hostel.


This guy didn't last until dawn. That's what'll happen to you during Carnaval in Montañita

do what you love

My friend Carrie, who’s living it up in New York City this summer, shared this on her blog last week, and I loved it. I tried to pick out a favorite part, but I couldn’t — I love it all!

1) Do what you love and do it often — There are so many things I love, but I always “don’t have enough time,” which leads to another suggestion from this quote…

2) If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV — Amen. Let’s see, “Say Yes to the Dress” or exploring some random part of Chapel Hill I don’t know? “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or learning more French? “Pretty Little Liars” or reading through the book of Romans? I could spend my time a LOT more wisely.

3) If you are looking for the love of your life, STOP; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love — Double amen. Enough said.

4) Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself — Done, done, and done. I want to travel so badly, but I realized this past semester that I really do appreciate time at home. So, for a while, I’ll stay planted in Chapel Hill/Raleigh, but come May, I want to be in Europe.

5) Live your dream, and wear your passion — Everyone should know what I’m passionate about. I should be living it out every day!

come on darlin’ open up your eyes

Needtobreathe never disappoints. They have been one of my all-time favorite bands since I first heard their album The Heat in 2008. They have a new single out called “Slumber,” and it does not disappoint. Seriously, it’s awesome. Check it out!

Days; they force you back under those covers,
lazy mornings; they multiply,
glory’s waiting outside your windows.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.

Tongues are violent, personal and focused,
tough to be with your steady mind,
Hearts are stronger after broken.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.

All these victims stand in line for,
Crumbs that fall from the table just enough to get by,
all the while your invitation.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.

Take from vandals all you want now,
please don’t trade it in for life,
replaced your feeble with the fable.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.

All these victims stand in line for,
Crumbs that fall from the table just enough to get by,
all the while your invitation.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.

Sing like we used to,
dance when you want to,
taste for the breakthrough open wide.

All these victims stand in line for,
Crumbs that fall from the table just enough to get by,
all the while your invitation.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.

Come on, sing like we used to,
and dance like you want to.
Come on darlin’ open your eyes.
I wanna sing like we used to.
I wanna dance like we want to.
Come on darlin’ open up your eyes.

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