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.”

The switch…

And I’m now on WordPress! I decided to make the move here from Blogger because, while I have appreciated my blog there for the past 2 or so years, and I will always love having it as a vault of the memories I’ve had traveling, I want a new start for my senior year of college. And WP seems to be on the move now as a better web tool than Joomla, which is what I currently use for my website. But I’m working on switching everything from that over too, so that everything is condensed here!

So, to check out some of my recent travels to Mexico and my semester spent in Ecuador, as well as few random posts thrown in, check out joyamorpeace.blogspot.com.

This blog will be a mix of some things I’m passionate about — Latin America, food, photography, music, and Spanish. So stay tuned!