People come and people go

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The transient nature of some relationships has really struck me lately¬†as it seems to be a reoccurring theme in conversation with many of my friends. For instance, I was recently chatting with a friend who will be graduating this spring in a little under a month and she mentioned how she will be moving away from Toronto, back home far away. She said she is beginning to realize just how many people she met here in four years and so she is also beginning to realize just how many people she will leave behind when she returns home to start her life after undergrad. In the end, though, she said it’s all worth it because of the friendships she formed and how much she learned from them. Even though it will be hard to go, she implied¬†it would be harder to have never made such strong connections in the first place.

As I, too, will be leaving soon, this conversation got me thinking. I have made so many positive friendships here with people I will really miss when I am gone. It’s just eight months, but maintaining these relationships is important to me because relationships in general are very important to me. Furthermore, it is equally as important to me to build strong relationships with people I meet while I am abroad on placement. This makes sense given my personality: A while ago, I re-did a Myers Briggs profile test with another friend of mine and I found that I am still (and probably will forever be) an ‘ENFJ‘, which means¬†it’s literally coded into my personality that meaningful friendships and connections with others is key to my happiness and my feeling satisfied with life.

Thinking back, I’ve always been driven to¬†really get to know¬†people. I remember when I was in high school feeling confused that the world is often asking us “What is the meaning of life?” when I had always known that, for me, the meaning of life is connecting with others and learning and growing from those connections¬†and experiences. I surely must’ve absorbed this from my mum. When I was little, she would¬†remind me that everyone you meet is your teacher, meaning there is something to learn from every relationship and interaction you have with others no matter if it is positive or negative or even seemingly inconsequential.

I can see how this idea has impacted my life. For example, I work in student¬†life on residence, which means it is my job to connect with people and also to help them connect with each other, and I love it! On residence, though, the impermanence¬†of relationships can be quite obvious as people move in, stay only for a few months, then move out to pursue new adventures. Students often only live on rez for their first year, or even their first semester of school. While they will build many lasting relationships that persist beyond their time here, they will also have connections that fade¬†when they move away. I’m recounting this not as a lament but as more of a reminder to myself that while some connections might feel fleeting or insignificant, they can actually have a big impact your life.

This is definitely something I’m keeping in mind in regards to the relationships I will build while I am abroad. I want to not be afraid of making friends and connecting with people just because I will be moving back home in eight months. Instead, I want to embrace the time I have to connect as much as I can and learn as much as I can from the people I encounter. At the end of the day, it is through meaningful relationships, no matter how long or short, that we grow.

Staying Focused

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I’m the kind of person who’s always got one half of my brain in the present and the other half day-dreaming about the future. This can be very useful because I always have several plans on what to do for the weekend, the summer, or, you know, for the rest of my life. But this kind of forward thinking can get me into trouble during the really busy times like the last couple of weeks of classes (a.k.a. right now) because it makes me procrastinate.¬†Sometimes I can fool myself into thinking that applying for jobs or googling interesting post-grad degrees is ‘productive procrastinating’ but when I’m this swamped with assignments at the end of the school year, I have no time to indulge. The problem is, of course, that right now I have the best excuse ever to ‘productively procrastinate’:¬†I’ll be flying to Ghana in just over forty days and I’ve got to prepare for that, right?

The truth is, I’m going to have time in April to prepare by doing my research and making sure I’ve got all my administrative ducks-in-a-row. So right now I just need to power through two anthropology essays, one international development paper, a research proposal, a reading journal, and a short-but-terribly-annoying participation assignment. Oh, and a couple of exams. Believe it or not, that’s all (except for time) that’s standing between me and my co-op term. And by ‘that’s all’, of course, I mean I feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do over the next week. I’ve planned well and I know I’ll get it all done because I always do but that doesn’t mean I’m not stressed about it.

One thing that’s keeping me going – besides reading Ghana-related travel blogs – is a conversation I had with a friend a couple of weeks ago. We had just received back one of our anthropology papers (my first-ever fourth year class assignment!) and we had both done quite well despite being a little terrified we’d dramatically failed as a result of our rushed writing to hand it in on time. She was telling me that, at one point, she considered not even completing the paper at all because she didn’t have to in order to pass the course, mathematically speaking. She’d still do fine in the grand scheme of things. She said the realization that the world would go on and everything would be okay even if she didn’t write her paper to perfection (or even at all) made her feel relieved and relaxed because suddenly this wasn’t a huge, big, scary task anymore. In other words, by reframing the idea of this paper in her mind, she had taken the power away from the stress. She told herself this wasn’t a life-or-death situation. In fact, she relaxed herself so much that she wrote an excellent paper and got a very good mark.

As we are both admitted perfectionists, this was such an enlightening conversation. I love the idea of letting yourself off the hook and giving yourself some wiggle room in the sense that you don’t have to write a paper that is going to change the world forever or that¬†will be the best written paper of all time. Instead, you’ve just got to get it done and handed in with a well-structured and simple argument that is clear and concise. Simple. Clear. Concise.¬†To me, these are approachable concepts. So this is how I’m keeping myself focused and calm: I’m just going to get my work done and not stress if it’s not the most brilliant thing I’ve ever written because, to be honest, I’ve got bigger and better things to think about.

De-cluttering my life

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I’ve realized something dramatic over the past few days: I will be going to Ghana in just over a month with nothing more than a backpack and a suitcase. This means a couple of things. First, it means that packing to leave won’t be nearly as time-consuming as I’d anticipated because, well, I just can’t bring that much. Secondly, it means that over the next little while I need to think hard about what I really need for my day-to-day because, if I’m honest with myself, I know that’s a lot less than what I have clogging up two bedrooms (one at uni and one at home). I’ve decided it’s officially time to de-clutter my life.

This seems like a giant, scary, daunting task so I’m going to break it down for myself. I’ve decided I’m going to go through at least one drawer or one part of my room (e.g. desk, under my bed) everyday. Sounds easy, right? I’m not so sure… You see, I’m one of those people who seems to have lots of stuff but I truly use it all. For example, I have an extraordinary amount of clothes. I’ve been about the same size for years and I love thrifting, which means I’ve accumulated an impressive pile of clothing. Moreover, I can be an emotional and nostalgic person so parting with things connected to my past or a great memory can sometimes be difficult.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean I need it all and I recognize that. As an experienced camper and backpacker, I know I can comfortably and happily live with very little. The thing is, all this stuff has started to weigh on my mind. ‘Tidying up’ is a constant activity because of all my things.¬†I’m organized so everything has it’s place but my spaces still feel cluttered because there’s just so much.¬†(First world problems, am I right?)¬†Donating, selling, and giving away many of my things will help me feel less ‘AHHHH’ every time I open my cupboards or drawers.

Getting rid of all this ‘stuff’ will also help me conceptualize my co-op placement as beginning a new journey in my life. I keep thinking to myself that ‘everything will change’ with this experience and so shouldn’t I do a little work to start that change at home before I leave?

#100happydays

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Two things: 1) It’s the first day of Spring. So… buh-bye Winter! and 2) It’s UN International Happiness Day. Say what? Yes, International Happiness Day is a thing! And I’m totally excited about it because I’m a bit of a crazy optimist and I love celebrating happiness.

I’m also really excited about all this because I’ve been meaning to start my #100happydays¬†challenge for a while now and I feel like International Happiness Day is an excellent day on which to begin. The first thing I’m going to celebrate for my #100happydays is the number of cool people sharing amazing educational and edutaining content free online like the magical people at Crash Course¬†on YouTube. I’m so inspired by the spirit of open media and by the general awesomeness of people like Hank and John Green of vlogbrothers and Nerdfighter fame.

It feels like a million things are making me happy these days because life is going swimmingly. I’ll be sharing them on my Twitter for the next 100 days (assuming I have decent Internet in Ghana, as I’ll arrive in Bibiani in JUST OVER 50 DAYS). So, what makes you happy? Take up the #100happydays challenge with me! And in the meantime, have a mini-dance party wherever you are right now to the tune of ‘Happy’ by Mr¬†Pharrell Williams.

No meat for me

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The number one question I get when I tell people that I am going to Ghana for eight months after the traditional “What’s your job description?” and “How are you possibly going to carry enough sunscreen with you?” is the question, “But what are you going to eat?” The people in my life know that I eat vegan, which means I don’t eat any animal products so no meat, dairy, fish, or additives derived from animals or their various parts. In the context of a brief conversation, I politely remind people that I have been vegan for over five years so I know what I’m doing and I’ll be perfectly okay.¬†

A more relevant question, I think, is what I will do if it is culturally or socially strange to not eat meat, especially if it is offered to me. I really don’t want to offend anyone but, as I chose to when I have traveled in the past, I will not compromise my health or my values because I’m in a new place and need to make friends. This means that I will have to learn the best way to – again, politely – decline offers of food and have substitutes with me, because it is unacceptable to expect others to constantly accommodate me. That being said, I am hopeful that these kinds of interactions could foster conversation and allow me to share how I live and eat while learning about others as well. At the end of the day, this knowledge exchange resulting in mutual learning is one of the main reasons I want to go on placement in the first place!

I think it’s important to keep in mind, too, that the biggest challenge of eating vegan has always been social situations, no matter what country I’m living in. It can be awkward explaining that I eat a plant-based diet and, yes, I get enough protein and nutrients and I have piles of energy so please stop worrying. For instance, a few nights ago when I was out with friends, everyone was sharing appetizers and I couldn’t because of their ingredients. I was completely fine with the situation but those with me felt uncomfortable because I wasn’t eating with them yet and, when my entree arrived, everyone seemed relieved. My eating habits are odd to many people and have even been described as ‘extreme’ by some. But I am lucky enough to be able to choose this as my lifestyle and I’m sticking to it.¬†

Yes, I might miss out on eating all sorts of delicious local foods but this is something I’m okay with. I know there will be plenty of opportunities to adapt local recipes to a vegan-friendly ingredients list and this is something I’m really looking forward to, as I love to cook! Moreover, I’m excited to explore foods that I’ve not been exposed to like new fruits and vegetables. I’m pretty experienced at this whole vegan thing so as long as I learn to navigate social situations in my new context, I’m sure everything will come up roses.¬†

I’m addicted to busy

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A brilliant friend of mine recently shared a great¬†article on Facebook that challenges the Western notion that ‘busy is better’. I connected with many of the author’s ideas and personal struggles with balancing ambition with (what feels like) laziness. Since coming to university, I have taken on more than any person possibly should. If I was being honest, I’d have to say that I love having a schedule that is crammed with all the learning that comes with student leadership positions. And I know that I’m incredibly lucky to have these experiences with all these amazing people. That being said, I also know that it is time to slow down. It is time for me to practice self-care in everything I do; not just for a half-hour here and there when I try to rest, eat well, or move my body to make up for all the stuff I do that breaks it down.¬†

My ego is pushing back against my internal desire for this change. Frankly – and don’t hold it against me, I’m just trying to be honest here – I love being the girl who can complain about a busy schedule. The author of this article points out that working yourself into the ground is so valued in the world we live in that it’s not really complaining; it’s bragging. “Look at me, I don’t have time to socialize or sleep because I am too busy being productive.”¬†

Our societal obsession with productivity places value not on the person but on that person’s output. It’s what that person is able to produce that is valuable. This is why we often feel like cogs in a system that doesn’t see us as beautiful, unique snowflakes¬†and why we can feel exploited by work that feels thankless if it is does not also self-fulfil. The Productivity Cult doesn’t just create an environment of ableism¬†but it also creates an environment of shaming around slowing down, because a healthy you (in mind, body, and spirit) might be a less ‘useful’ you.¬†

I’m trying to fight back against my internalization of the Productivity Cult. I am choosing to say things like “No” more often than ever before (and now I’m saying it proactively and not because of burn-out). I am also incredibly excited to explore what I can do when I’m not married to my schedule and my activities while I’m on my co-op placement. While in Ghana, I will have exactly two obligations: my job and my research. I wonder what kind of amazing things I can do with that much focus.¬†

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So I’m going to Ghana

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When I was in the eleventh grade, I won a national public speaking competition at Skills Canada. There were press at this competition and one of them came to speak with me. During the interview, I was asked what I was planning to study in university. I didn’t have an answer, really, but I found myself saying the words “international development”. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t actually know what that was so, when I got home, I did what any teen of the techno age would do; I Googled it. Here’s what I learned: It turns out that international development is totally a thing! And, even more, it is a thing I could study in school!

After only about fifteen minutes online, I’d made up my mind: I was going to the University of Toronto for International Development Studies with co-op, knowing how valuable a placement abroad would be for my personal, academic, and professional development. Four years or so later, I’m almost finished my third year at UofT and I am going on placement in less than two months. This past Monday I accepted an offer through World University Service of Canada (WUSC) to work with their partner Ghana Education Service in Bibiani, Ghana as a Girls Club Facilitator. I leave at the beginning of May!

I’m starting this blog to help me express all the amazing and challenging experiences and emotions I am about to encounter head on. The truth is, while I’ve got a lot of theoretical knowledge and little bit of experience working on campus in a variety of awesome positions, I don’t know a lot about what I’m getting myself into. And, while I understand the history and many of the complexities of international development globally, I actually don’t know much about how to do it. I guess this is why they send us abroad on placement: to throw us in and see how we do. I’m extraordinarily excited to get going but I know I have a lot of learning to do and I’m inviting you to come along the ride with me.