SpotlightYouth Spotlight

Ana Cvetković is a recent graduate of the George Washington University where she studied Journalism and Mass Communications. Having been surrounded by journalism while growing up, it was only natural that Ana would pursue it in her studies and career. Originally from Belgrade in Serbia, Ana’s stateside home is now the east coast. Ana is also the founder of the beloved food blog, Better Than Ramen, where she blogs about her visits to restaurants around the world. Furthermore, Ana has gotten into cooking recently, and she documents the food she cooks and enjoys.

A little fun fact about Ana: she is profiled in our book, Youth’s Highest Honor. Ana shares her motivations for earning the Congressional Award and what she did to earn her Gold Medal from Congress.

Read on to learn more about what qualities Ana thinks makes a strong intern, what putting a blog post together looks like, and how she defines seizing her youth.

Name: Ana Cvetković
Education: Journalism and Mass Communications at the George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs
Follow: Better Than Ramen / @betterthanramen / FacebookLinkedIn

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?

Ana Cvetković: Seizing Your Youth is about taking advantage of opportunities that are given to you. It’s about saying yes to those opportunities and giving them a shot to figure out whether or not they are right for you. When you are young, people are more willing to help you out, so you should take advantage of that opportunity. Seizing Your Youth is also about making opportunities for yourself. I started my food blog, Better Than Ramen, because I knew I could write about food well without doing it for someone else’s blog or organization.

CJ: You studied journalism and communications in college. What led you to those academic passions and why did you choose to study them in a formal setting?

AC: I’ve always been surrounded by journalism. Growing up in Belgrade, I would see my grandmother read Politika, Serbia’s newspaper of record, every day. When I moved to America, I fell in love with American Girl magazine. I remember the first issue I read was February 2000 and it had these ideas for throwing a slumber party and I thought they were so much fun. The magazine tapped into my creative side. As I grew older, I began subscribing to magazines. Whenever an issue would come to my mailbox, I tried my hardest to make it last me the whole month. So it was my love of reading magazines that made me consider a career in journalism. While I still love writing, my coursework at George Washington University and internships with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the Smithsonian have made me fall in love with video production.

Ana 6

CJ: What cause or issue do you care greatly about and why?

AC: While it’s neither a cause nor an issue, I believe that everyone should travel the world. Many people have shallow worldviews because they don’t know what else is out there so they think their way of life is the best. I was born in Belgrade, Serbia and moved to the US when I was very young. I grew up speaking Serbian and spending my summers in Belgrade. Besides having two passports, I feel like I have a dual identity. When I’m in the U.S., I notice how my Serbian values and traditions differentiate me from my peers. When I’m in Serbia, I feel American because I don’t quite fit in there either. I have a unique perspective because of my dual identity and travels. I’m not saying that the solution to all of the world’s problems can be solved through travel, but connecting with people of different nationalities, races, and cultures can remind us that we are all human.

CJ: You earned the Congressional Award Gold Medal in 2013. How did you get involved with the Congressional Award and what was your biggest takeaway from the experience?

AC: My high school had a strong service-learning program. Many of my friends got involved with the Congressional Award and they said it would look good to colleges and help them get scholarships. My high school’s service learning coordinator, Mary Rodgers, helped me get started and served as my mentor throughout my journey. My biggest takeaway from participating in the Congressional Award experience is that I can achieve my biggest goals with the help of organization, patience and persistence. It made me more disciplined.

CJ: You write your own food blog called “Better Than Ramen.” What prompted you to create that website and what has been the greatest part about blogging so far?

AC: I think all great ventures begin out of boredom. A few months before I launched the blog, and at the end of my freshman year at GWU, I was having lunch over the summer with two friends who were just heading off to college. One of them was going to school in Boston, another in Philadelphia and I was already attending school in Washington. We were at a Middle Eastern restaurant and we were all taking pictures of our food – this was way before the days of Instagram. I thought it would be cool to document our dining adventures in these three great cities, so I set up the blog, but months passed and we never did anything with it. A few months later, I went out to brunch with a bunch of friends on New Year’s Day while I was home for winter break. The next day I felt bored, as most college students probably do when they are home for a break. Inspired by the brunch, I decided to revisit my blog idea. I wrote my first post and the rest is history.

I had started several blogs in the past, but they never lasted long because they didn’t have a theme. I knew I could keep up a food blog because I have to eat, so whether it’s a meal at a restaurant or something I whipped up at home, I would always have something to write about.

The greatest part of blogging is having people tell me that they love reading my blog (or even that they’ve heard of it!). Part of the reason I gave up on past blogs was because I felt like no one was reading them. BTR is like an online diary for me because I have so many memories associated with the meals I’ve had. However, the blog is still written as a guide with practical information, so it’s thrilling when I hear that people have gone to a restaurant that I’ve suggested. It’s rewarding and empowering knowing that I’ve influenced someone.

Ana 4

CJ: You are passionate about writing and sharing information about food with your BTR audience. What is the process of creating a post and how much time is required?

AC: The process is pretty quick at the restaurant. When the meals come to the table, my friends or boyfriend or whomever I’m dining with know to not touch their meals until I’ve snapped a picture (thanks for putting up with me!). I’ll usually ask my friends for a bite or two of their dishes, or for them to describe their meals. Then I take notes of my impressions or their thoughts on the Notes app on my phone. I try to be as unobtrusive as possible when I’m eating out with a group of friends, but they’re gracious and are used to my picture taking at this point.

When I go to write a post, it could take anywhere from an hour to a few days, depending on how excited I was about the meal. I typically take photos with my phone, which isn’t great in low lighting situations, so I spend time touching up the photos so that the lighting quality doesn’t distract from the post. Then I write my review, do some research on the restaurant, and insert the photos. After that, I create social media posts for the new article to make sure it gets to as many readers as possible.

CJ: You spent your senior year at GW interning for the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at Smithsonian Institution. What are your top three tips for being a strong intern?

AC: 1) Have a specialty. At the Smithsonian, I produced, filmed, and edited videos for the Seriously Amazing marketing campaign. I was the office expert when it came to using our cameras and video editing software because I’ve used them in class and my past internships. My colleagues had tons of experience in other areas of public affairs that I didn’t know much about, but I was an important part of the team because I had expertise in an area that others didn’t know as well.

2) Always ask for more work. Show that you’re eager by taking on extra assignments. An internship is really what you make it, so if you’re okay with just doing the bare minimum, you won’t impress anyone and you won’t learn all that you can. Do as much as you can to learn what you enjoy doing.

3) Learn from your co-workers. Asking your co-workers about what they do and how they got there flatters them and gives you insight into career options in your field. This is especially useful if you don’t know exactly what you want to do. Your colleagues could also put you in touch with other people they know at places you may want to work.

Ana 7

CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on work and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

AC: My Mondays are atypical right now because I just graduated and am looking for a job, so I’ll describe my typical Monday during my last semester at GWU. I only had one class on Mondays, so I was one of the lucky few who didn’t have to wake up to an alarm that day. I’d sleep until I was well rested, make myself breakfast, then go to my American Architecture lecture. I was out at 2 p.m. so I was free to do as I pleased if I’d taken care of my schoolwork.

I’ve really taken advantage of living in DC by thoroughly exploring the city. I minored in art history, so one of my favorite spots to spend time in is the National Gallery. It’s less touristy than the Smithsonians, so you can easily occupy one of the comfy couches they have in each gallery and read, study, or sketch for a few quiet hours while taking in masterpieces by Rubens or Fragonard.

Ana 2

CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

AC: I’m always looking for new ways to improve Better Than Ramen. Now that I’ve graduated from college and am on the job hunt, I have a little more time to dedicate to growing the site. I’m looking into forming partnerships with brands and local businesses to create exciting new content. I’m also hoping to introduce videos to the site because I have the skillset to do so and because multimedia storytelling would add another dimension to my writing.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

AC: If I’m drained and stressed out, I unwind with a cup of tea and Netflix. House Hunters International is my guilty pleasure because I was born in Belgrade, Serbia and have traveled a lot so I love seeing how people live around the world. If I’m dealing with a stressful situation I need to talk it out, so I’ll call my family or my boyfriend to work through the problem.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

AC: When senior year of high school comes around, don’t take AP Physics. You don’t need to take the most difficult class your school offers, especially because physics has absolutely nothing to do with your college major! In high school we are taught to take everything so seriously and that everything will look good or bad to colleges, which will then look good or bad to employers. Stay focused, but don’t take everything so seriously!

Ana Qs

Images by Ana Cvetković

Skills

People tend to not be concerned about issues that don’t ‘hit close to home’ because they feel like it’s something that could never happen to them, but even if most of us never experience war or lose our homes, it is important that we try to be a little more aware of what happens to other people around the world, even if we don’t see the relevancy of it to our lives.

Awareness is the first step, in my opinion, to understanding the kind of world we live in. Some people have the privilege of traveling to other countries to see firsthand how other people live, others can take classes about different cultures or can talk to other people who have gone places and have experienced things that they haven’t experienced. I understand that not everyone can travel to different places, but you shouldn’t have to leave your country or even your hometown to become aware of the different ways that people around you live and the kinds of things they experience.

It is possible to be a tourist in your own home. All you have to do is put on a different set of eyes and see, for the first time, instead of just looking. Many people judge homeless people because they have never had to experience not having a home or because they automatically assume that the person is homeless because of something they did to themselves. Not everyone is like this, but you may have heard a friend or a family member or someone on the subway blame people who are going through hard times for their current situations. But if they haven’t walked a mile in that person’s shoes, do they truly have the right to pass judgement?

People have the right to their own opinions, but don’t you think that the world would be a much better place if we replaced apathy with empathy? When you place the blame on someone else for their own situation, you are giving up the responsibility that you have to your neighbor. This doesn’t have to be anyone who lives in your neighborhood or even the person next door. If we all look at each other as global citizens and even, as one big family, then everyone you pass on the street is your neighbor in the loose sense of the word.

Let’s pretend for a moment that everyone looked at the world that way. From that perspective, it’s easier to see that blaming someone for their inability to get a job or to keep a roof over their heads is a way of being apathetic. When you don’t show concern for anything that is apathy and when you resort to blaming someone for something that happened to them, you are showing that you don’t care to understand this person’s predicament or even how it affects the people who love them.

It is extremely easy to be apathetic, especially if you don’t pay close attention to the news or if you don’t know what’s happening to other people around the world. You can live out your entire life without opening your eyes and still think that you can see. But once you start looking into what it’s like to wear this person’s shoes or that person’s shoes, the world becomes an entirely different place. Not only because you are aware but because that awareness can lead to understanding if you let it.

Empathy isn’t about feeling sorry for someone, it’s about sharing their feelings even if you can’t completely understand their situation. It’s about stepping outside of yourself and realizing that at the root of all of your experiences are feelings that can transcend any cultural, racial, or religious barriers that exists in our world today. You don’t have to agree with a person’s feelings or even their current situation but don’t let judgment be your first response to that disagreement. In fact, don’t let it be any of your responses. It’s impossible for us to understand what other people are going through because we don’t often take the time to try to understand.

I know that might be hard for everyone to do but empathy is not a foreign concept. We all have the ability to be empathetic; to understand and share the feelings of others. Though our experiences may differ, our emotions are all the same. There is not one emotion that is unique to any one culture, race, or religious group.

Once we all realize that, the world will slowly but surely become a better a place to live in.

Image: Chris Sardegna

Culture

This year, in the last week of September and the first week of October, the festival of Hindu Navratri occurred. “Navratri” directly translates into English as “nine nights.” That being said, the festival consists of nine nights of dance, food, and music. With electric and high beat drum tunes and perpetual pounding of feet, this energetic celebration is key in experiencing Hindu culture.

However, this festival isn’t something that only Hindus are allowed to partake in. Everyone of different backgrounds, cultures, and religions are welcome to dance barefoot with dandiyaan, sticks that are used during the dance. The dance is not that difficult either, as it is rhythmic and patterned. It’s also a good cardiovascular exercise! The circular motions of your arms and the linear pathways carved by your feet will get your heart beating to the high-paced rhythm. Not to mention, the traditional clothing worn during this dance, such as this:

holiday

One would think dresses like these would impede movement, but they actually make dancing very easy. The skirts for women and the loose pants for men allow the feet to move freely in any desired direction. Not to mention, you will look stunning in dresses like these! You can usually borrow them from a friend who could possibly have some, or order them online. If you need a makeshift dress, ladies, simply take a long skirt, a scarf, and a solid color shirt and tie it in this manner. Men can just dress up formally in Western attire or borrow an outfit from a friend. Like I said before, anyone can participate and they probably have all the materials they require! The dance portion of the festival is usually done at a Hindu temple. Find the closest one to you, and head on over. The people there are always very welcoming.

I hope this article encourages you once again to cross cultural barriers and experience the zest of the globe. Use your youth to really grasp and latch on to what other people think and how we differ as humans. You might find that there are more similarities among us than differences. The cultures of the world can always shock you!

Skills

I didn’t think cliques existed until I went to a different high school in 12th grade. It was there that I learned that schools like the ones in Mean Girls really did exist. Okay, maybe my high school wasn’t completely identical, but students in the cafeteria did separate themselves. There was a table for the popular kids and a table for the kids who played with Pokemon cards. Not only that, but people also put themselves into groups based on social class, religion, ethnicity, etc. My high school was very diverse, only that diversity wasn’t well-represented at the tables in the cafeteria.

But everyone seemed to be okay with that. No one was uncomfortable sitting at a table filled with people that were ‘just like them.’ I’m not saying that people should be uncomfortable doing that because it’s completely okay to seek out people you have things in common with. However, people who constantly do that become unaware that they’re doing it and it soon becomes their comfort zone. A comfort zone is a place that people tend not to step outside of because of how familiar it is and how relaxed that familiarity makes them feel.

For example, if I’ve only ever been friends with people who played on the girl’s basketball team, then I’m more likely to sit with them at lunch and choose them as partners for group projects if we have classes together. I don’t do this intentionally. I’ve just known these people a lot longer than I’ve known anyone else and I feel comfortable around them, so why change that?

Why is it important to branch out and make connections with people outside of my normal circle?

The answer to that is simple: it’s a part of life.

Not everyone in the world is the same. The sooner we learn to accept that, the sooner we can truly embrace it. For some people, going to college might be a huge step for them because they’re leaving behind their small town for a college town a few hours away in a different city or state. I’m not going to speak for every university, but the chances of you attending a school that is diverse in more ways than you’re used to is very high. Moreso if you’re going to a large university.

Once you are there, you might seek out people you assume you have a lot of things in common with because that’s what will make you feel comfortable. If you end up going to the same school as a couple of your friends, you might choose to only socialize with them.

Starting college (or high school) can be very overwhelming and intimidating so it’s good to have a familiar face or at least someone who you can relate to because you have a lot of similarities. But if you want to make the most out of your collegiate (or high school) experience, don’t clique up; don’t separate yourselves from others because they’re not familiar or because you’re afraid to leave your comfort zone. College is all about learning; not just inside of the classroom but out of it as well. You can learn so much from people that come from other parts of your country and from people who come from around the world. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone you meet in college has the potential to be a lifelong friend.

Oftentimes we might not think that we have much in common with someone whose first language is different than ours or someone who subscribes to a different religion. We get so used to gravitating towards people who share obvious commonalities that we forget that the people we see as ‘different than us’ can also have some (or many) similarities. You just have to find the courage to move outside of your comfort zone and talk to people you think you wouldn’t have anything in common with. Don’t spend your entire time at college with the same people because there are so many people to socialize with; so many opportunities to learn about a different culture or religion or to even just get a different perspective on life.

College is one of the best ways to get people from all over the world to come together under one roof, metaphorically speaking. It is truly a beautiful thing so use this time to your advantage because, thankfully, college is not high school. So, step out of your comfort zone. Better yet, try your best to knock it down. I know it’s not easy to get rid of it all at once, but the world would be a much better place if we worked at breaking down the barriers that exist  between each other a little each day.

Image: morguefile

CultureTravel

For the past week, I’ve been recovering from my jet lag from traveling on a couple of connecting international flights. While my body is coping with the time zone changes, my palate has been quite accustomed to zesty flavors I savored back in my motherland: India. I spent six weeks in the city of Bangalore and put my gustation skills to the test. I ventured through the city and found obscure, arcane locations of some of the best food I have ever had. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Perhaps the most basic of all places to start is on the street. No matter what road you decide to take a stroll on, there will be plenty of fruit vendors to satisfy your appetite. There was a guava vendor quite close to my residence in India. I was completely addicted and besotted by his fresh and verdant supply of tropical fruits. Here’s a picture of some of the guava I cut up:

guava

Quite delicious, am I right? These are full of vitamins and goodness. The pink on green color blocking also adds to the fruit being irresistible. Just make sure you wash your fruit, though. Roadside fruit have had flies sit on top of them all day. Hygiene always comes first!

Let’s move on to another type of roadside fruit: coconut. You do not necessary eat the coconut, but you can get fresh coconut water from a street vendor. Your papillae will literally bathe in sweet ambrosia, if you will. The best part about this is that the vendor will cut open the coconut for you and give you a free straw. What better way is there to cool off on a humid day?

coconut

Well, now I’m going to wean off the healthy part of this article and get straight into some chocolaty goodness. Agarwal Bhavan in Mathikere (a district in Bangalore) offers some of the best cake in the world. Just take a look at this one:

food 3

There’s something different about Indian cakes…they do not taste like the cake I have had in America. I cannot pinpoint what that difference is, though. It may be the eggless batter used for the large vegetarian population in India or it could be a sensation from tasting food in my country. Either way, a discrepancy surely exists.

Let me tell you about a few other dishes I relished at the Agarwal Bhavan. They are called chaats, and they are spicy little snacks with vegetables and various toppings. Two of my favorite chaats are pani puri (pani meaning water in Hindi) and masala puri. You basically encounter puffed or hardened fried dough drenched in spicy mixture of ginger, garlic, chili powder, and mango powder.  Frankly, I think these little side trips to heaven were my favorite part of Bangalore!

food 2

Now that we’ve gone over fruits, snacks, and desserts, I think it’s time to get into the main course of the meal. For the best vegetarian food at a reasonable price, head to the Priyadarshini Vegetarian Restaurant in Yeshwantpur (another district in Bangalore).  I recommend to you the naan, a flatbread drizzled with light butter and cilantro, and the butter paneer. Truly, this was a match made in heaven…I mean, just look at the photo!

food 1

With all this food waiting for you in Bangalore, you really cannot go wrong visiting. Your taste buds will be titillated beyond belief. You’ll always have company, as these places tend to be crowded, but that’s only because they’re amazing eateries.

Do you have any favorite foods from places you’ve visited? Remember, tasting different cuisines is also a great way to get to know another culture. You can learn how different people live just by seeing and experiencing what their diet consists of. I encourage you, like I do in every article, to learn about different cultures. Food is just one way to get started!