CultureTravel

“Hitting up the churches and museums in Winnipeg today + the Osborne village shopping district, which is apparently like a shorter version of Gastown. Wanna see the architecture and then relax along la rivière rouge sous le beau soleil.

The photograph is of the cathedral in the cemetery in the saint boniface area of Winnipeg. So cool. Two girls were making candles inside when the wax caught fire and destroyed everything (including the 5000-volume library, alas!). This was in 1860. They’ve rebuilt it since.”

Facebook post from Winnipeg, Canada; July 28th, 2012

Don’t lie. We’ve all been guilty of this at one point or another. You look over at a backpacker on the bus, busily typing into their phone, entering a new status update that proclaims their new destination along with the new photo (or two hundred) of the day. Your forehead wrinkles, your eyebrows crinkle, and you turn away, back to the open scenery rolling by outside your window, wondering how on earth another person could be so absorbed by technology and the maintenance of a superficial image when beauty strolls by so close and refined, if only you’d look.

Wait, you did mean guilty of checking Facebook on your travels, right? Well, no, I meant guilty of judging people who update and stay tuned to social media while traveling.

Yes, I know what most people think when they see someone on vacation just thumbing away on their phones. You’re supposed to be focusing on the new sights and sounds around you! or Why are you so conscious about your image that you have to brag about every new thing that you do? Those opinions are completely warranted in some cases; I won’t discount the arguments that technology is making people more distracted and pulling them away from the real world. Face it; we are the generation that relentlessly, obsessively documents ourselves. Nowadays, people are more interested in taking a selfie and proving that they’ve been to said place than actually taking in the experience. That being said, social media has its good points, and many annoyed looks are merely the result of misled impressions.

“There was no end in sight. Yearning plunged into the distance; frost caught in my hair. Rushing passage, as ona sleigh in space. An intoxicating feeling came over me: a burgeoning sense of life, the limitless, exuberant pleasure of being in the world. The freedom of an hour in the Russian winterland. I loved life.

Years charged by, death wheeled over the earth, God and his stars perished in the West, and there was war on earth. I was a soldier in danger and in pain, a wanderer, a traveler in space. But I loved life.

Willy Peter Reese, 1944. He never came home.”

Private Facebook post from Prague, Czech Republic; June 24th, 2014

The quote above would have escaped my memory had I not saved it online. Re-reading it brings back the same feelings that urged my hand to copy Reese’s words. His words were a mirror to the infinity, that toxic contradiction of invincibility teetering on the edge of a dark crevasse; this I feel when prancing in a winter wonderland, but also when just in flight, in motion, in travel.

It’s sad to say, but I have a memory lacking in depth, in courage. You could argue that I could have just kept my thoughts in a notebook, but I run out of pages. Or I lose the notebook. I probably have dozens of notebooks stored in boxes in the garage; I’ve always been a packrat. But until I find time and the will to venture out to the spiderwebs and dust, there they shall stay: still, closed, aching. Like a time capsule, treasured and waiting.

On the other hand, my Facebook page could run forever; it scrolls off the screen for miles. I can check my account when I’m seventy-six (assuming I live that long) and I’ll still be able to see the thoughts I thought important enough to immortalize, share with the world. Facebook automatically records the time, date and location of writing – which is why it’s so important for me to pen down my reflections of an event at the time and place. It’s like the journalist’s way of holding to the truth, adhering to the authenticity of the moment.

There’s something to be said about writing from the place of now. There’s an urgency to write in real time, to write and immortalize your feelings right in that moment and right before that and right afterwards, because we know that if we leave it till tomorrow, we won’t be able to recall the small details, and if we leave it till the next week, we’ll only remember the highlights. Also true: tomorrow, there will be something else to write; the week after, even more. If I don’t write it now, the great likelihood is that I won’t write it ever.

“Oh, the many shades of Ireland.

I’ve seen it at its most dramatic, the colours vibrant and popping, and its most serene, like you’re invading a private world of nature that isn’t meant for human eyes. You can never get a bad photo of Ireland, this vast, beloved land is just too photogenic, almost to a fault. 😉

Made lots of progress today. Caught an early ferry from Cape Clear Island to Schull, on the Mizen peninsula, and spent the hour-long journey singing and watching the waves and the grey skies – was the only passenger on the boat, total five-star treatment, haha. Biked a total of 70 km today, whoot! The most I’ve done so far in a day this trip, and it’s been among one of the most scenic stretches of the Wild Atlantic Way. Truly, some of the sights I’ve seen are so rugged it makes me feel like I’m facing off danger just being in its awesome presence.The world is just too goddamned beautiful.

Another soggy day, the third wet day of the trip so far, but at 5pm, just when I went down to Mizen Head to get a view of the cliffs and the ocean from the southernmost point of the peninsula, the sky opened up and the sun came through – oh, what a glorious, much-appreciated entrance that was!

West Cork, you’ve been simply stunning! I’m a lucky girl. Tomorrow – crossing the border into Kerry, and beginning leg 2 of the journey.”

Facebook post from the County of Cork, Ireland; August 27th, 2014

One of the most powerful things I find, as a writer, is that looking back at your past entries, you don’t just remember what you’ve seen and accomplished, felt and survived; you also see a different side of yourself, a different maturity or state of mind. Four months before the dated post above, I wrote something in complete juxtaposition:

“I’ve had the opportunity to bike twice in Europe – the first was with my host in Glasgow, if you’ll remember, and the second was alone through the gorgeous grasslands and along the fierce highways. It’s a bit of a fear of mine to cycle alone in a foreign country, but there were so many nice people who helped me along the way.”

Facebook post from Bratislava, Slovakia; May 19th, 2014

Funnily enough, I don’t remember being afraid of biking solo through a foreign country. The immediate thought that would come to mind if you asked me what one of my greatest bicycle journeys (or any journey, period) has been is Oh, the time I biked for ten days around Ireland.

I don’t know if it’s possible to relive moments that have passed, but when I view something I expressed, whether a photograph, a written thought or a drawing, something calls to a long-buried memory tucked between the grooves and ridges of my brain. It’s like a quick flash in front of my eyes, a glimpse of a portal into a different world. It may not play out like an indie film, but all of those glimpses represent hand-picked slides of my past that I would not have remembered without a trigger. For that, I have to thank Facebook.

During my travels, I typically use Facebook at least once a day, unless I’m out in the boonies camping or on some long-distance sea voyage (the latter has yet to happen, sadly). Facebook, for me, is like a virtual diary with the added benefits of automatically sharing the thoughts and images I accumulate on my journey with all the people I care about. I use it to store and share my photographs, the precious moments lucky enough to be caught on film – photographs of myself in situations I won’t remember in a couple of years. A photograph of myself with two guys, all wearing sombreros, in Vietnam?! Check.

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Facebook also lets me keep in contact with friends I meet along the way and friends back home. When I’m lonely on the road, I know I can talk to someone with the touch of a button. Facebook also lets everyone know I’m safe, that I’m still alive. If I don’t post something for a while, people will at least know where I last was, on which day. That’s really important.

But, to some degree, you only post stuff to Facebook to show off, don’t you? One might ask me, eyebrow raised in doubt.

Well, I won’t disagree with you. Travel is, to a degree, a privilege, and while it took me a while to admit it, I have to say that I do take it for granted at times. When I traveled around Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand earlier this year, I kept on thinking about how lucky I was to have simply been born in the ‘right’ country, to a middle-class family with the kind of opportunities we have. I kept on thinking how countries in Southeast Asia were so affordable for people in wealthier countries, but how people from Vietnam, for example, would have to work for a decade or more just to afford one family trip to North America. I’m even lucky to just have a Malaysian passport; my citizenship allows me to visit 166 countries without a visa, or with a visa-on-arrival. That’s a huge amount of mobility that, sadly, citizens of certain other countries aren’t afforded. Life dealt me a pretty good hand.

But I don’t post photographs to show off the fact that I travel. Some travel companies are now taking on the slogan, “Take the next selfie in an exotic location to make your friends jealous!” That literally repulses me. Travel isn’t a competition, and if you think that way, you’re not thinking about travel right. Travel isn’t about one-upping one another for the title of ‘Most Countries I’ve Ever Stepped Foot In’. Travel isn’t calculative. Travel is about an exchange of culture, language, scenery, friends. Travel is about expanding our worlds, showing us just how small we are, teaching ourselves humility and patience. When I put up photographs from my travels, yes, it’s to show everyone I’m having a good time, but it’s also to showcase the beauty of the world, to give them snapshots of what else is out there beyond our comfort zones. A few of my friends tell me they live vicariously through my photographs and travel notes. I can understand that, because when I’m not traveling, I love looking at my Facebook feed, full of photographs from my friends who are frequent travelers, exploring South America and Europe and Asia. It keeps me invigorated, anticipating the next time I can get out on the road again, feeding my inspiration.

There will always be skeptics. My original title for this piece was “Reflections from the Road: A Defense of Facebook on my Travels,” but then I realized that sounded like I was seeking someone’s approval, or needed to prove something. In reality, I don’t, and you don’t. Opinions on social media seem to be divided into two halves: either people reveal too much of their lives, sometimes obnoxiously, sometimes mistakenly, or people filter their lives so that their social media accounts reveal only the parts they want people to see: the happy, glorious, brave side of them. To a certain extent, social media has masked anything that suggests true sorrow, anger or ruthlessness, and so we can’t be blamed for therefore thinking that social media is just for face, for show. But that doesn’t mean it’s all superficial. If you were to look back at what I posted when I was 15, you’d see that it’s all gibberish between young teenage girls. But I think if you looked at my posts in recent years, you could see the rawness of my heart.

“I know where I started out: starry-eyed, idealistic, ambitious and naive. Had the drive and the passion to take it all the way even through the dangers. I still hope I’m that naked flame.

But I wonder what kind of bad habits I have as a traveler. Sure, carrying just one backpack all around Europe has helped me get really far, but what about the deeper issues at play? They say take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footsteps. Do I take too many photos? Am I living in the moment? What kind of mark do I leave on the countries and people that have so kindly hosted me? I hope it’s a footprint that bears my changing identity, that remains bona fide and dedicated to the soul no matter the number of experiences that try to cull it.

But one of my biggest questions – and one of my scariest – is: Can I actually call myself a traveler, instead of a tourist? We always look at tourists with some extent of derision, rolling our eyes at their ignorant antics… As much as I hate to admit it, I do have a bit of the tourist in me, as much as I try hard to avoid that stereotype. One thing I have learned is that the next time I take on a long backpacking journey such as my summer in Europe, I will slow down.”

Facebook post from Dublin, Ireland; August 21st, 2014

Without these posts, these diary entries, I wouldn’t have remembered these specific moments. I’d say we are the sum total of our feelings, thoughts and actions, and if I can’t remember what I felt – the admiration, the inspiration, the luck, the chance, the fight – I would be missing out on a grand part of an experience of a lifetime. Where I might have only remembered the aftermath and the highlights, the great peaks and the final conclusion, with these posts, I have a second chance. I can go back to the in-between.

Yes, social media has made people even more vain and self-absorbed as before – but it has made people more self-conscious and vulnerable too. Social media has people doing all they can for a glamorous selfie, even risking their lives for what they think is the next coolest image. People have died trying to take selfies on top of high buildings and bridges, and in front of oncoming trains. I personally think this is utterly ridiculous. I mean, who wants to be remembered for dying for a selfie? Who wants to be remembered for being vain and stupid? Selfies are symbolic for the wrong things.

Photographs, on the other hand, are symbolic and metaphorical, for all the right reasons. When you put your camera in a stranger’s hand, you’re saying, “I trust you enough. I trust you enough to not steal my camera, and I trust you enough to capture a good image of me.” There’s a touching of hands, a gentle, friendly exchange of human contact. It’s no longer that ‘me, me, me!’ that the selfie screams, but an enveloping of ‘we.’ Photographs are an expression of our souls, and Facebook, for all its downfalls, is a platform for an exchange between us. I launch my wandering thoughts into the universe, virtual or not, so that it might draw out other wandering thoughts and conceive a conversation. I’m inviting people to join in, make themselves a part of my journey, and me a part of theirs.

“I went out to celebrate my last night in the eternal city, wanting to see the famous Fontana di Trevi which I’d left until the last minute. As I approached the junction at which I would turn and marvel at the fountain, I prepared myself mentally for the beautiful sight I’d imagined in my head – clear blue water lit up from below, shadows and light dancing lightly on marble, grand statues perched regally above.

I laughed my head off when I saw that the fountain was being restored. The pool was drained, the building was covered in ugly scaffolding, and a platform had been set up so that throngs of tourists could wait in line to get up close to the statues. Oh my, oh my, too hilarious. It both made my night and didn’t.

My first thought was that, oh well, Rome just wasn’t ready for me. So many buildings and sites were undergoing reconstruction/restoration. But then I thought – Rome, this marvelous city, this grand cradle of civilization that is almost 3000 years old and still so well preserved till today, this giant that tolerates the millions of tourists that stomp on its grounds, cough in its face, that leave after a brief three-day, two-night stay and call it “seeing Rome”… It does not have to be ready for anyone. It’s us that have to be ready for it.”

Facebook post in Rome, Italy; July 21st, 2014

It’s us that have to be ready.

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Images by Alaska Rue and Flickr

CultureInspiration

Gender identity is a complicated topic. It is very personal and there is a lot of media with conflicting information about what it is. Once upon a time, it was just “male” or “female,” but that has changed. High school and college are confusing times, and a lot of wrong or misunderstood information can hurt people who are figuring themselves out.

Tumblr and Facebook and a lot of other social media have embraced various gender identity situations. Even though labels aren’t always the best way to get information across (because it can lead to stereotyping and harmful actions), it can also help people find others in similar situations. For example, my school recently started a group for “Trans or Gender-Nonconforming,” and the club is meant to provide a safe space for students to discuss gender and personal experience.  Many schools and universities have such clubs, and people who attend the meetings often realize that they are not alone, and this is comforting. 

What is important is that people are happy with how they see themselves. Theoretically, someone shouldn’t be judged negatively for how they identify.

Even though there are environments that allow for people to be a-gender, bigender, pangender, gender fluid, transgender, and many others, there are also places that are unaccustomed to this variety. It may be because of certain local or social customs. It may be because of misinformation. Either way, such environments can be a scary place for someone who is trying to understand themselves or others. The fear of being judged, shunned, bullied, hurt, or worse because of how they identify shouldn’t’ be an issue, but it is.

Like sexual orientation, gender identity is now becoming a topic that is being more socially acceptable to talk about. I hope that our society is able to transition to a place in which tolerance, acceptance, and freedom are words that can be associated with gender identity. I hope that people are able to accept others and themselves. I hope people can be free and open-minded.

It is okay to not be sure right now and it is okay to explore and try to understand. Growing is a part of change, and change is a part of growing.

If the situation now is difficult or scary, that’s okay. There will be new places and new people. Things get better. Love yourself and accept others. Remember that being happy and safe are the most important things.

Image: le vent le cri

Culture

Today’s social media websites are mostly possessed by advertisement companies, and have a penchant for converting their user’s every move on the website into data. This inescapable publicity has led quite a few Facebook users to partake in an exodus to new social websites. People have been predominantly going to one site in particular called Ello, which has now been appropriately nicknamed the “Facebook Killer” after having converted too many ex-Facebook users. This up-and-coming site has professed that it is based on the principles that its website should not use advertisements, and will minimize the collection of user data compared to other social media websites. Shifts like these show how the population of online users yearn for the ability to connect without the bombardment of media or loss of privacy.

It is a known fact that Facebook not only relies upon advertisements for a large chunk of their revenue, but also on collecting posts, shared links, and other data to sell for profit to media companies. People have become genuinely frustrated with the lack of privacy that accompanies social media these days. Whereas in the past sacrificing privacy for quicker communication was acceptable, that sacrifice no longer feels like an ideal tradeoff.

And the current flocking towards websites like Ello or the phone application called Yik-Yak, which does not give out IP addresses or user information, gives a sense of anonymity and privacy that Facebook cannot. Although Ello and Yik-Yak are not perfect – each has made its own mistakes in the process of starting new platforms – like Ello’s complete lack of privacy or blocking settings at the launch of the site, and Yik-Yak’s total user anonymity, which has led to cases of harassment and bullying, the large congregation of followers on these two websites is telling; people want freedom from the overbearing presence of media and advertisements.

Media is a domineering force that relies heavily upon consumers, and when social media sites sell out users and consumers for financial gain, it leads to the unending stream of unnecessary advertisements and commercials on one’s news feed. Although I don’t believe that Ello will mean the death of Facebook (remember when Google+ tried and failed miserably?) I do think that this competition could be a cause for change in Facebook policy. Facebook could learn from this shift in a need of space away from media, and hopefully create a stronger website that does not betray its users.

Image: Courtesy of Ello.com

SkillsTravel

There are a lot of ways to travel. For those of us who are perpetually short on cash, our travel usually won’t consist of beach resorts, luxury cruises, and designer shopping sprees. We won’t ever sit in first class and chances are we’ll get used to bunking in a hostel’s shared room.

For me, that’s part of the beauty of it all. Backpacker hostels or locals’ couches, public transportation and street food make for authentic experiences. Tiny obstacles, like bumpy night buses and confusing street signs, create challenges; they make you a little more vulnerable and open you up to asking for help. The opportunities that come with travel on a budget are so much more fulfilling than the ones that come with all-inclusive, first-class vacays.

I’ve certainly traveled on a budget. As a semester exchange student in Singapore, I survived on my savings, traveling about every other weekend. I had a few close calls, and by the time I arrived back on U.S. soil at the end of it all, I had $34 to my name. There were a lot of mistakes and lessons learned, along with some budgeting successes.

I recently shared many tips on traveling on a super low budget; aka, almost no money. Those involved a lot of working abroad. These tips, though, are all about spending every ounce of your free time soaking in your journey, and doing it on a dime.

Some of these tips are conventional, others you won’t exactly find in travel magazines. In the end, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. First of all, travel must be your priority.

If you want to travel but don’t have the money, it’s because you’re spending yours on other things. Every job I’ve ever held has paid me hourly, sometimes below minimum wage. But, I saved all of my money because I knew I wanted to do something sweet with it. I didn’t buy clothes, get my nails done, go out to eat nightly… I saved.

Take a page from my book – buy some wardrobe staples that you love, preferably from a thrift or consignment shop, and don’t spend on clothes for the rest of the year. Invest in some nail polish and remover and never get your nails done (or do it like me and have cavewoman nails year round). Invest in things that keep you from spending money long-term. It works, my friends.

2. Make every flight count.

Enroll in frequent flyers and rewards programs with an airline. You can end up redeeming your miles or points for free flights.

3. Night buses and trains are your friends.

Only fly regionally if you absolutely have to, and when you do, use Skyscanner.com to find the best budget fares. Chances are, though, you’ll be able to ride a bus or train from location to location, and night transportation doubles as transportation and lodging: score.

4. Similarly, public transportation is key.

For the love of money, don’t take cabs. Find a subway or public transportation map and get out there. It can be intimidating to step on a bus or train for the first time in a new city, so a few minutes of preliminary research can help – know the fares, which lines to take and which stops you want. If you’re going to be somewhere for a week or more, investing in a multi-day or -week pass is your best bet.

5. Rent bikes.

Many cities offer bike and motorcycle rentals. Depending on the length of your stay, this can pay off. You will save on cabs, bus fares and other transportation costs, besides gas if you go the motorized route. Plus, you aren’t at the mercy of a tour group or driver, and can go wherever.

6. Take a granola bar.

Or five. Plus a refillable water bottle (a simple way to save, unless your destination’s water is unsafe for you to drink out of tap, then you’ll have to splurge on bottled water). Pack small snacks that can double as meals. I’m a foodie – I really am, but eating bars for breakfast has never ruined any of my trips, and it’s freed up a lot of cash. Speaking of…

7. Buy groceries and use the local food markets.

Because you should be staying in hostels or locals’ apartments (more on that in a second), which almost always have kitchen areas. If they don’t, buy no-cook items, such as bread and lunch meat. Foodies, you can get creative with local ingredients, too, because local food markets have great deals on ingredients and staples that often aren’t available fresh or authentic in the U.S.

8. Make friends.

Local friends or friends who have been in your location for an extended stay (a couple weeks or so) can often recommend or take you to the best cheap restaurants, connect you with their cousins who can get you drink deals (or some similar scenario), even give you a place to stay or cook.

9. Speaking of drink deals. Facebook groups.

Join them. Facebook groups, such as Hazel’s Guestlist in Singapore, provides incredible deals, discounts and even VIP access for its members. It’s free to join these, and there are usually no strings attached. They just want foreigners checking out their nightlife and attractions.  Obviously use your best judgment; it’s pretty easy to tell if the group is a weird scam. And don’t post any of your personal information or whereabouts in these groups.

These groups are often promoted to exchange students because they’re easy to reach, so do a little stalking on Facebook. Find exchange student groups in your area; if they aren’t completely private, you may be able to see what discount websites and Facebook groups the students post between each other or that promoters post within the groups. Then, join them. Easy as pie, and it’s safe and allowed.

10. Stay in shared rooms in hostels.

This requires you to get comfortable with a little less privacy. It isn’t as invasive as it sounds, though. Most hostels offer the option for same-gender rooms and you will almost always receive a locker to stow your belongings. These rooms are usually very cheap, and in many regions and countries, cheap doesn’t mean dingy or unsafe. In fact, in most of Southeast Asia, we found sparkly clean, well-managed, very safe hostels for a few dollars a night.

The amenities are generally basic; you may have to bring your own towel and Wi-Fi is often non-existent. This is budget travel, we can’t have everything, and usually at good hostels you get way more than you expect for the price. Besides, friendly people, clean running water and a cozy roof over the head for a couple bucks a night is a true gift. Ask around, use Trip Advisor, or invest in a travel guidebook to point out the best hostels in your area.

11. Better yet, couch surf.

Couch surfing is free. I mentioned it in my previous article, and it really is a fantastic resource. Many of my friends have done this and spoken highly of their experiences.

12. Utilize hostel resources.

A good hostel won’t scam you. Obviously do your math when the front desk guy offers you a tour package, but excursions are often offered at discounts at backpacker hostels. Befriend the front desk people, too, because they can very easily get you some sweet deals and discounts. Just let them know what you’re into and get to know them. It’s fun anyways, because people who work in hostels are usually pretty interesting and magical.

13. Student IDs.

If you are a student, or still look young and have your student ID (pretend I didn’t say that), use it. There are student discounts and freebies everywhere. Be aware, though, that American student IDs may not be recognized in all the countries you visit; still harmless and worth a try.

14. International Student Identity Card.

You can register for these online and they come with discounts on travel and excursions.

15. Groupon.

It can be hit or miss, but if you find something you really want to do on Groupon’s site, it’s fantastic. Most countries have their own Groupon site. As a hint, read the fine print. I recommend not using Groupons for travel deals, because travel agencies and other involved parties usually hide the massive extra fees. Other stuff is fair game.

16. Set a budget.

Know what you want to do, and plan a little beforehand. You don’t need to map out a detailed itinerary, but know generally how much transportation costs within and to/from the places you want to go, where you can find cheap lodging, etc. Allocate the amount you want to spend per day, or per activity, and stick to it.

Generally, travel’s main expenses come in the form of lodging, transportation and food. Hopefully the tips above help minimize those expenses while allowing you to have an incredible journey.

Bon voyage!

Image: Buck Lewis, Flickr

EducationSkills

This generation is obsessed with social media. If we’re not sharing our thoughts in 140 characters or less, then we’re trying to take the perfect selfie for Instagram or updating our statuses on Facebook. We spend so much time documenting our everyday lives through social networking that we often don’t think about the other benefits of social media.

And there are other benefits.

While it’s possible to find a job or an internship through Facebook or Twitter, you don’t want either of those social outlets to represent who you are professionally. Those accounts are personal, so they’re less likely to feature any projects you’ve worked on or document the clubs and organizations you’ve participated in. Employers are not going to be on the lookout for your accomplishments on any of the social media sites that you frequent. I’m not saying that you should stop using them because we all know the likelihood of that happening is very low (I couldn’t give up Twitter). However, what I am suggesting is that you use social media to network to your advantage.

Take all of those extracurricular activities and your many accomplishments and start building your brand. When I first heard the term ‘build your brand,’ I didn’t quite understand what it meant. Then someone explained it to me like this: imagine two companies coming out with similar products. Both companies are known for distributing quality products and they both get great customer reviews. Knowing all of that, you have to ask yourself, what makes either one of them stand out? Which company will attract the most people and sell the most products?

Well, it’s the company that knows how to market themselves the best.

The same applies for us. There are always going to be people with the same GPA as us, people who participate in the same clubs, and people who produce the same quality of work. Just because you’re always going to have people who are similar to you, though, doesn’t mean that you are not unique. Like those companies that I mentioned before, we all have qualities or strengths that make us unique. You just have to play up those strengths and SELL YOURSELF.

You can’t do that on Facebook or Twitter, so travel to a different part of the social networking world and make yourself a LinkedIn profile. It doesn’t matter if you’re in college or still in high school. Make an account and start documenting the activities and jobs and/or internships that you have done thus far that help highlight your strengths and the qualities that make you stand out from the crowd. Make a personal website or online portfolio (both of which you can share on LinkedIn) and document the dual enrollment program you participated in, that summer abroad, or any project that you were a part of.

Building your brand is all about marketing yourself and marketing something is all about getting someone to buy what you are selling. Doing this now may be what gets you into the college of your dreams, land you the internship you’ve always wanted, or if you’ve already graduated from college, it may be what gets you into grad school. You are never too young to start thinking about your future because, before you know it, high school will be over and done with and so will college. It all goes by in a blur so use your time wisely and start using social media, not just  as a way to connect with family and friends, but to connect with professionals that your parents or people in your family may know as well. If you want to work for a particular company one day, there’s a chance that they’re on LinkedIn. Also, if you are in college, you can see what alumni from your school went on to do after graduation and see what career paths people who had the same major chose.

There are so many opportunities out there and a lot of them are online,  a place where we all love to frequent anyways, so put those fingers to work and instead of using them to type out your next status update, think about what you want to do with your future. It’s fine if you don’t figure it all out in a day, no one does, but it’s good to have an idea of what you want to do. It’s also good to start getting your name out there because you never know how far your accomplishments can take you. Not every high school or college student has a LinkedIn account or an online portfolio, so once you make that decision to start building your brand, keep in mind that you’re already ahead of the game.

Image: morguefile

EducationHealth

Have you ever wondered how specific magazines, spam letters, or specific ads find you in the large nebulous that is the internet? Well, Twitter’s recent refurbishment of their ad-revenue model, which now closely resembles the model used by Facebook, gives insight into just how media executives use your electronic history to sell products.

Currently the social media site receives payment for every ad selected by a user. However, in the coming month, Twitter will offer companies the ability to control how they repay Twitter for advertisements. For example, a clothing website could pay Twitter only when a user is steered towards looking at the upcoming collection. Other options include payments after seeing a growth in followers for that specific company, number of app downloads, or the company could even pay for social media user’s email addresses in order to bombard them with advertisements. Before, one had to go out of the way to follow companies or click on ads, make it a personal mission to find media which would direct away from normal social media interactions, whereas now something as simple as retweeting can lead to pop ups and filtration of what content is received.

Like Facebook, Twitter users will have to consciously think about the choices they make on the site. By choosing to download the app, you are giving the company the ability to see your search history and make ads that cater to your previously visited websites. By clicking on an ad, you are telling Twitter exactly what it is you are interested in and allowing them to alter the type of media you are exposed to while its website.

This means that social media has further filtered what people are able to access online. Yes, one could still search for other things in media, but what will be received more frequently because of this new model is very watered-down form of media; diluted media that only exposes the viewer to small portions of what the planet is going through. And although Twitter and Facebook might find this to be an attractive idea for ad companies, they are putting their viewer’s content and the amount of cash earned from ads at risk- now it actually takes more effort to see more ads and earn money.

Either way, this situation limits what can be seen and done online. Someone who finds the ads for polls on celebrities will never see world news pop up on their feed, just as people who follow CNN will never escape the newsroom’s melodrama. This circumstance forces users of social media to be more scrupulous of what they search for online, because using these outlets of communication forfeit privacy and choice over what they consume.

Image: Flickr

Skills

You’ve been sending emails, organizing files, making excel sheets, running errands, and learning all summer. Whether it’s a fashion, photography, or finance internship, chances are you’ll be leaving soon. Sometimes it’s because you’re going back to university in another state, or maybe you’re taking 21 credits and you can’t fit it into your schedule. Maybe the internship wasn’t right for you but you wanted to at least give it a try. Either way, it’s time to say good­bye, and there are a few things you need to do beforehand.

1. Let your boss know.

Whether it’s a job or internship, it’s good to give a two weeks notice that you will be leaving the company. Make sure to write a formal letter and to give a verbal heads up. It’s bad to leave a gaping hole where you used to work, and this gives employers a chance to find someone to take over your responsibilities. This is a good chance to explain what you liked about the internship, and if you want to come back next summer you should mention it!

2. Attain contact information.

Get his number. Or her number. Or their numbers. Before you leave, make sure you have the email, LinkedIn, Facebook (if you so dare), or any other social media/contact info of people you worked with. You want to keep in contact with people who you want to remember. Just remember to contact them once every four months to say hi! You want to be able to maintain a good relationship, and who knows, they might help you out or vice versa in the future! This is also a good way to let others know you’re leaving so it won’t be awkward that you just disappeared.

3. Clean your workspace.

Once upon a summer, I was led to a bright desk on the top floor of an office building. The vibe was chill, the lighting was comfortable, and the desk, well, the desk was covered in dust, had hygiene products in the drawer, and lacked a functioning stapler. The former intern did not bother to bring her leftover peanut butter, half melted chocolate, or instant nail polish with her after she left. This isn’t very nice, and doesn’t reflect the respect and effort she could have put into her internship! Please, take your things with you, straighten out your desk, wipe things down, and leave it nice and welcoming for the next intern!

4. Work hard until the very end.

This is important! Even though you know you’ll be leaving in two weeks, you want to leave a good impression. Don’t lose steam! Have a final hurrah! Do your best and make it the best end of an internship. You’ll feel accomplished and your coworkers will appreciate it. Best of all, you’ll be motivated to have a good start for the semester. Who wouldn’t like that?

As the summer winds down, things will change. The weather, your closet, the internship, and the semester. Things will come and go, and we have to go along with that flow. I hope these tips can help you prep for this change, and that it is all smooth sailing from here.

Image: deathtostockphoto

CultureSkills

Most of us haven’t had to make friends since high school, and even then we didn’t have to start from scratch. Going out to a new place on your own – some of us not even in our home state – can be pretty intimidating. Most of us aren’t used to having to make a whole new group of friends. Here are some tips on how to break out of your comfort zone, meet new people, and make the most of your college experience.

Start Early
Making friends takes time and the only way to speed up the process is to start early. If your college or university has a Facebook group, you’re in luck. Social media is the easiest and holy grail of ways to make new friends and meet new people in general. Post on your school’s page and post a brief paragraph about yourself including your name, major, where you’re from, and a few interests and hobbies that you enjoy. Breaking the ice yourself and starting the trend is always an easy way to get the ball rolling!

Have Questions and Ask Them
If you end up talking to any of your future classmates one-on-one through any sort of social media, have a few generic questions to ask. Questions that can allow you to get to know people and see if you have anything in common can include asking what their major is, how far they live from the school, what their hobbies/interests are, if they have any siblings, and what music they like to listen to. These basic questions always lead to more in-depth conversations and allow you to get to know each other.

Keep the Conversation Flowing
Don’t let the conversation die out. By letting the conversation end, you’re losing the opportunity to continue the relationship you’ve already started! There are always more questions you can ask to break the ice. Feel free to start a question game and go back and forth asking questions you’re curious about. Feel free to ask for someone’s phone number if you’ve been talking for a while as well as their other social media accounts to keep the relationship going.

Be Open-minded
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Try to connect with as many people as you can, regardless of if you think you’d have nothing in common with the person based on their 2010 profile picture. Never pass up an opportunity to talk to someone new; you could be missing out on your future best friend!

Have a Positive Attitude
If you have a positive attitude not only about making friends, but towards the people you’re making friendships with, you’ll be a lot more successful. A smile or exclamation mark can really break a shy person out of his or her shell, so don’t forget to spread the happiness!

Overall, be yourself when meeting new people. Never try to be someone you’re not. College provides an opportunity for you to find the people you really click with and make friendships that will last for years to come!

Image: Unsplash

CultureSkills

It is difficult in this day and age to find an individual who isn’t connected to one account or another. It’s surprising if someone can honestly say they don’t have at least one social media account. I was born into a generation that has never experienced a world without social media. I opened my first social media account at the ripe young age of 11 on MySpace (not the required minimum age of 13…shhh).

Since then, I’ve always had something. But it hit me this summer how dependent I’d become to social media. It was scary, to be honest. My usual morning routine always included checking Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook before heading out for the day. It isn’t fair to say that social media isn’t important because it definitely has its uses. Social media connects people in ways that never would’ve possible 20 years ago. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts can be used not only for personal reasons, but also as a way for potential employers to learn more about you. A well-managed social media account can say so much about a person. However, it’s nice to disconnect for a while. The longest I’ve lasted is a week without checking any of my social media accounts. I realize a week is not actually a long time, but short as it was, it was extremely refreshing. So give it a try! Who knows what you’ll learn about yourself.

A few tips for managing a successful social media account:

  • Show your personality, but be wary of what you post. Don’t anything that you might be ashamed of later.
  • Be sure you have permission when posting anything involving someone else.
  • Post a variety of things! Even the most artsy shots of any specific thing can get boring after a while.

The dangers of social media:

  • Customize your privacy settings. Some accounts, like Facebook, connect you with not only associates and co-workers, but also family and friends. You may post something intended for close family members to see but not anyone else, or vice-versa. Make sure your settings are air-tight.
  • As I mentioned before, just because a picture of you and friends having a night out might be of interest to others, that doesn’t mean that it should be posted. If maintaining an account with only one privacy option (like Instagram – either private or not private), be extra, extra picky with what gets posted.
  • To put it simply, don’t post anything that may come back to haunt you later. Our parents don’t have to worry about an impulsive tweet posted at 2 am when they were 18 coming popping up somewhere. We do.

We’d love to know – do you tweet?

Image: DeathtotheStockPhoto

Culture

According to a new survey of almost 9,000 teens, teenagers prefer Twitter over Facebook. The financial firm Piper Jaffray discovered that 26% of youth favored Twitter, while 23% preferred Facebook and Instagram. Reportedly, there are 218 million active Twitter users worldwide.

This new survey shows an interesting shift, as a survey of 8,600 teens earlier this year showed that Facebook was favored over Twitter by 33% to 30%. 

What is your favorite social media network?

CultureRead, Watch, Do

Use the weekend to catch up on things you didn’t have time for during the week. Take a couple of hours for some reading, watching, and doing.

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ReadThe Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. Keeping in theme with the Leadership Trait of the Week, Courage, The Alchemist is a true story of facing fears and the risk Santiago takes leaving his home in Spain to embark on his journey.

Watch: The Up Series by Michael Apted.

Do: Catch up with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.