Skills

Asking for help can be hard when you’re going through a hard time. At times it can be a case of pride. You don’t want to show how much something is bothering you or how much it is hurting. Perhaps you don’t want to burden someone with your problems. Whatever the reason, I can say it is always a good idea to ask for help when you need it.

I have never regretted asking for help. Have you ever not raised your hand in class because you were worried about asking a dumb question? We’ve always been told that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Even if there were, you could either have an answer right away or you could just agonize on your own for however long it takes for you to figure things out. When you speak up, you get answers.

I admit that this is a lesson I have had to learn more than once. I once missed a day of school while sick. I didn’t ask for anyone’s math notes because I was sure I was smart enough to piece together the information on my own. A week later, not only had I not figured out what I missed, but I didn’t understand anything that came after it. Instead of letting my confusion grow, I finally asked my teacher for help. Guess what? Everything began to make sense.

If someone can’t or won’t help you, it’s not the end. It just means you can move on to someone who can help you with your problem. This idea is not limited to class lessons. The holidays in particular can be troubling times for people. Some feel overwhelmed about spending so much money or the need to make a holiday perfect. Some people feel like they have to spend the holiday alone. Like the fear of asking for help, this pressure we put on ourselves tends to all be in our heads. Reach out to friends or family if you want to spend the holiday with someone. If you need space from your loved ones, you can volunteer somewhere. Don’t suffer because you’re afraid to reach out.

If you’re scared or confused in life, it never hurts to ask for help. You may want to prove you can do things on your own, which is valid. However, if you are slowing yourself down because you don’t want to admit that you need help or because you’re scared others will see you differently, don’t worry so much. Everyone has problems. No one was born knowing everything or being able to do everything. We all learn as we grow. Even in adult life we are still learning. The very problem you are struggling with may be just the thing that someone else is struggling with. You just have to be brave enough to talk about it. Not asking for help just wastes time that you could use to move forward. So don’t waste anymore time. Just ask.

Image: CollegeDegrees360

CultureSkills

“Hey, how are you?”
“Alright! You?”
“Doing well, thanks.”
“Good to hear.”

And cue the curtain call. That’s it, that’s how we talk to each other. While the pressures of getting to class or work on time makes this sort of interaction necessary, let’s pause to think of what this does to our overall engagement with one another. Allow me to preface by saying I am an avid small talker and do see the value of passing conversation. It lightens the mood and provides much needed person-to-person acknowledgement. To surpass the surface, however, we need to recognize the times where we can switch the banter with deep dialogue.

Fig. 1 Everyone loves an iceberg metaphor

deep 1

The usual conversation involves skimming through topics I like to call “skimterests,” ideas that only scratch the surface of getting to know someone. The current climate, who wore what and when, or perhaps some car trouble you had on the way to a meeting, are all so very skimteresting. We sometimes avoid heavier topics in an effort to save the other person from discomfort. It has become a common courtesy to not engage in sensitive issues but as emerging adults, let’s realize that we should not always mask our discussions. What we lose by doing this are genuine moments with those around us. It’s okay to be vulnerable. Don’t just break the ice, melt it (and get to the bottom of the iceberg).

Fig. 2

deep 2

Finding common ground is a valuable place to start when having a conversation, but it should not be the sole subject. It is easy to talk about similarities because you feel secure and understood, but complexity begins when you shift your focus on what makes the other person unique. That is when you delve into the various life events and perspectives that have shaped them into the person they are.

 Fig. 3

deep 3

Digging deeper requires you to invest two things into the other person:

  1. Time spent asking open-ended questions
  2. Verbal and non-verbal marks of interest

Ask questions that don’t end with just a yes or no. Go for the “Why’s” and “How’s” when asking why a certain life path was chosen or how they feel about their relationships. Showing interest is key to conversation continuity and can be done with simple words of affirmation, attentive eye contact, and nods of recognition. People can gauge one another when speaking, intermittently checking if what they’re saying is actually being heard. Listen, process, and have specific follow-ups. The goal now is to widen your knowledge of the other person without feeling pressured to respond with a similar story in efforts to relate. Everyone has something intriguing about them and each conversation is a scavenger hunt to figure it out!

Open-Ended Questions:

  • Describe three things you could add to your life that would make you happier. What about three things you could do without?
  • How would you describe your personality? How is that different than how your family, partner, or friends would describe you?
  • If you had to make up a life motto right now, what would it be and why?

Don’t worry about the back-and-forth. There is no required word count or rule that says two people must talk equally to have an effective conversation. You don’t need to always say something to fill in the gaps. Appreciate silence as a significant facet of conversation. It allows people to ponder their responses, especially those who need more time to process thoughts before speaking comfortably.

Paraphrasing is powerful. Respond with what you have gathered from the other person. This not only shows that you listened but that you care about having an accurate idea of their point. Having positive remarks after someone shares something personal will also help create a safe space for dialogue. Validation is the pillow of conversation, it make things comfortable.

Water it with time. Really getting to know someone is an ongoing process. The best relationships form from a progression of conversations, keeping in touch with others, and remembering what they have to say. If you have time in your day, think about how you can make the “How are you?” turn into something a lot more meaningful.

Images: Sunshine and Marian Bagamaspad

CultureEducationTravel

Studying abroad is a big, fantastic, life-changing decision. Kudos to you for making the choice to do it, but now you’ve got a question to answer for yourself: where will I go?

During my junior year of college, I left my little North Carolina university for a semester as an exchange student at a university in Singapore, where I knew no one, about as far across the globe as I could possibly go. Choosing such an unfamiliar location was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but it wasn’t the easiest.

Some people, like me, are all over the map with potential locations and take a little time to choose the right place. I’ve compiled a list of 10 questions that I consider important to ask about each potential location when making the decision on where you’ll spend the next mini chapter of your life:

1. What is my goal? What do I want to get out of this experience?

Do you want to learn a language or discover new cultures? Escape your comfort zone? Explore incredible nightlife? Meet new people, or remain with current classmates/close friends? Volunteer? Travel easily? While the questions below will guide you in determining the program that meets your academic, social, travel and financial needs, answering them is no use without first having an idea of what you truly want to gain from your experience, and how far out of your comfort zone you’d like to go.

2. What are the potential host countries’ official language(s)?

Do you speak it/them? Do the universities or programs you’re considering offer classes in English, or only the host language? Can you enroll in language lessons?

3. How  are the potential host countries’ political climate?

Is the country and its region fairly stable and safe, particularly for people of your nationality? People are people no matter where you go, and no matter the situation. Danger is not alwaysas imminent as the media likes us to believe (don’t tell your parents I said that). However, safety is vital, political climates can change quickly, and even if they don’t necessarily affect safety, they can affect your ability to do things such as travel, stay out late, etc. The UN and your country’s embassy sites are informative in these situations.  

4. How are the social dynamics?

Is the country LGBTQIA friendly? Are gender roles significantly different there than in your home country? Is it safe and respectful to openly practice your religion there? How are people from  your country generally treated? Is partying and/or drinking normal or frowned upon?

5. What about cost of living?

Are you funding the experience yourself or with help? How much can you spend on it? Are scholarships available? Check out factors like public transportation, food and drink, leisure and cultural, and rent costs. It may actually be very possible to live significantly more cheaply as a student than you’d expect. (While Singapore’s cost of living is very high, research showed me it was fairly simple to keep my costs low using student housing, public transit, groceries, duty-free stores and on-campus food canteens.)

6. What amenities are available?

Will you be using toilets or holes in the ground? Is running water available for showers, laundry etc.? WiFi? What, if any, western-style amenities are you willing to forego?

7. What about food and drinks?

What is the local diet? (Noodles, glutinous sticky rice or Indian and Malaysian breads were in almost every meal I ate in Singapore – it would have been difficult were I gluten free.) Know how well your allergies will be accommodated and whether you’re willing to try unfamiliar meats, veggies and more. How available is clean water? You’ll almost always be able to find bottled and clean options, particularly if studying through a university or established program, but it’s good to at least have an idea how easily you can do that.

8. How’s the weather?

Know your potential locations’ climates, and how important weather is to you. (A friend of mine considered study only in Scandinavian nations because he absolutely loves the cold.)

9. How easily can I travel?

Seeing the world is a big reason many of us study abroad. Can you take buses and trains inexpensively for weekend trips? What is your proximity to other destinations? What budget airlines travel through your location and region?

10. CULTURE?!

Were you wondering if I was ever going to list this one? It felt like a no-brainer, so I almost didn’t. If you don’t have one standout culture that interests you, ask yourself other questions. Do you love the study of religion? Interested in architecture? History? Art? Fashion? Choose a location rich in the things that pique your curiosity and interest.

Tips:

  • Reach out to people who studied in your program: your university will often be able to connect you – just ask. I did this and it gave me lots of insider tips. Most of us love talking about our study abroad experiences, plus, we can tell you things the websites and advisors won’t.
  • ProCon it: a list of potential goods and bads can help you organize your thoughts if you’re really struggling to figure out where you want to be.
  • Don’t freak out: you will have a life-changing experience if you let yourself. The location will affect how your life is changed, and in what ways, but it’s very hard to go wrong in that department.

Study abroad is fun, mind-opening and challenging, and your decision to do it is the most important one! So enjoy the decision making process; put thought into it, but don’t over-analyze. Listen to your heart, and you’ll end up in the right place for you.

Next week, I’ll cover the important topic of financing a study abroad trip.

What suggestions do you have for choosing a study abroad location? Comment below!

Image: Dominik S., Flickr

CultureHealth

“Beauty comes at a price.” There’s a sentence we have all heard, without doubt. Physical beauty, especially, comes at such a price. Waxing, bleaching, plucking, shaving, and threading…things all us ladies (and some men) have spent countless hours at the salon doing.  But as Americans, what’s our take on beauty? What’s physically attractive, and what’s not physically attractive? Who decides these rules? How do American standards of pulchritude compare to those of the Eastern world?

I am currently in India, and I had the chance to interview several people about what they believe is beautiful in a woman.  Here are a few perspectives from the East:

“When I marry the girl of my dreams, I want her to be as fair as the moon…lips as red as cherries, and very black hair. I think a girl like that would be very attractive.”

“Milky white skin. Like Kareena Kapoor and Tammanah Bhatia, the Bollywood actresses. Intellect would be a great addition to those looks, though.”

“As a girl, I’ve always been told to use fairness products. They’re supposed to elicit the true beauty out of me or something. I don’t know though, they don’t really work. But that’s what everyone wants: whiteness.”

I interviewed 12 people, but I had to stop because everyone said the same thing: fairness, whiteness, and lightness. Everybody seemed to be in love with the concept of being light-skinned. In fact, what I like to call the “Fairness Industry,” is booming not only in India, but in Asia as well. Take a look at these creams and their purpose:

beauty cream

Phrases like “healthy white” and “fair and lovely” capsize the mind at first glance. It almost seems as though being white and fair is associated with being “healthy” and “lovely.” Is this a social stigma? Do young Asian girls have to be fair-skinned to be beautiful? Skin bleaching products such as creams and gels certainly do exist in the USA, but they are nowhere near as popular there as they are in Asia as a whole. Where does the idea of equating attractiveness to fairness stem from?

Back in the day, those who toiled in the fields and struggled in blistering heat possessed a darker skin tone than those who remained indoors, living in luxury and royalty. Having darker pigmentation became easily associated with being poor or part of the working class. Skin color became associated with wealth, and those who were more affluent were also seen as more desirable.

Let’s zoom forward to present-day Bollywood. Recently, the Hindi film “Gori Tere Pyaar Mein” came out. The title literally translates to “In your love, fair-skinned girl.” Why not make a film called “Kali Tere Pyaar Mein,” or “In your love, dark-skinned girl?” Once again, movies in India emphasize the glowing fairness of girl as beautiful, leaving no room for the majority of the olive to tan to dark-complexioned people. With subliminal messages like this, those of us who are not fair are almost forced to believe that we are not as attractive to our white counterparts. I can provide a personal example of this, as one of my North Indian friends (who is quite fair in complexion) teased me for being a dark-toned South Indian (we inhabit areas closer to the equator, so what do you expect?) once. Since when is being more pigmented a sin? Why are fair people automatically deemed beautiful, while darker skinned girls struggle to earn that title?

What about America? What do American girls believe will make them look beautiful? The answer is essentially the opposite of Asia’s: America wants tan girls. The tanning industry prospers in America: fake tans, tanning beds, and other “tan-in-a-can” products are quite the profitable investment. When summer comes around, millions of girls rush to the beach to bronze themselves. I’ve seen girls from my high school spend their paychecks on tanning beds in the winter…yes, in the winter, when there’s barely any sun and being slightly pale is a commonplace occurrence. It’s ludicrous to see what our young girls do their skin…whether they want to bleach it or bronze it. I had several Caucasian friends tell me “Wow, I wish I was tan like you. Your tan lasts year-round.” It feels weird to be castigated by one community for being tan, and complimented by another for the same thing. Why can’t we all just be proud of our original skin color?

However, there is one characteristic of beauty that seemed to be popular in India and America: skinniness. Perhaps the struggle to be slim is a global epidemic, as well. Dieting pills, weight-loss programs, V-shapers…they’re everywhere. Magazines, movies, retweets made by several of my guy friends that I follow on Twitter all depict skinny actresses and models. As girls, we are constantly surrounded by sources that tell us that skinny is right and that people need to see our collarbones…or else we are just not beautiful.

And once we gain that skinny body through hours at gym and spent dieting, we need to show it off, don’t we? Let’s take a detour and play the skin game. The more skin you reveal, the sexier you are. That sentence should’ve made most of us feel somewhat uncomfortable. We live in a society where the female body is such a weird object: people want to see girls naked, but once they do, certain girls who exposed their bodies are slut-shamed. Girls are heavily imposed with a double standard in this sense. What do you want her to do? Take her clothes off? Will you still respect her after? These are the relevant questions that you should ask yourself if you’re interested in a particular girl. Find those answers and don’t dive into a cesspool of hypocrisy.

So girls, what makes you beautiful? Your complexion? Your weight? The amount of clothes you wear? Truly, there is no right answer. Society tries to oppress you with what it believes to be beautiful. Certain people assume that there is only one ideal look for beauty, whereas in reality, that’s just not that case. We need to celebrate our diversity. We can do so by not succumbing to a certain weight and pigmentation. If you want to wear a religious veil and cover your body, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to keep your original skin color, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to eat that juicy sandwich from McDonald’s, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to embrace your originality and the looks you were born with, you should be allowed to do so.

Your youth shouldn’t be spent on altering yourself physically to gain acceptance from society. It should be more about educating yourself and being happy. Society will always say one thing or the other, but it’s up to us to choose what we want to listen to.

Image: The Resurgence

CultureEducation

When we come across programs that make us excited about learning, we can’t wait to share and tell people all about it. One program in particular that we adore is General Assembly, a global educational institution that empowers individuals to learn topics such as technology, design, and business. You can take classes, workshops, courses, or immersive programs that last 8-12 weeks. The opportunities are seriously endless.

Last week, I took a class about eCommerce at General Assembly, and just in that hour and a half, I felt like I had a good grip on the basics. The class sizes are small, the instructors are accessible after class or by email for additional questions, and classrooms are clean and spacious. Oh, and there’s free Wifi!

I can’t wait to take more classes at General Assembly. I learned a lot from my first class, and if you plan on taking a course at General Assembly or another program, here’s what you should know!

1. Don’t forget your ticket. If you register for a class online, you will receive an online, printable ticket. Print this out right away and remember to bring it with you to class. This will make checking-in much smoother.

2. Bring a notebook or a laptop. You will be taking a lot of notes. Don’t rely on just your mind to remember everything the instructor says.

3. Do initial research. Even if you are taking a class because you do not know the first thing about the topic, it never hurts to do some initial research before the course. This way, in case the teacher uses terms and doesn’t go over them in class, you will have an idea of what he or she is talking about. Having done some initial reading also allows you to focus on the details that is being presented rather than trying to catch up with the basics.

4. Come prepared with questions. The instructor may encourage questions throughout the class or after he or she has finished the lesson. Either way, have a couple of questions prepared so you get the most out of your course. Remember, there are no stupid questions!

5. Arrive 15 minutes early. You don’t want to be the person stumbling into the class five minutes late and scrambling to find a seat. Plan on arriving 15 minutes early so you can find a good seat, set up your laptop and get out your pens, and review your questions.

6. Sit near the front. Sitting near the front of the class will help you see the presentation slides better, as well as give you a better chance of having your questions answered. You don’t want to be peering over people’s heads just to see what the slide says. Arriving 15 minutes early will help guarantee you the best seat in the house.

7. Introduce yourself. If you are sitting next to someone, say hi. If you enjoyed the class a lot, approach the instructor afterwards to say so. It never hurts to introduce yourself – good things might come out of it.

8. Thank you email. If the instructor offers his or her email address at the end of the presentation, jot it down and make sure to send a thank you email. Thank the instructor for his or her time, what you most enjoyed about the class, and if you have any additional questions, now is the time to ask them.

Have you ever taken a class at General Assembly/a similar program?