Monday, December 27, 2010

Another crossroads

Here I am again at a crossroads at which I am supposed to pause and reflect. Look forward. Make plans....Progress report? Well. I have a degree. That’s new. It’ Honestly, I feel no different now that I have this piece of paper to “mark my accomplishments”. I think the accomplishments marked themselves.

It is not uncommon for people at this stage to consider grad school, and I have been surrounded by a frenzy of my comrades applying to this and that, writing and rewriting resumes, CVs, cover letters, and personal statements that in a couple concise pages “Focus on present and future, with references only to the most important and relevant experiences. Future aspirations should be somewhat specific, giving an indication of a goal and plans.” (as suggested by many advisory websites and by a professor of ours who graciously gave a daunting and sometimes bewildering 2 hour lecture on continuing in academia).

A little intimidated by my peer’s focus and apparent clarity, I wrote this “essay” even though I’ve resolved not to throw myself into grad school with little forethought as I did with undergrad. Just to sort things out, take stock of where I am, and you know, just see if my brain still works.

Personal “statement of purpose”:

I have been blessed to grow up surrounded by nature and science. I have always been encouraged to enjoy what the natural world has to offer, and to be observant and respectful of my environment. Many of the most formative experiences throughout my life have been in nature. It is no wonder that I have come to think of myself as a “naturalist”, a scientist, a conservationist and a marine biologist.

Research in Dr. Jacobs’ lab was one of my first glimpses into the world of academic sciences. During my time as an undergraduate research assistant, I was first exposed to research and publication. I gathered data, worked through troubleshooting, and collaborated with my advisors and peers; the process of the scientific method became more than a schoolroom exercise.

I was also happy to discover that my classes at UCLA were more than hypothetical drills. I enjoyed several classes that emphasized research going beyond simply generating data, and encouraged me to ask questions and synthesize ideas about my observations of the world.

One of my most important and influential experiences was my time spent abroad in Costa Rica. I attended the Monteverde Institute with a quarter-long Education Abroad program emphasizing tropical ecology and conservation biology. During this quarter I met amazing scientists who inspired me to be more observant and inquisitive about my surroundings daily. They demonstrated a true passion for learning, and an intense dedication to their fields of study. Most importantly, I was given a chance to explore field biology. Every day was spent hiking trails, wading rivers, or surveying farms and fields. I conducted my own research project from inception through completion. It was in the field—drenched, tired, dirty and bug-bitten, that my love of ecology truly blossomed. Interacting with nature, being hands-on and close-up put the tedium of data entry, and some time-confusion of data analysis and interpretation, into a context that excited and motivated me. Science made sense; it became more than an exercise and more than a process—working in the field made research more complete, with results that I could apply to my own experiences.

My time in Costa Rica also taught me some important lessons about myself. At UCLA I am a director and tutor for Project Literacy, a volunteer organization that brings tutors and mentors to inner-city communities in Los Angeles. I enjoy engaging students and collaborating with fellow directors to continuously improve this project. While in Costa Rica, I found myself bringing this role with me. I enjoy and crave collaboration and opportunities to share knowledge and inspire people to want to continue to learn. While doing my independent research in Costa Rica, I found myself looking for ways to involve my home-stay family; I would take the kids for walks and let them help me in the field, I would ask for my home-stay parents’ local expertise, and I focused on a topic that had potential implications that would directly affect my hosts as well as the local community.

Finally, my “Marine Biology Quarter” at UC Davis’ Bodega Bay Marine laboratory was the culmination of my scientific (indoctrination inception initiation?). Again I was challenged to approach the world inquisitively, to seek patterns and find mechanisms. As a part of a research team, I was challenged by my peers and instructors, and had an opportunity to share my knowledge as well. Our collaborations produced interesting research with potential for publication.

It is my goal to find a career that allows me to continue to grow as a naturalist, conservationist and marine biologist. I hope that as I continue to learn from my environment that I will be able to better serve it in return. I will always look at the world around me through an inquisitive lens, and as I continue to ask questions, perhaps I will learn to answer them too. I want to give as much as I receive from the world, and am ultimately dedicated to contributing to how we understand the world, and to passing on knowledge and love of nature.

...I'm hoping that I will be able to keep my brain from turning to mush in the meantime. And I've newly resolved to allow myself to keep my dreams in mind. A friend recently asked (I apparently only hang out with extremely motivated people that love to talk about the future) what I would be doing if I could do absolutely anything, if money and family were no consideration? I said that I'd be a writer and photographer for National Geographic. She looked as though she was expecting "professional ballerina" and instead heard "janitor". Her response was, "Well you could do that." And, well, sure, I guess I could. And thus I am resolved to keep such things in mind as I strategically takes steps down some road--which road that will be, we'll just have to wait and see. We'll call it a "reach" plan (just like applying to schools)....and being a janitor is a solid backup plan.

Monday, October 5, 2009

My generation

It has been a year (plus a few days) since my journey began.
I have gone through so many resolutions, changes of heart, revelations, frustrations and more resolutions. And where am I now? I still hate that question: what are you going to do with your life? But I can no longer blow it off. What am I going to do? Well? What am I doing right now?

Reminiscing. Reflecting. A year feels like a lifetime, and in this life I am a different person than the one who was taking her first excited steps into the muddy forests of a far-off land. What am I going to do with my life? Which life?

I feel like no one in my generation likes that question. We resent it--because we were supposed to get directions somewhere along the way--weren't we? I feel like in our future, in whatever lifetime down the road that will be, (My 10th reincarnation?) I will try to describe my generation the way people try to describe Generation X or the boomer gen:

We are confused. Betrayed. Distrustful--of everything: our politics our upbringing our culture (what culture?) and ourselves. Maybe we were on the conservative swing back from the previous liberal swing of our parent's generation (that's what "they" say happens, right?). So we are on the conservative swing--but we are so betrayed by our leaders that our swing is knocked off course. Betrayal enough to rock an entire culture--and what's worse is that they try to win us back, not by building trust but by building fear. And so where are we? Knocked onto a course to Where. Unsure of where to look--what's real? what's safe? This insecurity has shaken us at every level--national to personal--who are our leaders? friends or foes? who are we trying to impress anymore? and why should we care?

To go back to the liberal movement of generations past would be, well, going back-- and we were raised to move on, move up, go big or go home (this whole "bigger is better" culture is a whole other can of worms). Besides, we must learn from the mistakes of the past as we work to move forward (and maybe make up for some lost ground). But we won't jump off the deep end. We won't say "fuck the man" and abandon societal norms/structure/way of life that we know, until we know that there is something else. To avoid digressing into a stony-utopia that eventually crashes out into the reality of needing infrastructure--even though we just want to take many of those same old stories and make them our own: civil rights, environmental movements, social change--but this time, make them work in a way that's real to us.

So we continue to lead our lives, looking bashfully around for a clue. Sitting on our balconies, looking out onto the street and talkingdreamingwondering about a better idea. An idea that won't take us "back" but will get us off of the road that we've been headed down in this lifetime, and onto a road that we could spend a new lifetime exploring. And we do our small part in our small bubble to take a half step towards it. Where are we going? What will we all do with our lives?

I had previously promised to become a better "Citizen of the World". So I still do all those good things that may also look good on paper (or electronic application). But mostly, I think my progress has been internal. Somehow I feel more connected to My Generation. Just by being open, more open than I've ever been in my life (thank you, Costa Rica) to everything and everyone--especially myself--I think I am seeing how we are all connected in this trajectory to Where. Maybe when we all realize that, we won't all be so scared.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Now that my travels have come to a close, I am not sure of what to make of this blog—or of myself, really. The title of this writing, “Citizen del Mundo”—“Citizen of the World” holds some implications that I didn’t intend, or address initially in the writing of my travels. To be a citizen implies a certain relationship that goes beyond simply living somewhere.

A citizen has a relationship with their nation or community. In return for rights and opportunities provided by the community, a citizen must give something in return. “Active citizens” are obligated to participate in the improvement of their communities—through voting, working, volunteering, consciousness and even economic participation. Citizenship goes beyond residence.

And so, I have decided to be a better “Citizen of the World.” As a citizen of LA, I am doing my best by working with Project Literacy. To be a citizen of the world I have resolved to be more aware of the world community, by reading news and participating in the many cultural events available to me at UCLA. In this way, I can hold on to my world experiences and hopefully contribute to the world experiences of other citizens of this Earth.

Making Sense of It All

Back in LA and back to regular school life. I have scarcely had a moment to process all that I have experienced in these past few months. It seems as though I was hardly gone at all. My friends, my apartment, my school. We just picked up from where we left off. But what has changed? What have I learned? I’m not exactly sure.

What I am sure of, and what I have been telling all my friends, is that living abroad is definitely something we should all do if we have a chance. A friend asked me if I experienced the cliche of “discovering myself.” Honestly, I hadn’t thought of it that way, nor do I think any of us will ever finish in the quest for self. But in many respects, my experience fit the cliche.

Living abroad has given me an opportunity to get away from everything that I have known. I left behind the external stimuli of the people, culture, society and surroundings of my current life in LA and of my childhood home in Santa Cruz. By taking me away from everything I’ve known, life abroad gave me a chance to see what I am without it all. I was able to experience what was “me” as opposed to what were products or responses to my surroundings. In this way, I’d have to say that yes, we can travel to find ourselves. But not in the way that many people think.

We do not travel and move in search of some thing that will give us purpose or tell us about ourselves. Instead, just being away from our lives, away from anything that we have learned to associate with and become attached to, gives us a chance to see who we are without those things. Who we are, independent of our friends and comforts and habits. It is not the destination, it isn’t even the journey. It’s about change. The more change we experience, the more we can see what is constant, what is truly part of our own self. Whether or not finding that better sense of self leads to clarity about our “purpose” is beside the point, though it may be a fortuitous consequence for some people. The point is that we gain independence and identity, while reinforcing what is constant and comforting, like home and friends.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Vinaka, Vinaka Vakalevu

After only a moment to exhale at home, without even completely unpacking, I was off again. This time, I was with my family, headed for Fiji. A little sick (mysterious tropical germies) my little time home and the whole sixteen hours of travel were a blur. All for the best, I suppose, it may have been just as bewildering to be conscious of crossing the international dateline and “magically” skipping forward a day. For all I know I had just passed out for that whole day.

In Fiji, I once again found myself in an amiable, tropical paradise. A place where the people smiled and waved and greeted you with hugs (and at hotels with songs and a foot massage). This was a totally different kind of trip. We stayed at a beautiful, nearly empty, resort for the first couple days to get adjusted to the new time zone, and to give me a chance to get over my mystery illness. And then we got on the Tui Tai.

Now, I had no idea what the heck we were going to do. I thought it was a dive boat...but that’s not quite right because Mom and Nikko (non-divers) were promised to enjoy themselves....What it turned out to be was an “adventure cruise”, with a small list of passengers and an even smaller rank of crew. For a week we lived on this boat getting to know fellow passengers and crew very closely. Relaxing it was not—this was not your ordinary “cruise” cruise. We woke for a 7am dive every morning and had activities (snorkeling, kayaking, hikes and bike rides on various islands, and visiting small villages as we sailed by them) all day long, virtually non-stop. And every landing was a wet landing.

It would be impossible to summarize every day and every activity. Sufficed to say, we did some amazing things. Went diving with manta rays, jumped off of waterfalls, and drank kava with locals. And we met amazing people. Regular people. Fijians of many origins and “microcultures,” and Indo-fijians—hardworking people without a nation. Each of them added something new to our experiences. As one of our fellow passengers said—we are all different colors, and as we come together and share our lives with each other, we are making every life that we touch a little more colorful.

Vinaka vekelevu, Fiji, for making me a little more colorful, far after my tan fades, this trip’s colors will still have left their mark.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Leaving Paradise

On the plane from Dallas to San Fran. So sad to be so far already from the Green Mountains. But I will be happy to be home again with family and friends…and dry clothes that don’t smell like mildew.

Monteverde, and the rest of Costa Rica, gave us a beautiful send-off, making it that much harder to say goodbye. Perfect “pura vida” days, even during the most stressful time of the quarter. I blasted through the symposium, blasted through my final essays and the final submission of my research so that I could enjoy my last couple days in the mountains. And Monteverde cooperated by lightening the rain and wind, blessing us with blue skies and the most beautiful sunsets we had seen. Afternoon walks to escape the stress of the station put a lasting smile o my face.

The morning that everything was due, I submitted my papers early and went out with a friend. It was the most tranquila day we had enjoyed all week. We visited all of our favorite places, walking all over Monteverde. We visited and said our goodbyes to the local people we had gotten to know. In the end we laid out on the lawn in front of Casem and read aloud to each other until a sunny drizzle encouraged us to visit Stella’s one last time. We enjoyed our last DELICIOUS sandwich at our favorite hangout, watched birds and sat in silence for a while, appreciating the time we had spent there—watching new coming tourists bustling in and out, looking at maps, consulting guides.

That evening was the “final” feast at the station, with all of our teachers and all of the people who had helped us throughout the program in attendance. Viewing the slideshow, one thing in particular struck me. We are always smiling. Not just because we were taking pictures, no. These photos just reminded me that we have been walking around with smiles on our faces for three months, for no other reason than that life is amazing, and what we were doing is amazing and that we are blessed to be where we are.

One of Frank’s final word’s of wisdom (not to be confused with his many “cautionary tales”) was this: To simply be well educated is not enough. In fact, some of history’s most infamous villains and “fools” were the most highly educated, brilliant people. It matters what kind of education we receive. It is important to understand the world in many ways, and to understand the gifts that it holds. It is important that we learn from the world and the people around us, and to have a complete LIFE education…and that is what we have been given, and that is our obligation to pass on.

And so, as sad as I am to be leaving paradise…I know that I will someday return. Until then I have a rekindled energy and drive to make the most of opportunities, and to continue to make opportunities for myself. I accept the obligation to contribute to the world around me and perpetuate life’s education. And I look forward to the challenges ahead, knowing that I am capable of much more than I knew before.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


The clouds are dancing through the forested valley, playing with the swirling wind that is lalloping over the green ridge. They sway in a tango-trance, rising and falling, gusting and receding, unable to choose a path or direction.

Today our morning talk was "Franks lessons for life." There were moments of comedy and seriousness, and many moments of bio-nerdiness and insanity. But mostly this was a serious talk about our futures and how we may continue on in life as biologists. Oh man, this "what will you do with your life" conversations always get me....

I'm not sure who exactly reads this...but whoever is out there, you may or may not know that I am seriously considering staying, or rather, going home for Christmas and returning to Monteverde for another quarter (or two?) to work and mostly just to live in this beautiful place. As I have explained to a couple friends and family, and as one could probably tell by reading previous posts, I am in love with Costa Rica. I have been more inspired spiritually, intellectually and artistically by this area, the people, the "vibes" of this place, more than I have been in a very long time. To stay here would be an amazing life experience for me, hopefully one that will help me better understand who I am, and to help me answer that enternally daunting question, "what am I doing?"

But after Don Frank's talk, I am unsure again about this choice. He encouraged us to find things that we are both good at and enjoy. And to do this, the only thing to do is to try things--that is an arguement to stay here...but am I ready to find this fit? Frank also brought up that to be in a position where you can have contact with people--to have real relationships and impacts, while doing something you love and are good at, is a rare and desireable opportunity as well. And that is something that I will be missing by not returning to Project Literacy and the community that I am a part of at home. And there is no gaurantee that I will find that here...

I'm not sure this makes sense. It could be that I am mentally tired from working endlessly on my independent research report...Tomorrow I will present it to the scientific community here...which could include some big figures in the bio world (yikes)...and then I have more finals and the final submission of the paper, which has to be in publishable form....

I am all scrambled, I can't keep one train of thought... Staying here, understanding what it is like to live here and be a part of this different world, is a huge opportunity--and there won't be many like it. This could enhance my self understanding and also what I am able to contribute later on....On the flip side, if I can stand to wait, until I graduate, perhaps, then I will have that much more knowledge and maturity to bring with me, and perhaps I will get even more out of it.... I need help.

...Now they pause in an uneasy truce, idling in uncertainty, slowly circling. The wind, as always, is impatient to move and explore, to spread seeds and rustle leaves. The clouds spread and settle, slowly rolling in on themselves, releasing fleeting drops of rain.