Being in your 20s is what others call “your prime.” It is, supposedly, the time when you get to explore and bask in adventures. It is about drowning yourself in the dreams that are within reach, such as traveling, partying with friends and creating something with your skills and sharing it to the world. I’ve seen it in movies and read about it in books too. But sadly, as a 20-something year old in a society that seems to be getting costly by the minute, I am far from traveling, partying, and creating to share. I have responsibilities that relent me from achieving free-spirited short-term goals that others have the privilege of getting right after they wave goodbye to college.
Recently, I just got over cosplaying as Princess Leia at a Comic Con here in my city. I’m 23-years-old and all I could think about is the weekend that’s approaching so I could get a start on reading books again. It At the back of my mind, kin-related financial priorities cloud everything else and I end up moping. I love to help others and take care of my loved ones. But postponing the security of my future feels like it’s directly proportional to nurturing a dragon that will eventually swallow me whole. Tomorrows are blurry. What more of the years that are yet to happen?
With the provision of technology where almost everything can be done through the internet or by a machine, human contact and appreciation is lessened. Business entities run by huge amounts of cash value their employees based on their productivity rather than the dedication exerted with every task. It is about “getting the job done” and not about “the passion for the job”. In short, you can get fired anytime. If you were devoid of a savings account, it would automatically mean sleeping in your car, crashing at your mate’s couch or living in your parents’ basement. Knowing that your future is in the hands of strangers is a frightening fact.
Experience and even the elderly teach you to live in the moment. It’s all about here and now, they say. But what about those people who carelessly waste their lives away for momentary joys? Such as sleeping around, depending on wealthy parents or simply indulging on wants based on impulse? With a list of duties in my head enumerated based on level of importance, it is hard to focus on well-deserved joy. Be it a weekend getaway or a free movie ticket to a much-anticipated film, the excitement doesn’t last long. I get a panic attack if I lose myself in a good moment and I forget about what to do next. I do not have OCD, but I have anxieties and worries that prod me to construct my next move.
Right now, all I wish to do is sit in a cafe and take in the fresh air from the seaside, while feeling the warmth of a chocolate cup in my palm. I want my feet to rest on my doll shoes and feel the wind dance between my toes. I want to calm my nerves. I want to rest in the arms of the one who willingly shares my burdens with me. I want to unlearn the forgetfulness I’ve accumulated towards my inner child.
Most of all, I want to be happy without worrying about what happens next.
As a resident of the Internet in 2014, I constantly read things about how men should talk to women—what’s appropriate, what’s respectful, what isn’t a rape culture way of thinking. I hear people saying, “If you are smart, kind, and not a woman-hater, you will only say these kinds of things to women.”
I get how this might be confusing, so here is a list of things you can talk about with me, a real, live woman:
You can address me as “ladies” or as “dude” or as “bro” or as “guys.” I know what gender I am. Your choice of greeting doesn’t impact that. Words are fun to play around with. They have dictionary meaning and colloquial meaning.
You can compliment my appearance. Because it’s a compliment. I don’t operate under the assumption that a person can’t both be attracted to you and respect you as a human being. That’s ludicrous.
You can give me your opinion on my appearance. I want everyone to have opinions. And, well, even if I didn’t they are going to have them anyway. It doesn’t hurt me if you say “I like long hair” when I talk about getting a haircut. Opinions and preferences are natural. It doesn’t hurt my feelings when someone has a different preference than me.
You can talk about having a sex drive. It’s not inherently anti-women to have sexual desires for women or to express them. I can’t imagine someone telling me my sex life was misandrist if I ever expressed a desire to a person that didn’t include “…and I also respect you as a person.” That part is assumed, and if it isn’t, the expression itself is not the problem.
You can say, “You’re pretty smart for a girl.” I’ll know that you’ve probably not been around women who were comfortable expressing their opinions around you. Thanks for giving me this valuable information about you! That saves me a lot of time rather than you not saying it and me not knowing how you are. Asking someone not to say this is avoidant; it’s playing Whac-A-Mole with something that’s going to come out eventually—and I would rather know sooner than later.
You can say something “creepy” to me. Because chances are that the “creepiness” of it is determined by how attractive you are, not whether what you are saying is truly inappropriate.
You can criticize feminism. Criticizing a movement is a gift to the movement. Here’s (feminist icon and) philosopher Simone Weil talking about being critical of Christianity: “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.” If feminism (or any movement) is the right thing to do, it’s going to stand up to criticism. When we don’t criticize, we act in fear that the movement or thing we love will crumble under further inspection.
The reason people tell you not to say these kinds of things is that people love to have an external locus of control because it is a lot easier than having an internal one. For example: It’s easier to tell everyone, “Don’t have alcohol anywhere in the world because I cannot manage my alcohol intake responsibly” rather than “I am going to avoid situations where alcohol is served or learn to be around it without partaking or going out of control.” People want the world made safe for them instead of making it safe for themselves. I don’t agree with this; it will never work. You will never convince everyone to only talk to you a certain way, so you will inevitably have to learn how to digest their words. Why not cut out the middleman and do this from the start?
Wait—I guess, fuck all those other rules because the only rule is this: You can talk to me any way you want to talk to me.
I’m not made of porcelain and I’m not going to break if you use the wrong words or reveal yourself to be a terrible person.
The things people say reveal more about them than they do about you. I would like to have this information and be in charge of how I process it and proceed. If you sound boring or unintelligent or disrespectful to me, I’m probably not going to continue the conversation. I may get up and leave. Because guess who controls my life? I do. I don’t need to police what you say; that’s your choice. Just like how you can’t tell me how to react to what you say; that’s my choice. I don’t need other people to tell me what I can and cannot handle or what should offend me, or what I should require in order to feel a certain way.
I don’t want you to talk to me like I am fragile. I want you to talk to me like any other human being—any way you want to. And I’m going to react to what you say like any other human would.
I was laying there on a bright orange comforter in a tiny room. It must’ve been 90 degrees because all I could do was sweat. Sweat and sweat and sweat until I soaked through my comforter in my tiny un-airconditioned room. I had only been in Granada, Spain for about 2 weeks, but I was already starting to worry that everyone was wrong.
When you ask people about studying abroad, there’s a ridiculously large chance that they will tell you it was the best experience of their life. Hands down. And so that’s all you expect. And then suddenly your imagination gets the best of you and in your mind you’re clinking beers in an Irish pub and eating gelato by some breathtaking river and speaking fluently with the natives all while “finding yourself” and falling in love and never experiencing a moment of self doubt. And it all seems so close and so obtainable and so beautiful.
But then you’re there. And two weeks have passed and the shimmer of it all has worn off. And so your imagination sets off again…this time with frustration. “Why do the Spaniards not apologize when they bump into me? Why do I keep getting lost? Why haven’t my friends tried to Skype me yet? Why haven’t I made true friends here yet? Why are there no free refills?” And it’s hard. That’s what no one tells you about studying abroad.
That it can be really really hard.
That sometimes you’ll want to just go home. Sometimes you’ll feel like your friends don’t actually miss you. Sometimes you’ll worry that maybe you shouldn’t be majoring in Spanish because that random old man (after many failed attempts at conversation) just says “ahhh no hablas Español” in the elevator. Or that sometimes…you’re just not going to like certain things about your host country. Plain and simple. Because sometimes driving to the supermercado sounds a little better than walking the 3 miles.
But what I will say is this. Here I am 5 months later, laying in my marshmallow soft bed. The AC is on and I’m comfortable and content and I know I won’t be dreaming in Spanish tonight. I’m back. I’m home.
But right before I fall asleep, I will remind myself of the difficult moments of studying abroad. Because it was those difficult moments that made studying in Granada the best experience of my life. Not the chupiterías and paella and traveling and funny stories of new friends in London. Those were all great. They were. And I’ll remember them.
But it was the difficult and ugly of it all that showed me just how strong I am. Just how resilient and resourceful I can be. It was every corrected word and reminder that I’m not 100% fluent that pushed me to work for a higher level of the language. It was in the bad interactions and good ones that taught me how there is room to appreciate the differences in cultures, but also remember how similar we all are. It was in every moment that pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the unfamiliar that helped me grow. That helped me become someone I’m really proud of.
The nights of dancing and laughing at the discotecas. The days of long walks around the Río Genil. The trains and planes and trips with new friends who became family. They all are forever embedded in those streets and that school and that town. But those lessons and how they altered me will stay. That’s mine. No matter where I am.
And that’s why studying abroad was the best experience of my life.
1. When somebody references “the city”, you immediately assume they are talking about Manhattan.
If you lived in Queens, The Bronx, Brooklyn, or the forgotten borough, Staten Island (jk, lolz), you never labeled it as the city. Your Westchester friends would always mind fuck you by saying they are visiting their relatives in “the city”, when it reality, they were just going to Queens.
2. You used public transportation by yourself as a kid/tween.
Hopping on the train or bus when you were 13 or 14 was really no big deal. I mean, how else were you supposed to get around? Your parents? Laughable. However, when an older sibling did get a car, it was a huge deal.
3. You walk really fast for no reason.
Maybe it’s been embedded in my mind to dodge tourists, but I find myself always walking fast for no apparent reason. I wasn’t even raised in Manhattan (Bronx, holler.), and yet I still huff and puff down the street like a family of four stopped in front of me to take a picture of The Empire State Building.
4. Speaking of, landmarks are NBD.
The Empire State Building. The Statue of Liberty. All landmarks that belong to your city, yet MAYBE you visited them when you were 6 years old.
5. Regents Exams.
Need I say more?
6. There is no such thing as “weird.”
You’ve seen it all. From a man on the 6 train who preaches about the devil at 7AM, to someone rocking shorts in 30 degree weather. Nothing phases you anymore, and you’ve mastered the perfect “no-eye-contact” walk through Penn Station.
7. Your classmates were from a variety of backgrounds.
You had friends who were Muslim, Asian, Black, Jewish – you name it. There was always racial diversity, and everyone got along. It wasn’t until that out-of-state college, or even the work place, that you experienced a cultural divide.
8. You know what a real Italian Ice is.
No packaged “Marino’s” brand. These babies were stored in the heavens of freezers outside of pizzerias. Cherry, lemon, and rainbow. You know the deal.
9. You had a stoop.
Or your parents had a stoop, and always told you about the “good ol’ days” spent hanging out on them. Also, none of their neighbors locked their doors because everyone looked out for one another.
10. You remember exactly what you were doing on 9/11.
This may not just apply to New Yorkers, but you remember the exact moment your principal came on the intercom to announce what had just occurred like it was yesterday. Your school might have been evacuated, or even shook from the blast, and you’ll never forget it. Maybe you were a bit older, already at a 9-5 job, and had to worry about getting home. Regardless, it was the day New Yorkers came together as one, and for that, you love your city even more.
1. Don’t assume anything. Ever.
2. It’s a good rule of thumb that the more brilliant the person, the more eccentric and difficult the personality.
3. Don’t expect praise. You may perform perfectly and never get that pat on the back you thought you deserved. But you’re a big girl; take the gold stars out of the equation and simply take pride in your own work. You will be a far more content person.
4. Never take anything personally.
5. Nothing is impossible. There’s always a solution somewhere; sometimes it just requires a more roundabout or creative approach.
6. Always think three steps ahead if you want to prevent impending disaster and keep your sanity (and often your job.)
7. Often if you don’t take the initiative, it will never get done.
8. Never accept “no” for an answer. There’s always a way to bend the rules, always a way to use flattery and persistence to get what you need. A “no” is just an initial offer.
9. Always look busy. Even when you’re bored to tears and feel completely underutilized, make it a point to appear hard at work and you will receive far more respect.
10. Successful people take risks and act boldly.
11. Don’t burn your bridges. You never know when you may need that person for a future connection, reference, or simply basic counsel. Your reputation will thank you.
12. Using discretion is one of the best ways to project professionalism.
13. Always be good to doormen, vendors, your FedEx Guy, everyone who provides a service for you. Not only is it just good code of conduct, but that person could potentially save your ass when you really need it. And a little goes a long way.
14. When all else fails, fake it ‘til you make it. Seriously — it works.
15. In the theater, one of the most important lessons I was taught was that there are no small parts, only small actors. As an assistant, it’s easy at times to feel demeaned or not valued — don’t let yourself go there. Remember that you are an imperative piece of the puzzle, and that it all would fall apart without you. Job well done.