Tuesday 17 November 2015

Thoughts on Paris...

I know everyone is talking about the Paris attacks, and you might not want to read another article about them, but I decided I wanted to write my 2-cents about the event. I should say now, I do not intend to start debate or disagree with anyone’s beliefs on this subject, I am just sharing my opinion.

As a student of disaster and emergency management, I can’t help but to think about and analyse the attacks in Paris. Not to mention over the past few days it feels like you can’t turn on a TV or go on social media without hearing or reading some new development related to this tragedy. And the fact we are talking about it so much speaks volumes about the connectedness of the world we live in. People from all over the world are sending their support to Parisians, and locals have been able to open their homes to those stuck in Paris thanks to the power of media. But the huge exposure of this event has not come without its consequences. Acts of violence and destruction towards the Muslim community have taken place all over, including a few in towns around where I live. The fate of Syrian refugees is being debated, as world leaders decide whether or not they will continue to accept people countries associated with terrorism. As well, the huge media attention this event is receiving  
has brought to light the fact that similar attacks in developing countries don’t receive nearly as much attention – but that could be a blog post in and of itself.

But why should we respond to violence with more violence, and intolerance with more intolerance? That seems hypocritical and backwards to me – it’s like the bullying back the bully. Many people fleeing Syria and other war-torn countries are leaving to escape the terrorism they face every day, not to be a part of it. Of course there are extremists who just happen to be Muslim who join groups such as ISIS, but by in large Muslim people are just as shocked an appalled by the attacks in Paris as the rest of the world. It is so unfair to paint an entire religion with the same brush because of one small group of bad people. As I read online yesterday, we don’t blame all German people for the actions of the Nazis do we? I deeply believe that if we start looking at people as human beings instead of focusing on one part of their person, then the world would be a much brighter place. I hope that as world leaders discuss “how to deal with terrorism”, they realize that we are all humans, so maybe the best way to deal with terrorism is to address the issues which are causing people to act inhumanly. 

Wednesday 29 July 2015

An update on my next big adventure!

Wow, it has been so long since I have blogged! I suppose it is because I felt I have had nothing interesting to blog about! Since my last post almost a year ago, I have moved to Victoria (BC), been working on my masters, got myself a job at Home Depot, and landed my dream internship with the United Nations Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch in Geneva, Switzerland. Now that I think about it, all those things were worth blogging about!

To start off, life in BC is pretty awesome. I have made some great friends, and am so lucky to live close to downtown and the ocean and mountains! I can go for a seaside walk anytime I like, which is pretty amazing (which I am sure my facebook friends are getting tired of pictures of :P). The West coast is so beautiful and vibrant, and I have been lucky to call it home for the past 8 months.

As for school, I could not be happier with my choice to do my masters at Royal Roads! I am enjoying my readings and assignments so much! I also love that I get to learn from the experiences of those in my program who are already well into their careers in disaster management. Every week brings a new topic, a new area for discussion, and new learnings. I am never bored with my courses, even though they are online. I guess it goes to show that I am studying my passion if I am never bored! I also enjoy that the courses are designed so that you can work full time while completing them. It can be stressful managing a full time job, school, and a social life, but it is certainly worth it!

The last  bit of great news is that as part of my degree requirements, I have landed myself an internship with the United Nations! This has long been a dream of mine, and I cannot believe it is coming true! I started the application process wayyyyy back in December, and took a good 2 weeks to fill it out because I wanted it to be perfect. Then, in March, I got an email saying I had been selected for an interview. It was the most nerve racking interview of my life for sure, and I thought it didn't do well at all, but a few days later I found out that it did go well and I had been accepted for the internship! Since then, I have been doing my best to save up, and well as fundraise, to cover my living costs while I will be in Geneva for the internship (because UN internships are unpaid, and I am already paying my own way though school so I have very little savings that can go towards these costs). Here's the link to my fundraising page. Although figuring out how to cover my living costs during this internship has been stressful, it has truly shown me that accomplishing your dreams is NEVER easy. You have to fight and work hard for them, which is exactly what I am going to do! I have wanted to work for the United Nations since I came home from Ecuador over 5 years ago, and I am going to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

So, I suppose I will now use my blog to share Geneva updates and continue to share my journey of getting there. If anyone has any advice for me on fundraising or working for the UN please feel free to share it!

All my best! Until next time, internet...

Wednesday 10 September 2014

"Life is either a great adventure or nothing" - Helen Keller

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to write a seems life has been getting in the way, which is part of the reason I am writing today. And also because I’m having a huge “I miss Hanoi” day.  As I read about this year’s INDEVOURS initial feelings upon arriving, I can’t help but miss the rush of excitement and wonder I remember experiencing when I first got to Vietnam. I miss the feeling of adventure – knowing you’re at the start of amazing new chapter of your life and you’re going to do some amazing things. It also brings back my many happy memories of my time in Vietnam, the friends I’ve made, and the cultural habits I still can’t shake (you can ask my family, I still yell “Oi!” on a daily basis to get their attention). I also miss the place I call my second home because of how hard it has been to keep in touch with my friends there due to a 12-hour time difference. Trying to find times to skype or chat is nearly impossible while working full time! Finally, I miss the atmosphere of Hanoi. The hole-in-the-wall cafes, the history, the markets, and even the insane traffic. I guess what it comes down to is now that I’ve had the adventure of living in Vietnam, I feel like I need a new one. I think it’s more than just “the travel bug” or “wanderlust”... it’s the adrenaline of being somewhere new doing something exciting all on my own! Moving to the Victoria at the end of October for my Masters degree couldn’t come quick enough for me, because I see it as my next big adventure. I know Hanoi will always be a part of me though... as the start tattoo behind my ear reminds me every day!

Thursday 12 June 2014

Why I'm voting in Ontario's provincial election

I will start off this post by saying I am not trying to change the minds of those people who have chosen not to vote. Nor do I judge them for that decision. I’m just sharing my opinion on why I believe voting is important, and start a conversation on this important issue!

As many of us know (at least my Canadian friends reading this) that Ontario has a provincial election today. As usual, all that I have found that every politician in this race has been doing is pointing fingers at the other parties rather than telling us how they will fulfill their campaign promises. I have felt like I have to choose between the lesser of 3 evils. But as frustrating as this decision process is, I am going to use my right to vote today. Why? Because I am grateful to have the right to have a say in how my province in run.

I just lived in a country where people don’t even talk about their government. People can vote in Vietnam... but it’s a one-party system. The general public have very little say in how their country is run, how decisions are made, and the decisions that do get made. As well, I know people in Canada who’s family immigrated here years ago, but still do not have full citizenship and right to vote. That’s why I feel privileged to have the right, and duty, to vote for the person who will represent my interests in the provincial government. Even if none of the candidates represent my interest, I am also free to tell them that by declining my ballot. That is a privilege that not everyone in the world has, and therefore I choose to honour that privilege by exercising it. All it takes is a few minutes to read the parties platforms, watch the leader’s debate, or do an online political compass quiz. Then just a few more minutes to go to your closest polling station to fill out your ballot. And again, I truly believe that declining your ballot (which is just as powerful as voting for a candidate) is also exercising your right to have a say in who governs our province!

That’s my two-cents on voting and the election! What’s yours?

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Coming home: How it feels to be back in Canada

It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve returned to Canada (I apologize for the hiatus in writing blog posts due to the chaos of leaving Hanoi then coming back home, by the way) and it’s been the biggest two weeks of ups and downs in my life. From tears to joy in the airport, to embarrassing silent tears of missing my Vietnamese friends on a GO bus ride. From starting an incredible new job, to feeling like I can’t connect with my friends and family the same way anymore. From celebrating completing my undergrad, to the realization that my classmates (and best friends) and I are now all heading down very different paths.

I also haven’t been able to shake the feeling of my own home feeling familiar, but very different at the same time. The places, the lifestyle, the people, are all “normal” to me. But at the same time, there are new buildings, places I used to frequent have changed (what do you mean Tim Hortons has changed their cups?!), and my friends/families lives have moved on while I was gone. Even the look of our Canadian money has changed during my 8 months away. And of course, I’ve changed in ways I’m still realizing. In terms of habits that have changed, “Oi” is still part of my daily vocabulary, I still give/receive things with 2 hands, and I’ll use chopsticks over a fork/knife. I forgot how to call over a waiter during my first few days back, and I nearly got run over by traffic my first few times crossing a street because “oh yeah, you don’t just step into traffic when you want to get to the other side of the road in Canada”. Little moments bring on waves of wanting to get on the next flight to Hanoi: like someone using a plastic water bottle when I just lived in a place where tap water was not drinkable, or the thought that for the price of a “nice” meal in Canada I could feed myself for weeks in Vietnam, or reading a blog post from a dear Vietnamese friend. And there was one point last week where I said "if one more person asks me how my trip was I am going to scream".

On a positive level however, I’ve certainly become more aware of the parts of my culture and Vietnamese culture that I value. I feel I’m more open, more mature, more culturally sensitive, more aware of how vast the world is and so ready to explore more of it. I’m a better communicator, more adaptive, more resilient, more comfortable being out of my comfort zone. These are all things I got the chance to identify during our debriefing sessions. But I also have been frustrated by feeling different in ways I cannot identify. Certain social situations have made me feel like I know I am different, but I just can’t say what that difference is. Such is the pains of reverse culture shock I suppose.

Despite these “growing pains”, this week I started an amazing job at the Markham Fair as a summer student. I have several responsibilities, including organizing/running a community garden, running sessions in primary schools teaching kids about planting, planting the sunflowers and pumpkins that the kids put into pots at these sessions, maintaining the gardens around the fairgrounds, creating a corn maze, and assisting with environmentally-focused summer camps. In my first 2 days, I have researched about community gardens, meet with a man involved in a town of Markham community garden, researched corn mazes, and got in touch with schools about my sessions! The job is very much about me accomplishing the goals of the position in my own way, and I love that I can take ownership of the projects I am involved in. I hope to keep my blog going this summer talking about what I’m up to at my job!

Until next time internet…

Friday 11 April 2014

A rant about tattoos and Facebook: social media lessons

Today I had an experience on social media that has influenced my perspective and opinion about it. It started when I asked for some simple advice on a social media site about a tattoo. I wrote a question on the Facebook group “Hanoi Massive” (which is a group where expats living in Hanoi can post questions, events, room vacancies, etc) about where/how to dispose of the needle I was given by the parlor where I got a star tattooed behind my ear. I got many helpful answers, as I expected. But as could also be expected, two people with clearly too much time on their hands who decided it’d be funny to post “I'm more interested to hear about the Tattoo? Fusion Logo on your forehead?” and “We want photos of the tattoo or come and show me...”. These comments thoroughly upset me, and as much as I wanted to respond to them and defend tattoos (and the fact that they shouldn’t give a shit what I put on my body because well, it’s my body), I decided to be the bigger person and let it be. I instead decided to share my thoughts here on the whole situation, and the new opinion about social media it has given me.

So why did these comments upset me? I’m certainly no stranger to mean or mischievous people on the internet, but these comments hit me on a more personal level. First of all, as I mentioned, why is it their business what I put on my body? A tattoo is a deeply personal choice that I shouldn’t have to justify to anyone. Tattoos have meanings to the person who’s body their on, and for me, these comments made me feel like these people were questioning the significance of mine. It was like they were telling me I’m clearly one of those people who drunkenly decided to get a stupid tattoo. For me, tattoos are an art form and means of expression, and these people’s comments imply to me that they have the opposite opinion (although I can respect a difference in opinion). Also, these two people have never meet me before in their life, who are they to demand a picture of me or judge my personal choices? Lastly, how did their comment contribute to an answer to the question I had posted?

After having these thoughts run through my head, I began to realize I am probably completely over analyzing their comments. I could be interpreting them in a completely different way then they were intended. Also, I made judgments about them without even meeting them (which is why these comments upset me in the first place). Not to mention, I posted in question in a group that has thousands of members - I set myself up for someone to make a stupid comment. That’s when I realized that social media is horrible for these kinds of situations! How can anyone understand the intention of what a person has written on their facebook, twitter, instagram? There’s no face to face interaction on the internet, so misunderstanding occur all the time (especially between strangers). That’s why social media is famous for pointless arguments and “comment wars”.

So what have I taken away for this experience? Well first of all, ignore the people who have too much time on their hands who write comments with the intention of upsetting you. Responding will get you nowhere. That being said, I know I won’t be posting in Hanoi Massive anymore. I also learned that in this day and age of only text conversations, you have to be careful to not judge and be aware of misunderstandings. For me , this doesn’t mean social media is evil or a bad means of communication, but it does mean you must chose you words wisely when using it and be aware of how you respond to other’s words.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Reflecting on having a visitor!

Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting a friend, Natasha, who was in a singing group with me in University. We both had a great time, even if I had to write my final report during most of her stay! Not only was her visit special because we hadn’t seen each other in such a long time (probably close to a year), but also because it showed me a whole new side of Hanoi and of myself.

As I showed Natasha my favorite foods and cafes, how to cross the street, and some famous places in Hanoi, I realized how much I have learned about this city. She made me realize that things that used to be strange to me – such as the insane traffic or constant attempts to sell you something as you walk down the street – have become normal. And as she put it, these things shouldn’t be normal to a Westerner, but they are now for me. She also made me realize that I understand the culture more than I previously thought. She showed me that I do speak enough Vietnamese to get by, I find a fork and knife unusual to use, and I know how to be polite to a Vietnamese (or rude if the situation calls for it).

Natasha also made me realize even more so how hard coming home is going to be. As we sat on plastic stools eating street food in the old quarter of Hanoi, we kept sharing stories and saying “how can you explain this to anyone back in Canada?”. Natasha having taught English in Thailand and now traveling Asia, she has had as many of these moments as I have. Although I am extremely excited to see my friends and family, I’m beginning to realize how hard communicating my time in Vietnam will be. I’m going to dread questions like “so how was your trip” or “tell me your favorite memory of Vietnam”… because for me they’re unanswerable. I know my friends and family are going to want to hear all about what I have experienced, but I’m afraid they’re not going to truly understand it. How can I share the feeling of wind in your hair as you  drive a motorbike, or the beauty of an ancient Vietnamese pagoda, or the taste of real bun cha (my favorite Hanoi specialty)? I’m afraid I’m going to feel like a bit of an alien in my own home. But I also know I have my fellow INDEVOURS to support me, and that the alien feeling will all be part of the cultural reintegration process.