Grow

I am constantly growing. 

It's a thought that seems pretty logical on the surface, but one that is packed with meaning.

 © Saniya More

 © Saniya More

In a world where natural disasters seem to strike every day, where innocent people lose their lives, where terror is the new sick fad-- I lose myself in what I see and experience, and this fundamental fact gets swept under the rug, present but forgotten.  

We are constantly growing. 

It's about so much more than biology. Our thoughts, our outlook, our actions, our response, our emotions-- these things are never stable, it seems. On one day, I could be on cloud nine. I had an intriguing conversation. I gave a loved one a hug. I listened to a song that just got me. I finished the last chapter of a really good book. I laughed until I cried. 

But on another day, it could be completely gray outside. I fought yet another silent battle. I failed at something. I lost someone. 

As I sit in my room writing this, it's sunny outside, but nobody would've guessed how dreary it was just a few minutes ago. Even Mother Nature changes. The brilliant yellow sunflower shoots through its once meager seed.  The sycamore rises defiantly against the storm. The clouds float on, determined to grace more of the world with their billowy shadows. 

I continue to grow. 

Journalists: Voice Givers, Yet Voiceless

This summer is slowly coming to an end, and in a couple of days, I'll be back in Syracuse, ready to start my junior year (what?!) at college. It's crazy how time flies. What's even crazier, though, is that I haven't written a personal post in so long. I guess that's a side effect of studying journalism-- you lose yourself in the constant tirade of news, whether it be in politics (ha), war, environmental deterioration, human crises, attacks of terror. 

As journalism students, we are taught to not publically lean left or right, to not let emotions get in the way of telling a story, to not impulse-write, to hide our real views from the world. It's been one of the hardest things for me since I started going to university.

I've always been an outspoken person unafraid to share her thoughts on what was going on around her. I'd offer my opinion willingly and without worry. When I first started blogging on Wordpress years ago, I always wrote about my views on current events. Although I was still living in the bubble that surrounded me, my family, home, and school, I was unapologetically determined to get my perspective out there.

I've changed. 

Image: Annette Lillethun

Image: Annette Lillethun

I think twice, maybe three times before I tweet or share something on Facebook. I only express my views with people I trust, and very rarely do I align myself with a side when it comes to the news (and when I do share my views, I try to be as diplomatic as possible). It's a safer, less disaster-prone route. 

Being limited in what you can say is a harsh reality that comes with being a student journalist. Because I am still in school, there is still much I have to learn, and I understand why I've been taught to keep my views private. At the same time, I miss being able to write without constantly evaluating myself. 

This has been especially hard considering recent events that have taken place. As a woman of color and the daughter of first-generation immigrants, I have experienced moments of frustration, sadness and irritation at the fact that I can't simply give my thoughts shape (without suffering consequences). 

It's ironic. As journalists, we give a voice to those who can't share their story, but we lose our own in the process. 

News 101: What Went Down in Charlottesville

On Saturday, August 12, a "Unite the Right" rally was held to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee, an American Confederate general. The rally, which has been deemed one of the largest white supremacy events in American history, took place in Charlottesville, an independent city in Virginia. According to authorities, during the gathering, a 20-year-old man named James Alex Fields Jr. crashed his car into a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, who later died in the hospital. 35 people were injured at the rally. Two officers monitoring the situation from above were also killed in a helicopter crash. All in all, it was a tragic weekend for Charlottesville.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Who was behind the rally?

The gathering was organized by far-right groups in the area, which included white supremacists, neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, and militias, as well as many Antifa (anti-fascist) groups. However, there were also many individuals who gathered at the rally to counter-protest these groups. Heather Heyer was one of them. 

Who is Robert E Lee, and what is Confederacy? 

Robert E Lee was an American general who commanded the Confederate army during the American Civil War (1861-65). Confederacy can be described as the movement to maintain slavery and white supremacy in the United States, a movement which many say should not be commemorated or celebrated in any way. 

Why is Lee's statue such a big deal, and how did it spark protest?  

Since the Civil War, many monuments and statues have been erected in his memory. However, these have gained much controversy over the years because many people view Lee as a symbol of racism and the country's history of slave-ownership. 

Charlottesville has been in the process of removing two Confederate statues, one of Lee and the other of Stonewall Jackson, who was also a Confederate general. The city has already renamed the two parks where the statues were erected. However, many feel that tearing down the statues is not justified because of all that they represent.

So what happened with President Trump?

Here's where things get even more controversial. In his initial statement on the rally, President Trump did not directly denounce white supremacists and other groups in attendance. Instead, he said "hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides" were to blame. His statement was widely criticized because of his failure to call out the groups involved, and for making it seem like the Neo-Nazis and white nationalists were at just as much fault as those protesting against them. Republicans and Democrats, as well as several world leaders, criticized the President's response to the event.

To top it all off, the President instead chose to mock the head of Merck pharmaceuticals, Ken Frazier. Frazier, the only African-American CEO of a major pharmaceuticals company, resigned from the president's American Manufacturing Council over the president's response to Charlottesville. 

Since then, the President has delivered a statement that has specifically denounced the groups involved. 

What's going to happen now?  

After President Trump's initial response to the rally, thousands of demonstrators protested in front of Trump Tower, hours before his arrival in New York City. A memorial service was held for Heather Heyer on August 16. The removal of Robert E Lee's statue is currently on hold, but many other Confederate statues have come down since then, with more cities beginning the process to removing their own memorials to Confederacy

I Forgot My Camera Charger When I Needed it the Most and Here's What it Taught Me

A few days ago, I got back from a weeklong trip to India, where I spent a few days at a government school in Maharashtra for my non-profit, Aboli Foundation. I was also on assignment for my internship with the Bangkok Post to write an article and visually profile the Adivasi community in the region. Needless to say, my camera would be my new best friend during the trip (not that it isn't already). 

I prepared for my first day. Notepad? Check. A bottle of water? Check. Napkin for the heat? Check. Macro lens? Check. Camera? 

I brought my camera out, thinking that I'd have to charge it overnight. Luckily, its battery was at a 100%. But unfortunately for me, that was all the juice my camera would have for the trip: I'd forgotten my charger in a drawer at home. 

There are no words to describe my frustration and anger at myself for forgetting one of the most essential things I would need in order to complete my internship stories and take photographs of the students at the school. How on earth would I stretch out a single charge over an entire week packed with activities, travel, interaction and more? 

I knew I had to bounce back from this and come up with a plan fast (other than collapse onto the floor and cry). I had a limited amount of photographs I would be able to take, that was for sure. Realizing this, I decided that this week, I was going to try something new: selective capturing. 

Throughout the week, I assessed every situation I encountered a couple of times before whipping out my camera and photographing the scene.

While interviewing people from the community, I kept the camera aside, waiting until the very last moment to ask them if I could take a photo of them. Because of this, I didn't impose myself onto them, and they didn't feel like a deer caught in the headlights: to them, it was simply a conversation that ended with the flash of a camera. 

Students at an all-boys boarding school we visited on our trip to an Adivasi community in Tamkhind, Palghar district.

Students at an all-boys boarding school we visited on our trip to an Adivasi community in Tamkhind, Palghar district.

Because I wasn't able to constantly photograph the children at the school, I didn't hide behind my camera as much as I had done the last time I visited. I connected with them at a much deeper level. Originally, I had planned to do a video series on the students. Instead, I decided to do photo profiles instead, sitting down with every student to ask him/her about their life, family, and dreams. 

I learned that a small second-grader in my class had lost his father due to a kidney disease just a year ago, and that a shy fourth-grader wanted to become a teacher. I learned that almost all the female students in the school helped their mothers out with cooking and household tasks, while this didn't seem to be the case with the male students. I learned that a first-grader had a lot of difficulties getting registered into the school because his mother had gotten remarried, meaning his last name would have to legally be changed.

Sainath, a third-grader at the Temki Paada school.

Sainath, a third-grader at the Temki Paada school.

That week, I learned a valuable lesson which I am going to try to stick by from now on. As a photographer and journalist, it's easy to get overwhelmed by all the people, events and information we need to report on. Because we get easily distracted by this surplus of data, we try to cover everything and thus, decrease the value of what we have covered.

Leaving my charger at home was certainly a stupid mistake, but if there's one thing I can take away from it, it is this: if I had taken photographs of each and every single scene in the community, I wouldn't have focused on capturing the rawest, most honest moment. Instead, I would have simply tried to capture everything I could see. And what would be the point of that? 

Pretty Little Liars Ends With a Predictable Twist

Note: Spoilers ahead, proceed with caution!

Variety

Variety

I've been watching the Pretty Little Liars for the past seven years. My Wednesdays would be spent watching the 45-minute episode with bated breath and certainty that some of the mystery that surrounds Rosewood and the Liars would be cleared. 

Too bad it only took 160 episodes to figure everything out!

I said goodbye to the series on June 27, watching the catchy title and pining over the Liars' attire one last time. 

The whole 'Spencer has an evil twin' was honestly super predictable, given that she had made an appearance a couple of weeks before the finale. However, I would never have guessed that Evil Spencer, or Alex, had been in other episodes before then. But overall, the ending felt a little lazy and I didn't feel completely satisfied after watching the sappy closing sequence.

Regardless of the slightly disappointing twist, it was nice to see that every Liar got some closure. Hanna and Caleb were meant to be, we all knew that. Ezra and Aria's fertility stunt was quite emotional and introduced a whole new type of conflict into a show that is mainly plagued by death threats and creepy stalkers. Emily and Alison's family (of course Alison had twins) was bittersweet, and Spencer and Toby obviously ended up together (Did Yvonne even exist?). 

It's a little weird that next Wednesday, PLL won't air. But the fact that it's over, as the girls so succinctly put it, signals the end of an era. 

13 lessons I learned from my semester abroad

Now that my semester abroad has finally come to an end, here are some of the most valuable life lessons I discovered during my time in Europe. 

Lesson #1: Learn how to budget like a pro.

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Studying abroad is a super-expensive experience, especially if you are planning to live in an expensive city like London. One of the biggest mistakes I made was not financially planning my semester. It's easy to spend lots of money in one go, and it can come as a particularly nasty shock to discover how little money you have left in your account. Creating a basic budget in advance will help you control what you spend on, and limit reckless spending.

Lesson #2: Save money to spend money

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It can be very tempting to arrive in a new city and immediately head for the shopping malls and expensive (pointless) souvenir shops. Hold on to your cash and save it to travel, to gain new culinary experiences, and do everything that the city you're visiting is known for!

Lesson #3: Plan, but don't over-plan.

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It can be a little overwhelming to discover how much there is that you want to do and then realize you have limited time to do it all because of classes. Do not panic! Take a day or two to decide what activities and places are most important to you, and create a tentative calendar. Consider including friends in your plans-- it's always fun to go as a group!

Lesson #4: Understand your visa (and other legal matters).

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I have an Indian passport, which means I have to apply for a visa in the majority of the countries I visit. However, visa rules differ for passports based on citizenship, so make sure you understand which travel documents you need. As I was doing an internship this semester, I had to apply for a U.K. General 4 Tier visa, which allowed me to work legally. However, there were many restrictions which made it hard for me to apply for a Schengen visa (to travel around Europe). Planning in advance may have made my visa application process a lot easier. So don't wait until last minute!

Lesson #5: Do not pick the first apartment you tour!

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If you are studying abroad by yourself, you may not have a group of friends with whom you want to stay. Don't panic-- there will be many others like you who will also be on the lookout. One mistake I made this semester was rushing into signing a housing lease with my flatmates. We picked the first place we toured, and although our apartment was nice, there were also many problems with lighting and water supply which we ran into throughout our time in London. It's always better to explore your options before finalizing housing.

Lesson #6: Keep your parents/guardians in the loop.

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Don't forget to call your family once in a while to share updates with them. If they are supporting you financially, keep track of your expenses so they know where their money is going (this will allow you to keep monitor how much you're spending too!). Be thankful that they have given you this incredible opportunity!

Lesson #7: Don't waste a single day in bed, unless you physically can't move.

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This is pretty self-explanatory.

Lesson #8: Don't forget that you are here to study. 

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It's easy to abandon all academic responsibility and focus only on traveling and cultural immersion. However, keep in mind that you are still paying for your classes, so the best thing you can do is continue learning in the classroom. It's possible to have fun while maintaining your grades!

Lesson #9: Traveling and culinary experiences > Shopping for materialistic things!

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Stuff doesn't last forever, but memories stay in your mind forever! Invest in new experiences, you will not regret it.

Lesson #10: If you're doing an internship (and I highly recommend it!), use the opportunity to build your network.

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Besides this, don't just do your assigned tasks. Observe the people and movement around you. This doesn't just apply to the workplace. One of my professors at the Syracuse University London center once told us, "Don't listen to music on public transportation. Instead, listen to people's conversations."

Lesson #11: Keep track of your experiences.

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Document everything, whether it be through a travel blog, a diary, photographs and more -- you might even get an unexpected 'Leadership' award like I did!

Lesson #12: Appreciate the staff at your study-abroad center.

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These people work extremely hard to plan trips and experiences for you. Make sure you let them know you appreciate them and don't be afraid to step into the office and have a conversation or two! Some of my best experiences this semester only happened thanks to the SU London staff, so shoutout to them all!

Lesson #13: Make the most out of your experience, you will most likely never get this opportunity again.

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Now go forth and conquer!

Bonjour Paris! My weekend on French soil

This weekend, I went on a 3-day weekend trip to Paris with Syracuse University London. It was a trip packed with sightseeing, aesthetic photographs, delicious food, and some interesting encounters.

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The trip began in less than favorable circumstances-- I had to wake up super early to get to the station to make the Eurostar. I (obviously) fell asleep on the train and was rudely woken up when the train began crossing the English channel and the pressure in my ears took a dramatic turn. Things got better when we came out on the other side and I caught my first glimpse of the beautiful French countryside.

Our train came into Gare du Nord, Europe's busiest train station. The facade of the building has been preserved so well, it is truly remarkable.

The first thing I saw when I came out of the station (and popped on my sunglasses because the weather was simply phenomenal) was the French flag. I'm not talking just one lone flag waving in the wind-- the red-blue-white striped symbol was everywhere I turned, on the top of important looking buildings, busy public spaces, small local shops, you name it.

In many of these locations, the French flag was joined by the European Union flag, which honestly just felt like a slap in the face after coming from post-Brexit-referendum London (though I did see a poster that read 'Flexit', and I have yet to understand what that was about).

The rest of the day passed by in a blur. We grabbed food (roasted chicken with delicious mashed potatoes), checked into our hotel (I got my own room), and then took a 3-hour long walking tour around Paris (without the 's'). It was an admittedly tiring and long tour, but it personally gave me a sense of the city which made things less overwhelming. Things got a lot better after we had the chance to grab some ice cream (caramel nougatine for me)! During the tour, we walked around the Cathedral of Notre Dame and gazed at the towers where Quasimodo once fictionally lived. We had the chance to go to a souvenir store where I splurged on three photo prints of the city (for just 2 euros!!). It should be mentioned that I collect prints in every city I visit-- it's a new travel habit I've picked up during my time in Europe!

After that, we hauled our tired feet to a meeting spot, where we were told we had an hour to grab some food and rest. We then did the most touristy thing ever-- went on a hop-on, hop-off bus. It was another amazing way to see the city, the people and the Tour Eiffel (!). We passed key locations like Moulin Rouge, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre pyramid and more. We finished at around 9:30, and I went straight to bed.

We spent the next day at Versailles, where we visited Marie Antoinette's estate, the Château de Versailles, and more. This was where I had my first strange encounter with a fellow French man.

In the morning, before we visited the estate, we had the chance to walk around a market and get some food for a picnic we'd all be having later in the day. I (obviously) picked up some croissants with my friends and some other delicious food. I also wanted a crepe, so we went to a perfectly normal-looking crepe seller in the middle of the square. He spoke to us in English, and I bought a nutella and banana crepe. When the seller handed the crepe to me, I asked him if he could pack it up for me. He immediately said, 'You're Indian aren't you?' A little surprised, I said yes. He then proceeded to rant about how Indians can never make up their minds about anything, always changing what they wanted at the last minute. He generalized a population of 1.2 billion people in less than a minute. The strangeness of the entire thing was that he was saying all of these offensive things in a very happy and polite way. I considered not paying for my crepe but decided I wouldn't do that because I didn't want to cost him business, no matter how offensive he had been.

Still shocked from what had just gone down, my friends and I returned to the meeting point and explored the beautiful Palace. The entire estate is the definition of grand and luxurious and made for aesthetic photographs too (I obviously have up-ed my Instagram feed game).

In the evening, we had more free time to explore, so a few of my friends and I decided to spend the evening at the Eiffel tower. We took a train to the station. While waiting for the train, I went through my second (extremely) strange encounter.

I had a large bottle of water with me because I constantly need to hydrate myself. My friends and I were just talking, hanging out at this station when a perfectly normal looking man in a black coat came to us. He said something in French, but I told him we didn't understand. He then turned to me and asked if he could have a sip of my water. This was obviously a little weird and suspicious, so I refused. He said 'alright' and walked away. Seconds later, he came back, and asked if he could give us some advice. Intrigued, I asked him to please tell. He said (and I quote), 'Next time someone comes up to and asks for a sip of water, you should give them the entire bottle because you never know what they're going to have in their pocket.' !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Being the stupid person that I was, I thought he was talking about money, so I boldly asked him how he could be so sure I didn't have anything in my pocket. He was extremely surprised by this and walked away. It was easily the most absurd conversation I've had on this continent.

After that, we went to the Eiffel Tower, where we had a delicious dinner (more roast chicken!!) and watched the tower lights show. It was beautiful and so relaxing to sit on the grass and just enjoy the lovely weather. I got home quite late that night and was so tired I collapsed into bed.

The next day, we had the chance to go around the city some more. We visited the Grand Palais, I took a boat tour (best 14 euros I have ever spent), and went to Les Invalides, where we visited the Musée de l'Armée and Napoleon's tomb. (A little note on the tomb: so, so, SO magnificent but a tad bit extra when you realize it was all just for one small coffin in the center of the structure. Still, it's a remarkable piece of architecture.) We then boarded the buses, collected our bags at the hotel, and went back to the Gare du Nord. I was exhausted!

My verdict? Paris was a beautiful city that should definitely be visited at some point in your lifetime. However, I don't know if I could live there. This is a gross overgeneralization, but it was hard for me to connect with the people there. There was also a huge language barrier because the French love their language and don't like using English as much. Regardless, the Eiffel Tower is amazing, and French gastronomy lives up to its name.

Thank you to Syracuse London for this fantastic weekend!

See my Instagram and my soon to be updated photography page for more pictures!

 

Here's to all the Women

Happy International Women's Day!

Although the world is not even slightly close to hosting a completely gender-equal society, I like to think we are getting there, one day at a time. It sucks that women still have to fight for a say, to get that promotion, to get paid just as much as their male counterparts. It's a pity that women have to work hard twice as hard as men to be respected, despite their glorious credentials and experiences. Above all, domestic violence against women, negative portrayals of feminists, and objectification of all sorts are still very real issues that we are dealing with today.

But women have never given up. In the last century, we have grown stronger, tilted the balance scale in our favour, made our voices heard. So this International Women's Day, here's my message to all the beautiful ladies out there.

Here's to all the mothers, who brought us into the world and gently told us society would place us into boxes, objectify us, abuse us because of our gender, but that we had to keep our head high and continue living brilliantly.

Here's to all the career women, who fight everyday to gain respect in the workplace, who accomplish amazing things to enhance our society, who cross new boundaries to break gender roles, stereotypes, and bias.

Here's to all the family women, who manage families, look after their partners and children, make a house a home, pass on important values to the next generation about what it means to be a good human being and live a healthy, productive life.

Here's to all the women in school, who continue on their quest of knowledge even when it feels like the whole world is crashing down, who strive to educate themselves despite knowing they will certainly face obstacles down the road because of their gender.

Here's to all the women struggling for equality and respect, who are recovering from horrible treatment and relationships, who challenge the norm and aren't afraid to be themselves.

Here's to all the women. 

Stereotypes and my trip to Bristol & Birmingham

The human mind has always been very good at placing things into boxes and categorizing the world as it sees it. One of the repercussions of this tendency has been the formation of stereotypes which generalize various cultural groups of people around the world. Brits are certainly no stranger to preconceived notions about their behavior and lifestyle.

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We all know the basics: the classic British accent, the constant questions about where they’ve had a “cuppa tea” with the Queen or their rudeness and inflated pride. I can’t deny not being a stranger to all of these generalizations — before coming to the country, the stereotypes I am so familiar with shaped my expectations in many ways.

Stereotypes aren’t as bad as people make them out to be, because I think they’re a great way to track how well one is immersing themselves in the local culture. Throughout my time in the United Kingdom, I’ve disapproved many stereotypes in my head through experiences and interactions I have had with the people here. Obviously, some stereotypes have remained very much intact (hint: it starts with t and ends with a, and is great with scones).

The overlying problem with stereotypes is that some of them, despite being true, just can’t be held valid for such a large population of people. Like many other countries, the U.K. has many dialects and ways of speaking. However, unlike what I have experienced in other parts of the world, every group of people in the country is starkly different from the next one in ways that go deeper than mere way of speaking.

This weekend, I visited Bristol (an SU London day trip) and Birmingham (with friends), where I spent two days filled with sight-seeing, talking to locals, visiting markets, and further exploring the British culture. What amazed me the most was how different the two cities are from each other, not just in structure and layout but also in the way people interact with each other and carry out their everyday lives.

As our tour guide in Bristol said with a laugh, many Bristolians care deeply about how beautiful their city is. Aesthetics are so important that in the few ugly parts of the city, artists have painted over dull, gray buildings (we even saw a Banksy!) and cleared dirt on old structures to etch pretty patterns on the walls. This is probably why it’s no surprise Bristol has been named the best city in Britain to live in several times. Besides this, Bristol comprises a creative and cultural people that prides itself on its classical architecture, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and its world-famous cider.

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On the other hand, during my time in Birmingham, I observed how most Brummies are super friendly, helpful people who are genuinely interested in what you have to say. At one point, some friends and I found ourselves lost in a rather quiet part of the city, but made friends with two waitresses in a tavern (who also admitted there was nothing to be found where we were). Many of the Brummies I interacted with struck me as very honest and blunt about the way they felt. They were not scared to speak their mind.

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A weekend outside London pushed me to challenge the many of the cultural assumptions I’ve always imagined the Brits having. There is no such thing as a British accent- this country is home to numerous dialects and ways of speaking. Every city hosts a different kind of population, and at every corner you will encounter a new face. I’d like to say I’m en route to understanding this country a lot more than I did a month ago.

My Time at Temki Paada

Barriers only exist if we let them. This is the first thing I learned during a two-week volunteering experience this month at Temki Paada, a government-funded village school in Maharashtra, India. Spending a few days teaching English, yoga, and playing board games with school children were part of our first project as a non-governmental organization.

Temki Paada is a small ZP government-funded school located in Mahim, Palghar district (in the Maharashtra state). 22 students from grades 1-4 make up its small classes. Most of the children’s parents are fishermen, laborers, or farmers.

Initially, Saloni and I were both worried about the language barrier. I was raised in Bangkok, away from my native country throughout my entire life. I was also concerned I wouldn’t be able to connect with the children because I was from different social and economic circumstances.

I couldn’t have been more mistaken. The barriers I anticipated were there only because I mentally created them. After two days at the school, the children were already calling me Tai (older sister in Marathi) and shyly high-fiving me as I left. They would listen to me tell them stories about Amreeka (America), crowding around me as I showed them the photographs I had taken of them on my camera. We connected on a level past mere physicality — our minds were in sync.

Prior to visiting the school in December ‘16, Saloni organized a donation drive at her high school, where she collected books and board games. She then transported all the donations from Bangkok to Temki Paada.

On our first day at Temki Paada, we arrived in time for their morning prayers. After this, we taught them how to play the boardgames and let them flip through some of the picture books. We were aiming to break the glass and become more familiar with each other.

After the second day, we fell into a routine. We would have a thirty-minute session of Yoga followed by a different activity every day. The activities varied from reading, English learning, group discussions and watching videos.

For too long, societal norms and the media have prioritized certain issues and abandoned others. The state of government-funded schools in India for less privileged children isn’t in the news too often because politics, the economy, businesses, and entertainment are often deemed more important. However, that doesn’t mean the lives of these people are any less valuable.

You can see more photographs from my experience in my 'Photography' section or on my Instagram

Indian statue honoring Shivaji Maharaj faces backlash

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to start work on a $530 million memorial honoring a warrior king has faced great backlash.

The 630-foot statue, more than twice the height of the Statue of Liberty, will be built in Mumbai to honor Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the New York Times reported last week.

Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera

Shivaji Maharaj founded the Maratha Empire in India. During his reign, he established a progressive civil rule, where he divided his territory into provinces. Under his rule, a revenue system was created, and the arts and culture prospered. Above all, he brought the Maratha people together.

Today, Shivaji Maharaj is a national hero, especially in the state of Maharashtra. Much of the Maratha identity and upbringing is influenced by stories of his life. The Mumbai airport and railway station have been named after him, and he has been portrayed in the literature and propaganda of various political parties. He has been represented in films, literature, poetry and music, theater, and television. There are various statues and monuments of him in almost every town and city in Maharashtra, as well as in other places across the country.

The memorial, officially called the Shiv Smarak, will consist of an art museum, amphitheater, marine aquarium, galleries, a helipad, guest rooms, as well as facilities such as a cafeteria and medical facilities, according to an article published in the IB Times. However, the construction of the statue has been cause for concern due to its unexpectedly high budget. Many feel the money allotted for the statue would be better served in tackling social issues like illiteracy and corruption in the state.

Many have said the cost of the statue is higher than the set budget for schools and health facilities in Mumbai, according to a Washington Post article.

As Canadian politician Ujjal Dosanjh wrote in an open letter published in the Indian Express newspaper, "Dear Prime Minister: You are once again thrusting India into the dangerous politics of statuses; the politics of pandering to regional and other identities; the politics of turning real heroes into the lifeless steel and stone kind — for any pigeons to freely relieve themselves on; the heinous politics of clever, but criminal distraction from the life and death issues of poverty, corruption, injustice and inequality in India.”

Besides its budget, the Shivaji Maharaj Memorial has been criticized for its environmental impact, particularly due to boats carrying visitors to and from the memorial, according to the IB Times. The fishing community has also expressed disapproval of the project.

The debate over the memorial comes after the difficult weeks following Modi's move to demonetize the Indian 500 and 1000 rupee notes, a move which prompted severe cash shortages, bank limits with long lines for withdrawals, and more economic chaos.

A petition created on Change.org asking the government to spend the statue money on local development, shortly after Modi's announcement, has garnered nearly 40,000 signatures.

However, the sculptor of the statue, Ram Sutar, offered another look at the construction of the memorial.

"If people had worried about how much the Taj Mahal would cost, it would never have been built," Sutar said.

According to an article published in Swarajya magazine, the statue of Shivaji Maharaj will be beneficial both culturally and economically. Culturally, Shivaji Maharaj, despite being an important figure in Indian history, has been studied less and less by each successive generations. A 2013 DNA India report discusses how the National Council of Education Research and Training cut short the chapters on the ruler in textbooks, even choosing to remove pictures of Shivaji Maharaj in textbooks. A memorial specifically devoted to honoring Shivaji Maharaj's legacy will help to reinforce a national sense of pride and unity.

Economically, the memorial will include a variety of different features besides just the statue. After its completion in 2019, if a thousand people visited the memorial a day on a Rs 100 entry fee (approximately $1.5), the memorial would yield Rs 5.5 crore annually. With the other facilities, annual revenue could be even greater.

As the article goes on to argue, although many have argued the money would be better spent on improving the state and fostering social development, it is important for the government to invest in other projects too, that will benefit the community in the long term. Social progress cannot just come from educational and health investment -- it also has to come from the minds of the Indian people themselves.

Nich Hoffman: A Campus Profile

Listening to music is relaxing for many, but composing it is an entirely different experience for Nich Hoffman.

“When I listen to regular music, I listen for what’s good whereas when I’m listening to my own music, I’m listening for what’s wrong or doesn’t sound good so I can fix it,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman is a sophomore music composition major at Syracuse University, where he is a percussionist in two campus ensembles.

A member of the Percussion Ensemble and the Wind Ensemble, Hoffman is a percussionist and plays different instruments ranging from the xylophone to the marimba.

Hoffman also composes and creates his own music using a program called Sibelius, which allows him to input different tracks for each instrument without having to do everything manually.

“Mainly, I just get on my computer and sometimes I’ll just have an idea and get that down. Or I’ll start off with a few ideas or a theme and I’ll convey it through my music,” Hoffman said. “I used to write short one to two-minute pieces but now I try to expand above that and see what more I can do.”

Hoffman’s favorite original compositions are “Banshee Dance” and “Olympus Suite.” He conveys various different emotions through his music, especially if the music is telling a story, Hoffman said.

Besides majoring in music composition, Hoffman is also on a pre-law track and plans to minor in political science.

When asked about his unique academic plans, Hoffman said he wants to become an entertainment lawyer working with musicians and other people in the entertainment industry.

“My grandfather was very successful,” Hoffman said. “He was the lawyer for J.D. Salinger, Pablo Picasso, people like that.”

Hoffman has an interest in politics, and sees entertainment law as a way to combine his interests in music and government.

Hoffman’s roommate, Shrey Khanal, an international relations and economics major, admires Hoffman’s work ethic when it comes to his music.

“He formulates many different instruments and tones and when he puts it all together, you can visualize it,” Khanal said. “You can tell he’s going to work hard for a long period of time.”

Hoffman has yet to perform a musical piece solo, but has performed with the ensembles at Syracuse University. He has also performed for the Composer’s Concert, which occurs every semester. The next Composer’s Concert will take place on November 9.

Hoffman believes his music helps him express his emotions and get his creative juices flowing.

“Music is my outlet,” he said.

See the visual profile here

My Temperature Conundrum

I've come to the drastic conclusion that if I don't simply ignore my work to write in this wonderful domain, I will never blog again. For this reason, I have decided to ignore my economics quiz for tomorrow, abandon my fruitless pursuit of summer internships, and push aside all of my (annoyingly important) tasks for a few minutes of thought-sharing.

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I've always had a problem with heat (ironic, because my hometown, Bangkok, is possibly the hottest place on earth). I don't know why, but for some reason, I despise being in an overly warm environment and usually end up using air conditioning (I promise I am environmentally friendly in other ways) or some other way of staying cool. What can I say? The warmth melts my chilled heart and irritates me to the bone.

Unfortunately, my roommate is the cactus to my polar bear (she is also the spawn of Satan but at barely 5 feet tall, she's insanely lovable). I will never understand how an individual can wear four (I repeat, FOUR) layers of jackets/hoodies/sweatshirts in temperatures that can only be described as *shudder* warm (see below for visual representation).

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But enough about that.

I guess it's back to hitting the books for now.

The Truth About My Last Name

People have always said my last name wrong. I guess I don't really blame them-- my last name is More, and the obvious way to pronounce it would simply be the word 'more'.

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Growing up, this inaccurate moniker followed me everywhere I went, to a point where I simply stopped giving the 3-minute explanation that ensued once I had introduced myself. I'd think to myself, as long as I knew how to pronounce my name, everything was good. In a way, I actually liked the simplicity of it all (I wasn't a big fan of how traditional it sounded when pronounced correctly). There was also a great deal of humor that came with my name (cue: 'cuz everyone wants more').

So I let it go on.

Today is the day I will finally put my foot down. I will not let this go on any longer because my name is my identity. I am the name that I have been given. I respond to it. It will follow me around for the rest of my life. It is part of the legacy that I was given by my ancestors, and it will be a part of the legacy that I pass on to my descendants.

It's not just about family, though. As a journalism and international relations student, my name matters because I will build a public profile throughout my career. My opinion will be valued in the industry that I dream of working in. My name will always be a step ahead of me by paving my path to success.

For these reasons, I have decided to clarify my last name to everyone I know. My name is pronounced 'mo-rae', NOT simply the word 'more'. It is almost as if there's an accent on the 'e', like 'Moré'.

My family stems from the long line of Marathas, a group of castes in India that are principally found in the state of Maharashtra (main city: Mumbai).  The Maratha Empire was founded by Chhatrapati (Emperor) Shivaji, an Indian warrior king. Shivaji created a progressive civil rule and perfected military tactics during his time as leader. He brought back Hindu traditions and customs to his empire by encouraging his citizens to speak Marathi (my mother tongue) and Sanskrit.

According to my mother, my last name, 'More', comes from Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Maurya empire and a great emperor. He unified many parts of India and went on to establish major economic and political constitutions. I don't know if I am a direct descendant, but my name certainly is.

The way my name is spelled makes it extremely vulnerable to mispronunciations. For this reason, I decided to slightly change my name from 'More' to 'Moré', and add an accent on the 'e'. That accent will serve to remind not just others but also me about the way my name is pronounced.

At the end of the day, this all may not matter. It may seem petty, unnecessary even. But it makes me feel real and true. And to be very honest with you, that's all I need.

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We Potterheads Need To Chill The F Out

Note: I'm not a monster, so I'm going to warn you that there are spoilers below!

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A literary bomb was dropped last week-- in other words, the highly anticipated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany finally hit bookshelves in London and all around the world. As serious Potterheads (myself included) hungrily lapped up newfound details and plot lines about each character, we discovered that a lot has changed in our beloved world of magic. What's intrigued me the most is the reaction of Harry Potter fans all around the world to the new play.

The response has been super mixed which is a shock because of how popular and adored the Harry Potter franchise is. In fact, the response from some has been overwhelmingly negative. In this Buzzfeed article, the author accuses J.K. Rowling of not caring enough about Indian fans to actually create a proper and well thought out Indian character in the play. As she says, "Rowling would rather pander to non-white audiences than put in the work it takes to represent us fairly in her writing." In another article published in the Independent, fans are angry because the book takes the form of a script rather than a traditional novel, despite Rowling having clarified before its release that the book would take the form of a play. In yet another article posted on CNN, Andy Lewis is quoted as saying "The big problem is 'The Cursed Child' is less an original story than a remix of the existing Potter mythology."

When the first Harry Potter book came out in 1997, it gained international recognition, and with the next six books became a billion dollar franchise. There is not a child in the world who hasn't ever heard of the famous hero who survived Lord Voldemort's attack as a baby and later on too. Harry Potter is a big deal.

Because of this, I was ecstatic when J.K. Rowling announced in 2015 that a new play was coming out: read-- PLAY. She never stated that she was releasing a novel, but simply a script of the play that would be performed in London. Besides this, Rowling never claimed to have created the next chapter in the Harry Potter series-- she was just co-writing a piece of text with some more details for adoring fans, that complimented the original play that would be performed in London.

After the book came out, I finished Cursed Child in a couple of hours, and I could not put it down. Yes, I had a couple of issues with the book, for example, Panju is such a disappointing name, I could list at least 10 better names for Ron and Padma Patil's child right now. I didn't totally love Rose's character or the romance between Scorpius and her. It also didn't make sense to me how Harry Potter, who lived a life without a father, could be so horrid to his own son.

BUT. The play is magical because of the relationship between Hermione and Ron. It is magical because Scorpius Malfoy turns out to be a hero. It is magical because Draco Malfoy loves his son. It is magical because Albus is not a typical hero- he is an underdog who shows us that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

Instead of criticizing the book and judging it for its flaws, why not celebrate the ending that J.K. Rowling has left us with? Why not celebrate years of a franchise that has touched and changed millions of lives?

Together, let us commemorate the world of Harry Potter for helping us find magic in our own.

Women are just as good as men at being leaders – maybe even slightly better

There is no doubt that women have played an increasingly larger role in society in the last few decades.

Ever since the societal shift concerning traditional gender roles, the possibilities for women are now endless. With every day comes another success story of a strong and powerful woman who has overcome the odds.

However, when it comes to positions of leadership, particularly in government, women are still severely under-represented. According to The Globalist, there are over 175 current heads of states in the world, but only 18, or 10 percent of them, are women. More interestingly, many of these women are leaders in developing countries, with only a select few governing in Europe (with the recent election of Theresa May as Britain’s new prime minister).

Surprisingly, the (arguably) most powerful nation in the world— The United States of America— has yet to see female governance. This strange fact may soon be overturned with Hillary Clinton’s political victory, but the presidential path still remains very nebulous.

But if we push aside current statistics for a moment and examine the psychology behind female leadership, things get fascinating.

I spoke to Dr. Kanu Priya Mohan— an assistant professor at the Behavioural Science Research Institute at Srinakharinwirot University in Bangkok, Thailand— on how women compare to men in leadership roles.This is what she had to say on the matter:

“Being a behavioural scientist I can’t take a stand that women or men are better— research evidence suggests that it’s rather a mix of personality and environment and definitely the right opportunity that helps people to demonstrate their leadership qualities. There are some personality characteristics that women leaders demonstrate more than men, like being better listeners, tolerance and team work. But yet there might be some situations in which these may not yield the right results."

According to her, women can be leaders in any aspect of their lives, whether it be at home, taking care of the family, or at the workplace.

Right now, our biggest challenge as a society is developing “leadership competencies” in the next generation of women:

“Leadership is not just about rights and opportunities but also responsibilities— e.g. a woman in a leadership role could help empower other women too.”

Story originally published on The Tab.

Feminism Needs to be Redefined

Feminism is a growing movement that has created ripples in the sea of humanity, taking the world by storm. As gender roles gradually begin to find balance on the tipsy-turvy scale that is our judgemental society, long oppressed generations of women emerge victorious. They have finally gained the respect they so greatly deserve.

If only it were that simple.

Feminism has brought a certain amount of gender equality with it, but at a cost- great controversy. Somehow over the years, the definition of feminism has changed from equity between the sexes to misandry- the total and complete loathing of the male species. Feminism has been tainted by the idea that to be a feminist means to hate men and disregard their roles in society.

Even worse, a lot of this backlash against feminism has ironically come from women in positions of power. Only last year, upon being asked whether she identified as a feminist, American singer Kelly Clarkson was quoted as saying "No, I wouldn't say feminist — that's too strong. I think when people hear feminist, it's like, 'Get out of my way, I don't need anyone." THIS, coming from the singer who famously sings about how what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Clarkson is just one among many female figures who have been against the idea of being associated with the label. Shailene Woodley, Lana Del Rey, Melissa Leo, and many more have also rejected the idea of feminism.

This is not to say that these figures do not want gender equality. The reason feminism has become so taboo is because we as rising women have completely changed the platform on which we fight for change. Today, many feel that in order to achieve gender neutrality, they must 'fight to the death' and hate men. This is the exact opposite of what feminism is supposed to represent!

If we go back to the roots of the feminist movement, women didn't want to be the superior sex. They simply wanted to be called out as societal and intellectual equals who could achieve just as much as any man could. As Gloria Steinem said, “A feminist is anyone who recognises the equality and full humanity of women and men.”

In order to completely gain the status that the women before us fought so hard for, we need to stop rejecting feminism because it is a man-hating battle to the death. Instead, we need to embrace feminism for what it really is: the fight for a life of equal opportunity, equal struggle, and equal value.

Story originally published on The Tab.

What My Depression Taught Me

Note: This is the first time I have ever publicly acknowledged and labelled what I went through a year ago. The strange thing about depression is that anybody can have it. From that cheerful girl in your math class who always seems to be smiling, to that old man you see on the subway, anyone can be a victim. Some people believe that in order to be depressed, something really dire has to happen- something big, dramatic and upsetting.

But this is so not the case. It's human nature to have times of insecurity, sadness, loneliness, stress. The scary thing about depression is that you feel bad, but you can't pinpoint the source of your discomfort. Nothing has to really happen to depress you. Sometimes it just happens and all you can do is sit through it and try to pick yourself back up. 

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To me, depression was always something foreign and distant. I never saw myself experiencing it, and indirectly looked down on people who had, simply because I did not understand how anyone could be so unhappy.

I started to feel really down during the summer before my senior year of high school. It's hard to explain exactly how I felt. I guess it all started at home. I stopped spending time with my parents and sister because I didn't feel as close to them. My relationships with my friends became strained. I felt extremely unconfident and low. Small problems overwhelmed me. Peoples' differing opinions scared me. I could feel my outer shell breaking, revealing my extreme vulnerability to the entire world.

I've always prided myself on being a strong, confident girl. Before that summer, I had been undeterred by others, and had my own views about life. I was very close to my family, and my sister was my best friend. I got along well with everyone around me, for the most part. Because of this, it was hard for me to accept that I was actually depressed. How could someone so strong and determined be so weak?

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It was a hard year, fraught with tears, outbursts, emotions, and stress. I dreaded going to school. I was afraid to study for tests that I knew I would fail. I feared sleeping by myself, sometimes waking my parents up in the middle of the night because I couldn't sleep. Instead of me watching out for my little sister, she was the one taking care of me. I tried therapy in vain. Nothing seemed to be working.

I don't remember exactly when I stepped out of it all. Maybe it was when I flew back to India with my mom to spend some time in the motherland with family who genuinely loved me. Maybe it was when my dad told me that nobody could help me if I refused to be helped. It could have been when my sister looked at me with real disappointment in her eyes when I refused to go out with her for the 38th time.

The thing about depression is that it's like a black hole that's rapidly growing inside you. If you don't escape it in time, you are going to be stuck in a whirlpool indefinitely, until you find a way to create a force strong enough to come out of it. But the longer you wait, the more you get sucked in and the harder it gets.

In the end, I was able to deal with my depression through continued support from my family. My parents helped me to slowly rebuild my confidence and self-esteem. My teachers looked out for me in school when my parents weren't there to take care of me. My sister reminded me of all the fun things that life has in store. But above all, I chose to face my inner demons. I kissed my vulnerability goodbye when I realised that my biggest enemy is me. No one can bring me down more than myself.

When I look back at that one year, I always wonder where I would be if I chose to stay unhappy forever. Today, nothing seems to scare me anymore, because I feel like I've experienced the lowest of lows already. Unhappiness may present itself in a multitude of ways but at the end of the day, happiness from within is what keeps you alive.

To those who have faced depression and come out of it, my heart goes out to you. And to those among us who are still struggling, I pray that you find your way out of your black hole.

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I’m from a Conservative Family and Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way

My family has always been very conservative. Growing up, my parents cared greatly about my grades, how I carried myself, who I was friends with, and how I spent my time. Back then, I often felt unlucky that I didn’t have much freedom to experience the world. However, despite having conservative roots, I’ve grown up to be (fairly) normal, and I don’t feel different because I was raised protectively. On the contrary, because my parents were strict, I learned responsibility, modesty, and respect from a very young age.

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When I was younger, my parents were very strict about my academic standing – going out, how I carried myself, and even small things like sleepovers. Back then, I would get really frustrated and questioned my parents constantly. However, following my parents’ rules kept my entire life in check. I was able to better deal with my problems, and spent more time with my family. I learned at an early age that my family is the only group of people that will always be there for me, no matter what. There were a lot of people around me who were going through problems, mainly because they had so much freedom to do what they wanted. I was able to avoid all of this.

My parents haven’t remained as strict as before though. They recognize that I am now an adult and old enough to take care of myself. I have complete freedom to do what I want, study what I am interested in, and be who I want to be. Thus, when I went to the States for university as an international student, I fit right in because I adapted myself, and found people like me to spend time with.

I was curious to see how other girls from conservative backgrounds felt about their lives and their families.

Veronica Krishnan, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology CO’19, Indian

“My family background is a complete mix of liberal as well as conservative. Just like my name, which is a mix of the both Christianity and Hinduism, the level of conservatism in my family is just the same. My mother is very easy going and allows me to express myself in the way I dress and whom I date or talk to. On the other hand, my dad is very conservative. He has never known about my dating history and wearing shorts or even sleeveless tops is frowned upon by him.

When I go to my moms hometown, Goa, I am free to dress the way I like as this is how our culture is over there, with everyone being ok with wearing short clothes or drinking alcohol at parties. On the other hand, this takes a total 360 turn when I go to Kerala, my fathers hometown. I have to dress in traditional clothing and alcohol is never present at parties. Although it is sometimes very hard to adjust to it and mould myself to fit each cultures, as well as my parents requirements, I believe that it shows exactly how contrasting cultures can reflect the amount of conservatism in a family and how one family, just like mine, can have two opposite ends of the spectrum present.”

Nedda Sarshar, Syracuse University CO’17, Canadian-Iranian

“My family is what I think is most appropriate to call “traditionally progressive.” My parents were hardcore activists in the Iranian Revolution. I got brought up in a house that talked regularly about social justice, and about standing up to oppression. My grandma was among the first graduating class of women engineers in Iran and my mom was Chief of Medicine in her hospital – I grew up surrounded by powerful women. But I definitely felt the generation gap when I went away to school.

I get into frequent arguments on career choices; I get told that teaching and writing (my two loves) aren’t real careers, that it’s important that girls look pretty, that you’re not worth anything without a degree. My parents love me and they’re worried, so they provide me with advice that they might have been told when they were my age, or advice that might have worked for them thirty years ago when they were in my situation. I used to feel like I needed to show them that they were wrong, but I think the best thing you can do is just be yourself and get the results you want to get. I know if I’m happy, they’ll be happy – even if my definition of happy and success is not theirs.”

Bee N., Boston University CO’19, Thai

“Drinking has always been something like a taboo with my parents; both don’t drink. My father is an ex-monk and he believes in the Five Precept. On the other hand my mom never declared her standing/thoughts on this, but she still doesn’t drink anyway. I started drinking when I went abroad for university and wanted to inform my parents about it. I talked to my friends here and they all advised me not to, but I’m planning on telling my mom anyway. I was planning on telling her when I returned home last December but didn’t have a chance to, but this summer I will definitely do so. As for my dad, I’m still unsure how I’m going to tell him.”

Nashiya Piracha, Michigan State University CO’19, Pakistani

“People see my family and think that we are pretty modern, and we are. But at the same time my parents are very conservative. Especially in middle school I felt like because of that I couldn’t experience certain things. But now looking back, I realise why they did what they did. However, now that I’m at University there are always new things that we struggle to come to terms with. I’m not saying that growing up with conservative parents is horrible, but I’m not saying it’s the best thing ever either. It’s always a struggle to try and bring down conservative parents, but the best way to do it is to talk to them. And at the end of the day, I know they are my parents and the things that they do/say are for the greater good of myself. Even if I can’t see that at the time.”

We all come from different backgrounds, but learn to connect with each other on common ground. Although I was raised in a pretty conservative family, I was free to choose the career I wanted to pursue. I decided which university I wanted to go to. At the end of the day, parents are conservative because they care, because they have good reason to. If you’re from a conservative family, look for the silver lining – I assure you it exists.

Originally published at http://thetab.com/us/2016/06/02/im-conservative-family-wouldnt-way-9877?utm_medium=email&utm_source=transactional&utm_campaign=post_published_0