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2022: The Year I Found Freedom — and Myself

I started the year with very different expectations and different sets of circumstances. I didn’t think 2022 would take me in the direction that it did, but looking back on it now, boy, was I glad that it did.

2022 was the year I experienced not one, but two major heartbreaks. The first was at the beginning of the year, and if I’m being honest, I knew it was coming — but it didn’t make it hurt any less. The worst part of it all was not losing the person I was in a relationship with, but the fact that I was now having to navigate life and this city completely on my own. I met this person in my first semester of grad school, only two months after moving into the area. I became enmeshed in his circles and networks in the three years we were together, and while I thought that I had forged those friendships on my own accord, it turns out that they were never really mine.

It hurt for a while. But I also felt liberated. When the tears finally dried, I saw that there was an essence of me that did not leave when the relationship ended, and I saw this time as an opportunity to strengthen all that was there. I asked myself, “Who am I really? And who are the people who saw me as the real me — and not just as so-and-so’s girlfriend?”

And so, like the typical girl-going-through-a-breakup trope, I went on a bit of a quest to find myself. I poured myself into work. I trusted my family and closest friends at their word when they offered support and leaned on them heavily, hosting them every time they offered to come to me (I truly do not know where I would be now without them). I went on many meals and drank more alcohol this year than any other year. I read Brené Brown. I went on many bike rides. I ate lots of carbs, made several playlists, and let myself go. I gradually got comfortable spending time alone, and after a while, found myself enjoying my own company. And then I decided to commit to something fully just to prove to myself that I can do it, and then I did it. It was then that I finally felt like myself again — and that’s when I decided to give dating a try.

I got on a couple of dating apps, went on a few dates, and eventually had a summer romance with the first person I matched with on the very first dating app that I tried. I didn’t want to admit it to myself at the time, but I put entirely way too much pressure on this relationship to work, probably because I didn’t fully process how much I was actually mourning the comfort of stability and having your “person” that came with a long-term relationship. I was eager to be back in one, eager to just settle down and get married already, and I wanted this to be my end-all-be-all. And I thought I did everything right. But looking back, I was far too caught up in the idea of this person, of us, that I ignored how I felt while I was with this person — which was mostly anxiety — and other things that point to incompatibility. He broke things off, and while it was amicable, again, it didn’t make it hurt any less. (Not to mention the hurt on my pride from being broken up with… ouch.)

But this time around, I was already cultivating a life with purpose and intention. I had decided from the first go-around that I was going to prioritize myself above all. I was pouring too much of myself into another person and the relationship, and that was why I felt that I had lost myself when it ended. And I never want to feel this way again. So I armored myself with the protection of self-assurance that I was going to be okay no matter what life throws at me, because I had already spent time rebuilding myself and my life. And in a way, I guess a silver lining to going through this a second time is that I already had my “breakup toolkit” at the ready.

Once again, this loss gave space for even more life. I had many opportunities to travel in the latter half of the year, both for work and for pleasure. I visited my brother in LA and spent some much-needed, much-healing quality time with him. I traveled to Indonesia to visit the rest of my family, with a nice solo-trip layover in Istanbul. I went to Aspen for professional development, where I learned so much and made the most incredible, lifelong friends who are all in the same career field as me. I also traveled to Malaysia for work — an enriching experience that strengthened my conviction that I am on the right career path, and that maybe, just maybe, I might be good at my job, after all.

In the fall/winter, I celebrated many dear friends’ birthdays as well as my own. This year’s birthday was a really special one because it was the first birthday I celebrated in DC as myself, with friends who have always been there for me all along; who see, love, and accept me as I am (and as I do them).

If 2022 has taught me anything, it’s a reminder of the first law of thermodynamics: energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. All that energy that I thought was “lost” was never really lost; it manifested into greater, better things. And more than anything, the space that was left behind provided me with the freedom to be myself fully.

I am always and forever a work in progress, but where I am now, I think I am finally starting to feel content with myself, flaws and all. In the past, I thought I needed to be perfect in order to be worthy of love and all other good things in life. But what two heartbreaks taught me this year is that I was — and I am — worthy all along. And I emerge victorious on the other side not because of all that I have overcome, but because of all that I am.

2023, I embrace you with wide eyes and open arms. The rest is still unwritten…

My Joy Toolbox

2020 was quite the year, and it surely needs no introduction or explanation. While the last couple months or so provided me some respite and many reasons for joy—autumn, my birthday (Sagittarius, baby), the holiday cheer, and the hopefulness of a new year—recent events that transpired quite literally in my backyard have brought me down to a new low.

Until, I read a post by writer and artist Martine Thompson featured on my Friday Girls’ Night In newsletter, “These 5 Things in My ‘Joy Toolbox’ Are Getting Me Through Winter,” which inspired me to reflect on what has been in my joy toolbox this past year. So I wanted to share the things that I have been returning to over and over again whenever I’m feeling down, and as a result, they have subconsciously been incorporated into my routine to not only keep my joy but also sustain it in these challenging times.

In building my toolbox, I thought about the four main chemicals in our brain that are responsible for the emotions that we associate with happiness: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. (An idea summarized in this video; also discussed here.)

Endorphins are what we usually associate with a “runner’s high”—the kind of elated feeling that we get after exercising. Exercising can also stimulate the production of serotonin, as well as exposure to sunlight and eating a balanced diet. Serotonin, in general, is the chemical responsible for regulating your mood, whereby an abundance of it will lead to happiness and its scarcity can lead to anxiety and depression. Dopamine, the “chemical of reward,” is released when you complete a task. Our brain loves it when there is a beginning to an end sequence. And finally, we have oxytocin, the “friendship” chemical, which is associated with deep affection and strong bonds. This is the hormone/neurotransmitter that is produced in abundance during childbirth.

Of course, this just a general summary. There’s a lot more involved in human happiness than these four chemicals, and these chemicals can also be produced from certain activities that aren’t necessarily good for our bodies or make us happy in the long run. But as I introduce the five things in my joy toolbox below, I’ll discuss how the above chemicals may be at play and how certain activities are inducing at least one of these chemicals.


I’ve always loved watching movies and TV, but I’ve never watched them more than I did while staying at home from the pandemic. In 2020, I watched all of the MCU movies from the first Iron Man to Infinity War, all of the Lord of the Rings movies, and way too many Netflix series to count.

It’s no secret why we’re all tuning in to movies and television, and that’s escapism. Honestly, the more outlandish or unrealistic the story the better for me—I wanted no semblance to reality to remind me of real life!

One of my most cherished activities born out of quarantine was Netflix Party-ing Korean dramas with one of my best friends. When we were in high school, we first bonded over our love for K-pop, and it eventually included K-drama as well (Boys Over Flowers, anyone?). Back then, we were watching shoddy English-subbed videos on YouTube and obsessing over discussing them during free periods. So we thought it’d be a good idea to bring back the tradition as something we could do together, despite being apart. We started with Crash Landing on You; three K-dramas and three ugly-crying selfies later, we are starting our fourth series: Start-Up.

I look forward to our K-drama Netflix Party every weekday. On particularly tough days, knowing that I have this to look forward is my silver lining. Finishing a Netflix episode gives my brain a hit of dopamine while spending some quality time with my best friend releases oxytocin. My favorite part is when we’d FaceTime each other in between the series, where we get to actually catch up and talk about life!

Other than movies and TV, I’ve also fallen back in love with reading this past year (finishing grad school would do that to you). Here are a few books that I highly recommend off the top of my head:


  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett — currently reading right now and it’s SO GOOD!!!


  • More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth
  • The Culture Map by Erin Meyer
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama

Activity + Vitamin D

I was never an athletic person, but I used to really enjoy running for a few years when I was a senior in college, and when I lived in Jacksonville. But after discovering I’m flat-footed and years of wearing bad shoes, I now have a pretty bad case of plantar fasciitis. So I’ve had to pivot a bit and focus more on low-impact activities that still give me those good endorphins.

Afternoon walks, for instance, have been my jam during quarantine! Give me a dopamine hit from finishing a walk, some serotonin, and a little bit of endorphin if I’m feeling a little snazzy and walking more briskly. It helps that I also have a dog who keeps me accountable (she does have to go outside at least twice a day), and going on walks with her has made me discover a walking track in my neighborhood that is conveniently one-mile long and has a great view of the sunset.

Recently, I invested in a bike. On sunny days, I like to make the most of those Vitamin D rays and bike from Old Town Alexandria all the way to D.C. and back. On Mount Vernon Trail, I’m able to see views from the Potomac River, to planes taking off and landing at the Washington National Airport, to all of the national monuments. These bike rides never fail to remind me of how lucky I am to live in this city.

Speaking of sunny days, D.C. winters can be especially harsh, with frigid cloudy days aplenty and sunshine far and few in between. Seasonal affective disorder aka S.A.D. is real, and because winters are devoid of sunshine and therefore Vitamin D and serotonin, I’m especially prone to feeling down. So on days where I see even a hint of sunshine, I make the most of them and try to plan outdoor activities ahead of time. I also loved this NYT article about how Scandinavians embrace a “positive winter mindset” (featuring, of course, our favorite word hygge).

Yoga is another low-impact activity that I’ve enjoyed during quarantine, which serves a dual purpose of exercise/stretching and a moment of mindfulness. I highly recommend Yoga with Adrienne for easy-to-follow, free yoga videos on YouTube.

Happy Diet

I don’t really adhere to any specific kind of diet, and I think that the idea of depriving myself of foods that I’m craving or really wanting to eat at the time (i.e. stress-eating) is not healthy. It tends to have this negative effect on me where I’d start to spiral from thinking why am I eating this, the answer being usually stress, to me thinking that the function of me eating is non-nutritional and therefore bad because all it’s doing is making me gain weight and that’s going to make me feel worse, etc., etc., and… well, we can see how that’s no good.

After bouts of stress-eating and not much physical activity when the pandemic first hit, I began to have earnest conversations with myself about my relationship with food (yes, I really did this, sometimes even out loud). I would notice the days where I’d eat fruits or vegetables and they would taste so delicious, that I’d realized that I had gone days without eating fruits or vegetables. It was almost like the feeling of water in your mouth and throat when you’re really, really thirsty and finally had something to drink. On days where I’d gone out of my way to prepare balanced meals for the week, there was a noticeable difference in my mood. As it turns out, our meals do have some kind of impact on our serotonin level.

And so on days where I feel like I’m a bit moody, I usually first ask myself, “Have I eaten today?” And if so, what did I eat? If I noticed that I had eaten a lot of carbs and protein, which usually happens by lunchtime, I try to eat a banana or yogurt. Then, I’ll make a mental note to include vegetables for dinner. In the summer, I like making smoothies where I can incorporate a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables that I may have missed in my meals.

At the same time, I still don’t deprive myself of something sweet or salty snacks. I simply have them in moderation. And on days where I relapse and stress-eat every now and then, I don’t punish myself for it. Instead, I give myself grace and tell myself that I’ll try better tomorrow. Sometimes, what it takes to reconfigure our relationship with food is by first working on how we communicate with ourselves.

Calling a loved one

The people I love are constantly at the top of my list of anything reminiscent of the word joy. Having a support system to turn to and the technology that can help sustain human relationships better than ever before, despite being apart, is really something to behold.

I’m an extrovert by nature and my love language is overwhelmingly quality time. Oh, and I tend to ruminate thoughts in my head a lot and have a repository of most likely non-useful information gained from hundreds of movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos that I’ve been consuming, so I like to talk. And while the pandemic has put some strict limitations on our social interactions, I felt that I’ve been able to be in better touch with the people I love simply by calling them up to talk randomly or scheduling a FaceTime session that was supposed to only take an hour or two and end up being four or even seven hours long (yup, that really happened). I realize that it’s because I’m not the only one who’s been harboring a ton of information from a lot of screen time, and whether we’re trying to process things or sharing weird internet rabbit holes we went to during quarantine, I find joy in learning about all of the things we’ve tried, adapted, and learned as a society during this crazy time from the perspectives of the people I love.

Sometimes I also find joy in simply listening—taking a backseat and not talking for once, just taking in another person’s life and hearing about all the good and the bad. Oxytocin and serotonin, according to Simon Sinek, are also thought of as “selfless chemicals.” They can strengthen our bonds with other people by way of personal connection (oxytocin) and the feeling you get by caring about other people and have other people care for you (serotonin). At the same time, as an empath, I’m always aware and careful that I’m in the right headspace to be able to practice empathy without overwhelming myself.

Gratitude as a practice

A practice of gratitude, for me, is the important ingredient in sustaining joy and the foundation of my joy toolbox.

It’s widely known and researched that gratitude has a myriad of health benefits. The idea is simple: a practice of gratitude is all about appreciating life, whether it’s a specific thing or an event, and/or just having an outlook of appreciation in general. By practicing gratitude, we can shift our attention from what’s missing in our lives (scarcity mindset) to the present and what we have right now, which is enough (abundance mindset).

I have been journaling off and on, rather unsuccessfully, for the past two years, and last year I tried to bring it back by starting a quarantine journal by listing 3-5 things I am grateful for at the end of each day. I only lasted two days. I realized then that practicing gratitude without much reflection can be a challenge. And so in lieu of quarantine/gratitude journaling, I’ve taken some time reflecting on what gratitude means to me and what it looks like in practice.

Gratitude can sometimes be misconstrued as comparison and even gaslighting. Being appreciative of life does not come from thinking about how bad other people have it compared to us (though I’d argue that it’s important to keep things in perspective to inspire us to take action). This line of thinking invalidates our internal struggles and may reinforce negative self-talk from feeling guilty about thinking about our own struggles (e.g. “Who am I to complain about x when y is dealing with z.”), which not only doesn’t solve the issue at hand, but could also make us feel even worse.

Oftentimes, this kind of problematic thinking is also sprung upon us from other people in our lives. When I’m talking to someone when I have a bad day or am going through a tough time, I’d remember hearing something like, “Well, at least you have/still have/are [fill in positive thing/attribute].” I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single time where this line of thinking has actually helped me or made me feel better. I find this to be gaslighting because it renders certain struggles invalid unless they meet a certain threshold set by the person who utters the words, “at least.” And after years of hearing this, that person could very well be me!

It was important for me to break that cycle and redefine what gratitude means to me by centering its definition on just me, and not on me in comparison to other people or situations. It’s difficult to do this when there are a lot of voices—literally and digitally—constantly around me and influencing my inner thoughts, so I started by taking a much-needed break from social media. In that time off, I suddenly had so much more time to spend talking with my family and my best friends. I started to notice little things that I love in my daily routine—something as small as looking forward to blueberry waffles in the morning and a fresh cup of coffee. I had time to cook instead of heating up my lunches, for longer morning walks while finishing a podcast episode. I finished a book in one day!

I began to feel more gratitude about time, more specifically about having time. With time, I started looking at people and things that are in my life more earnestly. I look at my 16-year-old dog, how despite Cushing’s disease and old age, she is still happy, spunky, and healthy enough to able to go on walks and picnics with me. I look at my family and cherish my talks with them, despite me being literally half a world apart from my parents and an entire country away from my brother on the other coast. I look at my partner and close friends, and feel lucky to know them and to have them in my life, and cherish the love that I give them that is continually reciprocated, for years now.

It was then that I realized gratitude is about things that are already in my life and appreciating them, and not paying any mind to things outside of my life, like what I don’t have, what I can’t do, what I could’ve had, or what I would’ve done. Gratitude is behind the four other things in my toolbox that bring me joy—they are all about the here and now and making the most of the time that I have. More importantly, a true practice of gratitude is one that doesn’t invalidate internal struggles or the crazy state of the world that we’re in right now, nor is it an end-all-be-all solution to all of our and the world’s problems. Rather, a practice of gratitude simply helps to reclaim our space amongst the chaos and injustice, and there’s something powerful and even revolutionary in continuing to live our best lives, within the limitations set upon us due to the pandemic and other things, despite the things that continuously try to steal our joy and break us down.

I hope that my reflections on the last year or so helps to inspire you to think of all the things in your joy toolbox and what you can do to sustain your joy in the coming year. May we see more sunshine and positivity in the year ahead.

Lessons from The Hill: Landing an Internship

This is the last entry of a three-part series on lessons from interning on Capitol Hill. The views expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the office for which I worked.

So, you want to work in government. Below, I will be discussing the necessary skills for positions on The Hill or government agencies, and some of my tips on how to land these positions from my personal experience.

I recently made the move from the legislative branch to an executive agency (federal government). Currently, I serve as a Harold W. Rosenthal Fellow of International Relations at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Bureau of International Affairs (ILAB), Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking (whew, that’s a mouthful!). I support the Research & Policy Division with researching and editing the 2018 edition of one of ILAB’s flagship reports, Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, which is prepared in accordance with the Trade & Development Act of 2000. I also assist with creating the graphics for the report’s magazine companion, as well as testing ILAB’s two mobile applications, Comply Chain and Sweat & Toil.

One difference that I have noted from this transition is that internships on The Hill are typically geared towards current undergraduate students or recent graduates. While not rare, “Hilltern”-ing as a graduate student has its pros and cons. On the one hand, staff members were more willing to give me more substantial projects. For instance, one legislative staff member tasked me with many research projects that culminated in a bill or an amendment that the Congresswoman introduced in Committee. Another staff member in charge of corresponding with constituents often assigned me more “difficult” letters than those assigned to my undergraduate counterparts. On the other hand, as administrative tasks were still part of my duties, I still had to run errands and do the usual “intern” things. It takes patience and humility to remember that these are equally important parts of the job.

In contrast, at DOL, interns are expected to be current graduate students. My tasks are more project-based and research-heavy, requiring attention to detail, quick turnaround, the ability to think on my feet and juggle multiple tasks and deadlines, as well as discretion and maintaining a high level of confidentiality. In order to work in this capacity, I had to undergo a Public Trust background investigation, where I completed a questionnaire asking questions about where I’ve lived, worked, went to school, and any military history or police records. (This is different than a security clearance.) It took me two months from the initial offer to the final offer for me to be cleared to work at DOL, whereas my Hill internship did not even require a background check.

If you are interested in my internships in government so far and wondering what skills may be necessary for these positions, below I’ve listed some hard and soft skills that I’ve learned and found to be essential.

Hard Skills

Research & Analysis

In the information age, research is essentially an expected duty of any intern ever. But how much research do you actually need for your position, and what research skills do you currently have?

When reading the job posting, be sure to look for specific research skills that are needed for the position. For more general internships, your academic research is sufficient. But for positions that explicitly say “research” in the title, be sure to highlight specific projects that are relevant to the position in your resume, i.e. senior thesis, major papers, publications, etc., and familiarize yourself with the works of other experts in your field (Brookings, the Council on Foreign Relations, Congressional Research Service, and Foreign Policy are good places to start).

For an internship in government, keeping yourself updated with current news is expected. I recommend subscribing to these daily newsletters: New York Times Morning Briefing, Foreign Policy Morning Brief, Human Rights Watch Daily Brief, or at the very least, theSkimm. I also have the AP News app and follow journalists on Twitter for breaking news.

Writing & Editing

Along with research, interns are also expected to do writing and editing work. It is essential that you brush up on your writing skills and be highly attentive to detail when editing other people’s work. One of the most helpful guides in writing that I’ve come across in my academic career is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (my two English-major-graduate best friends told me this was their Bible in college). The Kindle version is only $2.99 (the paperback and used versions run less than $10), and I swear to you–if you are still in school or contemplating going back–it will be the best $3 you will ever spend in your life.

It also helps for you to have, or at least start, a writing portfolio. It can be as simple as keeping up with a blog or as complex as a peer-reviewed article. I’m grateful that my professors at the Elliott School this past semester made me write op-eds for their classes. While writing long papers is important as an academic exercise, particularly if you are thinking of obtaining advanced degrees, I find more and more in my work that succinct writing is the way to go. On The Hill, the legislative staff members I worked with preferred their memos to be one page long. At DOL, one of my colleagues advised me that interagency emails should be “short, simple, and to the point.” Writing op-eds is a great exercise to achieve these objectives. Plus, having published work would make you an even more excellent candidate.

Web Processing & Social Media

Most offices now look for people with at least some experience with social media and web. So, if you’ve had more than the regular exposure of just casually scrolling through the ‘gram or retweeting memes, be sure to express that in your office. If you have a blog or have had one in the past, that qualifies you to be proficient in that blogging or web platform. And even if you haven’t had much exposure, just simply being enthusiastic about learning more or willing to help can go a long way (particularly if you are working with a Member who is actively trying to expand their digital presence).

On that social media note, I must stress that discretion is key. Ever wonder why people’s Twitter accounts say “RTs are not endorsements”? It’s because when you work for any government or organization, you represent your office or your organization wherever you go. Your First Amendment rights protect you from being persecuted for what you say, tweet, or publish, but it does not protect you from being fired, dismissed, or otherwise reprimanded. After two years of teaching, I’ve learned my lesson to simply keep all social media private and protected from public consumption.

Plus, if you are going to be a public servant or serve one, be mindful of what that office truly represents, and whether your thoughts and actions align with that.

Soft Skills

Most internships I’ve had require:

  • Sound judgment and ability to “read the room”
  • Interpersonal skills to effectively interact with staff from all levels of the organization, including high-level officials
  • Flexibility, adaptability, and being able to think on one’s feet
  • Working in a fast-paced environment, both independently and as a part of a team, often juggling multiple projects and deadlines with minimal supervision, for which time management is essential

Some skills that could be beneficial in your internships:

  • Public speaking skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Leadership and teamwork
  • Positive attitude, ability to accept criticism
  • Strong work ethic and motivation for public service

The above lists are by no means exhaustive, but I hope they give an idea of what skills are necessary should you decide to pursue an internship or a job in the U.S. public sector in the future.

That’s a wrap for the Lessons for the Hill series! I hope you find the series helpful to you in your future endeavors. Until next time!

*Please note that U.S. citizenship is required for positions in the federal government. U.S. citizenship is not necessarily required for internships on Capitol Hill; paid internship opportunities are generally available for U.S. citizens only. For more information on opportunities for non-U.S. citizens, check out programs available through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) or the Washington Internship Institute.

Lessons from The Hill: Life Skills

This is the second entry of a three-part series on lessons from interning on Capitol Hill. The views expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the office for which I worked.

In this post, I want to share some life skills that I’ve learned from working on the Hill. I call them “life skills” because I think these are skills that would benefit anyone in any phase of their life, whether you’re a student, looking for a job, working right now, or in the middle of your career. But I think they’re especially helpful for anyone in my position right now: a student who moved to a big city in pursuit of a career in government or politics.

I grew up in a suburban town of Greenville, South Carolina. I was schooled there from elementary school all the way to college. I had little experience elsewhere then—a short summer stint in my birthplace of Jakarta, Indonesia, and a fall semester in Brussels, Belgium, but nowhere else in the U.S. I loved living in Jacksonville, Florida while serving in Teach for America, but living in a beach town was a completely different experience than in a metropolitan hub like Washington, D.C.

Moving here was an adjustment; some of these skills were born out of learning how to adjust to life here. Some were born out of embarrassing mistakes and failures–when I say it was a learning process, it really was a process. And some of these were born out of serendipity and a positive mindset. I hope that these tips, laced with my personal anecdotes, will serve to help you in any and all of your future endeavors.

Always be at your best! You never know who you’re going to meet…

The Congresswoman was introducing a bill on the House floor. Naturally, it was a super hectic day at the office. The intern who was tasked with delivering the bill to the “Hopper” (where bills are dropped off on The Hill) was asked to help the press team with the press conference. The other intern was also helping with the press conference. I got a text message asking if I could deliver the bill at 4:30pm. I was happy to go since Congress was in session and there’s a chance that I might run into some famous legislators.

To get to the Capitol from our office, the fastest way was to use the underground subway. When I got to the subway, I saw none other than Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She had gotten on the subway with her Chief of Staff just a few seconds after I did. (There’s a Members Only section so I didn’t sit with them.) My mouth dropped. Her Chief saw that I was fangirling (see: freaking out, but like calmly) and secretly recording her to put on my Instagram story.

When they got off the subway, her Chief signaled for me to come closer and held open his hand, palms up, the way people do when you asked them to take your photo. I got to talk to her, I thanked her for all she does in Congress, all that she represents and fights for, and especially for standing with her friend and colleague, Representative Ilhan Omar.

After that day, I decided that I was going to put some effort to be at my best every day. The day that I met her, I was running late and didn’t have a chance to wash my hair. I still regret that I wasn’t at my best, but I was glad that I had put some effort into my appearance that day. Now, I want to make sure that I would be ready for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities at any moment. 

There’s something to be said about recognizing society’s unrealistic (at times also Eurocentric) expectations of beauty. But there’s also something to be said about simply being at your best. The simple truth is that first impressions matter; therefore, our presentation matters. So, make it your best one. Or at the very least, make an effort to make it a good one each day. You never know who you will meet. It could be someone who can help you in your career. It could be your future boss. It could be Alexandria Ocasio-freaking-Cortez.

The power of saying thank you

Small gestures matter. There’s a sort of ethic that comes from living in a big city, where people know people and will help you meet your personal goal(s), without hesitation, out of the goodness of their own heart. But they’re also busy with their own things, so it’s important that we take the time out of our day to thank them for taking time out of their day to help us.

That means, yes, the good old-fashioned thank you notes can go a long way. A follow-up email works as well, but there’s nothing like putting pen on paper and hand-delivering them to someone.

But in an even simpler way, treat everyone graciously and say thank you for the small things, like thanking your supervisor when they tasked you with something important, when they give you feedback on something you did to make it better, when they answer your question, or when tell you that you’re doing a great job. Thanking the custodian or cafeteria workers for doing their job, because without them, you can’t fulfill your basic needs. Thanking everyone you meet, even your friends, for their time. These are simple things that not only will make the other person feel appreciated, but also cast positivity into the Universe that I wholeheartedly believe will eventually be returned to you.

Advocate for yourself

Along with being at your best, dress for the job you want. I don’t know about you, but when I dress up and put more effort into how I look on the outside, I also feel good on the inside.

The reverse is also true, which is why despite my full work and school loads, I try to get 7 hours of sleep each night and I don’t skip meals. Yes, that also means, take your lunch break! I understand some days where it’s so hectic that you forget to eat. But when your supervisor tells you that you have a 30-40 minute lunch break each day, take it! No, you aren’t losing precious work time (if you can’t accomplish a task without taking 30 minutes out of your day, you’re not doing it effectively). No, you aren’t going to be talked about or perceived negatively for taking lunch (this is just silly, also it’s inhumane). Simply put, you’re only hurting yourself when you don’t take your lunch. SO TAKE YOUR LUNCH BREAK AND EAT.

Something I learned on The Hill in particular was to let people know that you’re looking for a job. I was thankful that my office held resume and cover letter workshops for the interns, so that they can learn some ways that they can enhance their resumes and cover letters for Hill jobs. I was shy about letting the staff members know that I was looking for positions, but the fact that I hadn’t let them know early on meant that I had lost some precious time in learning some valuable skills at the office that could be helpful in future jobs. So, for anyone else in my position, don’t make the same mistakes that I did! Wherever you are, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and advocate for your personal objectives and career goals.

Envision the outcome you want

Manifesting is the practice of intentionality. It means thinking about what you want, saying what you want out loud, putting together an action plan, and living your life with the vision of what you want in mind. Everything else will fall into place. Your mind will attract the things that you want.

There are many books written on this practice, and they take on many names, like the law of attraction, the power of positive thinking, etc., but they all essentially say the same thing in principle.

Manifesting is something that I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. My mom has always influenced me to think positively, for a positive mindset is the key to achieving my goals. When I was a teacher, my coach from the very beginning emphasized the importance of having a vision for your classroom–from individual student outcomes to class outcomes and more. I’ve since started to put this into practice for myself, and I manifest these outcomes by thinking positively each day and make it a practice to say my goals and objectives so that everything that I do will lead me to what I envision myself and my life to be.

It’s also important that these manifestations are positive, because whatever we think, we become. A manifestation in the negation of something–I hope this doesn’t happen to me—might just turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It may take a bit of practice to do this “mind aerobics” of turning something negative into a positive, but it makes a difference and becomes easier over time.

That’s it for the second entry! I hope that you found these tips helpful, or at the very least they sparked some thoughts in your mind. Stay tuned for my last entry coming next week!

Lessons from The Hill: Maximizing Your Voice in a Democracy

This is the first entry of a three-part series on lessons from interning on Capitol Hill. The views expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the office for which I worked.

This semester, I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for a Member of Congress. I’ve learned so much from this experience—from the depth and breadth of the legislative branch to interview skills for jobs within the government—and I thought that it would be a disservice if I don’t share these lessons with others.

In this post, I want to share the ways in which I’ve learned how to maximize our voice and participation in our democratic government. We all know that democracy isn’t a spectator sport, but our participation doesn’t–and shouldn’t–stop at the voting booths or getting people there. There are so many resources out there that are free and available, but for some reason, aren’t public knowledge. And the fact that we don’t know or use these resources, and instead rely on headlines and/or posts on social media for information, makes us susceptible to politicized news that may or may not give us the full picture of what’s happening.

As an intern, one of my daily tasks was to conduct research for the legislative team on everything Congress-related. In supporting the Legislative Correspondent, I conducted extensive research on particular bills that constituents write to the Member of Congress about before drafting a response to them (constituent work is a major part of our work and office culture). In supporting the Legislative Assistant, I’ve done research to support an amendment introduced in the Rules Committee. Finally, I was usually the first person that individuals come in contact with over the phone in the office.

Below, I share some tips and resources on how to get in touch with your elected officials, find information on past, present, or future bills, and keep up with Hill happenings. I hope that these resources will help you become a more informed citizen.

Write to your elected officials

How many of you know who your elected officials are?

If you don’t, you aren’t alone. Only 37% of Americans can name their Representative; 77% can’t name a Senator from their home state; and only 26% of Americans can name all three branches of government.

Womp womp.

Okay, I recognize that these numbers may be old (the articles were published in 2015 and 2017), but still! These numbers are telling of how ill-informed we are as a nation about our own government. And that’s pretty sad.

Let’s start with the basics:

  • The legislative branch of government is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Together, these Chambers make up Congress. This is where national bills are made!
  • There are 435 Representatives that represent districts across the country, who are elected every 2 years.
  • There are 100 Senators that represent states across the country, who are elected every 6 years.

Since there are so many Representatives, don’t feel bad if you don’t know your own. Chances are, you have a new one! And it’s easy to find out who they are.

Find your Representative on

Write your zip code on the right hand side under “Find Your Representative” — voilà!

Find your Senators on

What can you do with this information, besides winning a trivia question on Civics and not being a part of an embarrassing statistic? A lot, actually!

Let’s say you are an educator who is enraged at the large amounts of budget cuts proposed for education (hi, Betsy DeVos). You know who’s in charge of approving the national budget? Your elected officials! Call their office(s) and voice your opinion. Be sure to include the following information when calling (if you forget, they will ask anyway so don’t worry):

  • First & last name
  • Full address (particularly your zip code)
  • Email address, if you prefer emails to snail mail

Your voice will be heard–take it from someone who takes calls and mail from constituents and logs them daily for a Member of Congress.

If you’re ever visiting Washington, DC, you can call your elected official’s office to request tours in the nation’s capital–for free! You can tour the Capitol, White House (must be 90 days in advance), Library of Congress, the Pentagon, State Department, and the list goes on. You also get to visit their DC office, which personally is always a treat for staff.

Pro-tip: Staff-led Capitol tours are more personal to ones led by the Capitol Visitor Center guides. Staff members can only take up to 15 people in one tour, so your tour group is smaller. Plus, staff could take you to the speaker’s balcony for the best view in town (depending on the Speaker or Congress’s schedule).

Keep them accountable

Now that you know who your elected officials are, what if you want to find out how they voted on certain legislation, or persuade them to support a specific bill?

You can type in the name (e.g. Equality Act), bill number (e.g. H.R.5), or even the subject of any legislation that you have any questions about on, and you will see the text of the bill, the list of sponsors or cosponsors of the bill, and any actions that either Chamber has taken. You can narrow your search further to see what bills your elected official has signed on to in the past.

A couple of things to note:

We are in the 116th Congress, so pay attention to that when looking at bills! Any bills introduced in either Chamber but not passed by both in past Congresses have “died,” which means they won’t be considered again unless they’re reintroduced this session.

Bill numbers that start with H originated in the House, and bills with S originated in the Senate. All bills must pass both Chambers and signed by the President to become a law. Many of us learned that bills originate in the House, but this process of course has become more complicated in the present day. Having worked on a bill and delivered one myself, feel free to send me a message if you’d like to learn more about this process!

Legislation at the top of the list on the House floor this session:

  • H.R.1, For the People Act of 2019 (voting reform)
  • H.R.4, Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 (H.R.1 companion)
  • H.R.5, Equality Act (LGBTQ+ rights)
  • H.R.6, American Dream and Promise Act (immigration reform)
  • H.R.7, Paycheck Fairness Act (equal pay)
  • H.R.8, Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019
  • H.R.9, Climate Action Now Act

And now that you know how to call your elected officials, call them to voice your support or opposition to certain legislation. Simply say, “Hi, I’d like for the Congresswoman/man to vote YES on H.R.5!” or even, “Hi, I’d like to thank the Congresswoman/man for voting YES on universal background checks!”

That being said, what you don’t want to do is call every single Democratic or Republican elected official who doesn’t represent you. Many people do this as a way to advocate for their position, but it’s highly ineffective. Offices can only log the mail or calls coming from their district. So, if you’re calling to express your frustration on the border wall, budget cuts, etc., to an office of a Member who doesn’t represent you, what you’re actually doing is harassing the staff member on the other end of the line.

What would be most effective is rallying everyone who lives in your district to call the same Member of Congress. (Since I didn’t work in a Senate office, I am not able to speak on behalf of Senate offices.)

And, of course, use to inform yourself on who to vote for every 2 years. There’s no automatic reelection unless candidates run unopposed. So, it’s your job to make sure your elected officials either keep or lose their job!

Reliable Hill-related news sources

Curious about what happens daily on The Hill? You can always follow your regular news sources, often they have a specific section dedicated to Congress or The Hill. But, in general, check out The Hill or Roll Call for Hill-specific news that usually comes out before other major news sources.

Remember your State Legislature and local governments

Capitol Hill gets a lot of coverage, but to be honest, your State and local governments are the ones that will most greatly impact your lives on a daily basis.

It can take months, even years, for a law to be passed on the national level. Right now, the Democrats control the House and the Republicans control the Senate, which means that many of these important bills that have already passed the House are under the control of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who decides whether they will be debated on the Senate floor. (And with 2020 just around the corner… you can gather how this goes.)

To truly make a change, we must be involved in all levels of government. Know who your City Councilwomen and men are. Know who is in your State Legislature; make sure that you take the time to do your research and choose carefully who will best represent you. Use these resources to be better informed about your elected officials who represent you in the nation’s capital. And finally, exercise your right to vote in every election. Hopefully, these resources have served to make you a better-informed voter. 2020 is just around the corner, y’all!

On Grace

Tuesdays and Fridays are my favorite days because I get off work at around 4 o’clock, which means that I still get to see the sun. With my full schedule this semester and the wintertime, I’m realizing more and more how sunshine is a privilege. I relish every opportunity that I get to bask in the warmth of the sun in 30-something-degree weather.

On my walk home, I pass by a nearby public school. Besides the afternoon sun, I see children in their uniform—navy blue polos and matching skirts or pants, high socks, and different iterations of scrunchies or basketball shoes. Their tiny hands inside larger hands that belonged to someone walking alongside them. Sometimes, they would walk in groups to the metro station, presumably to go home. The train becomes lively with their laughter, their banter, sometimes their mischief.

And for a moment, I’m reminded of my past life before I embarked on this journey to follow my dreams in the capital city.

A year ago today, I was analyzing data from the midyear scrimmage of the mock statewide science test to determine what the next few months’ lessons are going to look like. I’m looking at students’ Lexile scores, researching lab activities, interactive websites, old and remedial lesson plans, and keeping in mind individual students’ and each class’s behaviors. I’m changing the seating arrangement every day to match the day’s activities and ensure that they would be conducive to learning.

Now, I’m a full-time graduate student who also works full-time, swinging two part-time jobs on The Hill and at a digital agency dedicated to progressive causes. My Mondays and Tuesday are 12-hour days; balancing work, school, and life is an art that I’m learning daily.

With all the new challenges I’m facing, it has become easy for me to put aside and forget how tough of a person I used to be when I was a teacher. How tough it was to be a teacher.

D.C. is a big city; a so-called “transient city,” an international hub where I’ve experienced things unlike what I’m used to. I met a community of Indonesians here that I never had when I grew up in South Carolina or lived in Florida. I go to school with people from all over the world, from all walks of life, and who bring work experiences that enhance the learning environment. I’m learning so much, not just from the professor, but from everyone around me. At the same time, I’m constantly surrounded by people who are on the same level of capability, competency, and competitiveness as me, if not more. While it’s exhilarating, it can also be daunting on days when I’m not at my best.

On a basic level, it has taught me to be mindful of my sleep and eating schedule. It is easier for me to feel down when I haven’t had a full night’s sleep or anything to eat. On a deeper level, it has made me more aware of my mindset and perspective. When I start thinking negatively, everything starts to shift to become more negative, more difficult. But when I start thinking positively, I think of things that are “difficult” as another challenge to defeat or even as opportunities for growth. Positive things seem to come more naturally to me.

On a fundamental level, living in D.C. has taught me, again and again, to have grace with and be kind to myself.

I remembered vividly when I was having one of those days. I felt tired, unmotivated, and like I wasn’t contributing my all into what I was doing. I was getting discouraged by the job prospects and what my future would look like in the city. It seemed like getting a career was getting tougher and tougher these days and that my graduate degree was getting more expensive and difficult, yet less helpful.

But then, I talked to my mom, who has this divine skill of making things better even when you weren’t completely telling her what’s on your mind. As I was telling her about my policy skillset and what I wanted to accomplish during my internship on The Hill and beyond, she says, “Don’t forget education–you have experience as a teacher. You’ve been there. Remember that.”

Remember that.

And that’s when the images started flooding in. All the memories of all the times when it was tough, yet I continued to show up and stand in front of the classroom every day at 9:05 am. All the nights that I stayed up late lesson-planning, all the weekends I spent grading or lesson-planning some more. All the field trips–science fairs, engineering facilities, Sea World, and especially the last one, Gradventure at Universal Studios, with my eighth-graders who are now in high school. How did I allow myself to forget?

The next day, I gathered my strength–after a full night’s sleep, a wholesome breakfast, and a full playlist run-through of female empowerment songs. I remembered why I moved to D.C., why I wanted to go back to school, why and how I’m here. I was working hard on a task when a staffer noticed and pulled me in to do a project for her. I completed the first part of the project, and she gave me positive feedback and areas of improvement for the continuation of the project. I told her that I was a graduate student who’s interested in the issue areas that she’s responsible for and that I’d be happy to help her with anything related to those issues. She appreciated my hard work and told me that she will keep me in mind for future projects.

It always starts with our mindset. I believe in the Law of Attraction and that we are the architects of our own future. Luck, timing, and privilege notwithstanding, positive things will occur because of a positive outlook. And I fundamentally believe that what we seek is seeking us. By virtue of our living and striving for what we seek as our ideal–whether that’s going to school or doing the best work that we can at our jobs–we are always and already creating the future that we want. That future awaits us as we work towards it. What we seek, seeks us.

As I navigate new challenges this semester, I’m thankful for Tuesdays and Fridays (absent wintry mix), where I get to bask in the sunlight.

Tuesdays and Fridays, where I get a chance to relive the memories of the students at Room 401, at a middle school in Westside Jacksonville, Florida; the moments that proceeded the one I’m currently living.

And I took it as a sign, that everything happens for a reason.


On Father’s Day

I noticed that every year I stumble upon the same photos of me and my dad that I’d post for Father’s Day. My dad lives in Indonesia, and the last time I saw him was last summer. I still couldn’t find many pictures of us together.

Then I realized that the reason why he isn’t in the picture is that he’s always taking the picture. Whether it’s an iPhone, a Chinese iPhone (“Xiaomi a better iPhone!”), a Canon 5D Mark II, or a Fujifilm, he’s the man behind the lens.

I remember the first time he formally introduced me to photography. He bought me my first Canon D-SLR: a 550D (in the US it’s called a Rebel T2i). I remember how he first taught me to use portrait mode. Before teaching me how to compose a photograph, he had made all the necessary changes so that the default setting makes for the perfect picture—brightness, contrast, and all.

That’s the kind of person that my dad is: instrumental, yet humble. He always ensures that everything is in place so that others can succeed, but he doesn’t always enjoy the spotlight. He’s always behind, not in front of, it all.


From My Father

From my father, I have my genuine, squinty-eyed smile,
my short stature,
my thinning, silky dark hair,
my golden undertones that tan from sheer sunshine,
my thick, thunder thighs capable of biking through rice paddies in Bali.

From my father, I have my humility. My father is down-to-earth and steadfast. Sometimes I find him firmly planted on the ground, not realizing how tall or far his branches have grown, how many find him so tall, so full of life, so worthy all the praise and recognition than his own modesty allows.

From my father (and mother), I have my morals. Be kind, do no harm, and share your knowledge and good fortunes, they say. And I’m learning to trust my gut feeling more, but I know that that the gut feeling is there because I have a conscience, and my parents have taught me to trust that which is within me and seek that which is Good.

From my father, I learned to ride a bike. I learned 1/2 + 1/4 = 3/4, because 1/2 = 2/4. I learned the rule of thirds. I learned to love the real football, the beautiful game. And I (semi) learned how to drive a car in Jakarta—even though everything is flipped and I kept turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signals and even though I still don’t really feel comfortable doing it I do it anyway because it amuses him and I like to think that he taught me how to drive instead of a driver’s ed instructor in South Carolina.

From my father, I learned to value patience. To me, his patience seemed endless—even when he ran out of patience, he still had the patience to forgive. I aspire to be as patient as my dad every day and wish that the men I’ve let into my life would have had even a fraction of an ounce of patience that he had.

From my father, I learned that love is a verb. To be so far, and to be alone for long periods of time. To support his children living thousands of miles away in the Sunshine State without ever feeling the sunshine up close, without seeing the sunsets that are unseen from the eastern shores. To call and, more often than not, have those calls go unanswered.

From my father, I learned to love unconditionally.


For My Father

There is a house in Bali with the perfect beach-to-mountains ratio in terms of proximity wherein I can find my parents retiring, joyfully living and thriving as empty nesters for at least two blissful decades.

I know that if I can envision it, I can manifest it, and I can make it happen.

Everything I do now will be to make this vision come true.

Because they deserve it.

When the Universe Speaks

It has been a long, hard school year.

Since August 2017, I have had four posts sitting in my drafts. Truth be told, I’ve been living almost a double life and telling truths only to a select few, and it hasn’t been without its challenges.

I knew I would be leaving the classroom at the close of this year. Sure, my Teach for America contract is only for two years, but the decision wasn’t made as easily or as quickly as you’d think. At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, I felt that I had thrived in the classroom. I found joy–I had students that were as invested in my class as I am in them and in the work; I had administrators, coaches, and colleagues who supported me and lifted me up throughout my first year. I contemplated staying for a third year because I wanted to see how far I could go. An additional year to study for the LSAT would be nice, too. At the time, I was set on law school as my next step, even considering educational policy. I was that deep in and that committed to the work.

Then I went home to Indonesia for the summer. I realized how much I had forgotten, and admittedly missed, the “international” part of me–a part that is so essential to my identity. I’m not just an Asian-American, I am an Indonesian-American. That I am a first-generation immigrant also means that I am always and already dipping my feet in two different spheres. And if I so choose, with my international background, my spheres of influence could extend as far as I desire.

You know when you were little, you were always asked what you want to be when you grow up? I want to be a world citizen. I want to be a diplomat. I want to be Secretary of State. I knew that with my newfound joy in the classroom I could make teaching my career. But I wasn’t ready to give up on my little girl dreams just yet. I wanted to explore further what I am capable of, and tap into the skills I have that I don’t get to use in education.

Upon coming back to Jacksonville, I wasn’t expecting the number of transitions that came my way. Some things changed for the better: I moved closer to work and live in beautiful, historic house in a vibrant area with a roommate–last year, I lived alone in an apartment with a 30-minute commute, without traffic. A few things were completely unexpected. My school had a new principal, my district an interim superintendent. Both the former superintendent and my former principal moved to Detroit. I was teaching a new course: Physical Science, a high school course. In the middle of the year, our school underwent major schedule changes due to a district school budget fiasco. I had brand new students. My advanced classes were consolidated from 4 to 3, increasing class sizes as high as 34. I had to teach an elective science “research” class with some of the most challenging students for a couple of weeks. We were told that schedules would be changed back as soon as the school is cleared to hire more teachers, but besides my elective class being replaced back to a regular science class, the schedules never changed. I lost some of my favorite students and gained a few who never really got a hold of my classroom rituals & routines. Labs continued to be a challenge throughout the year with high class sizes. On top of that, many of our teacher vacancies never got filled… in fact, they increased as the year went on. Some days, I feel like my job has been reduced to babysitter extraordinaire. And the worst part is, it’s no one’s fault, but everyone bears the burden.

On top of teaching full-time, I enrolled in a TestMasters LSAT course. Every Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesdays, I’d attend a four-hour class for five weeks. On Tuesdays, I’d arrive to class late because I leave school at 4:30, catch rush-hour traffic to the other side of town, and pick up my dinner on the way if I had time. After work, I’d do the TestMasters homework (which culminates to 100 hours), lesson plan, and then apply to law schools, graduate schools, and fellowships.

In November, I was selected as a finalist for the Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship Program. The program prepares graduating seniors or recent graduates for careers in the Foreign Service–to become a U.S. diplomat. The Rangel Program also supports them with finances for graduate school (tuition and stipend) as well as two summer internships, one abroad and one in Capitol Hill. I went to Washington, D.C., for a full-day interview. In total, there were 60 finalists and only 30 were selected for the fellowship. While I was selected as an alternate and ultimately not chosen as a fellow, I spoke out to the Universe that fateful November day on my flight back to Jacksonville: I’ll be back.

I submitted the last of my school applications the first week of February, and the waiting game began. Timing worked out because as I had finished the difficult phase of applying for schools, it was remediation time for my students–time for them to review essential materials from 6th, 7th, and 8th grade science to prepare for the state test in May. In the beginning of the year, the goal for proficiency was set to 50%. In the December midyear test, my students scored an average of 52%, so the bar was set to 65% proficiency by May. I was stressing myself out, feeling pressured to succeed and deliver results. I spent countless hours creating lesson plans that I had to completely redo from last year. I assigned projects that were never done. My students lost investment because I was so hard on them. I was hard on myself! I was miserable, without much guidance or support. I was supposed to be the lead science teacher, everyone else was depending on me and the school grade is riding on me and my students’ performance.

But the Universe finally answered my call. I received my first acceptance letter from The Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, in Washington, D.C. They offered me a spot for the M.A. in International Affairs program, with a generous fellowship to boot.

After a few months of consideration, I decided to answer the Universe’s call. I’ve been back to D.C. twice since November, and every time I feel the same rush of energy that attracted me to it. This is where I need to be. This is where I belong.

And so with great excitement, I announce that I have accepted The Elliott School’s offer. While I will miss Jacksonville immensely, especially my students and the people whom I’ve gotten to know so closely, I cannot wait to see what this next chapter of life has in store for me.


Room 401, we meet again.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” —Aristotle

On my first official day as a Duval County Public School employee (aka when I got my new email address), I wrote this quote in my signature. Email signatures are kind of my guilty pleasure (who doesn’t love a good email signature??), but it also served as a small reminder to myself. First, to remain humble because I studied philosophy in college and became a teacher by choice, which means that I have so much to learn. Second, to remember that philosophy is and always will be a big part of my life. Third, and most importantly, that in this work, there are simply things that I do not know how to do—no matter how many Professional Development sessions I attend, how many veteran teachers I talk to, how many books I read—until I do it myself.

When I came back for my second year, I felt more at ease. And it wasn’t the kind of ease that came with preparation, considering I was in Indonesia for most of the summer and did zero school work for the entirety of my summer break. It was the kind of ease that came with familiarity. Seeing familiar faces—colleagues that I hadn’t seen all summer, a close friend whom I did everything with and who went through the same things as me last year, having the same people on my team. Coming back to my old classroom and discovering all the supplies that my Past Self had left behind for my Future Self to find. Knowing exactly who to talk to when I need help, rather than seeking out help whenever it finds me in trouble or feeling overwhelmed. Listening to admin and finding myself understanding more than half of what they’re saying—words like “differentiation,” “structured movement,” “IEP,” or “data-driven rotations” are no longer foreign to me.

I never thought that the girl who showed up to the first day of school last year flustered, having only half an hour before first period starts because she lived on the other side of town and severely underestimated traffic, is the same girl who became the lead science teacher this year. When I have conversations with new teachers (especially new Teach for America Corps Members), I look back on my first year and could pinpoint exactly when I felt the same way they did. Not much was different: I had schedule changes and difficulty with the curriculum; in fact, I felt that I didn’t have a good grasp of it until the third quarter. I felt insurmountable pressure teaching a tested subject that makes up a part of the school grade. I was depressed, I had terrible anxiety, I had to have my mother visit me for a couple of months until things started looking up. I cried on the dirty floor. I got a desk thrown at me. I was powered by denial and rationalized everything with, “It’s fine. It’s all gonna be fine.”

I always looked up to the second-years at my school, who all looked like they’re blissfully thriving. I remember spending so much time working—it seemed like all I ever did or thought about was work—yet every time I get to school, it felt like I had gotten nothing done. How do they do it? I thought.

My friend and partner teacher last year, who was a second-year teacher, would tell me often, “I wish that you could have seen me during my first year.” At the time, those words didn’t offer me much solace because I was far too overwhelmed to find comfort. But recently, my Assistant Principal reminded me of my former partner teacher’s words. After visiting my classroom in the second week of school, she told me, “I wish that I could have a time machine. I’d record you now and go back in time to show you, at this time last year, that you will be this teacher in a year.”

And I realized then the truth of Aristotle’s words, the virtue of the phrase that we hear so often: that it’s all “part of the process.” If I hadn’t gone through the lows, I wouldn’t have had the highs that I did at the end of last year and the highs that I do now. I wouldn’t have received an email from a former student inviting me to his home football game if he and I hadn’t butted heads for a whole semester. I wouldn’t have received texts from former students if I hadn’t had some difficult conversations with them or kicked them out of my classroom a few times. Save for the details and idiosyncrasies of different contexts, personalities, and life experiences, overall, what I went through in my first year wasn’t entirely unique to me, the same way that the experiences of the current first-year teachers aren’t unique to only them. It’s all about trusting that process of growth.

Learning never stops and I continue to learn from the compassionate people in my school community, the resourceful and empathetic staff members at Teach for America, but especially my students. While I enjoyed great successes in my first year of teaching, like contributing to an improved school grade, I’m excited to become a leader in my school community and within Teach for America. I now teach high school Physical Science Honors in addition to standard and advanced sections of eighth-grade science. I’m a sponsor for my school’s chapter of National Junior Honor Society. I’m also starting the year as a facilitator for a Professional Development session in Teach for America.

I’m excited for this school year and the endless opportunities to continue making a difference. Here’s to another year of growing and learning by doing.


My Weekend in Japan

When I was planning my trip to Indonesia to see my family, there was a possibility of taking an extended layover in Japan. I’d fly to Narita airport in Tokyo, but my connecting flight to Indonesia would leave 20 hours later from Haneda airport, about an hour away from Narita. Knowing that one of my best friends is living in Japan (she’s an English assistant language teacher with the JET program), I felt like the Universe was sending me a signal to see her. Finally! Instead of spending 20 hours in Japan, though, I took the whole weekend to go on adventures around Japan with my best friend, Ivy.

I flew from Jax to Houston at the crack of dawn (thanks to my friend, Lynn, for giving me a ride at 4 am!) and made it to Tokyo-Narita around 4:30 pm local time. From there, I got a bus ticket to Kofu, the largest city in the Yamanashi prefecture. It was about a 3.5-hour ride from Tokyo to Kofu, and once I got to Kofu, we had to take a 30-minute train ride to another city in Yamanashi, and then drive an additional 30 minutes to Hokuto, where Ivy actually lives. Whew, what a journey!

Once I got there, though, I didn’t have much to complain about. Hokuto is a beautiful countryside in the mountains.

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Originally, Ivy was going to take Friday off and travel to Tokyo with me. But after telling the staff at her school that I was visiting, she asked if I would want to come to her school and meet her students. Of course, I said yes! I know I’m supposed to be on vacation, but naturally, I find myself back at a school.

Ivy teaches at an elementary school and a junior high school, the latter of which I got to visit during my trip. Her students are so cute (or, as they say in Japanese, kawaii-desu)! The teachers and staff at her school are equally lovely and very welcoming. She’s in great company. It’s evident that her faculty and students appreciate her. I got to introduce myself to her students and tell them my story abut how I came to America, what I do for a living, and how I got to know Ivy. I answered a few questions (the most popular question, which I get from her students and mine, is “How old are you?” …smh) and assisted Ivy and her English teacher with playing Bingo and working a few workbook exercises. It was so much fun and I really hope the students enjoyed it as much as I did.

We left the school early and had lunch at a nice restaurant in Hokuto called The Rock. We had some delicious Japanese curry. Then, we took a little excursion to get soft serve for dessert. Her area is also well-known in Japan for their milk production. Let me reiterate once more how beautiful the region is. So much greenery and nature, and I especially loved being in the mountains. Seeing the mountains in the backdrop was lovely and nostalgic—it reminded me of my hometown, Greenville.

After our delicious lunch, we took a cat nap before traveling to Tokyo; another 30-minute drive to a train station, then a 2-hour bus ride. It was around this time that my jet-lag started to settle. I slept the entire bus ride… I was in such a deep sleep that once we got to Tokyo, I totally had forgotten that I was in Japan.


Me, post-bus nap.

Finding our Airbnb from the bus terminal was an adventure in itself that I won’t go into full detail. Sometimes Airbnb advertises a place that is “6 minutes away” from the nearest public transportation when in reality, it was closer to 9 minutes. Also, when the public transportation system is as complex as the one in Tokyo, you’ll likely run into multiple stations with the same name. We ended up spending about an hour or so trying to find our way to the Airbnb, getting lost and perhaps being in a neighborhood one would likely not want to find herself. Once we found it, though, it was in an area central enough to all the places we wanted to visit.

Since we had lost a lot of time in between getting to Tokyo and finding our Airbnb, plus we were also tired from traveling, we decided to grab dinner and call it a night. We went to the main street of Harajuku, where we also learned that most shopping places in Tokyo open quite late (around 11 am) and close pretty early (around 8 pm). Most of the shopping places were already closed since we got there close to 8 o’clock. I was getting pretty hungry, so Ivy directed me to a creperie, which Harajuku is known for. We had some delish strawberry ice cream crepes to fill our bellies while we find a dinner place. Our friend Shane, who is also in the JET program and serving in Tokyo, gave us recommendations to places in Tokyo for the weekend. One was a Western place with many pop-up restaurants that had a hipster feel to it, called Commune 246 or simply “the Commune.” I saw a lot of foreigners and heard English spoken widely. We had a couple of beers and a savory seafood platter. Then, we hopped on a train and got some rest for the next day. (Since I didn’t get to take many pictures at the Commune, here is a cool article with lots of photos that describes my experience well.)

I surprised myself the next morning by sleeping through the night and waking up right when the alarm rang! We left our Airbnb around 7:30 am, hoping to make it to the Tokyo Metropolitan Building by 8. According to Shane, the building has observation decks that allow you to see spectacular views of the city for free. But after about 30 minutes of traveling by subway/train and by foot, we still couldn’t get to the building even though we could see it from afar. Google Maps also said that the building was closed on Saturday. Not sure if it was true or not (it is a government building, after all), but we gave up the quest and opted to go to our next location instead. Plus, I was getting hangry.

Our next location was the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. We stopped by a conbini, a 24-hour convenience store that has a variety of deliciously fresh foods on the go, to pick up some breakfast foods that we’ll eat picnic-style at the garden.


The garden was impeccable—it was beautifully well-kept and massive! It’s made up of French and English gardens in the north area, and a Japanese traditional garden, with Japanese tea houses, in the south. We only saw the latter, but it was enough. I loved being surrounded by so many beautiful florae, breathing in the fresh air and feeling harmonious with nature. Upon researching, the garden is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing. Sadly it’s not cherry blossom season, but I can imagine how beautiful it must be.

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Next up, we made the trek to the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in the world (and the second tallest structure to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). Before going up to the tower, we stopped by a shop that sold Studio Ghibli merchandise. I was so excited because we couldn’t get tickets to the Ghibli Museum, which apparently you have to purchase a month in advance. If you aren’t familiar with Studio Ghibli, it is a Tokyo-based production studio behind famous anime feature films, such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery ServiceSpirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and most recently Ponyo.

Once we got to the Skytree, we paid ¥3,000 (about $30) to go up to the first observation deck, which was 350m high (1148.29 ft for scale, #merica). The elevator went up so smoothly that it didn’t even feel like we had moved, but my ears definitely popped on the way up and down. Once we got there, the views were spectacular. Floor 350 had 360-degree views of the city and Floor 348 had glass floors that you can see down from. For another ¥1,000, you could go up to the 450m-high observation deck, which is all glass, but we didn’t think it was worth the price. I got to see some pretty nifty views of the city, but overall, the Skytree was one of those “touristy” sites that you just had to see once when you visit Tokyo.

Next up was a Shintō shrine in Tokyo, the Nezu Shrine. I’ve always been fascinated by different religions and having spent my childhood in Asia, the images of Japanese temples are not unfamiliar to me. I wanted to make sure that I visit one of the beautiful Shintō shrines while I was in Japan. While we were at Nezu Shrine, there was a Japanese wedding happening! It was so fascinating, though I’m sure the bride, groom, and guests must have felt a little weird having visitors “crash” their wedding.

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After the shrine, my stomach was growling (and my feet were starting to feel pretty sore). Since I was in Japan, I had to have sushi, duh! I wanted to go to one of the restaurants that serve sushi on a conveyor belt. I’d been to one in Jakarta but I wanted the authentic experience. We headed the direction of Harajuku and made a stop at Ameyoko, a market street with lots of restaurants and shops along the street. We found a restaurant that serves kaiten sushi and my stomach was singing!

A couple of observations at the kaiten sushi joint: most of the sushi served were a variety of raw fish meat. While there are sushi restaurants that serve the rolled “sushi” we’re all familiar with, this restaurant seems to be more fast-food-like, so while the food isn’t necessarily the fanciest, it was nonetheless delicious (if you like raw fish). As for drinks, these places serve unlimited green tea. Unlimited! Grab a ceramic mug, get your own hot water from the tap, serve your matcha, and boom. It’s amazing to me how matcha, the wondrous green tea powder with high antioxidants and is attributed to weight loss in the U.S., costs about $20 at your local fancy grocery store, yet I got to drink mine for free at a fast-food sushi joint.


Moshi moshi, Oryza-desu?

Bellies now full, it’s time to go shopping. (Pro tip: never go shopping on an empty stomach.) We went to Harajuku and hit up a few places for some eclectic Japanese fashion finds. I bought a dress, a few makeup items, and some souvenirs for my family. I also got this phone case that Ivy endlessly made fun of me for (later on, I found that my mother actually wanted it as a gift). In Ivy’s words, “This b— thinks she’s Japanese now.” But in the words of Icona Pop, “I don’t care, I love it.”

After shopping in Harajuku, it’s time for our last stop: the famous Shibuya crossing. Aptly nicknamed the “scramble crossing,” getting there was tricky because there are about 20 different exits at the Shibuya station. I guess it makes perfect sense when you’re going to the “busiest crosswalk in the world.” A short Google search led us to the wrong exit initially, so we went back inside the station again to find the correct exit, which was the Hachikō exit.

Hachikō is the name of a famous Akita dog, known for his loyalty. The story goes that Hachikō would see his owner off to work in the morning at the Shibuya train station and then in the afternoon when he comes back. One day, his owner died unexpectedly at work, and Hachikō waited for his owner at the train station who never came back. While Hachikō gained a new family, he still waited at the Shibuya station every morning and afternoon for his beloved owner until his death. A statue commemorating Hachikō’s loyalty is erected outside the Shibuya station.


The views at Shibuya station mirror those of Times Square in New York. I’m glad that we got to see it at night when all the lights and electronic billboards were illuminated. It was a sight to behold.

According to articles on Google, the best views of the actual Shibuya crossing is from a Starbucks overlooking the crosswalk. After crossing the street ourselves (which was so much fun, I’d never been surrounded by so many people at once), we went to the Starbucks and saw what we had just experienced. We saw some dude dressed up as Pikachu who’d run to the middle of the street as people are crossing, pretending to be a wild Pokémon waiting to be caught. It was so absurd. Japanese locals just went about their business and walked around Pikachu, but others thought it was fun and they all took pictures of him and his friends, one of whom dressed up as Ash. The things people do to amuse themselves.


Behold, the famous “scramble crosswalk.” Just seeing this picture stresses me out.

With sugar in our system, we ventured to find literally any restaurant we could find within our vicinity. At this point, the only thing on my food bucket list that I haven’t eaten was katsu, Japanese breaded and fried cutlets. We found a restaurant where you’d order and pay for your food at a slot-machine-type thing, a ticket comes out, and then you go inside and hand your ticket to the cook. Ivy told me that this is also a fast-food-type of a restaurant, where the focus isn’t so much social aspect of food where you get waited on and such, but how quickly your food comes out. I also noticed that most people who ate there were eating alone. Being a huge foodie myself and loving the experience of eating more than anything, I didn’t mind the fast-food restaurants at all because the food was so good and it was exactly what I wanted at the end of a long day. I had no idea what I ordered (I just saw a picture and went “yep that looks good”) but it tasted like some kind of chicken katsu cooked with fried egg on top and steamed rice with sweet soy sauce underneath. I also got a side of noodles to go with it. Mmm.

By the end of the day, we were exhausted but so proud of ourselves for making it to every place on our list. We walked a total of 28,091 steps (about 11.12 miles), stood for 16 hours, and burned about 653 calories. My Apple Watch was also proud of me for exceeding all of my daily goals.

The next day, I had to catch an airport bus to Tokyo-Narita at 6 am for my flight at 8:15. We woke up around 4:30, giving ourselves plenty of time to walk to the bus station in case we couldn’t find a taxi. Come to find out that the streets are bustling at 5 in the morning (do you people not sleep??) and we found a taxi outside of our Airbnb in less than 5 minutes. A little salty because I could’ve slept in. Anyway, we said our tearful goodbyes, caught our respective buses, passed out on our way to our destinations (another one of those “Who am I?” naps for both of us), and I hopped on two planes to Jakarta… another ridiculous, day-long journey in itself. But that’s all for now.

To sum up the aftermath of my incredible weekend in Tokyo, here’s a picture of a Japanese man at the bus station, courtesy of Ivy’s Snapchat. Until next time!




Most photos were taken with my iPhone 7. Photos of the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and the featured image from Nezu Shrine were courtesy of Ivy, taken by her Nikon D-SLR. The meme was from the Internet.