Experience life's duality.jpg




Usually when we hear this word, it is associated with something negative -And for good reason.

Dictionary.com defines abandonment as: the act of leaving completely and finally; forsake utterly; desert, to give up, to give up the control of, withdraw from etc.


However, one thing that is not always discussed in relation to abandonment is whether or not it is always optional or voluntary.


For me, I believe my experience comes closer to something of the latter. My parents divorced when I was still a young girl, but the term abandonment was never something that registered to me as being something I had experienced. For example, both of my parents were very present in my life. It wasn’t that either of my parents had walked out on us or just willingly chose to forgo all their parental responsibilities. They were both always there to support and take care of us. We were fed, clothed, and had a place to stay.


Unfortunately though, because of the way the custody had worked out when we were kids as well as the circumstances at the time, it was decided that my mother would have sole custody of us and we would see our dad only every two weekends.


I never realized how this situation would have an effect on me but with new found wisdom and maturity I’ve since discovered some profound ways this situation would come to influence my life.


Its not all good or bad. In all honesty there is a lot to take away but that doesn’t mean no good or bad existed at all.


Within the last two years or so, I decided to seriously prioritize my health. But not just my physical health… –My emotional, mental, and spiritual health as well. So I decided to try and find a therapist. I had written this approach off as not for me but luckily found the ‘right’ person I could connect to on my first try this time. And to my surprise, my angel of a therapist immediately started helping me to unearth things I had long been looking to make sense of myself for a long time. Or perhaps I could have but I just wasn’t ready in the past to confront these darker emotions.


Ahh. Relationships. Not that I went to her because I needed advice on them but for me, they didn’t always have the most positive connotation. But why? Well to put it simply, I didn’t want what happened to my parents, to happen to me. Here were two people who definitely loved each other but because life just goes the way it does sometimes, had ended up separating in a way which was well, devastating for the children who were born into this world seeing these two great people as their example of love and what love was meant to be like, utterly come crashing down before their eyes. It wasn’t that we feared love. But what we did fear was its finiteness. We knew early on that our fairy tales of perfect pictures were wrong and that indeed even if you could be so incredibly in love with someone for some portion of your life that it didn’t always mean it would last forever. But then if something as great as love can’t even last, what in our lives can?


As a kid I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it to you in this way but I see now that maybe this is why I can revel in any occurrence of consistency in my life. I was never a big fan of drastic changes and yet I had to learn to rely on the fact that nothing in my life would remain constant. Motion is a part of life and while I understand this to be true, it doesn’t mean I can always manage the anxiety that it can cause. Sometimes it’s immobilizing. I also had such a fear of abandonment from my own romantic relationships. The thought that perhaps if the ‘one’ I was investing in would leave, that I would be ruined. It would be the thing to end everything. But why? My father never left me? It wasn’t like those other stories I had heard about where someone’s father just leaves them with nothing to say or no explanation.


And yet, here my therapist asks me straightforwardly, “Do you ever feel like you were emotionally abandoned by your father?”


Talk about Ouch! (Granted I loved that she asked me this question though and in such a blunt way because often I can be a bit of a skeptic but she really laid it on me and didn’t give me any room to budge.)


I remember this moment so profoundly because I could feel a knot rising up in my throat when she said this and tears swelling, coming to my eyes. I remember this so profoundly because quite possibly I had already known the truth, which was that I had always felt this. I just didn’t know how to say it.

And furthermore, a part of me had never wanted to admit it because I thought I would be doing a disservice to my father if I ever admitted that this was the case. It wasn’t until recently that I started to realize that I could feel emotionally abandoned by my father while still acknowledging that he never would have chosen to voluntarily abandon me in such a way.



So thus, I present the nuances of life that we all too often don’t want to address. –The reality that maybe sometimes circumstances provide the right scenarios for us to get hurt but maybe it’s not really anyone’s fault either. Part of growing up I find is recognizing the gray areas of our lives that do not always give us clear answers to our problems and accepting the bitterness that comes from them. As well as more importantly, learning to let go of them too.


I find that a lot of strength has been found within myself because of the experiences I have had. I think living out of a suitcase every other weekend prepared me in the best way possible for traveling. And I laugh at the irony of it all now. Because there was a time when I questioned if this lifestyle was for me? If I would be able to handle it?

And yet I have managed just fine. I know how to minimize what I pack because I know what clothes pair well to mix and match. I don’t have very many material possessions I value and the ones I do have are usually pictures of my family or things associated with them somehow. I learned that I can take home with me wherever I go and carry the ones most dear to me quietly and tenderly in my heart. I learned self-reliance and that I have everything I need within myself so I never need to fear that the realistic possibility of falling out of love with someone would be the worst thing to happen to me.  Ironically its allowed me to love all the more unapologetically and fiercely. I recognize the urgency in living for right now because I know all too well what the feeling of ‘lost time you feel you can never get back’ is. And most of all it taught me that finiteness is a part of life so I awake each morning appreciating the moments I can share with those who I care about most since at least these memories remain.

This year’s theme: Repair


I have been traveling now for the past two years or so to nearly 11 countries in total –One adventure I am currently in the midst of. When I reflect on this, my mind is flooded by memories of experiences: cultures, people, places, sensations, distinct smells, and some of the most incredible sights I have had the pleasure to see in my life so far.


There has been a lot of motion and constant going for the majority of my travels abroad even despite being in a few places for long periods of time. I naturally started to crave somewhere I could settle a bit and now that I have, it has allowed for some very interesting reflections.


This year’s theme for me is ‘repair’. But the interesting thing about repair is that it doesn’t occur unless something is broken first. Let me explain.


Throughout my travels, I’ve grown accustomed to this very basic simple black backpack. All travelers have their ‘go to’ item and I would feel a definite void if I ever forgot this one. When I myself was new to traveling and a bit hesitant as to whether I could handle all that was to come, having my backpack made me feel a bit more prepared. It was my lifeline and the main object from home that somehow kept me grounded because it was like I was taking a part of home with me wherever I would go. I grew to appreciate how it wasn’t very fancy, no special features, it had the right amount of pockets, could carry way more than it appeared it could, it was the perfect size for fitting in those tight spaces on buses, trains, and airplanes. It wasn’t until recently that a huge rip in the side started to allow a hole to widen a little more each day in which things could pass through or get caught on. My first passing thought was, “Oh, I’m going to have to get a new bag now… I guess it’s just time…”


One day I was in my house reluctantly looking at my bag wondering what I was going to do when the idea popped into my head that I should try to repair it first. I was taught how to sew by my great grandmother when I was six and I began to feel convinced that I should try to use this skill set and put it to good use. It really would be such a shame if I was going to have to throw away this perfectly good backpack all because of one rip. I searched for my sewing kit, took out the black thread, and carefully ran it through the eye of the delicate needle in my hand. It took some time to make sure my sewing would hold and be enough to handle any further wear on my bag which it would inevitably have. It took patience but something about the act of this repairing was therapeutic. –To feel the course and tightly woven black strands glide under my fingertips. Ah this is what experience feels like. So many memories kept safe there like my own precious secret.


That’s when I became aware of the wonderful opportunity before me to take an introspective look at my own personal growth. My backpack had a lesson to teach me. An idea to enlighten me with. You see, the truth is I don’t think my old self would have wanted to deal with the investment it would take to repair broken things. I think that even if the thought had still managed to pass my mind that it would have quickly faded with the knowledge of “Well why would I waste my time repairing this backpack when I could just get another one at the store?” Immediately my desire would have been satisfied with one transaction and my bag, no less, would be brand new. No longer carrying the worn look this one had tenderly acquired through our adventures together. No longer needing my attention or to be repaired.  


As I watched the thread pull together the torn material and join it once more I felt gratitude for the insight I had come to gain with this very simple but profound action with my material possession. “It’s just a backpack though!” some might say, “What could we find that is profound in that?” But what if I told you that for me it makes me remember the repair that I never thought I would be capable of doing for myself?


Being human is a tantamount adventure. It’s tough to even want to wake up and be sometimes. The world throws you around and we become so painfully aware of what fragile beings we really are. And if it’s not a physical hurt you experience then the emotional, spiritual, and mental pain will definitely be a thing of your worst nightmares.


We have imperfections and faults within ourselves that make a task like self- acceptance and self-love seem unachievable. Maybe we could even say that our lack of knowledge on how to do this gets translated into, not only how we regard taking care of ourselves but likewise, how we in turn treat everyone around us. We have somehow grown accustomed to writing off the responsibility we have to take care of ourselves first and secondly others as unimportant or something that doesn’t take hard work to maintain. There is a difference between making a few good choices in how to regard one’s health as opposed to recognizing the urgency to prioritize our lives and our bodies now. And further, make an active and ongoing commitment to say ‘yes’ to life.


Choosing to practice self-love and acceptance is not something that happens overnight. It is actually quite a daunting process in itself and it can be so incredibly painful. It means accepting the light and dark parts within you. It means coming to terms with very confronting things about oneself. It means letting go of bottled up pain acquired from hurtful experiences and learning to accept them and move forward. It means being gentle with ourselves about when we make mistakes and owning up to our past regrets rather than creating an alternative narrative to a situation that better suits the image we want to keep of ourselves. It means being honest in our intentions every time we act or speak. It means understanding that we are not perfect and being able to accept our shortcomings as they are but not feel less because of them. And it means making the effort to revisit each of these things as often as necessary because our human tendency is to accumulate burdening and hindering baggage throughout our days. I believe this is why there is the famous quote which states, “We cannot love another before we learn to love ourselves”. How could we possibly know what those around us need or are trying to communicate to us that they need if we don’t know in relation to ourselves first?  


Mending is a process. It takes work. But it is so worth it in the end.


Repairing my backpack didn’t seem like quite a daunting feat this time. Because I’ve been improving on my own journey of self-love, self-acceptance, and self-repair, I find that lately I am naturally making decisions to take care of things external to me. I know how to do it well with myself so I in turn see ‘brokenness’ as a process now. I don’t look at the world and see myself, others, or even my material possessions as doomed to be in a final state. There is a lot of uncertainty that exists around self-love and love for others in the sense that I do not always know if the result I desire will be what I end up getting. However, I would say this is one of the beauties of this process. I still possess the certainty of knowing I have patience to deal with problems as they come as they certainly will. I know that sometimes things that really are better than I could have imagined do exist as outcomes so I am not as quick to get frustrated or hurt when things do not go as planned. Instead I quietly ponder, “What else is there for me to learn here? What am I not seeing that I may have missed the first time?” And I enjoy working with the broken parts of me now. It has taught me self- acceptance and likewise how to be gentle when recognizing that I and others are struggling. It’s good to have goals but it’s better to be realistic about them and realize that just trying really is half the battle. It makes you feel gratitude towards your journey.


This year’s theme is repair. I refuse to throw my possessions away without trying to salvage or work with what I can first. Repair is my first resort and when I think of what’s next, I’m content with not knowing but instead trusting in the process.


“Life is a gift and it is our responsibility to take care of it. Your breath is divine because it is what gives us life. So anytime you forget about how precious you are, make yourself aware of your breathing and remember the divine is right there within you.” I hope these are the words that come to mind next time you think of throwing away your old bag at the first sign of it needing repair.

Matters of Reflection featuring: Ryan Cheng


Who is Ryan Cheng?

I am a 23 year old Australian living in Melbourne, moving from Singapore when I was 10. Right now, I work in marketing as a content writer but do a bunch of freelance writing and photography. I absolutely love travelling and have visited a bunch of countries including Japan, Namibia and Ireland. I am absolutely obsessed with race and culture, what makes us unique and different, but more importantly – what makes us uniquely connected. I’m interested in finding the stories that provide perspective, that help me better understand those around me – and in turn, better understand myself.


Short Answer:

Top 3 movie, book, or music recommendations:

Top 3 Movies
1. The Pursuit of Happyness
2. Southpaw
3. The Iron Giant

Top 3 Books
1. Fresh off the Boat – Eddie Huang
2. Maos Last Dancer
3. Me We Love Humanity and Us

1. Kendrick Lamar
2. Daniel Caesar (Freudian – Album of the year 2017 hands down)
3. Logic

Favorite quote?

“If it is real, it is familiar.” ~ Eddie Huang

Favorite artwork?

Lior Sperandeo is an incredible documentarian and photographer, and I take inspiration from his work. He takes some amazing portraits of people that I always draw from. His Instagram is @peopleof – so go check him out!

What is travel for you?

Travel for me is about perspective. I think the older I got, the more I realised how sheltered modern society is. Travelling allows me to break through the hazy veil that often impacts our perspective and, fulfills and nourishes the human need for connection and community.

Why is traveling important?

There’s a common thread here – perspective. I just want to learn more, about new places, new people – and create content that inspires others to do the same

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the world today?

What a loaded question! I think the biggest issue in the world today is our inability to be empathetic. I think we live in culture obsessed with ourselves, our problems, our image, how others perceive us. Self love and care is obviously important, but I feel that we’ve been encouraged to become consumed with ourselves and ignore the needs of others. And it takes work to listen and care for others, but practicing day by day will improve not only our own lives, but the overall community in which we live.

What do you hope to achieve from traveling?

I’ve never had a specific achievement for travelling but I would love to incorporate travel into my life and career moving forward! But more than that, I want to keep being inspired. In South Africa, they have a phrase “Sawubona” meaning I see the divine in you. When I meet people, I always try to see God in the other person in order to see the best in them! Continually honing the ability for empathy is incredibly important to me, and travelling helps me shape that!

What kind of traveler are you? 

I am an on the ground, cultural traveler – if that’s a thing! I’m not a fan of tourist sights, and am more comfortable on the ground with locals – sharing a lambs head with a local South African family in the township of Soweto or living in a mountain monastery with some Japanese monks – I absolutely love the real human moments that come with travel.

Favorite place you have been so far? Place you are going next? 

Favourite place – Japan really stuck with me, something about the beautiful balance of modernity and tradition continues to intrigue me.
Next – France, Spain and Morocco!

What is your motto?

Not so much a motto but I always aim to be myself – the way I talk, act and interact with others. There’s nothing worse then having to pretend to be something you are not, so I attempt to live with a ‘take me as I am’ attitude. I believe that if you are truly your best self, you will end up being the best you can for others, and in turn, others will be their best for you!

What is a question you would most like to ask others?

Who are you?

What do people accuse you of?

I can be stubborn sometimes haha and I think that annoys people – but I’m just passionate!

What do you doubt most?

I doubt myself a ton – whether I’ll fulfill the goals and dreams I’ve set myself. Sounds lame but its true!

If you could choose, what would you have for your last meal?

A bowl of laksa – a Singaporean noodle dish with seafood and a coconut curry broth, yum!

What would you never do no matter the price?

Bully someone. Or ignore someone in need.

 If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?

I would want people to sit down with others that they normally wouldn’t and have a conversation. I believe so strongly in the power of conversation and the role it can play in changing the world in which we live. So often we get caught up in ideology and forget that our day-to-day lives are governed by us, and not by others.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be a story teller – what shape that takes yet I’m not too sure, but it’s a work in progress so you’ll know when I know!

Please feel free to ask Ryan questions in the comment section and if you are looking to connect or follow him, you can find his social media presence at the following platforms. 


Feel free to contact me:


Instagram:  @ryan.chengg

Site: theryanc.com


Seeing through Japanese/Hawaiian-American eyes

I want to begin by saying I am American. I was born and raised in America however my father was not. His mother was full Japanese (Grandma Yoshi) and married my grandfather (Grandpa Boyd) who was Hawaiian. My father is half Japanese and half Hawaiian and was born and raised in Japan for most of his childhood.

Trying to understand my own identity has been a journey in itself. Characterized by a series of twist and turns. Sometimes I feel I’m not quite ‘American’ in terms of what a stereotypical American is usually represented by to most people around the world. Usually this stereotypical image consists of blue eyes and blonde hair with fair skin.

Yet, in contrast, I’m not what one would consider full Japanese either even though I’ve been using chopsticks since I was six, celebrating New Years differently with my Dad, my mannerisms are different from most stereotypical Americans and having features that are Asian enough in America to separate me (especially in my hometown of Tennessee) make me appear to be very different from the majority that surrounds me.

Someone once used the term ‘ethnically ambiguous’ to describe me. But the truth is, I’m not ‘ethnically ambiguous’. I am Japanese/ Hawaiian from my father’s side and American from my mother’s.

I grew up not having a box to check on standardized testing when asked to specify what my race was. There was ‘white’, ‘pacific islander’, and ‘asian’ but not one for all of these unless one checked ‘other’ that is if there even was an ‘other’ box to check. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve been allowed to check ‘all that apply’.

But I bring up this experience because I recall being in middle school and looking around wondering if any of the other kids in my class felt confused like me. Our teacher at the time said that we had to pick one. But I felt ashamed that I would have to pick a side of me to denounce or rather, not acknowledge.

Fast forward a bit and some boy on my bus wanted to be mean and as an insult said something like, “What are you? Chinese or something?” While smooshing his face so as to mimic my slanted eyes and make fun of them. That was the first time I felt someone try to use my difference to belittle me or make me feel less than.

I thought to myself, “First off, I’m Japanese!” And secondly, “wow this kid must really be stupid, we really all don’t look alike. And even if I was Chinese, why would that be an insult?”

He continued, “Do you eat rice every day?”

And again I thought, “Even if I did, why would that be an insult?”

You see, my father raised us to be proud of who we are and my mother always reaffirmed us through her unconditional love for her mixed Asian babies.

I never experienced ignorance about who I was at home but it definitely was a different story in the real world.

I remember in high school that one time I was hanging out with my non-Asian friends and us all trying on the same outfit. But to my dismay, when I looked in the mirror I felt something wasn’t right. The ‘look’ wasn’t the same on me.

Maybe it was my face? My Asian features? My “chink eyes” (as people often joked, “I can’t even tell when your eyes are open!”) Or my flat Hawaiian nose? (“You have a big nose people often said.”)

I started to question my own confidence in my physical appearance. Being a girl in high school can already be tough enough. But I tried to change myself to look less Asian. My eye lashes are long but would naturally point down at a slant. So I started to try and curl them so they would flow up like my friends.

I cut my bangs straight across once and was told by multiple people that they liked my hair parted on the side better because I looked less Asian. Or further, that I didn’t look like other Asians because I had naturally pretty light brown hair.

Why were these insults though? Why was looking less Asian considered a good thing in their minds? Or why was having beautiful thick jet black hair a bad thing? I thought both were beautiful.

Boys weren’t any better. It was assumed by boys in high school that I was naturally more promiscuous because I was Japanese and Japanese girls are ‘freaks’.

“Really? Is that all you’ve ever associated with my culture?” I thought.

Or worse being told by a boy that something was wrong with me because I was more reserved, not loud, assumed not competitive but rather submissive in a negative sense and told I needed to work on expressing my emotions overtly.

Some boys assumed I had to like white men too. As if it were to be expected that I would want nothing more than to be some white man’s token Asian just in virtue of him not being Asian. God forbid he earn my love because he treated me well. God forbid he instead expect that I had a brain and could think for myself or aspired for more than to just be his.

As I got older, I think what I hated most was how I started to see how my ‘being Asian’ was really regarded. I remember going to a restaurant and eating rice with chopsticks and everyone staring at me. Asian food is the cool thing to do until an actual Asian is eating it the way they do.

I remember all the racist comments like someone seeing an Asian person while we were out and finding it funny to say, “Look Lauren! It’s your long lost sister!” Even though at the time I could see way more white people around us so the likelihood of us seeing her sister was higher.

I remember thinking, she will never know the feeling one gets when someone jokingly says something like that but it’s not actually funny. I bit my tongue.

I remember hearing all the, “I don’t find Asian men attractive.”

“But why?” -This question beginning from the understanding that you’ve actually had a conversation with an Asian man.

But then again, maybe it’s because they’ve always been portrayed as nerdy and never as the subject of someone’s desire. You don’t find an Asian male as the attractive desirable lead in a Hollywood film unless the movie is about Karate or another martial arts.

Do Asian kids know they too could be Superman or Batman? Probably not because they never see their likeness on screen.

I remember hearing, “Wow, now after traveling to Asian countries I know they’re not all the same!”

I would hope so since now that your experience of them extends past the few times you see them every time you get your nails done. Never knowing what kind of responsibilities they have like providing for their families and so they opt for servicing you and doing your nails. Rather than try to have a conversation with them you make fun of their accent and mimic them instead.

I remember being asked by a boy in school how ‘THAT’ worked because I was Japanese and Hawaiian as if to be proud of my identity meant I should pick sides since in war they were enemies. Or thinking when I heard about Japanese-American concentration camps, “That could have been my family.” And wondering, “Am I actually welcome here?”

I remember thinking I actually felt horrified that America would kill so many innocent Japanese people. What are their lives really worth in the end? Is it too much to say not much has changed when we keep our nuclear weapons regardless? So how would he have felt if I had asked him how ‘THAT’ worked? Should he apologize for the Native Americans, Blacks, or Middle East in disarray?

I remember wanting to model and being excited to look up Tokyo fashion magazines to find only non-Asian models on the majority of their covers. This accompanied by a sorry excuse by a high fashion Asian designer who said that they chose European looking models for their clothes so that buyers who are not Asian will not think their clothes are only for Asians (like this would be the actual reality if this Asian designer had picked all Asian models instead).

However, I have yet to see a European fashion designer choose all Asian models for fear that if they didn’t, buyers would only think that their clothes are for Europeans only. If this was truly the case, wouldn’t both markets of buyers be prioritized in the same way?

I despise how Asian things are “strange” or “weird” until one starts using their exotic clothing and vacation destinations and then suddenly Asian things become unique.

Or further, how for many, using the term “Asian” apparently only includes Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans as if all Asian countries respective inhabitants shouldn’t be included just because they don’t share similar physical features that people stereo-typically associate with being Asian.

And lastly, being made aware by others how apparently learning Asian names is such an inconvenience to certain individuals so instead of for example, an American making the effort to know a Chinese person’s real name, they either ask them to change it for the sake of making it easier for them or the Chinese person does it themselves adopting a name like ‘John’ that they have no connection with because it’s not who they are at the end of the day. Maybe instead, their name means something like their parents wanting good fortune for them for the rest of their lives yet they are forced to lose that at an inconvenience of the non-Asian person who doesn’t even bother to first try and understand who they are without changing something about them first.

The worst is probably those who think we aren’t aware. As if our usual passiveness means that we are incapable of seeing what is really at work..

I have slanted eyes. But I see just fine.

Matters of Reflection featuring: ANDREW SWIETON


Who is Andrew Swieton?

I am a 25 year-old first generation European-American man and I am currently teaching and living abroad as an English foreign language teacher. I currently live in a suburb of Bangkok, Thailand. I teach English at a gifted science and math boarding school. My favorite things about Thailand are the nature and food. I am obsessed with all the mountains, beaches, jungles, fruit farms, and rice fields. Now  that I live near the city, you will frequently find me day dreaming about life in Northern Thailand or planning my next trip

Short Answer:

Top 3 movie or book recommendations:


  1. The Truman Show
  2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  3. American Beauty


  1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  2. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
  3. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari


  1. Justin Martin
  2. MK
  3. Rufus Du Sol


Favorite quote?

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”-Mark Twain


Favorite artwork?

I love all different kinds of artwork. My favorite Chicago street artist is JC Rivera. My favorite painter is Dan May. I have so many tattoo artists that I like too. I think my favorites are Iain Sellar and Kirk Jones. (I dream of getting tattooed by both one day) 


What is travel for you?

Travel to me is living in the country. –Not backpacking and going to the obvious tourist destinations. My idea of travel is experiencing the actual culture of an area by living it. I like to experience raw and unfiltered moments of a respective culture.


Why is traveling important?

To put it simply, travel is important because it broadens our perspective of what life is like elsewhere around the world. The things you experience while traveling cannot be read in books or accurately portrayed through films.


What do you think is the biggest issue facing the world today?

The biggest issue facing the world today is education!!! I truly believe that people around the world are not given the necessary educational opportunities to become successful. For example, at my first school in Thailand, my student’s education was based on the amount of tuition they paid. Just for some perspective, if a student paid 2000 baht per year, then they were in the ASEAN program. However, if a student was able to pay 20,000 baht per year, then they were guaranteed acceptance into the Mini English program which meant their instruction in English would be better. Although, I will state a disclaimer that I am in the education field so I acknowledge my views may be biased.


What do you hope to achieve from traveling?

I do not have an ultimate goal for my travels per se but I do have a goal for life which one could say incorporates traveling. I’ve always had a goal to understand the lives and cultures of as many humans as possible. We are all so different and where we have ‘roots’ has a huge impact on our differences.


What kind of traveler are you? 

I am more of an Eco-traveler. I enjoy roaming and exploring wherever I am traveling. And while I prefer nature I can still enjoy getting lost in an urban jungle too.


Favorite place you have been so far? Place you are going next? 

This is hard…Thailand is my favorite place so far, but I live here. I think my favorite place that I have traveled to is Vietnam. In my opinion,Vietnam had the perfect mix of city, history, nature, and FOOD.

The next country on my bucket list is Peru. I really want to see Machu Picchu and trek the trails in the area. The pictures of the area are just breathtaking. 

What is your motto?

To not be so quick to judge someone. I believe we all have struggles that we deal with on a daily basis and those struggles differ greatly from person to person. So just, you know, have some fucking sympathy for your fellow human.


What is a question you would most like to ask others?

I want to know what truly makes others happy. I find I have struggled a lot with this question myself because I think our societies present day idea of happiness is very skewed.


What do people accuse you of?

I am oftentimes argumentative. I always feel as though I have to defend myself.


What do you doubt most?

I doubt religion most because I believe it was started by people who were born into poverty in order to give them hope for a better life. I believe being a morally good human should be in our nature despite our social status or religious beliefs. We are social beings and have to interact with people from all walks of life. I just think we need to face the realities of life and rather than allowing religion to remain the only answer to our problems I hope that people will also invest in real time solutions that do not just give people false hope for the future.


If you could choose, what would you have for your last meal?

My last meal definitely consists of any Chicago food staples. Two of my favorites are either a well-done sausage deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s or a peanut butter chocolate cheese cake from Eli’s Cheesecake.


What would you never do no matter the price?

 I would never intentionally belittle someone.


If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?

 I want free and fair education for all.


What do you want to be when you grow up?

This has become a continual question of mine for the past few months especially. The honest answer is I have no idea. I originally wanted to become a principal but I cannot picture myself sitting in endless meetings.


Please feel free to ask Andrew questions in the comment section and if you are looking to connect or follow him, you can find his social media presence at the following platforms. 

Feel free to contact me:

Email: Swietonap@gmail.com

Instagram: the_sweed23





To Teach English Abroad or Not? -Experiencing Education in Foreign Countries

When one starts to consider the available options open to them for traveling to other countries, sometimes going through a program will be at the top of their lists. There are many jobs one can do while abroad that allows them to travel for longer periods of time and to get more involved in a respective country. So far, I have traveled and lived abroad in Thailand teaching English for roughly six months through two programs called API and OEG earlier this year.  I am currently living in Japan teaching English going through a program called JET to which my contract is for a full year but I have the option to stay for up to five years total. Many people have questions about traveling through programs like these as they are not for everyone and so I wanted to take some time to condense some information to consider highlighting what I took away from my experiences of them so far.

If you could take away one thing from the educational systems of foreign countries aside from the United States of America, what would it be? 

Education, speaking in a general sense, is universal. However, everyone has their own way of doing things and overall views on what is important. That being said, I have learned that there are no right or wrong ways of doing things in terms of a particular education system but rather pros and cons instead.


Why do you think it is important to be exposed to other Education systems?

I think it is important to be exposed to them because you learn about external things connected to education. For example, one has the opportunity to learn about the functionality of a respective government since they work closely with schools, you can learn about what a country really values because they prioritize those things in their curriculum and disciplining of the students, and you get an up close experience of different ways to do the same thing like teaching and learning in this context.


In what ways can you benefit from teaching in a foreign country? What are some of the difficulties you experienced from teaching in another country?


I became more open minded and adaptable from these experiences. I had an opportunity to experience culture in a different way. I learned very useful cultural things (ex. mannerisms (the wai in Thailand or  bowing in Japan), history, politics, values, opinions on topics relevant in that country, how to open a bank account (you sign with a stamp or inkan as opposed to signing with a signature in Japan), pay bills (you can pay most anything at 711s in both places), take care of different styles of housing like tatami mats and futons in Japan or why you cannot drink from the tap in Thailand and that having lizards in your house is something that is not uncommon. You have the pleasure of seeing the family dynamic up close. You learn kids are basically the same in every country… crazy little humans! They all feel, laugh, do not enjoy studying or doing homework, love to play. You see things that maybe you would like to improve or change but that is accompanied by learning how to feel your own opinions while respecting another culture. You might even find things you like better. You care about finding solutions to problems outside of your home country because by being exposed to another part of the world you feel more inclined to think in a holistic manner. Other people’s problems become more relevant and real to you. You learn how to redefine success to fit the circumstances you find yourself in. -It really can be found in many different forms too.



You can be exposed to things you fundamentally disagree with but cannot change. You might experience wonderful kids but find that they are not getting the attention or help they need because of cultural differences. I experienced this some with Thai classrooms that had varying levels of students and the students that knew the most material or understood a concept better would act out because they were not being challenged and so were likewise seen as ‘bad’ kids. You may feel isolated because even though you have shared experiences with other teachers, you will always be different. Language barriers make it hard to teach in the way you might want to. This also could keep you from being able to properly identify when a child is being bullied or help you to maintain good work relations with your coworkers.


What is your advice to someone looking to join a teaching program abroad who wants to radically change education systems in another country?

In my opinion, I actually think very little could or rather should be necessarily radically changed. You do not really have much control over things aside from your own opinion of the circumstances. Many of the things you would want to improve you lack the power to and one has to recognize that you are the foreigner in a different country. It is not always your place to change everything. I would advise one to take more of an objective approach in experiencing different ways of doing things and instead view them as an opportunity to learn, understand, and ultimately be culturally sensitive.


Pros and Cons of going through a program?


The JET program actually paid for my flight to Japan which took of a huge amount of original traveling expenses. They will also pay for my flight back home upon completion of this program. When you are working and traveling abroad, it allows you to have more disposable income for traveling within a country. You have more time to go further, budget your money and time wisely so you can see more things and really get to experience all seasons of a country. You have more time to get to know the culture properly and learn about it. Getting paid for an actual job allows you to take care of other responsibilities. For example it is not uncommon for JETs to pay off their student debt or save up enough money to help with large payments like a house in the future. You gain practical experience of the world around you as well as what it is like to work for a common goal alongside others through teaching and making lesson plans. You get to be a part of the lives of those whom are natives to a country and maybe even inspire them to travel to your home country one day. Programs like JET have good training beforehand on cultural things to be aware of. Maybe a word that you know in Japanese is not always appropriate to use in every setting. They offer general support to help with your overall well being like counseling services and advice on what to do if you find yourself needing to visit a hospital. I have found it is easier to contract with schools abroad although, it still is usually possible to contract with a school abroad without going through a program. Going through a program is a good way to get exposed to those who are going through the same experience as you at the same time. It does help to have support from other English speakers within a country where English is not the first language. They are good ways to network not only with current participants but past ones as well and this is a good way to minimize culture shock after you get back home because you have a community of people who shared in your experience ready to support you. Programs are also nice for helping to make sure all of the predeparture logistics are taken care of like passports, work visas, and other paperwork. Going through a prestigious program with a strong presence like JET which has been active for nearly thirty years also might help one to find another job upon completion of the program.


In relation to OEG I experienced a program not offering the support they originally said they did. You might experience some programs charging you ridiculous fees and taking unnecessarily large amounts of money from you which is why it is wise to do your research first. It may be that some programs turn out not to care as much about the students as you do. Some can really take advantage of your lack of knowledge about a place or the procedures of being able to work abroad.



In the end, I highly recommend people take advantage of participating in programs teaching abroad. I have grown tremendously as a person from being exposed to difficult and wonderful experiences while teaching. I definitely appreciate the length of time they allow me to stay in foreign countries as well as the things they allow me to learn about another place,  people, and more importantly, myself. Please let me know if you have any other questions about programs or my own experiences with them.


Matters of Reflection featuring: DOMINIQUE AUSTIN 

Who is Dominique Austin? 

I’m a 23 year-old African American woman and I’m currently pursuing my dream of living and attending school in my favorite city.  I live in Paris, France and am in a dual degree graduate program working to get degrees in both International Relations & Diplomacy as well as Strategic Negotiation.  My favorite thing about Paris is definitely the parks and gardens.  The flowers, statues, ponds, etc. are so beautiful to me, so that’s where I’m usually hanging out in my free time or I’m at an art expo with friends.


Short Answer: 

Top 3 book or movie recommendations:
1. “A Wrinkle in Time” Madeleine L’Engle

2. “The Prophet” Khalil Gibran

3. Gladiator (2000)


Favorite quote?

“For your life to change, you don’t need to desperately exert yourself. A cup of coffee, food that’s tastier than you can imagine, scenes you’ve not seen before, to meet new people. These trivial things change your life.” – Tatsuya Fujiwara


Favorite artwork?  

Anything by Monet


What is travel for you?  

Travel for me is of course a chance to see new things, experience a new culture, and meet new people. But (when traveling solo) it is also a chance for me to observe and reflect on everything that’s going on around me as well as within myself (emotions, thoughts, etc.).  It is during this time that I try to get a better understanding of myself while experiencing new tastes, sounds, and sights.


Why is traveling important?  

Traveling is important to me as a WOC and especially as a Black woman because of how much fun it is and how much you grow from it and the experiences it brings as well as the fact that the narrative surrounding African American women (and WOC in general) is that traveling abroad especially solo is not something that we can do.  I remember in undergrad (I attended a women’s college), other students (always WOC) coming up to me and saying things like “How did you do that?” or “I didn’t know we could do that” or “I didn’t know our school had those services” in regards to study abroad.


What do you hope to achieve from traveling?

On a personal level I just want to have new experiences but also (especially when traveling alone) continue to be confident in myself.  Traveling alone, can already be anxiety inducing, and traveling also as a Black woman can add to that feeling of fear or anxiousness.


What kind of traveler are you?

I’m definitely someone who likes to plan everything out.  Not to say that my trip is 100% planned but I do like to make a general itinerary for each day and make sure I can see different sites (just as if I were on a guided tour).  I also prefer walking to public transportation when I travel so I always make sure to bring a good pair of shoes. The types of things I tend to put in my itinerary are historical sites, cultural sites, and then any scenic parks or gardens where I can relax and look at the flowers.


Favorite place you have been so far?  

My favorite place would have to be Morocco where I studied abroad for one semester because of all of the amazing people I met there. Also the food.  But if we’re talking solo travel it would have to be Portugal (Albufeira). That was one of my first solo trips and I was a bit nervous about how it would go but I ended up having an amazing time and meeting great people along the way.


What is your motto?

“Be like the sun and you shall warm the earth”


What do you doubt most?

Honestly, myself.  I constantly find myself doubting my skills when my past experiences have proven that I am more than capable of handling a situation or attaining success. Thus, I’m currently working on being more confident in myself.


If you could choose, what would you have for your last meal?  

A giant chicken pastilla!!


What do you want to be when you grow up?

This is something I’m still ruminating on.  I’ve been thinking of working in development, specifically in French speaking Africa however; some things in my life have been changing and I’ve been wondering about how I individually could help the most people in need.  I want to make sure that whatever path I choose can have the most beneficial impact on people.


Please feel free to ask Dominique questions in the comment section and if you are looking to connect or follow her, you can find her social media presence at the following platforms. 


Instagram @domoisme17

Facebook: Dominique Austin