Patriots’ Day Weekend In Boston

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS

Locations: Lexington, Massachusetts; Concord, Massachusetts; Boston, Massachusetts; Wellesley, Massachusetts

A Future To Believe In

It is very rare in American politics these days to have a candidate running for high office who is sincere, genuine, and committed to his principles and ideals. A candidate who will not bow to the special interests, who will look out for all citizens and not just the wealthy few, and who has the ideas to make the United States a more fair, equal, and prosperous country. Because of these reasons, I am supporting  Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for President and why I will be voting for him in the upcoming Democratic primary in New York on April 19th.

While there is no such thing as the “perfect Presidential candidate”, Senator Bernie Sanders is the best choice not only for the Democratic Party but for the nation as a whole. He has served not only as a U.S. Senator for Vermont, but also as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Mayor of Burlington before that. For over thirty years, Senator Sanders has been a faithful and dutiful public servant. Over the course of his political career, he has always been a staunch defender for the rights of working class people, the middle class, and the poor.

From a young age of 22 when he was apart of the historic ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ along with Dr. King and other civil rights leaders, he has continuously fought for equality of opportunity and greater freedom for minorities, women, and the LGBT community. What is also notable to mention from his past was his willingness to participate in an anti-segregation protest in Chicago in 1963. Because he stood up for his beliefs, he ended up being arrested and was taken away by the police for living up to those principles of fairness, justice, and equality.

Mr. Sanders has made his Presidential campaign “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” He refuses to take money from SuperPACs unlike his Democratic and Republican rivals. He also does not accept donations from big corporations and the millionaires, billionaires of the country. He wishes to nominate Supreme Court justices who will attempt to overturn the disastrous Citizens United decision, which allowed large corporations the ability to donate huge sums of money to their favored candidates for elected office. I applaud his commitment to making his campaign about the individual supporters, donors rather than about corporate sponsorship and special interest contributions. More so than any other Presidential candidate in recent history, he has shown a commitment to running a national campaign that’s fueled and powered by the average voter.

In addition, I believe in his policy proposals for a national minimum wage of $15 per hour, a Medicare-for-all policy that would ensure universal health care for all U.S. citizens, and to reduce the incarceration rate significantly over time to end the unfortunate distinction of being the country that has the biggest prison population in the world. Over the past few weeks since I returned from Colombia, it has been a pleasure for me to knock on doors, make phone calls, and to volunteer for his campaign at the Washington Square Park rally on April 13th.

About 30,000 people attended one of the largest rallies of the 2016 election season at Washington Square Park this past Wednesday night to see Senator Bernie Sanders speak about his vision for America. As a volunteer at the event, I helped with crowd control by keeping the huge lines orderly and moving cordially. The atmosphere was filled with excitement and anticipation. The mood of the people attending the rally was happy and even joyous at times. It was a cold evening in lower Manhattan but you could feel the energy and the passion people felt about this particular campaign. In addition to Senator Sanders’ rousing one-hour stump speech, notable celebrities, public officials and figures also lent their voices during the massive rally. The most notable names were Tim Robbins, Spike Lee, Rosario Dawson, and Shailene Woodley.

I enjoyed the rally immensely and I was lucky enough to be close to the stage after a hectic day of volunteering and keeping order among the large crowds of people waiting in line. I shook Senator Sanders’ hand after the end of his speech and wished him well in Tuesday’s New York primary. It was an exciting moment for me and I was glad to be apart of such a large and historic campaign event. I can only hope that this rally will lead to a large turnout and a successful result at the polling places across New York State in just a few days from now.

While I usually avoid writing blog posts about politics, I have to make an exception in this case because I feel strongly about Bernie Sanders’ candidacy and believe that he is the best choice not only for the Democrats but for the country too. Similar to Candidate Obama in 2008, Candidate Sanders has created a lot of enthusiasm, held huge rallies, and has earned support from diverse groups of voters due to his campaign’s message and consistency.

Time will tell if his candidacy will be successful enough to be nominated as the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer and to continue on to the 2016 general election against the Republican nominee. However, so far, he has shocked all of his doubters and made it further than anyone would have originally thought possible. Despite what may happen in Tuesday’s New York primary and beyond, I know that I will continue to “Feel The Bern.”

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post represent solely my own and do not reflect or represent those of any outside party, organization, company, or group. Thank you.

 

Bernie Sanders Rally in NYC

“What the American people want to see in their president is somebody who not necessarily can win every fight, but they want to see him stand up and fight for what he believes in, and takes his case to the American people.”

-Bernie Sanders

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Washington Square Park; New York, New York

 

A Wealth of Knowledge

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“The sharing and exchange of knowledge is easier now than it has ever been in human history.”

There has been no other time in human history than in today’s era where the average person with access to the Internet can seemingly have unlimited amounts of information available to him or her. When you truly think about the magnitude of it, untold amounts of data are being created every day. According to IBM, “The current estimate is 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day and over 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years alone.”

A common response nowadays from both family and friends when I ask a question to them about a random query is not a straight-forward answer but rather an off-handed suggestion to “Google it.” Living in this era of ‘Big Data’ can be quite overwhelming to the average person but one could also look into it as an opportunity to gain knowledge and further ones’ understanding on a limitless amount of subjects with the simple click of a mouse. The Internet is an amalgamation of thousands of libraries of Alexandria at the beck and call of one’s fingertips.

Compared to past ages when information and knowledge was more exclusive and harder to come by, today’s era allows everyone with an Internet connection to search and find information to their heart’s content. Instead of going to a library to find what you need on a subject, websites like Google, Wikipedia, and other online encyclopedias have largely replaced the main role of the physical library. I remember when I was younger and in my high school days having to seek out certain books in order to write a research paper or complete a book report.

However, now more than ever, you can easily find the sources of information you need online in order to facilitate your research and evidence. While I love libraries and hope that they never go out of style, the reality is that online encyclopedias and eBooks are largely replacing their original purpose. In order for libraries to stay relevant, they need to start incorporating computers, free Wi-Fi, and technical classes in order to remain useful.

From the 18th to the 20th centuries, universities and colleges across America were the standard bearers and purveyors of higher education. Originally for the elite, wealthy, and well connected, those students who were able to get accepted and afford undergraduate and graduate studies believed that they would have an advantage in the job market and in achieving the American Dream. More recently, as colleges and universities have become more inclusive than exclusive, tuition prices have inversely risen as well.

While higher education has become accessible to more and more young Americans, it also has become more expensive especially over the past decade. These events have led to an ongoing debate as to whether college is really worth the price tag and whether the average student gains anything from earning a four-year degree. With student loan debt at an all-time high of $1.3 trillion in 2015 in the United States and tuition rates at both public and private universities continuing to rise, people are beginning to look for alternatives to the current higher education system.

Over the past decade, there has been a drastic proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) provided by both private companies and traditional universities. At a much lower price and sometimes free, people from all over the world can sign-up for these courses and partake in lectures, tests, quizzes, and papers as if they were actual enrolled undergraduate and graduate students at the physical form of the university. As the credentials and certifications bestowed upon these courses continue to increase and become more widely accepted, we may begin to see ‘the end of college’ as we know it.

Examples like Khan Academy, edX, Coursera, Udacity, etc. and other MOOCs have leveled the playing field. Tech entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley have allowed students from all over the world to access unlimited online courses to further their academic knowledge at a lower price. With the subsequent rise in online university programs for undergraduates and graduates, the physical college experience of dormitories, lecture halls, football stadiums, etc. may become less appealing to students as tuition prices continue to increase. While the social and networking benefits of college life are numerous, they may not be enough to compete with this era of free information that we are living in.

Compared to past decades, we’re living in a time when access to the Internet is at an all-time high and is increasingly rapidly due to the rise of mobile technology. Traditional havens of knowledge such as the library or the public university will have to adapt to stay relevant in this unlimited information age. In a worldwide job market that is evolving rapidly and where the average child today will work in an industry not yet created, the free exchange of knowledge must continue to spread through the worldwide web.

Countless others and I have benefited from taking online coding courses on ‘Codeacademy’ to learning new languages on ‘Duolingo.’ As MOOCs and online universities continue to develop their courses and credentials, we may begin to see an era where the average person can earn a degree or two without breaking the bank. MOOCs are cheaper, less time intensive, and can adapt more easily to the rapidly changing employment market.

A well-educated population is now more possible now than ever with the wealth of knowledge and information that is available. That fact is evident but it also is up to the individual to be willing to search for that information and actually apply it. Instead of getting frustrated with people asking me to ‘Google’ the answer, I find that it’s worth the hassle because it’s often true that I will find the answers I’m looking for and in greater detail than if I were to ask a friend or family member for a quick description. That’s the power of the Internet. That’s the wealth of knowledge that we are able to take advantage of.

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The Limits of Perception

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“Do you see what I see?”

“Perception” is an interesting word when you think deeply about it. No, I’m not just talking about your two eyes, and the vision that allows you to perceive the world visually. In other words, we can only perceive the experiences that we have or had in the past, the people we met, the places we visited and lived in, and the choices that we make or made.

Human beings are mortal which means we have limited time on this Earth to see and experience all that life has to offer. For some people, this is a very frightening and gloomy notion. However, others would see this fact as a way to get the most out of life and expand their perception of the world as much as possible.

A limited “perception” of life and the world has consequences when you think about it. If you don’t have the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes or to imagine or experience life as they do, then your ability to emphasize with them would be diminished. Yes, you can have sympathy for their plights or jubilation for their successes but you wouldn’t be able to connect with them on a deeper level.

A consistent problem in human nature is our lack of ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see life as they do. When we are unable to break down barriers between social classes, races, religions, and gender, disagreements and hostilities between these groups is likely to continue. From my perspective and my past travels, the similarities of humans around the world drastically outweigh the differences. That doesn’t mean that these differences are bad or that they should be eliminated. I happen to believe that cultural and social differences are part of what makes humanity unique and should not be demonized.

This leaves the question that my blog readers would wonder to themselves hopefully after reading this entry: How do I expand my perception of life and the world around me? Now, when I ask this question, I do not mean for you to go out to the nearest pharmacy and get yourself some contacts or a pair of prescription glasses.

What I mean and what I believe is that we humans have limited time on Earth and we can’t live forever to experience everything and to meet everybody around the world. However, there are ways to expand this perception by traveling the world, reading books, and meeting different kinds of people. These three concepts are not crazy ideas but rather novel concepts to create greater empathy in yourself and for others along with a more profound view of humanity as a whole.

Traveling has always had the highest return on investment for me and the experiences I have had have helped me view the world in a different way. I know that it’s not feasible for everyone to travel but if you can’t make a huge jump to another country, try to travel to different places and cities within your own country. Learning about the local culture and customs, enjoying the local cuisine, and indulging in the history and background of the society are important for any seasoned traveler.

You will start to view the world in shades of grey rather than pure black and white. You would also learn that cultures and societies are complex and that it takes a lot of time to immerse yourself in its deeper reaches. Most of all, you are communicating in a different language which is fascinating and complex in its own right. Above all else, you are seeing the commonalities and similarities that exist between your family and their family, your town and their town, and your country and their country.

Meeting new people from different backgrounds and places ties into traveling as well but it really makes your perception of the world grow. If you stay in the same town where you grow up and never leave, chances are that you’ll have a limited perception of people and life itself. Talking to different people, hearing their stories, cooking with them, and sharing a meal or drink has many benefits. You may be able to build a friendship that lasts for years even if you don’t speak the same language or come from the same culture.

By hearing their story and listening to them, you expand your own perception of the world and the people who inhabit it. You can get beyond the stereotypes and the clichés and really get into deeper social connections with people, especially in this interconnected world that we all live in.

Lastly, reading books is an integral park for learning about the world and facilitating a deeper perception. As individuals, we cannot experience everything or know everything there is to know. However, by reading about the stories of others who have come before you and who had lived, and died, you will gain greater knowledge and wisdom. Regardless of whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, you’re reading someone’s life story or reading about a subject that spans a part of human history.

Book by book, you are enlightening yourself by learning about the experiences and perceptions of others. By learning about the men and women who have come before you and who have lived exemplary and distinguished lives, you can take lessons from their existence and apply those lessons to your own life. If you can’t travel or meet different kinds of people, reading books by those authors who have and whom shared those unique experiences with their readers is the next best thing.

We all have one live to life, and you can only see what’s right in front of your eyes. Make sure that you continue to give yourself the opportunities and chances to indulge in the knowledge and wisdom that can be gained by expanding your perception of the world and its inhabitants. Travel, read books, and meet different people for as long as you may live. Only then will you gain true enlightenment and wisdom.

Dealing with Adversity

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“There is always something positive that comes out of something negative.”

“Remind thyself, in the darkest moments, that every failure is only a step toward success, every detection of what is false directs you toward what is true, every trial exhausts some tempting form of error, and every adversity will only hide, for a time, your path to peace and fulfillment.”
―Og Mandino

Anybody who has ever lived has faced adversity and struggles that test one’s resolve and fortitude. How someone deals with these challenges and setbacks can show you their true character. I used to live under the assumption that everything will go smoothly if you work hard, play by the rules, and do your best. Recent events in my life have shown this hypothesis to not be true. Life is not fair sometimes and it is extremely important to adapt to this fact rather than to fight it head on.

We can curse our misfortunes but it is much better to move on and look to the future. The worst thing that someone dealing with adversity can do is to wallow in self-pity and to be endowed with guilt. The past won’t change but the future is still in your hands to shape. I am glad that I am aware of the realities of the world now while I’m still young rather than to be surprised by them at a later age. If a goal you strived for vanishes into thin air or a dream that you thought would be yours disappears, it does no good to consider what might have been but to plan instead on what could still be.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that over these past two weeks I’ve felt a range of emotions ranging from anger to sadness. I was in denial at first about what happened to me and why it happened to me. Initially, I could not accept what I could not change. I went through the five stages similar to the popular model of ‘Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.’ Luckily, I did not suffer a personal loss or suffer from a serious ailment but I was crushed by the news that I would not be continuing on the adventure that I started eighteen months ago when I filled out my first application form.

It is difficult to deal with these painful emotions and feelings but it is far better to embrace them rather than to let them bottle up inside of you and fester on and on. I would have loved to continue the good work that I was doing and to finish the job that I had signed up for. Unfortunately, life has other plans for me and I am willing to embrace the challenges that lie ahead. Luckily, we live in a world where there are plenty of opportunities and possibilities available to those of us who are willing to work hard and to use our knowledge.

Clearly, I am not the only person to ever suffer setbacks and misfortunes. Many exemplary leaders and icons of history were unsuccessful in their initial hopes and dreams before greatness found them later on in their lives. The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, had many personal misfortunes and professional failures happen to him before he became elected to the highest office in the land. He lost lovers and family members, failed in business, was defeated multiple times for elected office, and dealt with mental health struggles all throughout his life.

However, he never gave up because he knew what he was worth, had faith in himself and his abilities. He displayed a strong intellect and a strong drive to be great. President Lincoln had a lasting impact on my country and the world. This would not have been possible if he had simply given up when he encountered all of these adversities and disappointments. His story is a continual inspiration for me and for others who have been dealt a personal or professional blow to their lives.

How would our world be different today if inventors like Edison had given up after his 900th try at inventing the lightbulb or if geniuses like Einstein had listened to those teachers / headmasters who told him that he was lazy, dumb, and not worth the effort? If you don’t have confidence or don’t believe in yourself, you are not going to get very far in life.

While it’s pleasant to have other people think highly of you and give you praise, there will be other times where they’ll tell you that you’re not good enough and that you don’t belong there. If there is anything that I want the readers of this blog post to realize is that you can’t let anybody else stand in the way of your goals and dreams. They may have good intentions and think that they know what’s best for you but you have to decide that for yourself.

When I was younger, I was naïve to think that everything would go smoothly in my life and that I could control every outcome. Especially after what happened to me recently, I know that this notion is unrealistic. There are certain aspects of your life that you have some control over and there are other aspects that are completely out of your control. I do not regret the past nine weeks that I spent in Colombia, and I am proud of the good work that I was doing. I am happy for my fellow CII-8 trainees and wish them all the best as they become volunteers and move on to their communities for the next two years of service. I was grateful for the opportunity and have some good memories from this experience that I will remember fondly.

The future is unclear at the moment but I look forward to the opportunities and possibilities that lay ahead. I know that I will continue to write and develop this personal blog that I started eight months ago. I believe that there are many adventures that lie ahead for me in my life. I will continue to have faith in myself and my abilities. Dealing with this particular adversity will make me a stronger and more mature person in the long run. I have a strong mind, a strong body and I am confident that I will get through this momentary setback. Your past does not define you and the future is yours for the taking. Always remember that.

First and Last Projects

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“Teamwork makes the dream work.”

As apart of my training program to become a Volunteer for Peace Corps – Colombia, my fellow trainees and I have worked hard over these past weeks and months in developing and implementing mini-projects in partnership with our community here in different ways.

Overall, there have been three community projects that we have been working on over these past two months. All of us trainees together have worked on a ‘Limpieza La Comunidad’ or ‘Cleaning up the Community’ project with local citizens in an effort to make the parks and the local river here cleaner and safer for everyone. So far, we have conducted two clean-ups so far during the weekends which have at the central park of our town and then most recently at the ecological park and the area near the football stadium.

It has been a real joy to work with the young people of the community especially. The children and teenagers, who have helped us with the clean-up process the most. They have been extremely enthusiastic and willing to pitch in to assist and work with us. I have worked with one child in particular, named Jesus, age eight, who has helped me specifically with picking up the trash and sweeping the leaves. For both times where we have had our clean-up project in different parks, Jesus has been there to be my partner and help me with my big trash bag. I hope that after we leave for our volunteer sites in mid-April that the children, teenagers, and young people of our current community will become the next leaders of this clean-up effort and will continue these projects and make a sustainable difference in their town.

In addition, my colleagues and I have been able to create two mini-projects related to English education here in the community. A few of my fellow trainees have started a ‘reading buddies’ after-school program where they have read books alongside children and teenagers over the past couple of weeks. Others and myself have worked hard to create a community English class based around conversation lessons that have taken place on Thursday nights and during the weekends.

My fellow trainees and I have split the hours of teaching between ourselves and now provide about three hours a week between the three of us in giving conversational lessons in basic English to those members of the community who want to learn and expressed sincere interest to us in attending our classes. I have been very pleased with the turnout for my community class on Thursday nights and the hard work, engagement that my students have had so far for learning conversational English.

Eight adults showed up for my first class last week and I hope that they will continue coming to class over the next few weeks. For this program, I also hope to designate a leader(s) to continue having English classes within the community. If possible, I will select an adult with the English skills necessary in order to teach his fellow Colombians and keep the class going into the future. I always think back about how lucky I was in the past to pursue my passion for foreign languages and how I was able to take Turkish and Arabic classes at night and also attend Spanish conversation groups as well. It has been great giving that same opportunity to those adults interested in learning my language and developing their conversational proficiency.

Lastly, my fellow trainees and I have successfully completed recently two separate training sessions for the English teachers in our community. The topics have focused around creating speaking and listening activities for their students in an interactive way, as well as working on the pronunciation of difficult sounds in the English language. Both ‘charlas’ or teacher training sessions have been well attended; the teachers were enthusiastic about sharing what they had learned from us and applying this knowledge in their classrooms for the future.

As our first projects finish up over the next few weeks, I can say that we made a meaningful impact in our community during our training program. Each of the trainees has worked hard, provided a lot of time and effort, and have developed good relationships with the local community too. I believe that we can hold our heads up high as we head into April 2016 and the beginning of our formal volunteer service here in Colombia.