A Sense of Wonder

If you were to define the word ‘wonder’, you would characterize it as meaning a feeling of amazement or admiration caused by seeing or witnessing something beautiful, unexpected, captivating, and inexplicable. When you are a child, it’s easy to have that sense of wonder about the world. Your sense of curiosity and disbelief is quite high and your imagination can run wild believing in the possibilities of the unknown.

Even as we grow older and become adults, we still have a sense of wonder that never fully leaves us and is part of our essence as human beings. While you may not have the same sense or amount of wonder as you did when you were a child, it’s important to never fully extinguish that feeling and to let it stay within you even if you are an adult or in your elderly years.

Having a sense of wonder connects you to your childhood years and reignites the kid within you because that part of your being never truly goes away unless you let it. By maintaining that curiosity and desire to know about the world, this helps us keep our sense of wonder about life and its’ beauty. It can be easy nowadays to be jaded about the state of the world and to think that everything is going to hell in a handbasket.

While there are certainly serious problems to be fixed in our ever-changing and complicated world, being doom and gloom about it 24 / 7 won’t make you feel any better. You have to maintain the ability to never be too down or be too up about your surroundings. While there can be a lot of ugliness to be found, there is also a staggering amount of beauty to be in awe about.

I believe that it can be much easier to see things through a negative lens and seek out the ugliness in life. It’s harder yet much more rewarding to seek out the beauty and wonder that you can find if you know where to look. You also have to take the time to enjoy the beauty of things and open yourself up to the beauty of the world. While it may be cliché to state this, you have to have an open heart and an open mind. If you close yourself off to the wonders of life, you’ll never really be able to appreciate them fully.

A sense of wonder has to be cultivated over a long period of time and doesn’t happen overnight. When you are a child, you’re amazed by anything and almost everything new and unique. As you get older and you experience more of life, it can be more and more difficult to feel amazement or be captivated by life. Each person has a different sense of wonder, and different things amaze different people. When I think about wonder though, there are a few things that cause me to feel that unexpected thrill or captivation.

I think most people would agree that a sunrise or a sunset could really create awe and wonder in a person. The colors and the vibrancy of the environment when the sun lights up your world at dawn’s break or when it fades into darkness to make way for the stars and night sky; those moments can truly captivate a person’s imagination. You could also make the case that when you witness the sunrise from a mountain top or see the sun set from the backdrop of a vast ocean, witnessing those natural occurrences are too beautiful to be put into words.

Sunrises and sunsets never get old for me because they are never the same and they are always different depending upon which environment you’re witnessing them in. It only takes a few minutes to stop what you’re doing in your hectic day-to-day life to really enjoy the spectacle of the sun’s rising and setting. It’s also a reminder about how our time here on Earth is limited and that there are cosmic occurrences that happen beyond our control and our understanding.

I think this is mainly why solar eclipses are so powerful to witness in person because you’re seeing an event that is beyond human control and that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime. Those men, women, and children who traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to see the recent solar eclipse occur across the continental United States are in touch with their sense of wonder, and they believe in its’ ability to make you feel astonished, wowed, and even humbled.

Witnessing the sun’s and the moon’s movements aren’t the only ways to cause yourself to feel wonder though. There are hundreds, if not thousands of possibilities out there that will make your jaw drop in disbelief. I have always thought of photography as a good way to capture the wonders of the world, and I have taken many photos throughout my previous travels in order to really remember those special moments of life when I was on the road. Beyond just taking photos, it’s really wonderful to interact with your environment by jumping in a freezing lake, hiking up a mountain, smelling different flowers in a garden, rafting down a streaming river, etc. Those moments really make you feel alive and help to maintain a sense of wonder about the world.

You don’t have to travel, take photos, or be an adventure junkie to have a sense of wonder though. If you’re willing to challenge yourself by learning new things and bettering yourself, that will help you maintain a healthy curiosity about life and a thirst for knowledge. Whether its’ learning a new trade, developing a website, or speaking a new language, the pursuit of knowledge in different areas is a great idea and the things you will learn about yourself and the world around you will captivate and excite you. If you’re curious, confident, and willing to have an open mind, the world will teach you many things if you open yourself up to the possibilities.

Never let the flame inside you go out. As a child, you definitely did not have worry about wonder because you always had it and every day, you most likely had energy and a curiosity not easily extinguished. However, when you get older and more accustomed to the ways of the world, it can be very tempting to think of everything as mundane, childish, and routine, but that’s simply not how it should be.

However, The differences that occur when you’re a teenager or a fully-grown adult is that you have to pursue the wonder for yourself. You have to take the time and put yourself out there to figure out what really captivates you. Everybody has a unique way of seeing the world but make sure it’s not always from a serious and pessimistic point of view. Let yourself be wowed by the unknown or by the newly discovered. Pursue the passions and the beauty in life based on what fills your heart or your mind up.

For some, it may be playing Jazz music and for others, it may be hiking through the mountains. The best thing about experiencing wonder is that it is ever-present in our lives but you have to be aware of what reaches out to you and touches your soul. Most people live out their lives not fully embracing the wonders around them.

You have to be always on the lookout for what fills your heart up with joy and happiness whether it’s a watching beautiful sunset over the water, viewing an original painting by Claude Monet, or playing Beethoven in a symphony orchestra as your friends and family sit in the audience. Always be looking out for the wonders in life, otherwise, you’ll never find them at all.

Five Steps to Making Language Gains Quickly

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“Which direction are you headed in?”

Getting better at a foreign language or achieving an advanced level of proficiency in one is not an easy task. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Regardless of which language you’re focusing on, it can months or even years to get the hang of it. Depending upon how much hard work and effort you put in, you are going to likely improve quicker and remain committed to the process of becoming bilingual or multilingual. Certain people are going to pick up language(s) quicker because they may have a natural talent for it or because they truly enjoy learning the subject and find it easy to excel in.

However, even if you’re not naturally gifted or don’t pick it up quickly, you can still get ahead and make gains in the language through a number of ways. As someone who has studied foreign languages for over half of my life and has also taught English as a Second Language for a few years now, I have a pretty good idea at what separates those students who are going to succeed in their language studies and those students who are likely to fail.

Even though, you may want to be fluently writing in Japanese or speaking to friends in Spanish, you have to put the work in even if language learning happens to come easy to you. It won’t happen overnight but the process can be sped up if you want to boost your ability to learn with a few key steps that I will highlight in the rest of this post. Take these five steps that I will flesh out to heart because it could mean the difference between you being at an advanced level in a year rather than being stuck at the intermediate stage. You don’t have to do all of my five recommend steps to make language gains quickly but it’s definitely recommended to try our at least one or two of them for your own personal benefit as a student of foreign languages.

  1. Be Consistent

While not the most noteworthy recommendation, some language learners forget to put the work in on a consistent basis. If you happen to work five hours on one day specifically on learning a language, that sounds great on paper but if you happen to neglect the six other days of the week, then you’re not really going to make any progress. This is partly why if you study a foreign language in a school or at a university, you’re going to usually have classes four or five days a week so that it stays fresh in your mind. One or two hours per night five or six days a week will go a long way for you and your learning language goals.

Being consistent and responsible in your hours of study will pay off much greater dividends than cramming all of your language studies into one night for a bunch of hours. It’s likely that your brain and memory will be so overwhelmed by all of that information if you cram it into one night that you won’t be able to remember anything you learned by the next week or month. When it comes to any academic subject including foreign languages, you should listen to wise words of a popular phrase that I remember from my high school days: “It’s better to study smart, then it is to study hard.” Don’t overwhelm yourself, stay committed to a language study schedule, and remember to take one day off instead of five or six days off to retain the vocabulary, grammar, phrases, etc. that you have been learning.

  1. Use Both Online and Offline Resources

We live in an amazing time and I would argue that it’s easier than ever to learn a foreign language if you’re willing to do your research, both online and offline. When it comes to online resources, there is almost a limitless amount of information that you can discover dealing with the study of a foreign language. Whether it’s grammar, vocabulary, listening, writing activities, etc. you’re likely to find what you need in order to study and improve if you make the effort to research carefully. In addition to that, it’s easier now than ever to do a language exchange with a native speaker through the medium of an online platform such as Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. You can also use a website like Meetup.com to find a social group to meet up, hang out, and practice your target language with if you happen to live in a big city or large town.

Beyond just online resources, you can network in person by offering to have coffee for an hour with a native speaker of the language you’re learning and if you haven’t had success with Meetup, you can enroll in language classes for a fee at either a foreign language center, community college, or at a local university of note. It’s much easier to make language gains when you live in a big city and have a good amount of money to spare for some formal classes. However, not everybody in the world has that luxury, which leads me to my next step.

  1. Invest in a Private Tutor / Teacher

As mentioned before, not everybody can live in a big city or have the ability to pay for classes at a university or a language center. However, if you can make the more affordable investment of getting a private tutor, it will save you some money and you will be able to practice directly, one-on-one with a native speaker and teacher of the target language.

Usually, a private tutor or teacher who you meet with face to face in person is going to be a bit more expensive than an online tutor. If you prefer to be physically present with your tutor to make it easier for you to learn and clarify the content that you’re absorbing, you may prefer to shell out the extra money for them to meet you at a café or to make a house call to your home and apartment.

However, if you are on a budget, don’t have access to a native speaker of the language you’re learning in your current location because you’re in a small town, don’t live near a foreign language center, etc. you should consider getting an online tutor or teacher. Even though you won’t be physically in the same room as your tutor, you’ll still be able to learn new material, go through lessons together, speak in the target language, and be able to complete homework and classwork to improve your fluency. Online tutors also tend to be less expensive as an investment when compared to real life tutors or to enroll in group classes.

You have to consider how much time you have to devote to the foreign language you’re learning and what your budget is. The cheapest and least expensive option is to have a free exchange of languages if you have a friend or colleague who wants to improve at your language in exchange for them teaching you their language. If you are particularly interested in learning a foreign language online, you should check out platforms like Verbling or Italki.

  1. Immerse Yourself (Books, Music, Movies, TV)

Another great way to boost your foreign language abilities is by seeking out opportunities outside of the classroom or textbook to brush up on your knowledge. Through a variety of media that is available both online and offline, you can spend an hour or two each day going through books, music (songs), movies, TV shows, etc. to listen and absorb the language you’re learning. For example, when you’re reading a book in a foreign language, you can highlight the words that you do not know and find out the meaning with a dictionary. You can also look up news articles online and take the time to translate the sentences and paragraphs from the foreign language into your own language.

You can immerse yourself more deeply into the culture behind the language you’re learning by being exposed to the songs and dances whose lyrics you’ll be able to study and analyze. In addition, you can pick up a lot of a language when you watch a popular TV Show, Movie, or other program. You can not only pick up a lot of a foreign language by spending some time listening to the language and interacting with it but also by observing the host culture(s), and finding out more about the individual expressions and phrases that also make this language you’re studying unique in its’ own ways.

  1. Move Overseas

To save the best and most important step for last, if you want to immerse yourself fully and take your foreign language studies to the next level, you’re going to want to move overseas for a period of time for some intense study of the language. You can watch a lot of movies, you can take a lot of classes, and you can study five or six nights out of the week, but moving to a country where they speak the language you’re learning as a fact of life will challenge your language skills and abilities as never before and put you to the test. Out of the five steps that I mentioned, this one will be the most beneficial to your language studies and also make the biggest impact on your life. I cannot recommend it enough for you as the student to go overseas for as long as you need to improve your language skills and improve as much as you can.

Even if you can only make it overseas for a cultural / language study exchange program for a month or two, you should take advantage of an opportunity like that. Also, if you happen to be in university and have the chance to study abroad for a semester or even a year, you should really do it especially if you’re committed to mastering the foreign language you’ve chosen. Foreign language learning doesn’t have to end even after you have earned your diploma.

You can continue to make trips to those countries where the language is the official one into the future. Other options include taking a gap year off from work or school to devote yourself to language study while you’re traveling around the world. If you are TEFL certified and want to learn a foreign language at the same time, you can move overseas to teach your language to students while receiving lessons from a teacher in that country as well as being immersed in the culture at the same time. There are tons of options out there so if you want to boost your language skills as much as possible, moving overseas for a long period of time could be a great chance for you.

There is no ‘magic bullet’ that will guarantee you perfect, almost native-like fluency in a foreign language. It’s a goal that takes a lifetime to master and even then you’ll still make mistakes and may retain your accent while speaking the language. Learning a foreign language is a lifetime project and is a skill that has to be consistently studied and improved upon.

It’s a common fact that the younger a person is when they start a foreign language, the better off they’ll be. If you start learning Chinese at five years old, you’ll be at a clear advantage when compared to somebody who is first starting a language at twenty years old. The younger a learner is when it comes to a foreign language, the more vocabulary and grammar they’ll be able to retain.

However, it’s important to not be discouraged about this fact even if you’re starting a foreign language in your 20’s and 30’s. With hard work and determination, you can still make a lot of progress especially if you follow these five steps. You can boost your level quicker than usual if you consider implementing these useful steps in your weekly or daily routine.

It’s also a positive that after you learn your first foreign language well, it’s likely to be easier for you when it comes to getting a high proficiency for your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th foreign language. Anything worth doing in life does not come easy so you have to decide how much the study of languages means to you personally. However, with the five steps that I have outlined in detail for you as the reader, you will be able to learn the language well, improve quickly, and reach your goals as a student to develop this crucial skill for the 21st century.

If you liked this article of mine and you are looking to improve your English language skills, please consider the option of having me as your private tutor. You can find out more information about this opportunity at https://benjweinberg.com/learn-english-with-me/. Whether it’s a lesson through Verbling, Italki, or another platform, I’d be happy to work with any English language student from around the world in their quest to achieve an advanced proficiency in my mother tongue. Good luck!

Steve Jobs – ‘On Failure’

It’s not often when the average person can gleam some wisdom or some insight from a YouTube video but there are exceptions to this fact when you start to dig deeper. One of these videos that I enjoyed viewing focuses on the late Steve Jobs, the innovative and driven entrepreneur, who was the co-founder of Apple Inc. and for the later half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century helped lead the computer and smartphone revolution around the world. While most people may know him from his appearances at developers’ conferences where he would unveil Apple’s latest invention or innovation, there is a side to Steve Jobs that some folks may overlook.

Steve Jobs wasn’t always a great success and had many failures throughout his life. Fired by the company he co-founded and having gone through product setbacks such as with the Apple III and the NeXT computer, not everything went the right way for the legendary entrepreneur at first. However, these setbacks and failures are obscured today but the massive amount of success and innovation he would bring to the world by sticking to his principles and by always taking the initiative to ‘stay hungry’ for more.

The YouTube video I’m referencing in this blog post is titled, “Steve Jobs on Failure” has over one million unique views and has been up on the website for over six years. In the video, most likely set in the 1990’s, a young Steve Jobs talks about one particular time where he took the initiative that was driven by his innate curiosity. At the beginning of the video, Jobs talks about the fact that most people don’t have the experiences they should because they never ask or inquire about them to begin with. Mr. Jobs hints at the fact that he was never afraid to ask for help from other people, especially if they were in his field of work and would be able to assist him in some way by giving him advice or by mentoring him in some capacity.

The adult Steve Jobs in the video recounts how when he was only twelve years old, he called up Bill Hewlett, the engineer and co-founder behind the massively successful information technology company known worldwide as Hewlett Packard or HP, which similarly to Apple Inc., is also based out of Silicon Valley in California. The twelve-year old Jobs introduced himself to Mr. Hewlett and simply asked him directly for help with building a frequency counter. Little Steve asked Mr. Hewlett for some spare parts that could be used in order to build an effective frequency counter. The young Steve Jobs left quite an impression on Mr. Hewlett, so much so that the co-founder of HP gave him the spare parts as well as a summer job working on an assembly job working with the nuts and bolts that help make the frequency counters at Hewlett Packard work effectively.

You can tell the way from the way that Steve reacts to Mr. Hewlett’s genuine help and generosity with giving him a job and a start to his future in information technology that it meant a lot to him both personally and professionally. Certain moments like that in our lives when somebody really gives a chance and helps us along the way to having a brighter future is a lasting memory that simply does not go away. We can only speculate what might have happened if Mr. Hewlett had instead just hung up the phone on young Steve and not helped him out at all. The world could very much be a different place had Steve not gotten that positive feedback and mentorship that we all seek in our own lives.

“I’ve never found anyone who said ‘No’ or hung up the phone when I called…I just asked.” Steve knew that there was a chance at failure when it came to reaching out to others in his field but he knew also that he had to try in order to get ahead in his life. He had to put himself out there, make connections, and learn from others in order to build his company and create successful products. I think Steve realizes that he would not be where he was as an adult without the help he received from others throughout his life. The video shows his sense of gratitude for that assistance and that he is wise enough to remember to give back to other people as well who want to be in his position one day or to be successful like he was.

“Most people never pick up the phone and call…most people never ask.” Steve is right in his assertion that those who don’t reach out for help or don’t seek out opportunities will never get to where they want to be in life. He makes the correct distinction between those people who take the initiative and those other people who let opportunities pass them by. You can dream and wish for things to happen for yourself but unless you put the pen to the paper or put your phone to your ear, you won’t accomplish that much.

Lastly, Steve notes in this video that ‘you have to be willing to fail…you got to be willing to crash and burn.” Steve Jobs like many other inventors and innovators had multiple failures beset them but they did not give up and they were not afraid to fail. Through failure, we learn from our mistakes and we get better and better at what we are trying to accomplish. With enough hard work and effort, we can push forward to achieve what we set out to do originally and so much more. When an Apple product failed to gain traction or when he was forced out of his own company, Steve Jobs like many other successful men and women did not give up and go home. They learned from their mistakes and became better at what they do.

“If you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.” To put it bluntly, failure happens to everybody. Nobody in the world succeeds 100% of the time at everything they do. People like Steve Jobs recognize that this is all too true but it doesn’t deter them from their goals because they won’t stop until they achieve what they want to accomplish. In order to turn those failures into successes, you need to have an indomitable will and to let nothing stand in your way.

Instead of blaming your failures on others or giving up after a few bumps in the road, you should continue to embrace the learning process and seek help from those other people who have been successful in their lives and would be willing to offer their help to you. Steve Jobs did not become one of the most important men of the 20th century by being afraid of failure or from doing it all on his own. He sought the advice and counsel of others while never giving up even when things looked pretty bleak. That kind of mindset that he explains in the video helps us to understand why he became so successful in his life and how we can learn from his words to become successful in our own lives.

Comuna 13

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

LocationMedellin, Colombia

Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Machu Picchu, Peru

The Wonder of Machu Picchu

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“The hardest yet most rewarding part of my visit: Hiking to the top of Huayna Picchu mountain.” 

There are few places in the world, which you can truly regard as being special and awe-inspiring. We describe these places as being a ‘wonder’ of humanity and one that represents our brief yet influential time on this planet. Before I came to Machu Picchu, I believed that the only other place that would classify as a ‘wonder’ to me would be the archaeological site of Petra in southern Jordan. A ‘wonder’ both of history and of architecture that goes back thousands of years is what sets apart places like Machu Picchu in Peru and Petra in Jordan. These places that touch on the cultural and historical legacy of man are what drive us to be resolute in protecting these artifacts of mankind and making sure that they are around for future generations.

I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to have visited Machu Picchu just recently a couple of days ago. For those who don’t know, Machu Picchu is quite isolated from any major modern city or town but is possible to get to by train and bus due to the wonders of modern technology. Situated between towering mountains and located alongside the flowing Urubamba river, Machu Picchu is not only a wonder of Incan architecture and construction but is also a natural marvel due to the backdrop it has with the surrounding green mountains, wispy clouds, and the numerous kinds of plants that inhabit this part of Peru.

Among the things that stand out about Machu Picchu is that you feel isolated from the rest of the world. It may be the towering mountains that surround this archaeological site or it could be the fact that wispy clouds envelop your presence but you feel very that you’re secluded from other kinds of environment. The higher you climb in elevation, the world gets much quieter and you’re able to reflect more on not only the site of Machu Picchu that lays before you but also about life or whatever is on your mind in general.

I’m far from being an expert on ancient civilizations, especially the Incan civilization of which I know relatively little about but you have to give the people of this group considerable admiration and awe by the fact that they were able to build such a city in the most remote of places. The fact that it was possible for them to create an infrastructure out of rocks, stone, and wood in order to sustain themselves under ever-changing weather conditions is quite remarkable.

To be able to plant and harvest food, create a running water supply, and be able to construct encampments to house hundreds of Incans is very impressive to consider. Not only was there a high risk of death or injury to climb these mountains with heavy rocks or stones attached to your backs, it is likely that you would be on your own if you sustained serious injuries given that there were no modern medicines or hospitals or rely upon.

It is difficult for me to list a favorite thing about my trip to Machu Picchu. I really enjoyed climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu at 2,700 meters in total altitude despite my exasperated breath and tired knees. The views from this perching point above Machu Picchu are extraordinary and are something that I will never forget. Besides being able to take a bunch of pictures, it was great to sit and reflect on the wonder that lay before me. At a couple of thousand meters in the air, all your problems dissipate for a moment and you can truly hear the sound of the wind and the movements of the clouds. You can close your eyes and hear nothing but the sound of your own thoughts if you are so lucky.

Thanks to the efforts of the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, Machu Picchu is amazingly well preserved and should be around for future generations to enjoy. A limited amount of tourists, a couple of hundred in total per day can visit Machu Picchu and is a good idea to make sure that none of these famous Incan ruins will be damaged, tampered with, or destroyed. To lose such a precious treasure such as Machu Picchu or any other wonder of the world would be a tragedy for humanity and its’ history on this planet. While it was not cheap to get to Machu Picchu, I can fully understand why we as tourists pay the costs of admissions to visit these beautiful sites.

We do it to make sure that other people have the chance to experience these places firsthand and are able to share it with their children and grandchildren. I am quite lucky to have been able to visit such a wondrous place and I will remember my day at Machu Picchu quite fondly. If you’re reading this blog post and desire now to visit Machu Picchu, I would recommend that you do it with the knowledge that you do some research about the place, respect it during your visit, and do your best to take the experience in not just through your camera lens or smartphone but through your own eyes and ears.

To me, Machu Picchu is more than a lost Incan city of hundreds of years ago; it is a beautiful and awe-inspiring place of natural scenery. With its’ many mountains, huge river, and hundreds of diverse plants, this place can help you reflect not only about the past but on the present and future of yourself, humanity, and the planet itself. With any tourist site that’s located in a unique location, precautions and steps must be undertaken to make sure you have an enjoyable visit. Please make sure you bring some sunscreen, an umbrella, appropriate clothing and a lot of water. The weather can be quite unpredictable at Machu Picchu and it would be good of you to prepare to experience all four seasons in just one day at the site. Best of luck to you reading this post if you decide to take the journey to Machu Picchu. I promise that you won’t regret it.