What does a thumbs up really mean?

Remember the days before social media? When we used to talk to each other directly, and success wasn’t judged by virtual likes and followers? When being “Insta-famous” wasn’t a accomplishment to put on your resumé?

Don’t get me wrong, social media is a fantastic platform for creating global communities and connections; it allows me to write blogs, take photos, and share them with the world. But have you noticed that a click of the thumbs up means more than a comment? And that people are more concerned with securing new “followers” than actually making real connections?

We don’t communicate like we used to.

It’s true that a photograph speaks a thousand words, but we don’t talk about the photograph anymore. We “like” it.

Status updates let our friends know what we’re up to, but we don’t talk about how things are actually going. We “like” it.

At some point, we stopped communicating with words. Instead, “likes” and emojis became the international language for “I acknowledge your activity in the world and this is how it makes me feel.”

Yes, I’m on social media and currently participating in a one-way conversation.

I’m as guilty as the next person. Scroll-Like-Scroll-Like-Scroll-Like. I could say that I do it because I live far away from everyone I know, and in response to having no community, I’m reaching out to a virtual community and taking part in a global conversation. Partly true. However, a community assumes at least a two-way interaction and “likes” don’t count for anything meaningful.

The truth is, I use social media on a daily basis because I’m lonely and bored, and honestly, I just want to have a voice.

For me, social media is a vital platform to ensure I don’t go crazy in my own head. But now that I’m fully engaged in it, I’m encountering its pitfalls and recognising that social media doesn’t actually do what it says on the tin. “Likes” and “follows” have replaced its defining purpose to foster community-centered input and interaction.

We can’t cultivate community if we’re constantly feeding the popularity contest.

Why is it that numbers are more comforting than people? In a lot of ways we all seek approval, whether in our personal or professional lives. In this sense, social media provides a tangible means through which we can measure approval via popularity and “likes.” As much as we remind ourselves that how well we’re doing on social media is not an indicator of how well we’re doing in real life, gaining approval from friends and strangers, and seeing those numbers rise is oddly satisfying and addictive.

Here lies the problem. In broad terms, popularity necessitates that we are better than somebody else; getting more “likes” means getting more support. Yet when I think of community, I think of equals. In the social media game where we’re trying to be better or more talented than somebody else, community spirit falls by the wayside.

At the end of the day, I still enjoy social media and I’m not about to quit. It’s an outlet to be creative and to be inspired, and most importantly, a way to feel connected with the world. Social media allows me to have a voice and a presence within a virtual community, and it offers a unique platform for world- and self-discovery.

Nevertheless, let’s not forget the “social” imperative of social media. Sure, that includes the “like” and “follow” buttons, but it also involves interacting meaningfully with your online community. After all, community is what social media is built on.

Don’t be an anonymous thumbs up, share your words and opinions. Giving a voice to your thumb reminds us that, somewhere in the world, there’s a very real person attached to it.

KH

 

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“I like you even if I don’t have thumbs to prove it!”
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“Will you be my friend?”

A year ago, I moved to Switzerland. Cue the yodelling, cow bells, and chocolate fountains.

The country boasts almost everything I consider essential in an ideal society. Almost. The fact is, Switzerland isn’t a country for young, career-starting expats. Switzerland is our layover; we only stay for as long as we need to.

Now I, like many other bright-eyed twenty-somethings, firmly believed I could buck this trend and committed myself to integration. I studied German. I prescribed to a diet of coffee and cheese. And I invested my time in the outdoors. The big three: language, food, and culture. What could possibly go wrong? First, Swiss German isn’t the same as German. Second, turns out I can’t eat dairy. Third, rollerblading isn’t as easy as kids make it look.

The fact is, integration is mostly superficial. It’s taking part in things that the locals do. But what’s the point in any of it if you don’t have any friends?

How do you make friends when you’re an adult?

Before you think I’m being dramatic, Switzerland has been voted “the worst place to make friends.”  And from personal experience, one does not simply “approach people and chat” in Switzerland.

For me at least, the problem is also exacerbated by the fact that I lived in the home of hospitality for two years. I became accustomed and infatuated by the US culture of talking to everybody. Bad day? Your cashier will offer you advice! Lost? Just ask for directions! Lonely? Go to the local coffee shop! Atlanta taught me how to be an extrovert, spoilt me with human contact, and showed me what community looks like.

Fast forward to Switzerland and I came to believe that I was the problem for my non-existent friend count; maybe I’m too loud?  Too young? Too foreign? Then I was convinced that the privileges of being a student had spoilt me. I mean, if you’re in a class of ten, that’s nine potential friends off the bat. So then I turned to the fountain of knowledge and googled: “How do adults make friends?” (cue tiny violin). Armed with a wealth of tips and tricks, I did what adults do: go to bars, join clubs, visit new places. But then those endeavours also turned up empty. Everyone was either older, spoke no English, or was simply disinterested. It turned out the twenty-somethings had already filled their quota of friends, and I was too late to join the club.

There’s a difference between travelling somewhere and living there.

To keep myself motivated and occupied, I’ve resigned to acting like a perpetual tourist. I enjoy the sights, experience new things, and talk to other foreign people. All of which are great when you’re on holiday and you have the promise of people waiting for you when you get home. But technically, I’m already home.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t a damning criticism of the lack of community in Switzerland because it certainly does exist. The problem I’ve encountered is that you need a foot in the door. For expats without a Swiss connection, that door is almost always closed. So the young expats close our own doors, band together, and dream of the day that we can leave.

Of all the things I’ve learnt in this past year, my Swiss experience has made one thing abundantly clear; community and friends are what make a home, and without it, there’s nothing compelling you to stay.

KH

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Just because things look beautiful and seem just fine doesn’t mean they have to work
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Let’s talk about the “S-Bomb”

What’s the big deal, right? We disagree with someone’s opinion: “They’re stupid.”  A perspective doesn’t make sense to us: “That’s just stupid.” Or something is simply contrary to what we believe to be ‘the right thing’: “How stupid.”

We’re all guilty of it in some way or another, but it’s no big deal. After all “stupid” isn’t a curse word. If something isn’t right, it’s wrong. And if something is wrong, it’s obviously stupid because smart people are never wrong, right?

No. The fact is, it’s not okay to call someone stupid.

Yet recently I’ve noticed that we’re flippantly throwing that word about a lot more than usual, especially at things that have nothing to do with intelligence.

We’re calling people “stupid” because they believe in, see, and pursue something different.

Ironically, those who are quick to call out “stupid” are the same ones who call for political correctness on all matters concerning religion, disability, sexuality, race, and physical appearance. Apparently “stupid” is something you choose, ergo something you can help or change, ergo calling something “stupid” is simply a way to express disagreement towards that choice.

Now I’m not the PC police, but after being recently categorised as “stupid” by people that I consider some of the most socially conscious, openminded, and smart, I began to notice how reckless (or at least nonchalant) we are with our judgments. I wasn’t being called stupid because of my intelligence, common sense, or ability to think clearly; I’m “stupid” because I believe in something different.

Education isn’t a qualification to call out “stupid”

Just to get an idea of where I’m coming from, I’ve spent the last 7 years studying belief systems and books that are entirely different from my own. As a result, I’ve become a sort of devil’s advocate, accepting that everyone’s beliefs are valid within the context of their own complex systems and environment. Don’t get me wrong, I do have strong stances, and I’m unrelentingly stubborn. Nevertheless, as long as your stance is not “I believe it just because,” you can bet that I’m going to try to understand where you’re coming from.

Therefore this trend to call on the s-bomb in regards to “inferior” lifestyle choices or “uneducated” political stances is one that I’m struggling to accept. Why do we feel the need to identify ourselves as “better than somebody else” because we have this and that qualification?

True, education does make a difference in terms of our ability to express ourselves. However, education isn’t a seal of approval, which suddenly makes us more qualified to talk about the world and come to “smart” conclusions. Education is just another environment that offers another lens through which to view the world. Education influences beliefs; it doesn’t necessarily make them “right” or “smart.”

What’s more dangerous: “stupid people” or judging people “stupid”?

Every time we call out “stupid,” we’re making a judgment about something’s worth. So when we start calling people “stupid” because they simply believe in something different, we’re calling into question their ability to contribute anything of “intelligent” value. As a result, we stop listening and trying to understand (Brexit anyone?). And when we stop listening, communication breaks down and factions emerge.

We live in a beautiful, multicoloured, complex world, full of lessons to be learnt and opinions to be discussed. Let’s not nurture division. Let’s embrace the different. Let’s take a moment to listen.

And finally, let’s think before we call something “stupid.”

KH

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Naturally, thinking you’re better than somebody else isn’t just a human condition
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Things nobody told me about adulthood

Let me start off by saying, how do I actually know I’m an adult? I don’t feel like one. I don’t act like one. And I certainly don’t look like one.

I’m 25 now, and I was under the impression that at some point we all undergo a magical, ‘caterpillar turning into a butterfly’ transformation experience. Figuratively speaking, of course… At the very least, I expected some kind of watershed moment where we become conscious of the fact that “we are adult now.” It didn’t come after graduation. It didn’t come when I moved into my first home, built my own furniture, and got my first bills. And it didn’t even come after I got married.

So what is it I’m waiting for? Do we ever really feel like adults? Or are we all journeying through life, doing what we think adults should do, while simultaneously hoping that nobody figures out we’re all just pretending?

Am I really an imposter?

So this is a question I’ve thrown around and asked other adult-looking people. I was genuinely curious as to whether it was just me, or whether it’s something a lot of us just don’t talk about. After all, the last thing an imposter wants is to be discovered!

Surprisingly, of the people I asked, all of different ages, career accomplishments, and family statuses, the resounding response was: “Yes. Most of the time I think I’m just playing ‘adult’ and someday, somebody is going to find out.” So that was good to know. I guess being an adult doesn’t really feel like anything after all.

Are adults really as secure, strong, and confident as they make out to be?

This one is easy. No. No they’re not.

We’re all life-long learners, figuring out how to live, while trying to inflict the least amount of damage on ourselves and those around us. Fact. I know this because I’ve spoken to first-time parents. Their trajectory is arguably the most tangible step into adulthood since it bears lifelong, vulnerable and hungry responsibility: babies.

If you’ve ever spent legitimate time around babies and their new parents, you know. (If you’re still calling your best friend’s baby “adorable,” you haven’t spent legitimate time around that tiny human.) Or, if you are indeed one of those babies/new parents, you know too. If you have neither experience, then imagine a squirmy, tacky worm screaming in your bed at witching hour, unable to communicate what’s going on in their over-stimulated minds, and refusing to eat, play, or sleep. Put it this way, it’s pretty hard to feel secure, strong, and confident when you have no idea what’s going on.

And that’s the crux of it, as “adults” I don’t think we ever really know what’s going on or what to do.

Will I ever be able to walk past a group of teens and not feel like prey?

Granted, this one is subjective. I still get IDed for matches and I’m pretty sure you only need to be 16 (or 18 in the US) to purchase them. But here’s the thing; I assumed that as soon as I turned 21, people would just be able to sense it.

Don’t you remember sitting on the bus as a pre-teen, glancing at the older kids in their rambunctious groups, and thinking, “Golly, those guys are SO much older and cooler. Gotta make sure I don’t make eye contact, lest they make snide remarks about my Harry Potter glasses!” (Of course, if you’re an 11 year old using words like “golly” and “lest” and wearing circular gold-framed glasses, then I shouldn’t have been surprised when the older kids targeted me. Pray, I jest!) Nevertheless, I’m a grown woman and if there’s a group of teens coming my way, I will cross the road.

This is what I’ve realised: just because you’re technically an “adult” doesn’t mean you have to act or think differently; everybody is pretending they know what they’re doing; and getting older doesn’t make you braver.

There you have it, a over-grown child’s observations about adulthood.

Is it just me who had certain expectations? Or do you also feel like you’re sometimes pretending to be an adult? Or better yet, have you had that watershed, red pill moment?

KH

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Being responsible, doing adult things, screaming like a child
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The world is apparently your oyster

“The world is your oyster”

First of all, I don’t like oysters.

Regardless, is the sentiment actually true? Is the world/oyster really ours for the taking, to pry open, so that we might reap its pearly rewards?

We never really hear anybody say the phrase absent of optimism, do we? After finishing up my masters, getting engaged, and moving to Switzerland, that’s what people told me. “The world is your oyster now! Seize all the opportunities and enjoy them!” So my assumptions were that: a) the world is oozing opportunity; b) everyone can access opportunities; and c) opportunity leads to reward.

Now, let me clarify: I’m not a negative Nelly! Sure, when I started reflecting on this phrase, the direction of my thought process was entirely different than where this post is going… Anyway, today I’ll submit, hands held high, the sentiment isn’t far off; the world IS our oyster. But let’s be clear; it shouldn’t be taken lightly, saturated with promises of abounding opportunity and treasures.

a) “the world is oozing opportunity”

In reality, that oyster is either buried at the bottom of a shark-filled ocean or lying between a rock bed plummeted by unrelenting, violent waves. Opportunity isn’t available just because we want it. We have to know where to look, search really hard in those places, and even then, we’ve got to get there before anybody else.

b) “everyone can access opportunities”

With that out of the way, seizing the opportunity is entirely dependent on our tenacity and/or sheer luck. But let’s not forget, not everybody can swim. And even if you can swim, it takes courage to dive deep down into the unknown. And then, even if you’re blessed with all of these qualities, you’ve got to beat the birds, sea otters, fish, and crabs to it because they see and smell the opportunity too.

c) “opportunity leads to reward”

If we succeed in taking it before those crafty otters, then we have to struggle to unleash its potential opportunity. Oysters aren’t always easy to get open! And in the end, an oyster is only worth what’s potentially contained within it. I stress “potential” because the fact is, even when we’ve found it and broken our nails trying to prise out what’s inside, we still don’t know what its fruits are going to look like.

Opportunity doesn’t necessarily lead to reward. Indeed, at the end of the endeavour we might get that shiny pearl. Or, equally probable, we might get a blob of snotty gloop. True, if you actually like the texture and taste of oysters then you could technically win either way. So here’s another outcome; you might just get a bad oyster!

Either way, my conclusion is that after all the searching, struggle, and accomplishment, what we get at the end isn’t always what we expected. That might sound pessimistic, but that’s okay. If we keep diving down, expecting an abundance of oysters and reward, oftentimes we’re going to be sorely disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no pessimist. I’ll keep on diving in the hope of discovering that fruitful oyster. And when the ones I find turn up empty, I won’t forget that opportunity is out there somewhere. In actual fact, those empty oysters are a reminder that opportunity did live there at one point and that we’re not the first (nor the last) to struggle through this journey.

So what do we do? We learn to swim deeper, fight harder, and ultimately, get there first.

There you have it, a realistic optimist’s interpretation of oyster diving. Let me know what you think!

KH

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One of those times the oyster did indeed turn up treasure
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“What is easy” vs “What is best”

They say travelling broadens the mind.

In the past, I wouldn’t have disagreed with this statement, but my perception of it was more to do with exploring new cultures, trying new foods, and encountering new beliefs. Today, I still regard these experiences as a crucial part of travelling, however I have also come to realise that this is simply one aspect of what seeing the world has to offer.

By broadening the mind we come to reflect on things that we usually overlook (or bury deep down) while enjoying the comforts of home. Outside the daily distractions and routines of home life, travelling enables us to take a step back from “the norm” and ask ourselves whether we’re actually happy living in that bubble. Travelling broadens our scope of possibility.

I can hold my hands up and admit that in the last year I have often blurred “what is best” with “what is easy.” And I’m wondering, why? Perhaps my lifestyle over the previous six years has influenced this tendency? I certainly haven’t picked the “easy” route:  moving to the US by myself, choosing a long distance relationship, learning Greek and Hebrew over Spanish and German… That last one I still can’t understand… Nevertheless, here’s my analysis. These choices were some of the hardest, and most challenging to live with. And now, surrounded the security of my home, my husband, and my family, I’ve become satisfied by the “easy” because it’s sure as hell less stressful than the alternative.

The fact is though, “what is easy” is not always “best.”

Travelling takes us to new places, literally and figuratively. Travelling broadens the mind beyond the complacency of our routines and conveniences. Most importantly, travelling encourages us to re-evaluate what truly makes us happy. And here’s the truth, what makes us happy is what is best.

KH

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My brain is mushy peas.

I can’t wait to go home and eat mushy peas

The time has come. It seemed unrealistic, faraway, impossible perhaps. But it has happened. That time of year has arrived and I want to scream about it from the top of a parking lot (note the unfortunate integration of American words into my vocabulary, y’all).

But I did it. I survived my first year in an American grad school.

Okay, 10 months. But still, I did it. And I really didn’t think I was going to. I’ve had my ups, downs, lefts, rights, and all of those dichotomies, etc. etc. And now, I’m ready to go home. And specifically, eat mushy peas.

First of all, before I reveal my ultimate secret for surviving in America—specifically in grad school—I just have to mention a little thing that’s bugged me while I’ve been here. Why does literally everybody use the word “dichotomy” all the time, in all my classes, in all contexts?! I had no idea what it meant for about 8 months, and then finally, I pushed my ego aside and googled it.

WHY CAN’T PEOPLE JUST SAY ‘CONTRAST’?!

Seriously, though. I had never heard that word used before outside of an academic context. And suddenly, there I was, sat in Falafel King, and a barely pubescent guy starts talking about the dichotomy between his ex-girlfriend and his current “fwb.”*

*A theoretical concept that I had previously considered a mysterious phenomenon confined to the minds of guys, who wanted the ‘physical’ benefits of a girlfriend, but who had solemnly swore themselves to stay in a loving, exclusive ‘emotional’ relationship with CoD. At the risk of sounding sexist, you can change ‘girlfriend’ to ‘boyfriend,’ and ‘CoD’ with any one—or all—of the guys from One Direction. Are they even still a band? Does CoD even exist anymore?? God, I think I’ve become so much of a hermit that I have no idea what the current trends or ‘hip’ things young people do, or listen to, these days… But, I digress.

This young boy was using the word “dichotomy” so casually in reference to his conquests, and I had no frigging idea what it meant. So yeah, dichotomy. It bothers me. Anyway, I didn’t resurface onto the interwebs to talk about the definition and appropriate contextual (in my mind) application of “dichotomy.”

I’m back because, after the toughest, roughest, and meanest however long it’s been since my last post, I finally have time. That’s right. I have time. More specifically, free time. And I have no idea what to do with it. So I’m watching Netflix and reaffirming to those who are painstakingly reading this that I am, indeed, still alive. In case you were wondering/concerned.

OMG SO MUCH FREE TIME (I have currently had four hours of it!!)

In fact, during this newly bestowed free time, I have:

  1. watched one season, out of seven, of an unbelievably horrific TV series on Netflix (for those who are wondering, it’s called ‘Psych’ and I don’t recommend it. However I’m going to work my way through all seven seasons, just to make sure. And also because, hey, I have free time y’all);
  2. firmly decided that I’m going to be a novelist/painter/pottery master after graduating because hippie life is my true calling;
  3. eaten half a bag of shredded (low-fat) mozzarella cheese;
  4. not reached the coveted 2048 square on the most annoying app in the world; 
  5. trawled through painfully pointless articles on Buzzfeed (however, I can’t judge right now, because I’m writing this).

As you can see. I have been using my free time wisely, and productively. Seriously, don’t all get jealous at once. My life is unbearably riveting.

How I did it. That is, how I survived grad school.

Back to the point I’m trying to make: I survived my first year of grad school. And I’m going to tell you how right now. The big reveal. It’s here.

Don’t go.
Don’t do it. 

And there you go. The secret of how I survived: I wished, every second of every day, that I hadn’t made that stupid decision to come to grad school.

As a consequence of thinking this thought, during every waking moment, of every single day, I didn’t pay attention to the time that was in fact passing by. And suddenly, now I’m here. Out of the “I hate grad school” haze. Alive. Surviving. I focussed so much on what I wanted to do in the future; what I wanted to be doing instead of writing that f*#%$!g paper; and what I would have been doing if I hadn’t come here, that by the time I’d finished cursing my life, and every single article written by every single biblical scholar, it was suddenly May 7th. And the time had arrived. My first year was over.

Bring on second year. I have the key to survival.

Okay, so I’m being a teeny bit over-dramatic.

I can’t help it. Grad school will, I repeat will make you crazy. I think by the end of this semester, I’m certainly questioning that decision I made to dedicate two years of my life to this tormenting, never-ending nightmare.

However, pause.

Breathe. Relax. Think. Remember —

 It wasn’t so bad.

I’ve drank out of one of those red solo cups. And then been sick in it. I’ve seen (albeit missed most of it) a baseball game. I’ve rowed in a disgusting river in Tennessee, and we came last. I’ve ticked a whole bunch of movies off my Netflix List. I turned 23. I wrote a term paper longer than my undergraduate dissertation. I learned how to speak elementary German. And forgot how to speak proper British English. I went to my first, real, American thanksgiving. I ate a waffle, with chicken tenders and hot sauce. I got addicted to Southern sweetened iced tea. I’ve done so much, and I wish I could list it all. But most importantly, and I’m not been sarcastic, I’m actually being deadly serious, no joke…

I have made some fantastic, supportive, beautiful, persevering, ridiculously hilarious, open-minded, intelligent, no boundaries allowed, life-long friends.

Grad School: A dichotomous relationship

Sure, I may have been consumed (and almost defeated) by grad school this year. But listen, I’m a biblical studies student. That stuff isn’t meant to be easy. So, just like Jonah and that whale, I’ve been spat back out; I’m a little bit worse for wear, but I’m also a little bit stronger, a little bit smarter, and a little bit wiser. I’ve resurfaced and surprisingly, I’m still a whole (partially sane) person. But as a result, I’ve re-emerged fully appreciative of the opportunities that life has thrown at me (even if they did hurt at first). And I’m actually looking forward to doing this all again in a couple of months. I repeat, a couple of months. I need a rest first, to recover, to rejuvenate and let all of this sink in, and finally, to strategize for success when I come back in August.

I crossed a boundary when I came here. I took a chance, and I came to a country I’d never been to before. I took a chance, and I decided to study and make a life here. I crossed territories, boundaries, limitations, and ultimately, I got an experience.

In the end, that’s all I asked for. An experience. And this year, I got just that. I can’t complain.

But hey, I’m British. Give me a break. I was born to complain. That’s why God gave us these accents. Because they’re so goddamn beautiful to listen to, and consequently you don’t have to listen to what we’re actually complaining about. I know this is a blog post, you’re reading this (maybe), and you can’t hear my beautiful British accent. So here, forgive me, have a picture of a cat.

Image

 current mood.