Sunday, November 17, 2013

The grass is greener where you choose to water it

I am compelled to do everything and anything that I think is good for me or that interests me. This usually results in chaos. I wished I could say that yeah, all that I've done has been successful but I can frankly tell you, I am a jack of all trades, master of none. 

However, I do believe that one can excel in things that they chooses to place their effort and attention at. Hence, the grass is not greener on the other side. It's greener at where you choose to water it. 

It all boils down to choices too. What you think is worth fighting for. Some things are but they may go against that gut in your stomach. Some things are deemed not as valuable by others but that decisions is usually made with ease. You are willing to do it. 

Looking back, I have been on a year long journey of dipping my feet in a couple of things. I failed at a couple but those that stuck around, seems to be really good choices. They are usually decisions that doesn't go against your gut. That's why it's so important to listen to your own voice and tune out the world. 

Here's to courage and self believe. Choose the battles that you are willing to fight and then, tend to them as fiercely and intently as you can. 

So be sure when you step
Step with care and great tact
And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act
And will you succeed? 
Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed)
Taken from Dr. Seuss, Oh The Places You;ll Go 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Be careful what you wish for

From the moment I found out about the grant till the nomination announcement, it took only less than three months. Yet it has been such a journey that I feel the need to document it. 

After my New Zealand trip, I came back suffering from post-holiday blues, looking for every opportunity to get out again. My trip was enough to confirm that I've got more to see, more to do and learn. All I need is to make the leap.

As I lay on my bed, still operating on New Zealand time zone, fiddling with my phone, I came across the Fulbright FLTA scholar program. It's an award which grants young English teachers below the age of 29 to teach their national language in an American college or university for nine months. Alongside teachers, grantees will also pursue non-degree courses in their host institutions. 

It was the first time where I fulfilled every bit of the award requirement. My heart raced at the thought of being a student again and what more in America. 

Catch is, I only had 3 weeks to file in the application which includes sitting for the IELTS exam, sourcing for three referees for recommendations and writing three essays. 

When confronted with the tasks ahead, my mind swayed between "Ok! Get your ass to work!" and "Ahh ummmm... it's Fulbright. It's going to be super competitive. I wouldn't stand a chance."

The award news stayed with me for few more nights till I decide, I'm going to do it. Coincidentally, a few nights ago, I've read that, the harder the job and the more work something requires, the competition pool will also be smaller. Most people tend to dismiss their worth in competing and many are more afraid to fail. 

Sourcing for referees was easy. I'm blessed to have supportive people who genuinely wants to help. Once I sent my email to them asking them to write my recommendation, I knew it was no turning back. I'm now accountable for my own requests. 

Next, I had to sign up for the IELTS test. I only had 9 days to prepare. As an English teacher, I knew I had to score high. If not, I'm just going to shame myself. The IELTS was gruelling but yet, brought back great memories of my student days. It was a valuable experience. I got the score and it could have been better but I fulfilled the award requirement.

Finally, it was those essays. Long personal essays on why you want this and why should they pick you kind of essays. How do you write your own story without sounding exaggerated but yet not downplaying your worth?

After my first draft, I needed "tough love". Someone to read it and tell me why I need to write it again. This time I reach out to few friends who were so kind to offer their time and effort to provide feedback. So I wrote and re-wrote till I couldn't take it anymore and I submitted them. 

I remember saying a prayer right before I hit the submit button. Then, it was as if a whole weight was lifted. For the past three weeks, I had only the application in my head and nothing else.
When I went to the MACEE office to submit my application, I learnt that only ten applied for the award. Ten! Such a prestigious award and only ten were willing to take the effort to go for it. This only proves the theory, fishes are abound at ponds where few would fish. Then I let go and let God rule. 

In between, a position for Malay language teaching to internation students was open in my workplace. I jumped at the opportunity as part of my "What if I get this" thought. I figured it'll be good exposure for myself anyway.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and I was ready to let the whole thing go when, on my 29th birthday, while I was invigilating an exam, the phone call came. 

"You've been selected to attend the selection interview. Could you come in on Monday?"

Without hesitating, I said yes! 

Come Monday, I learned that there were only five who got selected and each of us only had one shot. 

It went well but I stumbled on some parts. Hating myself that I could have done better, I went home defeated. 

Only one among the five will be nominated. My chance was over. 

Then on Tuesday night, as I lay in bed, praying for peace to accept the things I can't change, a voice said, "Record". I was due to have a Malay language lesson on Thursday and the selection interview would take all week. If I want to give my last shot, it has to be within that week. 

I arranged for the recording to be done in my Thursday class and had only the night to edit before Friday. Thankfully again, I had a friend who helped with the editing. It was simple but suffice to show who I am and how I taught. I thought it's all that matters. 

I sent the selection team the YouTube link on an early Friday morning with the words along the lines of, "I hope to showcase to you who I am in order to help you decide if I'm worthy of this award". Clicked sent. 

Weekend came and went. Then it was Monday. 

They say, surprises always come to you when you least expect them. 

I didn't expect it but I knew I had to give my best and play my best hand so I'll not regret it. 

I was selected. They said, "We watched your video. Congratulations. You're the primary nominee of the FLTA award from Malaysia." I was selected. I'm now a nominee for the award. Now I'll need to wait till the first quarter of next year to know for sure if I am going.

Looking back, this whole process has taught me only one thing - never be afraid of going after the things you want. Even if it means failing, being ridiculed and mocked. 

It's also a little scary to get what you want. You feel so in control knowing that life can literally go in whichever direction your steer.

Have your ever experienced getting what you wished for from being creative and persevering? What were your feelings?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lessons I learnt on the road

My solo trip to New Zealand has done so much good to me. I'm absolutely smitten with the country and came back, feeling that I'm forever changed.

That's the beauty of travel and now I know why, some chose to travel indefinitely.

Travels also teaches us on things that we don't notice before.

Here are three lessons I've learnt during my recent trip and they have somehow etched into how I see life. 

1)You carry your world wherever you go and you choose how to deal with it

Running away is overrated. It may take you out of familiarity but it lurks somewhere in the brain and tugs at the heart. Being in a new  environment helps in distracting you but only for awhile. Your world follows you wherever you go, unless you opt for a lobotomy. So what do you do when the world you wanted to leave behind reveals to you?

There are two ways. You worry while you missed out on living the moment or you choose to be present. 

Running away is a romantic notion but you can't run away from dealing with it. Choosing not to deal with it is also dealing with it. 

2) Goodbyes are not hard

Everyone loves a beginning. Hello is nice but we've invented so many words and phrases for goodbye. 

When you're on the road, and you meet people, spent good time with them, then you need to leave. Before you part, there's so many promises of seeing each other again and keeping in touch.

Some finds it hard to say goodbye but I noticed, seasoned travellers do them with so much ease. I'm not trying to say that they've grown cold to developing human connection but they know, goodbyes are just part of parcel of life on the road. Only when we're travelling, each short experience is intensified with the accumulated experience together. 

This teaches me to appreciate the moments with someone because they may be all we have in this life. The keeping in touch part will happen if both is willing. If not, that part of memory is always be there with who you've created with. 

So, goodbyes are not hard even if we think it is. It's simple and shouldn't take too much of our emotions. 

3) We have our own journeys to complete

While I was travelling in New Zealand, I've came across two occasions that I really enjoyed and met people whom I wished I had more time with.

I tried to work around my schedule to prolong my time but I always need to get back on the road again to resume my journey. I could choose to be  spontaneous but I guess, my frame of mind and heart told me, I need to continue on my journey.

It works the same for everyone. We all have our own journeys to ccomplete. It's not only for travelling people, but to everyone. Our journeys are how we live our life and the goals that we try to pursue.

We shouldn't stop our intended journeys unless your heart tells you so. If not, you'll need to get back on the road.  

Do you have any lessons you've learnt while travelling? If yes, what are they? 

Monday, August 19, 2013

New Zealand: Soul-cation (Around Auckland Day 1)

Auckland Art Gallery

People say, "Whoa, you are so brave" - when they knew I was going to do it alone. Fact is, I am not. Brave travelers are those who explored eagerly upon stepping off the plane and are willing to get lost or bruised in adventures. I didn't start out that brave and I certainly am afraid of getting lost. 

I hate getting lost. I hate detours. I hate confusion. But the fact is, we need to get lost sometimes. We need detours from original plans because, some plans just don't happen. 

As a person of faith, I also have to constantly remind myself, to let go and let God step in. He knows better. 

Another fear of mine was navigating around. I can't read maps to save my life. My sense of direction is all over the place. Hence, the first day of my exploration of Auckland, is within a very small radius. 

However, my cousins were living in city centre, which made it very easy to get around.

I am an impatient person. For better, for worst. When I travelled with him, he's always the one reading maps and navigating for the both of us. Now that I am alone, I am forced to remember pathways, street names and how to get back to somewhere. 

Hence, it felt like, I was playing the game of Starcraft. All I had in front of me, is a small lighted circle of area while the rest are pitch black.

And I had to slowly, meekly, explore further, pushing more and more out of the familiar circle in order to get further. 

Barren winter trees

Albert Park

Albert Park
My first day was spent mostly at the Art Gallery. Then, I went to Albert Park to just sit down and watch people. 

Sitting down, I thought, "Okay. This is what you wanted right? Just sit and watch the world go by."

The weeks before were jam packed with never ending list of to-dos. I barely had time to breathe. Let alone, reflect big stuff. As I sat down in that chilled afternoon, I let out a long exhale. 

And I got what I wished for.

My first thoughts of Auckland

I arrived just before the winter sun sets on 8th August. Prior to that, I spent almost 18 hours traveling - leaving Malaysia on the evening of 7th August, a quick 2-hour layover over Guangzhou, China and then, the long haul towards Auckland, over 16,000 miles. 

I met a young Chinese guy, who asked if I was travelling to New Zealand. It wasn't hard to guess, as I was holding a travel guide book in one hand and my passport in the other. 

He was also heading to New Zealand and our thing in common - we were both travelling alone. He said, he wanted to learn how to be independent. That's the thing about solo travels - they are crash course in gaining independence. Very much like the modern version of coming-of-age young men from ancient tribes, going off into the wilderness to prove their manhood. 

He headed straight to Christchurch on a connecting flight while I boarded the Super Shuttle service to Auckland city centre. 

We bade farewell and wished each other luck before we parted. He took my number but I've yet to hear from him. I'm curious to know how his adventure turned out to be. 

To be honest, I didn't like Auckland at first. It was gloomy and rainy. In the entire journey there, I had mixed emotions. I left for this journey in hopes of finding clarity, answers to whatever that's been halting me from living to the fullest. Yet, throughout that 18-hour journey, I couldn't conceptualize what were those questions. 

As I layered with the fleece jacket I bought prior to my trip, I kept thinking, what if this turns out to be a shitty holiday? I hate the cold but yet I chose to come to New Zealand in winter. What if I hated traveling alone? 

So many what ifs. 

I have always travelled with him. Yet, to come here on my own without him, feels weird. And lonely. Yet, he was the reason I bought those tickets. Clarity. I needed.

When the shuttle arrived in Waldorf Tetra, where my cousins lived, there were two silhouettes waiting. I couldn't see their faces but I knew it was them. I hugged both tightly, happy that there are familiar faces that consoled me before I set off on  my own. 

That night, I went to bed. Lonely. Confused. Depressed. 

Little did I know, this was just the prelude. Prelude can be negative. That's fine because the unfolding story and finale matters more. 

Journeys, they reveal the within. That's what solo travellers seek. 

We want to push the edge to see how far we can go. 

We want to know ourselves in ways that familiarity can never reveal. 

We want to seek. 

We always want to seek.

New Zealand: My Soul-cation

Rainbow over Auckland

To be honest, New Zealand wasn't first on my list. Looking back, I think I was incredibly stupid to have never looked that way.

Back in May, I just wanted to get away. Anywhere, as far as possible. I was stuck, in a rut - everything seemed hopeless and my natural instinct is just to go away. I  know that's not very mature of me but it was a natural reaction. I went on skyscanner - which I think is God sent! and, I took a good look at the world map. I have to say that I am very lucky to be able to point to anywhere on the globe, and have the opportunity to go that way. 

My initial choice was Mongolia but time was a hindrance. With only 12 days, it would be a waste to go that far off and not cover as much as I can. Then, seeing that I will be traveling alone, Mongolia seemed a little dauting for a first time solo female traveller. 

Then I remember, I have cousins in Auckland, New Zealand. The fares were great and it's a great place to go solo. Plus, everyone speaks English there. The plan was to fly in to Auckland, see familiar faces and then, go around on my own, which I did.

New Zealand is an amazing country. I never thought much of it until I was there. I got what I wanted when I wanted to go somewhere far. 

New Zealand is more than 6,000 miles away from Malaysia. 

It is the closest country to the South Pole. 

It's landscapes of rough and jagged mountains, deep valleys and trenches, fjords - are unique only to New Zealand. 

It's volatile nature lying on the tectonic Pacific plates made it seemed dangerous and unpredictable but it's really not. 

New Zealand is breathtakingly beautiful with an endless array of activities that literally takes your breathe away. 

Hence, my 10 days in New Zealand has made me realized - life will never be the same every again.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Comfort Zone

Are we a victim of our own comfort zone?

That we sometimes keep falling back into the same pattern because we keep assuming that any future patterns will be more or less the same based on our past experience.


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