Tag Archives: Advice

An Open Letter to My Brother on His College Graduation

Dear Adam,

Congratulations, baby bro. You did it. And your family are so, so proud of you.

I missed your graduation because I’m half a world away but all of our grandparents were there and that’s more important. I’m proud of you because I know you worked hard, took chances, made choices, and had adventures. Our grandparents are schepping nachas because you were their first boy and no one knew what to make of you, but everyone loved you immediately. Everyone continued to love you as you grew into the cheerful, funny, passionate person that you are. And look at where you are now. I’m so glad they were there.

I couldn’t be there but I’m thinking of you. I know you have a good head on your shoulders and that’s why there are things I want you to know. Putting my educator hat on, I will say that I wish they’d taught you differently in school. You graduated from an undergraduate business program, after all, and I wish they’d taught you about things that matter. You know you’re supposed to go into the world and make money, with which you’re then supposed to do . . . something. Make more?

But as your older sister, and as person who shares the planet with you and identifies in relation to you, there are a few things I want you to know:

  1. You will always have my love and support, in any way you need it and at any time of night or day. Just call and I’ll be there.
  2. It’s important to take care of yourself. It’s important to eat well, sleep well, and make the time for things that matter. Work can wait, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You can’t do the work if you’re not healthy.
  3. The world is full of choices and they only get bigger as you gain life experience. Make the choices that will help you become the person you want to be. Surround yourself with people who will help you grow.
  4. It’s hard to ask difficult questions and even harder to answer them. Think and feel deeply. Consider the questions, “Who am I? What am I?” Consider them over and over and over. Act accordingly.
  5. You will make many, many mistakes. You will hurt people without knowing you did. You will be hurt. You will cry. And you will learn. Learn from your mistakes and experiences and let them make you a better person.
  6. Beauty is easy to pass by. Don’t. Really, actually, stop and smell the flowers. Spend thirty seconds just looking at a tree. Dance in the rain. Climb the mountain. Look around and protect the simple things – they matter.
  7. Remember that small acts create big ripples. It’s not hard to remember a birthday or write a note or say hello to someone new, but all of those things make a difference. Make them part of who you are.
  8. It’s okay to stop. It’s okay to decide this isn’t working and do the difficult thing and walk away. It’s okay to start over. It’s okay to try something completely new. This is how we learn and grow.
  9. Speak up for what matters to you. It’s one thing to grumble in private and quite another to stomp your feet in public. Stomp your feet and behave with integrity.
  10. The most important thing is to be a good person. Money can wait. Buying a house can wait. Your new avalanche skis can wait. Be a good person. That cannot wait.

Congratulations again. Take some time to celebrate . . . and now go change the world.

I love you,

Rebecca Michelle

Abroad Again

After leaving Rochester Monday afternoon EST, I arrived in Singapore Wednesday morning (Tuesday night EST). It felt really good to return to a city that I know I love.

In the past 34 hours I have spent 6 sleeping and the rest either worrying about my life here or starting sort out said life. So far, I have a SIM card for my phone, a clean bill of health from the doctor, and an apartment! I’m getting the apartment keys on Monday, at which point I can begin to buy the many, many items that I will need. I didn’t realize that “fully furnished” in Singapore means “only furniture.” In Malaysia, it means literally everything. Had I chosen to do so, school would have paid to ship anything I wanted to Singapore. Had I known what fully furnished means, I would have shipped all of my kitchen items except appliances because the plugs don’t match. Unfortunately, I didn’t know and therefore have nothing.

Consequently, here’s another thing I have learned about teaching overseas: Assume nothing. Ask all questions, even when you think you know the answers.

Between Ikea, everyone’s favorite store, and Mustafa Centre, Singapore’s answer to “where can I find . . .” I’ll be able to buy everything I need without too much trouble. Well, I suppose there’s one trouble: Money. Singapore is expensive! As I’m not being paid until the end of August, I’m watching my purchases rather closely. School is bringing in people from a bank to set up accounts for us next week, after which they should be able to deposit the reimbursement for my flight here. That will make a great deal of difference.

Another strange aspect of living in Singapore, as with any big city, that I’ve never faced is complete reliance on public transportation. It’s going to be a challenge buying everything I need and will require multiple trips, basically because I can’t just dump everything in the car, drive home, and unload it. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the logistics of how much I can buy at once and how to get it all into my apartment. Taxi, I guess. Any urbanites have any advice for me on this one?

Finally, the biggest difficulty that I’m facing is being away from Mitch and from my family. I know myself, and I know that separation from the people I love, even for a predetermined period of time, is going to be a challenge. What helps, though, is the ease of modern communication. I know I’ve written about that before, but it really does make all the difference in the world. When I was in Malaysia, I called home every morning. Now, I’ll either be calling my parents or calling Mitch. Either way, it’s astonishing to me that for just a few dollars, we can talk whenever we want.

Tomorrow there’s a coffee meeting for all interested staff; I’m looking forward to meeting new people! A few of us had breakfast together and, as expected, people are really kind and really interesting. That’s what I love about travel – people have wonderful stories.

If you’re interested, you can read my previous posts about Singapore here, here, here, here, here, and here! Enjoy!

This is for the Haters

With my summer at home drawing to a close (leaving in one week!) I’ve been thinking about my role as a teacher, and my responsibility in the lives of young people. I’ve written about why I teach in the past, but I don’t think I’ve touched on some of the experiences that helped me understand that my job is really to shape minds.

The way I see it, one of my responsibilities as an educator is to make sure that my students grow up to be responsible global citizens who are empowered to affect change. I believe that everyone has the power to make some sort of change, either in one’s own life or in the wider world. The way I choose to do that is to help young people realize that such change is possible. I affect change by cultivating my students’ ideas so that they believe in themselves.

Or, at the very least, I try my hardest.

When I was in high school, it used to be cool and slangy to use the phrase “that’s so gay” to describe something obnoxious, irritating, annoying, boring, or simply uncool. (With any luck, I have just dated myself.) That bothered me long before being an ally was an accepted part of society. I felt the same way about the word “retarded”, which was also in vogue amongst my peers, and which also takes on a variety of negative meanings when tossed around by teenagers with pants around their knees (yes, that was also cool at the time, which should say a thing or two about how we’ve all managed to grow up). When I was 17, I finally felt comfortable enough with myself to stand up and say something. I remember looking at my boyfriend, and later at a handful of other friends, and saying, “That’s offensive to me. If you mean “stupid,” just say so. You wouldn’t say “straight” for “cool”, so you shouldn’t use “gay” for “stupid. Please don’t do that around me.”

They rolled their eyes, they scoffed at my attitude, but they listened. I remember my boyfriend giving me a what-the-hell look and then saying to me, “I’ll stop if it really bothers you, but you’ll have to help me.”

And that’s the way it went. It turned out that a lot of people in my social circles back in 2007 had similar feelings but had tossed around slang the way kids toss around slang; without thinking. As a teacher, I try to use language that empowers my students. I vividly remember opening a class discussion my first year teaching about the difference between being ignorant and not knowing. The comment, “I just can’t talk to her! She’s ignorant, she doesn’t know anything!” following a disagreement between two students about race promoted the discussion. We concluded that ignorance is knowing and ignoring, while not knowing is simply not knowing. Rather than blaming one another for being uncertain, or for lack of knowledge, we can teach. I honestly don’t remember the comments made leading to this discussion, but I remember taking my teacher voice out of my pocket and saying, “Stop. We need to back up here.” And both of those students later thanked me for doing it.

As simple as it sounds, the biggest idea I can help my students understand is that if you choose not to act, there will be no results. I’ve heard every excuse for inaction: “But I’m just one person.” “No one will listen.” “Honestly, I have other things to worry about.” “That’s so much work.” “I’m just going to live in a cardboard box and be happy.” “There’s too much hate and too many haters to even bother trying.”

So, haters, here I am calling you out for ignorance.

Haters claim that the world is too big with too many problems so individuals can’t solve them. Haters claim that there’s no point in looking out for others because you never know when someone’s going to stab you in the back. Haters claim that you can’t fix other people so you should only worry about yourself.

Haters are ignorant, because they know better. They have seen change and they know that it comes from people doing exactly those things that are really very hard.

Haters, in short, are wrong.

Wrong because there are people who care, who dream, who believe, who yearn. There are people who look around dissatisfied and are not content to remain dissatisfied. There are people who hope, who watch, who wait and get impatient; instead of giving up, those people act. They do something. Instead of growing increasingly irritated with people with whom they do not agree, they make changes. They work to understand. They surround themselves with like-minded people, and find power in groups.

History is full of groups who acted, groups who fought, groups who won. There is strength in numbers, and I want my students to believe in themselves, join those groups, and make the changes that they, at 14, 15, 16, or 17, represented and endorsed in my classes. If I didn’t believe they could do it, I wouldn’t say so; I would lose all credibility as a teacher, as a mentor.

Haters, I know some people who are going to rock your world. Hold on tightly.