I’ve been thinking about role models a lot as we mourn the loss of my grandfather, and the last of the four grandparents. I’m not sure what we did in our last life, but my sister and I really hit the jackpot on grandparents in this life. Although I was gifted a different amount of time to spend with each, they have all been exceptional role models. Today I want to share them with you...
Ajja (1920 – 1993) was a freedom fighter who left us too early. Although I met him just briefly as an infant, I’ve heard only good things. My older cousin who spent more time with him speaks fondly of his kindness. I often wonder if that’s where my passion for social justice comes from. When I’m demotivated and disheartened, I think about the stories I’ve been told about him, about the time he spent in jail during India’s freedom struggle, and about how the courage of those like him made the lives we have today possible. It gives me hope.
Chottimama (1944 – 2012), who also passed much too soon, was quite the feminist icon. Standing at just around 5 feet – although you wouldn’t know it from her exuberating persona – she filled our lives with joy and with strength. Her wit was like no other, and I definitely inherited a sarcastic streak from her. You could always find her with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. She showed us that to be a woman is to be bold, to be unapologetic, and to take up as much space as you need.
Bapama (1921 – 2017) was the pillar of the family, a true matriarch. Even though she lost her husband and a son, you wouldn’t know it from her delightful personality and her constant radiant energy. I’ve not yet met another person who had such a twinkle in their eye, even in her late 90s! Of all the things she bestowed upon her three granddaughters, I would say having grace is probably the most important one. She moved through the world with a quiet unassuming grace. We can only aspire to that.
Pappa (1936 – 2021) was everything that you would want in a grandfather wrapped up in a thick beard and the smell of Brylcreem hair gel. As kids he entertained me with board games, the only bedtime story he knew (Androcles and the Lion) and took me on “granddaughter-grandfather” dates where he would have a beer and I would have a Canada Dry (served in a beer glass, of course). Born too early to be a tech bro, he picked up computer skills post-retirement and was the only grandfather I know who was on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter! He reminded us that age really is just a number.
Although they are gone now, I’m reminded of the precedent they set. To be resilient, to be kind, to be open to new opportunities, to be accepting, and to be ourselves.
Always, to be ourselves.
Last year I realized that my Instagram feed was making me feel bad about myself and about my life. Whenever I opened up Instagram, my mood became increasingly sour. I debated deleting my account altogether but instead I decided to try something else – changing up my feed. I began unfollowing accounts that didn’t inspire, educate, or entertain me, and I began following more accounts that I related to and that diversified my feed and my mind.
The accounts I follow now fall into a few buckets. These groups are not mutually exclusive, many accounts fall into multiple buckets:
I also unfollowed a lot of accounts. A big change was that I unfollowed influencers who I categorize as “aspirational” creators. In other words, their feeds are beautifully curated pictures of beautifully perfect lives that we’re all expected to aspire to – luxury travel, perfect food, perfect bodies, everything is aesthetically pleasing and color coordinated… You know what I mean. Everything is perfect. And in my view, not authentic. By unfollowing these feeds, I was making a conscious effort to focus on authenticity instead of aesthetics. I want accounts that show the good and the bad, the perfect and the imperfect, the human side of social media. I also unfollowed a lot of celebrities who I was following for no reason other than that they were a celebrity.
When I look at my feed now, I feel good. I see inspiring, funny, awesome people who I would love to know in real life and who brighten up my day. So, if social media makes you feel bad, try this out and let me know if it helps!
Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
When people ask me if I would go back in time and choose the US again for college, I say yes. I say yes because in the last decade I've built a beautiful life and community here. I don't say yes because it's been an easy road. When they ask me if I recommend the US for international students who are debating this question today, especially those from countries in Asia or Africa, I'm hesitant to say yes because I don't recommend it as a first choice. Today I'm going to focus on the immigration system but the ways in which you are racialized in the US also contribute to my recommendation, but I'll save that for another post.
The US immigration system is not designed to retain and advance international students into residents and ultimately citizens. You know this from the moment they issue you an F1 'non-immigrant' visa. This means there is no direct path to permanent residency, there is no guaranteed transition to a work visa (outside of a 1-3 year work permit called OPT), and there is an expectation that after you finish your studies, you will depart. For a lot of people that works out just fine. However, once you've been in a country for 4 years, maybe 6 years if you also do a master's or maybe 10+ if you add on a PhD... it's not always so easy to say goodbye.
You might have formed personal connections & strong professional networks. You might have an internship that you love and want to advance into a full-time position. Most importantly, you might decide that you would like to stay and continue to contribute to your field. In the US, the choices you have are very limited. Maybe you'll win the coveted H-1B lottery, maybe you'll find an employer willing to sponsor you, but more often than not, you don't have a choice.
For every Sundar Pichai who ends up getting a job and eventually becoming the CEO of Google, and for every Pramila Jayapal who ends up becoming a Congresswoman, there's thousands (maybe millions?) of students who weren't able to stay and who had to leave to go back to their home countries.
Is it worth it then to take the risk? I'm not so sure. I know it's different in other countries. A friend of mine is wrapping up their education in Canada and told me that they would be receiving a 3 year work permit with a path to permanent residency. I know of another friend in the EU who also has residency there, although I'm not as clear on the pathway. My point is that in some other countries you might be given a choice on what you want to do, and in my opinion having a choice is a game changer.
Not having a choice is disempowering. Seeing the look on employers' faces when you tell them you need visa sponsorship and realizing you're not going to get the job is disheartening. Watching your legal status expiration date approach without having any control over it is terrifying. Listening to the constant anti-immigrant rhetoric is exhausting. Knowing that you are not wanted is painful. And trust me, they will make it clear that you are not wanted. Get your education and get out is the sense I always got. Maybe things will change with the incoming Biden-Harris administration but I'm not holding my breath for any drastic changes overnight.
For me personally it's my marriage that has opened up a pathway to residency for me, and honestly that makes me sad. It makes me sad because I've invested a lot of time in this country. I've worked in research that benefits American populations, taught primarily American college students, collaborated with American state and public agencies, and overall have made contributions to American society that I believe should warrant residency outside of my family situation. I'm not alone, I know of many others in the same boat... And it makes me reflect on whether I would have had a less stressful experience, spent less nights worrying about my legal status, in a country where my talents and skills were valued and sought after.
Every country will have it's own set of challenges, I'm not saying that Canada or the EU are perfect. They probably have lots of challenges that I don't know about. But what I am saying, is to consider your options more carefully. I didn't even apply to colleges in other countries because I was so fixated on the US. I would encourage students at all levels, undergraduate and graduate, to look into all of your options before you make your decision. Do your research, you won't regret it!
Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
My 2021 word of the year is JOY! I first hear of 'word of the year' while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Acadames. Last year my word was boundaries (see previous blog post) and this year it's joy. It's been a difficult year for all of us, many have lost their loved ones, jobs, security, and routine. Too many have lost their lives. All of this led me to spend some time reflecting on my life and my choices. Am I making the most of my life? Am I choosing joy?
The truth is, I wasn't. Like many others I felt I had fallen into a routine that didn't leave much time for quiet contemplating and intentionality. The break I took over winter, a true break, allowed me space to think deeply about why I spent so little time doing the things that brought me joy and so much time doing the things that didn't bring my any joy. To some extent, we'll always have to do things that don't spark joy (as Marie Kondo would say) -- every day at work and in life can't be rainbows and sunshine (if you've ever formatted a manuscript for a journal you know what I'm talking about)...But, shouldn't the good outweigh the bad? I recognize the immense place of privilege that I'm speaking from and I know that the reality is that unfortunately not everyone can afford the luxury of reprioritizing. However, I think many of us could refocus if we wanted to but too often we don't because life gets in the way.
This year I'm choosing joy. I'm making an intentional effort to reprioritize; focusing on what truly matters to me, what inspires me, motivates me, and brings me fulfillment. Maybe that means collaborating on a project outside of my comfort zone, spending more time with my family, or even saying no to opportunities that don't serve me even if they seem enticing.
If there’s one thing last year showed us, it’s that life is too short— too short to wait for your life to start, too short not to take care of yourself, & too short not to be happy with the one life you’ve got!
Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
I use this space to share my thoughts on a variety of academic and non-academic topics! Happy reading!