The People v Standardised Testing

Let me start by saying that you can take the girl out of Waldorf, but you cannot take the Waldorf fully out of the girl.

My elementary school teachers would, undoubtedly, be thrilled to hear this.

For my readers who are unfamiliar with the term ‘Waldorf’, you’re not alone. It’s an educational philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner and focuses on the ‘whole’ child — a holistic, creative, interactive approach to education. Waldorf education at the early childhood level involves a lot of free play, circle time, singing, outdoor exploration, and practical tasks, like simple cooking and gardening. At the elementary level, there is a ‘main lesson’, which can be on a range of subjects from language arts to physics to mythology. Often there is daily singing, poetry recitals, special activities like foreign languages, visual and dramatic arts, music, and movement lessons. Of course, Waldorf education is not without controversy. (You can find out more about the lawsuits and other issues that schools in the US face, in particular, if you do a simple Google search.) I myself had — and still do — my doubts about certain practices.

There are quite a few Waldorf-inspired public (meaning state-funded) magnet or charter schools, especially across California…one of which I attended for elementary school (grades 1-6). Because my elementary school was public, there was a mandate that students take and maintain average scores on state standardised tests to continue receiving their funding. But more on that later. At school, I learned to cook, assemble a full-size wooden toolbox, take care of a garden, paint with watercolours, sing in a choir, perform on stage, speak Spanish, write basic Japanese calligraphy, how to do eurythmy (a sort of cross between dancing, yoga, and Tai Chi, I guess?), play two instruments…you name it, my sisters, our classmates, and I probably did it.

While this is unnecessary to understand the point of this post, I want to mention that I was a teacher’s pet, goodie-two-shoes all through elementary and middle school. Because I was, I memorised all my own and everyone’s else lines for the class plays. My portrayals include Loki the Norse God (that was particularly fun, I had a good ‘Trickster’ laugh); Isis (to my best friend’s Osiris, he spent a lot of the play in a ‘coffin’); a main character from the 1001 Arabian Nights; and my personal favourite performance, as Moses (I wore a white sheet tied like a robe and sandals, so they could be easily taken off when I walked up the ‘mountain’. ‘LET MY PEOPLE GOOOOO’…. yes, third-grade-me actually sang that on stage in front of 75 parents, teachers, friends, and relatives. It was glorious).

Homework, textbooks, and tests, as a rule, were not introduced until at least 3rd grade. And even then they were used minimally. We were never taught to the test. Honestly, I didn’t even realise we were learning a lot of the concepts on the tests until it came time to take them. Learning about photosynthesis? Done outside in the garden. Learning about China? Done through engaged storytelling. Reading? Well…this is a tricky one and brings me to the main point of this post.

I didn’t learn to read until the third grade. That would have made me…8? Nine years old? Of course, I knew my alphabet and what sounds the letters made. I just wasn’t pressured to read until I was ready to do so. Once I got the hang of the concept, i jumped two grade-levels in reading and never looked back. It just clicked. I read Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Hobbit by 5th grade. Pride and Prejudice became my favourite book in 8th grade. My advantage — and to my everlasting gratefulness — was that I was read to a lot at home and at school. When I got grounded, my reading-for-fun privileges were taken away. Even when money was tight (and it was, I just didn’t know it) there was always money for books. My dad read us a bedtime story every single night without fail; if we had messed up epically that day, that was the punishment for me and my sisters. We went from picture books to chapter books as we got older. My dad actually read the first four Harry Potter novels out loud to us. (By the time Goblet of Fire came out, we were old enough to read by ourselves, but didn’t want to. So Dad continued. Order of the Phoenix we were on our own for.) When my parents divorced and my youngest sister wanted to read them, I read them out loud to her, sitting on the bathroom counter while she brushed her teeth or in her bed before she fell asleep. It took us about two years to get through them all and those few minutes every night are some of my favourite memories with her.

But because I wasn’t pushed, I didn’t read a word until I was nine, which in today’s terms, is incredibly, worryingly late. I would be far below basic in literacy skills if I was a typical, non-Waldorf elementary school student today. If I was lucky, there would be interventions and tutoring and any number of parent-teacher conferences where my teachers and tutors would emphasise the need to read with me every day and practice site words, etc.

If I was lucky. If I was lucky. 

Most of my students, so far, have not been lucky. They certainly do not have the advantages I did, either as a Waldorf student or as a child in general. That is due to a number of factors — socioeconomic circumstances sum up most of them. They have pretty much everything working against them…except teachers who want them to learn and be successful. Teachers and tutors who work every single day to give them a solid foundation so they do not become part of the approximately 80% of students in the DC metro area who read below grade level.

That is my job and will continue to be for the next 8 months. And I have had to make my peace with the way I think education should unfold versus the way my students’ education is taking shape.

My kids don’t have the advantage of an alternative educational philosophy. They have the neighbourhood school that is probably underfunded and uses Tools of the Mind and Common Core. This is the system I am working in. It’s about early predictors and benchmarking and meeting targets. Standardised testing reduces a student to quantifiable numbers and nothing more. It does not gauge their artistic skills or their capacity for empathy or their hatred of science but love of music. That is damaging on levels even I don’t know about. And while it is proven through research that the students who are on track to read at grade level by the time they are eight years old will graduate from high school, that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to educate them to get them to be happy, productive members of society.

I can rant about having to give my kids standardised benchmarking assessments three times a year all I want but that won’t change the fact that they need the skills I teach them based on their results. As I have reflected on the personal conflict I have come across in this area, I have realised that, for me, it’s not about changing the system right now. It’s about helping my 20 students get the literacy foundation they deserve — that they have a right to — to help them survive in the educational and economic system they live in.

The bigger picture — my rant against standardised testing and curriculum and how to get a whole generation of kids to read because they love it, not just because it’s a vital skill to have — can wait. It can stay in the back of my mind as I give hugs and high-fives and stickers after another completed rhyming assessment.

It can wait. But just for now.




Just A Soppy Little Thing

After years of shared meals and rambling stories and hours-long Skype calls and living in each other’s pockets and good-natured arguments and “just one more drink” at 3am.

When you know what their deodorant smells like and what they look like when they are trying not to cry and how they take their coffee and if they leave their dishes in the sink or have to do them right away and how many alarms they have to set to get up in the morning and the one thing they hate on their pizza and who their first kiss was and what it feels like when they hug you so tight your feet leave the ground and and what they order for breakfast at your favourite cafe and what they call their grandma and their greatest fear and biggest ambition and weirdest sexual experience and their most annoying pet peeve and how their eyes light up when life couldn’t get any better than it is in that moment.

Even when you think there is nothing left to learn about someone, there is always something new to discover. There is never a moment where you’re bored with the other person.

I am so grateful that I have been able to develop close friendships like these in the last five years or so.

I will probably delete this later. Until next time, internet.

Sticky Kisses, Messy Hands, and Loud Voices

Just another day in a PreK classroom.

In case you were wondering (and given that my last post was four months ago, I doubt you are), I took the AmeriCorps job that I mentioned in June. I moved to Washington, DC in August — technically, I live in Maryland — where I am hoping to stay for a while. A couple of years, at least. But more on that transition later. I have five or six drafts waiting for updating and polishing, but life has gotten in the way of this blog.

So after a week of intensive training on everything from positive behaviour management to reading interventions to songs about alliteration, I got tossed off the deep-end into a classroom of 20 four-year-olds in Southeast DC. It is not as bad as it sounds…there are two other adults in my classroom (a lead teacher and a paraprofessional aide). But still, being an early-childhood literacy tutor in a room full of energetic kids is certainly never, ever boring.

I am a specialised tutor, not a general TA. I work with all the kids on certain things each day — a small group read aloud and they practice writing their names every day — and now that I am done with my initial assessments, I will have a caseload of about seven students to work with more closely. This will include anything from vocabulary to forming written letters. My caseload of students are the ones who are deemed furthest behind on grade-level literacy skills. I embed songs into our every day routines to teach rhyming and alliteration. I also help out around the classroom with lunch, nap time, clean-up, play time, and the lead-teacher’s literacy and math lessons.

I regularly come home with marker on my hands and arms. My uniform shirts have seen anything from syrup to snot. (See what I did there with the alliteration? I cannot help it now.) My trousers and jeans need to be washed more than normal. I ask “What’s the magic word?” five times a day.  I tie shoes and zip jackets and open milk cartons ten times a day. I give out hugs and high-fives and thumbs-ups and “I love you’s” 20 times a day. I am “Ms Adcock” from 8am to 5:30pm.

(As a side note: I would really prefer to be “Ms Jen”, since I am still caught up in the weird adult-i-ness of being “Ms” anything at all, much less “Ms Adcock”, which is my mother. But even the teachers call each other by their last names, so “Ms Adcock” I will remain.)

I had forgotten how exhausting it is to work with young children for eight-plus hours every day. You have to be mentally and physically present every single second, ready to react to any situation you could possibly think of (and then some you did not) and still somehow teach them what you need them to learn.

Sometimes it is really hard to get up in the morning. The stress is high and the pay is low. But then one of my students writes their name all by themselves and it is crooked and it is messy and it is perfect and it is worth it.

My goal for every day — my silent promise to myself and to my kiddos — is to never raise my voice in anger or frustration and to teach them at least one new thing every day, no matter how small.

So far I think I have succeeded.

Everything is a lesson. For them, for me.

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

If that is all I teach them this year, I will call it a win.

Keeping Myself Honest

I’ve been thinking a lot about my bucket list lately. At the moment, it looks something like this:

  • Get a college degree (including study abroad)
  • See the pyramids (visit Egypt)
  • Learn a second language (with relative proficiency)
  • Swim in the Great Barrier Reef
  • Fall in love, get my heart broken a little, move on
  • Learn to enjoy avocados (including guacamole)
  • See John Williams direct a live performance of his music (i.e. the music of my childhood)
  • Go to Hogwarts with my sisters 

Look at all those items crossed out. I’ve been fortunate in the last decade or so. If I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t really have any regrets about any of that. But I’ve been thinking that I don’t really need a bucket list in the sense that people usually mean it. Generally, a bucket list means…possessions acquired, destinations visited.

I’ve just got…things to do. Things like:

  • Be a better sister and daughter than I was yesterday, last week, last year (always in progress)
  • Be honest and straightforward whenever possible…don’t give or take bullshit, but remain sensitive to people and situations
  • Be more body-confident, including figuring out things like what makeup works for me and how to wear high heels for 6+ hours if necessary (partially complete, but also an ongoing struggle)
  • Make the world a nicer place than it was yesterday, even if that means giving a homeless person a dollar or telling someone I like their outfit
  • Keep an educated mind at all times; stand for what I think is right, but be open to debate and change; do not open my mouth on a subject unless I have something constructive to say
  • Never, ever again let anyone shame me for being a nerd
  • Tell my friends and family I love them (more often)
  • Pay off my student loans…hopefully while doing something that I enjoy
  • Get back to (or exceed) the level of happiness and mental health that I had during 2014-2015

So I’m writing these things to do here, to keep myself honest about them. The internet is forever, right? So this will be here to remind me. It won’t be easy. It won’t be pretty. I probably won’t ever cross these off this list. But I think I can have a damn good time trying.

Adulting Is Hard: Making New Friends

I’m sick of handshakes. And I’ll explain why in a little while.

They tell you when you’re young that it is easy to make new friends if you’re nice and you just ‘be yourself’. And to a large extent, that’s true — children make friends and bond over the simplest things.

What they don’t tell you is that making friends when you’re older is far more difficult and intimidating. Especially when you’re no longer in school, where you are practically handed friends on a silver platter. I mean, in high school or college, everyone is there for a semi-common purpose and you are all facing relatively similar obstacles and triumphs. In university, freshmen or first years generally live in dorms or uni housing, giving them access to people of comparable ages and interests, which usually include exploring how much cheap vodka they can stomach in one night and still make it to a 9am lecture. Or if you don’t click with anyone you might live in proximity to, there are vast networks of clubs and groups to find like-minded people. It’s hard not to make friends in environments like that.

A drawback of making friends in high school or university is that after a certain limited number of years, you are bound to go your various separate ways, and keeping in touch over long distances and timezones is difficult. And as you move on physically, you also grow-up in new and different ways, changing as individuals. You might out-grow each other, which is perfectly natural, if a bit melancholy to contemplate.

I mention all this because it is currently happening to me, on a more painful, stark level than what I had previously experienced. Fortunately, I have not ‘out-grown’ my closest friends, nor do I want to…I can say with certainty that if I could never make any new friends ever again, I would be content with the ones I have for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, my geographically-closest, closest friend lives approximately 340 miles away. It’s the curse of meeting your best buddies when you live/go to grad school abroad. You all have to return to your country of origin eventually, whether you want to or not. (I’m distinctly in the ‘not’ category.) It’s a forced separation that is bridged by that wonderful invention, the internet. But it’s not quite the same as being able to have movie nights and going for drinks and cooking together and…hugs.

I miss hugs.

I’m sick of handshakes because that means that you are meeting someone new. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. But there is no warmth or affection in a handshake. No familiarity. I have shaken a lot of hands in the last couple of months. Met a lot of perfectly nice new people. I have coworkers and acquaintances in the form of my roommate’s friends. I am nice (relatively speaking, most of the time, after I’ve had coffee) and while I am a cautious person with my affection and my trust, I am generally pretty ‘myself’ with new people.

So why is it so hard to make new friends as an adult? One of the biggest obstacles to making new friends —  at least in my case —  is that I have painfully little in common with my new coworkers or acquaintances. We are either at completely different stages of our lives or we just have very different goals and outlooks. Which is all well and good for coworkers and acquaintances (it certainly makes for an interesting work environment)…but in my experience, not exactly a great foundation for lasting friendships. Another big obstacle is that I am spending most of my time working, with little opportunity to find a local book club or something social that would allow me to meet new people I might have things in common with. I also have very little intention of staying in this suburb longer than I have to; so any friendships I form will have to face my inevitable departure and I’m not sure I want to go through the forced separation again. Is it worth it? I don’t know.

And how do I get passed the ‘coworkers’ and ‘friend of a friend’ stage if I decide it is indeed worth the effort? I don’t know that either. Like I said, most of my best friendships have been the result of being in an environment where you make friends because you have to…you’re all thrown together at Ustinov College or the PACE program at Kennedy High School or in Olmeca 3 dorms and you don’t really have any choice but to make friends. But in a work or social situation where you don’t need to see/talk/hang out together outside of certain times, how do you even breach that distance between you and another person? Especially if you don’t seem to have much common ground. Ask to get a drink after work? Accept a movie night invitation from an acquaintance? I’ve done both, so we shall have to see how it goes from here.

Being an adult is hard work. And they don’t tell you about things like this…about trying to keep your head up when you send out 30 applications and don’t even get one interview or about figuring out the best repayment plan for your student loans or about making new friends when you’re not even sure you want to do so but a typed ‘xoxo’ can only go so far and you’re tired of shaking hands when really all you want is a freezing group hug at 1am.


I Finally Met a Donald Trump Supporter

Yes, in real life.

This particular Trump supporter is an otherwise perfectly-reasonable, perfectly-likeable woman. She is generally very nice and hard-working (she designed the interior of the restaurant I work in). A middle-class, self-employed, married-with-children white lady from the Philadelphia area.

I guess maybe I should back up a bit, provide a little context. So, I’ve been working during the day over the past week while the restaurant gets its final touches, and naturally I ended up meeting the designer. We’ll call her Jane — because I’ve given you just enough context clues about what she does and where she does it for you to figure out who she really is if I used her actual name, and I’d like to respect her privacy at least a little. Anyway, Jane asked me what my story was, so I told her, and it turns out that her daughter is studying similar subjects to what I did at university. We got to chatting, and she asked me who I was voting for. I have no shame in admitting that I am voting for Sanders in the primaries, and will work from there if it ends up that he is not nominated.

We keep talking, and throughout the conversation I gather that a) she definitely leans to the right-wing; b) she’s not thrilled with Obama, specifically Obamacare; c) she likes that Bernie is shaking up the establishment but doesn’t like his ideas in general or that he “seems to think that it’s his way or the highway, which is dangerous”; d) she thinks that Trump would be a good president because he’s an outsider who tells it like it is and wants to save the middle class and is just dumb enough to be swayed by better minds who hopefully wouldn’t let him destroy too much of the country; and lastly, that e) the “world order” is screwing up my generation’s prospects and we need to wake up and realise that a select few people control what goes on across the world (she used the example of the Bush and Clinton families).

I’m not even going to touch on subject (e). Who runs the world could take up at least three posts itself.

Anyway, you can imagine my shock when I am having this conversation with this woman I generally like and respect and end up realising halfway through it that while Jane is more intelligent and reasonable than the average Trump supporter, a Trump supporter she is nonetheless. Now I’m not saying that my respect for her went down just because of this conversation and its revelations, but if I’m perfectly honest, it made me look at her differently.

I won’t go into detail about why such a disturbingly large section of the country supports Trump. I know the spectrum of people who support Donald Trump is wide and varied and that many of these people are motivated by fear — fear of the way the economy is going, fear of supposed-terrorists and immigrants, fear of losing their privileged place in the fabric of American society. Others respond to what is seen as his ability to basically say “fuck off” to political correctness.

But I (and so many others) would argue that the last-mentioned quality is not one the United States needs in its president. His rhetoric does nothing productive and instead incites people to verbal and physical violence against those who dare to protest it, as we saw demonstrated in small isolated events earlier this year and then in larger scale yesterday in Chicago. Anti-establishment is good, if it were coming from a place of equality and progress (#FeelTheBern). But in Trump’s case, with the vitriol he spews at immigrants, refugees, peaceful opposition, even his GOP rivals…it clearly isn’t.

I also don’t want to get into why so many of his political campaign promises would be either be absolutely catastrophic or completely unworkable, or both. (Although during my conversation with Jane, the IR nerd in me was yelling to be let loose on how illegal it would be to follow through on his stance of “going after the terrorists’ families”. Not to mention how ridiculous he would look standing next to, say, Vladimir Putin, let alone getting Russia to agree on anything.)

In conclusion, this post has been 700 words of me trying to work through the fact that I actually met a Donald Trump supporter and that I survived the encounter without yelling at anyone or feeling like I needed to take a scalding hot shower to scrub off the racism and bigotry that might have rubbed off on me.

For your entertainment, I will leave you with John Oliver’s video, because he always has “the best words”.

Dear Anonymous

A couple of days ago, Hank Green (of YouTube, DFTBA, Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and various other fantastic things fame) was sent this anonymous question on his Tumblr account:

“To what extend are you Americans aware that you are hated in literally all non-western nations?” 

Hank replied in a surprisingly succinct fashion — normally, he and his brother John are more…verbose in their responses on Tumblr — with a link to a Pew Research Poll. (You can see the original post from the embedded text above.)

Now, I generally try to ignore such blatantly untrue things, especially on the internet, which allows people like the above questioner to hide behind their keyboard and spew hate and ignorance with no fear of repercussions. But having returned from extended overseas travel recently and intrigued by the research that Pew released recently (which I found and dove into thanks to the initial link Hank posted in his response), I decided to hit back at this anonymous person who apparently thinks they can speak for “literally all non-western nations”.

First, it should be noted that, on the contrary, sometimes people in Western nations don’t like Americans very much. Up until recently, especially when millennials began traveling more and consciously began to challenge the “ugly American” stereotype, American tourists were only liked as far as their money could take them and sometimes not even then. (Believe me, I’ve been to Paris…Parisians don’t really seem to like much of anyone besides themselves, and especially not Americans who can’t speak French beyond “merci”.) And, you know, the Brits still do think Americans are loud and rude as a rule, despite the “special relationships”. And Russians — my data will show later — definitely don’t Americans much (although I think Putin wouldn’t care to be lumped in with the West, so Russia can have its own category).

Second, I have significant personal anecdotal evidence that blatantly contradicts the assumption in the original question. Most recently, I was talking to an Egyptian guy who was driving me around Cairo for the day…an experience in itself and truly not for the faint of heart. Anyway, he worked at my hostel and was kind enough to drive me to the Pyramids and around the city and give me some insight into daily life in Egypt’s biggest city (of course, there was a price for him being my chauffeur, but not my conversation partner). I learned that before the “revolution” in 2011, he was studying for his degree in social work and wanted to move to Dubai to try and help reformed prisoners. And then one dictator got overthrown for another and he had to give up his studies and work to support his family. A hostel was the obvious choice because he already spoke great English and a bit of French, as well as Arabic. I bring him up because he was very candid with me…something I was grateful for, because not many Arab men are with Western women on first acquaintance. I asked him point blank what he thought of Americans in general and this was his answer:

“نحن نحبك ولكن نحن لا نحب حكومتكم” …which means “We love you but we do not like your government.” He explained further (in English) that he has been very happy with all the individual Americans he has met (graciously including me in that) and that they were nice, friendly, respectful people. But — and here he reflects the data I will be citing later — he and normal Egyptians generally don’t have much of a good opinion on the American government or its foreign policy toward Egypt. And really, given the recent record of “Talk Lots, Do Little” of the Obama administration toward Egypt, who can blame these everyday people for their indifference or hostility? The US government has done almost nothing for them, despite all the aid that is given to Egypt annually, mostly in the form of military financial assistance.

When I was previously in South Sinai for 6 weeks on that same trip (working in a hotel and diving in my spare time) I was treated well, especially once locals around town found out that I was American. I can’t tell you how many times I would say where I was from and the person talking to me would go, “Oh, America! We love you! Welcome!” (How much of that was excitement over how much money they thought I had to spend in their shop or restaurant, I’ll never know. But that’s not the point.) The point is that everyone in Dahab was welcoming and friendly and helpful, for the most part, before and after they heard about my blue passport.

In Amman, Jordan, it was the same. The falafel guy on the corner, the man in the pharmacy, the other staff at the hotel I worked at…nearly everyone I met asked me where I was from, and when I said “Ana Amrikiya” (I’m American”) the reaction was the same: Welcome to Jordan, how do you like it here? Say hello to Obama for us, he and the King are friends!

In Kenya in 2010, despite one scary outlier incident with a drunk guy, unsurprisingly people loved asking our group of mostly-Americans if we had voted for Obama, and smiled so much when we mostly said yes. In Qatar for my study abroad year, mostly the same, despite the tensions going on during the height of the Arab Spring, with Bahrain boiling over right next door and the US doing nothing about it. In Japan, again, the same welcome, the same very-polite open arms. In Istanbul (a city on the edge between the Middle East and Europe) I traded a kiss on the cheek and the little cash I had left for a gorgeous pashmina, and the proprietor grinned where I told him I was from and said he was proud that his scarf would go back to California eventually.

So you cannot tell me that people in non-Western nations hate Americans. They might not like the U.S. government or its foreign policy, but then, a lot of Americans do not like the U.S. government or its foreign policy either.

And now, in case all that wasn’t enough, I will present you with hard, quantitative data to back up these claims I’ve made, and to refute (maybe not beyond all reasonable doubt) the original statement. Keep in mind: as with all statistical data, the sample sizes vary, there is a margin of error, and social context (the researchers ability to contact people in the countries surveyed, etc) should be taken into account along with the results.

I guess I’ll start with how people around the world see President Obama as a leader, because it’s rather straight forward. Before I begin with more recent data, it should be noted in the interest of fair reporting that in 2014 Gallup released the results of a survey done in 2013, that placed President Obama’s leadership global approval rating in the average of 46%. However, according to Pew (2015), a median of 65% of people polled “say they have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs”. Of course, his approval has slipped sharply in Israel (where his rating is down to less than 50%, especially among voters in PM Netanyahu’s Likud Party); and he “has never been popular in Russia” where his most recent poll comes in with only 1 in 10 Russians expressing confidence in him. Elsewhere, President Obama is still hugely popular in African countries and surprisingly strong in India.

Speaking of Africa (not including North Africa, because that is a different story), according to those polled in nine countries on the continent, the median approval rating of America in general hovers at 79%. Elements of U.S. soft power and key features of economic engagement in the region are also viewed positively by those in the countries surveyed by Pew. Everyone still with me? Because the continent of Africa is definitely “non-Western”, and it doesn’t seem like the very diverse people living there hate the United States.

In general, over the last two years (2014 and 2015, according to these reports by Pew) the American global image has remained somewhat consistent, with approval at median 65% and median 69% for each year respectively. For a more thorough breakdown of the survey results going back to 2002, you can look at this chart. Regionally, the Middle East in 2014 had a low rating of 30% approval and in 2015 “most Jordanians, Palestinians, Turks and Lebanese register[ed] an unfavorable opinion”. Asian countries that were surveyed (with the exception of China at 44% approval) also demonstrated a very positive outlook on the U.S., with highs of 92% in the Philippines and 84% in South Korea. Another notable outlier was Pakistan, which polled at just 22% approval. Heading south, Latin American approval of the U.S. was a solid 65% in 2014 and around the same in 2015, although ratings in Venezuela have dropped and in Argentina the increase has been slow.

Now that I have dumped all this data on you, I’ll give you my reactions and basic assessment and wrap this very long post up. Given my background in international relations and U.S. foreign policy, these approval ratings were actually higher than I expected them to be, especially on the African continent. Places like Turkey (where a favourable view of the U.S. is only 29%, see the Pew results from 2015), Pakistan, China, and Russia having a largely negative view of the United States didn’t surprise me one bit, given the relationships America has with these countries and the rhetoric on both sides, regardless of formal alliances and actions. Just because the Cold War is over doesn’t mean that the U.S. and Russia are best friends now; the U.S. continues to use drones in Pakistan and treats the country as an unpredictable nuclear power. The posturing of island building and continued tacit support for North Korea by China makes it hard for that nation and the U.S. to get along, no matter what the TPP says.

I could go on and on. (As I have in this post, apparently.) The point, however, was to refute the all-encompassing statement in the original post: that Americans are hated by literally all non-western nations. Given the last 1,600 words of personal and statistical evidence, I think I’ve successfully done that. So, in conclusion…

Dear Anonymous:  I am fully, painfully aware of the glaring flaws that abound in the U.S. itself and in its actions around the world and I am not trying to excuse or justify any of it. You personally might hate America — there are plenty of valid reasons — and you might think the world shares that hatred, and frankly, given the media, you might not be blamed entirely for coming to that conclusion. However, next time you try to spread that hate with your unfounded, sweeping statements instead of addressing it productively…

Don’t do it where an internationally educated, well-travelled American can see it.

Stop Asking Why I’m 25 and Single

Before you think that I am just writing this post as a bitter, lonely, mid-20s spinster who is angry that she didn’t have a date this Valentines Day weekend…think again. I am in my mid-20s, but that is where that sentence stops being relevant to me. I’m not bitter, lonely (well, that’s up for debate at the moment, but it’s a different kind of loneliness), or angry that I did not have a date this Valentines Day.

In fact, I think Valentines Day is the worst, most pointless, most commercialised holiday in existence. This is including Christmas and whatever the hell has become of St. Patricks Day. I would not want to celebrate Valentines Day even if I was in a relationship with someone. If you don’t buy me flowers just because, I’m not going to demand them of you on a specific day in February. And I’m not going to buy pink lacy lingerie to wear to bed for one night– I’ll save that for your birthday or really any other day of the year (and it will not be pink).

I tell the people I love that I love them whenever I want. I don’t need a day to remind me.

Anyway, this post is not about or in response to Valentines Day. (Which, if you look at the history, is actually quite bloody and/or controversial, as most history is.)

Our society — whether we admit it or not — still has this ingrained tendency to place a woman’s worth in her relationship status. It starts at childhood — we are told to find our Prince Charming, to not be smarter than the boys because then they will never want to marry us, to dress up and wear makeup (but not too much, because then men think we are “fake”) to class in college to snag a man there, to wear a pencil skirt instead of slacks to a job interview. This is all indicative of the misogyny inherent in our lives. Men are victims of it, women are victims of it.  It needs to change. Which is why I proudly call myself a feminist.

But this post is not strictly about why I am a feminist. It is about one aspect of that part of my personality.

Lately people have been asking — both outright and as part of conversational subtext — why I am 25 and single. As if that is a bad thing. And in some ways, it is. In others, it’s really, really not. I would be lying if I said I did not know why I am single at 25. Here are some of the reasons, some of them more serious than others.

I’m 25 and single because I do not like doing what society (or anyone else really) tells me what I should be doing.

I’m 25 and single because I move a lot. Since I turned 18, I have lived in 3 different countries for extended periods of time. I used to leave San Diego and go back to my hometown during the summers, so any dating or potential relationships would have to withstand those three months, and it never seemed like they would or that it was worth it to try.

I’m 25 and single because I got cheated on during my first real relationship in freshman year of college. Six months and that was that. So I was wary of anything real for a few years. And then, like I said, I headed off to Qatar for a year.

I’m 25 and single because I have not been in a relationship that extended beyond one night in a bar or a couple of coffee dates since I was 19 and I really, really do not know how to be in a relationship.

I’m 25 and single because giving someone else that much of myself is terrifying to me. I do not know how to open myself up enough to really get to know someone, knowing they might hurt me in the end.

I’m 25 and single because I like being able to just…pick up and go to the Middle East for three months. Or move to the UK for graduate school without having to worry about stepping on someone else’s dreams or making a choice to try long-distance or asking them to come with me and then getting rejected. I like my independence.

I’m 25 and single because I’m terrible at reading signs or flirting or whatever. You want to make out with me in a bar in Cardiff? Great, I’m in, but please just either tell me that and we can make it happen or just kiss me and go from there. Don’t be subtle.

I’m 25 and single because I’m such a skeptic of men and their intentions. I’m the girl that will hear a terrible pick up line and go, “God, that was lame” and then the guy will be offended and give up. (Seriously it’s happened before.) But if a guy also just says hello, I’m automatically putting my guard up. So it’s a lose-lose situation over here.

I’m 25 and single because as it says in my intro post (and this is the biggest reason, I think) I tend to fall for people who are unavailable — taken, gay, far away, my best friend, whatever. Which is safe, because I will never risk a friendship or try to hurt someone else’s relationship for my own feelings. So I am just stuck in this agonising unrequited spiral, that keeps me from focusing on other potential relationships.

I’m 25 and single and I do not know where or what I am doing with my life. While it would be fantastic to be able to share some of that uncertainty with a partner, to have a hand to hold, to be able to send a message to someone who isn’t going to tell me, “So sorry, have to go, going to Spain on holiday with insert name here“…all of that is not strictly necessary. I can (and do) shake it off when I see my three of my best friends happily in their relationships– one of which I just…do not understand. Seriously, what do they have in common? But if they are happy, then more power to them. I can (and do) smile and be ecstatic when I receive a “save the date” card from my best friend from high school.

I’m 25 and single and at the moment, I am okay with that. No matter why society tells me, or how sexually frustrated I get, I am alright on my own. I always have been.

So stop asking me why I’m 25 and single. Maybe — just maybe — it’s because right now, that is what is best for me.

And, also, it’s none of your damn business.

Red Tape

My best friend is smart, hardworking, articulate, a good writer, great at small talk (seriously, I’ve never seen anyone my age able to schmooze like that), has two degrees and internship experience, is willing to relocate, wants to help save the world, and dreams of living in New York City someday.

He’s also a UK national. (But don’t you dare call him British. He’ll fight you. It’s an identity thing. And beyond the scope of this post.)

I mention all this because while he is more than qualified to do so many of the jobs that are available and hiring in our field, he is unable to even apply. He cannot check the little box that says, “are you legally able to work in the United States of America?” I have the same problem, except you just need to change the “USA” to “United Kingdom or European Union”.

He’s spent the last four months or so emailing, Googling, and making phone calls on both sides of the Atlantic trying to get someone to explain the American work visa process — or even to tell him which one he might need to figure out the process of. There are multiple types of work visas in the US and all of them require different documents or guarantees. The commonality seems to be that you need an employer to sponsor you for the visa…but in order to even apply to work for said employer, you need a visa. If you do manage to get a visa, they are by no means completely secure — you can be forced to leave the country at the whims of your employer or the State Department if they hit some sort of limit for the year. Basically he’s hit a dead end for the foreseeable future.

Being an immigrant has always been hard. Historically, Americans collectively know this better than any other nation. It’s just…hard for different reasons now. And this is to say nothing of how difficult it is to be a refugee or an undocumented migrant.

I began this post days ago and now I cannot for the life of me remember where I was going with it. There was supposed to be some scathing social commentary. Not so anymore. I suppose it’ll just remain an unnecessarily long ramble.

More broadly, I’m incredibly angry that we live in a world where the state of Texas applies to ban Syrian refugees from settling there. (Thankfully that petition was rejected.) I’m sick of the fact that your country of birth dictates where you can live and work, or that a country you crossed oceans and deserts and endured unspeakable hardship to get to has built a literal wall to keep you out. I’m upset and disheartened that there is nothing I can do about any of it at the moment.

I’m sad about the moments my best friend and I are missing; I’m sad that our conversations about our uncertain futures always carry a level of “if” instead of “when” in the subtext; I’m so selfishly sad that neither of us nor our wider circle of friends have any real means of reuniting.

I’m frustrated by the whole process — the red tape and barred doors that my best friend and millions of other deserving people face in search of a better life.



Chipped Nail Polish

I have been more or less permanently back in the United States for about…two weeks. I say “permanently” because I am paying rent (albeit to my cousin) and looking for jobs that will help me pay my student loans. My belongings have been shipped from the United Kingdom; my dresser is set up in my new room. My address has been changed; I am looking into getting a new drivers license. I cancelled my UK phone plan…to be fair, the service was shit.

Yet somehow, the thing to rub it in the worst has been my nail polish coming off. It’s a dark navy blue — matching the dress I graduated in. The dress is at the back of my closet now. And it’s like the last remnant of an amazing week — an amazing year — is slowly disappearing as I fall back into a terrifyingly ordinary day-to-day routine.

I miss it. The awful hills you have to walk up to get back to Ustinov from basically anywhere. The silhouette of the cathedral in the background of every picture. The mound where we went up to watch a solar eclipse or take pictures after getting covered in coloured powder during Holi or huddle like drunk, freezing penguins at 1am during a party that was evacuated because someone decided it was a smart idea to smoke in the toilets.

Most of all I miss breakfast-and-Tesco with Scott on Monday mornings. Baseball with Steph; wine with Karla. Dylan and his camera, Karissa and her advice. Walking Elsie and cooking with Chris; whisky and human sunshine with Aja. Books and sports with Ruth and Libby. Rob and Corey and Pep and video games and smoking. Pizza, coffee, and Youtube videos in our kitchen with Claudio. Fangirling with Marie, dinners with Nadine and Victoria. Seeing Lara and Mike and Marc and Siobhan at the bar.

They say when you miss someone, it means you loved them enough to feel their loss. And maybe that poetic bullshit is helpful to some people. Not to me. I’m a practical girl — I don’t want to wax on about missing someone. I want to fix the damn problem by going back to them. If I wanted to love someone from afar, I would launch myself into a cheesy regency romance novel. Or go star in another remake of The Great Gatsby.

Actually, I just realised how ironic this is. I say I don’t want to go on and on about missing someone. But that’s essentially what this entire post is about. So sue me. I am allowed to be emotional about this, especially since it’s 2:30am and I am homesick for people who are scattered across the globe.

Seeing you after four months apart was like coming home. Sort of like the universe going, “Here are all the people you will ever need.” And then the universe followed that up five days later with, “Sorry, sucker. Time to leave again. Good luck with that.” My only regret of that week is that I was so sick of goodbyes by the end that I didn’t even give you — any of you — a proper hug.

I cried myself to an exhausted sleep my first night back in the United States.

I’m grateful for technology — 4,000 miles (give or take) and 5-6 hours time difference are vanished by the wonders of the internet. But it’s a poor comparison to the year we spent together. Just like chipped blue polish has nothing on the shiny smooth colour of a freshly painted nail.

I should sleep now. Until tomorrow, internet. I will probably regret this later.