What the Youth Climate Movement Needs

The youth climate movement is impressive, but I cannot help but feel that it is falling on deaf ears. Pre-coronavirus, young people all over the world were skipping school and taking to the streets to demand “climate action.” But, what does that mean? In the eyes of world leaders, they’ve already done so much – drafting the Paris Climate Agreement, bringing climate change into every conversation, putting on convention after convention – and now these young people want even more? Do they know how the world really works, and what it takes to actually divest – what it will mean for the economy? Sure, to the youth, perhaps the economy doesn’t mean as much as their futures, but what if their parents can’t buy as much food because the economic turmoil spiked prices at the supermarket? What if gas costs too much to transport them to these climate marches?

The youth climate movement is a global force, but those staging protests need to set out clear demands. I suggest 3 demands per country, each in a different economic sector – agriculture, energy, and manufacturing. Each country heavily subsidizes various industries. The leaders of the climate movement in each country/region/city should expose their government’s spending habits that benefit industries that do harm to the environment. They should then demand a change to their subsidizing practices; and encourage the public to boycott these businesses until they move toward better environmental practices.

Right now, the youth climate movement is loud and the young people are passionate, but the governments to whom they are shouting are exhausted, and perhaps even out of ideas. Most leaders’ idea of ‘acting on climate’ is signing a paper that says that they’ll ‘somehow’ reach carbon neutrality one day. Clearly, they need some direction. The young people demanding that their government officials use their positions of power to make concrete change should be working with economists, engineers, lawyers, etc. to offer concrete steps of change, and showing what these steps will cost to become a reality. Their protest signs should express the dollar amount that their government spends on fossil fuel subsidies each year, as well as the number of votes their legislators have cast that helped exacerbate climate change. Then, constituents should hold their votes hostage until the clear demands that they have laid out are met. They should also prime well-informed young people who share their commitment to addressing climate change, to run for office.

It’s not enough to yell from the street, “Act on Climate!” We have to organize a platform, get on the level of the powerful, and infiltrate the system from within in order to change it. Localize the movement to focus on the specific sectors in your region that are making climate change worse. Don’t just yell, “Change!” Show these so-called “brilliant” leaders what the change has to look like, and present the information in its starkest form. Each government official should be able to call on any protester and get a clear, specific answer when they ask, “What are your demands?”

Barefoot in India

Traveling through India has made me consider the value of wearing shoes. I spent a month backpacking through cities in the south of the country – my second trip to the subcontinent – and I couldn’t help but notice that Indian people simply do not like wearing shoes.

Mumbai, Maharashtra – November 2019

95% of people wear sandals or flip flops, and at any moment they have the chance, they remove them from their feet – as though they are restrictive, a burden. Many stores and temples require shoe removal before entry, and lots of people go about their days barefoot by choice. It’s not necessarily a sign of poverty to be barefoot in such a place. In Pondicherry, I saw a woman holding her newborn baby on the back of a scooter behind her husband – she donned a beautiful pink and gold sari and silver anklets. She was barefoot. In a restaurant I stopped at somewhere between Hampi and Mumbai, I looked around at the patrons eating – almost all of them had removed their sandals and set their feet atop them.

Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu – October 2019

There is no sign anywhere in India stating, “No shirt, no shoes, no service” as in Florida where I come from. In India, women especially, are dressed to the nines – saris, anklets, toe rings, bangles – but shoes? Maybe, maybe not. I went to dozens of temples on my trip, and in many of them, shoe removal is required before entry. I wouldn’t say it’s a cleanliness thing – it’s more of a way to connect to the place – the ground, the earth, the stone that makes up the place of worship. It’s better to be connected to the place through your feet, than to create a barrier with those annoying shoes. It’s been shown that being barefoot can be beneficial to balance and body awareness.

Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu – October 2019

In Madurai, there’s a massive, famous temple complex with a gate at each of the cardinal directions. The security to get into the place is no joke – I had to go back to my locker multiple times before I was granted entry by the security guards. My shoes, obviously, were not allowed. After exploring the temple and coming out, I didn’t even want to put my shoes back on. My feet were already dirty and there were people with bare feet everywhere. It would be easy to assume that there’s broken glass and trash everywhere in India, but there isn’t. Sure, there’s a lot of litter around, but not on the main walkways. I was confident that my feet would be fine, and I considered the value of dirtying my sandals versus staying barefoot, which is generally more comfortable. But eventually my Westernness got the better of me – I went to a waterspout, cleaned my feet and put the sandals back on.

I often thought, in all my American privilege, that lots of Indians would do well to get a pedicure – to take care of their feet – perhaps cover them up once in a while. If you look around at people’s feet, you see callouses, dryness, brown toenails, endless dust and dirt plaguing them. But I kept coming back to something my best friend said, “Whenever I see Indian women, they stand like they are rooted to the ground. Their legs look like tree trunks.” I observed the women I saw and yes, they all looked stable, connected, hardy. They’re used to holding babies on their hips while cooking and cleaning. They’re used to being pushed and prodded in the bustling market among the billion of their fellow citizens. It’s a crowded place – a place full of poverty and music and conflicting smells. Of all the things the typical Indian has to worry about, shoes are not on the top of the list. I’d be surprised if they even broke the top 10.

Mysore, Karnataka – November 2019

I’m Confrontational – Here’s Why You Should Be Too

Miscommunication is rampant in relationships.

‘Confrontational’ is seen as a dirty word – one that few people want to be described as. I, personally, prefer to confront than to assume. I am confrontational. I get to the bottom of what’s bothering me with people. It shows that I care enough about the relationship to understand what’s going on – including what I may have done wrong. I think people avoid confronting others about problems because they’re afraid of what they’ll be left with – of the conversation they’ll have to have with themselves after the one with the other person is over. It’s fear – fear of having to face yourself, rather than to live comfortably with the delusion of your victimhood. Maybe in some respects you were the oppressor. Maybe you’ll even feel implored to apologize. 

Apology is one of the most powerful things in this world when it comes to human connections. Asking for forgiveness; moving the balloon of your ego out of the way to see straight – to see the path you’re meant to be on – helping the person you wounded remove the burden of their pain. The victim can do it alone, perhaps with a lot of tears and therapy and introspection; but if you just put your ego aside, and say the simple words, “I’m sorry,” it can have a profound effect on the sufferer’s state. For some people, stating their apology is too much to ask for, no matter what their crime. For others, apology is so overused it has basically lost all meaning, and can only be of significance depending on their tone and the setting of the situation.

One’s ability to trust, their sense of shame, the longevity of their guilt and wonderment about their own actions can all be curtailed by the utterance of two simple words: “I’m sorry.”

Still, so many people reside comfortably in the delusion that their actions don’t matter. Instead, they diminish the significance of the relationship in their life – deem it not worthy of saving. That’s how hard those words can be for some people to say. That does not mean you shouldn’t expect them if you’ve been wronged. For some, admitting that they did wrong is enough. It shouldn’t be. That’s just before the threshold of apology, and admitting you did something wrong without apologizing just makes you seem like more of an asshole than anything else.

Say it. Feel the significance of the other person. Evading vulnerability is a delusion in its own right. People are afraid to care these days; there’s always an alternative, something better. Some believe it’s hard to see when a relationship – friendship or otherwise – is significant. Let it be. Feel what you feel. Care enough to talk it out. Learn how to. Know what you’re worth. Demand respect, and reciprocate it.  

I felt wronged by someone I care about. This person was less than apologetic. He wanted to downplay the significance of his words and actions. I didn’t bother trying to convince myself that our relationship didn’t matter. It did. It does. We had multiple confrontations, initiated by both sides – because we were beyond the delusion of the friendship not mattering. It took time and tears and introspection and brutal honesty, but we got over the hump – and closer as a result of choosing fierce friendship over shallow, fleeting companionship. The uncomfortable conversations were worth it. 

Be willing to tell someone that you care about them. Show them that they are significant to you, so they can see it for themselves. When we show that our heart is open, with full awareness that there’s a possibility of bruising, we can open up others’. Then you can both accept the fact that evading vulnerability is impossible anyway, so you might as well decide to just enjoy the ride.

Compromise is the true pillar of democracy. The more polarized we get – censoring one another’s language, engaging in more shouting matches than listening sessions, the further away we get from anyone’s semblance of an ideal. We fight and push and go to bed with clear consciences; meanwhile the suffering are those without the means to fight, whose plight is used as a pawn in argument, but nevertheless overlooked when policy is finally made. Get off your imaginary high horse. We’re all festering in the mud together, delusional about our grand intentions.

To The Stutterers of the World

I grew up with speech impediments – a lisp, the inability to pronounce the ‘r’ sound far past the cute toddler stage, and the worst — a stutter. Throughout my elementary school years, I attended speech therapy, leaving class twice a week to the curiosity of my classmates and entering into the small, dimly lit room with the other speech impeded children. For years, with gritted teeth of frustration, I attended these classes, and slowly, I fixed the ’s’ and eventually, the ‘r’ too. No longer was my name ‘Schewa Schakeena Mawschall’. However, the stutter persisted. At the age of ten, a few years after my parents’ divorce, my mother, four siblings, and I moved to a nearby suburb, and I reluctantly switched elementary schools for 5th grade. The change was not welcome, however, my new speech therapist took a completely different approach to dealing with my stutter than that of my previous school. Instead of sitting alone in a cubicle recording myself speaking using some obsolete device that required a magnetic card, I was told to simply tell stories to the other students in the speech class. Sure, it was nerve-racking at first, but being surrounded by students who all suffered from various speech related issues slightly softened my nerves. The best part was, they actually enjoyed my stories. I made more progress in that single year than I ever had, and I vowed not to take speech therapy in middle school. I couldn’t bear it. Still, my mother spoke to the speech therapist at the middle school and received some books from him; books that took me years to even open. Throughout my middle school years, the stutter was still a problem; some days were worse than others for speaking. At times, my nerves got the best of me for weeks at a time and every word took 5 or 6 tries, with the constant, “stop and take a breath” from mother, which, though well-intentioned, infuriated me. I had things to say, and I didn’t NEED to pause. No one else needed to – why should I?

In high school, with various family issues and a step father I was less than fond of, my stutter got worse. ’S’ words were the worst, and unfortunately, my name starts with ’s’. The thing I dreaded more than anything was someone asking me my name. It was a familiar scenario, “Hi, my name is ______.” “Hello, I’m S-s-s-s-s-s-s-s” “Um, did you forget your own name?” with a chuckle. I never got used to the mortification, but after a while, interrupted with, “No, I have a stutter,” flatly. I didn’t say it to make the other person feel like a jerk. I said it to clear the air so that there wouldn’t be the awkward wonderment of why everything I said took so long. That in itself actually made things slightly easier. The stutter could be expected. Then the person would know there wasn’t something mentally wrong with me. We could move on, continue with the conversation. Yes, the ‘Oh, I have a stutter sometimes, too” or “You must have loved that movie The King’s Speech” got old, but I tried to remember that people were generally well intentioned, and just trying to relate. 

I used to think (in all my privilege,) that the only thing holding me back in life was my stutter. I hated it. I hated how it was perceived. I hated the way it sounded. I hated the way I felt, and the way I dreaded speaking at all. Then, one day, in high school, I found those books from the middle school speech therapist in my closet, and I read one. To my surprise, there was no mention of a magic cure, or some device to fix my problem. The book had stories (and videos) of young people who stuttered. And the answer – just talk anyway. I was amazed. I had spent years refraining from raising my hand in class, pleading ignorance in hopes of not having to speak aloud to spare myself the embarrassment of laughter from my classmates; years changing my word choice to avoid the ones that routinely made me falter. And all it told me to do was to talk, even with the knowledge of each and every word that would come out in a stammer. Just decide that what you have to say is more important than the embarrassment. The simplicity was profound. 

And I tried it. Along the way, I also decided that at a certain age, laughing at someone for their speech impediment made a person less than enviable; in fact, I assumed that their parents must never have taught them better values, and felt sorry for how they would turn out as a result. Really, in a high school honors class,  you’re laughing at the girl for her stammer? Please grow up before college, lest you represent the generation I share in with you. 

Using this method, I made a lot of progress, and met people who, years later, told me that they never knew I had a stutter. I stopped fearing introducing myself, and instead, anticipated it, gave myself a rhythm, went over it in my head, and chose to calm down instead of tense up at the thought. Of course, the stutter came out here and there, and I didn’t exactly enjoy speaking aloud in front of a crowd, but I was willing to do it. I was willing to drown out the laughter and remind myself of the duty I had to speak, whether it be for a school presentation or because my thoughts were actually important. 

Then, in college, I had an eye-opening experience. I was in a junior level international relations course. The class had about 120 students in it, most of them ‘taking notes’ on their laptops. As we spoke about taxation and the arguments about entrepreneurial incentives, the professor referenced a recently published article by Warren Buffett, and asked the class to see if they could find it. I happened to be the first to do so, and raised my hand. To my surprise, the professor asked me to read it on the spot. I did, knowing I’d stammer, but unwilling to back out – I was simply too old for that. So I read, and I stammered, and the point Warren Buffett was trying to make was made. I brushed off the stress and continued to take notes. When class ended, a boy approached me. He was young, slender, wore black clothes, and held himself with little apparent confidence. He told me that he couldn’t believe that I had read despite my stutter. He also had a stutter that was very obvious. I could see that he was still in the phase I had been in in elementary and middle school. He still didn’t raise his hand in class. He still avoided conversations and encounters where he would be prompted to speak. I introduced myself and told him to walk with me. I explained that we were technically adults now, and that even though having a stutter sucks, that it can’t be an excuse to not do this and not do that forever. We all have things to say, and as we grow up we enter into an exceedingly competitive world. If we don’t speak up, no one will wait for us. No one will hold our hand and tell us to take a pause. It was time to decide to speak anyway, stuttering the whole time if need be. Just get the words out. Hear yourself. Let others hear you. It’s never going to sound perfect, but you’re going to make a sound, and that’s what’s important. 

We walked for about a half hour before parting ways. He seemed inspired, and I genuinely hoped he would heed my advice and decide to speak up more. I was left in a state of confusion, surprise, angst. How could I have assumed that everyone who had speech problems received speech therapy, had supportive parents, and that someone in the equation felt strongly enough to encourage them? How ignorant I had been in my privilege, that others would not be able to bear their own silence for so long. 

I have never forgotten that young man. He opened my eyes to how far fear can take us down an undesirable path. I’m grateful that he approached me, and that we talked – that he was willing to talk – that he felt comfortable knowing that I shared his affliction. 

Of course, when it comes to any kind of therapy, different methods work for different people, but I am a firm believer in being heard. The U.S. is a country that was founded on free speech. Why let the time it takes to get our words out stop us from saying them?

The Journey Thus Far – Teaching in South Korea

I’ve never considered myself a “world traveler,” but lately, people have been referring to me as one. For the majority of the past 3 years, I’ve been living and working in South Korea as an ESL teacher. During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to save money and travel around Asia. It’s been quite an experience. In this blog, I’ll elaborate on this time in my life – explaining what it’s been like working in a foreign country, traveling to amazing places, surprises I’ve had along the way, politics and their historical context, cultural oddities, etc.

My first job in South Korea was at UNESCO Global Peace Village – an English Village in Icheon, about an hour south of Seoul. There are basically 3 types of ESL jobs in Korea – after school academy (AKA hagwon), public school (think EPIK Program), and English Village. EVs are the least sought after option – there are simply fewer of them around, and the teaching style is different – it’s like a camp, so the students come for a week or two at a time, stay in dorms, and learn English in a fun way – lots of activities, fewer books.

South Korea is known for its intense education system, and it correlates to its high suicide rate (SK has had the highest suicide rate in the world for over a decade.) Students often go to multiple academies after school, have a ton of homework, and are pushed very hard to do well on exams. Suicides actually increase around exam time. Here, overbearing parents are referred to as “tiger moms,” Asian mothers who are very involved in their child’s academic life – constantly pushing teachers, principals, and their student to give more, and to do better. There’s an annual college entrance exam that the country takes so seriously that the government grounds planes during the oral portion, halts noisy construction projects so as not to distract the students, and offers emergency police rides to the test site for students who are running late. Needless to say, they take school very seriously in SK. It’s not uncommon for students to start the day at around 7AM, and to not get home until 9 or 10PM.

As a teacher, I don’t want to contribute to that stress. At GPV, we taught interesting classes, such as Peace, Ecology, Culture, and World Heritage in keeping with the UNESCO theme. It’s more fun for everybody to teach things the students are actually interested in learning about.

The main thing with EVs is camp time. Sure, a regular program is like a camp for the kids, but real camp time is twice a year – Summer Camp and Winter Camp – it lasts longer, and that’s what you have to make all new classes for. At GPV, a rather small EV (max 100 students,) we had themed camps, so all of our new classes had to correlate with that theme. This could make it fun, and really tested the teachers’ creativity. I got a lot better with PowerPoint at this time. We decorated the school, created our own games and worksheets, and pilot taught, i.e. showed our finished classes to our fellow teachers and boss to get constructive feedback, in the hopes that they wouldn’t tell us to scrap the whole thing. Camp time is intense, you work more and sleep less, but it’s got a lot of fun extras, and the kids tend to have a great time, which makes it worth it.

When I applied for this particular job, the UNESCO part really stuck out to me, but as I’m sure many people have observed at various jobs, just because an organization claims to promote pure values, those who manage such places do not always follow them. Still, I learned a lot – about curriculum development, how to approach ESL, what to prioritize, and that I could, in fact, ‘make it’ living in a foreign country. Overall, I looked back on the time fondly – I had a pretty sweet, albeit small, apartment in a teacher’s cottage, led large group games which got me out of my comfort zone on the microphone, had quite a few drunken nights in Seoul, and made at least one lifelong friend.

GPV was remote. This is halfway between the teacher’s cottage and the bus stop. At least the rice paddies are pretty.

After traveling for 5 months (Laos, Vietnam, India, and back to the U.S.) after my first contract ended, I returned to Korea for a different ESL job. I decided to try out a hagwon, or academy. I hadn’t wanted to do this at first, but a good EV job was difficult to come by – timing or reputation-wise – and I didn’t want to continue imposing on friends and family back in the States. (I was a vagabond, a jobless interloper, and though catching up with loved ones was fun, when you’re not making money, you’re spending it.) So, I had a Skype interview with a nice gentleman from a small hagwon and decided to head back to SK in early-mid February, when the PyeongChang Olympics were happening there.

As soon as I started the job, I knew I’d made a mistake. The school and my apartment were tiny, and resources were scarce. My bosses, a married couple, were very nice and caring, but clearly in way over their heads having taken over the school only a few months earlier. Within 3 weeks, I had a Skype interview with a nearby English Village, one I’d wanted to go to but which couldn’t hire me until April. I agreed that, with the notice I’d need to give as per my contract, that that timeline would now be fine. I felt guilty, but gave my 2-month notice, teetering with the decision until the last minute. The one thing I needed was a letter of release, or else my visa would be cancelled and I wouldn’t be able to return to Korea until it ran out, a year later.

The next two months were awful. I got closer to the students at the hagwon, but my bosses were colder with me. The man who’d interviewed me, a nervous-laughter-as-a-response-to-everything sort of gentleman, tried to bait me, bribe me, tell me I was dishonorable, etc. I explained the situation – what I had to deal with, which, as the boss he should have known but didn’t, and finally, he understood, though it didn’t make the rest of my time much easier. His wife, who’d been pushed aside in her leadership role by her husband due to my decision to jump ship, kept her communication with me civil, but minimal. A ton of work was piled upon me, leading to a lot of unpaid overtime, but I did it all with little outward complaint, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The bosses were so impressed (or desperate) that they begged me to stay until my last week, even having found me a new apartment (it was actually just as small as the one I’d had, but the layout was different.) I was flattered, but I refused. I’d already signed the EV contract.

My last day was a Friday, two days after my 28th birthday. I left cards and candy for everyone on staff, but the parting was less than tearful. Two adult students I’d made friends with picked me up and took me to dinner. That night, I packed up my apartment, and the next day my new boss came with an SUV to help me move. I was off to a new situation. Sunday was “training” for about an hour, and Monday I was thrown into the mix, teaching. I could say it was overwhelming, but I taught Dominoes, so the extent of the stress was finding the building I needed to go to on the huge, sprawling campus, and carrying the heavy box filled with dominoes. Since then, I’ve been back to the cushy life of an English Village teacher. My apartment is AMAZING, the classes are fun and generally simple to teach, we have resources, and my boss is reasonable and approachable. There are TONS of foreign teachers, many of whom I’ve made friends with, and I feel immensely blessed. I live close to the town of my former hagwon, but in an even smaller suburb. I like it though; it’s cute – it’s got personality, and I get a nice view of the farms when I walk to get into town – maybe for a coffee, a kimbap, or a beer sitting outside the convenience store on the plastic chairs – so Korea.