CIEE Week 2: Shanghai + Suzhou

Hello from the flip-side of my first week of classes in Shanghai!

I find it somewhat amusing that I started my classes for this semester the week that all my friends back home returned from spring break, a time that usually marks around the halfway point of spring semester. However, for me and my fellow CIEE students at East China Normal University, the academic year is just beginning. As part of the program, we have two hours of Chinese language classes each day, followed by a three-hour long elective. While the afternoon block is pretty punishing, each elective only meets once a week so I have my afternoons free on Tuesdays and Thursdays until my 4 pm Business Chinese class, which is quickly becoming my favorite class. I’m one of three students discussing topics such as KFC’s Sinofication and shocking our professor with our stereotypically counter-intuitive lack of fast-food consumption.

During orientation last week, one of the Chinese professors mocked American students who complained about the amount of homework and said that once classes started it was time for us to switch into “hard mode.” But to be honest, without the extra curricular commitments I’m used to at Georgetown, I’m finding myself with a surprising amount of free time. This week I took advantage of the down time to open a Chinese bank account, which is a blessing because now I can use WeChat pay and don’t need to carry any cash. Once I set up my Bank of China account, I could also use local apps like Trip.com which one of my classmates recommended as an easy way to buy train tickets. While I will not be buying tickets via that app again because picking them up at the station was a hassle, planning for our first day-trip really made me feel like I was finally settled in to the city and slowly but surely acclimatizing to the culture.
On Fridays, we don’t have class, so a couple of my friends and I took a 20 minute train to Suzhou for the day.Suzhou is known for its traditional Chinese gardens, and it certainly did not disappoint. Getting to Suzhou was quite an adventure in and of itself— we had to pick up our tickets at the Shanghai railway station and the crazy line caused us to miss our first train by a minute. While waiting for the next train, we immersed ourselves in the traditional Chinese experience with a bite at KFC (hopefully my Business Chinese professor will be proud).

In Suzhou, we wandered empty alleyways to visit the Lion Grove Garden and the Humble Administrators garden, climbing in and out of porous rock formations and contemplating the views.

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Some of the intense rockery at the Lions Grove

On the way back, we encountered some more transportation snafus when the man at the ticket desk refused to give one of my classmates his ticket without a physical copy of their passport, even after another one of our classmates had just received his ticket from a different clerk using a picture his passport on his phone and although the office in Shanghai had said it was no problem earlier that day (eliciting the iconic line from the station manager “This is not Shanghai, this is Suzhou”). After getting back to Shanghai, we tried to head back to campus but were unable to hail a cab. We literally had several swerve away from us on the street. Why they don’t want our money I will never understand. We ended up taking the last metro on our line, with hopes of swinging by McDonald’s for a late night snack to round out our very 地道day. Alas, the restaurant was closed, so we biked back to the dorms (shout out to OFO for eliminating any need to join a gym and also saving me from walking across this huge campus).
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My travel buddies aka the Georgetown guys + our friend Cat

Not only did I explore a new city this week, but I also ventured into new food territory. Because of the limited time in between classes, for lunch this week we got acquainted with the cafeteria across from our dorm. For starters, the caf has two levels, with a bubble tea stand, fresh juice stall and a gourmet section that makes fried noodles to order. By far my favorite stand so far though has to be the one where they make jian bing, a Chinese crispy egg-crepe style dish that is often eaten for breakfast or lunch. Back when I studied in Beijing this was one of my go-to’s so I’m thrilled to have a stand so close to my room. While the caf is convenient, my roommate QianWen has been helping me try some classic Shanghai dishes. This week, she took me to HaiDiLao, a well-known hot pot restaurant, where I met one of her friends and fellow students, a 30 year-old man who designs jewelry inspired by Shanghai and ECNU. The hot pot was amazing — I tried dragon fruit, a fried bread dish and even threw in some noodles that were stretched in front of me. Apparently, the waiters who serve these noodles are known for their noodle-stretching performances, taking playing with your food to the next level.

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My dragon fruit acai bowl from brunch

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Brunch Squad

While I’m still elated that $2 dumplings are less than five minutes from my dorm at any given time, I’m starting to crave food from home occasionally. A couple of girls from my program and I hit up Sunday brunch, putting us in an instant food coma, but a solid end to a great week.

In order to avoid the cab hailing issues I encountered on the way back from Suzhou, one of my friend’s Chinese roommate helped us call a Didi, which is the Chinese version of Uber in that you can call a car to your location except you pay at the end just like a cab. On the way, we serenaded our driver with several rounds of the chorus from what may become the anthem of the year and is definitely my song of the week, bringing with it some always welcome levity.

Can’t believe it’s already been two weeks. Time always seems to move at a different pace when I’m abroad!
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CIEE Week 1: Shanghai — the magic city

Study abroad so far has felt like a giant throwback to freshman year, from the dorm and communal bathroom to “anyone want to get food” texts in the 80 person WeChat group. I forgot how much I missed exploring a new city and meeting new people.
In Shanghai, I’m staying on the East China Normal University campus in one of the international student dorms with other students in the CIEE program. My roommate is a local Chinese masters student who is from a few hours outside of Shanghai and studying ancient Chinese art at ECNU. Even though we are in a dorm, in terms of size my room reminds me more of a hotel than my freshman dorm. There’s so much storage space that I’m starting to think I should have brought more clothes.
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My dorm room! Guess which bed is mine…


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Cafeteria breakfast featuring my roommate QianWen

After landing in Shanghai on the first night, my roommate took a few of us to a local hot pot style restaurant since we were starving after all that ~filling~ airplane food. It was surprisingly cold so the hot broth really hit the spot. We got soaked on our way back which was a good way to diffuse some of the awkwardness. Nothing like getting stuck in a storm to bring people together!

During orientation, as we were exploring the sprawling campus, one of the Chinese roommates remarked that Shanghai is known as the magic city because of how it magically switches between seasons from day to day, something we definitely experienced this week as the temperature swung from 30s to low 60s. Somehow, we were lucky enough to get two blue sky days within the week — a rarity for China.
Taking advantage of the good weather, I’ve already begun to check sites off my Shanghai bucket list. We’ve hit The Bund a couple of times, been treated to an impromptu traditional Chinese music concert in Fuxing park, said hey to the site of the communist party’s founding and got asked to be in several photos with locals.
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My scavenger hunt team

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Me and Lois, a Chinese lady who came up to us and asked to take a picture with me and then subsequently sent it to me on WeChat lol

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Quick photoshoot on the Bund

On Saturday, I also explored the old town, contemplating the rockery at Yu Yuan gardens (which is the Chinese naming equivalent of saying chai tea) and people watched at Jing’an temple. The temple was gorgeous and its golden splendor created an interesting contrast with the glitzy mall next door and the office buildings towering nearby. A street musician was jamming out to some Adele on an electric violin as we watched 外国人 and locals alike attempt to toss coins into the lantern structure at the center of the temple’s courtyard. Supposedly, the higher your coin lands, more generations of your family will be blessed.

Even having been to China before, there are still moments where the differences between home and here hit me, in the best way possible. For example, the three other Georgetown students and I have begun frequenting a small hole in the wall restaurant just outside campus where you can get 50 freshly steamed dumplings for what amounts to around 6 USD. They even have a lit egg and spinach vegetarian option! As someone who regularly hits up the dumplings stand at the Georgetown Farmers Market every week, this is a game changer.

With all the noodles and dumplings I’ve been inhaling, it’s a good thing we’ve been walking like six or seven miles a day. After so much walking, you’d think my exhausted body would have adjusted to the new rhythm but I’m still doing calculations every day when I wake up to see if it’s morning in America yet. Maybe the 12 hours of Chinese classes will do the trick once we start school on Monday!

Study Abroad Week 0: Tokyo

Greetings from jet lag city: population of one!

After several months recovering from a whirlwind fall semester, I am finally in Shanghai for my semester abroad. Although when I applied for the program, three months felt like a long time to get ready, it truly flew by; a series of unexpected events coupled with a farewell-for-now visit to DC meant I was frantically packing the night before my flight. If you know me, you’ll know that is is relatively unusual, and if you’ve met my mom, you’d understand that this was relatively unacceptable. I maintain she was just upset that she couldn’t come with me to Tokyo, where I spent a few days before the start of my program.

Since I was in elementary school, I’ve dreamed of visiting Japan. While I don’t speak a word of Japanese, my parents lived there for three years right before I was born so Japanese culture and food have been part of my life practically forever, from the restaurant we go to for every birthday to furniture and the Japanese maple tree on our front lawn. I remember one year, my favorite Atlanta restaurant had a rewards program where the top prize was a trip to Japan and when, albeit a few years later, we finally racked up enough points, I was so devastated to learn they’d cancelled it. I can now confidently tell you that it lives up to the hype I created.

I was lucky that friends of my parents from when they lived in Japan were in town and kind enough to let me stay with them. The Tanakas are in the alcohol export/import business and knowing I had spent time in France, they welcomed me to the city with a 48-year-old bottle of wine and cheese, which of course made me feel right at home. Jokes aside, without them I would have been pretty lost, trying to find shrines based on the few characters I recognized that overlap between Chinese and Japanese.
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Tokyo is unlike any city I’ve been to before. It’s got aspects that remind me of London, Paris, New York and D.C but in my opinion, can’t be easily compared to any one of these big cities. Take, for example, the Tokyo metro: clean and standardized more like WMATA but with occasional art installations that remind me of the Paris metro, above ground stops that feel like the Tube and a seating arrangement within the cars that has a New York feel.
I took the metro on my second day in town from downtown Tokyo to a suburb called Kamakura. Whereas Tokyo seems to be quite the melting pot, Kamakura reminded me of a specific city: in many ways, it felt similar to Rennes. The city center was bustling but just a short metro ride away were silent streets, picturesque hiking trails and rows of small business intermixed among homes. We ended up on one such hiking trail, after the route given by a local passerby dead-ended at the bottom of a trail that lead up into seemingly innocuous mess of trees. 68 meters higher and several miles later, you could hear the nearby ocean which we caught glimpses of through the trees as we hiked towards our destination: a 750-year old giant Buddha statue. Never have I ever been more grateful for an offhand decision to switch my booties with converse for a day; it took a few more seconds to enter and exit the inner sanctum of the first temple we visited but saved me from sliding down the muddy, slowly eroding mountain. Thankfully, the air was fresh and the weather brisk so we arrived in good spirits at Daibutsu (as the Great Buddha is known in Japanese).
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Turns out, the Big Buddha, the highlight of the Kotokuin temple, was only the beginning. By the time I left Japan, I had visited four Buddhist temples and four Shinto shrines, my favorite of which was probably the Hasedura shrine. The shrine showcases traditional Japanese gardens and houses a massive golden Buddha (that I was unfortunately forbidden to photograph).
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A quick walk up and through the shrine, which felt like nothing after the hike to Daibutsu, led us to a spectacular view of the city and ocean below.
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blog8Of course, any recap would be incomplete without a highlight reel of the food. Having grown up with decent exposure to Japanese food, I came to Tokyo expecting more of the same. However, while I did sample some of the staples that have come to exemplify Japanese food in the U.S (ramen, sushi, tempura), I was introduced to a whole new array of flavors and dishes, from the depth of options at a mall food court to a prix-fixe vegetarian menu that was written only in Japanese. I also went to a kushiyaki restaurant, where diners sit along a U-shaped counter and watch the servers cook in front of them, serving skewers of grilled meats and vegetables, paying based on the number of empty sticks piled up at the end. Needless to say, it was awesome and delicious.
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I would definitely say stopping in Tokyo before starting my official study abroad program was a 10/10 decision. Not only did I get to fulfill a lifelong dream and cross another country off my well-worn scratch map, but I have a feeling the the additional four buffer days to adjust to the time difference are going to be clutch. Although after wearing out my shoes with well over the coveted 10,000 steps a day while in Japan, I might just end up with my brain and body too tired to figure out what time it’s supposed to be.
Speaking of the amalgamation of cities and timezones I’m holding in my head at the moment, while I was in Atlanta before I left, I went to a concert for a band I was first introduced to during my previous study abroad experience with SYA France back in high school. As I was attempting to fall asleep on the plane, a line from one of their new songs kept repeating itself in my head and now that I’m somewhat well rested, I think it’s a good mantra for my upcoming semester. No matter what happens or how stressed I get, I’ve just got to remind myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Sadly, I had to say goodbye to the land of automated taxi-cab doors, heated toilet seats and rotating mannequins. See you on the other side of week 1 in Shanghai.
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P.S – In order to keep things interesting, I’m going to try to tie each update to a song that I associate with my experiences. Hopefully by the end I’ll have a solid playlist to listen to and reminisce whenever people back at Georgetown get tired of hearing about “when I was abroad.”

A moment of silence for the violence

There’s no clapping at a vigil. Everyone stands in an understanding of silence, of acceptance, of inclusion. No judgment, neither good nor bad. Our thoughts, unfettered, guide us towards what is beautiful, inching humanity towards peace.

In times of tragedy I write. I’m an emotional person but I find it hard to express physically, and I find it fake when I try to articulate it verbally. And so I write.

This weekend, I knew I would have to try and process what all had happened. The news trickled in while I was in a car, belting along with peppy music, and I was struck at how my life could go on seemingly seamlessly while the lives of those I loved could be in jeopardy. I was so grateful for social media in those moments, because my connectivity reassured me. And I realized how precious each life is, how important to me my friends are, whether I knew them for only a year or have grown up alongside them. To me the attack on Paris served as a commentary on my own life, and on this world we live in, and finally gave me a reason to stop and think.

It’s been a while actually, since I’ve taken the time to reflect and write. To jot down feelings beyond a few platitudes. Partially, it’s because I’m busy. Freshman year of college has swept me into its whirlwind embrace and I’ve flung myself happily into the chaos. But it’s not just that. I haven’t felt motivated in a while. Call it writer’s block or what have you or blame all the essays I’ve been writing but I haven’t felt the need to write in a while. And any time I’ve tried recently, the words have churned out formulaic, trite or oddly in rhyme.

I also no longer feel as obligated or drawn to sharing everything, be it my feelings or experiences. Now more so than before, I’ve encountered moments I don’t want to capture. Moments too precious to sum up in words, or a picture or even video.

Yesterday night, after the attacks in France, Kenya, Beirut and too many other places over the weekend, I attended an interfaith vigil in the memory of those victimized by the violence. As I stared down at my candle, watched the flame flicker, sputter and struggle to stay alive, I let the words of my peers wash over me and felt a deep rooted sense of peace. Coming back on campus that afternoon from a weekend away had truly felt like returning home. It’s not a feeling I can capture in a photo, though I have tried many a time in vain. It’s having people shout your name when they see you in the dining hall and getting flustered from having to give so many hugs in response. It’s spending an hour criss-crossing campus to say hi to everyone I missed, to catch up on their weekends, because two days a part feels like a lifetime. So, surrounded by this love, I didn’t record the vigil. I thought about it, but nothing I did would be able to convey how proud I am to be a part of this community. How happy I feel when my best friend on campus throws her arm over my shoulder and we walk, intertwined in silence, to the library.

While I haven’t attended pooja (a Hindu religious service) in what must be years, hearing Sanskrit, though not in the hushed voice of my grandmother but the strong lilt of a classmate, rise into the inky air above the candle-lit students at the vigil, comforted me. It’s as if the universe was saying here, have a piece of home to weave into your new nest. And with each prayer from a different faith tradition, I breathed a little deeper. I’d somehow chosen to continue my education at a Jesuit university, after 13 years at a Christian day school, despite the fact that I am not Christian. Yet standing at that vigil, I was reminded why that hadn’t mattered because religion here is not exclusive. It’s how the University shares its values with the world and welcomes others.

Nobody claps at a vigil because we’re too busy admiring the great depth of human compassion. No judgment, no validation, because we just put ourselves out in the open, let our thoughts take flight and marinate in our gathered community.

The 2016 Presidential Candidates: The big shots and the up-and-comers

As the 2016 Elections draw near, many primary candidates have tossed their hats in the ring. The latest polls have Donald Trump leading the GOP race, followed by Jeb Bush, and Bernie Sanders catching up to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Here’s a closer look at the background and stances of the 18 Republicans and 5 Democrats in the running as of August 9, 2015 (listed alphabetically by last name).

Jeb Bush – Male, 63 (R)

  • Former Governor of Florida
  • Son and brother of two U.S presidents
  • On abortion: Supports banning most abortions after 20 weeks
  • On the economy: Opposes raising taxes
  • On education: Supports implementing the Common Core
  • On gay marriage: Opposes same-sex marriages
  • On gun control: Supports expanding the rights of gun owners
  • On healthcare: Opposes the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare
  • On immigration: Opposes legal path to citizenship for undocumented residents

Ben Carson – Male, 65 (R)

  • Retired neurosurgeon
  • On abortion: Supports banning most abortions after 20 weeks
  • On climate change: Does not believe that global warming is a threat or a proven trend
  • On the economy: Supports a flat tax and eliminating the IRS
  • On education: Opposes federally-determined standards, such as the Common Core
  • On gay marriage: Disagrees with the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage and believes marriage is between a man and a woman but recognizes the Supreme Court ruling as “the law of the land”
  • On gun control: Proposes few limits on gun ownership except for the mentally ill or those convicted of a violent crime
  • On healthcare: Supports replacing the Affordable Care Act with health savings accounts
  • On immigration: Proposes a national guest worker program for undocumented residents

Lincoln Chafee – Male, 63 (D)

  • Former Governor of Rhode Island
  • Left the Republican party in 2006 and became a Democrat in 2013
  • On the economy: Supports building up infrastructure to bolster the economy
  • On healthcare: Supports the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare
  • On education: Supports increasing government funding
  • On abortion: Supports a woman’s right to choose
  • On gay marriage: Supports marriage equality and the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationally

Chris Christie – Male, 54 (R)

  • Governor of New Jersey
  • On abortion: Supports banning abortions after 20 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother
  • On climate change: Believes climate change is real and supports the Keystone Pipeline
  • On education: Opposes the Common Core currently (though he helped New Jersey sign on initially) and supports waiving No Child Left Behind rules for states
  • On gay marriage: Believes marriage is between a man and a woman but recognizes the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage as “the law of the land”
  • On gun control: Opposes ban on assault weapons
  • On healthcare: Opposes the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare and wants it repealed
  • On immigration: Opposes legal path to citizenship for undocumented residents but supports in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Hillary Clinton – Female, 69 (D)

  • Former Secretary of State and former first lady
  • On abortion: Supports a woman’s right to choose
  • On climate change: Proposes more development on clean renewable energy to stem climate change/global warming
  • On education: Proposes refinancing student loans and making an effort to make college more affordable
  • On gay marriage: Supports the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage
  • On healthcare: Supports Obamacare but thinks the government can do more to lower the cost

Ted Cruz – Male, 45 (R)

  • Senator from Texas
  • On climate change: Doesn’t believe that the earth has warmed substantially in the past 17 years
  • On the economy: Supports adopting a flat tax
  • On gay marriage: Opposes Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage
  • On gun control: Supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms
  • On healthcare: Opposes the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare

Mark Everson – Male, 45 (R)

  • Former IRS Commissioner
  • On abortion: Opposes abortions unless the life of the mother is at stake
  • On the economy: Supports the Competitive Tax Plan authored by Columbia professor Michael Graetz
  • On gun control: Supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms
  • On healthcare: Opposes the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare but supports efforts to raise the threshold for fulltime work to 40 hours
  • On immigration: Supports amnesty and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and supports the E-verify system

Carly Fiorina – Female, 62 (R)

  • Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard
  • On abortion: Supports making on-demand abortions at 20-weeks illegal and is pro-life
  • On the economy: Supports small businesses as the backbone of the US economy
  • On education: Wants to focus on curriculum reform, accountability, and developing great teachers
  • On gay marriage: Believes that marriage benefits should be bestowed by the government equally to everyone but that the government must also protect the rights of those whose religious beliefs mandate that marriage is solely between a man and a woman

Jim Gilmore – Male, 67 (R)

  • Former Governor of Virginia
  • On abortion: Supports the partial-birth abortion ban
  • On the economy: Supports greater banking oversight
  • On gun control: Serves on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association (NRA)
  • On immigration: Opposes amnesty for undocumented residents

Lindsey Graham – Male, 61 (R)

  • Senator from South Carolina
  • On abortion: Supports making on-demand abortions at 20-weeks illegal and is pro-life
  • On the economy: Supports keeping Social Security and focusing on entitlement reform
  • On education: Supports preserving student loans
  • On gay marriage: Believes that marriage is between a man and a woman but supports the Supreme Court’s ruling
  • On healthcare: Supports making healthcare more affordable and accessible but doesn’t see the Affordable Care Act as the solution

Mike Huckabee – Male, 61 (R)

  • Former Governor of Arkansas
  • On abortion: Supports banning all abortions
  • On climate change: Believes scientific predictions about global warming are inaccurate
  • On the economy: Supports eliminating income taxes and the IRS and replacing it with a national sales tax
  • On education: Supports the Common Core but opposes federally-mandated testing and believes states, not the federal government, should set the standards
  • On gay marriage: Supports a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage and opposes allowing same-sex couples to adopt children
  • On gun control: Supports concealed carry laws
  • On healthcare: Supports repealing the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare
  • On immigration: Supports requiring immigrants living in America illegally to self-deport within four months, except those brought here as children

Bobby Jindal – Male, 45 (R)

  • Governor of Louisiana
  • On abortion: Supports banning most abortions after 20 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother
  • On climate change: Believes climate change is real but doesn’t support the stricter regulations and current environmental rules favored by the Obama administration
  • On the economy: Proposes increased defense spending, eliminating state income tax and supports President Bush’s proposal to offer voluntary private personal savings accounts for social security
  • On education: Opposes the Common Core and supports increased funding for community colleges
  • On gay marriage: Supports a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage and believes that marriage is between a man and a woman
  • On gun control: Supports protecting an individual’s right to gun access and ownership
  • On healthcare: Supports repealing the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare
  • On immigration: Supports a path to citizenship for undocumented residents and expanding legal immigration
  • On ISIS: Supports sending U.S troops on the ground

John Kasich – Male, 64 (R)

  • Governor of Ohio
  • On abortion: Supports banning abortions after 20 weeks, except if the life of the mother is in danger
  • On climate change: Believes climate change is real but opposes EPA regulations of emissions
  • On the economy: Supports cutting income and corporate taxes
  • On education: Supports the Common Core and decreased funding for education
  • On gay marriage: Believes in traditional definition of marriage but supports the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage and respects the right of individuals to love whomever they love
  • On healthcare: Supports the federal Medicaid expansion but proposes repealing and replacing the rest of the Affordable Care Act
  • On immigration: Supports allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally but proposes an alternative to a path to citizenship
  • On ISIS: Supports sending U.S troops on the ground

Martin O’Malley – Male, 53 (D)

  • Supports raising the minimum wage to $15/hour
  • On abortion: Supports abortion access
  • On climate change: Supports government regulation of greenhouse emissions and the cap-and-trade carbon emissions policy
  • On the economy: Supports raising the minimum wage and opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • On gay marriage: Supports the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage
  • On gun control: Supports ban on dozens of assault weapons, limiting the size of gun magazines and requiring fingerprints to buy a handgun
  • On healthcare: Supports the Affordable Care Act and proposes expanding it to an “all-payer” system
  • On immigration: Supports the DREAM act and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants

George Pataki – Male, 71 (R)

  • Former Governor of New York
  • On abortion: Opposes government involvement in a woman’s decisions
  • On the economy: Supports lowering taxes and regulations on businesses
  • On education: Proposes lowering university costs and that the government quit profiting off student loans
  • On gay marriage: Supports leaving the decision up to the states
  • On gun control: Supports stricter enforcement of federal gun laws
  • On healthcare: Opposes the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare

Rand Paul – Male, 53 (R)

  • Senator from Kentucky
  • Son of former presidential candidate, former Representative Ron Paul
  • On abortion: Believes that once a fetus is a baby, it deserves to live
  • On the economy: Supports lowering tax rate
  • On education: Supports making college education deductible
  • On healthcare: Supports lowering the cost of healthcare but not through Obamacare

Rick Perry – Male, 66 (R)

  • Former Governor of Texas
  • Currently under indictment for abuse of power and coercion
  • On abortion: Opposes abortions after 20 weeks, except if the life of the mother is in danger
  • On climate change: Believes that global warming is an unproven scientific theory
  • On the economy: Supports a flat tax of 20%, capping federal spending at 18 percent of GDP and balancing the budget within a decade
  • On education: Proposes closing the Department of Education and opposes any federal education standards such as the Common Core
  • On gay marriage: Opposes a federal ruling and believes states should decide whether or not to allow same-sex marriages
  • On healthcare: Supports repealing the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and letting states replace it
  • On immigration: Opposes any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants until America’s southern border is secure and the federal DREAM Act but supports allowing undocumented students access to in-state tuition
  • On ISIS: Supports sending U.S troops on the ground and increasing airstrikes

Marco Rubio – Male, 45 (R)

  • Senator from Florida
  • On abortion: Supports banning abortions after 20 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother
  • On climate change: Believes global warming is real but not affected by human activity
  • On the economy: Supports decreasing government spending for everything but defense and cutting corporate taxes to 25 percent
  • On gay marriage: Believes marriage is between a man and a woman but recognizes the Supreme Court ruling as “the law of the land”
  • On immigration: Supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
  • On ISIS: Supports increasing the president’s power to combat

Bernie Sanders – Male, 75 (D)

  • Senator from Vermont
  • On abortion: Supports a woman’s right to choose because a woman, not the government, has the right to control her body.
  • On climate change: Supports and has proposed comprehensive legislation to combat climate change
  • On the economy: Supports raising the minimum wage and opposes free trade
  • On education: Proposes free tuition at public colleges and universities, refinancing student loans, and getting the government out of the business of
  • On gay marriage: Supports the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage
  • On gun control: Supports ban on certain semi-automatics and instant background checks
  • On healthcare: Supports Obamacare but would like to see it expanded as a “single-payer Medicare for all” program

Rick Santorum – Male, 58 (R)

  • Former Senator from Pennsylvania
  • Came second in the 2012 GOP Primary
  • On abortion: Supports banning all abortions, except if the life of the mother is in danger
  • On climate change: Believes global warming is real but not affected by human activity and supports drilling for oil in Alaska and the construction of the Keystone Pipeline
  • On the economy: Supports raising the minimum wage
  • On education: Opposes the Common Core
  • On gay marriage: Supports a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage
  • On healthcare: Opposes Obamacare and proposes an alternate system with tax credits for low-income Americans and high-risk pools for those with previous illnesses
  • On immigration: Opposes the DREAM act and any path to citizenship for undocumented workers and proposes restricting legal immigration
  • On ISIS: Supports more air strikes and proposes deploying 10,000 U.S. ground troops

Donald Trump – Male, 70 (R)

  • Business mogul and host of the “Apprentice”
  • On abortion: Supports limiting abortions and currently identifies as pro-life but previously supported a woman’s right to choose
  • On climate change: Believes global warming is a hoax
  • On the economy: Supports cuts in government spending and eliminating corporate taxes
  • On gay marriage: Believes marriage is between a man and a woman and should be defined state-by-state
  • On gun control: Opposes restrictions on gun ownership but supports a ban on some assault weapons
  • On healthcare: Opposes Obamacare and supports Medicare (and Social Security) benefits and universal healthcare
  • On immigration: Proposes building a wall along the southern border of the U.S and opposes a path to citizenship for undocumented workers

Scott Walker – Male, 49 (R)

  • Governor of Wisconsin
  • On abortion: Supports banning abortions after 20 weeks, with exceptions only if the life of the mother is in danger, not for incest or rape
  • On climate change: Opposes EPA emissions regulation
  • On the economy: Supports cutting tax rates
  • On education: Opposes the Common Core
  • On gay marriage: Believes marriage is between a man and a woman and supports a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage
  • On immigration: Opposes a path to citizenship but doesn’t believe deportation is the solution
  • On ISIS: Supports going beyond airstrikes

Jim Webb – Male, 70 (D)

  • Former Secretary of the Navy
  • On abortion: Supports abortion access
  • On climate change: Supports building the Keystone Pipeline and limiting the EPA’s power to regulate emissions
  • On the economy: Supports cutting corporate taxes
  • On gay marriage: Believes same-sex marriage should be legal but that government shouldn’t have a role in private matters
  • On gun control: Believes gun ownership is an important right
  • On healthcare: Voted for Obamacare but believes it should be smaller in scope
  • On immigration: Supports the DREAM act and a path to citizenship for undocumented workers once the border is secure
  • On ISIS: Supports limited military action

Cross-posted from Smart Girls Group

Making History: US Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Marriage Nationwide

June 2015 will go down in the books as one of the most monumental Pride Months in American history. After hearing the Obergefell v. Hodges case, five of the nine Supreme Court Justices determined on June 26 that the 14th Amendment of the Constitution encompasses a national right to same-sex marriage. Previously, the 14th Amendment, which addresses the rights of citizens and the equal protection of all under the law, was instrumental in crucial equal rights cases, including Brown v. Board of Education (racial discrimination), Roe v. Wade (reproductive rights) and Reed v. Reed (gender discrimination). Once again, it has ushered in a new wave of equal rights legislation, with this monumental Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.

In the past years, gay rights have become a high priority issue, compared by some to the civil rights activism of the mid 1900s. Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage in May 2004 and in 2013, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was deemed unconstitutional, thus granting federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in states that recognized gay marriage.

With the Obergefell decision, the United States becomes the 21st country to recognize same sex marriage. Prior to the Supreme Court decision, a total of 36 states permitted gay couples to get married, making it a viable option for approximately 70% of the US population. The June 26th ruling means that marriage bans must end in the remaining 14 states — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

Despite the majority of states having legalized same-sex marriage, the issue remained highly controversial, prompting the Supreme Court to settle the matter once and for all on a national scale. Proponents for gay marriage believe that it greatly benefits gay lives (their families, community, children etc.) without hurting or impacting heterosexuals, that same sex couples should be allowed the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples, and that same-sex couples’ right to marriage is theoretically protected under constitutional commitments to liberty and equality. Critics argue that it goes against the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and woman (thus undermining the institution of marriage), that allowing gay marriage starts a slippery slope to other “non-traditional” also undesirable relationships like polygamy, that gay marriage will destroy the heterosexual community through an influx of socially equal gays, that gay marriage creates a home environment not suitable for children who need both a mom and dad, that it’s against the beliefs of many religions, and that it further removes marriage from its purpose of procreation.

The decision for marriage equality is likely the most awaited of a series of recent SCOTUS rulings. Prior to the decision on the Obergefell v. Hodges case, the Supreme Court ruled that certain subsidies in the Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as Obamacare) were allowed not only for state-run insurance exchanges but also for those operated by the federal government. In the Supreme Courts third ruling in relation to Obamacare within three years, chief justice John Roberts wrote in support of the majority, that “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.” That same day, the Supreme Court also ruled on housing discrimination, voting 5-4 to broaden the types of claims allowed under the Fair Housing Act. Coupled with the Obergefell decision, this Supreme Court ruling represents a major triumph in the fight for equality.

As is the case with most notable events these days, social media erupted once news of the Obergefell decision broke. Snapchat added two geotags (one of a rainbow-striped equal sign and another with the words Making History) as well as a Marriage Equality Snapstory, #LoveisLove and #LoveWins were trending on Twitter, Instagram announced their rainbow-emoji themed weekend hashtag project (#WHP) and Facebook was filled with rainbow-tinted profile pictures created with facebook.com/celebratepride.

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After the decision, President Obama also took to Twitter to express his support, and later in his oral remarks lauded the ruling as having “made our union a little more perfect.” He added that it “gives us hope that on many issues with which we grapple, real change is possible. A shift of hearts and minds is possible.” These comments serves as a reminder that, though we celebrate today the immense progress that has been made and the many lives that have been changed for the better, the many new couples now free to spend their lives legally married to the ones they love, the march toward equality is not yet over.

(Cross Posted from Smart Girls Group)

The ABCs of High School

Every year since I was a freshman I’ve written about graduation. This year it’s my turn. By the time this goes up, I will no longer me a high school student. I will have graduated from the institution I’ve attended for the past 13 years. 13 years is a long time. I’ve been saying this so often in the past weeks and months that it no longer feels significant. Regardless, there are a handful of people I’ve seen almost daily since I was 5, and it will be strange to enter a universe where nobody knows these people or their faces.

My stint in the big house the kids these days call high school has come to a close. As a reflection, and for all the bright-eyed soon-to-be high-school freshmen (which includes my dear, darling sister) who in a few months will be walking through the halls I can trace like the veins on the back of my hand, here’s a (by no-means comprehensive) guide to high school. Given one person’s limited lens of experience, I asked some of my fellow seniors to pitch in. Think of it as an addendum to Ned’s Declassified, and remember, stay in school kids!

Apologies. “Learn when to use them. Stop apologizing for things that don’t matter and apologize when you are angry. The familiar feeling of rage and indignation means that you actually probably need to swallow your pride and apologize. Don’t cite excuses; don’t let it sit and stew; just do it. The apologies that come easy – the ones you say all the time because you have been taught – those are unnecessary. Stop apologizing for who you are and start apologizing for the things you do out of inconsideration. It may hurt initially, but it feels better afterward.” – A.N

Awkward. “High school is awkward. Let’s all be awkward together.” I.C

Balance. It can be a most elusive mistress but one worth the effort to seek out. Balance prevents burnout and helps keep things in perspective.

Bravery. “In all honesty, surviving high school in one piece is maybe the most challenging thing you will ever do. From drama to grades to boys and girls to family to anything else, mental sanity often takes a back seat. But if you find bravery in your choices and actions, if you strive to challenge yourself and courageously persevere, you’ll make it. Be brave with your endeavors, take risks, make assumptions, leap towards new opportunities, don’t fear your feelings. Be brave and conquer.” – R.M

College apps. It’s part of the circle of life. Come fall of your senior year, it’s all anyone seems to talk about. They’re long and arduous and of course important, but when senior spring comes around you’ll be amazed how quickly decisions come and suddenly, only some of those applications matter.

Drinking. And doing it underage. It’s a thing. You know this. I know this. According to the experts, it doesn’t occur as much as modern media makes it out to but chances are, you’ll get invited to at least one party where people are drinking. Know it’s illegal in the U.S if you’re under 21. Moving on.

Exercise. Whether you’re an all-american 3-sport athlete or a gold-medalist in the art of binge watching, it’s important to get up and move around every once in a while. After all, as the ineffable Elle Woods once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t!” Anything from a quick run with your dog or even a walk around the neighborhood to joining a yoga class, will help stave off some of the stress.

Failure. “It sucks and it’s the best thing that can possibly happen to you. Everyone says it and I’ll say it again: you can learn from your mistakes, and they can be the best teachers.  Chances are someone will get pissed at you, you’ll fail a test, or you’ll lose the game for the team at some point along the way. I’ve done all of the above. Embrace it, own it, and grow from it.” – I.C

Grades. “The boy you sit next to in Chemistry will ask what you got on the last test, your best friend will do better in math than you, your parents will insist you can do better. Try to realize how ridiculous it is that hours of hard work can be translated to one letter and try to let it go if that letter isn’t an A.” – N.B, The Girl in the Little Black Dress

Hope. It’s a thing with feathers, according to Dickinson. But seriously, dare to dream. Set goals. Make wishes. “When good things happen, you’ll have faith in having hope.” – S.B

Hurt. “High School is riddled with it. Whether it’s your friends, your teachers, your enemies, your gal or guy, or your lack of one, it happens. A lot. Heartache seems like it won’t end, like your heart is caving in on itself, like every breath you take is a conscious effort to insist your lungs keep working, when your mind feels so empty and so busy at the same time. Step one: drink lots of cold water. Absolutely. Don’t question it, just do it. Wash your face while you’re at it. Step two: do something uninhibitedly for yourself. Buy something, do something, see something. Do something that makes you happy solely because you want to do it. Step three: do something uninhibitedly for someone else. Helping others is the surest way to relieve the prism that forms around your hurt. Do something for someone who didn’t ask for it, who needs your time more than you do. Then, collect yourself. Turn around and resolve to be strong, to be wise, and to be open. It’s hard, harder than almost anything else, at some point, you’ll look up, and you’ll feel your heart healed and open and curious again.” – R.M

IPhone. “Your smartphone of choice. Can’t live with it; can’t live without it. Actually, you can. No one talks about the nights they spent on their phones, scrolling through Twitter. Stop living other people’s lives vicariously and remember to put down the lens through which you have come to view the world. Pictures are cool, but actual memories are cooler. Have a girl’s night where not a single person has her phone on her. It’s worth it.” – A.N

Journal. “I dare you to spend a week writing in your journal every day. Just write about what you did, who you got ice cream with after school. The following week, dig a little bit deeper. Who did you think about during math class? What are you going to miss the most about the year you’re leaving behind? Wait a few days, a few weeks, what have you, and read it all over. Then try to journal for the whole school year. Write about things that make you happy. As the years pass, you can follow your past, and stay fully focused on the future, remembering details, and noting them as you live them.” – S.B

Kindness. “The average person is marked as such because they consistently fail to make the difference between mediocre and life-changing. Think back to the last act of true kindness you witnessed, and you feel your heart swell up inside your chest with esteem and gratitude. It’s simple. Make conscientious decisions, love freely, be aware, and most of all, strive for compassion. You can change someone’s life with a single choice.” – R.M

Kiss. “I was one of those people who got so wrapped up about the first kiss that it took me far too long to actually get around to doing it. Let me assure you, I am now a fan. I stand behind my girl, Audrey Hepburn, when she said, ‘I believe in kissing, kissing a lot.’ I would also like to add that I believe that dancing around your room while lip-syncing Taylor Swift is a perfectly acceptable reaction to a first date. Academics are important, but remember too that you’re young and that’s beautiful and it’s okay to be a little drunk on youth. Don’t leave high school regretting all the what-ifs and near-misses. If you’re waiting around for a shy guy to make a move, kiss him first. Practice unashamed, terrifying bravery in thirty-second intervals, and go for it.” – A.N.

Love – what a hefty word. Don’t just sling it around. I don’t wanna knock high-school relationships or sweethearts because I’ve seen and heard of many fantastic, successful such couples but don’t despair if you don’t find “the one” in high school, or hey even in college. That’s not the end all be all. Have fun, let loose and remember, “we accept the love we think we deserve.

Mentor(s). Someone older than you whose judgment and opinion you trust. Bounce things off of them, even if you think it might be trivial because if it’s important to you then it matters, at least to some extent, and two heads are better than one.

Music. “Send people songs. The best pick-up line I ever used was “what’s your favorite song?” I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much wonder on a stranger’s face before. It’s something to talk about, a warm hug when you’re alone in bed and can’t fall asleep. Just listen to music, and share it with others. Go to live concerts. Go to symphonies. This one time I was on a school trip and feeling really lonely, and then we went to an orchestra concert, and I absolutely fell in love. Music is magical. Just let it happen.” – S.B

No. “No is a complete sentence and an answer to a question that doesn’t need a follow-up. Learn to say no to some of the obligations heaped on you. I wish I had mastered this particular skill far earlier. Better to be really good at a few things than a Jack of all trades, master of none. Say no to situations that make you uncomfortable. If no one hears you, leave. Get help. Get out. No one has the right to judge you for your own boundaries. Say no when you would compromise yourself by saying yes. Say no even to people you like. Don’t let your well-being and sanity take the backseat for a friend. You never, ever have to qualify the sentence “No,” and under no circumstances should you ever apologize for it.” – A.N

Novice. “Newbie, beginner, baby, n00b. Most likely, you’re always going to feel like one, even if people look up to you (which they will), and that’s totally fine. Nobody has it all figured out. Really.” – ELS

Organic Chemistry. “That’s the horror class that you’ll hear about from college students, whenever you chat with them. But high school has them, too: your BC Calculus, your Music Theory, and if you ask the right people, every other class there is. You can either loathe the horror classes or embrace them, and the people that embrace them tend to come out a little more satisfied. So no matter how difficult a class is, if you go into every day hoping you’ll learn something (even if it is organic freaking chemistry), you probably will learn more and be happier with your learning then the grumbling people in the back of the room.” – ELS

Outsider. “Disney Channel has us well prepared for the inevitability of standing alone in a room, sitting alone at a table, walking alone in the halls. And yet no one has ever perfectly described the gut tangling, heart wrenching, mind clouding loneliness that ensues when you realize you don’t fit in. People will tell you to ignore this, to overcome it, but they don’t understand the difficulty and futility of “mind over matter” when you feel that every essence of you is unwanted. The simple solution is to breathe. Because it happens to everyone. All the time. Often. It happens, and social dynamics will never avoid it. It’s not a matter of being proud or strong in front of others. It’s a matter of being proud and strong for yourself. You have to love yourself, you have to believe with everything in you that maybe you don’t want to conform, maybe you don’t enjoy a certain company, maybe you’re worth being more than tolerated. Because you undoubtedly, infallibly, always are.” –R.M

People change. Since I’m assuming you’re human, you will too. Not all change is bad, and not all change is good, but it’s part of the circle of life, and the best part is, if you don’t like something, you’ve got the power to turn it around. Never forget that change is within your hands.

Question everything. You’re only young once. Now’s the time to learn what you want. Be curious and don’t accept the status quo just because it’s been the status quo for ages.

Read. For pleasure. And the book(s) that are assigned for classes. It’s not the cool thing to do, and it’s tedious at best, but if your goal is a high GPA or a prestigious university, it’s a great study habit. I wish I’d listened to the people who told me so earlier than I did.

Remember. “Appreciate the best of moments and the worst of moments. Internalize them, write them down, think of which stories you’ll tell your kids and your grandkids, think of those which you may never tell anyone at all. High school has ups and downs, but it’s the most condensed clash of experiences you are likely to ever have. Don’t let it pass you by.” – RM

Sleep. Like everyone will tell you, it’s important. And, it is possible to get the requisite 8-10 hours even on a school night. However, you will have at the very very least, one all nighter, and for sure a handful weeks where you get on average approximately 3 hours of sleep a night. This isn’t the norm every year for everyone nor is it the exception but more work and more responsibilities will cut into your beauty rest. Set boundaries so its effect is as minimal as possible.

TV. Combining it with studying is oh so tempting but not very effective. Seriously dude, don’t.

Umbrella. “Find yours. When your day goes to crap, when you can’t get through another minute of class or of people, when you feel like the skies are always cloudy and the rain will never stop, find a place, a home, a sanctuary. Be it a great book, a comfy bed, a challenging hike, find some way to release yourself and your tensions, and things will snap into perspective. Take time to reenergize so that when you face the world anew, you can give it hell. – RM

Unique. “As many times as you’ve heard it, this is the number one thing you want to be, and not just because colleges will maybe probably like you better if you are. Find your passions before you let anyone convince you that they’re “weird” or that you’re “not the type,” and then just fly with them. Whether that’s playing sports with balls, playing the mandolin, or playing every single nerdy board game you can get your hands on, the people you meet when you’re playing your way are leaps and bounds better than the people that will try to make you play their way.” – ELS

Virginity. “People try to make sex a really big deal. It is, and it isn’t. It’s not a concept to take lightly, but it’s not the meaning of life. Well, maybe it is. But not in high school. Grow up on your own schedule. When the time comes, it comes. When the time comes for your friends, give them a high five, and remember that your timeline does not have to rely on theirs.” – S.B

Work in progress. That’s what you are, as you go through these 4 years. You’re growing and changing and therefore, nothing is permanent. (Except, technically a tattoo). There’s an ancient proverb that says this too shall pass and it’s very applicable to high school.  One moment you’ll be devastated because you got your history paper back and the next, ecstatic because the cute kid who sits behind you in economics said ‘Hi’ in the hall. Life is ever-moving, ever-changing (just like each and every one of us) so don’t sweat the small stuff.

X…. “It seems like there aren’t really any words that begin with X. Find your niche. Do something crazy that nobody’s ever heard of. Audition for solos, make speeches, write a paper about something nobody else agrees with. Be special, be yourself, be different. Diversity is about pushing aside what we all seem to have in common, and bringing people together through their differences. Find a word that starts with the letter X that isn’t xylophone.” – S.B

You can do it. Whatever it is. My grandmother always told me, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. And, as a high schooler, your age can be an advantage and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Youth. “Remember that you’re young. You make mistakes, other people make mistakes, and this is your chance not only to learn to forgive, but to learn to grow. This is your time to try new things, to be glorious, to be beautiful, and to be unhindered. Explore every meaning of the phrase ‘you’re only young once.’” – R.M

Zumba. “And all the other random clubs and activities out there that at first glance don’t seem like what you want to be doing on your Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, but then suddenly everybody is doing it. Somehow there are a lot of those. The point is, there are a lot of neat adults and almost-adults that have a lot of diverse skills and interests, and you never know who you might meet while sweating and trying not to look like a rejected flamingo while you miss half the steps you were just taught.” – ELS