Halfway There

And yes, I AM living on a prayer.

This week known as Reading Week, which is more like Writing Week for me as I try to tackle 3 research papers with my spare time, marks halfway through my time studying abroad.

As with any semester, every week feels like it drags on, but the weeks pass by very quickly, a strange phenomenon. My days are down to a routine, and I can get my way around campus quite easily. I have familiar faces around me now. It almost feels weird to think back being on my home campus despite also knowing that like the back of my hand. I can get used to change fairly easily, so any hesitation was more of first-day jitters.

Because at first, it definitely felt like I was a freshman all over again. Everybody else, being it halfway through the year, has established themselves here. Especially on a small campus, that is even more evident. These people have a closely knit community I really admire, but it’s hard for a “drifter” like me to get to their level. I was back having that same anxiety from my first year wondering if I was doing it all wrong, if I should be doing this or that instead. I think the kids call that FOMO: the fear of missing out.

A consideration I was hoping I wouldn’t have much to deal with was mental illness, but alas, but depression and anxiety have hit me hard. This semester has also been different in that I’m not invested in a lengthy schedule. I have free time now I never had before during the school year, and that was very hard to get used to. I’m not good with free time, but it was a challenge for me to tackle.

Now on to the more fun things. I am beyond grateful for my experience thus far. I have found a new place to call my own, a beautiful place with a landscape I have immediately fallen in love with. While it’s intimidating to have two fluent languages conversing around me, it is also exciting. My campus has some beautiful buildings and people in them. 

Should I also mention again how I saw Justin Trudeau last month? That alone makes the trip worth it. But I have also enjoyed exploring the nearby burough and downtown area. And yes, I enjoy being a spectator right now as I see the current state of America and where it might be heading.

This experience continues to teach me every day. I learn the value of what “home” means to me, which has never actually been a place, but the people I hold dear. Keeping up with contact as well as a long-distance relationship aren’t easy, but they are worth the effort. 

I have always prided myself on being independent, but studying abroad is a true test of that. Which admittedly, it’s intimidating. Simple things like figuring out the bus system or getting lost can become overwhelming, but I have truly taken this time as personal growth. I have been able to learn about myself like never before. I have been able to dig deeper and discover new passions. I can grow more comfortable with myself and the person I would like to be, all of which are very empowering. Obviously you don’t need to leave the country for four months to figure that out, but being in a new environment is so helpful. 

I cannot wait for what the next two months will bring and how I can enrich my time here even more. As I had expected, my travel bug is now buzzing at its loudest volume, making me really consider how I want to move forward into the coming school year, my last year. 

The things I have to come learn and appreciate I hope to carry with me back to the States and beyond. I want to look at any sight and be in awe. I want to see the goodness in people. I want to make time for the things I truly believe matter to me. I want to look at fear and hesitation in the face and just live.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Campus Safe Haven?

For my host country like Canada, universities need no special recognition for welcoming anybody regardless of citizenship or ethnicity. When Canada already has an administration known for accepting every person that enters its borders, the entire country is a safe haven. The country hasn’t seen many asylum-seeking immigrants before, but according to Canada’s National Post, officials need to start preparing for an influx of new people at the border.

American perspectives on immigration are a tad different. Since Trump has begun pushing for efforts to find and remove all undocumented immigrants from the country, the collective emotion rising among the American people is fear. If Trump were to deport every single undocumented immigrant, the New York Times says the total people affected would be up to three million. If his plan is carried out accordingly, it would require raids by a vastly larger federal immigration force to find immigrants and send them out of the country. This proposed policy in of itself leads to further complications and questions.

From the anti-immigration fear arose an increasingly popular title for universities to adopt: “sanctuary campus.” A Billy Penn article defines a “sanctuary campus” as any American college that adopts policies to protect students who are undocumented immigrants. The term is modeled after policies implemented by “sanctuary cities,” a status that has been adopted by over 30 towns. The status suggest campus policies such as barring campus police from enforcing immigration orders, not sharing student information with immigration enforcement officials, and denying federal officials entry without warrants.

My home campus, the University of South Dakota, is considering actions toward becoming a sanctuary campus. If approved, the decision would be the first of its kind in the sparsely populated conservative state. While it’s honorable to consider such a title, the campus designation is just that: a title. The title might be even more problematic than helpful. All college campuses should do the most within their power to legally protect undocumented students. Going beyond legal means would be both risky and potentially detrimental to the entire student body.

Becoming a sanctuary campus is less about practicality and more about viral headlines. Especially in the conservative Midwest, the term depicts a defiance of law and serves as a trope for unauthorized immigration. When such a “sanctuary” is tinged with racist and anti-Mexican sentiment, the term becomes even more poisonous. One person’s safe harbor is another person’s harboring. The real authority here, no matter how public universities try, is the state government funding it, a government that could easily decide to cut funding if such “sanctuary” actions are taken. Federal action could even potentially threaten to withhold federal funding for colleges refusing to issue student loans to students at sanctuary campuses or withholding federal research grants.

The sanctuary campus movement mainly aims to protect those under DACA, or Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals. American organization Immigration Equality says that on June 15, 2012, President Obama created a new policy calling for deferred action for certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children. After already deporting some recipients of this designation, according to the BBC, Trump seems to be disregarding DACA already, going on the basis of young people committing crimes worthy of deportation. Ultimately, however, DACA is a temporary deferment. Student visas are available, but to get a Green Card requires employment and there are a limited number. With any executive action to further deportation efforts, DACA would inevitably see an end altogether. At this point, all Trump has to do is stop renewing permits and stop deferring deportation.

The deportation matter is one we need to tread lightly and cautiously. In protecting students, universities should do anything legally possible for students who, after all, are not lawbreakers. Institutions should automatically provide support and services, as they would for all their students, especially vulnerable ones. Exacting pledges that cannot be kept will do no one any good.

Several major campuses have already decided to avoid claiming themselves as sanctuaries, including Stanford and Notre Dame. Both universities see the symbolic weight of moving forward as sanctuaries, but officials from both campuses see a greater fear in federal retaliation and increased exposure for vulnerable students that public institutions cannot protect them from.

Whether a university declares itself a sanctuary or not, American students still have basic rights that can protect them. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), for instance, prohibits schools from releasing a student’s personal information without the student’s consent. Also, the federal government has a long-standing policy to not attempt raids or arrests at certain “sensitive” locations like college campuses. Although there is obvious  concern that the Trump administration could reverse or even revoke those policies, immigration advocates say that the policies have been in place for so long that changing them would be extremely difficult.

As a public university, is moving forward into unknown territory with unknown repercussions smart? Universities can continue providing education and a location where immigration agents likely won’t go, but we’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist yet. The sanctuary title is nothing but another form of protest, a protest that would cause more harm than good. Choosing to be proactive is respectable, but it’s more respectable to have truly clear, legal standards to protect students.

The real action needing to take place is at the federal level to allow greater accessibility for immigrants to become citizens, a hope that probably isn’t feasible under the Trump administration. I wish I could end on a more hopeful solution, but legally, there is none at this point. To show support for all students, USD’s SGA bill works just fine, but we cannot expect USD to get involved otherwise. The government is still in charge. We just need to keep protesting and voting. We cannot stand behind a public university to face our problems. If this is an issue we are concerned about–and rightfully, we should be–this is our battle to fight.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Strain on Eyes or Trees?

Since I have midterms coming up next week, the impending doom of what those tests (and anxiety) might entail, my reading has certainly slowed down from past month. Another key reason is that it keeps snowing (cough, Spring, you can show up any time now…) so it’s near impossible for me to make it to the used bookstore I love.

Although there is an avenue I have considered to help in this dilemma, except my own preferences get in the way. I’ve tried to do the whole ebook thing. I’d love to be able to do it. My eyes just do not appreciate reading from a glowing screen for hours. 

I already spend so much time in front of a computer or phone screen, reading is my little escape from the technological overload to wind down and feel like I’m not just wasting my mind away to mush. Yes, this is legitimate concern for me. 

And especially knowing the big environmentalist that I am, you’d think I’d be all on board for more ebooks. Not only do they save trees from succumbing to the publishing industry, ebooks are cheaper to begin with and you can usually read them from multiple devices. Heck, if a book is old enough to be free domain, you can just read online for free, no questions asked.

Yet I still cling to the idea of holding a book in my hands, flipping the pages to see how long a chapter is, judging my progress from the depth of a bookmark. Reading is an experience, and having a slim little device takes away all of that joy.

Call me dramatic. I should just appreciate the literature and writing itself that I’m reading. But I truly do feel a difference in my interest and retention of what I’m reading when comparing the two scenarios. If I have technology in front of me, usually it’s not to read. Having your eyes staring at a YouTube video or TV episode is very different from reading.

Obviously people have preferences. If you have young people who don’t like reading in the first place, ebooks are a great compromise. For others, me included, the screen results in visual fatigue. Plus, especially for those who enjoy reading before going to bed (a great option for people with sleep problems. Again, I fall into this category), the artificial light transmitted from the screen will have the reverse effect on sleep. 

When it comes to college textbooks, I prefer finding them online, which seems counter to everything I’ve said thus far. Yes, I retain way more information with a paper copy, but textbooks are also ridiculously expensive. Regular books can be very expensive too for what they are, too, but you have to find where the deals are: used book stores and thrift stores. 

I already talked about the used book store I stumbled upon a short walk away from my university, and trust me, the prices would make any college student giddy. Plus, it eases my sustainable mind knowing that the system is recirculating titles already in print. My books can go to a good home, and I can find some unique books myself. 

If you’re into the idea, of course there is always the library. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve never been big on libraries. Is it because I don’t like feeling like I have a strict deadline to enjoy a book? Or is the building just too eerily quiet for me? Who the heck knows, but despite my immense love for reading, it has never really appealed to me. Obviously if you aren’t as picky as me, it’s a great option. Just listen to Arthur and grab a library card.

So the premise of this post: you can still be sustainable whilst enjoying the sensory experience of reading. It’s easier to say we aren’t attached to such nostalgia and can enjoy the latest technology in literature, but if I can still have a peace of mind while having a growing stack of books on my desk, that is my go-to. That stack is a representation of my love for reading, a visual way to show the progress and knowledge I’ve gained. An ereader, no matter how advanced, will never have that same sense of accomplishment for me. Maybe I’ll try reading some classic novels online to get used to the idea more, but I’m stubborn in my ways. I say if this is the one aspect of life I can at least modify, find a middle ground between very wasteful and very efficient, I gladly will. 

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Drawn to Faith

I am very glad at how inspired I have been recently to get in touch with my spiritual beliefs. Even when I was at my local church for confirmation classes, I don’t know how much I thought about what was being taught to me beyond just going through the motions. I appreciate now that this is strictly self-governed interest into learning more. 

While I admire the discipline of people who can just sit down every day read some of the Bible. Admittedly, I’ve been trying my hand at that with my phone’s Bible app, but since I’m not involved with an actual church body, I feel like I’m lagging behind. Obviously faith isn’t a competition, but I would like to expand my relationship with God further.

While my random searches on the internet, I came across a community of sorts: people who partake in Bible journaling. At first I assumed it meant writing long prose about a page in the Bible, which doesn’t necessarily speak to me despite the prose I write on my blog regularly. Instead, Bible journaling is more artistic. I highly recommend you look up Bible journaling and Illustrated Faith for some examples of what I mean. The pictures are all over Instagram and Pinterest. People who open the Bible to a random page, find a verse that speaks to them, and illustrate it.

Now some people go all out on this stuff, basically a makeshift scrapbooking operation. I am more interested in the creative interpretation of Scripture. You are inspired enough by God’s Word that you want to create it into a work of art. I think that is so beautiful.

The important aspect here is that Bible journaling, no matter how talented some people are, is that this activity is just for you and God. It’s an individual experience. Nobody is going to end up with the same end result. It should really illustrate your own journey, how your “entries” evolve over time, what verses you gravitate to. Plus, I see it as a very innovative way to grow in your faith.

You can’t just pick up a random Bible and scribble in it. They make Bibles now specifically designed with wider side margins to give you some creative liberty, along with slightly thicker pages so any “art” doesn’t all bleed into each other. And when it comes to art, the possibilities are endless. Want to stick to the margin space, or expand the art onto the words themselves? Want to stick to colored pencils and pens, or take out some paint and stickers? Want to just do some fun word art or get into drawing? Lots of decisions. There is no wrong way to do this. You can’t screw up. The biggest accomplishment is just letting your heart take control. Cheesy, I know, but think of how often we find ourselves on social media or Netflix with no specific purpose? This is what I consider a hobby.

Might I add that if you’re into self-care, this might be a fantastic new idea to incorporate. It’s basically a step above coloring books, except the colors stay inside God’s lines. Perhaps you can find an even greater sense of peace and calmness. You can escape the hectic, anxious world into a place that provides stillness and strength. 

Whether you’re into this idea or would rather stick to church involvement or whatever floats your boat, again, others have no right to judge you on how you follow your own faith. That is where we begin to fight wars over religion. We forget the very essence of heavenly commandments and allow human instincts to steer us away from love, respect and kindness. Heck, if you follow a faith, this is all blind. We cannot prove anything in the first place. So before looking at others’ actions with a critical eye, think a little bit about where it’s coming from.

Okay, this is where I’d like to add that no matter what you believe or not, take this post with what you desire. In short, I want one message to resonate above any other: follow your heart, wherever it leads. If this means being drawn to faith, service, or social justice, we should be spending more time on what we truly prioritize for ourselves rather than mindless activities. If you don’t refresh your social media feed every hour, it’s okay, you aren’t missing much. Devote your time and energy to activities that truly bring you joy and fulfillment. That time is never a moment wasted.

I’m in another country, so I’m not about to drop my money on art supplies and a Bible to tote back and forth, but if I still see inspiration for this project in the coming months, I would definitely like to follow through with it. I’m already excited about my daily prayers and Bible reading, and I look forward to seeing where else God will lead me. 

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

We Are Here!

A rendition of the Whos living on a dandelion, only when people actually hear an audible noise coming from the speck of dust did people actually believe Horton that these people existed.

And college and society in general is no exception to this notion. In such divided times, we only hear the voices of those from either end of the spectrum of ideas, a black-and-white picture. And yet there is still a vast majority of people never get recognized for their ideas simply because they might fall into grey territory, not loud enough to hear, not flashy enough to see.

Where is this ramble coming from? Recently at my home campus, the student population has become very divided over an issue regarding activity fees. In a decision by the Student Government Association, a select panel of representatives, they moved forward with raising every students’ yearly fees, a majority of the money going toward athletics, another argument in of itself.

And people certainly voiced their opinions. Students attended forums, they have been posting over social media, writing letters to the editor to publish in the student newspaper, the whole gambit. Essentially, the decision here was really not one the students had much say in to begin with: the administration was planning to raise fees, and the SGA followed suit. Now students are dividing themselves between pro- and anti-athletics, a division they really had no hand in creating.

We see a dilemma like this, where people are left in the aftermath bitter and outraged, unable to do much now, but this isn’t a precedent. When it comes to making decisions on campus, only people involved in SGA or are leaders of student organizations truly have a place to speak their opinions. The vast majority, since not everyone can be involved in either way, is stuck with no true opportunity to voice their concerns.

If a decision to raise activity fees was left to a student body vote, the result would have ended up very differently. The responsibility would fall back on all students, every one of which is paying their tuition and fees to attend university. When higher education lacks an open dialogue among all channels, from students, to student leaders, to the administration, the heaviest chain link–in this case, the student body–is cut off.

At my host campus, their Students’ Representative Council does just that: represent everybody. The SRC has their hands in virtually every place at the university. They have multiple large committees for students to join and visit. They publicize their actions biweekly to inform everyone about what is going on and regularly use student body-wide voting to make decisions on referendums. Students can even submit ideas and information in themselves for consideration.

And they are still trying to make their constitutional system even more dynamic and efficient. According to the website, “Undergoing a reevaluation of the association’s guiding documents and processes is integral to the success of the SRC. Over the past 3 years, the SRC has faced numerous challenges and setbacks, particularly in relation to policy and procedures. In order to advance the SRC in a positive direction – a direction that focuses on representation, dedication, advancement and outputs – it is important to review our governance, which sets the foundation that our student government needs. Needless to say, every proposal, consultation, etc. should have the best interest of the students in mind.”

Admittedly, yes, this council has a smaller student body to juggle, but nonetheless, everyone deserves input on how they want their education to look. Universities should respect all students, not just the vocal, outspoken minority. Those with power and authority need to reach out to the people affected by their decisions, not the other way around. Students are paying to take classes, most of which can be completed entirely online. And those interested in college are already divided: those there to learn, and those there to party. Somehow, we need more unity all around, a common ground.

An academic article from EDUCAUSE Quarterly added more to the importance of student input, saying, “Engaging students in making decisions, especially those that directly impact student life, benefits the institution and the students themselves. Students are often asked to evaluate faculty, courses, campus services, and their overall college experience, but their opinions are more rarely solicited for input about new institutional initiatives. While valuable information is derived through collaborative committee processes and extensive research, expanding students’ role adds an additional dimension to the decision-making process.”

An article on Edutopia focuses on the term “Student Voice.” While its message leans toward classroom work, the mentality can easily apply to a college campus. Why is a true student voice important? Simply put, student achievement and engagement will increase when students have more ownership of their school environment and community. Students have untapped expertise and knowledge that can bring renewed relevance and authenticity to classrooms and school reform efforts. This goes for every single student, not just the leaders.

Even professors at Harvard agree: When schools find ways to welcome student opinions — to partner with students “as stakeholders in their own learning”— they wind up creating programs and policies that are more effective at meeting the schools’ own goals for supporting young people.

How do we achieve this goal, especially after hearing opponents toting that students will not engage in online polls and elections for student officials or decisions? For students to care, they need to be cared for first and treated as individuals. We don’t all fit into a cookie-cutter mold; there should be different models for how to interact with different students. The situation would end up being quite complicated, but just putting in some effort toward finding common ground is necessary and much appreciated.

Personally, I’d rather not end up in a cage or almost pushed off of a cliff like Horton to get this message across. We might not feel comfortable in the spotlight, but students are here, and we are begging you to listen.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

What About Now?

I love spirituality and religion and all of the things beyond mere visibility. So when I stumbled upon Eckhart Tolle, my mind was slightly blown.

Maybe I’ve been living under a rock, but I had never heard of this guy before now. He is a best-selling author. The most famous spiritual teacher today (I mean, beyond religious leaders like the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis). Oprah raves about him. And I can see why.

I have not read any of his books, but I just found some conversations he’s had with Oprah on her Soul Sunday radio program. The way he talks alone is so…peaceful. He has an aura about him that is so zenned out, you wonder what the heck his secret is. And apparently he spent years suffering from depression, so for someone who struggles to get out of bed most mornings, whatever he’s doing, I’m interested.

It’s not like I haven’t heard a form of his main message before. Essentially, he promotes the importance of staying present. We often get so lost in our thoughts, dragging us back to past or forward to the unknown of the future, that we feel so much more than we need to. We over-complicate our lives from identifying with and believing these racing thoughts. We don’t listen to each other as we think about what to say next. Really, we either rush through life or dwell in moments already past that we forget to truly live.

We have two separate forces within us competing for our attention. We have our current presence, just living life in this very second. Then we have the “ego,” the thoughts, the figurative person we create in our head. Please refer to Tolle for an understandable definition because I will not do it justice. Basically, to see the difference, think of a mundane task that we maybe find annoying or boring, like doing the dishes. Why do you feel like it’s annoying or boring? There isn’t anything necessarily bad about the task. But we take the thoughts we conjure up and identify with them and feel them.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you take a peek at Tolle on YouTube or wherever else. Listen to what he has to say with an open mind. Compared to how we typically live, it can feel very foreign to think otherwise, but I truly think we would all benefit from a change. For me, I constantly feel like I’m just going through the motions of a class schedule without really being mentally there. I easily lose motivation because beyond listening to a lecture, I wonder, “What is the point?” Such a monotonous cycle, especially one with lots of free time I don’t know how to utilize, drags me down. Not to mention the constant snow last week.

Does he realize that his advice is much easier said than done? While I’m so inspired by his tranquility, I don’t see myself getting to his level. I don’t think anybody can. But I do think that small moments throughout the day can make a huge difference.

So how we can we be more present? In therapy terms, I call these moments “grounding techniques.” For me, I dissociate a lot (if you ever have times your eyes lose focus on anything and you feel like you’re not really thinking, that’s what I mean), so remembering that I am in a present moment, alive and breathing, can be very helpful. This can be as simple as taking a task like showering or brushing your teeth and actually noticing your senses during the experience. The textures, sights, smells, feelings, tastes, sounds, everything.

Another great form of remembering your presence is meditation, a practice that isn’t as intimidating it sounds. Take a moment, even a couple of minutes, close your eyes, get in a comfortable position, and just go through your body. Focus on every individual part and how it feels at this current moment, toes up to your head. Feel yourself inhale and exhale. Finally opening your eyes is like a reintroduction into a brand new world. Okay, maybe that is a little dramatic, but whenever I do it, I feel rejuvenated. I do wish I remembered to meditate more often, but you don’t even have to sit and do it. You can always do a walking meditation (with your eyes open…please) and really “meditate” wherever you are. It is just a fancy term for grounding yourself in the present moment.

Tolle says that time is again, a structure created from thought. All we have is right now, the present moment. Whatever has past and whatever is to come has no true control over the present. We have the freedom, is this very moment, to choose how we react, which is very empowering. We don’t have to feel so tied up in possibilities and worries. Again, easier said than done (I’m talking to you, anxiety) but the reality is, when I talk about depression or anxiety, they are not me. They do not have to define me or everyday life if I refuse to let them do so. I mean, I’d say that’s an ultimate goal for myself to live a truly free life, but it takes work and is a constant battle.

When we think about heaven, we envision a future paradise in the sky. In reality, there is a heaven within ourselves, on earth. Past the fog of overthinking, there is nothing but stillness. We can create our own paradise within ourselves. What a wonderful way to describe the present moment as a gift.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Goodbye, Waste

With my ample free time, I end up researching a lot. I go down rabbit holes I never expect to venture down, but here I am.

I started with some YouTube videos about minimalism, a lifestyle I admire but don’t see myself following. Another lifestyle, on the other hand, is now an eventual goal, and that is to live zero-waste. It means what it seems: reducing the waste we produce every day to very small amounts, if anything. Nothing you use has to go to a landfill or incinerator. You can truly reduce, reuse, and recycle everything. By choosing to live without waste, you will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.

 

When I say everything, I mean everything. If we look at the amount of waste we produce every day, the number of products and items we use that are in some sort of packaging, it’s slightly alarming.

What are the benefits of living without waste? Firstly, you’ll be racking in some dough. Since waste is a sign of inefficiency, the reduction of waste can reduce costs. On a larger scale, we would see faster progress because a zero waste strategy improves upon production processes and improving environmental prevention strategies which can lead to take larger, more innovative steps. Obviously zero waste supports all three of the generally accepted goals of sustainability – economic well-being, environmental protection, and social well-being. Also we would see overall improved material flows because a zero waste strategy would use far fewer new raw materials and send no waste materials to landfills. Any material waste would either return as reusable or recycled materials or would be suitable for use as compost.

How do we transition toward zero waste? The change doesn’t even have to be all-encompassing: if we each even chose to make a few small changes, the impact would add up exponentially. For example, never use or buy plastic water bottles or disposable coffee cups. Bring your own metal canteen or thermos with you. Bring your own canvas tote bags to stores so your answer to “Paper or plastic?” is neither. They even make cloth produce bags so you don’t need those flimsy plastic ones that are frustrating enough to open. Ask for your bills to be online and to reduce down junk mail. And, of course, we all know how I feel about thrift stores…buying second hand is best.

Once you start there, then you can do even more. Don’t use plastic silverware or straws by bringing your own metal/bamboo versions. Use mason jars or other take-away containers instead of plastic tupperware (even take these containers with you to restaurants for leftovers). Buy from the bulk section whenever possible, again using reusable bags. Admittedly, not every town has a grocery store with a decent bulk section, but at least avoid the extra plastic packaging because no matter how much “cleaner” you think food is when it’s covered in multiple layers of plastic, that isn’t true. Use cloth napkins in your kitchen instead of paper. Make your own cleaners with vinegar and baking soda rather than ten different chemical cleaners for the house. Learn how to compost food. Avoid plastic wrap like the plague (soft plastic is some of the worst when it comes to waste). Switch a plastic toothbrush for a sustainable version.

And if you think that’s enough, there are people out there making their own everything to avoid packaging. They make their own toothpaste. They buy soap (including face wash, shampoo, and hand soap) only in bars. There’s even recycled toilet paper out there. The potential a zero-waste lifestyle really stems into every aspect of life. If we become very conscious of everything we do in our lives, I can see why people would just get plain frustrated and want to change things up, especially to benefit the environment.

Because no matter how “zero waste” you’d ever want to go, we desperately need to change our current habits. We must look at every item we own and use and ask ourselves, “Is this item necessary? Can I make it myself? Is there a more sustainable version out there?” The changes involved aren’t so far-fetched anymore, in my opinion. This isn’t just a hippie, tree-hugger issue.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made a lot of progress when it comes to the environment. Reusable energy sources are more popular and efficient now. All of the recyclable and sustainable products out there are more widespread and easily accessible. But now it’s time to take action to an individual level. We must act in optimism and awareness. I do believe we can continue to make a difference and reverse the damage already done, but it’s a group effort.

When I’m not stuck in a dorm and use up my current products, you bet I’ll start the process to produce less waste. I’m starting with reducing my overall use of plastic and going from there. It’s something I plan to keep you all updated on as I plan things out. I don’t see myself being very strict with every single product in bulk, but those little changes are definitely feasible. Call me a nerd or hippie, but this stuff makes me super excited. I hope you will all consider taking this venture with me to truly show the world some love.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Preaching Introversion

Often, my ideas for posts come from random moments in my everyday life that I feel like I can talk more about. 

In this instance, I was talking to a classmate (even studying abroad, there’s one student from my home campus here, too), and we were talking about our future plans. He told me that after getting his bachelor’s degree, he wants to go to a seminary. 

The thought has never really crossed my mind to go into such a field as theology or ministry, but it has piqued my interest ever since that encounter. While I am not a frequent churchgoer, a big reason stems from my distaste for its rigid structure. I prefer to study and pray on my own. But with my fondness for spirituality in general, I feel like I could impart some wisdom on some people or potentially make the church setting more welcoming for all.

The immediate problem I considered in my thoughts, however, is my temperment. Perhaps it sounds shallow to say, “I’m not big on talking to people, so I’d rather not.” But just from the minimal experience I’ve had in a workplace, I have already narrowed down that I don’t want to be stuck in a typical, monotonous office setting nor do food service.

Since my future plans thus far involve helping others and loving what I do, my options are fairly open. But different positions are made for different personalities. That’s just where we gravitate.

When I think of ministry work, I see lots of talking in front of people, big and small scale. Stereotypical images of booming voices and impassioned sermons come to mind. Heck, I can barely talk loud enough in normal conversation.

Although I do see challenges for these situations involving quiet temperments in loud places, I think that if you have an interest in a cetain field, you shouldn’t hold yourself back from what you love. If you reasonably find your calling in a certain career path, go for it.

Most of the world in general is made for extroverted people. That’s unavoidable. We have to be in those uncomfortable situations to learn how to adapt sometimes, and those opportunities will offer us greater insight. 

But don’t forget to respect yourself and your own needs. There are certainly introverted pastors out there, just like there are introverted teachers and business people. As much as half of the population leans more toward introversion. Although it can feel isolating to be a quiet, contemplating person, there are others just like you. You are by no means alone.

A key theme I see when talking about intro/extroversion is balance. There is a time and place for both, and we all need to be in those settings at some point. Introverts cannot cower in fear and avoid public speaking forever, just as extroverts might cower away from ever leaving a moment in silence. 

Especially in an area like religion, I think introversion is crucial to provide the insight and wisdom required of the job. You have to be with yourself and the spiritual influences in silence to hear them. A strength in that area will lead to greater confidence and success in the way you preach and present yourself. 

Ministry doesn’t necessarily advertise one way or another as to who should enter such a field, but I think it would be valuable to have people from any temperment to demonstrate how they perform their duties. And just from personal experience, comparison will never help. You have to be open to the feedback you receive and learn from it.

Moral of the story: sometimes the biggest obstacle in your way is yourself. You are capable of anything you set your mind to. Listen to yourself and your true desires and follow them, for they will be the most fulfilling. Don’t be afraid to take a “leap of faith” (ha, puns) and do the thing that brings you true happiness and joy, bound to be full of quiet and loud moments alike.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Attract Good Vibes

I have recently come across a concept that makes so much sense, is so straightforward, that it’s almosr absurd to say this is a philosophy. 

Although it is. This is the Law of Attraction. It originally comes from a philosophical movement beginning in the 19th century. Essentially, the Law of Attraction states that because everything is made of energy, our minds and bodies and thoughts and environment, that our thoughts will attract like thoughts and occurrences in life. In this case, focus on positive things brings positive things into your life and vice versa. 

I’m sure I’ll have people reading this wondering what kind of hippie mojo I’m mumbling. Bear with me here. Not everybody is going to fall for the thoughts having anything to do with the outside world. They are separate and should be treated as such.

I have my own viewpoint on the Law of Attraction. The core of this law isn’t to act like a magnet, that everything is super peachy just from some positive mantras. That isn’t realistic. But I do believe our minds create our perceptions of reality. We see everything through an individual, unique pair of lenses. Just as an example, think of a particular song, and chances are not many people, if any, will have the same emotions and interpretation of the music. We listen to it with a form of bias just from experiencing life and developing our own personalities. Heck, we can even go back to skews in how media reports on different events depending on their underlying political stances. Not much in the world is strictly unbiased or “untainted” by someone else’s perception.

Unlike a pair of reading glasses, we can adjust our prescriptions, how we respond to situations and emotions. We obviously have instinctive urges toward certain feelings, but we are in control. When you feel out of control, it’s not necessarily you causing the sensation.

From therapy alone, this concept is a big one. When facing illnesses like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, you have to understand that there are multiple influences pulling you different directions in your head. There’s the rational you, and then the chemical imbalance in your brain is something else. Therapists often encourage patients to have a name even for the “other thing,” whatever that might be. No matter what, you have to be able to find yourself in the thick of it all.

Here’s a recent example: I had my first test of the semester last week. It was essentially review of basic French grammar and vocabulary, but I panicked. Very badly. And even when I knew I shouldn’t worry about it, that I’ll do fine, anxiety was thinking otherwise. The word “test” immediately sends me into flight mode. Although I struggled throughout the day, I got it done. 

What we can see as an impossible challenge is an opportunity. What is an entirely negative situation likely has at least one positive aspect. Chances are that it will serve as a wonderful lesson in the future, a time for growth and strength. 

The Law of Attraction is essentially being an optimist, despite the negative world we live in, when it’s so easy to complain and be bitter. Think of it as focusing on what is TRULY important to you. Who is the person you want to be? What does that person do, who is in that person’s life? You can be that person at any moment. Nothing is stopping you.

If we consistently think about our ultimate goals, they will inevitably occur. We will eventually start taking small steps toward achieving them. I can throw karma in here, too, because I do believe that if we live according to our values, the benefits will return back to us in some capacity. When we help others and treat others with kindness and respect, it will come back around. Exude good energy into the environment, and it’ll make the world a little brighter.

Obviously not every day we’re going to accomplish huge things beyond just making it through, but if your focus is on practicing gratitude, doing the simple tasks are small victories. Small, but a victory nonetheless. If you are a good, positive person, you’ll attract positive influences into your life.

Whether it be through prayer or just thoughts to yourself, do not waste the energy on what could be spent on more meaningful things. Mental illness adds a level of difficulty, admittedly, but the extra effort is worth it.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Green in the Face

Not with envy or sickness. Rather, through my excessive free time and chilly temperatures, I’ve been doing lots of research. Not on papers I need to write (note to self), but on an area I’m surprised I didn’t think about earlier: green beauty.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I wanted to only buy cruelty-free cosmetic products just because animals should not subject their lives to how I look. But in that decision, I neglected to focus on what these products actually are. 

When we see raving reviews of makeup and skincare online, we walk into Sephora and its aisles of products, we swatch out different colors and shades, we don’t necessarily go to an ingredients list. I honestly forgot beauty products had those. And boy, once you realize what those ingredients are, you might step back.

Within seconds of putting something on our skin, the largest organ in the human body, the skin absorbs over 60% of that product, whatever it may be. Cosmetics fall under FDA guidelines, but the FDA is very flexible and too liberal with its regulations. The standards established for cosmetics hasn’t been updated in over 70 years. These standards restrict off about a handful of substances. Compared to Europe’s standards that ban THOUSANDS of materials, I might think twice about what I’m using every day.

Now you might remind me that hey, lots of brands are becoming more natural! They specifically say they do not contain those parabens and carcinogens! The first two big names I think of are Tarte and Josie Maran, two brands I’ve personally gravitated to for these very same reasons. When you put products in bamboo packaging and call it vegan and natural and cruelty-free, I’m sold.

In lies the term “green washing.” Brands see that more people are interested in buying “natural” products (Tarte has seen one of the biggest growths in a very short amount of time for this reason), and switch up their formulas a little bit, stick a green label and add a leaf to the packaging, and bam, natural. Again, regulations are loose when it comes to how brands choose to market their products and label it “natural.” This is, after all, a capitalist society. What sells, people produce, as quickly and as many as possible.

You might be surprised to find out Tarte products are very similar to any other brand. They are no better for the environment or your skin. They still contain filler ingredients and chemicals that don’t offer many benefits. In fact, their cheek tints (one of which I myself own) contain carmine. What is carmine, you ask? It’s a dye created from boiling beetles and taking the resulting pigment. That’s a hard pass from me.

Another note on brands like Tarte: they are increasingly being bought up by bigger companies looking to expand their profits. These bigger companies are virtually never completely cruelty-free, especially if they want a market in China, where animal testing is a requirement. So if you’re antsy enough to think of buying a product knowing at least some portion of that sale goes to a bigger industry exploiting animals, I would suggest a change.

From a sustainability aspect, conventional beauty products are still no dice. If you’re not a fan of synthetic materials and chemicals, neither is the environment. Rarely do we actually use up products completely until we are tired of them or they expire. Where do the leftovers go? Landfills. Water supplies. The soil. The number of places we find chemicals from cosmetics is alarming. Especially if these chemicals ever touch water, whatever wildlife nearby who live and drink it are at risk for severe health problems. And, of course, unless the packaging is conscious of recycling, products come in plastic, so they’ll be around for a long time.

Now if bigger brands decide to actually use more natural products, that means things are better, right? Not necessarily. Depending on how they source ingredients, brands might use unethical means of obtaining their materials, whether that be deforestation, pesticides, soil depletion, and whatever methods can get the job done quickly. Again, I can criticize capitalism for such a mentality.

Okay, so where do we go from here? We go to smaller, independent companies who are TRULY natural, vegan and cruelty-free. The products aren’t on drugstore shelves, but they make products in small batches to ensure the process is done well and ethically. Buying from smaller businesses even helps the economy when profits go directly back to the people. 

Obviously, if you have a full makeup bag of products (and realize this process should also be taken with haircare, skincare, toothpaste, deodorant, cleaning products, perfumes, any soap, perfumes, the whole lot), don’t go throw everything out at once and buy everything at once. That certainly isn’t helping anybody. But make the changes gradually. Once you use something up, consciously choose better options. Learn how to read ingredient labels, just like nutrition facts, to know what to avoid. These products might not be ingested directly, but they absorbed by your skin, linger in the air, and are exposed to the surrounding environment. 

Being conscious and sustainable isn’t just about the straightforward, easy changes in life like turning off the lights and taking shorter showers. It means we have to look at every single aspect of our lives and realizing its implications. And while the process might be slow, it’s one I hope you take with me.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie