The Traveling Blog

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Hello, all!

It’s official: one week until I depart! I have to admit, the butterflies are starting and trepidation kicking in. I’m realizing just how much I will miss my family, but I suppose this is just how life goes. 

Regardless of the twinges of sadness and fear, I am thrilled. The reality of my adventure increases with every check off my to-do list. I even started packing today! 

If you’re interested in keeping up with my adventures, you can go to: http://mattieleila.wordpress.com. I decided it would be best to make a specific TBB blog so the core values and focus of YMWE doesn’t go askew. I promise to update my new blog as much as possible, but I’m afraid internet access in Ecuador and Thailand will be minimal. If you’re interested in subscribing to my blog so you get automatic updates, please let me know! 

With seven months of adventure ahead, here’s to living without regrets and being bold and honest,

Mattie Leila

Let’s End Poverty [?]

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I have not posted in a little while, but I can assure you I have been journaling. My red Moleskine has a sizable chunk scribbled in, with mindful thoughts interspersed between the TBB journal questions. I am on my fourth TBB read now; it is called The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities of Our Time by Jeffrey Sachs. Since Ishmael I have read John Perkins’s Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I began the latter book in February 2013, nearly 18 months ago. I had approximately 75 pages to go when I picked it back up for TBB. It is a favorite of mine, filled with shocking anecdotes of female oppression. As for Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, I devoured the book. Half the book is highlighted and annotated. I felt like I had a VIP behind-the-scenes look at my AP US History class. I highly recommend it if you find history, politics or economics the slightest bit intriguing.

With all that said, I have written a journal entry I thought would be of value or intrigue to share. We only need to read certain chapters of Sachs’s book, but this one is from Chapter One.


What is poverty?

     My heart grows heavy when I pass the many poor, rural areas across my state, South Carolina. But my head grows guilty, too, as I subconsciously lock my doors and grip my wheel a little tighter. I wonder if this assumption is a by-product of growing up in the South or simply a by-product of growing up American/human.

     I am a lower middle-class white American. I know some of the struggles of being under financial burden, if only because of my expensive college and travel dreams. But then I wonder if those who live in poverty–even the “relative” poverty Sachs speaks about–I wonder if they even entertain such dreams. I wonder if they know they could still obtain those dreams. And once again my heart grows heavy and my head grows guilty.

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     So what is poverty? When I google it, the responses include: “The state of being extremely poor,” and “the state of being inferior in quality or insufficient in amount.” Let us accept the former, not the latter. Jeffrey Sachs places poverty into three categories: relative, moderate, and extreme. All that is good and fine. Yes, they are the technical definitions of poverty. Yes, when the question is asked, that is indeed the answer. But, I still don’t truly understand poverty. I have not lived it, so I cannot truly know it.

     Reading this book, I am shaken awake by questions. Does this not go against everything Ishmael taught? Yes, I wish we could end the suffering of a billion people, but for a least some of them, wouldn’t we be imposing our culture upon them? Technology has done wonders for the developed world, but do the so-called “under-developed” and “developing” worlds want all that “progress” has brought? Are they happy as “Leavers,” or do they wish to be “Takers?” In the end, who are we to tell others how to live? People say that money doesn’t create happiness. In fact, one study shows that if a person wins the lottery, the following year they will be approximately just as happy as they were before their win. So should our aim be “end poverty,” or should it be “end unnecessary death?” Or even yet, “provide the option and availability of health.”

     Let us lead them to the watering hole, but let us not force them to drink. 

     Like so many of my other journal entries, I am left with more questions than I have answers. I am currently in chapter two of my book, but suddenly my thoughts on how we attack the poverty situation are jumbled. Perhaps I will find some answers with TBB. Or perhaps I’ll simply find more questions.

Guess which country does the most good for the planet?

mwyndham96:

This is an interesting look at the world and the countries within it. “Countries perform better and better but the world and planet and humanity in general are getting worse and worse.” Hmmm. . . Food for thought!

Originally posted on ideas.ted.com:

The Good Country Index measures how much each of 125 countries contributes to the planet. Announced at the TEDSalon in Berlin, the Index features some unexpected winners — and even more surprising losers. (Sorry, USA.)

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The top ten countries in the Good Country Index. (Click to view at larger size.)

Irish people, rejoice! It turns out, your green land is the “goodest” country in the world. That’s right. The “goodest.” At least, that’s according to Simon Anholt, who’s spent the past two years compiling an index to determine which of 125 countries contributes the most to the common, global good.

“I wanted to know why people admire Country A and not Country B,” Anholt said in a phone interview before he unveiled the full Index at the TEDSalon in Berlin on Monday, June 23. “To cut a long story short, I discovered the thing people most admired is the perception that a…

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The Question Game

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For someone who wants to be an international journalist, I am quite terrible at the whole “questions” game. And by “‘questions’ game” I mean simply thinking up questions. It’s not for a lack of curiosity–far from it. In reality, I am just so curious about everything that has to do with anything that I am completely, wholly unaware of where to start. Questions don’t really come too easily for me. Instead, I prefer to do the digging myself, figuring out what I need to know piece by piece. Which I am aware is not how to do get the job done. Other times, in class discussions let’s say, I generally answer myself immediately after posing the question. In AP English, when I occasionally articulated a question or shared a confusion of mine, I would continue rattling on until I eventually came to the answer all by my lonesome, generally ending in a “yeah, so. . . I guess that’s it.” (Shout out to all my AP English Lit classmates who can–and have–imitated my exact protocol when speaking in class).

Alas, I will one day need to overcome my controlling personality and learn how to deal with questions. Perhaps this journal entry is my first step in the process.


What are your most pressing questions about development?

      I feel like I know so little about development. Yes, I’ve read Ishmael, and yes, I’ve read some articles, but really what is development? I find myself asking that question whenever I try to starts this journal entry.

     I’ve read plenty of TBB blogs and even watched parts of last years’ graduation speeches, so I have a basic understanding of the question. I know that it is the type of question which leads to more questions than it does answers.

     I’ve been stewing on this journal entry for quite some time, never really knowing where to start. Because I felt I know so little about development, I wasn’t sure how I could write this entry. And yet, here I am.

     Once again, I have Adam Braun, my personal hero, to thank. Recently–just two days ago, actually–he shared his new TED Talk (YAY! Double the magic!), entitled “What the U.S. education system can learn from the developing world.” In the talk, Adam touches on a question I heard relentlessly while my organization was fundraising for Pencils of Promise: What about educating our kids here? Why should I help kids half way across the world? And, as Adam explains, it al comes from this underlying belief that the developing world’s education system needs to take pointers from the U.S. education system. And yet, Adam blows this idea out of the water as he introduces three key concepts about the developing world’s system, which perhaps the U.S. should inherit.

     How does this have anything to do with the journal question? Glad you asked. From what I’ve read of TBB, I’ll be learning about development extensively, and it seems as if many TBB students come back questioning the classifications themselves. You know, first world versus third world. Ishmael touches on this a bit, too. The Takers versus the Leavers, as the book calls it. The developed world versus the developing world. So with all this in mind, I’ve come up with a handful of my “most pressing questions about development” which I hope to be able to answer during my TBB gap year.

    1. What is development?
    2. What qualifies first versus third world?
    3. Can we/should we do without these labels? And how do these labels effect the specific cultures?
    4. What are the social differences and similarities between developed and developing worlds? What does Mother Culture tell each society?*

*This last question is discussed in Ishmael, but I hope to gain further insight on the topic.

 

The Only Thing That’s Left To Do is Live

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Good morning, world!

I piddled around all of yesterday, putting off this journal question with every task.

Well, I should do the laundry first, and then I’ll start. 

The dog needs to go out, and then I have to run some errands. But after that. . . maybe?

I’ll do it before work. Yeah, definitely before work.

Well, guess I’m doing it after work, then. . .

And so it goes.

I suppose this one was so difficult because I had so much to say and no real understanding of where to start, where to finish, any of it. But, I finally put my nose to the grindstone, curled up with a nice cup of tea, and unjumbled all my thoughts into one (semi)coherent journal entry. Enjoy!


 

What do you expect from your experience with Thinking Beyond Borders (TBB)?

     I’m a dreamer, and as such, I easily create day dreams of the future, quilted in high expectations. But I’m also a planner, and I love getting all the info, so you can trust me when I say I’ve spent 20+ hours reading TBB student blogs and clicking through Facebook photos from the recent graduates. With such extensive creeping–or researching, whichever you prefer–it’s safe to say that my expectations are concretely based.

     What are they, you ask? To be honest, they overwhelm me. Everything overwhelms me these days. But in the best way possible. The future, the fall. It was all so uncertain for so long that to have a definite brings tears to my eyes. I remember the moment I first decided TBB was what I wanted. . .

     It was late August, right before I began my senior year. The evening sun had set, and the sweet and salty Pawleys air saturated the porch. I was with my best friend Caroline, rocking back and forth on her hammock. I’d discovered TBB not too soon before that, and I was telling her about the program when I had what Pencils of Promise founder Adam Braun calls a “lightning moment.” I knew in my heart and soul that TBB was just what I needed. Perhaps that is when my first expectations took place. Now, ten months later, I am researching backpacks and water bottles. My lightening moment roars thunderous sounds, ringing out that my dream is becoming a reality.

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     As I think up all my expectations, I feel certain that they will not be met. They will be exceeded. Because I expect to feel wholly uncomfortable yet tragically safe with the knowledge that I am growing and breaking and growing again. And I expect to miss my family and friends, but I also expect to create lifelong friendships I truly cannot yet fathom. I expect my mind to be stretched farther than I think it can reach. I expect my mornings to be early and my days filled with teaching and learning and questioning. I expect to be saddened by the state of the world and perplexed by what I am supposed to do about it. I expect to come face to face with scary, insane moments and laugh in the face of fear as I leap forward into the arms of adventure. I expect to be happier than I have ever been before because I expect to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. And I expect that the latter is not an exaggeration because I know I will come back a different, changed person. I expect the transition from there to back here will be tougher than I expect. But above all, I expect that while I may write this and think this, reality will outshine my dreams, and my expectations will become soulless ideas, far beyond the capability to understand all that lies ahead.

     There’s a Frank Turner song called “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous.” It’s a favorite of mine, and there’s one part that goes:

Life is about love, last minutes, and lost evenings / About fire in our bellies and furtive little feelings / And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering / And help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live.

     Well, I have a fire in my belly, and I am ready to wash away all expectations and truly live in the moment. TBB, here I come!

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Must Have An Earnest Desire to Save the World

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Hello, all!

With just 85 days until I embark on my seven month long journey with Thinking Beyond Borders, I have begun my summer reading assignments. We have a handful of books to read pre-departure, the first being Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It is a fascinating read, one consumed with thought provoking ideas. Throughout the novel, I yearned to drag my (former) fellow classmates from their places of comfort, drive over to our (former) AP English Lit class, and “circle up” to discuss these complex issues. Of course, I will be able to hold plenty of discussions with (new!) classmates come September, so I suppose I’ll have to hold my questions and theories and intrigues until then.

For those of you who don’t know (which is probably the majority of you) Ishmael is about a man’s efforts in becoming a proactive agent of change in the world. He answers an ad in the paper, “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Upon answering the ad, he discovers his teacher is a gorilla named Ishmael. Ishmael teaches him–and the reader–about how “Mother Culture” has taught us to believe certain ideas about “how things came to be this way.” 

Part of our summer assignment requires us to answer some journal questions. For Ishmael, these questions include:

  1. What are your assumptions about yourself as an “agent of change” in the world?
  2. What do you expect from your experience with TBB?
  3. What are your most pressing questions about development?

Tonight, I answered the first question. As I opened up my new, pristine, passionately red Moleskine, I decided it needed a bit of a wanderluster’s touch, so I inscribed the phrase, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,” into the first page. Here’s to seven months of life thinking beyond borders.

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Now, if you care to read, here is my first journal entry. I hope you enjoy. I certainly enjoyed writing it. There is something incredibly raw about journaling. You discover so much more about yourself journaling than you typing. I’m looking forward to filling up journal after journal and sharing as much of them with you as possible.


What are your assumptions about yourself as an “agent of change” in the world?

     When I look at myself as an “agent of change,” I suppose I make all kinds of assumptions, but at the moment I’m not sure I would classify them as “assumptions.” For me, right now, they are opinions, facts, feelings, ideas–just not assumptions. Because to have an assumption is to believe something that is most likely incorrect. But perhaps that’s my own assumption about the word’s connotation.

     Truthfully, when I first discovered the term “agent of change” I had an a-ha! moment because it’s just how I perceive myself–or at least the best version of myself–the version I hope to one day become. Over the past eighteen months, my life has been devoted to human rights advocacy. My thoughts are constant narrations of articles, exposes, editorials that I am perpetually drafting, writing, editing in my head. So, you know, those thoughts add up, and I’ve formed some serious opinions. . .er, assumptions (it’s a hard pill to swallow) about my role in the world as an agent of change.

     When I first decided I wanted to become an international journalist, it was a decision made with my gut and my heart–certainly not my head. (I personally believe that is how all important decisions should be made. . . Well, most. . . some). So, upon reflection, I began asking myself if I believed I could make a serious impact on the world by simply writing about it. My gut growled at me, “Yes, of course!” and my head did, too. But for a while, my brain had no explanation for its answer. That is, until one day in my Anatomy & Physiology class.

      We were learning about the reproduction system–an awkward, hysterical, curious, informative unit for any high school student. My class was incredibly. . . inquisitive about the topic of sex (go figure). Personally, I believed several questions to be basic knowledge for any 16 to 18 year old female–most questions raised were directed toward female anatomy and reproduction. The questions ranged from “What is the clitoris?” to other, specific questions about sex which I won’t delve into right now. It amazed me just how many girls were unaware of this vital information. And then it dawned on me: I had researched all this information on my own. I was not told any of this sexual knowledge; I was just curious, so I Googled. This realization led me to another realization: girls are ashamed and shamed when it comes to sex, yet boys are not. And this led me further and further into my questioning. How does this have anything to do with my being an agent of change, you ask? Well, it was that day that I realized that the root of my empowerment comes from my research, which is all thanks to journalists and writer-activists. The people I want to be.

     I love writing, and I love public speaking. Both of which, I realize now, are my main modes for sharing my ideas, my opinions, my assumptions. They are my way of educating the masses.

     My love of learning has brought me to unique and fascinating places, the best of which is Thinking Beyond Borders. Upon graduating high school just last week, I understand that I love learning because it is a universal vehicle for everywhere and anywhere I want my life to take me. So with all this said, I suppose my main assumption about myself as an “agent of change” is that my role is learner, writer, educator.

Not All Men: A Brief History of Every Dude’s Favorite Argument

mwyndham96:

I believe we are entering a new fourth wave of feminism, and in many ways, this article captures its essence: inclusion.

Originally posted on TIME:

On April 10, artist Matt Lubchansky updated his popular webcomic series, Please Listen To Me, with a new comic called “Save Me.” It features a presumably mild-mannered fellow in a polo shirt who spots the “Man Signal” and barrels into a phone booth to emerge as a fedora-masked Not-All-Man, “defender of the defended” and “voice for the voiceful.” He catches the whiff of misandry in the air — a pink-haired woman in the middle of saying “I’m just sick of how men…” — and smashes through a plate-glass window to play devil’s advocate.

Matt Lubchansky (listen-tome.com)

It’s a sharp, damning satire of a familiar kind of bad-faith argument, the one where a male interlocutor redirects a discussion about sexism, misogyny, rape culture, or women’s rights to instead be about how none of that is his fault. And it struck a nerve.

The comic was retweeted and reblogged tens of…

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How To Be a Fashionable Do-Gooder

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If you know my story at all then you probably know that Sseko Designs founder Liz Forkin Bohannon is pretty much my Changemaker hero. But if you don’t, here’s the 4-1-1:

So way back in October 2012, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a small women’s leadership lecture at Coastal Carolina University. The lecture was given by a young woman, Liz Forkin Bohannon, who is the founder and CEO of Sseko Designs. Sseko Designs is a footwear and accessory company that provides scholarship and job opportunities to young Ugandan women during the 9 month gap period in which they raise money for university cost. Liz and Sseko completely changed my life. Liz taught me about reaching outside of your comfort zone, embracing the awkwardness and failure that life can leave on your doormat, and welcoming all that lies ahead–good or bad. After the lecture, I became consumed by human rights, particularly women’s rights and education equality. That lecture led me to founding this blog, and then to founding my organization, and now to my gap year with Thinking Beyond Borders. 

And once again, Liz and Sseko are helping change my life. We’re two weeks in to fundraising, and I have raised $3,600 for my global gap year! Now, Liz has agreed to help. Up until May 6, if you use the code “MattieAdventures” at checkout, 50% of your purchase will go to funding my gap year! How amazing is that? Now you can be the fashionable do-gooder you’ve always wanted to be.

Invest fashionably in a life dedicated to human rights and empowerment. Shop Sseko Designs!

Want to donate directly to my fundraiser? Go to: http://igg.me/at/TBBempower/x/6680532.

Empowering Beyond Borders–Because You’re Worth Your Dreams

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Sitting next to me is a mason jar housing a few remaining Hershey’s Kisses and Charleston Chews. One of my best friends inscribed “Happy Pills: Take as Needed–Unlimited Refills” on an attached label and prescribed them to me a couple months back. I’d like to say it’s the last vestige from that rough patch, but I’d be lying (and that’s a general no-no in the blogging community.)

You see, back in late January-early February, I received rejection letters from both my childhood dream school and one of my back-up colleges. To say it was a tough blow would be an understatement. Any semblance of self-worth went flying out the window–along with “the thing with feathers.” Where I was once fearless and optimistic, I became scared and cautious. I no longer knew how to have faith in the future–something I once held so dear. But, I was still waiting on three more letters. The old me would have spent the months of waiting consumed by day dreams of What Could Be. The new me built an army in my mind to fight off any thought of the best case scenarios. I refused to wear my coveted Brown sweatshirt, and I ran from any conversation about college (which were unfortunately frequent).

Then the fateful day came. I opened up my web browsers, and to my surprise, discovered I had been wait-listed at both Brown and Princeton. Remember that self-worth that shot out the window before? Well it came flying back in, eager to bask in the pride and joy. For the first time in a long while, I beamed. I beamed because I believed in the possibility of the future again.

But, what I have come to notice lately, is that outside influencers only offer temporary self-validation. No college can prove to me my worth. That is something I am going to have to figure out for myself. I have been evaluating these past few months lately, and I still wonder if I’ll ever be the girl I used to be before everything happened. Especially on days like today, when I am afraid of what lies ahead, I try to be that girl. But what I am slowly realizing is that not only can I never be that girl again, it’s okay that I can’t be her. Who I am now is who I am supposed to be. I have a greater self-worth than ever before, and it’s not reliant on anyone or anything other than myself. And maybe this fear I am feeling is just because I finally understand what is at stake here. Maybe my dreams are just bigger than ever before. And how grand is that? To know that your dreams are so big they scare you? I think that means you’re starting to truly live.

So what’s my fear you ask? Well, I have been invited to participate in the global gap year program Thinking Beyond Borders next year! This means that hopefully this September I’ll venture with 18 other students to Ecuador, Cambodia, India and several other countries for nine months to study global development issues. Basically it’s an educational year full of training for exactly what I want to do with my life (an international journalist–read: Nick Kristof/Sheryl WuDunn). Our year will consist of living with host families, fieldwork with local experts, academic study, language learning, and independent travel opportunities. Unfortunately, it does cost money. The total cost is about $30,000, but Thinking Beyond Borders has agreed that for every $1 I raise, they’ll raise $2! This means I need to raise $10,000 to experience this global gap year.

Understand my fear now? There are some nights that I am gripped by the panic of not reaching my fundraising goal. Then there are other nights where I think of how important this gap year is to me, how much it can teach me, and the incomparable lessons I will learn, and my optimistic soul says there’s no way the universe could take that away from me. But somewhere in the middle there’s a voice of reason, reminding me that I am going to do everything in my power to raise this money. And, after all, that is all I can ask of myself.

Last night I launched my online fundraiser: http://igg.me/at/TBBempower/x/6680532. I have 60 days to raise this money through the site (and then I have until July 1st to commit to TBB). I will host fundraisers, a letter writing campaign, a video campaign, apply for scholarships, and so much more. Yet, even with all that said, the fear still haunts me. It was especially prevalent today as my anxiety was high due to the recent fundraiser launch. I eventually calmed myself down by repeating, You are worthy of your dreams.” Because at the end of the day, I think that’s where fear of failure lies–in the belief that we are somehow not worthy enough for our dreams.

I have news for you (and for myself): if your dreams are big enough to scare you, you’re plenty worthy of them. It takes courage to dream big; to put your heart and soul on such a breakable limb; to look the unknown dead in the eye and continue walking forward. You see, fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It’s having the courage to keep dreaming even after you’ve been rejected. Look, I may not ever be the girl who never allowed the idea of the worst case scenario to haunt her again, but I am the girl who believes in the best case scenario, even with the worst case in mind. And that’s just as fearless.

To donate or understand the trip in full detail, please go to: http://igg.me/at/TBBempower/x/6680532

Go Do.

Go Do.

Here I am, splitting my conscious between planning for my gap year abroad with Thinking Beyond Borders and reading James Joyce’s “An Encounter” for AP English Literature, yet always subconsciously dreaming up adventures, when I come across this little magical sign I just had to share:

“But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”

Ah, Joyce, I have never loved you more.