Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Some things to think about

This post is completely unrelated to travel, Rachel, school or pretty much any other topic on this blog, but I've been doing a lot of thinking about the recent Connecticut shooting. Many of you probably already know my views and thoughts on the situation but regardless of what I think, it's time that all Americans really sit down and think about this problem. Many of my European friends approached me attempting to understand the shocking (to them and to me) pro-gun reactions of their American friends on facebook, and I also attempted to explain how different the culture is in the US and how deep rooted our gun culture is (even the fact that gun ownership is mentioned in our constitution). Although I am fully convinced that the situation is far more complex than just stricter gun control, I really, really want to encourage anyone reading this post to do some serious research on the varying viewpoints in this debate. I've found a lot of statistics that suggest that guns could play a large role in the problem. So if you're reading this, would you please take a moment to read the articles I'm posting below and challenge yourself? Be skeptical, read different viewpoints, find statistics, question the statistics, think about the big picture, and think about the world. As a former engineer/person who can't get numbers out of my head, I like numbers. I believe they can prove hypotheses, and often tell stories better than words. However, numbers are also very dangerous. It is far too easy to collect data and make correlations between unrelated variables, or skew statistics or only present partial numbers. Lastly, if you have some well researched, well written, and solidly argued resources for either side of the debate; I would also be delighted to read them.  What I do not want to read are rude, ignorant, and angry comments.

Some statistics

The case of Switzerland

Weapons continuum 

Why gun control is not enough

Swiss gun culture

More on the cases of Switzerland and Isreal there is an interesting research paper linked to this article and I am going to try and get my hands on it through University permissions.

Facts on guns in the US I would suggest also reading the links that the author has posted to do some fact checking. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Random Thoughts

I don't really make New Year's resolutions but if I were to one of them would be to write more and update this blog more. Compared to my thoughts and posts in Uganda I feel like I have nothing significant to say about life in the Netherlands. Someone has already written "Stuff Dutch People Like" (I may create a Ugandan version though, now that I no longer work for SP), I'm generally not confronted with daily life-changing lessons like in Uganda nor do I have the strange cultural interactions of Korea. However, since I know some people read this blog to simply keep updated on my life, I thought I would share random thoughts, events, and stories periodically (probably only when I'm procrastinating on doing something else, like right now). The last month and half, although lacking in the daily challenges that Ugandan life provided, has had its own share of humorous and unfortunate events.

  • I truly am my father's daughter. When our apartment was broken into in November I had arrived home very late from a football match in Amsterdam. Upon arrival I noticed that our kitchen window was open. Often our apartment gets stuffy and we open the window; therefore I just assumed this was why it was open. Since it was late I also assumed my roommate was already in bed and didn't bother actually checking her room. Exhausted and just as I was about to dose off my roommate knocks on my door in a panic asking if I had opened her window. No. Shortly thereafter we discovered that both our laptops were missing. As any normal person would react my roommate was a bit panicked: "We've been robbed!" Since by this point it was about 4 am and the only thought on my mind was sleep, I couldn't bring myself to feel panicked or stressed. The problem could be sorted in the morning right? Fortunately, my roommate convinced me to call the police and have them come and file a report. Again, like a normal person she was unable to sleep while I promptly collapsed into bed and fell into a deep slumber only thinking about the 9 am meeting I had the next day. I have now warned her that I am virtually incapable of doing significant tasks at night and it's best just to force me to do things. In the morning however my reasoning capabilities are at their best and my mind is free and clear to do anything. This realization is a bit frightening, knowing how my dad reacts to similar late night catastrophes. 
  • In the last month I have managed to take the wrong key off my keychain when leaving for a run only to get locked out of my apartment, get hit on my bike by a scooter (not my fault), and drop my key off my eight story balcony into thick bushes below. So much for life in Holland being boring compared to Uganda. Perhaps my constant need for change and adventure has caused me to subconsciously create misfortunes to keep life interesting. 
  • For the first time in my life, I've found a church that I love and am beginning to feel a part of. It is diverse, has a big focus on social justice, and is filled with well traveled inspiring individuals. 
  • Loving the work you're doing makes a remarkable difference when you're very busy and overloaded with work. Although I've never been a slacker per se, when faced with work I dislike my motivation is extremely low. For the first time, I might almost be considered an over-achiever (but this is still too strong a word to use). 
  • Delft feels so much like home it's actually terrifying. Although I've wanted a dog for some time, my dog yearnings are getting stronger and stronger and may actually materialize into taking action (don't tell my apartment company). 
  • On a similar note, I really think I'm aging (or perhaps finally becoming mature?). Although lately I've been having some serious wanderlust pangs, I've also been considering not studying abroad next year because I feel so settled and happy in Delft (What?!). I have little to no desire to stay out late on weekends and would much prefer going to bed early and waking up early to go running (okay, maybe this isn't a change... haha!). I actually spend money on proper food without having a heart attack about the cost. And most recently I came to the realization that maybe it's occasionally worth spending 50 euros more to fly on a proper airline or save hassle in some other area. I've also contemplated foregoing the hours and days that I often spend evaluating any major purchase for its thriftiness. Perhaps the next step will be reducing my risky behavior (probably not likely if I am my father's daughter)? 
  • Visiting the US truly felt like a visit. And with each return I feel more and more disconnected in the US. Sometimes this makes me very sad but I think it's too late to fix it. I was frightened at the seemingly unnecessarily wide roads, frustrated with all the driving we had to do (I think the distance I traversed would have carried me through all of the Netherlands), and shocked at the clothes that some Americans felt were appropriate to be in public in (I'm not judging, it just surprised me. The scary thing is used to be one of those people and now I find it shocking). On the other hand, I appreciated the diversity (even though the Netherlands is also quite diverse), friendliness of random strangers, and the long time friendships I have in the US. I love my family and American friends dearly and I don't know how to resolve this love with my love of the unknown and new and the feeling that my heart is scattered all over the world. For those of you who perceive my confusion over perhaps common Americanisms as dislike for my country or snobbishness  I apologize that it may have come across that way. Try living in four different countries, surrounded by an extremely diverse group of people for 2.5 years and then try to reintegrate into your old life. It's virtually impossible. 
  • After spending most of my life wishing I had played soccer, I am finally on a team and loving every minute of it. Even though I lack skills, I am getting lots of positive feedback and help. It's never too late to start something new! 
On a concluding note, my visit to the US also reminded me how all my friends are in different places in life. While I suspect we can't all completely relate to each other since so much has changed over the last two plus years, I deeply appreciate and value all my friendships. I sincerely hope we can continue to stay in touch and understand each other in spite of our different places in life. Likely I will never reach many of the life goals some people have set for themselves and I'm sure that most people will not have any desire to do the ridiculous things I do. Regardless of the direction our lives go, I love you all and hope that we can continue to stay in touch! 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Lessons from 2012

As indicated by the date of my last post my blogging habits have been rather dismal for the last few months. Besides the excuse of the increasing busyness of school, the fact that I was robbed and have been laptop-less for the past month in half has been the main contributor to my lack of writing. After a lovely week and a half of catching up with family and friends in the arctic weather of Ann Arbor, Michigan and Chicago, I'm back in "warm" Delft.

Since it's a new year and the new year always brings about the opportunity for reflection, I've been thinking about the lessons that I learned from 2012. 2012 was a year of transitions perhaps more than any other year in my life and with each of these transitions brought rich learning experiences. I am enormously grateful for the people I've been blessed to meet this year, the beautiful places I've seen, and the unpredictability of 2012 that taught me more about myself and the world.

Lessons from 2012:

1. Almost nothing in the world is black and white. 
For much of my life, I tended to view the world in black and white or right and wrong. My somewhat mathematical mind that gravitates towards the concrete and seeks solutions, only reinforced this worldview. In engineering school, there was always a right answer to be found, an equation that could be applied to find a solution, and rules that governed behaviour. Slowly, I've been learning that life and most of the world's problems cannot be solved through an engineering approach (although the problem solving skills that engineering taught me have been invaluable). Democracy is not the "right" system of governance. Development problems are so complex and multi-faceted that a solution or solutions seem completely inadequate. Even the existence of a "problem" can be debated: what is viewed as a problem to one party, might be a solution to another.

Now I prefer to view the world in color, trying to open the color wheel of my mind to new possibilities, theories, solutions, problems, and people. In light of the recent tragedy in Connecticut and all the debate surrounding it, I sincerely hope that we can open our minds to first acknowledge that there is a problem in our country, then seek to accept that there may be many possible solutions and combinations of solutions. I may share my views on this tragedy later but for now I encourage everyone (myself included) to think about how multi-faceted the problem may be and how it may require us to fundamentally alter our culture (because culture is not right or wrong).

This year I've learned that while the western world views Uganda's astronomically high fertility rate as a problem, Uganda views it as a solution. While the sanctions on Iran can be seen as more "effective" and probably a better alternative to violent action, they have placed significant burden on ordinary Iranians more so perhaps than the government. While affordable/practically free education can lead to highly educated citizens and zero to low debt for graduated students, it can also lead to less motivation and longer time to finish studies. While high taxes (particularly for the wealthy)  might be seen as unfair or restricting capitalism, they also provide services such as low cost education, high quality and affordable healthcare, and good infrastructure and public transit. While foreign aid can prevent starvation, it can also promote a culture of dependency and stifle real economic growth.

Viewing the world in color doesn't necessarily mean sacrificing morals, it just means stretching your mind to view the world through a different lens. I'm thankful for the experiences of 2012 that "colored" my worldview.

2. Life is short. 
Prior to 2012 I had experienced a few deaths of those close to me, but living in Uganda brought the reality of the briefness of life to the forefront. The sudden death of our project driver in Uganda and the daily news of staff family member deaths (often children), made me both grateful for the quality healthcare I've received and made me think more closely about how I can make the time (how ever long that may be) given me count.

I hope that I can remember to make every day meaningful and treasure the time I have with those that are close to me.

3. Relationships are far more valuable than things. 
This lesson may seem a bit basic and is something I could have preached about years ago, but 2012 brought many reminders of the lasting value in human relationships. Naturally, living in the developing world reminds you about how belongings do not bring happiness and living in Uganda forced me to re-think how to simplify my life. Living simply has never come too difficultly for me, mostly due to my lifelong borderline obsession with saving money. My difficulty has come more in re-evaluating my relationship with money. I've never had the dream of being a CEO or becoming a millionaire or even being rich. Perhaps compared to many, I own very little, but certainly compared to most of the world's population I live a life of luxury. Ironically, 2012's biggest lesson in money did not come from Uganda but rather in the Netherlands.

Approximately six weeks ago my apartment was robbed and my laptop stolen. For much of the last year I was living in sub-Saharan Africa, knowing that I should always be aware of the risk of theft. Fortunately, I was never robbed. I still have a hard time believing that I was robbed in the Netherlands, but I am actually thankful for the experience. Surprisingly, after losing my laptop the only thing I found myself upset about was the loss of some photos and documents--irreplaceable items. The experience made me realize how "stuff" is almost always replaceable and brings very little long term joy. Human beings and memories are not replaceable and therefore relationships, not bank accounts should grow and develop. While I still do not enjoy spending money, I am extremely grateful that I had the money to purchase a new laptop and although I still place high value on being financially responsible, I hope I can waste more energy in cultivating meaningful friendships than stressing about spending money.

4. Dogs sadly have shorter lives than humans. 
Perhaps this lesson is one I should have learned long ago, but somehow I never imagined coming back to Michigan without being greeted by the best dog in the world: Unser. On December 20th, 2012, Unser was put down. I will never forget Unser's love for the snow, his excitement over going for a run with me, his love of human beings and other dogs, his dislike of being alone, his love of killing innocent creatures such as fawns and baby rabbits, his love of sleeping on the couch in spite of his knowledge that he wasn't allowed to, and his stubbornness.

I will never understand why dogs mean so much to human beings and why we become so attached to them. Perhaps it's the unconditionally, non-judgmental love they display. Either way, Unser had a special place in my heart and I will forever miss him.

5. Human beings can get along in spite of differences. 
Over the last year, I've had the privilege of meeting and making friends with: Americans, Ugandans, Kenyans, Irish, Italians, English, Zimbabweans, South Africans, Koreans, Iranians, Dutch, Germans, Turkish, French, Greeks, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesians, and many more that I'm probably forgetting. Many of these people come from countries that do not have good relationships with the US government, most of them have different beliefs and culture than me, but in spite of all outside differences I've learned so much from these people and I can't imagine life without them. Reading the world news depresses me, but when I spend time with the wonderful people who I've crossed paths with I'm filled with hope for our world. I truly do believe that human beings can get along in spite of differences.

There are probably a million more smaller lessons that 2012 taught me but I'll conclude with this thought: on my birthday last year I was asked the question of what one thing do I want to accomplish by my next birthday (which is rapidly approaching). I answered that I hope to be in grad school in the Netherlands. At the time my answer scared me because the last year and half had been filled with rejections (a concept that I wasn't familiar with), but amazingly I am here and feel incredibly blessed that I am. For the first time, I'm beginning to understand the frightening (to me at least) idea of settling down and home. I wouldn't have expected to call Delft home after the last two years of globe trotting, my extreme dislike for grey skies and cold, and love of mountains. But surprisingly, I feel at home a midst the rain, bikes, canals and cheese. Who knows if I will ever settle down or more specifically settle here, but at the moment I'm learning to be content living somewhere I feel comfortable in, feeling part of a community, and knowing where I will be for approximately the next year and a half. 2013 already feels uncomfortably stable but I am sure it will bring its own share of adventures, surprises, and lessons.