On Sunday, we drove my little Prius to Anzo-Borrego Desert to seek wildflowers and adventure. It was a beautiful day and even more beautiful drive. We stopped by a taco shop off the road for breakfast burritos. We got invited to a nearby casino as we ate. After respectfully declining we hopped back in the Prius and then, suddenly, out of the blue I recognized a sign from five years ago. It was the sign that we went to the inauguration of as part of Alternative Spring Break at UC Irvine. Alternative Spring Break is an option for college students to do something “alternative” and do service work at a site for a week. You have options of sites to choose from, and I chose La Jolla Indian Reservation. This Alternative Spring Break was such a unique experience for me – I had just graduated and was about to go out into the real world. As I drove past the sign thoughts like tumbleweed started to accumulate in my mind.
1. Our life is a set of choices
I told the girls I was with about the experience I had at La Jolla Indian Reservation as we passed by that sign. Later I looked back on my Facebook and saw that it took place EXACTLY 5 years ago from this weekend. How funny that God and life works like that! Exactly 5 years ago I was a freshly graduated, young girl at an Indian Reservation. 5 years later from that day I’m 26 years old. I am a little stronger, a little less insecure, a little braver. It’s moments like this where you get a glimpse of your past self and the distance that separates you from then to who you are today.
After Alternative Spring Break, there was no more college. I had a blank space before me. I was scared. I was expected to have an internship in Taiwan. I was accepted, but needed to electronically “accept” my acceptance. We didn’t have any cell service or access to computers at the La Jolla Indian Reservation. The deadline passed for me to accept it and I lost my internship. And to be honest, I am so happy I did! Looking back at my 5 years of life, I forged my own path by going to Prague. I had the time of my life living in Europe for a year. When I came back I got to work at an amazing nonprofit, Illumination Foundation to help the homeless in OC thanks to my mentors Maribel and Jack! I am now still on a crazy adventure and I love it. I guess what I mean is rejection and lost opportunities do not necessarily have to be a bad thing. What will my life have been if I went to Taiwan, I don’t know and don’t need to know. That life doesn’t exist.
We are all faced with a set of choices. I chose UCI. I chose La Jolla Indian Reservation. I chose Prague. I chose Anzo Borrego Desert. Just choose. Choose the choices that you in 5 years will be proud of. And then look back.
2. Challenge yourself
Emi Oshima, our fearless leader for Alternative Spring Break, is a force to be reckoned with. The leading started even before we got to the Luiseno Band of Indians Reservation. I remember sitting in a circle with strangers: each of us extremely different and all not knowing what to expect but at the core we were all ready to serve and learn. What I got from that first meeting was that Emi really wanted to challenge us. She asked us to identify what that meant for each of us. I knew what mine was, it was almost too easy. No coffee and make-up. I remember making some kind of light-hearted comment about it and getting shot down in a loving but stern way. I wanted to make a joke of it but Emi was so intentional and direct in her leadership I had no choice. While I didn’t forgo make up completely and I had one or two cups of coffee during the week, the challenge was amazing. It wasn’t limited to just lattes and eyeliner. We challenged ourselves as we jumped in garbage trucks, as we got up from our seats and participated in a “bird song”. (A bird song is a traditional dance meant to show the joy of who you are, what you are and what you will become – is that not just beautiful?). Even before my road trip and seeing that sign, I had been hearing Emi’s voice these past weeks encouraging me to challenge myself. Five years later and her impact is still strong.
3. Learn about cultures
My major at UCI was Global Cultures. This major at UCI is fairly new and is only 10 years old. I got a lot of questions about it when I had to tell people. I still don’t know exactly what to tell people – you learn about different cultures, and how we are all connected, yet how each culture is unique and valuable. But what I am now learning through observation and experience is that to be able to connect to different cultures is extremely, extremely crucial to being successful.
This opportunity to sleep in cots at an elementary school on an Indian Reservation for a week may have been a rare and unique experience, however there are so many other ones! I want to go to Papa New Guinea to experience their culture. There are so many overseas volunteer experiences to choose from. While some people might say don’t do that, it’s not a long-term impact – I say DO IT! Get out of your comfort zone. One thing you say to a child or person might make a lasting impact like Emi’s words on me. Don’t hold yourself back. Or, go to the library! Research cultures on the internet. Learn about someone who is not like you. See what connects you to them. Own the world.
4. Do good
Acts of service require no extra talent or skills. Just a good and willing heart. I personally am the most alive when I am serving. I feel at use, I feel purposeful, I feel good. I accidentally wrote I feel god instead of good but that’s true too! I feel God when serving. There’s also something about serving, not just alone but when you are with other people. I feel the same way now as I’m training for the half marathon with Team World Vision for clean water in Africa. There’s something beautiful and life giving when you are with a team of people for a cause greater than yourself. PS donate to Team World Vision’s mission to save lives in Africa to be a part of doing good today! I’m so close to the goal!!(http://www.teamworldvision.org/participant/andilong )
5. YOLO and non-YOLO
On the way up we were asking one of my friends what colors the flowers were going to be. She said there’s a lot of yellow, and…non-yellow. We laughed about that the whole trip. How cute! And then on the way back my other friend said in life there’s YOLO and non-YOLO. That made me laugh even more because I remember 5 years ago at La Jolla Indian Reservation our group would just scream YOLO on top of mountain tops, as college students will do. That was our motto then. My motto now, is YOLO and non YOLO! It’s a balance. It’s doing what you love and taking risks while being safe and realizing your one life is valuable and precious. So make sure you live as much as you can so you can do as much good as you can. Like the sign says, “Keep Your Dreams Alive Don’t Drink and Drive”.
6. Go at your own pace
When I told my dad I was going to the desert, he and my mom just went a couple weeks before so he told me that it gets really windy and to go slow even if cars behind me are pressuring me or really close behind. Glad he told me that because I really had to let so many people pass me, I was THAT Prius. But I appreciated my dad’s advice – go at your own pace. Don’t let external pressures you convince you that you need to go faster, be something you’re not. That’s when it gets dangerous. And when all else fails, pull over and enjoy the moment while letting them pass. You don’t know what you might find!
Video I made from the Alternative Spring Break experience five years ago!!!