Thailand Travels

My mother called the day I got back from my two-week tirade in Thailand to hear all about my trip and ensure I was safe and sound in Chicago. After telling her about my travels, she asked if I wanted to talk to my father. Of course, I was happy to speak with both my parents, but after a minute of muffled chatter on the other end of the line, I was informed that I had to wait for such a conversation until I could provide a show and tell. While I was planning to write this blog post anyway, I now feel obliged to specifically dedicate it to my dad and his demand of visuals.

I left for my adventure two days after Christmas. While with my family, I was asked several times why on earth I would want put myself through 30 hours of travel (one way) for a single destination. My responding rationale is threefold. I went…

  1. To visit Shane, a pretty incredible guy I am rather fond of (as evident by my 9,000 mile journey);
  2. To feed my ongoing craving for new places and cultures (I’ve never traveled to Asia);
  3. And last but not least, to escape the cold, dreary winter weather in NY and IL (yes, going to Thailand is a bit extreme for this, but bathing suit temps and beautiful beaches were definitely a perk)

Shane works in a boarding house affiliated with Phuket International Academy and Thanyapura, a top-notch sports facility for professional athletes. While my stay was definitely packed with a plethora of activities, I also enjoyed hanging out around the facilities and getting to know the boarding house staff and students. The teens I met were extremely driven, smart, kind and captivating. They tried putting on an act to come across as mean when I first arrived, but their sincere compassion quickly showed through. Shane’s co-workers, Cat and Jani, also made me feel truly welcomed. They invited me on a few ‘girls nights out’ which were an absolute blast!

When I first arrived, my Chicago roommate, Rachel, was also visiting. Our stays only overlapped for a day, but it was still amazing to see her on the other side of the world! Together, we went with Shane and Jani to the Big Buddha, situated on top of the Nakkerd Hills. The view was quite incredible and the route up the steep incline offered several tourist attractions as well, including elephant riding, ATV touring, and snake shows. With the cash we had on hand, we decided to try a snake show, which culminated in some interesting photos to say the least.

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The next day, after dropping Rachel off, we went to Kathu Waterfall, which was a bit smaller than our expectations, but still big enough to bash me up… I fell down it head first, knocking out a boarding house student along the way! Bruised and battered, I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculous incident, apologizing profusely to the poor guy I wiped out.

That evening, Shane and I went to a night market bustling with people, bursting with merchandise, and beckoning my appetite for savory local food.

I spent the last day of December at Kamala Beach with Shane, Cat, and their former co-worker/friend Michael (aka Ates) who was visiting the area with his girlfriend Minji. After lunch, swimming and frisbee, we took on the long-awaited banana boat, which in our case was an inflated raft designed to look like a demented pencil. Nonetheless, the ride was thrilling and a good alternative to the traditional beach time passings.

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Phuket-New-Year-Lantern-FestivalNew Year’s Eve was also on the beach (Layan Beach). The scenery was absolutely magical as hundreds of paper lanterns were set off amidst colorful fireworks. Eager to contribute to the display, the boarding house crew came prepared with their own box of sparklers and such. The boys had fun messing with the explosives, but I have to admit I felt a little too close  for comfort at times. Overall however, the experience was exceptionally unique and most certainly memorable!

While some may start the new year off with a bang, I bounced into January with many! On the first of the month I went to Anthem Wake Park where I wiped out over and over again. I was happy to be amongst the persistent boarding house students who were also giving the tough sport their all. I came to realize I have a long ways to go before becoming a wakeboarder, but I suppose persistence is a precious lesson at a time of fresh beginnings.

A few days later, Shane and I rented a moped and headed north. En route, we stopped at a little safari where my request to ride an elephant was appeased. Our end destination was Phang Nga Bay. Once there, we were led through large limestone karsts jetting out of the water in a long tail boat. The whole area was somewhat uncanny, but magnificently astounding at the same time. We ate lunch at Ko Panyi, a Muslim fishing village built on stilts within the bay, then swam at Khao Phing Kan, or James Bond island as it’s commonly called after its debut in the iconic American films.

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The sight seeing continued the next day with a ferry boat ride out to Phi Phi islands. After swimming, dining, drinking and meandering through hundreds of little shops, restaurants, bars and hotels, we watched a fire dancer show on the beach then got some sleep before embarking on a kayak adventure the following morning. Paddling tandem style, we worked our way over to Monkey Beach, which lived up to its name with lively, swindler inhabitants skilled at snatching tourists’ food, beverages and random possessions. We then stopped by Maya Beach before returning the kayak and heading back.

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As my vacation came to an end I wanted to try squeezing more sightseeing in, but Shane had other ideas in mind. We compromised by creating a schedule that entailed visiting Wat Chalong temple and bungee jumping (within the same day). After enduring extreme heat, loopy unnamed roads, and a stomach-flipping dive, I fully embraced the serene beauty of the beachside sunset in the evening (at Surin Beach).

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Scrolling to the top of this post, I confess this entry is much longer than I intended, but squeezing two weeks of travel into 2,000 words is no easy feat.

I cannot help but grin as I reminisce on my time visiting the land of smiles. The welcoming people, breathtaking sights, daring adventures and delectable food all left fond impressions that will not be forgotten.

I hope to explore Asia more in the future, but for now, it’s great to be back amongst friends and colleagues in the windy city I currently call home.

*Many pictures in this post are accredited to Shane Conrad-Davis and his trusty iPod. Stock photo of New Year’s lanterns. 

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Swimming in a Media Sea

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post and an even longer time since I’ve written one pertinent to my career interests.

Yesterday, I attended Ingenguity’s Media Arts Summit. For three hours, directors from media arts organizations from across Chicago met to address ways in which collaborations between schools and organizations could be formed and strengthened. Ingenuity Inc. has done some really impressive research on the varying states of art infrastructure in Chicago Public Schools and shared highly insightful and helpful resources, such as the artlook map and artlook partners interface.

As an initial activity and point of discussion, the event facilitators asked each organization representative to go around the room and indicate what media arts programs they provided. The categories included:

  • Audio & Digital Music
  • Cinema Studies
  • Design
  • Digital Media
  • Photography
  • Social Media
  • and Media Literacy

I understand that the exercise was intended to get a better sense of the services offered by the organizations present and I recognize that an awareness of such distinctions is important. But the framing of the activity made me reflect on my thoughts about media arts and media literacy in particular. While I respect media arts as a field and applaud the great work that is being done to ensure youth are given opportunities to express themselves multimodally, I believe media arts is a subset of media literacy and not the other way around.

From my experiences, media arts often eludes to the creative process involved in producing and sharing digital media artifacts. But to me, media needs to be recognized as so much more than just digital compositions and this expansive understanding of media needs to be an integral component of literacy across varied disciplines. When the term media is thought of as merely digital and placed within a specified art category, our understanding of the media’s impact on our lives is limited.

Stylistic ways to communicate stories and ideas may be explored in schools through media arts, but such expression is only one side of the coin. Everyone needs to understand that they also “read” a plethora of media messages every day… from the cereal box in the morning to the music playing while in transit to the reports read while on the job… media influence our values, understandings and actions. Without analyzing media texts and reflecting on the ways we interact with them, we will be susceptible to producer’s intentions, enforced sterotypes, and the common act of ‘seeing’ only messages that align with our perspectives or those of the privileged majority.

51U3c4tEHLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_By integrating media literacy across all subjects there can be an increased effort to more deeply understand topics through diverse views and interpretations. As Winston Churchill stated, “history is written by the victors.” Textbooks and canonical literature, which take the forefront of traditional academic curricula, often tell the narrative of the victors or the majority. It is crucial to acknowledge that these texts are media messages. They were produced by someone for some purpose. They have embedded values and beliefs. Textbooks and classics should not be disposed, but rather acknowledged as a mere part of the larger media landscape.

I am passionate about holistically embedding media literacy in schools because I see a direct relation between our ability to critically consume information and our roles as informed and responsible citizens. With so much information ceaselessly surrounding us through billboards, magazines, social media and so forth, we get the elusion that we are adequately informed on a vast array of topics, but the information overload, personalized marketing techniques, and rapid speed of content creation and interaction lead us to have a more narrow and shallow experience with texts.

Its time to take a step back and see the water that we’re swimming in. Media are all around us. We consume, create, comment on and share information in a myriad of ways everyday. We need to be consciousness of the ways in which messages are impacting us and how our expressions may influence others. Beyond creating in the arts and reading in class, we need to question the world that we live in through constant deconstructions of media texts.

The Tides of Time

The weather lately has been inconsistent and unpredictable. Like the billowing grey clouds and harsh warm rains that have fleetingly swept across the typically blue summer skies, my life has seemed to mirror the unsteady climate.

Just as I felt I was beginning to master the waning whirlwinds of transition, the resurgent waves of life events struck again, rocking me wild and ragged. The steady schedule I sought so hard to set came apart at the seems as trip after trip seeped into my calendar and happenings out of my control played out before me.

11707552_1111855965495170_8166054981701123487_nMy age and distance from home struck me as I sat alone watching a video of my youngest sister giving a high school graduation speech in June. Although I beamed with pride at the accomplished young woman on the screen in front of me, a bittersweet sadness set in as I recalled all the youthful moments we spent together growing up that had now turned into mere memories to look back on.

As time has proven, with age and developing identities we have begun to go on diverging paths which is both exciting and elusively isolating. The days of performing plays and playing pirates in the backyard are over, but I cling to hopes of future endeavors to pull me from the realms of reminiscing. I can’t wait to see what my sister has yet to conquer. She has already done so much and I often brag about the fact that she has earned a black belt in TaeKwonDoe, a certification in scuba diving, and two athlete of the year awards for soccer and track. Despite the states that will lie between us, I hope I can continue to support her and my other sister as they embark on their dreams.

My sisters mean the world to me and sometimes I struggle to state such significance in words.

11698783_10203254037951967_1487397412747753903_oThis July, the strongest storm that hit me came in hard and fast.

The presence of life itself dissipated into thin wisps of fragile air as I stood by helplessly and lost a woman who raised me to the cruelties of cancer.

One day I was speaking with her on her home phone, the next she was in the hospital and the next she was in Hospice waiting peacefully for her time to come. The speed of it all was startling. Yes, she had cancer, but she had beaten it twice before. I was supposed to see her at my sister’s graduation party. I was supposed to hug her tight and feel her warm, loving body pressed reassuringly against mine in a matter of weeks. The plan was to meet in NY in July. But plans don’t always pan out. From her passing I have been reminded of this. I have been harshly awakened to the precious commodities that constitute living.

Although Dawnie was not biologically related to me, she gave me love, support and nourishment that have contributed to what I know as happiness, success and belonging. Others may only understand her as being my babysitter when I was younger, but she was so much more than that. She was like a third grandmother to me who maintained a strong presence in my life throughout the years. Even though I didn’t get to hold her in my arms one more time, her spirit will remain with me through the waft of apple cinnamon candles, the gooey sweetness of fresh monkey bread and the creative details of homemade cards.

I admit the death of a loved one is jarring and painful and heart-wrenchingly saddening, but those who endure it gain a heightened sense of what remains… the settings, items, relationships and moments that string together to make our lives rich. While waves of grief still strike, I am also caught up in peaks of joy while toasting s’mores with my family around a campfire, belting out songs on the radio with friends, swaying solo in a hammock reading, and taking the time to reflect on it all.

The tides of time will continue to twist and turn and throw me about, but such turbulence is life, precious, unpredictable, savory life.

Chicago Livin’

My apartment
My apartment

I can’t believe it has already been over a month since I have moved to Chicago! I have been so busy and subsequently have neglected to write another blog post. To briefly sum up my experience thus far, it has been absolutely incredible. I am sincerely happy with the places, people and pursuits I have been involved with.

I am living in Buena Park, which is part of Uptown, a a neighborhood north of the city’s downtown (known as The Loop). I love the area because it has more of a small town feel with easy access to all the urban amenities. There is grand church on the corner of my street that plays lovely bells everyday, a library across the road from me, a posh bar next-door and a little wine and sandwich shop besides that. One of the greatest perks is that it is only a few blocks from the lake with an easy under-road pass to the lakeside trail. The pass itself is artfully decorated and leads to a little Peace Garden which in and of itself is nice.

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My two housemates, Rachel and Erica, are amazing. When I first moved in they had a welcome sign on the door and they have been nothing but inviting and genuinely kind ever since. I also share the premise with two furry friends, Henry Cat and Mortdecai who have been friendly and rather amusing at times.

The unit is super clean and gorgeous since it was recently renovated. Living with tidy and organized housemates has helped as well. An open concept layout in the front of the apartment makes is very light and roomy. And we all spend a good deal of time in the kitchen mass producing meals for each week. One of my first matters to address when I arrived was to set up my room, which I have used a coastal theme with. I am typing this post from the comfort of my cushy brown chair, which I made a priority of getting as soon as I got to the city.

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Luckily, the weather has been getting warmer and I have been spending a great deal of time outside the apartment. I have been training for another half marathon and running along the lakeside trail every other day. I joined a yoga studio nearby.  And I am also attempting to play in a beach volleyball league despite my lack of hand-eye coordination. So far, I have not made too much of a fool of myself (I hope) and I have enjoyed the fun playing atmosphere and camaraderie amongst my teammates. It has been a great way to meet new people and make more friends as well! When I’m not working out or working, I try to make the most of events going on in the city on the weekends and evenings too. I have been to three festivals over three weekends!

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Last weekend Adrienne, my dear friend from college, came to visit. She is currently attending grad school at the University of Michigan so it was just a long bus ride for her to get to the windy city. It had been so long since I had last seen her that I was thrilled to be able to spend some time together. Unfortunately for her, she was my guineapig for hosting since I am still so new to the city myself. Although I got us somewhat lost the very first night, I believe things got better as the weekend progressed. On Friday, we made sure to indulge in some deep-dish pizza from Gino’s East then moseyed around the Magnificent Mile for a little bit, gawking at the price tags in high end boutiques. We then went to a play my friend directed before calling it a night. Saturday, we started off the day with an incredible brunch at Inspiration Kitchen down then spent most the afternoon watching a humorous, witty comedy show called Paper Machete at the Green Mill where Nick Offerman stopped by to perform a few of his hilarious songs amongst several other highly talented acts spanning rock performance, puppeteering, and stand-up. The place was absolutely packed, but it was well worth it! Sunday, before Adrienne left, we made sure to cover the typical tourist sites in Chicago, snapping selfies in front of the bean sculpture in Millennium Park and dining at the Navy Pier (Margaritaville style). Although it seemed like it was going to rain all day, the weather held out for us and actually ended up being one of the nicest days of the weekend.

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IMG_2738This upcoming weekend I’m going beyond the borders of Chicago for my first time since living here to visit my incredible relatives (The Konesco crew) in Indiana. I’m ecstatic to catch up with my family and celebrate baby Molly’s baptism.

Summer seems to be getting into full swing and I cannot wait to experience all that lies ahead!

Turning a New Leaf in the Windy City

“Change is never easy, you fight to hold on and you fight to let go.”

This quote has been the epitome of my existence over the past month. I have been caught up in the whirlwinds of change and although understandably busy, I have been procrastinating in writing this blog post. Writing to me implies a bold confrontation with my deepest thoughts, feelings and fears. Blogging more specifically adds another layer of caution by bringing an extended audience into the picture. As I type this, I am uncomfortable. I have felt the need to write about my most recent life transition both for myself and for those dear to me, but it is not easy…. change is never easy, nor is confrontation.

I am now living in Chicago. I moved on my birthday. While not an ideal activity to engage in on a day framed for celebration, I acknowledge the unique irony. In a sense, a birthday is a predisposed turning point- it is a distinct time where the sum of your life is displayed in quantitative fact and the hopes for what are yet to come are visibly, yet secretly shared through the fatality of candle flames that flicker under your breath on a birthday cake. A birthday is all too often misunderstood as solely a time for others to acknowledge your existence, but this year, I decided this date is also about self-appreciation.

I decided my career aspirations were worth respecting and acting upon. I have made it a goal to seek work that is meaningful, innovative, exciting and prosperous. I have been determined to resist settling for a position that pays the bills, but leaves me longing. I am ecstatic about my new role as Manager of Learning Resources at Convergence Academies because I am surrounded by colleagues who share my passions, value my contributions, and continue to push the boundaries.

Beyond my career, I felt it was time for a change of scenery. Over the past two years while earning my master’s degree I lived in East Aurora, a village close to my parents that I dreamed of residing in when I was younger. But as I tried living out my fantasy, I came to realize that my dreams had changed. The quaint little town seemed too small for me and the familiar faces portrayed the prominent dissonance I felt since moving back from Rhode Island. While still considered home, I have an ever evolving relationship with the old farm house and country town I grew up in. They define where I come from, but I do not want them to defy the breadth of my potential.

I am on a continual journey to widen my horizon and embrace all life has to offer through discomfort and discovery. By accumulating diverse experiences, perspectives and possibilities I aim to further develop my identity. The world is an immense place filled with so many people and places that I feel I am dis-servicing myself and my reach if I stay in a comfortable, confined space.

I will admit that I am daunted at times by a new city and a new job, but it is better than being haunted by reservations and inactions that have plagued me before.

As I embark on my new adventure, I cannot help but use Mark Twain’s quote as inspiration:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I have leapt from the safe harbor and now sail in the sky, throwing my ambitions to the midwestern winds, wondering where this Chicago gust will take me; devouring the delicious ambiguity.

My Media Literacy Trip: Part 4

Chicago…

With over a week of traveling under my belt and some crazy New York occurrences I was feeling a little weary by the time the last leg of my trip approached. Fortunately, however Chicago is a predominantly new scene for me (I only visited once in high school) and I was meeting up with new connections, so I was rejuvenated by excitement.

New York City did not give me up without a fight and I still had to deal with a four hour flight delay, but my stress dissipated as soon as I sunk into the extremely comfortable bed at Hotel Blake.

Eager to learn about the media literacy initiatives in the Midwest, I first met with Mindy Faber, co-director of Convergence Academies, who told me about all the exciting work her team is engaged in. I then accompanied her out to Morrill and Tilden, two public schools they’re working with, to see Convergence in action! I was impressed by both the digital atelier spaces they built in each building and the fun, knowledgeable staff that worked with the teachers and students.

While in Chicago I also visited the YouMedia space in the downtown public library to check out the youth-centered site I had read so much about. Jennifer and Julie gave me a great tour and answered any questions I had.

Based on recommendations from Renee Hobbs and Jonathan Friesem, I made sure to reach out to Natalia Smirnoff, a current PhD student at Northwestern University who previously engaged in youth media work in Philadelphia, PA. We were able to meet up for drinks one night and we easily became lost in conversation. She told me about POPPYN, the Philly youth news group she helped develop and her ongoing connections with youth media activists in Chicago.

Towards the end of my visit in Chicago I met with Tony Streit who gave me a tour of Street-Level Youth Media, the organization he co-founded, and introduced me to Manwah Lee, the current executive director. The place was buzzing with energy as teens went about preparing for an open-mic show they had that night and even though Manwah was extremely busy with meetings, she took the time to speak with Tony and I, which I really appreciated.IMG_2655

Besides all the great networking I did, I also spent some time exploring the city. I shopped at Wicker Park, listened to live blues music at Buddy Guy’s Legends and ate a delicious caramel chocolate dessert at Meli Cafe.

Overall, my trip was a highly rewarding experience, even with some of the shortcomings I faced. I learned so much from the media literacy professionals I had the privilege to meet and hope to continue expanding my knowledge by surrounding myself with innovative, collaborative, caring people who are pushing boundaries and re-envisioning what we are capable of.

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My Media Literacy Trip: Part 3

Never Dull in New York City…

While I thought the crazy yoga session was a whirlwind, it was nothing compared to my time in New York City. My trip in on the train started serenely with a sunset that back-splashed the silhouetted skyscraper horizon a vivid orange and pink, but as soon as I stepped foot in Penn Station the calm was broken with people bustling by hurrying to get home from work.

I mostly stayed with my friend, Christine, out on Long Island where the hustle and bustle is at bay, however one night I was able to sleep over at my friend Sam’s apartment in Brooklyn. While the matter of where I stayed may seem a bit boring, the drama of my trip comes when I explain what happened during the day…

IMG_2620First, on my way in from Long Island to Brooklyn to meet up with Rhys Daunic from The Media Spot, I fainted on the train. Before I go further I will state that I am absolutely fine and I recovered quickly. However, being escorted off by a group of police then checked out by a team of paramedics on an ambulance was not exactly how I envisioned my morning. Rhys and his wife patiently waited for me to make it to Brooklyn and once I met up with them the rest of my day seemed to go rather well. I visited Taots and the Brooklyn School of Inquiry where Rhys provides media literacy consulting. It was so fascinating to see his diverse role meeting with the principal, teachers and at one point, even stepping in as a basketball instructor!

The following day I met up with Michelle CiullaLipkin, NAMLE’s executive director, who kindly treated me to a delicious brunch at a Manhattan diner. It was great catching up with her in person and as I got on the metro to visit Emily Bailin at Teachers College, I was feeling confident about navigating my way around the big city, despite my brief unconscious moment the morning before. But my reluctancy towards the city returned when I realized that my wallet was not on me. I rushed back to the diner, but had no luck finding it. Rather than meeting up with Emily, I spent the rest of the day canceling cards, filing a police report and obtaining a temporary license (which does not include a photo). My biggest concern was being able to finish my journey in Chicago… if I did not have a photo ID I could not fly! Thankfully my parents saved the day by overnighting my passport through FedEx.

*The next part of this blog post (coming tomorrow) will cover my time in Chicago.