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“I almost didn’t apply.” 6 Personal Truths I learned After Working with Orientation.

I almost didn’t apply to work with the UVM Orientation Program as a graduate student this summer. Almost. After having been encouraged to apply by various individuals in my professional network, I decided to go for it. It was a process in deciding what my summer plans were going to be. I was getting mixed perspectives from the people I surrounded myself with:

  • Stay.
  • Leave.
  • Summer is beautiful in Burlington.
  • “I was the only one who left.”
  • Do an ACUHO-I.
  • “Are you coming home for the summer?”

To be honest, my main priority at the time was to spend my summer back in California in order to be with my partner. Long-distance relationships are not easy (expect a blogpost about this in the future). They require so much love, attention, communication, and compromise. Knowing this, I quickly came up with the most ideal situation that would enable me to grow as a professional while allowing me to maintain my partnership: I would land a summer internship in Southern California, live at home and commute to work, and still pay for my apartment in Vermont. It seemed reasonable. It seemed doable. But was I being too optimistic to the point where it pushed the boundaries of realistic and attainable?

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After some time reflecting upon and reaffirming my own needs and wants, I decided to apply for the Graduate Internship to work with the UVM Orientation Program and was fortunate enough to be selected as one of five graduate students to be a part of “Central Staff”, a team that soon became my new summer family and support system. Two weeks (now four) since the completion of our last Orientation session, I have found not only the time to write about my experience, but the courage to embrace the lived emotions that came with this journey as well.


So here are my 6 personal truths — I chose 6 because of the 6 Orientation Sessions we had this summer — that represent everything that I had feared, become, wanted, learned, and loved since joining this new chosen family that I call Orientation, community, and home.

1. I think I needed them more than they needed me. There is something magical that happens when we allow ambitious, dedicated, and self-reflective student leaders to share their stories, identities, and experiences with each other in order to ground our work as educators and create a foundation for success. And because of those stories and personal narratives, I didn’t realize how attached I grew to not only my personal team of students, but to the larger orientation staff as a whole. With their help, I felt seen, heard, hopeful, and rejuvenated once again. It has been awhile since I was able to see myself as more than just a graduate student, intern, professional, and educator. So thank you to my Z-Rex team and family for allowing me to be myself and so much more. I often forget how many lollipop moments happen out there in the world. If we only take the time to notice these moments and share our gratitude for them, we can lead the world into a kinder tomorrow.

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2.  Why run? Over this past year I have worked every day to better understand and embrace my emotions. I think the most recent movie Inside Out says it all. Last semester, I finished reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. It was a book that discussed the raw power and beauty of our own emotions and urged its readers to better understand how these emotions can be used as tools and resources within the classroom, our profession, and our personal life. Someone once said to me, “I don’t do feelings.” Another individual said, “I don’t do goodbyes.” While all of these statements may be perfectly valid for these individuals, I stop to wonder why folks today become so misaligned with their emotions. How are we so out-of-tune with ourselves that we become so afraid of our feelings and gut reactions? Why do we continue to feed into a culture that devalues emotional expressiveness, particularly “negative” facets of emotions such as tears, frustration, and jealousy? We teach ourselves to run from them rather than work through them, and then with them.

Working with orientation this summer made me realize just how connected I was to not only my own emotions, but to the emotions of others as well. I value emotional expressiveness. I want the students I work with to sit in their discomfort. At the same time, I want them to realize the beauty of emotional camaraderie and emotional leadership. It took me a second to realize that my own style of leadership and supervising is so motivated by emotional connectedness and personal relationships. For me, they form the foundation and groundwork to the work I currently do (and will continue to do) as a student affairs scholar practitioner.

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3. Summer in Burlington is beautiful. Please do not misunderstand — winter is equally as beautiful. With winter, however, comes a silent beauty that can slowly take a toll on the human mind, body, heart, and spirit. It’s exhausting having to deal with endless amounts of white fluff and below-zero temperatures. When it finally ended and spring made its short appearance, we soon entered happier times with summer. And well, summer was, and still is, liberating. It has this way of making you feel satisfied, wholesome, and complete. Perhaps this is an exaggeration of my unconditional love for warmer weather, but it was, without a doubt, perfect (and hopefully these 34 pictures will convey my strong feelings more accurately than my own words).

Am I glad that I spent the summer in Burlington? Absolutely. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Burlington comes to life. It is not the same winter wonderland we see throughout half of the year nor is it the apple-picking, pumpkin-patching, and leaf-peeping city we come to know in the fall. Rather, it ebbs and flows with live jazz music, out-of-state and Canadian tourists, bikers and boaters, voracious mosquitoes with ideas of grandeur, and of course, cheese and beer.

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4. I am freaking amazing at what I do.  It has always been a challenge for me to fully embrace and take ownership of the work that I do. I know I do good work. I know I am capable of handling situations thrown my way and fulfilling my responsibilities above and beyond what is requested of me. And yet, “knowing” can be so different from fully “embracing” this personal truth. Perhaps it is the cultural upbringing that I experienced as a Pilipino American that makes it almost taboo to brag about what we are good at. Or perhaps this lack of ownerships comes from being a queer, person of color living under an oppressive (education) system that recognizes more of my straight white counterparts than they do me. Or perhaps, it is an amalgamation of all of the before mentioned. I am my culture. I am my family. I am this system. I am insecurity seeking strength and I am power seeking meaning. Despite all of this, I know that I am not only capable, but that I am actually doing some amazingly powerful things with and for students.

A quick reminder for everyone, including myself: Stay humble. Stay hungry. And indulge every now and then.

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5. I have to learn how to ask for help. Truth is … I am terrible at asking for help. It’s not one of my love languages (acts of service). Again, it’s a cultural/familial/systemic issue of mine that I need to learn how to work through.

But the individuals below were some of THE best support systems I have ever experienced. From getting starbucks for each other whenever it was a long day (let’s face it, though, everyday is a long day in orientation realm) to taking on tasks and other responsibilities from your plate in order to let you go home early; they were there for it all. I could not have asked for a better team and community to be a part of this summer. I truly felt that each individual had not only my back, but also held my head up high when things got rough, and kept my heart close to their own at the beginning and end of each work day. Even when I couldn’t physically bring myself to ask for support, these folks could read my expressions and knew what I needed. Although I’ve had these individuals to support me throughout this entire summer, I know life doesn’t always work that way.

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Eric, you have to ask for help when you need it. Learn to let go and loosen up. Delegate and direct. After 25 years of life experiences, you know that the show ALWAYS goes on. Why sweat the small things when you can have others sweat it out for you (maybe not literally, but I think you get what I am trying to say). Be with the people who care. Stress is one less thing we need on our daily to-do-list.

6. I am an extrovert with introverted tendencies, an open heart, and a reflective soul. What does this exactly mean? I interpret it as the following: I draw a lot of my energy being around people. I fill up my “tank” with quality time, meaningful conversations, shared laughs and instagrammable moments, and foodie adventures. I am constantly energized by these social interactions. I am equally energized by moments shared with my own heart, mind, body, and spirit. Connecting with the “inner me” is healing, cathartic, and purposeful. I am happy to share the comforts of my bed with Netflix and lose track of time while cooking a healthy meal in the kitchen. I thoroughly love the company of friends and colleagues who acknowledge and understand my cultural upbringing and developmental roots. And I am attracted to the sweet silence of an empty and clean apartment. I enjoy it all. I need them both.

I have always been an independent and self-motivated individual and so I think it surprises people when I say that I’m used to being alone in an apartment or away from the action. “FOMO” doesn’t really bother me (unless it involves me missing out on a special moment with my partner).  What I would like to encourage others to do is to simply spend time with themselves. Get to know your own body: the sores, the bruises, the softness of your skin. Take the time to understand your emotions and your triggers. Discover new and innovative ways to keep your mind and body active and engaged. Sit with the discomfort. Put away the iPhones and simply “be” rather than “do”.

Orientation has helped me realize, in so many ways, who I am, what I need, and how to find the balance between the self and others. It is definitely easier these days to simply say “no” to things when my extroverted energy levels have depleted. And sometimes, I just need that little push from a good friend to say “hey, join me for ____ later today.” in order to jumpstart my desire for human contact. Figure out what works best for you. Learn when to say “no” and when to say “yes”. Enjoy every second and every minute of the day – we only get so manyBe kind to yourself and to others (unless they’re trying to get into your picture, as seen below).

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And there they are. The six truths that I have learned to love, accept, critically analyze, and reflect upon since working with UVM Orientation this summer. They will continue to evolve, adapt, and transition with each new environment and experience I go through. For now, here is a celebratory cheers to a wonderful summer working with orientation and a most welcomed salud to enjoy the rest of what Burlington has to offer.

5 Things: Keeping Myself #Healthy, #Focused, and #Engaged

As a full-time graduate student and graduate assistant with two additional part-time on-campus positions, managing my time, stress, and workload has been a challenging process. As a result, there are 5 things I like to do, almost daily, in order to keep myself grounded, whole, and functioning — or healthy, focused, and engaged as my title suggests (oops!).

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1) Making the bed before leaving the house. Sounds trivial, but it works. Every morning, after I put my “game face” on and dress in the weather-appropriate clothes, I make the bed. I place the two pillows at the head, drape the gorgeous white comforter over the edges, strategically position the camouflage pillow and teddy bear to add some color, and toss the brown throw blanket over the feet of the bed. Voila. Done. The reason I do this is simple: Every time I come home from an exhausting day, I at least come home to a clean slate. In the nine to twelve hours that I am on campus, my bed remains in tact, untouched by the worries and stress of the day, and ready to engulf me in a layer of comfort, trust, and deep satisfaction.

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2) Having a regular workout routine. Sounds obvious — because it is. For the past 10 weeks — well, let’s say it’s more like 12 because of spring break and conference season — my programmate and I exercised 25 minutes a day as part of the T25 workout program. Exercising daily helped me survive my first winter in Vermont. It kept my mind off of the never-ending to-do lists and improved my overall concentration. Sure, I saw results and I felt extremely good about myself for doing it, but more importantly, I established a wonderful relationship with my friend and colleague in this program. We enjoyed working out in each other’s company so much that we signed up to do a 5K Mud Run in Boston, Massachusetts that fundraises and brings awareness to multiple sclerosis (MS).

3) Having two reusable water bottles: one for home and the other on-the-go. Sounds excessive, but it’s also really practical. To give you some background information: I have two reusable water bottles that are the same model and type, but differ only in color (one blue, one black). I typically keep one water bottle stocked and filled in the refrigerator and the other comes with me wherever I go. I am a water fiend. I drink water like a fish. It helps to have one water bottle with me to fill up when I’m on the run or going to class, and by the time I come home, I have another water bottle just waiting to be picked up. I also prefer to drink cold water so having one in the fridge helps me save time on my other daily routines and errands and ultimately helps me stay fully hydrated. If you’re looking to get into reusable water bottles, I highly recommend the Thermos Nissan Intak Hydration Water Bottle. It’s affordable, sturdy, keeps the mouth piece protected from hands and other germs, does a good job at preventing any leaks, has a textured exterior for good grip, and comes in many different colors!

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4) Starting a gratitude journal. Sounds time consuming, but extremely fulfilling. I first learned about the gratitude journal after a conversation I had with my colleague, friend, and programmate, Trina S. Tan back in November 2014. Unapologetic plug: You should definitely read some of the amazing work she’s done in her own blog here. Now, back to last semester: I was in a heavy funk and was still transitioning into the Vermont life. I had a hard time being away from California, especially since I was (and still am) in a long distance relationship. I remember seeing Trina writing in this journal ALL THE TIME, even in church! And sometimes she would text me to tell me, “I wrote about you (basically describing our most recent of hangouts) in my journal.” After struggling and feeling so isolated last semester, I knew I needed to take control of my life again.

At the end of the day, I write down at least three things that I am grateful for that have positively impacted the way my day went. Since last November, writing in my journal has furthered my practice for patience, appreciation, and self-reflection. It has given me so much to be grateful for and continues to shed optimism in challenging moments. It also helps me appreciate the smaller things that happen in my day-to-day interactions, whether that be somebody buying me coffee in the morning, giving me a ride home from class in the rain, or finally having time to do laundry again.

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5) Taking a nap when needed. Sounds like a waste of time, but it’s completely worth it. Naps work, they really do. I still haven’t mastered how long the perfect nap is for me, but I find that when my mind is dazed and confused, I come out of a bit more level-headed and refreshed. If it’s not a nap, spending ten minutes to close my eyes and visualize how much work I want to get done also does the trick. And if you end up sleeping longer than you’re supposed (which happens, trust me) don’t be mad at yourself. Your body obviously needed a moment to recover and you’re giving it the love that it so desperately desired. 

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In closing, each of these things has allowed me to stay healthy, focused, and engaged. Making the bed has taught me how to be more responsible. Consistently working out has helped me become more accountable to myself and to others. Having two reusable water bottles makes for a more efficient day. Writing in my gratitude journal further practices the art of mindfulness. Lastly, taking a nap has allowed me to prioritize my personal health and wellbeing.

As a graduate student and student affairs professional, it’s not always easy carving time out of my day to practice self-care and living in complete balance with my personal and professional life. However, I have learned that finding ways to keep myself rejuvenated and grounded are essential to my overall wellbeing and spiritual development. Taking some time out of the day to do the little things that are important to us can help us do our work more efficiently and effectively while living our life with appreciation and integrity.

In closing, here are some questions to guide you or reground you in your own journey to a healthier lifestyle: How can you make time to do the little things that can sometimes have the largest impact on your levels of engagement and productivity? How do you practice self-love and self-reflection? What do you do to integrate balance in your life?

Final Thoughts About #NASPA15!

It is my hope to not only share my experiences about #NASPA15 via written prose, but also through visual media. I enjoy creating videos that help express my thoughts and beliefs, particularly through a medium that can be equally engaging and creative. Thus, this short 3.5 minute video offers a brief introduction to who I am as a graduate student and professional, provides some reflective pieces about my time at the 2015 National NASPA Conference, and expresses my gratitude towards the NASPA Shares Initiative that helped fund my trip to New Orleans.

Enjoy! 

Also, shoutout to the music used for my video: Janelle MonáeDance Apocalyptic. I believe it is important to represent artistic, influential, and talented individuals of color within my life’s work. It is my hope to lend my gratitude and highlight an amazingly gifted woman of color like Janelle. Dance!

Reflections on #NASPA15 from a first-time attendee

“Finally.” With the help of some professional development funding and one of NASPA’s scholarship initiatives for New Professionals and Graduate Students, I was able to attend and participate in my first National NASPA Conference which took place in New Orleans this year.

As a first-time attendee, here are some of my general thoughts and reactions to the conference as a whole.

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10 quick thoughts:

1. It’s true – you do not have to go to everything. But do go to some things. I did my best to attend a handful of educational sessions and socials throughout the day. But I also made sure to enjoy my time being in New Orleans and so I skipped out on some featured sessions, resource fairs, and community meetings. At the end of the day, it was a great balance of exploring the city and (re)grounding myself in the work that I do as a scholar practitioner.

2. Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed if you decide to do things by yourself. If you want to explore the city, do it. If you want to attend a session because it is relevant to you and may not be of interest to your friends, go to it anyways. If you are hungry and need time to reflect, have lunch by yourself. It is okay to do things alone. Sometimes as a field, we place a large value on networking and community building – for good reasons, of course. However, I have also seen such community-organizing work place a sense of shame or guilt on individuals for not going to that “one thing” when all these independent folks wanted was to have some quality “me-time”.

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3. Small improvements – large victories. Even if you only make one new connection at a reception, don’t discount its significance. For example, although I am currently in NASPA Region I due to graduate school, I decided to attend the NASPA Region VI reception because I thought it might be good to network with current professionals if I ever wanted to get back to California (and I do, someday down the road). Although I literally only met three individuals that night and re-introduced myself to a former UCLA colleague, I felt accomplished for what I achieved that night: new perspectives, an understanding as to how these receptions look and function, and a new Twitter follower.

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4. Do not be afraid to ask for help or a hangout buddy. Ask for clarification: what is the opening session and what do they do there? What is a Knowledge Community and which “meetings” can I attend? Who is she/he? Hey, what are you doing for lunch? Do you want to have dinner tomorrow? What are these ribbons for? As a first-time attendee, give yourself permission to be “selfish” your own self-advocate. The more you know, the smaller the conference starts to feel.

5. Do not forget to thank the people who took the time and energy to make sure you felt included, supported, and welcomed. Identify at least three individuals that have been largely influential during the conference and express your gratitude for them, to them. We can easily build, validate, and sustain our communities with these little touches of compassion and appreciation.

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6. When it comes to lunch or some kind of coffee break, be sure to get in line at least 10-15 minutes before a session ends. Once the session ends, everybody is out and about. Either practice waiting with patience or instead, engage in more strategic planning – you choose!

7. If you cannot avoid the lines then make the most of it. Sometimes standing in line when waiting for food or coffee can bring about the greatest of conversations and the newest of friends. True story: A friend and I were waiting in line for Subway and the three individuals in front of us were graduate students from Baylor College in Texas. We talked and laughed and they invited us to sit down with them for lunch. We exchanged business cards, added each other on Facebook, and ran into one another several times throughout the conference.

8. Try and connect with both new and old friends of your alma mater. It was great to see some friends from my college years, but it was also wonderful to hear from professionals that are currently at the university. Do not be afraid to post an announcement to your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets asking if there are any “_______ alumni” in the area. I found that by asking to connect with individuals at the conference, people connected me with their connections and the whole conference scene became that much smaller. It was also great to reminisce and talk about familiar street names and campus buildings again. Talk about navigating with courage, right? #gobears 

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9. Get to know not only the people at the conference and the professionals at the various institutions, but the people who actually live, work, and breathe in the city as well. Talk to the locals. Ask them for their recommendations. Say please and thank you and wish them a good day. With an influx of 7800 people in one city, having a level of respect and politeness can go a long way, especially to those whom are working in customer service-oriented positions.

10. When the conference is all over, give yourself some time to truly reflect about your experiences there. What did you learn about practices, strategies, cultures, and/or programs within higher ed and student affairs (name at least 5 take away messages)? What was the best part about it? What was challenging about it? Who helped you along the way? Who are new colleagues and professionals that you would like to keep in touch with? And what would you do differently if you were to go again next year?

And there you have it. My ten thoughts about the conference as a first-time #NASPA15 attendee.

What do you think? Anything else you would like to add that a first-time attendee should know and think about?


And in case anyone is interested, below are my #outfitsofNASPA that I wore for the week in New Orleans. I think I did pretty well :) Any outfits you were particularly proud of? Please share! 

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