Jesse’s Blog

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In just 7 days, my adventures in Europe will come to an end. Well, more like, ‘be put on pause.’ I’m definitely coming back (I told my mom I was going to show her Paris, remember?). And even though I feel I’ve grown to become a part of this side of the world, there is still so much I haven’t seen! I’ve barely even scratched the surface.

Yes, I still have a lot of exploring to do but Finals period means that the library has become my domain. Your Education comes first! What’s the point of being able to see the world if you don’t have the knowledge to make a positive impact in it? As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for my Education, I wouldn’t even be here right now.

I have to make sure I remember that in order to remain grateful and motivated — It also helps to curve the Finals period procrastination (I’m only human!). It’s funny how I’ve seen more youtube videos and ‘liked’ more statuses in these past few days than this entire semester combined. It feels good to see what my friends are up to after so long though. It’s been pretty hard to stay in frequent contact because I’m either studying, Barcelona adventuring, or in a new city getting to know the culture. Even though I’ve been M.I.A., I’ll have lots of stories to share once I get back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Until then though, it’s back to studying. The 7-day countdown begins now. Gotta make sure I make use of every minute! Be ready for next week’s post though- I have some good news I’d like to share with you.

I can’t believe it’s already December… 2011 definitely flew by and when I think back to where I was one year ago, I see a different person. Of course, I’m still the same ol’ goofy, talkative (almost too much sometimes) Jesse, but I can’t deny that I’ve grown a lot this past year. I’ve learned a lot and have had the opportunity to become acquainted with brand new cultures, continents, and hemispheres. All of it came so quickly and already, the adventures of 2011 will come to an end the night of December 31st. This isn’t a time to be sad though! This just means a brand new set of adventures can begin the morning of January 1, 2012. Now is a time of renewal, reflection, and reminiscing.

Speaking of reminiscing, I heard word of the annual Latino Holiday Dinner (that I sadly had to miss) and thought back to last year and what I wrote on this very same Harvard Blog… Wow. 12 months ago!! Even though I wasn’t there in person this year, I was there in spirit and am looking forward to next year’s celebration. The annual Latino Holiday Dinner is always a memorable night and the celebration started on Harvard campus must continue after we arrive home right? Leave it to Harvard Latinos to keep the party going…

Every year, there is an additional Latino Holiday Dinner during the holidays where, unlike the one in Cambridge, the families of the students are able take part in the college experience. It’s a great time to get to know your peers a little bit better and see the wonderful families they are a part of. I wasn’t able to be on campus for the first LHD but am looking forward to the California edition later this month when I’m back from studying abroad. I’ll be able to catch up with old friends and make new friendships with the Harvard Alum that are able to make it. They have so much wisdom to share and it’s fun to compare experiences to see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. Amazing food, wonderful company, and warm family love are what make the holidays- and the Latino Holiday Dinner- one of my favorite parts of the year.

Last December, I had the honor of meeting the mother of my friend, Eli Murillo (Harvard College 2010) at the Latino Holiday Dinner. I asked them to share a few words about the college journey and am happy to share it with you in the video below. Happy Holidays!

I love movies. I’ve been a film connoisseur since my earliest memories. Actually, though. I remember watching the Lion King and commenting on the director’s techniques in between spoonfuls of my corn flakes, let’s put it like that. And even though I never strayed too far from that Hakuna Matata lifestyle, there were still some things about movies that frustrated me, like: Why was there such a divide between reality and fantasy?

I wanted to fly to Never-Neverland like Peter-Pan, I wanted Eddie Murphy as my guardian dragon like Mulan, and I wanted to befriend an expert chef mouse like Linguini. Why did these things seem so far out my reach? After I got a bit older, I started to face the facts and realized that some things are only meant for the silver screen. As hopeful as I was, there was no point in getting frustrated in how, at the end of the day, fantasy is… well, fantasy: not possible in real life.

Interestingly enough, what I didn’t realize is that along with pixie dust, talking dragons, and ambitious mice, I was also classifying the settings of these movies as fantasy. I didn’t understand that although certain aspects of these stories were fictional, the worlds they took place in were very real. These fantasies have become my reality. I’ve seen aspects of Never-Neverland as my plane flew in to Brazil back in early June; I admired the Emperor’s throne in the Imperial City in Beijing in late August, and at last, I have stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France just this past weekend. These past few months came at a pace I am still trying to keep up with but the blessings that have lined the way have humbled me and made me more aware of what these milestones in my life mean.

Whenever I enter a new country, whenever I see a new monument, whenever I relish a local delicacy, it’s not just me- it’s my family and it’s my community doing these things. I’ve realized that I carry them wherever I go. I am not sharing my experiences in order to breed envy- I’m doing it because I want you to realize that these things are possible for you too. Too long have we accepted “fantasy” as separate from reality. We have to understand that these places, although pictured as far away lands in the depths of our dreams, are actually closer than we think. But how far, exactly? Well, only you can determine that. I can only offer encouragement. And trust me, the hard work is well worth it. There is no other feeling like that moment when you step back and say, “Whoa… I’m here.”

I experienced that feeling this weekend as I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower. I really hope you get to experience something similar as well. Not just for you but also for your family and for your community, remember that you carry them wherever you go. Check out the video below to take part in my experience- it won’t compare to when you feel it for yourself but I hope you enjoy it, nonetheless. Keep working hard.

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Rome, Italy… One of the places I’ve dreamed of going since the first time we learned about its epic history in elementary school. I remember looking at the pictures of the Colosseum and the Pantheon and wondering if I’d ever get a chance to walk the same terrain as the ancient Romans. After all those years of dreaming, I finally had the chance to experience it firsthand and it was unbelievable.

Rome’s ambience cannot be mistaken. It’s archaic buildings and huge city streets were just like I pictured them- only better. I was eager to explore the city and I wanted to understand why Rome seemed to be calling my name. I found out on the first night.

I arrived after sunset and the city lights provided the perfect introduction to set the stage for my adventure. I dropped off my bag and set off for a little exploration. Luckily, my friend from back home was studying abroad in Rome and she provided plenty of direction. We roamed (no pun intended) the streets and I had the chance to soak in the city’s feel. The scattered piazzas (plazas) and extravagant fontanas (fountains) around every corner had me gasping for breath but I had no idea what was up next. As we continued to zigzag down the narrow streets, I caught a small glimpse of the side of a building that looked different from the others. With my curiosity piqued, we finally made the turn into the Piazza della Rotonda- home of the 2000-year-old Pantheon.

Words do not describe the awe I felt. Accented by the night’s light, the enormous marble pillars of the Pantheon towered over me and had me mesmerized. The stone was smooth to the touch and as I pressed my hands to the column, I could feel the ancient building taking on my warmth. I began to think about just how many others stood where I stood, felt what I felt, and marveled in the same way I did that night over the past 2 millennia. I couldn’t speak for my mind was captivated. The building itself was impressive but what it stood for, in my eyes, was even more so. It is the connection between hundreds of generations, it is proof of how far mankind has come, and it is a symbol of how much further we have to go before we reach our true potential. This is why I had come to Rome- I had to experience this feeling.

First sight of the Pantheon

Pantheon-"To Every God"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Potential… Never in my lifetime did I think I would be able to see the things I have seen in the past few months, let alone the past few days. I think about what this means for me, my family, and my community and I am grateful for every moment. I am constantly reminded that one should never say, “never,” and that one day, with hard work and dedication, one can come closer to their dreams- no matter how far away or impossible they may seem.

If this was the first couple hours, you can only imagine how the rest of the weekend was. I thumbwrestled at the Colosseum, Lizzie McGuire’d it at the Trevi Fountain, and even saw the Pope in Vatican City. And of course, there were daily Gelato stops along the way accompanied by some of the best Pizza, Pasta, and Lasagna I have ever tasted in my entire life.

Trevi Fountain

I have come a long way from canned Chef Boyardee and those hot-dog bun/ketchup/kraft singles “pizzas” my friends and I would make at Austin’s house back in the day. I cherish those memories with all of my heart and it reminds me of how important our past is when heading towards the future. I will continue to learn and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next.

Check out the short video below for some thoughts I had to share while in front of the famous Colosseum.

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Halloween! One of my favorite holidays! Not only are you able to stock up on a ton of candy, you have the chance to dress up and be anything you want to be for a day. I remember when my Brother and I were Power Rangers for Halloween- the Zeo kind, oh yeahhh. I was the Red Ranger, he was the Gold Ranger and we even got some of those $1 Spring Valley Swap Meet plastic ninja swords (do they still have those?) to go with it. We were pretty much invincible. Those were good times.

As I started to reminisce about all of these memories, I realized that this past Halloween was the first one I celebrated outside of the United States. And now that Halloween is over, it means that the Holiday Season is here… Yet, I am so far away from home that the “Holiday Season” doesn’t even exist in the country I’m in.

I was speaking with my family recently and my Brother was telling me about the plans for Thanksgiving when I, all of a sudden, said, “Wait, can we do this too?” I don’t know how I forgot I was across the globe but I guess I got so into the conversation that I felt as if I was a part of the plans. My question surprised me but I didn’t think much of it. I’ve been away from home for so long that missing an event or celebration doesn’t hit me as hard as it used to. I’ve come to realize that one of the best parts about family is that you’re able to grow, separate from each other, and still come back to find the same love that was there when you left.

This is what college is about too- Learning, Independence and Growth. Of course you’ll be sad the first time you leave but the more time you spend away from home, the more you learn what you love the most about it. You learn to appreciate it more and it makes coming home that much sweeter. For example, my Mom’s culinary specialty, her world-famous Chorizo con Huevo, tastes better and better each time I have a plate. No lie. I now appreciate every single last tortilla-full (because you know you can’t use utensils for that- what’s your preference, De harina or mais?)

Being away from home is always tough but don’t let it hold you back from enjoying where you currently are. If you’re going to be gone for so long, you should at least return with some cool stories to tell your family and friends right? So until I’m back in my Momma’s arms, be sure that I’ll continue to learn as much as I can about the beautiful city of Barcelona so I can come back and tell the family every last detail.

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One thing I love about Barcelona is the diversity. The immigrant population here is very high and so everywhere you go, you see people from all over the world. For someone born and raised in San Diego, I feel at home. You see, as you walk down the street from where I live in San Diego, you have everything from Vietnamese Pho Restaurants to small Mexican Food spots (“Taco Shops” as we call them in Southern California) where you can indulge in tastings from around the globe. As hard as it is to believe, the food isn’t even my favorite part- the way you’re able to interact with people whose cultures seem completely different from your own is what I treasure the most.

I’m finding this same kind of interaction taking place in Barcelona. For example, in addition to the great culinary selection, I’m able to make friends with people who come to Barcelona from all over. Take my barbershop for instance. As I explored Las Ramblas, an area of Barça that is always filled with locals, tourists and street performers, I found myself down a side street where I discovered a barbershop that, just like in San Diego, had a sign with several languages- Punjabi being the largest. I was shocked at first- they only charged 6 Euros! I swear, haircuts over here usually go for somewhere around 20-25 Euros and just because something is cheaper, it doesn’t mean it’s of less quality! My barber is great at what he does and he never lets me down.

His name is Azem and he came to Barcelona from Pakistan when he was a teenager. Whenever I come in, we tell each other about the previous weeks and sometimes swap stories of life in an immigrant family. Even though our stories are different, I am finding there are still many similarities in the ways we interact with our families and how we go about our lives in the city because of these experiences- it’s interesting to see how they compare. After the cut and the conversation, we say good-bye, dap and I head out until next time.

Last Friday, some friends from my study abroad program were in need of a haircut so I showed them to Azem. I usually go during the week when it’s much slower and was surprised to see how busy it was. It was Friday so I’m sure the line was filled with gentlemen trying to look nice for the festivities of the weekend.  As we wait, one of the guys hooks his phone up to the stereo and starts playing some hip-hop music. As the beat comes in, I like it, I’m bobbing my head and then that distinct Punjabi flavor takes me by surprise. It brought me back to that Jay-Z & Punjabi MC collaboration back in the early 2000’s. Needless to say, the nostalgia alone was enough to make me a fan. It was great to hear a different take on hip-hop and I honestly liked it. I didn’t get a chance to find out which artist it was but I’ll ask Azem about it next time I see him.

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Wow. October’s almost over? This could possibly be the fastest month I’ve ever experienced. After getting into the groove with my courses, getting to know the various neighborhoods around the city, and starting to teach English classes at the University of Barcelona, I know deciding to study abroad for a semester was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It’s a whole different world over here and adapting to it not only tests my versatility, but also helps me appreciate the connections between what I know and what I’m learning.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to do some traveling outside of Barcelona this month. First, Valencia, Spain! My study abroad program organized a trip where we were able to visit the famous “Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias” (City of the Arts and Sciences) which is home to a huge interactive science museum, Imax theatre, opera house, and much more. It is one of the most treasured attractions of Valencia. I had never seen anything quite like it and the science museum had me feeling like a kid again with all of its interactive experiments.

La Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias

Another View

Second, Porto, Portugal! A perfect opportunity to practice my Portuguese. The city had beautiful parks and gardens throughout and is considered the birthplace of Harry Potter! Apparently, J.K. Rowling used to be a teacher in Porto and, word is, she began writing the Harry Potter series in this city and was influenced by certain aspects of the culture. I didn’t really see big connections at first but as we were walking home from dinner one night, we walked past a large gathering of cloaked college students who seemed to be chanting. We didn’t think anything of it, really- thought it was probably a LARP session or an a cappella group trying out a new approach, so we just walked on by.

When we arrived at our hostel, however, we asked one of the Porto locals and they explained that what we saw was a form of “initiation” that some of the local university students do as a tradition to welcome the new first-years. Our friend then told us that this tradition is considered, by some, as one of the influences on the Harry Potter books. The cloaks, chanting, and forbidden forest scenery had Hogwarts written all over it, why hadn’t I seen it before? I don’t know if the Harry Potter connection is true or not but it was cool to be there, nonetheless.

There are so many more places to go and things to see. There are a couple countries I still want to visit but I know Barcelona has a lot more for me to explore. So until then, stay posted on the international adventures!

In case you didn’t know, Mexican Independence Day was celebrated around the world last week- in September. That’s right, Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day. C’mon, you should know that by now.

Anyways, celebrating such a glorious holiday in another country was definitely an experience I will never forget. (Interestingly enough, in the country that Mexico declared independence from.) I didn’t know exactly what to expect and didn’t think there would be that many people ready to celebrate with me but I remained hopeful.

Luckily, I had heard about a gathering by the Barcelona harbor where we would start off the festivities next to a Mexican Navy Boat from where we would continue the celebration at a nearby plaza with performances, live music and of course, food! This was perfect. I just couldn’t miss the chance to celebrate one of my favorite holidays- no matter how far away I was from home.

I set out, leaving enough time to make it to “El Grito” Headquarters and enough room in my stomach to fill it up with lots of tasty Mexican food. Like I said, I expected a small gathering but as I arrived at the Plaza, an enormous crowd of painted faces, large flags, Mexican noisemakers, and even a woman on green, white, and red stilts greeted me with so much pride and enthusiasm that I couldn’t help but let out a few gritos of my own. I knew I was in the right place.

As the pride swelled in the crowd while we began to sing the Mexican national anthem, I started to think about how lucky I was to be able to be standing among so many different faces- each with a different story. For me, I can stand in front of a Mexican flag and have just as much pride as I do when I stand in front of an American one. I’m bicultural and I consider myself happy to say so. Walking the border between the Latino culture and the American culture has shaped who I am and how I look at the world in so many ways. And now I get to see it from another angle…

A friend I made in one of my classes here shared an experience similar to my own. She moved to Barcelona from Ecuador when she was very young and considers herself just as Spanish as she does Latina. She has walked a different cultural border than I have but the parallels between the two have given me a lot to think about. I’m still sorting out my thoughts and am eager to learn more about how the experiences compare. It’s incredible how much you learn about yourself as you learn about other people and culture.

This is just one of the many examples of how being abroad has challenged my thinking. I thought I had a lot of things about myself figured out but hey, a little bit more reflection and investigation should prove rewarding. I’ll fill you in on what I find out.

In the meantime, take a look into the colonial city of Paraty, Brazil as the Harvard International Adventures continue. A bit of this chapter of my Harvard Summer Study Abroad experience can be found in the Video Below. Until next time!

Oh my, what an amazingly eventful -and busy- summer it’s been. After exploring Brazil with a Harvard Summer Study Abroad Program and teaching in Beijing, China with Harvard Summit for Young Leaders in China (HSYLC), I now find myself in Barcelona, Spain studying abroad for the fall semester.

It’s time for a new beginning and I have reached the mid-point in my Harvard College journey. This time abroad has already taught me so much and I know by the end of this semester, I will come back to the United States a new person.

Being abroad has definitely given me a new perspective- seeing how cultures clash and mesh together from the eyes of someone who grew up in the “melting pot” known as the United States gives me a chance to try to understand how cultures can intertwine in an environment different from the U.S. of A.

Whether it’s a Japanese Community in the middle of a metropolitan Brazilian city (like in the first video below), or an enormous bookstore with titles translated from around the world (like in the second video below), I have realized just how connected we are across continents, seas, and borders.

And with that, also comes the space between cultures. As the people in Barcelona celebrate the National Day of Catalonia today, which marks the 1714 Siege of Barcelona defeat during the War of Spanish Succession, my friends and family back home commemorate a different moment in our history- the attacks of September 11. Different events honored in different ways, but in both we have people who have sacrificed their lives with hopes of a better tomorrow.

Today has definitely helped me appreciate the people I have in my life and even though I’m halfway around the world, my thoughts and prayers go to those who have been directly affected by the attacks of September 11. Let us find strength from their courage and let us celebrate it. It is because of people like them that we have today.

As the days go by in the part of the world I am in, I am curious to see just how many other contrasts I will be able to make between cultures and people. As long as I continue to be able to reflect on what I experience, I will continue to grow. And you can even join me for the journey! Check out the following videos and stay tuned for more- a lot more.

One of the best parts about being in another part of the world is the change of context. Even though you may be experiencing something familiar (for example, a college campus or museum like in the video below), it could be a totally different experience. The opening days in Sao Paulo, Brazil were definitely a change of context and I really enjoyed checking out the museums and cultural landmarks that riddle the city.

Come to think of it, Sao Paulo was a great (and slightly unexpected) introduction to Brazil. When I pictured Brazil, the first thing I thought of was the beach but the urban setting of the metropolitan city of Sao Paulo showed me that there was so much more. Sao Paulo is actually one of the largest cities in the world- which kind of blew my mind, to be honest. I was born and raised in the city (San Diego to be specific) so it was similar but totally different at the same time. There was definitely a lot to see, that’s for sure. Actually, let me show you- Check out the video to see a few of the things I was able to experience in the first few days!

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