For all the women in my life, this is for you:

“I want to apologize to all the women

I have called pretty

Before I’ve called them intelligent or brave

I am sorry I made it sound as though

Something as simple as what you’re born with

Is the most you have to be proud of when your

Spirit has crushed mountains

From now on I will say things like

You are resilient or you are extraordinary

Not because I don’t think you’re pretty

But because you are so much more than that”

Rupi Kaur 

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This is part of a larger collection of beautifully honest poems in her first book, Milk  and Honey. It is her recollection as a modern woman as she experiences love, loss, pain, and healing throughout her life. It’s an incredible set of poems on strength and survival. Her words will wrap around you and give you a warm hug in times of need. If you’re in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, pick up your copy at Truth Beauty Company in Uptown Waterloo. It’ll be worth it! 

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Here’s 8 things I really learned in my 4 years of university (so far)

The day that someone tells you to reconsider whether or not you should really be enrolled into Advanced Functions in grade 12 is the day that you learn a little something about yourself: you defy the Asian stereotype and math is not for you. So forgive me if I don’t remember the Pythagorean Theorem (I tried Ms. Fernandes) or follow the science-based path that my siblings paved out for our family name (1 doctor, 1 to-be-med student, and a teacher!! – holy crap!). And to my first year 8:30AM psychology class in Hagey Hall: I was there – but not really.

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Without further ado, here are the 8 things I really learned in my 4 years of university.

1. How to be independent & responsible for myself at 22

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“Sure we can go out but I can only spend $20. I’m watching my money. Like how the adults do it.”

“I’ll do laundry when I have no more underwear.”

“Yeah, so what if I’m having pasta for the second week in a row? Food is food!”

“No, look harder. It’s not a mess of a room, it’s an *organized* mess of a room”

2. Taking a book out of the library and actually using it for something (more than a paperweight)

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As of July 2015, I am proud to say that I finally learned how to do locate, check out, and use an academic book at both Waterloo’s library and Laurier’s library. So yes,  I guess you could call me a pro.

3. Survive without sleep

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Sometimes it just happens because there’s not enough time in a day or days in a week. Exhibit A: I once had to write a paper that was due at 10am – the same day that I had to wake up at 5:00am to work an 8-hour long Black Friday shift in the mall. Sometimes, you just have to forgo the sleep…

6. Effectively napping

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…or you develop effective napping techniques. It’s all about relaxing and letting your mind drift off, where ever you are. Even if you sleep on 2 chairs and drool on a stack of Big Boy Pajamas at The Children’s Place.

5. Find the simple pleasures in life

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This was huge lesson that I learn from my Global Youth Volunteer Network family in Canada, Morocco, and Uganda. Our time together doesn’t need to be glamorous, we just need a light heart, good laughs and better company (corny, I know).

6. Hoops come in all different sizes

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One of my professors passed along an analogy that was shared to her during her doctorate thesis. There are all types of hoops that we need to go through. Some are “assignment” sized hoops that last for a week, others are a bit larger – like a “thesis” sized hoop. Figure out the hoop size, give it your all and jump through it. Keep trucking along and remember, that it’s just a hoop – there will be more to come.

7. It’s okay to fail

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I had my first run-in with failure in grade 5 when my wonderful mother (she really is!) decided that my youthful, summer days would be better spent inside the Royal Conservatory of Music, learning advanced music harmony, counterpoint, and analysis instead of soaking up the sun with my squad. Failing advanced music harmony (twice, in grade 5 and 6) scarred me for awhile. Needless to say, I was scared of failing and scared of disappointing other people. Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m human and I make mistakes. Learning from these mistakes and failures pointed me into the right direction and proved to be more useful to me than, for example, holding an interesting dinner conversation about musical harmony, counterpoint, and analysis.

8. Learn as much as possible from the people you meet

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From their words, gestures, laughter, smile, tears and even their silences. Everyone has a wealth of stories to share, lessons they’ve learned, and things they’ve seen and I am honoured to have learned from such amazing friends, family and mentors over the years.

So maybe I didn’t have the conventional “4 year degree” but along the way, I did find a “5-year-university-experience-full-of-trial-and-error-but-it-was-and-will-be-worth-it”. 

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My university experience (as told by .gifs)

I started my university career hoping to have the classic 4 year experience . One where I’d “live, love, laugh” or “eat, pray, love” or join an all-girls acapella group and dual it out with the German vocal powerhouses. In all honesty, I expected to come out of university knowing exactly what I wanted to do, to be settled down, and financially secure.

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Fast forward to now and you can go ahead and add in another year of university and toss in:

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Some tears
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Frantic nights
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Sleepless mornings
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Love lost
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…and new-found love
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Disgusting amounts of sushi
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New friends (and foods)
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Trips to the hospital
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New jobs
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Trips around the world
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Phils & Duke nights
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New hobbies
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Rough mornings
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Some light reading
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and Netflix nights

I’m not sure I can remember all of the types of tress on campus (sorry ENVS 200) and please don’t ever ask me if the means of several groups equal (sorry to my stats prof). So, given my university experience, what did I really learn after spending 4 years in University? And how did I survive? (It helps that my program was mainly female as well…#nodistractions)

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Well, it definitely helps with friends around…

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Catch my blog post tomorrow to find out what I actually learned in University!

Why “The Stamina”?

Since my blog became live in January 2015, I’ve received questions from friends and family regarding the name of my blog. “Sarah,” they say, “we get the un(tam)ed conversations part of your blog, but what the heck is up with The Stamina?” (Paraphrasing, of course).

So here it is: the blog post that will answer all of the question you’ve ever had about the mysteries of the world and why my blog name is The Stamina (focusing 99.9% on the last point).

First of all, let’s look at the definition of staminaDictionary.com describes it as:

noun:

strength of physical constitution; the power to endure disease, fatigue, privation, etc.

So what does stamina mean to me and why is it my blog name? Read on and find out!

1. It combines a piece of my past with my present

As if my name wasn’t short enough, growing up in high school, I was given several nicknames: Tammy, Tammy Wammy, Tam Tam, SarahTam (which was really just my full name), and Stam. After sitting around for a few hours, I decided to use my nickname Stam as the name my blog: http://www.stamina.wordpress.com. Unfortunately, that was taken.

So I stuck “The” in front of it. And the rest is history.

2. It reflects who I am as a person 

Similar to what I wanted to accomplish for my blog title, un(tam)ed conversation, I wanted to personalize my blog URL to reflect myself as a creative, international development student – who is a sucker for word play. I strongly believe that 1 pun a day keeps the corny jokes away.

3. It explains my understanding of International Development 

Quoting my very first blog post,  3 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Enrolled Into International Development, “[this blog] is my attempt to remain inspired by everything that’s around me, but at the same time, to be conscious enough to see past to coordinates of our system”. International development is a field that I am passionate about and one that I am committed to seeing through for a large portion of my life.

One thing that I’m learning more and more is that the content is dense, the stories are heavy, and the history goes deep. The reality that I’m facing is that this field is intellectually, physically, and emotionally complex. However, when I need inspiration, I look up to my peers and professors who have dedicated much of their time already in this field – it’s no surprise that they’re my role models. As I continue to engage with them, I notice that the common denominator among them all is their stamina. They all have stamina. In whatever trials and tribulations they’ve faced, they overcame it, persevered, and pushed on. They all have stamina and in my opinion, it is the most respectable trait that someone can possess.

4. It serves as a reminder to myself 

Following the footsteps of my role models, I aspire to have stamina: to have the same power to endure fatigue, disease, and privation in this field we call International Development. In 11 weeks, my cohort and I will be leaving for our 8 month placement to Sri Lanka, Malawi, Peru, Botswana, and Vietnam. I’m expecting for all of our physical, emotional, and intellectual capabilities to be stretched, bruised, and even a little broken. But to my friends in the program, and anyone else who is pursuing their dreams, I wish you this:

To have the strength to endure whatever comes your way. To have the stamina to see it through.

With love,

Stam

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3 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Enrolled Into International Development

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Before I tell you more, let me give you a little back story. I started my university career in Arts and Business, majoring in Social Development Studies. The events up to that point of my life seemed to point me in that direction. I was a keener who set myself up for the life I thought I wanted to have.

I spent a few summers volunteering with UrbanPromise Toronto and Toronto City Missions during high school. Both of these organizations aim to provide spiritual, social and educational development or children, youth and families living in Toronto Community Housing. Bam. Social Development Studies.

I also spent a huge chunk of time with Camp Trillium where I spent my last summer of highschool and my first summer of university working there. Camp Trillium is an oncology camp that exists to provide a normalizing recreational experience for children and families who’ve experienced childhood cancer. (I highly recommend checking them if you want more information, know someone who would be interested or if you’re interested in volunteering with them.) Bam. Social Development Studies. Again.

So naturally, when I switched my program from Arts and Business to International Development, my life was bound to change. Without further ado, here are the three most valuable lessons that have shaped me since switching my program to International Development.

1. International Development will make you age a little bit faster
And no, I’m not talking about grey hairs and crows feet. What I’m talking about is media and culture. Goodbye to the days of buying expensive clothes, eating junk food and watching random TV Shows. Well, not entirely. While I still indulge from time to time, I found that I’ve started to try to be more sustainable with my choices and opting for the more “educational” TV alternative. Let me rephrase. The day you choose to watch a documentary or a TedTalk over a TV show about a mysterious person who causes terror and mayhem to a group of 4 “high school” girls (I’m talking about you, Pretty Little Liars), is the day you grow up. You won’t anticipate that day, it’ll just come.

2. International development will turn your life upside down
Growing up, I always pictured myself doing to what I knew: music, business or education. It wasn’t until last year when it struck me. I never thought I’d ever admit to myself that I would be interested in a field that focuses on international waste management systems . Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to any aspect of it but I always saw myself living out my life with a “Western” career. Nowadays, I’m inspired about what has developed from the waste management sector in the global South, from Cairo’s informal waste pickers, the Zabbaleen, to Manila’s waste scavengers in an integrated network in Quezon City. I guess it’s true what they say, another man’s trash is another man’s treasure

3. International development will make you uncomfortable
Along with turning your life upside down, International Development will make you uncomfortable. Last term, I took Culture and Ethics with the brilliant Dr. Serilis. She teaches the kind of class that makes you think about the world differently. She challenged us to think outside of our Western bubble and to think of people as people instead of them as objects or subjects. But the biggest thing that I took from her class is the cruel and unsettling reality that comfort is our great enemy to progress. In the words of Dr. Seirlis (or paraphrasing her, rather), “don’t be confined to society’s teleological narrative. Force yourself to think differently. Question the familiar”

So that’s what this blog is about. It’s my attempt to remain inspired by everything that’s around me, but at the same time, to be conscious enough to see past the coordinates of our system.

This calls for some “untamed” conversations.