Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tina vs. Smeagol

I learned something really valuable in these past couple of weeks that I thought I'd share...You know when there's someone in your life that you just can't seem to get along with? Maybe you don't really care whether or not you get along, but it would just make life so much easier if the relationship wasn't so stressful. While there are "just a few" of those people in my life, there is one that I had been having particular trouble with. Well, ok, its not actually a person, but I feel like this scenario could definitely apply to other human interactions I will face in the future.

The culprit of this stress is my roommate's cat, Smeagol. He's a long-haired, ragdoll, with beautiful blue eyes. He's gorgeous! Having had an amazing experience with my old roommate's cat, Dodger (I previously had never lived with a cat...I was always more of a "dog person") I was super excited to get to know Smeagol. Well, let me tell you, Smeagol is no Dodger! Dodger was your typical snobby cat, but he also had an affectionate and playful side. He and I worked really well together because he made you work for his attention, and I am certainly not the type to offer affection upon demanded. It was always really gratifying and heart-warming when I'd be sitting on the couch and Dodger would choose me to nap on! (I know, I know, I'm kind of a nerd...but only kind of!)

Anyway, Smeagol very quickly showed me that he was not the same as Dodger. I guess I shouldn't have assumed that just because he and Dodger were both the same kind of animal that they would be the same kind of cat. Smeagol demands attention, is constantly at your feet rubbing up against your legs (which he sheds long cat hair all over!), and when I finally decide to pet him, he either bites you to stop, or bites you to keep going. It was so frustrating!

Then one day I decided to try letting go of the frustration and make a real effort to get to know Smeagol. And guess what? It worked! I began to understand his body language (which really helped avoid being bitten), and harnessed my patience to give him more attention than I had been. What really amazed me was that the more attention I gave him, the less he demanded! I am beginning to understand that the dysfunction of our relationship was due to poor communication and a lack of effort.

So, I realize that I just devoted this entire post to my relationship with a cat. Seems a little crazy. But I think that it's important that I recognize how using the same tactics (ok, maybe not the petting part) will help me in difficult relationships in the future, and certainly in my placement. In the Ukraine I will be faced with having to build relationships despite a language barrier and differing mental capabilities. Since Smeagol is a cat, and I am not, we had to figure out some way of communicating without the use of verbal language, which will be helpful working the in orphanage with residents and staff who don't speak english. And by remaining open and conscious of the different personalities and characteristics of the people I meet, I will be better able to meet their needs, and hopefully have mine met, as well. Though I understand that humans are much more complex than cats, I think that this will truly make for a more balanced relationship building process. Thanks, Smeagol!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

making the first ain't easy.

From what I understand, these blogs are supposed to offer us the chance to record the changes and development we experience through the Beyond Borders process. But what inevitably gets intermingled with the BB process is our personal lives, and for about the past week, my personal life (and my quest for self-development) has certainly dominated much of my time. For those who know me well, attention is certainly not something I go in search of, which makes this particular blogpost that much more difficult. The attention I am hoping to avoid in this specific instance is that of pity and/or annoyance, especially since I am going to attempt to make this blogpost the first step in the direction of positive change.

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Before I delve into the topic of this blog, I should note the change I made to my blog title from "Ti-nina's Ukraine Experience" to "MY Ukraine Experience". The main reason for that is I have a serious issue of worrying about what everyone thinks of me and what I do. That said, I found myself looking at other BB students' blogs for inspiration on what I should blog about. Problem is, this is not "Ti-nina's Ukraine Experience: According to everyone else", this is MY experience, based on me. Period.

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As I was saying...One of the changes I am ready (?) to make is my uncanny ability to procrastinate in all areas of my life. This is not simply an issue of putting something off until the last minute. No, no, I tend to go well past the last minute (prime example: this blog was due yesterday). Some of you may be wondering how this issue relates to the BB experience...well, I am very hard on myself, constantly analyzing everything I do (or don't do, as this blog is testifying to). This can take up a lot of time and energy that could otherwise be put to good use (like posting my blog before the due date!). If I can tackle this issue and really get it under control, then I believe it will start a chain reaction in the direction of positive change, which would definitely enhance my experience both in the Ukraine, and in life!

It seems the more I have to do, the more overwhelmed I become, thus I avoid all of my responsibilities. Then, when I decide that I am actually going to accomplish something, I think of all the other things that I've yet to tackle, and give up on what I started. It's a vicious cycle, and I fully admit that I enable every second of it. I suppose part of it is that I am so afraid of failing, so I don't bother trying in order to avoid any chance of that happening (failing, that is). I still can't believe that, as of right now, I am even participating in BB for that very reason! In keeping with many of my past endeavours, I would most certainly have assumed that I would've given up and backed out by now. But, to my surprise, I'm still here! I've got to take that as a positive sign. This must be meant to be.

So, in an attempt to gain control of my life and all its responsibilities, I thought I would check out what my school's Counselling Services had to offer. Turns out they have a workshop for people just like me! Only problem is that it runs the same time I have night class. Bummer. BUT! I am determined not to give up!! I figure by posting my declaration of non-procrastination in this blog I am making myself accountable in my decision for change. I am in no way assuming that it's going to be a quick and easy fix - I very well may still be working through this change a year from now (:S). But, I think the point is to admit that this is causing some major problems in my life, and it's time for my energy to go into fixing the problem, rather than perpetuating it.

So, here goes! This is going to be interesting.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"find out who you are, and do it on purpose"

So, I have to say that I am finding this portion of the program difficult! Blogging, that is. When I heard the reservations last year's BB group had with the mandatory blogs, I was surprised! I used to keep a journal, and I really enjoyed that therapeutic release, so this couldn't really be that much different...could it? Well, it is, indeed. This may be partly because my thoughts and feelings are being presented for all the world to see (or at least for those who care to read!), rather than being hidden away in my pretty (and slightly juvenile) homemade journal with the words "KEEP OUT! PROPERTY OF TINA BRUNO. PRIVATE!" scrawled across the front and back. (Growing up in a big family, it was important to be very explicit when it came to privacy.) While I understand the importance of blogging for this program, especially in order to reflect and communicate while we're away at our placements, I find it unnerving to know that I am being vulnerable "in front" of those whom I wouldn't otherwise.

I think that another reason blogging my progress through BB makes me so darn nervous is because part of me believes (expects? hopes?) that this experience will have a major part in shaping who I am. I guess you can say that I am a late bloomer because, at 26, I still struggle with trying to find out exactly who I am. The process of self-actualization can be a difficult one, however most people get to do it in the comfort and privacy of their close circle of friends and family. But I, I get to do it for all the world to see! OK, OK, so maybe the whole world doesn't really care about my blog and my quest for the "real me", but its scary, nonetheless.

*sigh* I guess I can say, though, that I'm pretty lucky to have this opportunity. If this experience shapes me the way I'm hoping it will, then at least I will have a tangible record of the events that changed my life! That's a good thing.

P.S. The quote I used for the title of this blog is a lyric from one of Dolly Parton's songs. I'm not really a fan....I was watching "A Walk to Remember", and it was in Jamie's mother's book of inspiration. See! Sappy teenage movies are not only a great emotional release, but they can also be educational! :P

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Here We Go!

Wow! I can't believe it's January already! Before you know it, I will be impatiently awaiting my departure at Pearson International, setting out for an emotionally adventurous three-month international volunteer placement. Where, you ask? Well, my close friend Denise and I, both participants in the Beyond Borders program at the University of Waterloo, are heading to Ternopil, Ukraine to work at the Internat Orphanage. Internat is an orphanage that houses roughly sixty girls and women aged 5 to 30, all with mental disabilities. I am extremely excited not only because I am being given the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of some of the country's most socially outcast, but also to witness the difference this experience makes within myself. I am preparing myself for this to be life-altering, and I am so excited for you to join me on this road to change and self-actualization!

Before I continue, I guess a little bit of background on what it is that I'm doing would be helpful. Like I said, I'm in a program called Beyond Borders (BB). This year's group is made up of eleven students from various faculties and backgrounds, all with the same goal: to make a difference. While Denise and I will be heading to Eastern Europe, our peers are preparing for placements in Uganda, Nairobi, India, Argentina, and Peru! BB is a service-learning program that offers students an opportunity to put their learning into practice on an international level, with the purpose of greater global citizenship. Well, that's the text book answer. What it actually is is so much more! Beyond Borders is a program that challenges our Western views of the world and encourages us to stand up for those less privileged than ourselves, both within our communities and around the world. Through such authors as Paulo Freire, Jean Vanier, and Ursula K. Le Guin, we get a sense of the oppression and marginalization that many people face all over the world. Through our class discussions, we are able to unpack the messages written within these works and use those messages as reminders of our purpose in this program and in our future placements.

Another aspect of the program that we're just beginning to touch on this term is the exploration of ourselves. This may not seem like an important part of our experiences to come, but knowing who we are and how we are likely to respond given certain situations is crucial for the emotional and physical safety of ourselves and those we will be working with in our placements. We (the BB group) will be heading into environments with customs, values, and beliefs very different from our own, and we need to know how to handle (and perhaps control) ourselves. I wouldn't want to end up behind bars, or worse! Of course, the true test will not come until we are immersed in our host countries, but preparation is certainly key!

Knowing what was to come with the beginning of a new term, I was so excited to get back (not very well-rested from the holidays) to the BB atmosphere. I usually look forward to the beginning of a new term, but I was extra excited to reunite with my BB pals (aww!). While we had a slow start getting to know each other, I think this group has done a fantastic job of fostering some true connections. That's what I love so much (so far) about this program: it brings people together from all different backgrounds and interests, people who may have otherwise never met, into an environment filled with support and compassion. It's wonderful!

In keeping with the theme of emotional and physical preparedness, our first class began with a personality test, and ended with an afternoon of self defense. The personality test was intriguing because it not only gave us insight into our own personalities, but it also helped us to understand other personality types. It's no secret that not all people get along, but what we learned in this session is that it's precisely those differences that are essential in team work. There is not one single person who is the best at everything. It truly takes all kinds. It was comforting to come to this realization because I felt that it gave me permission to be who I am, strengths and weaknesses alike!

Speaking of strengths and weaknesses, our self-defense training definitely tested our physical capabilities. It was actually a lot of fun, though! The instructor reminded me a lot of my dad when he was showing us all of the everyday items we could use as weapons, need be. With three (beautiful) daughters, my dad is always ready with some sort of self defense tip before we leave for a night out with friends. If I remember correctly, it only takes four pounds of pressure to push someone's eyes out. Thanks, Dad! Annnyway, our instructor was very helpful with the techniques he showed us. I hope I will be able to remember them all if I ever need them!

Phew! I definitely had a lot to reflect on, and that only touched the surface! I'm really looking forward to this process, and blogging all about it. This is certainly going to be the ride of a life time with many ups and downs, twists and turns, and I can't wait for it all to unfold! :D