Connecting Face to Face rather than on Facebook

When we were young, most of the time, making friends seemed like a breeze…all it took was a shy smile, quick hello or just asking to join in.  And next thing we knew, we had a new running buddy at the playground. Our social circles consisted of our parents, siblings, class mates and play mates that our parents set up. Everything was simple. But as you got older, especially when those awkward middle school years hit, finding and keeping friends became a bit more complicated.  While navigating the personal and life changes that accompany growing up, we also have to learn to navigate between the different cliques, norms and groups that become established and break down during these years, which can be an overwhelming adjustment. And with our generation being so integrated in technology, connecting face to face occurs a lot less often than on a screen.

My first semester in college, was one of the most uncomfortable experiences in my life to date. Coming from a small, intimate high school, where I had known most of my classmates since the 3rd grade then arriving at a huge, public university with 40,000 people was really hard for me. I’m naturally shy and introverted, so the idea of creating a whole new social group seemed impossible to me. I had made a great group of friends in high school that had taken years to cultivate and I had no idea how to find people that could represent those friends in my college life.  But honestly, that was my first mistake.

Coming to college, or when entering any new situation, you have to come open and unassuming. No one owes you anything. To make friends and meet new people you have to 1. put in the effort, 2. let people show you who they are and 3. be consistent. I (unrealistically) was expecting people to come to  me: for someone, anyone to miraculously see me, want to be friends with me and make the first move. My shyness and stubbornness in meeting new people prevented me from taking advantage of all of the new freshman who were living on my floor or in my classes.  Besides my roommates, a few floor mates that I had met through them and a handful of girls that I had done a 3-week pre-college program with, I hadn’t met that many people nor had I tried to. Yet, I still moaned and complained about feeling alone and missing my high school friends. Sadly, it took me until junior year to fully realize that the reason I was missing out, was because I wasn’t pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I hadn’t committed to any clubs, I hadn’t really tried to talk to anyone in my classes aside from group projects…I simply hadn’t put in the effort. But in my last two years, after I pushed myself to do new things and be more friendly, not only did I keep and better my relationship with the small group I had befriended freshman year, but I also met and bonded with a lot of great new people as well. And my senior year, was more fulfilling and exciting than the previous 3 years of college combined.

So the hard lesson learned was that making friends is not that complicated. When entering a new situation, what worked on the playground generally works when you’re older. A genuine smile, friendly hello and asking to join in is the only introduction you really need. And if someone doesn’t reciprocate a friendly hello?…you probably don’t want to be friends with them anyway. Their loss. So when we get stuck in the routine of life, and start to feel like our days are getting mundane, think about trying something new and commit to it. Go to dinner at a new spot, take an art or fitness class, attend an open mic night, try to go places that you haven’t been and reach out to someone while you’re there. Take an old friend and make new friends together. Even if you don’t meet anyone that night, it will feel good to experience something different and go back the next week and see if you find a familiar face.

When to Be Fearless

As June is upon us, I was panicking because I hadn’t picked a theme for the month yet (keeping up with a blog consistently is hard!) And with June being not only my birthday month, but also with my recent graduation from college: a new beginning; I decided to stop and reflect this month. To think about different lessons and realizations that I’ve come across so far and share them with you 🙂 So, this month on the blog will be Personal Reflections!


So recently I made the decision to do the big chop. Not necessarily because I wanted to go natural or because of any other emotional reasons tied to cutting off your hair…but simply because I wanted to know what I would look like. I’ve always admired women who could rock an ultra low cut, it’s a one of a kind look that not everyone can pull off. And I’ve always been curious but of course hesitated because of the omnipresent “they” that plagues so many of us. Worried about what “they” will think…so whenever I had almost worked up the nerve to seriously contemplate the move, I talked myself out of it: There would be no turning back…what about the versatility of longer hair?…what if I hate it?? So, I just pushed the idea out of my mind.

But, for anyone who knows me, they know my hair changes with the seasons. I’ve gone from pixie cut, to weave, to bob, to bangs, to braids, to natural and back to pixie cut with reckless abandon. So why should this hair cut be any different? It’s just hair right? It will grow back…and it’s pretty much the only style I haven’t tried yet. So, without overthinking it, I just made the hair appointment, showed the stylist a picture and let her and her clippers have at it. And gratefully, I love it!

Besides the excitement that comes with a new hairstyle, I’ve gained a new found confidence and assurance about myself: I feel unique, I feel beautiful and besides the ultimate perk of it taking all of 10 minutes to wash, deep condition, dry and style my hair, I’m simply proud of the fact that I did something I’ve always wanted to do. And, in the few days since I’ve cut it, I’ve gotten more compliments on my look than any other hairstyle I’ve had!

So, with this small but glorious victory with my hair, I’ve gained a rather important lesson about life. All of your thoughts and desires occur for a reason, those small seeds of ideas were planted in your head specifically because they were meant for you to carry them out. Whether its to start a business, drop everything and travel, reach out to someone or to just get a haircut…act on it! When it comes to making those decisions you’re a little iffy about, when its time to gamble a little, when that one thought keeps finding its way back in your head, be fearless! Because if you don’t, who will?? And at the end of the day, in the big picture of life, no one decision is the end, you can always bounce back. And I believe a “mistake” is only an indication that you tried, which is better than not doing anything at all and just wondering.


At the End of the Day, We’re All the Same

LEAH Leah9

Age: 23

Occupation: I am currently an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Malaysia as a part of a Fulbright Fellowship. I majored in public relations and history at the University of Miami and graduated in May of 2012.

Hometown: Washington, DC


Leah6Where have you traveled?

I have been blessed to travel to 28 countries: Canada, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Honduras, El Salvador, Senegal, The Gambia, South Africa, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Spain (lived here for 5 months. Whattup Barcelona!), Italy, the Netherlands, Malaysia (my current home), Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), India, the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, and Japan. I have also been to over 40 states in the US.

What inspired you to go abroad? 

I really owe it all to my family. Although I am born and raised in DC, my family has always thought it was important to expose my Leah1sister and I to the rest of the world. I did not fully appreciate it at the time, but there were summers when my friends would be playing with the newest Sega games or hanging out at recreation centers and instead I was taking road trips across the country with my family or going to Europe, Africa, etc. My parents are not materialistic at all so I was never one to have the newest clothes or toys but what I realize now is that they were giving me life experiences that has encouraged me to seek out what the rest of the world has to offer.

Leah5A lot of these trips were very short but still amazing. Some of my longer trips were in Spanish speaking countries because I have always wanted to learn Spanish. I spent a summer in between Honduras and El Salvador doing service projects and a semester my junior year college in Spain. When I applied for my Fulbright grant I initially wanted to return to Spain, but when my grant adviser recommended Malaysia as something different I decided to give it a shot. This is my second year teaching in Malaysia and I have really enjoyed exploring the country as well as Asia as a whole. Definitely an amazing part of the world! Once I’m in an area if there are countries close by I will most likely try to get there, whether I know much about the country or not. There’s always an adventure to be had.

What has been your best experience? Worst experience? 

I absolutely loved Spain! I think a piece of my heart is still over there and I cannot wait to go back and find it. Barcelona is completely different than the Spain I learned about in school, so I enjoyed living there and learning from a Catalonian perspective.

I thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks I spent in Santa Marta, El Salvador, just a beautiful rural area where it gets dark at 5 p.m. and the stories of the civil war are rich. I stayed with an abuela and her daughter and granddaughter, none of whom spoke English, and by the end of it was able to converse with family about how most of the abuela’s family was killed trying to flee during the civil war, including her husband. Although I was only 14 or 15 when I went, this experience still stands out as one of the richest I’ve had traveling.Leah7

Living in Malaysia has been one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had but also one of the most challenging. I have not run into many race related issues being an African-American female, but race tension throughout the country is very prevalent making for some hostile and unpleasant interactions. The gender differences can also be very taxing. Malaysia is a country where a majority of the Muslim women wear head coverings (here they’re called tudongs), and clothing that covers everything from the neck down, but there’s still a sizeable percentage of the population that is Chinese or Indian and don’t adhere to these clothing restrictions. Leah2This makes being a foreigner engaged in the teaching culture very difficult, but then exercising your freedom of personal expression through dress outside of school is also difficult because no matter what you wearing you will almost always feel objectified. There have been times when my housemate and I have been walking back from the gym wearing a long skirt and a long sleeve shirt and still have still had to hastily walk to our home due to people following us on motorbikes or cars. I feel very safe here, but there are some things I’m extra alert about just because of how I know I’m perceived as a foreign female.

How did you hear about these opportunities?

My high school presented me with a lot of international service trips so I went to Honduras and South Africa with members from my high school. I always knew about studying abroad but I had to seek it out in college. Because a lot of students from the University of Miami are from other countries I didn’t feel like information was readily available, but once I found the office I never left. My best friend Kelly actually told me about Fulbright. I remember sitting in my sister’s apartment the summer before senior year of college and freaking out because I knew I wanted to live abroad after college but just didn’t know how I financially could. Kelly mentioned that Fulbright was a fully funded government program and that I could virtually go anywhere in the world. I’d heard of Fulbright Grants but was not aware that there was an English teaching fellowship as well. That day I contacted Kefryn Reese, the adviser at the University of Miami, and she helped me tremendously to make my dreams become a reality.

Leah3How did you fund these opportunities?

Some of the service trips in high school were able to be included in my tuition (I attended a private school). The study abroad program I did (CEA Global Education) actually cost less than a semester’s tuition at UM so my parents paid for my semester. And yea big ups to all the tax payers for bringing me out to Malaysia because my Fulbright grant is fully funded by the American and Malaysian government. Once I get to my initial destination though any additional travel I pay for or my parents help me out.

What have you learned from your travels? 

Through traveling I’ve learned how humans are inherently all the same. Yes you may come across different customs and Leah4experiences, but the fundamentals are all the same. When I travel I enjoy wandering and meeting people more than visiting the sites that are included in tour books. It’s when you meet the people that you realize how much you have in common with the inhabitants of a place that is so far from home. The architecture tells one story, which I will not discredit, but the personal interactions tell something a little more powerful for me. Traveling throughout Asia has taught me to be a lot more flexible. Almost nothing will go according to plan, so you just have to be open and accepting to whatever adventure you are about to embark on.

Where do you plan to visit in the future?

We have a school break coming up at the end of May, so I have tickets to go to Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, and back to Thailand. Before I leave Asia I would like to check out Nepal because I’ve heard amazing things. Next up on my big adventure list is South America. I have heard nothing but positive things about the people and beauty in South America so I would like to try and spend some time there. Also Prague is high on my list as well as Germany, Greece, and Egypt. Pretty much I want to see the world. Every place has beauty and a story to tell and I would consider myself truly blessed if I am able to even get a snippet of those narratives.


Want to get in touch with Leah?

Facebook: Leah Imani


Website: (Still in progress) http://ldanville.wix/the-eta-exchange