tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
The odd feeling I got when I came to Japan wasn't culture shock. It was a fever coming on.

Right now I'm at home resting - I'd rather rest now and miss a Community Impact day, than collapse again during our first Japanese Celebration. The CI project I signed up for was ratehr unpopular (cooking with international people) but hopefully it'll go well.

I'm not sure I mentioned this in my last entry, but Irina is here! Now we have a full group. She's quite cool, though understandably overwhelmed. Hopefully we'll be good friends.

We had an UWP corporate update yesterday from Bob. Our group was involved in quite a number of discussions regarding the program's future and from our feedback, some major changes are being implemented starting next semester.

1. The name of the program will be changed to Up With People Global Education Program. This takes advantage of the Up With People branding that has been established for over 40 years, and helps reconnect the program to alumni and anyone else involved with UWP's history. Also, there were tons of feedback from our group about the word "Leadership" being misleading (to the point that if anyone says "Let's talk about leadership" everyone starts laughing) so this name makes it more accurate.

2. There will not be any more college-style classes on the road. There will still be some form of education (a-la Stone Soup)but there will not be a split between those taking the classes and those doing internships. This allows for everyone to participate fully and gain the same experience together. Also, this allows for the internship opportunities to be spaced out during the week, not just during one day.

3. Because of the lack of classes, the partnership with University of Colorado - Denver has been mutually suspended. Instead, UWP will be looking for partnerships with international universities to recognize the program as a whole - for instance, their current partnership with Hawaii Pacific University allows students from there to gain credit for the whole trip. (Brandy, who is from HPU, and Christie from Northeartern, have this arrangement.)

4. Also because of the lack of classes, the tuition has been lowered to US$11,800 per person. I'm sure my parents are cursing me now.

5. The tour has been extended for 3 weeks - 4 weeks orientation in Denver, and a proper "on the road" city. Right now it's 2 weeks orientation and 1 "practice on the road" week in Denver. This allows for more teambuilding time and more time to fully understand the Celebration.

6. There will be efforts to make the Celebration more professionally produced. It will still very much be a student production, there won't be a sudden emphasis on recruiting performing arts students, and it won't be the major gala that UWP used to perform. But with the added time, there would be more opportunities to polish up the show.

This will be very interesting to watch, especially since I'm thinking of working on the road with them next semester if everything goes well. Hopefully this will bring greater benefits to the program and there won't be so many teething problems. It's great that they really listened to us and made the effort to incorporate our ideas.

World Expo tomorrow, lunch now. Woo!
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
It's 11:17 PM, I'm at my uncle's house in Los Angeles, and my body thinks I'm still on the plane because everything is bobbing up and down around me.

Where do I start...

I'll do this in chunks, because there's just a LOT to tell you. First chunk:

Before The Flight To Los Angeles

It was a bit chaotic just before we (me and Mum) left the house to go to the Senai Airport in Johor. Mum kept coming up with random things to add (I had to stop her at the nailcutter), I was trying to transfer some files over to my PDA for reading on the plane, and the zips on one of my bags broke. Thank goodness we had another one that was identical (it's the Hitz.FM bag if anyone is curious) but it took a while for me to convince Mum that the Hitz bag was just fine, no need to push other bags on me. And just before we really had to go, my computer decided to hang. Bah.

We made it to the airport (way ahead of time - there's not a lot to do in Senai) and we made it on the flight, albeit with a gate change in the middle. Nothing major here. (I do remember nattering to my mum about something; I forgot what though.)

My last meal in KL (that sounds drastic) was mee rebus and teh tarik. Noodles cooked in a certain type of sauce ("rebus" means "boil", as in "boil an egg" not "boil water") with milk tea that has been pulled between two mugs to ensure frothiness. I asked for less chillies and they gave me extra chillies instead. Oh well; the teh tarik made up for it.

Dad found a travel bag store and wanted to buy me more bags. Uh, no.

So many emotions were going through my mind...joy, sadness, excitement, nervousness...so many things. I was alternately laughing, screaming, and crying. It was intense. I started to wonder if I had gone mad. I have absolutely no frame of reference for this; I couldn't compare it to anything. This is maddening.

Immigration went without a hitch (tip: if you hold a Malaysian IC, even though you have a foreign passport, you can go to the Malaysian Passport counter). There were free Internet kiosks at the departure lounge, though one computer had some sort of log in problem (and it was a bit on the slow side). There was quite a line to board, but it was pretty painless overall.

This is a codesharing flight between Malaysian Airlines and Air India. It's going to Los Angeles from Kuala Lumpur via Taipei (and perhaps Hyderabad, since there were quite a number of people that started there). Fear the multiculturalness.

I did receive a bunch of phonecalls from those who have been in my life for a while. Even talked to my best friend via SMS for a while. It all seems like I'm going off forever, never to return.

Well, I am returning...but I don't think I'm return the same. Even as I walked through the immigration counter, I had already changed.

[Stay tuned for more chunks coming up...I need to sleep sometime...]
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
In about two to three days, I will be flying off to LA, recuperating from jetlag at a relative's place before going to Denver and starting this.

I always imagined this point in time to be rather chaotic; excited squeals, appeals for last-minute advice, impatience and nervousness peppered with hilarity and good cheer. Good chaos.

Well, it has been chaotic; not in a good way though.

Things are going absolutely haywire. Never mind the events that happened before; now we have bodily injuries (thankfully not mine, but still really unfortunate - send some healing vibes for my best friend please, she broke her toe) and some drama with my college with regards to supplementary work. That's already very suspicious as it is; it looks like the beginnings of a conspiracy. Once I may have been more involved in, had I not been flying off. As it is, they want me (and many others) to rewrite an essay that by all accounts was already fine, and they want it now. Sorry, but I don't have time.

This fiasco with college is making me wonder if I even want to return. The main reason I even entered college to begin with was so I could get people to shut up and stop bugging me about it. I've never believed in grades, in the idea that a piece of paper can determine everything about you. I find the notion of college as a "necessity" to be highly overrated.

Sure, talk about the experience. Tell me that I'll get experiences and knowledge that I won't get anywhere else. Thing is, a lot of the most worthwhile experiences have nothing to do with college. About the only thing I could credit college for at this point was to bring me to some of my closet friends, one of whom is definitely a soul brother (if not a soul mate)...but he's gone away now, to another part of the globe. Anyone else I've been close to are either gone, or graduated. Even my newsletter is defunct. There really isn't a point in me staying.

This fiasco with college has me really disillusioned about the whole thing. Not that I had any illusions about it; but this was really the last straw. Look at this WorldSmart trip! College had nothing to do with this! They wouldn't even support me! I'm doing this on my own! Heck, I didn't need college to land me an interview with the Prime Minister. I didn't need college to get me a webmistressing gig with the coolest person on the planet (as far as I'm concerned). I didn't need college to get me the best times of my life.

I fail to see how all my experience could possibly fade to a random scrap of paper...one with really suspect information, considering what has happened to get those grades in the first place. These grades are not a reflection of anything true.

But enough of college.

I'm honestly rather drained. I haven't the energy to be all excited about it. Everything that has happened in the past couple of weeks have zapped me of any energy. I'm trying hard to stay excited and upbeat about WorldSmart, but it's getting hard to even write anything in my paper journal about it. Let alone anything else.

It doesn't help that I have just received a message from some anonymous person (or annoying moose, as I like to call them) saying Up With People (the people behind WorldSmart and also its predecessor) is a Christian cult. Now I'm aware of its Christian background - for one thing, the US Embassy has told me that. And hey, not everyone gets to sing in front of the Pope. They did have some sort of history with a very conservative group, but no longer.

Thing is though, there has been no major mention of morality or religion or whatever in the 9 months of so that I've been interacting with WorldSmart. The only mentions (besides the US Embassy's note) were an optional section in the form for our religion (I suppose to gauge dietary and habitual restrictions), and the assignment results handed in from people that were open to discuss faith. (I know I'm not the only non-Christian on board.) They did visit a synagogue in a previous semester, but no propaganda or anything. They've been pretty open about it. If they wanted to convert us, they'd have done so by now.

I am still feeling a little bit apprehensive. It doesn't even have anything to do with the religion, but there may just be a clash of opionions, a clash of morals and values. It's inevitable, of course. Everyone is different. But hopefully they won't villify me just out of my very liberal views. Let us be who we are.

A few people on the list have come up with some pet projects for WorldSmart. One of them, Katie, is planning on doing a documentary. I suggested her a Six-Degrees style, following people rather than places...while she's never seen Six Degrees before, she quite likes the idea; it fits in with another idea she has. There's someone else, I think her name is Huning, from China who is also intrigued with the documentary. Perhaps we three can team up and create our own Six Degrees show...though I doubt Lonely Planet would want to buy it. Then again...you never know sometimes...

At least the documentary makes for an excellent independent project. Anyone who wants to gain college credit can claim 3 credits (out of 12) for an independent project. I'm thinking of using the documentary as such a project - I've suggested it to Katie but she hasn't responded yet - but even if that doesn't pan out, I have ideas for my own project: research on traditions.

I am a big fan of traditions, superstitions and folklore. Always have been since I could remember. (Imagine my utter surprise when I found a GIANT book of folklore in our secondary school library. Of all places. It definitely brought my interest back.) With all the places we're visiting, I hope I find a family that still retains tradition, but not in the "conservative fundamentalist" sense; rather, a family that still has its own superstitions of days to sweep the house or charms for good luck or faeries running around the backyard. They don't even need to be completely Pagan (though that would be nice); just a little hint of what their families believed in.

It would be utterly fascinating, finding out such beliefs. And perhaps incorporating them into my own life.

Speaking of families and projects and assignments - the third assignment has come and gone; all about host families. Expectiations, plans, so on. I think whoever is hosting me will be somewhat shocked - hello loud and hyper crazy witchy woman! Then again, I become really, really awkward in people's houses. It doesn't matter how long I've known them for; I still feel awkward. It feels almost intrusive, like stepping into private property (even if they invite you in). Very strange.

It feels like you're walking in on something private and magical and mystical that has been part of their lives for as long as they have lived. Deep bonds that cannot be broached by outsiders and intruders. They could accept me into their family, even if only for a week; but there are some bonds and things that we sometimes can't break into, even if for a while.

Hopefully I'll get rid of this house block soon. I do have to figure out how to do the laundry while I'm there.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
So we have completed the first assignment, and have just received the second.

The first assignment went all right - I did end up initially with too many people, but the grouping situation sorted itself out and soon I was teamed up with Diana from Columbia and Kim from Korea. Initially I thought they would be rather quiet, but instead I found them rather happy-go-lucky and even cheeky (what with Kim's contant opening line of "Call me K, because K stands for Korea, Kim, and I want to Kiss you! Kidding!").

Of course, their personality online and in person may differ greatly. And there would be a major difference between first impressions and jetlagged-week-16-trip impressions. Much needs to be seen.

The first assignment, as mentioned previously, was all about similarities and differences; what do we have in common? What don't we have in common? What were the common themes between all of us - not just the group members but also in WorldSmart as a whole? Kim even came up with a brilliant Excel spreadsheet to collate all our information; at least we were organized.

We came from different backgrounds - we were in different parts of the globe, I was the only one who has yet to graduate from college, we have different faiths, Kim was the only guy. But we also did have things in common - besides a rather jolly attitude, we were also committed to non-profits and NGOs (Diana's with a local group, El Cinco, while Kim is an intern with UNESCO) and we all liked meeting different cultures.

There's so much more that perhaps we do not know of each other yet. Perhaps we have a shared similarity of coping methods for jetlag. Perhaps we all have wildly different tastes in music. Perhaps two of us are fans of the same thing. I'll only know once I get there and actually meet them in person.

Kim wasn't the only flirt on the group...Yoga apparently listed "I am cute (and you're not - kidding)" in his group' "differences" profile. This soon led to "being cute" listed as a similarity instead. Well, there are some fine-looking people in our crew, I'll tell you that much.

The second assignment was all about our goals - in life, with WorldSmart, personally and professionally. The timing of this was rather significant, as I had been reconsidering my goals and aims in life for some time.

So much is changing around me. Interests, relationships, situations. I'm starting to wonder if I still want to go ahead with my dreams, or if my dreams have changed somewhat. My closest relationships are changing. The world is changing. And I'm not sure I can cope with it all.

The past few days I've been in tears; I couldn't handle all these curveballs. I was freaking out. What was I doing? What have I signed on too? What am I leaving behind? What will I be returning to? Will all my loved ones still be here for me when I return? Or will they move on with their own lives, leaving me behind this time? What do I have to do when I return - will there be anything to do?

My goals in life are not clear-cut, not specific. My life has never been specific; it doesn't work that way anyway, something always pops up and knocks your plan upside the head. I do have some sort of an idea of what I want to do, to try, to experiment; I just haven't quite figured out how. In the subjects and fields I'm interested in, it's not easy to plan and book a certain pathway; it's all up to other people, to circumstances. Things can change so easily.

I've caught myself in mid-change and I'm not sure I can handle it.

It took a while for me to complete the second assignment (amidst ongroup chaos of "I need partners!" and "d we need to team up for Assignment 2?" and general grazing of lost sheep), but I did eventually complete it. A mix of sincerity and randomness, trying to make myself sound more coherant than I usually am. Because "I'm not sure what exactly my goals are and I don't think I ever will" isn't exactly the best answer.

I finally recieved The Handbook - or what my dad likes to call The Fingerbook. It is rather thin; I was expecting a larger tome full of rules and regulations. (I will get my hands on larger tomes eventually, as there seems to be some textbooks I need to buy. Darn.)

It was usual information, nothing too unusual - except perhaps for their packing list (similar to the one the Japan office gave me) which emphasised on passports and thank-you cards but mentioned nothing about underwear. Hmm. There were also some information on drugs, alcohol, harrassment...general safety information along the lines of "DON'T DO THAT OR WE'LL BUMP YOU OFF".

This was followed up by a list of General Expectations, sent via email, and I was amused to see information about curfews (don't stay out too late alone) and sex (don't have sex with other WorldSmart crew as it may get too complicated). It's sensible information, nothing along the lines of Bob Jones University or any public university in Malaysia, but I wonder how exactly do they expect to enforce the rules on a group of 18 to 29 year olds, many of whom are out of college and already working. I'm sure there's bound to be one infraction somewhere. It's just the Law of the International Study Trip.

Rob, the person who sent the email from long ago, also made his rounds of phonecalls; I received one from him yesterday morning. We spent about 50 minutes talking about whatever came to mind for WorldSmart - good idea to bring a laptop but forget the printer (and people do ask this); this is not a tourist trip so don't expect to laze around (oh dear); it's not going to be very cold so don't worry about Michelin Man-style winter coats (but I just borrowed one!). I even suggested we do a Blogathon; if we want to join in, we evidently have to arrange it ourselves.

I think he thinks I'm a maniac. I'm sure everyone thinks that.

So it's about...exactly a week before I fly off. And start on this unfathomable journey. I'm still freaking out. But hopefully everything will be sorted out soon.

(Just a note - hello everyone reading this! Whether from Livejournal, Petaling Street, or wherever, Firstly, feel free to pass the word about this journal, as long as you credit it to me, Tiara. Secondly, please comment! I'd love to read your feedback.

There is someone in particular whom I hope is reading this. If you own a giant pillow in the shape of your favourite vegetable - because I gave you one - and you're readng this, please let me know.

Thanks everyone.)


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