Goodbye London, hello Vancouver

Some time ago, I arrived in London on a one-way flight with a suitcase and a sense of curiosity.

What was supposed to be a nine-month stint unravelled into an incredible two-year journey. As I sit here typing this, I can’t help but smile thinking about how serendipity has guided me.

The thing is, I had no plans lined up for me before I got here. I hardly knew anyone, had no idea where I would live, and didn’t know how I would find a job. I’d never even been to Europe before.

I ended up meeting many wonderful friends, found myself a home in vibrant Shoreditch, and have been fortunate to do work that I’m passionate about in tech and politics. In two years, I checked off 56 new cities and visited 26 countries overall. I’ve experienced moments of sheer happiness in travels, bad heartbreaks, incredulous disbelief (cough Brexit cough), and laughs with complete strangers. It made for a big handful of memories I’ll never forget.

And as you do, I’ve also learned a bunch in the past couple of years. I thought I’d share some of the ones that stuck by me most, transcribed from my daily Evernote scribblings:

  • Say yes to opportunity, and listen to your gut. The more you experience things and understand how you feel about certain experiences, the quicker you can understand yourself and find clarity in what you want in life. If you don’t know what this “gut” feeling is for you, go out there and try more things as it will help define it.
  • Don’t let a network tie you down. I’ve developed a great UK-based network of awesome individuals whom I greatly admire, and I will miss them dearly. However, I recognize that I am young and there is still so much to explore and many more people to meet. Don’t stay in a location or environment just because you have an existing network there, as this may be inadvertently limiting you to broader opportunities. I’ve always found that good people have a way of finding themselves back to me, regardless of where I am.
  • Prioritize experience over most things. The moments in my life that I have the clearest memories are of vivid experiences over anything else.
  • Be consistent in your beliefs and behaviours. Consistency creates habits, which influences behaviours, that define lifestyles.
  • Harvest an appetite for risk. Big risks reap big rewards. That being said, take calculated risks (for example, I knew I had enough savings to keep me afloat while I looked for a job).
  • Always make time for good people. No matter how hard or “busy” life gets, it’s the people who pull you through. Be present and available for these people.

Looking back, it makes me chuckle thinking about my sheer naivety in coming out here. But my naivety paved a transformational time in my life, and I hope to never lose it. It also highlights to me the importance of my mentors and community in helping instil, from a young age, the necessary confidence and self-esteem crucial to making this kind of decision.

It’s bittersweet to leave London, but it’s a move I generally feel very ready to make. All in all, I’d highly recommend packing one bag and moving out to a foreign continent — you’re always welcome to drop me a line if you want any tips/advice on doing so.

In the meantime, I can’t wait to see where life will take me next.

Advertisements

Visiting a refugee camp in Greece

One of the most discussed global issues this past year has been the “European refugee crisis”. When I was in Greece this week, I visited a refugee camp for the first time. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I knew the best way to understand the situation was to speak with those affected and experience their environment for myself.

The camp we visited was Skaramagas which is located a short distance from Athens. It is run by the navy and operated by NGOs; we met with representatives from both as well as the refugees living there. I was there alongside a few of my colleagues from the World Economic Forum Global Shapers.

Hosting 3450 refugees, Skaramagas is the largest refugee camp on mainland Greece. As a former navy shipyard, the camp is one of the most developed in infrastructure. Most people resided in container homes equipped with small kitchenettes, washrooms, heating, and beds for eight. There were also over a hundred undocumented refugees who were sleeping in tents. As we go into the winter months, there is growing stress and concern for how those living in tents will cope. In many other refugee camps, relying on a flimsy tent for shelter is an everyday reality.

As a displaced person seeking asylum, having your legal papers means everything. If you don’t have your papers, you are not recognized as a person by the government and hence ineligible for distributions and services. It shocked me how much emphasis one piece of paper had — it could make or break the course of a refugee’s life.

Most of the residents were Syrian nationals, followed by Afghans and Iraqis. Nationality plays a significant role in the entire asylum-seeking process as only nationals from countries that meet a certain threshold of refugee status are eligible for relocation. Almost half of the residents in the camp are children. In Skaramagas, a small school has been established where around 600 children receive 90 minutes of schooling per week, focusing on lessons like languages and maths.

Political conflict seemed to follow the refugees wherever they go. The camp residents and administrators alike cited security issues to be a major problem in the camps, with no security enforcement present and a very small staff to resident ratio. Fights and violence break out every night, often between different nationalities due to things like food and distributions. The residents do not feel safe where they live.

I think because we were walking with the navy commander and looked visibly different, we were repeatedly stopped by the residents greeting us with requests for aid. When would the septic tanks be fixed? Would the pipes finally be mended? What about the food? When I asked one of the refugees how long he’d been here for, he promptly responded with “7 months and 12 days”. Every morning he’d wake up and count the days.

The frustration felt by the residents and camp administrators was tangible. Both parties are waiting on something bigger to be done. This thing seemed to be a change from government and policy.

Generally, what we saw took us by surprise. Skaramagas is not fully representative of the other refugee camps out there; it is mostly in a basically decent condition and the reality is worse in many other camps. With the winter months quickly approaching, it is difficult to imagine the challenges that face the refugees ahead. Many are still sleeping in tents and most camps are already over capacity.

Afterwards, we met with UNHCR Greece where they gave us context on how we could best help. The more we learned, the more complex and dire the problem got. The number of refugees worldwide has reached a record high, with 65 million displaced peoples across the world and an average of 24 people displaced every minute of every day (2015). Much of the refugee situation may geographically be taking place in Europe, but this is clearly a global issue. I have a newfound respect for countries such as Greece that shoulder much of the frontline responsibility in this refugee situation.

It’s easy to feel helpless when faced with a problem as massive as this. The best thing we can do is to talk with those affected and who see the problems first-hand. My biggest takeaway here was empathizing with their frustration when I shook their hands, talked with them, and listened first-hand to their situation. When we asked the camp residents and administrators what the biggest problems facing them were, we were able to draw an understanding of how we might be able to help.

The most direct thing we can do in our everyday lives is to aid the mentality shift and public attitude towards refugees across the world. In many places still, the current attitude towards refugees is toxic, propelled by vile political campaigns and misinformed media that capitalize on the tragedies of conflict. We need to challenge people who hold these toxic views and actively encourage dialogues that are shaped on facts over campaigns. Governments and policies will change only when its citizens demand them to, and that begins with everyday people like us.

This isn’t a European issue, it’s a global one. And we’ve all got a role to play in helping channel a mentality shift towards refugees. At the end of the day, we are all human.

Thank you, MPs

Today, the British people lost a brave and honourable MP in a horrific shooting and stabbing homicide. The Member of Parliament for Batley & Spen Jo Cox died while serving the public in a weekly surgery for her constituents.

I’m typing this while sitting in my hotel room in Leeds, UK. Lately I’ve been spending half my week here as part of my job, splitting my time between MPs’ constituency and Westminster offices.

In my time here, I’ve witnessed first-hand the compassionate work that goes into a MP’s day-to-day. Throughout my experience in politics, I’ve been privileged to understand the earnest intentions that go into one’s decision to stand for office.

Politicians have one of the most thankless jobs out there. They and their staff work around the clock, 365 days a year. It’s a job that few people would want in practice, yet they work it every waking moment of their day. They face constant abuse, ugly criticism, and hatred, yet they do their jobs with very little recognition. At times, they even put their own safety and livelihood at risk in the name of public service.

We may disagree with their views. We may bicker about their policies. We may complain about campaigning tactics. We may even scrutinize their personal decisions.

But one thing we cannot deny is that politicians are people. People who have taken the courageous decision to stand up and put themselves under public scrutiny because of their desire and willingness to help change the world. Politicians don’t run for office for the money or the celebrity; they trade off far too much for those two things alone. Politicians run for office because of their staunch belief in public service — and because they actually care. Regardless of our differing views, they are often doing their best to do public good in the best way they know.

It’s why it’s important today more than ever to #ThankYourMP. Let’s support them in continuing to represent our voices into law without fear. #ThankYourMP is currently trending on Twitter — add your voice and tweet your message of support. It really counts, especially on days like today.

As the late Jo Cox said: We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.

Changing the way we view health

Sharp, ragged breaths. One, two, three. A thousand thoughts pummelling without pause. The tiniest sliver of moonlight creeping through the dark. Hands cold, heart thumping, head pounding, body trembling. Then me, in fetal position, struggling to properly breathe.

I broke.

I’d considered myself mentally strong, but it was the most mentally unstable I’d ever felt in my whole life.

How did I get to this point?

I blatantly disregarded nutrition levels, consumed more caffeine than my 5’3” stature could conceivably handle, and piled on more work than I could ever manage. On top of that, sleep came only once every few days and in less than two-hour increments. I had frequent sleep paralysis and it terrified me — eventually sleep medication was prescribed just so I could get into bed.

The worst part? By neglecting my physical health, my mental health slipped from my grasp altogether.

You must be thinking: why would anyone do that to themselves?

I was hyperfocused on achieving my goals and I wasn’t going to let time-consuming things like cooking and jogging get in my way. Besides, if I lived a long life, that probably meant I hadn’t spent it very intrepidly… right?

Wrong.

That’s the problem with high-achieving people. Deliverables have a measurable impact, but it feels our body and emotions don’t, so we disregard our health to get these seemingly more important things done. It’s rationally irrational.

The way we think about health today is flawed. We tie adequate nutrition and being healthy to a distant future version of ourselves — a future where we may be disease-free, stress-exempt, and long-lived. We’re occupied by our perpetual marathon for a better future that we bypass our body’s everyday needs.

It’s scientifically proven that humans see their future selves far removed from their current selves — almost as if the two were strangers — and it makes things like maintaining a healthy lifestyle difficult. Because it seems like our current situation isn’t imminent, we do short-sighted things like avoiding exercise, eating junk food, and not getting enough sleep.

We need to change the way we view health.

Health is often seen as an investment for the future, but it’s actually an investment that produces immediate dividends — the effects of healthy eating can be realized right from day one.

Being healthy is much simpler than trying to increase our lifespans, acquire eight-pack abs, or prevent cancer down the road. We need to think about the very real impact our diet has on our performance — today. Being careful about the food we consume is the most direct, controllable way for us to manipulate our performance. You are your own lab rat, but even better, because you get to design your own results.

Now my motivation to be healthy stems from the same reason I suffered from an anxiety attack two years ago: I want to perform at my best.

The quality of your immediate performance is directly correlated with your health.

It’s taken me 20-something years and thorough research of our deceitful food/agriculture industries to come to this.

My favourite part about health and nutrition is being my own case study. For instance, my body feels more nimble when avoiding high fructose corn syrups, white sugars, MSGs, and instant anything. These chemical substances manufactured into foods are what make people tired, sluggish, gain weight, and yet leave them yearning for more.

The first few weeks without processed foods are challenging because they’re prevalent and we’re addicted. When refined foods are removed from our diet and replaced with healthier options, our bodies learn to adapt and send us positive signals through better concentration, clearer thinking, and more in return. Preparing your own food, instead of having a meal mysteriously served to you at a restaurant, ensures you know what nutrients you’re ingesting to boost your capabilities to their very best. When it comes to food preparation, it’s perfectly excusable to trust in no one but yourself.

These days, I eat a mostly plant-based whole foods diet, consume minimal processed foods, and make sure I’m on my feet as much as possible. If I can’t understand an ingredient on the package label, I don’t buy it. And lastly, I don’t engage in things I don’t want to do because a healthy lifestyle is useless if I’m not happy.

I feel more alive now than I ever have.

This was originally posted to Medium on 22 Jan 2015.

Learning to choose yourself

There are a lot of things I’m thankful for this year.

This weekend, I spent Thanksgiving with my family for the first time since 2011. It was comforting to be surrounded by my loved ones who’d nurtured and watched me grow, and it was especially lovely to have my grandmother add her warmth to the table all the way from Busan, Korea. I’m also grateful to have seen my father for the first time in four years this past winter, and happy to have reconvened with many members of my extended family along the way — something I’m not regularly able to do.

This past year wasn’t easy. I learned a lot about myself, my weaknesses, my limitations, and the very real world around me. I watched myself succumb to the pressures of university and become so disengaged with the system to the point of psychological depression. I developed an extremely cynical view of the education system, something I would later learn I couldn’t be separated from unless I physically distanced myself from the institution.

I’m a staunch advocate of improving our public education system and constant learning, yet I was finding almost no personal value in school. What I thought was supposed to propel my future forward was the very thing that was holding me back. There were so many things I wanted to do and try, yet I couldn’t because of papers on early political theory and exams on 19th century Canadian history. My curiousity brought me to go and explore some of these things anyway, but I had to constraint them within the limitations of my university schedule.

As some of you know, I’ve recently chosen to take an unorthodox approach to my education. From working since I was 13, I can strongly attest that I’ve learned so much more from my jobs and community involvement than I ever have in school. I haven’t indefinitely given up on school, but I’ve chosen to invest some time in personalizing my education through pursuing curiousity in work and travel.

Through this, I learned to choose myself. I’m grateful I was able to use one of the unhappiest moments in my life and pivot it into one of the best scenarios I could ask for. Currently, I’m out of school and paid to do full-time work in something I’m so incredibly passionate about: working on an extremely technologically advanced political campaign to re-elect some of the best community leaders I know while simultaneously getting countless youth engaged in our civic processes. One of the best feelings I ever get is helping youth grow into high-impact leaders and I get to watch this unveil every day before my eyes. Some days I can’t believe how I landed so much luck, because I never thought I’d be able to capitalize on the intersection of passion and work this early on in life.

I’m thankful to be back in the home city where I learned to care for my community and stand up for what’s important. It’s incredible how familiarity with your environment can help so much; I always feel myself being able to provide more emotional capacity in Vancouver as I don’t have to worry about accommodating the unknown. Being able to eliminate mindless yet essential everyday tasks like planning your transit route creates greater head space for things like compassion and caring for others. To give an (extreme) example, President Obama doesn’t make small decisions like choosing his outfits because “making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy.”

I think the main key to happiness is choosing yourself (James Altucher explains this really well — he wrote a whole book on it here). By learning to choose myself, I also developed trust in my ability to take action. In late November, I’ll be packing up my bags and moving to London, UK to explore and understand more of the world. I hardly know anyone or anything there, but I know I’ll be learning and growing exponentially because of it.

I see so many young people around me allowing others, and social pressures, to write their life stories for them. I’ve also met people who did choose themselves, and they are some of the happiest folks I know. Choose yourself — and if you’re lost, reach out to people who will help you find that path. You’d be surprised at how many people are willing to lend a hand if you just ask (myself included!).

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Making education better in BC

“Be it resolved that BCSTA request the provincial government to amend the School Act to enable Boards of Education to include student trustees.”

What an incredible day.

Spread out across Canada yet simultaneously glued to our screens, Team SVI was frantic. While scrolling through our Twitter feeds as if our lives depended on it, we couldn’t believe our eyes when this tweet popped up.

#stuvoiceBC success!

The thing is, this wasn’t the first time this motion had been tabled at a British Columbia School Trustees Association (BCSTA) annual general meeting. In April 2013, a very similar motion was presented by the Vancouver School Board (VSB) but narrowly defeated in a vote of 112 to 99. We had to work harder than ever to reverse the vote in 2014, and we took several pivotal steps to do so. 

Patti Bacchus, Chair of the VSB, is one of our strongest proponents and a bold supporter of student voice.

For me, it all started in February 2012 when I was chatting with my friend Mathias Memmel, a past student trustee of Avon Maitland District School Board in Ontario. We met at a conference in Ottawa and I’d recalled him mentioning the student trustee role during one of our conversations. Student trustees were at first a foreign concept, but after grasping an understanding, I could not understand why the position was not already in place in BC. Students are the direct primary consumers of the education system. Why was every single decision made entirely by adults who had last spent time in the classroom years ago? Why did students not have a say in their own education? With this in mind, I decided to introduce the concept of student trustees to the VSB trustees.

I first presented the idea to the VSB’s Committee I which was chaired by Trustee Mike Lombardi, a vocal proponent of student voice. Shortly before my presentation, I coincidentally met a new friend (now SVI’s Executive Director, Chris Grouchy) from the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association while travelling in Ontario, who connected me with SVI’s co-founders. After receiving a unanimous go-ahead by Committee I to present at the next board meeting, I flew off to Toronto to begin my first year of university and delve into my new work with SVI. After my departure from the city, incoming president Jennifer Yoon and the Vancouver District Students’ Council (VDSC) team took a key role in the student trustee pilot project advocacy.

In the VSB, we have student councils in every secondary school as well as a district-wide student council in place. VSB students are extremely fortunate to attend a progressive district in which school trustees are incredibly open to hearing students’ voices. During my year serving as the VDSC president in 2012/13, efforts to bring more students into the board’s consultative processes expanded significantly as part of the VSB’s strategic plan to increase student engagement. Students were invited to attend student forums, participate in committee meetings, and more. If student voice was so prevalent in the VSB, why was it necessary to have student trustees on the board?

I realized during my time attending numerous student forums and youth leadership discussions, that there was only so much ‘voice’ that students had. Because we didn’t have a formal, institutionalized outlet for our opinions, we were powerless in guiding the direction for our voices. Having that direct representative — a democratically elected student trustee dedicated to representing students’ interests — always present at the board table ensures that students are always heard. In the case of education where students are the main constituents, the addition of student trustees is not just beneficial for students. Supported by the Student Voice Framework as well as years of proven success in Ontario and New Brunswick, student trustees result in enhanced quality and increased efficiency in policy and decision-making. We hear direct feedback from school trustees on the value of having a student at the table to contribute a valuable student perspective to discussions. By design, student trustees allow students to take ownership of their education which results in increased student satisfaction and communication.

Although the BCSTA motion had failed, the VSB went ahead to implement a student trustee on their board. On 17 June 2013, the VSB unanimously adopted the Student Trustee Pilot Project.

 

Shortly after, the Sunshine Coast School District passed a policy to bring aboard a student trustee and district student voice team to their Board of Education.

Sunshine Coast School District trustees and Maya were instrumental in supporting the advancement of the student trustee position across BC.

After the BCSTA motion at their 2013 AGM failed and the VSB program passed, we sent a SVI delegation (Chris, Jennifer, and Hirad Zafari) to host a session at the Canadian School Boards Association’s annual congress in BC. We met with hundreds of school trustees and provided the information and education necessary to allow students to be part of the conversation. Our BC Ambassadors (Nick, Maya, and Chansey Chiang) presented a series of workshops at the BCSTA Academy in December.

Leading up to the motion this year, we released the Student Trustee Handbook and recorded a live Hangout with Student Trustees to maximize education on the topic alongside various email and social media campaigns. On April 26, we were ecstatic to learn that the motion had passed. It’s a monumental event for BC students because they finally have the support of trustees to obtain a formal outlet and become official stakeholders in education.

We asked people to share this graphic in support of institutionalized student voice across BC. Overnight (and on a Friday night!), we garnered around 66 Facebook shares and 24 retweets of the graphic. We had no access to paid social media ads but we did to an incredible network of willing student leaders.

What are the next steps? SVI, along with our partners in BC, will be spearheading a leading role to ensure there is necessary student consultation and support in working with the BC government to amend the School Act for student trustees. The journey doesn’t end here and we’ll work with every single school board to ensure students can become partners, not just end-recipients, in education.

So, thank you students. Thank you school trustees. Thank you to our advisors, BC ambassadors, and especially Team SVI for making this happen. This was a grassroots movement and it could not have been possible without you. There is so much more work to do, and we’re honoured to be playing a role in helping shape the best education system for Canada.

 

This was first published in the Student Voice Initiative blog in my capacity as the Director of Policy & Outreach.

10 ways to get the most out of Twitter

I’m not usually one to form a cult-like following for a company. But if there was one platform I would swear on the world by, it’s Twitter. Let me explain why.
Image

There are few things on the internet I am a bigger fan of than this social network. Founded in 2006 (“@jack: just setting up my twttr”), Twitter has completely revolutionized the way humans interact with news. I’ve been fortunate to connect and keep in touch with some awesome internet folks through Twitter; I’ve met some of my closest friends and trusted advisors through it. When I used to serve in spokesperson roles, almost half my media requests were forwarded to me on Twitter, helping me to not only create personal brand equity but make myself more accessible to potential connections. Corporations of all sizes have realized the advantages of Twitter, even going on to set up creative sales opportunities through it. While I could go on and on about the benefits of Twitter, it is really important that you be an active user in order to reap its full benefits.
Image

Twitter remains to-date the only true mainstream ‘social’ networking platform. It is the real-time product of digital and social intertwined into one continuously rolling news feed. It is empowering that, with the right controls, any individual is able to amplify their voice. Unlike Facebook where you need a business page, anybody with an account is empowered to boost their tweets via Twitter Ads if they wished to promote themselves. The thing I love the most about Twitter is that their news feed algorithm is minimally altered, creating ample spaces for users to connect organically.

From my past three years on Twitter, I’ve been surprised time and time again at exactly how much 140 characters can do. Here are 10 examples of how you can leverage Twitter to your advantage:

1. Tweet at strangers! Join in on conversations that you see on your news feed and utilize the opportunity to voice your opinion. Unlike Facebook, you chiming in on strangers’ conversations is not seen as creepy, but rather welcomed.
2. Meet people you couldn’t meet on the street. If someone really intrigues you on Twitter, don’t be afraid to just reach out to set up coffee. I’ve done this on multiple occasions and gained some pretty neat pals out of it.
3. Are you an employee or employer? Twitter is a great marketplace for both. The combination of one’s bio, website, and tweets serves as enough of a profile for prospective job/employee-hunting (so don’t forgo the bio/profile photo!).
4. Tweet with the trends. Is #ThatAwkwardMomentWhen trending? Seize the opportunity to put out your witty one-liner or insightful few words, then couple it with the right hashtag. Not only can this help you build your brand, but it’s also a great organic way to gain followers.
5. Participate in Twitter chats. Interested in cooking, education technology, and/or fashion? There’s a Twitter chat for that. Often these chats will be centred around the use of a predetermined hashtag, and occurs on a set day and time every week alongside a user who moderates it. Use tools like TweetChat or tchat.io to keep track of the conversations during the session. Twitter chats are a great place to meet, share, and learn from like-minded people in every industry and cause.
6. Follow people that interest you!
7. Use tools like Followerwonk to determine when the best times for you to tweet are.
8. Then, tweet during those times with social sharing tools like Buffer and HootSuite so that you can track down the analytics of your tweets. These tools are no longer just for big profitable companies to use; with the different account plans offered, they can be perfect for the everyday user too.
9. Use the search tool and its advanced searched function to find out about anything, anywhere.
10. When crafting tweets that begin with a username, make sure to include a period before it. Otherwise, only the people who follow both you and said user will be able to view the tweet in news feeds.
i.e. “.@leahebae just wrote something about Twitter.”

Let’s continue the conversation. Tweet me at @leahebae to get started!

This post was originally published on the Youzus digital marketing & PR agency blog. You can find it here.