Culture Family Gender & Identity Life

This is my open letter of appreciation to my mother

When I was growing up in Dubai, I often butted heads with my mother – she was stubborn, and so was I. From curfews to outfits, we had our fair share of fights and disagreements. My childhood was a mix of entertainment and challenges. With so many family members and a thriving religious community, it felt like I was watched almost constantly, and that kind of monitoring felt stifling. I longed to break free, but my mom would admonish me – ‘what would the others think?’ Part of me wanted to tell off these “others”, let them know I didn’t care what they thought. I always tried to be my own person, while still trying to succeed in the real world. 

My mother’s own childhood was rich but stifling. My grandfather was a successful businessman and religious leader, meaning. she had similar situations of constant monitoring by her community in Kerala, India, where she grew up. Consequently, my mother internalized a lot of religious and community ideals. Married at 20, my mom was forced to drop out of college and accompanied my dad, a doctor, to Dubai – a then empty, sandy desert town with almost nothing to offer, with two kids in tow.

She spent the next 10-11 years as a housewife to two children who constantly argued, and taking care of a home, with a husband who spent most of his waking hours at a clinic. When I turned 8, my mother started working as a saleswoman to try and bring in some extra money.

My mother would often come home after work to a crying little girl, an angry little boy, and loads of housework. Despite not having a bachelor’s degree, her head for numbers led her past sales and into real estate. She got her real estate license and began climbing up, eventually becoming the manager of a real estate company in Dubai.

My dad let her manage the family’s finances – which meant that suddenly, we started doing well! She invested in property, in stocks, created portfolios, all while continually making real estate transfers and growing to become a popular real estate agent. By the time I turned 15, my mom became a successful manager and real estate owner. 

Having spent time in college, away from the family, helped me get a new perspective.

My mother wasn’t the controlling, bossy woman I made her out to be, but rather a self-starter. She was someone who had almost nothing and made enough money to buy houses in an expensive city. The best part? She’s more open-minded than I give her credit for. Her concern over the community was because she was raised in a small town and had a popular, ever-looming father. When we travel, she lets me be free – even when I went to college, she didn’t hover or ask what I wore or when I came home – in fact, she only would call about once a month, to check up on me.

She’s accepted my irreligious nature. She’s proud of my talents despite them not being STEM-related. She hasn’t forced or coerced me to get married, despite her own history. She’s happy and successful.

My mom went from being a housewife with a high school degree to being a popular real estate owner. She’s the one who encourages me to learn about money, about investments. She’s the one who taught me how to save when I freelanced in college. She’s the best example I’ve seen of ‘if you work hard, you can make it’. 

Of course, we still have our fights, but I remember where she came from, how she managed to shed so many preconceived notions. I remember how she let me be my own person and have my own life, while still continually supporting me. This is for you, mom. Even though I may not act like it sometimes, I’m really proud to be your daughter. 

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College 101 Dedicated Feature Life

This is why you should study abroad – I went to Madrid

I’ve always been a little hesitant and unsure of myself. When I started telling people that I planned on studying abroad for the Fall 2019 semester in Madrid, I could tell that they were worried. I mean, how was I going to survive alone? I wasn’t fluent in Spanish, I didn’t know anyone else that was in my program, and I don’t exactly have a plethora of common sense – I’m more book-smart. I think that part of it was that they didn’t want me to get my hopes up. Studying abroad could be a really great experience or a really terrible one, and there wasn’t room for anything in between. 

But, I was determined to prove them wrong. I always have been. Ever since I was little I’ve always felt that people saw my capabilities as one-sided. I could do this but never that. To me, it seemed like an expectation thing. No one expected me to be so independent and sturdy, especially when I appeared in front of them as fragile or sensitive.

The truth is that I had never been given the chance to prove myself in this capacity. The second that I took too long or wasn’t doing something precisely the way that someone else would, they took over. And, as a result, I became apprehensive, kind of shy, and extremely nervous. 

However, it turns out that I was right. I had been largely independent all along, and studying abroad was a great idea. I slowly realized that I could do anything I set my mind to, even this, all the while holding on tightly to my emotional tendencies. I learned a lot about myself while basking in the Mediterranean sun. 

During my time in Madrid, I met people and made connections in ways that are indescribable. I don’t know if it is because I finally found myself in a situation in which I was free from implicit restraints and boundaries or if I became a product of my surroundings. But, I am sure of at least one thing, that being that I was entering a moment in which I was young enough to still have the ignorant belief that nothing mattered, but also wise enough to know that everything mattered much more than it had ever before. There were so many things, and so many people, clawing at me and insisting for my attention, and I finally let go.

For the first time I acknowledged the positivism of this sweet, even blissful, point in my life—one that I may never get again. So, I gave in to the extremities. In doing so, the whole world opened up. I found security in empathy, I learned about ambition, self-awareness, and I felt genuine longing for the first time. I spent days dancing in streets that were once touched by Goya, Ernest Hemingway, and Velasquez. I read poems by Pablo Neruda on the metro and I ate TONS of churros con chocolate.

What I found to be the most pivotal about my experience in Madrid, though, would be living in a home-stay. This is where I spent the most time, had the most laughs, and learned the most about myself. The day after landing in Madrid I met my host family and moved into their home. While they didn’t speak any English at all, and whatever Spanish I did know I forgot the second I opened my mouth, we managed to work through it. 

I knew I wanted to build a relationship with them, but before I could do that, I had to conquer my own confidence battle. I had to remind myself that yes, they were strangers with whom I would be living with for months, but I was also a stranger to them. Frankly, we were all in the same boat. Eventually, I got used to their habits, learned their family traditions, and studied their culture until I felt like I belonged there. They made me feel like I was as much a Madrileño as they are.

At dinner, my host parents would always ask about my day, my classes, and if I was up to anything fun. On the weekends, they would recommend countless restaurants or art museums to my friends and I, and then ask me if I liked it the next day. They even comforted me when I felt overwhelmed or insecure. What I appreciated the most, however, is that they actually listened to my stories, which I am sure that I told in broken Spanish, and always seemed interested.

We really grew to love and care for one another. In those four short months I am sure that they watched me grow exponentially. I truly became myself and started to feel comfortable in my own skin. Plus, I came out being able to speak and communicate in Spanish light-years beyond my ability from when I first arrived in Madrid. 

My memories from this time in my life are whole, and they always will be whole. I’m finally able to show off my independence and I’m never turning back. This just goes to show that a little bit of introspection and determination could go a long way. Of course, I was scared to be alone and so far away but I knew that it was what I needed.  Once I convinced myself to just rip off the band-aid my possibilities for personal growth became endless.

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Life Hacks Science

Why is it that some people seem to be more motivated than others?

Motivation is the personal drive that keeps us energized when going after the things we want. It is what inspires your goals, creates trust in one’s self, and helps develops one’s discipline.

Motivation is always moving us towards something better. It takes us from one situation and places us in one that is better aligned with our aspirations for ourselves. However, being tickled by the idea of pursuing something new isn’t all that is needed.

You need to put in the work, whatever that may be.

Why is it that some people seem to be more motivated than others? Take New Year’s resolutions, for instance — approximately 45% of people drop their goals after the first month. As humans, we are full expressions of life and to say that one either is or isn’t motivated doesn’t leave room for the neurological processes that account for whether one is or isn’t better suited to follow through on their aspirations.

Motivation happens when your dopamine levels increase because you expect a favorable reward.

We are addicted to dopamine and so in so far as the completion of our task are producing dopamine, our brain is addicted to reproducing these activities… and avoiding the others. In a study by Vanderbilt University, brain mapping was used on two teams of  “go-getters” and “slackers.” It was discovered that the team of “go-getters” had higher levels of dopamine in the reward and motivation portions of the brain – the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

The “slackers,” on the other hand, had a higher level of dopamine in the area of the brain associated with emotion and risk – the anterior insula.  

This study is crucial to understanding the science of motivation because where once dopamine was understood as pleasure hormones, their complexities for showing up in times of stress, pain, and loss highlighted that having them was not enough; their location in the brain is just as important as their presence.

Nonetheless, low levels of dopamine make people, even animals less likely to work for things. UConn Researcher John Salamone conducted a study where he artificially introduced varying dopamine levels in animals giving them a choice between two rewards with different values, that could have been obtained by exerting different amounts of work.

The rewards could vary in a smaller pile of food for less work or twice as much food for more work. Salamone studies proved that animals with lowered levels of dopamine almost always choose the easy, low-value reward, while animals with normal levels don’t mind exerting the effort to jump the fence for the high-value reward.

Deficiency in dopamine levels is similar to those of depression – lack of interest in life, procrastination, altered sleep patterns, fatigue, excessive feeling of hopelessness, and decreased motivation. 

Thankfully there are ways to naturally and holistically increase the levels of your dopamine to allow yourself to stay more motivated.

  1. Set realistic goals – starting with smaller, more attainable goals, will allow for the continual release dopamine as oppose to setting attainable goals and losing interest overnight
  2. Decrease sugar intake – Sugar alters brain chemistry by disrupting dopamine levels
  3. Take L-Tyrosine supplements: The precursor to dopamine, increasing l-tyrosine levels can help your body create more dopamine
  4. Create a routine — A daily routine that meets both your personal needs and wants is great at forming discipline. Sticking to regular routines minimizes the number of decisions that must be made, allowing us to save this energy for the task associated with your goals
  5. Celebrate wins — celebration should be a no-brainer as it is the epitome of a reward! However be careful not to use your celebration as excuses to self-sabotage the progress you’ve already made. Reward yourself in ways that are aligned with the person who you are trying to become

Next time you’re struggling with staying motivated, remind yourself of what led you to want to achieve that goal, visualize your rewards, and don’t lose sight of all that you have to gain… no matter how low your dopamine levels may be.

Movies Pop Culture

This character helped me finally embrace my own femininity

“I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be.”

When I first saw Legally Blonde, I hardly thought the film was going to be formative. What could Elle Woods, the film’s protagonist as portrayed by Reese Witherspoon, possibly have to teach me? What was I going to learn from this blonde sorority queen Valley girl?

Elle, to a younger me, should have been shoehorned into the box of mean girl. The movies and TV shows that I was most exposed to, be they Disney Channel Original movies or Bollywood movies, taught me that girls who cared about beauty were not aspirational figures. According to these stories, there were two types of girls: girls who wear makeup and girls who don’t.

The girls who don’t are naturally beautiful but they probably don’t know it. How lucky, then, that a guy will come along to tell them otherwise she would have never known because she has literally never seen her own face without glasses and has zero self-esteem when it comes to her looks. She is like the cool girl trope’s younger sister, someone who apparently gives no thought to beauty despite being effortlessly beautiful. This girl was the protagonist of all my favorite movies and I wanted to be her. She was happy by the end of these movies, it seemed, and who didn’t want to be happy?

And the other girls, the ones who wear makeup and heels? Harpies, typically. These are the mean girls, the girls who are popular despite the fact that they treat their friends and boyfriends poorly. To care about beauty before a man entered your life meant that you were typically vapid, shallow, and devoid of interests that would carry you past high school. The more makeup, the more shallow the girl. The example of Susan from the Chronicles of Narnia comes to mind, and how she would never return to Narnia with her siblings because she had developed an interest in makeup.

This dichotomy is not new. The distinction between virgin and whore is an old one, and the message is clear as to which one little girls are meant to want to be.

Elle Woods was a beautiful girl who knew it. She has always been beautiful, potentially to her own detriment as she worries it is all people see when they look at her. The catalyst of the film’s action is admittedly driven by a stupid man’s rejection. Elle decides to become a student at Harvard Law School in order to get back together with her ex-boyfriend Warner who broke up with her because she is not the “right kind of girl” for a guy like him to marry (“Elle! If I want to be a senator by the time I’m 30, well I need to marry a Jackie, not a Marilyn”).

Elle Woods incredulously asks "So you're breaking up with me because I'm too... blonde?!"
Via [Image description: A blonde woman, Elle Woods, incredulously asks “So you’re breaking up with me because I’m too… blonde?!”]
But she was no doubt that this is a goal she can achieve and works hard to become a law student. When she realizes that Warner will never see her as good enough, Elle works harder than ever, gaining the respect of her colleagues and landing coveted internships. Eventually, Warner and any men become irrelevant to Elle proving herself to herself and realizing a new dream. Just as Elle knows she is beautiful, she knows she is smart and worth taking seriously, even if no one does, and she fights for herself.

Elle is also a fairly nice person. She takes care of her loved ones and sorority sisters, and is ready to become friends with just about anyone. She is sweet and tries to give others, particularly other women, a chance. This is in direct opposition to the “girls who wear makeup are mean” rule as well as the adage that women have to stomp on one another in order to succeed because there can only be one woman at the top.

Elle Woods, wearing glasses and a blonde high ponytail, asks "What, like it's hard?"
Via [Image description: A blonde woman, Elle Woods, wearing glasses and a blonde high ponytail, asks “What, like it’s hard?”]
In a world where women’s success is still predicated on what men want, a character like Elle was and still is refreshing. Femininity continues to be degraded in our societies, to the point where, in order to succeed, women are encouraged to downplay any semblance of the girly. There is nothing inherently wrong with a woman not preferring the conventionally feminine for herself. Indeed, everyone should be given a choice, but just as no woman should be forced to make herself more feminine to succeed she would also not be forced to do the opposite should she not choose to. I am not anything close to lawyer, but in Elle’s case, I would imagine whether or not she chooses to wear her hair long and her suits pink and tailored is irrelevant to the quality of her work.

Elle chose to present herself as she desired and to be a badass lawyer at the same time. I wish I had as much drive as her, but when I figure out what I want to do, I’ll remember that I can do it while expressing as much femininity as I should please.

Elle Woods, blonde woman with graduation cap, gives graduation speech at a podium.
Via [Image description: Elle Woods, blonde woman with graduation cap, gives graduation speech at a podium.]
Movies Pop Culture

These Disney Channel Original Movies changed my life forever

The announcement of the month-long marathon of Disney Channel Original Movies is giving me wistful feelings of my favorite classics. From Don’t Look Under the Bed to High School Musical, Disney has planned out every single way to get us in the throwback mood (or at least more as if we weren’t already).

Out of the 99 (soon to be 100) DCOMs, there is at least one that you can say, “That movie taught me a great lesson about ____”. It’d be weird if Disney didn’t use their magical powers to sneak in some points as our younger selves tuned in. Even if you can’t think of some on the top of your head, I got you! I’m here to remind you some of the many great DCOMs that affected me.

[bctt tweet=”Disney has planned out every single way to get us in the throwback mood (or at least more as if we weren’t already).” username=”wearethetempest”]

Now think, can I learn anything from a cartoon? If that’s a bizarre question to everyone, then I guess it was just my dad who wondered why I love cartoons. Most of the cartoons I watched had comedy that a little kid can laugh along to. Why would I bring up a cartoon for a DCOM marathon?

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One of my favorite scenes in this movie!

The real question is, how can you forget about The Proud Family Movie?! You got Oscar Proud, Trudy Proud, Penny Proud, BeBe & CeCe Proud, and who could forget Suga Mama? The best part is, you also got Penny’s friends, Proud Family relatives, and other supporting characters that made the show great (Who else remembers Doctor Payne?). The funny series ended with a movie which featured minions made out of peanuts and a lot of clones. Sure, it was filled with jokes and a plot line about Penny not being Oscar’s little baby girl anymore. Oddly, I got a more serious lesson, too, about still loving my family, despite our differences. I obviously got this before I officially became a teenager, nonetheless I needed it. 

Okay, I feel like that last example wasn’t convincing enough since it’s a cartoon movie. Let’s switch over to Twitches along with Cheetah Girls 1 & 2. It’s everything society wants the opposite for girls! Girl power, sisterhood, and staying true to yourself!

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“Go Twitches!”

Twitches (featuring Tia and Tamera Mowry, my favorite twins!) was about twin sisters (who are witches, that’s where the phrase “twitches” comes from) come together to save the world from darkness with their powers. No boy drama, no girl-on-girl hate, just two powerful young women. Not saying that having boy drama and girl-on-girl hate in a movie directed towards girls is terrible, since it can be used for a lesson or for fun. Although, not seeing either of those is nice to experience once in awhile. It taught me that girls alone can kick butt!

[bctt tweet=”No boy drama, no girl-on-girl hate, just two powerful young women.” username=”wearethetempest”]

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“We make up one big family though we don’t look the same!”

Not mentioning Cheetah Girls 1 & 2 would probably have me killed (the third movie wasn’t terrible…but it wasn’t that good sadly). Not only you have sisterhood, girl power, staying true to yourself and to your friends, but also amazing songs to go with it. My favorite song is Girl Power (I feel like it’s pretty obvious based off of who I am I’d love it). I remember having a second of shock when I first heard “Throw your hands up if you know that you’re a star! You better stand up if you know just who you are! Never give up never say die! Girl Power Girl Power!!”

It was so rare for me to hear such lyrics. A song promoting girls? Encouraging girls to be strong?! Well after that second of shock, I started to dig the beat and my little first grade self was dancing around the room. Cheetah Girls 1 & 2 fed the inner feminist growing inside of me, even before I learned what feminism actually was.  

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I love Corbin Bleu’s curls! Is that just me?

“If at first you don’t succeed, try try again!” they say. It can help a kid learn understand perseverance, but what if you add a jump rope into the equation? Okay, that was a bad way to slide the famous Jump In into the conversation. You get my point, right? Jump In! featuring our favorites like Corbin Bleu and Keke Palmer entertained us with amazing tricks and bomb music choices. I was taught that perseverance and determination pays off in the end, and that it helps to have supporting family and friends by your side. However, what about the issue of masculinity? Bleu’s character was made fun of for being a part of jump rope competitions instead of “sticking to the status quo.” (Sorry! I had to add a High School Musical reference since Bleu is a character in that movie too!) His peers saw it as a thing labeled under the title “girl’s stuff,” and teased him about it. It made me think a little at a young age about there something wrong with the whole “only boys” and “only girls” rhetoric I was always taught before.

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Pose! Pose! Pose!

Last but not least, my favorite of them all: The Color of Friendship. Based off a true story, California Congressman Ron Dellums and his family host their home to Mahree Bok, a South African. Little did the Dellums know that Mahree is a white South African and little did Mahree know that the Dellums are a black family. They both were expecting the total opposite!

Did I mention that Mahree’s father was a policeman and Congressman Dellums was an activist to end apartheid in South Africa? The irony. However, Piper Dellums (the daughter) and Mahree later on developed a friendship and the learned about each other’s different worlds. Mahree came from South Africa, still under apartheid, and the Dellums live in Washington, D.C., the capital of a country still suffering with the long-term affects of slavery and segregation. There is so much a person can say about this movie, but the lessons it taught me are unforgettable.  I wasn’t aware of racism outside of the United States and thankfully learned about apartheid during the movie. 

[bctt tweet=”Unity is probably one the most things we need to know and practice. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

If you haven’t noticed, a common theme within all of these DCOMs I mentioned is unity.  It can seem impossible with some of our elected “adult leaders” in power throwing temper tantrums. Yet, it’s not always impossible. To be accepting, determined, encouraging, and knowing you can do it brings success.

Too deep for a couple of Disney movies? Well, it doesn’t hurt to look into our favorites sometimes.