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.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!


I am more my true self on my fake Instagram account than on my real one

Linda leaned against the glass window of a used book store, her cheeks painted red under the gleaming neon light. The glowing “BOOKS” sign reflected in her tiny white shades which were balanced precariously at the edge of her nose. She peered over them in the direction of the camera, grinning. The accompanying caption was the starting point for many jokes to be had throughout her account: “She can’t read”. This was mostly amusing due to the fact that was Linda, a then-junior English Literature student.

It was my roommate that came up with the tasteful name, Linda, as soon as I put on those white shades for the first time in an Urban Outfitters. They were so unlike me, a girl who exclusively wore black. They were a very “bitchy accessory” that drew attention. With their encouragement, I created a finsta (a fake Instagram account) embodying Linda and her bold fashion choices– the list of which grew gradually as I was in New York City after all.

Is having an alternative online persona or a finsta dishonest? We’ve moved on from thinking that everything we are being presented online is genuine. We know social media warps our expectations of each other and is not a true reflection of someone’s reality (although there has been a call for users to show more authentic versions of themselves). 

I pressed ‘share’ more times in a day than I blinked.

Having an alias, finsta account, spam twitter or any other side account allows you to let loose. I believe that they allow you to explore different parts of yourself. Your unbothered side, that unironically enjoys Tik Tok videos, gets to shine through. Or your liberal views get to be made known despite the sternness of your conservative home. Who is to say which is more authentic? And does it matter? 

In my online persona case of Linda, I could play with inside jokes. I could post whatever I wanted whenever I liked. Gone were the days where I had worried about any curated scheme or began overthinking about whether the content seemed like ‘me’. I didn’t have to care if people from high school (who I don’t even speak to anymore) or my mother’s cousin’s nephew’s friend got the ‘wrong idea’ about me. 

Having an alias, finsta account, spam twitter or any other side account allows you to let loose.

My online persona was confined to my private finsta account and I only followed people close to me. I enjoy having a page that I can look forward to posting on. It wasn’t about the likes or comments. It was about the joy that came with the account itself. The fact that it was clearly a finsta made it clear that I was saying, “Don’t take me seriously. Not here at least”. 

In propagation for finstas, I’d like to make it known that the ‘share’ button is always a site of anxiety for me. That looming moment just before you press it often fuels a lot of tension within. I know that it isn’t a real social interaction, not in the same way as a handshake. But it would rather be eternalized in the digital realm – something a finsta can combat. Having an alternative persona allowed me to overcome this anxiety and let me share whatever came to mind. I pressed ‘share’ more times in a day than I blinked. If the post contained a poor fashion decision or an ill-received spoken word video, it was Linda’s doing. 

In my experience as a Muslim woman, we, as well as other women with more conservative backgrounds, use finstas and online personas as a personal outlet. An alternative account is seen as a haven away from the male gaze or even their family’s eyes. The accounts become a way to have a presence online while also remaining private.

Other friends of mine use twitter accounts with aliases to release any pent up thoughts. They read like journal entries. They aren’t forgetting who they actually are or trying to fool anyone. Instead, it is simply a space for us to put ourselves out there while not fearing anyone’s judgement.

The accounts become a way to have a presence online while also remaining private.

There is the fact that any of these side-accounts could turn into a breeding ground for gossip. I can’t deny that I haven’t seen the dark side of being unfiltered and unencumbered by social judgement. People tearing each other down behind aliases and exploiting anonymity to be cruel to those around them or other strangers. But there is a potential for so much more. 

We need these spaces. We need to be under-the-radar and ourselves…or maybe someone else entirely. It may be an illusion, but finstas and alternative accounts do feel more private and personal. Linda can attest to this. 

Gender & Identity Life

My pixie haircut is a “fuck you” to society and it’s the best thing I’ve done

“So does that mean you’re not getting married anytime soon?” a friend jokingly asked me. Her comment was in response to my pixie cut, the shortest my hair has ever been in a more than a decade. For anyone else, this comment would be irrelevant. But for a South Asian Muslim woman of “marriageable age,” cutting your hair short literally translates to sabotaging any prospects of getting married (although this was not my intention).

I’ve had medium length hair since I was eight. Growing up in the Middle East, I bore through the hot summers with my thick hair mopping down the back of my neck. I resisted my mother’s attempts to get my hair cut short, or as it was then popularly known, a “boy cut.” I just couldn’t get my hair cut short. Because girls must have long hair and only boys have short hair. It was an unwritten rule that was ingrained in my mind at a very young age.

As I grew up, I understood the silliness in the idea that short hair was only meant for boys. But even then, I couldn’t go through with the idea of getting my hair cut short enough to reveal my neck. Maybe I still hadn’t completely let go of the gender rules I was taught, maybe it was just the fear of possibly looking like an egg, but, I could never bring myself to go for the big chop.

But something changed in 2017. The monotony of millennial adult life had gotten to me. I needed a change. Something to make life interesting again for a short while. So, of course, I decided to get my hair cut short. It was a classic “get a makeover and conquer the world” kind of moment. But unknown to me at the time, my decision was more than just a momentary “pick me up.”

Everyone from my hairdresser to my closest friends praised me for my bold decision like it was some sort of accomplishment. I couldn’t help but wonder why. But, deep down I, too, felt like I had achieved something. My short hair made me feel powerful and in control.

This is my hair, my body, and my choice. So fuck you, society, for telling me that I must look a certain way.

You do not get to tell me how to look, how to dress or how to wear my hair. You do not get to tell me that only women with long hair look feminine. I am fabulous any way I choose to be.

I am more than my physical appearance. Fuck you for making me think otherwise.

If you can’t look past physical appearances, maybe you should grow a personality instead of asking me to grow (or cut) my hair.

Your opinion means nothing if it exists solely to belittle me.

Stop trying to sell me BS in the name of “constructive criticism.” I don’t care if you think my short hair makes me look “bitchy.” Stop telling me that I must do things a certain way. Stop making up rules about what the “right way” is. Respect and be supportive of my valid personal choices.

Now I know it sounds like a lot of emotion to go through from a new look that I decided to go for out of sheer boredom. But, the reality is that this change made me subconsciously understand the joy and satisfaction of breaking free from societal rules and expectations.

So wear that crop top, color your hair electric blue, get that tattoo you’ve always wanted. You are fabulous any way you choose to be.

Gender Inequality

I’d never heard about Muslim women in prison – until now

I had never heard of the Muslim Women in Prison project until I watched Youtuber Dina’s Tokio’s “creators for change” series.

She chose to highlight amazing Muslim women around the world who were just living their lives as they saw fit and breaking barriers at the same time. One of the women she met up with is Sofia Buncy, who founded the Muslim Women in Prison project and they discussed all that could be done to help these women.

Before this, it had never even occurred to me that Muslim women might be prisoners or had ever broken the law in any way, even as a Muslim woman who has broken the law herself.

My outlook on my friends, my mother and Muslim people, in general, were that despite the stereotypes of terrorism, we were all just pious and perfect law-abiding citizens. Little did I know how dangerous this outlook was and how I was acting on another stereotype that aided in the oppression and misunderstanding of Muslim women.

Society has this idea that religious persons are perfect persons and religiosity and morality go hand in hand. We see outward signs of piety like a hijab, a nun’s habit, or an orthodox cassock and we expect the people wearing them to be morally strong, impeccable human beings. And while these garments often do remind the persons wearing them of their faith and their faith’s practices which can align with societal morals, they are anything but perfect.

Often if these persons are caught doing something unlawful or immoral they receive harsher judgments and are castigated.

This is the story of so many Muslim women in prison today.  Along with the same mistreatment that all women receive in prison like abuse, rape, and denial of basic human rights, these women often face language barriers, community backlash, and stigmatization, as well as discrimination from the officers who oversee them.

The worst part of it all is that when you look at the records of these women, they usually aren’t even hardened criminals.

According to Buncy, they are frequently first-time offenders, victims of abuse, and familial circumstances, and yet they are treated like the worst of the worst. It truly seems that these women are being punished for their crimes as well as for being Muslim.

They should not be held to some higher standard to then later be dragged through the mud. When a woman puts on her hijab, it is her job is to hold herself to the standard that aligns with her religious beliefs, not anyone else’s.

We do not speak for them and we definitely do not speak for God. Our job is to treat all people equally.

It’s time we start thinking of these women. We habitually forget about women in prison but Muslim women?

We don’t think of them at all.

Love + Sex Love Advice

Don’t let society dictate your version of happiness

“And they lived happily ever after.”

The overuse of the phrase and the valorization of consummate relationships that is anchored to the phrase have not only left behind the putrescent odor of patriarchal mindsets but also has successfully convinced impressionable minds to embrace it as the universal truth of life. We live in a world where we’re made to believe that the penultimate happiness in life can be attained by following what we’ve always been told. As long as you ace Happiness 101 (taught by Mrs. Society), you’ll be viewed as a person with a healthy mind and a joyous heart (it doesn’t matter if you’re internally a living corpse trudging through life).

As much as I love the gooey feeling of being with someone and acknowledge the importance of camaraderie as social beings, my purpose-of-existence list extends way beyond just that. Despite the hype about love, I’ve never considered it a yardstick for measuring happiness and can never acknowledge it as the determining factor of the state of my mind.

However, this foundation of my beliefs was shaken.

People around me never stopped gushing about how love is all you need (it was cool when The Beatles said it but can get really annoying when that’s all you hear). As a result, unknowingly, I kept playing it at the back of my head, even though I absolutely detested it.

I had my first (and proper) relationship in college. Even while I was in a relationship I never really complied with what is widely considered as “couple goals” and my views conflicted with the general perception of people in relationships. For me, it was supposed to be a positive addition to my life but not something I was willing to modify my existing ways or priorities for. I often heard murmurs about how cold and unaffectionate I was and the misery I brought to my partner’s life.

As much as we tried to adjust to each other’s ways, the stark contrast in our take on the relationship started to make it crumble. We dated for about a year and soon after, things came to an end. The breakup proved to be a sudden blow for me because I was not only scared of losing one of the closest people I had but also because the cacophony of companionship that the society kept preaching, I was convinced that it was my fault.

I was in denial about it for a few months. I kept blaming my erratic nature and rampant mood swings for the breakup, declaring myself unfit for any relationship just because I had failed to fit into the universal mold of a “perfect” girlfriend. I kept thinking about what he must’ve gone through because of me on repeat, entirely discarding my emotional well-being which was evidently all over the place.

It took a while to get over the guilt tripping and eventually, to get over the breakup.

A relationship requires effort, time and commitment towards it and, unfortunately, I’m devoured with none. As much as I wanted to drag the relationship despite its lurking toxicity, the actual mechanics of a relationship don’t exactly suit my talents and I’ve accepted it.

With the course of time, I’ve realized that my well being is based on my ideals and not others’. My attempts at merging viewpoints of opposite polarities in order to be happy not only had a disastrous effect on my mental health but also on the other person involved.

The truth is that people are entitled to their own source of felicities and that’s okay.

As a twenty year old, life often emerges as a complete mayhem of contradictions. While some of us crib about not having found love and being enveloped by a bubble of loneliness, the others fear about not having the “perfect” relationship. But maybe some of us just want to find happiness in ourselves. And that’s okay.

As a POC, witnessing the vicious cycle of hurling ridiculous advice and declaring the relationship/marital status of unmarried men and women as the devil is as frequent as watching daily soaps. But what if my idea of a flourishing life is different from what we’re taught?

The society not only dictates the terms and conditions for finding happiness but also includes an auxiliary clause as to how it ideally looks. It often uses its twisted ways to make people believe that the ultimate finish line of quarter life is finding someone, irrespective of whether its love or a mere agreement of companionship

Don’t let anyone else tell you what makes you happy. It’s your call to make.

Music Pop Culture

Hayley Kiyoko is the pop star of my dreams, and I love watching her shine

Pop star Hayley Kiyoko exploded onto the queer music scene in 2015, when the video for her second single off This Side of Paradise EP, “Girls Like Girls,” went viral. Since then, she’s produced hit after hit all about her fascination with women, and honestly?

Same, girl. Thank you for this incredible, important work.

In 2018 (20GAYTEEN if you will), Kiyoko plans to release her debut LP, Expectations.

On Thursday, she released the self-directed music video for a new single from Expectations, “Curious.” It’s definitely NSFW, but it’s also unapologetically queer from start to finish, and the female gaze is refreshing and appreciated.

This video is incredible. I’ve watched it a dozen times already. Every time Kiyoko releases a new single, it’s accompanied by a super steamy video featuring her getting extra intimate with other women.

Obviously, Kiyoko isn’t the first queer woman in music, but she’s one of the first openly lesbian women of color to push her attraction to women to the forefront of her career and aesthetic, i.e. framing her entire body of work around her queerness.

There’s no way to straight-code Hayley Kiyoko’s work. She makes sure of that in her songwriting, her performances, and her music videos.

[bctt tweet=”There’s no way to straight-code Hayley Kiyoko’s work.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Kiyoko features women from various ethnicities in her videos, as well as women with visible stretch marks and other “imperfections”—which is awesome because the way lesbian women are usually packaged for the public is very much focused on male pleasure. That means blonde hair, blue eyes, impractically long acrylic nails, and exclusively femme-on-femme content—all of which exist in the lesbian experience but aren’t the only lesbian experience.

We need more queer women, like Kiyoko, to be encouraged to take charge of their own work. The difference is stark, and hella empowering.

It’s also refreshing to see an openly lesbian woman—especially a woman of color—involved in ad campaigns and doing interviews on TRL. Watching Kiyoko rise through the ranks has been a genuine pleasure, both as a fan of pop music and as someone who would have loved to see more openly queer women in the music scene when I was just a baby lesbian trying to figure things out.

[bctt tweet=”‘Curious’ is definitely NSFW, but it’s also unapologetically queer from start to finish.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Beyond the aesthetics, the content of Kiyoko’s music is also important for young queer women. She dives into topics often explored in heteronormative love songs, from crushing on a friend to wondering whether an old flame misses you, too.

Not having to change the pronouns in a popular song to make it apply to your crush is an amazing feeling—I can attest to that from years of listening to artists like Tegan and Sara and sighing in relief when I didn’t have to think “if only this song was about a woman…”

[bctt tweet=”We need more queer women, like Kiyoko, to be encouraged to take charge.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Since the “Curious” music video premiered, it’s already gotten more than 1 million views on YouTube; Kiyoko’s last video, for the single “Feelings,” has over 6 million in just two months. Expectations is slated to hit stores on March 30, and the album cover features Kiyoko staring in admiration at a naked woman whose back is to the camera. “Women are a constant inspiration to me and I want to translate that love and appreciation into physical art, through all my music and imagery,” Kiyoko said in an Instagram post.

I’m here for it. I absolutely cannot wait for Expectations to drop, so I can listen exclusively to it for the rest of the year.

I’ve already got “Curious” on repeat on Spotify. Who’s with me?


I wasted so much time trying to meet my parents’ expectations, but now I’m done

One gold trophy. That’s all it took to raise my family’s expectations on me.

It was a reward for me as a top student in my school. Of course, my parents and my eldest sister were ecstatic. It felt as if their legacy was shown through my small success.

Little did I knew, they had something planned for me.

It was my sister’s idea to send me to a boarding school. I begged them not to. They refused to listen and convinced me that it was for my own good. Deep inside, I could feel they took a great pride from it. Imagine how proud they’d be, telling the relatives and neighbors about it.

I couldn’t disappoint them. So, I agreed.

I spent three years away from them. During those years, I put a lot of hard work in so I could live up to my family’s expectations. I knew they had high hopes for me. My sister kept reminding me about the victories I’d gained in the past and my younger siblings made me their role model. The pressure was more than I could handle. It was as if I owed them my success and I had to fulfill that responsibility.

But I couldn’t do it.

All three years, my results were just average. I graduated, as an average student. I wasn’t as brilliant.

Of course, my family was disappointed in me. But they didn’t give up. Not just yet.

My sister had just graduated with Master’s degree, with honors, of course. She arranged for me to get in to the same college. I thought I could finally choose which major I wanted, but she didn’t give me a choice. It had to be business, just like she did. She reminded me that I’d already failed to fulfill my responsibility, so this time I had to put extra effort to achieve.

My family ignored me when I said I wasn’t interested in business.

I started to feel resentful of them. My relationship with my family became strained. Still, I gave it a try for them. I overworked to reach their impossible expectations and my health started to deteriorate.

I failed even worse than before. This time, my results weren’t just average, they were awful.

I failed to give my family what they wanted: a brilliant student, a high achiever. I’d failed them all. There are no words to describe the guilt I felt for disappointing them. But when my parents blamed me for not trying hard enough, my heart dropped.

Was I at fault for this? I tried my hardest make them happy. What more could I do? I’d been doing my best. Couldn’t they at least appreciate that?

I even abandoned my real passion, writing, to please them.  I didn’t tell them, but I’ve always loved writing. It’s always been my passion and back in high school I’d won many writing and poetry competitions. Most of them were first prizes, but my parents were never interested.

While in boarding school, I’d completed a 300 page manuscript.

As a consolation for my ‘failure’ in boarding school, I showed them my work. I just wanted them to feel happy about my accomplishment, to be proud of me. But all I got was a nod from them.

They promised to read it later. But they never did. They never even give it back to me. To this day, I don’t know where it is.

My heart was broken knowing that my talent in writing wasn’t acknowledged. For them, writing was just a hobby, not something that I could pursue as a career. According to them, writing wouldn’t get me anywhere. I should do something that would promise a bright future.

When they accused me of not trying hard enough to succeed, I remembered the manuscript, and my heart filled with anger and regret. I’d had enough of trying to meet their ridiculous expectations. Years of my life had been snatched away trying to make them happy. For once in my life, I decided to follow my heart.

There was no use in explaining to them why I had to be selfish this time. I have the right to choose and decide my future. This is my life, not theirs. It shouldn’t be wasted by doing things that I hate. I want to spend my life doing something that I love.

Love + Sex Love

I broke up with a guy because nobody thought we were #RelationshipGoals

“#RelationshipGoals,” she says as she comments on a photo of two strangers she’s never met, never known personally, and probably never will. And even if she does know them personally – she doesn’t know their relationship as well as she might think.

Sound familiar? This is most of us nowadays. With the lightning speed at which we share our personal photos and milestones – everything is #goals.

I personally find it quite overrated, and boring. But also, I find it so irksome. We base our expectations about what we want in a relationship on something we see online.

We have absolutely no clue about what that couple has been through, are going through or will go through. Yet we think they’re ‘perfect’ because they seem to be photogenic together?

I’ll admit this though, I was fascinated by this trend when it started. I’d go on social media and tag my friends in photos of cute couples doing things. I’d comment “#GoalsAF”, and my friends would respond with the usual, “SAME.” or “IKR?”.

I didn’t realize how unhealthy this was until I almost got into a relationship and then didn’t. I blame #RelationshipGoals for that failed ‘almost’ relationship, and then another.

There were a multitude of other reasons, of course. But mostly, I just couldn’t get over the fact that he didn’t live up to what I was expecting him to be. He wasn’t acting the way I’d seen guys act online. He wasn’t treating me like a straight up princess.

In his defense, he didn’t owe me shit. We’d been on 3-4 dates in total and I expected him to put me on a pedestal because that one guy did this grand gesture for that one girl on Twitter and those were my #RelationshipGoals.

I actually ended things with him before anything went further, and I’m glad I did. I didn’t want to lead him on and then realize when it was too late.

But this wasn’t a one-off event. It happened again.

I met another guy. He was sweet, great, and I liked him too. I enjoyed his company, he made me laugh and we had a real connection. But I still wasn’t comfortable with getting into a relationship with him because I didn’t look at the two of us and feel like yelling, “#GOALS”.

My ‘ideal’ in what I wanted out of that relationship was so shallow and unsubstantial – I cared more about what we looked like than what we actually were like. 

Sounds absurd, right? That’s because it was. I was deciding what I wanted out of a relationship on the basis of social media reality, not IRL reality.

I remember seeing this post about a guy who posted on Instagram daily about his girlfriend and how beautiful she was and how lucky he was to have her. I wanted that. And when neither of the guys I almost dated treated me like that, I figured they just weren’t worth it.

I didn’t know what that couple online had been through to get to where they are today. I didn’t know if they were even a couple in real life, or if they just really wanted the retweets. All I knew was that they ‘looked good together’ and I wanted to ‘look good together’ too.

They create an unrealistic expectation about something so complicated and intricate. Relationships involve human emotions, which are raw, ugly, and real. They’re not something you can hide behind a filter.

Relationships are complex. They require effort and love. I’m not suggesting you should stay with someone even if you don’t feel like it. Just don’t jump to any hasty conclusions based on what you see online. We all have expectations in relationships, I’m not denying that. And we’re allowed to have huge ones too. But let’s form those expectations based on what we really want, and not what we think someone else has got.

Because here’s the deal, you’re not that girl/guy and their partner isn’t your partner. So the chances of things happening exactly for you as it did for them are highly unlikely.

If you truly like someone, give it a shot, flaws and all. Neither of you has to be perfect for you to be #RelationshipGoals. Don’t put that kind of a pressure on yourself or your partner.

Gender & Identity Life

I wasn’t raised to be your typical Indian-American, so this is the crap I’ve had to hear from Indians AND Americans

From the start, I was never raised as a “typical Indian kid.” When other parents gave their children tests at an early age, I was given beakers, encouraged to experiment, to learn by questioning. When other parents insisted that their children be the best, my father told me only one thing: “Learn Thoroughly.”

And I was encouraged to branch out, too.

When other parents pushed their children to take up an instrument in middle school only to make them drop it to take more AP classes in high school, my parents put me in choir, which I hated then, but am infinitely grateful for now, for music opened my mind to worlds that I, and my counterparts, never knew existed. I learned the traditional music of my people, but I also sang (and still sing) a cappella pop rather extensively, a decidedly un-Indian hobby.

[bctt tweet=”I was never raised as a ‘typical Indian kid.'” username=”wearethetempest”]

A fateful stopover that same year in Qatar was only a catalyst to my musical development, as my playlist became as eclectic as my interests and knowledge; I now listen to practically everything, from the latest fiery singles from Zara Larsson, Adele, and Lorde to the dulcet Arabic tracks of Fahad Al Kubaisi, Fayez Al Saeed, and Waleed Al Shami to the expressive, smooth Tamil tones of Sid Sriram, Aditya Rao, and Vijay Yesudas.

I am, in many respects, a hybrid with an insatiable curiosity.

This has its flip sides. Every time I speak my native tongue, you can tell I’m a hybrid. My Tamil is a mixture of different dialects and replete with anglicisms and English syntax.

And I’m perfectly fine with it.

But that’s not how many see it.

I’ve been fortunate to have had friends and family, who, for the most part, accept and appreciate my eclectic upbringing, interests, and demeanor, anglicisms and all. But as I grow older, I can’t help but be more acutely aware of the microaggressions that I’ve received from Indians both in the US and back in the mother country.

Sometimes they manifest as comments, like when people say that I sound “confused” when I speak Tamil, “not at all like any other Tamil girl.” Sometimes these comments get less innocuous, like when I hear Indian reporters and politicians make sweeping statements about our relationship statuses and sexualities. But more often than not, they manifest as labels.

[bctt tweet=”I can’t help but notice the microaggressions that I’ve received from Indians.” username=”wearethetempest”]

At Indian networking events and competitions, I’m often met with bizarre or scornful looks when I say that I want to study everything in college, from religions to science to history to culture to music.

I am often categorized as “lacking focus,” or “not like the successful Indian kids.”

In fact, a few months ago, just after Ivy Decision Day, I was part of a college admissions panel, and a parent asked me, point-blank, “How can I make my son an engineer at (insert Ivy League school here)? What did you do?” I told her about my essays and interviews on my passion for world music and poetry, recommending that her son set aside some time to indulge his fancies.

She refused to believe it, calling it “a useless waste of time.”

She couldn’t understand that this hybrid girl was successful despite not being the model Indian: hyper focused and steeped in training for a “successful” career in science.

[bctt tweet=” She couldn’t understand that I was successful despite not being the model Indian.” username=”wearethetempest”]

But what do we admire about the model Indian?

I’ve seen report after report in Indian media on prominent Indian-Americans highlighting their laser focus and wild achievements, which, should be recognized and commended. What’s unfortunate, however, is how they frame Indian-Americans.

Around the same time as that college panel, I read an interview with Indian-American actress Angela Goraphy in the Deccan Chronicle, an Indian newspaper. The article describes her native tongue as “a perfect mix of both [Kottayam and Kumarakom dialects], no Americanness in her words,” describing American lilts or anglicisms as flaws bastardizing an otherwise perfect language.

That quote made me seethe when I first read it.

I thought, “Are those lilts and anglicisms really flaws, or are they merely a byproduct of her upbringing as both Indian and American, a way for her to embrace both influences?” Yet again, I saw another insular attitude to culture as fixed, with every change being a loose thread in a shared fabric. It’s as though that reporter was trying to say “Angela Goraphy is not a hybridized, ‘bastardized’ Indian,” and this made me angry as heck.

[bctt tweet=”It’s disappointing to see such a one-dimensional picture of Indian-American culture.” username=”wearethetempest”]

But what if we changed the emphasis here? What if we learned to show the beauty in our hybrid ideas?

It’s disappointing to see such a one-dimensional picture of Indian-American culture, and, more than this, such a one-dimensional concept of culture as being immutable, being portrayed in Indian media when we go back, and there are certainly people that do believe such a picture. It’s up to us to create a counter-narrative that highlights the beauty in the unique blend of influences that makes the Indian-American culture great, and what we, as hybrids, have to offer because of this.

And how, you ask, am I going to create such a counter-narrative? By starting here.

I want Indian media to celebrate our hybrid ideas. I want them to understand that culture is not immutable, but a byproduct of the influences that surround us. I want them to understand that the intersection of these influences, through our thoughts, our beliefs, and our actions, is not a flaw, but part of the tapestry of the Indian-American experience.

I want Indian media to represent more Indian-American voices. I want them to help the public see the world through our eyes, to show the public the humdrum parts of our lives: going to work, interacting with each other, our passions, our daily joys, and indulgences.

But until then, rest assured: I am not confused.

I am a hybrid Indian-American woman. And if that makes me a bastard, so be it.

In the words of a fellow hybrid, Rwandan-Belgian singer Stromae, ni l’un ni l’autre, je suis, j’étais, et [je] resterai, moi.

Gender & Identity Life

Just because I’m quiet doesn’t make me any less of a feminist

Picture the quiet, submissive, obedient, perfect-haired, housewife image that was so prevalent in the 50s.

You probably thought of something like this, right?

Now think of the opposite.

What exactly are you picturing now?

The image that comes to my mind is a fearsome, cool, quick, witty, fierce, loud, and rebellious type of woman.

Something like this:

When we want to separate ourselves from the painful image of women who cannot speak their minds (the first image), we want to separate ourselves completely. Throw away those perfect bell-shaped skirts and white smiles and give me your oversized denim jackets and sly smiles/grimaces.

That second image is beautiful and empowering, and I have nothing against the women who fit that image.

However, not every feminist does. Like me, for example.

Yes, I am a feminist, but I hate raising my voice and confronting others. I prefer listening to and writing stories than speaking them. I’m not antisocial (read: introvert does NOT mean awkward or antisocial) and I love people, but I prefer small groups to big ones and often need time to myself. I write poetry but will probably never do spoken word. I don’t wear dark lipstick ever. My mean mug is awkward. I stop at stop signs and have never illegally downloaded a movie.

With this, I still consider myself interesting, and I definitely still stand for gender equality.

[bctt tweet=”I still consider myself interesting, and I definitely still stand for gender equality.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Previously, I had internalized this image of a feminist so much that even though I recognized both my feminism and my introverted personality, I always felt I had to be louder, have sharper comebacks, and dress differently.

I’d only realized this was not necessarily the only image of a feminist when I was asked a very simple question: “What book character are you most like?”

Immediately, I thought of all the strong female characters I looked up to: Elizabeth Bennet, Annabeth Chase (yes, the Percy Jackson series was my life in middle school), Ma Joad, Scout Finch, Minny Jackson, and Dido.

I remembered them for the loudness and I equated that with strength. Perhaps I was just remembering the wrong characters, but doesn’t it say something that in that moment the only strong female characters I could think of were extroverted ones? Like how does Elizabeth just come up with that and SAY it?

It was only later that I thought of the more introverted Aibileen Clark, Jane Bennet, Katniss Everdeen, and Mariam (from A Thousand Splendid Suns).

This was an eye-opening realization for me. Introverted characters and people, in general, can have personalities and can be amazing leaders, fighters, and thinkers. I decided I could be myself and did not have to have a certain look or voice to fight for the things I felt I had to fight for.

This was further ingrained in me in a moment last year at the DNC. Khizr Khan gave a speech about his veteran son, the Constitution, and Donald Trump’s proposed policies. Meanwhile, his wife, Ghazala Khan stood beside him.

Later, when Trump was asked about this speech, he said, “If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”

[bctt tweet=”Quiet is not the same as being silenced, and strong is not the same as loud.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I empathized and identified with Ghazala Khan. As evidenced by Trump’s interpretation, the introverted feminist idea is made more complicated when you’re constantly told your religion oppresses you. That oppressed image is the default, and, unless you’re actively combating it, you will be labeled as such.

Couldn’t we allow Khan the right to be silent instead of being forced to talk about the painful matter of her son’s death? What did she have to do to prove she was not oppressed?

A feminist can be a stay-at-home mom, be awful at comebacks, and wear collared dresses.

For me, a feminist can be quiet.

Quiet is not the same as being silenced, and strong is not the same as loud. Just because I am introverted does not mean I will not be vocal. In fact, expect me to be vocal when I see injustice, but expect me to express it differently than an extrovert would.


Plenty loud without saying a thing.

I am not your typical image of a feminist, but don’t mistake me for anything other than exactly that.

Love Life Stories

When I finally decided to show the world my real self, I was terrified nobody would like me

I’ve always been a pretty bubbly, positive, happy-go-lucky sort of gal – to the outside world. However, up until around a year ago, I felt like I was living in conflict with myself. I would be smiling and joking around with friends and family, but when I was alone with myself, I would become my own worst enemy.

It pretty much started when I graduated from college and moved back home. The transition was difficult for me. I missed my roommates and didn’t realize how much my happiness had depended on being surrounded by friends.

Around that time I developed this fear that if I showed my authentic self to others, I would not be accepted or loved.

I thought that if I showed my “negative” emotions, people would want to stay away from me. I created a double standard for myself; if someone opened up to me I thought they were brave, and yet if I opened up to someone else it was an act of weakness.

These irrational beliefs felt like the truth to me. I realize now that it’s actually the opposite; showing vulnerabilities is what brings me closer to my loved ones.

I began to have such high expectations of myself. In order to be the best daughter, cousin, niece, friend, employee, etc. I had to hide my true self. While my intentions were good, they were causing a lot of damage in the self-esteem department. In order to avoid displeasing the people in my life, I ended up disliking who I was.

I had some trustworthy loved ones who I felt like I could be a hot mess in front of, but at the end of the day, the person I was stuck with 24/7 was myself.

I don’t remember the exact moment, but a point came when I finally decided I would break this cycle of self-loathing- even if it meant facing the darkest and scariest emotions. I realized that you could be surrounded by all the loving family and friends in the world, but if you don’t love yourself, then nothing will feel good enough.

I began going to therapy. I reconnected with my faith and begged God to help me learn how to help myself. I journaled about my feelings and began to look at them with compassion rather than criticism.

I created a box of letters, notes, and anything positive that loved ones had given me over the years. Whenever I felt low, I would turn to the box and go through it, reminding myself that I made a difference in these people’s lives.

I went on retreats. I got involved in my community. I basically forced myself to do the things that I knew would make me feel fulfilled.

And that’s when little miracles began to take place in my life. I was nominated by a lovely author, Tami Shaikh, to be a part of a South Asian Women Leadership Retreat, where I met incredibly successful women who got deep and personal. Through this, I was able to break free from the illusion that I was alone. I also began to find life-changing books, YouTube videos, quotes, and mentors who believed in me.

It’s not considered cool to talk about your self-doubts and insecurities, but I believe that when we avoid these types of conversations, we miss out on valuable opportunities to truly connect with others.

One powerful exercise for me was something my therapist, Linda taught me. “Find a few photographs of yourself when you were a little girl,” she said.  “Then put them in some nice frames around your living space along with the wallpaper of your phone. When you’re being hard on yourself, just look at the photos and see if you still feel the same way.”

I was amazed at how this one small act led me to actually start liking myself. Every time I saw the photos, I couldn’t help but feel love and compassion towards myself, because deep down in my 24-year-old body, was an innocent little girl who simply needed to feel safe and protected.

One of the photos I used for the experiment

Now, whenever I mess up, I think of the photo of the sweet, little girl and ask myself how I would speak to her if she made the same mistake. It would be cruel to yell at a child for not being perfect, so why is it okay to beat myself up just because I’m a so-called adult? As my therapist taught me, adults are just children in grown up bodies.

Through this bump in the road, I learned that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.

Disliking yourself is natural at times, as long as you aren’t stuck in that rut. And self love is not just some cheesy phrase, it’s a key ingredient for contentment and inner peace. Now, I am more than happy to show up and be seen for who I am, and I hope that nobody has to feel like their true self is not worthy enough to be seen.

By choosing authenticity, we begin to attract the right people and situations into our lives.

It may not happen overnight, but it’s definitely worth the struggle.

Love Life Stories

Sometimes, I wonder how I would have turned out without my relationship

I have been in a relationship since I was seventeen.

As someone who is nearing 22 with each passing day, thinking about that is slightly ridiculous. Before I met my current partner, who happens to be my first and only partner, I was a child. I didn’t even know what college I wanted to go to. I thought I was so grown-up, but I wasn’t. At all. We grew up together. And now here I am, four years later, just as happy as I was when we started dating. Usually.

[bctt tweet=”As much as I wonder about who I am and how I am defined, I am still happy.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Being in a relationship for the bulk of my truly formative years has been an experience that I went through alone. I am the only one of my friends at my college who still has a high school partner. And at home, my relationship is the only couple left from our high school friend group.

It’s just us.

It’s almost like we’ve become a constant in other people’s lives, not just our own. Our names go together, connected by a quick ‘and.’ C and J, J and C.

[bctt tweet=”It’s almost like we’ve become a constant in other people’s lives, not just our own.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I once had a friend of mine tell me that if my partner and I broke up, they might stop believing in love. Tell me that that doesn’t put a lot of pressure on a person! What if we do break up? Then not only would I feel awful because breakups are never fun (so I’ve heard), but I’d have the added weight of knowing that for a long time, people defined me by my partner, and defined good relationships by us, too.

Being defined like that, it was never in a bad way, or in a way that I am opposed to. Clearly, when you’ve been in a relationship for a while – and especially if you had mutual friends before you started dating – your relationship is just another part of their life. I’ve been in one long enough it’s almost as if “in a relationship” is tattooed on my forehead. And when you’ve had a relationship last from high school to college, it isn’t even just your relationship anymore. Other people have a part in it as well. Or at least, that’s what it feels like to me. They care about the both of you, but their image of your relationship, and who you are as a couple can supersede their image of you both as individuals. They’ve known you as a couple longer than they know you separately, at least in my case. In their eyes, you go together.

I’ve always been a big proponent of no matter what anyone else says, the only two opinions that matter in a relationship are yours and your partner’s. But when people are so used to your relationship that they only know who you are in that relationship, you start to wonder. It isn’t like I’m about to split from my partner; I’m going to stay with them because they make me happy, and I am a better person for having known them. And I do know who I am; being in a long-distance relationship helps with the formation of who you are as an independent individual.

But I still have to question, because that’s who I am. I have to think about the contingencies and the could-have-been’s.

Who would I have been if I wasn’t in a relationship? Would I be a radically different person, or would I be pretty much the same? All my instincts are telling me I wouldn’t be too different. But maybe I would have been more outgoing, gone to parties I never felt I belonged at. Or maybe I would have stayed as lonely as I was in high school, a hopeless romantic fixated on an idea of love I can’t quite get a grasp on. But who knows? And who can know? If anyone has goggles to see an alternate timeline, lend them to me. That would be awesome.

[bctt tweet=”If anyone has goggles to see an alternate timeline, lend them to me.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Or don’t. As much as I wonder about who I am and how I am defined and who I could have been, I am happy. I love my partner unconditionally. The way they support me and help me find where I am meant to be going in life is incredible. And I like to think I make them pretty happy, too. Even though I wonder about what could have been, to me, our love is what matters.

To me, that is enough.