New Zealand has the best coffee

Bear with me as I go on my coffee rant….

As mentioned before, I was working in a local cafe for several months before leaving Auckland for university (college as the Americans call it). It was a great work experience and my boss provided me with barista training. By the time I left my job, I could make a decent (ranging from averagely decent to good decent) cup of coffee from grinding the beans to extracting the espresso to steaming the milk to pouring the milk. You name it, a cappuchino, latte, flat white, long black, moccachino or hot chocolate. It took me a while to overcome the bitter espresso and the burnt milk but eventually I was happy to have picked up a new skill; although if you were to ask me to make one now, I wouldn’t have high expectations…

While I was overseas, I came to the realisation that coffee in New Zealand is truly of a gold standard. For example, I was shocked at the numerous times where I was served coffee with bubbly milk that was far from the velvety texture it should have been. There were also lattes filled with way too much foam. I would never have dared to serve customers some of the coffees that I was served. Keep in mind I am absolutely not, a coffee snob.  I don’t know a whole lot about the art of coffee making and coffee flavour. But at the risk of sounding like a pretentious customer whining about absurd experiences, I am disappointed by the overall standard of coffees overseas.

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Finding a good cup of coffee is a mission and the filter coffee served at my school cafeteria is very questionable. There are also several differences between coffee culture here and in the states. 90% of the time, cafés serve their coffees in takeout cups regardless of whether I was staying in or taking out. Also, I soon realised after my first few visits to the local coffee shops around my school that often just ‘coffee’ refers to filter coffee and self-serve milk over the counter as opposed to coffee made from the espresso machine with steamed milk. Another thing is that a flat white is almost an unheard of thing in the states. In February this year, I was in New York over the weekend and noticed signs with phrases along the lines of ‘try our new flat white!’ in several coffee shops. Given that flat whites have been around in New Zealand for many many years it was surprising to find that it is only being introduced in America recently.

Since coming back home for a month in my summer break, it sure is great finally drinking a tasty latte. My solitary café visits are reignited!

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Reflections on my first year of college

I am still in disbelief at just how crazy fast freshman yearwent by. I am back in Auckland now. I had my last final on Friday (May 15th), packed up my freshman dorm into storage boxes, zipped up my suitcase and was on my way to JFK on Saturday to fly back home.

Spring semester happened so quickly I really didn’t have time to process things before the year wrapped up. As people started leaving and goodbyes were exchanged, it hit me how much I’ll miss school. It seems like as I really began to settle down and make this place a home away from home, the school year was coming to an end. I distinctly remember not long after coming back after winter break, I was walking to class and saw several familiar faces, stopped to say hi and thought to myself, wow this place is becoming home. One, completely different from the home I have known for the majority of my life but a home nonetheless. Another time, I was sitting in the blue room (school café) with a friend and a pre-frosh comes up to us explaining that she will be attending next fall and wanted to ask current students a few questions. These experiences made me feel grateful for being on this campus and also a sense of belonging. Sure, college has come with its struggles but overall I feel very blessed to have had such an incredible experience. College was very much not what I expected in many ways and it came with its ups and downs that pushed me to go forward in this journey.newportsunset

Freshman year definitely went by way too fast and everyday seems like it was packed with classes, meetings, clubs, meeting with friends, food and studying. This whirlwind came and went and I know that the next 3 years will speed by even faster. There is no way for me to reduce the highs and lows of the past 8 months into a blogpost and even as I begin to dwell and reflect on this year, everything merges into wonderful blur. I have learned so much about myself and people but also at the same time, ironically, I am realising how little I know about myself and the world. The deeper I go into my education the more I realise how little I know. In every new problem or decision I have faced, I am forced to question myself and who I am becoming. At the end of the day, no one is going to check up on me or make me do anything. My actions are fuelled by my personal rationalising (or lack thereof). This is the time to be questioning things, to not just take things as they are, because for the first time in my life I am on my own.

Amongst all the new things that I have learned and grown in (more so outside of the class than inside), the most important are; my faith, how to care for myself, the fact that I know little about myself and what I want to do with my life and learning to be okay with this.

It feels amazing to be on summer break and back with my parents at home but there will be a few things I’m going to miss about college over the next 3.5 months. I will miss going downstairs to get Andrews pizza at midnight. I will miss my beautiful dorm with its beautiful sink (Andrews perk). I will miss being surrounded by lovely peers. I will miss the special and kind people that have come into my life. I will miss RUF on friday nights and worship at church. I will miss conversations that range from pointless and random to deeply philosophical. I will miss sharing meals with friends in dinning halls. I will miss the quaint and pretty campus. I will miss being a freshman.

Still learning,

Shirin

Freshman Fall

HELLLLOOO! If you saw my previous post ‘The Rhode to Brown Part 1’ and took note of the Part 1, you can see that I never followed up on the rest of the parts. Originally I intended on uploading each city I visited on my travel as its own part but then college got in the way and I never got around to it… Yes, I know that’s a poor excuse.

Although my first semester at college was initially overwhelming then became both exciting and hectic and finally progressed to stressful, I did manage to get out with my camera and take a few snaps. Nothing artsy here, but hopefully it gives you a feel of my beautiful campus and the quaint city.

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Funny, strange Americans…

I’ve often heard people say ‘Americans are pretty weird’. I can see why now.

This is my second time coming to the US but I can hardly remember my impression of America the first time (I was eight) so pretty much everything was new and fresh for me this time round. I’ve been here for just over a week and this week has been like an acclimatisation period.

The term ‘weird’ is relative so I guess different would be more acceptable. Things are done ‘differently’ in the US. Every country is in various aspects (some more than others) different and unique in it’s own way but America- America is very unique.

Here are a few reasons why:

1) America does not use the metric system. I arrived in LA on the 19th and as we left the airport en route to down town, the driver mentioned the distance we had to travel. I didn’t realise till after that he was using miles. I still have no idea how far a mile is. Feet, inch, yard and Fahrenheit are also completely useless units to me. Pretty much everywhere else uses the standard Celsius but here, most weather forecasts are given in Fahrenheit.

2) Price labels don’t have the tax included. How are you supposed to know exactly how much you have to pay? During the first few days I kept forgetting that tax is excluded in the price and thought people were overcharging us. I know that tax is different among the States, but would it really be such a pain to display prices as exactly what you would actually be paying??

3) Tipping. This took me ages to get accustomed to. How much to tip? Who to tip? Do you wait for the receipt at your table? Also, Americans have a very trusting and blasé attitude towards credit cards. You hardly need to use pins and only after they swipe your card do you put down how much you want to tip.

4) I don’t know if it’s just me but a lot of toilet seats are unusually low. There is also a lot of water in the bowl. The flush seems way more forceful. I don’t even know how to explain this without sounding bizarre but I swear the toilets are different here.

5) There are words that mean slightly different things over here (I guess this one applies to many English speaking countries). The number of people that don’t understand what a rubbish bin is, is just shocking. No one uses a bathroom cubicle, they use a stall. A girl thought I was referring to driving when I mentioned a ‘fullstop’. I also still refuse to replace my ‘s’ with a ‘z’.

So I’m feeling a bit like a FOB right now but hopefully I’ll get adjusted soon. There is so much to see and do and I can’t believe tomorrow is our last night in New York and also my last night of ‘vacation’ before I’m off to college. Being an international student will be an entirely new experience for me. I’m sure that as an international student I will come across many more unusual things that Americans do. 😛

Endings and beginnigs

I have left the land of the long white cloud. I have taken flight from my nest. I have ventured into the next great adventure. This is the cheesy, obligatory new beginnings/ current emotions/update post.

On Saturday I woke up at the very glamorous hour of 3am to head to the airport in order to catch a 6.30am flight to Melbourne. Going to Australia is like the warm up, the tepid transition. A physical and metaphorical transition. I always thought packing and leaving Auckland would cause a lot more jittery excitement for me but I have been oddly calm. I think I was so excited and anticipating this moment for the past eight months that now that it has come I am thinking about what this change really means. Without the utter excitement and happiness from getting accepted to my dream school I can rationally sit down and contemplate the full weight of what moving halfway across the world to attend college actually entails.

Eighteen years of my life have become the sum of right now. And right now, it’s more than just the fact that I’m going off to college. The transition of moving onto this next chapter has sparked many facets of new changes. I am moving away from home, I will be living independently; I am about to learn things and meet people that are all entirely new for my still callow self. It’s only natural to feel scared and a bit apprehensive right? What if I make no friends? What if I bit off more than I can chew? What if…

You spend so long imagining what you would see and touch and experience and when those moments are actually happening to you, it feels surreal. You struggle to find words to describe your overwhelming influx of emotions. It’s a bit of this and that. I am a boggling mess of emotions and uncertainty. This really is a teenage-girl-drama-queen moment at its finest. I will probably look back at my current state and laugh at myself.

After four hours of flying we arrived at Melbourne airport. I had a mini heart attack moment when we were collecting our luggage from the carousel. Two of our three checked in bags arrived promptly but after we waited for about 20 minutes there was still no sign of the third bag-which also happened to be one of mine. When we finally decided that perhaps the airline had lost my bag we went to find a staff. Coincidentally as we walked past a group of luggage my dad spotted one that was very similar to mine. Mind you, when you have a dark blue luggage that pretty much resembles any standard bag, every bag looks as if it could be yours. But thank goodness it was mine. Almost crisis averted!

This is our third and final night in Melbourne. I swear the past few days we have just walked and walked and walked. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed our time in this rich multicultural hub with its eclectic arts scene but the walking across the city has been intense. The constant walking from morning to night each day is counteracting my consumption of yummy and possibly not healthy food- I hope. Melbourne has a plethora of Italian and Greek cuisine and the coffee/café culture is very popular. The quirky and intimate laneways throughout the city are also very prominent and worth checking out!

Tomorrow morning will be yet another early start but this time we are en route to LAX! It’s finally sinking in. I guess flying from Melbourne to LA has made me a lot more aware and excited than I was for flying from Auckland to Melbourne. I am tremendously excited and looking forward to my arrival at school but also sad at how quickly things are and will change. I can’t say that I am a different person now, but over the past year from college applications to this gap year, gradually I have changed. I hope to keep documenting my journey at college and one day I will look back and see how college has shaped me. I don’t know what to expect but I know it will be an adventure.

It’s been real; it’s been good but its time for college!

An incoming freshman, class of 2018,
Shirin

To learn list

Recently I started reading the book ‘Hacking Your Education’. I’m halfway through the book and I can safely say this is a valuable read to any high school graduate. No scratch that- this books offers invaluable ideas and advice to anyone.

 

In a nutshell ‘Hacking your Education’ challenges the traditional notion of formal education and advocates for students to embrace self- directed learning as opposed to blindly accepting education from higher institutions that often take antiquated and rigid approaches to learning.

 

Dale J. Stephens offers many ‘hacks’ as good starting steps to help cultivate a rich and well-meaning education. In one chapter, the author suggests writing a ‘to learn list’ as often we aren’t free to learn what we truly want in the classroom. An effective ‘to learn list’ offers precise learning goals that are related to our interests. Given my current ‘gap year’ status, I thought it would be a good idea to write one out myself. I think in the past couple of months I’ve been doing it mentally…

 

Without further ado, this is my (current) To- learn list: 

  • Learn enough economics so I can read papers and articles on the subject. (I have started Principles in Microeconomics on MIT’s open courseware already)
  • Learn how to make good coffees in a café  (If all goes well, work should cover this)
  • Learn the basics to psychology (Watch crash course on psychology on YouTube)
  • Learn how a mock trial works (Google would be a good starting point)
  • Learn how to create star trials in photography (same as above)
  • Learn the art of mastering a topspin serve in tennis (continue with weekly coaching)

 

What’s my next move?

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about where to next. My time in China has given me various aspects to think about. New things. I’m not sure if I like this ‘growing up and sorting out my stuff’ business but inevitably, I must deal with it. I think it’s important to strive to find a meaningful goal to work towards. It gives a greater purpose to the actions you make and the thoughts you ponder. In no manner am I saying that my life up till now has been a movie-like reel of single-minded motivation for the ultimate aim. I do not mean any of this in a pretentious way, as I am simply trying my best to express the thoughts that have been racing across my curious, jumbled and still foolish mind.

 

Graduating from high school is an event that turns a monumental page in the 7 years of that chapter. Whether you couldn’t be more ecstatic about leaving that place, more sentimental or sad that you had reached the end of a wonderful chapter of your story, or like me, you were uncertain and filled with mixed emotions about graduating, leaving high school means leaving a place of the tried and safe and treading into the unknown waters of reality. Because lets face it, for most students high school, high school and all that before it is a time where we have others (namely parents and teachers) making the salient decisions and taking the greater responsibility for our lives. Our choices during that part do not have tremendous consequences on the bigger part of our lives and more often than not, we live in this sheltered bubble that does not accurately reflect the nature of reality. From hereon, bigger responsibilities and bigger concerns are

 

I’m going to university (or college as the Americans call it) in September and I desperately do not want to waste away these 8 months. It’s already February; I say this as I shake with abject fear at how fast time passes by. Time really does not wait for anyone. It hit me a few weeks ago that this period of my life, this ‘bridge-between-high school-and-university’ (the preface to the next volume of my life series) is a time that I will probably never have in my life ever again. When will I ever have the opportunity to take the good part of a year off where I am living for just myself? A selfish time where pragmatic concerns such as paying the bills, finding a job in this economic slump, or even taking care of my husband and children (if I ever get married and have kids…) are non-existent. So I hope that what I am doing now and what I plan to do in the following months will not only make me happy but also have a meaningful whether, big or small impact.

 

My life thus far has not been particularly eventful and I have lived a relatively sheltered life. I am not extraordinary and neither is my story. However, I feel that now is the start where I can orchestrate my next chapter and the many (I hope) to come into colourful pages full of adventure. And this is where I’m stuck. My initial disbelief and utter excitement at my acceptance to my dream school has worn off slightly now. Don’t get me wrong, I am still extremely grateful and happy about this news, but I feel that I can no longer just dwell on this news, I must figure out my next move. Since a few months ago, once adults realised that I’m not in high school anymore, the platitude questions started shooting. ‘What are you going to do now?’ ‘Which uni are you going to?’ ‘What are you going to study?’ ‘Which career do you want?’ For someone who has their next move and the ones after that planned out already, those might be easy questions to answer. But for someone who’s indecisive and can’t even decide on which meal to order at a restaurant without taking forever, those questions are awfully difficult to respond to. I have no clue how I managed to formulate responses to all those college application essays…

 

Through all my thinking and over-thinking I have arrived at two ‘next moves’ for the forthcoming 5 months. A) To write on this blog at least once a month (or at least 4 posts per month). I’ve always enjoyed writing and rather than keeping everything bottled in my mind and journal, why not publish it on the Internet. Although I don’t know who would want to read what I write, I hope someone in this realm of the web will find my writing somewhat interesting. If not, then at least I’ll always have an online archive to keep for my own personal musings. B) Get a job. A job will keep me busy and I need to find a way to make my bank account grow… Fingers and toes crossed that in mid March (which is when I arrive back in Auckland) I will be able to get a job somewhere. My plan is to apply online around the end of February as most students will be returning to university and hopefully there will be more job positions available.

 

So there are my next two moves. Not very exciting and as much as I would like to say by some dramatic epiphany I arrived at two very life changing conclusions, in reality it was a rather frustrating process. I am excited about whatever is waiting for me this year. Despite being an 18-year-old girl who is still figuring many things out, as aforementioned I know that the most exciting and bigger things lie ahead. Things always have a funny way of working out.

 

Here’s to new beginnings!