All the worries of the world on your shoulder, child.

(This post was inspired by the episode “Kid Logic” of the podcast This American Life)

Every time I see kids crying or whining or doing any sort of kid-thing, I fail to demonstrate any sort of human sympathy, mostly due to my general lack of empathy and the fact that I am not a kid-person. But I guess there is also some sort of envy there, because they don’t have to worry about paying the bills, about whether or not they should spend $80 on the Victoria Secret semi-annual sale they probably shouldn’t, or about their PhD prospectus – life, in general. They, in a word, have nothing to worry about.

But as I was listening to this episode on This American Life about how children have their own way of dealing with logic and the world around them, I could not help but remember how I too was, once, a child, with “no worries”. And I remember that being a child doesn’t necessarily mean your world is actually void of worries. Quite the opposite. Maybe I was an especially anxious child, who knows, even though I don’t remember being one; it would explain many things I am going through as an ‘adult’.

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I remember being worried that humanity was destined to live ‘forever’ (although that may not be now, thank you Climate Change). I could simply not understand the idea that although my mommy and daddy will die, and I will die one day, life was to go on on this planet earth, until the year 3,000 and more and more. It scared me that life was endless. Life was not a happy story that could end with a firm ‘The End’ that I was so accustomed to.The book of Life did not have a last page. Life was going to persist, and although individuals would eventually die, humanity, as a race, would just go on forever. I remember my mom laughing, telling me I wouldn’t be alive to witness it anyways, so why the concern? But what was I to do with this baffling and disturbing knowledge? Just go on, like a naive creature without reason? I just couldn’t.

Maybe I indeed was on the higher end of the anxiety spectrum, when I think about all the diseases I was afraid I might catch. One of the many ‘dangers’ you become aware of when growing up Catholic and with the Bible around you is leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease. The bible is filled with stories of Jesus healing the lepers, and that is all good and beautiful, but I was mostly concerned with the fact that there were lepers in the first place, and that they were inevitably shunned by all (except by Jesus of course). I was terrified at the idea that I too, might catch this disease, and I could see my finger-less and toe-less future, for sure. Jesus had been here once already, and he couldn’t possibly come back and heal me, so what was I to do? Then, with the whole AIDS phase in the 90s, I was afraid I might catch that too. I knew it was a sexually transmitted disease, but there had been cases, after all, of transmission through blood transfusions, and so on. What if I needed blood transfusion and was pricked by a contaminated needle? The horror!

I had this blue booklet when I was in my early teens, given by an acquaintance of my mom. This person was a fervent Jehovah’s Witness and apparently her goal in life was to convert us – which she still pursues today. I don’t remember the title of the booklet, but it basically masqueraded itself into providing all the possible answers teenagers could have and ‘guide them through the right path’. I guess my mom thought if it meant it could keep us away from trouble, a Jehovah’s Witness book was as good as any, and had no qualm giving it to my sister and I. There was the usual ‘obey to your parents’ and ‘no promiscuity’ (why are religions so obsessed with sex, I don’t know) chapters, but I especially remember the one on how masturbation was an absolute sin. As a prude teenager, I had no idea what masturbation meant. My mother, as a good Asian mother, wouldn’t give me a satisfactory answer, so as the diligent student that I was, I turned to the huge dictionary we had at home (this was pre-Internet, also known as the Dark Ages). I don’t know what definition it had, but either because the definition itself was unclear or because the idea of sexually pleasing oneself couldn’t have possibly crossed my mind back then (I know, let’s laugh together at this idea), I remained in ignorance. And that, of course, was another major point of concern. I mean, if I didn’t even know what masturbation meant, how could I possibly avoid it? What if I were to fall into the depths of sin and hell without even realizing?

Let’s not forget the time I watched a movie where one of the characters died after stepping into quicksand (I don’t even remember the plot, I just remember that scene). This did not bode well for a kid living in a country that is literally in the middle of the Saharan desert. I was terrified I would one day step into an innocent-looking dune only to realize, too late, that it was quicksand and not even my parents would be able to save my body engulfed by sand.

At least, problems that we face as adults often do have solutions – we will pay our bills if we wisely choose not to spend $80 on the unnecessary (albeit so beautiful) Victoria Secret sale, and well, we just have to make that goddamn prospectus happen, once and for all. So let’s give some credit to all the kids out there with unspeakable concerns weighing down on their shoulders, disheartened, without a single viable solution on the horizon. Let’s hug them (and by ‘let’s’, I mean the rest of you, because, let’s not kid ourselves (pun intended), I remain a no-kid-person) and reassure them that they will grow up to face very mundane problems and that everything will be all right in the end.

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Epitome of nerdiness

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I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

After all, one of my favorite ‘games’ as a kid was to ‘play classroom’ where I would be the teacher bestowing knowledge and wisdom to my 6-7 year old peers in the playground. Going through my journals from early on, I seem to have believed becoming an English teacher/professor was my calling. There were also all these English tutoring/camps I thoroughly enjoyed, amidst occasional tears of frustration because these lovely kids couldn’t get the simple performance of the Beatles’ ‘Hello and Goodbye’ right. Above all, people I have come to admire and look up to in real life have mostly been teachers and professors, ranging from my favorite teacher Tom at the English Centre in middle-high school, the Peace Corps Volunteers who gladly indulged our teenage presence on a weekly basis, to professors in English Literature and at GSIS at university. (Although, considering the number of years I have spent studying/being at school, this should not be too unexpected).

Yet I can’t help but being pleasantly surprised at my eagerness and enthusiasm this semester. Truth be told, I was indeed very nervous to teach undergraduate students (*gasp* not kids anymore!!!) and I could definitely feel and hear my voice shake that first Friday at 9 am in my first class. I forgot half of the things I wanted to say in my second class at 10 am and was still a bit careful in my third and final class of the day at 12 pm.

But as I read articles and papers and textbooks by authors I have read over and over for almost 10 years now (!), it’s like I’m reading them for the first time under a new light, because I get to be the one explaining them and sharing my own interpretation of things based on everything I have learned so far. While most of my students (yes, MY students!) have just begun to carefully and hesitantly tread the vast and tumultuous waters of IR, just getting to know the existence of theories like Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism, I cannot help but feel like I have a responsibility and duty to tell them what took me years to learn. I know I’m going to impose a huge bias on my part, but how can you not want to share all these exciting things? Things like Constructivism is cool, Feminist IR theories even cooler, IR is not just about politicians making a difference but also about individuals like Brandon from HONY (Humans of New York) who help you change your perspective on the very misunderstood and misjudged continent that is Africa.

I read Alexander Wendt and marvel at the numerous possibilities students nowadays could have to deconstruct their own world. I skim Samuel Huntington and imagine the different ways to criticize and point out the (very) few relevant points he still has. I devour J.Ann Tickner and admire the vast spectrum of IR she has to offer us. IR is cool, man. There, I’ve said it.

I go over my emails three, four times before sending them out, put words in bold and italic and colors to make them more fun and say things like “Next week’s reading looks very exciting, Tickner and Wendt are personal favorites of mine ;)”. Personal favorites? I never knew the day would come that I would use those words to describe IR-related scholarly articles. Could I be any nerdier?

I go over the short bio/introduction they had as their first assignment and the constant cynicism I seem to have nowadays simply melts away as I inhale their excitement, their hopes and dreams, their promise of changing the world, and their goal to make the world a better place.

Yes, I was like that too, once, when I was a freshman at university.

But what I remember most about my experience with IR as a freshman and throughout undergrad is, disappointment. Disappointment that all we got to learn was theories that in no way seemed to explain what was going on in the ‘real world’, like the war in Iraq, or boring details of agreements and wars before, during, and after WWI. Although I do know now that these are the necessary steps one needs to take to understand and study IR (and these kids will certainly have to face the same music as well), I want my classes to give them something I didn’t have when I was their age.

I want them to know that IR is not just about theories and history. I want them to see that theories are impressive and intriguing tools they can use and manipulate to understand the ‘real world out there’ and find their own solutions to the problems. I want them to feel, always feel, that yes, they can, and should, make the world a better place.

I’m just fooling myself, aren’t I?

Made by moi! This is what I do with my 'free' time...

Made by moi!
This is what I do with my ‘free’ time…