Planning my wedding was two of the most emotional years of my life. On top of the usual wedding drama and stress (i.e. guest list, budget, vendors, decor and details, etc.), I was mourning and grieving the loss of two father figures in my life, plus a father-in-law I was looking forward to spending many years with. I asked God many times why he took away all the men in my life who mattered to me. I thought perhaps it was a sign to finally make amends with my biological father.

In the two years leading up to my wedding, I only heard from my father when he needed confirmation from me that I still acknowledged his existence. This came in the form of phone calls–rare and infrequent, and (thankfully) short and brief. He never asked how I was doing. He just wanted to make sure I picked up the phone when he called.

At my Uncle Gan Jon’s wake and funeral, my father showed up dressed in khakis and sneakers. That was only one example among many transgressions committed by him in my adult life. It especially stunned me that my father did not shed one tear at his brother’s funeral. They had spent the majority of their lives together, migrated to the US together, lived together as adults for many years, and then lived across the street from each other. My uncle was always there for my father no matter what he did. Yet, at my uncle’s funeral, my father did not show an ounce of gratitude or pain.

As the anger I’ve harbored my entire life against this man was stirred and reawakened, I was also not the least bit surprised. By now, I had learned not to expect much from a father who disappointed and hurt me for most of my life, especially during my formative years. He was the man who would use force on me when I acted out, dragging me across a room or down the stairs with a tight grip on my arm. He was the man who would throw food and plates at me during dinner for no apparent reason. He was the man who not only assaulted me, but also my mom and my brother. He was the man who cheated on my mother more than once. I remember how he would flirt with my mom’s best friend whenever he thought he was alone with her.

For most of my life, I resented my mom for not leaving my father. Although I still don’t understand her reasons for staying with him for 22 years, I realized I don’t have to make the same mistake she did. Unlike my mom, I refuse to remain a victim.

That was how I realized that making amends with my father was not–should NOT–be the plan. Instead, I did the complete opposite. Right before getting married, I had my last breakup; and it was with my father. I broke up with him by blocking him on my phone. When he found me on Whatsapp and sent me messages (and a voice recording) demanding that I respond and call him, I blocked him there as well. I cut all ties with him without any hesitation. I finally took back the one thing he had on me–control.

There was no question about whether he was invited to the wedding or not. For the ceremony, I walked down the aisle by myself. First, to make a statement that I’ve had to stand up for myself for my entire life until I met my husband. Second, I did not belong to anyone to “give away” or “to take.” Third, if I had ever wanted to follow the tradtion, the only two men who I would consider asking to walk me down the aisle were now gone.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve ceased all communications with my father and I feel like a weight is lifted off my shoulders. I feel like I can breathe again–the same way I used to feel after getting out of an unhealthy relationship with a guy I was dating. It was the best decision I could have made in my premarital phase.

Finally, some happier memories are resurfacing, such as how my father was present at all of my school graduations with his camcorder in hand. How he used to take me and my brother to the park on Sundays to fly kites. How he always knew what my favorite dishes were and would cook them up for me on his days off (which was only one day a week). How hard working he was; when he owned his carry-outs, he worked 7 days a week, including holidays. How he encouraged me to develop my creative talents by buying me art supplies and a typewriter (later on, computers).

On this Father’s Day, I’m remembering all the father figures in my life I’ve been blessed with, including the birth father who was not a good person but did the best he could as a father.

10 Years Ago on This Day

Ten years ago on this date, I embarked on a journey that changed my life. Just four days before, on June 13, 2005 I boarded the MV Explorer docked at Grand Bahama Island. I was one of a dozen college students who were accepted into the work study program. So on top of getting to spend my summer taking classes on a boat while sailing around western, northern, and parts of eastern Europe, I was getting a discounted tuition and I got to board the ship four days ahead of the rest of 500 students who were meeting us in Halfix, Nova Scotia.

Eleven of us met up in Freeport two days before we had to board the ship so we celebrated our fortune by getting drunk by the pool, going to the beach, and taking an eco-tour of Grand Bahama Island on horseback. I remember getting a mosquito bite on the back of my ankle during the horseback riding trip. The bite swelled to the size of an orange and caused me to limp because I couldn’t bend my ankle. The swelling finally went down after the shipboard doctor removed the fluid in the bite. To this day, that is still the worst mosquito bite I had ever suffered.

I remember very clearly the first few days on the ship, traveling from The Bahamas to Halifix. We had the whole ship to ourselves and we worked every day to set up the library, bookstore, computer lab, and administrative offices to get it ready for the summer semester. The ISE had only started leasing the ship two semesters before that summer. During the spring semester before ours, a 50-foot swell had damaged the ship’s bridge. Although critical repairs were made in order to continue the spring semester while the students were in between scheduled ports, there were last minute touchups between the spring and summer semesters. I remember pulling off the large plastic sheets covering some of the bookcases to protect them from dust.

I remember getting my sea legs on those first few days, learning to carry a tray of food from the buffet to a table in the Garden Lounge. (Having ridden the NY subway for most of my life made it a lot easier.) I remember the waves that hit my porthole when the sea was rough. I remember, when the weather was nicer, sitting on the back of the 6th deck, just watching the tail of the ship. That continued to be my favorite activity while we were at sea, meditating on the back deck and allowing the water to put me in a trance.

I remember arriving in Halifax, adjusting to the blast of cold air after our mini-vacation in balmy Freeport. I remember how my legs felt like spaghetti when I stepped off the ship to walk on solid earth after spending four days at sea. I remember walking around downtown Halifax, making the most of the short day we had there before setting sail again, officially starting the summer semester en route to Reykjavik. I remember reuniting with the group of students from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut; we had met up in Manhattan to introduce ourselves to each other before the voyage.

I remember celebrating the first white night on the evening before we reached Iceland. My friends and I were in absolute awe of the sun that continued to shine down on us at 11:00pm.

I remember the community of students, faculty, staff, and crew. I remember learning about the death of our captain on July 4th. We were all called into the union after the Fourth of July barbecue on the pool deck. We were told the captain had passed away in his cabin from cardiac arrest. I remember grieving with this newfound community.

The people who know me best are the ones who can immediately tell you that the most significant experiences of my life happened on Semester At Sea, both my summer and fall voyages. The program taught me how to travel, how to make the most of my short time on this planet, how to find beauty in everything, how to appreciate the dins of a roaring urban jungle and enjoy the silence of the sea at night, and how to love life. The experiences on my voyages have inspired everything in my life: my career, this blog, and my outlook on life.

Ten years later–after college and grad school, two careers, continuing to travel for fun and for work, and finding my lifelong travel partner–I can still remember my first white night; getting lost in Bergen, Norway after doing some grocery shopping; the overnight train ride from St. Petersburg to Moscow; visiting Auschwitz; getting introduced to tapas/pinchos by an Argentinian in Bilbao; and not wanting the journey to end as the ship docked in Fort Lauderdale in August. Most of all, I will never forget the tail behind the ship.

The first time I met the MV Explorer on June 13, 2005

The first time I met the MV Explorer on June 13, 2005

View from the back deck

View from the back deck

On Christmas afternoon, I turned on Pandora and tuned into the Christmas station. As I started preparing the batter for my oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, I realized it was the first time I had turned on holiday music in 2014. Throughout December, I was either listening to T. Swift’s 1989 (almost on constant replay on my phone and computers since the album came out) or the Serial podcasts. How did December fly by so fast? How did 2014 fly by so fast?

I went down the list of all the activities that took up a notable amount of time in the past 12 months: work, job search, wedding planning, informational interviews (giving and receiving), job interviews, attending weddings, YPFP… Much like the Christmas letter Kyle and I sent out with our cards, the dominating themes of 2014 were: career, professional development, professional transitions, and leadership development. The transitions were namely my switching jobs after an arduous year-long job search and my stepping down from the volunteer staff of YPFP.

To briefly summarize my time with YPFP, I got involved in 2010 as a member of the New York branch and then joined the DC staff in 2011. For almost 5 years of my life, I was committed to YPFP in some way–whether it was helping out with resume and interview workshops or running a program or leading a department. This ranged from 15 to 35 hours each week; it was essentially a second job. Since 2011, checking my YPFP email was as habitual as checking my personal email. In fact, when I realized my YPFP email account was finally turned off last night, a wave of sadness swept over me.

My time on YPFP staff coincided with my career switch from marketing and sales to international affairs. Thanks to YPFP, I was able to build up a network of like-minded peers in a short amount of time (some of which led to strong friendships). In 2012-2014, as I took on more time-demanding leadership roles with larger responsibilities on staff, the opportunities allowed me to exercise and hone managerial and leadership skills I didn’t get the chance to do at my day job. Speaking of which, my boss at the job was such a poor example of leadership, I learned exactly what not to do. Between my day job and the leadership laboratory that YPFP offered, I decided to compile a list of lessons I’ve learned as my last blog post of 2014.

I’m not going into the differences between “boss” and “leader.” The advice below are things I’ve learned in my specific experiences at work and at YPFP that may or may not apply to everyone else.  (Or even outside of the DC circle.)

1. Don’t hold people back. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some wonderfully brilliant and creative people on YPFP staff. They were great reminders that I can’t do everything on my own and thus I learned to relinquish a lot of control, especially things beyond my control and outside of my expertise.

2. Prioritize. Know how to make the most of the 24 hours you have each day before you help others prioritize their tasks. Likewise, respect your staff members’ time. If you know someone is already overloaded, sit down with them to help them prioritize their list. Preface new requests with, “I know you’re already overwhelmed, but this emergency just came up.” And end with, “I’m here to help. What can I do?” At my day job, my boss pushed all of his responsibilities to me and my teammates with very little regard to our workloads. The worst requests were administrative tasks that he was fully capable of handling on his own, but he felt was too superior for them. Hence, #3…

3. You are not above menial tasks. As a volunteer, there were many times when I had to wear more than one or two hats. The same applied to the president (who’s also a volunteer). This stood in sharp contrast to my day-job boss who was actually paid for his job and treated his staff like glorified interns.

4. Be transparent. Don’t hold information back from your staff, especially if the information is crucial for them to get their work done. At my day job, junior and mid-level staff were constantly kept in the dark on matters that impacted our work. This hindered trust between the different levels of hierarchy.

5. Know when to protect your staff. In tandem with the previous point, there may be times when you shouldn’t share information with a staff member. In my experience, it was to prevent and mitigate conflict.

6. Learn what motivates your team members. This was extremely important on YPFP staff but also equally important at my day job even though the latter was a paid position. What makes someone get out of bed in the morning? What makes them respond to work-related emails at 9:30pm on a Saturday? What makes them care?

7. Don’t just hire the most qualified person for the job, hire the best person. This may seem like common sense, but have you ever applied for a job you didn’t think feel 100% qualified for? Giving someone an opportunity to learn on the job as long as they have the right attitude will pay dividends.

8. Don’t sugarcoat things–it only wastes people’s time. There will be situations (and people) that require directness and firmness. However, also know when to…

9. Show appreciation. Sometimes all it takes is a simple “thank you” to recognize the hard work and countless hours that someone dedicated to a task.

10. Know when to call it quits. Thankfully, as I had mentioned earlier, I was able to transition out of the toxic environment that was my day job to a more collaborative and empowering environment. Unfortunately, with the increase in responsibility, I had to step down from my role on YPFP staff. After three years, I also felt I had gotten everything I could out of the experience and I recognized the fresh energy in the newer staff members that I used to have. I’ve seen people in both YPFP and at my former day job who refused to recognize when it was time to go. By staying and not contributing in a productive and meaningful way, they were holding back progress for everyone else. I didn’t want to become that person.

As 2015 is fast approaching, I’m seeing my calendar already filling up with dance classes, wedding-related appointments, and professional development trainings. Although I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, I’m going to take #2 to heart, to prioritize, to try my best to be cognizant of the present. I don’t want another year to fly by and then have to ask myself, “How did that happen again?!”

“Are you going home for the holidays?”

This was such a foreign question to me when I spent my first holiday season in Washington, DC, a city of transplants. I can’t remember anyone ever uttering those words to me in New York. I was born there, spent 2/3 of my life there, and went to a commuter school for college. Sure, the number of transplants in New York, especially in Manhattan and in Brooklyn, are progressively increasing, but the question I was familiar with was, “What are you doing for the holidays?”

“Are you going home for the holidays?” was such a jarring question for me. Where was home for me? Who would I celebrate it with? So many questions! In fact, I often had to pause and think for quite longer than a normal conversation would require before I could even muster up an answer. And that was usually, “I will be here in DC.”

Unfortunately, people are usually never satisfied with that response. What consequently follows is a stream of very personal and prying questions… “Why aren’t you going back to New York?” “Where do your parents live?” “Are you from Maryland or Virginia?” “Where’s your family?” “Do you have relatives in this area?” “Why don’t you spend the holidays with them?” “Do you not celebrate Christmas?”

Sure, the questions are not offensive or even all that private and invasive, but when you come from a broken home, they trigger a lot of negative emotions. For most of my life, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out ways to run away from home. The most cherished memories I have of Christmas from my childhood is the one I spent with my Aunt Brigit and Uncle Kent. The best Thanksgivings were at their house, too. Otherwise, all of my holidays with my parents were cold, lonely, and just any regular day. My brother and I would try to make the most of the season by watching holiday specials on TV and singing Christmas carols with each other.

When I was old enough to establish my own home, I decided that was home. Wherever I went, that would be home for me. I’ve spent a combined 6 months on the MV Explorer and celebrated many holidays there. That’s been a home for me. I’ve also called Prishtina “home,” and the hotel in the IZ in Baghdad “home.”

I still haven’t figured out a graceful way to answer the question, “Are you going home for the holidays?” When I answer, “Yes, I will be here in DC because it’s my home,” I still get a barrage of questions. “I thought you were from Brooklyn? Or was it Baltimore?” “Do you have relatives in this area?” “Does your family not celebrate Christmas?” “No, seriously, where are you from?” That’s when I say, “What are you doing for the holidays?”

Thanksgiving 2006 on the MV Explorer, en route from Croatia to Span.

Thanksgiving 2006 on the MV Explorer, en route from Croatia to Span.

Learning to Breathe

When I was a kid, I remember getting winded whenever I had to run track. I was not overweight, but the shortness of breath and tightness in my chest plagued me to this day. I’m able to keep up stamina when I’m dancing, walking, or doing other forms of exercise, but running was always out of the question. I couldn’t run a block without feeling winded and dizzy.

In the last four years, I gained 15-20 lbs but my doctor continued to reassure me that I’m still within the appropriate BMI and I’m not overweight. Late last year, I started to explore new workout options, including spinning. I struggled with the uphill climbs. On my second STTA to Baghdad, I got winded playing volleyball. When we went for walks around the IZ, I couldn’t keep up with everyone. Finally, one day, one of our security contractors asked me if I had asthma. Somehow, the thought had never occurred to me before.

As soon as I returned home, I went to my doctor who diagnosed me with Exercise-Induced Asthma. She prescribed an inhaler to me. That was almost 9 months ago. Today, I can run up to 2 miles. I know it’s not much to regular runners and marathon runners, but it’s definitely a huge feat for me.

Although I didn’t intend on a follow-up to “Help me help you: What to do and what NOT to do when networking” (July 7, 2013), this little ditty was too good not to share.

A “friend” of mine reached out to me a few days ago after a year of no contact. He IMed me on G-chat late one evening out of the blue. The next day while I was still at work, he asked me if he could call me. I gave him a short time slot when I was running from work to an appointment. The following morning, he texted me to tell me he had lost his job. Ah-ha! I suspected there was an ulterior motive behind the sudden barrage of messages.

This is such a great reminder of all the things you should NOT do when asking for an informational interview or help on your job search. The first rule is: Don’t contact people when you only need something from them. Second: Ask about their lives first which will clue you in on their schedule and availability. Third: Respect their time. If they have limited availability, don’t be rude about it.

I honestly wanted to help this guy—I’ve been in his position and I know how much it sucks, so I almost never turn people away. And I never know—there might come a day when I might need their help. After this conversation, which took place over the course of three days, I am crossing this contact off my list.

I normally keep all of my conversations private. But every once in a while, I get caught in a truly outrageous, are-you-serious, WTF conversation. The name and my phone number were changed for privacy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 10:23 PM
Rob Haas
its been a long time. how’re you?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 4:24 PM
Amy Chin
hey Rob
sorry i didn’t see your message till later

Rob Haas
Hi there

Amy Chin
are you still in DC?

Rob Haas
I’m working in DC this month
can I call you in a little bit?

Amy Chin
right now?

Rob Haas

Amy Chin
i’m still at work

Rob Haas
I’m working on vermont and K street right this very minute

Amy Chin
how about at 6:10?

Rob Haas
So I can call you afterwards

Amy Chin
i should be out the door by then

Rob Haas
I will probably be on the train back to vienna where I am living
is it still 347-555-5555?

Amy Chin
i have some free time between 6:10 and 6:30

Rob Haas
ok. I’ll call you when I have reception

Amy Chin
i have plans after that

Rob Haas
ok. I’ll call you and if youre around itd be good to catch up

Amy Chin
sounds good

Thursday, September 11, 2014 11:08 AM
Rob Haas
hey. you get my text this morning?

Amy Chin
yes, did you get mine?

Rob Haas
No I got a job in government relations at a company
oh… it just came through… weird

Rob Haas
You have time in the near future to get coffee?

Amy Chin
i’m booked for the next couple of weeks
i might have some time the weekend of the 26th
i can let you know as that weekend gets closer

Rob Haas
That is Rosh ha shanna

Amy Chin
it will have to be the following week then

Rob Haas
Yom kippur
Well figure it out. Take care

If “Rob” had asked me at any point of the conversation, “How’s work going?” or “Have you done any traveling this summer? Any trips coming up?”, I would not have minded filling him in. In fact, I have a couple of weddings coming up (both out of town), I’m planning my own wedding, and I’m transitioning to a new job—among other obligations. The point here is: It was unreasonable for him to demand and expect me to drop everything immediately to carve out some time for him. As much as I wanted to help him, I don’t owe him anything. I might have considered him a friend before, but his behavior clearly proved me wrong.

Update (September 21, 2014): After the painful G-chat conversation, “Rob” called me on the following Sunday morning and left a voicemail asking to meet up for coffee again. Obviously, I didn’t call him back. He texted me a week later (also on a Sunday) to ask if I could put him in touch with someone at my previous NGO for a job he’s interested in. Now it’s turning into harassment. If my mind wasn’t made up before, I am now definitely, absolutely, NO-WAY-in-hell I am putting him in touch with ANY of my contacts. I would be an idiot to risk sticking my neck out for, well, an idiot.

This guy is now blocked on my G-chat, phone, and social networks.

Update (November 3, 2014): At this point, “Rob” has attempted to contact me on Facebook and he emailed me on October 30 to once again let me know he’s on the market. The tone of the email was still very demanding. I let it sit for a few days because I didn’t know how to respond and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to. Instead of ignoring it, I finally replied and told him that his outreach strategy was excessively demanding and overly aggressive. His immediate reaction was not good–he was offended by my feedback. The next day, he sent an apology which I honestly appreciated. However, this last interaction further solidifies my concerns about this person, and I am absolutely not comfortable in referring him to a contact or job opportunity. I hope he learns that DC is a small town.

Stop talking AT me!

I’ve become increasingly bored of many conversations since my mid-twenties and I couldn’t put my finger on why. I’m choosing my friends carefully, I know when to remove myself from toxic friendships, and I know how to exit a boring conversation tactfully… So what’s the problem?

In the last couple of days, I came across two different articles on the negative effects of social media, one being that users are talking at their friends. This resonated with me and I went over some of the mundane and repetitive conversations I’ve had with friends in person. Don’t get me wrong–my friends are kind and very interesting people, but the conversations were lackluster. That’s because my friends were actually talking at me. I’m completely disengaged in these conversations because I know my responses, reactions, and feedback are not heard and won’t be reacted upon.

For example, earlier this year, one of my friends asked me if my fiancé and I have picked our song for the first dance at our wedding. (If he really knew me as well as I had hoped, he would have known that music was a top priority for me not just in the wedding planning process but in life.) I told him three songs I had in mind, and he didn’t say much in response. About 6 six months later when I caught up with this friend again, he posed the same question to me and the same conversation played out again in verbatim. He even said he was considering one of my three songs as his first dance at his wedding. (Excuse me?!) Once again, he was talking at me–not to me. This wasn’t a conversation but rather just a superficial question for him to 1) break the silence and 2) switch the subject to his wedding so he can talk about himself.

Yes, maybe I know some self-centered people, but aren’t we all self-centered to some degree? Since I’ve become more aware of these superficial conversations, I am now more cognizant of people’s body language and expressions when I’m speaking. Are their eyes glazed over? Am I actively listening and engaging by asking follow-up questions?

I don’t deny that social media is an outlet for users, myself included, to talk at other users–but that behavior doesn’t have to eclipse reality.


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