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Today, we visited the office of the Secretaria de Integracion Social in City Hall, took part in a workshop on participation and autoethnography facilitated by a CINDE professor, had a debriefing discussion and ended with a reception filled with music, food and promises to be in touch. For this our final blog, we present a collection of quotes from all 15 participants, 13 CUNY students and 2 faculty.  We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our journey.

  • To quote the Secretary of Social Integration from the Bogotá Mayor’s Office, build policy futures while asking the question: “What does it mean to be young in Bogotá?”
  • Today’s trip to City Hall reminded me that young people occupy a powerful space within our society. Rather than positioning young minds, bodies and spirits relative to their contributions and impact as “future- adults” or “young adults” it is important to position their right to participate and contribute because they are valuable in the here and now. All of us are working together to make space for and amplify this fact. This work remains hard in the face of many challenges, and it was important to end our experience with CINDE in celebration of love and connection. It is our fuel.
  • The inclusion of both youth and adults are what make a difference; our passion lies within the change we want to see for future generations to succeed and better the lives of those that struggle.

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  • The interactive participation workshop followed by the reception CINDE put on for us was the perfect end to a fabulous learning experience.
  • Makes me hopeful to see so many passionate youth workers globally!!!!
  • It was powerful to spend the week witnessing the work of so many passionate, dedicated youth and youth workers, and closing with a dance party with our hosts at CINDE was the perfect reminder of the importance of bringing joy to all we do. To paraphrase Emma Goldman, if we can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.
  • Connection is what makes us human, it makes us understand, it uplifts and builds possibility for new opportunities.
  • The party CINDE hosted for us was such a joyful and meaningful way to end our internship. We bonded through the universal languages of music and dance.
  • You cannot be rewarded without hard work! Work hard, play harder!
  • Participation is a right not a given.
  • Adults partners can provide the space for dialogue amongst the youth but the youth create the dialogue and become the leaders.
  • The (elastic) bands exercise was a reminder that we are all interconnected. 🎤
  • Paraphrasing the afternoon’s speaker: “Las huellas de alegria y dolor se ven marcados en nuestros cuerpos individuales y colectivos.” How our bodies minds and spirits can individually and collectively be marked by our contexts, be they of violence or peace-building.
  • I am inspired by the culture and the passion of the youth workers in Colombia to dive deeper into my own culture so I may be complete in myself to better support the youth.
  • Closing this deeply personal, cultural and immersive experience, my mind and body will continue to strengthen my desire to learn more, ask questions and be critical.

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We started the day at our home base, the second floor classroom at CINDE where we’ve met every day this week to hear from speakers, watch videos and presentations, and take pages and pages of notes. This morning, our group’s voices were the only ones in the room as we talked through the progress and evolution of our research questions and brainstormed ways that CINDE and CUNY might stay in touch past the end of this incredibly fast-moving week!  Our conversations aligned with a theme that would emerge time and again throughout the day: cultivation. We moved forward with thoughts of how to cultivate our research, our practice, and our relationships.

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Cultivating Self.

Plato stated “Apply yourself both now and in the next life. Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation.” With that being said cultivation of anything provides the ability for ultimate growth. Listen to one Youth Studies student narrating more on the cultivation of self.

Cultivating Youth.

We met with and learned about the organization Colombia Joven, an entity of the Administrative Department of the President, which conducts youth participation in formal spaces. Law 1622 of 2013 allows youth to participate in civic engagement. The two strategies used by Colombia Joven to engage youth are detailed below:

(1) Fútbol to promote peace. An interesting concept to their approach is an adjustment to the rules which insist that a woman must make the first goal of a soccer game. The added stipulation allows for women to be seen as equal to men to combat the inequalities women in Colombia face (which is similar to the U.S.: lack of employment, wage gap, conforming to traditional gender norms). What happens next? Much more needs to be done than just shooting a goal. What can Colombia Joven do to start bridging the gap between this disparity?

(2) Paz a la Joven: Workshops that promote the social construction of peacebuilding. Topics include teamwork, technology, and the portrayal of violence in the media. Youth receive incentives for their participation.

Despite their efforts, youth participation has been relatively low. Youth councils have been formed, but it does not guarantee that the youth are heard. There are more than 12 million youth in Colombia that face many issues including access to education and health, unemployment, motorcycle accidents, suicide, pregnancy, gender roles, and lack of investment in technology. While the government has researched the issues youth are facing to create policy to eradicate them, involving youth in the process will allow for more meaningful work and participation to occur. Seeking out the youth and working alongside them will allow the government to understand why the youth are suffering. It will also allow a youth–adult partnership to be built to demolish the negative perceptions that society has about youth as well as the negative perception that the government does not care about youth.  The missing piece of the puzzle is the incoming president, who begins his term soon. How will his administration affect how youth work is done? Hopefully, youth are included in the conversation so that they receive the appropriate supports.

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http://www.colectivoagrarioabyayala.org/2011/05/colectivo-agrario-abya-yala.html

Cultivating Community.

Today’s speakers came from a variety of backgrounds but all emphasized the importance of cultivating community in their respective work. Listening to the speaker from ColombiaJoven, his commitment to nurturing a community of practice through research to improve youth engagement in political processes and bodies was clear. Hearing from the Abya Yala agrarian collective, the horizontal nature of the organization and the focus on connecting urban and rural youth around disparate struggles and common causes painted a picture of deep, intentional community-building. The speaker from Wayra del Sur spoke to building local community around a physical place—the garden—and actions: shared work, shared love of soccer, and shared hope.

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Cultivating the Earth.

Today’s experience around public policy and participation with youth brought to light a new perspective of how public engagement is viewed. This new perspective arose from conversations that we had throughout the week around the displacement of indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, farmers in Colombia and the idea that the displacement of these cultures has disconnected the true identity of Colombia. In numerous dialogues, various presenters emphasized the ways the country can learn about peace and prosperity if they take the time to learn from these cultural values while also teaching them to learn from one another so that these lost cultures are made visible again. After all, they are a part of the larger community that makes Colombia whole. Today was an extension of that conversation in which this way of thinking can activate participation in youth. So you may ask: what is this perspective?

This afternoon the two collectives from Abya Yala and Wayra del Sur spoke about the need to preserve and cultivate the earth for after all the earth is what nourishes us, created us and unifies us. The group’s name Abya Yala stems from and translates to “fertile land”/ “land of vital blood.” Their mission is to reconnect with indigenous and Black roots and advocate against their displacement and destruction of their agriculture. Participation roots from supporting lost cultures becoming visible once again and that these cultures are recognized as a part of the society through the appreciation of natural resources in which they live. This appreciation comes from realizing that these rural areas feed the country and provide all of the resources that the country uses, so how is it possible to dignify these cultures? Wayra del Sur exercises cultivation of the earth by organizing projects for youth to create community gardens in Bogota. These community gardens allow for public spaces to be redefined and have all members of the community participate in the cultivation of their growth. In addition, they also received funding from the Mayor’s Office of Bolivar to host annual street festivals where the community can participate together in numerous activities, allow local farmer markets to generate business within the community and appreciate the “grounds” in which they live. This ideology of participation of/for the earth creates a new discussion about the way we view citizenship, community connection and mobilization of peace.

Day 4 for the Youth Studies study abroad team brings a visit to Pontificia Universidad and a youth participation discussion at CINDE.

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Today, the CUNY SPS Youth Studies Dream Team had a well-deserved “late start.” It was a cold morning yet some of us decided to do yoga led by Prof. Bishop at 7 am on the roof. The rest of us slept in and pigged out on our hotel breakfast buffet. Promptly at 8:30 am we got in our van driven by our VIP driver. As we chugged along through the steep hills of Bogotá, we took in the amazing vistas of the city. Our Dream Team arrived at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and was greeted by undergraduate scholars that are part of the Misión País Colombia.

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We began with a simple ice breaker that required us to use plastilína (clay) to mold our impressions of Colombia. Following our wonderful sculpture activity, we were asked to go around the classroom and look at some pictures to learn about Colombian history, cultural diversity, environment, economy and politics. We dove into those topics and then saw a video that documented the work of Misión País Colombia. Their mission is to work in conjunction with youth and communities in rural areas across Colombia to develop the tools and skills necessary to thrive in their communities. Two important elements in their program are to generate work and co-construct a course of action for their post-conflict social challenges. They stated “Nosotros no queremos ser los mejores, pero ser mejores para el mundo” (We don’t want to be better than anyone else but be better to change the world). Based on the testimonies in the video and from the students leading the workshop, it was clear that this volunteer program is transformative for the communities and student volunteers as well.

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Después del almuerzo, we hopped into our trusty van and headed back to CINDE to hear from experts about youth participation. The panelists were Martha Sofía Ardila Simpson and Alfredo Manrique Reyes. Martha stated that youth participation begins from infancia and has to be fostered through adulthood. Building tools and strategies is a process to deepen the level of participation in the lives of young people. Alfredo talked about the importance of participation as well, stating that there has to be solidarity in order to be impactful in the lives of young people. He highlighted exclusion by posing the question “How can you be part of a movement if you can’t be yourself?” We then watched a video on the Legión de Afección, an organization that recruits youth leaders from excluded communities to “make them visible.” La Legión aims to “find options for youth without options so they can fall in love with their lives.” This is done by incorporating arts such as music and dance to recognize strengths in young people while bringing various services to the community. Both speakers emphasized that true participation is putting power in the hands of young people.

Youth Studies students 4, 5, and 6 came together to write about this powerful day: 

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Image retrieved from Museo De Arts Contemporaneo De Bogota

Our early morning began with a visit to the Institute of Family Well-Being (ICBF), a temporary care facility for alternative youth that provides protective services for youth ages 6 to 17. Housing is provided for one hundred girls and thirty boys who reside there for a minimum of twenty days to as long as three months depending on the circumstances of their individual cases. Youth are entitled to parental visits once per week. The Colombia school system operates under two different calendars (one from January-December and the other from July-June), and depending on the school calendar, some participants have the option to continue going to school whereas others can’t since it’s the middle of the school year.

ICBF partners with Ayara, an NGO artistic foundation run by Afro and Mestizo Colombians that provide social, artistic, educational and productive activities stemming from the Hip Hop culture.  Ayara’s methodology (Ayara High Impact), focuses on strengthening the life skills of youth so that they can be able to better function in society. This methodology focuses on rap, break dancing, capoeira, fashion making and graffiti.

During our visit, Ayara facilitated three workshops where we all had an opportunity to join, and we immersed ourselves in the activity as participants. We all had the option of creating a rap, muralism and graffiti, and break-dancing. This inclusive experience provided the opportunity to work alongside recognized artists as they delivered services to this vulnerable youth population plagued by issues such as abuse and abandonment. Furthermore, these workshops allowed participants to let go of the negativity that we harbor in order to connect to our creativity. The message was that whatever happens in your life doesn’t have to remain as such. It all depends on how you look at it, and it can always be changed.  Participants had an opportunity to express what they were feeling and challenged themselves and their thinking to try different things, thus letting go of their inhibitions, and expressing themselves in a confident manner. Despite their situations, the empowerment received from the Ayara staff encouraged participants to be free, creative, motivated and engaged.

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The afternoon session with Jose Miguel Sanchez, Popular Educator and Political Science professor, and Marcel Marcentes, Graphic Design Street Artist moderated by Olga Lucia Olaya provided a historical overview of different forms of youth leadership through art and culture in current contexts. These conversations stressed the importance of using graffiti (free art form/spontaneous expression) as a medium of youth development.  Graffiti provides many options for youth in Bogota and is connected to not only the transformation of cities but the reflection of current and ongoing social and political issues.  According to Marcel, “I want youth to keep using the street as a stage.  Each piece of artwork is a political tilt.”

From our conversations we learned that similar to the United States, arts programming is the first to be removed from our school systems, although it is a necessary and powerful vehicle that enables youth to express themselves. In a Eurocentric society, youth from marginalized communities are able to use graffiti and other forms of art to change their narrative. According to one of the Ayara facilitators “You can live as an artist. Art saves lives.”

Below are the individual reflections from three Youth Studies students. Each student has entered the immersive experience prepared to focus on a specific lens that will serve as a starting point for their personal research trajectories.

Student 1 – Focus on Youth Development

Met with CINDE today. Staff was available to speak about the different programs they offer focused on “construccion de paz” – peace building. They described the work they have done globally. It was interesting to hear about Tegucigalpa and the tools they provided to communities in order to help cultivate peaceful communities.  I wanted to understand what ages are considered young people in this type of work. They clarified that young people are 18 to 28, adolescence is 12 to 18.  CINDE works with children as early as kindergarten to age 40.  CINDE’s work focuses on young people, parents, family and community as a whole.

We visited an elementary and secondary school, Las Villas, in the town of Soacha. Las Villas has six different school sites serving about 5000 students. The school offers CINDE programs which are integrated into the day program and after school. Students are required to complete 120 hours of “servicio social” – social service. The service has to be completed during “jornada contraria” – out of school time on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. We heard young people’s stories about the program. Their descriptions were eloquent, heartwarming and inspiring. They were shy about speaking to the group, however, once the group session ended they were quite willing to take pictures and talk to us.  One of the young men gave a demonstration of his salsa dancing skills.

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Student 2 – Focus on Staffing

Spending a great deal of my professional career engaged with peer leadership and development, I focused my lens on the staff.  The CINDE staff shared some of their recent projects from the past few years, including a peace building initiative in Honduras and Community and Family Centers here in Colombia. The staff each presented different aspects of the programs with passion and great depth of knowledge regarding pedagogy, purpose, and scope. As a woman in a leadership role in my organization, I was happy to see many women in leadership roles as well, with men supporting in administrative and technical capacities; the coordinator for our immersive experience, Henry, is a master’s student in a youth development field. I bring these gender issues to the table as males in youth development, from my experience, are outnumbered by women, and is also reflective in our Youth Studies program, and this study abroad course.

After engaging deeply with CINDE staff, we traveled north to Soacha, to engage with Las Villas, a school that CINDE has worked with for many years. We were greeted by the eager and smiling faces of current, past and future members of the Proyecto Gestores Sociales y Ambientales, a required program for students to graduate. The staff were extremely proud and supportive of the young people that desperately wanted to represent their experience in the program. We also heard from a woman, who began as a mother to students in the program, and through her involvement, became a staff member. This type of organic engagement strikes me as a crucial indicator that CINDE works extremely hard to support the communities they engage with. CINDE continuously conveyed that their style of engagement is setting up communities to create an environment ripe for those communities to organize in the ways that make sense for them to achieve agreed upon goals.

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Student 3 – Focus on Funding

At CUNY SPS, many class discussions have circled around the topic of funding. Specifically, how funding streams affect the organizational governance, advocacy, changes in mission priorities, target demographics, and capacity to attract, engage, develop, and retain staff. Anyone working in youth programs knows that there are many hurdles to securing and maintaining funding sources for programs in the States. It was only natural that we touched on this topic in our discussion. How are CINDE programs funded and financed? This question solicited a knowing nod by the staff. Surprisingly, they answered that their programs are self-maintained. Time constraints prevented the team from elaborating on how their organizational model is structured to be self-sustaining. After all, the ajiaco was getting cold! Our hosts were generous in sharing comidas tipicas of the region. Ajiaco is a traditional soup attributed to Bogotá. Today we learned that the herb used to flavor this soup is indigenous to this region and is only used for this soup. The chicken was great too.

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After our very filling lunch, we climbed back on our transportation and headed to the municipality of Soacha. One of the CINDE colleagues began to elaborate on the various systems that are at play in funding the Community Family Centers (CFC). Private funding streams are primary sources of revenue. Banks, foundations, UNICEF, and consumer charity programs play a large role in the funding of the CFCs. What are consumer charities? She says that some funding comes from small donations made at the cash register at consumer check-out points. She mentioned that a local government has set aside a small amount of funding for music program within the CFCs. At Las Villas Sol Naciente the Director shared the elaborate plans for the expansions of many of the existing programs. Unfortunately, at the moment there is not enough funding available to develop these programs. The school is working hard in lobbying to secure funding from the ministerio de educación. There are many challenges facing the community of Soacha; displacement of folks from rural communities affected by the continued threat of violence to Soacha and poverty are high among them. These challenges affect the educators, facilitators, and parents of the young people of this community and the holistic approach of the CFCs help to mitigate some of these challenges by instilling a sense of community connection, learning and uncovering talents and challenging young people to care and protect their environment.

I was deeply touched by the story of one parent. Her son was diagnosed with autism and she was searching for some way to help create a sense of connection to others. The CFC at the Sol Nacimiento was a place where she could go and help him to find connection. Through her engagement with the program, she uncovered her hidden math talent while tutoring other students in the program. Currently, this parent is working to spread the word and help other parents engage with the CFC, using her story to demonstrate the possibilities that can be uncovered through engagement. As she shared her story, she was moved to tears, as was I. The impact of quality programs in Sol Nacimiento are surely needed in the community of Soacha and beyond. I hope to learn that next year, the director’s vision for the expansion of these programs find a sympathetic ear at the ministerio for the good of Soacha.

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What follows is the first entry in a collective story of blog entries authored by Youth Studies faculty leaders, Elizabeth Bishop and Jennifer Ayala, with different group members taking turns recounting their time together in Bogotá, Colombia. Throughout this week, you’ll hear from our working group members as they discuss topics ranging from youth organizing and political power to mental health, social emotional learning and non-conforming youth; from discrimination, colorism and socioeconomic status to parent involvement, staffing structures, funding sources and core principles of youth development.

“Ok let’s start with the temperature in the group: how are you all feeling right now?”–@DrBishopDigital

Asi empezamos. Seated on the sun-heated stones of the hotel’s outdoor terrace, with stunning views of the city and surrounding mountains, we started our first meeting in Bogotá. We each shared our hopes, excitement and expectations for the coming week: learning about CINDE, visiting with youth organizers, engaging in dialogue about issues that matter to us, creating community with each other as a class, imagining cross-border connections. It felt like this was a fitting unofficial beginning for the week of work ahead of us, sharing a feeling of wonder visually, with the green peaks amidst gray mists, viscerally with warmth touching our bodies where we sat, and vocally, with our minds and passion for the work of change and la mejoria of our communities engaged.

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The inaugural cohort of CUNY SPS Youth Studies students arrived in Bogotá, Colombia on July 28 to kick off our immersive experience here. We arrived on a half dozen different flights to converge for this week of powerful learning. We woke up on Sunday, July 29 for breakfast in our hotel and then met as a whole group at 11:00 am on the 8th floor roof deck. We passed out our auto-ethnographic fieldnote journals to all the CUNY SPS students. We talked about our purpose, our thematic working groups, our research questions, and the multiple ways that we hope to experience this trip.

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After we went over some of the most important details, including those in preparation for our Monday morning meeting with our host organization CINDE, we planned for our Sunday. We knew that we all wanted to eat dinner together on this first full night, to solidify our cohort community and to launch the formal start to this journey. Classic youth development style, we asked everyone to close their eyes and vote on a number of options. This strategy is useful to get a genuine read of the group without the pressure of watching others vote and feeling the need to change to accommodate the group. This process worked well for us. One group opted for a graffiti tour in La Candelaria, a more distant neighborhood, accessed with transit assistance from our hotel. The other group opted to explore the neighborhood where we are staying for the week.

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In the local neighborhood, we walked together under the trees in the middle of Calle 94. We headed to the bottom of the local mountain but did not ascend. Altitude differences are notable as we move through the landscape. We walked along the bottom of the mountain and entered Parque del Chicó, part of Museo El Chicó. The museum was closed for lunch but there was an organic pop-up market that was just next door that we chose to visit instead. Serendipity abounds. The market was delightful. After paying our 5,000 pesos por persona, yellow bands tied to our wrists, we entered an unexpected space. A green market built around organic materials and wellness principles, there was an abundance of essential oils, yoga texts, Buddhist statues, vegan ceviche, hand-made bags by mujeres rastas de Colombia, and other happy hippie gear. With Joe Arroyo playing in the background, someone facilitated a salsa lesson with families, followed by a laugh therapy exercise. We enjoyed the vibe and the low stress environment. It proved, as always, that wandering (within safe parameters) results in fun new paths and unexpected adventures. Our walk today is reminiscent of how research operates – one has to have a sense of direction, a reason for walking at all, and then be open to experience and explore, to see what transpires.

 

The first thing I did when I submitted my last assignment during the winter session was to read a book, I miss reading so much during the semester. The reason I cannot read for pleasure during the semesters is that I always have things to read that I have to read, so if I have time to read my mind tells me that I should read things related to the courses that I am taking. This time I read a book called A Little Life, by Yanagihara, and it was sad but really, really good—I can highly recommend it. After that I read a bunch of Swedish mysteries that people visiting from Sweden had brought me over the course of the semester, which was truly nice.

Back to reality, I just started my last semester at CUNY SPS, and I am hoping to have my Bachelor’s degree in May. Hard to believe that I am actually seeing the light in the tunnel. I am taking my Capstone, and two other courses. I am not, as of right now, 100% sure what a Capstone course is but I guess I will find out. I have been assigned to my clinical site, which is where I did my clinical hours for the Community Nursing class that I took last semester. I am happy about this because I really like my clinical site person, she is great, so I am kind of dreading and kind of looking forward, and will keep you posted on how it is going and how I feel about it. I am taking two more classes, 11 credits all together while working full time and having my family that I have to tend to—it will be a tough semester I guess. I just have to make myself do it, and do the work I need to do, and know that it will benefit me for the rest of my life to have my BSN.

I had an issue when signing up for classes. My advisor told me that I need a US Experience course that I was not aware of. I made a plan when I went to meet with her when I first started at SPS, and that course was not mentioned then. If I would have known, I would have taken it already. So, this one came out of the blue, 3 extra credits that I need to take on this semester. Yet, I am very happy I double checked because I would not have been able to graduate without it. Still, I am a little upset, and feel that I was wrongly informed. But what can I do about that? Nothing really. I just have to do it. I guess that is what this study-as-an-adult is all about, setting your mind to it and “just do it.”

Happy Start of the Semester Everyone.

And, if you are still deciding if you are going to get started at SPS, “just do it!”

Charlotte

Charlotte Wahlquist is from Sweden. She is a graduate of BMCC and is now a Registered Nurse as of January of this year. In addition to working as a full-time nurse she is enrolled in the online RN to BSN program at CUNY SPS and is a recipient of the ACE Scholarship. Shortly after Charlotte moved to New York, seven years ago, she took a giant leap of faith and went back to school. With her five children, and an impenetrable drive to make her dreams come true—she hit the send button on her CUNY application. The time since that life-altering push of the button has been spent with many early and late hours being a single working mom, a student, and a person wishing for more hours in the day. There have been many challenges that have threatened to pull her off track; however, having her son asking to sit down next to her one night, and work on his homework next to her while she studied made her realize that she had embarked on something much larger than herself.

I am sitting here procrastinating, my life has been “busy” [understatement] lately. I am trying to juggle work, my daughter applying to college, another daughter applying to high school in New York City, school, and life in general–you know food, sleep, cleaning, exercise, etc… I keep thinking this too shall pass, knowing that I will graduate with my BSN in May next year! Can’t wait!

AND, as I am thinking this I sign up for an information session about a master in nursing, online, here at CUNY SPS… Have I gone mad? More school? Well, I want a master’s degree, might as well do it directly, and it never hurts to check it out… I guess my instinct/drive is to continue to grow, learn more and develop myself continuously, but please life, “give me a break!” Maybe I should just realize that I will never be done, I will always be on my way to the next goal–maybe that is life. I look forward to just reading a regular book, or lazily watching TV without feeling bad and knowing I should be doing something else. This is what I am thinking about now when I should be writing my paper :).

Other than that, it is getting cold out. I kind of like it and I kind of dread winter.

I am going to Sweden next week, to see my parents and my sister, I look forward to that a lot. While I am there I am also going to take the Swedish “board exam” for nursing, in order to get a Swedish nursing license as well. I am thinking to do it now, when I  have nursing school somewhat fresh in mind, and why not do it? We will never know where life will take us, maybe one day I will need to be able to work in Sweden, or I will want to. My secret plan is to gain as much experience as possible, as quickly as possible, while my kids are still in school. The minute they are all gone I aim to go do non-for-profit work in remote countries where healthcare can’t be taken for granted, and I will be able to make a bigger difference in someone’s life–someone who is in desperate need and who does not have access around the corner.

Until the next post…

Lotta

Charlotte Wahlquist is from Sweden. She is a graduate of BMCC and is now a Registered Nurse as of January of this year. In addition to working as a full-time nurse she is enrolled in the online RN to BSN program at CUNY SPS and is a recipient of the ACE Scholarship. Shortly after Charlotte moved to New York, seven years ago, she took a giant leap of faith and went back to school. With her five children, and an impenetrable drive to make her dreams come true—she hit the send button on her CUNY application. The time since that life-altering push of the button has been spent with many early and late hours being a single working mom, a student, and a person wishing for more hours in the day. There have been many challenges that have threatened to pull her off track; however, having her son asking to sit down next to her one night, and work on his homework next to her while she studied made her realize that she had embarked on something much larger than herself.

What do you call a busy adult with masochistic tendencies? A student at CUNY SPS! Now that I have your attention… Hello! My name is Milan Fredricks and I am one of the newest masochists at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. If you don’t mind, I’d like to tell you a bit about me…

Nine years ago, I was pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree at CUNY Lehman College, having successfully completed three semesters. It was difficult because I was juggling work and family issues, but finishing my degree had always been a priority for me. Then, in 2008, everything came to a head. I became unemployed and those family issues imploded. My focus was shot and my fire was snuffed out. I missed lectures, didn’t show up for labs, and was generally “not all there” when it came to my classes. By the time mid-terms rolled around I had to admit to myself that this wasn’t working, and so I made the painful but necessary decision to drop out of Lehman.

But even then, in the midst of my unhappiness, I swore to myself “this is only temporary!” I figured that I would find another job quickly, work through my family drama and get back to school as quickly as possible. In hindsight, that was a bit naive of me. 2008 was the recession and the worst possible time to lose my job. For the next three and a half years, I experienced chronic unemployment, and the stress of constantly looking for work severely dampened that initial enthusiasm of returning to school. Worrying about my family, worrying about whether I would make rent that month, and suffering from insomnia and mild depression made school my last priority. I never forgot about the promise that I made to myself, but when faced with the possibility of homelessness and the stress of family turmoil, the importance of finishing my degree simply paled in comparison. Finishing my degree was out and basic survival was in.

Nine years later it’s hard to believe that I lost so much time. But the more time that passed, the easier it was to forget that promise. I think I was humbled by my bad experience and viewed finishing my degree as more of a luxury that I couldn’t afford. Even when things on the work front started to stabilize and the family stuff got resolved (somewhat), I still found it difficult to get back on track regarding my college career. It was fear more than anything else, now that I look back. I just didn’t want to take that risk. I was scared to rock the boat. But a few months ago, things changed for me. A light-bulb went on somewhere deep in the cob-webbed recesses of my brain and I decided to renew that promise to myself.

Today, I am a far cry from where I was nine years ago. My family and work circumstances have vastly improved. I am happily employed with an organization that I am proud to work for and 18 months ago I was promoted to a senior administrative position. In my new role, I get to work on projects that allow me to flex my creative muscles. Most notably is the website re-launch project that I managed and the marketing and branding initiative that a co-worker and I plan to propose. The more creative work I get to do, the more I’m pulled to the visual and the graphic. Design and communications have grown into a passion for me and I started teaching myself how to use creative tools, like the Adobe Creative Suite, in the hopes of improving my skills and broadening my repertoire. I am really interested in learning more about UI/UX design and I even enrolled in a course to learn more about full-stack web development! (Just enough to not embarrass myself.)

My educational journey has come full circle. The pain and shame I felt in abandoning my degree is lessened when I realize that, perhaps, that awful time was actually a blessing in disguise. I wasn’t as passionate about what I was doing back then as I should have been and that may be why I was able to walk away. I am now pursuing a degree that I am truly excited about. The CUNY SPS B.A. in Communication and Media degree will give me the foundation I need to jump-start the career I am falling in love with, one that emphasizes design.

But don’t think that I’m satisfied with just achieving my B.A. I plan to ride this new wave of energy and excitement all the way to my Master’s degree! I know that it will be hard. I mean, I’m only two courses into my first semester and I am still trying to shake off those cobwebs. But I’m getting there. That first step was definitely my hardest so everything else after that is within reach. A CUNY SPS degree is my gateway to the life that I want and the life that I deserve. Years of stagnation and regret have evolved into my renaissance age. With my degree and continued self-learning, I can see into my future. A future that has been nine years in the making.

Milan Fredricks is a born and bred New Yawker, a self-professed tech nerd, self-taught web and graphic design freak and lover of puppies and ice cream (Häagen-Dazs, none of that Turkey Hill garbage, and do not argue with her on that!). Her very large, immediate family drives her to the brink of insanity almost everyday but at least it gives her something to tell her therapist! Milan is currently enrolled in the Communication and Media bachelor’s degree program here at CUNY SPS.

In an age when people are into social media, distractions can become the norm. It is even difficult for me to get something done when I am on social media. Time management is crucial as a way to balance demands and entertainment.

In terms of getting things done I set aside a certain amount of time to accomplish a task or goal. If have a paper for class to get done I make sure not to get distracted and spend time working on getting the paper completed.

Some ways to have good time management is to make a plan and try to stick to it. Proper organization is key, such as having a calendar to write events and due dates for class down in. The day before an event or work, I like to have everything ready to go the night before. The reason is due to not rushing in the morning looking for documents or anything required for an event.

In a time where distractions are more frequent, it is very important to try to minimize distraction and have proper time management. I try to limit how much time I spend on social media by going outside for a run or to play Ultimate Frisbee. I also like to spend time hanging out at the park. There are many techniques people can implement to have time management and to balance all of their responsibilities. Some people have different plans for time management. I always try to find time to socialize with others or watch a movie. In an age of social media time management is critical skill to have and continue to develop.

Ed Maher is a person who loves learning. Ed is a student at CUNY SPS in the Public Administration and Public Policy advanced certificate program. He is an avid lifelong reader, and has interests in movies, pop culture, and comedy.