"If you can read this, thank a teacher." or.. "bAcK 2 sChOoL!"

Thanks to everyone that attended my Virtual Birthday Party!! Along with my In Real Life festivities, it was nice to get notifications all week from my online party!

[Birthday weekend at Disneyland!]

With September coming to a close, Back To School time is in full gear, whether it be K-12, college, grad school, or even sending your own kids to school. The summer fun (and my birthday month of festivities) is winding down. With that, the { dinner conversation } tends to lead to the topic of education.

We’ll start off with a scandalous and shocking reveal of a little secret that I rarely share.

Backstory: Back when I was in college, I was part of a student-run organization called Alternative Breaks @ UCSD. Focusing on addressing social justice issues, we trained and sent out groups of students to serve communities in need during spring or summer break, with the intent to not only serve those communities, but learn a thing or two about living a life in service to others.

In my first year participating in the program, I served as a Site Leader, leading a group of students to plan and implement a volunteer trip to San Ignacio, Belize to do public health outreach — a topic that I was (and am still) very passionate about.

[My Team: Alternative Breaks Belize 2009]
[These are students from one of the schools at which we volunteered. We taught them about healthy eating and disease prevention.]

[Showing off my pseudo-breakdancing skills in front of the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins. This was three years ago!]

I had such an amazing experience that I decided to go further with the organization and serve as a Student Coordinator of Alternative Breaks @ UCSD, training all of the leaders and sending ~120 students around the world to participate in one of nine service projects.

[AB@UCSD 2011. These students addressed social justice issues like health, environment, education, & more through volunteer trips to Argentina, Costa Rica, China, Indiana, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Indonesia, & Jamaica. This group will always be my extended family. :)] 

While students have the opportunity to travel to cool places like Costa Rica, Thailand & Guatemala, as leaders of the program & of this social justice movement, we stressed the importance of selecting a trip based on a social issue you’re passionate about rather than a location. We facilitated retreats and trainings to teach our participants about exploring social justice.

[A visual for diversity & social justice training]

[Often I facilitated the workshops. Sometimes I’d just hold the poster.]

/end Backstory

As a Student Coordinator, I pretty much had my pick as to which trip I would go on. And you know what? I didn’t choose the trip that best represented a cause I care about. In fact, I didn’t even really believe that the trip would be very effective at all. Honestly? I chose it because it was the cheapest option. That’s it. My little hypocritical secret.

I ended up going on a trip to Dominican Republic to teach lesson plans at rural schools. Since these Alternative Break trips are only 1-2 weeks long, I really didn’t think that much could be done to address the issue of education in such a short span of time. What lasting impact could we possibly have in a week?

Well, long story short.. My, was I wrong..

[Teaching English to the students. Video below is from a Geography lesson.]

[Making dream-catchers for the students,  comforting them as they told us about their nightmares, and listening as they told us their dreams]

I could write you a 10-page essay about what I learned in Dominican Republic, but I will spare you. Essentially, I realized the importance of role models in education. In Dominican Republic, a country that is extremely poor, the kids had either very little or very unrealistic hope for their futures. All the girls wanted to be actresses, and all the boys wanted to be baseball players. Clearly, even in the United States, and more so in a developing country such as the DR, there aren’t many opportunities for that sort of fame. In fact, due to these unrealistic aspirations, many of the students drop out of school at a very young age, continuing the cycle of poverty.

The community really lacked positive role models. And that is why we were there. The kids were more likely to attend class when we were there, curious to learn from us and see young adults getting excited about school. Everyday, aside from teaching the fun lessons we had planned, we made sure to remind them over and over about the importance of completing their education, and knowing that they are capable of doing more. It really changed my perspective and since then I’ve been very passionate about issues in education.

After I graduated from UCSD, I served an an alumni Community Advisor for a trip to Nicaragua, focusing on the issue education. This time I was intentional about it, and had another great experience.

[Teaching math!]

[Oh, by the way. I really didn’t like kids too much until these last few years, haha]

[words cannot describe.. <3]

Our host organization, Panorama Services, really made this experience special. In fact, since this inaugural trip in 2011, UCSD has committed to send a group to that same community every year. I really hope to go back some day.
& so for my last story (I promise I’ll work on making these much, much shorter), I thought I’d share what my career consists of right now. I work full-time at UCSD as a Program Coordinator for a tutoring program in which we send college students to tutor at K-12 schools in San Diego communities facing issues in poverty and education. I never thought I’d see myself doing something like this, but my experiences abroad have taught me that a lot about education that I want to bring back to my own community.

Working and learning about educational issues for these last few years has really got me reflecting back on my own experiences as a K-12 student back in the day. What kept me motivated? What things had I taken for granted? Who do I have to thank for my quality of education? There are so many things lacking in education systems around the world ( supplies, staff, support), & even in our own country (equality, funding, etc.) & I really want to explore this further. What solutions are there using the limited resources available?

I encourage you to think about your own education right now. What motivates you to continue to strive? What privileges have you experienced that others may not have had? What challenges did you face?

If anything, the quote in the title (by former President Harry S. Truman) – “If you can read this, thank a teacher,” may give you something to think about.

You’re welcome to share in the comments below, or on the Facebook page to keep the conversation going!

I wish everyone a great school year!

With love,


Dining at Tiffany’s

Twitter: @diningattiffs
Instagram: @diningattiffs


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