Recently, I have lots of great conversations with my friends, my peers and my advisors. They can be bitterly discouraging, and also enlightening at the same time. A few below are the conversations that really made my day or frustrated me.
Conversation # 1: Lucy versus a future mathematician:
Math: Lucy, what are you doing lately?
Lucy: Traveling, taking pictures and thinking about what I want to do
Math: What are you doing in the immediate future?
Lucy: Traveling – to China, to the UK, to Germany, I want to see the world.
Math: Do you still want to be a scientist?
Lucy: Yes, of course. I see why not
Math: Why dont you do any research? You only travel, and waste your time on accumulating skills that a successful scientist does not need.
Lucy: Puzzled & shut up.
I cannot answer this last question because he asks the right one. Why am I not feeling pressured to pursue what I think to be my career: to become a scientist, to do research, to teach? Why am I so content with this world? Why do I feel in love with this world so much? I only want to see more of it, and embrace it in its totality? I only want to be out there, with people. What is wrong with it? Everybody keeps telling me that I cannot become a good scientist if I spend too much time on the road, too much time on meeting interesting individuals coming from different backgrounds. What is wrong with this picture? I suppose this lifestyle does not bring me money and success immediately. I am not angry with inequality; I am not anxious about poverty. I just love my life, and everything life has given me. I am too content with it, I not ambitious enough. I do not know what I want to do. I dont know where I will live and who I will become. I am trapped in an existential crisis. This question got me thinking about my future and my life.
Conversation #2: Lucy vs. a central banker (the banker is about to receive his master degree from a very prestigious university in the US)
Banker: You know, I got three master degrees in both law and economics, and I cannot find a job in the US.
Lucy: (pondering…, he must want a very well-paid job) oh yeah, America is not good enough for you.
Banker: That is why I am going back to my home country, doing my previous job. Now I become a senior economist.
Lucy: That sounds amazing.
Banker: It means I do exactly the same thing as I did before. (laugh…)
Lucy: haha… So another degree buys you a new title.
Banker: So what is the plan after Germany ( Lucy will be working in Germany until August, 2014)
Lucy: I have no idea.
Banker: I want to retire. I have worked too hard, got multiple degrees. After getting my current master, I want to retire and travel the world.
Lucy: I aspire that plan, but hey you’re going back to work in the next two weeks. So save that plan for a couple of decades.
Banker: Do you want to explore the policy and law schools? I will show you around this campus.
Lucy: I would be delighted to see them.
This person is the most enlightening individual that I have ever met. He has child-like curiosity; his humor always brightens up my day. His insights made me to ask: what does international development really mean? How can a very brilliant individual is not doing what are the most helpful and most fulfilling tasks out there in the field? Why is he kept in a cubicle to write report and read newspapers? Will I be trapped in a cubicle doing what I hate for a decade of my life?
We walked and talked in this beautiful weather in Cambridge, MA. There is nothing can be more perfect than great weather, a good meal and a soulmate to converse with
Conversation #3: Lucy vs. a highschool mate
Lucy: So what is your advice for students from our high school about studying abroad in the United States?
Mate: Dont go… if you do not have the urge to find out what this country is all about. It is full of good things, but also the ugliest things.
Lucy: What do you mean by “dont go”? Why do you discourage people to see the world?
Mate: I do not discourage the ones who want to see the world. Many of my friends and family members, they are happy where they are. They want to stay close to their families, to the things that they know and where they grow up. It is their choice.
Lucy: They dont want to see the world because no one has encouraged them to do that. Do you appreciate the hardships and opportunities that the US has brought to you?
Lucy: What is the most memorable moment?
Mate: The time that I had no money, and I had to survive on my last $150 for a month. It was pitiful. I did not want to call my parents, to beg for money. I did not want to bother them. I wanted to prove that I am independent and strong.
Lucy: It must have been terrible, but you did manage to survive. That is what matters.
Mate: Hm… but still you can only come here if you decide that you’re very strong and independent.
I disagreed 1000% with my friend. I hated every single word that he said. I was interviewing him for a project. I meant to film him, and to make a documentary of a happy Vietnamese student who is getting his education in the US. He did not fulfill my request. He showed neither his eagerness nor his good intention to preaching the doctrine that “studying abroad,” and “seeing more of the world” make you a better human being. I got to understand that sometimes even if we have similar starting points, and similar backgrounds, we differ astronomically in what we want to do. I want to use my energy, time and effort to connect people, to make information available. He wants to keep it for himself, and feels embarrassed if things do not work out. I want to be honest; he wants to be secretive. I love my friends, and appreciate them a lot. But oftentimes I found myself disappointed by their inappropriate or un-mindful comments, or that my peers do not share my vision. What shall I do if I cannot communicate my vision with my friends, and other people? What does it take to be an effective communicator?
This beautiful light house is where the conversation took place. A beautiful place, perfect weather and even good foods do not always guarantee a good conversation
Traveling, meeting new people and visiting old friends are always enlightening. That is the reason why artists and intellectuals in the 16th century embarked on the Grand Tour across Europe to see the real paintings, to meet other artists, to expand their knowledge. I hope in the next three months from late June to late September, I will meet the most exciting people on this planet earth. I hope to make a movie out of them. I hope to connect to more people, and make my life well spent and worth living. Let’s pack, and go.