The world needs people who have come alive

After sending emails to relevant individuals before I plunge into an intense 10-day UNESCO conference, I again felt the need to to sit down and be in my paradise zone. Today is another last day in Singapore. Like many other last days before taking a plunge for adventure, I am in deep thought, being fully aware of my emotions, hoping to decipher the meaning of these few seconds. I again will embark on a journey, or rather continue one as I see the fulfilment of a dream.

In 2012, I decided to take a journey to quit my job and fulfil a long time yearning for a masters degree and with that decision came the embrace of new ideas, experiences and seeing life in a different perspective. I initially felt scared leaving my comfort zone to decipher who I want to become. However after sometime, these emotions settled down and I became comfortable again with my own skin and I moved forward the connecting with people who are just like myself, passionate about the cultures of the world. Along the way, I have gathered new skills, for example, reading dense books on culture and sociology, discussing how local people adjust with challenges of the modern world, academically debating with international students from parts of the world I can’t even pinpoint in a map, learning to research more scientifically and lastly, becoming comfortable living in places where English was not the native language.

I spent almost two months here in Singapore at our lovely home with my partner and our two dogs, with my days filled with readings on cultural, historical and landscape matters for my final academic work. Hours pass with me huddled in a corner and all that I exercise is my brain and my fingers, churning up data on possible strategies to make historic places more relevant to people. You might think, that is such a boring life! but you know what, I feel that learning about heritage and culture actually makes me sharper, makes me look under the surface and it makes me connect far better with the people around me. I now see that everything has a certain meaning, our buildings, our traditions, our clothing, our language, our politics and all that we see are linked to something intangible. I feel more mesmerised with the world than ever before.

By tomorrow I will be in the middle east, in a dessert city I have only visited in transit to Europe. I will be going to a political and cultural conference on heritage, the biggest and most important one there is, and I will be part of a delegation advocating the conservation of nature. I would never have dreamed being in such a situation before my World Heritage Studies. It seems to me that the world has revealed something that I have never admitted, the world chooses where one should go. I try my best in what I do but it is fate that moves me forward and my life, dreams and future are dependent on so much more forces than myself. I am happy to now believe in such philosophy. The last few months have been such as a blessing to me and I am honest enough to say that I don’t know where life will take me. My task for the moment is to do “my job” everyday, maximising the capacity of  fate to pick the best choice.

As Oprah Winfrey rightfully said to the graduating students of Harvard University in 2013, “You will find true success and happiness if you only have one goal, and that is this, to fulfil the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being.” She yearns students  to maximise their humanity by using their energy to lift themselves up and the people around. She also quoted the theologian Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive then go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I believe that this masters has made me feel more alive.

Believing in Great Things for 2014

December 31st, 2013. Today is the last day of this magnificent year. I never really expected it, but I believe this year has been one of those wonderful years which I am extremely positive and at the same time, extremely … Continue reading

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Age, the Past and the Future

There are several reasons why I wanted to do this blog today. First of all is that I am celebrating my 1st month in Cottbus with some introspection. Second, our intensive introduction to World Heritage Studies finished last week and the real semester classes will start next week. Thirdly, I am getting adjusted to the fact that Sundays in Germany is really a rest day. Wochenende / Weekend is really a thing here because most shops are closed, even the malls. I don’t think I will ever get used to that.

Fresh!

As part of reflecting on the past few weeks, I remember quite vividly some striking conversations with people that I have met. One general topic of amazement is my age. Everyone thinks I’m 22 years old here, which is somewhat of a good thing in a university setting because I can easily blend in. If I wore school uniform or shop at the teens section of the department store, I don’t think people will actually frown upon it. When people realize that I have already worked for more than half a decade  in a country different from my own, thats when their mouths drop and they look at me from head to foot and say “But you look so young!” The only thing I can say to that is, “Its an Asian thing, I think.  Or maybe genes, I’m not really sure.”  Many of my colleagues / classmates here are surprisingly fresh graduates or they have worked for a year or two then decided to take their master’s education. I remember I was once like that. In 2008, I decided to really pursue looking for a master’s degree and 4 years later after 4 half successful applications and probably hundreds of hours of researching on good but economical courses, I have landed here in Cottbus. The four years I think was not spent in vain but I believe that it has improved my own perspective in life, my profession and my educational pursuits. I am a product of my own experience.

Another striking conversation that I had happened in two separate occasions, both of which had the same theme. The conversation somehow went like this:

My friend: “You are a landscape architect, right? That seems to be quite an interesting profession and it seems to me that you have a lot of experience with it.”

Me: “There are only a few landscape architects in the Philippines and in Singapore that I think I learned a lot from it. I went to present to my clients, went to different sites for construction and also managed my own time. It was a good thing.”

My friend: “If you don’t mind me asking, why did you leave then? Why did you want to take a master’s degree?”

With this question, I really had to dig deep in my own thoughts. It is a question that my previous colleagues, my classmates in the university and my new interdisciplinary classmates ask me now. If I were doing something significant in my life, why was there a need to do something else?

The answer is probably a convoluted with many layers of discoveries, of truths and of preconceived notions. The reality is that I really did enjoy what I did. I still have this exhilaration going to construction sites, seeing beautiful places being built and looking at the built environment as a physical manifestation of ideas and of human imagination and craftsmanship. I hold that dear up to now. The answer lies in the thought that I want to do something more, something that looks not just on our own aesthetic perceptions of the built environment but of the connectivity of our work as landscape architects to a bigger set of parameters. In this case, city planning, humanities and culture. I am opening my eyes to the political, social and economic forces that comes before  a site is meant for development and goes after my work when everything has already been built.

Previously, when we do analysis of sites, this is just a first rudimentary steps of the design process but I see now that there are more to a site than its background. There are more things than what the client wants and after a place is built, there are also factors to consider – sustainability, cultural connection, continued use and emotional connectivity to spaces. We are not just creating a space, we create symbols that represent our beliefs, our personal perceptions of beauty and we imprint that to a site for generations of people to see.

This newly found awareness makes me realize that there are more things that I can do and with the right guidance, hopefully I can do it effectively. It has only been a week of learning but I see the benefits of my new understanding.

As what has been written by Javiev Pérez de Cuéllar in “Our Creative Diversity” (UNESCO 1995):

“The challenge to humanity is to adopt new ways of thinking, new ways of acting, new ways of organizing itself in society, in short, new ways of living. The challenge is also to promote different paths of development, informed by a recognition of how cultural factors shape the way in which societies conceive their own futures and choose the means to attain these futures…Ultimately it will be the honesty of introspection that will lead to compassion for the Other’s experience, and it will be compassion that will lead us to a future in which the pursuit of individual freedom will be balanced with a need for common well-being, and in which our agenda includes empathy and respect for the entire spectrum of human differences”

The start of my new life as a student

It is an unfortunate thing that it is only now that I had the opportunity to write about my experience here in Cottbus. I have spent two weeks here and I believe that I have adjusted quite well in the new environment.

Allow me to give you some impressions about Cottbus. Although the city is one of the biggest cities in the state of Brandenburg, the city has a quiet university town feel to it, probably similar to my sister’s university in Los Banos, Laguna (Philippines). It is an hour and twenty minutes from Berlin and the city has its medieval past as well as its more modern architecture, mostly in my university (BTU). There is a large percentage of international students here, roughly 15% of the student population, Some of them I have already met in my  classes with for the basic German language. The international students come from diverse countries in Europe, Asia and Africa and I think there is a really big group of Spanish bachelors degree takers for this year.

The university is a modern campus where the IKMZ is the star architectural symbol of the campus. It was designed by Herzog and de Meuron – they were the designers of the Bird Cage for the Beijing Olympics and the Prada shop in Tokyo, both of which are amazingly designed structures.  Many of the other buildings are a combination of modern glass and steel structures mixed with older buildings. It has a very pleasant pedestrian avenue that connects many of the buildings in the university.

The old city is not far from campus. It is probably a 10-minute walk to go there by foot. I hope in the future, I get to know more about the city’s personal history from medieval times, to the industrial age, the former DDR and its more modern usage now. I have yet to be acquainted with the local community, somewhat of a difficult task primarily because of the language barrier and secondly, I have only met the international students as of now because of our common language classes. There is a tandem program for learning the language that the university has set up wherein interested individuals can practice their language and learn a new one.  For my case, I am thinking of participating to improve my German and  explain more about English, and if there are takers, I can also share my native tongue.

Before I met my classmates, I remember having a discussion a few days ago with a friend who is also taking her graduate studies somewhere in Germany.

She asked me, “What do you want to project when you meet your new classmates?”

I asked in a startled voice, “Does that matter?”

She said to me, “I see it as a new experience where in I can reinvent myself in anyway possible, highlight the good things about myself and not discuss things that are not important to me. You can portray yourself as an athlete or an artist if you want to. You can change your name and experiment. The good thing is that you don’t have the baggage of your old self.”

With her words it made me think – who am I and what do I want to project? To be honest, after two weeks, I still do not know. The idea that I am changing my image to create a slightly different persona is strange to me for I only can be comfortable in my own perception of reality. A long time ago, I may have had preconceived notions of who I was, what I can become and what I should be but now that I really thought about it, that really wasn’t important.

Being a student, I feel like I am everyone else. There are those students who likes to party all the time, there are those who like to go to the library often and there are those who like to keep to themselves. I am all of that and none of that. I am equal to other students, the only difference that we have so far is our choice of courses. I am here without pretenses about myself and my capabilities because I am here to learn and understand new ideas. I am no longer in the stage in my life where I want to prove something to other people, that I am cool or popular, athletic or charming. I am just me, whoever that person is inside me. I have my beliefs, my experiences, my dreams but no more pretensions, no more illusions.

I am here because I want to be here. I am here because there is this burning desire to experience something new, something that will enrich my life and hopefully the life of others. I want to discover new knowledge, new people who will open up my ideas of the world and the different cultures we live in. I want to see design not just as a product of our minds but a product of our culture and beliefs. I want to see how places are engrained in memory. All other personal issues and baggage isn’t really that important.

I can’t wait for the lectures to start and I hope my German improves. Learning something new and learning a new language is a must!

P.S. A few days after this post, I came across one of those beautiful words movies sometimes throws out. This one may be most appropriate for this post:

“For what it’s worth, it’s never too late, or in my case too early – to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit; stop whenever you want. You can change, or stay the same – there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again. – Benjamin Button”

The search for a place to stay

Dormitory

I’ve never lived in a dorm before so the experience of trying my luck to get one while I am still in Singapore is a challenge. ItLast week, I got a letter from the Studentenwerk Frankfurt/Oder that there are no more rooms available for me in the 5 dormitories that they own near campus. This email meant that I will have to find a place on my own via the internet and try my luck securing a place of abode  before I get to Germany. As written in the university’s guide for international students, one needs an address in Germany to go through the necessary steps of registration to the university. I mean logically I understand that this ruling ensures that students don’t just register in the university without finding a place to stay but practically, come on, that is almost impossible to do when you are still elsewhere in the other part of the world. How can one get a good deal before arriving in the city? That is probably the point of the ruling, now that I think about it, but of course, I can’t help but get frustrated with the whole thing.

Many of the offers for flat sharing found in the internet doesn’t have any photos and clear descriptions and  to make matters more difficult, google maps street view isn’t available yet in Cottbus. As Singaporeans would put it, “So how?”  Here I am, in a sort of conundrum that is typical thought with any international student. Where will I stay????

POST BLOG THOUGHT: The paragraph seems so whiny and strange, 15 years ago if I were an international student, I would have probably no issues with this as the internet was not really an option to get these information.  

I got a response from Gästehaus an der UNI-service GmbH but the place is a bit pricy as compared to  other places but well, maybe its better than nothing. Since it is a private dormitory, I hope that the place will not be too bad and that it will a decent home away from home.

For more information on finding accommodation in Deutschland, here is a link that I found in the DAAD website.