The Foreigner

Leslie Vargas

She was born in Argentina, Buenos Aires in 1981. Her parents got a divorce when she was only four years old, and she moved with her mother and sister to Rio de Janeiro Brazil in 1986. Growing up in Brazil was not easy. She was a small child who did not wanted to leave her hometown, her family, but but she could not accept the idea of growing up without her older sister. In Rio she have a hard time fitting in with other kids, because she did not speak Portuguese. However, years went by. Her mother always worked hard to support her children, but they were not allow to talk about extended family. Questions about why they had no family ties, or the reasons they could not visit their father were never answered. Until one day, she gave up the idea of having a family somewhere in Argentina or Chile waiting for them to return. She lived in Rio for 11 years. On her teen years, she made new friends and learned a lot from them. In 1997 her mother remarried and decided to moved to Japan with her daughters. She felt extremely alone in her 3 years in Japan, because of language barriers. She only made Brazilian friends and lost the hope about making Japan her new home. She knew that there was not a chance for her to extend her education even less get a good career. From a very young age, she already knew that she was not going to live in Japan for the rest of her life. Brazil also was out of the question, because it was too poor, the education system was terrible, it had too much violence and corruption. She was smart, so she decided to do what was the best for her at that time. All she really wanted was to study, get a decent job and possibly have a family of her own. She met her American husband on a small church in her neighborhood in Sasebo Japan. They got married in Wilmington, NC in 2000 when she turned 18 years old, they got married, but she spent her first year a married young lady alone. Her husband had to full field his military orders on a island, while she stayed with her parents in Japan. He saved her from an extreme difficult life in Brazil and Japan. In 2002 She moved to Puerto Rico and was with child and lived a very lonely life for a few years. To fight depression she decided to ocupy her time by extending her education. Even though English was her third language, she decided to repeat her high school to learn the language with perfection and be able to go to college. She took online classes for 4 years on her own. She was academically ambitious and was willing to succeed. In 2005 she moved to Virginia, and loneliness was all she new. She was living away from all she knew and having to start her life all over again, so she went out and made new friends and kept creating goals for herself. She graduated her high school in 2007 and enrolled for ESL classes at Tidewater Community College . She decided to pursue Funeral Services, so in 2013 she started to volunteer for Graham Funeral Home in Chesapeake, Va to keep herself inspired. She worked hard for free for 9 months while still in school and raising her daughter alone. After her husband came home from his deployment, they realized that the Funeral hours were too much, so she was obligated to give up on her dream of becoming a Funeral Director. She felt hopeless, but she knew she had to extend her education and never quitting what she had worked so hard. In 2014 she started studying for her Associates of Applied Science in Medical Administration Assistant degree. She graduated in the Summer of 2015. She found her first real job at a local architectural firm and never felt so connected to what she would like to do as an artist and thinker. Now, her husband is finally retiring from his 20 years in the Navy and having to reinvent himself in the market. She still plan to go back to school and get her bachelors degree in Business Administration, because she will never stop creating goals for herself, and doing everything to achieve them.

I mean, how can I be when…

This Country Has Yet to Address Its Past

The U.S. government mandates that all children from ages 5–18 (depending on state law) attend school. But many schools don’t teach us the full truth about America’s history: that this nation was built on the backs of African slaves and that for centuries White people abused and killed Black people, in order to impose their power over them for economic gain, free labor, and/or sexual pleasure.

A 2015 McGraw-Hill History Book Refers to American Slaves as “Workers”

397 Years of Shackles…and Counting?

Hundreds of thousands of Blacks were killed during the 246 years of American slavery (1619–1865) and several more have been murdered since.

But what does this have to do with Black people being killed today — even considering the shooting of Terence Crutcher just yesterday?

Slavery ended 151 years ago, you may be saying. That’s a long time ago, you may be claiming. Yes, that’s true, but the spirit of subjugation and the systems of oppression are very much still alive today. Hear me out…

Remember those heinous Jim Crow laws that stripped Blacks of their most basic rights? Well did you know that those were just abolished 52 years ago? That means that, depending on your age, you and/or your parents were likely alive at that time.

Scary to Realize How Close We Really Are to the “Racism of Long Ago”

And perhaps it’s not that far-fetched of an idea to consider that the prejudice practices of police forces during the Civil Rights Era (also just 50 years ago) may still permeate some police cultures today?

Seriously, let’s just sit with all of this for a moment. The White European settlers of America fervently believed, lived out, and passed on a system of oppression against Blacks for 346 YEARS (beginning in 1619 when the first African slaves arrived in North America and “ending” in 1965 when Blacks were granted the right to vote). So what do you think? Is it possible for a 346 year-old racist philosophy and way of operating to just Poof! disappear in a matter of 51 YEARS? (51 years encompasses 1965 — when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law — to the present day 2016). If so, then that would mean…

You believe that America can erase its racist ideology and traditions 7X faster than it developed them. That right?

The Missed Opportunity in American Schools

Because many of our schools don’t expose the full truth of America’s origins and educate students on how that past has influenced our present day, students never get a chance to learn about the institutionalized racism and White supremacy that’s been baked into this country’s DNA.

And because our schools don’t address these topics, White parents never have to confront them. Can you imagine if they did?

Hey Dad, I’m having a test on Friday on White privilege. Can you help me prepare?

So what ends up happening is that the majority of those White children — who never learned about the systems of oppression the White settlers established to disenfranchise Blacks (several of which still exist today) — grow up to be White adults, who live in majority White neighborhoods, work with majority White colleagues, marry majority White partners, and socialize with majority White people.

Because the majority of White people don’t socialize with Black people (and haven’t for the past 397 years)… it likely feels foreign to White people to put themselves in the shoes of a Black person and truly empathize with the Black experience in America.

Many White people are not in a position to understand institutionalized racism and White privilege, because they were never taught it, assessed on it, or asked to acknowledge its existence. They’ve had the luxury — from childhood through adulthood — to be conveniently blinded to their privilege.

And so when a White person sees a Black athlete kneeling during the singing of the national anthem (written by a slave-owning, anti-abolitionist no less), they may very well be outraged. How could Kaepernick disrespect our country like that? It’s been so good to us!

But what that White person may not realize is that this country’s been so good to them — the one who’s always been in power. Kaepernick’s lived experiences as a Black man in America isn’t the same as theirs. It never has been the same, since the slave ships arrived on America’s shores those many years ago.

YOU Can Be a Part of the SOLUTION

I fully recognize that the U.S. school system is not to blame for America’s race problem. America had a race problem far before any federally mandated public school system was established. I do, however, believe that being the only institution that all 5–18 year olds in the country must participate in, the school system offers a unique opportunity to enhance our country’s understanding of our history and use it to create a better future. With the right curriculum, teachers, parental support, and infrastructure, I believe the school system can be one lever we pull to help us work through our past, understand how it plays into our present circumstances, and develop future leaders that will create a more equitable and empathetic America!

Here Are 4 Immediate Actions You Can Take to Help:
Call, write, or visit your school leadership, school board, congress members, or state senators. Demand that they invest in curriculum, teacher development, and infrastructure that optimizes for a more complete learning of America’s history.White people, please socialize with more Black people. Black people, please socialize with more White people. Coming together more often will help us all develop empathy for the “other,” which fosters pro-social behaviors, like offering support.Don’t “unfriend” those you don’t understand or who don’t seem to understand you. Often times, people quickly default to de-friend mode whenever something appears in their newsfeed that they don’t agree with — especially when it comes to race relations in America. When you do that, though, you’re cutting yourself off from an opportunity to potentially learn from someone with a different lived experience than yours, build a bridge of understanding, and best case scenario, find common ground. If you continue down the de-friend path, your social networks may soon become an echo chamber, where you’re just talking to people who already agree with you.THIS ONE’S THE MOST IMPORTANT: Suggest another solution! I truly believe we’re stronger together, so please don’t be shy about leaving a comment below outlining what you think can be done to improve race relations in America. And who knows, maybe it’ll turn into a set of aggregated solutions we can all play a part in carrying out.

Thanks for taking the time to engage (I really appreciate it!) and remember…

If not us, who? If not now, when?

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I was visiting my sister recently when I was shocked to discover that my nearly five-year-old nephew had grown into a full-blown walking, talking, little human being! So, naturally my first question was, “Where is this little hackers little computer?” To which I was sadly told that he did not have a computer of his own! Well, that just won’t do.

I know what you’re probably all thinking, why isn’t this kid’s adorable face on every possible toddler related product currently on the market? Rest assured, I constantly remind my sister of how she could be exploiting his cuteness for millions of dollars- but I digress. Where were we? Oh right, Linux.

Let’s talk hardware. If we’re building this little dude a Linux computer and we’re “ballin’ on a budget”, there’s no better choice than a Raspberry Pi. I mean he is a hacker in training, right? His typing (and well, hand coordination in general) isn’t that great yet, so we’ll need an over-sized keyboard. A big mouse pad, and a good wireless mouse will do well. Oh, and how about a VESA mount case for the Raspberry Pi so it stays out of the way? All of that should do nicely.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B MotherboardPlugable USB Kids Keyboard (Extra Large Keys)SteelSeries QcK Gaming Mouse PadVESA Mount Case for Raspberry Pi 3

Everything else up there is pretty generic, an HDMI cable, power cable, wireless mouse, wifi adapter (for initial setup), and a SD card. Grand total for all these parts was a little under $150.

Full disclosure, I don’t have kids. However, I can imagine “mo’ wires mo’ problems” am I right? The VESA mount I purchased for the Raspberry Pi alleviates a lot of these problems by keeping everything shoved behind the monitor.

Alright, let’s get to the meat of this puppy. What’s going on under the hood? Seeing as this kid is the real deal he’s gonna run Arch Linux. I can see his little UNIX(-like) beard coming in already! Joking aside, since the Raspberry Pi uses an ARM processor hop on over to for information on how to install Arch Linux on your Pi.

After a bit of tinkering, we’re ready to start talking software. I first installed Openbox with nodm, which should make the computer easy to just turn on and get going. I was very fortunate to come across a pair of blog posts by a Mr. Alan Moore (no, not the comic book guy) titled: Building a Linux System for a Child Part 1 & Part 2. It’s interesting to note that in the second post Linux distros specifically for children’s education are discussed including DouDouLinux, Qimo, SkoleLinux, and Edbuntu. Also, not discussed in the article (but popular) are Sugar and Ubermix. It was awesome to discover that so many Linux distributions exist solely for children’s education, and perhaps it might be easier for some of you to just install one of these distros instead.

After looking at a lot of software for this youngin’ I settled on installing Tux Paint, GCompris Educational Suite, Potato Guy, Scratch, and Leafpad.

These programs are a ton of fun! If any of you had a Mac in the early 90's, Tux Paint is essentially a free version of Kid Pix. The GCompris Educational Suite is an endless set of games focused around all sorts of early education subjects. Potato Guy is a fun little dress-up game staring the classic Mr. Potato Head.

I included Scratch and Leafpad in hopes that my nephew will poke around with them as he gets older. I’ll be sure to replace his keyboard as his fingers get more agile. Here’s to his first battle station. Uncle out.

I smell coolness in the air, and the leaves are losing their green. New York Fashion Week attendees throw shade beneath designer shades. Garish pumpkin and cornucopia displays suffocate previously elegant storefronts: it’s fall 2016.

Unfortunately for me, New England autumn gives me a feeling of impending doom of the upcoming school year. A new school year comes with terrifying side-effects: harder classes; post-summertime sadness leaving family and internship friends; nervousness that there is one less year in this warm educational womb called Wellesley.

I graduated in May, but my biological rhythm is still stuck in fall semester uncertainty this September. While crisp air and colorful Central Park trees charm most New Yorkers’ hearts, they leave a pit in my stomach as I head to work.

After graduation, I joined Google as a full-time employee. This is not an article about being jobless and 22 in New York City (and if you are, please reach out to me, and I will help you the best I can).

I have my dream job, and I live in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood. As a child of immigrant parents, my goal was to have a prestigious job after college, one I would think worthy of my parents’ endless stamina and sacrifice. So, why do I have September doom when I achieved my goal?

In college, I studied digital arts, computer science, led the satire news show, ran marathons, completed an honors thesis senior year, and worked at the MIT Media Lab throughout my four years. Each school year brought on more difficult challenges that culminated in graduation (hopefully, with honors and a job). But now I’ve been working for a few months, and there is no graduation, no tangible end goal. I am not able to pursue my various passions with the intensity I did in school, and I don’t want to get stuck. The September pit in my stomach is the fear of getting stuck.

I don’t want to lose the fire that drove me to do bigger badder things every year of college. I have so many interests, and I want to continue to pursue them all! However, this is hard while working a rigorous full-time job. With a seemingly impossible dilemma on my hands, I decided to bring in an expert.

Edlyn Yuen, a fellow Wellesley College graduate, worked in global non-profit, investment banking, venture capital, and founded a company all in seven years out of college; her LinkedIn bio read “making things on the Internet.” Dynamic, intelligent, and hardworking, she was just the champion I needed.

Edlyn studied political science at Wellesley then worked at Kiva, which does microfinance for developing nations. After that she jumped deeper into finance, taking a job at Bank of America. “I wanted to learn how to turn numbers into stories,” she told me when I asked her what inspired the job switch. My takeaway from her first jump was that she understood the core of her work at Kiva: using numbers to make tangible change. While this sounded really simple when I initially wrote it down in my interview notes, I now realize it takes a lot of time and energy to truly figure out the core meaning of your job. I’m still figuring out what that is at my job at Google. There is a lot of fluff in jobs that distracts us from the real thing we are doing. I think she identified those things and then figured out what she liked from those things and took that learning into her next steps.

The next step for Edlyn was investment banking followed by venture capital, and now she’s a founder of her own startup.

Edlyn’s professional journey, from my perspective, looks pretty linear. But in fact, each of those transitions was really challenging, and I’m just at the beginning of my professional journey. So I wanted to know how I could make sure I have an epic journey like Edlyn. “Curate your curiosities,” she advised me.

Of course, we’ve all heard this at some point from a counselor, a friend, or from our own brains. But Edlyn gave me resources to help me go curate those curiosities. She gave me a boot camp syllabus to starting my own project in 12 weeks, with tons of information on entrepreneurship and how to actually start something. The best thing is, this is all doable alongside my demanding job.

Even if this syllabus doesn’t result in my establishing a startup or getting my personal blog to a million followers, it’s an exercise in finding myself and curating my curiosities.

Personally, my interests lie in tech (hardware and startups), finance (venture capital), and the arts (music/video production and fine arts/fashion). My dreams are big, and I hope to find a way to do something that satisfies all my interests. Pursuing all your interests takes time and energy, but that’s why I moved to New York — to be surrounded by inspiration and hustlers. I’m working on writing and producing a YouTube show similar to the satire news show I ran for four years at Wellesley. I’m attending NYFW events and film screenings. I’m going out with friends to be inspired and comforted. I’m meeting superstars and role models like Edlyn and, of course, learning everything I can at work. Take your fall semester doom by the horns and use it to power you through.

Here’s a list in case you haven’t read full paragraphs since like 2012:

Reach out to your idols, friends, classmates, LinkedIn connections and get their advice! Be honest and ask what you want to ask, otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time.Curate your curiosities alongside your day job. Enroll in something like Orbital; download Stitcher and find podcasts you like; make a Pinterest and Twitter account; start writing about things that matter to you.Self-management is important. Keep note of how many hours of sleep you’re getting a night and how many drinks you’re drinking per session (especially in summer, New Yorkers). Use HelloWallet to keep track of finances, contribute to your 401(k), and pay off loans.

★ learn more about me on my website

Every semester, I see the tweets and Facebook posts. My professor friends, they are annoyed. Their students do not know how to write emails, they say. What they really mean is that their students don’t know how to follow the conventions of email etiquette in the academy. I used to be exasperated by student emails too. Until I realized that there was a simple explanation for why they didn’t know how to write them — they’ve never actually been taught how.*

But now, clueless students have no excuse, because they can read this post. Profs, share it with your students. Students, share it with your friends. Or don’t, and be the one person in the class your prof enjoys receiving email from.

10 Elements of an Effective, Non-Annoying Email

Here’s a template you can follow in constructing your email to a professor. Each element is explained further below.

Dear [1] Professor [2] Last-Name [3],

This is a line that recognizes our common humanity [4].

I’m in your Class Name, Section Number that meets on This Day [5]. This is the question I have or the help I need [6]. I’ve looked in the syllabus and at my notes from class and online and I asked someone else from the class [7], and I think This Is The Answer [8], but I’m still not sure. This is the action I would like you to take [9].

Signing off with a Thank You is always a good idea [10],
Favorite Student

Element #1: Salutation

Right off the bat, here’s where you can establish that you view your relationship with your professor as a professional one. Use “Dear,” or if that feels horrifically formal to you, you can use “Hello” or “Hi.” (“Hi” is pushing it. See note about exceptions below.)

Element #2: Honorific

This is where a lot of students unwittingly poke right at their professor’s sensitive ego and sense of justice in the world. You didn’t think this little word was a super big deal, but it actually is to them. An honorific is a title used to communicate respect for a person’s position. Whether or not you, as a student, actually respect your professor’s authority or position, it’s a good idea to act like you do. The simplest way to do this is to address them as “Professor.” If they have a PhD, you can technically call them “Dr.” but you’re safer with “Professor.” Not all instructors have PhDs (and many won’t even have the word professor in their official job title), but if they are teaching a college class they are inhabiting the role of Professor and can be addressed as such. The bonus of “Professor” and “Dr.” is that they don’t require you to know anything about your professor’s gender identity or marital status. If you call your prof “Mrs.” or “Miss,” lord help you.

Element #3: Name

You might be surprised at how frequently students get their professor’s name wrong. This is not difficult information to look up, people. It’s on your syllabus, it’s on the department website, it’s probably Google-able too. Use their last name. Spell out the whole thing. Spell it correctly. If there’s a hyphen in it, use both names and the hyphen (this really falls under spelling out the whole thing and spelling it correctly, but I get it, it’s a special case and it causes a lot of confusion for some reason even though it is 2016).

Exceptions to #1–3 (do not attempt until you have leveled up to pro emailer status)

You may use a less formal salutation, and address your professor by something other than Professor Last-Name in your email, if, and only if, you have received an email from them where they use an informal salutation and sign it with something other than Professor Last-Name. For example, when I was a college professor, I would often sign off on my emails “Prof. P-S” because I knew my last name was long and confusing for people. I then rather liked it when people sent me emails addressed to “Prof. P-S.” But don’t deviate from what they call themselves. NEVER try to use a first name unless you have been given explicit permission to do so. If the prof cryptically signs their emails with only initials, best to stick to Professor Last-Name. Do not under any circumstances begin an email with “Hey” because some people get real huffy about that.

Element #4: Meaningless Nicety

It never hurts to say something like “I hope you’re enjoying the beautiful weather today,” or “I hope you had a relaxing weekend,” to start off. It shows that you see your professor as a person who has some kind of life. Professors like it when you see them as people who have lives outside of their classroom (however remotely this may resemble the truth). It doesn’t really matter what you say here, it’s more the ritual of polite interest that counts. If you can make it come off like you genuinely mean it, bonus points for you.

Element #5: Reminder of how they know you

This one is key, especially if it’s the first time you are contacting your professor. You can’t count on them to remember your name from their rosters or to be able to put your face with your name. If there’s something distinctive about you that would jog their memory and make them look upon you fondly, include that. For instance, “I stayed after class to ask you about the reading that one time,” or “I sit in the front row and have blue hair,” whatever. If you haven’t met them yet, explain your desired relationship to them, such as “I am interested in enrolling in your class next semester.” If you’re fairly certain they will know you by name, you can leave this out. But some profs are very bad at remembering names, so you might as well throw them a bone here. (If you are lucky, those profs will be self-aware and empathetic enough not to make you memorize any names for exams in their classes.)

Element #6: The real reason for your email

This is the whole reason you’re sending the email, so make it good. The important thing here is to get in and get out, while remaining courteous. Concisely state what it is you need from the professor without offering a bunch of excuses or going into excessive detail or sounding like you are making demands. If you can’t explain why you’re emailing in a sentence or two, consider making an appointment to meet with the professor in person, in which case your line here will be “I was hoping we could meet to talk about X. What would be a good time for that?” If they can’t meet and just want to discuss it over email, they’ll let you know.

Elements #7 and 8: This is where you prove you’re a wonderful person

There is a t-shirt for sale on the internet that says, “It’s in the syllabus.” Think for a second about why there is a market for this product. A vast number of emails sent to professors by students are seeking information that has already been communicated by the professor. Before even sending the email, you should actually check the syllabus and your notes (and the class website if there is one) to see if your question has indeed been answered there. It doesn’t hurt to ask someone else from the class too — this is why you should try to get a least one classmate’s phone number or email address during the first week. If you’ve actually done all these things and you still have a question, then your contacting the professor will actually provide helpful information to them that they might not have been clear about something.

If you can try to answer your own question, and you turn out to be right, that saves them a little bit of time in their response. For instance, if you are writing to set up a meeting, you could say, “It says on the syllabus that your office hours are Tuesdays at 3pm. Could I come this Tuesday at 3:15?” This also shows that you thought about the whole thing for more than two seconds before deciding to take up their email-reading time.

Element #9: Super polite restatement of your request

If you’re asking a question you need an answer to, you can say something like “If you could let me know at your earliest convenience, I’d really appreciate it.” If you need them to fill out a form, or contact someone on your behalf, or do something that requires more action than just answering your email, state that very clearly here. This helps them put it on their to-do list and get it done.

Element #10: Sign-off

If you’re not sure how to sign off an email, “Thank you” is nearly always appropriate. You can do “Best,” or “All the best,” or “Sincerely,” or whatever, but some form of thanks here does double duty as both sign-off and expression of gratitude.

The hidden Element #11: The follow-up

If your professor hasn’t responded to your email, and social cues tell you they probably meant to by now, you can send a gentle follow-up. You can format the follow-up using all the elements here, but you can add in “Just following up on my previous email,” right before you get to Element #6. You don’t have to rub it in that they forgot to email you back, they will get the point (and if they genuinely forgot, they might feel bad). If they were not emailing you back on purpose, you probably already annoyed them the first time around, and you might as well be as polite as possible with the follow-up. When is it safe to send a follow-up reminder? You have to gauge this based on how quickly they usually respond to things and how dire your need for a response truly is. If it can wait a week, let it wait a week (or until you see them in person).

Why any of this matters

Learning how to craft professional emails is a skill you can take with you into the so-called real world. A courteous and thoughtfully constructed request is much more likely to receive the kind of response you want. And, let’s face it, professors are humans with feelings who just want to be treated as such.

You might think professors who are annoyed by student emails are over-sensitive and lazy (it’s their job to handle this shit, right?). And you might be right. But consider that while you only have a few professors at any one time, they might have hundreds of students. They are possibly getting the same question from ten different people. They might be an adjunct professor who is actually only paid for the hours they spend in the classroom (and they’re not paid very much for that even). They might have experienced a pattern of receiving less respect from people based on their gender or race. Make your email the one they don’t gripe to their friends about. Now you know how.

*This was corroborated for me when I interviewed a bunch of my former students about how they figured out how to navigate electronic communication in their college careers. The ones who felt confident and effective were ones who’d had a lot of experience interacting electronically with adults outside their family before they ever got to college. We don’t have to go into the sociological dimensions of who’s most likely to have had such opportunities, but you can probably fill in the blanks.

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