From Japan to Egypt

When one bubble bursts, another is just waiting to go sailing up into the sky. 

For those of you who read my last blog, you are aware of my recent life goal to get one of the free airplane tickets distributed by the Japanese tourism bureau. If you read my comments in addition to my blog, you are already aware that the offer to attract 10,000 lucky bloggers has BEEN CANCELED. That’s right folks. My bubble has been popped.

I learned of these unfortunate circumstances from a fellow blogger JD Japan who kindly wrote:

“Sorry to burst your bubble but I’ve read that they’ve cancelled this offer almost a month ago. Don’t give up your life ambition to go to Japan just because you can’t get a free ticket though. My friend and I were very disappointed as well when we read this article but that’s not going to stop us going there this year!” along with the link announcing the cancellation.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. A month ago it seemed as if the seven Japanese gods themselves were beckoning me to the “homeland” to wake up and find their godlike favor revoked. The Katelyn-goes-to-Japan fund is currently accepting generous donations.

Another bubble was popped last night in the form of an e-mail from the director of the Davis Projects for Peace initiative on campus. Projects for Peace was started by international philanthropist Kathryn W. David and provides $10,000 to college students with project ideas for peaceful initiatives across the world. Unfortunately, I was under the false impression that the deadline for project and proposed budget submissions were due on the 31st instead of the 23rd so I had less than 12 hours to formulate my idea. While my project to build a small library with donated books in a Philippine fishing village was not chosen, the selected committee was very supportive and provided the project with great feedback should I apply next year. Trial and tribulations of a graduating senior.

Now I have set my sights on another program located in a distinctly different climate, known more for pyramids and deserts than sushi or white sand beaches. While Las Vegas is a close second, I’m talking about Presidential Scholars Program at The American University in Cairo, Egypt– a one-year fellowship opportunity for graduating seniors from US colleges and universities. The program was listed on the BRIDGE, our university’s online database for internships and jobs. I stumbled upon it quite accidentally, as do many students who are not consciously looking to spend a year in northern Africa. As an applicant, you are required to rank three of the seven available positions at the university including Office of the President, Office of Development and (my personal favorite) the Desert Development Center focused on creating sustainable livelihood projects for Egypt’s desert communities. It’s different from ANYTHING I saw myself upon graduation and the application is due January 31st. Time to get a move on.

Life is nothing more than sending a finite number of bubbles into the universe. Some perfectly formed spheres find their way onto sharp tree branches and shiny needle points but others grow, unencumbered by gravity, and float their way to new heights. I say create bubbles early and often because the world can’t possibly pop them all.

Beginning of the End

Take down the 2011 calendar. Rip out notes from last semester’s notebooks. Spend $200 on new books from Amazon. That’s right folks– it’s time for another semester. The beginning of the end.

My “seniority” is reflected as I recount my academic stories to new freshmen tour guides. It stares at me during a discussion of the senior piece for the Dance Company’s spring concert. And each time I write the date and year, I am reminded that my peers and I represent the Class of 2012. When did I become a senior in college? It’s a question I imagine most of my classmates are asking themselves tonight, just a day before their last first day of class. The seniors seemed important four years ago. And somehow taller. They had infinite wisdom about the college environment, social norms and ways to reach the best job opportunities. Yet here I am on the verge of graduation just as confused as ever.

The Bucknell Magazine published a small article about me in the Winter 2012 edition that was stuffed into my campus mailbox this morning. I had almost forgotten about my brief interview and photo shoot last semester, posing awkwardly on various parts of campus which included the quiet section of the library. Students got a nice little study break while they watched me attempt a variety of smiles from my position on the large orange sofa. Go back to work, folks. Nothing to see here. 

Bucknell Magazine — Winter 2012

’Ray Bucknell, p.15


“Layovers don’t count,” says Katelyn Tsukada ’12, who notes that her father has been
to more than 50 countries, and she would like to match that number.
Tsukada, a tour guide and the outreach coordinator for the Bucknell Dance
Company, started a blog last spring to chart the beginning of her travels and to keep in
touch with family and friends when she entered the sustainability program at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) in Denmark.

Along with travel, environmental studies have remained important to Tsukada,
who received funding from the Bucknell Public Interest Program (BPIP) for internships
to focus on environmental law and policy for two consecutive summers. In Washington,
D.C., she conducted research at an independent think-tank, the Environmental Law
Institute. Last summer, at the Law of Nature Foundation in the Philippines, she examined
environmental law and advocacy, while focusing on decreasing fossil fuel and on marine
protected areas for the coral reefs. Tsukada is planning the first environmental conference
in the spring at the Bucknell Environmental Center. Her goal is to invite six to eight
different schools to talk about their campus initiatives with the hope of taking away new

“Travel is all around us,” Tsukada says, as she notes how her travel blog has
evolved from new cities and food to parallels between culture and environmental
practices and to more recent adventures, for example, with the LSAT and with
vegetarianism. Recently, Tsukada read that Japan is offering 10,000 free airline tickets to
boost the tourism. The stipulation is that you have to have a blog. “My new goal with my
blog is to win a ticket. It’s a dream, but it would be perfect to travel and learn more about
Japanese culture and what it means to be Japanese-American,” says Tsukada.

— Kelly Anzulavich

BPIP Poster

This past summer I received funding for my Philippines internship through the Bucknell Public Interest Fund or BPIP. The fund provides a stipend of $2,500 for students who secure an unpaid internship with a non-profit organization or government. The program was originally based on similar funds at other universities and provides students with the means to partake in valuable internship opportunities that lack financial compensation.


On October 22, there was a BPIP Breakfast held where all recipients and donors were invited to attend. I saw a number of posters detailing other incredible internship experiences of students who had worked with children diagnosed with cancer, taught English in India, or raised money for a girls school in Africa. Here is my poster!

Thinking back on my last three year at college, Bucknell has provided me with the resources to experience amazing things. I wouldn’t have been able to live in Washington, D.C. and work with the Environmental Law Institute or travel across the Philippines working with environmental initiatives if the BPIP fund did not exist. Last fall, I studied for an entire semester in Denmark and this spring break I will be going to the Dominican Republic with a Bucknell service group called A.C.E.S.  And these accomplishment are not unlike many Bucknell students. So many of my friends have taken advantage of even more opportunities to broaden their horizons and positively change people’s lives.

Yesterday, as I donated to the Senior Gift Drive, I thought about the personal growth I had experience since my time at college. I thought about the clubs I joined, the classes I took and the friends I made. The future is uncertain and my 5-year plan is foggy as a November morning. But I value every part of my “liberal arts education” for shaping the person I am today.

Oh, and you can read my BPIP Spotlight here!

Laws of Life

A long table sits in the center of a room. Chairs are set up on either side, separated by small name tags that make a white dotted line down the center. On one side, 16 distinguished lawyers are seated with relaxed expressions, each with a small Dasani bottle sweating beads on condensation onto the table top. They are volunteers, men and women who have traveled from their respective hometowns to give advice regarding a career in law. We, anxious undergraduate students, sit across the table and contemplate the years of schooling and experience that span the carpet separating our chair legs and theirs. These professionals see reflections of their former youth in confident juniors and seniors biting at the bit for the chance to prove they have what it takes to be an “Attorney at Law.”

Speed Mentoring, 3-minute conversations with lawyers in a variety of fields, was a great idea. My university thought it would be helpful for pre-law students to have personal interactions with people who might be hiring in the next 4 years, people who had gone to law school and lived to tell the tale. I got a variety of advice:

1. Study for the LSATs. Get into the best law school you can.

2. It is an extremely competitive job market now, compared to when I graduated. Know what kind of law you want to practice.

3. “Well I was between graduate school and law school. Then Harvard Law called me and told me I had been accepted. You don’t turn down Harvard Law.”

I left the event feeling a little shaken. My reasons for wanting to attend law school, I found, were vastly different from a number of lawyers and students I had spoken to. Environmental law doesn’t make a lot of money, isn’t about large corporate firms or Tier 1 networking. There is no glamor, no high-profile grove of trees or celebrity Superfund site. But then again, I realized I didn’t know what environmental law really was or if it would be something I could do. I need a stable job, sufficient income, and comfortable bed just like anyone else. Reconciling the needs of daily life with a young person’s desire to “make a difference” is difficult to do.

And the LSAT, my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s golden ticket to law school, is a dull bronze at best. What is it about standardized tests that makes a person question everything he or she previously believed about intelligence and future success?

I tell myself I’m improving. I say I am capable of anything. And yet the practice tests and bubble sheets layered deep within my brain convolutions have begun to seep black tendrils of doubt deep into my logical core. The  forecast of failure is hard to erase. Comparing my brain capacity, summed up in a three digit score, to thousands of other students in the country ripping their hair out over that third logic game or last logical reasoning section isn’t particularly appealing either. Should I stop looking toward the 90% percentile as a hopeful future and string a hammock between the lower half of the percentile curve instead? That I cannot answer. All I know is that I want to do well because  I expect that for myself. Because I’m terrified a bad grade somehow translates to bad person. Irrational but honest.

My godmother sent me an e-mail this week, detailing her similar studying experience regarding an online update for her family practice boards. I can say with absolute certainty that she is one of the most intelligent people I know, with a memory perfectly designed for medicine and standardized tests. She wrote, “the questions are ambiguous, the references don’t provide the answers to the questions, the site doesn’t work well and last but not least, IT MAKES ME FEEL STUPID.” She asked if this was similar to my LSAT preparation and voiced her sympathy.

And that’s the fear: realizing you aren’t as intelligent as you thought after all. The feeling of smallness.

And so I’ve realized that I do not fear the LSAT on October 1st, nor do I fear the work associated with law school or bar certification. I fear that rejection somehow reflects who I am as a person, measuring how much or how little I will accomplish in my life. But rejection, any rejection, does not define me. My self-worth is nothing a test, a law school or a job offer, can take from me. And who doesn’t struggle now and then with the feeling your contribution is just a raindrop in the universal ocean of human kind?

That is the Question?

As children, we question everything. “Why is the sky blue?” “What’s in this soup?” “Where do dead things go?” It is our way of examining the world with our tiny magnifying glasses of innocence and wonder. To me, asking questions was an effortless and necessary part of figuring out people, objects, and my pet cat Charlie to which I was allergic.

In high school, we would get extra points for having questions whenever a guest speaker came to talk. Before the first sentence was uttered, hands would be raised flapping in the air like birds in flight. The answers were never important. The fact that we had come up with a question was satisfaction enough.

Questions in college got harder to ask and even harder to answer. The questions required thought and the answers were less available in their purest form, reduced to scratched prisms that twisted and bended beams of thought. I started to learn the power of the question, of a question, in how one lives life and values the opinions of others. I wanted to ask a big question, an important question. And this desire to find one large, expansive question lead me to my decision to write a senior thesis.

At the end of my junior year, my thesis question seemed far away and full of possibility. I could research whatever interested me, searching for answers to the question I posed. But that question is no longer a mirage in the distance. Yesterday, my thesis advisor informed me that I had a lot of great ideas about the Philippines, its social structure, and internationally funded environmental protection projects. My adventures over the summer would definitely come in handy over the next 7 months when I would begin to wrestle with the available data. But right now what I needed most of all…was a question. A simple request at the surface, but coming up with just one question proved harder than I could have imagined. And I am struggling…

My grandfather sent me a gift last week, tucked inside one of his homemake cardboard boxes. The small wooden carving about two inches high had come alone. No note, no explanation. But isn’t that the way of questions?  They often appear quite out of the blue, just to make sure you’re paying attention.


Senior in College

It’s raining today in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. A slow and steady rain that knocks against the leaves outside my bedroom window. The weather is still warm and muggy and I’m reminded of the Philippines weather during rainy season. My summer experience feels so far away.

Being back at college for my final year is wonderful. My five girlfriends and I have moved into our new house, nicknamed Blue Crumbles, and are slowly learning to cook dinner, take out the trash and wait in line for the single shower. My room is the biggest room I’ve ever had and I feel like I’m coming home every time I climb the stairs and open the first door on the left. There is a sense of freedom gained from living off campus, a sense that life is slowing down and waiting for you to catch your breath. And that’s the catch. Life isn’t waiting, isn’t looking behind with an outstretched hand. Life is sprinting full speed ahead and you close your eyes hoping you’re moving in the right direction.

I could write about my first desperate attempt to cook dinner which resulted in the blandest eggplant dish known to mankind. I could detail the hours of sorority practice and conversations for recruitment in order to snag the best pledge (we did). Or the last Dance Company auditions I would watch, multiple attempts to begin my thesis and grabbing lunch with friends I haven’t seen since sophomore year. My last two weeks have been great but the words end and last continue to creep into my brain, a shadow of self-doubt about the future that lies ahead.

I took my senior pictures last week and got through most of the fake half-smiles before realizing the reason for the pictures. Wearing a cap and gown and posing with the tasselled hat against my chest I felt strange and confused. Later in the week I sat in my first 3-hour LSAT prep class and thought about the step after the preparation, after taking the test. Law school. Do I want to be an attorney? I can’t even decide what I want to make for dinner let alone the next three years. And considering I signed up 3 days after the deadline and have to drive 40 minutes to the test site I would say I have long-term planning issues.

So my blog is not going to turn into senior year quibbles but I needed a chance to say my future is fuzzy. And how that can be daunting at times, the way the night sky looks when the blackness extends outward into space. But I can only live one day at a time and today was a pretty good day.