I feel like I haven’t spent much time over the past 5 years of my education to really reflect on what I’ve learned or who I was becoming. The close of my Parisian experience is quickly approaching, and I feel like I understand myself better now than I ever have before, and it feels really great to say that.

At the beginning of this experience, there was a steep learning curve, to say the least, but I think it was because I didn’t take the time to just slow down – to just soak it all in. I’m currently really proud of myself. Grad school and Paris made me realize some of the important lessons.

I don’t come from a very well-off, “nuclear” background, based on my society’s definitions. My parents were never married, and their relationship was never all-that stable. I lived with my mom most of the time, and my mom lives below the US poverty line. Both my parents worked a lot when I was growing up. I spent a good bit of my teenage years with an extensive amount of alone time, and I occasionally got mixed up in things that I shouldn’t have because of it. I think getting mixed up was probably the best thing for me, though. And it’s because that’s where I believe I found my greatest talent: the ability to know when it’s time stop what you are doing and ask for the help of others.

At the beginning of this experience, I lost a little bit of that talent. Now I realize that that is literally my greatest strength and that I should never, ever, ever allow myself to lose touch with it again. I’ve grown a lot, and it has nothing to do with being in a new place. For the most part, I think most places have far more similarities than they do differences. However, it has everything to do with the people I have met who have helped me to grow.

Relationships can be God’s greatest gift, as well as God’s greatest curse, to the Earth. However, I feel like I’ve been lucky in that department, and I am so grateful for the relationships that I have made here. They’ve made me realize that the people we surround ourselves with can either work to water us or suck us dry of our nutrients. Who we surround ourselves with is not always our choice, but -while sometimes unfortunate- it can be one of the biggest factors of whether we succeed or not.

Our survival is literally dependent on the support of others, in my opinion. This is going to sound shallow, but I mean this in a sincere way: social relationships are an important type of capital. I guess I’m using this blog post to thank those who have loved me and believed in me so fervently throughout these years of my constant changing. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned here is that keeping a constant sense of gratitude can shape your whole reality for the better. I hope to always be gracious for those who have loved me through all my faults.

Personal part:

First off: my parents. Mom, you did it all. Thank you so much. You allowed me to be open and to be my honest self with you without judgement. You taught me how to read when I was having problems reading. You always made sure I was fed, even if you had trouble feeding yourself. You are the most selfless person I know. Dad, thank you for making sure I was always provided for and for always being so generous with what I needed to go forward. I understand that a lot of my opportunities came from your willingness to put me first. Mom and Dad, together your love and resources were sometimes the only things pulling me out of the problems I created for myself. You never gave up on me and you always forgave me, and I’ll never forget that, especially concerning how I treat other people.

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Jordan, you are the love of my life. You have pushed me so far out of my realm of comfort and reality and crafted me into a better person. You love me so much that you forced me to help myself. I didn’t even have to ask you. You were always there, and the extent of your love continues to surprise me everyday.

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Wendy and Bryan, you are both so amazing that you dumbfound me. You were my age – younger- and you took on the responsibility of me when mom or my dad couldn’t. You both introduced me to so much and helped give me a lot of my views of the world. I love you. I can’t comprehend how good of siblings you have been to me.

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Mrs. Hamlin, you were the first teacher to believe in me. You figured out what my talents were and you gave me the tools to better them. You are the best teacher I’ve ever had. I don’t know if you’ll ever see this, but I think about you and all that you helped me with all the time. You are one the people I credit for my success.

Derek Berry, you’ve taught me everything about friendship. We’ve both been so awful and so great, but none of that has ever mattered. We’ve always had each other, through it all.  I love you so much.

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Emilie Duck, having you as a professor my first semester of college helped me more than you could ever know. You are the most empathetic and understanding person I know, and I’m so happy to have you as a forever friend.

Dr GK and Lauren, you gave me so much academic confidence that I really never had before. Thanks for being two strong women in academia that I could look up to. I don’t think you know how much you inspire me. Thank you for all of the knowledge and this wide open mind. Dr. GK, you have challenged me in ways that I wasn’t used to. Because of you, I feel like I could tackle anything. You have built up my brain and my heart.

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Carina, you’ve been one of my best and most loyal friends. We have traveled the world together and have learned extensively from each other. I will always love this earth for putting us on the same path.

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Cait and Lauren, you always had my back when others didn’t. Meeting the both of you truthfully made my attendance to Penn worth it, even if there was no other benefit, meeting the both of you would have been enough. You guys taught me so much about support and how to be a good friend. You taught me so much about the multitudes of humanity. I love you both so much. Thanks for always building me up.

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Ari, meeting you saved me. I feel like I’ve never known someone who has understood me better. You are the chillest person I know, and your confidence, strength, and opposition to injustice inspires me. I love you.

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Coming to Paris, my expectations were low – almost non-existent. All of you stayed here for me, but I want to spend some time to acknowledge the wonderful people I met at UNESCO as well – those who made this experience exceed my expectations.

Gabby, you were the first person to make sure that I was okay. You gave me work that I really loved doing and provided me with emotional support and friendship, even though you are my superior at work.

Borhene, you taught me all about formalities and made me more assertive. These are tools I can’t thank you enough for.

Katerina, I really loved working with you. You were always so easy to talk to, and it was awesome to meet someone with the same interests – who I felt like was more educated on the things I am interested in.

Lilian, you are the master connector. One of your greatest strengths is how well you connect those that you know will like each other. You are seriously the best, and you are so great at your job.

Rita, I did not expect to meet a friend like you here. You and I have helped each other become. I know that we will be friends for a long, long time. You’ve walked me through panic attacks, you’ve taught me how to salsa, and you’ve just been one of the best friends I could ask for. Man, you are so loved. And you are so smart, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

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Marcos, you kept my spirits up and made sure I stayed close friends with my sense of humor. You always acknowledged me, and your ability to have a serious conversation without taking anything personally is something that I hope rubbed off on me. You rock.

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Yewon, sharing an office with you made life so fun. I love being around you. You are so genuine and sweet. Honestly, you’re not human. You’re an angel.

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Q and Candace, you both are so sweet. I loved sharing this experience with you both. You two will go so far. I loved all of our conversations and all the great memories we made.

Dana, you have the self-respect and courage of a lion. Jesus, you can do anything. And you’re probably the funniest person I know. You taught me how to stick up for myself and to say ‘no’ better. You put your needs first, and I respect that so much.

 

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Gauthier, you taught me that criticism is always needed and that we can use it to make ourselves better. You have made me better. You have made me stronger.

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Things that aren’t personal? (They kinda are, but not as personal)

I think that we should never allow ourselves to be the smartest ones in a room. We should also never let our ignorance make us feel small……. that is, if we are willing to learn from those who are probably smarter than we are. Just go ahead and assume that everyone knows something that you don’t. I think that this diversified knowledge is what makes life so much fun. If I had to offer any advice to pre-internship Iva, it would be to surround yourself with people you respect, people who are intelligent, and people who are sensitive, ALWAYS. If you can find people with all three of those attributes, let them speak more than you speak. Another piece of advice I would have is to allow yourself to listen to a different opinion without assuming that that opinion is directed at you, and to always be grateful for the people and experiences that shaped your reality. We all stand on different land on the same Earth.

UNESCO helped me to realize how important different perspectives are and how everything is capital, meaning that everything can work to put you ahead or to put you behind, but it is us who gets to choose how we utilize our resources. It is us who gets to give the permission to be helped. It is our decision to involve others in our lives – whether we welcome their true selves with open arms or with hostility. It is our decision to let that hostility hold us back from learning. It is our decision to remain grateful for the things that have naturally pushed us ahead and to remain cognizant of the ones that work to hold us back.

Growing up, I didn’t have much capital. But I did have a surplus of the most important form of capital: love… even when I didn’t always deserve it. Vulnerabilities are important. Allowing ourselves to be loved and believed in is the most important. Accept yourself for who you are. Accept those who love you for who they are, and always, always, always take the time to reflect – so you can identify yourself – and those who mean the more than the whole entire world to you in the first place.

I am where I am today because of the love that has molded and grounded me. Everything I am, I owe to you all.

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That’s all I have.

-Iva