I’ve been trying to write these past few days but the process is slow and grueling and really quite unproductive. I keep waiting for my thoughts to actually get out and show themselves but they are still stuck somewhere deep down inside. The act of writing is usually my means for sorting through them, making them fit together into sentences gives them a sense of coherence, structure. But here, I am utterly incapable of doing so.
I caught myself wondering this morning why exactly this was. And then I realized that my writing is about wrestling. It’s about confronting discomfort. But here I am really quite comfortable. Here where we still eat dinner in bed. Because. Where it is perfectly acceptable to have hot butter fried cuttle fish and fries with a sundae on top for dinner. Where they still call me baba even though I’m pretty sure the real world has started calling me an adult. Because. Where I can stay in my PJs. All.day.long. Just reading, sometimes. Here, where there is the comfort of AC & the passenger seat. Not having to drive everywhere – figuratively, of course – has reminded me just how exhausting this having to drive always can be.
There are moments of discomfort. Don’t get me wrong. Like when Sunitha and I sit on the edges of a conversation, I trying to converse in a tongue she knows not and her in a tongue I only knew so well very long ago. We are careless with our words though. We toss them around. I start a sound. She finishes it. She makes a move. She makes some hand signals. We figure it out. We move along. There is no stringing together of words. There are just words. For things. That we use. When we need to.
But that’s the problem really. Because what I need now – to write that is – are my words. The right words. Fat words, skinny words, words with other words inside of them. Really, any words will do. As long as they’re my words.
I’m still looking for them.
*But until then, these image will do. Of my life, lately.
With a youth unemployment rate of 36% and climbing in a culture stagnant in its brilliant history, Italian youth are increasingly forced to leave the country in pursuit of a better, stable life. This summer, I found myself among a collection of youth venturing back to one of the most quintessentially Italian cities – Venice – in pursuit of understanding both its current economic state, and the future of our global generation.
Venice is a special place. In a brief two months, I’d had countless rides on the waterbuses around the city (the equivalent of a subway system, boat-wise); consumed a shameless amount of gelato, Nutella, cappuccinos, and fried fish; I was taught the skilled ways of Venetian rowing from a hardy group of singing Voga captains (think crew, but standing gondolier-style); I’d shared lunches of tagliatelle and scallops with Communist dock workers; huddled canal-side with friends in awe of the firework tsunami that initiated the Redentore festival; and explored the city-wide biannual international modern art exhibition known as Biennale, the exhibits of which lay sprinkled between Crusade-era churches, hidden courtyard gardens, and dark, winding walkways that opened to small city squares.
But all these unique bits of Venetian life were welcome additions to the real reason I was there. For six weeks, I took courses in Italian language and Keynesian economic theory through the Harvard Summer School collaboration with the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. We studied alongside Italian students from Ca’ Foscari, many of them already doing graduate work.
Why travel all the way to one of the cultural, artistic, and historical epicenters of the world to take a macroeconomic theory class? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use my time there to embrace the rich history around me? These answers lie not so much in my own perspective as in that of my Italian classmates.
When we weren’t decoding Keynesian prose from The General Theory or explaining how in the world the serendipitous equilibrium moved from E to E’ (what? I know), we chatted over vending machine espressos (they have those) and prodded each other about our lives on the other side of the pond. While we relished in our similarities as young adults and students, what may have drawn us closer was the understanding of our different perceptions of our own futures.
One of my personal and academic passions lies in education reform. Coming to Harvard from an underprivileged background and attending a small, financially struggling high school, I know just how crucial access to quality education is at every level in determining our nation’s future. But as we come back to the individual level, what does having an education mean beyond being in school, upon entering the “real world?”
Although employment conditions are less than optimal in the States, it’s difficult to argue that the consequent blossoming of innovation and entrepreneurial optimism is anything less than booming. Students, employers, and even the political sphere all seem to be embracing the brink of technology and new ideologies in open and applicable ways to increase efficiency and collaboration. Times are changing, and people of all ages and backgrounds grow and change with them. However, in places like Venice and throughout Italy and Europe, the case isn’t necessarily so. Italy’s labor market often proves unfair and restrictive as it protects older generations with permanent contracts, leaving little room for oncoming waves of graduates and young adults to enter the professional sphere – let alone make measurable differences within it. This leaves many young adults in Italy facing the decision to either stay (likely with their parents) and cope with the current system, or become one of the 60,000 youth this year to leave this country for another where their skills and vision have a chance to flourish. I remember. This is the question my classmates face – at a time when their country needs them most.
In order to make education reform across the globe an even stronger cause to fight for, we need to examine the economies in which we endeavor to enact these reforms. In studying the nature of labor markets at the macroeconomic level, I’ve come to connect the many nuances between individual preparation to contribute to society, and the frustration of a system that prevents these contributions from happening – and consequently preventing the economy and the nation from stability, peace, and growth. The Italian students I spoke with are enthusiastic businessmen, activists, writers, programmers, mathematicians, marketers, and overall inspiring visionaries. But all of them saw beyond the beauty of the Venetian exterior into its inextricable ties with the past, its ties to former generations, which overshadowed the rising generations searching for the resources and opportunity necessary to advance the nation.
As fellow students, it is our obligation to reach beyond our borders and help our generation harness its time before it passes. We need to find ways to open the pathways to both education and application thereof if we want to make economic stability and prosperity at the global level a feasible ideal. And it starts with us. Lean in to new perspectives and don’t be afraid to form connections between ongoing problems. Immerse yourself in the unfamiliar to discover the fundamental. Reach out to others with the potential to make a movement. Be critical, be compassionate. And if you ever have a chance, check out Nico’s Gelati along Canal Giudecca – best chocolate chip gelato in Venice!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from I & I! Although the big day has passed, wherever you are in the world, I hope you are still relishing the laughter of friends and family and the warmth that comes with a room full of love, company, and good, good food :)
A friend of mine shared this quote on facebook yesterday which I absolutely LOVE:
love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas when you stop opening presents and listen.
Christmas in the Premaratne household has always been a nontraditional affair in numerous ways, but nevertheless one that is distinctly our own :) This year, we were fortunate enough to be whisked into the White House at the conclusion of Inesha’s semester there this school year. I myself had never been inside, but it was especially spectacular at this time of year with innumerable bunches of tinsel and greenery wrapping its way around grand banisters and shiny marble floors reflecting the twinkling lights above. We spent a lovely weekend in Washington, D.C., eating at the farm and eco-friendly restaurant Founding Farmers (highly recommend it!) and then visiting Gaylord National Resort on the Potomac. When it seems like we don’t often get a chance to spend that much time together as a family, it was a weekend that was much appreciated (though admittedly there were a fair amount of I & I squabbles and Reshini putting her two cents in when it most definitely wasn’t needed) :) Needless to say, I hope whatever holiday you are celebrating at this time of year reminds you how nice to is to hear the house (or car) filled with the chatter, laughs, and occasional shouts that inevitably abound when you get a bunch of Premaratnes together.
And next…WE’RE OFF TO SRI LANKA ON THE 31ST! Looks like Inesha and I will be ringing in 2013 on the other side of the pond–that too seems to have become a trend of ours of late :)
As I rush around today lamenting the piles of homework I have to do, this post gave me some perspective. Inspiring and so, so true.
“Because an education is a powerful thing.”–Angelina Jolie
Today, I’ve got 2 versions for you:
The Pumpkin Spice Latté with Whipped Cream (a.k.a. the “why yes, I don’t mind if I do) version:
What an absolutely beautiful autumn day be BE BOLD, which is fitting since every time time I have heard Cheryl Dorsey speak she conveys exactly that message.
As the President of Echoing Green, a nonprofit which supports emerging social entrepreneurs around the world, Cheryl Dorsey must be incredibly busy. Yet, when she speaks to you, she looks you in the eye with genuine care for what you are saying.
But with all this buzz around social entrepreneurship, it is also important to realize that everyone just ain’t meant to be one. If you want to be a founder, go for it. But if you want to be a supporter, a fundraiser, an adviser, a communicator–that’s an equally valuable and admirable role. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
In other words, “find your kitchen cabinet.” Figure out what excites you and stick to it. Learn everything you can about it and don’t stop until you start running into the same people, the same books, the same news articles in all your frenetic learning hurry. You want to do it? Great, first know it.
But more than anything, being BOLD isn’t a stand alone concept. To be bold, you must first be open. And here is another one of Cheryl Dorsey’s messages: great ideas won’t just fall into your lap–they can–but most often, you will have to put yourself in as many new and stimulating experiences as possible in order to purposefully stumble upon that next big thing.
….and here’s The Skinny:
- So you want to be a social entrepreneur? Great. First, make sure you are an expert in your field.
- Have you thought about where you want to live one day? Maybe it’s too early to start thinking about that, but then again, it’s never too early. Does your big idea address an issue that exists in that area?
- Star tip: you should have some finance knowledge and know how to fundraise
- Clients often won’t come to you initially, no matter how great your idea or your organization. So, go to them.
- There is as much value in being an entrepreneur as there is in being an intrapreneur, in being a founder as there is in being a supporter.
- The reality is, the world of social entrepreneurship can set you up on a lonely journey. The solution: find a network that will support you and a community such as that provided by Echoing Green and similar organizations.
- Q: If I start an organization, how will I determine my salary and the salary of my employees? An A: Look at the prevailing wage in the area where you are, as well as the potential employee’s education and experience. But also step back and think about it simply: do you want to pay your employees well? Would you rather have a few higher paid employees or a greater number of lower paid ones? You’ll have to think about that for yourself.
The Bottom Line: Find your kitchen cabinet, and fill it with a wealth of knowledge and the people who will support you. If you feel like you can’t do that, fake it. But don’t just fake it till you make it, fake it till you become it.
You are never incapable of being the best possible version of yourself.