Safe Travels

snowy road

As everyone begins to travel for the holidays, it is important to keep the weather forecast in mind. At this time of year, there are often unexpected snow blizzards, freezing rain, and unplowed streets. Recently I had the terror of driving in fresh snow. It may not look slick but I assure you it is.

As the snow came down that Saturday evening, I found myself going 35 on the highway, struggling to see the white lines hidden under the layers of snow. The brakes seemed to enjoy ‘sledding’ in the snow. They truly refused to listen to my foot as they played with the snow like I did as a child. Later as I tried to make a turn, the wheels themselves seemed to slide on the ice, with a mind of their own. Finally 40 minutes later I completed a car ride that should have lasted less than 15 minutes. Despite how long the car ride took me, at least I reached my destination safely.

That day I was on my way to the hospital where I volunteer at the Emergency Desk. That night it was evident that the roads were slick; every 15 minutes we would get a new motor vehicle crash. When you wind up in the hospital with a bad sprain or worse, it makes you think twice about whether the minute you would have saved by going fast was truly worth it.

Looking at this week’s weather forecast, it looks like the Midwest will be getting a mix of rain and snow right before Christmas. While it is nice to have snow on the ground for a beautiful white Christmas there are the driving risks as well. So just to be safe, either stay home and make delicious chocolate-chip cookies for Santa, or book-in extra time for your travels according to the road conditions.

Happy Holidays!


Inside the Mind of a Child

Piaget was a famous psychology theorist who proposed that children develop certain skills at different ages and recently we covered his theory in my AP Psychology class. To me, it was fascinating to look at the world from the perspective of children at different ages. According to Piaget, all human go through four stages: Sensorimotor (0-2), Preoperational (2-6), Concrete Operational (7-11), and Formal Operational (12 and up). Various different abilities fall into each of these stages. A few that we learned about are

  • object permanence: Understanding that an object still exists, even if it isn’t currently visible
  • conservation of matter: a quantity remains the same even if its shape changes
  • egocentrism: everything revolves around you

Over the years, psychologists have developed a series of tests to confirm Piaget’s theory. After having learned about all these different ideas, my AP Psychology class was very excited to test the theory ourselves. So on Friday, three kids came to our class and were subjected to various tests.

To test object permanence, we showed the children a puppet and then hid the puppet behind our back. Infants younger than 6 months old were fascinated. Unable to understand that the puppet was simply behind someone’s back, the infants truly believed that the puppet had disappeared. This explains why infants find peek-a-boo and similar games highly amusing.

For conservation of matter, we had three beakers. Two were the same size, and the third one was taller and skinnier. After filling the two same-sized beakers with equal amounts of water, we asked the kids if the kids if the amount of water in the beakers was equal or not. To this question, all the kids answered that the amount of water was equal. We then proceeded to pour the water in one of the beakers into the taller, skinnier beaker. When asked the same question again, most kids under the age of 6 said that the taller beaker had more water, despite having seen that no water was added in the process. This lack of conservation of matter often explains why children complain about getting less. If there are two slices of pizza that are the same size, children under the age of 6 will think that the slice cut into 6 pieces is bigger than the same slice cut into 3 pieces.

Lastly we checked ego-centrism. This characteristic slowly fades away in children until they are six, so there are many tests for the level of ego-centrism. If I were to ask a 1 year-old to show me a picture they drew, they would most likely hold up the picture facing themselves. The 1 year-old would fail to understand that I couldn’t see the picture even though she could. If I were to ask a 5 year old if they had a sibling, they would say yes. But if I were to ask that same 5 year old if their sibling had a sibling, they would answer no unable to understand that if Sally has a brother Joe, Joe then has a sister Sally.

It was really interesting to see the world from the view point of a child, and understanding this theory helped me understand all the quirky and ‘annoying’ things little kids do.

If you would like to see a video of the Piaget theory being tested, there is a video below!

Film of the Syrian Uprising

Last week’s full edition of 60 Minutes

“If there is one good thing I have ever done to you, it was getting you hooked to 60 Minutes.” That’s what my dad tells me every Sunday at 6 as I settle myself in front of T.V. As a busy teenager I often don’t make time to get updated on the current events of our day and thus my main source of information is listening to NPR in the car and watching 60 Minutes on Sunday.

This Sunday, the edition of 60 Minutes was fascinating, though-provoking, and emotionally disturing.

One of the stories showed me how to travel with film. This story focused on a movie being made of Abdul Baset Al-Sarout and the Syrian uprising. This charismatic soccer player became the leader of the rebel forces in the Syrian uprising at age 19. Talal Derki is the director of the film and followed Abdul Baset Al-Sarout capturing footage of the daily lives of these civilians and the struggles the rebels were facing to get supplies to end the regime of their oppressive government. The footage these men were able to get is the most vivid and up close footage ever taken of war. With the safety reducing daily, Tala Derki and his crew were forced to flee the country. For a while they tried to train Baset’s men via skype to take footage. That, however proved to be a complicated task.

The film crew needed more footage for the movie but had difficulty finding people to get videos. This is when Seema, a Kurtish woman contacted the director. Not only did she have a camcorder, but she also had the desire to capture the daily struggles of the rebels’ battles. Her videos have now been weaved into a new movie which will forever serve as eye witness evidence of life in Syria and the Middle East today.

Throughout the story the quick clips from the movie were played. The raw emotions captured in this footage transported me to Syria, putting me in the shoes of the mother who just lost her son, or the man whose house was just decimated by a bomb. These clips play on multiple senses to portray the accurate, unfiltered reality. Though it was difficult to watch, I think videos like these need to be seen by the government and public so action is taken to end the atrocities that are occurring in our world today.



Anderson Cooper

Today I hope to take a quick break from travel and talk about ‘presence of mind’. Today as a watched 60 Minutes  I heard a story about a new movement to live your life in the moment called Mindfulness. We have always heard about this through various popular quote: live today like it’s your last, live for today not for tomorrow, etc. But how many of you actually live in the moment? I know that personally I am constantly thinking about what I need to do next.

So in the 60 Minute story, Anderson Cooper met with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leading MIT trained scientist in the Mindfulness movement. For three days him and a group of adults he was with put away all electronic devices, including alarm clocks and focused on meditating and being aware of exactly what they were doing; whether that was breathing or simply walking. While Anderson Cooper expressed cell-phone ‘withdrawal’ symptoms, he believes that the three-day retreat has made him a more focused and aware individual.

The Newly Mindful Anderson Cooper

This lifestyle has been proved to have so many health benefits that hospitals around the world use it as a treatment for highly-stressed individuals. Google has even begun to teach Mindfulness classes and take a moment of silence at the beginning of meetings to allow everyone to gather their thoughts and focus on the task at hand.

After listening to this story, I briefly attempted to experience this mediation. Within 30 seconds the experiment proved to be a failure. I was already thinking about getting PSAT scores tomorrow, the Mini Dance Marathon later this week, and ACT scores that I will be getting back later this month. In our busy life styles, it is easy to be overwhelmed with all we have to do, but after listening to this edition of 60 Minutes, I have decided to try to implement this policy occasionally.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, anticipating that listeners would feel like this was one more thing to add to their busy life, made sure to mention that no one should feel like they have to do the meditation. The ultimate goal is for Mindfulness to be a way of being, not a time consuming addition to your list to check off.

So this holiday season, instead of stressing about your travels, gifts to buy, and food to make, please try to enjoy the moments with your family in real time. While reminiscing afterwards can bring you happiness, the best experience is relishing the present moments.

Malaria in India

While I was writing my last blog post, I was reminded of my trip to India in second grade…

I had been eagerly looking forward to this trip for over 5 months, counting down the day, and running around the house over-flowing with excitement. When the day finally arrived for us to board the plane and go to India, I jumped out of bed at 4 am, putting up none of the usual resistance to waking up early. The entire four hour car ride to Chicago, I asked my parents countless questions about our travel. I really couldn’t wait to see all of my extended family again.

When we arrived in India, we were greeted by my uncle in Bombay. We arrived in the heart of the monsoon season so the next day as we were shopping, I found myself tromping through huge water puddles that reached above my ankles. As an 8 year-old the puddles only appeared as fun to splash in, my mind wasn’t thinking about the ability for the stagnant water to carry and spread diseases. Anyways, we had a great time in Bombay and a week later we went to see my mom’s side of the family, who live in a different state. The first week there was splendid. We caught up with our family and ate our grandma’s wonderful meals. On the fifth day, both my dad and I came down with a fever. For the first few day, our temps were surprisingly the exact same. A few days later, I began to recover, returning to my bouncy-self. My dad, on the other-hand, took a turn for the worse. With a week he was diagnosed with malaria. Luckily my great uncle is a doctor who was able to provide treatment at home. Though my dad had received several different vaccination shots before his arrival, a mosquito in Bombay successfully infected him with malaria.

My dad went through a painful recovery process, experiencing extreme lethargy, difficulty breathing, and chills, among other symptoms. Two weeks later, after postponing our flights multiple times, my dad began getting up and walking around again.

Thanks to current medical technology, and an immediate diagnosis and treatment, my dad didn’t fall into the one of millions who die of this disease annually. Again I remind you to always be cautious when you are traveling!

From the Columbian Exchange to Ebola and Food Insecurity

In my history class, we recently reviewed the Columbian Exchange which allowed the spread of nutritious foods, but also disease. When this exchange began around 1500 the New World was introduced to bananas, potatoes, and many other fruits, vegetables, and grains. This new nutritious diet caused a dramatic increase in population and lifespan. At the same time, however, diseases spread across the seas, infecting individuals with no inborn immunity. Small Pox alone killed over 90% of the Native American population. As time went on, however, the medical field advanced, vaccinations and antibiotics were developed, reducing human’s fear of infectious disease when traveling.

Recently, this fear of disease has been reestablished with the sudden outbreak of Ebola. Originating in Western Africa, in March of this year, the disease quickly spread within the continent and even reached across the Atlantic Ocean to America. With a fatality rate approaching 90% (like Small Pox) this highly contagious disease has the potential to infect up to 20,000 individuals before the outbreak is gotten under control. Furthermore, though the initial symptoms are flu-like, vomiting, diarrhea, and internal and external bleeding follow, causing a painful death.

Sitting in a developed nation with top medical facilities and health insurance, I often fail to comprehend to fatality of any disease that isn’t cancer or cardiovascular-related. Though the news had daily coverage of the outbreak, the seriousness only hit me in October. As I was getting ready for the World Food Prize conference, I examined the weekend agenda and was thrilled to see that the President of Sierra Leon would be the keynote speaker the first morning. The day before I went to the conference, however, I was informed that the President would be giving a live video-cast, unable to leave his Ebola-stricken country and fearing further spread of the disease.

Later that weekend I learned the impact of Ebola on food-insecurity. The Ebola crisis hit just as harvest season began in West Africa. The reduced number of healthy workers left many fields to rot. To make matters worse, many ports were closed to prevent any further spread of the disease, causing the price of cassava (a staple crop) to increase by 150% in Monrovia, Liberia. This crisis has led to over 1.3 million individuals in need of food assistance.

So, I guess this blog is my way of telling you not to discredit the serious issues in our world. Diseases that I stopped fearing, trusting the medical advances of the day, are rebounding and claiming thousands of lives. Travel is not always a fun adventure, it can be dangerous and serious precaution must be taken.

Road Trip Tips for Families

road trips

It’s getting to that time of year when people are traveling to be with their families for the holiday. So on a 10 hour car ride to grandma’s house, how do you keep peace without dying of boredom? Well as I have discovered over the years, there are many things to do and games you can play.

Often with everyone’s busy schedules, even families who live together spend little time together and thus know little about each other’s lives. So it is always good to start the ride off by just talking about what you have been up to. If you tend to be chatty like me, be careful not to dominate conversation and give others a chance to speak. But there is only so long that everyone wants to list to each other, so once you have reached the end of your conversation, it may be time to listen to NPR (national public radio) and get updated on the current events of the world, or jam out to classic holiday music.

If your family is anything like mine, we quickly resort to family games. A popular game is what is colloquially referred to as the Word Game or Last Letter Game. In this simple game, a category is picked and one person starts with a word relating to that category. The next person has to state another fitting word that starts with the last letter of the previous word (ex. Category: Animals cat, tiger, rabbit, etc.). One tip: try to make all your words end with the last letter to stump your opponent quickly.

Another game that can be played as a family is the Alphabet game. In this game each participant tries to find words that have a certain letter in them and they have to go in order. Road signs, license plates, and building names are all viable options. The first one to reach z wins. (My brother and I have spent many hours playing this game! J, X, and Z tend to be the most challenging letters.)

Singing is yet another option. In a Riff-off there are two or more teams and one group starts with any song. The other group can then jump in with any song that uses the same word.

Eventually once you have exhausted these games, it may be time for a short nap, reading a book, or playing individual games like hand-solitaire. With these quick tips, you will be at Grandma’s house in no time, happy, rested, and ready for the holidays!