Paid in Full

My parents were refugees from Vietnam and arrived in the United States in 1986. They are the hardest working people I know and are driven daily to see us not just live, but thrive. For this, I am forever indebted to them and their sacrifice to provide us the opportunity for the best education. 

When I chose to go to Virginia Tech, I knew it would be a lesson in independence. I had to take out loans and worked to stretch every dollar.  One night, when I was 20 and not far from graduation, I wrote an email to my boyfriend about hopes and dreams for the future. One of those goals was to pay off my student loans by the age of 25. Graduating in May of 2012, I had student loan debt totaling roughly $29,000, a car loan and transition loan from Teach For America (with everything totaling about $44,000). 

I lived with roommates in affordable places, cooked more than I ate out, and increasingly chose to spend money on experiences rather than material things. Over three years later, $38,000 of my debt is gone and my student loans are paid in full. My retirement and savings accounts are small, but growing. I've donated to charities when possible. I am thankful to wake up every day safe and warm. 

My story is not remarkable; on the other hand, I find that my monetary situation is quite average as most college graduates face the same level of debt. I face the same weaknesses that you might. However, every day is a new day for us to learn. You owe it to yourself to pay yourself in full.  

Our only obstacle is how much we think we are worth. 

Ephesians 2:10. 




Keep Learning

Learning is a continual process. My dad, upon moving to Virginia, saw advertisements for free classes to learn how to cut hair. After his escape from Vietnam, he worked a series of jobs, from dish washing to working as a cashier at 7-11 to others that I'm still not sure of. What stuck out when he told me this story was how he understood how important it was to learn and to take advantage of opportunities to grow around you, even if others are not doing the same.   

Those of you who know me are probably familiar with this specific part of my personality - I like to look for opportunities to grow and learn. Although my parents taught me my multiplication tables and how to read chapter books by the age of 4 or 5, they also taught me how to be humble. I never thought I was the smartest person in the room because they taught me that there is always more to question and learn. 

Even when you're not in a classroom anymore, you can learn so much. Don't think you are the smartest person in the room because then you write off the experiences and skills that everyone else brings to the table. 

Surround yourself with people who challenge you to grow - to grow in knowledge, strength, courage and most importantly - love. Keep learning. 

(My dad taught me how to cut hair too.)

The Value of Uncertainty

As much as we tend to plan out our lives, we never really know what is going to happen in the next ten days, ten minutes or even in the next few seconds. 

I am the type of person who likes to have a schedule. My classroom lessons are planned out almost meticulously in order to follow our curriculum. To increase engagement, I build in "high five partner" time when I encourage students to high five each other and discuss or ponder a question. That spontaneity and unpredictability of not exactly knowing what questions or insights they'll have challenges me to keep thinking on my toes. (Also, who doesn't like high fives?)

Uncertainty challenges us to grow, adapt and be nimble. Learning how to take control of the variability of life and embracing it can make you even stronger than you believed you could be. When I am feeling at a loss of what to do, I turn to my faith and to my family for encouragement. I watched The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where she gave this piece of advice - if you can make it through the next ten seconds, you can make it through anything. Find what grounds you and gives you strength - and just count to ten.