6 Reasons Why You Should Move Abroad at Least Once in Your Life

Back in college, I had a very close friend who was an exchange student from Korea. It was a warm summer night — the very night before he had to leave America. Over several bottles of soju, we spent a few hours reminiscing the things we did together in L.A., and how much his English had improved over the year. I remember singing him Chantal Kreviazuk’s Feels Like Home (which btw still makes me cry every time I listen to it) and tears started streaming down his face.

With rosy cheeks and drowsy eyes, he told me, “Cara, you know, living abroad feels like a dream. When you return to your home country, it’s like you just woke up from a hangover. Suddenly, everything becomes reality again.”

I cannot agree more.

Everything little thing feels like a milestone

Living in the same country our entire lives, we take things for granted. Every day is kinda the same and nothing is challenging — but that will change once you move to a different country.

Suddenly, you don’t know how to buy a train ticket, read menus, order food, open a bank account, get your phone fixed after the screen cracked, find shampoo that works with colored hair, tell your landlord your ceiling is leaking, or put trash into the right bins on the right days of the week. Suddenly, you feel handicapped and helpless…

There is always hope.

But also suddenly, you feel an intense drive inside you that pushes you to master the local language. And that’s exactly what I did. I still remember so vividly that it took me a total of 20 minutes to explain to a hairstylist how I wanted to dye my hair ombre. “Err, dark brown here, lighter brown there… Wait how do you say ‘lighter brown’ in Japanese? Um.. yea.. Change color!! Slowly!! Brown!! OK…?” Then the hairstylist would ask a bunch of questions that I didn’t understand and I’d repeat the entire thing again. It was a struggle.

Fast-forward to a few months later, another friend accompanied me to open a bank account — I understood a few words here and there. “I’m making progress!” I thought.

I also joined a local taiko club. This photo sums it up.

Then a few months later, I got into a minor car accident. The police and insurance people were firing questions at me. While I couldn’t explain the situation in full sentences, I understood their questions and was able to provide the information they needed, even though it took much longer than necessary.

Two years later, I moved from the countryside to Tokyo. At that point, I was fluent in Japanese. No more friends had to accompany me anywhere — I went to the local bank and closed my bank account myself, went to the city office and changed my address, went to a new bank in Tokyo to open an account, contacted real estate agents to schedule apartment tours, called the utility companies for inspection, and rented a van and drove 10+ hours round-trip to move my stuff from Niigata to Tokyo. The rest is history.

Me and a van load of stuff. LOL

These things may not seem like a big deal, but I’ll tell you that nothing’s felt better than when I finally understood every word that was spoken to me and I was able to give answers and get things done. I secretly patted myself on the back and whispered, “You did it, Cara!”

And none of these achievements are tangible. I don’t get a certificate for being able to communicate with my hairstylist, nor a medal for being able to navigate life in a new city — but the fulfillment I feel is immense. This is a feeling that only few will understand.

Put your ego aside

Part of the charm of living abroad is that — admit it — you have so little control of your surroundings. Especially if you’re moving to a country that doesn’t speak your mother tongue, you’re going to get lost, feel alienated, and perhaps start to doubt yourself for wanting to move abroad.

To truly get out of your comfort zone, you have to put yourself in an unfamiliar environment. Forget who you are and where you come from for a second, because those things don’t matter anymore when you’re a newbie to a different country. When I first moved to Japan, I remember having to learn a lot of unwritten social rules and not liking to conform. I’d say to my supervisor, “But you don’t do that in America!” or “In America, you can do ______! Why can’t I do that in Japan????” I was comparing Japan to America all the time, until one day he finally said to me, “Cara, this is Japan. You don’t live in America anymore.”

… Then I understood. Whatever expectations and social norms I carried with me from America didn’t and wouldn’t apply in Japan. To fully immerse into the Japanese way of life, I first had to put that American part of me in the past. It’s still part of me, but it’s in the past. To move on, I must adapt.

Discover a you you never knew

Not only do we sound like different people when we speak a different language, but we are also different people when we live in a different country.

Believe it or not, when I lived in Hong Kong (age 3-15), I was a very irritated kid. I would get angry super easily and had trouble controlling my temper — I had no chill 😬. But when I started going to high school in Australia, where everyone was happy and stress-free, I learned to not think a big deal out of everything.

Me and my fave roomies in Sydney!

It was also in Australia that I found a passion for cultural exchange. Staying at a boarding house where half of the students were from Hong Kong and the other half from the outskirts of Sydney, it’s only natural that cliques came into existence. I was initially in the HK group, but after a few months, I realized that my English wasn’t getting any better, and I felt SO not integrated into my new life in Australia. It was then that I started hanging out with my Aussie roomies, asking them to correct my English pronunciation and teach me slangs, and watching English TV shows like Gossip Girl (yep). I also started baking cupcakes! LOL If you know me personally you’d know I’m NOT crafty and can’t bake for my life.

Anyways, I moved to California for college after spending 3 years in Sydney, and wow, how I love the smell of freedom! In America — especially LA — the sky’s the limit and you can dream however big you want. No one’s going to say the word “impossible” and you’re free to pursue a career that fits your lifestyle — whether it be working 80+ hours a week as lawyers/bankers in big cities, or dreaming of making it into Broadway and auditioning every few weeks, or traveling around the country in a van and working part-time in restaurants to make ends meet. Growing up in Hong Kong where career paths are few, I see America as a dream.

America = freedom

Living in Australia and America have “opened me up” culturally, which is why I struggled so bad when I moved to Japan after college, back to Asia where homogeneity is king and social expectations determine everything you do. It was especially hard to adjust to the Japanese expectation on gender roles, but after 3 years, I think I’ve struck a pretty good balance. It was Japan that confirmed my belief that I’m better off living in a Western country.

Restart your life from zero

Moving to a new country without friends and family is scary. Imagine standing on a small island and watching people (who look nothing like you) pass you by, chatting away with their friends in a language you don’t understand. It’s like watching a movie but somehow you have a role in it. Fresh off the boat, you don’t know any unwritten social rules, you don’t get to eat the food you grew up eating, and you don’t have a support system that you can lean on in real-time (video calls just aren’t the same).

Taking part in a local parade in kimono remains one of my favorite memories in Japan!

Every friend you make is an asset. At the beginning of every overseas journey, I did whatever I could to make friends — go to meetups, join student clubs, ask my coworkers out for lunch, etc. Once I got the contact info of one person, I make sure to stay in touch. Then once I have one friend, I ask them to introduce their friends to me — there I have a circle. Ask every friend to do that for me and I have a network. It takes weeks and months to build bonds with people, but my journeys across continents wouldn’t have been the same without the friends I made. Even when I could barely express myself, them being there for me meant the world to me.

Push your boundaries, physically and mentally

Ask anyone who’s lived abroad and they’ll likely admit they’ve cried out of homesickness — probably in the shower. It gets especially hard during the holiday season. Back in college, all my friends would go home for Thanksgiving and I’m left like, okay what’s Thanksgiving… why is everyone going home… where do I go? Where can I go?

And then your family is celebrating birthdays/graduations/weddings and taking family photos without you. You want to be there so bad because your parents and grandparents are getting old. But you also know that moving home isn’t something you want to do. Then you’re left in this limbo state where part of you is in one place and part of you is in another. I’ve lost count of the times I woke up confused because I’d just had a dream about another country I’ve lived in. It gets even more disorienting when pieces from different countries merge together in a dream… but that’s a story for another time.

* * * * *

Moving to a new place means adapting to a new climate. I spent the first 22 years of my life living in warm places (Hong Kong, Sydney, LA) — so Japan hit me hard. I didn’t know that moving to a cold, snowy prefecture meant I’d be freezing to sleep every night, nor that I’d wake up with chilblains, nor that my pipes would be frozen, nor that I’d have to drive in a white-out, with some lighter cars around me blown into the rice paddies. I got seasonal affective disorder for the first time. And it was hard.

This is the driveway outside my rural Japanese house in winter!

Combined with the breakup, car accident, loneliness, and homesickness I was experiencing, I spent four months in depression. Driving past mountains that would remind me of America and the good old days, tears streamed down my face every single day. … Every single day for four bloody months, until spring came and I started making more friends.

I also managed to get a head injury in Japan… what luck lol

That’s why I always tell people that the three years I spent in Japan felt like a decade. The amount of life I lived is way more than Hong Kong + Australia + America combined. I wouldn’t do it over again for a million bucks, but I also wouldn’t trade that experience for a million bucks.

The world is so much bigger than you and your little bubble

One thing that continues to make me roll my eyes in New York City is that a lot of locals like to call this city “the greatest city of the world.” While I don’t completely disagree, I am genuinely surprised by the number of locals I’ve met who don’t see value in traveling or moving abroad. Mind you, New York City is arguably THE MOST culturally diverse city in THE WORLD and yet few people have actually lived overseas.

How can you say something is the “greatest” when you haven’t experienced something else? In fact, what does “greatest” even mean? I’ve lived in six cities across four countries now and even though I have a favorite, I wouldn’t call anywhere “perfect” or “greatest” because every place has its charms and flaws.

Thank you Japan for letting a city girl experience what country life is like

The more places I’ve lived in, the smaller I feel. When you’ve been exposed to different cultures, you’ll realize that yours is only a small part of the world’s cultural fabric. There is so much more to see, learn, and experience.

But… Would I move again?

Honestly, I think I moved to the countries I did at the perfect times of my life. Am I willing to give up a career I tried so hard to get into? Definitely not. Do I want to build my network from zero again? Probably not. As an “alien,” I had to try way too hard to get a job in America and I definitely do NOT want to go through the immigration nightmare again.

But! (Clearly, I’ve thought about this a lot…) If in the future my company were to send me overseas as an expat, I wouldn’t mind moving again. Provided that my partner and future kids can come with me.

While I’ll always reminisce the times I moved overseas on my own, I also understand that I’ve moved on from that stage of my life. Moving countries is fun but exhausting. I’m happy where I am, and I certainly don’t want to go through that loneliness again.

Little did I know that by moving to Japan to teach English, I was introducing a whole new world to my students.

When I have kids of my own though, you know for sure that I’ll be teaching them all the languages I speak, sending them on summer programs in Asia, and making them take a semester in Europe or something 😆

Life is short, so go live around the world and tell me where the “greatest city of the world” really is — mommy wants to know.

I Spent A Month Roadtripping Around the U.S. And Here’s What I Learned

This summer felt like a dream.

Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I had this crazy idea of spending a month on the West Coast. ‘Cause why not? We can both work from home so it doesn’t quite matter where we are located physically. Since I went to college in L.A., I volunteered and did most of the trip planning. We were gonna spend a week visiting Washington and Oregon’s national/state parks, then drive down to different parts of California to see my friends, then eventually end the trip in Utah, where the Mighty 5 national parks are.

A trip that took months to plan ended in a blink of an eye. Averaging <6 hours of sleep each night, we’re both physically and mentally exhausted. That said, I can’t help but indulge in how beautiful that trip was, despite some bumps that we hit on the road (pun intended).

To me, this wasn’t just a trip. It was an opportunity to connect with my distant memories, Mother Nature, and vision for my future.

I haven’t felt so alive in a while

If you know me personally, you’d know that I’m obsessed with U.S. national parks. Call me crazy but they are a big reason why I want to settle down in the U.S., despite the hardship of obtaining a U.S. work visa. Ever since COVID and international travel became an ancient concept, my obsession became even more intense.

Taking in the beauty of the Cascades mountains at North Cascades National Park, WA

Growing up in Hong Kong, I was deprived of nature. There are plenty of mountains and beaches back home, but nothing compares to what America has to offer: glaciers, geysers, volcanoes, sand dunes, salt flats, giant waterfalls, fossils, red rocks, rainforests, canyons, arches, redwood trees, hoodoos, and vast landscapes that dinosaurs once called home… the list goes on.

When I’m surrounded by big mountains or giant prehistoric rocks, I can’t help but feel tiny and think, “Dang, these big guys are just sitting there, waiting to be explored. Why am I wasting most of my days in front of a computer, with this short life that I have?”

And that’s the kind of motivation that pushes me to keep exploring.

Cherry on top? A roadtrip to national parks is cheap. Get a few friends to come with you so you can share an Airbnb, car rental, gas, and national park entrance fees (pro tip: get the annual pass!). No extravagant expenses needed because all you’re doing is hike, hike, and hike!

Home is where the heart is

I left California in 2016 and no one day passes by that I don’t think about this lovely place. Having lived in 4 countries and 6 different cities, I still feel the most at home in L.A. The weather is nice, people are chill, cultures are diverse, nature is plentiful, and most importantly, it’s where I spent the most impactful years of my life and grew to be the person that I am today.

Love this mural at Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

There seems to be something special about visiting the places you’ve lived in before. Walking on the same exact tiles gives me a fuzzy feeling and teleports me back to the times that I’d spent there. People would tell me L.A. traffic sucks and house prices are out of control, but heck I love L.A. I still remember the welcoming cool breeze that blew my way the first time I visited Santa Monica. The ferris wheel, the pier, the sunset, the beaches, the rolling waves, the palm trees, the street performances, the outdoor terraces… All of that together say a good life.

This time around, I got to meet up with friends that I hadn’t seen for 5 years. The last time we saw each other, we were in graduation gowns, congratulating each other and ready to set out and leave our very own footprints on this big wide world.

5 years later, we’ve all led very different lifestyles. Some have finished med school, some have started their own businesses, some have gone back to school for masters/PhD, some have advanced well into their career, some are in between jobs, some have married, some are taking time off to figure life out, some have moved across the world… But if there’s one thing that never changes, it’s that the time we spent together in college still fuels our friendship, and that no matter how long we haven’t seen each other, we’ll still be able to pick up right where we left off.

It means a lot to me to know that even after all these years floating between continents, I can still call L.A. my second home. Thank you so much to every single one of you who made time to see me and reminisce the good times together! I treasure our friendship much more than you think.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

Although our trip on the West Coast looks dreamy and perfect, I’d be lying if I said it was all smooth sailing. Let’s get to story time.

On day 5 of our trip in Washington, we got a flat tire. We had to drive a long way on gravel and got a lil impatient so we drove faster than we should… and pop! Suddenly, one of our tires had less pressure than the rest. And it kept losing air… Yep, we got a flat. Thankfully, my boyfriend is an engineer so he hopped on that spare tire and jack real quick. Meanwhile, I tasked myself with recording the whole process 😆

But what made it more miraculous was that as we were trying to jack the car up, someone saw us and asked if we needed help — he turned out to be a mechanic!!! He pulled over, gathered a few tools and a massive floor jack, and changed the tire for us in like 5 minutes.

Mind you, we were on the mountains at this point… To see another human being is rare enough. To see another human being who happened to be a mechanic? I call it a miracle.

(There’s more to the story: We went to a repair shop soon after and were told that the tire couldn’t be fixed… we then had to drive to a nearby airport to exchange our car. And there we were, said goodbye to a Jeep SUV and hello to a tiny compact Chevvy. Thankfully, the rest of the trip didn’t involve any gravel road 😪)

* * *

A few days later, we hit another bump. This is probably our fault but… we almost ran out of gas in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Like, when we finally got to pump, there were only 10 MILES worth of gas left. Normally, 10 miles would still be fine if you’re in a city, but when you’re in the middle of nowhere — where gas stations are at least 30 miles apart — you’re pretty doomed.

It happened after a hike as well. At first, we had around 50 miles left. Went to a nearby gas station, none of our credit cards worked (and they didn’t accept cash…). Then we drove somewhere else, and they’re out of gas for the day. Then we drove another 10 miles to get to a different gas station — it’s closed for the day. … At this point, we only had like ~15-20 miles left and had already turned off the AC and were driving slow to conserve fuel.

Only 10 miles left in the tank… We almost got stranded on the mountains

When we finally arrived at a place that resembled a town, I almost cried. Never had I been so happy to see gas stations lined up on the streets. We were so scared the whole time — there were barely any signals on the mountains, it was getting dark, we could be stranded… Argh, it still sends shivers down my spine.

Lesson learned: Always pump your gas before heading somewhere remote! Better yet, bring a gas tank if you know that there won’t be gas stations for a good while lol

Maybe a nomadic lifestyle isn’t so impossible

For this trip, I took a week off work and worked from “home” the other 3 weeks. With COVID, my company has gone remote-first and it honestly doesn’t really matter where I am, as long as I’m somewhere in the States. I could work from Hawaii and wake up at 6am for meetings, or camp in the woods… as long as there’s stable wifi so I don’t cut in and out of calls (we all know how annoying that is).

Which got me thinking… Do I really want to be in one place for so long? When my parents heard that we were gonna travel for a month, they were SHOCKED. Because in the traditional (and Chinese) mindset, “normal” life means 9-5 at an office working a job you don’t like but pays the bills, and most likely working OT on most days.

But I’m not about that life.

It took me a while to explain that 1) many U.S. companies have turned remote-first, 2) working in another location doesn’t mean we’re not working, and 3) we’re not crazy.

And I’m sure we all know friends who have just been jetting off and spending months at a time at a new place.

I’d love to do that. And to be honest, now is the best time to do it. Because who knows… maybe companies won’t be so lenient with the WFH situation anymore when things go back to “normal.”

So yea…

Unlike my other blogs, this blog is really just for me to spill all the feelings I have for the West Coast and this dreamy month-long getaway. I’m extremely grateful to have the opportunity to see beautiful sights of a lifetime and catch up with friends that’ve known me from another lifetime. Also super grateful for my job and manager who allows me to work while traveling!

As I finished typing this blog, I’ve also finished planning for our next trip… LOL yep I’ve caught quite the travel bug. I like to book another trip when a trip is about to end… Just so I have something to look forward to 🤪

So, enough about me. Where are you going next?

An Honest Letter From an Australian-Born Chinese on Anti-Asian Violence

Coronavirus isn’t the biggest pandemic we live in — racism is.

Like many other Asian Americans, I am so very angry, heartbroken, and scared watching our community gets attacked across the US recently. From yelling racist slurs, to sucker-punching, slashing, stabbing, and killing — hate crimes against Asians rose by ~150% in 2020, EVEN WHEN hate crimes in general dropped by 7%.

My heart is racing as I type. I don’t care where you are in the world and what color your skin is — this is a systemic issue that requires us all to fight as one. As humanity. There’s a lot to unpack here and I urge that you read ’til the end. And I’ll return your time by giving you my most honest thoughts — even ones that I’m not proud of having.

I wasn’t always proud to be Asian

I’ve never really shared these thoughts with anyone, but I’m opening up now because we need to have these conversations.

Before I start, let me explain my background: I was born in Australia and lived there until I was 3, when my parents decided to move back to Hong Kong. I went to a local school until age 15, then moved back to Sydney for high school. After that, I spent 4 college years in LA, then worked in Japan for 3 years. In September 2019, I moved to New York City and have been there ever since. I’ve always loved cultural exchange — see some of my fave photos from high school and college:

Despite getting top scores in my English reading and written tests in Hong Kong, I couldn’t pronounce many English words correctly (especially the “th” and “v” sounds 🤦🏻‍♀️), let alone speaking fluently. It wasn’t until I moved to Australia that I realized how crappy my English really was, and I blamed it on my parents, “Why didn’t you guys send me to an international school? I wouldn’t have so much struggle with English then!” To which they replied, “Dear, we want you to be able to speak native Chinese.

A couple years went by and I started speaking more fluent English AND picked up a thick Aussie accent. This made lots of people at UCLA ask me where I was from… to which I’d always say “Australia.” It’s not wrong since I was born there and literally just moved from Sydney to LA, but deep down I knew I didn’t say “Hong Kong” because I didn’t want people to think that I’m one of them — the international students who only hung out among themselves and spoke Chinese.

I wasn’t proud, and I did everything I could to disassociate myself from the “fobs.”

The last shameful thought developed when I was in Japan. Being an Asian foreigner in that country isn’t easy — you’re always seen as a lesser foreigner and you don’t get as many privileges as your white counterparts. That’s when I thought to myself, “If only I were white… things would’ve been so much easier then.

I was so wrong.

“Go back to your country!”

This is probably one of the most common racist comments heard, and I heard it for the first time in Japan. I didn’t give it much thought then because I knew Japan wasn’t where I wanted to settle.

7 beautiful childhood friends that I grew up with in HK

Earlier this year, I spent a few weeks in Hong Kong and met up with lots of childhood friends. Most of them went to college in the UK/US/Australia but they’ve all returned. I am the odd one out and just couldn’t help but ask, “Why? Aren’t opportunities better overseas? Think about the freedom, the high pay, and the BIG houses you can live in!!!” To which they replied, “So what? We’ll always be second-class citizens in those white-dominated countries.

I lost my words. Perhaps because I’ve been fortunate enough to go to schools and work at companies that value diversity, I’ve never thought about how my race may impact my quality of life.

That’s when I recall my dad saying, “The only place where you won’t be discriminated against is the place you’re from. Always remember that.

Perhaps that’s why my parents moved back to Hong Kong in 1997. It’s better to be the majority than minority, right? … Right?

How about Asians who never returned home?

Let’s talk about that.

We can trace the first Asians in America back to the 1700s when Filipinos fled to America in fears of Spanish imprisonment, then 1840s when Chinese miners flocked to the States during the California Gold Rush. Many racist laws were in place, such as banning Chinese kids in San Francisco schools and barring entry of Chinese and “Mongolians.” Most Asian workers worked in harsh conditions and received very low pay.

But they persevered.

Last weekend, my Chinese American boyfriend invited me over to his place for dinner. I find myself at home whenever I talk to his parents because they speak Cantonese too. In fact, they’ve managed to build a family here in the US for ~25 years without speaking a word of English.

This picture says it all ❤️

Whenever I visit, they’d spend the entire day prepping tableful of delicious food and have the biggest smiles on their faces when they see their kids happy and healthy. They left their hometowns for a brighter future for the family, even when that means settling down in a country whose language they don’t speak. No matter how low-paying jobs here are and how living conditions may be inhumane for immigrants, they still persevere. (And my eyes got blurry typing this paragraph…)

Look at the Chinatowns across the US. They bustle with street after street of restaurants, salons, supermarkets, pharmacies, schools, community centers… and attract a ton of tourists especially during the Lunar New Year festivities.

Taken at the 2020 Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown, NY

They’re the living history of hardship, perseverance, and a 5,000+ year-old culture.

When I go to the Manhattan Chinatown (and I go there a lot), I see grandpas playing chess at the park, old ladies picking up bottles or cardboard to sell for cash, restaurant workers catching brief cigarette breaks, and people picking fruits at the street vendors. All of these bring me back to my childhood, when I saw the exact same scenes in Hong Kong.

And my beloved dragon boat team is based in Chinatown too! I feel so at home with this team.

Chinatown is a home away from home for me, and seeing it become one of the bloodiest and attack-ridden places breaks my heart into a million pieces.

Imagine one day you come home and find out…

And you know what makes me and many others lose our minds? Almost none of these crimes was categorized as a hate crime. Apparently, saying “I don’t like the way you look” isn’t racist; apparently, “having a bad day” justifies killing eight people.

WAKE UP, WHITE SUPREMACISTS!

These following pictures may be disturbing but I’m asking you all to LOOK AT THEM. LOOK AT THE INNOCENT BLOOD AND BRUISES. LOOK AT HOW MY PEOPLE ARE HURTING.

Not gonna lie, seeing Asians get attacked DAILY has made me really scared to go out. What if someone were to sucker-punch or stab me from behind, or pee on me on the subway (yes, you read that right)? What if I were to go out… and never make it home?

Above all, why should I even be scared? I’ve done nothing wrong and have the rights to pursue my dreams in a country that I love. But you know what’s really scary? Hatred.

If you’re thinking, “That’s none of my business. Why should I care?” Well, you should care because RACISM PLAGUES HUMANITY. Regardless of your social status, zip code, skin color, sexual orientation, disability, we’re all human beings. Sure, our facial features and cultural traditions may have little in common, but there’s something that makes us all the same: the ability to love.

Guess what? America once taught me how to love

2012 was the year my world expanded — I got to make friends with White, Asian, African and Latino Americans at UCLA, and through the Global Siblings Program I also met lifelong buddies from Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Spain, Mexico, Italy, France, Thailand, Turkey, Malaysia, Taiwan, India, the Philippines, Iran — to name a few.

Not only that, I was exposed to and learned from people that are different from me — in sexual orientation, socio-economic status, mental health condition, and family background.

And it was beautiful.

That is the exact same reason why I want to bring up my future kids in America (aka the Melting Pot) and not Asia. I want them to grow up being able to interact with, appreciate, and love all people. The first thing I’m gonna tell my kids when they start going to school is, “Hun, lean in. Sit at the table, and welcome everyone at your table.

The opportunity to engage in conversations with people different from me has opened my eyes in so many ways. I got to see where they’re coming from, how they see the world, how their background impacts on their lives, and how they’ve been fighting to achieve equality.

And that’s what I’m asking you all to do.

Let’s talk.

I Am Not Your Scapegoat
Cheers to NYC’s beautiful “I Still Believe In Our City” Campaign. More details at http://nyc.gov/stopcovidhate

To my white/black/hispanic/other non-Asian readers: Reach out to me or any of your Asian friends/colleagues to start a conversation. Tell us what you think about us and recent anti-Asian attacks, what you want to know, and how we can work together to make the US a more peaceful place. I won’t mind if you bring up the typical stereotypes, but I ask that you join the conversation with an open and honest mind that is willing to listen and love.

Please, look around you. They may not look it or be vocal about it, but your Asian friends/colleagues are hurting. They are angry, scared, disappointed, and likely feel helpless and unheard. And you know what makes me even angrier? That many Asian parents feel bad about carrying self-defense weapons and fighting back. The Chinese culture builds upon harmony, and they don’t want to harm anyone despite getting hurt.

Taken at an anti-AAPI violence rally in NYC in March 2021

To my Asian readers: This is on us. It’s time for us to talk about these painful topics with our families and friends. Whenever possible, take part in rallies and join volunteer groups to raise awareness of anti-Asian discrimination and protect other Asian Americans in the community. Oftentimes, hate comes from a lack of understanding, and we can change that.

This past weekend I got the chance to take part in an anti-Asian violence rally and never have I felt so heartbroken. Many powerful speeches were given and I couldn’t help but sob and think about how, as an Asian living in America, helpless I feel. But because of all the inclusive voices around me, I felt supported and loved. I started to believe that things can change, with acceptance and love. At last, I’m proud to be an Asian. We may only account for 6% of the US population, but together we’re an ocean. That’s also the reason why I chose a picture of me smiling — not sobbing — to feature on this blog. There is always hope.

Also, I hate to say this, but consider carrying a self-defense weapon with you when you go out.

If talking takes too much time, share this blogpost on your social network. The more people who get to read about an Asian’s personal experiences, the sooner we’ll be understood. I truly believe that love can conquer all. It’s likely going to take a long time for systemic changes to happen, but we can start making changes on the community level.

And it begins with you and me.

Please, drop me a comment or send me a message and get chatting. (IG @thecaradventures and Linkedin @ Cara Lam)

Remember, if you can love, why hate?

___________

For a list of resources on the Asian American community, see below.

Educate:

Report Incidents:

Volunteer & Take Action:

Donate:

5 Tips on Job Hunting I Wish I’d Learned at School

You can ask ten people and they’ll all tell you different stories of how they landed their current jobs. Some may even tell you that in today’s world, it’s “impossible” to land anything without a referral. Well, I’m here to show you otherwise! Add another layer of complexity—I’m not a U.S. citizen, but have managed to get two companies to trust me enough to sponsor my work visa.

And I think you can do just the same if you’re willing to put in the work.

It’s a numbers game

When I made up my mind to move from Tokyo to New York City in early 2019, I had very little leverage. Basically, I:

  • had only ~2 years of writing experience as a freelancer
  • wasn’t living in the U.S.
  • needed visa sponsorship

The odds of getting any company to even look at my resume were next to zero. To give you a better idea, I applied to nearly 200 companies and was only asked to move forward with three, making the initial phone screen rate 1.5%.

Fast-forward to early 2021, my resume is much shinier and carries much more weight because I:

  • now have ~4 years of writing experience, including solid copywriting skills in the financial services sphere
  • am conveniently based in NYC
  • only need to transfer employers for my visa

This time around, I applied to 106 companies and did phone screens with 15 companies, making the initial phone screen rate 14.2%. From 1.5% to 14.2%? That’s almost a 13% jump! Having more experience under my belt and being physically in the U.S. definitely helped, but there are other things I did that separated me from the pack. Here’s five of them.

1) Tailor your resume to your target roles

Keywords matter. Many companies use softwares to scan resumes and look for keywords nowadays, so make sure your resume doesn’t get weeded out just because you phrased things differently!

Show companies you’re the perfect match for them!

For any positions you’re interested in, look up 2-3 job descriptions from different companies and try to tease out any common experience/skill set/background they look for. If you have matching experience, include it on your resume using more or less the same language and keywords you see on the JDs. This is how you attract recruiters’ eyeballs and convince them to want to at least have a chat with you.

2) Make your resume visually unforgettable

When recruiters only spend an average of 7 seconds on a resume, you’d better make yourself stand out and keep them hooked.

If you’re applying for a creative role, don’t be afraid to make your resume pop in colors and design! I revamped my resume using Canva’s stylish templates and added multiple Achievements sections so people know exactly what kind of impact and value I’m capable of bringing.

To make my achievements look even better, I used many power verbs and supporting data. For example:

❌ Wrote marketing campaign emails
✔️ Boosted trading volume by 200% through campaign emails

❌ Handled company’s social media account
✔️ Skyrocketed Instagram follower count by 300% with viral campaign posts

Choosing colors and typography that are easy on the eye also matters. Want to really help a recruiter like you? Try:

  • organizing your resume in the F-shaped reading pattern
  • providing more white space
  • bolding your job titles
  • using bullet points

See what I did above? (Used bullet points and organized them in the F-shaped pattern 😉)

3) Turn on job alerts on Linkedin

I’ve used Linkedin, Indeed, Monster, Built in NYC, and many other job boards to look for jobs in the past, but Linkedin is by far my fave with its super useful and intuitive features.

Rushing to “be among the first applicants” on Linkedin be like

If you haven’t already, turn on job alerts for your target roles and locations. You’ll be notified as soon as job postings that match your preferred titles and locations appear. Trust me, it works: I heard back much more often from companies when I applied within the first 24 hours of their job postings.

Early bird really does get the worm! 🐛

4) Apply during popular hiring months (or not)

This is definitely debatable. Many people say that mid January-February are the best times to look for jobs because companies now have clear hiring budgets for the year. But think about it: while there are a lot more openings at the start of the year, there are also more people applying, making the competition extremely fierce.

nuff said.

I started my most recent job search in mid November—right before Thanksgiving—and continued to interview at different companies throughout the holiday season. Some companies I’ve talked to took weeks or even months to respond (just as I’m writing, I got a rejection email from a company I applied three months ago LOL Never too late they say?), but the one that gave me an offer? Took only hours. From the moment I applied to when I signed the offer, it took exactly a month. Mind you, that’s during the month of December aka when almost everyone is out of office! Moral of the story: if a company is really eager to fill a role or interested in you, they’ll make it happen regardless of the time of the year.

Pro tip? Make yourself more desirable than stuffed turkey and pumpkin pies! 🎃

5) Show your passion for the company/role

Think back to the last time somebody made you feel like you’re talking to a wall—did they give short, cold responses and did you secretly swear you’ll never talk to them again?

Don’t be that wall.

I’m serious! Learn about the company and role, do your research on potential interview questions (hint: Glassdoor reviews are your best friend), do mock interviews with friends, and prepare some insightful questions to ask your interviewers.

A fantastic way to leave an irresistibly positive impression on your interviewers is to use the S.T.A.R method:

  • Situation: What challenges did you have to overcome?
  • Task: What did you need to do to tackle those challenges?
  • Action: What did you do to solve the problems?
  • Result: Did you overcome those challenges? What impact did you bring?
I literally get excited just by looking at this GIF LOL

When you’re excited, you make the interviewers excited as well. And if they’re excited, there’s a very good chance they want to keep talking to you… 😉

Bonus tips for non-US citizens

As if job hunting isn’t challenging enough, non-US citizens have to face an extra hurdle: to convince companies that they’re worth sponsoring visas for. I’ve successfully done this twice now and definitely think this is not impossible to do.

Tip 1: Apply to bigger companies since they’ve most likely sponsored others before. Some may even have an in-house legal team dedicated to handling visa cases.

Tip 2: Be honest about your visa needs. Many job applications ask if you are authorized to work in the US, but if they don’t, make sure to bring this up in the phone screen to make sure the company knows what to expect. If they can’t sponsor, that’s okay! You move on to the next one (again, from my experience, the ones that don’t sponsor visas are smaller companies).

Tip 3: Tell your company what they should expect regarding timeline and costs. Do some research before you apply for jobs because there may be various visa types you can go for besides the H-1B (what most foreigners get). E.g. Australians can go for the E3, Canadians and Mexicans can go for the TN, Singaporeans and Chileans can go for the H-1B1’s, managers can go for the L, and super talented people can go for the O. Your visa type may take much shorter time and cost less money than the infamous H-1B so make sure to use that info to convince your employer!!!

Want more tips on how to convince your employer to hire you and sponsor your visa? Check out this blog.

You’re the yin to their yang

This blog only covers a few things you can do to maximize your chances before the interviewing process, because interviewing is whole another monster to tackle!! If there’s nothing else you’re taking away from this blog, I hope you remember that confidence and passion do half the job already. The other half? Focus on making yourself stand out by tailoring your resume and highlighting achievements. When you’ve done great things and are confident that you’re exactly who they’re looking for, you become contagiously charming.

After all, when you can prove that you’re the yin to their yang, how can they resist?

Traveling to Hong Kong During COVID-19: What to Expect Before and After Flying

All the hurdles I went through yesterday at the airports felt so surreal.

I spent a total of SIX HOURS going through all the COVID procedures at the Hong Kong airport after a 15.5-hour flight — throughout the process, my mind was scattered and I was super stressed out because I didn’t know what to expect. Would I be denied entry? Would I have to fly straight back to JFK? What if I caught the virus on the flight?

Having overcome all the hurdles now I want to share exactly what COVID measures HK is taking and my two cents on why I think Asian countries are doing so much better at controlling the virus.

Before flying out of JFK

Never seen JFK so empty…

As soon as I booked my flight ticket, Cathay Pacific sent me an email telling me to bring proofs for three things when I check in at the airport:

  • A negative COVID test result within 72 hours before the flight
  • A letter/certificate showing that the testing facility is gov-approved
  • Confirmation for a 21-night reservation with a hotel designated by the gov

FYI, the testing facilities Cathay Pacific recommended are NYU Langone Hospitals and the express testing center at JFK. You also can’t just schedule an appointment at NYU — you’d need to get their app, have a virtual consultation with a doctor, have the doctor order a COVID test for you, AND THEN you schedule to go in for the actual nasal swab.

Getting the test done is actually the easiest part because… where am I supposed to find the hospital’s certificate?? It isn’t publicly available online and not even the staff at NYU know where to find it. But guess what!! Cathay can provide that for you… (Note: If you choose to get tested at a facility that was NOT recommended by Cathay, then they may not be able to provide you with a certificate.)

And… my fave color is green!

The HK gov has designated hotels for quarantine. This is at your own expense and a nightly charge can go from USD $60 to thousands of dollars. Mine costs USD $90 a night, making the 21-day total around USD $1,900. Try to book early too as the cheaper hotels sell out QUICK! Note: Your quarantine length may vary depending on where you’re flying from.

Getting the hotel confirmation is straight forward, but make sure that the name on all your documents matches the one on your passport. I stupidly forgot to give the hotel my middle name and had to call the hotel last minute and ask them to update my reservation 10 minutes before the check in counter closed… 😬

Note: You may not be able to board the flight if you can’t provide the above documents!!

During the flight

It takes a total of 15 hour 35 minutes to fly from New York to Hong Kong. That’s equivalent to watching almost eight movies or working two full days!! Time couldn’t pass more slowly.

The plane I was on is designed for 334 people, but there were only 23 passengers, making the occupancy rate less than 7%. There were no crying babies, no awkward convos with neighbors, no need to poke said neighbors to let you get out of the row, no lines in front of the bathrooms, nor flight attendants pushing food & drink carts. I flew Premium Economy class and there were only four other people in that section with me (there are 36 seats) — the flight attendants just hand carried food and drinks for us.

I felt really safe flying with Cathay. There were very little people, and the staff explained how the air is filtered extremely well. It just drove me kinda crazy to wear a mask for 15.5 hours!!! (It was so annoying when I put on my neck pillow and the top of the mask would be touching my eyes 🤦🏻‍♀️)

Did you even Cathay Pacific if you didn’t eat their cup noodles?

I’ve been flying frequently with Cathay Pacific for more than 10 years now and they’ve always been promising. Flights are always on time, food is great, staff are professional, friendly, and helpful. It really touched me that they’re still operating with such low occupancy rates… the impact COVID has on the airline industry is immense.

After landing at the HK airport

If you think the 15.5 hour flight was a long haul, think twice.

The real adventure begins at the HK airport, where you’ll follow a designated route to different checkpoints, get COVID tested (again!!), and eventually hop on a shuttle bus to get to your hotel.

There are seven steps in total. In a nutshell, I had to:

  1. Download the “StayHomeSafe” app
  2. Complete a health declaration form and present the confirmation QR code
  3. Get a wristband and register it on the app
  4. Obtain a compulsory quarantine order
  5. Get COVID tested
  6. Wait for the test result
  7. Go through customs and claim any checked luggage

Once you get your bag, you’ll then wait for a designated shuttle bus to drive you to your hotel. The entire process was actually really smooth and quick, besides the THREE-HOUR wait for the test result (staff said it usually takes 4-6 hours)! A very good friend of mine told me her brother had to wait up to 12 hours. My jaw literally dropped to the floor when I heard that. Why don’t they have rapid tests in HK?????????????? 🤯

Note: There’s plenty of water, snacks, and sandwiches for your growling stomach as you wait for the result. You’ll be assigned a seat in the waiting area, 6 feet (or 1.5m) apart from everyone else. Kinda looks like an exam center, no? 👇

Note #2: If your test comes back positive, you’ll be taken to a nearby hospital to get treated immediately.

The dreadful wait aside, I was extremely impressed by how efficient and organized the entire process was. There are staff stationed throughout the checkpoints and clear instructions in both Chinese and English everywhere. There’s only one route so you really can’t get lost. What’s more? Everything is done electronically with the QR code and mobile app. I’m so bloody proud to have grown up in a place where things are so high-tech and well implemented! 🤩

As you leave the HK airport

So you’ve got your bags and are excited to finally leave the airport and get some fresh air. There are different lines for the shuttle buses, depending on the location of your hotel. The staff will spray your luggage and carry them onto the bus for you. You just sit back and relax!

When you arrive at the hotel, you’ll be greeted by a hotel staff, then proceed to check in.

Think you’re done? Not quite yet. Remember the wristband and the app? As soon as you enter your hotel room, you’ll have to activate the wristband and walk around for 60 seconds. It’s a location tracker and will notify the gov if you go outside of your hotel room!

In case you’re wondering, yes it is illegal to leave the hotel room before your 21-day quarantine is up. You could get fined up to HKD $25,000 (~USD $3,200) and go to jail for six months! And yes, there are quite a few people that have been convicted already.

Finally…

Congratulations! You’ve successfully entered the territory of Hong Kong. The only thing you have to do now is spend the next 21 days in a hotel room. No biggie, right? 😳

☝️I know y’all must be curious as to how this extreme extrovert is going to spend 21 days inside four walls. Of course I’ll be writing up another blog to sum up the experience, but if you want the real-time deets, follow my Quarantine Diary series and story highlights on IG @thecaradventures 😉

Some food for thought

It’s crazy to see how things are handled so differently on the other side of the world. Coming from a country where 26.2 MILLION people have been infected and 441,000 have died, I couldn’t help but be amazed and impressed by how seriously Asian govs are taking COVID-19.

And I think there are very clear reasons why some Asian countries are doing so much better in getting COVID under control.

For starters, most Asians are obedient and do the right thing. They wear masks and sanitize their hands frequently. They know that the virus is real and deadly and don’t try to mess with it. They don’t party with large groups when told not to, nor take to the streets—unmasked—and protest for their “freedom” to live life as they want, even if that means getting themselves and others infected.

Seriously.

It also amazed me how seriously Hong Kong is taking COVID — from giving out a tracking wristband to developing a mobile app. Everything is so high-tech and well organized! The US? When I flew back to JFK from Utah, I merely had to fill out a health declaration form. Sure, I had to do a 14-day quarantine but there was no strict enforcement besides someone calling me every day to see if I’m staying at home. I mean… no one’s gonna say they’re outside, right?

Of course, I’m not saying that Asian countries are doing it all right. Travel bans could definitely have been stricter in the early COVID days in Hong Kong, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Japan had a whole campaign recommending domestic travel amidst an uptick in the country’s cases.

I’m conflicted because the western ideals of individuality and freedom are exactly what attracted me to leave Japan for the US, but these ideals are also the reasons why many western countries are struggling to flatten the curve.

But as always, there’s a silver lining to every cloud. Because the COVID spread is much more severe in the US, R&D is done much more extensively. Testing is more available to the general public (oftentimes for free, whereas a testing kit could cost USD $150+ in HK) and vaccines have been developed much more quickly than other countries. Let’s just hope that the vaccine rollouts will carry through this year. 🤞

Have you traveled at all during the pandemic? What was your experience like? Share your story in the comments below!

Do This One Thing to Wake Up a Better Person Every Day

As we inch closer to the time of the year where we take out a piece of paper (or Notes on your phone, or… a social media post) and jot down our New Year’s resolutions, I want to share a small habit of mine that has significantly transformed my life—and I actively do it every single day.

Good habits don’t always have to be formed in January; you can start making changes any time of the year, at any given point in your life. I may only have 26 years of life experience under my belt, but from living in four different countries and meeting people from all walks of life, I figured out a golden rule to adding depth to your life.

And the golden rule is…

Surround yourself with people you want to become.

I repeat:

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE YOU WANT TO BECOME.

Apologies for yelling, but I cannot stress how important this is in making sure you’re actively adding value to your life. Life’s short—you should be working towards the best version of yourself and not be staying stagnant. Ugh, even typing the word “stagnant” grosses me out.

Let me explain.

I’m not telling you to surround yourself with all the rich and famous people. Hell yeah I dream about owning 12 cars and living in one of those mansions from Selling Sunset all the time, but being “rich and famous” says nothing about your virtue.

Prolly my favorite show of all times HAHA

I’m sure we all know some “rich and famous” people whose character is complete trash and also some “not so rich and famous” people who deserve a Nobel Prize. Let’s get to the point.

People you need to avoid at all costs

Many years ago, I learned that friendship is a choice. You don’t and shouldn’t have the time and energy to entertain every single person that comes into your life. Life’s too short for you to drown in toxicity. With that said, I’m going to list out some traits of “toxic people” that will not only not add value to your life, but make you a lesser person:

If possible, avoid people who are:

  • Lazy (e.g. people who don’t work towards their goals, if there’s any at all)
  • Arrogant (e.g. people who think they’re the shit because they’re rich)
  • Narcissistic (e.g. people who blame others for their own faults)
  • Dishonest (e.g. people who lie for their own interests)
  • Disrespectful (e.g. people who are rude to waiters)
  • Cynical (e.g. people who never say anything good about, well, anything)
  • Selfish (e.g. people who only care about their own needs)
  • Manipulative (e.g. people who guilt-trip you for feeling what you feel)
  • Ungrateful (e.g. people who never say “thank you”)
  • Whiny (e.g. people who complain about the smallest things 24/7)
  • Violent (e.g. people who resort to force over reasoning)

And it’s easy to identify these people. If you feel drained, find yourself wanting to exit the conversation halfway through, or frowning and asking “what the?!” in your head when they try to justify their faults, you know never to get close to them again.

Yep.

Of course, sometimes it’s impossible for us to “ghost” the bad apples we meet in our workplaces, schools, interest groups, etc., but the key is to keep a distance from them. Be friendly and nothing more.

I’m sure you can think of many more negative personality traits that we all should avoid, but let’s shift our gears and focus on who we should keep in our lives instead.

People you need to have in your life

As I said before, friendship is a choice, so choose to hang out with the right people. At the end of the day, there’s a reason why your parents tell you not to hang out with the “bad” kid from school.

Help yourself become a better person today by knowing how to identify good people. And when you meet someone like that, don’t let them go.

When I look around my friends, I see a trend. They’re mostly people that are:

  • Hardworking (e.g. they spend their free time learning a new skill)
  • Ambitious (e.g. always striving to advance in their careers)
  • Optimistic (e.g. they see the silver lining of every cloud)
  • Curious (e.g. always interested to learn about new cultures)
  • Motivated (e.g. no one has to tell them to work harder)
  • Supportive (e.g. they cheer you on when you’re about to give up)
  • Respectful (e.g. especially good to their parents)
  • Grateful (e.g. they count what they have, not what they don’t)
  • Empathetic (e.g. because other people’s emotions matter, too)
  • Adventurous (e.g. always down to go out and do things)
  • Honest (e.g. we all suck at lying…)
  • Proactive (e.g. classic go-getters)
  • Humble (e.g. never bragging about their achievements)
  • Responsible (e.g. being accountable for their mistakes)
  • Confident (e.g. they know their worth)
  • Resilient (e.g. they have the strength to bounce back despite adversity)
  • Retrospective (e.g. they reflect on their past and try not to make the same mistakes)
  • Wholesome (e.g. you need an example of this???)

Yes, my friends are wholesome. 🥰

But for realz tho 🙂

Honestly, you just know it when you’re around good people. They give off a vibe so charming that makes you want to spend more time with them.

If you’re able to leave a conversation with someone thinking that you’ve learned something new, that person is a keeper.

But choosing your friends isn’t necessarily easy

I can’t give enough examples of times I was stuck between feeling obligated to stay ‘”friends” with someone and leaving them for my own good.

I always choose the latter, but every time I do, the people that I left (they’re mostly a tight-knit group) would end up thinking I’m a traitor—or I left because I had “better” friends than them.

How can I not include this perfect line from Mean Girls??!!

Well, they’re not entirely wrong. For example, when I move to a new country, I want to learn the local language and hang out with locals because that’s what I came to do. Why would I hang out with a bunch of people that are from the same background as me, don’t try to learn the new language, and are reluctant to immerse in the new culture?

I’m not saying that the new friends I make are necessarily “better” people, but people that choose to be stagnant are definitely not the ones I want to associate myself with. Sometimes, I’d rather be on my own than to have friends that don’t add value to my life (call me picky and stubborn all you want…).

Remember: birds of the same feather flock together. Define yourself by having the right people around you.

And you won’t regret it

Bidding farewell to mediocre people in your life may sting a little at first, but that’s nothing compared to all the rewards you’ll reap when you finally surround yourself with people that are worthwhile—people that’ll make you feel more complete every day.

Imagine all the beautiful places you’ll see, new experiences you’ll try, big ideas you’ll develop, deep conversations you’ll engage in, and most importantly—the mighty heights you’ll reach.

Anyone know where I can get a flying carpet? 🤣

Good people feed off on each other’s energy and give each other the inspiration to be better every single moment.

Ever wonder why that one successful friend is always surrounded by other successful people? That’s because they don’t waste their time and energy on people that aren’t worthwhile.

And the good news is, we can all be that successful friend if we keep the right people in our lives. Reassess the friendships you have now and make the right changes to become the person you want to become.

Trust me, I’ve done just that and love life all the more because there’s simply too much I can learn from the people around me.

Big shoutout to all my family and friends that continue to be my inspiration every day. I’m truly blessed.

5 Little Things I Look Forward to Every Day since My Life Shrank to the Size of My Bedroom

To people living in parts of Asia where life is already back to “normal,” know that I’m very jealous 🤓

For more than three months, New York City—the epicenter of COVID-19 in the entire world—has been in a serious lockdown. During the worst days, streets were dead empty and even some supermarkets would close. It sure felt like an apocalypse had dawned on the Big Apple.

Fast-forward to mid-June, things are looking much better—we’re in phase 2 of reopening now and most restaurants have gone back to business. You’ll also find many desperate social butterflies gathering outside bars with Frosé in their hands, or chatting their lives away on picnic blankets in Central Park (me included).

First time seeing friends in three months!!!

During the past three months, I’ve developed some new habits and honestly, they’re what’s keeping me sane amidst a pandemic.

1. Cooking has never been so fun

Before the lockdown started, I ate out all the time. You kidding me? New York City’s got many of the world’s most famous restaurants so I’d be dumb to not take advantage of them.

But now that restaurants are closed for dine-in and I can’t bear the amount of plastic we’re all using for take-out food, cooking at home seems to be the way to go.

And it’s been real fun.

My boyfriend Austin loves to cook—he’s got an air fryer, sous vide cooker, Dutch oven, steamer, and food processor… on top of all the basic stuff you’ll find in a kitchen.

Every week we look up enticing recipes, go grocery shopping together (sometimes buying so much that people give us weird looks), spend hours preparing ingredients, and devour our love-filled dishes in no time.

It’s food we want to eat and food that’s actually nutritious.

I mean, even if that one dumpling pops, it’s still our dumpling and I’m proud of it. (Why does this sound like “my kid’s annoying but he’s my kid so I still love him”?)

It’s weird, but I’m loving cooking so much that even washing dishes has become relaxing.

2. The last time I was this fit was 2014

I’ve always been pretty active. Before the lockdown started, I hit the gym 3-5 times a week. Though my social life would always get in the way so my workout routine wasn’t really consistent.

Now that I’m at home and have nothing better to do after work, working out is the next best thing to do.

I started doing Insanity‘s 2-month Max 30 Challenge in April and gotta say I’m loooovin’ it.

Thanks Shaun T for pushing my limits

I’m in month 2 now and the exercises are absolutely killers. My entire body is drenched in sweat by the end of the hour-long workout but it feels SOOO good.

💪 When my arms scream after too many push-ups, I feel alive.

🤙 When my abs get squeezed and cramped after too many bicycle crunches, I feel alive.

🦵 When my legs give out and can barely support my body after too many power jumps, I feel alive.

It may sound absolutely crazy and gross, but I enjoy watching my sweat drip down the floor so much LOL (don’t worry, I make sure to wipe it down with Clorox afterwards).

My abs are finally out of hibernation!!

And the results are great. Not only do I feel stronger, but also much more confident. The last time I was this fit was back in 2014 when I was still a college student and meticulously calculated my calorie intake and either went for a run or a swim every single day.

Who says you need a gym to stay fit?

For some weeks I also tried Blogilates‘ 7-day challenges on top of Insanity. Her workouts BURN as well and I gotta thank her for my now-much-more-toned arms. Shoutout to all my friends who completed these challenges with me!

3. While I torture my body, I also give it love

Before you get too grossed out, let me say that I don’t just torture my body; I give it love too.

Lately I’ve been making sure to stretch for at least 20 minutes after doing Insanity and it’s really helped me gain flexibility and relieve lower back pain from sitting too much.

I started with just a yoga mat, but recently bought a stability ball as well and oh, how I love sitting and bouncing on that ball 🤣

HAHAHAHA yep. Exactly like that.

20 minutes of yoga every day has opened my hip, relaxed my back, made me sit taller and feel fresher. My favorite part? Simply laying on the mat and focusing on my breathing 🧘🏻‍♀️

Is it weird that I find laying on the floor on a drenched yoga mat after exercising more calming than sleeping on my bed?

In case you’re wondering, some YouTubers I follow for yoga are Sarah Beth, Yoga with Adrienne, and Yoga by Candace.

4. Is my skin glowing?

An aunt of mine once warned me that after a girl turns 25, her skin quality would start going downhill so I’d better start taking care soon.

I was 15 when she told me that.

And as I turned 25 last year, I find myself asking my friends what skincare brands they dig. This is the same girl who used to hate putting on sunscreen and didn’t use a facial mask until she’s 18.

After trial and error-ing with multiple brands, I’ve gotta say that fresh products are really quite something.

I bought their signature soy facial cleanser and rose deep hydration toner & moisturizer & face mask and black tea age-delay eye concentrate & overnight firming corset cream and some other stuff. (Before I knew, I drained my wallet.)

I’m obviously not sponsored to write this, but man, their rose deep hydration moisturizer is AMAZEBALLS. It’s so “deeply hydrating” that my skin glows for hours after application.

Excuse me for touching my cheeks just now to check if they still feel moist six hours after I put on the cream. And YES, THEY DO!!!! What kind of magic is this?

5. Time to remember forgotten memories

I’ve mentioned this in my previous blogs too but I keep this 3-year journal where I get to read what I wrote on the same day in the past two years.

Now that my days are confined to my bedroom and where nothing special really happens on a daily basis, I’ve chosen to derive joy from looking back on what happened in previous years.

Yep, I write about every little thing that goes on in my day lol

And it’s real interesting because two years ago I was still teaching English to junior high school students in rural Japan, and a year ago I was a recruiting consultant struggling with my mental health in Tokyo.

Around this time last year, I was interviewing for my current company. Reading about how nerve-wracking the whole visa application process was and how desperate I was to move back to a Western country for the sake of my mental health, I want to do nothing more than tell my 2019 self that things turned out exactly how I prayed them to, if not better.

Cara, in case you’re wondering, you landed a job and moved to New York City successfully, and are loving life there. If I could go back in time and give you a hug, I would.

But know that things will always pan out and you’ll always be fine. Your 2021 self will look back on your 2020 memories and smile just like I am now. (Fingers crossed you’ll no longer be stuck at home 24/7)

For now, stay fit and keep loving life. You’re great at that.

Thanks to these five little habits, life in lockdown hasn’t been too bad. Of course, my boyfriend & friends & family have been very loving as well. 💕

What habits have you developed since the world went into lockdown? Share with me below 👇

Living in Japan Has Scarred Me With a “Confidence Issue” That I Desperately Want to Snap out Of

Imagine an outgoing, bubbly, people-loving ENFP personality (aka me) being told she lacks confidence—something is very off here, and it’s taking a while to go away. 

The face-slapping realization 

Honestly, up until this very moment, I’d still tell you that I’m a confident, down-to-catch-a-hitchhike and love-talking-to-strangers type of person. I’ve never had a “confidence issue” (not that I admit to having one now)—if anything it’d be the other way round.

The bigger the hand, the sooner you snap out of it, right?

But my manager kept saying otherwise. 

For months he’s been telling me to speak up about my ideas, own more projects, and take more lead.

To be completely frank, I have been doing those things, but perhaps in the Japanese way that goes unnoticed by his Western standards.

And I’m not gonna lie, as soon as something “Japanese” comes out of my mouth I want to slap myself.

Is this the so-called reverse culture shock? Because it’s been 8 months since I moved outta the Land of the Rising Sun, and these “Japanese ways” aren’t leaving me.

The nail that sticks out gets hammered down 

If you know anything about Japan beyond anime and sushi, it’s that the Japanese culture is extremely homogeneous and prioritizes harmony over almost anything. 

That basically means that harmony is “broken” whenever your clothes are too flashy or you laugh too loud. And if you speak up or stand up for yourself? Mate you must be hungry for judgy stares.  

That’s why Japanese people always say “yes” to everything and almost never disagree with anything. Let’s look at an example.  

The Western way: 
A: How’s your cake? 
B: Appalling. Never coming back to this cafe again.

The Japanese way:
A: How’s your cake?
B: Um.. yea.. how should I put it… um… *head tilts* what do you think?

I wish I’m kidding, but I’m not. It’s extremely difficult to get Japanese people to tell you what they’re thinking, and most of the time you end up having to answer your own question. 

And that’s been a real problem for me at work. Example: 

Manager: Cara, what do you think about this design?
Me: It looks great! But uh… maybe the font here can be bigger? Is it possible to use a different color for the background? Can we try and maybe see if we can design it from a different angle?  

Manager: *raises an eyebrow* Cara, I agree with everything you said. But why aren’t you confident about your opinions? 

In my head, I think this is what he wanted to hear but the words were stuck in my throat for some reason: 

Manager: Cara, what do you think about this design? 
Me: Definitely heading the right direction, but the font needs to be bigger and let’s make the background blue instead. Next time, design it from a different angle. 

Not sure if you noticed, but the bolded and italicized words are exactly the difference between how Japanese and Americans talk. The former softly asks for others’ agreement, whereas the latter asserts authoritatively. 

TL;DR: The American confidence means you’re willing to disrupt the harmony, and to do so I’ll need to stop speaking English in a Japanese way. It almost feels like speaking Japanese makes me wanna shrink and just nod all the time.

And stop tilting my head. I hate that head tilt with a passion. 

But I’m just a small potato, ain’t I?  

I’ve lost count of how many times my Japanese friends or coworkers have tsk-tsked at me for not using honorific speech when I spoke to people older or more superior to me.

Obviously been binge-watching Community on Netflix lately

Not that I cared much to be honest (because creating distance between me and other people ain’t my thing), but that strict Japanese hierarchical culture is stuck in my head and is making me unable to speak up in America

Not to mention I work at a fintech startup where the hierarchy is flat. Literally, the CEO chats everyone up and always asks how we can improve the company/product.

Yet I’m stuck thinking that because I’m the 4th youngest person (out of like 35) in the office, senpai doesn’t notice me. 

Lowkey really missing the cherry blossoms in Japan LOL

But the fact is, I am being noticed. People ask to do projects with me, give me recognition badges for quality work, and a proposal of mine even brought me to Iceland with the company in January. 

But a part of me always thinks that I don’t have much say, or people aren’t listening. 

But perhaps like the saying “it’s only awkward if you make it awkward” goes, I probably “only don’t have much say if I make it that way.”

Can I? I mean, I will.

This story literally happened this morning.

I was on a call with my manager and some other teammates discussing the future design of these global newsletters about to be sent out. I remembered these real cool newsletter templates by a few sites I personally follow, so I asked the team if “I could show them what I think’s really cool.”

And literally, the moment I said that, my manager jumped in, “why ask? Just show us!”

And I gave myself a mental facepalm.

Literally.

Again, I think I was speaking English in the Japanese way. I can’t give enough examples to show how passive the Japanese language is and how it’s reshaped me as a person:

Example 1:
American: I‘d like to treat you to dinner.
Japanese equivalent: I’d like to have you let me take you to dinner. (〜ご馳走させてもらいたいです。)

Example 2:
American: I‘m sending this email to…
Japanese equivalent: I’d like to have you let me send you this message to… (〜ご連絡させていただきます。)

See the emphasis on “I” in English and “you” in Japanese? Yep, you yourself are never the more important person when you speak Japanese 🤷🏻‍♀️

Of course, you can speak Japanese in the American way as well, but you’ll never (I repeat, NEVER) do so with your Japanese superiors.

Indeed, the Japanese way of speaking is much more polite and considerate of the listener’s feelings, but man the language itself puts you as the lesser, asking for others’ permission instead of demanding actions from them.

(Update: On the day after I published this blog, I decided to open up to my manager and tell him how living in Japan might’ve impacted the way I speak/act. And he did nothing but give me a virtual hug and high-five, thanking me for letting him know about the cultural differences and encouraging me to work on getting better together. How lucky am I to have an understanding manager and a work environment where I can grow in??!!! 🥰)

Or, is it because of this whole lockdown situation?

New York City is on its 9th week of full lockdown now. I haven’t been out besides doing grocery shopping and occasionally going to the park for a walk.

My daily schedule is basically wake up → make lunch → work some more → workout → make dinner → Netflix → sleep. And it’s draining.

I know I should be grateful that I still have a job and can work from home easily, but staying in 24/7 is beginning to hurt my lower back and make me feel lazy, lethargic, and detached from the outer world (regardless of 14,862,950 weekly Zoom calls with my friends)—not cool for an extrovert at all.

But at least I’m not quarantined alone.

At least I’m eating well.

At least I’m using my spare time wisely e.g. learning Korean.

At least I’m healthy.

At least my loved ones are healthy.

At least there’s no blizzard outside.

At least the world isn’t ending (anytime soon).

At least the curve has been flattening.

At least we can all see the light at the end of the tunnel.

At least… we’re still alive.

And that’s what I’m thankful for.

About the “confidence issue”? I’ll work on it.

Honestly, spilling my beans already made me feel 50% better. For the other 50%, let me have you let me get better I’ll get better.

Do you speak more than one language? If so, how has knowing multiple languages affected the way you speak/act? Share your story below!