Framing: Beautiful Microbe, Beautiful Molecule

Before I started down the health science path I studied communications. In communications, there’s an idea called “framing.” Framing is a theory that’s often applied to the media and how it shapes public opinion about certain topics. The concept is that how you talk about a specific topic (ex. healthcare)—such as the tone you use and the details you include (or leave out)—can shape other people’s perceptions of the topic.

I’ve noticed that several of my science professors use framing as a teaching tactic. And, despite knowing exactly what they’re doing, I still fall for it.

I’m currently studying microbiology and organic chemistry. There’s a lot of new information to learn and for organic chemistry there are a few new thinking skills I’ve been practicing—such as being able to think about molecules in 3D. It’s an interesting challenge to train your brain to be able to rotate different molecular structures using only your imagination. I’m lucky enough to find microbiology and organic chemistry fascinating, but still it’s hard work. That’s where the framing comes in.

My organic chemistry professor introduces particularly complex or tricky molecules as “beautiful molecules.” “This is a beauuuutiful molecule,” he’ll say. He’ll also start a new chapter by saying “This is an important chapter. This is very cool…let me tell you why.” And, somewhere in that explanation of how awesome the challenging topic is, he’ll make a few comments about needing to practice the skills he’s about to show us. “But I will teach you how to…” he will conclude.

My microbiology professor does the same thing. I always know when he’s preparing to introduce a particularly complex metabolism, process, or cycle used by bacteria because he’ll pull up a picture of a microbe and say “This beautiful microbe…”

Those are current examples, but my general chemistry professor did the same thing. His word for hard concepts to learn was “interesting” rather than “beautiful.”

So what’s going on with this inappropriate use of descriptive words? Framing. Why? Because it works. As absurd as it sounds, it’s way easier to fight with a beautiful molecule than a molecule that’s “annoying” or “difficult” or “challenging” from the very start. I don’t think microbes are necessarily beautiful, but I approach them with much more interest and forgiveness when they are presented to me as “beautiful” rather than “ugly” or “evil” or “bad.” And, when trying to complete long chemical equations, it is a lot easier to complete the “interesting” problem than it is the “hard”, “tricky”, or “terrible” problem.

What’s my long-winded point? Before I dove into science I heard that it was “hard” and “confusing” and “dry” and “boring” and many other potentially negative adjectives. Sometimes I completely agree. But, most of the time, I do think it’s amazingly interesting. I think we’d do a lot of young people thinking about their future (and older people looking for something new) a service if we framed science as something wonderful. Sure, there is plenty about it that’s hard, and even monotonous, but most of it (all of it maybe) is not beyond most people’s reach. We’ve just conditioned our population to think science is either too complicated for them or not something they’d find interesting by describing it as scary, trying, and a thing that only geeks and brilliant people do. It’s worth a frame-shift around science. Why? What better way to find answers to medical questions, renewable energy questions, etc. than having more people researching and exploring those topics?

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Are you lonely?

“Are you lonely?” is America’s version of the boyfriend question. I thought the coupling obsession was a Paraguayan thing. But, now that I’m back in the US, I realize I was mistaken. It’s also an American thing. Maybe it’s a human thing. Regardless, I’ve gotten a lot of practice justifying why I’m single. So, let me tell you…

…there is no reason why I’m single. I just am.

I know it’s hard to believe that a person can be happy just being. But, try to imagine it. Consider, for example, that I can go hiking on the fly and not wait for a soul. I could move anywhere and would only need to bargain with my future landlord and maybe the visa office. I can (and do) eat when, what, and where I want and don’t feel even a hint of obligation to coordinate with anyone.

Perhaps you’re thinking something like, “Fine, Jett, you’re busy and independent…but really you’re just waiting for the right guy. You’re lonely, but you forge on propelled by the dream of the prince who will sweep you off your feet one day.”

If something like that is on your mind, I must ask: Doesn’t that argument seem archaic? By now we should all know that princes only live in fairytales. They aren’t real, but metaphors for love and good fortune. I don’t need the metaphor. I’m not looking for someone to fend off the dragons. I do that just fine on my own.

Don’t despair, you’re partly right. I’m busy and I have great friends. But that’s the whole point. If I lived my whole life as I am—doing good work, engaging in hobbies, and enjoying friends—then I would have an awesome life. You see, my life’s not on hold. I’m not working toward finding that perfect man. I’m just living…and I also happen to be single. I’m not worried about love. Why should I? It’s spontaneous and stubborn. It will do whatever the heck it wants. Just like me.

I might one day stumble upon someone to be my partner in crime. I might uncover a person who makes me happier than I already am. If I do, I’ll marry him. I also might not find such a human. Either way, the trajectory is grand. I realize that many believe that singletons need to be saved. But let’s remember that when we, you and I, were taught about the American dream it was never said that it could only be dreamt by two.

Thanks for your concern about my emotional well-being. But, the better question is “What do you do?” I assure you the answer is interesting. I have a lot to say about me and my doings. And don’t worry, I’ll let you know if me becomes we.

Old Haunts

I stared at the metro station that had been my home stop for several years as the train doors binged open and closed. That day I had no reason to get off there. I tried to remember what I had thought about all those times after interning, working, volunteering, and adventuring when I got off on that platform and observed the name written in white on a brown pole, “Cleveland Park.” Too many different thoughts to remember. Feelings arose—that of being too hot or tired from a long day at the office, but those were more sensations than memories.

It had been over three years since I’d visited DC—three years, but a lifetime of learning. The trouble with my recollection wasn’t so much that I didn’t remember all the good and bad things that had happened while I was in our Nation’s capital. The marathon training runs through Rock Creek Park when the sun glistened through the trees as I padded along the winding creek dodging bikers and baby strollers. I remember the roly-poly red pandas who I visited many weekends. The tart and sweet of frozen yogurt and mango. The smell of coffee emanating from my clothes after a shift at Starbucks—you can’t escape that scent, and coffee smells different when it’s associated with work, rich and bitter at the same time. I remembered the night I drank my first energy drink, my only all-nighter of college, so I could walk down to Obama’s first inauguration. I had tickets! I remember the cherry blossoms and the autumn leaves reflecting in the pool at Jefferson’s feet. The flags on the Vietnam memorial stark against the black stone. The quiet white lines of tombs at Arlington—so many lost. The smelly humidity of the metro before a marathon. The chili fries at National’s stadium—Harper, Zimmerman, Gonzales…the presidents racing. The long night walks in the neighborhood when families strolled and the smells of different restaurants wafted across the sidewalk. The Greek deli where I got my college graduation lunch.

The trouble, though hardly that, was that the feelings of weariness and frustration that had laced my time in DC were gone. Completely gone and only the happy memories of my old haunts remained. The Kennedy Center at dusk. The strange winding of the canal through Georgetown. The roses. Roses in almost every garden. The long walks to the grocery store and the strolls past embassies. It was strange to think of embassies now. I’d been an expat. I knew what it was like to visit your country’s stronghold in a strange land. Oddly not comforting considering the comparison between American politics and the warmth of Paraguay.

I watched the people rushing out of the metro. I was sure not to esca-left—unforgiveable. I’d forgotten about all the fancy men’s shoes and checkered shirts, but seeing them I realized how unchanged cloud DC was. Suits of a cut only seen on the Hill and in old boys’ clubs abounded. I smiled. Funny to think those young men, dreaming of great titles and accomplishments, where not as unique as they imagined. As for the women, the boring shirts and sensible skirts. Even below the Mason-Dixon line so many folks lacked the flare that the south brings out if you let it. “Not far enough south,” I guessed. Of course, these folks were more complex than their clothes, but they’d lead you to believe their clothes were an expression of themselves. Hard to say, not knowing them.

Wandering the streets made me feel the freedmen of disengagement. This was not my home and could very well never be my home again. It was an easy thought. Whether the metro ran on time or late mattered little—it was no longer my metro. And besides, I’d waited hours in the hot sun for buses a fraction as nice as the dirtiest DC metro car.

Old haunts. They weren’t haunts at all, really. Just little snapshots into the past. But I no longer saw any of the scenes as I did then. No. They all had a different filter. And this time, the view was bright as the afternoon, January sun in Paraguayan. The vignette lens that had once allowed the shadows to creep in around the edges of my old stomping ground had been replace by a softening and brightening filter. I noticed the sidewalks, their cracks had been filled. The sidewalks were new just like my path. And the corners of my mouth creeped up all on their own. If my positive outlook, adopted from Paraguay, could endure the city where politicians were trying to put our country forty years behind in education, rights, and healthcare, then it was safe to say I’d come to visit just at the right time. The right time to prove that rain and sun are different sides of the same sky. I saw the sun.

When In Doubt, It’s An Energy Problem

I have a running joke about physics: When in doubt, it’s an energy problem. Before you stop reading, let me try to enlighten you with the humor. Picture yourself in your first semester of physics. You’ve tried solving one problem, yes one silly little problem, for over an hour. You’ve combined pages worth of equations and moved around variables like a wizard. No luck. You set it aside. Try again. And again. No luck. You go to your review session. A cunning smirk lifts the corners of your professor’s mouth when you ask, exasperated, if he can please review the problem. He completes the problem in two simple steps.

There’s this nifty law about nature—it’s called the conservation of energy—and it states that energy can’t be created or destroyed, only transformed. I know. You’re thinking, “By golly she’s turned into a real science nerd in a couple short months.” Sure, I’m guilty, but let me make my non-science point…

The quality that makes the law of conservation of energy so darn handy is that it allows you to ignore all the complicated transformations that occur during a journey and just focus on the beginning and end. By boiling a process down to two points, you’re able to paint a picture of what happened without seeing what occurred. And knowing without knowing is quite a powerful thing to be able to do.

Now, let’s bring energy out of the land of physics. In my world, energy means the chutzpah to get things done. I, like you, have a lot of things I want and need to do. I’m often not exactly sure how I’m going to shoulder the load. It’s exhausting to just think about all the little straws piling up on one’s back. In thinking about all my to-dos, a list of which can and does fill pages, I realized something. Tasks are not unlike equations. And, getting to the end of a to-do list is not unlike solving a physics problem.

What I’m saying is that conservation of energy is not only a physics thing but also a life thing. It’s a way to shift your perspective from being buried in the minutia of all the little details to being able to see the whole arc of your adventure. I find it exceptionally grand to think that even though I’ll take every step on the road between here and there, I don’t have to fixate on every single one. What matters are where I am now and where I’ll be then. As I forge ahead on the doctorhood quest, simplifying life to just energy is quite motivating. I don’t know every action and transformation that will occur between now and when I’m a doctor—nobody knows the future. But, I find it easy to be optimistic when I realize that I have a lot of good mojo now, and that wherever I am later that pizazz will still be with me in one shape or another.

Winter In Vermont

Winter is defined by suffocating darkness. The sun rises hours after me and sets long before my work is done. The haze of dawn seems barely brushed from the sky before the long shadows of dusk push back the sunlight. But, despite short days, Vermont winters are beautiful and perhaps one of its key features.

When you enter the woods they are silent, not like a tomb, but like someone holding her breath. Frozen until spring comes. The snow crunches under your feet and the trees crackle, almost frozen. Sometimes the trees freeze, and when that happens their limbs splinter as whole colonies of cells explode.

On days when it snows, the daylight softens to the gray of twilight. Sometimes the wind drives the snow sideways like pellets, and other times the air is so still you can hear the snowflakes alight on your coat. The mist of snowflakes spreads a feeling of sleepiness. The animals find cover under the evergreens, and I settle by the fire when my hat and boots are soaked through from walking in the snow.

Sometimes it is too cold to snow. On those crystal days the air is so clear you can see the distant rounded mountaintops acutely, figures outlined harshly by the sky. The air freezes your nose hairs with each inhale. The wind gives you brain-freeze when it collides with the small patch of skin between your scarf and your hat. It is unbearable to take off your mittens because of the burning and numbness the air causes, so you simply learn how to navigate outdoor life with padded hands. On the coldest days, it’s a fight to stay warm. I must sleep under a pile of blankets. But, frozen days are good days.

The cold protects and preserves Vermont. The threat of harsh winters prevents people from moving here and therefore it ensures there is space for the streams that meander through expansive forests. The heavy frost and ice storms keep the mossy hollows and fern-blanketed forests safe from bulldozers, houses, pavement, grass, and hoards of people and their pets.

Other places have launched themselves into a more modern era with blind enthusiasm and as if shot by a catapult. But the cold makes one lethargic. Vermont is undoubtedly part of the modern world. But, we Vermonters enjoy new technology without thinking it necessary to replace the woods. We are happy to embrace the innovations of lifestyle and thinking that come, and yet we hesitate. And I think our tendency to pause comes from having weathered so many winters. We know what true silence is—it’s the forest on the coldest day of the year when the gray of morning almost shakes hands with the gray of evening.

Once you’ve encountered a truly silent place it stays with you. Unforgettable. No matter where you go the vividness of the place where you found complete silence comes to mind from time to time. And you realize that silence is invaluable and scarce. And you find yourself taking a moment to stop because you know deep-down that anything that would destroy the places where there is silence is terrible.

Happy Holidays

Spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year in another country and without your family for a few years and you’ll return with a whole new perspective about the holidays. I promise. I know. I did it.

You end up seeing clearly all the things you love about your holiday traditions. You also realize that the stress that often comes with the holidays is not required. The tension is something you add to the mix for a host of reasons, but is not inherent to the holidays.

Leaving the stress at the door is great, and I was only able to do it because I took a sabbatical. During my break, I had plenty of time to ponder all the things I love about the holidays, but especially Christmas with my family.

Top of the list was seeing everyone. This Christmas was special because I met my baby niece for the first time. She’s little and cute and the first of her generation in our family—needlessly to say she was the star. I also saw my brothers after over two years. Two years is a long time. The last time I saw them, one was in high school and the other was in college. They both graduated those occupations in May 2014. I left January 2014. Wow. Crazy, right? They both are taller than I remembered, and the younger is a giant. GIANT.

A close second is the food. I do Christmas Eve at my mom’s and Christmas Day as my dad’s. Both of my parents are fantastic cooks. We dine like the three kings. This year, my mom pulled out all the stops with the desserts—two types of pie, German chocolate cake, and chocolate mousse. On Christmas morning, we ate fruit cake and Christmas stollen. My dad served king crab, but this year I’m trying the vegetarian thing so I stuck to my favorite on the rainbow, orange. Specifically, squash orange. Some people get excited over steak and potatoes. I’ve always been a fan of squash and potatoes.

Next are the decorations. My family is full of artists—basically if you aren’t an artist you’re in the minority. What this means is that we have awesome Christmas trees and house décor. We aren’t one of those families that drapes their house in lights. But we have some great Christmas tree ornaments and we know how to place them just right on the tree. On Christmas Eve, my job is to decorate the table. I went for elegant this year—a garland and candles.

Christmas Eve we do fireworks and a bonfire. You should be jealous. It’s a perk of living in the middle of nowhere with snow all over—we can enjoy fires of all shapes and sizes with almost no risk of harm…this year one of the fireworks we set off did explode on the ground in many directions however.

Stockings. I love Christmas stockings, maybe more than presents. Why? Who knows, but it’s so fun to see all the little, silly things one can fit in a decorated sock. Tooth brushes, toothpaste, candy, tree ornaments, nail files…you never know what “Santa” will leave.

The morning. I’m a morning person. I usually get up early. On Christmas, I’m always the first up. I’ve overcome my childhood ways…meaning I don’t get up at 4 o’clock in the morning any more. This year I got up at 5ish. I love the quiet when everyone is sleeping and it’s just me, the Christmas tree, and the stockings. This year I finished embroidering a stocking that needed some love before anyone else got up. Victory.

My sister has changed and is now a morning person. Because she and I travel from our mom’s to our dad’s and split Christmas between them, the 26th is also part of Christmas at my dad’s house. This year, she and I finished making a pie before the parents got up. The crust had been in the fridge overnight and was rock-like. Luckily, my sister is buff—you should see her shoulder and arm muscles. She’s a professional fitness trainer—so she rolled out the crust like it was warm butter. I gave advice like, “If dirty dishes are in your way (when making pie) move them.”

It was nice to be home for Christmas. And, seeing as I was in Paraguay just before (and traveled 32 hours to get back in time for the 24th), it was even sweeter.

*Photo credit: Matisse, my brother.

Photo credit: Carolyn Enz Hack

Convenience

“How is being back in the States?” friends and family have been asking since I got back from Paraguay. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer…just as I couldn’t explain what is was like to live in Paraguay when I first moved there. However, despite my general inability to describe my transition back to the USA, there is one thing that stands out to me about living in America: life logistics are incredibly simple. What I mean to say by “life logistics” is all the things we do to make sure our lives function properly— such as bathing, traveling between activities, and controlling house temperature.

In my new US home, I make up reasons to stay in the hot shower longer. It’s such a treat compared to my Paraguayan bathing ritual. In Paraguay, I stored water in a basin because for hours, many days, we didn’t have running water. Even when I did have water the pressure usually wasn’t enough to push water out of the shower head. And, because of this annoying water-flow problem I did not invest in a shower head to make hot water. So, 95% of the time I bucket bathed in cold water—using an old, plastic pitcher to dump water over my head. If it was too cold, I boiled several liters of water to add to my basin and bathed quickly. In America, I turn on the shower and the water comes pouring out every single time. The water is as cold or as hot as I want it to be. I don’t need to worry when a storm comes that I won’t have bath water or hesitate before exercising because I forgot to hoard water. In the great land between Canada and Mexico, showers are a given.

When I’m trying to get somewhere new by bus in Vermont, I type point A and point B into my smartphone. Then, Google tells me where and when to wait for the bus. The bus comes when Google says it will, and the fare costs exactly what the bus website said it would. In Paraguay, when I traveled to a new place by bus I asked 1 to 5 Paraguayans which buses to take, where to wait, and how much the fare costs because none of that information is available online. I asked more than one person to check the information and make sure I had the best route and detailed instructions to help me know where to wait for and get off the bus because there aren’t marked bus stops (usually). If I messed up my transfer in Paraguay, I had to start the process of asking for directions all over again. In Vermont, I can’t really get lost because I can check my travel progress on my phone periodically and then ask someone if I need more help.

It is spring in Vermont. Sometimes it is pleasantly warm and sometimes it is cold. If it’s cold, I turn on the heat. My house is insulated. The windows and doors block the wind. My roof doesn’t leak. My floor is on a foundation so my feet are shielded from the ground’s temperature. When I listen to the beep the thermostat makes as I turn up the heat, I think of my little Paraguayan house. The wind came through the shutter and doors. The walls were made of one layer of hollow bricks. My floor was a cement slab on the good earth. My roof was tile and let in the rain in some places if it was windy. It was always windy when it rained. On cold days in Paraguay, I put on two pairs of pants and all my jackets. Then, fully clothed, I sat under my sleeping bag and drank mate. That was my heat, blankets and hot beverages.

What is it like to live in America? It is comfortable. It is efficient. It is easy. It is sterile. The challenges of life logistics have been replaced with intellectual and trivial quandaries. Should I take a more-than-five-minute shower? Would I be a better person to bike rather than ride the bus? When exactly is it cold enough to turn up the heat rather than putting on another sweater?

Life’s Soundtrack

At first it was strange to throw toilet paper in the toilet rather than the wastebasket and be in a comfortable climate rather than melting of heat. Those contrasts caught my attention first and in a jarring way when I arrived back in the US several days ago, after living as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay for 27 months. But, where one puts toilet paper and how the weather is have always been minor details of life to which one easily adjusts.

My Peace Corps service ended on April 8, 2016. And, I’m still journeying to where I’ll live next. I’m visiting family, not seen for over 2 years, before I settle into what I imagine will be a hectic lifestyle. And as the visiting continues, I’m taking my time to adjust to this new world called the U.S. of A. It was both out of urgency and strategic planning that my first stops in America were to visit my grandparents. I spent so many hours sitting, chatting, and talking about old times with Paraguayans, doing the same in English with family has been a treat.

But, even in the bubble of my grandparents’ homes and neighborhoods my time in Paraguay seems to fade like a dream. As one person commented on Facebook, “It happened and now it is over.” Or, as my grandmother said, “that place you visited.” I had to laugh at the choice of the word “visited.” Can anywhere one stays for over two years count as a visit? “Visit” seems like such a trival word to describe a place I consider home and from which I emerged a new person. Words. That brings me to the point of this ramble.

There are many details that are different about living in Paraguay and living in the US. For example, I can talk to a guy my age in the US without anyone jumping directly to the conclusion I have a fling with him, where as in Paraguay people would most likely think there was something going on between he and I. But, for now, the diverging details are not overwhelming. The harshest changes I currently feel are the different life sounds between the US and Paraguay and that I have lost the key words and phrases I’ve been using for two years to express my thoughts and feelings.

On one hand, it is nice to once again understand what everyone is saying around me. On the other hand, it is so distracting to know every blasted word the people in line in front and behind me are saying. Who should I listen to? How can I think of my own words when there are so many words flying around me that I effortlessly understand? It was a lot easier to tune out in Paraguay where I did not understand every thing people said.

I am joyful to hear so many people speak my native tongue, but my goodness how the sounds that make those words sound like gravel against a shovel or nails on a chalkboard. I never realized how ugly and harsh English can sound. The twang, whine, and nasal of English words is almost painful to my ears. I miss the round vowels of Spanish and the flow of Guarani–two languages that are melodic compared to the clanking nature of English.

It’s not just the sound of the language that is dissonant to my Paraguay-tuned ears. It’s the music, or more accurately lack of music. Where is my cumbia? My bachata? Paraguayan polka? Why are the houses and buses and streets silent? What is this new phenomena of silent nights? I used to have to wear earplugs to escape from Spanish-language love songs, and now I can sleep without earplugs because there is not even the roar of dirt bikes and heaving old trucks to disturb my slumber. Am I in the land of perfect sleep?

The soundtrack is different in my country from that of my Paraguay. But, that is not all. The words and phrases I can use to express myself are different too. It is obvious that speaking in different languages means using different words. However it is not the language, but the phrasing that is tripping me. Even when I translate, or try to translate, the words and phrases I used in Paraguay to English, it doesn’t work. Why? Well, a lot of the words don’t have an English equivalent. How the heck am I supposed to say “tranquilo” or “no más” or “opama” or “kaigue” or “hi’que” in this blasted native language of mine? I can’t.

“Tranquilo” could be translated to “tranquil,” “no problem,” and “life’s good,” but it means all those things and more. The same goes for the others. “No más” literally means “no more,” but it can actually mean “that’s all,” “no problem,” and “It’s not a big deal.” “Opama” literally means “It’s over already,” but that’s hardly a good suggestion of all the things “opama” can mean in context. Both “kaigue” and “hi’que” don’t even have English translations…so there’s that.

Sounds. Words. Music. Language. They dictate who we are and how we explain ourselves to others. When I first got to Paraguay, and for all my time there, one of the biggest challenges I had was feeling like I could not completely express myself in Spanish and Guarani. Ironically, I now feel the same way in my homeland. I’m at a loss for words and homesick for the familiar sounds of my community in Paraguay. The language. The music. The spitting of frying oil and roaring of dirt bike motors. I know the sounds of my American environment will soon become just background noise. But right now, my new life’s soundtrack is bombarding my conscious mind.

May I Carry This Always

I’ve learned and seen enough cool things in Paraguay to fill volumes. But, I will not do that (at least not right now). So, in the simplest of terms: Paraguay is an awesome place. Paraguayans have taught me to be a more confident and caring person. And, there are some aspects of their culture I’m incorporating into my life for always, no matter where I am. My top five favorites of Paraguayan culture are:

1) Commitment to humor: Find a Paraguayan and in short time they will make a joke and be laughing. Find a Paraguayan and they will smile. Paraguayans have plenty to be negatively about, but most don’t let those realities rob them of happiness. Paraguayans are always looking for the next smile, the next bright speck in the haze of life.

2) Unwavering gratefulness: Paraguayans take time to be thankful for what they have and with who they share their lives. Of course, Paraguayans are human and want new, different things. However, they don’t let their desire for something else distract from their enjoyment of what they have.

3) Attention to detail: Paraguayans, especially and mostly the women, notice the smallest detail. They notice how one little bow can make a table at a baby shower look all the better. They notice and remember when one’s birthday is, how one’s family is doing, what one prefers to eat, what size of clothing one wears, what one likes to do…I appreciate Paraguayan women’s attention and think it is a form of being truely present. I want to be as present in my life as they are; I hope to be as understanding of the people who are important to me as they are of the people important to them.

4) Relationship building as a priority: Paraguayans work and study and do all the things that people do, but first and most important are the people in their lives. I was raised as a fierce individualistic American who believes my dream should not be bent for anyone or anything. I still believe that I must follow my dreams and not let anyone distract me, but I’ve also realized that people bring joy to life and that people in my life are important to me. I don’t ever want to get lost in a rat race that is so hectic I don’t have time to share with those I love.

5) Unrelenting curosity: Paraguayans never stop asking questions and I love them for it. They do not feel shame when asking the most outlandish, in my mind, things. I want to carry their unwavering confidence…it takes confidence to ask questions people might refuse to answer. I want to always be curious and willing to learn like I have found my closest Paraguayan friends to be.

The Art of Being Grateful

One thing that continues to impress me about Paraguayans is how happy they are. They almost always have a smile on their faces, and even in the darkest of times are quick to joke and laugh.

This ability to be joyful is not because the people of Paraguay have fewer problems than people of the US, for example. Believe me, they have many struggles from finding work and putting food on the table to maintaining their health and accomplishing the basic, like washing clothes, with access to only poor infrastructure. I often wonder how they stay positive when faced with so many obstacles.

Having thought often about how Paraguayans create happiness, I’ve come to the conclusion that Paraguayan contentment stems from a strong tendency toward gratefulness.

Paraguayans who have little and don’t know how they will put the next meal on the table are still able to enjoy the food they are currently eating, and even more profound they do not hesitate to share what they have with others. Their traditional foods always taste good to them and the soda is sweet no matter what pain they hold inside.

Paraguayans use what they have, considering it a gift to have for the time it lasts. Sometimes people in the States buy nice things and are then afraid to use them for fear of ruining them. Most Paraguayans start using a new thing right away and aren’t scared to let others use it too.

Paraguayans are experts at appreciating the company around them. They spend their free time talking to family and sharing meals. To many Paraguayans, visiting family is as important as excelling in work and school.

The Paraguay lifestyle naturally includes pauses to be grateful for one’s resources and relationships. This ability to take time and enjoy what one has, helps sustain contentment and overshadow the difficult aspects of life.