The Discomfort of Learning Things I Didn’t Know I Should Know

I sat on the edge of my bed, a pair of socks in my hand, preparing to put on my shoes to leave. I gazed at the clock wondering, if I leave now, am I going to be too early? I figured now is about the right time, put on my shoes and headed out the door. I walked the short distance to the Ohio Union and once inside, began looking for the Alonso Student Life Room. Despite my wishes to speak to no one, I greeted the people at the help desk and they pointed me in the right direction. I entered the room and my heart sank. The room had probably 30 chairs set up in a grid, with only 2 of them filled. The projector screen read APIDA Activism 101, and I knew I was in the right place. I sat in the second row. I couldn’t sit at the back with so few people present. APIDA Activism 101; the session I was attending was an introductory education in activism in the Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi American Community. I am a white man with dark brown hair, hardly the look of a person within the APIDA community. As I sat there, the feeling of being isolated marinated. Despite the social anxiety, I was excited for the session. I was interested to learn more about the APIDA Community and their activism, as my knowledge in the realm of APIDA groups and issues was quite low. Through the APIDA Activism 101 session, I was able to learn a little of what it feels like socially to be the minoritized group; see the way that connectivity among groups extends much deeper than race; think on the way that race is viewed dichotomously in the U.S.; and begin to understand some of the many issues that plague APIDA communities.
As I sat in my chair, I couldn’t help but notice the many ways that I felt out of place. The Alonso Room was a round, quiet room with windows facing outside on two thirds of the walls. Between the windows were bookshelves, and comfortable chairs. The chair I was seated in was among a collection of black chairs arranged in a rectangle in the center of the room. A few chairs down from me another person sat reading a book, and I was jealous of their escape. Moments later, one of the people setting up the session began chatting with this person about something they were going to do after the session was over. I felt even more singled out. I couldn’t help but think that not only do I look different, but these people know each other! And in this unusual feeling of difference, I had a moment to recognize a menial amount of what minoritized groups deal with every day. It is simply tough to feel like you are the only person that looks like you in a room. Though, I wasn’t experiencing the same feeling as minoritized groups, as my discomfort was only temporary. After the session began, there were multiple instances where we had to break into small groups to discuss and at the first break, I turned around to find that there was another white person two rows behind me. Ashamedly, this brought me some comfort. My small group consisted of the other two people on my side of the room and in the first discussion we managed to converse, but as the small group discussions went on the discomfort of each of us was clear as we wanted to share little. I tried to start the discussions sometimes, but I wasn’t keen on the concept of Mr. White Man, leading the discussions on APIDA Activism. On the other side of the room, the only other small group was having full bodied conversation. The inability to speak with others only made the isolation and discomfort heighten. Despite the discomfort of feeling as though others were staring at me everyone was very accepting and at many moments I could relate to the ideas at hand.
The core of the APIDA Activism session, was quite familiar, as the core lessons regarding activism, were tenants that I could understand from my small forays into environmental activism. When the session began and the slideshow started moving, the first slide’s text made me feel a bit more at ease. In bold red print above a small passage read ‘Land Acknowledgement’. Upon seeing those two words, I was comforted, as I’d participated in land acknowledgements with other groups and that familiarity was enough to calm some nerves. I have found that people who are aware enough to acknowledge that the land we live on is stolen land, are often people with whom I get along. Despite the slight relief, I was still too aware of my discomfort to answer the question the speaker asked of why we do land acknowledgements, even though I felt I could answer it well. The thread of activism and awareness were both subjects that helped me to feel more at peace throughout the session. Often, we were called upon to discuss activism and why we engage in it, and those subjects helped me feel more comfortable with the people around me. Speaking to people about the importance of having your voice heard and enacting change was quite powerful. The universal desires to stand up to make a better world made me feel that I had much more in common with the small group of people around me. At the end of the session, they spoke about how to avoid burnout in an activist group, and this also made me feel welcome. I have discussed activist burnout in such similar terms with a friend who is big on activism. All of this together helped to remind me that I had a lot more in common with the people around me than I was thinking of when the session began.
Though, there were elements that I was familiar with in the activism, much of what I was exposed to was bringing me to new light on justice for APIDA and other minoritized groups. At one point, the speaker opened up to the audience to speak about some of the issues that APIDA groups face and the person sitting in the same row as me gave a thoughtful and compelling answer about the difficulties of APIDA groups to get attention and justice in the United States because U.S. racial issues are seen as a narrative of black and white. This bias had me spellbound. I stewed on this dichotomy and realized the effects that this binary has, and how it created my ignorance on APIDA issues. By only seeing black, white and the issues between, we belittle so many other groups. We see their problems as less significant because they don’t fit in the dichotomy. At one point during the APIDA Activism session, we went around the room and read short biographies of famous APIDA activists that were taped on the walls. What struck me about many of these activists, was their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. The APIDA connection within the Civil Rights Movement made me reflect further on the racial dichotomy. I thought about how much support the Civil Rights Movement got from people of groups outside of the black community, but on the flip side, some of these larger more powerful groups were not sticking up for the other minoritized groups. These thoughts raged on in my head, and yet there was more to process about the issues and troubles that face APIDA communities.
Further into the presentation, the group made a word cloud regarding the issues that face APIDA groups and it broadened my horizon further by allowing me to see many issues that I hadn’t processed before. As a part of the group, I had to help come up with ideas of social issues for APIDA groups and as I began to think on it, I realized how little I knew of issues in the APIDA community, as I was only able to come up with immigration and mental health. Even then, I felt ignorant on those issues. As responses flowed in and the word cloud grew, I began to visually recognize my ignorance. As I would see a response, I would think of course, how did I not think of that? Seeing the model minority myth, I thought on how terrible it must be to have a wide swath of people called a ‘model minority’. No one wants to be judged about their abilities and what they should be based on their look and the color of their skin. Judgement across APIDA groups appeared on the screen and caught me by surprise. I’ve hardly ever acknowledged that people of Asian descent come from many different countries and cultures that vary widely in nature and have their own biases. I realized that I need to work to shirk my own sight of Asian people and cultures as being more homogenous than they truly are. The last words I noticed in the word cloud were sexual trafficking and abuse. I noted that it is an issue that I still lack a deep understanding of how it affects APIDA groups. In looking at the word cloud, seeing these issues, I began to notice my tunnel vision, and how U.S. society’s lack of emphasis on APIDA groups has affected my view of these groups.
The APIDA Activism 101 session was an important wake up call for me in my own duties of being a conscientious citizen. The session forced me to reflect upon my relationship with the social issues of APIDA groups, forcing me to realize the comfort I’d found in ignorance. I entered the session thinking that I was adequately versed on social issues but quickly realized the fallacy. My subconscious used that train of thought to be complacent in my knowledge and action on social issues. This complacency is a result of not desiring to think on the hardships that other groups face in this country and of the lack of attention we give to APIDA groups and many other groups outside of the black-white dichotomy. In following the session, I feel that I’ve been working to be more cognizant of the places where the assumption of a black and white social binary shields other issues from sight. I’ve also been working to shirk my biases about APIDA groups so that I can see their issues at a better level. Additionally, I’ve reflected on how important it was for me to feel that discomfort. I know I entered the session full of fear, but, I had little to fear, because the people around me were just people and we had more in common than I had bothered to reconcile beforehand. It was foolish of me to feel as uncomfortable as I did just because I looked different. People are people, no matter the outer image. The amount of self-reflection and realization I was able to achieve from even a short stint out of my comfort zone was a strong reminder that there is a great deal to learn and enjoy outside of the world that I bubble wrap myself in, seven days a week.

A Journey of Struggles and Acceptance

I enter a room that is dark yet warm. Soft lamps light the corners of the room as if to make everything a shadow. I sit down on a small loveseat with a blanket draped over the top and bring my legs and hands together in discomfort. The person across from me sits into a desk chair with a tapestry-like blanket draped over it. They look at me and ask the question in dulcet tones. “So, what brought you to therapy?” A question somewhere in my mind I had expected, yet the first thing I say is “I don’t know.” They look at me expectantly, as if to say that this escape route would not work with them on patrol. I begin the process of conversationally tripping over myself to expound on the idea that I’ve generally been unhappy for a while now, and I’d like to change that. They look at me from their chair and tell me that my questionnaire results indicate that I struggle with some anxiety and depression. The words surprise me in an expected way. The way that you can see a knife coming and it cuts you all the same. The therapist and I begin to speak uncomfortably about my life. As we begin speaking, my mind becomes inundated with the thoughts of the many moments where my feelings have been more typical of someone struggling with anxiety and depression. I didn’t accept it at many points in my life, but anxiety and depression found their way into my life at many stages, including my middle school years, my first year of college and the first instance of realizing some of my discontent in life occurring in my senior year of high school.
In my formative years I stood alone and confused, not realizing the ways that I made myself ignore my reality. When classes broke for lunch, the isolation would begin. Without the structure of my middle school class schedule, interactions with people became far more difficult. I would get my lunch and scan the cafeteria for who I might sit with today. I had a way of bouncing about lunch tables, everyday sitting with a different group of kids I knew somehow. I rarely had the consistency of a friend I knew I could lean on in the lunchroom. My relationship struggles in middle school was exacerbated by the choice of the school to introduce a new recess period following lunch. Recess was like an extension of the lunchroom. I stretched myself across the outdoor playground trying to find whoever I would play with that day, never enjoying the period. I desired to return to the safety of the classroom. In a classroom, my participation was expected, encouraged and provided a space for me to express myself in capacities where I never felt as though I would be burdening others. I used the classroom as a long game to make friends. I tried to attract people by being expressive and fun in class. I had begun to lay the foundation that people would view me as fun and kind, but never picture me beyond the classroom. After school, I would go to football or track & field practice, and I was around people united at least by a desire to sweat in an extracurricular. When I went home, I completed my homework as needed, but otherwise I watched videos on the internet. Videos were my escape. I had begun my pattern of distracting myself with hours of internet videos to keep my mind from my reality of loneliness and discontent. This was the way it went on for years, extending from middle school into high school; a day of school where I only felt okay in the classroom, followed by whatever I could do at home to not think about the loneliness I felt around school.
Finding my first true friend in the world helped me to finally realize some of the feelings that I had swept under the rug for so long. I’d made it through middle school, into high school and eventually, my long game worked enough for me to have a few friends. Heading out of my junior year, I was beginning to know someone I’d only known peripherally for years. We bonded over listening to Billy Joel as I took her home once and I had mentioned that I entered a contest to try to win tickets to one of his upcoming concert dates. I ended up getting a pair of tickets (no thanks to the contest) and I invited her. We both felt we were taking a big risk on extending and accepting such an invitation, but the concert ended being full of hilarity for the both of us. The following school year, I sat next to her every day in Spanish class. We giggled our way through that class, both of us having enough Spanish to make it through when called upon, even though we were paying so little attention. It was the first and only time I ever had the pleasure of watching a friendship blossom. We would visit each other often outside of school to watch movies and talk. I didn’t know how it felt to have someone who wanted me around, and it made me feel golden. Through talking over many movies, I began to open myself up and in talking more about myself, I started to understand my own feelings and how alone I’d been all this time. I began to accept myself, the ways I felt and I was finally realizing who I was and my place in the world, which would seem a wonderful way to enter the college years.
I entered college and my whole life seemed to invert itself. Leaving home and the greatest friendship I’ve ever known; I entered a sea of tens of thousands of people my age. Despite this, I opened college into loneliness. I sat in lecture halls of hundreds where there was never the possibility that I might meet someone through the process of charming class participation as I had previously. I returned to my dorm every night to three roommates, two of whom I couldn’t care about. The third was the one person I ever talked to. Since we shared a space so much of the time, we managed to speak and have a rapport that managed to keep me afloat. But at that, our relationship was strained. He didn’t realize it, but there were points where I couldn’t stand his archaic world views. He also didn’t realize that his view of the world minimized me when I already felt small in the world. He was emotionally a brick wall when I needed someone who wouldn’t judge me for breaking down and crying. Crying was reduced to an action that occurred at the top of the stairs at my dorm, out of sight of everyone I didn’t know. I yearned to have my best friend back, desiring some kind of emotional authority for my life. On top of the disheartening personal struggles, I felt stranded and confused about what I wanted to study. Even more than that, I didn’t understand what I wanted my life to look like after the upcoming four years of agony. This was mostly the way I saw the prospect of my college future; agony. My second semester only made me feel worse as my classes became more difficult. My internal darkness only grew as personal struggles became heightened. I was alone again like middle school, but this time doing far less to distract myself from the pain. Full of a sense of confusion and loneliness, I finished my first year of college with little excitement to return.
I returned to school following a summer of not feeling terrible about myself and soon enough, the isolation and sadness returned. A few weeks into the semester, I decided that I wanted to feel a bit better. Maybe if I sought out the help of others, it could make me feel better. I booked an appointment with my therapist. I have gone to my therapist ever since and it’s helped me to finally accept my struggles with anxiety and depression. I can’t say that therapy isn’t frustrating much of the time, but it makes me think about the things I generally don’t want to properly process, which is healthy. And it helps me to see issues I couldn’t realize or understand on my own. In the past, I didn’t desire to accept my feelings as being anxiety or depression, or even accept my feelings at all, but I’ve since realized that its simply part of who I am and there is no shame in that. Writing and talking about my experiences, is part of the continuing journey for me to accept the lurking darkness of my life. I am probably not the person that many people imagine when they think of people struggling with anxiety or depression and that’s because I put up a façade so I can hide the true nature of my feelings. Once I began to believe more in the way that I felt than the way I wanted to feel, I was finally able to accept myself for who I am and that has had a profound impact on me as I have embraced the nature of my existence.

how to not get lost in a cave and other nonsense along the garden route

The first step to not getting lost in a cave is to not lose your guide. Just stay with the guide. Simple as this seems, I can attest that it is not as simple for the uninitiated.

The garden route is a beautiful stretch of South Africa. It’s a stretch of South Africa where the arid and Mediterranean climates of South Africa overlap, creating a beautiful green region as the region experiences both summer and winter rains. Or so I understand. This is how it was explained to me by the tour guide. I was on a very touristy tour of the garden route and initially I was very keen to hear the tour guides thoughts and facts about South Africa. An Afrikaans surfer man seemed as good a person to take information about South Africa as anyone else, and I wouldn’t know any better about why the garden route is so aptly named, or really anything else about South Africa.

I just want to offer the disclaimer about the naming of the garden route because after talking to the tour guide on his opinions on education, I wasn’t as convinced by his tour guide schtick. I mean I’m sure he knew what he was talking about, but he and I had very different views on what education should look like, and I mean reasonably so. He was a college graduate who now works as a tour guide, and I’m a college student trying to figure my own education out, so his distaste for the current system of higher education makes sense. There is just something interesting within the human mind of when someone has a dissenting opinion, there is a lot of urge to view them as stupid. In reality, I have no idea about what would make education better, but the tour guide’s fondness for online education left a sour taste in my mouth, so I want to disclaim anyone who reads this that my information comes from this guy.

The tour guide’s name is J.P. and as I said he was an Afrikaans man who had a knack for surfing. He also was quite knowledgeable on birds and plants and other wild things (or so I think). He also was very big on pool and he was a smoker. The last two details add to my doubt of his intelligence (is it fair to judge him on the terms of his own life choices? No, but I’m a punk and these are the snap judgements I make. I’m sure J.P. is intelligent and a wonderful person, I just happen to have the soul of a hag that judges people in this way. In fairness to J.P., he once got marshmallows to roast over a fire for us, he had good taste in music and he mentioned that he is slowly killing himself by smoking, so those are positives. I don’t know, I’ve written a lot of mean things about him, and he was delightful as a guide so I’m trying to balance it out.)

J.P. drove a little van of twelve people, three of the United States, three of Brazil, one of Spain, three of Switzerland, one of England and one of Burkina Faso, through the winding roads that navigated mountain ranges, beautiful vineyards and all the beauty that was the garden route.The way the mountain ranges seemingly stretched along the whole drive was encapsulating. The greenery along these mountains would slowly drift as we went through regions. Along the way away from Cape Town, J.P. bought us all milkshakes, which was fantastic. I had a banana chai milkshake that was wonderfully sweet and indulgent, though lacking in much chai flavor. As my father would note, that is the banana dominating the flavor (he would say this with disgust, but I don’t mind.)

The first day of the trip focused on getting away from Cape Town and closer to the garden route region, and as such, much of the day was driving, but with the immaculate landscapes, I didn’t mind much that I was couped up in a car for most of the day. After most of the driving, we ended at a place called the Kango Caves and J.P. prefaced our cave trip with the option of taking the heritage tour or the adventure tour. Immediately, this wreaks of marketing. I mean c’mon, we all know that the heritage tour is essentially the regular tour and the adventure tour is the sport edition of the tour, and just like in cars, the sport edition really only has the option that it is better in some regard to the standard version. Indeed, it did have some special features; for one, it went deeper into the caves than the regular tour and on top of that, in the adventure tour you get to crawl through some crevasses and get the sense that you are going all Indiana Jones up in that South African Cave. Needless to say, I went on the adventure tour, and I did not regret it. There was one of the group members, a Brazilian, who was uncertain about the adventure tour, but decided to go on the adventure tour. I think they might have regretted it.

After many of the crevasses, there comes a point where the cave guide has to help each person down from a crevasse, but our cave guide insisted we go on to the next cave chamber and wait there, while they helped the rest of the group. The three people in front of me, the Spaniard, the Englishman and the Brazilian in being told this, readily moved to the next chamber. I, having a desire to get some nice pictures, lingered a bit before moving on. Upon going to the next chamber, it seemed that my three compatriots had continued on their way to the exit. I took my time in taking more photos moved forward cautiously, while waiting for the people behind me, so as to not be lost and alone in this cave. I continued along with the tail half of the group and at each waking chamber, I was struck by the lack of the three folks in front of me. The back half of the group along with the cave guide continued to the exit. At one point along the trip back, we were instructed by our guide to ignore a sign that directed to the supposed exit. We went on and emerged from the cave to daylight, and entering back into the center for the cave, I was impressed by the lack of the three others. Needing to pee and take pictures, I put them out of mind, thinking surely they must be fine and somewhere else.

After the regular tour of the cave, our whole tour group met back at the entrance to depart. We had everyone. Well except for the other adventure tour three. We all looked around expectantly, as if the other tour members would know. The back half of the adventure tour group pieced together the fact that the last three were still in the cave. The tour guide J.P. began to go about franticly looking for the lost three. He found that the caves were locked up, the lights turned off and the staff had gone home. Well most of the staff. Somehow we got hold of people, but we had to wait for the cave staff with the keys to come back to unlock the caves. It must have been at least half an hour before the people with the keys came back. By that point, the adventure three had found their way through the cave to the exit, but they emerged in the light victorious, only to find the gates to the caves locked and they had to wait. I think it was at this point the spirit of the Brazilian was broken. Upon being freed fully, the Brazilian was crying while the Spaniard and Englishman simply looked dumbfounded. We hit the road back to the hostel, with the whole tour group dumbfounded.

Arriving at the hostel, we settled in and headed to the bar to wait for dinner. Upon hearing our tale of cave mishap, the hostel owner offered our tour group a free drink on the house. I ordered the beer on tap at the suggestion of the bartender, Heinrich. It was a Jack Black, and at all records, the beer seemed quite regular. It was a good lager, but as with lagers, the ceiling is quite low. I don’t hold this against Heinrich. Heinrich was wonderful and I got to know him a bit in talking about rugby and sports and how rugby has been getting on in the United States. Apparently, rugby is having a moment in the States, or so I’m to understand. I talked to Heinrich also about American football, as that is what I watch, but a bit after talking about the Cleveland Browns I realized that Heinrich thought I was talking about football as in football anywhere else in the world (soccer if you are still lost in what I mean). I did not bother to correct Heinrich about this. We proceeded to talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers as Heinrich had started following them on Twitter. I had to sadly inform Heinrich that despite his impression from what he saw, that the Cavs were quite bad this last season. We also later chatted about the use of ‘ya’ in South Africa, and I got to know the term ‘lacka’ from Heinrich (it means awesome, or the like.)

My conversation with Heinrich occurred in front of a television playing a rugby match between New Zealand and South African teams (it was quite a big deal of a match, as Heinrich informed me. The Kiwis won.) This conversation also followed a meal of ostrich and ostrich sausage, which were both quite lovely. They are quite lean meats with a nice flavor. In the backround of my conversation with Heinrich was a pool table. I was watching rugby to pass the time and ended up being roped in to play pool against the Englishman and a Swissman and on the team of J.P. (I wanted to play, but I didn’t totally expect or desire to play with J.P.) In seeing J.P.’s enthusiasm for pool, I had to remind him multiple times of how bad I am at pool. And I delivered on my promise, not making a shot for the better part of the game, so much so that J.P. tried to advise me on what shots to take. I only made two shots in the entire game, but they happened to be the last solid and the eight ball. I was lucky and it excited J.P. immensely, as it seemed clear early in the game that we would lose.

Following this game, J.P. organized a game of ‘Killer Pool’. The rules are very easy, a whole bunch of people play and everybody has three lives, and if you don’t make a ball into a pocket on your turn you lose a turn. You can gain a life by making the eight ball. Preceding the game, J.P. asked everyone if they wanted a shot. Doing as the Romans do, I said I would have a shot. J.P. called it a Springbok (the national animal of South Africa), so I was even more on board. The game of ‘Killer Pool’ started and Heinrich prepared the shots. I made my first shot in a shot that could not have been set up better by the person before me. In preparing the shots, I noticed the shot was two layers, a bottom layer of translucent green and a top layer of opaque light brown. In taking the shot, I did not open my throat as I think you are supposed to do, but I did cock my head back like they do in the movies. This combination forced me to try to make a quick gulp before anyone noticed that I had not downed the shot so elegantly. I am not at all surprised at my poor form, as it was my first shot and I think as far as shots go, it was quite pleasant. It had a strong mint flavor and a nice smoothness to it, with only a small sense of it being alcohol. It was like taking a shot of mouth wash.

On my next three shots of ‘Killer Pool’, I didn’t make a single one. I played in the next game of ‘Killer Pool’ as well and I missed three shots in a row and was out as early as possible. I watched the game play out and J.P. won and he seemed quite satisfied with himself. After the fun, I made my way back to the room of all the boys on the tour and I grabbed a towel and had a quick shower. Shower is generous as I had no soap or shampoo, because I didn’t have room in my backpack for the big bottles I was using in Cape Twon, so I left the soaps at home. Essentially, I rinsed myself with water, but it made me feel better, so I count it as a win. I brushed my teeth and went to rest.

Why Do We Consume?

Maslow would say that I consume because I have needs, basics and advanced, and I need to consume to fit these needs to survive. Maslow is correct in this, I most definitely have needs, I need to consume food and water to survive, I need a roof to keep out the cold, and, if we’re being generous, we might say that I need this shiny degree I’m working toward in order to fullfill a human desire for academia. But, to say that I consume simply because I have to is far beyond the truth. Have I ever truly needed a bowl of ice cream? Do I really need an education to get a job with which I can sustain myself? Probably not. Truthfully, I could probably get by without a job, perhaps as a scavenger for food or a small farmer, but I am not progressing toward those futures because I have desires and aspirations. I want to live a better life, I want to be happy and comfortable, I want that bowl of ice cream.

So then the question becomes why do I desire these things? And a good portion of those desires probably stem from my understanding of what life is for, and up to this point, life has seemed like a vessel with which to prove my worth to the world and to myself. Why do I want an education? Maybe to prove to myself that I’m smarter than other people. Why do I want to eat that ice cream? Perhaps to prove to the world that I am as good as other people, and that I have the same right to eat as much as I want as they do, and by eating more than others, maybe I’m proving through conspicuous consumption that I’m more successful than other people.

Now, the narrative shifts to why I would want to prove my worth to the world, and I would link that desire to both the nature of the culture in which I was raised and Luke’s 3rd face of power. Firstly, I’ve been raised in the US society that glorifies competition. In the US, to settle for simple happiness is not enough, we have to work to beat people to try to reach the top and so by proving to people that we are more educated, or make more money, we believe we are saying we are successful. On top of this cultural sentiment is the nature of products and advertising in the US. Corporations for years have told us what we need to live and to be normal and to keep up with the Joneses, and by executing a slow subliminal overthrow, these corporations exhibit the 3rd face of power. US citizens only know how to consume because for so long that has been the norm, and to consume is to keep up with the Joneses in order to make sure that we are not being surpassed on the totem pole of success by those around us, because disposable money is success to us after all. Through advertising and our competitive cultural sentiment, we in the US have begun to believe that consumption and greater consumption are emblems of our successes. And to reuse or repair would be a sign of hard times, that we can’t afford to consume further which would be a clear slight to our status of normal and successful.

We love conspicuous consumption because we prove to others what we cannot prove to ourselves; that all of our hard work is a worthy cause. And we love consumption because it is a vessel for us to make up for all the time we’ve spent working, by using all of these time-saving products. By clouding our vision of what is normal and what is success, corporations have turned social norms and success to be equated with consumption and we all believe that our consumption is natural and our consumption is unmovable and so we all go on living our lives of consumption. All the while, corporations fill their pockets and exhibit the 3rd face of power over us all.

So, to simply say that I consume because I need to to survive is quite an oversimplification of the matter. In Maslow’s description of needs, I consume because I need that belonging and esteem that comes with consumption in the US. But beyond that description of need, I consume because it can make my life easier. Easier to view myself as normal and just another Jones, rather than having to deal with all of the ways I don’t fit into a society that attempts to be homogenous. I consume, because it makes me feel good, and in control, through consumption I can attempt to define the ways others view me. I consume because I’m lead to believe it is the right way. I consume because it helps me to bridge all of the gaps of myself that I dislike about myself, and instead fill the gaps with a new t shirt. I consume because I never spend enough time doing what I love or what makes me happy, and so I substitute the true and deep moments of happiness with the shallow and fake happiness consumption can provide, because it is easier.

Year in Review

I returned to Columbus off the heels of traveling to Cape Town, South Africa and working in the Florida Keys as a Camp counselor.My adventures in Cape Town broadened my horizons and connected me with a world new and wonderful. Cape Town reassured my passion for ocean research. Working in the Florida Keys brought me great satisfaction as I continually had the opportunity to shape the lives of young people and to indulge in the treasures of the ocean. The summer brought me great solace in knowing that a future working with the ocean would bring me great satisfaction. As the summer came to a close, the upcoming school year loomed over me as I reflected on the jubilation summer had provided.

Upon returning to Columbus, my thoughts of summer faded as I began to immerse myself in my coursework. The coursework was of a new ilk as the fall semester marked the start of my new double major program of Earth System Sciences and Oceanographic and Marine Sciences. In my new classes I felt a rebounding joy at finding great intrigue in the subjects. I was especially keen on my climatology course where I felt like a child as I wanted to absorb all the information I could about how the climate and weather of Earth functions. Additionally, my ecology course had the great pleasure of bringing me across Columbus on field trips and group projects. I had great pleasure as I was studying when I felt the intersections of my learning. My earth sciences, physics, ecology and climatology all felt like they were connecting in subject matter and this brought me immense satisfaction.

In fall semester, I was also helping with harvests and planning for the OSU Student Farm and working at the Ecological Engineering Department as a research assistant as I had for a semester already. I enjoyed working with new people and people I knew, but there was a small voice in my head that thought there might be a lab that I could fit better. As the winter break approached, I had the luck of finding a research assistant position with the Aquatic Ecology Lab (AEL) at OSU. I applied for the position and left for a pleasant winter break. On returning for spring semester, I had the wonderful opportunity to tour the Aquatic Ecology Lab and interview. On the tour, I felt connected with the work immediately and soon after starting working at the AEL. In training for the new research assistant position, my engaging coursework, and helping with the Student Farm, I was busy with work I loved.

My semester was proceeding with wonder as I headed in to a spring break that would change the proceedings of my semester entirely. During spring break, the news trickled out that Ohio State would be providing their education online as the country began to shelter in place. I found myself making plans for how I could create a school space in my parents’ basement and rushing to pack up my second year apartment. I felt that in the scramble to change home base, I lost the ability to say goodbye to the people and experiences properly. As I adjusted to online classes, I felt the barriers between personal life and schoolwork to disappear and an air of stress to permeate through my existence. The adjustment to being home bound was difficult, but I made it through the spring semester unscathed. The experience of quarantining at home has given me great pause to appreciate the many things that I regularly give no attention. The quarantine has made me greatly appreciate the ability to attend classes in person, to be able to venture and congregate with others with no worries, and realizing the importance of these pleasures was profound




  • Global Awareness: While at Ohio State, I have already journeyed abroad to Cape Town, South Africa where I participated in microplastics research on beaches. The joy of seeing another country was wonderful and seeing the lives of other cultures was an education as I have never had before. Cape Town in particular was an eye-opening experience as the economic inequality was so stark and clear. I have learned much from this global experience and desire to venture further out in the world. I have a distinct interest in studying abroad in Australia to study the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Original Inquiry: In my two years at Ohio State, I have worked in two different research labs. I first worked in an Ecological Engineering Lab studying the effectiveness of different types of rain gardens in slowing stormwater flow, bettering stormwater quality and the ecological benefits of rain gardens. I assisted in the research by obtaining stormwater samples from ISCOs after rain events, cleaning equipment and by setting up bird recording equipment. This research experience gave me my first glimpse in to the world of research. I started to understand how a research project is formed, and I began to think of what kind of research I may enjoy. I have since joined the OSU Aquatic Ecology Lab, as a pursuit of working with research even closer to my field of oceanography. In the Aquatic Ecology Lab, I have assisted with the analysis of chlorophyll samples from Lake Erie. I hope that I may be able to start my own research project about aquatic environments in the near future.
  • Academic Enrichment: One of the ways I have sought a unique and purpose-built academic experience with Ohio State is through the use of the Personalized Study Program (PSP) through the College  of Arts and Sciences. The PSP allowed me to work with professors in my field of interest to develop a curriculum around oceanography using existing Ohio State classes. This program bolstered my science education through being able to pair a PSP Major of Oceanographic & Marine Sciences with an existing major of Earth System Sciences. These majors in tandem have allowed me to explore deeper into my interests of ocean sciences and to give me greater scope in my education of Earth Sciences.
  • Leadership Development: I joined Green Engineering Scholars in my first year at Ohio State and it has taught me much about leadership as I have continued the program into my second year. Despite no longer being an engineering student, I continued to be part of the Green Engineering Scholars as I felt the program consistently provided me with programming pertaining to honing leadership skills as well as developing an engineering mindset to help me better my problem solving in all facets of my life. Additionally, in the summer of 2019, I worked as a camp counselor at the Scouts BSA Florida National High Adventure Sea Base. In working as a camp counselor, I lead young people through new and life-changing adventures. Learning to work alongside, teach and lead scouts was an important experience for me in learning and developing my own leadership.
  • Service Engagement: In my first year, through Engineers for a Sustainable World, I have helped serve and educate the local elementary students through an environmentally focused mentorship program with the Columbus Metro School. Since, I have continued to support and volunteer with the Ohio State Student Farm, where I assist in the growing of food using sustainable practices. The Student Farm not only works to teach people about the importance and beauty of growing food through hands-on experience, but also works to emphasize justice in food. The Student Farm donates food to local food banks in the Columbus area to help ensure food for all people, regardless of background. It is with great pride I donate my time to assist with the vision of the Student Farm.


Work & Research Experience:

Research Assistant at OSU Aquatic Ecology Lab — January 2020-March 2020 — Worked at the AEL where I assisted in the processing of chlorophyll samples from Lake Erie. I was responsible for grinding the chlorophyll filters and for operating the machine to test the spectroscopy of the chlorophyll samples.

Research Assistant at OSU Ecological Engineering Department — January 2019-April 2019, August 2019-February 2020 — Assisted in research with The Ohio State University Ecological Engineering Department regarding the effectiveness of permeable pavements and rain gardens in managing stormwater drainage, improving water quality and their possible ecological benefits. I was responsible for collecting rainwater samples and processing bird call data files.

Out Island Mate at the Brinton Environmental Center, Scouts BSA Florida National High Adventure Sea Base — May 2019-August 2019 —  I led groups of scouts on week-long adventures including fishing, boating and snorkeling while camping on a remote island in the Florida Keys and taught scouts about aquatic & terrestrial life and the ecology and biology of the Florida Keys. I was responsible for the safety and welfare of participants and ensuring the adventure fit time constraint. I worked with others to coordinate the activities each day to ensure smooth running of the program.

Microplastics Pilot Research in Cape Town, South Africa — May 2019 — Participated in pilot research for Dr. Holly Nel of the University of Birmingham (UK) through Evolve Abroad. I sampled beaches throughout Cape Town, South Africa for microplastics, sorted results and made comparisons between different beach samples to garner an understanding of microplastic sources and distribution. To be acknowledged on an upcoming paper for these contributions.


Team Project Experience:

Engineering Capstone Project — August 2017-May 2018 — I led a team of 4 Wooster High School Engineering Students in the planning, building and experimentation of a sample engineering project. The engineering team designed a system for hands free bathroom stall door opening, closing and latching. The project was the first implementation of the Engineering Capstone project in Wooster High School.

Eagle Scout Project — April 2015-November 2017 — I led the planning, fundraising and building of a storage/utility shed for use by Scout Troop 65 Charter Organization, the Zion Lutheran Church of Wooster. I managed the recruiting of volunteers, directed tasks for volunteers and provided leadership in the construction of the facility. The Eagle Scout Project was approved by the local Killbuck Scout District.



Red Cross First Aid & CPR Certified, April 14, 2019- April 14, 2021

PADI Open Water Diver, Certified in 2019


Awards :

OSU College of Arts & Sciences Dean’s List, Autumn 2019 & Spring 2020

OSU College of Engineering Dean’s List, Autumn 2018

Wooster High School Valedictorian, 2018

Eagle Scout Award, 2018



OSU Student Farm, Autumn 2018 – Current

Morrill Scholars Program, Autumn 2018 – Current

Green Engineering Scholars, Autumn 2018 – Current

OSU Swing Dance Club, Autumn 2018 – Spring 2019

Engineers for a Sustainable World, Autumn 2018 – Spring 2019


About Me

I am Corbin Lanker, a student at the Ohio State University studying Earth System Sciences and Oceanographic & Marine Sciences. I am pursuing this degree because I am a proponent for the well-being of our environment and Earth. I believe that there is so much more to be understood about Earth, especially regarding the oceans. As such, I aspire to study the oceans in the future, to better understand all the wonders the seas provide us. In combination with my desire to understand our environment, I am also passionate about teaching people about the importance of our natural world and the importance of conservation. To that end, I have worked at the Scouts BSA Florida Sea Base where I was able to guide scouts out on adventures to explore the oceans as well as teaching them about human impacts on marine ecosystems.

My fascination with the natural world extends to terrestrial life as well, as I am a part of the OSU Student Farm. Through the Student Farm, I have had the pleasure of learning about growing food and the issues that come along with it. With the Student Farm, I have been able to attend workshops where I have learned about the social injustices that accompany food and its growth. Through this education, I have become far more acquainted and interested in social causes. I have learned about the problems facing many migrant workers and Hispanic communities that grow much of the food that sustains us. In this learning, I am working to become more of an advocate every day. Advcacy and science are integral parts of moving our society forward and I pursue both of these ends.


An Article to Shape My Future

In my senior year of high school for an environmental science course, I had to find, read and report on an environmentally related article I found. I cracked open a new National Geographic magazine and found an article entitled “Last Ice”. The article detailed how the ice caps of the North Pole are melting at a rapid rate and how the formerly large sheet of ice could be reduced to a small island of ice by 2050. The article featured majestic photos of polar bears, narwhals, and other polar animals of the sort and after each photo, the article would describe how these animals are being endangered by the rapidly declining ice and global warming. Needless to say, the article was sad, but for me personally, the article just broke me. I sat in my dining room crying and thinking of every way that the way I lived my life was killing these majestic creatures and thinking of how if nothing were done by the middle of my life so much of the polar region could be gone and so much of the world’s wildlife extinct. I tried to put my devastation into words for my teacher and that only brought more anger and tears. At that point, I decided that I wanted to be a part of the solution. I didn’t feel like I could sit idly by as humans wrecked the beautiful natural world, and from that point I’ve stressed being environmentally friendly in my own life and in what I choose to become later in life. It’s a lot of why I’m becoming an ecological engineer, to try to be a part of the solution and help save the world from the death grip that climate change holds over the natural world as we know it.