Category Archives: Culture

October 2011

My name is Skye Jang and I am a new intern for Finding the Good, a traveling semester program run by Tom and Debra Weistar from Synergia Learning Ventures in Nevada City, California. I actually live in Easton, Pennsylvania. If you didn’t know, that’s about a five-hour plane ride away. I graduated high school this past June without much idea of what would be next. I found myself here, at Synergia, with Tom and Debra, learning everything from knife skills to Final Cut Pro to rights of nature to taking pizza orders to operating a DSLR Camera. My next mission is to conquer a two-wheeled bicycle. I have convinced myself over the years that I know how to ride one, but my theory’s definitely been proven wrong… Anyway, I have only been here just over a month, and every single day feels so full of possibilities. That’s an amazing feeling you know.

For the past month, I’ve experienced the Nevada County life and much more. I’ve been exposed to so many things that, in a way, I thought were irrelevant before I came here. My way of life’s been dramatically altered. At Synergia, I live in a wood cabin made of recycled materials and have no cell phone service. I eat organic food and use composting toilets. I will also be the first to admit that I didn’t know much about recycling or composting. Moreover, I wasn’t aware that hog factory farms were immense problems in numerous communities right in my home state of Pennsylvania. Most recently, I learned about the Shoshone people and their dispute with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Barrick Gold Corporation over Mt. Denabo, a sacred site for the native people.

On October 6, 2011, I ventured to Reno with Tom, Debby, and Wyatt, a prospective student of Finding the Good, to report on a hearing, which was a small thread in the long-lasting controversy between the Shoshone people and the BLM and Barrick Gold Corporation. The court has already ordered in favor of BLM and Barrick Gold Corporation to begin the project. However, when the BLM and Barrick attempted to pump water out of the ground as part of the gold mining process, the Western Shoshone Defense Project filed yet another suit against them declaring the water was sacred and essential for their livelihood.

When I got back to home base, I watched the documentary “American Outrage” to further educate myself about the history of this dispute. Honestly, I found it hard to keep my eyes on the screen. The violence and force of the government in that documentary was mind-blowing, and at the same time completely heartbreaking. The film centers on the lives of Carrie and Mary Dann, two Shoshone sisters whose ranch sits on rich gold deposits. My heart broke when I saw Carrie and Mary’s life being torn apart for metals. I looked down at the gold ring and bracelet wrapped around my finger and wrist, and realized how insignificant they seemed compared to the Danns’ life. “When you buy your wife a gold ring, think about where it came from,” Carrie Dann says.  The BLM and Barrick Gold Corporation essentially demeaned the Shoshone people’s way of life and culture. Tom explained, “They’re trying to separate the human from the being.” Realizing this truth, I was saddened.

The government’s abuse of power made me all the more empathetic towards the Shoshone people. I have lived in the United States for almost eleven years. My mother and I came to this country believing in proclaimed opportunities for happiness, freedom, and success. For the past eleven years, my mom and I have struggled with the government over our legal status and still do today. We are not citizens. We are not even “registered aliens.” We are immigrants, restrained and leashed by the bureaucratic policies of the United States government. We are, in other words, foreigners, unrecognized and ignored. It wasn’t until this past school year that I realized the personal impacts of this reality. I applied to college, and naturally I applied for financial aid, as all my peers did. By the time college decisions came out, I grasped that I wasn’t in the same position as everybody else. I was notified that I was classified as an international student, and that I couldn’t receive federal financial aid. The government’s denial of me and my mom’s existence in the United States had trickled down to affecting my immediate future. Out of respect for myself, I took initiative to do something with this gap year, and here I am, three thousand miles away from home. In the past six months, I learned how naive I had been, how much I have left to learn, and ultimately, how important it is to take action out of awareness and courage.

Knowledge always has consequence, whether it is good or bad. Learning about the Shoshone, the environmental impacts of certain activities such as eating meat, and even the problems existing in Pennsylvania make me more aware of the world. It also opens the gate for cynicism and pessimism. However, we must never let the world make us hard. Instead, we can take pride in newfound knowledge and desire to learn more. Debby articulated, “It matters that [the Shoshone dispute] makes you sad.” Despite grasping the injustice that occurs everyday, the extraordinary life of the forest and the stars sparkling in the night sky are reminders that the world is a beautiful place. We, as dependents of the earth, have a responsibility to preserve it, just as the Shoshone people have done.

-Skye Jang

November 3, 2011

8:00 AM: Skye wakes up

8:00:10 AM: Skye decides to sleep for fifteen more minutes because of the comfort of her bed

8:37 AM: Skye wakes and panics

8:41 AM: Skye decides to get out of bed

9:11 AM: Skye finishes getting dressed and brushing her teeth

9:13 AM: Skye enters Tom and Debby’s to find Tom eating breakfast at the table

9:15 AM: Granola and milk

9:24 AM: Skye goes to retrieve dish soap from storage room

9:29 AM: Skye calls her Mom in Pennsylvania

9:35 AM: “I love you. I’ll see you soon.”


You’re probably wondering why I took you through a short segment of my morning. It seems completely uninteresting and mundane. If you read in between the lines, you’ll learn more things about my life than at first glance. I have a comfortable bed to sleep in. I have clothes, and running water. I have food to eat. I have access to a telephone. I have a mom who loves me more than I can hope to understand. I know some of you are asking, “So do I. What’s the big deal? “ The big deal is that most of the world doesn’t have half the things I have. If you’re reading this on your computer right now, then I hope you come to appreciate it all, including the technology you’re using right now.

Last night was an ordinary movie night at Tom and Debby’s. We watched a movie called A Better Life. Carlos Galindo, the father of a teenage son named Luis, works incessantly to move out of East LA, hoping to get his son into a good school and away from gangs. He must avoid deportation and keep his son from falling into trouble. There are depictions of immense poverty and migrant workers begging for work on the street. They live crowded in one flat. Illegal immigrants do whatever they can to earn money for themselves and their families. Many face deportation after being caught by the authorities. Ultimately, all they wanted was an opportunity to live better, as was with Carlos Galindo. Near the end of the movie, Luis visits his father in a detention center. Carlos pours his heart out, apologizing for failing his son, admitting that he loves him enough to give up his entire life. Carlos is sorry that he couldn’t give Luis any better. I cried.

Is it a little close to home for me? Probably. I really respect single parents. They have to be two different people, a mother and a father. More than that, I really respect single parents who are immigrants. My Mom’s effort to give me a great childhood as a single parent becomes clearer and clearer as the years go by. My Mom strived to keep both of us out of poverty for our future even before we came to the United States. I was too young to understand, but now I am learning of the struggles she overcame for me so my life would be changed for the better. For that reason, I grew up privileged.

I always believed that I had less than I deserved and other people suffered so much less. I didn’t have the fancy new cellphone or the $300 bag. In reality, I have so much more.  I have basic necessities, and conveniences that are in fact unnecessary for survival. However, I have my life. A few days ago, Debby said, “All those superficial, material things could never compare to who you are and what you’ve experienced as an immigrant from South Korea. Your perspective of life is something that can’t be replaced by plastic things.” She articulated something so apparent to her, but not me. Hearing this gave me the best sleep I have had in a while. I woke up this morning feeling chipper, but most of all awake. I don’t mean physically feeling conscious, but really feeling awake.

How about we all take a moment to imagine what it would feel like not to have running water or to have a hungry stomach before going to bed?

-Skye Jang

November 6, 2011

The original Social Security Act was passed in the 1930s, the era of the Great Depression, to combat skyrocketing poverty rates, economic instability of senior citizens, unemployment, and the struggles of widows or widowers. The Social Security program uses social security taxes paid by the nation’s citizens in order to provide economic security to the previously mentioned groups of people. Your personal Social Security Number (SSN) often times gives you identification and presence in the United States. Therefore, a common way identity theft occurs is when someone steals your SSN. I guess this means I received my identity last night.

Quite contrary to how momentous the occasion was, I felt quite apathetic about the whole situation. I haven’t taken the time to really reflect on how wonderful it is to have a Social Security Number. Wait a second…am I actually supposed to be happy that the government finally gave me a SSN? Maybe you can help me find the answer to that question in the next few minutes you take to read this.

When I first got here in September, Debby asked me to read an article titled “Help! I’ve Been Colonized and I Can’t Get Up…” by Jane Anne Morris. She addresses this phenomena occurring in the world concerning the public’s tendency to not take action against corporate exploitation of the environment, rather choosing to complain and blame other people. Jane Anne Morris describes the population in three parts. She explains that one of the three thirds “are preparing testimony so you can be persuasive at a generic regulatory agency hearing while you’re begging them to enforce a tiny portion of our laws.” I call that “groveling,” as Morris puts it, begging, sycophancy, being a toady, maybe kowtowing, even for the smallest of results. After seeing the fruit of all your efforts, you rejoice for the killing of 600 trees, not 2000. The government has us under so much oppression that small, minute outcomes produce celebratory parties with champagne. That is being “colonized.” So yes. I have a right to be apathetic that my SSN came in the mail last night. I have a right to question whether I should really be happy.  When it comes right down to it, are we living in a true democratic nation, when we have to beg for things that should be granted, such as an “identity”?

How about the other side of the story? An enormous number of immigrants are working day to day, and paying their taxes, praying that an opportunity to receive even a Social Security Number and eventually their Alien Registration Card crosses their paths. Do I really have a right to say that I am apathetic now? Let me take some time to explain to you what it would be like if I had never come to the United States. I would be living in a crammed, overpriced apartment complex with my Mom. I would be taking about an hour commute to school courtesy of the Korean subway system. I would be going to school and returning home, in the dark. My Mom would be working almost 24-hour workdays. I wouldn’t know how to speak English. I would have never known that there were bigger opportunities outside of my country. Ultimately, I would have never questioned the status quo. I’ve laid out both sides of the debate. Should I be glad about this next step towards citizenship? Should I question the government’s limitations on its source of power, the people of the nation? What do you think?

Now I realize that I talk about immigration and the government a lot. Maybe it’s because this has been such a large part of my life. Maybe it’s because it really matters that people know. Maybe it’s just because I’m eighteen and I’m pissed. No matter what the reason, it’s safe to say I’m still perplexed. However, in this post-911 era, I am well on my way to receiving an Alien Registration Card. That’s a minor miracle.  Oh, the irony…

-Skye Jang

November 8 & 28, 2011

November 8, 2011

How many times have you gone on Facebook today? How many emails have you sent today? How many Twitter followers do you have? How often do you check your cellphone for text messages, emails, or missed calls? We live in an era where “facebooking” is part of our daily jargon. We live in a place where cellphones are causes of car accidents. We are wired all the time. We live in a technological world.

Just this morning, I sent a half a dozen emails within 10 minutes. In the next five, I went on Facebook, and clicked the red notification flags at the top left hand corner of my screen that told me someone had written on my wall and sent me an inbox message. Facebook just happens to top my “most visited” sites list. Even without cellular service or a television, I find ways to connect myself to “the outside world” with a mere stroke of a key. Warning: I’m going to be cliché.

What has the world come to? I guess the real question is: why are we so addicted to technology? (I know it’s not just me)

The whole concept of the Internet, cellphones, and televisions was for people to be connected even when thousands of miles away, and for people to access available information quickly and with ease. We use this technology to do everything from downloading movies to reading the news. Traditional letters have transformed into emails, and phone calls have turned into text messages with emoticons attached to them to denote emotions. Youth, in particular, inundate themselves with pop culture, social networking, and indecipherable music. This includes me as well. This being said, I am not criticizing our utilization of technology. Rather, I’m trying to understand why we use this technology the way we do and how this consumption is influencing us.

When it comes to the impacts of technology, there is the good and the bad. Let’s begin with the good. We are able to connect with people we haven’t spoken to in years. We can access news quickly and efficiently. We have information at our fingertips. We can send messages to people without waiting for extended periods of time. Regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not, technology facilitates our daily tasks.

What about the bad? Exposure to media has caused a universal “negative body image syndrome,” amongst teens and young adults. We have given up traditional, more “real” ways of communication for ease and speed. We care more about who is tagged in which photo rather than what is going on in the world. People are invited to important events through the Internet. Our virtual lives are far more interesting to us than reality.

So…what does this all mean? I don’t mean that we should sacrifice our access to the Internet or trash all our cellphones. I understand the limits of living without the technology we have. I’m eighteen. But…what if we used this gift we have for better purposes? We can use the connection we have to the whole world to make our voices heard. We can relay information that we believe is important. Make a Facebook status, group, or event. Tweet. Send an email. Text. Make a blog post. I don’t mean talk about Kim Kardashian’s divorce or Lindsay Lohan’s next court date. I mean talk about something that’s really important to YOU. Yes you. Maybe that does actually mean talking about Kim Kardashian or Lindsay Lohan. Don’t let technology control you. Rather, master it and make it your own. What’s your story?


November 28, 2011

Last night in bed, I was thinking about who I was just a year ago. I was a senior in high school, bored and undecided. About what you ask? About everything. In twelve months, I’ve completely changed as a person. I always thought that change was bad. Change led to people growing apart. Change is different. The reality is that change is a normal part of life. Change shapes who we are through all our experiences, the challenges we take on, the obstacles we overcome, and the people we encounter.

My point is that I’ve even changed in the past three months. I could tell you all the new things I learned or habits I’ve adopted. But I won’t. There are too many things to mention.
Instead, I want to tell whoever’s reading this to have courage; courage to delve into the unexpected and unknown. I traveled thousands of miles by plane to the other side of the country. I had no idea what Nevada City was like, and I had to commit without knowing. Most teens and young adults aren’t willing to leave their life behind for something like my internship. Well, did you know that there are almost 200 countries in the world and seven billion people on the planet right now? Who knows how many animals and trees are in the world…it’s probably safe to say that you haven’t even seen a quarter of the world. I haven’t. If you have, that’s absolutely amazing.
There are so many things to see, to learn, and to experience to stay in one place for too long. We can never hope to understand different perspectives of the world without seeing them firsthand. By “seeing,” I mean more than just physically being able to look at things. The sense of satisfaction and adventure you get from leaving home and exploring new places is unreal.
This notion of having courage applies to anything, way beyond just traveling. Have courage no matter what you do. If you’re thinking about taking on a new challenge, just do it. No need to come up with more excuses not to. You will change. You will see the world in a newer way. It’ll feel remarkable.

2 days until departure. Until next time California.

-Skye Jang



Driving through Tijuana. The road runs parallel and sometimes right next to, the border fence. Mexico side. Sheets of metal laced together. Rusted and covered in graffiti. Some sections seem to be newer; the metal is still shiny. It glints in the late afternoon light. I get a look at the other fence. United States side. Tall concrete pillars topped with hard wire mesh rectangles. Unbroken. It follows the same path as Mexico’s fence but is careful to keep its distance. Between them there is a blank space of roughly 500 yards. It has been raining, so the grass is tall and green. Delicate flowers take advantage of the open ground, stretching between and spilling over both sides of the border. I am trying to understand what it means. There are so many perspectives that could be taken as to how this scene represents the relationship between Mexico and the United States. Let your mind form is own idea about this place, this space between. Empty to the eye but overflowing with meaning. On the U.S. side, huge sewage plants process San Diego’s waste. Helicopters fill the sky like mechanical vultures, watching for any breach in the line that has been drawn. Waiting for the soul on which they can feed. We join the traffic lines following the signs to San Diego. Between the lines there are people, selling candies, plastic piggy-banks, baskets, sombreros, bird baths… Our windows have been washed twice already. On top of being washed earlier by the boys. We inch closer and closer to the place where we will leave Mexico.