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Photo by Ryan Kost, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Introduction

Hi everyone! My name’s Noel and I was born and raised in Palo Alto, California. To an outsider my city is probably known as a lot of things: the home of Steve Jobs, the birthplace of Stanford University, the center of Silicon Valley, and a high-tech, STEM-focused culture. I’m incredibly lucky to have grown up in a place so rich in innovation and intellectual vitality. At the same time, my hometown is a complex place; abundant in privilege and wealth, yet constantly struggling with its own ideas of success and happiness. I’ve found that living here can emphasize our society’s obsession with utility and generate a singular idea of what it means to be a valuable/successful member in society, which can become stifling if you don’t fit in to those ideals. Additionally, the wealth of this place creates a pretty apparent wall between us and the rest of our society, which can make it hard for us to recognize our own privilege, or be empathetic towards those with differing backgrounds. Even so, we’re a strong city who has been through a lot in these past few years, and I’ve watched as we’ve stood up for injustice and openly discussed complicated and uncomfortable issues, and I’m proud to call this fast-paced city my home.

If I can sum myself up into two things, they would be music and stories: the two pillars of my childhood. My mom began teaching me piano at age 5 and I’ve been playing ever since. It’s one of the biggest parts of my life, and my friends like to joke that my house is never silent (it truly isn’t) because someone is always playing an instrument or singing. Her background as a pianist and her love for the art form were instrumental (hah) in how I would grow up in the middle of Silicon Valley. Looking back, it’s because of her that I think I was able to confidently embrace the arts & humanities, no matter how much the culture around me brushed off its importance. I joined a choir in 2nd grade, and by 8th grade managed to join the most senior group which was an all-girls a capella ensemble; we sang everything from baroque chants to jazz hits. We sang on the streets for impromptu busking sessions, or in gorgeous cathedrals and theaters. Leaving them in senior year (due to over-committing myself to other activities) was one of the hardest things I had ever done, and I still miss singing with them every day. I believe that the arts are, in the end, facets of storytelling through different mediums. Which is fitting because I grew up around stories, both literally and figuratively. Literally because I was the most obsessed bookworm when I was younger. But figuratively because stories have always been how I’ve connected with and gotten to know people. As a daughter of immigrants, someone who has struggled a lot with her identity in the last few years, stories are often what ground me and allow me to remember the unique histories we all hold — individually, or as a collective people. Take my family, for instance. The divide separating me from my own parents is often cultural, but it’s also linguistic: For every Chinese word that I can only understand but not say is another struggled attempt at comprehending each other. I find that their small and seemingly insignificant stories of childhood, or memories of favorite pastimes tend to transcend those divides. In those moments I can see another part of my mom, or my dad as they once were before me, and as they are now. It’s one of the reasons why writing is another huge part of my life. It’s how I process things, and understand myself and the world around me. I’m mainly a poet, and all of my published work is poetry, however I’ve recently begun to write some short fiction and a little bit of memoir/personal essays. I also co-founded a literary magazine with one of my best friends in sophomore year, and it’s still up and running to this day! (hit me up if you’re interested in submitting! *shameless plug*).

I love food. Ironic because I can’t cook (something I intend on fixing). I do bake a lot though, so there’s that. I unashamedly love middle-grade books. It’s one of the only genres whose age group still genuinely loves to read, and I feel like its books reflect that in their originality and heart. I love a good conversation, and I love listening to people’s stories. But as much as I love talking, I’m an introvert at heart. And as someone who grew up in a place that advocated regularly for type-A, front-of-the-room leaders (no hard feelings!) as the only types of people worthy of respect, it took a long time for me to come to embrace my silence and love of listening as strengths. My relationships with people are one of the most important things in my life, and I’m so excited to build new relationships with both my fellow bridge year teammates and the community of Cochabamba. I can’t wait to hear your guys’s stories! It’s also been a lifelong goal for me to be fluent in at least six languages, and Spanish will be a tentative fourth. We’ll see how I fare with that. I’m lucky to be a middle child and have two amazing siblings. Playing the role of both younger and older sister has been quite a gift and I’m going to miss my two partners in crime. Final shoutout to my huge 17-pound cat, Gary. I will miss cuddling him and giving him belly rubs, but I will not miss him screaming at my closet door every morning at 5 am. Or maybe I will.

To prepare for Bolivia, I’ve been talking to a family friend whose life traveling abroad through Africa and South & Central America is a pretty big inspiration to me. She lived in Bolivia for about a month, as well as visiting all over the continent and was able to provide some advice on living and working there. I’m also (slowly) introducing myself to Spanish since I learned another language in high school.

I included a picture of papas rellenas, a sort of Bolivian potato dumpling that is stuffed with various fillings including meat, eggs, and cheese. I’m really excited to try these because they remind me a little bit of Chinese taro dumplings that you would find at dim sum restaurants, which were one of my favorite dishes when I was younger. I love how there are certain foods that seem to pop up everywhere in the world, with different takes/ingredients depending on the culture, and it seems that this may be one kind of like that.

Can’t wait to meet you guys!