Monday, December 22, 2008

City Life

Caring And Coping In The Children’s Cancer Ward
By Kasey Ryan

She walks into the Starbucks in Midtown Manhattan, smiles and waves and heads toward the table. Her long chestnut-colored hair is freely flowing with perfect loose curls on the ends, and her Burberry scarf is neatly wrapped around her neck.

Her eyeliner is perfectly applied despite the freezing winter weather and harsh winds that have caused my own eyes to water and my eyeliner to smear under my eyes, making me resemble a football player.

“You wouldn’t believe the week I’ve had at work,” she says.

I immediately wish I looked even half as put together as her on my “rough weeks,” which usually have me rolling into places in the same sweatpants I’ve been wearing for the past three days, a ratty oversized hoodie, and a baseball hat to cover my unwashed hair. I guess stress affects us all very differently. I say this because by the looks of her perfectly applied make-up and perfect tan, any stranger wouldn’t know she’d had a rough week.

She takes off her stylish winter coat to reveal her black cardigan over her skinny name brand jeans. Anyone who doesn’t know her couldn’t imagine that just an hour and a half ago, this same stylish young woman who takes such pride in fashion and the latest trends, donned blue hospital scrub pants with a “Hairspray the Musical“ hooded sweatshirt, complete with bright hot pink crocs with children’s characters all over them in exchange for the adorable pair of black Christian Louboutin pumps she has on now.

When I point this out to her and tease her about this, especially about the crocs with the characters and the Broadway sweatshirt that we have made fun of others for wearing out in public, she laughs and explains that that is what “her kids,” which is what she calls her miniature-sized clients at work, like to see her in.

She is Jackie Markowitz, a 23 year-old Westchester native, who has seen more heartache in her life than most people in her line of work. Watching young children suffer and fight tirelessly against deadly illnesses while parents sit by their bedsides in constant prayer is unfortunately something Markowitz witnesses daily while working as a child life specialist at the New York Presbyterian Children’s Hospital.

Markowitz ’s job includes numerous duties that if not physically draining, are emotionally draining. She works in the pediatric intensive care unit and the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, which means she mostly works with babies, children, and teens with intense heart or organ problems, or with various forms of cancer.

In these units, her duties involve working with the young patients and their families and helping them adjust to the process of hospitalization. She focuses on the patient’s psychosocial development by doing medical play to help prepare the young patients for procedures or tests, which she also accompanies them to along with their guardians.

She not only focuses on the patient, she also teaches coping and management techniques to the patient’s parents and siblings, trying to help them not only understand, but deal with the severity of the diagnoses and the steps that need to be taken. Basically, she is a rock for both the patient and families during this difficult time in their lives.

Jackie Markowitz says she is learning to cope with the realities of her job.

Some people may feel that they could never do the job she does because they may get too attached to the patients and would literally fall apart witnessing them get weaker day after day until they are no longer there. How can anyone in Markowitz ’s profession deal with as many good-byes as she has had to say, and as many parents she has witnessed break down when told their child would not likely make it to their next birthday. Does she have to keep her distance while working, and not forming close attachments with the patients and their families“

Markowitz disagrees. “I personally operate that when I stop getting attached to the kids and treating each kid like he/she is special, then I am no longer doing the best job I can be doing,” she says.

How does she continue to get up day after day with a smile on her face after losing so many little ones that she had grown to love? One loss once in awhile is bad enough, but when it is multiple times a month, sometimes even a week, and when it is a child, someone who has never gotten the chance to lose their first tooth, or have their first kiss, or even graduate from middle school, how does she cope?

“While I do get attached to my kids and love the line of work that I am in, there is definitely a need to separate work from life, and this is a very difficult process that has taken me years to get better at, but over time I’ve learned how to cope and what helps me cope, just like I try to teach my kids [patients],” she says.

Markowitz continues: “It is extremely difficult but I try my hardest not to take my work home with me, but what makes it even harder is that it’s not just numbers at a desk, it is children and their families and real people, which definitely make it tough. That being said, the fact that I do have a great support system at work and at home too helps a lot...and over time I’ve learned that when I get home from a particularly hard day at work, I need some quiet time to decompress, and I’m slowly learning how to take that for myself.”

Markowitz’s job may bring extensive amounts of heartache, but she makes sure to remind me that it can be just as rewarding. “Honestly, the kids make it all worth it,” she says. “There is nothing more fulfilling than watching a kid do something she thought she couldn’t. Just to watch one of my patients cope well for the first time at a blood draw or an echo and seeing the look on her face when she realizes she did it and she CAN overcome her fear is this amazing, indescribable feeling.”

She says she has been rewarded many times for helping the families through these tough times, including a recent encounter in which a patient who was heading home after a lengthy hospital stay.

“Her mother just wrote me this long letter thanking me and basically, at the end of the letter, she wrote something like if her daughter did get the chance to grow up, she would be honored to have her grow up and be half the person I was..,” she says, blushing and becoming uncomfortable with talking nicely about herself.

After a while, the subject turns to Halloween at work and Markowitz describes her little patients’ costumes and the sugar high many of them got from the candy. She says she wore a superhero costume to work and that the kids loved it. She probably didn’t even need a costume because her scrubs, Hairspray hoodie and pink crocs with characters on them would have been just fine.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

City Life

Once a Marine, Always a Marine
By Jordan Price

David Fetherolf, of Hamburg, Pennsylvania, sits down, dressed casually in a Lactose Polo with a dark blue pair of denim jeans. When first meeting Fetherof, one probably wouldn’t assume that this rather preppy, golden-haired, blue-eyed 22 year-old has already served as a U.S. Marine, including spending time in Japan and Iraq. But the minute he begins speaking about his experience in the Marines, his voice gets serious and his eyes light up with passion and discipline.
Fetherolf’s dream to become a Marine started as a young child. “I dressed up as a Marine every single Halloween. It didn’t take much for the recruiters to convince me to join when the time came that I actually could,” he says.

Fetherolf’s dream finally came true. He entered the Marine Corps June 14, 2004 directly after he graduated from high school. He says the most demanding part of the Marine Corps was boot camp. “It’s completely different from anything else you could ever experience in life, and it takes a lot to get used to the demands it puts on your body mentally, physically, and emotionally. I don’t think anyone can ever really get used to being screamed at 24/7,” he says.

Although the harsh boot camp was rough and unlike anything he had ever experienced, Fetherolf never once thought of giving up and continued to work his way up through the ranks, becoming a sergeant working as a Motor Transport Operator. What exactly does this entail? Fetherolf explains a typical day in Iraq.

“We woke up really early and had breakfast at the chow hall. Went to our Motor Pool, which is where we stored our convoy vehicles, and did a pre-convoy check to make sure they were ready for the trip. We'd mount our machine guns on each vehicle, load up ammunition, and line up the vehicles in convoy order. We'd have a briefing on the convoy mission and known danger areas, and then we'd start the convoy,” he said.

David Fetherolf served in Iraq, after joining the Marines.

Fetherolf says that on the convoy, he was in the lead vehicle, and his job was to move traffic off the roads so the convoy could pass, and find improvised explosive devices before the convoy reached them.

“When we found them, we secured the perimeter and called the explosive ordnance team to detonate the bomb. Once it was clear, we'd continue on. We also searched suspicious individuals and vehicles and relayed information to the rest of the convoy. When we got to the base we were going to, we re-supplied them, and headed back. When we returned to our base, we cleaned our weapons, unloaded our vehicles, and received a debrief. After that, we had dinner, showered, went to sleep, and did it all over the next day.”

One of Fetherolf ‘s jobs in Iraq was to find explosives before the convoy reached

This dangerous work takes an enormous amount of courage, which Fetherolf obviously possesses. It becomes apparent that serving as a Marine is not just a job, but a passion that certain people inherit, just as some people have passions for sports or for dance, although most passions don’t require a daily risk of one’s life.

When asked whether he ever feared for his life and whether he had lost any friends at war. He takes a long moment before he answers.

“Well, there were plenty of times I thought I could die, but I can honestly say I was never fearful about it. We train so much that we can literally handle any situation like second nature. And have I lost any friends at war? Fortunately, no. But a very good friend of mine was severely injured.”

He answers the question firm and almost unemotionally attached, one could assess. When asked if he thinks being a Marine has had some emotional after-effects on him, he says, “Naturally, I think it has to. It makes you tougher mentally and emotionally. Going to Iraq kind of changes things, too. When I came back, it took awhile for me to let my guard down and trust people. That probably sounds weird, but for months we're around nobody except the Marines we trust, and the enemy. You can't trust anyone other than your friends over there,” He says.

Fetherof, now a civilian, plans to get married.

On June 13, 2008, Fetherolf finished his time in the Marine Corps. His life plans now? Ideally, he would like to work for a government agency. When asked if he agrees with the current war that he personally fought for. He does not take a second to hesitate in his answer.

“Yes, I do. The U.S. forces in Iraq have become the main focus for terrorists from all over the world. If we didn't have troops in Iraq, those terrorists would be focusing on repeating attacks like 9/11 on United States soil, rather than in Iraq. I would much rather have them focus on me while I'm in Iraq, than focus on any innocent U.S. citizen on our soil and I know a lot of guys that feel the same way. We trained for it, we signed up to fight, and nobody forced us to,” he says.

As Fetherolf speaks, there seems to be certain sadness in his eyes, a longing to be back fighting and protecting our country. He notes how boring regular life now seems, and when asked whether he has any regrets about his Marine Corps career, he says, “Yes. Not staying in.”

College Life

A Few Good Women
By Mark Galarrita

Automatic assault rifles, strict discipline, physical training at 6 a.m. and nail polish. These are some of the things that reveal a changing U.S. military today.

The reserve officer training core program allows students in college to participate in the American military lifestyle in order to become officers one day. ROTC, as cadets call it, is a program where students balance their responsibilities in school and the military.

ROTC traces its roots to the late 1700s and today, the program has recently expanded to include both women and minority students. A woman leading in the Army is not something unheard of now. But until 1973, women were not allowed in the ROTC.

Cadet Major Sarah Vandy is a cadet of the Fordham University battalion, Bravo Company, who is only one semester from becoming a second-lieutenant in the U.S. Army. When asked why she wants to serve, she says she doesn’t do it for the pay or for any personal gain, but for the excitement. “I wanted to get experience,” Vandy, 30, says. “I first wanted to serve a short time, but I ended up liking the army. I like the camaraderie and the challenge. You learn a lot about yourself in the service,” she says

Vandy says she wanted the experience and
camaraderie that military service offered.

Vandy wasn’t just a cadet; she enlisted in the Army out of high school, and at age 18she was a Humvee mechanic stationed in Germany for four years. Fifteen months of which she spent in Iraq with her company repairing vehicles on base, running on her own and watching out for surprise mortar attacks.

“People in the civilian world have this general assumption that once you’re deployed to Iraq all you do is fight,” she says. “For some units that may be true, especially combat jobs. But mainly, your duty depends your job type and the type of unit you are assigned to.” As a shop foreman, Vandy’s mechanical skills were mainly used on base and while some mechanical soldier’s were sent outside the wire attached to Military Police platoons. Outside of the base, those soldiers were sent to the frontlines to repair vehicles, although many were stationed on base.

Vandy applied and completed airborne school where her physical and mental limits were pushed to the edge. She received her associate’s degree at a community college through the service and is now a business student at New York University.

Her commitment to the army reflects those around her. She has gained the respect of everyone in the Fordham University battalion. “I love her, she really inspired me to do better and to be better,” says Jessica Davis, 19, a student and cadet of the Fordham University battalion, Bravo Company. “She inspired me to do better on my physical training score because there aren’t a lot of girls who try to compete on the same level as guys. I wanted to show that I can help set the bar for not only female cadets but male cadets as well.”

Davis says she is inspired by Vandy’s

Davis is just one cadet that has been inspired by Vandy. The young mechanic has created a steady work environment in the battalion that breaches gender gaps. She helped raise a company that demands the best from each other, whether male or female.

Francis Cagulada, 20, a student at John Jay College and a third year cadet said Vandy was simply ‘bad ass.’ “She’s more hardcore than most of the guys in the program. She’s 30 and she runs faster than a majority of the cadets.”

Cagulada says Vandy outperforms many
cadets in the program.

Although Vandy remains an inspiring soldier to many of the cadets, she doesn’t imagine herself being part of the military her entire life. She plans to retire in 10 years from the National Guard and go into business consulting or working in management firms.

The reason she still remains committed to the army is because of the personal pride she gets from it. “I could have gone to officer candidate school or the ROTC but it didn’t really matter to me. I just wanted to be either a first sergeant or a company commander,” Vandy says. “ At either one of these jobs I would be in charge of over 150 people, a job where I would be responsible for motivating and developing these soldiers to serve the country. It’s what I had my sights on as I stayed in the military.”

Vandy spent 15 months in Iraq with her company repairing vehicles.

There are others like cadet Vandy who also imagine a career as an officer in the Army, and how they achieve that goal and their own personal reasons are different. She’s just trying to make a living.

When asked if men treated her like a lesser person or made it any easier on her because she was a woman, she laughs softly and replies with a steady no.

“I was always working with men, you just had to get comfortable with that. Most men would be shy or cautious around me. It wasn’t until I started to break out of my own shell that we all started to work together as a company. That’s what I like about the army, everyone has this one goal to get the job done,” Vandy said.

By the time Vandy graduates next spring of 2009 she will be working as an engineering officer and attempting to reach her goal of company commander. The commitment isn’t something to think about lightly, it’s a four to eight year commitment to the military. A student graduates to become a second lieutenant and a guaranteed, full-time job in the U. S. military.

For Vandy it’s a service obligation she’s willing to take.

City Life

Stepping Into Fashion With Weird And Wacky Shoe Designs
By Megan Biscieglia

She walks into the coffee shop with windswept hair and a long faux fur coat. Her smile lights up the room and others around her start to stare. She certainly has something that makes people want to know more about her.

Annalyn Agapito’s sky-high stilettos do little to hide the fact that she is so tiny, barely reaching 5’2. But her talent is immeasurable. She’s recently begun her quest to conquer the fashion world and it hasn’t been easy. But people already are beginning to take notice of her stunningly beautiful and strange designs, and she’s only 19 years-old.

Annalyn Agapito wants to conquer the fashion world.

“I’m originally from the Philippines but my family and I moved here when I was five years old,” said Agapito. “We then lived in Maryland for a while until we moved to New Jersey, which is where I consider home. My senior year of high school we moved to Ohio. As soon as I graduated, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue fashion design,” she said.

Agapito’s family background is in farming, so it was quite a shock to her parents when she told them she was moving to Los Angeles. “We lived on a mango field, corn field, and rice field in the Philippines,” Agapito said. “We’re pretty Americanized now, though of course, my parents were expecting me to go on to be a doctor or lawyer or something of that nature.”

Agapito says she believes her family was disappointed that she wanted to quit college after only two semesters to begin a career in fashion. My father thought it was funny. My mother didn’t take me seriously at all. And then I left and they just recently began being very supportive.”

It was her parents who first inspired her love of the art of clothing. Agapito moved to the U.S. at a very young age knowing virtually no English. Students made fun of her at school and she was put in the special learning classes.

“I was a complete weirdo in school,” says Agapito. “I didn’t have any friends because I didn’t speak the language. My father always helped me pick out my outfits and they were always really wacky -- your typical ‘dad picking out clothes for his daughter’ outfits. My designs are on the wacky side, and it might stem a little from that.”

Agapito didn’t understand the language, but she did understand the clothes people wore. In her eyes, they told a story. They were a way of communicating that didn’t involve speaking. “I think that you can tell a story through clothing. Clothes can be more than just something you put on. They can portray how you feel at that time and I think that’s really amazing,” said Agapito. “I wanted to be a designer/artist because it’s a means of communication anyone and everyone are capable of using. Even myself at five years old.”

Agapito’s designs, often representing the creepy and strange, are beautifully weird. She is thankful for the strange childhood she had because if she had grown up normally and easily (she had to learn a new language, this is hard for anyone, but especially for a five year-old) she might not appreciate the stranger things that are usually written-off as gross or ugly.

“I get my inspiration from creepy things,” says Agapito. “One particular collection of mine was inspired by a bunch of bugs and moths. And really creepy beetles that were bright green with big claws. I get inspiration from things that are interesting and intriguing and don’t really make sense.”

It’s hard to ignore Agapito’s talent for noticing the beautifully weird. At LA Fashion week 2008,’ Agapito worked with world renowned designer Petro Zilla. Though it was an amazing experience and she learned a lot, Agapito hopes to soon have her own collection shown in fashion week.

“I can see this going somewhere. I just need to learn the business end of things,” says Agapito. “So many talented designers get into this line of work without knowing the business backend and end up failing miserably. I don’t want that to be me.”

With a good head on her shoulders and talent to boot, it won’t be long until everyone knows of Agapito’s designs. “No, my designs are nothing like the Lion King sweatshirt, Zebra pants, and huge sequin bow my father used to dress me in. That’s a pretty dope outfit, but no, there’s nothing like that in any of my collections.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

City Life

With That Smile, How Could He Lose?
By Kasey Ryan

When asked if he thinks he’s different, his response says more about him than this article ever could. “Well, we are all different. God made us all different.”

Those words of wisdom come from Mike Clooney, age 43. Clooney was born with Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder in which the infant is born with one extra chromosome that causes developmental delays, mental retardation, and often other health problems or effects.

Back when Clooney was born, hospitals didn’t have the type of rigorous prenatal tests that could predetermine that Clooney would be born with this disorder. However, his sister Dotty Ryan says her siblings count Clooney as a “blessing,” and couldn’t picture him any differently than he is.

“When Mike was born, it definitely came as a surprise to my parents because there wasn’t as much research and awareness on Down Syndrome back then and my mother didn’t know how serious it was or how much it would affect Mike,” says Ryan.

“However, once my parents learned more about the disorder and that Mike would be able to lead a relatively normal life aside from the developmental delays, they breathed a sigh of relief that their baby boy was happy and for the most part, healthy. Mike having Down Syndrome didn’t change the fact that this was still my parents’ child, their baby boy, and she loved him just as much, if not more, than the rest of us,” Ryan added.

Mike Clooney says we're all different.

Clooney, the youngest of eight children, was immediately taken under their wing by his seven older siblings. Ryan, now a nurse and a mother of four girls, reminisces about Clooney as a young child.

“He was just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. He had this amazing smile that literally transformed his face and reach all the way up to his blue eyes,” she says. “He could get away with murder, and not because of his disorder, but because one sad look from his small eyes that were so full of love and you were done for. He especially melted my mother’s heart and had a special bond with her as the baby of the family.”

Clooney grew up normally in pretty much every aspect aside from the developmental delays that made him have to work harder than the other children when learning to talk, read and write, but he managed to overcome each obstacle with a smile on his face.

When he was old enough to go to school, Clooney attended a special school for Down Syndrome children. He thrived in school and made friends easily, some with Down-Syndrome, and some without.

Ryan remembers how easily Clooney made friends, “People were drawn to Mike. He was just so sweet and genuine and naively funny. He loved to make knock-knock jokes. All our friends sort of followed suit and took him under their wing too. He was never teased or ridiculed, as far as I can remember. In fact, when our friends came over to call for us to come and play, they’d ask if Mike could come too!”

However, as Clooney grew into adolescence, things took a turn for the worst. “Dad and Ma got sick from cancer. Dad went to heaven, and ma got sicker,” Clooney recalls. His sister also recalls this tragic time in their lives.

“I just remember that all my mother was worried about was what would happen to Mike when she died. She was terrified he’d end up in an institution or a home, even though all my brothers and sisters and I assured her over and over again that would never happen.”

Her mother not only worried about where Clooney would live, but what would become of him. For the first time since he was born, she realized that she wouldn’t be around forever and began to worry how Clooney would get a degree, or if he would be able to get a job, or what would become of him. In the end, Clooney chose to live with Ryan, her husband and their four girls, which Clooney recalls as one of the greatest blessings of all.

Clooney says he has come a "long way."

“I love living with Dotty, Danny and the girls. I help around the house, go to a program for grown-ups like me, and still work really hard at Rite-Aide. I love my pool table and my bowling group,” Clooney says.

Today, the man his mother worried about so much is thriving. He can read and write at a fifth- or sixth-grade level, which is well beyond the third-grade level that doctors said he would reach. Not only that, but the man has more jokes than a comedian and is always ready to make people laugh at a moment’s notice. Clooney has held a steady part-time job for years and seems to have thankfully avoided the many health problems that plague others with the disorder, although he does suffer from seizures sometimes.

After talking about how much he has accomplished in his 43 years and how many lives he has touched, a hint of the infamous smile that his sister referred to earlier that lights up his face and reaches all the way up to his eyes. He throws his arms up triumphantly as he says with pride, “I came a long way!”

Yes, Mike, yes you have.

College Life

Seaweed Soup
By Charlotte Price

I found her through Craigslist. The line, “2 bedroom apartment, Carroll Gardens, sub-lease, $750 a month,” was all I knew about her. Well, her place at least, and it suited me just fine. By some lucky whim comprising both hope and reckless abandon, I wrote her a response, met with her the next day, and moved in on September 1 2008. That’s when I found out who my new roommate was. Her name is Nancy Kwon. And her favorite food is seaweed soup.

Kwon greeted me at the front of my first Brooklyn residence and helped me carry my stuff up two flights of slanted wooden stairs of an old house. I glanced around my new home and for the first time got to look my new roommate in the eyes. She had thick raven hair that fell just below her shoulders with bangs that cut across her inquisitive eyes. She was Asian. I didn’t even try to guess what country she was from fearing that if I guessed wrong it would be offensive to her.

“Well, I gotta run but tonight my friends and I are cooking dinner in Bushwick if you would like to come?” I agreed and with that she smiled and was out the door.

Nancy Kwon’s apartment was both familiar and unknown.

I perused the living room, nodding approvingly at our exact same taste in literature and music. Dostoyevsky, Bukowski, Wilde, Hesse, and Shakespeare filled the bookshelves and below it were albums of The Beatles, Al Green, Greatest Banjo Hits, and David Bowie.

I laughed at her funny pictures with her sister on the fridge and moved my eyes further towards to countertops. I loved the way she decorated the place. She even used glass jars as glasses.

Then, I came across something completely foreign to me: her food cabinet. Bags of rice, dried noodles, odd spices and oils with Asian characters on them overflowed in the tiny space. I eyed them curiously. I had never seen anything like them. I ran to the fridge and opened it to find jars of pickled vegetables, sauces, and fish products, all described in a language unknown to me. It was then that I noticed we didn’t have a microwave or a toaster. We had a rice cooker. Suddenly, “dinner” seemed to mean something very different.

In Bushwick I met some of Kwon’s friends and began to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle I had started in our kitchen that day. I walked into a large loft and the smell of delicious spices tickled my nose. They were speaking in a different language and when I came in they introduced themselves and smiled. “I hope you like Korean food,” Kwon said.

Boom. My roommate is Korean.

I jumped up and down with excitement and had so many questions I wanted to ask my new friend. We began to talk about our families and friends and everything that came out of Kwon’s mouth made me like her more and more. We were very much alike, and yet so different. We both were extremely close to our siblings. Her sister, Jennifer Kwon, 23, works at the Korean Embassy in Wadshington, D.C. “She comes up to visit a lot,” Kwon said smiling.

When it came time to eat I was dazzled by what was put in front of me. Pickled cabbages, sliced carrot salads with sesame dressings, onion pastries, fish patties, and a dozen more tiny colorful dishes that to this day remain a mystery to me.

Kwon handed me a pair of chopsticks and I hesitantly dug in trying to use the same grace she did while manipulating the tiny sticks in her hands. I watched her friends in awe as they passed the plates and danced the chopsticks from one item to the next speaking in a musical language. It was very surreal.

Jennifer and Nancy Kwon eating in unison.

At this point, I asked Kwon to give me the entire background story of her parents. She summed it up nicely. “When my dad was 25, he came to the U.S, to work and send money back to his family in Korea. Around 26, I think, his great aunt introduced him to my mother. They went back to Korea to get married and then moved to California. That’s where Jen and I were born, in Monterey Park.” Her parents’ names were Connie Kwon and Young Kwon.

I winced a little during her story when I took a bite of a pickled fish. Kwon laughed and I asked her if she ever felt odd growing up as an American with her parents and the rest of her family being full Korean. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” she said.

Kwon’s parents felt it important, however, that she and Jen grew up with Korean customs. They celebrated the Korean New Year by bowing to their elders, went to Saturday Korean language school and spoke Korean at home, and of course, grew up eating traditional Korean food.

“It was easy growing up in California because it was so diverse,” said Kwon. “The only time I ever felt self-conscious about being Korean was in middle school. I never spoke Korean at school. I suppose everyone goes through that phase of just wanting to fit in and be like everybody else,” she said as she passed me a glass of what appeared to be milky water. I gazed into the cloudy mixture. “It’s coconut milk, kind of like a yogurt drink,” Kwon reassured me. It tasted bizarre, but not in a bad way.

“I’m going to raise my kids the exact same way. I want them to speak Korean and be a part of both cultures as I have been,” Kwon said. “I’m American and Korean. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The past couple of months of living with Kwon has been one of the most amazing learning experiences. We are great roommates and even better friends. Every time I open our silverware drawer and find that little stash of chopsticks I smile. And when we sit down to drink tea together to catch up on our days I can’t help but be thankful for such a unique roommate.

Kwon doesn’t live a wild or fancy life, and to the outside eye, she is just any other college student in New York City. But as her roommate, I have been lucky enough to experience a part of her culture that is so completely different from my own and it has opened my eyes in more ways than one. I have been introduced to a culture I had never experienced before and I now take the time to learn and appreciate the subtle and unique differences among all my friends. “There is always something more than meets the eye,” Kwon says.

She’s right; I would’ve never guessed such a wonderful girl could love seaweed soup.

City Life

Follow Your Dreams
By Tiffany Sims

Shortly after 11 a.m., a man, slightly hung over, and with more than a 5 o’clock shadow, wakes up in his partially sunlit 10 x 12 foot room in a duplex apartment that he shares with three other roommates that he doesn’t really know. He instantly reaches for his laptop, turns it on and immediately checks his email to see if he’s received notice from his casting agency about an audition for a commercial or film. He is Vedant Gokhale and he is an actor.

The night before, Gokhale was out with his older brother, who was in town from California for the Thanksgiving holiday. They had a fun night of Christmas shopping, eating burgers at their favorite restaurant, drinking at a nearby bar, eating more food at an Indian restaurant, more drinks and then pizza to top off the night.

This behavior is not uncommon for Gokhale, who doesn’t have much responsibility in the daytime since he is currently not working. But like most actors, Gokhale is very conscious of his weight. He goes to the gym regularly, especially after a night like the one just described, to try to work off the pounds he may have packed on from drinking and eating too much.

Vedant Gokhale is pursuing his
dream of an acting career.

Gokhale is driven to succeed in becoming an actor, but lately, it’s been pretty slow in the acting world. He hasn’t acted in anything in the past few months and auditions have become a bit scarce. It doesn’t help that the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) has been in negotiations over contracts since April and threaten to strike before the New Year.

SAG members may not work on non-union production. But because of the anticipated strike, SAG members like Gokhale would not be allowed to work. This is bad news for Gokhale who became a SAG member earlier this year. All of the above being said, he is still immensely happy that he is able to pursue his dream, with the support of his family, given the route he took.

“Dreams are meant to be pursued. It’s not always easy or possible, but when the opportunity arrives they should be taken,” says Gokhale.

Vedant Arvind Gokhale, born October 15, 1977 in New Jersey, has two older brothers, Kedar and Mandaar, who are both physicians. Gokhale’s brothers are at least 10 years older than he is because he was not a planned pregnancy. In fact, his mother hid the pregnancy from his father because she really wanted a daughter.

Gokhale’s mother worked for Pan American Airlines and the perks of being an employee allowed her and her family members to fly free, or get great deals on plane tickets to anywhere. Because of this, Gokhale became a world traveler at a young age. He even has memories of spending nights in the Frankfurt, Germany airport on the way to India.

“We would barely get any sleep because of the old departure and arrival screens. They would make lots of noise,” Gokhale says. “Instead we would go to a McDonald's in the airport, which at that time was a novelty in a foreign country.”

Gokhale grew up in the small northern New Jersey town of Emerson. It was a predominantly white borough but he said he adjusted quite well. He was popular and made lots of friends at school, some of which he is still friends with today. Gokhale was even part of a band that he and his friends created in which he sung vocals.

“You know, the usual early 90’s grunge cover high school band,” he says. But it was just a fun activity they did to pass the time.

In 1995, Gokhale graduated from high school and started attending Rutgers University. He was unsure what he wanted to major in, but ended up graduating with a degree in public health. After graduation, Gokhale decided he would go to law school. As a child he used to say, “Someone has to help my brothers when they become doctors.”

This, of course, wasn’t a good enough justification for that. But his parents were willing to pay for law school. And he always thought that a law degree could be used for anything. But it was during the first year of law school when he realized what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be an actor.

Gokhale moved in with his family at one point to save move to
pursue his acting career.

Gokhale began taking acting classes at various acting studios while juggling his classes at the New York Law School. Soon after graduating in 2002, he started working for the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). He stopped pursuing acting for a year to focus on studying for the New York State Bar. He passed it on the second try in February 2003 and soon after began pursuing acting again. He quickly got roles in several Off-Off-Broadway plays, including “How I Killed My Roommate and Got Away With It,” and an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice with an all South Asian cast.

Leaving work during the day to attend auditions was affecting Gokhale’s work and his boss began to notice. After meeting with his boss, they decided that it was best for him to leave the job and pursue his passion.

“ In hindsight, that was the right decision to make because I didn’t really want to practice law and wanted to try my luck in pursuing my dream of becoming an actor,” says Gokhale.

In January 2006, Gokhale moved back in with his parents in an effort to save money. He quickly secured a job as a contract attorney, which is like a temporary lawyer and started commuting to the city. All the while he was able to audition, perform in plays and form a sketch comedy group. “Here is where I felt I began to form my own identity,” he says.

By the end of the year, he got a commercial agent and began freelancing with theatrical agents. In year two of his experiment to pursue his dream, Gokhale began booking roles on television including, “Cashmere Mafia” with Lucy Lieu, and in feature films, such as “Body of Lies” with Russell Crowe and Leonardo Dicaprio. He also performed in a showcase sponsored by ABC for emerging diverse actors.

Today he has ventured into the world of stand-up comedy and continues to audition for television, film and theater. “Happiness is the most important thing in the world to me,” Gokhale says.

City Life

Torn Between Two Countries
By Sammi Richardson

For 35 years Ernesto Tono grew up in Cartagena, Colombia in the lap of luxury. He had nannies as a child, chauffeurs to cart him around, and a carefree childhood. Tono describes Cartagena as a beautiful city where life was much simpler

“I am blessed that I have gotten most of what I have wished for in life,” says Tono, 46. “I experienced wealth, as my father was a well known architect in my country. He made a lot of money and also lost it all. I went from a lifestyle of advantage to quite the opposite,” he said.

Ernesto Tono says he is
grateful for opportunities in
the U.S., but misses

Life in for Tono Colombia is different than in the U.S. There are a lot of similarities but the social classes are very distinct. The U.S. has a huge middle class that lives pretty well, while Colombian middle class can barely make ends meet. The poor population is substantial. The family structure is also vastly different.

“I grew up being taken care of by a nanny while my mother played cards most days,” says Tono. “I loved my mother very much and this was the norm there. I raised my own two young girls with nannies the same way until I moved to the states.”

Everything changed for Tono when Colombia’s internal war began. Guerrilla groups, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (RAFC), began fighting to help the poor and end corruption and targeted wealthy land owners. Now, these guerrilla groups have become corrupt and are violating human rights. They have teamed with the country’s drug lords to finance their underground activities and use kidnapping as a means to raise money.

The RAFC attempted to kidnap Tono’s uncle and several of his friends. His uncle was shot at a country club while playing golf and feigned death, which saved his life. Tono’s cousin wasn’t as lucky though. He was kidnapped and held for almost seven years. Last year the government helped rescue him.

Life was very uncertain in Colombia and Tono felt the best chance for his family would be in the U.S. His brother lived here and he decided he would too. Tono applied for a visa and 13 years later he was finally granted one. In June of 2001, Tono moved to Maryland. His first day of work was September 11, 2001. Although Tono had finally made it to the U.S. seeking safety for his family, when the 9/11 attacks occurred he was within miles of the Pentagon.

“I questioned myself daily wondering if I made the right decision,” he said.

Life was not easy at first. Tono left behind his mother and sister and many other relatives. Cartagena was a place that filled his heart with joy and beauty. He lived in a beautiful apartment building overlooking the ocean. In fact, he traveled to work by boat every day.

Cartagena has magnificent architecture, landscapes, climate, and
a party atmosphere.

Tono longed for the beauty and to be close to the water. In addition, his family name is well known and respected. Tono was a successful bank executive in Colombia, but when he arrived in the U.S., he had to start all over. Cartagena has magnificent architecture, landscapes, climate, and a party atmosphere. Finding a job was not easy, and the small amount of savings he brought was dwindling.

Eventually, Tono landed a modest position that didn’t compare to his bank management job in Cartagena. “I was lonely, scared and wondering what did I do?”

Tono was lucky that his brother helped him to get on his feet. “My brother lent me money to purchase my first house. Without his help I don’t know how I would have achieved the American dream,” he said. Eventually, Tono became a mentee for Nationwide Insurance. He worked as hard as he could and it paid off. He completed the program in one year instead of the usual two and was given his own insurance agency. In four years he became very successful. In June 2007, Tono and his wife became U.S citizens, but he didn’t give up Colombian citizenship. ”I could never give it up,” he said.

Even though Tono is doing well in his new life he is still very torn and misses Cartagena. He longs for the water and scenery of his homeland and he misses his family. With the luxury of having a maid cook and clean the house, and people coming in to provide manicures and pedicures, who wouldn’t be a little homesick?

Tono still has trouble with understanding the English language, and he doesn’t always understand the translation from Spanish to English. But he is truly grateful to the U.S. for his opportunity, but his heart will always be in Cartagena. When asked about retirement, Tono smiles and says, “I dream of returning to my country to spend the rest of my life there.”

Monday, December 08, 2008

College Life

Defying Labels
By Elis Estrada

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Volunteer firefighter, first responder, dancer, stagehand, actor, student; and occasionally, Spider Man. Each of these professions is characteristic of careers that children dream of and aspire to one day. For William Gardell, 22, they are his reality.

Unlike many Manhattanites who prefer discussing their trials and tribulations over coffee or a drink, Gardell, known to everyone as Gardell, insisted on talking over a hot, crispy chicken dinner at a KFC on the Upper East Side. On the outside, everything from Gardell’s name, his idealistic hometown of Middletown, New Jersey, his style and appearance—usually blue jeans and a T-shirt to complement his sparkling blue eyes and light brown hair—the way he talks, his family values, and his family’s heritage, embodies Americana.

However, Gardell’s incomparable character, humility, altruistic qualities, and perhaps even his traces of normalcy, makes him unique and separates him from many twenty-something-year-olds living in Manhattan trying to make something of themselves and often forgetting where they come from.

Ravenous and thrilled by the sight of his chicken dinner, Gardell says, “I don’t know how you cannot go for extra crispy!” It is with this child-like enthusiasm for the simple things and carefree attitude that Gardell talks about his experiences; from being a volunteer firefighter to performing at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

William Gardell before a performance at the New York Opera.

“My mom is an artist. She has been the director of the Performing Arts Ensemble, a non-profit dance organization, for about 27 years now,” Gardell.

Since he was four years old, Gardell participated in his mom’s Performing Arts Ensemble; playing roles and dancing in productions such as The Nutcracker and Cinderella, and performing throughout the East Coast for the general public as well as for children’s organizations—such as the Girl Scouts—and charitable causes, including fundraisers for the autoimmune condition multiple sclerosis.

After rinsing his palate by drinking a bottle of Dr. Pepper—his favorite soda—Gardell comments talks his mom’s influence. “I’ve taken an interest in the arts and dance due to my mom’s influence. I’ve always felt that if homosexuality was caused by nurture and not nature, I would definitely be gay—well, at least fulfilling a stereotype of being gay.” Grinning at the thought he states, “As an infant, my mom would dress me up in Victorian, girlish looking dresses. She thought it was cool, I guess.”

Gardell as the prince in the Nutcracker.

Gardell’s upbringing was the basis for his diverse understanding and appreciation for traditionally girl-oriented activities. “I have a sister and we’re only a year a part, so when my sister took an interest in things, that meant I pretty much had to try it out too. Among other things, I also did gymnastics, figure skating, horseback riding, and took piano lessons.”

At a young age Gardell also recognized his interest in firefighting. “I remember going to a Gymboree, you know, one of those after school, ‘bring your kids to’ things with my parents in a firehouse. I remember wanting to try on the kids’ firefighter outfits they had and wanting to ride the mini fire trucks that were there too,” Gardell said.

Since he was 18 years-old, Gardell has been a volunteer firefighter for the Middletown, New Jersey Township Fire Department. Of his fire department, he proudly proclaims, “It’s supposedly the world’s largest all-volunteer fire department.”

Gardell is a volunteer fireman in addition to his artistic interests.

Gardell attends Marymount Manhattan College in Manhattan, but when he goes home—regularly on weekends and sometimes during the week—he carries a pager radio that broadcasts incidents in need of response by his firehouse.

Now 22, as a firefighter Gardell has had to witness tragic accidents, including a deadly car crash that killed a fellow student when he was a senior in high school. Gardell takes great pride in being a Middletown firefighter, saying, “I think out of everything I do, firefighting is the most fulfilling. It’s exciting, helpful, and I like the camaraderie that comes with it.”

How did Gardell go from being a firefighter to acting and performing in venues, such as the Metropolitan Opera House?

Gardell’s sister was interested in pursuing an acting career, so eventually, his family found an opportunity for him to try acting as well. “I started doing extra work when my mom saw an ad in Backstage, Gardell said. “My sister was into trying to act, so like everything else in my life, my mom wanted me to try it out too. That’s when I started submitting to things.”

Working as an extra consists of background acting for television, theater and film. “It was fun, easy, and interesting. I never had a creative drive to act like a lot of people, but I liked the idea of being part of a creative process without investing too much time in being worried about it,” Gardell said.

In 2005, during his freshman year of college, Gardell was cast in a National Coca-Cola commercial featured during the Winter Olympics and even the Super Bowl. He has worked as an extra in movies including, Across the Universe, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and Enchanted; hit television shows such as Life on Mars, 30 Rock, Law and Order, and One Life to Live; and most recently, he has appeared in opera productions such as La Bohème, Aida, Carmen, War and Peace, Dr. Atomic, and Damnation of Faust at the Metropolitan Opera House.

When asked about his experiences performing at Lincoln Center, Gardell simply says, “It’s fun to wear interesting costumes and work with interesting people. In the production of Aida, I was an Egyptian slave and in Carmen, I was a flag vendor. Not many people can say they’ve had those experiences.”

Gardell and the cast of a Performing Arts Ensemble production.

Gardell’s shear willingness to fit into fields characteristically defined by affluence and exclusivity reveals the sincerity of his character. Also, in his community, Gardell has been hired to play and dress for the role of Spiderman and Disney’s Little Mermaid’s Prince Eric at children’s birthday parties.

A quality of Gardell’s that slowly and unexpectedly appears once you get to know him is his undeniable sense of responsibility. “I was a pretty serious kid. I’ve been told this from my mom, but you know, moms say whatever. She says that since I was 6 or 7, I’ve had an adult attitude about things.”

Combing his hair with his fingers and looking at his shoes in contemplation, Gardell remembers a specific incident from his childhood. “When we were on our family vacation to Florida, I noticed how many suitcases my parents had to carry, so without my parents telling me what to do, I started carrying them for them. That’s when my mom said that I began to have a sense of what responsibility means and really began to have an impression of what the real world was like.”

Gardell says he is developing a
greater sense of responsibility.

Walking out of the KFC, Gardell mentions the importance of community. “Sometimes I think people forget that we’re here to help each other out, you know. Especially other people my age, they get too self-involved sometimes.”

As Gardell walks to class, he reaches into his pocket, takes out some spare change—mostly quarters and dimes—and gives it to a homeless woman sitting at the end of a street block. Through his acts of kindness and strong values about community, it’s as if Gardell was from another time; definitely not from the individualistic age of the 21st Century.

Despite accomplishments others may only fantasize about, Gardell remains humble and surprisingly good. A kind of good usually lost amid the pressures and anxieties of everyday life. He is a caretaker, humanitarian, and entertainer—a contemporary renaissance man. But right now, for the next hour-and-a-half in class, Gardell is just another college student.