by Global Shapers Community Iloilo Hub

Leaders around the world have always strived to deliver results and create an impact. As purpose-driven individuals, they try to find a strong sense of fulfillment when their day ends, whether that means getting the job done an hour before bedtime or shaping innovative ideas in a country not their own. Most people would think highly of them like they are superhumans. And sometimes, these leaders think so, too. Other times, they don’t. After all, when everything has been said and done, leaders can also get to sit back and reflect on their ultimate personal and social goal: Happiness.
Am I happy?
As it is, the irony remains true—leaders dishing out happiness to others while forgetting their own. And the detachment from this realization is real as well—I’m okay for as long as you are. Inspiring as this may sound, this gesture is not at all sustainable. Leaders have to find a balance in an ocean of things happening around them to ensure that their hearts do not bleed out when the time comes.
Recognizing this, SHAPE Asia Pacific 2019 has put Shaping Happiness into the limelight. The event is an annual gathering of Shapers worldwide and is hosted by a Hub in the region. This year, the Global Shapers Community Ulaanbaatar Hub in Mongolia was given the privilege to welcome 72 fellow leaders and changemakers from 24 countries as they shaped the agenda on happiness last August 2-4.
Two Shapers from Iloilo Hub attended the event and happened to be the only representatives of the country. Kirstin Leigh Pareja and Mitz Serofia are giving us a glimpse of Mongolia and happiness with their insights.

1. What was your idea of Mongolia before coming over vis-a-vis what you have witnessed in the 3-day event?

Krz: Honestly, I did not do any extensive research about Mongolia before heading there. Partly because I did not have enough time to do so, and partly because I did not want to have any set expectations of the country. When I arrived, I was welcomed by the very warm hospitality of the Ulaanbaatar Shapers. They made the whole program and our whole stay seemed so seamless. Although the sky was covered with smog when I arrived, I was amazed about how green and fresh their mountains stood just minutes outside the city center. I also witnessed the beauty of their culture through their dance, songs, and sports. Everything was just wonderful.

Mitz: Mongolia is an uncommon tourist destination. You need a good reason to be there. And SHAPE APAC is definitely one great excuse. So when I finally got my ticket a week before the event, my curiosity got the better of me, and so I looked Mongolia up and was really amazed by the culture and natural wonders of the country. I even tried to learn their language in a Youtube tutorial! When I was there, reality trumped expectations. I was greeted by the chilly weather and the very warm hospitality of Mongolians–and this combination was perfect. While the city landscape and lifestyle are what you would expect from the capital, what blew me away was the countrysides. The steppes were magnificent! With only a few houses and trees around, my eyes got the full view of the scenery ahead, beside, and behind me. The horses and cattle looked like they own the vast grasslands with big birds like eagles and hawks policing the area. It felt as if I was transported back in time living the nomadic kind of life. It was overwhelming and a little surreal, to be honest!

2. What was your favorite experience while you were there?

Krz: The food and the overflowing vodka, of course, where friendships were built! Prior to going to Mongolia, I did not want to eat any meat except for beef and chicken. But, in Mongolia, serving mutton was a staple so I went out of my comfort zone to taste their local cuisine and did not regret anything.

Mitz: This was my first regional SHAPE event and I just felt grateful to be given this opportunity because every bit of the experience was fantastic. We were treated like VIPs! Some of the things we experienced were similar to what heads of state get when they visit the country. Ulaanbaatar Hub absolutely put out a very unique and totally meaningful array of treats for us as they showcased their magical country in only three days. One particular thing I liked the most was when we got to witness a mini-version of their national festival called Nadaam. We got to see a contortionist, a throat singer, champion wrestlers, archers and horse jockeys simulating the actual festival! It was priceless.

3. What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you there?

Krz: During the actual conference, we stayed in a campsite depicting the nomadic way of life. The tent rooms were called gers and showers and toilets were communal. I have been in communal showers before, but not in door-less ones like the ones they had in the campsite! I tried to be casual about it, but I couldn’t help myself be curious. So, I asked some female participants about the set-up and their reactions were all the same and we ended up laughing! I guess I could say that, aside from vodka, the communal shower experience has also led me to find good friends in SHAPE.

Mitz: Besides the serious stuff we did in the conference, there was always a time for drinks. And in Mongolia–especially in Mongolia–it’s hard to say no to them–the alcohol and the people. We had unlimited drinks during the event–beer, vodka, wine, you name it. Sounds like a perfect place to get wasted with some dignity, right? I was extra drunk in our first two nights, to say the least. By “extra”, you’d probably get the picture easily. And oh, I slept in someone else’s room/ger because I couldn’t find my keys and I was puking my way out of the dance floor (hopefully in a more dignified way).

4. How do you define happiness?

Krz: Happiness, for me, is when one becomes comfortable in one’s own skin. In a world where it seems like every opinion matters, sometimes it gets confusing and hard to reconcile who we really are — our values and things that we love to do for ourselves. So, when I have an opportunity to reconnect with my inner true self, that will be the happiest state that I will be.

Mitz: I’ve always struggled to define happiness in my personal life. I used to view it as an esoteric idea and so when people ask me about it, I answer with less conviction. Now, I believe happiness to be merely a feeling, not a state of mind we have to chase. There are moments in my life that make me happy, for sure, like being with friends and spending quality time with family. But these moments are only small pockets of wonderful emotions that come to us in random or deliberate instances. And nothing’s wrong with that. But now, it’s not living a life of happiness that I’m really after as this may come and go. I strive now to living a life of meaning.

5. What are your key takeaways from the conference?

Krz: Shapers can be diverse, from language, culture, and expertise, and can be very opinionated about topics that matter to them. But, in what I have witnessed in the 5 days of SHAPE, Shapers are grounded and are congruent in the values they believe in and their deep desire to improve the state of their local communities and cities. Shapers are firm on their view about the world, but they are also open to learning about views that are not the same as theirs. I think this is where the beauty of the Shapers community lies — respectful in each other’s differences and thrive in each other’s like-mindedness. And I believe, it is in this kind of ecosystem where the happiness of each individual can be cultivated.

Mitz: The Global Shapers is more than a community–it’s a family. It’s really amazing to sit with a stranger and feel a strong connection that easily and instantly. And the connection is not only superficially limited to being with the organization. Deeper than our Shaper portfolio, we share a common ground in terms of the struggles we face in our personal lives, the inspirations that keep us going, the values we share, and the amount of alcohol we can take in. I realized that with the kind of vibrant energy we put into the table, improving the state of the world is not at all an impossible task.

6. How did the conference help you in your personal / Shaper life?

Krz: Personally, this is my first-ever solo travel so I was anxious to even start the trip. But, reaching the conference and interacting with this bright mix of personalities just affirmed me that there is still good in this world and that I don’t have to be afraid to try something alone in a very foreign land. For my shaper life, ever since, I have subscribed to the notion of thinking global, acting local. Definitely, the SHAPE has helped me form connections with other hubs and learn from them as well which can help us back home to improve our hub and projects to continue to create an impact in our city.

Mitz: The event helped me realize what it means to really be a Global Shaper. In my five years in the Community, this was my first time to connect with Shapers from other countries. Talking to them and learning from their stories, I felt how it is to be part of something bigger than the causes we are pushing for locally. As there are a lot of parallels, these similarities validate the notion that “shaping” communities, regardless of geography, is an essential and universal undertaking. And our individual–more so our collective spirits have a crucial take on it. Meanwhile, on a more personal note, the event helped me reconcile some important questions about my career and my place in the world looking forward–thanks to Shapers who helped me process my thoughts and gave me worthy bits of advice.