Hey! You’ve Got Something in Your Eye…

My godson, Owen Daniel was born on August 23rd, just as I was stepping off the plane into South Korea. I held him for the first time when he was about six hours old, as soon as I arrived at the hospital on the Yongson US Army Base.

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99.9% of the reason I came to South Korea

Cultural standards for eye contact vary across the world. In the United States, we are quite forward with our mannerisms according to other cultures. In many countries I have visited including Spain, Dominican republic, Greece, and others, intense eye contact can signify other emotions that can offend or cause unwanted problems. I think the exception for this is when you are looking into the eyes of a newborn baby or a small child. When I hold my godson and look into his eyes, he looks right back at me and seemingly into my soul. There are no cultural barriers, there are no differences, just two beings and a whole lot of love.

Yesterday I went adventuring to the Changdeokgung Palace and Gyeongbokgung Palace. I walked through the palaces constructed in 1405 and 1395, and felt the history of each dynasty that lived through those walls. I drank cold plum tea sweetened with honey, from the modern cafe that has been recently built in the courtyard of Changdeokgung Palace. I analyzed the intricate designs that colored the outside of the royal buildings and I imagined the king being carried around within the walls of the palaces- the king was seen as an extension of the heavens, so he never walked directly on the ground (Jiwoo Song, 2013).

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Annie outside of Changdeokgung Palace

Later, as I toured the Secret Garden behind the palace, I learned of all the stories of the king who built the castle. In front of his library were three doors- one large part in the middle and two small doors on the side. The middle door was for the King, and the side doors were for his servants. But above the door is a Korean inscription that describes the relationship between a fish and water because the king understood that his relationship with his servants was similar- a fish cannot live but a few moments without water, and likewise the king could not live without his servants.*

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Secret Garden in Changdeokgung Palace.

Also in the Secret Garden of Changdeokgung Palace were a few beautiful ponds, but one in particular that stuck in my mind. This pond was built to symbolize the relationship between the universe and the earth. The water represented all that is the universe, all-welcoming and all-encompassing. The little patch of land in the center of the pond represents the earth.*

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My favorite pond in the Secret Garden behind Changdeokgung Palace.

I wandered with the tour through the Secret Garden for hours, lost in the sounds of the acacias and flowing streams. When I finished the tour I was exhausted, but had somehow rediscovered a sense of optimism for the world we live in. Understanding history and connecting it with the present has a way of doing that- reconfiguring the mind to see the light and life of this planet. That’s another reason I love to travel, it allows me to literally and figuratively touch history.

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Annie being a happy girl sitting in Changdeokgung Palace.

When I finished with my historical ramblings, I hopped on the subway (that’s putting it lightly, more like “got lost six or seven times on the subway”) and eventually arrived back at the home of my friends, and the house of my baby godson. After showering to get the yucky subway off my clothing and body, I picked up that little ball of future, light, connection, hope, serenity, and I looked into those eyes that shined with the new life of an eight day-old. It was at that moment that the experience of my day came full circle. I was content to be standing with that baby in my arms and the soles of my feet pressed firmly into the ground, ready to remain a constant in this child’s life. I was ready to relay the experiences of my life to him in the most open and affirming way possible- to allow him to explore this world without fear, but with a critical eye. I hope to be a friend and to show him that he is also mine. But the most important thing I hope to tell him is that the way those eyes view the world in intricately connected with the way he will make an impact on it. I will continue to remind him (as I have already written it in his first book) that I hope for him to see the beauty in this world so he will emphasize that and help it to grow.

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This tree is 1,100 years old and is protected as a national monument in South Korea. It is inside the Changdeokgung palace.

I will tell him with my eyes until I can tell him with my words, that he is the light and the beauty in this world and I can’t wait to see the footprints he makes on this earth.

*Facts from my tour guide at Changdeokgung Palace, I have not confirmed in my own research.

Adventuureee is Out There!

I like adventure. I find that I am able to think most clearly when I am in the middle of a city I don’t know, in a country that is foreign to me, surrounded by people I have never met. Today I found myself standing on the corner of a busy intersection in downtown Seoul having just told my friends to drop me off because the kids were getting fussy and my friends needed to take them home for a nap. So there I was, umbrella in hand and Birkenstocks already soggy, ready for an adventure (it always seems to be raining when I have my best adventures).

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I found a giant leaf and it made me happy.

When I have no plans and no ideas in mind, I usually find the most interesting things- it must have something to do with minimal expectations. I started walking in the opposite direction of the way I knew took me back to where I am staying. I passed a corner restaurant that made dumplings, and I made a mental note to return because it smelled amazing. I kept walking and when it felt right (I always adventure on the basis of impulse) I took a left hand turn down a side-street, made note of my surroundings, and continued on my way. I walked in the front door of teapot shop filled floor to ceiling with teapots of every make and color, and I walked out the side door onto another side street. When I looked right out of the shop I was surprised to find there was an outdoor market, exactly like what I had been wanting to visit while in Korea! Colorful umbrellas sheltered the vendors from the rainy day. Little old Korean men selling socks, fruit, and other things lined the small street, chattering and looking up with curious eyes. We bowed to each other as I walked past.

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Yongmun Market

I bought a few Korean pears, which are my favorite. If you haven’t tried one, it’s like a pear and an apple combined in a juicy explosion of perfection. I continued through the nuts, the spices, the meat, and the fish- ohhh the fish. Dead fish, live fish, flat fish, long fish, puffy fish, shellfish, every single kind of fish. While they were amusing, their smells were not. I still stayed over the amount of time I probably should have for the odor-removing power of my homemade laundry detergent back home.

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Big fish, small fish, long fish, thin fish, live fish, dead fish. All super smelly fish.

When I had my fill of the market I walked out and found a corner restaurant with Gimbap, the Korean version of Sushi. Of course I had to purchase when I learned it was only 1,200 Korean Won (Roughly $1). They rolled it up in tin-foil and I ate it while walking… fast food, anyone?? At this point I was soaking wet but most certainly content, so I half-hardheartedly decided to find my way home.

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Colorful Korean Gimbap in Fast Food Form

Just as soon as I started walking I got distracted again at the possibility of more adventure. I spotted a restaurant where everyone had to take their shoes off at the door. I had just eaten and half of my mind was telling me that I could eat at a similar restaurant later this week, but that would have totally violated my theory of, “If not now, when?”… so I went in.

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Oh, those soggy Birks

I was led over to a table and sat on my mat on the floor. I quickly discovered that no one spoke English there, but after a quick game of charades involving myself, the waitress and the two young Korean women at the table next to me, I placed my order. While I waited I checked out the rest of the room and noticed the diversity in ages of everyone sitting in the small restaurant. There was a young couple in the corner with their eyes glued to their smart phones (that’s not just a US American thing) and a group of little old women chatting and laughing at the table opposite of me. In the corner of the restaurant a 20-something guy sat by himself reading a book on his phone, and of course there were my silly “friends” at the table next to me who left shortly after that, smiling to me as they left the room.

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The Kimchi kept me company

My food came quickly, but not before the manager came over and adjusted the fan so it was directly on me (I must have looked tired and lost). They unloaded seven different bowls of Kimchi, a traditional food of pickled vegetables, and my bowl of noodles. They must have cooked the soup right in that little black bowl because it came out to me still bubbling. The soup was incredible, just the right amount of flavor, salt, heat and substance. I struggled with the noodles in the bowl, they were a clear rice noodle that were very slippery. Once again, I accidentally dropped my metal chopsticks on the table, making a lot of noise in the quiet restaurant, but I had already made “eye-contact friends” with everyone in the room so they just smiled and giggled with me. I scraped the bowl to the very bottom.

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Amazing charades food!

When I finished my food I got up, said “Homsomnidad (thank you)” to the waitress and manager, bowed very low (a sign of respect, especially in the presence of elders) and told them in English how much I loved the food- I think they still got the point. I found my soggy Birkenstocks and set out onto the brick streets, under the dipping trees, looking for the next part of my adventure.

Heart and Seoul

Please excuse the cheesy title, I am sure I am not the first to take advantage of the play on words.

I’m in South Korea! I arrived in Seoul on Friday afternoon and as soon as I stepped off the plane I received notification that my God Son had been born a few hours earlier. It was a lovely surprise to land in the country and know that I had a new little light to add to my life.

I haven’t experienced too much of the culture yet because newborns don’t like Kimchi (I can’t tell you if I agree or not yet). For the last two days I have been in the house with the family of my God Son. They have two other kids, who are one and two years-old. I used to be in the Girl Scouts with the mom of the family, but more importantly we were amazing childhood friends.

A few years ago my friend and her husband got married and he enlisted in the United States Army. Two years later with two kiddos and one more on the way, they were sent to Seoul, South Korea. I’m a sucker for kids in general, but I’m head over heels in love with these three children.

I wrote a thesis in one of my courses- Children and Youth in a Global Context at Colorado State University last term about  communication between adults and children, and how it has been thought cross-culturally, that a smaller mind must occupy the smaller beings and thus their minds must function at a slower rate than those of adults. In fact, the brain of a newborn child has more brain cells than at any other point in life (Rebecca Shore, Citations upon request). The paper went on to examine adult to child interaction across four cultures- German, Chinese, Dominican, and US American. It was quite interesting to explore this concept, and at the end of the paper I came to the conclusion that adults have much to learn from children.

On a much less academic thought, while kids do involve the occasional “hitting of another child on the head with a book” syndrome, the heart of the child is incredibly pure. I’m a firm believer in the idea that spontaneous giving, which is so frequently talked about in my writing, originated in the mind of the child. You can catch glimpses of this love that children emit in their everyday actions. Making the decision that they don’t need the rest of their lunch, so they give it to their friend who forgot theirs, or voluntarily giving up their toy to another child just because they wanted to. I think we often forget these type of actions (in adult form) by the time we reach adulthood.

Along with the intelligence and love that I adore so much in children, I also love their sense of exploration. Kids have a keen desire to explore every nook and cranny of this world. Today, that meant sticking ice cubes in our mouths for as long as we can to see what happens (cool experiment for a two year-old to think of!). It’s like every single child is an exploratory scientist. Imagine if all the adults were still that curious… would we still have 870 million people starving in the world (WorldFactBook, 2013)– or rapidly melting polar ice caps?

So, to sum up my state of mind right now- I’m here on the opposite end of the world from where I call home, with three little balls of light and curiosity, and I feel like I must be the luckiest girl in the world. Now maybe I should go try some Kimchi.

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The Science of Drinking Too Much Coffee

Since I was little, my mom always used to say to me, “Annie, you are such an Annie.” I never understood what that meant, but I always knew hearing her say that made me smile. The other day a good friend of mine told me the exact same thing- Quote, Un-Quote- “Annie, you are such an Annie.” This time, the phrase was spoken to me after I told my friend about all the activities I have going on in my life right now- running Coloring Countries, finishing my senior year of college, interning with an Electric Car Coalition, volunteering for several non- profits in town, AND I am leaving the country tomorrow for two weeks.

One of my professors my Sophomore year of college gave extra credit at the end of the semester to anyone who had kept track of all the countries she had traveled to (we had to listen to her stories very closely). I never got the final tally, but I do know she had traveled to at least fifty countries, and was still traveling strong! My professor’s advice for people who want to travel was to never turn down an opportunity to go somewhere. When I met her I had already traveled to Australia and the Dominican Republic a few times, but still had the infallible urge to continue traveling. It seems that when I sit in one place for too long, I feel like my insides will explode if I am not exposed to another culture. **Ding, ding** I think that is the root cause of my “Annie-ness” right there… culture.

I long for languages, Flamenco, Bachata, Seviche, Habichuela, Naan, Moussaka, and more importantly, the faces and souls I meet by experiencing these things.  A few months ago when I was in Spain, I tried to explain to my mom and Grandpa why I am constantly traveling around the world. It doesn’t quite make sense to them why every penny I save goes strait to another plane ticket, and why I work my little buttootee off to do so. My explanation (a bit less drawn-out) was that I live for the smiles I receive when I successfully communicate with someone who speaks a language I don’t. My heart is full when I learn a dance, to which an entire nation knows the same steps. I get goosebumps when I help make a traditional dish and my new friends are excited to write down their top secret family recipe just for me. I explained to them that it’s not about the plane ride, or the photographs, it’s about the experiences that change who I am, and write a piece of a culture into my soul.

Needless to say, my over-dramatized version of my travels, scared them a little but ultimately changed their views of my crazy life (I think). I will never stop traveling, and I will never stop overloading myself with things to do. I don’t know very many things for sure- but I do know that the ability to enjoy life on this earth is a precious blessing, and I will not waste one moment of my gift. To me, that means volunteering every moment I have, traveling when I am provided the opportunity, doing my best in all of my activities, and waking up each morning with a smile on my face because I am able to do these things.

Tomorrow I am heading to Seoul, South Korea for my first trip to South East Asia. In the last year, I have traveled to five countries- South Korea will be my sixth. This takes my total life traveling score to nine countries (and I just turned 21). My mother and my grandpa think I’m crazy, but I still feel that I don’t travel enough even though I just returned from spending five months in Europe, only to turn around two months later and head out to South Korea.

It’s part of my soul to have the overwhelming urge to travel the world while overloading my life so the word “Free-time” is non-existent… or maybe I just drink too much coffee. =)

There is a prospect for a thrilling time ahead of you.

There is a prospect for a thrilling time ahead of you.

“Is this the way to Round-the-World?”

It is National Poetry Month! For me, poetry is an outlet for creativity, a moment for peace-of-mind, and subtle inspiration. When I was browsing through a local used book store called Old Firehouse Books, here in Fort Collins I found the cutest little book of poetry and loved it so much that I have yet to put it down. The pages are so incredibly dog-eared that it is borderline book abuse. I am a sucker for Winnie-the-Pooh, so when I found this book of poetry about Christopher Robin, by A. A. Milne, I was ecstatic. Below is my favorite poem from the book titled, The World of Christopher Robin (although it is hard to pick just ONE favorite!). This poem completely captures the innocence of childhood. It is about imagination, adventure, and best of all… traveling!! I hope you also enjoy these words.

Nursery Chairs

By: A. A. Milne

One of the chairs is South America,
One of the chairs is a ship at sea,
One is a cage for a great big lion,
And one is a chair for Me.

The First Chair.

When I go up the Amazon,
I stop at night and fire a gun
To call my faithful band.
And Indians in twos and threes,
Come silently between the trees,
And wait for me to land.
And if I do not want to play
With any Indians today
I simply wave my hand.
And then they turn and go away-
They always understand.

The Second Chair.

I’m a great big lion in my cage,
And I often frighten Nanny with a roar.
Then I hold her very tight, and
Tell her not to be so frightened-
And she doesn’t be so frightened any more.

The Third Chair.

When I am in my ship, I see
The other ships go sailing by.
A sailor leans and calls to me
As his ship goes sailing by.
Across the sea he leans to me,
Above the winds I hear him cry:
“Is this the way to Round-the-World?”
He calls as he goes by.

The Fourth Chair.

Whenever I sit in a high chair
For breakfast or dinner or tea,
I try to pretend that it’s my chair,
And that I am a baby of three.

Shall I go off to South America?
Shall I put out my ship to sea?
Or get in my cage and be lions and tigers?
Or— shall I only be Me?

Illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard

Illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard, 1958

The cover of the poetry book; The World of Christopher Robin
The cover of the poetry book; The World of Christopher Robin (Copyright 1924)

Words of Encouragement from a 10-year-old

A letter from a 10-year-old

A different kind of love letter

I received this letter from one of the students I visited at the school in El Mango, Dominican Republic. Volunteering is difficult my friends, but it is little acts of love like this that make a life of service totally worth the trials.

Have you ever received a gift so beautiful? Please share any similar experience in the comment section below, I would love to hear about the beauty that exists in this world.

 

 

 

As Promised, Photos From my Trip

The school in El Mango, DR

The school in El Mango is as happy as before!

 

The inside of an El Mango classroom

The inside of an El Mango classroom

The Dominican Republic students smile

A group of happy students

A large group of DR students swarm the two Americans

Our first moments in El Mango. We were immediately swarmed with children giving us gifts and asking us about our lives.

A group of students holding the new shoes they recieved

A group of students holding and wearing the new shoes the Coloring Countries provided.

Holding a one year old baby

Holding the principal's son during the school day.

The students reading their letters from their students in the U.S

The students diligently reading the letters they received from their friends in the U.S.

A female students reading her letter

A student extremely captivated by her letter

A few El Mango boys reading their letters

The boys reading their letters

Female students smiling as they write their new friend

Excited to write to our new friends!

Me standing with a few of the students in the school

With my babies at the school in El Mango.

A picture of the sun behind clouds with rays streaking through

Even on the cloudiest days I am always finding sunlight.

 

If you would like to learn more about my trip, feel free to leave me a comment or email me at afreysch@rams.colostate.edu

Thanks for reading, you wonderful people!

 

Smuggling Guanabana and Complete Imperfection

I owe you all a huge apology for missing Two Hands Tuesday this past week, but it was indeed for a glorious reason. I spent the past week in the Dominican Republic working out logistics for the Coloring Countries program. My trip was wonderful, I even had the opportunity to squeeze in some beach time for a bit of peace of mind. I want to share a bit about what I learned on this trip because as always, international adventures are extremely educational. I learned much about myself as well about working with others.

I have always viewed myself as a person who emphasizes equality in this world, but I found a hidden obstacle to this belief on my trip (I’m not perfect, who knew?!). I have spent infinite hours and countless days working to develop a strong Coloring Countries program outline and program description for the U.S. students, teachers, and parents who participate in the pen-pal system (to learn more about the program, click on the Coloring Countries tab at the top). I have outlined the topics to write about, possible problems with the program, topics the students should refrain from writing about, and much more. While I spent time developing these documents it did not even cross my mind to translate the documents to Spanish to give to the principal of El Mango or to the parents of the Dominican Republic students. As a person who considers myself a humanitarian who emphasizes equality and peace, I have found myself displaying double standards. Subconsciously I did not view the people connected with the program in the Dominican Republic on the same basis as I viewed the participants in the U.S. This was very embarrassing for me to discover about myself. From this experience I have learned to look at each situation I enter through the eyes of the individuals who might be impacted. The teachers, principals, students and parents at the school in El Mango are just as deserving to have the resources that I provide for the individuals involved with the program in the U.S. A little self discovery for Annie on this trip!

In previous blogs I have spoken about asking communities we enter about their needs before attempting to provide resources or financial assistance. It is easy to enter an impoverished community and see the countless needs that are not being met. What we do not think about after seeing these needs, is asking the community what THEY think their immediate needs are, or even IF they would like financial assistance. Peripherally off topic: when I visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation a few months ago, I discovered that even though it seemed they needed assistance with basic living necessities it was disrespectful in their culture to simply “hand over” used goods (makes sense, right?). Anyway, when I was visiting with Dionicio, the principal of the El Mango school, I made a point to ask him how he thought the school could benefit from the Coloring Countries program. He listed countless needs that had not even crossed my mind! I asked him to write down the school’s needs so I could remember them when I returned to the U.S. I also made a point to ask if he thought the pen-pal program was beneficial for the school, and I saw him smile after this question, which was an extremely rare occurrence!  He reassured me that the objectives which I had embarrassingly scribbled on a yellow legal pad (see above paragraph) would be extremely beneficial for the students of El Mango.

Here’s my third lesson, are you ready? It’s a doosy. I brought down 20 pairs of shoes with me for the students of El Mango because when I met with Dionicio in August he told me this was one of the main needs of the students. I anticipated a feeling of volunteer euphoria that I have experienced previously when I give my time away; but this is not what I felt. I brought with me as many pairs of shoes as I could stuff into my two suitcases, but they were simply not enough. I found that I did not have the sizes to fit most of the children who greatly needed a new pair of shoes. It was heart breaking to shrug my shoulders and turn these children away. My lesson here is to not expect anything when living for others, it is contradictory to have expectations of reward, even a reward as small as a good feeling. I am not living to make myself happy, although much of the time that is a side benefit, I am living to make others happy.

My recommendation for myself and everyone who wants to work in international development- remove yourself from the situation completely and place your eyes and heart in the body of the community. Giving is an infinitely complicated occurrence.

As for the smuggled guanabana mentioned in the title of this post… I may or may not have smuggled a guanabana across U.S. borders; but that was pretty much just to get you to read my blog =).

 

Holding a Guanabana

How in the World Did That Get Here?!


Photo blog soon to come- Keep your eyes peeled!

My Two Hands in March

AAAHHHHH!!! I am way too excited for words. I just booked my plane tickets back to the Dominican Republic for March. I get to spend a week with my favorite people in the world! My two hands will be teaching English and helping the children write letters to their pen-pals here in the United States through my Coloring Countries program. What a beautiful world we live in!!

If you would like to donate to the program, or support us by purchasing a piece of art work, please visit http://www.coloringcountries.org.The proceeds help purchase shoes, vitamins, and books for the children.

Please, please, please contact me if you are interested in the program, want to learn more, or have any comments about the program! afreysch@rams.colostate.edu

Thanks for reading, my wonderful followers (and new readers)!!


Where Am I Going?

“Spring Morning,” a poem from the collection of works titled, “The World of Christopher Robin” Written By A. A. Milne. Published in 1958.

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
Down to the stream where the king-cups grow-
Up on the hill where the pine-trees blow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.

If you were a cloud, and you sailed up there,
You’d sail on the water as blue as air,
and you’d see me here in the fields and say:
“Doesn’t the sky look green today?”

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
“It’s awful fun to be born at all.”
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo;
“We do have beautiful things to do.”

If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You’d lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You’d say to the wind when it took you away:
That’s where I wanted to go today!”

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

A beautifully conceptualized idea of life. Just as the Beatles sang in their song titled, “All You Need Is Love” from the album Yellow Submarine, “There’s no where you can be that isn’t where you are meant to be.” I must agree with both of these pieces of art. I believe that where ever you are, in that moment you are impacting the life of another person simply by existing. It is a wonderful thing to know that your presence in this moment or the next is changing the world.