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.

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.

Back from a Big Blogging Break!

Hello Bloggers! For those of you who remember me, I am finally back after a 13 month blogging pause. I apologize for my leave of absence from the blogging world. The reason why I have not written in awhile will unfold with this post, so hang with me and see what is on my mind.

For curiosity’s sake, here is an update about where I have been for the past year. I am still a student at Colorado State University and I have now changed my major a total of SEVEN times. I couldn’t pick one so I found something that would let me study everything- Liberal Arts! Along with the switch to Liberal Arts I also added minors in International Development and Anthropology. I had a bit of an impulsive travel decision at the end of last semester so I took off to the south of Spain to study at the University of Granada and travel around Europe. On this trip I have been to Italy, Greece, France, Morocco, and all over Spain. At this moment I am back in Granada, sitting in a little café surrounded by books, drinking my cafe con leche.

I want to take you back to a post I wrote a few months ago. If you have not already read my post, <a href=”https://twohandscreatechange.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/its-random-act-of-kindness-day-participate/”&gt;“It’s Random Act of Kindness Day, Participate?”“>”It’s Random Act of Kindness Day, Participate?” I encourage you to do so. For those of you who do not have time to read the whole post, here is an excerpt that recaps the highlight of the story.

“Yesterday I was driving across a busy bridge that crosses a highway and river in my hometown. My car was nearly to the end of the bridge and I was about to enter a large and busy intersection. Something to my left caught my eye and I looked over to see a blind man feeling his way slowly onto the bridge and into oncoming traffic. I looked around to assess the potential harm in the situation. Without any more thought, I stopped my car in the middle [lane] of the bridge, turned on my warning lights, got out of the car, ran into the oncoming traffic and approached the man.” -It’s Random Act of Kindness Day, Participate? Annie Freyschlag

In the rest of the post I continue to describe how I walked the man off the bridge and helped him find where he was going. This experience was very emotionally eye-opening for me after the adrenaline from running into oncoming traffic wore off. Ultimately, this is a happy memory for me because I know that in the moment I acted the right way, it was what I did in the moments following the incident that I look back on with regret. After I watched the man walk away in my rear-view mirror, I immediately reached for my phone and dialed all of my friends and family to vividly paint the picture of this experience for them. It was as if I needed everyone to know how proud I was that I had helped. I know in those moments I was not looking for recognition, but is that how I could have come across to the people on the other end of the phone? I think a lot of us who work in the development and humanitarian fields struggle with this idea. This seemingly morally superior aspect is something that I never hoped to embody, but it seems that aspects have pulled their way into my existence.

Then I got to thinking, isn’t that what this entire blog is about- acting with kindness, then telling others about it (bear with me as I deconstruct and hopefully reconstruct my entire existence…). My current theory, developed after months of internal anguish is that this life is about finding balance, in many things but particularly related to volunteer and aid work; finding balance between working for ourselves and working completely for others. I have made a lot of changes in my life in the last 13 months because I had a revelation that before I can advocate for changing the world, I need to make sure I am the best person I can be. After doing a bit of research, it turns out that other people have also come to the same conclusion, which eased my mind a little bit. A monk in 1100AD wrote about his conception of this realization.

“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”

It took me a long time to put this transformation into concrete thoughts, you guys should see my draft box on WordPress, I must have six or seven attempts at starting a new blog post. For the past year I could not bring myself to write to my blogging friends explaining the ways I was changing the world when I needed to first change many things about myself. But I came full circle in this thought process when I realized that I love blogging and reading what my friends are doing to help other people in the world. This community, especially those of you who write about inspiration and volunteer work, you are little candles in the souls of all of your readers, you are rays of sunshine keeping our flames alive. So here I am, sitting in a Café in Andalusia, the south of Spain, asking you to continue sharing with me your acts of love and kindness.

Here are a list of things that I am currently working to learn about on a daily basis;
Sustainable development
Ethnobotany
Spiritual Development
Biodanza
Yoga
Learning multiple languages
Sharing and learning about culture
Communication methods
Environmental ethics
Art History
Painting
(And more!)

I hope to continue writing as I learn more about how I am changing my life. More updates to come! If anyone has had a similar struggle or similar thoughts please feel to share them with me, help normalize my crazy a little bit =).

Pictures: Paris, Córdoba Mezquita, Spain, Paseo de los Tristes, Granada, Spain.

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