The Reality of Voluntourism

A multimedia video blog about the benefits of “Voluntourism” in the Dominican Republic. Music by Jack Johnson
Video, photos, text by Annie Freyschlag
Students in this film were participants in the 2011 ISV Project in the Dominican Republic

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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.

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!

 

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.

It’s an, “I Spilled My Coffee on My New Shirt,” Kind of Morning

Everyone has these kind of mornings… you wake up, and nothing seems to go your way.

I woke up this morning and found that during the night, my puppy had chewed through nearly every electrical cord in my room. I quickly decided to correct the negative start to my day by wearing the new shirt my sister had bought me for Christmas (new clothing always puts a smile on my face).  With my appearance up to standard, I continued on to the kitchen where I made myself a latte. Fresh ground coffee beans from the Dominican Republic, steamed together with nice organic milk. I ran my face over the steam that evaporated from the top of my mug, and for just a moment I experienced complete euphoria. But this moment was interrupted when Mato (my puppy) decided to run head first into the back of my knees, knocking my legs strait out from under me.  Coffee… all over my new shirt.

Sound like one of the mornings you have experienced recently? I do not often experience negative emotions, and I like to consider myself a pretty optimistic person. The fact of the matter is that I strongly dislike the feeling of hatred. So I closed my eyes and said to the world, “World, my day is not going to be filled with such negative events. Today will not be a day wasted.” After all, any moment filled with saddness is a second of happiness wasted.

So I made another latte, grabbed Mato’s leash, and we went outside to start our new day basking in the glorious sunshine, where I then reviewed each and every reason why I am extraordinarily happy. Today can now be another day where I smile at every person I see, just to see the smile that they will return to me. Really though, this world does not need more negative emotions, we already have too many problems.

“All I have is this moment, and this moment is the seed for the rest of my life.” -Dr. Bertise Berry

One of the Reasons Behind My Optimism

Colorful Bracelets to Fund Education

Check out our new product at Coloring Countries. These colorful bracelets are made from glass beads and safety-pins. Help us fund education in El Mango, Dominican Republic with this purchase, and be reminded of the little faces you helped every time you look at your wrist.