Summer Plans

I just bought tickets for Japan. And South Korea. And I’m leaving THIS month :O

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This summer I am volunteering at an English immersion summer camp, USA Summer Camp, in JAPAN!! My university has a partnership with Guy Healy, Japan, the summer camp, and they sponsor around 100 college students (20 from my school) every summer to be camp counselors. Minus spending money and a few administrative fees here and there, the camp pays for it all- including airfare to and from Japan (and a bonus trip to South Korea to see my friend)! #score. I am so incredibly thankful for this opportunity.

Guy Healy (second from right) with Caroline Kennedy, the US Ambassador to Japan.

“USA Summer Camp is a unique English camp experience bonding counselors from the United States with campers in Japan. About 100 counselors are selected and invited each summer to Japan to work with campers of all ages and in all parts of Japan.” Camps will consist of nine 3-day camps stretching 6-7 weeks starting early July and ending late August. American Counselors (ACs) will be “friends” who enjoy meals, recreation and free time with their campers. The AC’s responsibility is the campers.” That will be me!

Camps are held in 6 different locations throughout the country. I got my team placement and I am stationed in…

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Semester in Review

Today is officially the first Monday of my summer vacation! The semester is over!! I haven’t been able to post a lot because, well, I’ve been so busy. Keep scrolling and you’ll see why.

Lots of mixed feelings. This semester was filled with meeting new people, new experiences, and lots of goodbyes. I like being in class and learning, even exams aren’t that bad.  But, I do not like all the homework, papers, and busy work. I’ve written well over 60-70 pages this semester. And that’s just counting the 10 page research papers due for each class. If you add up all the assignments, essays, project reports, and reaction papers, I’ve written well over 100 pages this semester alone. Phew.

Let’s start at the very beginning.

January:

1st semester at a new school in a new town. I was searching for an international club at my new school and when I googled it, I found an potluck at a church for international student welcome week. Simeon and I met some pretty cool people including Gea, Jorick, Jordi, and Marvin from the Netherlands, and Liridon from Sweden there.16252167_10154209364630778_1587941063223948494_o

School got off to a quick start. I signed up for 6 classes: International Relations, Geography of Latin America, Sociolinguistics, Modern Russia, International Security (can you tell I’m an International Studies major?), and Volleyball. UWP includes textbooks in with tuition fees so everyone gets textbooks from the bookstore.

The first week was full of welcome parties. Gea and I went to the Intervarsity chili cook-off and I participated in my first nerf gun war. UWP was playing in hockey. Chinese New Year was also in January so the university was having a celebration.

February:

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How to Learn the Hard Way

Despite how it sounds, learning the hard way is really not that hard at all. It can be achieved by these three simple steps: adopt a strong sense of indestructibility, disregard advice, and make rash decisions.

A perfect storm has been brewing for quite some time now. And it just struck. In the form of an electric storm. It’s been electronic-frying. Literally.

My external hard drive broke. Everything from the last 5+ years was on there: wedding photos, travel pictures from 9 different countries, the entirety of not 1, not 2, but 3 old computers, important documents, videos for editing, the list goes on. None of it was backed up.

Now not everything was in my control but I sure made things worse by: perceived indestructibility, paying no mind to advice, and rash decisions. If you like the path of most resistance, be like me and follow these three steps, You too will be treading an uphill path with maximum difficulty in no time.

Adopt a Strong Sense of Indestructibility:

Younger folks, this comes easily to us. We’re young, things don’t really affect us. They say to stretch before working out but who does really? Sure, you may be a little sore after but it goes away in a few hours. We’ve also mastered the art of surviving on little sleep. We can stay out all night and still be chipper the next day. We’re young. Our bodies bounce instead of break.

Not only are our bodies indestructible, but we are impervious to consequences. Our decisions affect only us and only in good ways. When you see someone in a bad situation, remember, that’s a them problem. It will never happen to you.

I can count two separate occasions in the past week where the conversation focused on hard drive failure. I even watched a YouTube video of a girl’s external hard drive breaking and the data was not backed up. It NEVER crossed my mind that I needed to back up my data. That hard drive was my only copy. That would’t happen to me. That couldn’t happen to me.

*Bonus points if you adopt a “sucks to be you” mentality when seeing others in bad situations.

Disregard Advice:

Advice can be difficult to hear sometimes. We like doing things our way. When someone gives us input, especially unsolicited, that’s just a bother. I mean, how much wiser than us can a person be? Who do they think they are, telling us what to do!

When someone gives you advice, don’t listen. Tune it out. Stick your fingers in your ears and shout, “LA LA LA” if you have to. They aren’t going to tell you anything you don’t know anyway, so why listen?

I remember it like it was yesterday (because it was), “Don’t go downloading random recovery software on the computer. We don’t know what’s on there and we don’t want a virus.” Huh? Sorry, I didn’t catch that. I couldn’t hear you over the fingers jammed in my ears.

*Bonus points if the advice comes from a loved one, whose only goal is to help you.

Make Rash Decisions:

Caution is for the weak. Refrain from using it. Thinking through things slows you down. Keep this in mind when thinking through your decisions. Better yet, don’t think through decisions! Just do it. Careful thought requires patience. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.

“Just be patient and wait for the parts that we ordered to come. Maybe that will fix it.” <– And ignore that, too. That’s starting to sound like rational thinking. The drive can only be improved by running multiple software programs on it right away. This has absolutely no potential to damage the files even further. Act now, think later.

To be fair almost all of the recovery programs I downloaded were perfectly fine. But since this is neither horse shoes nor hand grenades, almost does not count. Fast forward 24 hours later and a virus is attacking the computer (which incidentally isn’t backed up, either).

*Bonus points if you make rash decisions WHILE disregarding advice. 2 for 1.

 

Follow these 3 simple steps and you have yourself the hard way. Can’t remember all of them? Do not despair. Even if you just do one of these steps, you will still be on the path of difficulty in no time. OR, learn from my mistakes, and do the opposite of everything I just told you.

Mumford & Sons: Review

 

Wilder (Wo)Men

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Standing in line on a crisp April day in Madison, I spotted a girl barely old enough to be a teenager and felt a sense of familiarity, a sense of déjà vu. I watched her as she waited energetically, expectantly. She reminded me of someone. My gaze floated through the palpable excitement emanating from the line of thousands of people eagerly waiting for six o’clock.

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After waiting in line for hours, 10,000 of us packed into the Alliant Energy Center awaiting the much-anticipated concert that sold out in minutes.

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On walked four band members adorned in tweed vests, lazily buttoned shirts, and suspenders, to the dimly lit stage: Marcus Mumford, Winston Marshall, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane; better known as Mumford & Sons. No introduction needed as the crowd exploded into cries and applause. The band launched into song, strumming their guitars at full volume.

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Mumford & Sons is an indie folk rock band hailing from the United Kingdom. The four band members are deemed literary geniuses with lyrics alluding to acclaimed authors from Shakespeare to Steinbeck. They started deep in the underground London folk scene, climbed to number one on the Billboard Top 100 chart, and arose to attain a Grammy award for Album of the Year for their second album Babel.

The band’s core instruments were the acoustic guitar, piano, double bass, and the banjo for the first two albums: “Sigh No More” and “Babel”. By the time their third album came along, they had developed a blasé attitude towards the banjo. After touring with it for years, they decided to exchange it for an electric guitar, trade the double bass for a full drum set, and appropriately name the new album “Wilder Mind”. Their musical influences switched from Bob Dylan and Bon Iver to Led Zeppelin and Radiohead. Thousands of fans, myself included, were heart-broken by the news of change. The banjo was our symbol of solidarity. It set us apart from the rest of mainstream rock and pop. Mumford and Sons has attracted a unique bohemian inspired, counter cultural, mainstream shunning, hipster-like following with their banjo plucking and euphoric harmonies.

The verdict was that Mumford & Sons must have had a new son and named him Chris Martin because their new sound, full of electric guitar and synthesizers, sounded like the lovechild of Coldplay and Imagine Dragons. Which is okay… if you like that kind of stuff… Those bands are good, but they’re not Mumford. Most fans craved the original sound that lured them to the band in the first place. Naturally, they did what seems to be the norm in this day and age: fans took their opinions and their angry thumbs to social media to create the hashtag #bringbackthebanjo.

“excuse me mumford and sons you have seem to forgotten your banjo in your new song.”
“So, judging by the new Mumford and Sons track, they’ve decided to become Coldplays of Leon.”
“Mumford and Sons have gone electric?!? This is a hipster natural disaster. Stores will soon start running out of goat milk and herbal chai.”

Of course, you can only imagine the tumultuous applause of 10,000 passionate fans that greeted the banjo upon its entrance on stage.

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Whether it is your tenth or ten thousandth time listening to these songs, you can still glean new meanings that are universally applicable to many situations. These songs are like your favorite pair of leather boots: perfectly broken in just for you, but go with everything because they are timeless. The lyrics explore relationships, spirituality, pain, death, and love on a much deeper level rather than repeating that the “DJ got us fallin’ in love.”

Song lyrics are similar to poetry; sometimes they rhyme, sometimes they tell a story, but usually the intent is to convey emotion in a written or musical form. We observe this in the lyrics of “Below My Feet”:

Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
So keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn

One commentator theorizes that this song is about, “a death causing a crisis of faith and rejection of an old belief system, which is followed by a new view on religion and life. I think it is also about humility. He’s going to learn by doing, and serve by watching and listening, because what better way to serve people than to make them feel watched and listened to”. These singer-songwriters employ the perfect amount of ambiguity to be open for personal interpretation.

Not only are their lyrics poetic, the music composition is as well. The tune begins in a subdued, austere, and unassuming manner when singing about struggles. Then come the harmonies, one or two at first as to not overwhelm. It feels as though a friend or two have come alongside you to help share your burden, but not the whole village, as not to overwhelm–not yet anyway. One author expresses, “the tune builds from the simple and passes into another realm of runaway wild, fireworks passion unselfconscious and warm” (Smith ).

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Before long the crowd and I jump to our feet, balancing steadily on one foot while the other stomps along to the raging tempo. The band’s British accents are belting out the literary lyrics with such intensity that I sense they are singing straight into our collective soul. We have no choice but to lose ourselves in unselfconsciousness. There is light at the end of our struggles and we now have the weight of a village behind us, cheering us on.

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And just like that, it dawned on me. It wasn’t a feeling of déjà vu but rather reminiscence and nostalgia from my own personal experience. It was me. I was that girl’s age–barely a teenager–when I first started listening to Mumford & Sons. I was inspired by the passion exuding from the timeless and emotionally charged lyrics ever since they penned their first album in 2007. Soon after, I found myself shopping for my first acoustic guitar and spending hours scouring YouTube for how to play my newly acquired instrument. Mumford and Sons inspired me to step meekly out of my comfort zone to convey my own emotions on paper. Even though this was a struggle, it did not matter. I had the weight of that village behind me; I could do anything.

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How to Help Refugees Here

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

portraits-dubuque-iowa-29-of-112I have been working with refugees and migrants for about 5 years now. In the grand scheme of things, that may not sound like much but that’s almost 1/4th of my life. I am excited for the sudden swelling of support for refugees and migrants.

Travelling to a foreign land can be exciting yes, but also terrifying. Even more so when you are forced to flee your home for fear of your life and resettle in a land you may or may not know anything about. God has given me a heart for the international population here in America and I’ve made it my mission to love these strangers in this foreign land. I invite you to do so with me.

Put down your protest signs and open your arms. Open your homes. 

Standing for hours demonstrating how much you dislike something is one thing. You have every right to [peacefully] do this. Spending those same hours mentoring and volunteering to take refugees shopping for basic needs, furniture, and food is another.

Say the protests work. The order is reversed. Refugees come in. Then what? Are those hundreds of thousands of people protesting going to redirect their efforts to resettling the refugees they fought so hard to allow in? Guess what people: THERE ARE REFUGEES HERE RIGHT NOW IN NEED OF HELP. You don’t have to wait for a reversal of the order. You can help right now!! Here’s how:

Teach English.

Become a conversation partner and teach English. You don’t need to be a qualified teacher to help someone with their English. If you can read this and have patience, you are qualified to help people work on their English. Talk with them. Listen to them. Give them a chance to practice their English and make mistakes in an encouraging environment. This does wonders for the language confidence level. Just because they may not be able to communicate right away does not mean they aren’t smart! One of my dear friends, and one of the bravest people I know, came to college in the United States for her second masters degree after teaching finance for years in Korea. You would never know that unless you took the time to string together the sentences of her beautiful broken English. Most of those coming over have been to college and have steady jobs. Those degrees don’t always transfer here and they have to start all over.

Be a friend and a mentor.

Along with taking refugees shopping and helping out with basic needs, volunteer to be a mentor. Once the basic needs are covered, people need a friend. They need someone to show them the ropes: American survival skills.

As someone who has had the pleasure of visiting other countries, I can tell you just how helpless it feels when you can’t even take care of your own basic needs! We fail to properly appreciate living in familiar territory, at least I did. For instance: how to get from Point A to Point B. When fleeing a country, a car isn’t necessarily a top priority of things to bring with you. Money isn’t typically in abundance to afford a new car so one is forced to rely on public transportation. Navigating the [non-existent] public transportation system here in the US is already challenging for me as an American and English is my native language. Just imagine navigating through cities you barely know in a 2nd 3rd or even 4th language. Offer rides to the grocery store. Things as simple as mailing a letter and grocery shopping become daunting tasks.

Show them how to: get insurance, set up a phone plan, get a driver’s license, etc. Help them figure out where to take their kids when they get sick, etc. Explain the difference between what Americans say vs. what they really mean. Ex.: “We should hang out sometime” is more a way of saying we could be friends and doesn’t mean get out your calendar and fix a date right then and there.

Had I not had someone showing me how to navigate the roads and rules of the land, I’d probably still be on a train to nowhere, figuratively and literally.

How do we find refugees already here? 

I’m glad you asked.

Here is a link to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) page. Clicking on your state will bring you to a page with all the main volunteer agency affiliates near you.

Don’t see one within feasible driving distance from your town? Don’t despair. Partner with an organization in your community. Do a little research to find out who heads up resettlement in your community and get in touch: call, email or march over to them. World Relief, an organization dedicated to resettling refugees, is constantly looking for volunteers.

Other ways to help:

Don’t have time to give? Give old clothes or donate money. Go through your closet and donate clothes you don’t wear anymore. Research organizations to make sure your money is actually going to help the refugees.

Still can’t find refugees but want to help the international community and immigrants? Go to a local school or the international department of the local college. Most universities have an English mentor/ conversation partner program for the international students and they won’t turn you away. If they don’t have one, start one. My first college didn’t have one so I found some willing volunteers at a local church and we sat down with the International Student Coordinator to discuss ways the community can get involved with the international students.

Lastly, love them.

Love them like Christ loves you. Love them like you would love Christ. Love and treat them like you would want your loved ones treated if the situations were reversed. These people are sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and children. Maybe not yours, but somebody’s.

Pray for them. Ask God to provide for their needs. Pray for their safety fleeing their home country and travelling. Pray for their spiritual condition. What an amazing opportunity to share the gospel with people who may have never heard it before. What an amazing opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Matthew 25: 35-40 says: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Small Town Skies

Small towns. No skyscrapers or significant skyline, just starry skies.

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I grew up in a small town; then I started moving. The time between moves has decreased while the town size has increased. Once I got out of the first one, I never looked back.

Population of 10,000 for 15 years
60,000 for 3 years
150,000 for 2 years
250,000 for 2 years
and now moving back to a town of 11,000

Am I breaking the cycle or is it starting over?

I watched a movie when I was a youngin. It was one of my sister’s favorite movies: The Perfect Man. She played it over and over and over again. In the movie, Heather Locklear (#whereisshenow?!) moves her girls to a new city every time she has a bad breakup. From that movie, I learned moving around a lot isn’t a good thing. It was reinforced going through job interviews and I was asked, “I see here you’ve moved a bit. Military family?”. Nope.

People are friendly in small towns. While walking down to the street, the window cleaners stopped to ask me how I was doing.

On this day in November, it is 60+ degrees. Who would have thought that we would be shedding our coats this far into the year. The postman comes in the coffee shop and jests with the baristas about not being able to figure out his new smartphone.

The internet doesn’t work and people are too friendly to tell the staff. There aren’t many outlets (I have yet to locate one) but that is not the point of this coffee shop. Why would one need to plug in their devices when the goal of this coffee shop is communication?

“Can I get a refill?” –Customer
“Sure! That will be a couple bucks.” –Barista
“How does two sound?” –Customer
“I’ll take it. Both of them.” –Barista

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The business man locates the one outlet in this shop halfway across the room. And then he does something you can only do in small towns: he leaves his phone plugged in and walks away. That phone isn’t going anywhere.

College students work part-time at the coffee shop to chip away at some of their debt. They rush in between classes to get their free caffeine fix before jetting off to fill their minds with information that will supposedly help in the real world.

I don’t care for coffee but ironically, coffee shops are among my favorite places on this earth. Perhaps it is the espresso brown paint, the subtle indie music, or the atmosphere when you can be around people but not have to talk to people. The environment lends itself perfectly for people watching. I can escape into my noise cancelling headphones while creating life stories for all the passersby, searching for inspiration for my next essay.

Big cities are vibrant. I feel destined for big cities-cities big enough to have the infrastructure to support a mass transit system I can get lost on, a place where they have trams and accents, a place that has a music scene other than country or dance club music. A place where everyone is different and everyone fits in.

Will this ever be my new home? My place of residence yes, but my home? What makes a house a home? Thanks to a plethora of artists-Michael Buble, Jonnyswim, Phillip Phillips, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Bon Jovi, to name a few-home is “wherever I’m with you” or the place you can go back to. Most artists can agree that home is not just a physical place but rather a state, feeling, or emotion. It’s what’s waiting for you at the end of the lonesome road. It’s up to you to determine whether that is a person, place, or thing. That is your home.

I don’t know how long I may be here in this small town or how long until it really feels like my home. I may be wandering hopelessly for a bit on that proverbial road but I will make the most of it. And I will learn.

I will learn to love the skies I’m under.