Service Learning: Transformation in the Garden

Perhaps you remember reading my post about Lili and Edwin (posted February 3rd), and how they were such a huge answer to prayer for a class schedule for the semester, for friendship, and for a faith community. They are the leaders and business owners of their organic produce business, named Nativo, located in Lumbisí. The joy and peace I felt when I met them at the end of January has continued to be so abundant, throughout the duration of the semester.

For a bit of cultural context, Lumbisi is a small community with indigenous heritage and is a neighboring community to where I live in the valley of Cumbayá. It is an area of families who own land and cultivate their own crops, but would be socially considered lower class. What differentiates Lili and Edwin’s business from the rest is that their product is all organic and they have enough family land to produce enough for their household, and to sell.

I have had the opportunity, through IES Abroad, to take Service Learning as a class this semester. I feel so blessed by my placement with Lili and Edwin! They have the kindest hearts for service to their community, and the neighboring ones as well. They make organic produce affordable for those who would otherwise never bother to eat healthy, and they teach their clients the importance of caring for their bodies. They are the most genuine people I have ever met and their faith is what guides them through each and every day.

I truly admire Lili and Edwin for the work that they do for their community, and for the faith they continue to display, no matter the situation. They live in a community where they are “weirdly different.” Lili and Edwin both had the opportunity to study at universities in Ecuador, unlike many in Lumbisí, and they want to share their knowledge for the benefit of the entire community. Also, they don’t have friends in their community that are Christian, so it is difficult at times to develop deep connections with their neighbors. Despite these challenges, Lili and Edwin have each other and their families to help them continue to choose to serve, and be disciples to those around them.

This semester I helped Lili and Edwin prepare for their weekend sales, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. Some days we would sort chocho for 3+ hours. Other days we would package the produce for the weekend, and we would go to their land to harvest produce such as avocados, lemons, limes, blackberries, and guava. I think IES Abroad and Lili and Edwin would admit that this placement was a bit of a gamble, at first. Lili and Edwin had never had a volunteer before, and IES Abroad holds high standards for the Service Learning class. This placement surely surpassed any requirements and the experience has been valued by Lili and Edwin, my IES Program Leaders here in Quito, and me. Lili and Edwin are always prepared for they days I come. They are always teaching me new things and health benefits of the plants/produce. In the repetitiveness of the tasks, I learn more about Ecuadorian culture by talking with them for hours on end.

My favorite moments of every week are with Lili and Edwin. When I am with them, I feel peace, joy, hope, needed, and so very loved. They care for me as if I am their child they and invite me to their special holiday meals. I am trying not to think about having to say goodbye to them yet. This past week, I introduced an IES Program Leader and a fellow classmate at my placement site with Lili and Edwin. After Lili mentioned how much they were able to develop as a business over these past couple months by having a set of extra hands, my program leader asked, “So, what are you going to do when Morgan leaves?” Lili just said, “Cry, we are going to cry.” Half jokingly because of the positive life view that Lili has and her continual trust that God will always provide. But, seriously in the reality that it will be hard to say goodbye to our weekly conversations and relationships.

I am thankful my original schedule didn’t work out when I got here, despite the stress I felt in January because of it. I know God hand-picked Lili and Edwin to show me, through their daily love and encouragement, how to live a life of joy and peace and friendship. A life that is selfless and fulfilling, no matter the circumstances thrown our way.

 

 

Do I feel safe in Paris?

My sister and I were talking on the phone, about a week ago, when this question came up. Upon her asking, I was slightly stunned, why would I not feel safe? She then proceeded to forward me an email that she’d received from the United States Embassy which, sure enough, showed that the travel advisory for France was raised from level 1 to level 2 telling people to exercise caution due to “terrorism” and “civil unrest.” After reading the full article, I was still shocked. I couldn’t imagine being scared of going to the places I’d frequented for the last three months just because of some travel advisory. In order to talk my sister off the ledge, I explained to her that I don’t feel afraid, regardless of what the U.S. Embassy says.

For the last three months, I have been living in a city that is a hub for Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) protests that have been frequently dubbed “violent” because of the actions of certain casseurs (people who break things) in their midsts. The 18th Saturday of the Gilets Jaunes movement was by far the most violent, at least in Paris. They marched from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Elysées, a street that boasts famous luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Cartier. The boulevard epitomizes the system which the Gilets Jaunes have felt has suppressed them: capitalism. I walked on that street the very next day and was shocked to find windows completely shattered and the awning of one of the fanciest, most expensive restaurants in Paris, Fouquet’s, victim of a fire started by these casseurs.

At the same time, I’ve had very different experiences with the Gilets Jaunes. I remember one Saturday I was out shopping with some friends and I’d just said goodbye to them to head back home by way of the metro. Just next to the metro entrance, the street was completely packed with a parade of Gilets Jaunes, shouting and singing, but not breaking anything. In order to get to the metro, I had to go through them. Carefully, I joined in with the group and slipped out on the other side of the road unharmed. No one wanted to hurt someone who was passing by because those are not the people that the Gilets Jaunes want to express their frustrations with.

While similar situations have occurred multiple times for me, I know some people who haven’t been as lucky with their Gilets Jaunes experiences. A group of students my age were leaving a store when they found themselves in between the police and the Gilets Jaunes. They got sprayed with tear gas! Unfortunately, there are run-ins like this between police and Gilets Jaunes fairly frequently and I’ve almost had the same thing happen to me.

One day after class, I wanted to go buy a crepe by the Seine because that’s where you can find them fresh and extremely cheap. I took the metro to Place de la Concorde which is right next to where I’d previously seen these crepe stands. A little bit of background, Place de la Concorde is well-known because it was where thousands of people were guillotined during the French Revolution, and has since been a popular place for other protests due to its historical relevance. When I got up the stairs out of the metro, I was met with the sight of Gilets Jaunes on my left and the Gendarmerie (the French riot police) on my right. I stopped in my tracks and considered: was the crepe worth it? That question was answered fairly quickly as I saw some casseurs already starting to pick fights. I immediately retreated into the metro, the crepe completely forgotten. A woman passed me as I headed back in and she asked me if where I was coming from was an exit. I told her yes, but that I wouldn’t recommend it because there was a confrontation happening there. This is the advice that I would give to everyone who asks me about the Gilets Jaunes: don’t go looking for them, and when something doesn’t feel right or when you see them and the police together, avoid them at all costs. For my friends that got tear gassed, it is unfortunate that that happened to them. However, part of staying safe is being smart about where you go and being flexible with your schedule. If I were in the same situation as my friends, instead of leaving the store, I would have stayed inside and waited until the coast was clear because safety is much more important.

I think that explains pretty well the part of the warning about “civil unrest” and now for the “terrorism” aspect.

The Monday after the Gilets Jaunes’ most violent weekend, I was eating breakfast and listening to the radio with my host mom, Katherine. The radio hosts were discussing new measures that would be taken in order to combat the violent activities of some Gilets Jaunes. They explained that after all of the vandalism committed by certain casseurs, the French government would be releasing the national army to protect national monuments. What they said next I didn’t quite understand so Katherine helped better explain it. She told me that when someone commits an act such as vandalizing a national monument in France, they are no longer a criminal, they are considered a terrorist. This is where I think something has been lost in translation. Over the past months that I have been here, I have heard nothing about any terrorist groups plotting any attacks in Paris from any of the media outlets that I have been following. I was quite shocked when I heard that terrorism was one of the factors cited by the U.S. Embassy for raising this advisory. This isn’t to say that there is no possibility of some kind of attack being plotted against Paris, it’s just to say that I haven’t heard or read anything about it. That being said, this “terrorism” that the U.S. Embassy has discussed is possibly linked more with a situation that has been misinterpreted or that they have intelligence that has not been released to the general public.

If, in fact, there were to be some type of extreme danger in Paris, similar to the attacks of November 13, 2015, quite frankly, I would be scared. And, I came to France knowing that that event took place in the city that I would be moving to. However, I am also from a country that has been the setting of various acts of terrorism and I’m not afraid to live there, so why should I be afraid to live here? In fact, I believe that at one point other countries had placed high travel advisories on travel to the United States due to our policies on guns.

In short, yes, I do feel safe in France as I know that I’m at just as high a risk of becoming a victim of violence here or anywhere else in the world. I won’t spend my time worrying about the possibility of being attacked when I could be out exploring the beautiful country I’m in. Life is too short to live in fear of the “what-ifs”.

So now that I’ve talked about the biggest concerns that people have about the safety of France as a whole, I’ll cover some more frequent causes for worry for those who plan to visit, or know someone visiting Paris.

 

PICKPOCKETS and SCAMMERS

When I originally told people that I was going to study in Paris, one of the first questions to come up was “oh, but what if you get pickpocketed?” and then they would proceed to tell me some story about their second cousin’s spouse who got robbed on the streets of Paris. I’ll be frank with this one: I have never *knock on wood* been pickpocketed; I’ll explain how while we talk about why certain people get targeted more commonly by pickpocketers than others.

There’s a couple speaking loudly in a language that is not French in the metro. They are in their sixties wearing backpacks on their fronts and looking at their handy-dandy pocket map of Paris. As they filter out of the train and up the stairs to street level, a young man trips on the stairs in front of them. While the nice couple is helping this young guy up, another person comes and snatches the older man’s wallet from his pocket. It isn’t until five minutes later that the man reaches into his pocket to find that his wallet is missing. This is one of the stories that I heard during my orientation here and it demonstrates exactly what not to do in Paris in order to not get pickpocketed.

Quite likely, the primary factor that makes someone a target is how they dress. If you’re wearing a backpack on your chest you may as well have a massive neon flashing sign pointing to yourself with the word “TOURIST” written out on it. Literally, no Parisian person ever does this. And while you think you’re being smart about not letting someone open your backpack without you looking, really you’re just doing yourself a disservice by indicating to everyone who sees you that you do not live here and as such, you are vulnerable because you don’t know the local tricks that thieves use to rob you. Inversely, so many people come to Paris on vacation to enjoy all the amazing things that the city has to offer, one of the most popular being French fashion. I kid you not, I have seen people in head-to- toe couture with their designer handbags and thousands of dollars in jewelry. This is just as bad as tourist fashion. Basically, when people dress like this they are advertising to people that they are wealthy, and therefore make themselves targets for pickpockets. Essentially, a happy medium between American tourist and fashion blogger is the way to go because you can blend in, and ultimately avoid unwanted attention from thieves.

Sometimes, blending in just doesn’t work out so here are a couple solutions to keep pickpockets at bay and protect yourself the best that you can.

If you are really worried about someone taking something from your bag without your knowledge, keep valuables in zipped pockets, money belts, or in the innermost parts of your backpack. One word of caution about keeping valuables in bags is that it is not uncommon for people to cut open bags with knives. Please be cautious about what you choose to carry your belongings in. One of the girls I met during my study abroad orientation told me she didn’t want to wear a backpack so she got a sturdy shoulder bag that zips. She could blend in better with the French and keep an eye on her bag if she ever felt like she might be the target of pickpocketing.

It’s also a really good idea to research common scams or techniques that pickpockets use to steal from you. Most Parisians are incredibly familiar with all of them so they know how to recognize a trap when they see one. Familiarize yourself with common schemes so that you don’t have to become a victim. Before I came to France, I watched a lot of videos about scams that specifically target tourists in Paris. If you’re curious, this is the best one that I’ve found:

As someone who has been in Paris for over three months, I feel like I know how to blend in enough so as not to make myself a target. Even so, if it were to happen despite preventative measures, the best solution is to be as loud as possible and make a scene because that is the exact opposite of what thieves want. They will abandon ship as soon as you start to draw attention to the fact that they were trying to rob you, so it’s best not to be shy.

 

AS A WOMAN IN A BIG CITY

I will admit that as a female in Paris, sometimes I do not feel incredibly safe. In discussing with lots of other women here, they all have really similar experiences. They’ve all had experiences in their day-to-day lives where certain men have made them feel really uncomfortable, to say the least.

One of the teachers at CIEE, a parisienne through and through, spoke about getting in the metro and having men just stare at her, and not in a good way either. This is actually something that I’ve experienced quite frequently and it is incredibly uncomfortable. They just stare at you and when you make eye contact they don’t look away. I’ve never felt unsafe or threatened when this kind of situation has occurred because there are plenty of other people around, but really the only word I can use to describe it is unsettling.

Aside from weird eye contact, there is also the matter of catcalling. Of all of my female friends that I’ve talked to, literally every one of them have been catcalled at least once since they’ve been in Paris. This is pretty generous of a statistic to give because it does happen quite frequently. However, this happens pretty much everywhere else in the world so unfortunately, as a woman, I just have to ignore it in the hopes that the man won’t continue.

Lastly, walking alone at night. Paris is known as the City of Lights which is nice for us gals who are walking back home at night. Paris itself is really well-lit at night so it’s not like you are walking around in complete darkness! Whenever I have to walk in the dark, I don’t exactly feel scared doing so. It is so well-lit and there are usually always people out because it is such a touristy city. I wouldn’t say I necessarily recommend walking alone at night because I don’t, but I also won’t say that I feel afraid doing so. That being said, it’s also a good idea to consider asking a friend to walk with you to your neighborhood and definitely try to avoid distractions like using your phone or listening to music until you are safely inside.

All in all, Paris is not a city to let your guard down in, but it also isn’t a place that should seem intimidating or scary. As long as you are well-informed and smart about what you do and where you go, it’s more than likely that you’ll have a safe and pleasant stay in Paris.

NYC Differences

aerial view of Manhattan

As my time here in New York begins to come to a close, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the differences I’ve noticed between Michigan and NYC. Given that I’m still in the United States, you wouldn’t think there would be so many cultural differences, but there honestly are!

Here’s my current list of differences:

Multi-Level Stores: Everything here is so squished and condensed! It’s a rarity to walk into a store and for there to not be an escalator or two. I must have gone up at least four escalators when my roommate and I went to see Captain Marvel in theaters (it was so weird)! Even a few Starbucks here will have a partial upper floor with additional seating (because abundant seating is also a rarity in NYC).

No one owns a car: Instead, everyone uses the subway, which makes sense, because the drivers in NYC are crazy! Even though the metro is dingy and breaks down frequently, it’s super convenient! It’s so nice to be able to hop on a train and simply read a book while you wait to get to your destination. I have been purchasing 30 Day Unlimited passes, which means I can take the subway as much as I want!

Everything here is so much more expensive: I mean, I knew this going in, but I still mourn my wallet’s empty state.

There’s no green or trees here: If you want to see trees or grass or really anything that isn’t a dull gray, you have to go to Central Park (at least in Manhattan, parks are more frequent in other places). It’s kind of a bummer. Then again, Central Park is such an expansive and beautiful place. My first time going there, I wandered around and explored, and it was really peaceful.

Gray Slush: Any snow we get quickly turns into a gray slush that makes my toes freeze. I mean yes, I’m totally grateful that I missed out on that Polar Vortex everyone in Michigan was suffering from early on in the year, but I’m still kind of sad that I haven’t seen real snow this year. Who would have thought?

It’s dirty and gross and smells everywhere: Might want to come with nose plugs. If not, you get used to it…somewhat.

It’s easy to find your own unique corner of NYC: There’s so many events and meetups happening, it’s so easy to find your own niche. I’ve been able to go to some many writing and book events that I wouldn’t have had access to in Michigan!

Never ending activity and noises: Gotta love police cars zooming by at 2am, though in all honestly, Hope has prepared me well for this with the railroad tracks that go by on campus.

Diversity: There are so many different cultural corners to NYC! You have places like Koreatown, Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Poland, etc. The weekend before Fat Tuesday, I made my way down to Little Poland and my friend and I got pączkis from an authentic Polish bakery.

Everything is so easily reachable:  I can walk out of the New Yorker and cross the street to reach CVS. Target is only a 7 minute walk away. You walk to almost any sort of store or fast food place.

One Dollar Pizza: I appreciate the existence of $1 slices of pizza so much. Honestly, I purchase it on a weekly basis; my roommate and I have made it a tradition. (And it’s also easily reachable: only a 5 minute walk!)

 

Regardless of these differences, NYC has really grown on me during my time here. I sincerely hope I’ll be able to return in the near future.

Weekly Freedoms and Limitations

Over the course of the past 3 months (it has already almost been that long!), I have experienced new freedoms and new limitations that come with living in a new culture. Let me preface that by saying that some of these things are not necessarily better or worse than my day to day life experiences I have in the States, but rather cultural differences I am living and growing through.

Freedoms:

Travel: What a strange concept it is to be able to travel on the weekends, and choose my weekly adventure! As I’ve mentioned before, Ecuador is a richly diverse country in every aspect, including it’s landscape. In the States, there is rarely the opportunity to travel somewhere for an entire weekend during the academic year. Weekends are too short and packed with homework nearly every single week at Hope. In Ecuador, the University provides 3 day weekends… (yes, that means never having Friday classes!). Academics in Ecuador seem to be a bit different, as well. While classes still have homework, tests, presentations, and group projects– there is much less “busy work.” All of the assignments tend to have a bit more weight, but they are all directly related to class material and there isn’t thousands of extra readings to be done. This makes traveling a reality, not only for the sake of time in days, but because of the decreased amount of homework than what I am used to. Not to mention the cheaper cost as well!

Time: Because I am here for only a semester without my closest friends and family and jobs, I have much more freedom with time. I can read a book for fun, go for a walk, watch a movie etc., things I rarely have time to enjoy during the academic year in the states.

Limitations:

Diet: The Ecuadorian diet is healthy, fresh, and nutritious for cheaper prices than at home. My biggest challenge is navigating life with a host family who rarely eats at home themselves. I have less control over what I eat than I do at home.

Transportation: Oh how I can’t wait to be able to drive my car again! The bus system is cheap and super helpful, as you can go anywhere in the country on a bus… however, it is also very time consuming on curvy mountain roads that make me feel quite sick.

Home: Being away from home just means being more conscious about everything. From safety, to time of day, to knowing where my food and water comes from, I’ve come to recognize the little things I take for granted at home.

These are just some of the basic things that are very different than my West Michigan life in the States. There are clearly freedoms and limitations in both lifestyles that provide different experiences and opportunities. What a ride it has been, the past 3 months!

 

 

5 things that happened after I sprained my ankle in Paris

So a little bit of background: I really like to run so as I’ve been in Paris I’ve made it a habit to go out running a couple days out of the week. Right next to my apartment in Paris is the Bois de Boulogne (see my post La Maison Française for more information) which is where I like to run because it’s a nice change of scenery from the mostly concrete city in which I live. Essentially, it’s a huge park with dirt trails and lots of rocks so it’s definitely best to watch your step. However, one day I was running and I definitely did not look where I was going and, sparing you the not so fun details, I now have a sprained ankle:)

Now, normally a sprained ankle isn’t really that big of a deal because it’ll heal in a couple of weeks and not be a big problem, BUT, that has not been the case for me. A couple of years ago, I sprained the same ankle pretty badly so this new sprain is healing over scar tissue which makes the process much, much longer. It has now been around a month since I’ve royally messed up my ankle and it is still a ways away from being up for anything more than a brisk walk. That being said, in the time that I’ve been sidelined I’ve devised a list of five things that happened after I sprained my ankle (in France!):

1. I learned how to take a break: When I got to Paris I was overwhelmed with all of the things that I wanted to see and do. Up until I sprained my ankle, I was using all my spare time outside of class and on homework to cram everything into the short time that I’m here. The day after I sprained my ankle I spent the entire day in bed and it was so nice! Katherine gave me books on Paris that let me see all of the things that I hadn’t yet been able to see in person. I started reading Harry Potter in French, and spent some much needed time on Netflix. That’s not to say that that is what every day since then has been like, but it definitely showed me that I can still be enjoying my experience here without having to constantly be going somewhere to see something.

                                                Exploring Paris from home!

2. I learned to enjoy just walking without a destination: Running was my primary source of exercise when I came to France so I was really upset when, all of a sudden, I couldn’t do that anymore. So, I turned to walking. Instead of just walking around the Bois de Boulogne (I was overwhelmed with a feeling of betrayal from my accident), I opted to walk around and see the sights I hadn’t yet experienced in Paris. I used to be so focused on doing all the touristy spots. However, from just walking around I found so many cute places that, dare I say, are even better than some of the main attractions.

3. I learned that it’s okay to say no: A lot of my friends here really like to go out and explore whenever they have free time. I do too, but sometimes I really just want to be on my own and take things in at my own pace. My ankle gave me an excuse, but gradually I learned that I shouldn’t need one. You are 100% allowed to say no to your friends, and they will understand. Sometimes you just want to be by yourself to think and breathe and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

4. I learned SO MUCH FRENCH: Alright so this may be a bit of a strong statement, but right now I feel fairly confident in my language skills and really do feel like I’ve improved. Since I’ve had to spend a lot more time resting at home, I’ve passed a good portion of my time talking with my host mom, Katherine. Meals in France take a long time to make, especially if you have a host mom like mine who loves to talk; which is something I appreciate about her. Normally I would go running in the morning on weekends and would miss eating breakfast with Katherine. However, I couldn’t do that so we have pretty extensive breakfasts and conversations that last long after we’ve finished our bread and coffee. At the start of the semester, I mostly just let her talk because I didn’t understand everything and it was really hard to interject. Now it’s much more of an actual conversation. Mostly we talk about the news since we listen to that on the radio over breakfast, but she also tells me lots of stories from when she was my age. I tell her about my family back home and how things are different there from how they are here.

5. I learned to relax the way Parisians do: While walking I found my way into Jardin du Luxembourg, a massive park on the Left Bank with lots of trees and green space which is hard to come by in Paris. The day that I found it happened to be one of the first really beautiful spring days so, naturally, it was packed with people. Luckily I was able to find an empty lawn chair in the sun and sat there for a couple of hours, just reading my book and enjoying the fresh spring air.

                                   Reading in the Jardin du Luxembourg

This last one reminded me of a conversation I had with my sister, who is also studying abroad this semester. She recounted a story of her sitting near a lake, just relaxing. The sun was shining brightly and the sky a perfectly clear blue. For just a moment when she closed her eyes she told me it felt as if she was back home. A second later she opened her eyes to remind herself that, in fact, she wasn’t anywhere near home. Looking back, I realize that I had the exact same feeling that day in the park and it was incredibly bittersweet. I miss home (a lot), but Paris is my home now, too. Even when I’m gone for just a weekend I find myself wanting to be back in this beautiful city.

Right now my life is divided between Minnesota home, Hope home and Paris home, and running was my constant. It was my way of coping with homesickness and helped me feel a little more at ease with my environment. It was really difficult to suddenly not have that anymore. To be honest, I was really frustrated by what I couldn’t do, but somehow I found experiences that are even better. I’m not saying I’m glad that I messed up my ankle because it has definitely not been fun. Yet, I’m grateful for the new perspective it has given me.

Día Internacional de la Mujer

I am privileged to say that I have now participated in two Women’s Marches, in two capitals of the world. Back in 2017, after Trump was inaugurated, I traveled overnight to our nation’s capital, Washington D.C., with a bus full of Hope faculty and students. These are experiences I will never forget because they are the moments in which I truly feel like I have acted out the words that my favorite black female activist, Angela Davis, said at a time when the Black community was at its height after the civil rights movement. She said, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” Not to my surprise, the lovely women of color I protested with even quoted her on one of their posters, in Spanish of course. Words on this screen can’t do the experience justice, so I can tell you better in video. Watch my video below to relive this once in a lifetime experience with me.

 

W*ndering

 

I have been wondering, I mean wandering, through the new-to-me neighborhoods of Bridgeport, Hyde Park, Bronzeville, Old Town, River North, and Westloop. Amidst the bustle of the friendly city, I have been finding myself struggling internally with my observations. Earlier this week, I saw a homeless man in a wheelchair on the train. You might ask how I knew he was homeless, and  I would point out the too-big winter jacket, odd smell, and multiple bags that he carried with him. Among all these, what caught my eye were his hands; they looked raw, were shortened to almost the knuckle, and were black (not skin color, but his tissue).

 

It is fairly easy to spot those who “have” versus those who “do not have.” These people have to carry all their worldly belongings everywhere they go.  I wonder how people can reach a point of hopelessness that they give up in their attempts to escape homelessness. Wonder about the painful experiences individuals must have gone through to turn to substance abuse, to cope and dull the sharp pangs of their past; Wonder what I can do. In the past few weeks, God has been convicting me of my less-than-grateful attitudes. As I recognize this population’s daily struggles, I realize it is more than I have ever had to endure in my entire lifetime.

In my personal struggle, with what I feel is my calling in the world and the homeless population, I recognize the importance of balancing safety and kindness, discerning the proper timing, and actions of carrying out what my calling is. I will offer some of my journaling from this semester that have helped me discern between these callings and how they play into the service I believe is my purpose in life. “How are we welcoming the ‘unwelcomables’? If I allow what I see to dictate how I feel, rather than asking God for discernment when to act, I fail to live the Gospel as Jesus intended. Do I make others feel welcomed the way I want to be welcomed? I struggle to have when others lack. I think, ‘What can I do?’ Preaching the Good News in addition to offering acts of kindness reveals the action of this Gospel. To embrace rawness of human brokenness amidst their vulnerable moments and admissions to their faults; to lift up their faces toward the One who redeems their souls despite those mistakes and shortcomings; to love in action and faith, that is my purpose.”

Amidst my wrestling with this large societal problem, I often hear my peers and myself complaining about minute hiccups of our privileged lives. Living in the city has called into question my priorities in life and how I am living out the Word in a real sense. If we are called to be active hands and feet of Jesus Christ, I need to change my attitude toward humility and gratitude. I think as humans, it can be very easy to gravitate towards focusing on the negative aspects of life. Yet, when we strive actively to choose thankfulness, we find a kind of contentment that is beyond human comprehension. All this does not diminish the pain or suffering with which everyone struggles. I recently have dealt with the heartbreak of seeing a very dear loved one begin to pass from this temporary world into the arms of eternity.

I cannot help every single homeless person I pass on the streets. But, I can smile at them. I can  look them in the eyes to try to understand their pain. I can ask them how I can pray for them. I can treat them like the humans they are.

Thank you for listening to my internal w*nderings. I believe it is a healthy thing to process these types of issues in a more public manner. I hope that you are able to consider my personal struggles and how we can all contribute in our Spirit-led callings to the world around us. That is what off campus study is about. Yes, about exploring and having fun. But, it also includes widening our worldview to understand callings and purpose in the global perspective.

Stay tuned for the next post (coming very soon); I will be adding some of the fun portions of the last several weeks!

Fun fact: the featured image is from the Chicago History Museum that highlights the work of MLK Jr. I just really liked this quote that really emphasizes the importance of finding your vocation in whatever career you’re in.

 

 

Cherish la Sevillana

I spent the weekend in Seville! CIEE organized a planned weekend trip to Seville, Spain. Sevilla is a part of the Andalusian region of Spain. It used to be populated by people mostly from the middle east and home to three of the country’s most practiced religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Today, you can see so many remnants of its past and the way in which those things are still a part of the culture today. For example, there used to be mostly Arabic speakers in this part of the country and that affected a lot of the town names, colloquial terms, and the accent. Andalucía was previously known as Al-Andalus to the former Arabic-speaking inhabitants. If you think is cool, you’re gonna flip when I tell you that I went to the royal palace of the famous Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Fun fact: it is still used as a palace for the Spanish monarchy when they make visits to this region. There’s a beautiful culture and history to unpack here in Andalusia and I’m going to tell you a little bit more about what I learned!

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is Religion and Society and we focus on the three main religions of Spain. It’s such a great class because we are able to not only learn about the religions, but how they were created, intertwined with society, and understand more about their structure. Often, classes on religion can become more preachy than teachy; however, this class gives us actual accounts of the facts, beliefs, and societal perceptions over time. I love it! What makes it better is that over the weekend I was able to visit some of the sites we discussed.

We left around 8:30 AM Friday morning for Sevilla. I slept most of the ride there. About 5 hours into our drive, we stopped for lunch. This was the first I had a traditional Spanish meal since the summer. Next, we made a stop in Cordoba. Ever heard of it? Well, if you were to ask any Muslim at the height of their expansion into the west, and specifically Spain, you would know that it held one of three important Mosques of its time. It was the central Mosque for Muslims in Spain. However, as I learned in my class and during our tour of the mosque, it did not remain a mosque. After many years of oppression, relentless efforts by the Pope and catholic rulers throughout Europe, all of these religious spaces, including Jewish synagogues, were “Christianized.”

To give you a clearer picture, let’s talk about the royal palace in Seville. It is almost entirely decorated in Arabic script and constructed in Islamic style architecture. When you go deeper into the palace and its many salas you would be suddenly struck with byzantine Christian imagery. I’m talking about all the stuff that Muslims would avoid to remain their founding principal of equality. You will see paintings that reach all four corners of a wall adorned with golden elaborately designed frames. Angels, Jesus, saints — if it’s Christian, then it is present in any of the Christianized religious buildings. In class, I learned that this kind of complete take over and hierarchical power structure that we find in Christianity is deeply rooted in the political and societal structure of Ancient Rome. For me, it cleared up all the conflicting ideas that were present in Christianity. I could honestly write a whole blog on just how much I’ve learned about these 3 religions’ fundamental and structural makeup. I’ll leave you here this time and pick it up in a later blog. Now it’s story time!

While in Cordoba and Sevilla, we visited some off site locations such as the medieval Jewish neighborhoods that once occupied so much of these cities. Upon walking away from the palace, we find ourselves in one of these beautiful and historical juderias (Jewish neighborhood). This isn’t any ordinary Jewish quarter because it is the actual location in which a story of star crossed lovers met their fate. I am really trying to make this interesting and suspenseful. Is it working? Okay, let’s keep going haha. There was a young Jewish girl and young Christian boy who shared a forbidden love for each other. One night, the young Jewish girl planned to meet her lover in the neighborhood square. She heard her father talking about planning an attack on the Christians who lived nearby. When the Christian boy got word of this, he decided to tell his comrades in order to prepare themselves for the events to take place that night. In the end, everyone is slain except the couple. It was such a deadly battle and it caused the Christian boy to want nothing to do with the young Jewish girl. She was then without parents, without a lover, and without any place to go. She goes to the church, and yes, I mean the catholic church, to ask for help. They tell her that they will help her, but only if she converts to Christianity and joins the convent as a nun. The young Jewish girl then lives the rest of her life as a Christian woman.

Everything I’ve told you to this point is an actual account of history in this neighborhood that happened thousands of years ago, if I remember correctly, it happened in the 15th or 16th century. However, the legend goes on to say that before she died, she asked that her head be separated from her body and placed in her childhood home as a lesson to young Jewish children not to disobey their elder or betray their people. Although the story is unfortunate, it has been kept alive for generations and the legend has taken the shape of a narrow street and a tile decorated with a skull. The street of the dead who were killed that night of the battle and a skull to remember the “wishes” of the young Jewish girl. This was all told to me in Spanish by the way. It was pretty amazing to be in this spot in which it all took place so long ago. Then, as we exited, I began to admittedly critique the character of the young Christian boy who abandoned his star-crossed lover. Que tonto era! He was such a jerk!

Before I get upset again about this 15th/16th century Justin Bieber wannabe…let’s just look at some pretty pictures in the video below haha.

Code Switching and Other News (Madrid, Spain)

Remember when I said that people like to stare in Madrid? During orientation, one of the Spanish assistants in the CIEE Global Institute explained that it has nothing to do with us and that the Madrileños just like to stare. Turns out there’s a lot more to this story then she led on. Moises, a student in my program, is doing a full year in the Liberal Arts Program; therefore, this is his second semester. He’s from the Dominican Republic and has a different accent and colloquial terms from a Spaniard. He’s very tall, brown skinned, and has beautiful, curly black hair. People always stare at him with a little bit of a feeling of alarm because he looks “foreign” and “unpredictable.” When he opens his mouth to speak Spanish, he is told that he speaks bad Spanish. Spanish classmates don’t want to work with him because he’s different; because he’s black. I am also stared at with looks of exotic wonder and a feeling of distrust. Racism exists in all parts of the world and is inescapable for black and brown people around the world.

I am “otherized” back home in the states as well. It doesn’t make my experience in Spain any easier; however, I already have tools to deal with covert racism. There are only four black students in my program, including myself. One of these students has witnessed a white Spaniard call the police on an African immigrant in the most diverse neighborhood in Madrid, what we call in the states a “high risk,” or “bad” area.  The same student overheard a Spaniard say that he spoke Spanish “like the Cubans” or a “slave.” This is not what I want to report on about my daily life in Spain, but it’s an important aspect of my life — not a political debate or a conversation about race. It’s a reality that racism exists everywhere and as a person of color, I don’t catch a break from it. During my time here, I’ve made a friend who is a black Madrileña. She is a Spanish citizen and grew up in Madrid, but at the end of the day she does not get to exercise her full rights as a citizen and is made to feel like an outsider. Some of her black friends from various backgrounds are running for office because they are Spanish citizens and will fight to be treated like it.  

Differences in culture and race are a big part of my reason for studying abroad in Spain. Over the summer, I was not able to learn a lot about this aspect of life because I was only gaining perspective from white Spaniards. They told me that the U.S. was worse, but I would also see the way some looked down on the African immigrants and the gitanos (gypsy) or Roma people. I knew there was more to this story, so I came back to find out. I will continually talk about this topic as I gain more insight and perspective. I can tell you now that Spain is very much in the “I don’t see color” racial identity stage. This is the idea that if we do not acknowledge the difference, there can’t be racism. As many black (African Americans)  people would say, “ das a bol face lie” which means that they know this can’t be true. If they did not see color, why do they feel uncomfortable around Moises, Brian, the African immigrant, and me?

On a lighter note, I have plenty of other daily experiences to share about my life here in Madrid as well. I’m going to break this up into categories to make it easier to explain. Also, I talk about these things and more in the video below.

Groceries

They are a lot cheaper here than they are back home. Things are never sold in bundles or as deals like “10 for 10 with the 11th item free” or “Buy One, Get One Free.” Everything has a pretty set price and it’s marked down when its going out of season or is popular for a special time. I go grocery shopping every two days at least. As you could imagine, this is a hard concept for an American to wrap her head around. My mom would go shopping every Saturday for 1-2 weeks worth of groceries. It’s a huge change. At first, my housemates bought the items that we all needed to share as a house, which I recommend because it saves money and time. The first two weeks I was just guessing, but now I know how to shop for myself. The trick is to buy what you need, and  maybe one or two things that are simply for your enjoyment. Don’t buy anything more than what you need until it has run out, or else, it will spoil quickly because the food is not made with preservatives like in the U.S. Bread is baked fresh daily, so you should buy pan, a baguette, every 1-2 days, but have backup pan bimbo, a loaf of bread. I will have this down to a science in a month, so wait for my update haha.

Cooking

For the past few years, I thought that I was just horrible at cooking and shopping for groceries. However, I’ve learned here in Spain that the only thing that I was missing was an opportunity with a sprinkle of motivation. I’ve lived on main campus the past three years, and for two of them in Kollen Hall. Have you seen the size of the kitchen? Can you imagine all 250 residents trying to cook even one meal a day in that kitchen? Yeah, impossible. I was always thankful for my meal plan, but it felt like a crutch at the same time. I wasn’t able to make decisions on my own about what I should be eating and I didn’t have the opportunity to gain confidence in the kitchen and cook for myself. I realized that I know a lot more than I thought about food and cooking. All those years in the kitchen with my mom and watching her cook have paid off. I do know how to make things, and it isn’t to hard for me to learn something new or make something up with Spanish ingredients. I have to adapt to the kind of produce that is available for the season and that can be grown here. In the U.S.,  you can find anything because of our high use of preservatives and imported produce. Spain is a main producer for a lot of produce in Europe, however, it still has seasonal and regional restrictions. Also, I took a Spanish cooking class to learn how to make some of my favorite Spanish meals, such as paella (a seafood rice dish) and tortilla de patata (potato omelette)!

Laundry

We don’t have a dryer. How do we dry clothes, you may wonder? I noticed this over the summer, too. Spanish people will normally only have a lavadora, washer, and dry things on their clothes line on the balcony. Yes, even in the winter. To be honest they don’t have a real winter. But, don’t tell them I said that. They think it’s cold haha. But that’s all I have to report on laundry.

Transportation

I take the metro everywhere with a monthly pass called an abono. I love it! It’s one of the things I missed when I got back home to the U.S. after the summer here in Europe. At 16, I was so excited to drive. Fast forward five years, I am always asking other people to drive for me. I love catching a ride on the metro and cercanias, a faster train for long distance outside of the city. I even took a ride on the bus the other day for a class field trip. I’ve always been horrible at public transportation in the states because I never had to learn it. Honestly, if you don’t live in a big city, you don’t learn and you don’t have a good system in your town. However, my summer in Europe gave me so much confidence and now I can handle anything. Even when I don’t know the language. Speaking of which, I’ve planned a trip to Portugal for spring break. Can’t wait!

Classes

Everything is in Spanish. Okay, this is why I chose the program. I wanted the challenge and to improve my Spanish in this way. In the future, I plan to do research in a Spanish speaking country so this is perfect! I was surprised by how quickly I adjusted. The moment I began taking notes in Spanish was the moment I felt so accomplished in my Spanish language abilities haha *flips braids over shoulder*. My reading comprehension takes me a bit longer than in English. I’ve learned that a lot of my bad habits in English and American style learning have crossed over and I’ve had to reevaluate the way I study.  For example, not taking notes because “I can just remember,” does not work for me here. I am more inclined to take notes for memorization of important themes. This helps a lot with learning in another language. It’s hard for me to recall information in Spanish because my brain hasn’t gotten used to having to do it. In the moment of instruction, I understand everything and I make great connections in Spanish; however, later my brain has turned the comprehension into English. This is to say I can’t remember it perfectly or exactly in Spanish, although I learned it that way. I expect this to improve over time. All of my classes are in Spanish, but only one is a direct enroll with Spanish students. The professor speaks at a normal speed, which I understand, but if I take a moment to multitask, such as taking notes while listening to the lecture, I only catch a few words of what he’s saying. I’m going to start recording the lectures. Passively listening in Spanish is not my strong suit yet. My other classes are with other international students who are not native Spanish speakers. The professors speak at the same speed, but will stop to make sure we comprehend. It is a lot easier to speak in these classes. Not because I’m self-conscious in my direct enrollment class, but because I don’t speak as fast as a native speaker yet. My Spanish classmates speak so fast and sometimes really low or they have a different accent I don’t understand really well. These are challenges. However, I expect it to get easier over time.

Phew! I have so much more to talk about. I’ll have to update you next week. Stay tuned!

Episode 3 of Annie Explores Chicago

Hello, friends!

Following along the journey of a nursing student continues. On today’s episode of Annie survives Chicago, we will see a short, Asian young lady attempting to blot away her worries with beautiful conservatories, visits by her best friend, lunar new year celebrations, and bubble tea. Don’t be fooled by her long work days; she continues to live her life to the fullest.

All joking aside, the last few weeks have been an excellent balance between work, home duties, cooking (because food is paramount), and exploring new parts of the city. Although I feel like I will say that in every post, there truly is something new in the city every time I step foot out of my apartment. The streets are filled with evidence of rich culture and history of the city’s people. I cannot believe that Saturday marks six weeks since I’ve moved to Chicago. I’ve settled into my routine (and, of course, mixing it up every now and then) and continue to figure out the teeter-totter of balancing adult-like responsibilities while still adventuring in the city.

When my friend visited from home, we had planned our entire weekend to the “t”. And, how fortunate was it that she came the weekend of National Pizza Day. That Saturday, we went to a Puerto Rican restaurant called Nellie’s Restaurant and ate their breakfast special: omelet with chorizo and veggies topped with plantains, french white toast, and coconut oatmeal. All were delicious! I was initially apprehensive about the coconut oatmeal, but it ended up tasting like cinnamon rice pudding.

After we thoroughly stuffed our hungry (which quickly turned to not-so-hungry) stomachs, we scurried over to Garfield Park Conservatory. I can’t say much more about it other than it was breathtaking. I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves. Plants are pretty.


The next day was filled with Chinese New Year celebrations! After church, we decided to grab lunch in Chinatown at a Cantonese restaurant. It’s pretty typical to order several entrees and the entire party share. The custom is fairly common in Asian countries. Among the entrees we ordered, there was egg drop soup, vegetarian egg rolls, Mongolian beef, curry chicken, orange chicken, and chicken fried rice.

 

One of my (and everyone else in China’s) favorite part about the lunar new year is the red envelopes. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, red envelopes are what kids receive for Chinese New Year and have money inside (I’m sure you can now see why it’s everyone’s most anticipated part of the holiday). There was a parade, which we ended up missing because we thought it would last at least an hour. By the time we finished eating, the parade had just finished…so sad. We at least got to see the countdown. After the countdown was finished, we went to buy rolled ice-cream and bubble tea. Weekends always fly by quickly, but I’m thankful for the fun I pack into them.

On the internship side of my week, I’ve been slowly growing comfortable in the operating room (OR) both circulating and scrubbing in on cases. There are so many nuances and multitasking skills needed in the OR that can only be gained from experience in the OR. I’m so incredibly thankful for the nurses and surgical technicians who have been patient enough to take the time to teach me how to open surgical instruments, teach me the names of instruments, and the specifics of how to scrub and circulate. I’ve learned so much about surgical services and I continue to analyze my weaknesses and grow from my mistakes. I appreciate how the nurses are able to point out my mistakes and forgive them even more easily. I’ve always been a believer that learning from your mistakes is the best way to grow.

One of the fanciest events that I’ve attended thus far is the opera, Elektra! It was so fun this past Friday to dress up in fancy attire and listen to really talented people paint a beautiful ancient story with their voices. It captured the rawness of humanity and vulnerability in its true form.

Overall, I’m still finding myself in each part of the city and simply enjoying the ride. Bonus material: here are some cool murals I’ve found around the city. Ta-ta for now!