Was it all a dream…
I woke up this morning to the familiar sounds of my dad watching the news along with the scent of left over coffee my mom tends to leave behind as she rushes off to work. Was it just last week I was standing awestruck in front of the Grand Canyon, watching a purple sunset over the Arizona mountain tops, or perhaps it was just yesterday I was performing in Mexico for hundreds with screaming cheers for “Viva la Gente” in the crowd. Or perhaps, it was all a dream, because there is no way six months could fly by that fast.
We’re going to Camp!
You know that phrase “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, we’ve all heard it but this week the world handed our cast a huge batch of lemons. We were told we weren’t going to be able to go to Mexico due to the swine flu. Upsetting, I know. This news was shortly followed by a new travel plan. We were trading in our salsa music for some good old camp fire songs. That’s right. Up With People went to camp. Not just any camp, but a completely hidden away rustic camp up in the valleys of the mountains in Southern California, a place with no cell phone reception, internet, or TV. We had no idea what to expect and I definitely never would have expected my best week in Up with People to have turned out to be a week spent in summer camp.
Perspective. That’s it.
After tripping around the country in a 2009-era equivalent to a hippie bus (the 15 passenger van christened ‘Ste-VAN’), that’s one thing an AmeriCorps member can’t deny acquiring. I’ve written to some length about the various adventures, the various sights, and the various people I’ve met over the course of the past few months.
Good Morning to New Challenges!
I once met a girl from Sweden who asked me to explain life in America for a girl my age. It sounds like a simple enough question but until someone really asks you this question you never truly contemplate it. I jumped right into explaining what high school is like and the build up and the excitement of applying and going to a new university, then the reality of preparing for the job world. As I began describing the transition from University to career she stopped me, gave me a puzzled look and asked passionately why I would never take time off to travel, to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. As clever as I am with my usual comebacks this one left me speechless. I had no good answer and became overwhelmed with the realization that I had never even thought about that option. Then, I met Up with People.
I could go into the long drawn out history of how I joined and why and the whole process but in the end fate took its course, along with some serious fundraising, and here I am today. I am 3 months now a student of Up with People sitting in my apartment in Taichung, Taiwan attempting to be your version of my Swedish friend so long ago. I wish I could sum up everything I’ve learned about myself, other cultures, and life in this short paragraph but that would just be unrealistic but some brief examples couldn’t hurt. I’ve learned how to deliver a calf (baby cow), shoot a machine gun, salsa dance, cook Ethiopian food, and how to get around in a country where no one speaks my language. I’ve learned how to improve my leadership skills, become a better communicator, and how to adapt myself to every new situation whether it be finding my way home in a country where all the street signs are Chinese or helping take mentally disabled children on a field trip to a science museum. This program has been so amazing because every day I wake up with a new schedule, in a new city, with new challenges waiting just outside me door.
We started out in Denver, Colorado where I lived with a Chinese roommate, an older couple with no kids, and 5 cats some of which ate dinner every night at the table with us, plates and all in front of them. After that I lived on a farm in Greeley, CO. Then we continued on over to tour Florida where I was hosted by a special agent for the government. We had a day dedicated Up with People day there by the mayor too! I will never forget my host family in Dade City who flew us in their private jet to Key West for the day and rented us two-man bicycles for the day. Which by the way are not as easy to ride as you think. In Louisiana we had the opportunity to help with hurricane relief and see the damage left by hurricane Katrina. Then in Texas I will never forget the amazing times I had driving through the forest on a moped with Gregor from Germany and Johanes from Ethiopia beside me. It was a huge change when we got to Taiwan and met my host family who barely spoke a full sentence in English but that week in Taipai was unforgettable. Hiking up those mountains to find the hot springs and going to the top of the highest building in the world, Taipei 101 is something that is ingrained in my mind forever. As I finally get the chance to write all these experience out its almost surreal to read them myself. I never imagined my life leading me here but it has and I wouldn’t trade my gap year with Up with Poeple for anything else in the world.
Stay tuned for all the new challenges waiting for me as I say “Zi-chen” to Taiwan and “Hola” to Mexico!
I’m writing from Porter, TX, where Shuffle Round’s Water 3 has spent the past few weeks doing analyses of the remaining damages done by Hurricanes Ike and Gustav to Liberty and Montgomery Counties. Whenever possible, we follow up these analyses by repairing those damages. This has included debris removal, the uncovering and subsequent recycling of a former boat that now resembled a pancake more than anything capable of traversing water, and installing FEMA blue-roofs.
To my readers, I must apologize for my long hiatus from blogging. Although I cannot justify this negligence of my responsibilities, I can offer this as my defense – absolute immersion in the NCCC.
My stay in Louisiana offered time and time again the unique experiences that I have mentioned previously, the experiences that I sought out by joining this program. Take, for example, Valentine’s Day. Around the country, in fancy restaurants, movie theaters, on long walks, or before cozy fireplaces, lovers whispered and smiled at one another. Superstores stock up on kissing-bears and heart-shaped chocolates. The floral industry BOOMS. Around the country this is an annual phenomenon…
There are a handful of things in life that will reach across any schism, over any divide to unite people. Some are moments of extreme sorrow – tragedies like those the AmeriCorps works to reduce – some are moments of extreme delight; in this case, football. As I’ve stated before, I lived my whole life prior to AmeriCorps (excluding a few vacations) within the borders of Connecticut. One of the most compelling motives for my joining the program was the opportunity to travel and experience the cultures of all the places in the U.S. that I had never visited.
Yes, working in Austin was rewarding… but it’s nothing compared to a week spent in Louisiana. My team, Water 5, is spending this next round working in Thibodaux, building houses with Habitat for Humanity. We live in a quaint little volunteer house – five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a refrigerator, oven, washer, dryer, and a new appreciation for one another’s personal space (or lack thereof) – that’s right on our worksite.
I began training with AmeriCorps NCCC in October and completed my first project during November and December. I’ve spent these past two weeks on a very enjoyable break from the program. I’ve seen some old friends, seen the family, revisited my high school haunts, had a general good time.
Holy cow! I can't believe I've been home in Nebraska for over a week now. It's hardly been enough time to even process the amazing experience that I had in the Philippines. We arrived in Manila after a very very long travel day out of my hometown, North Platte, Nebraska. It was really hard to leave my family again, but I knew that I was going to love Manila. Anyway, I ended up being hosted at Ateneo de Manila University… in the dorms. That was an experience! The girls whose room I shared had completely different hours than me so they were asleep when I woke up to leave and asleep when I came home after our busy days.