some letters and a really big wall

So I’m still trying to find the right words to describe all of the things that have happened in the past few days. I climbed the Great Wall of China (in the essence of Mulan, of course), I was swarmed by a large group of tiny Chinese girls wanting pictures and hugs, which I didn’t even know was a dream of mine until it happened, I fell down some stairs (it stunk), I had a picnic at the Emperor’s Summer Palace with my wonderful friends, and I finished up camp #2 of 4!

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There have been so many wonderful times and crazy experiences that writing these blog posts is becoming more and more challenging. I’m actually having to process these experiences well enough to tell you all about them, which is probably a good thing. Oh! I forgot a very important thing on that list of things I’ve done, I also ACCEPTED MY INVITATION TO PEACE CORPS COSTA RICA. Holey Moley. I’m just praying I’ll be able to play with a plethora of adorable Costa Rican babies in addition to all the other cool stuff I’ll get to experience.

Okay, so I’ll try to start where I left off last time. One of the assignments on the last day of class was for my students to pick one of their teachers or TAs (teaching assistants) to write a letter to. By this day in camp, their English and writing have improved significantly so I love reading their letters and seeing how much they’ve grown. But! It’s even more exciting when I get a handful of letters that are full of kind words and excitement directed towards me.  These kids are incredible and reading their words about how proud of themselves they are makes my heart so happy. Honestly, this was the day that I decided to commit to Peace Corps because seeing the difference I was making on this small camp made me realize the potential I would have with an organization like Peace Corps, and that makes me SO excited.

Some of the phrases the students included in their letters helped me to realize the important things in education and overall encouragement/confidence building, which is a huge part of writing and honestly growing up. For example, one student wrote, “You always encourage us and it makes me believe in myself.” And another one said “you listened carefully to everyone, whether or not he/she was good at English.” And my personal favorite, “You like to smile, and when I saw you smile, I felt warm. You must have a hot heart!” The author of this uplifting letter went on to explain “you look beautiful, but your heart is much more beautiful than your body.” Now if we’re being honest, that letter still makes me tear up a little just because that sweet, sweet girl was able to help me feel better about myself for the right reasons, having what she thinks of as a ‘hot’ heart 😉

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Anyways, camp has been incredible. Although there have been challenges, just like I know there will be challenges in my decision to commit to Peace Corps, I’m also realizing it’s much more important to focus on my abilities to change the world than the tough days that will be scattered about. As I was explaining to one of the TAs who was really struggling with self-confidence, every person is created intentionally and purposefully. There were no mistakes in how you were put together. But! You have to also believe in yourself to really accomplish the things you were created to do. I’m slowly starting to work on that in myself as well   Praise Jesus. It’s taken a good while for me to begin to learn that lesson.

Now on to more fun things! I CLIMBED THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA YESTERDAY!!!

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I don’t know how else to say that. It was incredible. And completely illogical. In all seriousness, I don’t know what their thought process was when they put that thing together because it is random insanely steep staircases mixed with the occasional ramp and all together a giant zig-zag, but it was awesome. I had a blast with the fellow teachers.  We were all laughing as we tried to navigate the stairs that we were literally climbing at some parts and we continued to laugh as we essentially skied down some of the ramps. What made matters more interesting was the constant stream of people wanting to take pictures of some of us. It was a hoot.  But I did get to talk to a bunch of very sweet strangers and give high-fives to adorable littles, so there were no complaints from me.

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And I made my best purchase to date, which was a 10 quai ($1.50) strawberry slushie that totally hit the spot after we finished our tiny portion of the 10,000 mile wall. It was so much fun!
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After that, we took a quick rest and then headed back out to the Summer Palace! This place was created by one of the Emperor’s I think around 2,000 years ago as a summer getaway. It was beautiful. There is a giant man-made lake with lots of Temples and mountains and flowers. I loved it. We explored and took pictures and then finished our evening with a picnic by the lake. It was by far my favorite day in China. It helped me to remember why I love traveling so much, even though I miss my family and friends. Another cool part of the Summer Palace is the concrete boat that the Emperor had built. The boat was built in response to the saying about how too much of anything can be harmful; water can keep your boat afloat and take you many places, but it can also flip your boat and cause disaster if it becomes out of control. The story kinda stuck with me and made me think about how that sentiment could apply to other areas of my life. This has certainly been a trip of growth for me.

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So again, I love and miss everyone back home very much but I’m also having a really good time here in China. Please continue to keep in touch and know that I’m thinking about you often. Xoxo!

Blue skies,

Lauren

Ps-Some of my students got together and gave me a Chinese name! It’s hú dié, which is Chinese for butterfly. I smiled so big.

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Peace Corps Costa Rica

So as of about 5 hours ago, I have been officially invited to serve with the Peace Corps! YAYAYAYAY!

20140724-075047-28247010.jpg I’m very excited about this opportunity but even more than that, I’m surprised at how I reacted. I thinks it’s safe to say that a year ago I would have started crying (way too far out of my emotional range) called my parents and loved ones immediately, and had a fit about what to do, even though I’m excited. But in the middle of the night when I got the news, the first thing I did was pray. I thanked God for his grace, for continuously providing me with amazing opportunities, and for his provision, and then prayed for God to make me less of me and more of Him. After I finished with all of my thoughts and prayers I realized how incredible it was that that was my reaction! During this season of discomfort and change God has been making a little progress in me, and that is something to be excited about because I’m about as stubborn as a mule 🙂 I’m feeling a bit trepidatious and very much excited but I feel assured that He will help me to make a great decision. Oh, and I have rockin family and friends, so that’s a huge help too. If you have any advice or thoughts, I would love to hear from you! I need to decide if I’m making this 27 month commitment within 7 days! Oh boy.

I love and miss you all! Keep eating cheese for me! Maybe roll in a little glitter to celebrate, too.

Blue Skies,

Lauren

Ps- my Chinese phone # is +86 130-1105-7774 so if you have iMessage you can contact me that way too!

Different…but still the same.

When I first arrived in Beijing, I anticipated a lot of changes and differences. I expected the smog to be rough, I expected to only understand about 10% of what’s happening at any given time, I expected lots of white rice and strange looks… yet here I am eating Nutella with a chopstick realizing that there are more similarities than I really ever imagined.

I have finished my first 9-day camp and a ‘weekend’ of exploring parts of Beijing like Tiananmen Square and some street markets, and what has surprised me more than the scorpion skewers they were selling in the commercial district, was how quickly I was to write off China and its people as something completely new and foreign. Through my interactions on the subways, in the classroom, and with coworkers, I have realized that the things and feelings that I experience aren’t necessarily unique to me and my American customs. I still see couples looking disgustingly (and adorably) happy and in love, just in insanely crowded subways instead of in a little coffee shop on Franklin Street. I still see disturbing levels of wealth distribution with luxury cars everywhere, and yet there are illegal cab drivers harassing travelers at train stations to try to support their families, one $3 cab ride at a time. And most importantly, there are still burritos. They are just incredibly hard to come by 😉

One of the greatest influences on my experience in China so far as been at the hands, or should I say writings, of my students. I have had the pleasure of teaching these bright minds creative writing and journaling, topics that many of them told me they have never been exposed to before. The awesome part that came out of hours of editing their stories and journals (at their insistence, not mine) was the realization that we all share human experiences. One of my beautiful and naturally thin girls wrote about how her goal for the next year was to lose more weight, a scary trend that plagues many people I know in America. Other students wrote about wanting to please their parents or find high paying competitive jobs that they know will rob themselves of their sanity. Another one of my favorite journal discoveries came from List Day. The whole class period was devoted to writing lists about all sorts of topics ranging from their fears to their favorite foods, one of the hazards of having a Type A teacher. My favorite list to read was ‘what qualities will be most important in your future partner?’ Now, about 1/3 of my students painted a strictly physical description, “taller than me, pale, thin, beautiful”, etc. However, the other 2/3 (mainly referring to boys) wrote some really incredible stuff! Many of the guys wrote ‘confidence’ at the top of their lists, followed by ‘honest’, ‘loving’, ‘smart’, ‘loves kids’, and etc. These kids inspired me to really think about the qualities that are important for a person to have and confidence is something that I struggle with. It was encouraging to see them have such a mature sense about them. I really respect them, especially the little guy who told me that he would have to ask his mom to know the answers for his list 😉

So overall, camp went well! There were some really long days and trying incidents (teenage girl drama is also a universal experience apparently), but I got through it, and with more patience than I started with! I have great friends and an Elevation Church app the works wonders when you think you may combust. Thank God for empty classrooms and wifi!

I love my students and all the lessons they are opening my eyes to. We have had a blast these past few weeks and they have been more of a source of encouragement than pains in my butt…for the most part 😉 But more on that in my next blog post about letters!

In the meantime, here are some pictures from camp and exploring!

20140718-205325-75205221.jpg Being a wonderful teacher/example. I promise I did help her!

20140718-205430-75270626.jpg Birthdays are universal too! Although smearing icing on each other’s faces may just be a China thing.

20140718-205542-75342422.jpg A story one student wrote.

20140718-205655-75415776.jpg Dumpling Day!

20140718-205725-75445851.jpg Things I find on my student’s WeChat posts…

20140718-205804-75484625.jpg Commercial District with green tea icecream from the fanciest McDonalds I’ve ever seen.

20140718-205935-75575087.jpg pizza and a burrito!

20140718-210005-75605104.jpg Jack. He calls me muscles.

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20140718-210043-75643337.jpg Tiananmen Square

20140718-210122-75682191.jpg the teachers and TAs did Single Ladies for the talent show 🙂 the kids loved it!

20140718-210207-75727995.jpg Flour fight after the dumplings

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20140718-210257-75777430.jpg my pretty fan I bartered for 🙂

I love and miss everyone very much! Let me know if you want postcards, cause I’ve got some 🙂

Until next time!

Blue skies,
Lauren

Ps- if you’re feeling grumpy just look at this pic. It makes all of us teachers giggle!

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Pps- I know these posts publish to Facebook but I am still unable to access my account in China, so if you’re trying to get in touch please email me! It’s laurenschmidt24@gmail.com 🙂

My Corrected Address!

Oops! I have listed an address without a postal code on all of my other posts. What a mistake! 

If you want to send me anything, you can use the following address:

 

Beijing Royal School (Attention Lauren Schmidt)

11 Wangfu Street, Beiqijia Township,

Changping District, Beijing 102209

 

And here is a picture with the Chinese symbols, just in case anyone was curious 🙂

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Blue Skies & the First Day of Class!

Y’all. I saw the sky today. And it was blue and clear!
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This is the first time I have seen the sky since I have arrived in China and it made me so happy. In China, or at least Beijing, the pollution is very bad so this really was a big deal as all of the teachers left this morning. Thumbelina’s ‘Once There Was the Sun’ has a whole new meaning now.

Also, today was the first day of camp and I only put my foot in my mouth once! Pretty impressive if you ask me.

My roommate and fellow teacher, Neha, and I decided to skip out on breakfast to go to the gym this morning (WHAT A MISTAKE) and the cafeteria actually served a variety of food and iced coffee, which was insane. But things went uphill from there! We had our opening ceremony and did I mention the school is beautiful?
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We all introduced ourselves and then went on to our individual classes! Everything went very well except for when I forgot about the one child rule and used the question “who has more than 1 sibling?” as part of our icebreaker. Oops.

The most entertaining part of the day was the special course! All of the teachers have to prepare a special course and the students each sign up for one. Sam and I decided to teach social dance, which I was fairly convinced would be a bust after watching how strongly my boys and girls avoided being near each other earlier in the day. But! I had 3 boys sign up! Actually, I only had three boys sign up. However, despite the small class and lack of girls, other than myself, the boys wanted to learn to dance! So we danced and as the class went on, our numbers grew until we had a class of around 10 with a fairly even ratio! I was very happy 🙂

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The boys had me laughing the whole time.

Now, the best part of being in China has certainly been the people that I work with. I am so lucky to have been placed with such a funny and goofy group. Check out mine and Harris’s matching accessories. Clearly he is good people.

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He works his fanny pack shamelessly, which is something I admire in a man 😉 My friends have even managed to make eating white rice everyday a fun activity. I love them already.

So, everything here is going well. I have a wonderful support system here and back in the United States and God is taking care of my every need. I still feel a strong sense of peace that I’m where I am supposed to be, even though it’s a little outside of my comfort zone. Although, I may need a few prayers or good juju that I won’t catch The Malaria. I seemed to have missed the part of the internet that said malaria is a problem in China and the Mosquitos are in full force. Thanks for the anti-itch cream you made me take, Mom!

I love and miss everyone back home very, very much. I hope you all are doing well! Please eat lots of cheese and marinara and pasta and fresh veggies for me 🙂

Until next time!

Blue Skies,
施密特
Aka, Schmidt 🙂

Ps- check out this sign I saw hanging in the hallway! These students are in school for 12 hours a day AND they aren’t allowed to complain about homework. Thank goodness I’m a teacher here and not a student 😉

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I made it!

After a quick leap across the pond and a little rendezvous with the international date line, I’ve made it to Beijing!! But before I go any further can we just take a minute to appreciate how pretty it was as I was flying over South Korea.

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Now that is a serious sunrise. It went along really nicely with the feeling of peace I had on the plane, especially because I was feeling so nervous as I was leaving and saying my goodbyes.

I was able to breeze through the Peking airport and customs without any problems (just lots of stares and questions from other passengers), praisethaLord haleluyur, and someone from the school was waiting for me at the exit with a bright pink sign with my name on it. That made me so happy because I was already being harassed by taxi drivers, which is intimidating when you have ZERO knowledge of the local language. Except for ‘thank you’, I’ve got that one down. Oh, and did I mention that the airport is loaded with pictures of baby panda bears? Because it is and I love it.

The school that is hosting me is very pretty and elaborate. Check out the front gate!

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That lion is something fierce, especially in person.

Everyone has been very friendly to me on campus as I’ve started to settle in. So far I’m the only teacher that has arrived! I’ve done some exploring of the school grounds and they are lovely. This statute of Confucius is in the center square and apparently it is a tradition to go and visit there before your exams.

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I think this area may be my favorite.

In more exciting news, I have a friend/keeper, meet Iris!

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She is the wonderful student who has been assigned to help me find my way. Bless her. She has been such a help already and has made me feel comfortable by laughing at me when I try to use chopsticks. Some things just don’t change, even when you cross a border.

As for now, I’m going to keep working on the whole breathing thing (the air here is no joke) and setting up my room and office! My room is on the 6th floor with no elevator so I’m not only going to have superhuman pollution resistant lungs, but also some super toned legs, which I am totally okay with.

Until next time!

Blue skies,

Lauren

Ps- my bathroom has a western toilet! Sorry to disappoint all of those who were looking forward to funny tales of bathroom fails, but my Achilles’ tendons are staying nice and tight for now 😉

Pps- the food is delicious, even though I don’t really know what I ate.

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Purposeful Living And A Touch of Bribery

Hi friends!

I am all moved into my new home in Hawaii!! And I am not complaining about all the beaches and mountains and all around beautiful weather.

For the past couple of days my Dad has been on business in Seattle, so it’s been kinda nice to unwind and process what I’m doing and where I am trying to go. One of the ways I’ve decided to work on that is by using Lara Casey’s PowerSheets.

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These suckers are the bomb, at least I think so. One of the things that I particularly like about this method is that it really focuses on purpose over perfect, something that I, and probably many others, tend to struggle with. I’ve spent a large chunk of my life trying to be the perfect friend, the perfect Christianthe perfect daughter, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect employee, and student, AND all while trying to have a perfect body and social life. And while I think I have good intentions with my wanting to be good to other people, a lot of what I’ve really managed to accomplish is the art of comparison and being disappointed in myself. Not a particularly happy/functional combination.

One of the things that the creator of these sheets said that really stuck with me is that perfection stifles conversation, while living a messy and honest life breeds connections. And let me tell ya, I love messy, which is something I’ve been saying long before I discovered these little morsels of encouragement. Messy means you are living and taking risks, and I think that is one of the most remarkable things a person can do, even though it’s scary.

My goal is to use these sheets to focus on goals that align with my messy life, but that allow me to live purposefully in accomplishing the things that mean the most to me. We’ll see how it goes! So far I’ve only gotten through the prep sheets (baby steps, people) but I hope to work on a lot of my goal setting while I’m on my flight to Beijing in a couple of days. Speaking of which, HOLY MOLEY.

So that leads me to the 2nd part of this post, which is that I have invested in two Costco size bags of candy to take to Beijing.

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Nothing says do your work and share your stories (I’m teaching creative writing) quite like bribing students with American candy. Amiright? And lets go ahead and acknowledge that that one bag is in fact open because having candy stare at you when you have a sweet tooth like mine is a temptation that I don’t even pretend to resist.

Well, that’s all I really have for now…Besides the care package I just received from my mother that is filled with all sorts of medical supplies because of the article she’s been reading about the havoc my digestive system is mostly likely to get hit with…whatever. In the meantime, I’m going to the beach and pretending like I don’t have to pack.

Until next time!

Blue Skies,

Lauren

ps-Starbursts melt. Just in case you didn’t know and were considering tossing them in a bag filled with other things you are taking to the beach.