2013: A year of Adventures

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The first of the year always brings with it reflections of the previous year.  I started to get down on myself for not accomplishing everything on my lofty “to do” list for the year.  I may not have lost the weight I wanted, wrote a book, or learned a new language…but as I reflect on the things I did accomplish I realized it might not have been as unproductive as I originally thought.  It turns out I had quite the year!

Things I Accomplished in 2013

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1)  I finished my Master’s Degree and Graduated from Purdue University, ( I ran a race the day after I finished my degree.)

 

2)  I ran a two 5k races, two 10k races and my second 1/2 marathon!   13.1 Miles!

 

IMG_29923)  I returned to Spain….and it was even more beautiful and meaningful than the first visit. I visited my favorite parts of Madrid and we were reunited like the old dear friends that we are.  I also had the chance to make “New Friends” of the enigmatic Granada, the majestic Alhambra, and the leisurely Mallorca.  Most importantly, God spoke directly to me during this return pilgrimage to Spain, and I learned how to Abide in His love and through that, my joy was made complete.  This return to Spain last April was one of the most spiritually rewarding experiences of my life.  I will always treasure this trip, as I will always treasure Spain.

 

4)  2013 will be the year that I lived with my brother.  We shared an apartment this year and on top of being the best brother anyone could ask for, he has also been a great roommate! I respect and admire him so much for the incredible man he is. it has been great fun living together!   I will be forever grateful for the this time we spent together here at Ashley Place.  Derrek is more than my brother, he is one of my best friends.

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5)  I attended my first professional soccer game… a Quarter final championship league game at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid.  I  wanted to go but I couldn’t afford even the cheap tickets.  However, God provided above and beyond my expectations!  He took the opportunity to show off and I was GIVEN 14th row VIP tickets!  It was an incredible once-in a lifetime experience!

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6) I was awarded the Lilly Grant witch funded my summer research trip to Asia. I planed and organized this massive 2 month expedition.  I found the schools, teachers, and translators necessary to complete my research, as well as plan all the travels, get my visas, and arrange all my 19 different flights.  It was a massive undertaking that included 15 different cities.  In two months I didn’t spend more than three nights in a row in the same bed. A large part of my year was dedicated to planning and implementing this project, but I learned so much about the Asian academic systems and the unique Asian Culture.   This trip also allowed me to add seven new countries to my map which include; Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, China, South Korea, and Japan.  It even extended my total country count to 25!  (I only have 5 more to go in my whole “Thirty before I’m Thirty” plan!)

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7)  It has been an amazing year of adventurous firsts! I walked the great wall of China and I explored the ancient temple complexes in the Cambodian Jungle.  I got a real Thai massage in Thailand. I navigated seas off the coast of Phuket in my Cave Canoeing adventure.  I rode (and fell in love with) an elephant named “Sabo”. I saw the most beautiful orchids in the world at the Singapore Botanical gardens and I journaled in front of my hotel room window that displayed the mighty Petronas towers of Kuala Lumpur.  I saw an epic light show dance across the Hong Kong Skyline,  I stood in attention with the ancient Terra-cotta warriors of Xi’An,  I explored the streets of old Beijing, ran to the birds nest and visited a real silk factory.  I attended both a dumpling feast and a tea ceremony.  I sailed down the river Li and witnessed its glorious 20,000 peaks!  I met the kindest people I will ever know in a South Korean coffee shop.  I ate a black egg that had been boiled underground in the sulfuric waters under Mt Fuji.  I attended a festival in Kyoto, saw the Golden Pavilion, stayed in a traditional Japanese Ryokan (inn) by the sea where I slept on mats on the floor and bathed in (public) natural hot springs.  I also visited a real Ninja House!

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8)  I also dated someone for the first time…it turns out I am not really good at that sort of thing. I really prefer my independence it seems.  However, it was a great learning experience and I am glad that I went on my first real date in 2013…..finally!

9)  I had a student teacher teach in my classroom. (I know! When did I become old enough to be the one imparting wisdom to future teachers?!)   I did not enjoy this experience as much as I had expected as it was more difficult for me to give up control of my classroom than I had anticipated.  Maybe there is a theme here and in 2014 I should work on being less independent and more collaborative.

10)  This year I also took a chance and applied for a Fulbright Fellowship in Finland.  This is perhaps the biggest adventure I have dared to pursue.  It would mean me leaving my teaching position in Westfield for a few months to head to the Nordic Country of Finland for a 4-5 month research project.  I will not know until April if I will be accepted into the prestigious Fulbright community, but I put myself out there and dared to dream.  Who knows what the next year will bring, but I think I can content that 2013 was an amazing year.       Image

HERE is to another great Year!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Why Asia?

IMG_7549Ancient shrines, elegant arch bridges, divine cherry blossoms, artistic pagodas, spiritual temples, and breathtaking landscapes are all images one congers of the Asian continent.  Beyond these captivating and soul stirring landmarks, there exists a delicate culture based in beauty, honor, tradition, and a quiet strength that gives this unique society its understated power.   This culture, who highly values discipline and educational development, has lead the world in scientific and mathematical discovery for thousands of years.  Asia is still the champion of academics today.  According to international educational studies, Asian students out perform all other nations in their understanding of mathematical concepts.    As a math teacher, I proposed a grant to visit several math classrooms across Asia, meet with teachers and learn about the rich Asian culture in order to gain insight on how we can achieve similar academic success in the United States.  I proposed and was awarded a large sum to fund a six-week journey across seven Asian countries which helped me gain insight and develop an appreciation for the Asian culture and heritage with which I can share and inspire my students.

1002861_792807057756_1214827841_nI teach 7th grade and I know how first hand accounts and personal experiences have helped my students gain perspective and broaden their understanding of the world in which they live.  This age group does not connect to mere facts listed in a book, but are easily engaged with authentic accounts and personal reflections.   Asian history is a major standard of the 7th grade curriculum.   Throughout the year they will learn about all of the countries I visited this summer.  I have already had the opportunity to share my prospective and experiences with them on the subject.  I cherish opportunities that help me use my knowledge of various civilizations to teach my students and make them more informed and aware citizens of the world.

1010822_786267198686_1042957626_nAlthough I have traveled extensively in the past, this trip was my first experience in an eastern culture and it challenged me personally as an explorer.  It literally broadened my horizon and helped me realize that, with God’s amazing grace, love and provision, I can accomplish even more than I could ever imagine.   I relish the growth and experience this summer provided.  I tell my students that if your goals don’t scare you a little, then you are not thinking big enough.   This summer I took this motto to heart!  This summer was the definition of intimidating.  In the course of 7 weeks I visited 7 Asian countries, 15 cities, slept in 18 different hotels/ hostels, took over 19 different flights, and experienced 22 custom check in/ outs.   I accomplished all of this with ease without knowing the language or the traditions and customs of this incredibly unfamiliar  land.  Most importantly I loved every  minute of it.  This summer, I overlooked the incredible skylines of Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.  I explored sea caves in Thailand.   I rode an elephant in Cambodia and explored ancient temples at the Angkor Wat complex.  I hiked up The Great Wall of China, and visited the ancient and mysterious Terracotta Warriors of Xi’An. I visited Guiline, and its awe-inspiring 20,000 peaks along the River Li.  I experienced true hospitality in Korea, and saw the tranquil golden pavilion of Japan.  Instead of staying in my comfort zone, I dared to dream big,  I aimed high, I sought out opportunities, and God provided in each and every way!

1045135_787561360176_517422190_nThis summer was both intellectually stimulating, professionally motivating, and emotionally renewing.  It not only provided  me with new teaching tools, concepts and applications for my classroom, but it also developed my understanding of the world.   This project gave me inspiration, direction and a renewed enthusiasm for the mathematics content that I love so dearly.  It also challenged me as a world explorer and transformed me into a more informed, well-rounded person and teacher.  Overall my goal is to inspire my students to be productive, informed citizens that feel connected to the world around them.  This project helped me accomplish that goal.  In the next few weeks I hope to share some of those lessons and experiences with you.  So stay tuned!

Phuket Thailand

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Welcome to SouthEast Asia! Even though I spent the first leg of my Asian adventure in Singapore I don’t think I experienced true Asian culture until I landed in the Phuket airport. Imigration was fast and easy, but once we stepped outside, I realized that I was truley in Asia. In Singapore order ruled and English was the primary language of everyone. In Thailand things were different. It was quite refreshing to be in a country where English skills were limited. It strenthened my methods of comunication and also helped me develop patience and understanding. Even though there were comunication barriers, it did not take long to see the hospitable spirit of the Thai people. We reached our resourt and were greeted with real flower Leis that smelled wonderful. The resort was gorgeous and as we checked in we were given cold towles and fresh juice. The complex was absoluetly lovely and the pool was amazing. It was monsoon season so the resort was not very full and we were able to get a room for very cheap.

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Because of the weather, the beach on this West Side of Thailand was very rough and unpredictable and the waves were rough. Therefore we decided to take our umbrella and go explore the city. We were very glad we did not stay in the party center of Patong Beach. Instead we stayed in the quiter and less touristy Karon Beach. As we walked around we wondered upon a night market. We later found out that this happens only once a week. We were so blessed to have chosen this night to explore. This place was very interesting. It gave us a new insight into the culture of Phuket island. We saw booths where you could get a fish pedicure. That is where little tiny fish eat away all of the dead skin on your feet. We also ran across a Bug Buffett. We declined both of these experiences and moved on to find a massage place where we both got 90 minute massages for about 12 US dollars. They were wonderful, however the Thai standard of modesty when it comes to massages is quite different than I’m use to. It was quite the experience.

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After our massages we went to a local restaurant to get some authentic Thai Food. I got Pad Thai and my friend Teresa got Masaman Curie. This started a tradition and we would compare these dishes throughout the rest of SE Asia. The waiters asked us where we were from and we said USA. They were very surprised. They said that they had never had an American eat there before. At first we found this hard to believe seeing how Phuket was such a tourist destination. Yet, the more we thought about it the more we realized that Teresa and I had not ran into another American in Southeast Asia. Not even in Singapore. However, determined to show off their true Thai hospitality the crew did a great job of cooking us up some traditional food and it was great. Just before we were about to leave, it started to rain again. The cook from the restaurant came out and tried to give us her personal umbrella. I was truly touched. We refused, but that she would give one of her few possessions to an entitled stranger tourist is beyond normal understanding of generosity. And my heart was touched.

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The next day we rose early to start an adventure. We woke up early to go cave canoeing. According to others, it had been raining fairly heavily the past week. I didn’t mind. It had been nice to sit in the open air hotel lobby and read while listening to the rain and feeling the cool breeze, but I prayed that it would be nice for our canoeing trip. When we woke up that morning, the weather didn’t look good. A van picked us up to take us to the other side of the island to start our adventure. The rain poured and I started to get more and more worried that we had wasted our money. Yet I prayed that God would change my heart and my thinking. I thought instead how lucky is it that it is raining right now while we are in a van traveling to the canoes, and perhaps it is God’s will for the rain to happen now instead of later. I knew right then that God was going to take care of us and if we had faith in Him he would work it out rain or shine. I knew it was going to be a great day and I started to praise him in my heart! It was an interesting ride to the location. We passed under a fallen telephone poll, oh- don’t worry the tangled mass of unorganized electrical wire that is quite common in the towns of Thailand held the poll up high enough for our van to drive under. Then we drove past a mud slide. It was a great way to start our little adventure.

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Instead of worrying, I thanked God for His protection and timing. Perhaps if we had come a few minutes later we wouldn’t have been able to get through. Through prayer my heart had changed from one of worry to one of praise and God honored that. When we got to our Canoes it was the best weather the island had seen all week. I had faith that it would work out and God provided, just like He always does. The canoeing adventure was incredible. It was absolutely perfect. It rained a couple of times at the end, but by that time we were hot and the rain was welcome. It even added another element of adventure to the experience. It was quite fun and the whole day was perfect. And the next morning it was even sunny enough to lay out by the pool. God really provided! It is amazing how powerful a heart of praise can be!

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