5 D.C. Words to Know

Moving to a new city is always a bit daunting. Not only because you’re suddenly in the market for new friends and restaurants, but also because you’re suddenly a stranger to everything – even the language. I honestly didn’t expect that to be an issue when I moved to D.C. It’s our nation’s capital, after all! I thought, surely, it won’t be anything like moving to Jordan or China. But, wouldn’t you know it, I suddenly was surrounded by terms I didn’t understand and was much too embarrassed to ask.

So, for any of you that are considering a move to D.C, here’s the lingo I wish I had known:

  1. Metro not Subway

Every place seems to have their own term for their modes of transportation. I sincerely believe it’s so tourists look like what they are – tourists. In London it’s the Tube, in Chicago it’s the L, in NYC it’s the Subway. For those of you thinking to call it the subway while you’re in D.C., though, think again. I made that error and was mocked pretty heavily (maybe I need nicer friends?).img_7370

In D.C., it’s referred to as the Metro. And as far as metros go, it’s not too bad. It gets you from one place to another. Sometimes late, actually, sometimes very late. But it gets you there – usually. The key is to download the D.C. Metro Transit app early on, to bring a good book, and to find a secure place to store your Metro card for easy access.

Also, big tip: stand on the appropriate side of the escalator. Right side for standing, left side for walking.

  1. Outer Loop vs Inner Loop

Leif is just the dearest soul. Knowing that my day would be extended an extra hour if I have to metro to work, he has selflessly driven me to work every morning since we moved to D.C. This means that we experience D.C. rush hour traffic. Every. Single. Day.

For the most part, it’s been fine. We use Waze and get places when we get places. We’ve mostly been annoyed with the amount of car accidents we see throughout the drive, as it is dangerous for many, but also slows down the drive immensely. We took to listening to the radio to see if there were accidents that Waze did not have registered.

“Inner Loop near MD-295/Baltimore-Washington Pkwy, proceed with caution by accident, delay of 20 minutes.” Inner Loop? No problem! We’re outside the city, which means we must be on the outer loop!

Nope. Just, nope.

We thought having an outer loop and an inner loop of the Capital Beltway meant there were two separate highways. We were really wrong. And I leave this embarrassing piece of advice for you all here: Interstate 495, better known as the Capital Beltway, is a 64-mile highway that circles D.C. The outer loop is the Capital Beltway headed counter-clockwise around the city, and the inner loop is the Capital Beltway headed clockwise around the city.

You’re welcome.

  1. The DMV

Confusingly, this acronym does not stand for the dreaded hell-hole that is the department of motor vehicles, at least when referred to while residing in D.C. I first ran into it at church when the pastor kept referring to the DMV and the people who live in the DMV. I was really confused, imagining the strange government people who have to live in the DMV day in and day out. I mean I know D.C. is a city of hardworking, government officials, but that’s like a whole ‘nutha level.

Turns out it stands for District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia and generally includes whatever the metro touches. Much more pleasant than the other DMV.

  1. The National Mall

“Do you want to go to the National Mall?”img_7502

“Sure, what can I buy there?”

“Uhhh, I don’t know. Like, gift shop stuff?”

“Pretty crappy mall.”

In case you didn’t know, the National Mall is actually what they call the stretch of land roughly from the Lincoln Memorial up to the Capitol Building. It includes the Smithsonian museums, the Washington Monument, and the White House. So, now you can be smarter than me, and avoid this awkward conversation all together.

  1. Cised

This one is just an entirely new word to me all together. I have been told that “cise” means to be excited or stoked. As in, “Grace was so cised when she found out Leif bought her a Lunchable.”  It’s pronounced like precise, if you drop the “pre”.  Apparently there’s a couple words like this in D.C. slang (bama and lunchin’?), but I’ve yet to fully understand them, let alone actually incorporate them into my vocabulary.

Don’t worry, I’m working on it.

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Intentional Living

About one month ago Leif and I moved into our new home.  You may recall that, for the three months prior to that move, we were homeless. Kind and VERY patient relatives took us in, but yes, we were homeless. I knew it was a huge blessing to have the time to thoroughly research where we’d want to move and call home, but also wanted to not be a burden on family. My mission was to find a place within two weeks.

Mission Failed.

By the time the two weeks were up, we still weren’t sure where to go. I told myself (and Leif) we’d give it one more week – Bonus Week, as I called it – and then we’d just find whatever we could afford. It was during Bonus Week that God intervened.

On Sunday, we were at Fairfax Community Church for the very first time. The pastor, Pastor Rod, was speaking about some wonderful people helping their apartment communities during Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. He kept referring to some organization that helped apartment communities. It sounded cool, but also like something in Houston, Texas.

I promptly forgot about it.

Five days later, nearing the end of Bonus Week, we were having dinner with a childhood friend of Leif’s and his wife. Despite busy schedules for all of us, we managed to fit in a dinner that Friday. Halfway through the evening, Leif’s friend, Nick, asks where we’re living. We begrudgingly told them our shameful story of homelessness, though trying to put a positive spin on it. A beat later, Nick is telling us about – wouldn’t you know it – the same organization we had heard about on Sunday.

In cities across the U.S., the organization offers apartment communities a specially recruited couple that will invest their lives into the building in which they’ve been placed. They plan events, welcome new residents, and build friendships among neighbors. The couple serves as the bridge between property management and residents, hoping to improve the leasing experience for everyone involved. Honestly, it sounded too good to be true. Leif and I had been praying for an opportunity to go about intentional living in this new chapter of our lives, but since we were homeless, it wasn’t off to a great start. At all.

I started the application the next morning.

Within a day, we had an email telling us we’d moved through to the phone interview stage of the application process. Due to the process moving so quickly, I thought this might be an actual option for us! Unfortunately, while the phone interview went well and quickly, everything that followed met delays.

We waited weeks. Then we had a nearly three-hour interview with one individual. Within days they said that we were accepted by the organization, and that now we just had to wait for an apartment community to open up. Again, we waited weeks.

I was losing hope. Every time I’d be ready to throw in the towel, someone would email or call to let us know about some progress. Finally, three months after becoming homeless, we were told there was a property for us and that an interview with management was being arranged.

The interview was intense. We met with the owners, the vice-president of the company, and two property managers. Leif and I answered the questions as confidently as we could muster, and by the end of yet another three-hour interview, we were exhausted.

Generally speaking, I’m not into crying. I purposely avoid shows like This is Us in order not to cry. However, when I do cry, it’s because I’m completely depleted of mental and physical energy. So, even though the interview went positively and smoothly, I cried. I was just so exhausted. I was tired of not knowing when we would have a home. I was tired of days that started with leaving the house at 6:30 and not returning until 8:30. I was tired of what felt like just existing to get by.

Two days later, we were accepted by the property.

It was like I had been doused in ice water. We had a home. We didn’t have our move-in date and we didn’t even know what our apartment would look like. But it didn’t matter. We had a home. The next weekend we were able to move in. In just one day we managed to unload our entire life from our 10 x 5 storage locker and to move it all into our new place. We were exhausted, but happy.


In our plan to move to D.C., I never for a moment thought we would go nearly four months without a home. I never thought I would ask my relatives for that kind of generosity. I never thought adult Grace and Leif would ever be in a position where that would be necessary. (We do have money, I swear.)

The process was deeply humbling. Every time I wanted to bail and just sign a lease somewhere else, Leif would remind me how this had fallen into our laps. He would talk about the timing of it all, how it was a perfect fit for us. Yet, while we knew it was meant for us, we both agree it didn’t make the waiting easier.

But as I reflect on that time, I realize a lot of wonderful living happened during that waiting. I started and finished my first semester of graduate school. Leif and I met up with old friends and made brand new ones. We explored D.C. and found new favorite restaurants. We adopted kitties that look like cows. We kept on living.

I’ve written a lot of blog posts about waiting, changing jobs, and unsure futures (theme of my life?). I promise this isn’t another one of those. It’s just my reflection that these confusing and difficult times are reoccurring, no matter how much I think I’ve “learned”. I’m experiencing that life is one transition after another. It isn’t about the dramatic chaos that comes between the simple moments or the excitement of insta-worthy experiences; it’s about weaving them all together. It’s about living each moment intentionally, so no one period is looked back on as wasted time.

And so, here we are. The start of a new year, the start of a new city, the start of our new life. God’s plan unfolding. We’re very excited to begin this year by living intentionally.


 

Lessons Learned Living in D.C. #1

Moving to D.C. was a hard move for me. And that’s saying something, because I’ve had a lot of moves in my life. You see, I’m a planner, for the most part (other than when I decided to marry Leif). And usually I make sure to have all my ducks in a row before I take a trip, make a move, or invite a big life change into my life. D.C. wasn’t like that but not for lack of trying. I applied at numerous jobs, traveled to the city multiple times, and gave everyone in my life plenty of notice. But God had other plans.

Leif and I rolled into town with no apartment, no jobs, and barely a reason for being there. I felt on-edge and emotional any time I opened my mouth, like I would explode into waterworks if anyone looked at me the wrong (or right) way.

But it became easier, as things tend to do. Leif and I found jobs, family was generous and kind, and the apartment search process was under way. I finally felt ready to stand up, dust myself off, and embrace the world.

Just a couple weeks later, after having just accepted an awesome fellowship opportunity and feeling at the top of my game, I went out to a new area of D.C. to catch up with friends from my time studying abroad in Jordan. It was wonderful reliving the experiences, laughing with buddies, and catching each other up on our lives.By the end of the evening I was feeling immensely excited about my new life in D.C. and called Leif to tell him I was headed to the metro and should be home in an hour.

Then I walked towards the metro.

And I walked.

And I walked.

I hadn’t chosen to retrace my steps from the way I came; I had decided to trust my phone to guide me. I pulled up maps and typed in “metro”, but hadn’t realized it was directing me to an entirely different metro stop. By the time I realized, I sighed with frustration, knowing I was most likely closer to this metro stop than the last. I kept walking.

In the dark. Down unfamiliar streets. Past cars, lots, apartments, and schools. Crisscrossing streets, and turning corners. Finally I stopped, panting, as I had picked up my pace out of anxious fear. 

Where was I?

I had followed my phone towards the metro, until finally I had to stop, dead in my tracks, at an empty lot surrounded by barbed wire fence. I couldn’t see any metro station nearby. My phone had led me on a wild goose hunt and I had trusted it.

At this point it was very late, and I was a young woman wandering the roads of some region of D.C. that didn’t seem particularly safe. I felt a cold knot of fear clutch my stomach. I’ve been stuck in a blizzard in a desert, stranded in Israel during a Gaza flare-up, and yet this time, I felt cold, real fear. I felt the warm tears down my cheeks before I even saw them.

I called Leif, panicked. He tried to reason with me, but his level-headed, world-travelled wife was gone. In her place was a young, frightened girl who just wanted to be home. Desperately.

It’s important to know that I have always prided myself on having an amazing sense of direction. You can ask anyone, I practically gloat about it. My mom says you can put me in a new city I’ve never been and I can still know which way I need to go.

As you might imagine, this was not only terrifying, it was humiliating.

Leif managed to keep me focused though, and I started moving my weary feet down more streets, trying to find some way to get to the illusive metro. Eventually, I found it. I trudged up the long staircases to the entrance and carefully kept my tear-stricken face turned away from the attendant.

I sat down on a platform bench and checked the time for the next train. 20 minutes. It was a long 20 minutes followed by an even longer train ride home. A long time to sit with tears of embarrassment and confusion.

How had I gotten so lost? Why had I panicked? It was so out of character that I felt wholly unlike “Grace”. I reasoned with myself saying only Leif would really ever know the extent of it. It’d been a fluke after all, a night that wouldn’t ever happen again. I told myself it’d been an emotional few weeks and this was just that bubbling over.

But the further I get away from that moment, the more I need to share about it. Because this moment wasn’t a fluke, and it wasn’t just an over-tired and under-fed Grace.

I need to share about it because I need to own up that when I was so weak and so vulnerable – it was me.

It was a Grace who was boasting in her own strength and her own abilities, so sure she could handle it all on her own. And this is a Grace who realizes now, much later than she should have, that there’s only one thing worth boasting in. A God who loves me and takes care of me and knew the whole time I was safe in His hands and His plans.

All that to say, I’m learning a lot of lessons living here in D.C. and not all of them are from the grad school to which I’m paying an arm and a leg.

Instead, this one was literally picked up on the streets of the suburbs, but I’m grateful.

Delightfully Stuck

For the past two and a half (3?) years, Leif and I have been delightfully stuck.

I say “delightfully” because what else could it have been? We’ve had each other and learned how to survive life as a married couple in the United States. We’ve been conveniently located five minutes from my family and had jobs that paid well enough to buy Snapple whenever we wanted.

I say “stuck” because we haven’t known what to do next. We’ve been hammering on doors and they  have remained resiliently shut. I’ve frequently felt like I did during my freshman year of college, pursuing endless ideas and not loving a single one of them (I may or may not have changed my major a time or two).

“Shall I be an astronaut?!” “Or how about I buy a really expensive camera and pursue photography?!” “No, wait, we can move back to China and be teachers forever!”

While the world had seemed so attainable as a senior in college, suddenly, in the real world, it felt entirely insurmountable. How was I supposed to afford somewhere to live while pursuing dreams?! So, instead, Leif and I settled into the little world we had crawled into and, honestly, it wasn’t so bad.

I had a job with great benefits nestled in the wine country of upstate New York. Leif was exploring the medical field and getting experience for potential graduate school opportunities.We both were able to be involved with our church and run the youth group. We’ve been able to plan fun events and engage with an awesome group of students (including a few of our own siblings). We’ve been able to be there for Bachelor nights, birthday parties, scrabble games, anniversaries,  and holidays. Like, I said. We have been delightfully stuck.

Delightfully Stuck: Like tripping into a bog of Nutella. Or trapped in a car for hours with ten adorable puppies. Or locked in an elevator with  Julie Andrews.

The problem with being delightfully stuck is that, sometimes, you don’t want to become unstuck. You want to stay just like you are, possibly forever. You lose sight that eating Nutella, petting adorable puppies, or singing with Julie Andrews weren’t actually your life goals. Whoops.

And then you get the kick in the pants you needed to remind you that no matter how delightful it has been, everything has its season. And you should really get unstuck before you drown in Nutella, get nipped by the dogs, or Julie Andrews goes berserk because she’s been stuck with you for too long.

Recently, Leif and I had our time-to-get-unstuck moment and made some big, exciting decisions.


 

I enrolled this August for a Masters at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs. Leif is enrolling next spring for a Masters in Ministry.

So, yep, we moved to D.C. 

 


 

While we were SUPER excited for our next big step, there were plenty of things freaking us (mostly me) out. Like $$$ and, oh yeah, $$$$. But we’ve certainly learned that when God opens doors, you need to walk right through them and nail them to the wall with confidence.

Since arriving in the D.C. area, we still have thousands of unknowns.  We’ve relied mostly on generous family and each other as we walk through each step of this new path. It’s immensely scary taking off on new adventures, but I’ve found that the scary adventures are the ones that usually take you to the most amazing places.

I hope that if any of you are delightfully stuck right now, you have people telling you to enjoy it. While it’s good that people come along and help pull you out, I hope there are equally the number of people who come along and simply enjoy the Nutella with you. That they remind you there may never be another time in your life where you’ll have this incredible chance to be delightfully stuck.

Because I promise, as soon as you’re free, you’ll miss it.


 

Terracotta Army | China

For our return to Beijing from our adventure in Zhangjiajie, my husband and I decided to stop by Xi’an and see the famous Terracotta Army. I have to be 100% honest – I think we were too worn out to fully enjoy the historical site. Our train ride to Xi’an was a bit of a nightmare (see A Chinese Horror Story), so by the time we arrived I had developed a cold and was a bit done with the whole travel thing. We also accidentally went backwards through the warehouses, even though we had been warned to go the other way. So here I am warning all readers: If you are visiting the army, please go to vault three, two, then one – in that order! The site will be much more impressive that way. Any history buff, however, will still be amazed to see one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century.

If you have any questions or want advice on visiting the Terracotta Army, feel free to contact me.IMG_6963IMG_6975IMG_6960IMG_6931IMG_6955IMG_6935IMG_6980 (1)IMG_6976 (1)

Harbin | China

My husband and I had the opportunity to escape polluted Beijing for a weekend with some friends. Where did we choose to go? One of the coldest cities on earth for their world-renowned ice festival: Harbin. When I say it was cold, I mean snot-freezing, eyelash-crystalizing, lips-turned-blue cold. The day was no better than the night, but it was worth every second of it. We explored the famous Siberian tiger park in the day, and then ventured into the Harbin Ice Festival that night. As you can see it was absolutely incredible. Seemingly glowing legos that stretched on for miles. Arctic foxes to pet, snow sculptures to admire, and ice palaces to climb. If you’re ready to bundle up, I certainly encourage you to explore Harbin!

 

If you have any questions or want advice on visiting Harbin, feel free to contact me.

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Wadi Rum | Jordan

For my last semester of university, I studied abroad in Amman, Jordan. It was an experience unlike anything I could have dreamed. Although most of the semester was spent studying Arabic,  one particularly lovely weekend, my study abroad cohort and I were able to get away and take a trip to Wadi Rum, Petra, and Aqaba. Though Petra and Aqaba were stunning, Wadi Rum stole my heart. We rode camels through the desert, admired the towering rock formations, drank Bedouin tea, and talked late into the night under the countless stars. If there is one place I hope I am able to return before I die, it is Wadi Rum. One last fun fact is that this is the very place they filmed the movie, The Martian, and I imagine you can see why.

If you have any questions or want advice on visiting Wadi Rum, feel free to contact me.

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8 Reasons Why You Should Love Geneva, NY

My family moved to Geneva, New York, three days into the start of my junior year of high school. I was nervous about starting out, once again, as the new kid, but I was so excited to move to a new city and make a bunch of new friends. So, I put a smile on my face and walked into Geneva High with my head held high.

Now, in the unlikely possibility that you’ve actually heard of Geneva, NY, you’ve probably heard some not very nice things.

“Aren’t there gangs? Didn’t someone get killed there? Do you actually feel safe?”

I’ll tell you right now, please stop saying all that. It’s ridiculous.

After two years of living in Geneva, I left for university and didn’t think I’d ever have a chance to call Geneva home again. Strangely enough, after traveling the world and getting married, where would I end up once again? In Geneva, New York.

I thought I’d share with you why that’s actually been pretty great.

10 Reasons Why You Should Love Geneva:

1. Seneca Lake

Geneva is located at the very top of Seneca Lake, the largest of all the Finger Lakes. The colors and waves that can be seen on a windy day can honestly rival the ocean in beauty. On a warm day and sometimes even on a chilly one, you’ll see sailboats and wind surfers making their way across the waters. In the summer, couples and families walk along the shore trails enjoying the frisbee golf course, water park, and ice cream shop. Throughout the summer months, the occasional festival cheers up the night with music and entertainment. My favorite by far, though, is the winter months when the change in temperature causes the lake to steam up into the sky. It’s breathtaking.

 

2. Wine Galore

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As a high school student, the Finger Lakes region of New York  seemed a little boring. It was certainly pretty with its vineyards and lakes, but it just didn’t hold a great deal of entertainment in my opinion. The great news is that 16-year-old Grace had no idea what she was talking about. Geneva and the surrounding area is overflowing with beautiful wineries and estates that are comparable all on their own to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The area is particularly known for their delicious rieslings and I can’t recommend highly enough Three Brothers Wineries and Estates  for fun, drinks, and even good shopping. It’s my absolute favorite. My husband and I have gone out wine tasting multiple weekends and are never less than impressed with what the area’s wineries have to offer for selection and venue.

 

3. Diverse Ideas and People

Geneva is a beautiful mess of cultures. When my husband and I left China, I was sad about the idea of leaving behind languages, different foods, and learning a way of life that is entirely different. I needn’t have been concerned, Geneva is teeming with languages and cultures. My little siblings are learning Chinese at the elementary school and already know more than I do despite a year in Beijing. I hear Spanish sometimes more than I hear English if I’m frequenting the right stores. The Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Finger Lakes Community College, and the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station all claim Geneva as home, and the community is all the more fortunate for it. They bring with them highly educated and wonderful people and organizations that pour into the community. It’s really incredible to see.

 

4. Beautiful Buildings

smithMy husband and I lucked out when we moved to Geneva, because we found a beautiful apartment right in downtown Geneva. Downtown Geneva has always been my favorite part of the city because of the interesting architecture and old-city charm. We live above an old theater, and actually have a marquee we look out over. We’re around the corner from the famous Smith Opera House that is truly one of the most beautiful theaters I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen quite a few!). It’s star-speckled ceiling and dramatic colors made for a memorable high school graduation (although, I did lose my shoe while walking across the stage, so I am not soon to forget that night anyway). The Smith is only one of the many charming buildings however – the Hobart and William Smith College houses that line South Main Street, Geneva on the Lake, and Belhurst Castle just to name a few others.

 

5. Small Businesses

Not to brag or anything, but I had the coolest job in high school. I was a barista at a coffee and jazz house. Right here in Geneva, New York. We had live music at least once a week and I met some of the most lovely and interesting people every day. While that shop isn’t around any more, so many amazing new places are popping up all the time! Lake Drum Brewing (local ales), Stomping Grounds (beautiful items for sale), Opus Coffee, and many, many more. We even have our very own Bubble Tea Cafe. Linden Street alone is filled with interesting nooks and crannies that are overflowing with art in all its forms.

 

6. Delicious Restaurants

IMG_8262Food is something Geneva knows how to do well. For my husband’s birthday we tried out the Beef and Brew and we were blown away. It felt like we had been transported into a British Pub right in the middle of suburban America. Kindred Fare is the newest restaurant to the city and all I have heard are glowing reviews of the “spirited cookery”. I’m a big fan of the Char Burrito Bar, although it’s a huge problem that it’s only around the corner from my apartment. The Flounge and Ports Cafe certainly deserve a mention, but really the list goes on and on.

 

 

7. Local Events

The first Friday of every month is reserved for Geneva Night Out. Art exhibits are hosted by businesses downtown from 5:00-8:00 and there’s everything from theater performances to poetry. Around Christmastime, I even watched sleigh rides going around the block. In the summer, there’s the Annual Cruisin’ Night, where antique cars line the streets to show off. Definitely a sight to see! Live music is also a huge part of Geneva. You can hear performances at the local wineries, restaurants, and hotels almost every weekend. Honestly, there’s no reason to ever feel bored if you know where to look.

 

8. Warm Community

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I have moved many places in my life and, in doing so, invested parts of my heart all over the world. Geneva, New York is one place I will never regret having given part of my heart. Its people are warm, welcoming, and unique. My husband and I work with the youth group at our church, Living Hope, and they are a bunch of great and goofy kids. I love attending Geneva school sports games because Geneva shows up loud and proud. The people I met back in high school still remember me and say “Hi” even if we haven’t spoken in years. Because that’s just what Geneva is: an old friend that will always welcome you back with a hug.

Geneva went through a terrible tragedy this past week when a man took the life of a young mother a block from my apartment. I refuse to let something that senseless, dark, and broken stain what is so beautiful. So when you hear about Geneva, I hope you remember all the reasons you should love it, because it’s worthy of all that and more.

 


Have you been to Geneva, New York? What is your favorite part? Leave a comment below.

Where am I right now?

Do you ever have those moments where you stop and look around and just think, “Where am I right now? How did I get here?

I do.

Most the time I feel like I am moving too fast to stop and think about my life. But, occasionally, there are those brief moments, like on a drive to work or when a nostalgic smell passes by, that I take a step back and think – How did I get here?


 

When I first moved to Beijing, China in March of 2013, I worked at an education center called Romp’N’Roll for four months. It was mainly for kids age six months to six years old. You might be asking what do you teach a six month old? I still have no idea, but I did it. And let’s just say…it was an experience.

My (at the time) fiancé, Leif, found the job for me through a man who sat next to him on the plane ride from Chicago to Beijing. Turned out that Gary, my future employer, was in need of an American girl to teach at his center. Luckily for Gary, I was desperately wanting to be closer to Leif and, thus, in need of a job in Beijing. When Gary sent word of the opening, I hopped on the next plane to China.  I had just graduated university and moved back from the Middle East – I was confident I could handle anything.

Ha.

My first day of work at Romp’N’Roll I was handed my work uniform. It was a tie-dye shirt with a cartoon dog’s face on the front.  As I stared down at the hideous apparel, I thought to myself, Where am I right now? Months earlier I was walking in the streets of Jerusalem while sirens filled the air. A year earlier I had been working with the Department of Justice in Seattle. And, today, I was in a colorful foam-floored business complex while Chinese children tottered and giggled around me. It was one of those pinch-me-I’m-dreaming-moments. But not in a good way.

It didn’t take me long before I was running my own classes. I taught art, music, dance, gym, and English classes weekly . To top it off, I taught alongside a Chinese translator and… a giant stuffed animal dog named Rompy. Rompy and I would direct the class through opening songs (such as Where is Rompy? Where is Rompy? Here he is, here he is!) and then read them a short story.

Go ahead, you can laugh.

After the typical opening, I would direct the kids into whatever activity we had next. The classes lasted about forty minutes each and then I would sit, twiddling my thumbs for the next seven hours. The center only ran about one class a day per teacher and going home early was never an option.

Any time I went to use the restroom, I’d find a grandmother holding her grandchild over the sink, so he or she could pee. Any time I went into the lobby, I would be surrounded by nannies and grandparents demanding a picture with their grand baby and the “pretty white girl”. And any time I was sure my class went well, I would find out I had done something appalling, like let a child paint a hat green. (Apparently it means the kid wants to have an affair, or something like that.) My time at Romp’N’Roll was anything but glamorous and I was constantly looking around helplessly thinking, Where the heck am I right now?


 

Here we are almost three years later and I’m having another one of those “Where am I right now?” moments. This month I hit the year mark for working at Keuka College. I’ve traveled for weeks on end, decisioned hundreds and hundreds of applications, and met more people than I’ll ever be able to remember. I’ve officially lived in Geneva for over a year and Leif and I are regulars at the Chinese restaurant across the street from our apartment. And all I’m left thinking is where the heck am I right now?

I guess I always thought my life was going to be something glamorous. That I was going to be an actress, an astronaut, the secretary of state, and/or a secret agent. But I’m not and sometimes I feel like a failure. I know I must not be alone in questioning my life course. I know others out there must be on a different path than they expected as well. But sometimes it just seems like everybody else has got it together and I…don’t. Maybe you’re surprised I’m saying this. Maybe my instagram feed or my smile has conveyed some sort of confidence that I’ve got my life all together. Well, be assured, I don’t.

Today though, as I sniffled and coughed through a sick day, I realized something.

I realized that, luckily, it makes no difference if I have my life together or not.

I realized that, luckily, the value of my life is not based on how it looks or even how it feels.

And that is something I will have to keep reminding myself every single day – especially when those “where am I?” and “how did I get here?” questions show themselves.

There’s beauty in finding the love and grace that surrounds you every day in the littlest ways. For me they are: family game nights, youth group kids, singing with my mum, buying flannel sheets with Leif, finding an extra fruit roll-up hidden in the cupboard, watching a new movie, sending a friend a gift, crafting with my little sisters.

I’m finding that once I focus on those beautiful moments, I have no time to ask “where am I?” because I’m right where I wanted to be all along.


I’m encouraged as I reflect on John 16:33:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

It doesn’t matter if I end up working at Romp’N’Roll the rest of my life. It doesn’t matter if a crazy person ends up becoming president. And it certainly doesn’t matter if I never become something of value in the eyes of the world. The world has already been overcome and knowing that, I can have peace.

 

 

Life Update: Top 5 Things You Should Know

It’s been nearly a year since I gave an update. Wow. I guess it’s been a year since I really posted much of anything at all. I think sometimes it’s easier to just snuggle up in my little apartment with Leif and forget about the day, rather than relive the day’s events. It’s probably time to crawl back out of my hole though and tell the world a little bit about the going-ons in the life of Grace Pilet Jacobsen and her bearded mountain man.

Here are the top five things you should know.

I was promoted in January of this year to admissions counselor at Keuka College. What does that mean exactly? It means that I get to chat with families, travel all around the state/country/world recruiting for a college I didn’t go to. It’s a particularly beautiful college though, which makes it a really easy sell. Just ask me about it sometime. I can sell it to you in 45 seconds flat. No, really, I’m pretty well rehearsed.  The highlights of this job include that I was able to travel to Vietnam last March and I’m headed back there in October, with opportunities for more international travel still ahead. I also get to go to conferences about international education (already went to one in Boston and D.C.) and I have learned loads about social media and marketing. I was even given the opportunity to make my own video for the website! Check it out here.

Leif’s job is crappy, but it really has only made academia that much more appealing for him. Back in October, Leif found a position with Finger Lakes Health where they would pay him for Certified Nursing Assistant training, and place him on a sub-acute rehabilitation floor here in Geneva, New York. This was a HUGE answer to prayer as he was in desperate need of some paid patient care hours for physician assistant school applications. But, it is…crappy. Leif’s joke is always that he means that literally. There are certainly benefits however. He’s learned a lot of patience and now I know that if we ever do have a kid he’ll know how to change its diaper. Anyway, now that he has over 1,500 hours of experience, he has sent in applications all over the country for PA programs that begin in the fall of 2016. We should be finding out which school in the winter, so keep your eye out for that fun news!

We’re renewing the lease on our apartment. Leif fell in love with this apartment the moment he saw it. I think it had to do with the fact that I couldn’t reach any of the cabinets without the assistance of a chair and that Leif thinks, and I quote, “it’s not a Chinese hobbit hole.” As we went and looked at other apartments in the Geneva area, I finally conceded that we had found a diamond in the rough and I would sign for another ten months. I’m going to post some pictures of the apartment, but you are not allowed to judge me and my lack of decorations. I struggle in the commitment department since I’m never sure how long I am going to be in one place. I’ve done the best I can

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My father has a pet squirrel. It has really been a treat to be so near to family this past year and, I have to be honest, I’m not sad at all that we’re going to be around for at least a little bit longer. We’ve been there for birthdays, for holidays, and even for church functions. We’ve been able to create new traditions (like singing Happy Birthday as loudly and as terribly as possible at every single birthday party), cheer (and drink) in Jonan’s 21st, and soon will go on a real-live family vacation to North Carolina. For our anniversary, we were even able to pop up to Maine and see Leif’s mom – certainly nothing like living on the other side of the world. But what about the squirrel? Meet P.B., short for Peanut Butter, the newest family pet. Completely friendly and basically house-broken, my father rescued it as a baby from their gutter which had somehow entrapped and killed its mother. It likes to run around the house at a breakneck speed and fall asleep inside my dad’s shirt.

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We‘re happy. I don’t say that lightly. Life is not easy as we continue adjusting to life in the States. Somedays we’re lonely or miss real Chinese take-out, but we have each other and we’ve come to appreciate what this American-style life has been teaching us. We’ve learned how to pay bills, cook dinner, and do chores. We’re learning to balance work and relationships and we’re growing in anticipation of all the wonderful things God has in store for us. It’s going to be an insane next couple of years, but I know I picked the best partner possible for this adventure marriage.

10 Things I Learned From Being Unemployed

10 Things I Learned From Being Unemployed

Approximately four and a half months ago, I began my frantic job search State-side. I can’t even comprehend an efficient way to explain my anxiety during that time, but I will try.

I had one goal: Obtain a job that, at some level or another, required (or at least preferred) my $150,000 degree. Don’t worry,  I didn’t put that as my objective on my resume…even though I thought about it.

Five long weeks later, I still had nothing. I can’t begin to tell you the kind of self-doubt that begins to creep into your soul as you sit and wait. I checked my resume for the millionth time. I revised my cover letter again and again. I even began to regret my degree – wishing every day I’d just been a nurse (even though I can’t stand the sight of blood and guts). Maybe then I would be employed, I would mutter to myself.

I began to watch our savings drain away. I laid awake at night willing my phone to ring – even though I didn’t want to be hired by someone who would call in the middle of the night. But, no, wait, I’d take anything. I was suddenly this incredibly emotional person I’d never known before. I started to question my worth, my goals, and my dreams. What was I even good at? What did I have to offer the world?

Every time someone asked me about my plans, I was so embarrassed. I felt like hiding in shame. Here I was, Grace, unemployed. It was like a dirty word. I was mortified.

And then that call came. I got the interview. I was hired. And suddenly, I completely forgot about all the misery I went though. Everything was just so much greener on the other side – literally, greener, $$.

Since receiving my job, I’ve barely had a moment to stop and reflect on that time of my life. But over the last week, I realized that it is important to sit down and record what I did learn from my period of anxiety.

So here you are, 10 Things I Learned From Being Unemployed

1.  You are not alone.

At some point or another, everyone has experienced this time in their lives. True, not everyone experiences it for an extended period of time, but everyone knows the feeling. It’s okay to be scared. But be comforted in the truth that you are not alone. These are the steps we take in life – the ups and downs that make life an adventure.

2. Never take what you have for granted.

All last year in Beijing, I spoke about how I’d never take pollution-free skies for granted again. A moment to breathe fresh air again; A chance to run and not have my lungs ache. Unemployment was like polluted Beijing in my life. It was a chance to re-evaluate what was important in life (like air). A chance to remember that hey, not everybody has it as good as I have had it all my life. Don’t take those moments for granted.

3. Rely on the strength of others.

Unemployment for me felt incredibly isolating. I felt like I couldn’t turn to anyone because I was so embarrassed by my own failure. Whenever I did finally break down and mumble about my self-worth, someone was always there to pick me back up. Chin up, friends, there are people all around you wanting to support you.

4. Remain confident in the skills and talents you have.

You are not a loser. I know you may want to feel like you are, but you’re just not. This is your chance to evaluate what you’re good at. You are unique. How can an employer be benefited by getting you? They would be lucky to have you, and you need to remember that. Confidence is everything.

5. Use (don’t abuse) the free time.

Being unemployed really is just an extended vacation if you think about it. Now is your chance to take that road trip you’ve been dreaming about. A chance to go to an amusement park for the day and not feel guilty. A chance to take a picnic in the park and fly a kite. You have the time. Love it. Embrace it. You aren’t going to have it soon enough.

6. Make long-term goals for yourself.

What do you want most out of life? A family? A career? Adventure? What kind of job is going to help you achieve those things? Do you want to buy a house? Do you want to live abroad? Do you want to pay off student loans? Evaluate your next steps carefully. This is your chance to choose each step ahead of you. Look at the paths and choose the one that helps you achieve those goals, step by step.

7. Dream big.

There is no harm in shooting for the stars. I always told my parents I would be an egyptologist, astronaut, or Secretary of State. I still think I could be – if I really wanted to be. I like to dream big so that I always have something to look forward to. If your aim is to be a teacher, then aim as high as you desire. A teacher in your ideal city or your ideal grade. If your aim is to be an actress, aim for Broadway. You get the idea.

8. Start good habits.

I wish I had started exercising during my time of unemployment. What a great opportunity to get into the habit of going for a run or eating healthy. Or maybe reading a book a week. Studying that language you are letting sit in the corner of the room. After all, I’ve always been told habits are hard to break once you start. …Maybe everyone was talking about bad habits, but I’m gonna say good habits should work the same way.

9. Ask for advice.

Intelligent, well-connected people are all around you. They’ve been where you have been. They can help you. Don’t be too proud to ask for advice. Have people critique your resume. Get suggestions for job pools. Practice interviewing. Reach out I wish I had asked for advice more often, I would have learned that much more.

10. Don’t sweat it.

I wish I hadn’t spent my nights panicking. I wish I hadn’t agonized over something I really couldn’t control. I wish I hadn’t doubted myself in the brief period of time where I felt unwanted. God has a plan, and you can’t pretend that you know what it is. You just have to relax, do what you can, and enjoy this beautiful, mysterious, twisting road. You never know what kind of treasures you may find.

 

I hope this encourages you, friend.

A New Season

Three months ago, Leif and I made the long trek around the world back to the United States.

Three months ago, I generally stopped posting about our lives.

Why did I go silent? Mostly because I felt a little lost in my own fears of the unknown. I was afraid people would ask the dreaded, “What’s next?” or the horrible, “What’s your job now?” or the even worse, “Where are you living?” I was living in the blissful idea of if I can’t see you, you can’t see me. Turns out that really doesn’t do a whole lot beyond make you feel cut off from the world.

Well, it’s time to start talking about where we’re at now in our lives. Here we go.

What did you do this summer?

We left Beijing on July 1st, hitting Istanbul, Turkey on our way home.  It was an amazing week of relaxing and adventuring in one of my favorite cities in the world. Then, we were off on a whirlwind of USA travels. First to New York, then Maine, then New York, then Ohio (for my best friend’s wedding), then New York, then Seattle.

What was in Seattle?

Before moving to a New York nursing home, my grandmother lived in Seattle. For the last year, her house had been sitting dormant with her piles and piles of random stuff. My dad and uncle suggested that Leif and I fly out to pack up a U-Haul and help offset shipping costs (as all of the random stuff was coming to New York). THAT was an adventure. Just think about a 26 foot U-Haul making its way through Yellowstone National Park. Yeah. Whoa. Finally, though, we made it back to Geneva, New York.

What’s in Geneva, New York?

My family, for one. But other than that, not a whole lot. Once we arrived back from Seattle, we finally had a moment to breathe. During that breath, we decided it was time to start hitting the wanted ads. We needed to be employed (and stop living with family).

Unfortunately, over the last month, life went insane. As soon as school started, my siblings (almost all six of them) became fully immersed in their sports. That meant big sister, Grace, and big brother-in-law, Leif, had better be at their games since they’d missed so many holidays and birthdays.

And then Dad ended up in the ER, then stayed for the weekend, then went back to the ER, then had gallbladder removal surgery, then stayed for the week, then went back to the ER, then had surgery again.

Meanwhile, Leif and Grace (and Jonan) played Mum and Dad to the kiddos,  and kept searching for jobs.

How’d it feel to be unemployed and living at home?

The worst. And yet, I highly recommend it. It teaches you a lot about what you take for granted – like being employed and having a home you can call your own.

Get to the good stuff…what job did you find?

Okay, okay. Our original plan was to move to the area Leif would be going to school next year, so either Boston or NYC. However, we realized that it would be much easier (and cheaper) to stay out of a city until we need to move.

Leif applied to Fingerlakes Health and had an interview. Then, the fire was under my butt. The same day he had his interview I applied online to a position at Keuka College, a small private college, and five minutes later I was called in for an interview. My interview, two days later, went splendidly and I was hired on the spot. I am already two days into working as an Administrative Assistant for the Admissions department. A few days after his interview, Leif found out he was hired. He will be trained and then working in the hospital in Geneva, New York as a CNA.

We have a plan, finally.

What about where you’re living?

Believe it or not, and honestly I can’t believe it, we’re living in Geneva for the next ten months. We signed a lease on an apartment and we’re moving in this week. It’s a cute duplex with pretty hardwood floors. Loads of space and – get this – a dishwasher! WHAT! America you are treatin’ us right.

How long do you plan to be there?

Leif is currently applying to school for next fall, but if that doesn’t work out, then it will be the following year. So yes, this is just a transition period. A time to adapt to US living and learn how to be married and NOT be around each other 24/7. It’s going to be hard to adjust to not working together all the time. As usual, I never knew how great we had it until everything changed.

Okay, then what’s the long term plan?

Only God knows really. Leif is going to become a physician assistant, and do what he does best – love and help people.  And for me? I’m going to explore this wonderful world. I would love to study and take the FSOT for the State Department. I would also love to get my masters (Certainly one of the reasons I love my new job. Keuka has a great deal for employees on graduate school!) I’m excited to see what opportunities will arise and what direction they will send me.

It’s no China, Mongolia, or Jordan. But, it is a new home that we’re excited to explore together. And, don’t worry, I’ll keep you all updated on all our new adventures.

Apple Pie For The Soul

Two weeks ago I hatched a plan for keeping ex-expat blues at bay. This plan I named “Operation: Ex-Expat“. I promised myself that I would take a step each week to fight my sadness over moving back to the States and embrace how life can still be an adventure.

Well, guys, I did it. I can check off a step on my operation. I took the harder route just to experience something new and different. I took the thing I am the absolute worst at and rolled with it.

I baked a pie.

Now, for most of you, that’s no big deal. But, if you know me, you know that I – A. Can’t cook/bake to save my life, B. Am the opposite of Susie-homemaker, and C. Actually hate the idea of being Susie-homemaker. However, with autumn saturating the air (and instagram), I found that I couldn’t escape pictures and posts about autumn activities – one of those activities being apple pie baking.

Naturally I started craving apple pie.

My first instinct, of course, was to go buy an apple pie. Shoot, I’m back in the US, I thought, Why not go to Wegman’s and buy an apple pie?  As I contemplated how much an apple pie would cost and how long it would take me to get to the store, the idea to actually create the pie began to formulate. So I committed.

And, guess what? I loved every minute of making that pie. I cheerily went about the kitchen rolling crust, peeling apples, and preheating the oven all with a glorious mess of flour in my wake.

In the end, my pie was nothing special. It tasted good, but it wasn’t great. It looked nice, but it wasn’t perfect. Nevertheless, I was proud of it. I was proud that I had done something I wouldn’t normally choose to do simply to experience something new. Something different. For me, my life overseas felt like baking a pie. It felt a little scary, a little like anything could happen, but I was excited to see where it would take me. I want to chase that feeling forever, because I know it makes me a stronger person – USA or anywhere else.

All that to say – apple pie is good for the soul.

7 Tips for Fighting Jet Lag

Jet lag. I say that word with deep loathing.

Jet lag has always been the bane of my travels. It’s probably because most of my traveling takes place between the United States and Asia. You can be sure that as soon as you cross the international date line you’re in for trouble. However,  I’m a big napper, so I’m always in trouble. Now, it’s possible that some of you are the kings and queens of jet lag; You are never conquered by its mighty grasp. You are the lucky few.

Last August when Leif and I returned to Beijing, we couldn’t stay awake to save our lives. We spent day after day planning to stay awake, but found our eyelids dropping. And, despite all our planning, we would give in to sleep – deep, blissful sleep.  After four days in a row of falling asleep at 3 pm and waking up at 9 pm, we said enough is enough. We knew we were skipping some very important steps in defeating jet lag.

In light of how crucial fighting jet lag can be, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned over my years of traveling. I hope it can help you during your next flight as well.

Seven Tips for Fighting Jet Lag:

1. Stay hydrated.

Every medical professional (or mother) ever will tell you to drink loads of water while traveling. I’m not as big a water drinker as I should be, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve certainly seen the wisdom of it. I also always feel a little sweaty and nasty after a long flight, so drinking loads of water is a must.  I so often think of jet lag as only a mental challenge, but it’s really a physical one as well. Your body needs to adjust to the new 24 hour clock you are giving it. Help it out.

2. Don’t nap.

This is the number one no-no. I’m already a big napper. I love curling up in an arm chair or anywhere really and shutting my eyes for a little while. Especially when I’m exhausted from jet lag, napping seems like such a great idea. It’s a lie! Don’t listen to that voice. Try and do as much as you can the first day you arrive at your destination. If you fill up that first day with activities (and make it through that day without a nap), you’ll find fighting jet lag a million times easier. It’s completely okay to turn in early that night, too. I find that (when I fight jet lag the right way) I’m an early to bed-early to rise kind of person, and I love it.

3.  Change the time.

This is my favorite tip, because I feel like I’m outsmarting jet lag. As soon as you sit down on your flight, take out your watch/phone/device and change it to your destination’s time zone. This way as you make your way across the world, your mind is already adjusting to the time where you will be. If you can, try and sleep when it’s “nighttime” and try and stay awake while it’s “daytime”.

4. Think ahead.

Now, if you are particularly awesome, you might consider adjusting as much as possible to the time difference before you even leave. (Clearly I’m not disciplined enough to have done this.) If you will be traveling east and want to adapt to the new time, you will have to wake up and go to bed earlier than normal. If you’re traveling west, you will want to wake up and go to bed later than usual. It’s much easier to say than to do, but hey, you’re awesome, right?

5. Use the sun to your advantage.

I’ve done some research on fighting jet lag and most of the experts talk about the importance of light. They say that light is the primary cue telling your body’s clock when to sleep and when to wake. So controlling jet lag is fundamentally about controlling light and darkness. If it’s nighttime where you’re headed, consider closing your shade and putting on an eye-mask instead of admiring all the beautiful clouds out of your window. When you land, however, don’t try and adjust too quickly to all the light if it’s daytime as that may exhaust you even more. Take it easy, grab some sunglasses, and stay awake!

6.  Avoid  overdoing caffeine.

When someone tells me that I’m going to need to stay awake when I’m actually dead on my feet, my first reaction is to find the nearest cup of coffee. However, when it comes to jet lag, this is not the best idea. Caffeine dehydrates and doesn’t allow you to sleep deeply when you do finally sleep. It is important to get deep sleep so your body can recover from the stress of your trip.

7. Sleep well the night before.

Sleep to prepare for your flight is just as important as sleep to recover from your flight. If you’re anything like me, you put off packing until the night before your flight and get around four hours of sleep if you’re lucky. This is also one of the reasons I’m the worst when it comes to jet lag. Be smarter than me, don’t procrastinate, and get a great night of sleep before you leave.

I hope you find these tips helpful for your next flight. Drink water, sleep well & be merry!

Operation: Ex-Expat

This past July my husband and I returned to the United States. During the weeks leading up to our departure, I was eagerly anticipating our return. I desperately missed so many people…and well… mostly frozen pizza. Heading back meant being able to overload on the things I had been deprived. I was so ready.

Now, here I am. My summer of overload has come to a close and real life has trickled back in. Real life brings stress, confusion, worry and – dare I say it? – boredom. After being gloomy for the past few weeks of job hunting, I’ve come to an important conclusion. I don’t have to sit around and bemoan what I’ve lost, I just need to bring the joy and adventure of living overseas back into my life. Hasn’t it been said the best adventurers are the ones who don’t even need to step out of their house?

Here is my new operation. Over the next month, I will intentionally take each of the five things I desperately miss most about my life overseas and incorporate them back into life. I may have said goodbye to life as an expat, but the truth is I don’t need to say goodbye to the things I loved most.

So here are the 5 Things I Miss Most About Living Overseas:

1. Foreign goods.

The United States is huge. I was reminded of that fact for a good long week when my husband and I drove a U-haul from Washington to New York. Not only is it huge, but its filled with people from every corner of the globe. Unfortunately, I don’t currently live in a big city, so finding delicious foreign foods is nearly impossible. Not only did Beijing have delicious Chinese food from all the different provinces, it also had some of the best foods from all over the world. Leif and I were just discussing how the best nacho dish we have ever had in our lives was at the Sandy Pebble ( a Mexican place in the hutongs of Beijing). I, and my stomach, miss all that amazing food.

If you’ve seen me over the last month or two, you might have noticed that I wear a brightly colored phone cord around my wrist or in my hair. It’s not really a phone cord; it’s a hair tie. In China, everybody wears them. It’s really the only kind of hair tie I saw. They’re practical. Compared to normal hair ties, they get stuck less frequently and are certainly more exciting. I get teased about my weird phone cord, but I don’t really care. I love them. And I am sad that, of late, I have no new foreign trends to add to my collection.

What I will do: I will either explore and find the best foreign food restaurant I can or I will attempt to cook a foreign dish. Oh dear. And, I will find a new foreign fashion trend to incorporate into my daily life.

2. Freedom to be uniquely me.

In Beijing, no one cared what I wore. Or if they did, they spoke in Chinese, so I didn’t have a clue. I have never felt so free from the world and self-consciousness. Everyone was completely different from me no matter what I wore or how I did my hair, so I was free. Free to be myself, free to be exactly the way I wanted to be. The one day I wore a sparkly flapper dress to a 1920s party, I received the same amount of stares as every other day. It simply didn’t matter. Now that I’m back in the US, I realize how behind I am in regards to my clothes. When I first returned, I felt pangs of embarrassment for my out-of-date fashion. It wasn’t as if my clothes had actually changed in the week from leaving Beijing to being in the States. It was that I felt the chains of materialism latching around my neck. I felt and still feel their heavy weight.

We also live in the day and age where social media dictates what makes us interesting. Everyone knows our business all the time. So if you’re traveling, have an awesome job, or just met someone famous – everyone knows it. While living abroad, I felt pretty special. I knew that my picture on the Great Wall or on the back of an elephant would get a number of likes on Facebook. I knew my instagram of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul would be popular even if it wasn’t the best picture I’d ever taken. Since I’ve returned to the States, I struggle to want to post anything at all, because I feel boring. I feel like I’ve let myself down.

But I realize now that I don’t have to have it all together to move forward. I don’t have to know exactly what’s coming around the bend or be the coolest person on the internet. I just have to be unashamedly me. That means even the boring stuff, because maybe the boring really isn’t so boring after all.

What I will do: Express my colorful roller coaster life no matter what. And, while doing this, I will find a tangible way to throw off my American self-consciousness.

3. Being surrounded by different people, languages, and culture.

Airports are, by far, one of my favorite places in the world. I love the feeling of being lost in a world of languages. I studied Arabic for four years. I studied Mongolian as a child. Leif and I learned some basic Chinese in order to get around. Seriously, I wish someone would just pay me to learn languages all day. Back in the States, I find myself going through my entire day without hearing one word in a language other than English. Over the last few weeks I’ve been so desperate for other languages that I downloaded the (free!) app Duolingo. Leif often finds me sitting on a couch studying French and reviewing Arabic. I miss languages.

In Beijing, we lived a five minute bike ride from a foreign district. That meant just a few minutes on a bike and we were surrounded by people from all over the world. I believe that connecting and learning from people of different backgrounds and cultures is necessary for growth. I have learned so much from people and how they view the world. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having met and spoken with all these different individuals and that is something no one should give up.

What I will do: I will seek out opportunities to do things with new people, especially people with a different story or viewpoints from my own. I’ll give special focus to continuing language study and maybe I’ll watch a foreign film or two as well. That might just be an excuse to make Leif watch a foreign film with me. 😉

4. Every aspect of life being an adventure.

Grocery runs meant shopping for vegetables at a kiosk next to our apartment building. They meant going in a back alley to an open tent with fruit. And they meant biking ten minutes away to an import store with overpriced foods like macaroni and cheese. Paying bills meant waiting for the landlady to knock on our door and look at our water meter. Getting electricity and internet meant running back and forth between our apartment and the buildings that offered them.

It may sound like a hassle, but we loved it. I loved how everything was always an adventure. Nothing was ever a mundane drive to the grocery store to fill up a grocery cart. It was always the question: can everything fit in our backpacks? Do we have enough cash on hand to pay the landlady? Did you see the girl walking her rabbit on the leash? I miss seeing every aspect of life as an adventure.

What I will do: I will try to not just go for what is easy. I’ll take the extra step so that an average day errand may become more difficult but also may make it more memorable in the long run.

5. Living simply.

Leif and I had a crappy apartment in Beijing. When people ask us about what our apartment in China was like, we just look at each other and laugh. Our bathroom was the size of a closet. The shower was only an inch lower than the rest of the floor and at a slight slant. There was no shower curtain, because there was no space for one. In every room our walls were moldy and the paint was peeling. Our kitchen didn’t have an oven and all the cabinets were so low that Leif hit his head daily. Our living room had a bed for a couch which was preferable over our other couch which was as hard as a rock. But, guess what? That apartment was one of our favorite things in the world.

Whenever we would travel anywhere we were always anxious and excited to get back to our home. It wasn’t a palace by any means. But it was ours and it was perfect. Living in that apartment taught us a lot about living simply. We learned we really didn’t need much to make us happy. As long as we had some food, a bed, and each other, life was good. I don’t want to lose the lesson that living simply is, simply, living.

What I will do: As Leif and I are looking at new apartments and starting our life in the U.S. together, I will keep this lesson in mind. Instead of trying to have as much as I can, I will try to only meet the needs we have as we come to them.

Over the next month, I will try and accomplish at least one of these points each week. I’ll post updates on Operation: Ex-expat, so stay tuned. 😉

Zhangjiajie | China

Our visit to Zhangjiajie National Park, home to the Avatar Mountains, was unforgettable. We had heard that it was more than worth the 23 hour train trip from Beijing, but we never expected it to be as beautiful as it was. Despite the fog, rain, and humidity, we were able to see all the places on our list. Our adventurous natures avoided the cable cars and outdoor elevator, so we ended up hiking around 13,000 stairs in all. Even though it seemed miserable at the time, in retrospect I wouldn’t do it any other way. We saw hundreds of monkeys, incredible views, and lost ourselves in the towering jungle and mountains. Leif and I decided it was our absolute favorite place we visited in China…and that’s saying something.

If you have any questions or want advice on visiting Zhangjiajie, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to send you my “How-To: Zhangjiajie”.










It’s Gatsby-Inspired

In May of this year, some friends were having a 1920’s birthday party. In polluted Beijing it’s always nice to have a breath of fresh air by changing up the norm. Also, any excuse to dress up is okay in my book. I pleaded with Leif and eventually he agreed. We were going to the party.

Finding a dress was my number one concern, but I shouldn’t have been worried. Just one quick trip to Jeenwasheen (a huge indoor market in Haidian district) and I had found the perfect dress. The shop owner told me I looked beautiful and I was sold. Given, they always tell me I look beautiful only because I’m white. Oh well, works for me.

Being thrify and a little bit crafty, I linked together two of my pearl necklaces with a safety pin to make a 1920’s style pearl necklace. Then, to tie it all together, I purchased a cheap headband that I thought worked fairly well for over my bangs. Voila, just call me the poor, semi-Chinese Daisy Buchanan.

The party was the bee’s knees. It was complete with snacks, drinks, dancing, a photo booth, and 1920s trivia. Despite the humid Beijing weather, we managed to enjoy ourselves immensely. However, my favorite part was playing with my camera and trying to take some truly Gatsby-inspired shots. The party was too dimly lit, but I managed to get some interesting ones of my husband and I before the party. Enjoy and don’t mind the clearly modern cars in the last picture. 😉





Hey, Miley

Fall of 2012.

Amman, Jordan:

It was a beautiful, sunny day as my roommate, Saba, and I returned from the University of Jordan. We had hailed a taxi in record time and were sitting quietly in the backseat as our driver sang along with the radio and smoked a cigarette. I was lost in thought as I stared out at the busy streets of Amman.

It wasn’t long before I was woken from my thoughts though, as Saba leaned forward to the driver and told him to make a U-turn up ahead. I smiled, knowing that meant we were almost to our host family’s apartment. A few moments later, we asked the driver to stop on the side of the busy road and I climbed out as Saba paid our fare.  Continue reading →

A Chinese Horror Story

It was eight in the evening and Leif and I were sitting quietly in our plastic chairs waiting for the train to begin boarding. I was working very hard to remain positive. When we had purchased the tickets for this particular train ride from Zhangjiajie to Xi’an, all the sleeper trains were already sold out. Our only option had been to purchase hard seats. Hard seats for a nine hour train ride…overnight.

As the time for boarding the train loomed near, I ran off to the bathroom to change into something more comfortable. I told myself that if I did everything in my power to make this trip comfortable, it would be. I had sat in chairs for endless periods of time before. This was going to be just like that. No big deal. Continue reading →

5 Stories About My Father

In honor of my dad’s big 5-0 birthday, I write this blog.

As I considered what I would write to commemorate this big event, I decided that I wanted to tell five separate stories about my dad. I present each one of these stories as a piece of the puzzle that is my father. There is no one way to describe him, (and fifty is far too difficult), so five pieces of the puzzle will have to do. I hope you can appreciate and grasp the fascinating puzzle that is Christian Nunez (Yes, Nunez) Pilet. I love you, Dad! Continue reading →

How To Make Ordinary Life Extraordinary

Spring has sprung in Beijing.

The trees are turning green.
The flowers are beginning to bloom.
And the elderly are back on the roads.

Unfortunately, the color and life that is trying so hard to fill the world is being muted by a heavy smog that has settled on the city. It becomes incredibly depressing to wake up day after day to a brown sky and lungs that ache. This morning I woke up to a dull, lifeless world that really was less than inspiring. Continue reading →

Perspective

In December of 2012, I graduated from college.

Over the past year or two, my alma mater, Cedarville University, has experienced a great deal of change. Change that has been welcomingly embraced. Change that has been outrageously abhorred. Change that has completely altered the face of the school. Continue reading →

10 Reasons Juan Pablo Is NOT The Villain We Want Him To Be

Alright.

I’ll confess.

I watch the Bachelor.

Now, before you judge me too harshly, let me explain myself. I started watching the show a few years ago with my brother. It was kind of our thing. I’d Skype him while I was at college, and together we’d watch the latest episode of The Bachelor on Hulu. He and I got a huge kick out of watching the drama unfold week after week. We would pick a “winner”, and undoubtably come to regret that decision a week later. We’d make fun of outfits, comments, and personalities. Continue reading →

The “A” Word

On my 13th birthday, my family was hit with life-altering news.

My three year old brother was diagnosed with autism.

At the time (and, in some regards, still today), no one really understood what autism meant. It was this…sickness, this seeming disease that had suddenly begun being diagnosed all over the Western world. Still, no one really knew what it meant. Your average person may have gathered their best information about autism from the movie Rain Man. A person cowering in a corner refusing to be touched – ah, that’s autism. Continue reading →

10 Places Everyone Should Visit

I don’t know about you, but my list of places I want to visit is endless. I could talk all day long about the beautiful sights I want to see and the different adventures I want to go on. It can be almost impossible to decide where to actually visit next. In light of that, I thought I would share with you my ten favorite places I have been so far in my life. They are pretty different from one another and I have so many places left to go, so I’m not sure everyone will agree with me. Simply, these are places that stole my breath at one point or another.

Here are my top ten places in the world that I think everyone should visit. Continue reading →

Why I Love My Scars

When I was two years old, my parents and I visited some family friends in Oregon. Now, these friends had a pet dog they loved more than anything. That afternoon, they informed my parents it was a very friendly dog that loved to play with kids. I do recognize that it’s quite possible I wasn’t the most charming of toddlers. Maybe I pulled on its ear a little much or maybe I straight up punched it in the face. Who knows. Either way, I must have really ticked off this dog, because he decided to attack my adorable, chubby, little face. Continue reading →

5 Pros And Cons Of Loving A Bearded Man

I won’t lie; I’m shallow. One of the first things that attracted me to my future husband was his beard. There’s just something about a beard that demands my attention. And, wow, my husband has a nice beard. I was hooked. Over the course of our relationship, I have learned a lot from being with a man and his beard. I thought I would share a little of what I have learned and the great highs and lows of my beard love.

Here they are: 5 Pros and Cons Of Loving a Bearded Man Continue reading →

5 Things I Love In China But Hate In America

1. McDonalds

I, like you, watched the documentary Supersize Me. And I, probably like you, was disgusted. Whenever my family would suggest McDonalds for a snack, I would cry out in horror,

“Guys, we can’t eat there!! Do you have any idea what’s in all that crap?!”

I would force them to find a healthier alternative in order to prolong their lives by avoiding the evil corporation that is McDonald’s. Continue reading →

To The People I’ve Hurt And The Friendships I’ve Lost

I have come to the conclusion there are too many people willing to say good riddance to friendships failed. They tell the world how they didn’t need those people anyway. They say that they are better off without them. They make excuses for the pain they caused and walk away. Continue reading →

Good Grief

April 26, 1998.

I sat on the chair feeling terrible. My mother had specifically invited me to the Ladies’ Luncheon to hear her speak, but I just didn’t want to go anymore. My brother and dad were going to McDonald’s. McDonald’s. My desire to be a “big girl” and go to the special lunch suddenly seemed incredibly boring next to the idea of jumping around in a ball pit at McDonald’s. Maybe Mom would understand? Continue reading →

10 Facts People Should Know About Mongolia

When I was nine years old, my family moved to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. We lived there four years before moving back to the United States. I know that doesn’t sound like a very long time, but it was my home. And I loved it. Since I moved away, I have often had to explain the mysterious Mongolia. It seems that although the famous Mongols once possessed a great portion of the known-world, they have since crept back into the shadows.

In light of that, I thought I would share with you 10 Facts People Should Know About Mongolia. Continue reading →

5 Things America Should Embrace

America has a great many things to offer the international community. For examples, look at my previous blog, “10 Things I Miss About America.” Today, however, I take a moment to point out some things America could profit to learn from the international community.

Here are my suggestions for 5 Things America Should Embrace. Continue reading →

My Life Is Perfect

I’m sure you don’t think my life is perfect. But, the thing is, I want you to think it is.

You see, these days, social media gives us this incredible opportunity to create ourselves. It allows us to set up this virtual version of who we are. Profile pictures, statuses, timelines, likes, dislikes, and updates are all available to us to show the world who we are. And if we don’t like how it looks, well, we can change it. Continue reading →

7 False Stereotypes About the Chinese

Despite the fact that I spent a good deal of time growing up in Asia, I still had some preconceived notions about China before moving here. I would like to blame Chinatowns, Mulan, and the media for my terrible stereotypes. In reality though, I know I can only blame myself for not having actually bothered to learn before now. After a year of living in good, ol’ Beijing, I thought I would share with you my, now, debunked stereotypes.

7 False Stereotypes about the Chinese: Continue reading →

10 Things To Stop Sharing On Facebook

I love social media. I really do. I have been grateful for it since the day I left Mongolia. It has kept me connected to friends all over the globe and I’m not sure what I would do without it. But, as time goes on, I have come to the conclusion that social media is crossing some serious boundaries. From behind the safety of a monitor, people cross social boundary lines as if it were a hopscotch game. I like hopscotch as much as the next person, but I think it’s time for something to give a little.

So here are my suggestions for 10 Things To Stop Sharing On Facebook. Continue reading →

What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting

For as long as I can remember I have said I will never have kids.

It’s not that I don’t like kids. Really, I do. It’s just that, after six younger siblings, I’ve already had my kids. I’ve changed diapers, wiped runny noses, read bedtime stories, played dolls, and kissed boo-boos. Honestly, I think this may have been my parents’ way of making sure I didn’t get pregnant outside of wedlock. Good work, parents, good work. Continue reading →

5 Naughty Words My ESL Kids Love

Today marked the first day of classes for the spring semester at Beihang Fu Zhong. Leif and I teach 7th and 10th grade at this high school here in Beijing. At the start of last semester, I remember being nervous. Would the kids like me? Would I be too boring a teacher? Would I be too spastic a teacher? Shoot, why in the world was I signed up to be a teacher?! This was definitely not the plan. After my first class though, I was no longer worried. I knew I was cut out to stand in front of kids and laugh at myself. I mean, I certainly don’t plan to do it again after this year, but it’s been a good lesson in not taking myself too seriously.

And here are five reasons why: 5 Naughty Words My ESL Kids Love Continue reading →

4 Truths I Learned From Anne Frank

Over the last week I read Anne Frank’s Diary. I’d like to say I picked it up with the intention of edifying my mind but, in reality, the foreign teacher’s library has all of twenty books. I browsed over my options and it seemed like my best choice. As I picked it up I couldn’t help but think of Cecily Cardew from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest when she says, “You see, it [a diary] is simply a very young girl’s record of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication.” Surely Anne’s diary and the fame that surrounds it made it worthy for publication. Continue reading →

5 Reasons I Miss Being Single

More than any other year, this Valentine’s Day season I have felt accosted by the concept of finding completeness in my significant other.

All around me I hear the reasons someone’s spouse or boyfriend is just divine perfection. I even found myself nodding understandingly. I reminded myself how lucky I am to have such an incredible man that is all mine on this hyped-up-on-chocolate holiday. Then, for just one brief second, as I stared down at my red-sprinkled, heart-shaped cookie, I realized…what is this load of junk? Continue reading →

Thoughts of Frost

The best way out is always through.
Robert Frost

Ever since I arrived in Jordan, the other students in my program would exclaim, “You’re spending your last semester abroad in Jordan?!” And I would always respond, “Yeah. It seemed like a good idea at the time.” And, really, it did. I had considered going abroad earlier, but something always came up. Either I was cast in a show that I just couldn’t miss or there was a core class that was only offered during a certain semester. So, finally, my senior year rolled around. There I was, with no more excuses left. It was time to head to the Middle East.

Today I sit here, on my bed, having finished my last class ever of my undergrad and I can’t help but wonder, “Was I crazy?” Why did I leave everything comfortable, everything familiar, everything easy? Why didn’t I just relax and enjoy my final semester? But then – I remember why.

A person will sometimes devote all his life
 to the development of one part of his body
 – the wishbone.
Robert Frost

Truth be told, I had put all my eggs in one basket when it came to Jordan. Jordan was the symbol of my independence, my future, and my dreams. Jordan was supposed to make my future clear. It was intended to mature and refine me. It was going to be the perfect way to end university, because it was going to make me the person I’d always wanted to become. Quite clearly, Jordan was my wishbone. And I was wishing for the world.

About halfway through this crazy experience, I realized Jordan was just another place. A place filled with beautiful people who love nothing more than to pour their love (and food) into you. A place filled with taxi drivers who really just want to be your new best friend. A place filled with sad kittens who paw through dumpsters looking for something to eat. A place filled with men who stare you up and down or worse. But, still, just a place. There was no secret palace filled with all of my future’s secrets. And there was no magical genie waiting to grant me my every wish.

This reality overwhelmed me. There were days when I felt like maybe, after all this, I had wasted my time. I felt that, while my friends were back in the States applying to jobs and finishing university like normal human beings, I had slacked off and run half way across the world. But tonight, I am stepping back and realizing something. I don’t need to have everything figured out. That’s just not how life works. Life is not ever going to be perfectly laid out for us. Life is messy and things can change or end at any moment. We may think we have everything ready for the next step, and then life happens. I need to stop expecting Jordan to become something that no place could ever be for me – the answer.

In three words I can sum up 
everything I have learned about life:
 it goes on.
Robert Frost

Here I am, Grace Pilet, stopping and looking at what Jordan really was for me. Jordan was my teacher. And it taught me that every day is an adventure. It doesn’t matter if you’re riding a camel in Wadi Rum or if you’re just catching a taxi to campus on a rainy morning. It doesn’t matter if you’re practicing Arabic grammar for hours or if you’re in the middle of a war in Jerusalem – there is always an adventure waiting for you. Life is yours to be had, day in and day out. I don’t want the adventures to stop. Just because my time in Jordan is coming to an end, does not mean that I must have everything figured out. In fact, if I had everything figured out, there’d be no room for the adventures. And, friends, there must always be room for adventures.

So, was I crazy? I guess the answer to that was – yes, I was. But, I’d like to think I came out even a little crazier, filled with excitement for the unknown. I don’t have my life figured out. I don’t even know what this next year is going to hold for me. But I do know it’s all going to be okay. After all, now I’m even more ready for my next adventure.

Jordan was not the answer. But, perhaps, Jordan was just the beginning.

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‘Tis the $eason

As you know, I have lived in all sorts of places. Everywhere from Midwest USA with their plethora of fast-food restaurants to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia with its very hairy yaks. And in all of these places, I noticed something interesting. Not about them, but about me. My status as a person changed, depending on where I lived.

The concept of wealth and these changing lifestyles are not new to any of us. But I never considered, until now, the significance of this in my life. In the mid-west, my family and I were fine. You know – fine – not rich, not poor. Just fine. In Mongolia, we were the elite. Our apartments were the most beautiful. Going out to eat was a common occurrence. We could go to fancy resorts in Thailand or visit Beijing for the weekend. But that didn’t mean life was easy. Our white skin was a symbol, important because of what it meant for how fat our pockets were. Our groceries were stolen; my friend’s family had their apartment robbed. We were the envied, the “dream.”

When we moved to Seattle, Washington my family and I became poor. The cost of living was far out of our grasp and I tangibly felt the vast chasm I had fallen through. People like to say that when you’re poor you focus more on what’s important, like your family, because that’s all you have. But let’s be real, when people are poor they sometimes become so consumed with being able to feed their family that the important things continue to be ignored. Wealth is not simple. I continue to be astounded at how one can jump through social classes like hula hoops as one flies through time zones. But, I have realized that this is the nature of wealth. The Gold Rush spoke of “rivers flowing with gold,” but the reality is: a big enough wave will make the gold flow downstream – away from you.

In Amman, I have noticed again this relative concept of wealth. The majority of this country is very poor. They barely manage to survive with the money they do have. And when fuel prices rise like they did recently, the impact of that drastic change can be devastating. All this to explain that, when I see a Jordanian with an iPad, I stop and stare. Electronics are roughly 300% more expensive than in America. In America, seeing a person with an iPad wouldn’t mean much of anything to me. As a matter of fact, it’s a frequent occurrence. But seeing a Jordanian with one, shocks me into silence. The wealth of this Jordanian is something I will probably never be able to comprehend. And yet, here in Jordan, I am also one of the wealthy – me, a practically broke college student. I eat at their fast food restaurants which are considered for the wealthy. I go to one of their most expensive and prestigious universities. And yet, I will be returning to the States, a graduate of college with basically not even a penny to my name. Wealth is so relative.

As we head into the Christmas season, it’s almost impossible not to think about money. We are worried about having enough money to buy gifts for our loved ones. We make lists of all the gifts we hope to get. The season consumes and is consumed by money. I have noticed that it becomes increasingly easy to feel the pressure and stress this involves. We become upset about not getting the gift we want. We forget about enjoying the season in our rush to purchase all the gifts for friends and family. And now I apply my own lesson to myself – wealth is relative, it is temporary, it is changing. 

If we strip away the buffer of wealth that we find within our different social classes, what are we left with? Whatever the answer, this is what we should cling to this Christmas season. Even in America we see that a person’s social class can change almost overnight. With jobs being lost or medical tragedies striking, families can go from wealthy to poor in what may feel like a matter of moments. It is this that reminds us that there is so much more to life than money. And it is this that reminds us how we we are all similar in our own ways.  I constantly need to remind myself that I must guard my thinking in this area. Sometimes, I let myself get caught up in the stress of money. But, in the end, wealth will always be relative and it will always change. This Christmas season I am going to work hard to remember what is most important.

After all, “Some people are so poor, all they have is money.”

A Time to Learn

Before I begin, I need to address something. I realize I am only a young college student. I don’t pretend to know everything, or anything for that matter. The things I say are simply what I have seen and experienced. All I will tell you is solely based on my personal experiences.




I have learned that timing, timing is everything.

 
Two weeks ago, I decided I would go to the Holy Land over my long weekend. It was an easy decision; It’s cheap to cross the border and I had some friends who wanted to go. We booked our hostel and prepared for the trip. We decided we’d leave a day early, that way we’d have a little longer to see the sights. The only potentially difficult part of our trip would be crossing the border. We just hoped it wouldn’t be a problem – after all, we were just some college students wanting to see the Holy Land. 
 
Tuesday finally came and my friends and I hopped into a taxi headed for the border. Down, down, down we descended to the Dead Sea until we finally reached the check point where we would pay our exit fees and bus over to the Israeli check point. Now you must understand, we’d been told some serious horror stories about this check point.

“Oh, it took us five hours.” 
“I got interrogated about why I was learning Arabic.” 
“They yelled at me and didn’t want to let me in.” 
“Yeah, it took us four hours to get through.”
 

 I was preparing for the worst. As our bus pulled into the check point, I started reciting my response in my head for why I wanted to visit Jerusalem. My friends and I handed off our luggage at the security and walked to the first counter that checked our passport. Counter after counter we walked,  never once waiting in line, never once having a difficult time. Before we knew it, we were out. Luggage in hand, we stood on the other side of the check point, grinning at each other. “Easy-peasy,” I said and we got into a bus to head to Jerusalem. Good timing, I guess.

 
At the city limits, the bus was stopped and an IDF soldier climbed in to check all of our passports. His name was David and he couldn’t have been older than 18. His AK- 47 looked scarier than he did. We didn’t talk, but I don’t think I’m going to forget David. He was my first glimpse into the reality of every news article I had ever read about Israel. Little did I know, the weekend was going to be moment after moment of a reality I never thought I’d know. It’s all about the timing.

When we arrived to the hostel, I learned that it had free wifi. I immediately pulled out my iPhone to check my email and Facebook. (Fast, free internet is a big deal in the Middle East when you’re used to paying for every moment of internet you use.) This was what greeted me when I opened my inbox:

 
 DEMONSTRATIONS IN PROGRESS: SECURITY ALERT
EMERGENCY MESSAGE FOR U.S. CITIZENS
 

 In a few short hours, Amman went from silent and calm to angry and loud. The government had released the information that they were raising the price of fuel by 53% while we were crossing the border. Our program cancelled school for the next day and those who were planning to travel for the weekend by car were no longer allowed to travel outside the city. My friends and I looked at each other – what remarkable timing.

The next day, we began with a guided tour of the Old City and saw some of the sights. Honestly, it didn’t even feel like real life running around the Old City’s quarters and coming upon the Dome of the Rock and then the Western Wall. Everything was so close to everything else. When the tour was over, we went back and revisited the places we had breezed over with the tour. It was then that the glamour of seeing the sights started to wear off. As I waited in line to see a possible tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a Holy Disneyland. Everything around me was so overrun with tourists that I felt completely separated from what I was seeing. While it is amazing to be able to say I have now seen these famous artifacts and locations, I can’t help but feel that they have simply become attractions for the masses. I found myself missing the simplicity of standing on the bank of the Jordan River from the Jordanian side.

When we got back to the hostel that evening, I checked the news for more information about Jordan. While there were updates about Jordan, there was something far more significant and pertinent on the front page of BBC news. 

 
ISRAELI AIR STRIKE KILLS HAMAS MILITARY CHIEF IN GAZA

And so it began. It turned out that while we had been standing in line in the Holy Disneyworld, Israel and Gaza had begun something huge. Something that was going to greatly effect everything. Emails began pouring in saying things like, “US SECURITY ALERT – ISRAEL.” Suddenly our proposed trip to Bethlehem looked out of the question. We headed to bed with a new plan of spending the next day in Tel Aviv where it was sure to be calm. I fell asleep thinking how unbelievable the timing of all this craziness was. 
 
The next day we got a late start, but arrived in Tel Aviv around 1 pm. We proceeded to get lost for a few hours, but eventually ended up on the beach. It was beautiful. The sun was beginning to set and there were only a few people spread out on this long beach. After we had exhausted the sunlight, we headed into Old Jaffa for dinner. Old Jaffa is said to be the port that Jonah set sail from before his fateful experience with the whale. As we walked towards Jaffa, we heard a deep, loud boom. We looked at each other wondering what that had been, but shrugged and walked on. We found an adorable cafe and proceeded to have a fantastic dinner. After dinner, we headed back to Jerusalem. Once we arrived back, we all decided we wanted to find a bar to hang out in. There we met two IDF officers who introduced themselves to us. They were delightful company and I was so glad to put personalities to this faceless force. During the conversation, my friend curiously asked them, “Do you think this fighting with Gaza will escalate much?” The IDF soldiers hesitated a moment and then said, “Oh yes, for sure. I mean, they fired on Tel Aviv tonight after all.” It was our moment to hesitate. “They did what?” “Fired on Tel Aviv.” Under my breath I said, “I knew I heard a boom.” Our timing was impeccable.
 
GAZA CRISIS: TEL AVIV TARGETED BY MISSILES 
 
The news was everywhere. Tel Aviv had been targeted, one hitting towards the south of the city and another off the shore into the sea. My mum had already sent me an anxious email by the time I got back to the hostel. I quickly responded telling her I was fine and that I was safely in Jerusalem now. No worries anymore, right? 

The next morning we headed to Yad Vashem (the holocaust museum in Jerusalem) on the tram. At the stop before we were to reach Yad Vashem, a young Israeli man came over and told us, “We have to leave. This is the last stop. They found an unidentified object ahead so the tram will go no further.” With this new knowledge, we set out on foot the rest of the way to Yad Vashem. Ahead we could see there was police tape marking off the area all around the next tram stop. We skirted the area as we headed down to the museum. Great timing.
 
A few hours into Yad Vashem, I was ready to head back to finish up sight-seeing in Jerusalem. It was a bit heavy for me to look at for too long. The rest of my group was not ready, so I decided I would head back by myself. I walked back to the tram and took it to the Damascus Gate. When I arrived, the area around the gate was crawling with IDF troops. I could barely get around them to find my way to the gate. As I weaved my way through, I was struck with how many girls I saw. Now, if you know me, you know that I’m not a military person. But watching these girls, I have never wanted to be part of the military more. I felt so weak just looking at them. I realized that living in a nation where women are not considered strong had made me crave the power that I saw in these Israeli girls. I was tired of feeling vulnerable.
 
Once I was inside the Damascus Gate, I realized that I was in the middle of the Arab quarter. An American girl all alone in the Arab quarter is probably not a very good idea. But fortunately, I was a girl on a mission. I rushed past the men calling out and staring at me. I just kept walking and turning down narrow alleys as I recognized graffiti after graffiti. I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to go, but I loved the feeling of being free. I was walking alone by myself in one of the most ancient cities in the world, in a country seized by war. But I was able to be alone and I wasn’t lost. I felt powerful and in control despite my circumstances. And I loved it. I think I needed that moment – it was good timing.
 
Later that evening, my friends and I went to the Mount of Olives, and more specifically, the Garden of Gethsemane and Basilica of the Agony. In the Basilica of the Agony, mass was in process. It was beautiful to listen to in the majestic church. As some of my friends sat in the pews listening, I headed back outside. As I left the noise of the ongoing mass, I was greeted and overwhelmed with the sound of the call to prayer. The reality of what I was listening to struck me deeply. The clash of religions, cultures, and people there in Jerusalem is so complicated. As I sat on the stairs leading to the Basilica of the Agony, I was overwhelmed with the agony this clash has brought to the region. You so badly want there to be peace, and there is none to be had. I sat and waited for my friends to come out. It wasn’t more than a minute after they joined me that a foreign noise filled the night sky.



AIR SIRENS
 
Tourists began to look at their tour guides with panicked faces. People began rushing around. My heart dropped into my stomach. And yet, the Israelis simply walked on. Immediately, I thought back to David, the young man who had looked at my passport as I had entered Jerusalem. Was he going to be in danger? What about our new IDF friends from the bar? What about the girls who had seemed so powerful hours ago? Faced with something as huge and terrifying as rockets, suddenly every single one of them seemed as weak as me. As my friends and I set off to get back to our hostel through the Old City, I realized every people, every culture, every country has their own weaknesses. Jordan is not alone; I am not alone. As we walked back through the streets of the Old City, gun fire played like a chorus in the background.

One particular shop owner came out to greet us as we passed. He was grinning and laughing as he said, “The rockets!! Gaza is firing! Everyone is scared.” I couldn’t understand why he was so happy. This was his home. And then, it hit me. He was proud of Gaza finally making a strong move against Israel, even if it meant the city he was in was at risk. His attitude stated more than anything he could have ever said. I found out later the gunfire was from Palestinians celebrating all throughout Jerusalem. Suddenly I thought about all the Gazans dying less than an hour from me. I thought about the mothers crying for their children. I thought about the hate that saturates the air in this nation. I thought about the reality of a conflict that had driven people to cheer their city getting hit with rockets, the reality that I was suddenly in the middle of. My heart ached and continues to ache.

There is so much pain on both sides. I think too often we get caught up on one side of the conflict. I understand that, I really do. But seeing the faces of both sides makes everything so real. I have noticed in myself that, when I feel very passionately about a subject, I often forget about the credibility of the other side. This trip was very important for me. I saw both sides in a tangible way, and really, it’s devastating. I imagined each of these people growing up. From childhood they are taught a certain way of thinking and living, just like I have been. We, they, just don’t understand each other. And there is much more to learn. No matter what we think about each side, we can agree that this endless violence needs to stop. Needs to stop.

You’ll be glad to learn that on Saturday I arrived back safely across the border. Jordan has calmed down a bit, so getting into the country was not a problem. Although, there are still protests scheduled through out this week. But, to say the least, my weekend was perfectly timed despite terrible timing. I know that doesn’t really make sense, but I really was safe while still being in the thick of it. I feel heavy with the weight of what I have seen and learned, but I know it is crucial to wrestle with this knowledge. We should not be comfortable with what is going on.  Our world is so sadly diseased.

While I was in Old Jaffa, I purchased a pocket watch. At the time, I thought it was just a cool accessory to own. But now, I find it so much more significant. It reminds me of this moment in my life where timing was everything. It reminds me every day how time can not be taken for granted. It’s ticking, it’s flying, and it waits for no one. Every second, minute, and hour is a gift. How much time have I wasted on hate and not love? I don’t want to waste another moment. It’s time to start seeing clearly. 

Amman: Crazy Taxi 2.0

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, 
that a single man in possession of a good taxi, 
must be in want of a customer.”
 
 

When I was 12 years old, my brother and I played a certain computer game all the time. Its name was Crazy Taxi. The premise is that you, as a taxi driver, must pick up customers and take them to their destination before the time runs out. The longer you take, the less money you get, as you have less time to pick up more customers. Due to this factor, the game is a lot less about driving and a lot more about money. I am willing to bet my next cab fare that Crazy Taxi was made by someone who had visited or lived in Jordan.

To better explain, I will share the profiles of Jordanian cab drivers. There are five types:


1. The Cheater-Cheater-Pumpkin-Eater
Unfortunately, this type is fairly frequent. They usually do one of three things: A. They act like they have no idea where you’re trying to go, and tell you they’ll “try and figure it out.” B. They refuse to start the meter. Or C. They turn off the meter as soon as you arrive at your destination and try to tell you the ride was worth 5 dinar. It wasn’t.

Example: A few weeks ago, I was on my way to meet some friends at the Citadel to take pictures. I left with plenty of time to get there; however, I hadn’t anticipated not being able to get a taxi. After about 40 minutes, an old man in a taxi picked me up. Now, it must be noted that I had tripled-checked with a friend on how to say the location. I felt ready. Of course, when I tell him, the driver goes “What? Where you want go? Straight??” I repeat again the location. He looks at me like I’m crazy and continues to say, in English, “Straight!!” I end up calling my host dad to have him tell the man where I want to go.

Faced with another Arab’s voice, my driver smiles and starts heading in the correct direction. I’m feeling pretty confident about life. The meter’s running, the driver is talking to himself, and I’m heading to the Citadel. Life is good. And then we arrive. I look at the meter. 2.4 Dinar. No problem. I pull out 3 Dinar and wait for him to give me my change. He starts yelling at me about how Americans are wealthy and how I don’t need the change. I tell him, “Bidii frata!!” (I want change!) He continues yelling at me until I finally give up and get out of the taxi. Once I get out, I realize he’s taken me to the wrong place and I will have to get in another taxi. I flag one down and tell him where I want to go. The driver says “Ok, 5 dinar.” Sigh. Cheater-Cheater-Pumpkin-Eaters.

2. The Creepy McCreeperson
The Creepy McCreeperson is the most feared in all the land. They are commonly known to be owners of large rounded rearview mirrors for “all the better to see you with, my dear.” This is also the type that either wishes to marry you off to a son, or marry you himself. Usually they’re good for a “You’re very beautiful” or two as well. This doesn’t sound too bad until they ask you the follow-up question of, “Are you a virgin?” It is not unusual to have the front seat offered to you by the McCreeperson, which is a big no-no. One must proceed with extreme caution when a cabbie is showing any of these signs.

Example: I have been extraordinarily fortunate in Amman by being able to travel most the time with my roommate, Saba. There is, indeed, strength in numbers. However, I have gotten used to the constant stares of the driver from the rearview mirror. There is nothing quite as unsettling as having a man watch you for an entire car ride, especially when you’d prefer he was staring at the road. The best way to handle the Creepy McCreeperson is to put on your “stank” face and ignore any and every of his comments. If you must respond, just tell him you’re already married or engaged.

3. The Calm and Silent
This type is my personal favourite. The Calm and Silent waits patiently for you to tell him where you’d like to go and then he turns on the meter. He watches the road ahead and there is a peaceful silence in the car, only disrupted if he decides he’d like to listen to some music. He doesn’t care why you’re learning Arabic or why you’re in Jordan. He just wants the exact money you owe him once you arrive at your destination. Much appreciated, sir.

Example: This is actually the type that is majority of my taxi rides. I love it and always keep my fingers crossed that I’ll get one every time.

4. The Chummy Chatter
Oh, The Chummy Chatter. You’re always in for a good time with this kind. This taxi driver usually has a lot of “important” information he wants to share with you. He’s usually an extremely effervescent personality type and positively thrilled you’re in his car. He most likely will share with you about his glorious past career before he decided to become a cabbie. He wants to know everything about you and most likely, by the end of the car ride, you’ll either have his card or be invited over for a meal. Quite possibly both.

Example: A week or so ago, I got into a cab. It looked like any other yellow taxi from the outside. How was I to know what would be inside? As soon as I sat down, the driver shouted out, “WELCOME TO JORDAN!!” followed by “WELCOME ALSO TO MY CAR!” A little taken aback, I responded, “Thanks?” Once I told him where I wanted to go, he took right off while asking me if I was learning Arabic. I explained that I was, indeed, and was headed to class right now. He smiled and told me I was very beautiful. I quickly became worried this man was heading into Creepy McCreeperson territory. 

However, he then passed me a laminated newspaper clipping that looked like a very young him in a futball uniform. “Is this you?” I asked him. He responded, “You’re very lucky. My name is Omar, and you are being driven by the most famous man in Jordan!” I think college futball fame might have gone to his head a little bit, but I was glad he seemed so confident in himself. “I am very lucky indeed,” I said with a smile. He then said, “You know, after I stopped playing sports, I gave up many things. I gave up smoking, drinking, and hookah. But, girls, girls I will never give up.” And then we arrived at the university.

Oooookay. Thanks, Omar. “Masalama!!”

5. The Chivalrous Cabbie in Shining Armour
This is the most precious and rare of taxi drivers. The diamond in the rough. They are the kindest and sweetest of men who simply want to make sure you safely get to your destination. I imagine them as the one’s with wives and daughters they dearly care about. Most often, they ask you only necessary questions and make sure you know where you are headed. They never try to rip you off, and you never feel pressured by them. Of course, because they are so kind, I usually end up tipping them significantly.

Example: This past weekend, my roommate and I went out to dinner. We were not really sure about the location of the restaurant but figured we’d be able to find it no problem once we were in the right area. The taxi driver kindly and patiently took us to the area and when we began directing him he listened closely. Unfortunately, we were going the wrong direction, but he realized it before we did. He kept asking “Are you sure this is the way you want to go?” In the end, he helped us find the restaurant we needed and even told us he was a Christian. We tipped him a lot. I’m still beating myself up that I didn’t get his number for future cab rides. 

There you have it. The Crazy Taxis of Amman. No worries, I’m releasing the computer game next year. 

The Entertainment Industry, Jordan, and Me

I am an American.
I am a girl.
Therefore, I am “easy.”
The past few weeks I have begun interviewing Jordanians for a documentary I am making. This documentary will address common misconceptions (among other things) that Americans have about the Middle East. In the process, I have learned many eye-opening things. Most interesting has been the Jordanian perception of Americans. Multiple people told me that the American girl is considered “easy.” When pressed, they explained that it was because of the entertainment industry in America. It has led the general Middle Eastern population to believe that American women will let men do whatever they want to them.
In my last interview, I decided to push the conversation further with the man who once again gave me that now expected answer. I asked, “So is there nothing American girls can do to fix this perception?” He explained in detail that they should be careful to cover up and that more importantly they should be serious at all times with taxis and strangers. “American girls are far too friendly for their own safety,” he said. I sat back and swallowed that. I usually pride myself on my friendliness, and being reminded that it is a negative thing here in the Middle East is difficult to comprehend.

After the interview, I took some time to let what he had said sink in. From what it sounds like, there is nothing I can actively do to make this perception of American women stop. I can try and help prevent the symptoms of this perception, but I am powerless to stop it. And that is a scary thought.

For awhile now I have planned to pursue acting (possibly in the entertainment industry). Because of this, I have often considered how I would conduct myself if I ever got to be in films. I had more or less decided on my “line” because of my faith. I didn’t want a bad reputation, even though it was only me acting. But now, with this new information, I cannot even consider acting in a role that makes a girl look easy. Suddenly it’s so much bigger than myself. I had no idea how Hollywood’s actions were making every day life difficult for American girls in foreign countries. But it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

Lady Gaga and Katy Perry represent some of our female musicians. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis represent some of our actresses. The popular American show The Voice has its own Arab version over here. This means at one point Christina Aguilera was a representation of our TV shows. All of a sudden, the men who whistle and cat-call me don’t confuse me anymore. I am in a category with these larger-than-life stars. To these men, I am easy.

Last night, me and three friends went to Abdoun. Abdoun is the ritzy neighborhood of West Amman. The area is filled with Western restaurants and even has the nicest mall in the country. It is not uncommon to see women showing some of their legs or even a shoulder. When I first started walking around, I felt at ease. I felt like, for once, I could put my guard down. But then, it wasn’t two minutes later, a man driving by yelled out his window, “Hello, Beautiful!! Welcome to Jordan!”

The rest of the evening was filled with similar occurrences. Jordanian men honking, staring, and yelling at me usually makes me feel like a piece of meat. Later in the evening, my friends and I were trying to get a taxi. We decided to cross the street and walk up a bit in hopes that an empty taxi would pass by. We ended up standing under a street light next to the road. Men were every where I looked. The SUV parked to our left had two men staring at us and honking. The cars passing by would yell out in Arabic as they blew us kisses. The men walking by to our right were staring us up and down.

I felt gross. I felt overwhelmed. I felt trapped. Then it dawned on me – I felt easy.

Living in this country has done much more than teach me about Jordan. It has taught me about how America as a government, as a culture, as a super power is perceived. And it has taught me about myself. I may not be able to change the world or even how American girls are viewed, but I can represent my faith, my culture, and myself to the best of my abilities. We must realize that we are ambassadors all the time, no matter what our pursuits.

Thank you, Hollywood, for teaching me that my actions are so much bigger than myself. And thank you, Jordan, for opening my eyes to so many life lessons.

Hide and Seek

Walking alone at night is terrifying to me. It’s scary even when I’m at home and have to walk the five yards to my car in the driveway. So, it’s really scary when I am walking down a dark road to find a taxi in Jordan. The other night I walked alone to find a taxi. The sun sets in Amman around six and it was only a little after that time that I set out to meet some friends for dinner. I held my bag tightly as I walked down the car-lined road to the main street. A light above me flickered on eerily. Ahead I noticed a group of four young men laughing and walking towards the street. I found myself thinking “Okay, four of them and one of me. Slow down your pace a little, Grace.” I did not want to have to deal with their stares or cat-calls. It’d already been far too long a day for that.


Unfortunately, as I got nearer to the street, the group stopped. They were waiting for a taxi, just like I needed to be. Standing right next to them was not an option and it’d be extremely rude to go up the street further. If I did, I would steal a taxi from them. After running through the possibilities, I decided crossing the street was my best option. I would be away from the men and there was always the possibility there may be more taxis that way.

Once I reached the street, the group of boys saw me. My stomach clenched and I stared straight ahead as I heard them saying, “Hellooooo!” As quickly as possible I crossed the street, not even giving them a sign that I had heard them. When I was safely on the other side, I started walking up the street a bit and stuck out my arm to hail a taxi. As I did so, I watched the group of boys begin to cross the street. I knew I wasn’t in danger, but I definitely didn’t want to deal with any more men that day. I had already been cat-called for a half hour earlier in the day while trying to find a taxi. I sighed and kept my arm out, praying that a taxi would swoop in and save the day. No such luck.

As the boys came closer, I decided I would make eye contact this time just so they could register my don’t-mess-with-me face. As my eyes flickered towards them, I realized one of the boys was coming specifically towards me with his arm out. Confusion. Then, recognition. It was Samuel, my host “dad”‘s younger brother. Suddenly, what I had done registered. I felt so small and ridiculous. I tried to make up for my inexcusable rudeness by grinning and saying “Oh hi, Sam!! I didn’t see you!” He smiled good-naturedly and headed off with his friends. I could not believe what had just happened. I had completely ignored a friend because I was scared. My fear of the unknown had imprisoned me. I was walking around blindly to keep myself safe, but in reality, being blind just makes you miss out on seeing. How many other times in my life have I chosen not to see?

I have found that sometimes it is easier not to look. Sometimes it’s easier to just pretend like nothing is happening. To pretend that it doesn’t involve you if you can’t see it. It’s like when you play hide and seek with little kids. They think just because they are covering their eyes, you can’t see them. But you do. The problems and people around us still see us clearly, whether or not we’re looking. I have seen and am continuing to see such problems in the world, even here in Jordan. There are stigmas and racism that lay heavy on my heart. It has shown me that the time for turning a blind eye is over. It’s time to face these issues, even if there is little I can do about it. I cannot allow my fear prevent me from fully living my life.

Love in an Over-Sized Bird

This week I learned about love.

Eid Al-Adha was October 24-28th. It is a Muslim holiday that celebrates the day Abraham was to sacrifice Ishmael. I have never been more excited about a Muslim holiday. Not because the streets of the Arab world would be flowing with the blood of sheep, but because it meant school was cancelled. And what does a study abroad student do when school is cancelled? Go to Istanbul, Turkey, of course.

My mum has always told me she wants to visit Turkey. I never understood. How exciting could a country be that shares a name with an over-sized bird? But when I started looking for a safe place to go for break, suddenly Turkey began looking very attractive. Turns out Mum was right (as usual). Istanbul has stolen my heart.
Bosphorus Sea Breeze. Autumn leaves. Chattering of languages. Call to prayer. Fresh bread. Squawking of sea gulls. Cobblestone streets. Towering mosques. Palace ruins. Green grass. Glowing fountains. Turkish delights. Rooftop terraces. Friendly felines. Delicate houses. Colourful buildings. Tram bells ringing. Waves hitting the shore. Rocking of the ferry. Glimmering lights on the water. Flowers in hair. Children laughing. Carriage rides on an island. Biking in the shade of trees. Bargaining for Arabian trinkets. Sea food by the Black Sea. Moments, glimpses of another world. An escape. This is love.
Istanbul was just what I needed for break. It was an oasis from my desert. It is the perfect mix of history and modern. A mass transit system can take you almost directly to the very door of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It’s the crossroads of the world. The city itself is spread between Europe and Asia and reflects every aspect of the cultures. I couldn’t help but feel it is one of the world’s best kept secrets. All this time people dream of visiting Europe and Turkey gets forgotten, especially by Americans. I can’t encourage you enough to visit. I’m in love.
I found one particular aspect fascinating about the city. Istanbul appears to be the Arab World’s honeymoon destination of choice. At first I was very confused. I was frequently seeing Arab couples where the man would hold the hand of a woman in a burqa and walk with her through the crowd. My stomach churned at the sight. I was confused by my response and then it hit me. I turned to my friends and asked, “When you see these couples holding hands, do you think of it as she’s more on his leash or that they are romantically holding hands?” I had realized that, without even considering an alternative, I had assumed she was being forced around.
I am so disappointed in myself that I continue to make this mistake. My assumptions are exactly like my baggage I took to the airport. Heavy, excessive, and holding me back. Just because I can’t see that she’s smiling, doesn’t mean they aren’t the happiest they have ever been. Young couples holding hands by the waterfront are the very picture of freedom and love. And I was viewing it as a prison – the woman trapped by the man. I have so much to fix in my mind.
The last day I was in Istanbul, I saw this couple standing by the water. They were surrounded by beauty. Maiden’s tower a few yards away. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in the distance. Boats dotting the Bosphorus. And yet, they only had eyes for each other. I found myself watching them and realizing that their love was one of the most beautiful things I had ever come across. Not only because they were clearly taken with each other, but because it cemented something in my mind. Even though we dress differently, speak differently, and eat differently, we still love the same – fully and completely.
Move aside, Paris. Istanbul is my city of love.

I’m a Barbie Girl in a Veiled World

When I started telling people that I would be studying abroad in Jordan, I was usually asked a series of three questions:
 
1)  Where is Jordan?
2)  You’re gonna get blown-up. You know that, right?
3)  Are you gonna have to wear one of those scarf-things?
 
In response to the first, I began introducing the topic by saying I was studying abroad in “Jordan-in-the-Middle-East” before anyone could ask. To the second question, I would just smile and say, “There are worse ways to go.” And to the final question I would respond, “Umm.” In truth, I had no idea what to expect concerning veiling in Jordan. BBC News had failed me on that front. I figured as an obvious foreigner I’d be able to get away with a lot. Turns out I was right about that, but it also turns out that I had a lot of misconceptions concerning the hijab. I realized that my outlook of not only the hijab (the veil), but my view of women in the Middle East had been greatly confused.
 

Last weekend when I was in Madaba (for the Biblical Jordan trip), I purchased two barbies. These two barbies wear a full hijab. When I was a young girl, playing with my barbies was my favourite thing to do. I had at least a hundred of them and furniture for every room of their imaginary house. As I look back on it, I realize that I got a lot of my ideas of beauty and fashion from my barbies. I changed their outfits and played with their hair until they fell apart. Spending that much time playing “house” with the “perfect image of a woman” has to alter how we view beauty.  Seeing these barbies in a full hijab made me stop and consider how different a girl’s view of beauty and fashion must be in this part of the world. How much different would we view a woman’s image if suddenly her body and hair (and sometimes her face) weren’t even part of the equation? Suddenly, the hijab doesn’t seem as oppressive, does it?

My friend, Kevin, sent me a link to a website the other day. It was a link to a piece of art entitled, “100 Barbies in Burkas,” by a German artist named Sabine Reyer. I love to look at art, but I’m really not the best at analyzing it. However, this piece screamed meanings to me. When I looked at the pictures, I found myself immediately looking for the differences in each barbie. They all seem so similar, so conformed, so orderly. What I found most interesting though is that, instead of being caught up in this reality, I was overwhelmed by how easily I saw each of their differences, like the colour and shape of their eyes. If they had been real people, would I have not suddenly been more interested in knowing the biggest difference – the personality within? I then thought about what they would have been wearing if it had been an American Barbie display. Short mini skirts? Bikinis? What’s really worse here? Why is it liberating to wear a mini skirt, but oppressive to wear a hijab? Suddenly, the hijab doesn’t seem as oppressive, does it?

On my university’s campus,  I can probably count on one hand the amount of girls I see not wearing a hijab. Before coming here, my feminist-side was absolutely horrified by the hijab. The idea of a society forcing women to cover themselves seemed like some sort of strange fairytale. Then I got hit with a dose of reality. Religion and culture here are inseparable. They are smothered together like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Knowing this fact alone explains so much. A hijab is a kind of ‘religious’ accessory here. Walking around campus this becomes abundantly clear. Girls match their scarves to their outfits so perfectly that I often look at my clothes and feel silly for not having colour-coordinated. Purple scarves to match their purses and shoes. Green scarves to match their jacket. White scarves to match their pants. That’s just how it is. Real life. Not some sort of oppressing factor, just woman living life and being fashion-forward. Suddenly, the hijab doesn’t seem as oppressive, does it?

The other day as I made my way to one of my classes, I heard a strangely familiar song.

“I’m a barbie girl, in a barbie world
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!
You can brush my hair, 
Undress me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation
Come on Barbie, let’s go party!”
 
Ah, good old American pop that’s ever so slightly inappropriate. Perhaps if it had just been the music playing I wouldn’t have been as astonished at hearing it. However, not only was it the music, there were some girls singing along to it. Every single one of them wearing a hijab. Do they have any idea what they’re singing? I wondered. Whether they did though, is neither here nor there. Since moving to Jordan, I have had one of those glorious light-bulb moments. 

My culture is just as ‘oppressive’ as their culture. 


American culture continues to sell ideas of what ‘beauty’ really is and how we should aim for it. This definition of beauty affects every aspect of our lives from movies and music to food and toys.  There is no escaping it no matter what country or culture you run to. And this is oppressive. Yes, there are aspects of the hijab that are still oppressive, but it is not as clearly cut as I had first assumed. Being here has taught me an invaluable lesson. I must not be so quick to judge an aspect of someone’s culture simply because it is different. I thought I already knew this, but I’ve realized my heart wasn’t listening to my mind. 

So, Reality Check: I have a lot to learn.