Preparing for Takeoff

Hey there, I’m Aaron! Welcome to my Lumos blog. Over the next four months, I’ll be keeping you in the loop on my international development project in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. Part of the time, I will be working in a shelter for immigrants and refugees as they pass through the city. I might also have the opportunity to expand the project to work on local issues and work with other NGOs.

I recently returned from a nine-month stint in Galicia, Spain, where I taught English on a Fulbright grant. That experience certainly made me feel more confident as a traveler and intercultural communicator, and I am excited to use my much-improved Spanish to serve. My time at home has been short, but I am making the most of it by seeing lots of friends and family before I leave the country once again. It’s a whirlwind, this season of life has helped me feel more comfortable moving around and adjusting quickly to new environments.

While the past year has prepared me well for some aspects of the project, I know that the work I do in Guadalajara will be immensely different than teaching. I might have the opportunity to teach at some point, and I will be looking out for any chance I get, but I will also have to do lots of physical labor and “grunt work” at the shelter. Regardless of how I contribute, I’m excited to do so, and I’m doing my best to begin this experience with an open mind. I’ll be back with more updates next week after I land in Mexico and visit a friend before beginning my work!

¡Hasta pronto!

Aaron

My Summer Before the Move

This is a time of back-to-back life-changing experiences. I will debrief my graduation, moving out of my college home, my two-week trip to India, a week at Boston L’Abri, and a KY lake trip with my dad. First on the bracket is graduation.

My sister took this photo...she also graduated from Belmont!

How do I even attempt to culminate my experiences? It was wonderful, heartrending, better than I could have ever hoped. Above all else, I feel lucky to have great professors, friends, family, jobs…need I go on? They helped get me here. My Belmont highlights:

RUF: I loved being a part of RUF, its ministry, and the friends it has brought me. There’s a line in a song from Les Mis (I coincidentally watched this two nights before I left town with some friends): “To love someone is to see the face of God.” RUF felt like that.
The English Major: The English department. What a group of professors and students! I loved creating and leading the Belmont Creative Writing Club, attending English Club trivia and game nights, and building relationships with such caring educators! In the fall of my senior year, I invited English major friends to a monthly breakfast, which grew into solid friendships. Two of my friends in the “English Breakfast Club,” Eleri and Elisabeth, are actually going on Lumos trips in the UK! It’s so cool to see how these friendships once consisted of simply sharing a monthly meal and now consist of some significant encouragement to pursue global service together! Crazy.
University Ministries: We went on a Belmont trip to Israel and Palestine. The trip was incredible, and we learned so much. Our trip inspired me to get involved in my local community alongside University Ministries. This led me to help lead meal preparation for Room In the Inn (at Belmont) my senior year and to go on a mission trip to Seattle (a profoundly impactful experience for me and a huge reason I decided to pursue an international service project). I also co-led a service trip to Memphis, TN, for 15+ first-year students! It was a blast. The UM staff are such the best at encouragement. I am so grateful that I decided to work with them during my senior year.
Study Abroad in London: Imagine you are in Yorkshire, hiking through a beautiful hilly sheep pasture on your way to a tranquil waterfall where the Brontes wrote their famous novels. That was my life (and I’m still not over it). Studying some of my favorite stories in the lands that inspired them is an experience I will never take lightly. Again, I felt so lucky. London is my favorite city ever, and I hope to return.

That was college, and it was wonderful. Two days after I graduated, my two best friends left on a beach trip, and I packed up our house. I packed up plates, memories, photographs, and shared kitchen bowls—we really had an amazing time living together. I’ll never forget the times we shared.



Next, India. I went with University Ministries and Rahab’s Rope, an anti-human trafficking organization like New Hope Girls. When I first heard about this trip in 2023, I knew I needed to be on the team. This trip was the most challenging travel experience I have had, primarily due to not adjusting well to food/heat and not feeling well. However, I enjoyed meeting the people and exploring local areas. The trip helped prepare me for my move to the Dominican Republic in ways I am still trying to understand. Overall, it was a positive and needed experience.

Vasco, Goa, India.

I arrived at Boston L’Abri two weeks after India and a month after graduating and moving out of my college home. Boston seemed like a good idea—a place to re-center my thoughts and mentally prepare for the move to the Dominican Republic. I had spent the last four years surrounded by people my age, and I wanted to go somewhere where I could disconnect from the outside world and learn from those currently experiencing a variety of life stages. My Christian faith is very important to me, and I wanted to ground myself in spiritual truth before I left my Nashville church/faith community ultimately. So, L’Abri it was.

My time there can be summarized as peaceful. L’Abri focuses on group discussion, spiritual questioning, and intellectual study. Most of the day is spent in silence, and it is also not difficult to spend it in solitude. Most mornings, I walked to the reservoir and spent at least an hour walking along the water’s edge. It was so, so needed. The community I met there was so warm and inviting as well…one of the best environments I had ever been in. Having the time to quietly study, pray, read, draw, spend time in nature, do yard work, drink tea, draw, paint, listen, and be listened to was so life-giving. I hope to spend more than a week there after I return to America.

Boston L’Abri — this place quickly felt like home.

It was difficult to leave Boston, but knowing I would go to KY Lake made the process easier. Every year, my siblings and I spend a weekend in June with my dad. It is a tradition I look forward to. My sister flew in from Pennsylvania, and I was so happy to see her! We ended up bunking with our young nephew, which was so much fun. We all spent the weekend drinking coffee on the balcony overlooking the lake, which I love so much, and playing Sorry! In the evenings after dad treated us to ice cream. KY Lake reminds me of childhood, and it was nice to be reminded of that one more time as I move toward pursuing such ‘adult’ things like graduating and moving far away from family by myself.

Finally, I said goodbye to my friends and family and packed up my life for the next nine months...and my life changed yet again.

we drank coffee every morning and got to ask dad thoughtful questions at KY Lake.

“No es adiós, es un nos vemos” – Versión en español

¡Hola, amigos y familia!

 Ha pasado aproximadamente un mes desde que regresé a casa desde Guatemala y definitivamente hace unas semanas debería haber publicado este blog. Me he sentado más de una vez a redactarlo, pero cada vez que lo he intentado me encuentro sin saber qué escribir. Quiero presentar mis recuerdos de las aventuras y los seres queridos con el máximo respeto, pero la tarea se siente desalentadora. ¿Cómo puedo poner en palabras los siete meses de experiencias inolvidables y de las personas preciosas que ayudaron a dar forma a mi tiempo en Guatemala, así como dar forma a lo que soy hoy en día?

 Mis últimas semanas en Guatemala estuvieron llenas de dulces celebraciones y tiempo que pasé con mis seres queridos. En mi último día de clases de cocina, el chef Elliott y sus estudiantes me sorprendieron preparando una deliciosa comida de sándwiches, rosa de Jamaica para beber y pastel de postre. No tenía idea de que esto estaba sucediendo y me sentí muy honrada y agradecida por su amabilidad. Después de que todos tuvimos la oportunidad de compartir algunas palabras entre nosotros, participamos con entusiasmo en la comida, compartimos historias y nos reímos juntos. Algunos de mis mejores recuerdos de mi tiempo en Monte Cristo los hice en la cocina: cantar con los estudiantes mientras cortábamos verduras, aprendimos a hacer rellenitos juntos, y nos reíamos cuando no podíamos entendernos. Siempre tendré estos momentos cerca de mi corazón. Aquí hay una foto del chef y yo, así como una con los estudiantes en ese último día:

 Durante mi última semana, me propuse pasar una noche jugando juegos de cartas y recordando con mi familia anfitriona de Antigua. Félix, Are, Mariana y Samuel fueron las primeras personas que me dieron la bienvenida de Guatemala y me apoyaron durante toda mi estadía, incluso cuando no vivía con ellos. Realmente son mi familia y ahora los extraño mucho. Después de comer y compartir recuerdos de todos los momentos que pasé en su casa, recordé lo hermoso que es tener personas en mi vida que me importan profundamente y que sienten lo mismo por mí. La vida no tendría sentido sin personas a las que amar y con las que compartir experiencias. Decir adiós a esta familia fue extremadamente difícil, pero como me recordaron, “no es adiós, solo es un nos vemos.” Lamentablemente, no pude hacerme una foto con ellos durante mi última visita, así que aquí hay algunos de los momentos anteriores juntos:

Las despedidas seguían llegando, por mucho que quisiera que se detuvieran. Cuando finalmente llegó mi último día en Monte Cristo, se sintió muy agridulce. Después de que terminó la reflexión por la mañana, mi madre anfitriona, Verónica, y mi abuela anfitriona, Doña Micaela, me llamaron al frente del salón. No sabía lo que habían planeado, así que me sorprendió cuando comenzaron a agradecerme por mis contribuciones en la escuela. Sus amables palabras me conmovieron tanto que ni siquiera pude responder. Para mí, fue un honor haber ayudado en las áreas de inglés, cocina y música durante mi tiempo con Monte Cristo. Había aprendido más de los estudiantes de lo que ellos podrían haber aprendido de mí. Después de que mi abuela anfitriona me diera un abrazo, ¡me sorprendí de nuevo cuando los estudiantes comenzaron a traerme regalos! Di un abrazo tras otro mientras cada estudiante venía a despedirse. Fue un momento que nunca olvidaré. Después, nos hicimos una gran foto de grupo en el patio. ¡Éramos tantos, que apenas cabíamos en el marco! También quería asegurarme de tener una foto con cada clase, así que después de todas mis clases de inglés ese día, me aseguré de que nos tomáramos una foto juntos. Rudy (el profesor de música) y yo también tuvimos, por supuesto, que tocar una última canción juntos en la guitarra. Elegimos “I’m Yours” de Jason Mraz porque era una de nuestras canciones favoritas y una que habíamos aprendido juntos unas semanas antes. La música es tan especial en el sentido de que realmente es un lenguaje universal. Estoy muy agradecida de que Rudy y yo pudiéramos compartir nuestro amor por la música juntos durante estos pocos y cortos meses. Aquí hay algunas fotos de mi último día en Monte:

 

Antes de irme de Guatemala, también tuve la oportunidad de regresar a Santa Cruz por unos días y pasar tiempo con mi familia anfitriona allí, así como con mi familia de Casa Gloria. ¡Estoy tan contenta de haber podido hacer esto! Me divertí mucho poniéndome al día con todos, jugando interminables juegos de Uno, sentándome alrededor de la fogata haciendo s’mores y buscando chocobananos con los niños. Pude almorzar con los niños en Casa Gloria, participar en un último devocional e incluso asistir a la iglesia con ellos nuevamente. Los había extrañado mucho y estaba muy agradecida de poder volver a verlos a todos. Aquí hay algunas fotos de mi visita:

 

 Después de regresar a Chimaltenango de mi visita a Santa Cruz, pasé una última tarde en Monte Cristo. Caminé por el campus disfrutando de su belleza y reflexionando sobre todos mis recuerdos allí. Conocí a los cerditos que acababan de llegar para el programa de agricultura y también les canté a los estudiantes por última vez. Cantar para los estudiantes fue un momento especial que cerró el círculo. Canté “You Are My Sunshine”, que fue la primera canción que toqué y canté para ellos, así que me pareció apropiado que también fuera la última. Aquí hay algunas fotos de esa última tarde:

 

Ese mismo día, mi familia anfitriona en Chimaltenango se reunió para una cena de despedida. Comimos pepián, uno de mis platos guatemaltecos favoritos, recordamos, reímos y cantamos juntos. No podría haber soñado con una mejor y última noche juntos. Fue, por supuesto, muy agridulce, pero elegí vivir el momento, agradeciendo a esas personas y mis experiencias con ellas. Dicho esto, fue increíblemente difícil decir adiós al día siguiente. El viaje al aeropuerto fue sombrío; no quería irme. Mientras mis abuelos anfitriones me acompañaban a las puertas del aeropuerto, comencé a llorar, sabiendo que me despediría de ellos por un tiempo desconocido, posiblemente para siempre. Todos nos abrazamos y lloramos, y de alguna manera, incluso en medio de toda esa tristeza, fue suficiente saber que nos amábamos. Aquí está la última foto que tomamos juntos antes de irme (y antes de que comenzara todo el llanto jaja):

Mientras leía algunas de las entradas de mi diario, me encontré con este párrafo de una semana antes de salir de Montecristo. Lo comparto ahora porque siento que explica con precisión lo que estaba pensando y sintiendo mientras me preparaba para partir. Dice: “Al concluir mi tiempo en Monte Cristo, he pasado muchos momentos pensando y reflexionando sobre todas mis experiencias aquí en Guatemala. Siento cada vez más triste mientras me preparo para irme, porque esta vez, no solo me voy de Chimaltenango, también me voy de Guatemala. Vivir en este país durante los últimos siete meses ha sido una de las experiencias más increíbles de mi vida, y estaré eternamente agradecida con todas las personas que lo hicieron posible”.

Antes de cerrar esta parte final, me gustaría compartir algunos recuerdos, algunos buenos, otros no tan buenos, de mi tiempo en Guatemala que nunca quiero olvidar. Obviamente, esta no es una descripción completa de mi tiempo allí, ya que una lista nunca podría capturar realmente todas las experiencias y personas maravillosas que viven en mi corazón. Dicho esto, aquí hay un par de recuerdos que sobresalen:

  1. La fiesta de primera comunión de Samuel (mi hermano anfitrión en Antigua)
  2. Vincularse con Mariana (mi hermana anfitriona en Antigua) a través de la lectura y la música
  3. Sentir que me iba a morir de frío mientras escalaba el Volcán Acatenango
  4. Las muchas veces que me sentí incómoda debido a la barrera del idioma
  5. Jugar cientos de rondas de UNo con los niños en Santa Cruz
  6. La forma en que Michelle (mi hermana anfitriona en Santa Cruz) siempre intentaba colarse en mi habitación para saludarme
  7. La paciencia constante de Meyli (la secretaria de Casa Gloria) con mis deficientes conocimientos de español  
  8. Jugar lucha libre con los chicos de Casa Gloria
  9. Ver fútbol con Emerson (mi hermano anfitrión en Santa Cruz)
  10. Los abrazos frecuentes de Sulmi (mi hermana anfitriona en Santa Cruz)
  11. Buscar chocobananos alrededor de un millón de veces con mis hermanos anfitriones 
  12. Ir al médico dos veces con niños de Casa Gloria y sentir que no podía entender nada
  13. Visitar el museo de arte en Antigua con mi amigo Adrián
  14. Hacer dos masas de pastel en tiempo récord con Anna (mi amiga estadounidense en Santa Cruz)
  15. Reír y tener conversaciones increíbles con la profesora de inglés de Monte Cristo
  16. Accidentalmente decirle a un estudiante de Montecristo que “a menudo” en inglés era “desnudo” en lugar de “a menudo”... ¡Gritos!
  17. Aprender sobre la vida, la familia y la historia guatemalteca de Don Mario y Doña Micaela (mis abuelos anfitriones en Chimaltenango)
  18. Cantar “Un Idiota” con Quinto

Gracias, amigos y familiares, por sus pensamientos y oraciones a lo largo de este viaje de siete meses. Estoy eternamente agradecida por todo el apoyo que recibí a través de llamadas telefónicas y mensajes de texto mientras estuve fuera. La tecnología es increíble, ¿verdad? Saber que tenía gente en casa que me apoyaba y me animaba fue muy alentador, especialmente cuando extrañaba mi hogar. Y a todos los que leen este blog en este momento, gracias. Gracias por interesarse en mis aventuras durante los últimos siete meses, por celebrar mis éxitos y llorar mis pérdidas junto a mí. Estaré eternamente agradecida.

Con mucho cariño,

Jenna/Jordy/Nicole

“It’s Not Goodbye, It’s See You Later”

Hola friends and family!

It’s now been about a month since I’ve returned home from Guatemala and DEFINITELY a few weeks since I should have posted this blog. I’ve sat down more than once to draft it, but each time I have attempted, I find myself at a loss for what to write. I want to present my memories of adventures and loved ones with only the utmost respect, yet the task feels daunting. How do I put into words seven months of unforgettable experiences and precious people that all helped to shape my time in Guatemala, as well as shape who I am?

My last few weeks in Guatemala were filled with sweet celebrations and time spent with loved ones. On my last day of cooking classes, Chef Elliott and his students surprised me by preparing a delicious meal of traditional sandwiches, rosa de Jamaica to drink, and red velvet cake for dessert! I had no idea this was happening, and I felt so honored and grateful for their kindness. After we all had a chance to share a few words with each other, we eagerly partook in the food, shared stories, and laughed together. Some of my fondest memories from my time at Monte Cristo were made in the kitchen: singing with the students while we chopped vegetables, learning how to make rellenitos (a dessert made of plantains and black beans) together, and laughing when we couldn’t understand each other. I will always hold these moments close to my heart. Here is a picture of the chef and I as well as one with the students on that final day:

During my last week, I made it a priority to spend an evening playing games and reminiscing with my Antiguan host family. Felix, Are, Mariana, and Samuel were the first people to welcome me into Guatemala and supported me throughout my entire stay, even when I wasn’t living with them. They truly are my family now and I already miss them so much. After eating and sharing memories from all of the times I spent in their home, I was reminded how beautiful it is to have people in my life that I care about deeply and who feel the same about me. Life would be pretty meaningless without people to love and share experiences with. Saying goodbye to this family was extremely difficult and I shed more than a few tears, but as they reminded me, “no es adiós, solo es nos vemos(it’s not goodbye, it’s only see you later). Sadly, I did not get a picture with them during my last visit, so here are a few photos from previous moments together:

 

The goodbyes kept coming, no matter how hard I wanted them to stop. When my last day at Monte Cristo finally rolled around, it felt very bittersweet. After the reflection was over in the morning, I was called up to the front of the room by my host mom, Veronica, and host grandmother, Doña Mikaela. I didn’t know what they had planned, so I was taken aback when they began thanking me for my contributions to the school. Their kind words moved me so much that I couldn’t even respond. For me, it was an honor to have assisted in the areas of English, cooking, and music during my time with Monte Cristo. I’d learned more from the students than they could ever have learned from me. After my host grandmother gave me a hug, I was surprised again when all of the students started bringing me gifts! I gave hug after hug as each student came to tell me goodbye. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Afterwards, we all took a big group photo together in the courtyard. There were so many of us, we barely fit into the frame! I also wanted to make sure I had a picture with each class, so after all of my English classes that day, I made sure we took a picture together. Rudy (the music teacher) and I also had to, of course, play one last song together on guitar. We chose “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz because it was a favorite song of ours and one we had learned together a few weeks before. Music is so special in that it truly is a universal language. I’m so thankful that Rudy and I could share in our love of music together during these few, short months. Here are a few pictures from my last day at Monte Cristo:

 

Before I left Guatemala, I also had the opportunity to return to Santa Cruz for a few days and spend time with my host family there as well as my Casa Gloria family. I am so glad that I could do this! I had a blast catching up with everyone, playing endless games of Uno, sitting around the campfire making s’mores, and looking for chocobananos (frozen bananas dipped in chocolate) with the kids. I was able to eat lunch with the children at Casa Gloria, participate in one last devotional, and even attend church with them again as well. I’d missed them so much and I was so grateful to be able to see everyone again. Here are a few photos from my visit:

After returning to Chimaltenango from my visit in Santa Cruz, I spent one final afternoon at Monte Cristo. I walked across the campus taking in its beauty and reflecting on all of my memories there. I met the little piglets that had just arrived for the agriculture program and also sang to the students one last time. Singing for the students was a special, full circle moment. I sang “You Are My Sunshine” which was the first song I’d ever played and sang for them, so it seemed only fitting that it be the last as well. Here are some pictures from that last afternoon:

That same day, my host family in Chimaltenango all gathered for a goodbye dinner. We ate pepián (one of my favorite Guatemalan stews consisting of chicken, roasted tomatoes and peppers, and potatoes), reminisced, laughed, and sang together. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better, final night together. It was, of course, very bittersweet, but I chose to live in the moment and be thankful for those people and my experiences with them. That being said, it was incredibly hard saying goodbye the next day. The ride to the airport was somber; I didn’t want to leave. As my host grandparents walked me to the doors of the airport, I started crying, knowing I would say goodbye to them for an unknown amount of time, possibly forever. We all hugged and cried, and somehow, even in all of that sadness, it was enough to know that we loved each other. Here is the final picture we took together before I departed (and before all of the crying started haha):

As I was reading through a few of my journal entries, I came across this paragraph from a week before I left Monte Cristo. I’m sharing it now because I feel that it accurately portrays my thought process as I prepared to say goodbye. It says: “As I wrap up my time with Monte Cristo, I have spent many moments thinking and reflecting on all of my experiences here in Guatemala. I feel a bit more weight as I prepare to leave, because this time, I’m not only leaving Chimaltenango, I’m leaving Guatemala as well. Living in this country for the past seven months has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I’m forever grateful to all of the people who made it possible.”

Before I close out this final blog, I’d like to share a few memories from my time in Guatemala that I never want to forget. This is obviously not complete as a list could never truly capture all of the experiences and wonderful people that live on in my heart. That being said, here are a couple memories that stick out:

  1. Samuel’s (my host brother in Antigua) first communion party
  2. Bonding with Mariana (my host sister in Antigua) over reading and music
  3. Feeling like I was going to freeze to death while climbing Volcán Acatenango
  4. The many times I felt uncomfortable due to the language barrier
  5. Playing hundreds of games of Uno with the kids in Santa Cruz
  6. The way Michelle (my host sister in Santa Cruz) always tried to sneak in my room to say hi
  7. Meyli’s (Casa Gloria’s secretary) constant patience with my subpar Spanish abilities
  8. Arm wrestling the Casa Gloria boys
  9. Watching soccer with Emerson (my host brother in Santa Cruz)
  10. Sulmi’s (my host sister in Santa Cruz) random hugs
  11. Looking for chocobananos about a million times with my host siblings
  12. Going to the doctor twice with kids from Casa Gloria and feeling like I couldn’t understanding anything
  13. Visiting the art museum in Antigua with my friend, Adrián
  14. Making two pie crusts in record time with Anna (my American friend in Santa Cruz)
  15. Laughing and having incredible conversations with Monte Cristo’s English teacher
  16. Accidentally telling a student at Monte Cristo that “often” was “desnudo” (which means naked) instead of “a menudo”… whoops!
  17. Learning about life, family, and Guatemalan history from Don Mario and Doña Mikaela (my host grandparents in Chimaltenango)
  18. Singing “Un Idiota” with the seniors at Monte Cristo

Thank you, friends and family, for your thoughts and prayers throughout this seven-month journey of mine. I am eternally grateful for all of the support that I received through phone calls and texts while I was away. Technology is incredible, right? Knowing that I had people at home rooting for me and cheering me on was so encouraging, especially when I was missing home. And to everyone reading this blog right now, thank you. Thank you for taking interest in my adventures over the past seven months, for celebrating my successes and mourning my losses right alongside of me. I am forever grateful.

Much love y hasta luego,

Jenna

Home safe and sound

Hello from the US – my cat, Steven, and I made it back! There was a delay because when we first went to the airport to fly out, the airline didn’t add Steven to all legs of the journey, so we were unable to fly. Traveling with a pet is definitely more stressful than traveling solo, so this was a bit of a setback, especially because the airline didn’t assist with rebooking. However, luckily my landlord in Thailand is really kind and let me come back to stay in the apartment for a few nights. My sister and friends also helped a lot when it came to looking up new flights. So then, Steven and I departed a few days later, and we are now in Nashville. It’s been so great to see family and friends here. My cat and my sister’s cats have been getting used to one another, and it’s been sweet to see them interact.

Compared to Bangkok heat, the weather here feels great to me, and it’s been nice to be surrounded by nature again. I’ve been running some errands and going to appointments here, and it’s interesting going from not typically being able to fluidly make small talk with people out and about in Thailand versus being able to converse in English again with people here (an ease and comfort that can be difficult to achieve in a foreign language). Also, luckily, I haven’t been experiencing jet lag, and I’ve been enjoying eating all the food here that I missed!

Next week, I will relocate to NYC. I will begin a new job there, and I will start part-time classes at CUNY Law in the fall. I am so glad to have made it back safely and to have this time to reflect further upon my experiences in Thailand and with AAT.

I would like to thank Shauna and the Lumos committee for helping bring this project to life and making it a reality. Also, I never would have been able to embark upon this journey without the help of the partner organization, AAT, and all of the incredible people at AAT. Thank you to my friends in Bangkok for making it feel like home and to my family/friends in the US for always supporting me, even from afar.

Also, to any future or prospective Lumos travelers, feel free to email me (annathompson17@gmail.com) if you have any questions about the Lumos process. Lumos is an incredible opportunity, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is considering it!

an early birthday and going away cake from friends.. so sweet

Steven ready for his travels

made it!

Goodbyes and new beginnings

I can’t believe it’s already the end of April! April 30th will be my last day of work, and I will return to the US in the first week of May. It’s really starting to sink in how soon that’s approaching, and I’ve been feeling a lot of emotions, including gratitude for my coworkers and friends that I’ve met in Thailand, as well as excitement to see my loved ones back in the US. I feel so thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had here to meet amazing new people, explore beautiful destinations, and also, to expand my knowledge in the immigration/refugee law field. I’ve been able to grow my skillset through increased client interaction and have seen firsthand the impact that local NGOs can have on global organizations and agencies. I’ve also witnessed and experienced the importance of maintaining one’s own mental health, in order to be able to effectively carry out this type of work. My experience in Thailand and with AAT is one that will further inform the activities and coursework I participate in throughout law school, as well as my future career.

Recently, my friend from the US visited Bangkok, and we also went to Railay beach near Krabi. It was great to see her and made me even more excited to be back in NYC – talk of summer concerts, hot pot nights, etc! The islands here are beyond gorgeous, and it was nice to be by the water, especially during this extreme heat. Railay beach was pretty calm, a nice escape from the city. We saw tons of island cats and different types of monkeys. The monkeys even made guest appearances at our hotel, swinging through the trees and balconies. We also saw bioluminescent plankton in the water!

beautiful Railay beach

the water is so clear!

island kitties

I have about one week left of work, and I’ve been spending this time wrapping up cases, including one final appeal case. Although, of course, there’s much more for me to learn in this field, I feel as if I’ve made great strides in my role as a caseworker and have gained confidence in conducting client intake, interviewing clients, etc (a huge thank you to my incredible team and supervisors for their support, kindness, and mentorship). I also recently worked on correspondence to UNHCR – flagging cases for those who have been waiting for registration, etc. for a lengthy amount of time. I am glad to be a part of an organization working on behalf of clients to achieve progress in their cases and ultimately, recognition.

My last week or so in Thailand will be spent packing, saying my goodbyes, as well as planning for arrangements in the US. I appreciate those of you who have been following along with my journey here, and the next time you hear from me I’ll be back in the US!

momos and Tibetan food with coworkers .. so good

Semana Santa

Hola friends and family!

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter spent with your loved ones! Here in Guatemala the whole week leading up to Easter, Semana Santa, is filled with celebratory activities and time spent with family. This week is also a holiday which meant we had a week off from classes!

We started out the week by preparing for Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday). The night before, we stayed up until close to midnight making bouquets out of palm, purple flowers, and ribbon (picture #1). These bouquets are carried during the processions on Palm Sunday (“ramo” actually means “bouquet,” interestingly enough). Then, the morning of Palm Sunday, my host family and I all woke up early to make an alfombra, which is a carpet made out of flowers that is put in the middle of the street in order for the people in the procession to walk over (picture #2-3). As soon as the alfombra is walked over, everything gets swept up and thrown away, so the beauty really only lasts for about twenty to thirty minutes.

We celebrated Semana Santa throughout the week, as well, by gathering with extended family, sharing meals, playing games, and watching movies together. We ate traditional foods like salted fish and ceviche, tamales and chile rellenos, and, of course, beans and tortillas. I also had the opportunity to drive to Antigua with a few cousins from the extended family to watch the processions there. The Antiguan processions are known to be the biggest and most impressive in the whole country, and thousands of people from around the world travel to see them. Because of the large amounts of people who attend, the drive to Antigua that normally takes 45 minutes, took close to two hours. All that time spent in the car was worth it, though, because the processions and the alfombras were incredible (pictures #4-6)!

During this week, I was also able to spend time with my host mom’s parents who live just outside of Antigua. My host mom’s dad is a marimba instructor, so I had the privilege of receiving a mini lesson from him. Luckily for me, the marimba is very similar to the piano, so I had no trouble learning which notes were where. The main difference is that the piano is played with your fingers while the marimba is played with mallets. I learned a few techniques like where to place the mallets and how to sustain notes, and even learned a simple song! As a musician, it was very meaningful for me to get to learn a little about an instrument that is so important to Guatemalan culture!

In other news, I recently heard from Jenna at Casa Gloria that Ria, the dog I rescued, was adopted! Jenna told me that Ria went to a wonderful family where she will be very loved and happy (picture #7). This was very exciting news for me and also such a beautiful reminder of what simple acts of kindness can do for both humans and animals.

As always, thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Much love y hasta la próxima,

Jenna

Hot season in full swing – Thailand and Malaysia

Recently, a coworker friend invited me to her community and family home. It was really sweet to see all the care that her parents took into cooking traditional dishes for me and making me feel welcomed. Community members also came over and shared some of their experiences with me, along with their history, including persecution and troubles with the authorities. This day really highlighted the privilege that I have, and although it’s something that I haven’t touched on much in the blog, this is something that’s been on my mind often throughout my time with AAT. Refugees in Thailand are limited in their access to work and also freedom of movement. International, refugee, and Thai staff all bring their own unique skillset and contribute to the organization’s mission, and I do think it’s pertinent for additional resources to be allocated for protecting refugee staff’s physical and mental well-being.

George Town, Malaysia

Over the weekend, I went to the colorful city of George Town, Penang, Malaysia, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. It is an arts and culture hub, with multicultural fusion in language and cuisine and a unique architectural landscape. It was super hot there, but I loved exploring the street art, murals, and unique shops. There was lots of cat-themed art and wandering cats to be spotted in the winding alleys. The food was also amazing, and I was so happy to have perfectly toasted bagels with lots of cream cheese (something that I’ve missed haha). I also stumbled upon a chocolate museum inside of a chocolate shop, which was interesting, as I’m a huge chocolate lover. One of my favorite activities was going to the Sunday market at Hin Bus Depot, which is a platform for entrepreneurs, artisans, musicians, and performers. In addition to pop-up exhibitions happening, there were also artists performing, and lots of crafts, food, and baked goods to browse.

art gallery with beautiful postcards and posters

amazing street art in George Town

Cheong Fatt Tze, the Blue Mansion

truffle cream cheese <3

free merch from the airline!

Songkran

Songkran, or Thai New Year, is coming soon – officially from April 13th to 15th, however celebrations often start a week in advance. This marks the beginning of the Thai traditional calendar, and Songkran is known for its water fights. The water symbolizes cleansing and renewal. I’v heard from friends who have been in Thailand for Songkran before that it’s almost impossible to leave the house during this time without getting wet. So, it’s best to expect to get doused and come prepared with goggles, waterproof bag, etc. One of my friends from the US will be visiting during Songkran, and I’m so excited to see her!

Semana de Expresión

Hola friends and family!

My last few weeks have been busy with exams and Semana de Expresión (Expression Week). At the end of every quarter, Monte Cristo students are rewarded for making it through their exams with a week of fun activities including cooking and dance competitions! The students have been practicing and planning out their ideas for weeks and it was a lot of fun to watch their hard work come to fruition. Heads up – there are a LOT of pictures in this blog!

To start things off, the students took their quarterly exams for their music and dance classes by showcasing to the whole school what they have learned so far. The senior class asked me to join them in singing a song to start out the program and I, of course, couldn’t say no, so we sang a classic called, Un Idiota, together while the music professor accompanied us with guitar. Un Idiota is an extremely dramatic love song which made it hard for us all to keep straight faces throughout the performance, but thankfully we managed!

We started out la Semana de Expresión with a cooking competition (pictures #1-4)! The students were paired up with a classmate and were required to come up with a unique dish and prepare it for a panel of judges. I was extremely impressed with how creative the students were and how tasty all of their dishes were! Some of my favorites included Oreo pancakes, apple pound cake with strawberry topping, and baked ribs. The overall winner was a chicken lasagna in the shape of a Bundt cake – both creative and delicious!

Day two included a spelling bee, jeopardy, and math games! I have to admit, I originally thought a spelling bee in Spanish would be quite easy, because unlike English, Spanish is a phonetic language which means that words are always spelled exactly like they sound. As I played along in my head, however, I discovered pretty quickly that it was harder than I’d anticipated! Later we moved onto the math/science games which included things like sudoku and strategy exercises (pictures #5-7). The students had ten minutes to complete the game/exercise at each station, so they had to move quickly and think on their feet!

Day three included competitions in drawing, dancing, and reenacting skits! Although I am musically inclined, I am not necessarily great in other artistic areas, so to say I was impressed with the students’ abilities, especially their drawing skills, is an understatement (pictures #8-10)! For the dancing competition, each grade had to perform a traditional and a non-traditional dance. I had only seen a few of the dances prior to the competition, so it was very fun to get to see what the students came up with. One of my favorites was a traditional country line dance that included swinging a few of the members around in the air! Finally, the skits brought great amounts of entertainment and laughter and was a great way to end the day.

We ended la Semana de Expresión by celebrating Monte Cristo’s 21st anniversary! We all gathered in the dining hall to commune and celebrate this special moment together (picture #11). We ate lots of delicious food, drank unhealthy amounts of horchata, and sang happy birthday to Monte Cristo! Afterwards, the seniors started singing Un Idiota with their music teacher, while I stood nearby watching. No one had informed me that we were singing the song, so I just assumed they were doing it for fun. Well, as the chorus came up (where I came in when we’d previously performed it), the seniors started frantically motioning for me to come over and join them. I had no idea that we would sing the song together again, but it ended up being such a beautiful moment and one I’ll hold in my heart forever.

As always, thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Much love y hasta la próxima,

Jenna

 

One more month in Thailand!

These past few weeks I’ve been in the beginning stages of planning my next steps, as I will be returning to the US in May. I booked my flight back home and have been looking at apartments in NYC and applying for jobs. I am going to visit Nashville for a week before I head back to NYC, so that I can catch up with friends/family and take care of some commitments there. It will be a journey traveling with Steven again – from Bangkok to Nashville, then Nashville to NYC!

Also, one of my friends here recently moved back to her home country, so I spent time with her before she left and saw her off. Another one of my friends from the US visited Thailand again, so we got hot pot and went to a night market and vintage shopping center. She also brought me Cheez-its and Goldfish, which I was soo happy for (have really missed those snacks haha).

hot pot

Aside from that, Steven had a dental cleaning appointment. It’s more affordable to get the procedure done here, so it felt good to cross that off my list of things to do.

In terms of work, I am handling a few more appeal cases (both advice/self-help sessions and also working on appeal submissions). The RSD team is also preparing for changes, as people are departing for new positions or due to their contracts ending. Because of that, we’ve been in discussion about case handover and thinking about wrapping up existing cases. We’ve also been spending time together as a team, especially since one coworker is leaving the country at the end of this week. It’s always hard to say goodbye, even more so because we have such a solid and tight-knit team, but I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to meet them and work with them.

celebrating a coworker’s birthday

bookstore kitty

Chinatown, BKK