Category Archives: Adventures

Adventures and Celebrations

Hola friends and family!

I hope you all had a wonderful and restful Thanksgiving! We all have so much to be grateful for, and I hope you were able to reflect on this while feasting on delicious foods and spending time with your loved ones. Thanksgiving was very different for me this year, but I’m thankful that I was still able to eat some turkey and mashed potatoes! As always, the past two weeks have been packed full of activities and adventures, especially with preparing for Thanksgiving at Casa Gloria.

Fall is one of my favorite times of year, and being in the tropics, I have missed watching the leaves change, wearing sweaters, and eating my mom’s delicious soups. So being away from home during Thanksgiving this year was also difficult. I really missed being able to cook my favorite foods and spend time with my family playing games and watching football. That being said, celebrating Thanksgiving with Casa Gloria was still a wholesome and exciting experience! We needed to prepare food for almost 50 people, so all of the staff took a recipe and started cooking the day before. In the end, we had quite the feast (picture #1)! Because Thanksgiving is not a holiday traditional to Guatemala, Jenna had me explain to the kids how we celebrate Thanksgiving in the States and why it’s important to remember to be grateful for what we have. After, all of the children and staff took a moment to say something that we were thankful for. This was a precious moment, especially listening to what the little kids came up with! I am extremely appreciative to Jenna and her family, the Casa Gloria family, and my host family for welcoming me with open arms into their lives and families. My experience with Casa Gloria has been so positive thanks to all of these wonderful people!

Besides Thanksgiving, my internship continues to provide new experiences and opportunities to learn. For example, I took a girl to the eye doctor and, let’s just say, I learned a lot of new vocabulary! In the past two weeks I’ve also helped out by driving people around to complete errands including castrating dogs, buying groceries for the children’s home, and picking up flooring. The other day, I even weighed out medicine for a few of the dogs! Like I’ve said before, there truly is never a dull moment! On a more somber note, Casa Gloria recently received two sisters who witnessed their father kill their mother. When I first heard the details of their situation, I was heartbroken. Unfortunately, these things happen regularly and is the reason why Casa Gloria exists. Thankfully, the girls are adjusting really well to living at the children’s home, but any thoughts and prayers for them, as well as the other children, are always welcomed and appreciated!

In the last two weeks, I also returned to Antigua for a few days and traveled to Panajachel, a town located on Lake Atitlan. While in Antigua, I spent time with my host family and friends, climbed Volcan Pacaya (picture #2), and witnessed the gorgeous arrangements of the Flower Festival (picture #3)! While visiting the towns around Lake Atitlan, I took in gorgeous views (pictures #4, #5, and #6), learned about the process of roasting coffee beans (picture #7), and attempted (not very successfully) to do traditional Mayan weaving (picture #8). I also did a tour of San Pedro on horseback (pictures #9 and #10)!

As always, thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Much love y hasta la pr贸xima,

Jenna

P.S. I included a picture of my host sister, Michelle, and I because her smile brings me so much joy and she’s just adorable! Hopefully you’ll be able to receive some of that joy through the photo 馃檪

Settling into Life in Santa Cruz

Hola friends and family!

It’s hard to believe that another two weeks has already passed by. My time with Casa Gloria is going so quickly, and I want to soak up every experience that I can! Each week brings new opportunities for me to learn and to grow closer with the staff and kids at Casa Gloria, as well as with my host family. I’m so thankful for them all!

In my last blog, I mentioned that the founder of Casa Gloria’s name is also Jenna. As you might imagine, having two Jenna’s around could cause some confusion, so the two of us had decided before I arrived that I would go by a different name while I was here. I told Jenna that some of my friends call me Jordy (a combination of my first and last names) and she thought that was the perfect solution. Well, upon arrival in Santa Cruz, my host family had a hard time pronouncing “Jordy,” and also promptly told me that it was a boy’s name. This was confirmed when someone told me they were looking for “Se帽or Jordy,” to which they were shocked and slightly embarrassed when I told them that I was, in fact, the Jordy they were looking for. Anyway, the result is that, to anyone in Casa Gloria, I am Jordy and, to anyone from my host family, I am Nicole (my middle name). That being said, whenever I meet someone new, I never know how to introduce myself because, so far, I’ve gone by three different names (Jenna, Jordy, and Nicole) in the six weeks that I’ve spent in Guatemala!

One thing that I love about my host family, is that we all are genuinely curious and interested in learning about our respective cultures, especially my host mom, Vilma, and me. I cannot tell you how many times she has graciously taken the time to explain to me when I do or say something that is a little culturally “off,” and then to ask me how I would handle the same situation if I was at home. It’s so wonderful to know that we are both able to learn from each other! For example, at the beginning of last week, I was having a conversation with Vilma about cooking and she mentioned that she almost never uses her oven, but that she wanted to learn how to make a few things in it. Naturally, I offered to teach her how to make cookies. She readily agreed, and this resulted in me, my host sister, Sulmi, and Vilma all making a batch of Joanna Gaines’ chocolate chip cookies together (picture #1)! We had so much fun, especially when the cookies were ready to eat! As far as other things go related to my host family, I’m happy to report that I’ve learned a few more Spanish songs, so now I don’t have to keep repeating the same two over and over again. At this rate, I’m going to have a whole repertoire prepared by the time I leave!

In the past two weeks, I also traveled to both Tikal and Semuc Champey. In Tikal (pictures #2, #3, and #4), I learned about Mayan history, climbed temples and pyramids, and even saw a tarantula! It was a powerful experience to witness a way of life that, now, is completely non-existent. Jenna, Evelia (Casa Gloria’s psychologist), and I also had a great time getting to know each other better during the 18 total hours of driving that we did on that trip. Let’s just say, it got to the point where we were taking personality tests, so we DEFINITELY know each other well now! At Semuc Champey (pictures #5 and #6), Mayda (Vilma’s younger sister) and I swam in the gorgeous, crystal-blue waters and dove into an underwater cave. We were even able to tour one of the Lanquin Caves (picture #7) and see where some Mayan sacrifices took place!

My internship at Casa Gloria has also been quite eventful over the past two weeks. I’ve continued working on my normal projects like finishing the Christmas cards, taking dogs to the vet, and teaching English classes, but I’ve also taken kids to doctor appointments, weighed babies, and celebrated D铆a de los Muertos. There is truly never a dull moment around here! I have come to really enjoy teaching the English classes because the kids are always so enthusiastic and eager to learn the material I give them. It can be challenging due to the differing levels of education and English knowledge that the kids have, but overall, those classes are some of the most fun I have throughout the week! This past week, I also had the opportunity to share a little bit of my story with Casa Gloria’s kids, as well as the reason why I chose to work with Casa Gloria in the first place. I shared how they had already deeply impacted me in the few short weeks that I’d been here and how grateful I was to be here with them. These kids have experienced some of the most cruel and disgusting forms of human behavior to exist, and the way they’ve picked themselves up and support each other is so inspiring. This was a really powerful and beautiful moment for me and one that I will cherish forever.

As always, thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Much love y hasta la pr贸xima,

Jenna

The Next Chapter

*The names of the children from Casa Gloria have been changed.*

Hola friends and family!

In the past two weeks, I’ve experienced both the sadness of departures and the excitement of new beginnings. I said bittersweet goodbyes to my loving host family and wonderful friends in Antigua (pictures #1 and #2). I could not have made it through my time in Antigua without these people – they truly made my experience so special!

Although it was hard to say goodbye, I was also eager to start my next adventure with Casa Gloria! As a reminder, Casa Gloria is both a children’s home and a dog ministry (picture #3) that is located in Santa Cruz, Guatemala, about a six-hour drive from Antigua. The trip to Casa Gloria was long, but not uneventful. At the time, Casa Gloria had a 7-year-old boy, John, and his nanny who were staying at the heart hospital in Guatemala City so that John could recover from his surgery. My host dad was kind enough to drive me to the hospital to pick them up and then drive the three of us to the north side of Guatemala city where we met Jenna, the founder of Casa Gloria. (Fun fact, Jenna鈥檚 maiden name was Jenna York鈥inda crazy right?) We still had a four-hour drive, so we didn鈥檛 end up making it to Santa Cruz until about 2am. Although it was the middle of the night, my new host mom graciously brought me into her home and made sure I was comfortable. I truly have been blessed with the best host families!

Over the next few days, I played at least a hundred games of Uno with my host siblings, began learning the names of all of the kids, nannies, workers, and dogs at Casa Gloria (pictures #4 and #5), and attempted, only somewhat successfully, to tortear (make tortillas). Thankfully, everyone has been very gracious and kind with me when I forget names and mess up tortillas!

I’ve come to discover that there is never a dull moment at Casa Gloria. Each day is filled with surprises, love, adventure, and opportunities to learn and grow. During my internship hours, I’ve helped the kids with their homework, tasted green lemons – no, they are apparently NOT limes (picture #6), taught English classes, received Spanish lessons, taken dogs to their chemotherapy appointments (picture #7), and began creating Christmas cards for all of Casa Gloria’s sponsors. I even participated in Ally’s quincea帽era (picture #8)!

Outside of my internship, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my host family. My host mom has eight siblings and most of them live nearby in the same neighborhood. Every night, a new aunt, uncle, or cousin meanders into the house to eat dinner with us or just to hang out and conversate. Their family reminds me a lot of my own, and so, in some ways, this helps me not miss my family so much, and in others, makes me miss them more. That being said, my host family has truly embraced me and made me feel extremely welcomed and loved!

Before I traveled to Guatemala, I tried to eliminate any expectations I had so that I could simply experience things as they happened. A few things that I can safely say I was NOT expecting, however, are the incredibly large amounts of delicious food that my host mom puts in front of me at every meal, the fact that I鈥檇 quickly have to get over my fear of cockroaches, and that I would get asked to play my guitar and sing the same, two Spanish songs (the only ones that I know) on a daily basis. Nevertheless, each day here is a gift and I would not change any of it!

As always, thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Much love y hasta la pr贸xima,

Jenna

These are dogs currently up for adoption!

Going to church with Jenna and the kids for the first time!

Me with Jenna’s youngest daughter, Ariana!

Me and Randall on the way home from his chemotherapy appointment <3

The Sky is the Limit

Hola again!

It has now been two weeks since I’ve arrived in Antigua and what an adventure it has been! As soon as I stepped off of the plane in Guatemala City, it was a mad rush to retrieve my luggage and make it through Customs. Thankfully, M谩ximo Nivel, the Spanish language school, had arranged for a driver to pick me up at the airport, so the trip to my host family’s house in Antigua was very smooth. I arrived at the house around midnight where I was greeted by my host family with open arms. They have been incredibly kind and welcoming and I could not have asked for a better family to stay with!

Every morning, I wake up to a warm cup of coffee and a delicious breakfast typically consisting of eggs, beans, and fruit that my host mom prepares for me. I then head to my Spanish classes from 9am to 1pm where I try to soak up as much knowledge as I possibly can. For the first four to five days, my head was swimming with new information, vocabulary, and grammar, but I have slowly begun to acclimate to living life in Spanish. After my classes, I walk around Antigua until I find a caf茅 where I can eat lunch. This is my favorite part of the day because it allows me to explore Antigua and try new foods like this Chocobanano (picture #1)! In the afternoons, my host siblings and I study together at the kitchen table. They help me improve my Spanish grammar and I help them increase their English vocabulary. It’s the perfect set up! In the evenings, I eat another delicious meal with my host family and then spend the rest of the night conversing about the day. My Spanish speaking abilities have improved significantly because of this!

By the first weekend, I’d acclimated to daily life in Antigua. I’d made some friends from M谩ximo Nivel and I’d mostly adjusted to the language switch. My friends and I also started to explore Antigua more and experience all that the city has to offer. I love how vibrant this city is and how kind the people are. I have truly enjoyed immersing myself in Guatemalan culture by trying new foods and striking conversations with the locals! Over the past two weeks I’ve walked along most of the streets in Antigua (picture #2), attended the first Communion of my host brother, explored the ruins of the San Francisco Convent and Church (picture #3), and even visited the Antigua soccer stadium (picture #4)! I will never forget my visit to the stadium because I was able to meet many of the players, get my jersey signed (picture #5), and observe the team practice. Hopefully, I will even be able to make it to a game before I leave!

There are four volcanoes near Antigua: Agua, Fuego, Pacaya, and Acatenango (Agua is the volcano you see in pictures 2-4!). I have always loved hiking and backpacking, so I knew immediately that I wanted to hike at least one of the volcanoes. Luckily, a few of my new friends wanted to do the same! Acatenango is the most popular volcano to summit, so we signed up for a guided, overnight trek. Acatenango stands tall at 4,000 meters (a little over 13,000 feet) and we climbed the vast majority of that the first day. The altitude gain was intense and it was extremely cold at the top, so the hike provided plenty of challenges, both mental and physical. That being said, I am so glad that I did it, and to quote our guide, “the sky is the limit!” The views from the top of Acatenango were breathtaking, I really bonded with the friends who were with me (picture #6), and I was even able to see Fuego erupt (picture #7)!

Although my time in Antigua is coming to a close, I am incredibly thankful for the irreplaceable friendships and experiences that I have gained here. Next on the agenda: move to Cob谩n and begin working with Misi贸n Vida Nueva – I can’t wait!

Thank you, again, for your continued thoughts and prayers. It is extremely comforting knowing that I have so many people supporting me throughout this journey!

Much love y hasta la pr贸xima vez,

Jenna

Carrot Hole

Carrot Hole

At the time I began writing this, it had been just one week since my arrival to Cape Town (22 Jan)- here are some of the thoughts that I gathered in that week, and a little more since then:

I can鈥檛 believe I鈥檝e been in Cape Town for a week today! In the past week, I鈥檝e done all of the things- but the greatest so far, was CAMP!

As a previous summer camper, girl scout, and camp leader- when my supervisor asked if I鈥檇 like to meet a group of the children at Lawrence House for the first time by going with them to their yearly camp, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Meeting new people can be so challenging and I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that I loved camp and no matter where you are in the world, camp. is. camp- or so I thought.

The camp was located about two and a half hours outside of Cape Town and named Camp Wortelgat- which is Afrikaans for Carrot Hole. Even now, I still do not know the significance of the name of the camp- it never was properly explained鈥

Our adventure began with, as previously mentioned, a bus ride to the camp itself which lasted just under three hours. On this ride, the children of the home asked me questions of all varieties- however most of them consisted of something that had some relation to America and life in the United States. On this ride, I learned a lot about them as well- I began to learn names, recognize faces and voices, identify children that had closer bonds with one another. I learned that they loved music, dancing, and most prominently- TikTok. On this ride, I was able to see beautiful landscapes- hills, valleys, mountains, bodies of water- and the outside-looking-in view of Cape Town- shacks, poverty, townships, wealth, hotels, large buildings and industries. From a distance, I could see the tangible evidence of disparities and wealth gaps.

The view from the outside of our thatch huts!

The children’s “Tree of Life” exercise. They drew these themselves to represent different aspects of their lives.

Upon arrival to camp- we immediately began our excursions. The camp program facilitators led us to our thatch huts where we were able to place our belongings and sleeping bags. Following this were the classic name games and ice breakers, and ate the most delicious camp food I鈥檝e ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Then came the kayaking. From there our few days transformed into a rhythm of action, team building exercises, processing in groups, and rest and camaraderie (featuring ghost stories, card games, and spooking). Our camp was snuggly nestled between the foot of mountains and a beautiful body of water. At night, we could step out of our huts and gaze at stars in ways that I鈥檇 never seen before.

Our path while hiking, all blue skies! Summer in South Africa!

On the last day, our group went for a hike that truly felt as if we were the only people for miles (because we probably were). And by mid-day, we began packing our belongings back into the bus with full stomachs and hearts. We finished loading and left the same way we came in- by bus ride through landscapes that looked like they should be puzzles and not real places. By the bus ride back, I felt like the beginnings of attachment had started forming, and I knew this because I felt comfortable enough to fall asleep on the ride back. By the bus ride back, I had learned twelve children鈥檚 names and the beginning of their incredible, hard, inspiring stories and witnessed resilience, wit, humor, teamwork, and compassion. By the bus ride back, I had a revived sense of excitement for Monday, which would be my first day at Lawrence House!

At the end of every day at camp, the children and staff would write a word or sentence to describe their day. On the last day we all took pictures in front of the wall and they wanted to take my picture!

In your corner,

Liv

*For privacy purposes, I am unable to post pictures that contain beneficiaries of Lawrence House. Enjoy the beautiful landscapes!*

My Last Two Weeks

Picking Up Where I Left Off
A lot has happened since I arrived in Nepal two weeks ago. After landing in Kathmandu at 8am, I had to navigate the hectic airport, apply for my Visa, and find my bags amongst the chaos of tourists. I also had to purchase a SIM card and data plan for my phone to use for emergency communication. Thankfully, I ran into a nice girl from the Netherlands named Firazia. About 28 years old and a veteran of travel to Nepal, she knew the drill. With Firazia鈥檚 help, I was able to find my way out of the crazy airport and hail a taxi cab in no time.

On the taxi ride to my hotel, I got to know my driver, Rama, quite well. He introduced me to much of Kathmandu as we drove through the city. I told him about my two-month stay and work in Nepal鈥攖rekking to Everest Base Camp, working in Annapurna, and returning to Kathmandu for medical work. He gave me his card and insisted that if I ever need a ride, I give him a call. Then he handed me an old beat-up journal from the center console of his car and asked that I write my name and where I am from inside. I obliged, scribbling 鈥淛ordan Dunn 鈥 Nashville, USA鈥 amongst filled pages of Nepali handwriting.

Meeting my Guide & Team
After a few minutes, we arrived at Hotel Marshyandi, a rather nice hotel in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu. There I met my guide鈥擱am Moktan鈥攁nd the others I would be trekking with across the mountains. Ram is an older man from Jhapa, a lowland district in far southeast Nepal that borders India. He has worked as a guide for visitors to the Himalayas for over 25 years, leading hundreds of Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit treks. Now 55 years old, he is seen as one of the most experienced and respected guides in the region. Over the course of my time with him, I asked many questions about Nepal, its people, and its culture. He became indispensable to my learning about the complex reality of natural landscape, social climate, and economy of the country.

Our team was composed of three Americans (including myself), six Australians, and two Brits. This made for a fairly diverse group, all of us different ages and from different backgrounds. I was the youngest, with most everyone else being 28, 32, 40, and so on. Regardless, I made out pretty well with a spectacular team and first rate guide. This made all the difference in my journey.

The team during our acclimatization day in Namche Bazar.

Our amazing, wise, and fearless guide鈥擱am Moktan.

Traveling to the Mountains
Once I met Ram and the rest of the team, I had to be in bed early for the 8:00am flight to Lukla鈥攖he gateway village to the mountains. Normally one would fly to Lukla straight from Kathmandu Airport, but because of renovations on the runway we had to travel to the nearest alternative airport鈥擱amechhap Airport in Manthali鈥four hours away by bus ride! It was not an easy journey鈥 We had to be up by 3am to arrive at the airport by 7:30am. With the rough road conditions, steep cliffsides, and crazy drivers of Nepal, this drive was quite the adventure. One of our team members experienced some severe motor sickness and spent the whole four hours clinging to a vomit bag! There were also a few moments I thought we might have to choose between hitting a car head-on or driving off a 200 foot cliff! By the grace of God, we all made it there in one piece.

The long, dusty, and bumpy ride to Ramechhap Airport.

The massive, cliffside on the drive to Ramechhap. This photo is blurry thanks to the bumpiness of the road.

The World鈥檚 Most Dangerous Airport
At Ramechhap Airport, I boarded a small propeller plane for Lukla. Sitting at 9,383 feet above sea level (already higher than any place in Tennessee), the small village of Lukla is home to one of the most dangerous airports in the world鈥攖he Tenzing-Hillary Airport. Named after the first two men to summit Everest (Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing), the airport runway is nothing more than a short uphill stretch of concrete. Because of the nature of the mountainous landscape, there is virtually no flat straightaway anywhere around to fit a proper landing strip. As a result, the Tenzing-Hillary runway is only 1,729 feet long (compared to Nashville鈥檚 11,000-foot-long runway) and can only handle small prop planes. The runway is essentially built into the side of a mountain and ends with a large rock wall. This means that planes will crash straight into the rock wall against the mountain-side if they don鈥檛 stop in time, making the landing process quite risky. It鈥檚 a similar story with the take-off. Because the runaway basically ends with a sudden cliff, a pilot must take flight, otherwise they risk nose diving straight down into the trees below. Because there is not enough clearance to pull up if a pilot botches the landing and no additional runway if the takeoff goes wrong, Lukla is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world. There is no room for error. Once a pilot commits, he commits.

Boarding our small prop plane at Ramechhap Airport headed for Lukla.

Fortunately, we had spectacular pilots! I was absolutely impressed by their maneuvering against the strong Himalayan winds. During the short 20 minute ride, I could see Everest and many of the other snow covered summits (Ama Dablam, Nuptse, Lohtse, etc) peeking through the clouds. It was just a taste of the beauty and majesty of the Himalayan landscape. When I felt the plane shift into descent, I became a bit nervous about the difficult landing process for Lukla. But our pilots were experienced professionals. The minute the plane touched down, they threw every brake on, flipped the ailerons down, and switched the spoilers up鈥攁ll in an effort to create enough drag to slow us down before smashing against the rock wall at the end of the runway. We stopped about 20 feet short of the wall and taxied over to a small holding facility to retrieve our bags and head inside for tea and our days briefing.

The Himalayan peaks poking through the cloudy sky.

The pilots shifting into descent and preparing to land at the world’s most dangerous airport鈥擫ukla.

The runway at Lukla鈥攜ou can see the absolute drop off at the end.

Drastic Change
As soon as I stepped outside of the plane in Lukla, I felt the cool mountain air against my skin. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt worked in Kathmandu, but it was far too chilly for that in Lukla! When we originally took off, we were surrounded by bright reddish ran dirt and palm trees, baking in 80掳F heat under the hot sun. Upon landing in Lukla, were reached the alpine zone and were now surrounded by deep green pines, misty skies, and strong Himalayan winds. It felt like I jumped from summer to fall in a matter of minutes. This was the mountains!

The drastic change in landscape鈥攔eaching the alpine zone in Lukla.

My roommate, Darcy, and I walking through the streets of Lukla.

Surya and Biru
After landing in Lukla, we enjoyed a bit of tea and met our assistant guides鈥擲urya and Biru. They would be paramount to leading our group, answering our questions, and assisting Ram throughout our time in the Himalayas. Surya was a 25-year-old born and raised in Lukla. He, much like Ram, knew English very well. It seems he had made a name for himself in the community as a strong assistant, working his way from porter to guide in half the time it normally takes. An incredibly intelligent young fella, Surya was the brains of our operation.

Biru, on the other hand, knew very little English. A 27-year-old from a small village about two days walk from Lukla (the name escapes me), Biru became the brawn of the team. Despite the language barrier, he communicated with us well. He led our chain of hikers into the thick of the unknown and through the mountains with incredible speed and determination. Nepalis tend to use 鈥渢he鈥 before words in unnecessary places. As a result, Ram often began our treks each morning by exclaiming, 鈥淔ollow the Biru!鈥 For this reason, he affectionately became known as 鈥淭he Biru.鈥 Many of the guys, in awe of Biru鈥檚 speed and strength, would say, 鈥淵ou don鈥檛 earn a ‘the’ at the beginning of your name for no reason!鈥

The Biru, chilling during a rest break on the way to Dingboche.

Following the Biru was easy thanks to his bright orange pack.

Surya, undoubtedly the brains of our trek.

Beginning the Journey
Immediately after meeting Surya and Biru, we began our long journey on the trail. Over the course of our 14 days, we would travel on foot from Lukla all the way to Base Camp, going village to village and staying in local tea houses along the way. In total, it was over 100 miles of trekking and about 9,000 feet of elevation gain. That kind of distance with a camera, extra lenses, and other gear on your back, plus the drain of thinning oxygen at altitude, made for long and exhausting days. Thankfully, we didn鈥檛 carry everything ourselves. Local porters were hired by our guiding company, Intrepid, to carry our larger items inside a duffel bag. At first, I felt guilty that someone else was carrying my heavy items. Over time, however, I realized that the mountain economy depends heavily on the use of porters. By paying them to carry my items, I was supporting the local economic system.

Precautions for Altitude Sickness
Because we traveled from just over 9,000 feet in Lukla to about 17,500 feet at Base Camp, acclimatization was key to maintaining our health. Hike too fast and we risked getting sick. For this reason, our trek was extended over a longer period of time, allowing our bodies to slowly get used to the altitude. Unfortunately, natural acclimatization can take many months, so everyone also took Diamox鈥攁 medication that causes you to take deeper and longer breaths in order to sustain oxygen levels. Without these precautions, we might find ourselves with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)鈥攚hich begins with simple headaches, nausea, lack of appetite, and fatigue, but can ultimately prove life threatening. The entirely of the trip, we had to be on guard against AMS, ensuring that we didn鈥檛 try to 鈥渢ough it out鈥 but instead paced ourselves to retain good health.

Our Route
While I plan to go into detail about the major villages and what each was like in future posts, this is a basic breakdown of our route:

Day 1: Lukla to Phakding
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Change: 660ft descent

Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazar
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Change: 2,625ft ascent

Day 3: Acclimatization Day in Namche Bazar
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Change: 1,312ft ascent

Day 4: Namche Bazar to Phortse
Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,312ft ascent

Day 5: Phortse to Dingboche
Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,970ft ascent

Day 6: Acclimitization Day in Dingboche
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Change: 660ft ascent

Day 7: Dingboche to Lobuche
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Change: 660ft ascent

Day 8: Lobuche to Base Camp to Gorak Shep
Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,312ft ascent

Day 9: Gorak Shep to Kala Patthar to Osho
Distance: 14 miles
Elevation Change: 1,200ft ascent + 5,250ft descent

Day 10: Osho to Tengboche
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Change: 820ft descent

Day 11: Tengboche to Chumoa
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Change: 3,280ft decent

Day 12: Chumoa to Lukla
Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,640ft descent + 1,640ft ascent

As one might imagine, this was a tough schedule. Most days consisted of early morning breakfast around 7:00am, then we would pack up our stuff, fill up our water for the day (which required lots of filtration and adding purification tablets), trek for about 5 to 8 hours, settle into the next tea house, eat dinner, and finally go to bed to start it all again the next morning. This left very little free time other than a few minutes after dinner. By that point everyone was normally so exhausted that we headed straight for bed. There has never been another time in my life that I found myself going to bed at 7:00pm!

My Next Posts
Despite the challenges and strain of trekking, the experience was equally peaceful and pleasant. In part, it was nice to get out in nature, but it was especially interesting to see how the villages and people in the Himalayas operated. In my future posts, I will detail the many things I learned about the deep mountain communities鈥攁s well as my potential thoughts on how the system might be capable of improving. There is much to unpack and I look forward to sharing it all!

An Introduction to My Journey

Wow! These last few weeks have been a whirlwind! As I worked hard to plan my trip to Nepal, school simultaneously kicked my butt. Just within the last week of school, I had an analytics presentation, empirical study in economics, strategic management audit project, business ethics paper, and Honors thesis project due鈥攁ll on top of final exams. Simultaneously I was working this semester to find a job for my return stateside to start my career. Needless to say, Belmont did not let me off easily! But by the grace of God, I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 as an Honors Scholar. Now I head to Nepal, capping of my experience at Belmont by working in the Himalayas鈥攁ll thanks to Lumos!

All geared up and ready for the long journey to Kathmandu. Nepal.

Preparing for Departure
Unfortunately, I didn鈥檛 get much time to rest after classes ended. Two days after my last exam was graduation, then I immediately began packing and preparing for Nepal鈥攃ommunicating between Projects Abroad, Belmont, and the local workers in Kathmandu. Knowing I only had a week before departure, I gave my best attempt at saying as many goodbyes as possible and taking in the joy of graduation.

Delivering the Old Testament Verse at the commencement ceremony for graduation.

RUF Summer Conference
Two days after graduation, I left for RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) Summer Conference鈥攁 week-long conference for college students to study the Word and spend time together in Christian community. That week was such a blessing and truly served as a springboard for my work abroad! It gave me Monday through Friday to spend time with the Lord, reflect on graduation, pray about my future, and prepare myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for Nepal. Because my good friend Taylor Brown and I were leaving early from the conference鈥攎e for my trip to Nepal and him to move to Colorado鈥攐ur pals in RUF ceremonially saw us off at the beach. Two of my best friends鈥擡mily Tomsovic and Koby Langner鈥攇ave Taylor and I an especially unique goodbye. The four of us stood on the beach together, our feet in the water, and read the liturgy 鈥淔or Leavings鈥 from Every Moment Holy. Then we had prayer together as we processed the thought that our close friendships would now have to fight the difficult battle of distance. Each of us is entering a new chapter as we move on to our futures and leave college behind. It was a special moment, and one I鈥檒l remember forever. I would not be in the headspace I am in now鈥攁 posture of readiness for both giving and receiving鈥攈ad it not been for that experience.

Koby, Taylor, Emily, and I at RUF Summer Conference before our liturgy 鈥淔or Leaving鈥 on the beach.

My Last Few Days Home
After getting home Friday evening from Summer Conference, I spent Saturday and Sunday packing and doing the last bits of prep. As you can imagine, my schedule was a bit exhausting! But I tend to thrive when pushed to my limits and this trip is certainly no exception. My last few weeks were as follows...

  • April 25-30: Final Exams/Projects
  • May 3-4: Baccalaureate & Graduation
  • May 6-10: RUF Summer Conference
  • May 13: Departure for Kathmandu

This left me a total of 5 free days between exams and my final departure for Nepal, so cramming everything in was quite a challenge. With the help of my friends, Projects Abroad, and especially my family鈥攚e made it work!

I tried to see as many good friends as possible to say farewell鈥攅specially knowing that many of them are moving away to start their careers after graduating. I also worked hard to make every moment count with my beautiful girlfriend, Gabrielle. She helped me shop, pack, and prepare every step of the way. Throughout the planning and preparation process, my Dad was a saving grace, guiding me every step of the way. My last day home, I enjoyed lunch with my Mom to celebrate Mother鈥檚 Day, exchanged letters with Gabrielle, and got my last few things in order. Even though 9 weeks doesn鈥檛 seem like much on the outside, it feels like an eternity when you are apart from loved ones. But I am confident that I can make at least a small impact during my time in Nepal. While I wish I could stay longer, I am keeping in mind that this is only the first of hopefully many projects across that beautiful country!

Saying goodbye to my Dad, who has been a huge part of making this trip happen. I would not be here without him.

A Little About Nepal
To be as ready as possible for my work, I have dedicated much time to reading about the culture, natural landscape, and logistics of Nepal. Being land locked between two global giants鈥擨ndia and China鈥擭epal has long struggled to maintain its sovereignty and stability. For many years the country was in isolation, and it has only had a stable government since 2008. As a result, there is very poor infrastructure and low economic development. Most of the Nepalese economy is based on agriculture and services, but a solid 30 percent of the nation鈥檚 GDP comes from remittances鈥攐r payments back home from family members working abroad. To put it in perspective, a quarter of the entire country lives below the global poverty line. For this reason, Nepal is among the poorest developing countries in the world, and it is in need of economic resurgence, especially in the rural areas.

A Little About Me and the Sherpa
My story began when I was a freshman at Belmont. Interested in mountaineering, I began reading about Everest and I stumbled upon a group of people called the Sherpa (which comes from 鈥榮har-wa鈥 meaning 鈥榚ast people鈥). The Sherpa are a small people group that mostly live in the Himalayas, meaning they are especially adept to the high altitude of the mountains and know the region well. Since the earliest Everest expeditions, they served as guides and porters up to the mountain peaks. Many of the Sherpa are proud of their heritage as world class climbers, and the job often pays very well. However, the Sherpa community also faces major problems as a result of growing interest in the mountains.

Few job alternatives exist in the Himalayas, often forcing the Sherpa to continually risk their lives as guides even if they do not want to. This is especially alarming as the job of an Everest Sherpa comes with a higher death rate than even the US Military. The issue has been especially inflamed with widening access to Everest and less experienced climbers demanding a piece of the summit. The Nepalese government often grants permits to unfit climbers for the sake of monetary gain, as one permit costs $11,000. With a government that wants the money, companies that need to business, and consumers willing to pay, the Sherpa are left to take the brunt of the force when inexperienced climbers put their lives in danger at over 20,000 feet of altitude. While some mountaineering organizations work hard to ensure the safety of Sherpa, there still exists an economic problem in the lack of job alternatives.

My Goals
These problems are not unique to the Sherpa, but exist across the globe as a threat to numerous people groups who live in remote areas that are ripe for exploration. My goal is to ultimately create a for-profit business that leads the mountaineering industry not just in sustainable travel, but in bolstering economic development in the communities where exploration happens. 鈥淎id鈥 is a fairly colloquial term today, but in large part that is my plan鈥攗se exploration to fund international aid to foster growth abroad that brings in more exploration. It is a beautiful cycle! To be specific, the aid I hope to provide will look like four main categories of service鈥攅conomy, education, healthcare, and ecology. This structure functions to increase economic growth, enhance human development, and preserve the natural environment.

Over the coming 9 weeks, I will trek to Everest Base Camp through Sherpa villages, work with other mountain communities in conservation, and serve as a medical technician in Kathmandu. These experiences are small, but they serve as an introduction to all of my aid areas鈥攅conomy, education, healthcare, and ecology. More importantly, exposure to the culture of Nepal will allow me to understand how to effectively work with those in and around the region鈥攅specially the Khumbu valley and Everest region. I hope to create a model of 鈥渁dventure as a service鈥 and use it across the globe. This in mind, my next few weeks will put the possibilities of these dreams in perspective and operate as a catalyst to my service!

Travels to Far
Of all the international travel I have done, this experience has been my best by far. God has been with me every step of the way. Yesterday I said my goodbyes to my girlfriend and my family, then boarded my first flight to Philadelphia.

Hugging my best buddy goodbye! Going to miss my dog Mattie. She is not in her best health so I hope she is still wagging her tail and smiling at the front door when I return home.

The most difficult goodbye鈥攚ishing my sweet girlfriend the best as she works as a CNA this summer while I’m away. I will miss her dearly!

Every detail of this travel experience had God working in and through it! It was even a blessing that I was able to snag my specific flight. Originally, the only flight I could find had a short 25 minute layover in Philadelphia. This seemed extremely risky鈥攁s with even the slightest delay in Nashville, I could miss my connecting flight from Philly to Qatar and not arrive in time to join my team. That means I would miss the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla and lose out on trekking through the Sherpa villages to Everest Base Camp. My dad and I searched for hours to finally find a flight through both American and Qatar airlines with a generous 2 hour layover. Sure enough, my flight from Nashville was delayed by 40 minutes! Had we not spent our time searching for a better flight, I would be in a crisis right now. Thanks to God鈥檚 sovereignty, it all worked out!

Little Gifts Along the Way
One of the first things I was worried about was my luggage being overweight, especially with the gear I was bringing for the mountains. So, before I left they house, I weighed my bag in at 52lbs. I figured it might be possible that they would let me slide a tad over the 50lbs limit, but I came prepared to ditch things if necessary. When I arrived at BNA鈥檚 American Airlines check in counter, the desk clerk noticed I was headed to Nepal and asked about my trip. I explained as he weighed my bags. I then told him I may be a little bit over weight and, if so, I鈥檇 be willing to pay a fee or leave items behind. He said, 鈥淚t looks like you鈥檙e at 39lbs, so you鈥檙e good to go!鈥 What!? Now, I know that my 10 year old scale at home is NOT super accurate, but there is no way it was THAT far off! Then he looked up, winked at me, and said 鈥淓njoy your trip.鈥 Thank the Lord, this man was looking out for me!

A similar experience happened to me once I arrived in Philadelphia. Apparently, Qatar has different definitions of 鈥渃arry-on鈥 and 鈥減ersonal item鈥 than American. They considered both my technical pack and my small backpack as carry-ons. As a result, one of them had to be checked for $65. Fortunately, I made friends with Yafa, the Qatar desk clerk, and she became my advocate. She said I might be able to get away with carrying both on board, but it all depended on the flight manager鈥攁n intimidating man who according to Yafa has good and bad days. A tall, broad shouldered, blonde Swede, this flight manager walked over with a stern look on his face. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, I smiled as big as I could, shook his hand, and introduced myself. When I explained the situation, he said there was no room to budge on the rules鈥攎y bag had to be checked. BUT鈥 he allowed me to check it for FREE! Thanks to Yafa鈥檚 help and some grace from God, the manager let me slide!

The incredible airport at Doha, Qatar.

The main hub of Doha International. This place is massive!

Making Friends
My flight from Philadelphia to Doha was probably the best international flight I have ever been on. Of course, 12 hours in an airplane is never fun, but Qatar makes it a luxurious experience even if you fly economy. They served dinner and brunch, plus snacks in between and free WiFi. Most of all, I made friends with the flight attendants. They were from all over the world and filled with interesting stories. One in particular stood out. Her name was Puja. From Delhi, India, she has worked for Qatar for 3 years while her husband works back home in the hotel industry. Kind and mild-mannered, she treated me like a king on the flight to Doha. We talked all about her dreams of living in Zurich, Switzerland and having her own travel company one day. We also bonded over missing our loved ones as we travel. She was an absolute delight!

The best flight crew I have ever had! Puja is far right. Thankful for the service of Qatar!

Said and Soni
Meanwhile, my seat companions were as entertaining as ever. Next to me was Said鈥攁 20 year old student from Oman. He is currently a sophomore studying civil engineering at University of South Florida (USF). We connected over our mutual desire to move to Colorado. He asked all about Nashville and the Smoky Mountains while I asked about Oman. He showed me pictures of his trip to Colorado a few weeks back and I showed him my many photos of Nashville and the mountains of Tennessee. We both agreed that we need to visit each other in Nash or Oman someday!

My other pal was PS Soni. He was an older business man from Kolkata (Calcutta), India, that now lives in Doha, Qatar. Chasing his dreams of business success, he works with multiple companies in shipping and manufacturing. He is now taking steps to buy a factory in Galveston, Texas, with the dream of becoming as US citizen and settling in Houston. I told him that America needs more people like him! He advised Said and I to avoid alcohol, drugs, and women. Instead, he said to focus on our personal and professional development鈥攁ll for the glory of the god we worship (as Said is Muslim and I am a Christ follower).

With Said (foreground) and Soni (background). A great row for the 12 hour flight!

Soni also explained that we must surround ourselves with good people. To find these people, he said we must determine how they see the world themselves. He uses a simple trick鈥攖he Insha’llah test. Insha’llah is an Arabic word which means 鈥渋f God wills it.鈥 He explained that If you ask someone whether or not they think they can accomplish something, there are three possible responses鈥攜es, no, or Insha’llah. You should surround yourself with those who say 鈥淚nsha’llah.鈥 These are the individuals who will work hard to reach their goals, all the while keeping in mind that God鈥檚 will is not always their own. A wise and encouraging man, Soni left Said and I with something called The Serenity Prayer that he learned from his days growing up in a Catholic School in India. It goes as follows:

鈥淕od, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.鈥

Closing Thoughts
People like Yafa, Puja, Said, and Soni are the reason I love to travel. They are the reason I have set out on this journey. My goal is to learn the stories of people around the world, operating as a sponge to those around me. Then I want to take the knowledge I gain and use it to help others in their journey. This is my goal with the Sherpa and with the people of Nepal. To listen first, then act. Thanks to the grace of God and to the generosity of Lumos, I will be able to do exactly that鈥攁ll while learning about the culture of Nepal, economy of the Himalayan communities, and ecology of the mountains. I look forward to seeing what this trip holds and all the things that God has to teach me.

Somos Juntos – We Are Together

 

鈥淎 mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.鈥 鈥 Oliver Wendell Holmes

I wasn鈥檛 sure what to expect when Christmas break arrived. I鈥檇 spent the last two months adjusting to living with new people and having a new work schedule and now I was going to be the only volunteer left in a three-bedroom apartment. The apartment felt eerily quiet. At first, I enjoyed dancing around the apartment without having anyone around, but by the third day I started to feel like a mad-woman. Working with the children and Face-Timing my loved ones just wasn鈥檛 enough. The idea of Christmas in Barcelona was the only thing keeping me going at that point.

However, the 20th of December lifted my spirits. It was the last day of work but also the day I would sing Christmas songs with the children. When I arrived, I was elated by the presence of all the children and their families. The school was giving out hot chocolate and pastries. There was music playing and a do-it-yourself (DIY) photo booth. I no longer felt unsure of how my Christmas would feel. I鈥檝e never felt more at peace than with the children and their families. It reassured my purpose in life and my intentions within my career, which is to consciously engage and have direct relationships with the groups and individuals I work with.

That day was magical! When the time came to sing Christmas songs with my children, all the teachers and families gathered around us to listen. I grabbed my ukulele, counted to three, and my little ones sang 鈥淔eliz Navidad,鈥 and 鈥淲e Wish You a Merry Christmas.鈥 It was the sweetest thing I could have ever experienced. I was close to tears as I watched my class smile and sing along. Their eyes were filled with such love as they looked to me to guidance. It has been such an honor to be a part of their lives. They have made me a better person and I love those children more than I can express.

After we finished, the crowd asked me to do a speech. Oh, my lanta. Ha, I was nervous but I got through it. The teachers then proceeded to ask families from different countries to sing a Christmas song in their language. We were a family, enjoying and respecting each other鈥檚鈥 cultures; from Spanish, Moroccan, Nigerian, to Gujarati and more. It was the beginning of the best Christmas ever.

On the 23rd of December, I traveled to Barcelona to meet my Second cousin and her husband for the first time. Prior to us meeting, we had only spoken through Facebook. The family resemblance was uncanny. It was comforting to see a familiar face and be around a culture more familiar to my own as a Honduran. They gave me the REAL Spain experience. They lived on the outskirts of Barcelona in Vallirana, Catalu帽a, Spain. This is the ore country side of Spain, where the pueblos (small towns) are located. I felt lucky to be staying with them because it added depth to my experience and knowledge of Spain. It was without a doubt my favorite part of Spain.

During the first two days, we visited the church La Sagrada Familia and drove around Vallirana. Catalan is the language spoken in this area. When I joined them for the Christmas mass, I could barely understand what was being said. It was definitely not the Spanish I had grown up around. Nevertheless, I was beautiful.

On Christmas day, we drove to Barcelona to join my cousin鈥檚 husband鈥檚 family for dinner in a hotel. The dinner was superb from start to finish and the family was more than welcoming of my presence. They asked me to play Christmas songs with my ukulele and so I did. Their singing captured the entire hotel floor鈥檚 attention. Everyone enjoyed themselves greatly. After dinner, a few of us went off to visit Montjuic, a hill surrounded by a national museum, a castle, and a 5-Star Hotel that hosted for the 1992 Summer Olympics. Only the pictures can truly describe the beauty of it all, but even then, it鈥檚 something you have to experience.

My cousins and I spent the next day at Mont Tibidabo, which overlooks Spain and is surround by an Amusement park and a telecommunications tower as well as the famous catholic church Sagrat Cor. The view was breathtaking; and just when I thought it couldn鈥檛 get any better, my cousins took be to Montserrat the next day.

Montserrat Mountain is both a natural park and monastery, and home of Our Lady of Montserrat, which is also known as 鈥淟a Virgen Negra鈥 鈥 The Black Virgen Mary. It was the highest I have ever been on a mountain. It was truly heavenly. I was in the clouds. Again, this was an experience that is better illustrated through photos and 100% better in person. Every day here has been a dream.

December 28th completed my Christmas break. At 10:40 a.m., I ran into the arms of my boyfriend Trevor who in July, decided he wanted to spend New Year鈥檚 with me in Spain. I鈥檝e been speechless ever since. Traveling is a beautiful experience but it is much better when you鈥檙e surround by people you love. I cannot wait to see how the rest of this break plays out.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year filled with love.

-Rachel B.

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The Privileges of My Life

We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.鈥澛 -Maya Angelou

Kudos to the individuals who choose to travel by themselves for six months or even a year. I have been counting my blessings and my privileges during these last two weeks. Traveling is an exciting and life changing experience, but not for the reasons that we romanticized in our society. Spain is beautiful country with breath taking sights all around. There is ancient history is all around me and I am taking it all in. I still can鈥檛 believe that I鈥檓 even here. But I also can鈥檛 believe that I鈥檝e been here for 51 days without my family and friends! Technology has been blessing and a curse for sure! I鈥檓 to the point where FaceTime is becoming a nuisance.

I鈥檓 a proud emotional human who values the importance of physical touch. I love hugs! I鈥檓 not mentioning this to sound sweet, but to point out that something as simple as a hug can be taken for granted. As I mentioned earlier, FaceTime has become a nuisance. I see and talk to my loved ones but what I really need is to be with them. I have realized how privileged I am for the simple fact that I get to go back home to the people I love. Lately, I鈥檝e been thinking about how many families are separated by choice or by force. I think about how many of them will never get to see their loved ones again and how this will shape their lives. Most of all, I think about my mother, my aunts and uncles, and my abuela. I think about the sacrifices that were made just so that they could come to the U.S. and live a better life.

See, my mother immigrated from Honduras to the United States at the age of 26. Her older sister, my Tia Rina, was the main reason my mother was able to come to New York. Tia Rina left Honduras first to find work in the U.S.. My abuela followed and then eventually my mother and her other siblings did as well. Now, my mother is a citizen and lives 30 minutes away from her mother and her siblings. Can you imagine that journey? Can you imagine the struggles that came with it? I鈥檝e heard these stories first hand and I still can鈥檛 imagine having to go through that.

This story is my reminder of why I am on this journey. Despite the days when I am overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness, I remember how lucky I am. It hurts to go through struggles but that鈥檚 a part of life. I know this. I also know how hard my mother and father worked to provide me with an education that could expose me to greater opportunities than what they had access to when they were younger. Just thinking about them makes me tear up because I am so proud. I am proud of them and I am proud of myself.

I hope when present and future travelers read this they pause and reflect on the value of their trip. The mixed feelings and the struggles are inevitable. It鈥檚 all part of the journey. I鈥檓 coming to see that the purpose in 鈥渢raveling with a purpose,鈥 is more about self-growth than it is anything else. Unless someone has partaken in this journey, no one can truly understand the difficulties that come with it. It鈥檚 probably one of the most humbling experiences as well. Close your eyes and open your heart. The message will be clearer.

Con cari帽o,

Rachel

P.S. 鈥 The children at work continue to fill my heart with so much love. I鈥檝e been teaching them Christmas songs with Lola, my ukulele, for the last two weeks, preparing them to present it to their families on Thursday! To no surprise, music has been extremely therapeutic for the kids. It鈥檚 worked magic on their little hearts. It has helped some calm down after a tantrum and has brought others out of their shyness. Lola has a place in their hearts for sure. I can鈥檛 wait to join them in singing Christmas songs this Thursday.

P.S. 鈥 Here are some more pictures of Valencia! xoxo

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Unraveling My Purpose

In the dream of heaven, you completely surrender to life, knowing that everything is just the way it is. And because you accept everything as it is, you no longer worry about anything. Your life becomes exciting because there’s no more fear. You know that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing, and that everything that has happened was meant to happen because they have led you to greater awareness. Even the worst thing that can happen to you is meant to happen because it’s going to push you to grow. – Don Miguel Ruiz

Adjusting to Spain has been easy, but I can’t the same say in regard to having no local support system. While I聽enjoy the presence of my fellow volunteers, it is exhausting聽to constantly be around individuals with journeys that do not align with mine. I mean, I’m a 23 year-old who is ready for a more serious part of her life, while the other volunteers are 18 years-old and dying to finally have some control over their own lives. This is 100% natural! I’m only mentioning it because I want all future travelers to know that it is okay to feel like the outsider of a group, to realize that who you are may not fit into the group’s agenda. Raising our awareness and respect for others is the best thing we can do for ourselves in these situations. Be social when you can but also honor the moments when your body tells you you’ve had enough for the day. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you. I promise.

On a different note, Spain has been treating me extremely well. From time to time I reflect on the Lumos catch phrase, “Travel with a purpose.” My purpose has unraveled little by little each week, but I’ll wait till the end to share that with you. I will say that my Spanish has improved significantly. I’ve let the children I work with correct my Spanish. For 5-7 year-olds, they are pretty intelligent. Mind you, some of them are from different countries and have to learn Spanish, Valenciana, Castellano, and English! These little sponges are way smarter than I was at their age! After 23 years, I can finally hold a conversation with my Abuela (grandmother) back home and it warms my heart. Common now!

I’m impressed with the way the teachers work with the children. In my experience, I have never seen so many teachers treat their “wild” students with so much love and patience. I love it! I’m so use to watching teachers get frustrated with these types of students. I have the utmost respect for these kinds of teachers because they volunteer the best parts of them. I first heard this idea from a college professor of mine in NY. He said, “I get paid to teach you. It doesn’t matter how I teach you because I still get a pay check. But if I expect you to learn, that means I have to volunteer my best self.” He then went on expressing how fed up he was with teachers who don’t get personal with their students; but I digress.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, these children come from all over the world and they are all from lower income families. Additionally, the teachers in this school all have fair skin, while the students vary from tan, to brown, to black. Now, I am only mentioning this because I have observed the teacher-student relationships. I have yet to see one teacher pick on a student for their race or ethnicity, or looks for that matter. Not one teacher favors one group of students more than the other. This may not be true for all of the schools in Spain, but I recognize the genuine love and respect that these teachers have for each of their students. I’ve watched some of the children struggle with accepting that not everyone looks like them. Little fights break out here and there, but the teachers are always there to set a good example. They always tell the kids, “It doesn’t matter what you look like. I’m no better than anyone here. We are all a team and we have to respect one another and love one another equally.” It’s beautiful, necessary, and powerful because there are plenty of schools in the world that don’t adhere to this belief. Also, this is a crucial developmental stage in a child’s life. I comforted and honored to work聽in an environment that takes their role seriously. My mind screams, “Family!” every time I think about it.

Oh,聽 and speaking of family – my soul sister and her fiance came to visit me in Spain! What? Do y’all understand how excited I was to see a familiar face? This is a woman that I look up to. We are about 9 years apart, she is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (the profession I am going into), and she is one of the individuals who sparked my new life journey back in 2015. Needless to say, she is very special to me.

We took tourism to a whole other level. I spent a day and a half with them in Valencia just catching up on life! I then spent another day and a half meeting them in Barcelona, where we saw about 6 amazing sights within 5 hours. Crazy, I know but it was amazing. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything!

*Side note* Spain’s trains are not cheap and the U.S. dollar does not work in our favor here, at least not right now.

Okay, back to it!

I purposely spent a day in a half in Barcelona because I knew I’ll be returning during Christmas time, which is three weeks away.聽 Again, what? Where is the time going?聽 Soon I’ll be meeting family that I’ve only ever known through social media. Am I blessed? Yes. Oh, and then my boyfriend is coming to visit for the remainder of the break! When I signed up for this trip I thought I was going to be solo. Thankful is an understatement! It’s a peace of mind to know I have these events to look forward to, especially after the emotional and physical fiasco my body went through prior to the GRE, which I am so glad is over by the way!

I went m.i.a. the day before the test. I did not have the energy to talk to anyone. I was overwhelmed and had knots in my stomach. I can’t express enough my dislike for these types of tests; a test that measures absolutely nothing about who I am and what I am capable of doing. I process things at a slower pace and I need time to grasp concepts. I learn better through writing and discussing the material rather than memorizing it for the sake of getting a good grade. It doesn’t align well with who I am. Nevertheless, I still gave my best on test day, and luckily I don’t get nervous once a test is in front of me. I accept the moment, I breathe, and I do what I can.

When the day of the test arrived, I had to travel three hours on train from Valencia, Spain to Madrid. During that time I had journaled to myself. In that journal entry I wrote:

聽...You did your best. You will do your best. You challenged yourself. You rose to the occasion. Be proud. Smile. Feel love. Be love. Be.

After writing, I let go of all the pressure I had placed on myself. Once I arrived in Madrid, I spent an hour in a coffee shop catching up on some reading. As I drank my delicious mocha coffee and ate my cinnamon bun soaked in Nutella, I came across the passage in the beginning of this blog. I had chills, y’all! I felt at such peace with myself. My world aligned again and I was ready for whatever was to come.

Taking the GRE in a different country was probably the best decision for me. It felt more relaxing to be amongst individuals from different parts of the world. I can’t explain it, it just felt good. At the end of it all, I can honestly say I am content and EXTREMELY thankful for the experience. Oh, I’m also thankful that it’s over! Out of sight and out of mind!

I called everything post-GRE “The journey back to myself.” Between being sick and stressed out about the test, I definitely fell out of touch with myself. I needed to socialize, start working out, and do more sight seeing. This was my new mission. To hold myself accountable, I began writing a list titled, “What do I want to accomplish today?” I would even list something as simple as waking up, which is a great accomplishment for anyone. As someone who is active in the mental health community, I find it extremely beneficial to notice all the “small” things. This type of mindfulness is powerful because things such as waking up can be a difficult task, especially for those like myself who battle depression.聽 It helps reprogram the brain in more ways than one. For me, it sends a message to my brain that everything I do matters. It reminds me to be impeccable with my words and my actions, especially towards myself. It’s a reminder to never feel less than or shrink at the presence of challenging situations.

So, yeah. All is well my friends. I am learning, growing, and embracing this journey that I am on. I wouldn’t change a thing about this experience.

Talk to you soon,

Rachel

Life Beyond the Vines

P.S. Enjoy the pics! There are some things that don’t need to be put into words.聽 A picture can say it all.

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